Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Another gem from SMBC:

This neatly illustrates a quantum version of Politician’s Logic, so-named after this quote from Yes, Prime Minister:

He’s suffering from Politicians’ Logic. Something must be done. This is something. Therefore we must do it.

The quantum mechanics version of this goes as follows:

My idea is weird. Quantum mechanics is weird. Therefore, my idea is supported by quantum mechanics.

Examples of this “quantum wink” are numerous – from “the Tao of Physics” to “What the bleep do we know?”.


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(N.b. Especially with this post, these remarks reflect views that belong to Berian and should not be taken to reflect the views of the co-authors of this blog, or of the institutions with which Berian is affiliated.)

There will be an Australian Federal Election on the 21st of August. For the first time, I am endorsing support for the Australian Greens, particularly in the Upper House, and in the strongest terms I can muster. Regrettably, this is equal measure endorsement of some of their policies and dis-endorsement of the policies of the two opposing parties. I would like to explain, briefly, why I think the Greens deserve support and why this election in particular is a good opportunity to vote for them.


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Horse meat down under

It’s time to re-read one of Matt’s old posts, as Perth (Australia) butcher Vince Garreffa gets the all clear from the state authorities to vend equus, apparently under threat of death from grossed-out locals, who believe that their own revulsion is an effective argument against sale of the meat. I won’t expect to hear a butcher espouse meat-free eating, so instead I’ll praise Garreffa’s admirable consistency (h/t Crikey!):

“If somebody told me that we were going to start eating Jack Russells tomorrow, I would be horrified. I love my Jack Russell… but hey, emotions are one thing.”

This is a good demonstration of one of only two logically consistent positions with regard to eating meat.

P.S. Election time! Remember to check your enrollment with the AEC!

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Some of you may not have realised that the majority of Matt’s blogging for LtN actually takes place in the comment threads to Crikey articles, where his writing invariably attracts spirited criticism. As a service to our international readers, we collate, with the lightest of editing, a recent intervention into Live-blogging as PM Kevin Rudd speaks in Copenhagen; the progenitor article is less substantive and interesting than the following commentary, so don’t worry about clicking through.

Cue Bogdanovist:


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In the light

I know I’d implied I was off ’til Monday, but Peter Coles has written an important post that demands immediate and unqualified endorsement. Sketching two stills from his life as an openly gay man, Coles communicates the progress that has and has not been made in the way differences from the inherited social norms of sexuality are handled within academia and British society.


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Peter Coles has just written a post on what he terms the ‘academic journal racket’, and rather than add a lengthy comment, I’ll write something here.

The rational argument for electronic editing and publishing is certainly made very strongly in his post. I would like to hear a scientist at a later stage of their career than me expound a little more on how the inertia of our current system should be overcome. The arXiv++ path, though undoubtedly fraught with complications, certainly seems to have a lot of potential—but how could the community of scientists be galvanised around it? Would Peter consider discussing this with the arXiv administrators directly? At least one cosmology blogger has participated in the shaping of the arXiv previously. Online petitions are very twee, but if there is a earnest desire for change among those making decisions about journal subscriptions, perhaps a concensus can be quickly reached acknowledged.

Two further comments: the arXiv would need to be further decentralised for these ideas to be tenable—if it became the Hauptbahnhopf for astrophysics papers, Cornell University Library would feel obliged to ask for contributions to the maintainence costs, putting everyone roughly back where we started. The merit of Universities having their own preprint servers, which Peter correctly derides as being pointless compartmentalisation, is that there is no mechanism for some party to feel agrieved over the burden they bear. In this vein, I contend that: a cheap, effective and rigorous publication process for astrophysics papers can be achieved with a highly distributed network of continually updating arXiv mirrors, all acting as entry points for papers that are then directed to editors on the basis of subject, assigned to referees, and revised and updated through much the same process that exists at present.

Achieving this would require senior academics to stop their departments’ current academic journal subscriptions, to wrest some control of the arXiv from Cornell and to design and implement a functional editorial system. I don’t have much more to say about the lattermost here, though I don’t believe that blog-style comments or wiki-style modification are senisble at the present time—it’s too easy to act in a rash and unrestrained manner through those media.

Lastly, and quite topically for Luke and myself, acknowledging that we can get by just with electronic copies of papers should lead some universities to acknowledge that the archaic ritual of thesis binding can be done away with. The cost is high and are often borne entirely by the student. Having a bound copy of the work for oneself is ‘nice’, though it amounts to vanity publishing (not that this bothers me)—but university libraries can get along just fine with electronic copies; distributing them through the arXiv is an increasingly common practice.

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Because I spend insufficiently little time feeling as though I’m still an undergraduate, may I politely agitate for others to follow the advice of Chris Bertram:

Those of you working in higher education in the UK already know about the barbarous proposal to make future support for research depend on a government assessment of its “impact” – in other worlds whether there’s a tangible payoff in terms of economic growth or social policy.

My colleague James Ladyman has launched a petition on the No.10 website to tell Gordon Brown what we think of the idea. If you’re British, even if you don’t live in the UK any more, pop over and sign it.

Something similar has been mentioned by Andy, just in reference to the UK’s main science council. To pass broader comment, I am uncertain of the efficacy of these petitions. I hypothesise that the UK government acts only on those that are i) highly supported; and ii) of purely symbolic value. For instance, the recent public apology issued posthumously to Alan Turing is both terrifically sensible and completely uncourageous. I am unaware of an initiative requiring the expenditure of political captial that has seen fruition through these petitions, but I acknowledge that, if my hypothesis stems from cynicism, it could be that I have selectively ignored counterexamples. On the one hand, I hope that’s wrong, but on the other, it would be nice if it were true.

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Well, I did promise to stop yammering on about aliens…


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So, being the politophile that I am, today I had cause to check an obscure rule regarding the rules governing the Australian Parliament Question Time. As is now my habit, I went straight to Wikipedia to have a look at the no doubt well researched, cited, edited and reviewed article. To my dismay this was the opening line:

” “Question Time” in a parliament occurs when backbenchers (members of the parliament who are not Political Ministers) ask questions of the Prime Minister which he or she is obliged to answer.”

Apart from being almost completely wrong (anyone can ask anyone else a question during question time). The article contradicted itself later on. Since I couldn’t trust the basics I gave up on Wiki and went to Google to find the info I was after. Of course, the first few hits were this bogus Wiki page, and many of the other high rating hits linked back to it! It seems that the decay rate of misinformation on the web has been significantly increased thanks to the rise of Wikipedia.

In the past I’ve always found Wikipedia quite useful and I use it frequently for historical, geographical and even scientific questions. There is always a bit of controversy about wiki when someone vandalises the page of some eminant person, but since most of these are restricted to US culture wars it has never bothered me. What this little episode demonstrated to me though is that sloppy errors can quickly grow and solidify due to the self referential loop of the Wikipedia/Google system.

I’ve edited the Wiki page now, so hopefully it is a bit more accurate (though the whole page probably needs a good workover). But they are now my words that anyone looking through either Google or Wiki will read if they want to learn about Question Time, and remember I started this process precisely because I didn’t know much about the subject. We live in strange times…

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First, via The Beat, it transpires that Matt Groening drew wryly from the title of the Turangalîla-Symphonie when naming Futurama’s (Turanga) Leela. Minus one point from Berian for having been insufficiently attentive to spot that himself.

Perhaps more seriously, the Fredösphere recently excerpted transcripts from the Nixon administration:

— On May 18, 1972, Nixon talks to Henry Kissinger about the National Security Adviser’s meeting with Ivy League composers regarding Messiaen’s oratorio La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ:

NIXON: “The Ivy League composers? Why, I’ll never let those sons-of-b—— in the White House again. Never, never, never. They’re finished. The Ivy League schools are finished … Henry, I would never have had them in. Don’t do that again … They came out against La Transfiguration when it was tough … Don’t ever go to an Ivy League school again, ever. Never, never, never.”

Apparently the interest in Messiaen was sustained over a number of years, so that would be not so much Nixon in China as just Nixon in the White House. One last non-Messiaen note of pleasure is directed toward the publication of the score for Pärt’s Fourth Symphony (‘Los Angeles’) through an extremely fancy online viewer, in advance of its first performance, which is this Saturday in the eponymous City of Angels. I will have to content myself with reading reviews of it for now.

(Generic hat tip to Alex Ross, who has more than earned a place on the blogroll.)

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