Archive for European Union

Voting Matters in Ireland

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , on May 21, 2019 by telescoper

Arriving back in civilization last night I discovered that my polling card for Friday’s voting has arrived at last along with instructions on the Referendum to be held alongside the Local Council Elections and the European Parliament Elections, all held on 24th May.

I’m looking forward to casting my ballot. It is a new experience for me to vote here in Ireland. Both elections are held under Proportional Representation (Single Transferable Vote) which seems to me a very sensible system. One ranks the candidates in order of preference with votes progressively reallocated as the lowest-ranked candidates are eliminated. You can rank all the candidates or just some. In the system employed here one ranks the candidates in order of preference with votes progressively reallocated in various rounds until one ends up with the top n candidates to fill the n available seats. Surplus votes from the top candidates as well as those of eliminated candidates are reallocated to lower-preference candidates in this process.

The Local Elections involve filling 40 seats on Kildare County Council, with five councillors representing Maynooth. The nine candidates are listed here, in case you’re interested.

For the European Parliament Elections things are a bit more complicated. For the purposes of the EU elections Ireland is divided into three constituencies: Dublin, Ireland South and Midlands North West. I am in the latter, which elects four MEPs. There are 17 candidates for this constituency, listed here.

As a relative newcomer to Ireland I first sorted the candidates into three groups: (i) those that I would be happy to see elected, (ii) those that I don’t really like but could tolerate, and (iii) those that I wouldn’t like to see representing me under any circumstances. There are plenty in the latter category. There seems to be a law in Ireland that there has to be at least one deranged simpleton on every ballot paper, and there are several in this election. I will choose my lower-preference votes to ensure that none of these dickheads, especially racist gobshite Peter Casey, benefit from my vote in any way.

Although the STV system seems very sensible to me, it does lead to a rather lengthy counting process – especially if everyone does what I plan to do, i.e. rank all the candidates instead of just their favourites.

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Changing Time

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2019 by telescoper

Among the many sensible decisions made yesterday by the European Parliament was to approve a directive that will abolish `Daylight Saving Time’. I’ve long felt that the annual ritual of putting the clocks forward in the Spring and back again in the Autumn was a waste of time effort, so I’ll be glad when this silly practice is terminated.
It would be better in my view to stick with a single Mean Time throughout the year. I’m only disappointed that this won’t happen until 2021 as EU countries have to enact the necessary legislation according to their constitutional processes.

The marvellous poster above is from 1916, when British Summer Time was introduced. I was surprised to learn recently that the practice of changing clocks backwards and forwards is only about a hundred years old. in the United Kingdom. To be honest I’m also surprised that the practice persists to this day, as I can’t see any real advantage in it. Any institution or organisation that really wants to change its working hours in summer can easily do so, but the world of work is far more flexible nowadays than it was a hundred years ago and I think few would feel the need.

Anyway, while I am on about Mean Time, here is a another poster from 1916.

Until October 1916, clocks in Ireland were set to Dublin Mean Time, as defined at Dunsink Observatory rather than at Greenwich. The adoption of GMT in Ireland was driven largely by the fact that the British authorities found that the time difference between Dublin and London had confused telegraphic communications during the Easter Rising earlier in 1916. Its imposition was therefore, at least in part, intended to bring Ireland under closer control and this did not go down well with Irish nationalists.

Ireland had not moved to Summer Time with Britain in May 1916 because of the Easter Rising. Dublin Mean Time was 25 minutes 21 seconds behind GMT but the change was introduced at the same time as BST ended in the UK, hence the alteration by one hour minus 25 minutes 21 seconds, ie 34 minutes and 39 seconds as in the poster.

Britain will probably not scrap British Summer Time immediately as it will be out of the European Union by then. British xenophobia will resist this change on the grounds that anything to do with the EU must be bad. What happens to Northern Ireland when Ireland scraps Daylight Saving Time is yet to be seen.

Moreover the desire expressed by more than one Brexiter to return to the 18th Century may be behind the postponement of the Brexit deadline from 29th March to 12th April may be the result of an attempt to repeal the new-fangled Gregorian calendar (introduced in continental Europe in 1582 but not adopted by Britain until 1750). It’s not quite right though: 29th March in the Gregorian calendar would be 11th April in the Gregorian calendar…

“No Erasmus please, we’re British..”

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , on February 28, 2019 by telescoper

As the ongoing Brexit fiasco systematically trashes Britain’s international reputation, the consequences for the UK University sector are becoming increasingly obvious. In particular, the realization that Britain now defines itself exclusively by its xenophobia has led to a decision by Spain to remove the UK from the list of potential destinations for students under the Erasmus scheme. I’m sure other nations will soon make the same decision.

The European Union has agreed to honour Erasmus grants this year to UK students wish to study at European universities under Erasmus regardless of whether there is a Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and EU, but this is unlikely to be anything other than a stop-gap. It’s very sad to think that British students will be denied access to the Erasmus scheme in future, along with losing all the other benefits of Freedom of Movement.

Every cloud has a silver lining, though. Irish universities are more than happy to accept Erasmus students, and the one I work in (Maynooth) has a very active involvement in the scheme. So if you’re a student based in the EU, and want to study at an English-speaking university, why not apply to study in Ireland?

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!

The Brexit Non-negotiations

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on July 17, 2017 by telescoper

daviddavis

The above picture was taken in Brussels this morning, it shows British government minister David Davis MP (right, centre of three) and the chief negotiator for the European Union, Michel Barnier (left, centre of three).

Notice that the EU negotiating team has come prepared with stacks of paperwork (probably including the detailed briefing papers that have been published by the European Union). By contrast, the British team have brought no papers at all.

It turns out that David Davis spent just an hour or so in Brussels before returning to London. With the clock ticking on the UK’s departure from the EU you would think that the Minister would want to make full use of the negotiations to secure a good outcome for this country, but by all accounts his team have yet to produce any position papers at all, unless you count the calculatedly mean-spirited `offer’ to EU citizens resident in the UK, which falls well short of what the EU had already tabled some months ago.

So what’s going on?

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 most likely time for the staged walkout is in the autumn, probably after the German federal elections.

This gambit will no doubt be supported by propaganda pieces in the Daily Express, Mail and Telegraph and it 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. Not to mention the chaos it will cause for EU residents in the UK and UK residents in the EU.

That is, I believe, the Government’s plan. 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.

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. 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.

I may of course be completely wrong about this view of how Brexit will pan out, but so far nobody has been able to convince me that I am. You could try, if you like, through the comments box,.

 

 

 

We’ll Be Together Again

Posted in Jazz, Politics with tags , , , , , on March 29, 2017 by telescoper

So, we’ve come to it at last.

At 12.30 BST the Prime Minister’s letter invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty will be delivered to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk. This will begin the process by which the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. It also begins the process of dismantling the United Kingdom itself. Scottish independence is now an inevitability as is, probably on a slightly longer timescale, the reunification of Ireland.

I am sad beyond words that this country has taken this path to self-destruction, but can only hope that we eventually see sense and change or mind at some point in the next two years, or return to the fold at some later stage.

No artist was better at conveying a sense of tragedy and loss through their music than Billie Holiday, and here’s a track by her that perfectly expresses my feelings at this bleak time:

No tears, no fears
Remember there’s always tomorrow
So what if we have to part
We’ll be together again

 

 

Ten Years of the European Research Council

Posted in Politics, Science Politics with tags , , , , on February 9, 2017 by telescoper

This little video reminded me that we’re coming up to the tenth anniversary of the founding of the European Research Council (ERC).

 

In my opinion the ERC has been an outstanding success that has revitalized science across the continent and here in the United Kingdom. Sadly the UK government has decided that the United Kingdom will play no further part in ERC-funded schemes or any other programme funded by the EU.  The participation of UK scientists has already started to diminish and when it dries up completely there will be a significant loss of research income, especially for fundamental science. I’m grateful to Paul Crowther for pointing out that over the past decade there have been no fewer than 176 ERC awards to UK physics departments, meaning over  1/3 of a billion Euros in research funding.

I estimate that most physics & astronomy departments in the UK will lose 20-30% of their research income as a result of leaving the EU. Most also have a similar fraction of staff who are EU nationals, many of whom will leave because of the UK government’s shocking refusal to guarantee their right to remain. I find it sad beyond words that we as a nation are not only about to throw away our leading role in so many excellent research projects but also destroy our own credibility as a civilized nation by the mean-spirited way we are behaving.

But the ERC will at least offer British scientists two ways to continue their involvement with EU programmes. The first is that existing grants are portable, so principal investigators who decided to relocate to an EU country can take their funding with them. The second is that future ERC grants are open to applicants from any country in the world who wish to carry out their research within the EU.

As Niels Bohr famously remarked “prediction is very difficult, especially about the future”. I don’t know whether there will be a significant brain drain to the EU from the UK as a result of BrExit, but I do know many colleagues are talking about it right now. As for myself, if someone were to offer me a job in Europe I’d definitely take it.

(My CV is available on request).