Archive for BrExit

What are we going to do now?

Posted in Politics, Television with tags , on November 15, 2018 by telescoper

On this tumultuous day in British politics, this blog is proud to be able to show exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of the Cabinet discussions at Number 10 Downing Street:


Dean’s Lecture – Prof. AC Grayling

Posted in Politics with tags , , on October 11, 2018 by telescoper

Just a quick note to mention that yesterday evening I attended the annual Dean’s Lecture in the Faculty of Arts, Celtic Studies and Philosophy at Maynooth University. This year it was delivered by the renowned philosopher Professor A.C .Grayling and was on the subject of The Meaning of Brexit for the ‘Westminster Model’ and the Future of Democracy. It was a fascinating talk, that involved a historical survey of the development of Parliamentary democracy in the UK (and elsewhere) in the light of the ongoing Brexit fiasco, ending with the case for a `People’s Vote’ as the only likely way out of the current impasse.

You can find a longer review of the lecture by a fellow Maynooth blogger here.

It was also pleasant to have the chance to have a brief chat with the speaker over a glass of wine at a reception after the lecture. Professor Grayling seems a very nice chap! I just wish I shared his optimism. I hope I’m proved wrong, but I fear that things are going to get very nasty in Britain very soon.

The Brexit Wormhole

Posted in Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on October 2, 2018 by telescoper

Since I have been passed over yet again for the physics Nobel Prize, I thought I’d pull out all the stops for next year and reveal my latest research which will surely satisfy the necessary criteria by conferring the “greatest benefit on mankind”.

One of the concerns facing those hoping to be involved in trade between post-Brexit Britain and the civilized world is the necessity of customs checks, especially at Dover, which will bring gridlock to the M20 and jeopardize the `just-in-time’ delivery systems used by most modern manufacturing enterprises e.g. the car industry.

My solution to this problem is to install at Dover a series of Einstein-Rosen Bridges (as illustrated above), connecting the United Kingdom to various points in the space-time continuum. Travelling through traversible wormholes will effectively allow British lorries to reach superluminal velocity, thereby not only avoiding delays on the M20 but also allowing goods to be delivered even before they have been ordered.

I am willing to lease the Brexit Wormhole device to representatives of the UK government for the modest fee* of £350 million per week, in the hope that the extent of this generosity will put me in line for the Nobel Peace Prize in addition to the Nobel Prize for Physics.

*Payment to be made in Euros only please.

In addition to fulfilling this important geopolitical function, it will also be possible for wealthy individuals to lease smaller versions of the device for their own use, e.g. Mr Rees-Mogg may be interested in using one to travel back in time to the 18th Century.

P.S. As if the Brexit wormhole were not enough to garner these prestigious awards, I can further announce that I have found a most marvelous solution of the Irish Border Problem but this blog post is too narrow to contain it.

On the Plural of Referendum

Posted in Pedantry, Politics with tags , , , , on September 5, 2018 by telescoper

Quite a few people are suggesting that one way out of the current Brexit fiasco is to have another referendum when the terms of the withdrawal agreement (if any) are known. Bafflingly, Theresa May has argued that a second plebiscite would be `a betrayal of democracy’ and has categorically ruled out that possibility. Given her U-turn about last year’s General Election one might reasonably infer that a second referendum is now a racing certainty, but she called the election because she was confident she would win. All the signs are now that if given a chance to vote again the UK would vote to remain in the European Union, so the PM will need a very hard push to allow a second referendum.  A smart politician would have used the evidence of electoral misconduct by the Leave campaigns as a way out, but we’re not dealing with smart politicians on either side of the House nowadays.

Whether or not there is a second referendum an important question arises from the possibility, i.e. what is the proper plural of “referendum”?

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m never pedantic about such matters. Well, maybe a little bit, sometimes. Latin was my best subject at O-level, though, so I can’t resist making a comment.

Any dictionary will tell you that “referendum” is obtained from the Latin verb referre which is itself formed as re- (prefix meaning “back”) + ferre (to carry), thus its literal meaning is “carry back” or, more relevantly to the current discussion, “to refer”. Ferre is actually an irregular verb, which complicates the discussion a bit, so I’ll use simpler examples of regular verbs below

Latin grammar includes two related concepts derived from a verb, the gerund and the gerundive.

The gerund is a verbal noun; such things exist in English in forms that mean `the act of something’, e.g. running, eating, loving.The word formed from a verb with the ending `ing’ can also function as a present participle in English, but we wont be going there. It may easy to muddle up gerunds with participles in English, but not in Latin as they are formed in distinctly different ways.

IAs an example, in the case of `loving’ the  relevant Latin verb is the first conjugation amare (amo amas amat and all that) and the appropriate gerund is amandus. You can this sort of Latin construction surviving in such English words as “graduand”. Note, however, that a gerund has no plural form because that would make no sense in Latin. There are plural forms in English such as `doings’ and `comings and goings’ but I don’t think these are relevant here as I interpret them as jocular, and pedantry is a very serious business. Moreover

Related to the gerund is the gerundive which, as its name suggests, is an adjectival form related to the gerund, specifically expressing necessity. In Latin, an adjective takes an ending that depends on the gender of the noun it describes; the gerundive also follows this pattern.

In the loving example above, the gerundive form is amandus in a masculine case or, if referring to a female entity, amanda, hence the name Amanda, which means “deserving or requiring love”, or amandum for a neuter noun. In cases where the noun is plural the forms would be amandi, amandae, and amanda. Endings for other gerundives formed from other verbs are constructed in a similar fashion depending on their conjugation.

From this discussion you can see that in Latin amandum could mean either “loving” (gerund) or “a thing to be loved” (gerundive). Latin grammar is sufficiently precise, however, that the actual meaning will be obvious from the context.

As an aside, based on my own experiences in mathematics and physics, the abbreviation `QED’ which is often placed at the end of a proof is short for `Quod Erat Demonstrandum’, meaning `which was required to be shown’ rather than `Quite Easily Done’.  I’m surprised how many people use QED without knowing what it means!

Now, back to referendum. It seems clear to me that this is a gerundive and thus means “a thing to be referred” (the thing concerned being of no gender, as is normal in such cases in Latin). So what should be the word for more than one referendum?

Think about it and you’ll realise that referenda would imply “more than one thing to be referred”. The familiar word agenda is formed precisely this way and it means “(a list of things) to be done”. But this is not the desired meaning we want, ie “more than one example of a thing being referred”.

I would therefore argue that referenda is clearly wrong, in that it means something quite different from that needed to describe more than one of what a single referendum is.

So what should we use? This is a situation where there isn’t a precise correspondence between Latin and English grammatical forms so it seems to me that we should just treat referendum as an English noun and give it the corresponding English plural. So “referendums” it is.

Any questions?

P.S. In a forthcoming post I shall give the full conjugation of the verb brexire, as brexit must be formed from that verb  in the same way that exit is formed from exire (i.e. third person singular in the active voice; exire is an irregular verb but basically similar to fourth conjugation). On this basis the gerund of brexire would be brexeundum and the gerundive brexeundus

Farewell to Brexit Britain

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , on July 23, 2018 by telescoper

I popped into the office at Cardiff University today to finish off one piece of outstanding business I didn’t have time to complete on Friday and to collect the last of my possessions – including a number of bottles of wine! – before flying to Ireland tomorrow morning.

I couldn’t resist doing a quick post about the chaotic state of UK politics towards Brexit. For all the turmoil of the past two weeks, In a sense nothing has changed since I wrote about this almost exactly a year ago. The so-called `Chequers Plan’ was greeted with predictable disdain by the EU negotiators who must be exasperated that Theresa May seems not to have understood anything that’s said about the European Single Market for the last two years, as well as signalling that she wanted to renege on agreements already reached in December. And then we had the new Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab, announcing that he intended that the UK would not pay its outstanding bills if a Trade Deal were not agreed, despite the UK having agreed to this months ago too.

All this is consistent with what I have always felt would be this government’s approach to the Brexit negotiations, which is not to negotiate at all. Their plan, as it has always been, is just to go through the motions until they able to find some pretext to storm out, blaming the EU for trying to bully them. The staged walkout will probably happen in October, after a summer media offensive against the EU supported by propaganda pieces in the Daily Express, Mail and Telegraph. That is, I believe, the Government’s plan. The new Foreign Secretary more or less said so today. It is why Theresa May called a snap election, hoping to build up a larger majority and a full parliamentary term to withstand the inevitable backlash. That gamble backfired, but the Conservatives are still in power and the plan remains in place.

This strategy might just allow the Tories to cling onto power while the economy suffers as we crash out of the EU in the most disorderly fashion possible. This will not only cause chaos for trade and commerce but will also be awful for for EU residents in the UK and UK residents in the EU. Above all, it will show that the UK government has not been acting in good faith at all throughout the process, and will ensure for generations to come that the United Government is entirely untrustworthy. And that’s before you even consider the fact that the 2016 referendum has now been demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt to have been crooked, due to unlawfully excessive spending by both Leave campaigns, and other dirty tricks such as illegal use of personal data.

So why has the Government decided to adopt this position? Simple. It does not have the wherewithal even to formulate a negotiating position, let alone deliver a successful outcome., because no possible end result can deliver the economic and political benefits of remaining in the European Union. If we’re going to make people suffer, the reasoning goes, we might as well find a scapegoat to deflect criticism away from our poor choices.

And what about the EU position? Well, they hold all the cards so they won’t be worried. Their priority will be to take over all the business opportunities that we have decided we no longer want. Whatever happens with the negotiations, the UK leaves the EU in March 2019. That’s plenty of time for EU companies to relocate their operations to mainland Europe, to write British producers out of their supply chains, and to expand its portfolio of trade agreements to the further disadvantage of the UK economy, like it has recently done with Japan.

The UK government views my new home, Ireland, as the Achilles Heel of the European Union. Things could get very tough in the Republic when the UK crashes out of the EU, no doubt to the delight of the Tory party’s henchmen in the DUP. But even if that is the case I’d much rather be living in Ireland than in Brexit Britain. Just as a xenophobic backward-looking insular and authoritarian agenda grips the UK, Ireland is moving in the opposite direction, towards a modern outward-looking progressive liberal democracy.

Oh, and if you’re an academic who is as fed up with the UK as I am, take a look at Science Foundation Ireland’s Future Research Leaders scheme. Maynooth University is particularly keen to welcome applicants to the Scheme!

Hands off the Good Friday Agreement!

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , , , , , on February 22, 2018 by telescoper


I’ve been watching with increasing alarm the concerted attempt that certain extremist `Brexiteers’ have been trying to make a case for scrapping the Good Friday Agreement that came about in 1998 after decades of violent conflict in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.  These reckless fools think that derailing the peace process is a price worth paying for their ideological obsession with rejecting anything that involves the EU, in this case the Customs Union that allows an open border between the Republic of Ireland (whose future lies in the vibrant and outward-looking European Union) and Northern Ireland (which will remain shackled to the corpse of the United Kingdom, at least for the time being, until the creation of a united Ireland…). Not surprisingly, Irish politicians and the Irish are incensed about the reckless statements being made by some UK politicians.

Incidentally, the Good Friday Agreement was supported by simultaneous referendums in Northern Ireland (71.1% in favour) and the Republic  of Ireland  (94.4% in favour) ; a majority of the NI electorate also voted against leaving th European Union.  It’s strange how selectively some people are prepared to accept `The Will of the People’…

Anyway, just as a reminder of what is at stake, here are three examples based on my own experiences of what things were like before the GFA, when I lived in London (which I did for about eight years, between 1990 and 1998). During that time I found myself in relatively close proximity to three major bomb explosions, though fortunately I wasn’t close enough to be actually harmed. I also concluded that my proximity to these events was purely coincidental.

The first, in 1993, was the Bishopsgate Bombing. I happened to be looking out of the kitchen window of my flat in Bethnal Green when that bomb went off. I had a clear view across Weavers Fields towards the City of London and saw the explosion happen. I heard it too, several seconds later, loud enough to set off the car alarms in the car park beneath my window.

This picture, from the relevant Wikipedia page, shows the devastation of the area affected by the blast.

The other two came in quick succession. First, a large bomb exploded in London Docklands on Friday February 8th 1996, at around 5pm, when our regular weekly Astronomy seminar was just about to finish at Queen Mary College on the Mile End Road. We were only a couple of miles from the blast, but I don’t remember hearing anything and it was only later that I found out what had happened.

Then, on the evening of Sunday 18th February 1996, I was in a fairly long queue trying to get into a night club in Covent Garden when there was a loud bang followed by a tinkling sound caused by pieces of glass falling to the ground. It sounded very close but I was in a narrow street surrounded by tall buildings and it was hard to figure out from which direction the sound had come from. It turned out that someone had accidentally detonated a bomb on a bus in Aldwych, apparently en route to plant it somewhere else (probably King’s Cross). What I remember most about that evening was that it took me a very long time to get home. Several blocks around the site of the explosion were cordoned off. I lived in the East End, on the wrong side of sealed-off area, so I had to find a way around it before heading home. No buses or taxis were to be found so I had to walk all the way. I arrived home in the early hours of the morning.


Does anyone really  want to go back to experiencing this kind of event on a regular basis? If  the UK government is persuaded in its weakness to ditch the Good Friday Agreement then there is a real risk of that happening. And if it does, those calling for it will have blood on their hands.




Hypocrisy Illustrated

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on January 3, 2018 by telescoper

The playwright Alan Bennett recently said that “England excels at one thing…hypocrisy”. If you needed any evidence that he was right, take a look at these results from a 2014 COMRES survey: