Archive for the Politics Category

Peppa Pig: An Apology

Posted in Biographical, Education, Politics, Television with tags , on November 24, 2021 by telescoper
Offensive Item

I have over many years been using the item shown above in lectures to demonstrate the properties of spherical surfaces, for example in situations involving vector calculus and in astrophysics. Given recent events, however, I realize that my use of this specific object may cause offence through the possibility that it may be construed as an endorsement of the views of the UK Prime Minister. I would therefore like to make it clear that no such endorsement should be inferred, that I have never visited Peppa Pig World, and that I did not play any part in the writing of Mr Johnson’s speech to the Confederation of British Idiots earlier this week.

I can also confirm that I have now disposed of the above item in an authorised refuse and recycling centre.

I hope this clarifies the situation.

On the Repeal of Section 28..

Posted in History, LGBT, Politics with tags , , , on November 18, 2021 by telescoper

I was reminded today is the 18th anniversary of the Repeal in England & Wales (on 18th November 2003) of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which contained the following:

I remember very well the numerous demonstrations and other protests I went on as part of the campaign against the clause that became Section 28 way back in 1988. Indeed, these were the first large political demonstrations in which I ever took part. But that repugnant and obviously discriminatory piece of legislation passed into law anyway. Students and younger colleagues  probably don’t have any idea how much pain and anger the introduction of this piece of legislation caused at the time, but at least it also had the effect of galvanising  many groups and individuals into action. The fightback eventually succeeded; Section 28 was repealed in Scotland in 2000 and in England & Wales in 2003.

I know the 33 years that have elapsed since the introduction of Section 28  is a long time, but it’s still amazing to me that attitudes have changed so much that now we have same-sex marriage. I would never have predicted that if someone had asked me thirty years ago!

I think there’s an important lesson in the story of Section 28, which is that rights won can easily be lost again. There are plenty of people who would not hesitate to bring back similar laws if they thought they could get away with them.  They are trying to do so now with a sustained assault on the rights of transgender people. That’s why it is important for LGBTQ+ people not only to stand up for their rights, but to campaign for a more open, inclusive and discrimination-free environment for everyone, everywhere, including in the workplace. That’s one of the reasons why today’s LGBTQ+ STEM Day is so important.

Hope Springs Eternal…

Posted in Finance, Politics on October 28, 2021 by telescoper

… in the “Office for Budget Responsibility

A decade of ludicrously over-optimistic forecasts.

“Man never is but always to be blest.”

A Return of the Three-day Week in Britain?

Posted in Covid-19, History, Politics with tags , , on September 25, 2021 by telescoper

Back in 2014, on the 40th anniversary of the start of the Three-Day Week in Britain, I wrote this:

I wonder how many of you are old enough to remember the “Three Day Week”? I am. In fact I remember sitting my 11+ examination right in the middle of the period (from January to March 1974) in which electricity supplies across the UK were restricted to three days per week. Although it meant reading books by candlelight, it wasn’t as bad as it may sound to younger readers because we didn’t have that many electrical gadgets in those days and at least our house was heated by coal, not electricity. I dread to think what would happen nowadays if we should experience  problems with fuel supplied similar to those caused by the Oil Crisis of 1974. But such an event is not altogether impossible…

In the Dark, 4th January 2014

Not impossible at all given recent news. It seems even the Daily Torygraph agrees. Moreover, a senior Conservative politician has described such talk as “alarmist and misguided“, which convinces me that it is indeed likely to happen. My social media feeds are filled with pictures of queues of cars caused by people panic-buying petrol. Makes a change from toilet roll I suppose…

There is a concern here in the civilized world that problems with supply chains caused by Brexit may impact Ireland. Though there is no sign of this yet, it is of course possible, but only if people here continue to disrespect UK sovereignty by insisting on buying British products. The message must get through that the UK simply does not want the trade surplus it has enjoyed with Ireland for many years so it would be impolite to let it persist. Fortunately the shops are now displaying a much wider range of European products so this should not be a problem. I find it easy to manage using predominantly local Irish suppliers, apart from wine and some speciality products which are mainly imported from EU countries.

P.S. There’s an article in the Newcastle Evening Chronicle about the original Three-Day Week, which brought back a lot of memories. I remember the newspapers had lists of which areas would lose electricity at what time : candles and paraffin lamps suddenly became fashionable; and of course we had quite a few days off school!

Memories of 9/11

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , on September 11, 2021 by telescoper

Today is 11th September 2021 which means it is exactly twenty years since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon which led to the loss of almost three thousand civilian lives (and many more in the longer term). At the risk of contributing to the deluge of (mainly mawkish) reminiscences about the happenings on this day a decade ago, let me just give a brief account of my recollection. The events of 9/11 are, I suspect, etched on many a memory in much the same way as people remember what they were doing when President Kennedy was assassinated.

For what it’s worth, I was actually at a conference on that day. It was called A New Era in Cosmology, and was hosted in the fine city of Durham; in fact one of the organizers was a certain Tom Shanks, an occasional commenter on this blog. Above you will see part of the conference poster which I took from a recent Facebook post by him where I also found the text below. I was also reminded that 9/11 was the first day of that meeting and that I gave a talk on the first morning, the last before lunch. Such was the effect of the events that unfolded that day that I had completely forgotten about that.

What I do remember is sitting near the back of the lecture theatre after we returned from lunch, listening to one of the afternoon talks – I can’t remember who it was by – when a dear friend of mine, Manuela, came into the auditorium and walked down the aisle, stopped by me. She tugged my arm, mumbled something about the “Twin Towers” and then ran back up the stairs and out of the lecture theatre. Thinking it was something to do with Wembley Stadium, I followed her out and she explained what had happened. We found a TV set, around which a crowd had already formed. The coverage was, not surprisingly, shambolic and it was not until late afternoon that the scale of what had happened became clearer.

There were rumours of more planes likely to be involved in attacks and discussions about whether the military might have to shoot down civilian aircraft. Fortunately that wasn’t the case. I had a friend visiting New York at the time and was unable to contact her by mobile, so was worried, but I don’t think anyone was able to contact anyone in New York by mobile phone in those hours and it turns out she was fine.

Meanwhile the other participants were informed about the events on the other side of the Atlantic. It was an international conference with many US-based attendees who were understandably worried. The preface to the conference proceedings reveals that discussions were held about whether to cancel the meeting:

I think it was the correct decision to proceed with the conference, including the conference dinner and all that. As it happened all passengers flights were grounded for several days anyway, so nobody could get home who didn’t live in the UK.

The rest of the conference was pretty much business as usual as far as possible, although as the text above explains we did stand in silence in memory of the victims on the Thursday morning. When the meeting ended on the Friday quite a few people had to stay on in Durham or elsewhere before being able to fly home. It was this event that led to the heightened security measures at airports that we have been living with since then.

The loss of human life, though awful, turned out to be much less than had been feared and was subsequently dwarfed by the hundreds of thousands killed in the “War on Terror” set in motion by the events of that day. Will the recent withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan lead to further attacks of this sort?

Anyway, my point is not the politics but to invite a bit of audience participation. Would anyone else like to contribute their memories from that fateful day? If so, the comment box awaits your entry…

The Irish Population

Posted in Art, History, Politics, Television with tags , , , , on August 31, 2021 by telescoper

Not long ago I did a post about a documentary series called The Hunger which was broadcast on RTÉ just before Christmas. It was, of course, about the Great Irish Famine, which led to the death of one million (mainly poor) Irish people and the emigration of over two million in the subsequent years. It was a shattering episode that altered Ireland for ever. I remarked at the time that “the population of this island still hasn’t recovered to pre-Famine levels”.

Well today saw the announcement of a significant milestone in the trajectory of Ireland’s population. According to the Central Statistics Office, in April 2021 the population of the Republic of Ireland exceeded 5 Million for the first time since 1851. To be precise Ireland’s population was estimated to be 5.01 million in April 2021, which is the first time the population has risen above five million since the 1851 census, when the comparable population was 5.11 million. By “comparable” I mean the population of the 26 Counties that now constitute the Republic of Ireland.

The total population on the island of Ireland in 1851 was 6.6 million. Including the population of Northern Ireland brings the current population on the island of Ireland to about 6.9 million. The population of Ireland (ie the whole island) in 1841 was over eight million.

The following (rather old) graphic shows that catastrophic drop that was an immediate consequence of the Great Hunger but also the long period of decline caused by emigration and poor public health leading to low levels of fertility. The population did not begin to grow significantly until the 1970s.

Although the population is still nowhere near the level it reached in 1841, Ireland is in the grip of a housing shortage that the present Government seems reluctant to do anything about, not surprisingly when you realize that the present Government represents the property-owning classes in whose interests it is to keep housing scarce and rents correspondingly high. Ireland’s housing crisis is not an accident, it’s a matter of policy. Irish landlords oppressing the poorer classes and exploiting them for monetary gain. Some things haven’t changed…

It fascinates me that, with political will, human societies have made enormous changes – including financial interventions, inventing new vaccines and delivering mass vaccination programmes – to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. Poverty and homelessness do not require new inventions – we already know very well how to build houses – only the political will is needed, and that’s just not there.

The Joy of Latin

Posted in Biographical, Education, Politics with tags , , , on July 31, 2021 by telescoper

This morning I noticed a story in the Guardian that Latin is to be taught in 40 UK state secondary schools had provoked some rather extreme reactions on social media. I hesitated to comment on this lest it appear that I have any respect or confidence in Gavin Williamson (who is undoubtedly one of the stupidest politicians in living memory) or that I don’t think there may be better things on which to spend £4m, but I have to say that I don’t think this is as stupid an idea as many people seem to think.

For what it’s worth I think that learning Latin (which I did from age 11 to O-level at aged 16, where which it was my best subject. If you’re interested here is the examination paper I took way back in 1979:

I not only enjoyed it enormously but also found it useful for learning other languages as well as helping to understand English grammar. There are many aspects of the English language that I only understood when I learned about them in Latin, and that also helped me with French and German where things like the subjunctive are much more obvious than they are in English and also much more precise, which makes them easier to identify and understand.

Latin has important elements in common with a great many Indo-European languages besides the obvious Italian, Spanish and French, including the Germanic languages (which include English). I did French to O-level too, by the way, but only did one year of German because I wasn’t allowed to do three languages to O-level alongside the full complement of science and mathematics. I have managed to get by during my frequent visits to Italy pretty well without having formally studied any Italian, though I find it easier to read and listen to Italian than to speak it. I have to say, though, that Latin hasn’t helped me much at all in my struggles to learn Irish…

Above all, though, learning Latin taught me that as well as being a tool for communication, language is fascinating in itself. There are strong connections between linguistics and genetics, for example – ideas in genetics on how you can work backwards from common elements in current diverse populations to the “last common ancestor” came from historical linguistics.. Languages evolve through mutation and intermingling in much the same way that populations do.

The relationships between different languages are deep and mysterious but studying their common structures helps bring them to light. That’s how the physical sciences work too…

It has long been an intention of mine to try to re-learn Latin when I retire and have a go at translating some old texts into English. It’s much easier to learn new languages when you are young but hopefully having done it when I was young it might come back reasonably easy. I remember quite a lot actually, but need more practice. Perhaps I’ll get the time before too long.

P. S. I’ve heard it said that, instead of teaching the Latin language in schools, students would be better off learning Latin dance, e.g the tango. My response to that is that “tango” is the first person singular in the present indicative of the Latin verb “tangere” (to touch)…

Take me to your Leader!

Posted in Politics on April 8, 2021 by telescoper

Er… no… on second thoughts don’t bother.

The wide shot is even worse!

Thought for the Day

Posted in Literature, Politics on March 30, 2021 by telescoper

I don’t have time for a full post today but let me just say that I think that the move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony is bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

Comments welcome.

The Intoxication of Power

Posted in Literature, Politics with tags , , , on March 14, 2021 by telescoper

The above in part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 which will be voted on in Parliament tomorrow (15th March). As you can see, it is deliberately worded so vaguely that it can and will be used to removes the right to peaceful protest from citizens of the United Kingdom. No doubt what currently passes for a Parliament will wave this Bill through without even reading it.

This comes just after the Metropolitan Police’s brutal suppression of a peaceful candlelit vigil on Clapham Common, the scene of the abduction and subsequent murder of Sarah Everard a crime for which a serving officer of the Metropolitan Police has been charged.

Here’s a view of the Police making social distancing impossible by kettling the participants:

Britain’s transformation into a Police State is proceeding even more rapidly than I feared, though the direction of travel has been apparent ever since the Brexit campaign 5 years ago. A far-right coup is taking place and it is succeeding against a spineless and ineffective opposition, its ringleader delighting in wiping out what remains of civil liberties and turning the media, especially the BBC, into a propaganda machine.

The future of Britain looks very much the one George Orwell foresaw in 1984:

There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always— do not forget this, Winston— always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless.
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face— forever

Still, blue passports eh?