Archive for the Politics Category

A Day of Celebration (?)

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , on May 6, 2023 by telescoper

The latest version of Private Eye (the cover of which is shown above) arrived in the post yesterday. I thought I’d leave it until today to read it. Apparently there’s some sort of event happening in London which appears to be causing some disruption to traffic. I’m not watching RTÉ One, the main TV channel here in Ireland, but it seems to be showing a special four hour long episode of Coronation Street. I’m surprised there’s so much interest over here in what’s going on in Poundland.

I’m told that today’s events are a celebration of “British values”, which means locking up peaceful protestors who disagree with the Establishment. On the bright side, taunting the population with a conspicuous display of wealth in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis while the rivers fill with shit and the country crumbles all around will do wonders for those campaigning for a Republic.

I already live in a Republic, of course, and today I’ll be celebrating not the Coronation but the end of teaching term. I’ll be doing a bit of gardening, watching the URC quarter finals, cooking myself a self-indulgent dinner and of course doing the Private Eye crossword. Oh, and toasting the Tories’ resounding defeat in Thursday’s local elections

Tá mé sa bhaile – Biden’s Irish

Posted in Irish Language, Politics with tags , , , , , , on April 14, 2023 by telescoper


Yesterday, President of the United States of America, Joe Biden, addressed a joint sitting of the houses of Oireachtas in Dublin. Predictably he included an attempt at Irish in his speech to the obvious appreciation of those attending. I was a bit confused by the way what he said was reported in the Irish media, however, e.g.

My confusion was that I didn’t think he said tá mé seo abhaile as widely reported. For one thing, even I as a beginner could see that phrase means “I am this home”, which doesn’t make any sense (not to me, anyway). There are various possibilities for what Joe Biden did say. For what it’s worth I thought it was tá mé sa bhaile which, loosely, means “I am at home”. I note that the news media have generally changed their accounts (e.g. here) to reflect this, although other forms of words are possible. I’m not surprised that Biden struggled with the pronunciation – most of us beginners do, but I think the writers and editors of the newspapers above might at least have corrected his grammar.

The phrase illustrates a couple of interesting curiosities about the Irish language. Expressing the verb “to be” in Irish isn’t as straightforward as it is English. There are two grammatically distinct ways of doing this. The two Irish forms are , which is like the English verb “to be” and the so-called copula, is, which is sometimes called a defective verb. It’s admittedly a bit confusing that the copula looks like the third-person singular of the verb “to be” in English, but there you go.

Going back to, it is frequently referred to as tá (its present tense form as in the phrase above). It can be fully conjugated in all tenses and persons but it is highly irregular. Grammatically, is also just like any other verb, coming first in the sentence, followed by a subject (either a separate noun or pronoun or a suffix, depending on the tense and person, as shown in the conjugations), and then its predicate and any remaining adverbial information. Thus tá mé is “I am” with the pronoun . The accents (síneadh fada)  mean that this is pronounced taw-may.

The copula, however, is not fully conjugated for different subjects, which are always expressed by separate nouns or pronouns, and it only has two forms for different tenses: is can be used for present or future meaning, and ba (with lenition) is used for past or conditional meanings.

Among the specific situations in which the copular is must be used instead of but the main one is to be followed by a noun. You can’t say “I am a Professor” using – it has to be Is Ollamh – but to say “I am old” it is Tá mé sean.

One final remark. If you’re scared of pronouns please look away now. There are over 120 different pronouns in the Irish language. There’s a special version of the pronoun written mise which has two uses that I am aware of. One is when the copular is used for identification – so “I am Peter” is Is mise Peadar – and the other is for emphasis, when it is roughly equivalent to “myself” in English.

P.S. The Irish word for “pedantry” is pedantraí

In Praise of Drag Queens

Posted in Biographical, History, LGBT, Politics with tags , , , on March 29, 2023 by telescoper
The late Paul O’Grady in Lily Savage persona

I was very sad to hear this morning of the death at the age of 67 of Paul O’Grady, who was best known (to me) in the form of Lily Savage, the best of the drag acts to be found in London when I lived there years ago. I remember seeing Lily Savage many times, including one memorable night at the old Drill Hall near Tottenham Court Road, which was a hilarious occasion enjoyed by everyone there (including a smattering of celebrities in the audience). The best bit of the best drag shows is always how the performer deals with hecklers. Paul O’Grady had a ready wit and a very acerbic tongue which made Lily Savage a must-see act. I wasn’t the only one to be surprised when Lily Savage got her own mainstream television show in the 90s, as much of her material was very “blue”, and I wondered how she would fare with the inevitable toning down of the material. The transition to Telly, however, turned out to be a great success.

Paul O’Grady “retired” Lily Savage some years ago, but still appeared on TV as himself to great popular acclaim. I never knew him personally but some old friends of mine from London got to know him very well, including going on holiday with Paul and his partner Andre (whom he married in 2017). They all said Paul was a lovely and friendly person and just as funny in private as he was on stage or on television. I send my condolences to his friends and family.

Drag has of course been around for centuries. Cross-dressing in the theatre, in film, and in opera, where it plays a central role in many plots especially in comedies. Who can forget the wonderful Alastair Sim in the St Trinian’s movies? More recently, Danny La Rue (who, incidentally, was born in Cork) was a regular performer on television in my youth and was for a time Britain’s highest paid entertainer.

But Paul O’Grady was a bit different. He successfully navigated a tricky journey to bring Lily Savage from the underground world of gay bars and clubs into the realm of popular culture at a time overshadowed by Section 28 and the AIDS crisis. Paul O’Grady was a powerful advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. His visibility and humour made the world a better place for many of us. His was a life well lived.

It is especially sad that Paul O’Grady’s death coincides with widespread and growing hostility to drag queens from far right bigots, who are intent on attacking anyone associated in any way with the LGBTQ+ community. The banning of drag shows – which has already happened in some States of the USA- is just part of this agenda; transphobia is another, as is the anti-migrant movement. It’s all about manufacturing hostility to distract attention away from the real problems of society. The list of targets is growing. Before long, any lifestyle perceived to be unconventional in any way will come under attack. The wave of bigotry sweeping across the world is intended to sweep diversity aside and leave in its wake a bleak landscape of dreary uniformity.

The career of Ireland’s own Rory O’Neill (aka Panti Bliss), who was a popular contestant on Dancing with the Stars, mirrors that of Paul O’Grady. I recently went to an event featuring Rory O’Neill. He had left Panti at home for the occasion 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. I have the same sort of admiration for Rory as I had for Paul. We need more like them.

I also have personal reasons for being grateful for drag queens. When I was a youngster (still at School) I occasionally visited a gay bar in Newcastle called the Courtyard. I was under age for drinking alcohol let alone anything else – the age of consent was 21 in those days – but I got a kick out of the attention I received and flirted outrageously with the much older clientele. I never took things further but never had to buy my own drinks, let’s put it that way.

Anyway, one evening I left the pub to get the bus home – the bus station was adjacent to the pub – but was immediately confronted by a young bloke who grabbed hold of me and asked if I was a “poof”. Before I could answer, a figure loomed up behind him and shouted “Leave him alone!”. My assailant let go of me and turned round to face my guardian angel, or rather guardian drag queen. No ordinary drag queen either. This one, at least in my memory, was enormous: about six foot six and built like a docker, but looking even taller because of the big hair and high heels. The yob laughed sneeringly, whereupon he received the immediate and very muscular response of a powerful right jab to the point of the chin, like something out of a boxing manual. His head snapped back and hit the glass wall of a bus shelter. Blood spurted from his mouth as he slumped to the ground.

I honestly thought he was dead, and so apparently did my rescuer who told me in no uncertain terms to get the hell away. Apart from everything else, the pub would have got into trouble if they’d known I had even been in there. Instead of waiting around in Marlborough Crescent, I ran to the next stop where I got a bus after a short wait.

When I got home I was frightened there would be something on the news about a violent death in the town centre, but that never happened. It turns out the “gentleman” concerned had bitten his tongue when the back of his head hit the bus shelter. It must have been painful, but not life-threatening. My sympathy remains limited. I stayed away from the pub after that.

I think there’s a moral to this story, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide what it is.

Academic Publishing as Exploitation

Posted in Politics, Open Access with tags , , , , on March 3, 2023 by telescoper

In yesterday’s post I asked the question whether anyone actually believes that it costs it costs £2310 to publish a scientific article online? I also posted the question on the Open Journal of Astrophysics Twitter account:

Only a few people responded to that question with a “yes”. Coincidentally all of them appear to be employed by the academic publishing industry. These people insist that the big publishers bring value to scientific papers. They don’t. Authors and referees do all the things that add value. What publishers do is take that value and turn it into its own profits. The fact that enormous profits are made out of this process in itself demonstrates that what the scientific community is being charged is nothing whatever to do with cost.

This reminds me of many discussions I had in my commie student days about surplus value, a concept explored in great detail by Karl Marx, in Das Kapital. According to the wikipedia page, the term “refers roughly to the new value created by workers that is in excess of their own labour-cost and which is therefore available to be appropriated by the capitalist, according to Marx; it allows then for profit and in so doing is the basis of capital accumulation.”

Engels is quoted there as follows:

Whence comes this surplus-value? It cannot come either from the buyer buying the commodities under their value, or from the seller selling them above their value. For in both cases the gains and the losses of each individual cancel each other, as each individual is in turn buyer and seller. Nor can it come from cheating, for though cheating can enrich one person at the expense of another, it cannot increase the total sum possessed by both, and therefore cannot augment the sum of the values in circulation. (…) This problem must be solved, and it must be solved in a purely economic way, excluding all cheating and the intervention of any force — the problem being: how is it possible constantly to sell dearer than one has bought, even on the hypothesis that equal values are always exchanged for equal values?

Marx’s solution of this economical conundrum was central to his theory of exploitation:

…living labour at an adequate level of productivity is able to create and conserve more value than it costs the employer to buy; which is exactly the economic reason why the employer buys it, i.e. to preserve and augment the value of the capital at his command. Thus, the surplus-labour is unpaid labour appropriated by employers in the form of work-time and outputs.

In the context of academic publishing, the workers are scientific researchers and the employers are the publishers. The workers not only produce the science in the first place, but also carry out virtually all of the actions that the employers claim add value. The latter are simply appropriating the labour of the former, which is exploitation. It needs to stop.


The Great British Tomato Mystery

Posted in Maynooth, Politics with tags , , , , on February 26, 2023 by telescoper

Q: What’s red and not there?

A: No tomatoes.

This week my social media timelines have been filled with pictures like this of British supermarket shelves bereft of salad vegetables, especially tomatoes. The UK Government has stated, through its mouthpiece the BBC, that this is due to unseasonably bad weather in Spain and Morocco, although I very much doubt this is the whole story.

There have been reports of similar shortages in Ireland but all I can do is report on my own experience. Because I live on my own in a small town with plenty of shops nearby I don’t do a big weekly trip to the supermarket but prefer to buy fresh things as and when I need them, usually on the way home from work. I therefore generally pop into Dunnes and/or Supervalu every day. On no occasion this week have I noticed any shortage of tomatoes or other salad ingredients in Maynooth, despite always going in the evening when you might expect the shelves to be depleted. I found plenty of nice tomatoes from both Spain and Morocco, though the ones I actually bought – of the cherry vine variety – are from Italy. People living elsewhere in Ireland may of course have experienced shortages, but I certainly haven’t.

Raising PhD Stipends

Posted in Education, Maynooth, Politics with tags , , on February 24, 2023 by telescoper

Although the Irish Government has kicked its planned review of postgraduate support into the long grass, the Board of Trinity College Dublin recently approved a proposal to increase stipends to for all its PhD students to €25,000. I applaud this decision, but would argue that it doesn’t go far enough.

A while ago Government of Ireland announced a new scheme intended to recruit “high-level researchers” to PhD programmes in Ireland. This scheme, which is a public-private partnership of around  €100 million, will fund around 400 PhD studentships with an annual stipend around €28K, which is substantially higher than the current rate for, e.g., ICR-funded students which is €18.5K. The justification for the higher €28K stipends is that they would be “in line with financial supports offered under similar global scholarships”. I take this as a statement that the Irish Government has acknowledged that the proper rate of pay for a PhD student is at this level, which seems to me to be about right. It seems to me to be logical that all PhD stipends should be increased to this level.

High levels of inflation are combining with spiraling rental costs to make it very difficult for a student to live on the current level of stipend (especially in the Greater Dublin area). This forces postgraduate students to undertake large amounts of tutoring or other work in order to get by financially. This situation is a direct result of the chronic underfunding of higher education in Ireland which means that there aren’t enough academic staff to cover the teaching required. Universities will argue that they don’t have any choice but to exploit PhD students to make up the shortfall, but that doesn’t make the situation is acceptable.

It is of course good for a research student to get some teaching experience during their PhD but this should be on a voluntary basis. A PhD student who chooses to teach will probably do a better job than one who is forced to do it in order to pay the rent. My basic point, though, is that a full-time research student should be funded to do research full time, and it is grossly unfair to pay them too little for this to be possible.

There needs to be a serious “levelling up” of PhD stipends across the entire third-level sector in Ireland. I hope in particular that my own institution, Maynooth University, will take the lead and increase its PhD studentships to the fair level of €28K per annum. This would be a good way to spend at least some of the surplus of €13.2M it ran up during the first year of the pandemic alone.

UPDATE: The Government has now opened a consultation on PhD supports to which you can contribute here.


Posted in Biographical, Politics on February 18, 2023 by telescoper

The day has come and I’ll shortly be getting on a train into Dublin to attend the above event in Parnell Square this afternoon. Somewhat annoyingly I’ve had a flare-up of my arthritis recently, but I think it’s important to stand up and be counted. There are rumours that “far-right agitators” (i.e. fascist thugs) are planning to disrupt the event, but if any of them have a go at me I’ll fend them off with my walking-stick!

Update: the journey to Dublin by train was uneventful except that a little boy sitting in the same carriage as me was very upset that it didn’t actually go “choo choo” like his Mam had told him it would.

Update: I’m back in Maynooth enjoying a nice cup of tea, after a very enjoyable day in Dublin. There were many more people on the march than I expected – upwards of 30,000 – which was great, but meant it was very crowded and difficult to take pictures of anything but backs of people.

We took a long while to get going because of the numbers, so I reached the end too late to hear some of the speakers and musicians at the rally. Some of us were still in O’Connell Street when the front of the march arrived at the Customs House. I’m very sorry I missed Christy Moore and Bernadette McAliskey, but the huge turnout was in itself more than adequate compensation.

I am also happy to report that the rumored far-right counter-protest failed to materialize so the whole event went off peacefully. The important thing now, as many of the speakers at the rally stressed, is to ensure that this is just the start.

You can find a report on the march here.

Kildare for All

Posted in Maynooth, Politics with tags , , on February 5, 2023 by telescoper

Earlier today in Courthouse Square, Maynooth I attended the gathering described above. It was organized at very short notice in response to a demonstration by about 20 fascists in the same place last week (which I didn’t see). Although the rally was quite small – I counted about 60 or 70 people – many motorists passing by along Straffan Road honked their horns to express support. Well done to the organizers for pulling this together on such a short timescale. I only found out about it yesterday.

The rally was in response to a wave of violence against refugees in Ireland incited, and in many cases carried out, by thugs belonging to fascist organizations. Kildare For All part of a national movement, Ireland For All, that seeks to take a stand in support of those facing violence and abuse from far-right thugs. We can’t let Ireland go down the fascist road. We know where it leads.

The fascists are trying to play on the understandable anger and resentment felt by many people in Ireland at the chronic housing shortage, poor healthcare and inadequate public services. These are not the fault of refugees who come here fleeing war and persecution, but are the fault of 15 years of failures in Government. If the Far Right were really bothered about housing etc they would have been protesting against homelessness all that time, which they did not do. They’re just using the situation as an excuse to exercise their racist and xenophobic views. Refugees are not to blame. All the recent influx of refugees has done has been to expose the indolence and incompetence of those in Government.

The rally included a number of speeches by union leaders and political figures, including Réada Cronin, the Sinn Féin TD for Kildare North of which Maynooth is a part.

Réada Cronin, the Sinn Féin TD for Kildare North at today’s rally

It is important for decent people to counter the campaign of disinformation from fascists on social media and to stand in solidarity against the threats, intimidation and actual violence against refugees in the places where they live. Today’s event was small, but it is only through grass-roots organizations like this that we can hope to stem the rising tide of bigotry and intolerance. There will be a much larger event in Dublin on 18th February.

Solidarity with the UCU Strikers!

Posted in Education, Politics with tags , , , , , , on January 31, 2023 by telescoper

Tomorrow, 1st February 2023, members of the University and College Union will walk out for the first of 18 days of strike action in UK universities:

This industrial action arises from a dispute over pensions, pay, and working conditions. The strikes will affect 2.5 million students but are necessary to safeguard not only the livelihoods of academic staff against increased casualisation and salary cuts but the UK university system itself, which is being ruined by incompetent management. Regrettably, the strikes will cause considerable disruption but, frankly, there is no point in a strike that doesn’t do that.

Although I no longer work in the UK I’d like to take this opportunity to send a message of support to my former colleagues there who will be out on the picket lines tomorrow and on subsequent days.

That also goes for workers in other sectors who are also involved in industrial action in the UK at this time!

Royal Mail Failure

Posted in Politics with tags on January 18, 2023 by telescoper

Quite a few people I know in the UK are unaware that the Royal Mail is currently unable to deliver any mail to locations outside the UK. The above message, from the Royal Mail website, has been there for a week now and has not changed in that time apart from the date at the top. There is no information about what has happened, no estimate when services will resume, and no idea what will happen to mail stuck in the system. This failure to communicate with users just adds insult to injury. It also calls into question the claim that this failure is “temporary”

I am mildly inconvenienced by the Royal Mail’s collapse, as I am waiting for some items of legal correspondence, but it must be catastrophic for small businesses who use its services to export products abroad. I’m sure any that survive this disaster will be taking their custom elsewhere as soon as they can.

Ooh. An update! Hopefully, they’ll start to clear the backlog soon.