Archive for the Politics Category

Postal Voting Par Avion

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Politics on December 7, 2019 by telescoper

After giving the matter much thought, some weeks ago I decided to apply for a postal vote so I could vote in the general election in the constituency of Cardiff West where I still (for the time being) have a house. I couldn’t vote in person owing to work commitments in Ireland on Thursday 12th December. Teaching term doesn’t end in Maynooth until 20th.

The postal ballot paper was sent to my address in Cardiff because I wasn’t confident in the post between the UK and Ireland. (It takes over a month for my copy of Physics World to reach Ireland. Last night I flew from Dublin to complete it and this morning I put it in the mail, so it should arrive in time to be counted.

In case you’re interested, I voted for Kevin Brennan (Welsh Labour).

I fear this will turn out to be a futile gesture, and that this election will put liar and charlatan Boris Johnson in Downing Street with a significant majority. The prospect of a government headed by this creature appals me, as does the thought that so many people don’t care that he’s so demonstrably dishonest and untrustworthy. As far as I see it, anyone who votes for the modern Conservative Party must be either a simpleton or a sociopath. Or possibly both.

Update: relevant advice from today’s Financial Times:

(It’s actually about dealing with cold callers, but is in my opinion more widely applicable..)

The Case for Irish Membership of CERN

Posted in Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on November 16, 2019 by telescoper

In the news here in Ireland this week is a new report from a Committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas making the case for Ireland to join CERN. You can download the report here (PDF) and you’ll find this rather striking graphic therein:

You will see that there are only three European countries that don’t have any form of membership or other agreement with CERN: Latvia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Ireland. The fact that almost everyone else is in is not in itself necessarily a good argument for Ireland to join, but it does make one wonder why so many other countries have found it to join or have an agreement with CERN while Ireland has not.

As the document explains, if the Irish government  were to decide to take Ireland into CERN then  it would first have to become an Associate Member, which would cost around €1.2 million per year. That’s small potatoes really, and  the financial returns to Irish industry and universities are likely to far exceed that, so the report strongly recommends this step be taken. This Associate member stage would last up to 5 years, and then to acquire full membership a joining fee of around €15.6 million would have to be paid, which is obviously a much greater commitment but in my view still worthwhile.

While I strongly support the idea of Ireland joining CERN I do have a couple of concerns.

One is that I’m very sad that the actual science done at CERN is downplayed in the Oireachtas report. Most of it is about return to industry, training opportunities, etc. These are important, of course, but it must not be forgotten that big science projects like those carried out at CERN are above all else science projects. The quest for knowledge does have collateral benefits, but it a worthy activity in its own right and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.

My other (related) concern is that joining CERN is one thing, but in order to reap the scientific reward the government has to invest in the resources needed to exploit the access to facilities membership would provide. Without a related increase in research grant funding for basic science the opportunity to raise the level of scientific activity in Ireland would be lost.

Ireland recently joined the European Southern Observatory (ESO), a decision which gave Irish astronomers access to some amazing telescopes. However, there is no sign at all of Irish funding agencies responding to this opportunity by increasing funding for academic time, postdocs and graduate students needed to do the actual science.

Although astronomy is clearly much more interesting than particle physics (😉) in one respect the case of ESO is very like the case of CERN – the facilities do not themselves do the science. We need people to do that.

No More Poppies

Posted in Biographical, History, Politics with tags , , , , on November 9, 2019 by telescoper

Over the years I have written quite a few pieces on this blog, around the time of Remembrance Sunday, about the wearing of a poppy, the last being in 2016. I have worn a poppy at this time of year for most of my adult life, but in 2017 I decided to stop.

For one thing, there is no pressure to wear a poppy here in Ireland. Indeed, many Irish people see the poppy mainly as a symbol of British militarism and colonial oppression. At a concert to mark the Armistice last year I saw only a few audience members wearing a poppy, and most of them were the shamrock version commemorating the sacrifice of Irish soldiers during the Great War.

But I don’t think I’ve ever really been that susceptible to peer pressure, so that’s not the main reason for my not wearing a poppy. The main reason is that over the past couple of years the poppy has been appropriated by the likes of racist thug, career criminal and founder-member of the EDL, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (also known as Tommy Robinson):

I simply cannot bring myself to wear the same badge as this horrible racist gobshite, nor can I stand the hypocrisy of those politicians who make a show of wearing it while happily encouraging the rise of nationalism that caused all the suffering just a century ago. The message of the poppy is supposed to be `Lest We Forget’. I’m afraid far too many have already forgotten.

I have a lecture on Monday 11th November at 11am, when the traditional two minutes’ silence to mark the 1918 armistice is observed. Fortunately, lectures at Maynooth run from five past the hour until five to, so I will be able to observe this on my own before I start the lecture. But I won’t be wearing a poppy.

Is it disrespectful to the war dead to refuse to wear a poppy? No, of course it isn’t. What is disrespectful to them is to seek to reoeat the mistakes that led to wars in the first place.

Meanwhile, in the House of Commons..

Posted in Politics with tags , on October 29, 2019 by telescoper

Not Really Irish?

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , , on October 23, 2019 by telescoper

I’m taking a quick break for coffee and remembered an article I saw in the Irish Times at the weekend about British immigrants in Ireland. Being one such myself I find a lot of it rings true. You can read the article here (I don’t think it’s behind a paywall). I think it’s well worth a look.

I found quite a few things in it resonate quite strongly with my experiences since I arrived here a couple of years ago. Top of these was the realization of just how ignorant I was about Irish history, thanks to the almost total neglect of this topic in British schools. Lack of education inevitably leads to lack of understanding and more often than not leads to prejudice and one finds a lot of that in the attitude of British people, even senior figures (many of them “educated” at Oxford) who are supposed to know better.

Another point I recognize is how many people ask me to explain Brexit, as if being British means that I should be able to do that. I don’t understand the madness that has descended on Britain but I feel it in my bones that the United Kingdom is headed for very dark times indeed.

I was also struck by the “Not Really Irish” tag, which I think about rather a lot. It’s not really just a question of whether or not you have Irish citizenship or an Irish passport, it’s about the extent to which you belong. I spent over fifty years living in England and Wales so I’m missing a huge amount of cultural background. I won’t ever be able to catch up so I don’t suppose I’ll ever feel `really Irish’. Of course people speak English here but I’m very conscious that I have a funny accent. I suppose that means I’ll always feel like a stranger in Ireland. If there is predominant attitude towards the British over here, however, in my experience it is one of sympathy rather than hostility. And the general friendliness of the locals means that this isn’t a bad place at all to be a stranger.

One final comment: it was mentioned in the Irish Times piece that there are a lot of British TV programmes on Irish television. I do not regard that as a positive at all! In fact I stopped watching UK television long before leaving the UK and have not started again since I moved here.

I wonder how different it feels to be an Irish person living in Britain right now? That might make for an interesting complementary article for a future edition of the Irish Times?

On Zero-Hours Contracts

Posted in Maynooth, Politics with tags , , , , on October 20, 2019 by telescoper

In a week dominated by stupid things being said by stupid British politicians, one of the stupidest of all was the claim by Labour MP Caroline Flint that the European Union is to blame for the rise of zero-hours contracts. Caroline Flint is a Brexit supporter, of course, so she will not be interested in facts, but it is a fact that the European Union recently adopted a directive that protects workers’ rights and, in most cases, rules out zero-hours contracts. It’s up to the national governments to implement EU directives, something that the United Kingdom has yet to do and obviously will not do if and when Brexit happens and all employment protections go on the bonfire. As a Labour MP you would think Caroline Flint would care about this, but apparently not. She’s content to recite lies she hopes will curry favour with her leave-voting constituents and perpetuate her own political career at their expense.

Meanwhile, here in Ireland, the Oireachtas recently passed legislation making zero-hours contracts unlawful in Ireland `in most circumstances’. There’s a nice summary of the effects of the new law here.

I probably don’t need to spell it out but I rather think that the existence of this law and Ireland’s membership of the European Union comprehensively refutes Caroline Flint’s claim. Zero-hours are on the rise in the UK because of it’s own Government, not because of the European Union. I can think of dozens of other things that the EU gets the blame for that are actually the fault of the idiots in Westminster. Perhaps after Brexit British politicians will no longer be able to use the EU as a scapegoat for things they themselves mess up, though something makes me think they will continue to try and that the gullible public may actually believe them.

Anyway, the legal changes around zero-hours contracts in Ireland have had a significant impact in higher education, where many people – often (but not always) graduate students – are employed on casual part-time arrangements to run small group teaching sessions (i.e tutorials), demonstrate in laboratories, mark coursework and so on. The contracts on which such people have been employed have hitherto often been of the zero-hours type that is now unlawful.

As a response to this change in the law, here in Maynooth we have changed the contracts we issue to casual teaching staff, introducing clearer terms and conditions of employment as well as giving clearer indications of hours to be worked. In particular there is now a new category of employment designed for graduate students who are doing teaching, with terms and conditions that reflect their special status. All this required quite an effort at the start of teaching term this year to adapt to the new arrangements in time for the first teaching sessions. I only started as Head of Department on 1st September, and teaching started on 23rd, so this all caused quite a few headaches for me personally as I tried to get to grips with the new system. Fortunately, in the end, the transition actually went relatively smoothly and we have now settled into a steady state.

Of course it wasn’t the existence of graduate student teachers that precipitated the change in the law in Ireland. There are far worse offenders than universities in the use of exploitative employment contracts. Nevertheless but I am glad that the change has happened. Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, according to UCU figures, around 46% of universities use staff on zero-hours contracts to deliver teaching.

A Letter to Donald Tusk

Posted in Politics with tags , on October 20, 2019 by telescoper

We all now know that, last night, the UK Government sent not one or two but three letters to President of the Council of the European Union, Donald Tusk. These were not the only items of correspondence delivered to Mr Tusk last night. In fact, as an In The Dark exclusive, I can now reveal the contents of yet another letter, this one written by a Mrs Trellis of North Wales:

Dear Mr Trump Tusk,

I have heard that Boris Johnson does not want an extension.

If you have one spare please could I have it?

I promise to make good use of it as my kitchen is really very small.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Trellis.