Archive for the Politics Category

Decision Day for the French!

Posted in Politics on April 24, 2022 by telescoper

(from Private Eye)

Update: I wouldn’t have found it exactly inspiring to have to choose between a neoliberal drone and a fascist dunderhead but would have voted for the least bad alternative, as the French electorate seems to have done.

French Election Update

Posted in Politics with tags , on April 10, 2022 by telescoper

The first round of voting in the French Presidential Election is under way today and it reminded of this clipping from a few years ago:

(Read the caption.)

Rory O’Neill aka Panti Bliss

Posted in Biographical, LGBT, Maynooth, Politics with tags , , , on April 2, 2022 by telescoper

Yesterday I attended an event at the Maynooth Students Union featuring Rory O’Neill, an LGBT+ rights activist who strongly involved in the campaign for Equal Marriage leading up to the referendum of 2015. Rory is perhaps better known in his drag persona, Panti Bliss. Rory left Panti at home for this event but it was extremely interesting and enjoyable – and a bit sweary! – to hear him talk about his life and experiences, especially why he became an activist and how he started out as a drag performer.

One of the things I remember very well was how he has spent time in countries where homosexuality is still unlawful talking to young LGBT+ people who a lack of hope that life can get better. He countered that Irish society even just a couple of decades ago was deeply homophobic and is now much more inclusive towards LGBT+ people. It’s not perfect, of course, but it’s a heck of a lot better than it was. Ireland proves that things do get better.

Although I’m a bit older than Rory, didn’t grow up in Ireland, and have had a very different career, much of his story did nevertheless resonate with me. I’ve said a number of times on this blog that if someone had told me back in 1988 (when the infamous Section 28 was brought in by the Thatcher Government to attack a community already reeling from the effects of AIDS) that in 25 times there would be equal marriage in the UK I simply would not have believed them. Rory said something very similar yesterday.

Anyway, although there wasn’t a huge turnout for the event yesterday I’m very glad I attended and am grateful for the Maynooth Access Programme for organizing it. The event also gives me an excuse to post this clip of Panti Bliss giving a brilliant (and now famous) speech at the Abbey Theatre in 2014.

Lecturing in the Dark

Posted in Biographical, Education, History, Maynooth, Politics with tags , on March 9, 2022 by telescoper

We’ve had several power cuts on Maynooth University campus today.

I had a lecture during one of them. The lecture went ahead with the usual chalk-and-talk, although the room was a bit on the dark side without any electric lights. More seriously I could neither record nor webcast the lecture because there was no internet so I couldn’t connect to Panopto. Ironically, the topic of the lecture was electromagnetism.

After a couple of false starts we finally got power back this afternoon, but the power failure seems to have had a number of fairly drastic consequences. Our office machines which are currently unable to access the internet. Also the data projector in our computer lab seems to be completely bust, but that is less important than the fact that the none of lab computers is working. Fortunately we don’t have a lab session on Wednesday afternoons, but I hope we can get this fixed before tomorrow when we do have a lab session!

By the way this is what our computer lab looks like:

Fortunately, next week is study week (the week containing the St Patrick’s Day holiday) which will give us time to regroup. It can’t come soon enough!

With an energy crisis looming as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine I wouldn’t bet against much worse problems with electricity supply in the near future. I’m old enough to remember the Oil Crisis of 1974, with petrol rationing, regular power cuts and the Three Day Week. I wonder if we will soon be experiencing something similar again?

Update: after yet another power cut I decided to go home earlier than usual. When I got back to my house in Maynooth at 6pm I saw no sign that the power had been off at all!

Calamity Again

Posted in Art, History, Maynooth, Poetry, Politics with tags , , on March 7, 2022 by telescoper

This lunchtime I attended a public vigil for Ukraine on Maynooth University campus. It was a moving experience, not least because of the presence of a Ukrainian PhD student, Oleg Chupryna, who addressed the gathering. Although he has lived in Ireland for over 20 years many members of his family are still in Ukraine. They were in Kharkiv when the invasion happened, having refused to leave because they didn’t think the Russians would actually invade, but then found themselves under relentless shelling by Russian artillery. His family managed to flee Kharkiv for the countryside a couple of days ago, but are still trapped in Ukraine, apart from one family member who has arrived safely in Dublin and who read the following poem (in Ukrainian) by Taras Shevchenko, followed by the English translation. you see below.

Shevchenko (who was a painter and illustrator as well as a poet) was born a serf, so the use of the word slavery is not metaphorical. Sales of artwork enabled him to be  bought out of his serfdom in 1838, but he spent a great deal of time imprisoned by the Russian authorities. He died in St Petersburg in 1861 at the age of 47.

The poem Calamity Again  was written in 1854, in the middle of the Crimean War, at which time Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire. The poem was written at Novopetrovsk Fortress, depicted in the above painting by Shevchenko himself.

Dear God, calamity again! …
It was so peaceful, so serene;
We but began to break the chains
That bind our folk in slavery …
When halt! … Again the people’s blood
Is streaming! Like rapacious dogs
About a bone, the royal thugs
Are at each other’s throat again.

 

Offering Refuge

Posted in Biographical, LGBT, Maynooth, Politics with tags , , on March 6, 2022 by telescoper

As the humanitarian consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unfold, Ireland expects something like 20,000 refugees to arrive many of whom will require accommodation. Around 1300 have arrived in Ireland so far, but these have mainly been taken in by Ukrainian family members and friends already in Ireland.

(The number of Ukrainian refugees so far accepted into the UK is just 50.)

We had a Department Meeting on Friday which began with a minute’s silence for the dead, the bereaved and all those suffering in ways we can’t even begin to imagine as a result of Russia’s heinous crimes in Ukraine. As I stood in silence I felt frustration at the smallness of the gesture; that feeling wasn’t at all assuaged by making a donation to the Irish Red Cross appeal later that evening.

When I learnt that the Irish Red Cross has launched an appeal for emergency accommodation I saw the chance to do something practical. I have a spare room, which I decided to register as potential accommodation for a refugee. It’s quite a small bedroom but can be made available very quickly once I’ve moved a few things out and given it a clean. At least the bed is quite comfortable: I know because I slept in it for several weeks before my new bed arrived. Of course if anyone comes they can have the run of the rest of the house.

Pledging accommodation in this way is not a trivial process. The property and the host have to be vetted to check that nothing nefarious is going on. I expect I’ll be contacted next week for this purpose and if my pledge is accepted and an appropriate individual found, a case officer will be assigned to ensure everything is going OK. There’s no guarantee my offer will be accepted, though. I’ll just have to wait and see.

As a single adult it would obviously be more appropriate to host another single adult. It crossed my mind that an offer of accommodation in a university town such as Maynooth might enable a student or academic from Ukraine to continue their studies in some way, but I’m not going to limit the range of possible people to that. I can offer an LGBT+ friendly environment too if that is important to anyone.

I’ve lived alone for quite a long time now so it is not without apprehension that I registered this pledge. I can see that there may be many difficulties, but they would be as nothing compared to the difficulties facing the Ukrainian people right now. I feel it’s the least I could do.

I am glad that, within the European Union, Ireland is playing its part in the response to the Ukraine crisis. When I look across the Irish Sea at the United Kingdom’s callous indifference to refugees alongside its half-hearted implementation of sanctions on Putin’s evil regime, I am once more glad I no longer live in a country with such a corrupt and mean-spirited Government.

Making a Statement about Ukraine

Posted in Maynooth, Politics with tags , , , , , , on March 2, 2022 by telescoper

A Ukrainian student here in Maynooth gave out some ribbons for staff and students to show support by making a visible statement of solidarity. I’m proud to be wearing one:

Public statements made by institutions such as universities and research organizations aren’t going to end the war in Ukraine, but they can at least offer solidarity with the victims of war and sometimes even offer practical support.

I was very pleased to see on Friday, dust a day after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, that my own University, Maynooth, issued a statement on the conflict:

Maynooth University condemns the invasion of Ukraine and we extend our deepest sympathy at this dark hour to all our Ukrainian colleagues, students and graduates as they anxiously await word from friends and family fleeing their homes.

Also in our thoughts are members of the MU community from the entire region, whose families, lives and livelihoods are affected by the escalating tension and violence.

Maynooth University stands in solidarity with those who cherish democracy and peace, and we will undertake a process of engagement with colleagues from this region to discuss and explore ways to activate our support.  

It doesn’t say much, but it was at least timely and thoughtful. Far better than remaining silent.

The Royal Irish Academy issued a statement on Monday:

The Royal Irish Academy, as Ireland’s national academy for science, the humanities, and social sciences, is shocked and deeply concerned at the military invasion by Russia of Ukraine. The Academy notes with grave concern the damage this represents to educational and scientific institutions, academics, and international research collaboration, and to the social, economic and cultural foundations of Ukraine. The Academy expresses support and solidarity with the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. The Academy also wishes to salute the courageous position taken by many members of the Russian Academy of Sciences, who associated their signature with that of several hundred researchers and scientific journalists from their country in an open letter denouncing the aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation and calling for its immediate end.

In my own field, I saw a statement issued by various learned societies and organizations in the field of astronomy. It’s not as strong but at least does offer some practical supports for Ukrainian academics fleeing the war:

The European Astronomical Society (EAS), the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the American Astronomical Society (AAS), and African Astronomical Society (AfAS), the Astronomical Society of Australia (ASA), and the Korean Astronomical Society (KAS) have been observing with great concern the events unfolding in Ukraine and fear the adverse consequences for the scientific community, our colleagues, and their families. We have been receiving reports of the dire circumstances they are experiencing: their freedom, safety and even their lives are under threat.

The mission of our societies is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects, including research, communication, education and development through international cooperation. We believe in free expression and free exchange of scientific ideas and in peaceful collaboration at a global level. The current events jeopardise the scientific cooperation within our European community and with the rest of the world.

We are deeply concerned for the Ukrainian community as well as for the entire region. Triggered by the life-threatening situation in which our Ukrainian colleagues find themselves, we wish to encourage members to help wherever possible in this difficult time for Ukraine. Ukrainian astronomers seeking support should contact the Institute of International Education (IIE) scholar rescue fund, which supports refugee scholars and is activating an Ukraine-specific student emergency fund.

Notice that the Royal Astronomical Society is absent from the list of signatories. Indeed it has not made any public statement whatsoever about the invasion of Ukraine. Their silence is deafening. From where I sit, as a Fellow, their policy of ignoring the conflict just looks spineless and contemptible.

UPDATE: The Royal Astronomical Society has now posted a statement (dated 2nd March):

The Royal Astronomical Society deeply regrets the illegal military invasion of Ukraine, a sovereign democratic nation, by Russia. Our thoughts and hopes go out to our fellow scientists and all the citizens of Ukraine for their safety and well-being. We will be exploring avenues for supporting our fellow scientists who are fleeing the war zone with government agencies and our sister societies.

There are a number of non-governmental organisations working to provide humanitarian relief in Ukraine itself and in neighbouring countries, including the following, who welcome donations:

British Red Cross

United Help Ukraine

Sunflower of Peace

Voices of Children

As far I know the Institute of Physics has so far refused to address the Ukraine crisis.

The Institute of Physics has also now issued a (brief) statement (dated 3rd March):

The Institute of Physics condemns Russia’s actions against Ukraine which are a violation of one of the most fundamental norms of international law that prohibits the use or threat of force by one state against another. As a member of the European Physical Society we support the statement of the Executive Committee.

Physics is a global endeavour, and we continue to support academic freedom of scientists everywhere.

We hope for a quick resolution of the crisis to bring an end to its devastating impacts on the people of Ukraine.

My regard for both these organizations has fallen considerably in the last week, to the point that I now seriously doubt whether I wish to remain a Fellow of either. If there are good reason why I should change my mind, or if either organization has made public statements that I’ve missed, I’d love to hear them, either through the comments box or privately.

P.S. The Royal Society of London is also yet to make a statement on Ukraine. I find this regrettable. Obviously, though, I am not a Fellow of that organization so am not able to resign.

UPDATE: The Royal Society has now joined with the National Academies of all the G7 Nations in making a strong statement against the Russian invasion of Ukraine:

I don’t know why it took a full week to get there, but I am pleased at last that the RAS, IOP and Royal Society have now at least said something. Every little helps.

The Little Things

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , , , on February 25, 2022 by telescoper

Yesterday morning I heard the news about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine via the radio as soon as it woke me up at 7am. It took me a while to summon up the energy to get out of bed and get ready for my 9am lecture. The routine things of life seem so trivial and futile compared to wars and other disasters over which one has no influence. But it does not help Ukraine (nor anyone else, including yourself) to be overwhelmed by despair. So I got up and did my lecture, as I did this morning with a 9am tutorial.

Somehow, it feels like a duty to persevere. I think that’s partly because the tyrants of this world want people to feel powerless. By persisting with the little things you are, in a very small way, defying those who want you to be terrified. The image of Vladimir Putin as some sort mastermind, a Karla-like bogeyman with strategic superpowers, has hypnotized too many. He’s just a sad old relic of the Cold War.

I try to resist looking at the news too often, my desire to stay informed tempered by a wish to remain sane. I’d like to believe that the Ukrainians can hold out, but they’re massively outnumbered and outgunned so the odds are heavily against them. But they’re fighting on their home soil for a just cause against an invader. That should count for something. The longer they can hold out wear down the Russian army the more chance there is that the tide will turn against Putin at home.

I doubt that sanctions from the West will have any impact on Putin’s murderous intentions, at least not in the short term. In any case they look weak to me. Russian teams are still playing in UEFA tournaments, and Russia will still be in Eurovision. Why is this tolerated?

I spent an hour yesterday on a zoom call related to the European Space Agency’s Euclid mission, which is due to be launched on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 2023. The latest batch of sanctions may lead to a delay in Euclid or even its cancellation. That would be a major problem for many scientists around the world. It’s a big thing for us, but it gets smaller when you compare it with what’s happening in the world. I bet a majority of us working in cosmology would prefer to see Euclid scrapped altogether than see further death and destruction unfold. I know I would.

It wouldn’t work that way, of course, but the question we have to ask ourselves is who are we happy to do business with? How could you sleep at night after giving money to or taking money from the Kremlin or its proxies? Maybe Putin will succeed only in giving the West a renewed sense of moral certainty.

For years the West has been corrupted by dirty money from Russia’s gangster oligarchs. Now Ukraine is paying the price. We’ve been far too slow to understand the true nature of who and what we’ve been dealing with. Now it’s time to get serious. “Business as usual” no longer applies, at least not with Russia…

A Dark Day #IStandWithUkraine

Posted in Politics with tags , on February 24, 2022 by telescoper

Just a reminder that Johnson’s UK Government has a huge majority in the House of Commons and could easily pass emergency laws to impose sanctions on Putin and his oligarch pals after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, if it wanted to. It won’t, because the Conservative Party is awash with dirty Russian money and is fatally compromised.

A Message of Solidarity

Posted in Education, Politics with tags , , , on February 14, 2022 by telescoper

Today members of the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU), which represents academic staff in UK universities, begin ten days of strike action over cuts to pensions, pay and working conditions.

I know it doesn’t help very much, but I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all the strikers well and express solidarity and support for their wholly justified action.

Universities affected by the strike include three that I’ve actually worked in: Sussex, Nottingham and Queen Mary, University of London. I understand that a large majority of those voting in the ballot at Cardiff were in favour of industrial action but there were insufficient responses to meet the legal threshold for a strike to be lawful.