Archive for politics

Dark Horizons for Blue Skies

Posted in physics, science with tags , , , , on September 11, 2008 by Philonous

I read and listened today to David King, Chief Scientific advisor to the British government from 2000-2007 saying that there is no space in scientific funding for so called ‘blue skies research’.

Blue skies research is essentially research for curiosity’s sake, trying to gain greater understanding of some part of the nature of reality. As such, it generally has no immediate applications at its conception, although it is responsible for the theories that lie as the bedrock supporting applied science, engineering and economics.

One example of blue skies research is into discovering the very nature of physical interaction in the universe, be it on the grand scale of cosmology or the minute scale of particle physics. The Large Hadron Collider which was switched on yesterday at CERN is a good example of the blue sky. David King bemoaned the spending of 500m pounds on the LHC, saying

“It’s all very well to demonstrate that we can land a craft on Mars, it’s all very well to discover whether or not there is a Higgs boson (a potential mass mechanism); but I would just suggest that we need to pull people towards perhaps the bigger challenges where the outcome for our civilisation is really crucial.”

Coming from a leading scientist, this comes across as patently ridiculous and rather confusing. Ok, so I might be a little biased being a pure mathematician (how much more blue sky can you get?) and feeling as if we’re getting very little funding already. This application driven point of view seems ridiculously closed minded and incredibly short sighted. Particle physics has so far produced such (presumably useless according to DK) devices as the transistor, the computer display, radiotherapy, x-rays… In fact, most of the major advances that characterise the 20th century are due in no small part to spin-offs of particle physics experiments.

Science in the UK seems hopelessly doomed when Chief scientific advisers can be so incredibly anti-science. Given this, it was incredibly gratifying to see David King (above right) berated by Brian Cox (above left), the poster boy of UK particle physics (and a Professor in the High Energy Physics department at Manchester) on Newsnight last night. He put forward the remark that on the one day in which fundamental scientific research is actually covered in the media, it was ridiculous for the president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science to be pouring cold water on the achievement.

If you’re reading this Prof King (haha!), I suggest that you quit your job as chief scientific advisor to UBS and spend all of your time tackling climate change before suggesting that blue sky researchers should change their focus and jeopardise modern science in the process.

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Posted in film, politics with tags , on August 26, 2008 by Philonous

The other day, I watched Nick Broonfield’s feature length documentary The Leader, His Driver and the Driver’s Wife. The action takes place in the South Africa of 1991, painted as a place fraught with internal divisions and the inevitable conflict that results. The story follows Nick Broomfield himself whose aim is to pin down the enigmatic and frankly terrifying leader of the AWB, a far right movement composed of white South Africans looking for a return to full blown apartheid. ‘The Leader’ as he is known, Eugène Terre’Blanche, is firebrand in his rhetoric, prolific in his poetry, steeped in racism and spurred on by tales of adversity faced by Boer generals during the war.

In fact, the impossibility of actually getting hold of the leader leads Broomfield’s attention being more drawn to the leader’s driver JP. He seems to be torn between his sensibilities as a member of the AWB and the overbearing and intimidting manner of the leader. The whole story becomes takes a turn for the sinister when it emerges that JP along with various other shady characters in the AWB could perhaps have been involved in various terorrist acts against blacks.

In the end, it’s a very interesting film which gives great insight into the political situation in South Africa at the time. Watching it however, you do end up wondering how responsible Broomfield has been in his editting for the overall image of the AWB. (There was a libel case from Jani Lane, a then prominent journalist immediately following the fim’s release.) In any case, I was left wondering in the end if the esteemed leader had been moonlighting as the frontman of a rather famous American band…

McCain chooses running mate

Posted in politics with tags on August 24, 2008 by Philonous

John McCain this afternoon announced he was choosing the world’s most intelligent human, Cerebrium, to be his choice for Vice-President in next November’s US General Election.

Introducing his running mate at a rally in Columbus, Ohio, the Republican nominee praised his partner as ‘a man with a distinguished record and superhuman powers of intellect’ and denied vicious rumours circulated in Democratic circles that Cerebrium had once been a partner in Lex Luthor’s plan to conquer the planet.

Addressing a cheering crowd at the rally, Cerebrium announced a raft of new policies, such as utilising his perpetual motion device to solve world energy problems, inventing a genesis device to make previously infertile land arable and thus solve world hunger, and perfecting a new untraceable steroid to make sure the US wins more gold medals than China at the next Olympic Games.

Some analysts praised McCain’s choice, saying that Cerebrium had long ago devised the solutions to all of humanities problems, while others criticised the selection, pointing out that Cerebrium completely failed to connect with blue-collar and Hispanic voters, two key demographics in the hotly contested election.

A native of Long Island, NY, Cerebrium’s hobbies include 11-dimensional Sudoku, and infinite two person games of perfect information.

17 Course Crisis

Posted in Food, politics with tags on July 11, 2008 by Philonous

Much has been made recently of the increasing prices of basic commodities such as food and fuel. Amidst the introduction of protectionist export tariffs in some countries and rising inflation and interest rates in others, there is a general atmosphere of a looming crisis around the world. Check out this Rocketboom video for a 3 minute summary:

Crisis indeed. Not so in Hokkaido however where G8 leaders this week rewarded a hard day’s chatting with a slap up multiple course banquet comprising the choicest of Japanese delecacies. Churchill apparently was similarly fond of fine food, fine cognac and fine cigars during the strict rationing of the war years. I suppose these sorts of perks are to be expected…

The menu (as reported by the Guardian) read as follows:

  • Corn-stuffed caviar
  • Smoked salmon and sea urching “pain surprise” style
  • Winter lily bulb and summer savoury
  • Kelp-flavoured cold kyoto beef shabu-shabu, asparagus dressed with sesame cream
  • Diced fatty fles of tuna fish, avocado and jellied soy sauce and Japanese herb “shiso”
  • Boiled clam, tomato, Japanese herb “shiso” in jellied clear soup of clam
  • Water shield and pickled conger dressed with vinegar soy sauce
  • Boiled prawn with jellied tosazu-vinegar
  • Grilled eel rolled around burdock strip
  • Sweet potato
  • Fried and seasoned Goby with soy sauce and sugar
  • Hairy Crab “Kegani” bisque soup
  • Salt-grilled bighand thornyhead with vinegary water pepper sauce
  • Milk fed lamb from “shiranuka” flavoured with aromatic herbs and mustard
  • Roasted lamb and cepes and black truffle with emulsion sauce of lamb’s stock and pine seed oil
  • Special cheese selection, lavender honey and caramelised nuts
  • G8 fantasy dessert

Well it’s good to know that they’re taking it all so seriously. Presumably Mr Brown made the left-overs into a convenient flan rather than throwing away the 30% that we British are prone to waste. Watch for spin-doctors’ heads rolling out of Whitehall.

Also check out the FT report and the Guardian report.

London: a trip to the metropolis

Posted in politics, travel with tags on June 26, 2008 by Philonous

So here I am. Trafalgar square. Monument to imperialism, war and the triumph of Graeco-Roman educated northern European stiff upper lip over a small beligerent Frenchman. Le Fox of course, being one of our kir-swilling crepe-eating brethren from the-other-side-of-le-manche isn’t with here with me, taking Nelson’s column as a direct insult to the French red, white and blue. Ok, i made that up, but being avian-averse, she wouldn’t have a particularly good time anyway.

I’ve just walked here from Buckingham Palace along Whitehall, the seat of British power. The palace’s environs are full of well-to-do houses, old world clubs and stretches of green, all ceremonially guarded by soldier in funny hats on funny horses. From these treelined streets, Whitehall seemed most clinical. Security guards and tourists everywhere-imposing white buldings from which one fifth of humanity was once governed. It seemed rather apt that the side entrance to Buckingham palace (through which the scones and crumpets pass, never to return) was relatively deserted with a traffic cone blocking the part of the opening not covered by the automatic barrier.

In comparison, Downing street seemed like a fortified bunker with successive lines of huge railings complicated entry systems and stern looking flak-jacketed police. Is the Prime Minister so unpopular? How sad the Queen must feel, no longer inspiring enough hatred in her subjects to warrant greater protection.