Posts Tagged Politics
As disconsolate as I was at the end of 2016 (and I was, deeply so), 2017 has managed, in some respects, to shock and depress me beyond expectations.
Shocked and depressed by the sight of giant swastika banners, and the sound of anti-semitic chants, on the streets of an American city, and the inability of the leader of the USA to unequivocally condemn fascist violence. Since Charlottesville, of course, that has been compounded by that leader acting as a publicist for the vile Britain First in their attempts to spread fear and hatred.
I know, of course, that fascism never went away, that there have always been cliques and cadres of unapologetic Nazis, but they used to deny what they were, to hide from publicity, not to court it. They used to put on their uniforms and get out their flags in private, amongst those of a like mind, not to parade them on the streets.
Not only are Nazis now out and proud, but the very notion of truth seems to be up for grabs. If you are caught out in an untruth, you simply claim it as an alternative fact.
Robert Spencer, a leading American Islamophobe who was banned from entering the UK in 2013 for his anti-Muslim history, posted on his website Jihad Watch that doubts about the veracity of the retweeted videos were beside the point. “The real question is not whether this or that video is accurate, but whether there is a problem with jihad terror and Islamic supremacism in Britain and elsewhere.”
“Whether it’s a real video, the threat is real,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters. “‘That is what the president is talking about, that is what the president is focused on dealing with, those real threats and those are real no matter how you look at it. His goal is to promote strong border security and strong national security.”
We were warned about this. Warned a long time ago.
Just as terror, even in its pre-total, merely tyrannical form ruins all relationships between men, so the self-compulsion of ideological thinking ruins all relationships with reality. The preparation has succeeded when people have lost contact with their fellow men as well as the reality around them; for together with these contacts, men lose the capacity of both experience and thought. The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist. (Hannah Arendt – The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1958)
Orwell, in his reflections on the Spanish Civil War, described his fear at the feeling that ‘the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world’.
Nazi theory indeed specifically denies that such a thing as “the truth” exists. … The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event, “It never happened” – well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five – well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs. (George Orwell – ‘Looking Back on the Spanish War’, 1942)
Just over a year ago I was musing about Godwin’s law.
We’ve all cringed at the crass hyperbole of comparing some minor injustice – or even some pretty significant injustice – to the Holocaust. We’ve all sighed at the historical ignorance of many of those who make the comparisons, wondering what on earth they do teach them in schools these days.
And of course it’s right that we should check ourselves, as those comparisons spring to mind, to ensure that if we do invoke Hitler, Nazism, the Holocaust, the Warsaw Uprising or whatever it is, we do so mindful of the history, the scale, the world-altering significance and the uniqueness of those events.
But when we hear political rhetoric and recognise its echoes (whether the words are being used consciously or not), when we see tabloid headlines and recognise the way in which they are stoking and inciting hostility and prejudice, when proposals are made (firms having to gather data on ‘foreign’ workers, schools to gather data on the children they teach, registers of Muslims, etc) that remind us of the way in which the ground was prepared for fascism and genocide, of course we have to point this out.
What strikes me now, reading those words, is that we’re no longer just hearing echoes. Fascist rhetoric is being normalised. It’s perceived as being endorsed, even, when the President of the US refers to far-right protestors as ‘very fine people’, or retweets Britain First’s vile anti-Muslim videos. The wretched Farage is endorsing ‘concerns’ about the Jews, with a smooth segue from ‘the Israeli lobby’ to the ‘six million Jewish people living in America’, and the suggestion of disproportionate influence. Protocols of the Elders of Zion? Whether it’s a real document, the threat is real…
I’ve just finished reading Sinclair Lewis’s remarkable 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here.
As many have pointed out over the years, it’s not the greatest work of literature. And, of course, it’s not actually supernaturally prescient – Buzz Windrip resembles Trump in some ways, but there are many more differences. We are not now in the 1930s. Because we know what happened then, and what happened after, we cannot walk blindly into the kind of totalitarianism that Windrip delivers so easily, with so little resistance. We know – a diminishing few of us from first-hand experience, and many more from having read and learned from history – and we cannot unknow.
We can’t afford to be complacent though – few of us would have expected that we would be where we are today, that we would see and hear this normalisation of fascism. We have to draw upon what we know about what happened then, to ensure that it really, really can’t happen here, and now.
One criticism of Lewis’s novel which jars with me, however, is the notion that Doremus Jessup, its hero, is hard to root for.
Jessup, as his name suggests, was a deliberate throwback to the 19th century. He thinks and talks in very flowery stream-of-consciousness prose, stuffed with references to writers and concepts long forgotten. …. While Orwell’s hero Winston Smith attempts his doomed act of thoughtcrime rebellion against Big Brother from the very first page, Jessup takes an age to really stand up to his dictator. …
Doremus Jessup’s one act of rebellion, months after the dictatorship has been established, is to write a fiery front-page editorial. He is jailed for this, but they let him out when he promises to help his successor write pro-Windrip articles. Some hero.
By the end of the book, Jessup is an agent of the resistance based in Canada; his job is to skip across the border and stir up rebellion. But to achieve this, he spreads propaganda himself, telling each man the rumors he needs to hear.
This kind of behavior doesn’t make for a likable character. Indeed, Jessup’s constant wittering about his self-doubt and compromises make it surprisingly hard to root for him even when he’s in a concentration camp, being forced to drink castor oil and taking 20 lashes. (Whereas in Nineteen Eighty-Four, when Winston is tortured, we’re right there on the table with him.)
Clearly I am invested in Doremus Jessup because I found myself getting rather cross about this, on his behalf. The comparison with 1984 is, I think, largely spurious. We are from the start of that novel in the dystopian future where Big Brother reigns supreme. In It Can’t Happen Here we are in a modern democracy, where Buzz Windrip seems at first to be a hopeless candidate, a joke. Where the idea that a President might set up and mobilise a private army to root out dissidents, and set up concentration camps where those dissidents can be tortured and murdered, seems so improbable that no one is prepared for it.
Doremus isn’t an action hero. Perhaps that’s why I root for him, contrary to the Dystopia Project’s somewhat simplistic view. He’s not the guy you want by your side if it comes to a scrap. But he uses the things he is good at in the service of the Resistance, and uses the opportunity of continuing to work at the newspaper offices to establish an underground newspaper and distribute it through clandestine channels. He is caught with the text of an editorial exposing murders committed by one of Windrip’s Military Judges, and is brutally punished.
I was reminded of Francois Mauriac, the great French novelist, and member of the French Resistance during the Occupation. He wasn’t an obvious candidate for the resistance movement – he was naturally conservative, and indeed he initially supported Petain’s Vichy government. But Mauriac was someone who listened, always, to his conscience, and when the Vichy government began implementing anti-Semitic legislation, his conscience told him he had to act.
He too was a pretty weedy chap, but he wrote, and contributed to the production of clandestine texts such as Le Cahier noir (written under the pseudonym Forez, in 1943), which was a passionate condemnation of the Vichy regime and of collaboration with the Nazis and an equally passionate statement of hope, and of faith in humanity, of the ideals of justice and liberty.
Mauriac was lucky, he managed to escape arrest by keeping on the move, but he knew what he was risking, and that he would have been unlikely to survive arrest, torture and a concentration camp. People like Mauriac, like Doremus, are as much heroes as those who take up arms.
I’m an utter physical coward. When I ask myself, as I have done so often when reading about the Nazi Occupation of France, what I would have done, I know I wouldn’t have been fighting in a partisan unit, blowing up railway lines or assassinating German officers in the Metro. But equally I believe I would not have been just keeping my head down and shutting up, and I know, absolutely without doubt that there are circumstances in which I would instinctively do the right thing even if it was dangerous, and absolutely without doubt that I would not betray or denounce. I like to think that I’d be with Mauriac and Jessup, writing the truth, getting it out there. That’s where our hopes must lie. That in Trump’s America and in Brexit Britain, in the European nations now flirting with fascism and infected with xenophobia, there will always be Mauriacs, always be Jessups, who just can’t sit still and do nothing.
We’re not facing those kind of decisions now, not yet at any rate. But smaller decisions may confront us at any time, even here, in a country where racist bigots have been emboldened by the decision to leave the EU and by the horrors inflicted by IS and their affiliates, to express their hatred in ways that we haven’t heard or seen for decades.
It can happen here. It’s on us to make sure it doesn’t.
So Doremus rode out, saluted by the meadow larks, and onward all day, to a hidden cabin in the Northern Woods, where quiet men awaited news of freedom.
And still Doremus goes on in the red sunrise, for Doremus Jessup can never die.
(Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here)
Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Meridian Books, 1958
Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here, 1935, Penguin Modern Classics edition, 2017
George Orwell, ‘Looking Back on the Spanish War’, in George Orwell: Essays, Penguin Books, 2000
We don’t know how many. We don’t know who. We don’t know why.
In this vacuum of information, anger is building.
Some of this anger will be misdirected, as people lash out in their pain and grief. That’s inevitable. Since the early hours of Wednesday morning, those living near Grenfell Tower, those who escaped from it, those who have friends and family unaccounted for, will not have slept, will have been obsessively checking phones and ringing hospitals and begging for answers, at the same time as they figure out how to cope without their most basic possessions, how to deal with the practicalities of life in this new chaos. Under that intolerable pressure, those we have heard speak have shown remarkable dignity and calm.
That may not hold. Even if the bigger questions cannot be answered immediately, there needs to be a more coordinated, coherent response to the desperate need to know the fate of those still unaccounted for, and to the practical questions about rehousing and resources for those left homeless. And even if those are the most urgent questions, the community needs to be convinced that the bigger questions – what caused the fire? why did it spread so quickly? why was the material used for the cladding in the recent refurb of a standard that is currently banned in the US and Germany because of its flammability? – will be answered without obfuscation.
Answers need to come, and come swiftly. And with them, practical help. Voluntary generosity has been overwhelming, and almost unmanageable – it must now be matched by an ‘official’ response. That official response must be generous, if it is to defuse the tension, the gut feeling that had the inhabitants of Grenfell Tower been white, been wealthy, the building would have been designed to be safe, and any refurbishments would have made it even safer.
We have in the last few weeks alone logged so many unnecessary deaths. The murders of (mainly) young people attending Ariane Grande’s concert in Manchester, and (mainly) young people in Borough Market and on London Bridge. And now unknown numbers of all ages, dead because a fire that started accidentally (as far as we know) spread with unimaginable speed through a high rise block of flats.
What those of us who have tried to honour the dead by recording their names and something of their story quickly discovered was that there is no such thing as an ordinary person. The three names that have officially been released from Grenfell Tower confirm that.
Khadija Saye was 24. A remarkable artist, her work is currently exhibited at the Diaspora Pavilion during the 57th Venice Biennale. Her death has been confirmed; her mother is missing, presumed dead.
Mohammed Alhajali was 23, and had been living on the 14th floor with his brother Omar. He came to the UK in 2014 and was studying civil engineering. Syria Solidarity Campaign said: “[He] undertook a dangerous journey to flee war and death in Syria, only to meet it here in the UK, in his own home.” The brothers had been due to join the Syria Solidarity Campaign on Saturday to take part in The Great Get Together, celebrating the life of murdered MP Jo Cox and marking Refugee Week.
Of the third confirmed fatality, what can we say? He was five years old. Isaac Shawo has been described by his mother as a “beautiful boy”. He was a pupil at Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Primary School and lived on the 18th floor of Grenfell Tower with his parents and three year old brother Luca, all of whom have survived. He gazes out from this photograph, and one can read so many possibilities into that gaze. Possibilities that will never be realised.
Only three stories so far. There will be so many more. Their deaths are as arbitrary as those of the Manchester and London terrorist murders, even if no individual or group is as directly culpable. They should not have died, they need not have died.
We have to change, we cannot continue to value property over humanity, to dismiss ‘health and safety’ which has saved the lives of so many as ‘red tape’, to denigrate the poor, the unemployed, benefit claimants and asylum seekers as scroungers and skivers. We have to change.
David Lammy MP: “For your middle-class viewers, this is about whether the welfare state is just schools and hospitals or whether it’s about having a safety net. I get quite emotional as I say that. We need to live in a society where we care for the poorest and the vulnerable. And that means housing. It means somewhere decent to live. It was a noble idea that we built… and it’s falling apart around our eyes. That’s what it’s about.
You can’t contract out everything to the private sector; the private sector do some wonderful things, but they have for-profit motives, they cut corners. If you haven’t got the officers to check on the enforcement of buildings, don’t expect it to be done.
You know… are there fire extinguishers? Where are the fire extinguishers on every corridor? Where are the hoses? Are the fire doors really working? Where are the sprinklers? If you want to build these buildings, then let them at least be as good as the luxury penthouse buildings that are also being built.
But these buildings aren’t …. So you either demolish them and house people in a different way, or you absolutely refurbish them to the best quality that we can do.”
Jackie Long: “Do you think this says anything about the value that is placed on the life of people who cannot afford to buy their own property; to live in some of the nicer bits of Britain?”
David Lammy MP: “This is a tale of two cities. This is what Dickens was writing about in the century before the last, and it’s still here in 2017. It’s the face of the poorest and the most vulnerable. My friend who lost her life was a talented artist, but she was a young, black woman making her way in this country and she absolutely had no power, or locus, or agency. She had not yet achieved that in her life. She’d done amazing things: gone to university, the best in her life. But she’s died with her mother on the 22nd floor of a building. And it breaks my heart that that’s happening in Britain in 2017. Breaks my heart.
Lammy refers here to Dickens. A tale of two cities, a tale of two tower blocks. Different worlds, existing cheek by jowl, not recognising or understanding each other. In Kensington, some of the wealthiest people in our land live alongside some of the most deprived. The top quarter earn at least £41 per hour, three and a half times the level of the lowest quarter at £12 per hour or less. Within the smallest borough in London, and the second smallest in England, we can see starkly and uncompromisingly the divisions in our society.
These words are from perhaps Dickens’ finest novel, Bleak House, as he marks the death of a nobody, a boy called Jo.
Is there any light a comin?”
“It is coming fast, Jo.”
Fast. The cart is shaken all to pieces, and the rugged road is very near its end.
“Jo, my poor fellow!”
“I hear you, sir, in the dark, but I’m a gropin — a gropin — let me catch hold of your hand.”
“Jo, can you say what I say?”
“I’ll say anythink as you say, sir, for I knows it’s good.”
“Our Father! — Yes, that’s wery good, sir.”
“WHICH ART IN HEAVEN.”
“Art in Heaven — is the light a comin, sir?”
“It is close at hand. HALLOWED BE THY NAME!”
“Hallowed be — thy—”
The light is come upon the dark benighted way. Dead!
Dead, your Majesty. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. Dead, Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends of every order. Dead, men and women, born with Heavenly compassion in your hearts. And dying thus around us, every day.
I do not pray. At times like this I almost wish I could. But my faith is not in any god but in humanity. In the kindness of strangers, the coming together of communities in a crisis, the refusal to tolerate those who want to use such a crisis to disseminate hatred and suspicion. I don’t pray, but I hope, I hang on to my hope. And my heart hurts for the people of Grenfell Tower.
The 24 Hour Inspire!
24 hours of lectures in celebration of Dr Tim Richardson
Thursday 28 February-Friday 1 March
Hicks Building, Lecture Theatre 1
University of Sheffield, Hounsfield Road, Sheffield S3 7RH
Tickets on the door, minimum £1 per lecture or £5 for the full programme. Refreshments on sale throughout the event. Inspiration for Life raises funds for Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity and local hospices (Rotherham, St Luke’s and Bluebell Wood).
For more information, please visit our website, http://www.inspirationforlife.co.uk.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @inspirationfor2
THURSDAY 28 FEBRUARY
17.00-18.00 Introduction – Catherine Annabel, Chair of Inspiration for Life
Is Science Magic? – Professor Richard Jones, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Research & Innovation and Professor Tony Ryan, OBE, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Faculty of Science
New science and technology can seem like magic – but how deeply do the connections go? New sciences like nano-technology and synthetic biology promise magical possibilities, like invisibility cloaks, shape-shifting objects that make themselves, and miniature robot surgeons to cure all our diseases. Can science, like the promise of magic, solve all our problems and realise our dreams? Or are we in danger of waiting around for magical answers to problems like climate change and sustainable energy rather than doing the hard work of solving our problems with the tools we have? This discussion between Tony Ryan and Richard Jones will explore some new science that looks like magic, but is very real, as well as finding some unexpected historical connections between the worlds of science and magic.
18.00-18.30 The End is Nigh: Impact Probabilities and Risk – Dr Simon Goodwin, Reader in Astrophysics
How often are we hit by asteroids? What risks are associated with impacts from space and what can we do about them?
18.30-19.00 Hope for the Innocent? – Professor Claire McGourlay, Innocence Project & Freelaw Manager, School of Law
A small insight into miscarriages of justice in the UK and the inspirational work that students do across the country in helping to give hope to innocent people.
19.00-19.30 Future Gas Turbine Technology -Dr Jamie McGourlay, Partnership Manager, Rolls Royce plc
Jamie McGourlay is the Rolls-Royce Partnership Manager with the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) of the University of Sheffield, an environment literally at the cutting edge in the development of high-value manufacturing technologies. His presentation will look at the current to future challenges involved in the design, manufacture and operation of the world’s best gas turbine technology.
19.30-20.00 Though We Fail, Our Truths Prosper: John Lilburne (1614-1657) and the slow victory of human rights
Professor Mike Braddick, Professor of History, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Faculty of Arts & Humanities John Lilburne was a radical campaigner for the rights of the ‘freeborn Englishman’ during the English civil war and revolution. He was on trial for his life three times, and in prison or exile for most of his adult life. Despite these ordeals, his central political ideas are now taken for granted, and many of his specific suggestions have become central to our constitution. They have also had a liberating influence around the world. I will give a brief account of his life and ideas, how he came to have them, and how his political tactics have provided a model for later radicals. It is a dramatic and inspiring vindication of his famous claim that despite the apparent failure and suffering he experienced, the truths for which he was campaigning would, in the end, win out: ‘though we fail, our truths prosper’.
20.00-20.30 Searching for the Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider -Professor Dan Tovey, Professor of Particle Physics
On 4 July 2012 the ATLAS and CMS collaborations at the CERN Large Hadron Collider announced the discovery of a new particle believed to be the long sought-after Higgs boson. This talk will describe the background to the discovery and how it was made, and explain its significance for fundamental physics and our understanding of the universe at the smallest and largest scales.
20.30-21.30 Beyond Dentistry: On The Mouth, Kissing and Love – Dr Karen Harvey, Senior Lecturer in Cultural History/Academic in Residence at Bank Street Arts, and Dr Barry Gibson, Senior Lecturer in Medical Sociology, School of Clinical Dentistry
The meanings given to the mouth have changed over time. Our modern dental rituals might be part of a longer ‘de-spiritualisation’ of the body. In the end, though, let’s not forget kissing and love …
21.30-22.00 This is not a Lecture. Stories of Wellbeing – Professor Brendan Stone, Professor of Social Engagement and the Humanities
This talk will tell stories of personal journeys, journeys which have been deeply informed by the storied lives of others. The journey of the self may be to seek meaning, affirmation, peace, or connection, but is often diverted or abandoned when illness or trouble strike. How can we retrace our steps and take up our route again at such moments of loss?
22.00-22.30 From Bones to Bridges – Gaining Strength from Structure – Dr Matthew Gilbert, Reader in Civil & Structural Engineering
Why might the internal structure of bones be of interest to the designers of buildings and bridges? How does the layout of elements in a structure affect its strength? And how can we identify layouts with the ‘best’ properties?
22.30-23.00 The Big Bang Theory of Lifelong Learning (in which Sheldon teaches Penny Physics) – Dr Willy Kitchen, Director of Learning and Teaching, Institute for Lifelong Learning
In this brief talk, I will offer up some of the essential ingredients necessary to inspire lifelong learning, drawing upon my own experiences of working with a wide range of adults returning to learning after a significant break from education. As a jumping off point for my discussions, I will be offering Sheldon some feedback on the approach he takes to teaching Penny Physics.
23.00-23.30 The EU’s Fight against Cancer – Professor Tammy Hervey, Jean Monnet Professor of European Union Law, School of Law
The European Union is a trade organisation, concerned with creating markets and economic development. For a long time, it had no formal powers to develop health policies of any sort, and even now, its powers are limited. And yet the EU has contributed to the fight against cancer in numerous ways, including using policies, resources, and laws. This lecture will explain the history of the EU’s fight against cancer, and outline what more could be done in the future.
23.30-00.30 Taking up the Ghost – Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of National Fairground Archive, and Head of Cultural Engagement
From Robertsons’s fantasamagoria in the 1790s to the modern day theatrical horror promenade show, the staging of haunted attractions as popular entertainment has been part of our history for many years. This paper seeks to look at three historical entertainment concepts which incorporate or use as their basis the uncanny, the supernatural and sensory deprivation, incorporating technological practices from the magic lantern, photographer and the cinematograph to demonstrate how the haunted illusion works in popular entertainment.
FRIDAY 1 MARCH
00.30-01.00 The Blues of Physics – Dr Ed Daw, Senior Lecturer in Particle Physics & Astrophysics
Physics can be a great and wonderful joy. And it can also give you the Blues. Fortunately I was given the Blues independently of being given Physics, so when the latter drives me bananas, the former can step in and keep me slightly insane. Please come to my ‘lecture’ and listen to my attempts to keep myself slightly, and joyfully, off-kilter.
01.00-01.30 Deep Sky Astronomy and Astrophysics – Professor Paul Crowther, Professor of Astrophysics
I will present astronomical images of star clusters, nebulae, galaxies obtained with large ground-based telescopes (ESOs Very Large Telescope) and space-telescopes (Hubble, Spitzer, Herschel) together with an explanation of the astrophysics behind these inspirational and beautiful images.
01.30-02.00 Light of Life – Dr Ashley Cadby, Lecturer in Soft Matter Physics
Humans and nature both use light for a variety of reasons. In this talk I will take some specific examples from nature and show how, given several hundred million years, evolution has perfected the control of light to perform some remarkable feats of engineering.
02.00-02.30 How to Make the Perfect Cuppa – Dr Matthew Mears, Lecturer, Department of Physics & Astronomy
Not all physics research is serious and swamped in mathematics! Tim firmly believed that you should have fun and explore the field away from the expected route, a philosophy I have enjoyed following. In this talk I will discuss what happens when a) a physicist starts crossing subject boundaries in strange directions, and b) he gets fed up with his brew going cold.
02.30-03.30 A Beginners Guide to Nano – Professor Mark Geoghegan, Professor of Soft Matter Physics
This presentation will cover the origins and applications of nanotechnology. A working definition for nanotechnology will be presented with examples from various areas of technology where nano might be used. In particular, I shall discuss how nanotechnology might find an important role in solving the great issues facing us in the 21st century. You will be encouraged to consider what these might be. Fears about unleashing this technology on mankind will be discussed, and we shall consider, by comparing the physics of the macroscale with physics of the nanoscale, why impending apocalypse is not going to happen.
03.30-04.00 Pet calves: The science of drumming – Professor Nigel Clarke, Professor of Condensed Matter Theory, Head of Physics & Astronomy
Drums are probably the oldest of musical instruments, and their basic form has changed little over the centuries. In the 1950s a major revolution took place with the introduction of the synthetic drumhead, which very quickly gained universal acceptance, replacing calfskin and other animal skins, as the material of choice. This was driven not by musical benefits but by pragmatism. We will look at the science behind drums and drum-skins, including the way in which drums vibrate, the pitchless nature of many drums, the implications for tuning and the relative merits of synthetic and natural drum-skins.
04.00-05.00 The Origin of Mass – Dr Stathes Paganis, Reader in Particle Physics
What are we made of? What is mass? Einstein tells us that mass is energy: E=mc^2. Basic physics tells us that the mass of our body comes from the chemical elements that make us, water for example. Water is made of hydrogen and oxygen and these are made of protons, neutrons and electrons spinning around them. How deep do we have to look for the answer? The talk presents a travel to the origins of matter and explains how experiments show that mass is not due to the Higgs boson but due to quantum mechanical energy stored in protons and neutrons one millionth of a second after the Big Bang.
05.00-05.30 Red Wine and Tea: Short tales about Astringency – Dr Patrick Fairclough, Reader in Polymer Chemistry
I will wander, often aimlessly, through ideas around how your mouth senses changes not in taste but in viscosity (thickness). How this leads to ideas behind the science of astringency, and how the tannin in tea and red wine induces these changes. Astringency is poorly understood with conflicting views from taste experts, physicists, biologists, industrial scientists and “marketeers”. This will clearly require me to drink red wine during a lecture, something that I often felt the need to do.
05.30-06.30 Elena Under Her Skin – Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, Professor of Enterprise & Engineering Education, Department of Mechanical Engineering
What happens when people see past the front cover of your life? Are you still able to have a happy, successful and rewarding work/life experience? Does one achieve despite or because of our mixture of experiences and attributes? Elena will use her life as a point of conversation with the audience and reflect on various aspects of diversity in the workplace such as religion, sexuality, nationality and gender.
06.30-07.00 Inspiration, Risk and the Politics of Fear – Professor Matthew Flinders, Professor of Parliamentary Government & Governance, Department of Politics
A reflection on the nature of life and politics in the twenty-first century. This will include a discussion of hyper-democracy and the politics of fear in order to carve out a new approach to understanding the limits and possibilities of democratic politics.
07.00-07.30 Gas Sensing Biscuits and Other Research by ‘Team Tim’ – Dr Alan Dunbar, Lecturer in Energy, Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering
Some of the work published by Dr Tim Richardson’s research group ‘Team Tim’ will be presented. This involved developing gas sensors which change colour upon exposure to volatile organic gases. This talk will gently introduce the porphyrin molecules used in these gas sensors and explain why they are sometimes described as being like biscuits.
07.30-08.00 Soaps, Bubbles and Cells – Dr Andrew Parnell, Research Associate, Department of Physics & Astronomy
The talk and demonstrations will highlight the amazing properties of soap molecules and how very similar structures make up the walls of our cells and ultimately help to construct the complex compartments essential for biological life.
08.00-08.30 Health Informatics: Opportunities and Challenges in the 21st Century – Professor Peter Bath, Professor of Health Informatics, Information School
Health Informatics concerns the use of digital information and digital technologies in health and medical care to improve health and well-being among patients and the public. This lecture will examine some of the exciting opportunities and challenges in this fast-moving field. It will draw on recent research undertaken to examine the use of NHS Direct by older people and will discuss the implications of this for the new 111 service.
08.30-09.00 Infinity! – Dr Paul Mitchener, Lecturer in Mathematics, School of Mathematics & Statistics
The plan is to talk about what infinity means mathematically. This will include a precise definition, which leads to the surprising idea that there is more than one type of infinity.
09.00-09.30 We are all living in a Bose-Einstein Condensate… made of Higgs Bosons – Professor Sir Keith Burnett, Vice-Chancellor
What is this Higgs Boson? What does it tell us about the nature of the Universe? Using familiar examples, I will tell you what Bosons are, how they condense and explain the origin of mass in the Universe.
09.30-10.00 Four Candles? Or was it Fork Handles? – Marie Kinsey, Senior University Teacher, Director of Teaching and Curriculum Development, Department of Journalism
Communication is a two way process. There’s endless scope for accidental misunderstandings, miscommunication and just getting things plain wrong. What can you do to help make sure your message gets across loud and clear?
10.00-10.30 A Brief History of the Universe – Professor Carsten van de Bruck, School of Mathematics & Statistics
I will review our current understanding of the history of the universe. But more importantly I will let you know what we don’t know. Many puzzles need to be solved before we have a full understanding of how we got here.
10.30-11.00 Science, Art and Human Rights – Professor Aurora Plomer, Professor of Law and Bioethics, School of Law
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states that “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.” I will talk about what the drafters meant then and what the right means now.
11.00-12.00 Seeing the World – a talk for primary school children – Professor David Mowbray, Department of Physics & Astronomy
The talk will look at some of the properties of light. It will cover how we see things in the world around us and the uses of light. Colours will also be investigated. There are a number of demonstrations which the children help with.
12.00-12.30 Birds, Poetry and Music – Professor Rachel Falconer, Professor of English Literature, University of Lausanne
This talk provides an introduction to contemporary nature writing, with a focus on poetry written about birds. It touches on the long history of poets’ fascination with birds, explores some of the links of this tradition with music about birds, and presents a detailed look at three short poems by contemporary British poets.
12.30-13.00 The Human Body: an Anatomist’s View – Professor Alistair Warren, Professor of Biomedical Science, Director of Learning & Teaching, Faculty of Science
Art, science, medicine, literature and ethics. All of these subjects and many others have their own perspectives on Anatomy. These have changed dramatically over the years; I aim to give a personal view of what it means to be an Anatomist in the 21st century.
13.00-13.30 Is Anybody Out There? Intelligent Life in the Galaxy – Dr Susan Cartwright, Senior Lecturer in Particle Physics & Astrophysics
Are there other intelligent technological species out there, or are humans rare (or even unique)? I will examine a number of arguments that technological civilisations are rare.
13.30-14.00 Prejudice and Self-Knowledge – Professor Jenny Saul, Professor of Philosophy, Head of Philosophy Department
Psychologists have shown that the overwhelming majority of people harbour unconscious race, sex and other biases. In this talk I explore how this threatens our knowledge both of ourselves and of many other things.
14.00-14.30 Sources – Dr Chamu Kuppuswamy, Lecturer in Law, Café Scientifique Organiser
In this lecture I want to discuss the tension between traditional and modern sources of law. This is a big point of debate in international law in the context of devising new regimes for the protection of our intellectual resource and heritage. In the 21st century where intellectual property is central to economic and social growth and prosperity, this arena of contestation has an impact on our everyday experience of music, books, dance, medicine, sculpture, health, etc. Culture and identity are being shaped through these battles for supremacy. In an effort to look inwardly at the notion of sources, and why it is important to us, I venture into sources and truth, probing the subjective and objective how this is viewed in Indian philosophy. Chamu is an international lawyer with special interests in intellectual property, a keen student of Vedantic Hinduism and enthusiast for all forms of enquiry including the scientific.
14.30-15.00 Living Matter – Professor Ramin Golestanian, Professor of Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics, Oxford University
The large and important and very much discussed question is: How can the events in space and time which take place within the spatial boundary of a living organism be accounted for by physics and chemistry?’. This sentence, which was written by Erwin Schroedinger on the 1st page of chapter 1 of his visionary 1944 book, What is Life?, describes a notion that is still as illusive today as it was back then. I will highlight some of the marvellous and complex physical properties of living systems, and try to put them in context using ideas from physics and chemistry.
15.00-15.30 Darwin and Sexual Selection – Professor Tim Birkhead, Professor of Zoology, Department of Animal & Plant Sciences
The male Argentine Lake Duck has the most extraordinary genitalia of any bird. The Harlequin Duck by comparison is extremely modestly endowed. Why should such differences exist? After all a phallus is a phallus, and on on the face of it, all serve the same purpose, so why such extraordinary variation? This type of question has intrigued and perplexed biologists and non-biologists alike for centuries. The answer was a long time coming. Not until the revolution in evolutionary ideas, and a century after Darwin, was the truth revealed.
15.30-16.00 Studying the Muse: The Psychology of Creative Inspiration – Dr Kamal Birdi, Senior Lecturer in Occupational Psychology, Institute of Work Psychology
Have you ever wondered where great ideas come from? In this lecture, we’ll look at different psychological perspectives on answering this question, from experiments on romantic impulses to creating machines that make up stories!
16.00-17.00 Catalytic clothing – Professor Tony Ryan OBE & Professor Helen Storey MBE
The speakers will be wearing the world’s first air-purifying jeans, embedded with the technology that we hope will be applied in the laundry process so you too can purify our air. Catalytic Clothing explores the potential for clothing and textiles to purify the air we breathe. Artist and designer Helen Storey (London College of Fashion) and chemist Tony Ryan (University of Sheffield) have been working together to explore how nanotechnology can eliminate harmful pollutants that cause health problems and contribute to climate change. We will explore how nanotechnology can be used to solve an everyday problem. It has been seen by millions of people, and there is a great demand. Of course there are still technical problems to solve, but the the biggest problem in getting it to market is getting past the marketeers. This is a truly altruistic product – but to make it happen might need a new business model.