1.4.15

 

Pension cuts - respond to USS


The UCU has lain down its placards and ended the strike to avoid cuts to pensions. Our one remaining hope is for members to make their outrage known in the USS consultation exercise, which ends 22 May 2015. I hope everyone with a USS pension will respond. Suggested responses from UCU Left and UCU are linked; please comment below, especially to list other suggested responses.

Universities UK argue that the reductions are necessary to avoid a deficit, but their claim has been widely criticised. A group of prominent statisticians point out Universities UK inflated the deficit by assuming a buoyant economy when predicting future salaries but assuming a recession when predicting investment returns.

In 2011, Universities UK imposed vastly reduced pensions on new hires. Old hires who pay into the pension fund for forty years receive a pension of one-half their final salary; new hires who do the same receive a pension of one-half their average salary. Basing pensions on average rather than final salary may be sensible, but to do so with no little or no adjustment in multiplier suggests employers used this as an excuse to slip in a large cut; new hires receive about 2/3 the benefits received by old hires. All staff also suffered other cuts to pensions: additional caps and less good adjustment for inflation. At the time, it was predicted that within a few years old hires would be moved to the inferior scheme for new hires, and that is what has now come to pass.

Like many in USS, employees and employers alike, I am concerned that the changes will make UK academia a less attractive option for potential scholars.



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20.3.15

 

Status Report 4


It seemed as if no time had passed: the anaesthetist injected my spine, and next thing I knew I was waking in recovery.  Keyhole surgery to remove my left kidney was completed on Tuesday 17 March, and I expect to leave the Western General on Saturday 21 March. Meanwhile, progress on diagnosing the amyloid spotted in my liver: I had a bone marrow biopsy on Thursday 19 March, and two days of testing at the National Amyloidosis Centre in London are to be scheduled. NHS has provided excellent care all around.

My room was well placed for watching the partial eclipse this morning. A nurse with a syringe helped me jury rig a crude pinhole camera (below), but it was too crude. Fortunately, there was exactly the right amount of cloud cover through which to view the crescent sun. My fellow patients and our nurses all gathered together, and for five minutes it was party time on the ward.

Update: I left the hospital as planned on Saturday 21 March. Thanks to Guido, Sam, Shabana, Stephen, and Jonathan for visits; to Marjorie for soup; to Sukkat Shalom council for a card and to Gillian for hand delivery; and to Maurice for taking me in while my family was away.

Related: Status report, Status report 2, A paean to the Western General, Status report 3.


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8.3.15

 

Multiple inheritance

Retweeted by Don Syme.

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6.3.15

 

Petraeus won't serve a day in jail for his leaks. Edward Snowden shouldn't either.


Trevor Timm in the Guardian argues that David Petraeus' crimes, inspired by adultery, are more serious than Edward Snowden's, inspired by liberty.

The sweetheart deal the Justice Department gave to former CIA director David Petraeus for leaking top secret information compared to the stiff jail sentences other low-level leakers have received under the Obama administration has led to renewed calls for leniency for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. And no one makes the case better than famed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.

Ellsberg, the first person ever charged under the Espionage Act or any other statute for leaking the Pentagon Papers to Congress and seventeen newspapers, told me on Thursday: “The factual charges against [Edward Snowden] are not more serious, as violations of the classification regulations and non-disclosure agreements, than those Petraeus has admitted to, which are actually quite spectacular.”

It’s hard to overstate the shocking nature of the government’s case against Petraeus. The information that he gave Paula Broadwell, his friendly biographer with whom he was then having an extramarital affair, was among the most sensitive in the US government. According to the indictment, Petraeus gave Broadwell eight black books containing “classified information regarding the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings … and [his personal] discussions with the president of the United States.”

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5.3.15

 

Status Report 3



I have a date for keyhole surgery to remove my kidney: Tuesday 17 March. This fits what I was told previously, so all is to schedule. Recovery time is likely to be four weeks. I expect to be in hospital until Monday 23 March: visitors most welcome! Please call the Western General, or Level 4 office has my contact details.

My liver biopsy took place on Thursday 19 February; the hardest part was to lie still for six hours after. I had meetings with my infectious disease doctor on Wednesday 25 February and with my cardiologist on Monday 2 March. My endocarditis is clear, but will need to be monitored once a year. The biopsy shows a deposit of amyloid protein; experts are being consulted, but it has no effect on my surgery. My thanks to all my doctors and the staff at the Western General, who have been excellent.


Related: Status report, Status report 2, A paean to the Western General, Status report 4.

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An Open Letter to John Swinney



Dear John Swinney,

I sat in the gallery yesterday to watch the debate on Privacy and the State. As a member of the Open Rights Group, I have a keen interest in the subject.

The Identity Management and Privacy Principles, published in October 2014 with your name on the foreword, states in Section 4.6:
If a public service organisation needs to link personal information from different systems and databases (internally or between organisations), it should avoid sharing persistent identifiers; other mechanisms, such as matching, should be considered.
Willie Rennie and Patrick Harvie drew attention to the proposal that stakeholders should share the Unique Citizen Reference Number (UCRN). Using the UCRN as a key would link multiple databases, in effect forming a super-database, which is what concerns those who object to the plan. In your closing speech, Harvie intervened to ask you to acknowledge that the proposal breaches the Scottish Government's own guidelines. You responded:
I do not believe that the proposal breaches the data privacy principles that we set out.
Time was short, so you said no more, but I invite you now to elaborate on your bald denial. The proposal certainly appears to contravene the principle  advocated by your own document---how can you claim it does not?

It is not only your own guidelines which question your plan. The British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners have raised concerns about sharing information collected by the NHS with HMRC, and the UK Information Commissioner has warned that the proposal may breach European and British data protection laws. Both these criticism were raised during the debate, but ignored by you---I invite you to answer them as well.

There are ways forward that meet the needs of government and citizens that are far less problematic. I welcome your offer to review the proposals, and I hope that in light of these criticisms the Scottish Government will rethink its plans.

Yours,

Philip Wadler
Professor of Theoretical Computer Science
School of Informatics
University of Edinburgh

Related:

Minutes of the debate on Privacy and the State

Identity Management and Privacy Principles

Report of the debate from BBC News

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3.3.15

 

Philosophers


This may come in handy next time I need to lecture on Russell's Paradox. From SMBC.

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Watchdog says plan for super-database could create national ID number for every Scot

The Herald Scotland  has got the message. Let's hope Holyrood does as well.
Watchdog: SNP plan for super-database could create national ID number for every Scot.

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9.2.15

 

Say no to a Scottish national ID system

The Scottish government has opened for consultation plans of that would lead to database sharing among a vast range of organisations, and could lead to the introduction of de facto ID cards via the back door. Responses to the consultation are due by 25 February 2015. ORG Scotland writes:

A minor, barely noticed consultation is not the way to make a major change to Scottish citizens’ privacy and their relationship with the state. Creating a national ID register was rejected by the SNP and the UK, and the bare minimum should be for the Scottish Executive to introduce primary legislation whereby the public and MSPs can debate the nature of these changes and whether they are acceptable.

Respond to the consultation quickly, courtesy of ORG.

ORG is planning meetings to discuss how we can stop the Scottish Government's plans in EdinburghGlasgow and Aberdeen, and is tracking developments in their blog.

Here is the original consultation,  and a detailed response by ORG.

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6.2.15

 

A paean to the Western General


I resided in Ward 42 of the Regional Infectious Disease Unit of Edinburgh's Western General Hospital from 17 Dec—2 Jan. For most of the time I received antibiotic by drip or injection every four hours, day and night, and I thought my stay would be six weeks. Fortunately, my infection reacted well to antibiotic and I could be released early for outpatient treatment.

The building is ugly, but the people inside it are beautiful. I cannot recall another time or place where everyone was so unfailingly helpful and friendly. On the first day, a nurse found a staff member willing to lend me a charger when my phone ran down. The doctors took as much time as needed to answer my questions. The nurses were cheerful despite constant interruptions. The men who brought the coffee remembered that I liked it with milk, and one often asked after my twins (he had twins as well). No one objected when my daughter brought me a poster of the Justice League and I blue-tacked to my wall; several admired it.

Most often, I interact with institutions where the people who help you are, clearly, in it for the pay. They are nice only to the extent required by their job, and often less than that. Part of the difference in attitude here must be that the people know they are actively helping patients in need. I take my hat off to an institution that inculcates a caring attitude in everyone.

(Picture above courtesy of The Edinburgh Sketcher, whose pictures adorn a couple of corridors in the Western General. The RIDU is a different building, though somehow every building in the complex contrives to be equally unattractive.)

Related: Status report, Status report 2.

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Status Report 2



An update to my status. My doctors continue to monitor my heart infection, but it appears cleared up, along with the problems in my abdomen.

I met with my urologist on 4 Feb. My latest CAT scan (27 Jan) shows a small mass in my liver and that the tumour on my left kidney has not grown. The mass is unlikely to be a metastasis of the tumour, but the first order of business is to biopsy my liver; this should happen in the next two weeks, and it may take a further two weeks to get the results. Meanwhile, I am on the waiting list for keyhole surgery to remove my left kidney; this should happen in about six weeks. (Hospitals are fined £1000 if it takes more than four weeks, but the Western General currently has thirty people over that limit.) Recovery time is about four weeks. So, with luck, back to work in ten weeks, mid-April.

All four kidney surgeons at the Western General are in the top 10% in the country, so I am in good hands. If keyhole surgery converts to ordinary surgery the recovery time is three months; this happens in 4% of cases. My doctor says it is unlikely to happen to me because, compared to most of his patients, I am young, fit, and slim. Not words I usually hear applied to myself!

Previously: Status report, A paean to the Western General.

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29.1.15

 

Status report

I am off work this semester, being treated for two things: an infection affecting my heart and abdomen; and a tumour on my kidney. I was in hospital 17 Dec—2 Jan, and self-administered antibiotics as an outpatient 3 Jan—29 Jan. The photo shows me partway through self-administration, which required 90 minutes each day.

The infection of my heart and abdomen appears cured, and I am feeling much better. I am awaiting an appointment with urology. It is likely the kidney will need to be removed. The tumour, I am told, is too small to have metastasised. I will have better information once I meet my urologist, but my current guess is that I will be back at work sometime in March.

My thanks to the NHS and to the Western General Hospital for the excellent treatment I have received, and to all my colleagues for their support.

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20.1.15

 

Democracy vs the 1%


To celebrate the 750th anniversary of the first meeting of the British parliament, the BBC Today programme sponsored a special edition of The Public Philosopher, asking the question Why Democracy? The programme spent much time wondering why folk felt disenfranchised but spent barely two minutes on the question of how wealth distorts politics. (Three cheers to Shirley Williams for raising the issue.) An odd contrast, if you compare it to yesterday's story that the wealthiest 1% now own as much as the other 99% combined; or to Lawrence Lessig's Mayday campaign to stop politicians slanting their votes to what will help fund their reelection; or to Thomas Picketty's analysis of why the wealthy inevitably get wealthier. (tl;dr: "Piketty's thesis has been shorthanded as r > g: that the rate of return on capital today -- and through most of history -- has been higher than general economic growth. This means that simply having money is the best way to get more money.")

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19.1.15

 

My email is a monster


My New Year's resolution is to look at my e-mail at most once a day. If you need a response in less than a day or two, please arrange it with me in advance or use a different medium. Cartoon courtesy of Oatmeal.

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10.1.15

 

Are the Greens or UKIP a major party? Have your say.

Ofcom has issued a draft ruling that the Greens are not a 'major party' but that UKIP is. Hard to justify, one might think, given that Carolyn Lucas has been a sitting MP since September 2008, while UKIP did not acquire its first MP until a by-election in October 2014. One consequence of Ofcom's decision is that the Greens may be shut out of any televised national election debates, while Farage is given a seat.

It's a draft ruling, and there is still time to have your say.
My own response to Ofcom is below.

Question 1: Please provide your views on:
a) the evidence of current support laid out in Annex 2, and
b) whether there is any other relevant evidence which you consider Ofcom should take into
account for the purposes of the 2015 review of the list of major parties:

The Green Party has had a sitting MP since September 2008, while UKIP has only had a sitting MP since October 2014. This relevant point appears nowhere in the annex.

Question 2: Do you agree with our assessment in relation to each of:
a) The existing major parties,
b) Traditional Unionist Voice in Northern Ireland,
c) The Green Party (including the Scottish Green Party), and
d) UKIP?
Please provide reasons for your views:

It is a scandal to include UKIP as a major party while excluding the Greens. Either both should be included, or both excluded. I would prefer to see both included.

While UKIP enjoys stronger support than the Greens in current opinion polls, this is a shortlived phenomenon in part driven by the increased coverage recently given to UKIP by news media. Ofcom's role should be to dampen the effect of media focus on the current bandwagon, not to amplify it.

Ofcom should ensure that all serious contenders have an opportunity to make their views heard. The cutoff for being a 'serious contender' should sit at support from around 5% of the electorate.

Question 3: Do you agree with the proposed amendment to Rule 9 of the PPRB Rules Procedures outlined in paragraph 3.7 above? Please provide reasons for your views:

I do not agree with the proposed amendment. It is stated the parties 'might'' raise unsustainable complaints, but no evidence is provided that this is a serious problem. It is more democratic to leave the decision to the Election Commission than to give Ofcom the ability to refuse complaints without any right of appeal.

[I note also that the reference on the web form to 'paragraph 3.7 above' is confusing. Not only does the relevant paragraph not appear on the web page with the question, the web page does not even contain a link to the document containing the paragraph.] 

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Joe Sacco: On Satire

Joe Sacco is my favourite graphic-novel journalist. All of us deplore the attack on Charlie Hebdo, but his response is the most thoughtful analysis I've seen.

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6.1.15

 

A contrary view to 'Antidotes to the Imitation Game'

For five years, Barry Cooper has run the Alan Turing Year (ATY) mailing list, tracking worldwide activity related to the Turing Centennial and after. If you want a contrast to the view given by Antidotes to The Imitation Game, see Barry's most recent ATY post.

While I agree that fiction can sometimes can closer to truth than nonfiction, I disagree with Barry's claim that the 'higher-order' interpretation of the film accurately captures the arc of Turing's life. I suspect the real Turing differs hugely from the film's version, despite the effort and skill Tyldum, Cumberbatch, and others invested in the film.

Many computing scientists are disappointed by the divergence from history in The Imitation Game, while others think that if it does well at the Academy Awards that the popularisation of Turing will be good for our profession. There is something to be said for both points.

Hollywood's attempts at biography seems to inevitably involve gross oversimplification or distortion. Is this really necessary for a film to succeed? Does anyone have favourite examples of films that did not grossly distort their subject matter?

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2.1.15

 

Antidotes to The Imitation Game


I was so disappointed by the treatment of Alan Turing in The Imitation Game that I devoted a standup routine to it. "The film begins: 'Based on a true story'. Now I know what that means: 'Contains characters with the same names as real people'. Preferably dead, so they can't sue for defamation."

The following articles, better than I could, debunk the treatment meted out to Alan Turing by the film. If you see the film, give them a look as well.

  A Poor Imitation of Alan Turing
  Christian Caryl, New York Review of Books

  The Imitation Game: inventing a new slander to insult Alan Turing
  Alex von Tunzelmann, The Guardian

  The Imitation Game is strangely shy about Alan Turing’s sexuality
  Catherine Shoard, The Guardian

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31.12.14

 

Thank You, 40+ Years Later

I received an unusual email this week.
Dear Dr. Wadler,
I hope I have located the correct Philip Wadler. The person I'm looking for went to Cupertino High School. If that's not you, please tell me of my error. If you did go to Cupertino High School, please read on.
In late 1973, you gave me a booklet entitled "My Computer Understands Me* (*when I speak in BASIC)". This booklet was the starting point for transforming me (very quickly) from a student who was really good at math but didn't know what he wanted to do, into a guy who was sure he wanted to work with computers. That became my career, and it worked out pretty well. Thank You.
With Best Wishes,
Jeff Tindle
CHS Class of 1975

And here's my response.
Jeff,
Yes, you've found the right Wadler. I'm lucky to have an unusual last name, it makes me easy to locate.
Thank you for your note, which made my day. It's a significant part of my career to turn young people onto computing, but I had no idea I had started so early. What are you doing now? I assume you've found my web page, which will give you an idea of what I am up to.
I would like to post your note to my blog, if I may have your permission?
Yours, -- P
It's not often we get a chance to make a difference. How nice to learn after so many years that, whether by insight or luck or a combination of the two, I helped someone.

[The image is the cover of Ted Nelson's Computer Lib/Dream Machines, one of my favourite books from those days. The Computer Lib section aimed to liberate users from the priesthood of programmers by teaching them how to do it themselves, and as I recall covered four programming languages, including Basic. The Dream Machines section introduced Xanadu, a vision of a hyperlinked networked computer system long predating the Internet or the Web.]

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10.12.14

 

How to save US

A short, inventively presented, video from Lawrence Lessig, making the case that before we can solve all the other problems in the US, the first problem we must solve is to take big money out of politics, and how we can do it via Mayday.

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SNAPL update

SNAPL, taking place 3-6 May in Asilomar, now has a publisher. Proceedings will appear in the LIPIcs series published by Dagstuhl. Five pages in ACM style is about eight pages in LIPIcs style, so the SNAPL call for papers has changed the paper length accordingly.

Previously: SNAPL.

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5.12.14

 

Functional Programming is the New Black

Reading the conclusion of my friend Maurice Naftalin's new book on Java 8 brought home to me the extent to which Functional Programming is, indeed, the new black. You can read it here.

Maurice Naftalin, Mastering Lambdas (Conclusion), McGraw-Hill, 2014.

Other links: Java 8 Lambda FAQ, Mastering Lambdas.

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29.11.14

 

Propositions as Types, with Howard on Curry-Howard

Propositions as Types has been updated, again. Thanks again to all the readers and reviewers who helped me improve the paper. This version includes an appendix, Howard on Curry-Howard, including additional correspondence with Howard not previously published.

Propositions as Types
Philip Wadler
Draft, 29 November 2014
The principle of Propositions as Types links logic to computation. At first sight it appears to be a simple coincidence---almost a pun---but it turns out to be remarkably robust, inspiring the design of theorem provers and programming languages, and continuing to influence the forefronts of computing. Propositions as Types has many names and many origins, and is a notion with depth, breadth, and mystery.
Comments still solicited!

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27.11.14

 

Feminist Hacker Barbie, Functional Programmer

Feminist Hacker Barbie knows her monads. Spotted via Boing Boing.

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24.11.14

 

Towards Independence

As an experiment, I have created a separate blog for political posts: Towards Independence.

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21.11.14

 

Bright Club


Tuesday 25 November at The Stand Comedy Club, I will be part of the line up at Bright Club, speaking on the subject of 'Turingery'. Bright Club is stand-up by academics---we are trained professionals; don't try this at home! Doors open 7:30pm, show starts 8:30pm. The Stand is at 5 York Place, Edinburgh, EH1 3EB. Tickets £5 at the door or online.

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19.11.14

 

CITIZENFOUR showing in Edinburgh

CITIZENFOUR, Laura Poitras's documentary on Edward Snowden, sold out for its two showings in Edinburgh. The movie is rated five-stars by the Guardian ("Gripping"), and four-stars by the Independent ("Extraordinary"), the Financial Times ("True-life spy thriller"), the Observer ("Utterly engrossing"), and the Telegraph ("Everybody needs to see it").

Kickstarter-like, OurScreen will arrange to show a film if enough people sign up to see it. I've scheduled a showing:

Cameo Edinburgh, 12 noon, Tuesday 2 December 2015
cost: £6.80 Book tickets from OurScreen.

If 34 people sign up by Sunday 23 November, then the showing will go ahead.

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10.11.14

 

Save our Universities


An open letter to my MSPs. Support and suggestions for how to carry
this forward as a campaign are solicited.

Dear Gavin Brown, Sarah Boyack, Alison Johnstone, Kezia Dugdale,
Cameron Buchanan and Neil Findlay,

I write to ask your help to preserve a secure future for Scottish
Universities.

Academics for all UK universities, including those in Scotland, have
faced falling wages and falling pensions over many years.  "The real
wages of academics have fallen by 13% since 2008, one of the largest
sustained wage cuts any profession has suffered since the Second World
War." So wrote Will Hutton in the Guardian, October 2013 [1].

In 2011, Universities UK imposed vastly reduced pensions on new
hires. Old hires who pay into the pension fund for forty years receive
a pension of one-half their final salary; new hires who do the same
receive a pension of one-half their average salary. Basing pensions on
average rather than final salary may be sensible, but to do so with no
adjustment in multiplier suggests employers are using this as an
excuse to slip in a large cut; it means new hires receive about 2/3
the benefits received by old hires. All staff also suffered other cuts
to pensions: additional caps and less good adjustment for inflation.
At the time, it was predicted that within a few years old hires would
be moved to the inferior scheme for new hires, and that is what has
now come to pass. [2]

Universities UK argue that the reductions are necessary to avoid a
deficit, but their claim has been widely criticised. Notably, a group
of prominent statisticians point out Universities UK inflated the
deficit by assuming a buoyant economy when predicting future salaries
but assuming a recession when predicting investment returns. [3]

A strong university system is one of the jewels in the crown of the
UK, and particularly for Scotland.  That excellence is a huge driver
of innovation and growth. If Scotland reduces its investment in
universities, it won't be long before we feel that loss throughout the
economy. [4,5]

Scotland has a University system second to none, and to keep it strong
we need pay and pensions that attract and retain the best minds
throughout the world.  We must have a system that is fair to both: old
hires must retain attractive conditions; new hires must have the bad
deal imposed on them in 2011 rolled back. Speaking as an old hire, I'd
settle for a small cut in pension if it meant bringing new hires onto
the same level: we must keep the system strong for the future.

The UCU has gone on strike over the issue (suspension of assessment,
which it hopes will minimise disruption for students). But UCU is
unlikely to succeed without political support.

I write to ask you, as my representative in the Scottish parliament,
will you direct the Scottish Funding Council to make fair treatment
for academics in Scottish Universities, both new hires and old, a top
priority?

Thank you for your consideration. Yours,

-- Philip Wadler
Professor of Theoretical Computer Science
School of Informatics
University of Edinburgh


[1] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/13/england-leave-funding-universities-students
[2] http://www.theguardian.com/education/2010/nov/23/oxbridge-pensions-academics-protest-united
[3] http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2014/oct/29/marking-boycott-why-are-academics-protesting-about-pensions
[4] http://www.universities-scotland.ac.uk/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=156&cntnt01returnid=23
[5] Royal Society of Edinburgh, Enlightening the Constitutional Debate, Science and Higher Education, p177--198,
    http://www.royalsoced.org.uk/cms/files/events/reports/2013-2014/The%20Book.pdf

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9.10.14

 

SNAPL


SNAPL will take place 3-6 May 2015 at Asilomar.
SNAPL provides a biennial venue to focus on big-picture questions, long-running research programs, and experience reports in programming languages. The ideal SNAPL paper takes one of two forms:
  • A promising idea that would benefit from discussion and feedback.
  • A paper about an ongoing research project that might not be accepted at a traditional conference.
Examples include papers that
  • lay out a research roadmap
  • summarize experiences
  • present negative results
  • discuss design alternatives
SNAPL is interested in all aspects of programming languages. The PC is broad and open-minded and receptive to interesting ideas that will provoke thought and discussion.
Interesting papers would combine the specific with the general. Submissions are limited to five pages (excluding bibliography), and must be formatted using ACM SIG style. The final papers can be up to 10 pages in length. Accepted papers will be published on an open-access site, probably arXiv CoRR.
To encourage authors to submit only their best work, each person can be an author or co-author of a single paper only. SNAPL will prefer experienced presenters and each submission must indicate on the submission site which co-author will present the paper at the conference.
SNAPL also accepts one-page abstracts. Abstracts will be reviewed lightly and all submitted abstracts will be published on the SNAPL 2015 web page. Authors of selected abstracts will be invited to give a 5-minute presentation at the gong show at the conference.
SNAPL is unaffiliated with any organization. It is a conference for the PL community organized by the PL community.

Important Dates

Submission: January 6, 2015
Decisions announced: February 20, 2015
Final versions due: March 20, 2015
Conference: May 3-6, 2015

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5.10.14

 

Errata, please

This is a space where you can leave comments describing errata in any of my published papers. Please include bibliographic details of the paper, and a link to where the paper appears on my web page if you can. Thank you to Dave Della Costa for volunteering the first entry and inspiring the creation of this post, and to all who utilise this space to record and correct my errors for posterity.

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22.9.14

 

Composable Queries in F# 3.0

James Cheney speaks to the F#unctional Londoners meet-up about our F# library that implements A Practical Theory of Language-Integrated Query.

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17.9.14

 

The military and the referendum.


Many readers will have heard about Lord Dannat in the Telegraph arguing a vote for independence will dishonour Scotland's war dead.

Perhaps not as many will have heard that Jimmy Sinclair (the oldest surviving Desert Rat, aged 102), Colin May (Lieutenant Commander, Faslane), and sixteen others have written a letter slamming Dannat; at least, I didn't hear until this morning. "How dare he take their sacrifice in vain and try to turn it to political advantage?"

Both sides are reported by the BBC, though the headline mentions only one. (More #bbcbias?)

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The case for Europe


Readers of this list will know that I don't always see eye-to-eye with Alex Salmond. Nonetheless, I think he put the case for Europe well this morning on the Today Program.
In a BBC interview just the other night, a spanish minister being
interviewed by Kirsty Wark despite being invited three or four times
refused to say that Spain would attempt to veto Scottish
membership. And the reason for that of course is that the Spanish
government have already said that in the circumstance of a consented
democratic referendum, as they put it, Spain would have nothing to say
about it.

We can go through legal opinion and expert opinion as much as we like.
I think the answer is in four figures: 1, 20, 25, and 60.

1% is the percentage of Scotland's population compared to the European Union.

20% is the percentage of the fish stocks of the entire European Union.

25% is the percentage of the renewable energy of the entire European Union offshore.

And 60% is the oil reserves that Scotland has.

Anyone who believes that a country [with these resources] is not
going to be welcome in the wider Europe doesn't understand the process
by which Europe accepts democratic results and that Scotland has a
huge amount of attractiveness to the rest of the European continent.

You can hear the original here, the relevant segment starts at around 8:00.

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14.9.14

 

The British Biased Corporation

Scandalous! Nick Robinson asks Alex Salmond a question, and Salmond takes seven minutes to answer in detail.



On the evening news, Nick Robinson summarises Salmond's answer in a few seconds as 'He didn't answer'.


(Above spotted via Arc of Prosperity.)

And today, this.
I used to be a supporter of the BBC, but it's getting harder and harder to justify.

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Dinna fash yersel — Scotland will dae juist fine!

One relentless lie behind 'No' is that Scotland is too wee to make it on its own, counterexamples such as Denmark, Sweden, Singapore, and Hong Kong being conveniently ignored. May this post from Thomas Widmann, a Dane residing in Scotland, help to dispel the disinformation. 
Pick a random person from somewhere on this planet. Ask them to name an alcoholic drink from Scotland, and it’s very likely they’ll reply “Whisky”. Ask them to name one from Denmark, and they’ll probably be tongue-tied. (They could answer “Gammel Dansk” or “Akvavit”, but they’re just not nearly as famous as whisky.)

Now repeat the exercise, but ask about a food item. Again, it’s likely they’ll have heard of haggis but that they’ll be struggling to name anything from Denmark.

Now try a musical instrument. Bagpipes and … sorry, cannot think of a Danish one.

A sport? Scotland has golf, of course. Denmark can perhaps claim ownership of handball, but it’s not associated with Denmark in the way that golf makes everybody think of Scotland.

A piece of clothing? Everybody knows the kilt, but I’d be very surprised if anybody can name one from Denmark.

A monster? Everybody knows what’s lurking in Loch Ness, but is there anything scary in Denmark?

The only category where Denmark perhaps wins is toys, where Lego surely is more famous than anything from Scotland (but many people don’t know Lego is from Denmark).

Denmark is also well-known for butter and bacon, of course, but these aren’t Danish in origin or strongly associated with Denmark in people’s minds.

Several famous writers and philosophers were Danish (e.g., Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard), but Scotland can arguably list more names of the same calibre, and the Scottish ones wrote in English, which makes them much more accessible to the outside world.

Scottish universities are also ranked better than the Danish ones in recent World rankings.

Finally, Scotland has lots of oil and wind, water and waves. Denmark has some, but not nearly as much, and most other countries have less than Denmark.

Because of all of this, I don’t worry about the details when it comes to Scottish independence. If Denmark can be one of the richest countries on the planet, of course Scotland can be one too.

Yes, there might be a few tough years while the rUK are in a huff and before everything has been sorted out. And of course there will be occasional crises in the future, like in any other country.

However, unless you subscribe to the school that Denmark and other small countries like Norway and Switzerland are complete failures because they don’t have nuclear weapons and a permanent seat on the UN’s Security Council, there’s simply no reason to assume Scotland won’t do exceptionally well as an independent country in the longer term.

So I’m not worried. Of course there are many details to sort out, but at the end of the day everything will be fine. Scotland will be a hugely successful independent country. Dinna fash yersel!

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Krugman vs. Stiglitz, now with added Stiglitz

My last post quoted Joe Stiglitz, indirectly, to refute Paul Krugman's fear mongering. Now the man himself has spoken in the Sunday Herald.
As Scotland contemplates independence, some, such as Paul Krugman, have questioned the "economics".

Would Scotland, going it alone, risk a decline in standards of living or a fall in GDP? There are, to be sure, risks in any course of action: should Scotland stay in the UK, and the UK leave the EU, the downside risks are, by almost any account, significantly greater. If Scotland stays in the UK, and the UK continues in its policies which have resulted in growing inequality, even if GDP were slightly larger, the standards of living of most Scots could fall.

Cutbacks in UK public support to education and health could force Scotland to face a set of unpalatable choices - even with Scotland having considerable discretion over what it spends its money on.

But there is, in fact, little basis for any of the forms of fear-mongering that have been advanced. Krugman, for instance, suggests that there are significant economies of scale: a small economy is likely, he seems to suggest, not to do well. But an independent Scotland will still be part of Europe, and the great success of the EU is the creation of a large economic zone.

Besides, small political entities, like Sweden, Singapore, and Hong Kong have prospered, while much larger entities have not. By an order of magnitude, far more important is pursuit of the right policies.

Another example of a non-issue is the currency. There are many currency arrangements that would work. Scotland could continue using sterling - with or without England's consent.

Because the economies of England and Scotland are so similar, a common currency is likely to work far better than the euro - even without shared fiscal policy. But many small countries have managed to have a currency of their own - floating, pegged, or "managed."

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13.9.14

 

Krugman vs Stiglitz


Some of my colleagues have commented on Paul Krugman's financial diatribe, Scots, what the heck. My colleague Nigel Goddard penned a response.
While I have a lot of respect for Paul Krugman, his blanket warning against currency unions is misplaced, at least according to Joe Stiglitz, another Nobel prize winning economist (two economists; three opinions). Stiglitz said (at the book festival) that all three proposed models (currency union, use of currency without union, separate currency) can work depending on the characteristics of the economies and, most particularly, the quality of the institutions running the currency (or currencies). For a union to work the economies must be similar in various important ways (level of investment, competitive advantage, etc). rUK and Scotland are similar at present so it can easily work. Over the longer term it may be that Scotland breaks out of the low-investment, low-skill rUK model and goes for a more northern European high-investment, high-skill model (let's hope!). In that case a currency union would over time come under strain and eventually break up (i.e., into separate currencies). But in that case I know which economy I'd rather be in.
In the current situation, if the UK's central bank takes a decision contrary to Scotland's interest there is nothing we can do about it. An independent Scotland using UK currency could, if need be, move to its own currency. Krugman's piece says not a word on this option.

RBS, Lloyds, and TSB cannot afford to keep their headquarters in Scotland without the backing of the larger UK, though they may well keep much of their operations here. This is touted by Darling as a reason to vote No, but for me it's a reason to vote Yes. Banks too big to fail are an appalling idea; getting rid of them is an enormous benefit of an independent Scotland. I only hope Westminster keeps its promise not to agree a fiscal union!

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10.9.14

 

Scots voting no to independence would be an astonishing act of self-harm



George Monbiot writes stirring stuff on indy. Well-reasoned and well-documented.
Imagine the question posed the other way round. An independent nation is asked to decide whether to surrender its sovereignty to a larger union. It would be allowed a measure of autonomy, but key aspects of its governance would be handed to another nation. It would be used as a military base by the dominant power and yoked to an economy over which it had no control. ... Most nations faced even with such catastrophes choose to retain their independence – in fact, will fight to preserve it – rather than surrender to a dominant foreign power....The fears the no campaigners have worked so hard to stoke are – by comparison with what the Scots are being asked to lose – mere shadows. As Adam Ramsay points out in his treatise Forty-Two Reasons to Support Scottish Independence, there are plenty of nations smaller than Scotland that possess their own currencies and thrive. Most of the world’s prosperous nations are small: there are no inherent disadvantages to downsizing.
Remaining in the UK carries as much risk and uncertainty as leaving. England’s housing bubble could blow at any time. We might leave the European Union.
...
How is the argument altered by the fact that Scotland is considering whether to gain independence rather than whether to lose it? It’s not. Those who would vote no – now, a new poll suggests, a rapidly diminishing majority – could be suffering from system justification.System justification is defined as the “process by which existing social arrangements are legitimised, even at the expense of personal and group interest”. It consists of a desire to defend the status quo, regardless of its impacts. It has been demonstrated in a large body of experimental work, which has produced the following surprising results.
System justification becomes stronger when social and economic inequality is more extreme. This is because people try to rationalise their disadvantage by seeking legitimate reasons for their position. In some cases disadvantaged people are more likely than the privileged to support the status quo. One study found that US citizens on low incomes were more likely than those on high incomes to believe that economic inequality is legitimate and necessary.
It explains why women in experimental studies pay themselves less than men, why people in low-status jobs believe their work is worth less than those in high-status jobs, even when they’re performing the same task, and why people accept domination by another group. It might help to explain why so many people in Scotland are inclined to vote no.
...
To deny this to yourself, to remain subject to the whims of a distant and uncaring elite, to succumb to the bleak, deferential negativity of the no campaign, to accept other people’s myths in place of your own story: that would be an astonishing act of self-repudiation and self-harm. Consider yourselves independent and work backwards from there; then ask why you would sacrifice that freedom.
Scots voting no to independence would be an astonishing act of self-harm


A yes vote in Scotland would unleash the most dangerous thing of all - hope


(Monbiot is also the author of Heat, my favorite book on climate change.)

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