Sunday, 31 January 2016

'A Canterbury Tale': in Memory of Sheila Sim

by Sue Palmer 

The actress, Sheila Sim, died on January 19th, 2016, aged 93. One of her most fondly-remembered roles was in Michael Powell's wartime film, 'A Canterbury Tale' (1944)

Sheila Sim in A Canterbury Tale
As it was to the three unlikely pilgrims (played by Sheila Sim, Dennis Price and John Sweet) travelling by train to Canterbury with their mysterious companion, towards the end of the 1944 propaganda film A Canterbury Tale, it is the sight of the Cathedral with the statuesque Bell Harry tower rising from the low-lying Stour valley, which still gives the ‘wow effect’. It is the same whichever way you approach Canterbury.

Shots of Canterbury, towards the end of the film come from original footage of the severe bomb damage the city suffered in devastating Luftwaffe raids in May and June 1942.

There is huge devastation, craters and piles of rubble.  Only the Cathedral, extraordinarily, rises above it like a beacon, pulling people towards it.  No matter, in reality, that the priceless, famed, medieval stained glass windows had already been removed to safety, the great perpendicular windows boarded up, and the organ and other treasures dismantled and hidden.

Why are the mismatched three characters, a land girl, a British army sergeant and an American serviceman, drawn to broken Canterbury?

'Merchant of Venice': The Musical

Friday, 29 January 2016

Our World is Broken...How Can We Fix It?

by Alex McKirgan

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump: signs of the economic times?
Political economy was the name given to the subject we now call Economics by the Scottish moral philosophers Adam Smith and David Hume in the eighteenth century. The name of the subject was shortened to economics by the 19th century economists Alfred Marshall and William Stanley Jevons in the hope that the subject would be recognised as a science. The term Political Economy today refers to the interaction between the economy, government and legal system. The crisis in our world that I refer to in the title is a crisis of political economy. How should our society, economy and government be organised to produce the best outcome for the majority of people? We urgently need to find answers to these questions because what we have today is not working.

I accept that market capitalism has made an amazing contribution to creating wealth around the world and has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. The 'dream' that formed the basis for mass support for market capitalism was the belief that workers would see rising living standards throughout their lives and subsequent generations would be wealthier and better educated. That dream came tumbling down in 2008 with tangible political consequences. Since then, many in the West have lost faith in the dream. From the end of the Great Depression, increases in productivity led to rising living standards for the majority, but increases in inflation-adjusted average earnings stalled around the late 1970s and have barely increased since then. Productivity has risen 300% since then, but inflation-adjusted average earnings have only increased by 8%. The share of profits going to capital has increased, while the share going to labour has decreased.

People reacted to the economic stagnation of the 1970s by voting in radical conservatives like Reagan and Thatcher. On both sides of the Atlantic, the consensus idea was that government-owned enterprises should be privatised, taxes cut and regulations reduced. Despite the rhetoric, while these policies did generate increased levels of growth, the rewards of this growth went exclusively to those at the top of the income scale. For everyone else, the only way real family incomes were able to keep rising were through increased female participation in the labour market, increased consumer debt and rising house prices. All of this came tumbling down in 2008 and real living standards are still below the pre-crisis levels in many countries. There is no credible alternative to the market system as a basis for generating prosperity. I am in no way a socialist, but I worry that the inherent contradictions of capitalism are undermining support for it.

The smarter Conservative commentators, like Tim Montgomerie of The Times and Fraser Nelson of The Spectator recognise this and agree that we need to find a new economic model or risk losing public support for a broadly private economy. It seems clear to me that the traditional Conservative/neoliberal/Chicago School response of lower taxes, smaller government and less regulation isn't the answer. Economic history from the 1920s and over the last 30 years show where these policies lead. As well as directing the economic rewards of growth to a small minority, these policies tend to lead to unstable economies and bubbles in housing and financial markets. Free movement of capital and deregulation may have some economic benefits but they significantly increase the frequency and severity of financial and banking crises. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results, then this would be madness.

There is an equal challenge for the "Third Way" social democrats like the heirs of Clinton and Blair. While they accepted the neoliberal assumptions of Reagan and Thatcher, the booming economies they experienced produced abundant tax revenues that enabled much-needed rebuilding of the social infrastructure left in tatters by their Conservative predecessors. The current state of government finances would probably preclude a repetition of this era.

This economic conundrum is having a palpable effect on politics. With stagnant living standards for most, accompanied by people at the top ascending to a level of wealth beyond most of their compatriots' comprehension, support for 'politics as usual' and 'politicians as usual' has collapsed in many countries. As many people think 'the system' is not working for them, they are looking for radical alternatives. Worryingly, as often happens in times of economic hardship, people who see themselves as losing out from the globalised world have reacted by seeking to put up barriers against immigrants or outsiders and supporting 'non-system' politicians like Donald Trump. The Trump phenomenon is instructive. In an earlier Portsmouth Point article, at a time when most people saw him as a joke, I explained how he was tapping into this powerful feeling of discontent. It is stunning to see how far he has got with virtually nothing in the way of credible policies. He talks constantly about 'Making America Great Again'. He is appealing to voters who feel that they and their country have lost ground and want to turn back the clock. He talks constantly about bad trade deals leading to skilled jobs being transferred overseas. When asked how he will reverse this, he says 'I'll bring the jobs back home'. When asked HOW he will do this, he just continually responds by saying, 'I'm just going to bring them back home.' No credible policy ideas to fulfil his promise.

In the Democratic race, Bernie Sanders is making real progress by threatening to take on Wall Street and the 'Billionaire Class'. In this country, Jeremy Corbyn has tapped into a sense of despair about conventional politics and politicians, but, when asked about his economic plans, all Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell could come up with was 'I've asked a panel of experts to come up with some ideas.' Sounds to me like he has none himself.

None of these approaches stands any chance of building the kind of economy that can produce sustainable increases in average living standards. Until we can come up with a practical plan to achieve this, our political system will remain broken. So what are the pillars I believe we should start to build our new economic model upon?

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Poem for Thursday: Lavender Fields

by James Christensen

Amethyst beads emerge
From a deep sea of foliage.
Wind loses its voice amidst
The sunset, and turns into a quiet breeze.

A tall tree stands alone,
The victor of the forest wars.
Its chocolate trunk stands still,
As its leaves fade into the distance. 

The sunset surrenders,
Disappearing like a building in an earthquake.
Its exotic colours disappear,
An orange flame into midnight ash.

A woven basket lays in the violet sea,
Its willow twigs tell a life, an ancestry.
Beneath the sea lies another world 
Of lime leaves and exotic critters. 

As the clouds turn transparent,
The wind takes its last breath.
The eggplant ocean blackens and vanishes.
Mist goes on the nightwatch, guarding the subterranean greens. 

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The Cologne Attacks, and What That Means For Germany

by Ellie Williams-Brown

(source: BBC)
On New Year’s Eve crowds in Cologne gathered to celebrate the dawn of 2016. But the event was to make headlines for all the wrong reasons. Groups of men working in gangs systematically sexually assaulted and robbed women. These attacks have sparked outrage in Germany. And some are pointing the finger at the recent flood of refugees after claims the attackers were of Arab/North African origin. Others have used this as an excuse to criticise Angela Merkel's open-door refugee policy. Police in Cologne say 553 criminal complaints have been filed by women in Cologne, and 45% of those are for sexual assault.

In the light of these events Merkel is under pressure to re-evaluate Germany’s ‘open door’ immigration policy, and at the very least to convince a sceptical German public that it works.
This is particularly important given the flak she took for backing a bail-out for Greece to ease the country out of its economic depression. In the wake of the attacks the political climate in Germany has already seen one change. Recent legislation has seen Germany tighten their rules on immigrants who commit crimes - which could see deportation and the loss of their refugee status.

Some right-wing commentators are throwing the blame onto the immigrants, a stance fuelled by fear and prejudice. Opponents of the open-door policy have accused immigrants of planning co-ordinated attacks on women when they are still settling themselves into their new lifestyle in Germany.

Others argue that, surely, having escaped Syria, the main focus of refugees would be to integrate themselves into society not to coordinate attacks on women, not only in Cologne, but in Hamburg. Many commentators in Germany are starting to believe that this could be a gang of professional pick-pockets who organised this attack to rob drunk/intoxicated women, with the sexual assault used merely as a means to distract them as they grabbed their valuables.

What is equally as shocking is the police’s handling of the event. After initial reports of the crimes, the square was cleared but then the crowds were allowed back in - without any arrests being made.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Review: Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine

by Charlotte Phillips

Despite the suggested neurological and biological focus of the tag line of Cordelia Fine's game-changing book Delusions of Gender ('The Real Science Behind Sex Differences'), her extended study of the ways in which the male and female brain differ (or, more often, do not) draws on multiple areas including psychology, sociology, politics, history and pure science. The book, published in 2010, has more academic references than any publication I have ever come across before, all used in order to debunk the myth that gender differences are an inevitable part of our 'hardwiring'.

The overriding message of the book, recurring repeatedly throughout the thought-provokingly named chapters, is that the relatively new idea of 'biological essentialism' as a reason for innate gender differences in behaviour and skills is based upon sketchy evidence found from technologies which are only in their infancy. Biological essentialism, as Fine explains in her concise and sophisticated tone, is the concept that it is our biology that causes innate personality differences- that our genes determine our preferences, tastes and attitudes. A number of popular 'science' novels have drawn on this shaky theory to further spread the message that conforming to gender stereotypes is an inevitable part of life. Fine destroys these assumptions with reams of academically acclaimed and proven evidence, which although can make the book feel a little like periodically reading the reference pages of a biological journal, is no doubt impressive.

The book is split into three sections, each building on the evidence provided in the one before to construct the logical conclusion that it is overwhelming socialisation that leads to the majority of gender differences, rather than genetic factors. One of the most resounding examples of this is the discussion about 'gender neutral' parenting. Fine argues against the many parents who say they have tried to raise their children free of gender influences- pink and blue toys, play cooking stoves and play guns. Without discrediting these parent's efforts, Fine points out that gender neutrality is much harder to achieve than it seems on the surface. Gender neutral parenting means splitting all domestic and child caring tasks exactly 50/50- cooking, washing, cleaning, nappy changing. 

Photography Club: Duelling Portraits

by Henry Day

The Life and Work of Audrey Hepburn: Early Life

by Hermione Barrick

An insight into the life and work of Audrey Hepburn: Early life

Audrey Hepburn as a girl
Audrey Hepburn, born Audrey Kathleen Ruston, was born on the 4th May 1929, in Brussels Belgium, and died on the 20th January 1993. Her father was a man named Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston, and her mother, Baroness Ella van Heemstra.  Her parents married in the Dutch-Colonial Batavia in 1926.  They then moved to Europe, where Audrey Hepburn was born.  Hepburn held British citzenship through her father, who was himself a British subject.  As a result of her multinational background and through travelling with her family, due to her father's job, she learned to speak five languages: Dutch and English from her parents, and then later French, Spanish and Italian.

Hepburn's father became a Nazi sympathiser in the 1930s, then her parents' marriage began to fail in the mid-1930s.  When her mother found her father in bed with the nanny of the children, Hepburn's father left the family abruptly. Her father then settled in London after the divorce, with Audrey Hepburn only locating him again in the 1960s through the Red Cross, and although he remained emotionally detached Hepburn supported him financially until his death

In 1937, Ella and Audrey moved to Kent, South East England, where Hepburn was educated at a small independent school in Elham, run by two sisters known as "The Mesdemoiselles Smith". In September 1939, when Britain declared war on Germany, Hepburn's mother relocated with her daughter back to Arnhem in the hope that, just as they had done during World War One, the Netherlands would remain neutral and be spared a German attack. While there, Hepburn trained in ballet with Winja Marova, in addition to the standard school curriculum. After the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940, Hepburn adopted the name Edda van Heemstra because an "English sounding" name was considered dangerous during the German occupation.

In 1942, Hepburn's uncle, Otto van Limburg Stirum was executed, while Hepburn's half brother Ian was deported to Berlin to work in a German labour camp. Hepburn's other half-brother Alex went into hiding to avoid the same fate.

"We saw young men put against the wall and shot, and they'd close the street and then open it and you could pass by again...Don't discount anything awful you hear or read about the Nazis. It's worse than you could ever imagine."

Monday, 25 January 2016

Photography Club: Reflective Self-Portrait

by Toby Sambles

The Clone Illusion - How Similar Are Genetically Identical Human Beings?

by Nicholas Graham

Cloning. A way of creating genetically identical organisms. Everyone knows that the first animal to be successfully cloned was Dolly the Sheep (Roslin Institute, Scotland, born 5th July 1996). It is a process that took, and is taking, a while to create, enhance and perfect. You would think that two genetically identical organisms, such as two humans cloned from the same DNA, would be identical, with the possible exception of physical injuries or markings acquired during a lifetime. However the level of similarity that one would initially predict is far from reality.

As genetically identical beings they should have the same physical appearance. To an extent this is the largest similarity, but that does not mean they will be exactly the same. Factors coming under the ‘nurture’ part of the ‘nature versus nurture’ argument can have a sizeable effect on the physiological aspects of a person, both internally and externally. As a result, while basically the same in appearance, it is possible for clones to appear different in clearly noticeable ways, not including and physical markings such as injuries or tattoos that could mark them as different. As well as physical appearance, genetics can also determine the way in which a person carries out physical activities, or their stamina and strength. While the environment can affect these factors, the DNA of the person will cause limits to these abilities, that cannot be overcome by environmental or external factors. Therefore, clones will always have a minimum level of similarity for physical ability and appearance, that cannot be changed naturally. 

Due to the lack of human cloning at present, there has been no possibility to carry out psychological testing to see the correlations for behaviour among clones. However clones are essentially the same as identical twins, as they both have the same genetic material. In actuality, clones are identical twins, just ones that have been created artificially as opposed to chance causing the initial zygote to split into two part before starting to change into the human embryo. As such, the results of psychological studies on identical twins should be applicable to clones as well.

There have been many psychological studies conducted on identical twins in order to determine the effects of genetics on various behaviours, from personality to intelligence. Probably the most well-known of these is Bouchard et al. 1990, also known as the Minnesota Twin Study. This study was carried out on a variety of levels of sibling: monozygotic (identical) twins raised together (MZTs), monozygotic twins raised apart (MZAs), dizygotic (non-identical) twins raised together and biological siblings raised together. They also tested individual people multiple times. The overall concordance between MZTs was 86%, one 1% less than that of the same person twice (87% concordance). This shows that genetically identical people have almost the same level of similarity in physical variables, IQ and personality as one person does when analysed twice. For MZTs, who still have the same genetic material, concordance was only 76%. This scientifically shows the effect of nature versus nurture, and the way that the environment can cause changes in genetically identical people.

Close analysis of the results of Bouchard et al. 1990 shows the way in which these differences are spread as well as the effect of the environment on certain characteristics. Environment seems to have no effect whatsoever on personality correlation between identical twins, as both MZAs and MZTs had a personality correlation of +0.49, which is a moderate correlation. However this is still lower than the personality correlation that would be achieved via testing the same person twice, showing that personality is effected by genetics, but that the same overall personality is nowhere near guaranteed.

Summer Flowers: Melting the January Blues

by Sophie Parekh

It’s January and that means cold, damp, overcast days, constantly putting on and taking off items of clothing every time you go out. It’s the dreaded lull after Christmas where the excitement of breaking out Mariah Carey’s “Merry Christmas” seems like centuries ago.

However, I recently found some photos I’d taken last summer when the weather had been particularly pleasant and I decided to share them to try and melt those January blues.

Photography Club: Portrait with Flag

by Henry Day

Is the Media's Treatment of Jeremy Corbyn Justifiable?

by Oliver Clark

I am not going to lie to you. It is my opinion that Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, is just about the worst possible person to lead Britain into the future. I disagree with the fundamentals of his beliefs, and feel that he is going against some of the basics of public interest, most notably on defence and from a military standpoint, an issue that is more important than ever in a world plagued by the actions of Islamic State. He brands it as a 'new style of politics', whereas I would refer to it as extreme and quite frankly unelectable.

However, the scrutiny that he has faced since his appointment as Labour leader has been called into question on numerous occasions. Is the behaviour of the press defensible? For the record, various quips from the media stating how Corbyn looks like a shabby History supply teacher are not going to be explored in this article. I believe that when you are in a position such as Corbyn's, you must expect such schoolboy jokes from the press, similar to the way in which Cameron is depicted as an Etonian aristocrat who uses £50 notes as toilet paper and has never so much as glanced at a state-school educated person in his life.

At the Battle of Britain memorial ceremony on September 15th, a gathering to remember the thousands of soldiers who lost their lives in the name of our country, Corbyn stood in silence as the rest of St Paul's Cathedral sang the national anthem. Immediately after the events, Labour released a statement that 'Corbyn would sing at future public events', apparently reprimanding the actions of their new leader mere days after his appointment. Days later on Question Time, Telegraph journalist Tim Stanley, a formerly devout Labour supporter from the age of 15 who has in recent years began to favour David Cameron's Tory government, told a story from his childhood. Stanley refused to sing the national anthem at his school's Prizegiving and was subsequently suspended from school. Now, although he did not feel that Corbyn should be made to sit on the proverbial naughty step of the House of Commons, he stated that 'when you accept that position (leader of the Labour Party), you are elevated to the role of a statesman,... when you are at a public service where people are commemorating the sacrifice of our soldiers during the war, I don't care what your politics are, you sing lustily'. Despite the press ultimately focusing more on the lack of action of Jeremy's vocal chords instead of the proceedings of the service, I believe that it was a foolish way to start his career and the press had the right to challenge his actions so soon after his appointment.

A couple of months later, Corbyn was once again hounded by the press for his apparent lack of respect, this time for not bowing properly in front of the Remembrance memorial. Upon seeing this article, I had to watch the attached clips of Cameron, Corbyn and Tim Farron laying their wreaths. Now, although Corbyn did not bow with the enthusiasm of someone spotting a winning jackpot lottery ticket on the ground, to say that he was at all disrespectful was a non-story. Once again, the press decided to focus on Corbyn's actions instead of the service itself, with the Sun opting for the headline 'Pacifist Corbyn refuses to bow; nod in my name'. You do not have to be a fan of Corbyn to see that this was a highly distasteful choice of headline, demonising Corbyn simply for the angle of his arched back. It is at a time like this that I do feel sympathy for Corbyn, because we knew that whatever he did, newspapers like the Sun would target even the smallest imperfection of his 15 seconds of notability, whether it be a stray hair on his suit or an untied shoelace. It is of more interest to me what headline the Sun would have chosen if Corbyn, instead of bowing, leant back and pulled off a stunt reminiscent of Neo from the Matrix.

Okay, so if this were a football match between Corbyn and the Press, I can say we are standing at a 1-1 draw. However, I'd say this game is only in the opening 10 to 15 minutes. Unfortunately for Corbyn, since these events, things have been far from plain sailing for him, mainly due to the fact that he opposes his own party in a number of key issues. In the early days of 2016, he decided to change things up, reshuffling his cabinet so that shadow defence secretary Maria Eagle, a supporter of the air strikes in Syria (along with 65 other Labour MPs) and a believer in the renewal of Trident, could be replaced with Emily Thornberry, who shares Corbyn's views on both issues. An understandable decision, yet a peculiar one bearing in my Corbyn, as a part of his new brand of Politics, stated that he wished to embrace opposing views within his party. It seems he may have underestimated quite how many people with views different were around, as mere days later three Junior Shadow Ministers would resign from their posts due to Corbyn's views on Trident and Syria.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Trump: The Most Successful Pundit in America – But The Worst Presidential Candidate

by William Dry

656,000 British citizens have signed a petition calling for Donald Trump to be banned from entering the UK on grounds of hate speech. It would be lazy for me to write an article detailing the horror show of Trump’s candidacy. The jokes would write themselves. He’s a character you might see in Veep or The Thick of It; a fool who’s blissfully unaware of his own flaws, in this case – narcissism, arrogance, and being darn right mean. However, this particular character has escaped the microcosm of Veep, and, trapped with the mentality his creator designated him, has decided to run for President.

However, I have decided to resist the temptation that Trump offers us all: to set off a firework which lights up the sky with “Will’s a moral human being! J” You may think Trump is a fool, but the facts are he has been very successful in business (which is obviously not the be all and end all, but he clearly isn’t as stupid as some people think), and he has humiliated the political pundits since his entry into the race. The pillars of Trump’s campaign were derided by the media – the media labelled each announcement as the end of his campaign. However, with each announcement his polls went up, and up, and up. He has won every debate according to the polls, and has dominated not just the Republican invisible primary, but even featured in Obama’s State of the Union address. For all his bluster, lack of variation of adjectives, and crass, in electoral terms, he has been the most successful politician in the last 6 months in the world. To dismiss him as an ‘idiot’ is lazy, and is to misunderstand how badly the media, and the Washington class currently understand US politics. His policies may be scary, but equally scary is the lack of acknowledgement for both how many people he represents, and his successful political techniques.

He started his campaign with an announcement that set the agenda for the next month: the jaw-dropper was his approach to the 11 million undocumented immigrants. Donald wants them all out – men, women, children. He wants to build a ‘big wall’, with a ‘big beautiful door’ so that he can let the useful ones back in. Trump said that the illegal immigrants “were bringing drugs” – 90% of cocaine that is in the US transits through Mexico. He said that they were “bringing crime” – illegal immigrants in Califorina, Texas, Arizona, Florida, and New York make up just 5.6% of the population, but account for 38% of all murder convictions. He even said that some were “rapists” – in Texas, more than 2000 illegal immigrants were deported after committing sex-related offenses. Needless to say, there are a whole set of facts which support the other side of the debate, and I am not going to come down on either side. Trump, while he may not been the first to raise the issue in contemporary politics, his daring rhetoric undoubtedly placed the issue at the heart of the start of the invisible Republican primary. It bought him political capita: people thought he was straight talking, and bold – exactly what a core of the Republican base think the country needs.

The immigration policy is well.. a bit harder to defend. Just saying “We have a problem” (which every Western country does), does not justify blocking all Muslims from entering the country. It would lead to the bizarre situation that Sadiq Khan, the favourite for the next Mayor of London, being unable to visit the Mayor of New York to discuss the challenges of running a major city. The idea is especially perverse considering America’s history on religious freedoms, an idea even more central to the twenty-first century Republican party. 

However, perhaps this is the genius of Trump: even while the idea is clearly wacky, morally repugnant, and quite simply bad, it worked. The media lapped it up. There wasn’t a person in America who didn’t hear the whir of “Trump this..” “Trump that..” from their television (probably made in South Korea – damn those stupid trade deals from the stupid leaders) in the following days. A simple voter could be forgiven for forgetting that there were other candidates in the Republican primary, or even Presidential race, given this onslaught of attention. His poll ratings jumped up 10 points in the space of a week, a percentage that eludes most candidates who, despite name recognition and experience on the political scene, have collectively mustered the force of a paper fan a middle schooler might make, in contrast to Hurricane Donald.

P versus NP

by Reetobrata Chatterjee


P versus NP is a major problem in Computer Science. It is one of the 7 Millennium Prize problems, which are widely regarded as the most important problems in Mathematics of the generation (and by extension into fields such as Physics and Computer Science). Arguably, the P versus NP problem is one of the most important of these problems, because of the major real world implications of a proof such as this. Why should you care? If you are clever/lucky enough to solve this problem, you’ll net yourself a cool $1,000,000, which may not be as good as £1,000,000, but is a pretty hefty sum for solving a Maths problem. Also, you are quite likely to receive the Turing Award and/or the Fields Medal, each regarded as the highest honour in the fields of Computer Science and Mathematics respectively.

The Problem

The problem itself is quite simple to understand informally. It asks whether the solution to a problem of some description can be determined “quickly”, if its solution can be verified quickly. It may be necessary to mention computers, since this IS a problem in Computer Science, but it’s more general than that. This statement, if proved either way, would apply to any problem solved by algorithmic thinking, i.e. following a sequence of steps, sort of like a cooking recipe, and seeing how fast you can get to the end.

An example of such a problem is factorising numbers into its prime factors. In order to simplify this slightly, I’ll assume that the number only has 2 prime factors, although more generally, it would apply to any such problem.

Take the number 15. It is simple to see that the factors are 3 and 5. Also if the numbers 3, 5 and 15 were given, it would be easy to check that 3 x 5 = 15. However, the factorisation was not actually done algorithmically, since most people will KNOW when they see 15 that 3 x 5 = 15. In order for the process to be algorithmic, it has to go about finding the factors in a methodical way. A simple example would be checking from 2 onwards whether the number divides into 15 exactly and giving the result when it does. This is how a computer would do it.

The reason an algorithmic approach is necessary is because for bigger numbers, most people wouldn’t instinctively know the factors. Take the number 1065023. Not so easy now is it. However, the computers method would still work – starting a 2 and checking each number in turn. It is much slower for the number 1065023 than 15, because it is bigger. In fact if this algorithm was used, it is exponentially slower – for each number all the numbers up to sqrt(the_number) would have to be checked.

Now what if I told you to check the numbers 1031 and 1033? Using pen and paper (or more likely a calculator), it would come out to be the right answer. Although this process was slower than checking 3*5, it is much faster than trying to find the factors in the first place. This is essentially the dilemma which P versus NP tries to address. Is there a quick way to find the factors, since if given the factors the answer can be checked quickly?

The Actual Problem

If the actual problem was this simple, there would probably be no money left to claim. The actual problem is just a little bit harder:

1)      It’s more general – it should apply to EVERY problem which can be approached algorithmically with quickly verifiable answers, not just a particular case such as prime factorisation. There are infinite amounts of these problems.

2)      Showing the solution works for a certain input is not enough – it should apply to every input to the problem which can be entered into a problem, i.e. an example is not enough, a mathematical proof is necessary

Still with me? Great here[hyperlink to]’s the actual statement of the problem.


If P ≠ NP, noting much would change, except that banks and every other website in the world could breathe a sigh of relief since there encryption system would be proven safe. At least until the next threat.

The implications of P = NP however are slightly more exciting:

Friday, 22 January 2016

Chess: a Force for Good or Evil?

by Miranda Worley

This week in Saudi Arabia Muslim cleric Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz bin-Abdullah issued a fatwa on chess.  He said the game 'causes hatred and was opportunity to squander money'. Saudi Arabia's top religious cleric has ruled that chess is forbidden for Muslims because it is a 'waste of time' and promotes gambling.

In my experience of chess, and with my involvement in chess at PGS, and a lifetime of playing for fun, I don’t believe either is true.  Let’s look at both allegations:

Firstly, it is a “waste of time”.  I believe the study of chess, and playing competitive chess are excellent exercises in promoting a logical and analytical mind.  The process of planning your own moves, second-guessing your opponent’s, out-witting their traps and planning your own, develop the sort of logical brain skills that are highly valued in our educational system, and rewarded by our employment market.  I would equate chess with any other form of brain training, such as crosswords, learning a foreign language or maths homework – all essential for shaping and stretching a growing mind.

The second allegation of gambling has to be taken in context.  

Poem for Friday: My Mind Flows With Words

by Ananthi Parekh

My mind flows with words;
it lives and breaths their sounds.
It wonders at their power to create
smiles and coax out frowns,

it marvels at their ability
to make us feel and taste and touch
and yet all of this while never
leaving our bedsheets' gentle clutch.

These words can take you by the hand
and steal you down streets and roads and paths.
They can tumble you through doorways and
into another family's hearth,

you can trust these marking on skeletal wood
to expire and inspire your mind.
They give us the rare opportunity to leave
our mundane world behind.

So yes, my mind flows with words;
that of others and many and my own,
because through an art that breaches  language and speech

I have found my very own home.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

The Speaker Visits PGS

Today, the Right Honourable John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, visited PGS to talk to Sixth Formers from PGS and other local schools. Caleb Barron and Oliver Clark report (photographs by Jason Baker).

The PGS Sixth Form sat in palpable anticipation as they awaited one of the most currently significant and politically important guests in the schools history. Following on from a fitting and personal introduction from family friend Charlie Keegan, RH John Bercow graced the proverbial stage of the David Russell Theatre.

Like any good public speaker, he immediately set his intent, declaring his purpose of being here; to talk about the role of the speaker and the current political world. However, being a relatively controversial figure in the British press, he wished to address one key issue before commencing: his height! Giving us a 20 seconds history of past speakers, no less than 7 predecessors to his role could have been shorter than him. The minor difference for them is that their head had been cut off before the tape measure was taken out!

Bercow then began to explain to the audience his role as Speaker in the House of Commons, stating that he acts as an effective referee or umpire to the people who run our country, ensuring that all opinions from different parties and areas of the country are heard. This role includes having to remember the names of all 650 MPs and facilitating all of their views! Bercow revived the role of the 'urgent question', where certain key points could be discussed in the House of Commons without them having to be drawn from the ballot, and introduced both a properly elected select committee and a back bench business committee. It is evident to me that not only has Bercow taken on the role of speaker with grace, but he has also set a precedent for future Speakers in how much influence he has had over the role. He stated that 'outreach' would be the key to future speakers, emphasising the importance of travelling the country and engaging with people unlike speakers of old.

It was at this point where he opened the floor to questions. Over 30 minutes later, he had covered such issues as William Hague's secret ballot (an attempt that he went on to describe as 'malicious incompetence'), the importance of youth engagement in politics and his personal transition from a strongly right wing Conservative to the neutral position that he now occupies. He also referenced the EU, Donald Trump, clapping in the commons and his renowned political impressions, giving a rendition of the 'Socialist ABCs' in the style of Tony Ben, which brought a rapturous ovation from the occupants of the David Russell Theatre. He eventually concluded stating that he was thrilled that PGS as a school has put the importance on pupils being 'happy and successful, most importantly in that order', and stating that he really enjoys what he does for a living. All that is left for me to say is thank you, Mr Bercow, for a highly engaging and entertaining talk, and I hope this is merely the first in many talks from influential political figures at PGS!

Following the talk several Portsmouth Point editors had the opportunity to pick his brains further with another, what turned out to be 30 minutes of interesting and thoughtful questions and answers.

What do you think is the future of the UK parliament in a physical nature, whether it will move temporarily or change location?

The short answer is that I think it will move out, predominantly move out, for several years because the restoration and refurbishment and renewal of the Palace of Westminster is a massive project. To be honest it won't be possible to do it in a year or two. It will take probably ten years, it's a long term project. So I think that we will have, at least partially, to decant from the Palace of Westminster. I'm, to be honest, not particularly enthusiastic about that because I am concerned that the pressure is on for the contractors to do the job in time and if we were to decant fully there would be no pressure for the contractors to finish on time. Therefore I think it is very important that we maintain some presence in Westminster even during the period of work.

The Westminster bubble gets quite a lot of attention in the media, do you think, potentially, you could use the opportunity to move to a different location outside of London to dismantle the idea of an establishment in Central London?

We could, I don't think we will and I, personally, don't think we should. I understand the point about the Westminster bubble and the political class based in London and generally a wider view that London has a lot of power. Even though I believe parliament must hold the Government to account there has to be a link between parliament and government because we don't have a separation of powers in the UK unlike in the US. Ministers do sit as MPs. They're a minority of the house but they do sit in parliament. The important thing about that is the government departments are exclusively based mainly in London and are based in and around Westminster. I'm all in favour of a diffusion of power, it's important for the government and other organisations to have bases in places other than London, but do I think it's credible for use simply to move to another part of the country long term? I don’t that's credible at all.

What are your thoughts on the recent divide in British politics, with the rise of UKIP, SNP and the Greens, whether you think in the next few years there could be real reform in how British politics works and movement away from a three party structure?

There could be, I mean there has been over the last decade a decline in support for Conservative and Labour and indeed Liberal. There has been a sharp increase in support of SNP and UKIP in particular and to some extent of the Green Party. Could that continue? It could, I think it's questionable though because at the moment I think UKIP have stalled a bit but they went through a period of having substantial support and I think that has stalled. Do I envisage the Conservatives and Labour anytime soon being replaced as the two major parties? The answer is I don't envisage that, it is of course perfectly possible that UKIP will do better in the locals. The Liberals had a very bad election and a desperate result but I don't myself see the two large parties being replaced anytime soon; I think they've got a very base, not as large as it was but there's a large base than that of any of the other parties.

How well do you feel George Osborne is carrying out his role as Chancellor of the Exchequer?

My Top Five Women in STEM Today

by Floss Willcocks

Women are widely underrepresented in STEM careers today. 

By STEM, I’m talking about Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths - absolutely crucial areas of human understanding which fuel and develop just about every other industry on the planet. The human race would be nothing without them.

I mean this in two senses, the literal sense of course (the very molecules we are made of all follow the basic laws of Chemistry, Physics and Biology), but I'm talking about humans as a constantly developing species as well. The ability to comprehend, discuss, explore and imagine the complexities of who we are, what we are, why we are here, and what we can do is what separates us from the monkeys. The fact that over an extremely short space of time (just a few generations) we have applied this knowledge and imagination to our lives in extraordinary ways, constantly improving our standard of living, our industries, our businesses, our governments and our relationships. 
It all boils down to STEM; a career field more than three quarters dominated by men.

However I don't have the right to rant too much about the gender imbalance. After all, universities and companies are desperate to change these shocking figures. I myself (a girl who has chosen Maths and Sciences at A Level) have been overwhelmed by opportunities to be “enticed” into STEM; university open days, competitions, taster courses… Many specifically targeting girls. I think it's brilliant, and it's certainly sparked a great deal of interest and excitement in me since I've begun researching the prospect of applying for a STEM-related degree.

And so this article is celebrating some of the most impressive female figures alive today who, in my opinion, not only have demonstrates outstanding talent and intellect in their area of study, but extreme determination and perseverance, for achieving what they have in a field so strongly dominated by men.

These women are in no particular order, they are just my personal top five women who have made scientific and mathematical accomplishments in their careers which have inspired and impressed me significantly. They are not famous or well-known to people like us, but it's very hard for anyone in this field of work to be. I hope writing about them here will go some way to giving them a small fraction of the recognition they deserve, and demonstrating my extreme admiration of them and their discoveries.

Elizabeth Holmes - born in Washington D.C, 1984

Just 31 years old, Elizabeth Holmes has made one of the biggest progressions in lab-test industry yet with her company Theranos, with whom she developed a new form of blood-testing known as Edison. With the latest micro-technology, Edison analyses and generates results equally as precise and accurate from just a few drops of blood, as opposed to whole vials which previously had to be extracted by traditional Venipuncture (big needles and syringes basically!). This leap in biomedical development would not only limit risk to patients, save the NHS millions and free up valuable time for healthcare workers, but also attracted immense interest from investors all over the world. Theranos was soon valued at $9 billion, earning Holmes the title of Youngest Self-Made Female Billionaire ever.

She was at first drawn to a career in medicine, but since she couldn't cope with the sight of blood and needles, she used this passion to drive her interest in science in a different direction.  When Elizabeth was 9 years old she wrote a letter to her Father saying “What I really want out of life is to discover something new, something that mankind didn’t know was possible to do.” Sounds a cheesy ambition right? But I guess in this case she really has proved that ambition and determination can pay off, and she was about to prove this further still…

In October 2015, Theranos was scrutinised heavily by an investigative report in the Wall Street Journal stating that Theranos had exaggerated the reach and reliability of its technology. Elizabeth showed her determination and loyalty by facing the press directly and heavily denying this accusation throughout the trial. Just as she had previously fought along a man-dominated career path to come out a winner, she successfully proved there was insufficient evidence for the accusations, and proudly indicated clear data showing Theranos's tests were reliable and accurate. A woman as impressive as her should be highly valued anywhere, and especially in the STEM world.

Kathryn Freese - born in Freiburg, 1957

Kathryn Freese currently holds the position of Professor of Physics at Stockholm University, and has made significant progressions on the subject that baffles astrophysicists more than anything - dark matter. 

The subject baffles us all to be honest, in fact it's so mysterious that no one has even come up with a proper name for it other than the generic, puzzling colour that it appears to be! It's caused great debate and discussion in the scientific world, but Kathryn is said to be the first to propose a way to actually discover it. After years of research, experimentation and cooperation with notable (male) scientists, her work concluded many brand new ideas (all far too confusing for someone like me to comprehend), but most importantly a new theoretical type of star, called a dark star, powered by dark matter annihilation rather than fusion. This new outlook on the mystery of dark matter may not mean much to me or you, but understanding the complexities of this undetectable space-stuff would unlock the biggest secrets of the universe; What is out there? Why is it out there? Where did it come from? And where will it go?

Finally, another reason I have to admire her is the effort she has made to make her area of research more accessible and understandable to the general public. Her book, titled “The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter” is partly autobiographical, and as well as explaining the principles of her scientific passion, it gives deserved credit to other scientists who have made significant contributions to dark matter study.

Jane Lubchenco - born in Colorado, 1947

It is said that Jane Lubchenco is perhaps the most determined and passionate researcher in Environmental and Marine Ecology alive today. This area of study is so vital and important to our everyday lives, our political affairs and the sustainable future of our civilisation, so the fact that one of the most notable and successful scientists in this field is a woman, represents a significant victory for us all in fight against the gender imbalance of STEM careers.

Following work on a new research and monitoring system of the changing biodiversity of the large marine ecosystem off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California, she developed a deep passion for the science of Marine Reserves. These newly “Protected Areas” of the ocean have a strict “no-take” policy, and Lubchenco worked hard to bring attention to the impressive benefits of them, suggesting that the resulting increase in biodiversity and abundance could solve one of the biggest environmental and industrial dilemmas we face today - overfishing. She famously proposed the ‘20% by 2020’ phrase – that 20% of the world’s oceans be protected in marine reserves by the year 2020 to draw attention to the urgent need to protect and restore oceans to health. She has a great deal of opposition from large companies who extract marine resources to fuel their business, yet she still fights with determination against the depletion of Earth’s biodiversity across its oceans.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

A Modern IAM - as told by a teenage driver

by Eloise Peabody-Rolf

Sarah Sillars, the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM)’s CEO, presented me with my Advanced Driving certificate at the end of last year.  She asked if I would be prepared to write a short piece about my experience of going ‘on the road’ for the IAM’s monthly e-magazine, which is sent out to the IAM’s 90,000+ members across the UK.   

I am not an average young driver or an average IAM member, to be honest I don’t really fit in either group. I’m 17 and seven weeks after passing my DVSA driving test, I became an IAM member.  I’m really proud of this achievement - how did I manage it?

I have been a member of the Under 17 Car Club (U17CC) for the past six years and therefore gained a huge amount of pre-licence experience in a safe environment.

The club’s instruction methodology had prepared me well as I ventured out onto public roads. What did I find most challenging? The sheer volume of traffic, impatient and distracted drivers, how narrow some country roads were and multi-lane roundabouts!

I was disappointed to find the general attitude towards a driver with L plates was often so inconsiderate.

There seems to be a universal view that younger drivers equal danger and with the stats on young driver accident rates, that’s not surprising. I was lucky enough to be part of the U17CC team invited to run the young driver’s workshop at the 2015 IAM Annual Conference, where it was a pleasure to meet many of you. Although many members were very accepting, there seemed considerable surprise that 17-year olds can be and are advanced drivers.

U17CC members progress through its structured grading system, so when the opportunity to take the advanced test was offered, I jumped at the chance. It was daunting as it was rather short notice, however I managed to squeeze in some observed drives with Terry Simpkin, one of the U17CC instructors who’s also a national observer, and was delighted to pass.

It was sad to find when I told my (non U17CC) friends of my achievement, very few had heard of the IAM, and thought that the test was perhaps like Pass Plus.

When I explained what the test involved, most couldn’t understand why I bothered as I was already ’on the road’. To many of them driving is seen as a convenience, simply to get from A to B, rather than a skill to be mastered and enjoyed.

I’ve since given the matter a lot of thought - I wish there was an easy answer to what needs to be done to encourage young drivers to want to improve their driving skills.

I appreciate the number of young people who are lucky enough to get the opportunities I’ve had are small, however I would love to see (noncommercial) schemes such as U17CC and the ‘Pathfinder’ programme the Charitable Trust runs with their proven benefits, far more widely available.

I believe road safety should be taught from an early age, included in the national curriculum. Also learning to drive should be not simply learning what’s required to pass the test, as this doesn’t prepare newly qualified drivers adequately - no wonder they have accidents.

Coming into the IAM, I believe the organisation has so much to offer young drivers and riders.

Monday, 18 January 2016


by Robert Merriam

In the days following David Bowie’s death in addition to the outpouring of affection I saw a couple of things happen repeatedly, people point out that Bowie was both a “weird dude” and that he was massively overrated. Now I’m certainly not going to deny the former, at least by the arbitrary standards that we use to judge normalcy Bowie was the weirdest of dudes and far be it from me to tell people that they should like music that they do not. However, I feel that as a huge fan of the man I might be able to shed some light on why his passing means so much to so many. You can go anywhere on the internet now and read about how Bowie was important because he never stood still, he was constantly innovating and evolving throughout his career with multiple different personas and styles blah blah you’ve heard this already.As true as all that it is it’s not what makes Bowie special, to me at least.

Here are the lyrics to ‘Quicksand’ from his fourth album ‘Hunky Dory’:

I'm closer to the Golden Dawn
Immersed in Crowley's uniform
Of imagery
I'm living in a silent film
Himmler's sacred realm
Of dream reality
I'm frightened by the total goal
Drawing to the ragged hole
And I ain't got the power anymore
No I ain't got the power anymore

I'm the twisted name
on Garbo's eyes
Living proof of
Churchill's lies
I'm destiny
I'm torn between the light and dark
Where others see their targets
Divine symmetry
Should I kiss the viper's fang
Or herald loud
the death of Man
I'm sinking in the quicksand
of my thought
And I ain't got the power anymore

Don't believe in yourself
Don't deceive with belief
Knowledge comes
with death's release

I'm not a prophet
or a stone age man
Just a mortal
with the potential of a superman
I'm living on
I'm tethered to the logic
of Homo Sapien
Can't take my eyes
from the great salvation
Of bullshit faith
If I don't explain what you ought to know
You can tell me all about it
On, the next Bardot
I'm sinking in the quicksand
of my thought
And I ain't got the power anymore


In all honesty my plan for this article had been to look into this song and unpack the meaning and I’ve not been entirely successful. The lyrics have always intrigued me and what I found out interests me even more, the “Golden Dawn” was an occult order and Aleister Crowley one of its members, the reference to the “mortal with potential of a superman” is almost certainly a reference to the work of Frederic Nietzsche (Bowie makes similar allusions on the other songs on the album). Garbo was the code name for an Allied double agent during the Second World War and Bridget Bardot was an actress during the sixties. So I looked all this up and pondered for a bit but you know what? I’ve no idea what it’s about. Maybe about trying to embrace Nietzsche’s philosophy, shake off slave morality and become the overman? Your guess is as good as mine but this is my point.

Proving the Existence of God

by Gabriella Watson

The existence of God is one of the most controversial debates since the creation of the universe.  There have been many philosophers who have constructed theories to support God’s existence such as Saint Thomas Aquinas and William Paley. Not only that but religious experiences help to contribute towards God’s existence because they are evidence that God is communicating to humanity.

St Thomas Aquinas was a medieval Christian who recognized that many people doubted the existence of God because, to them, logic could not explain His presence. Aquinas wanted to prove God’s existence to those who could not accept it on faith alone. As a result, he created the First Cause argument, also known as the cosmological argument, based on empiricism and the observations of nature. Aquinas’ theory states that everything that exists is caused to exist and because the universe exists, it must have a cause. It also declares that there has to be something eternal that was not caused by anything and the eternal first cause is God therefore He must exist.

The First Cause argument is not only grounded in empiricism but also is a priori. It can prove the existence of God by showing that the Big Bang theory supports the Cosmological argument because the universe must have had a cause. Furthermore, it fits in with the God of classical theism who is described as omnipotent and omniscient. Finally, not only does it give human life a meaningful purpose but many philosophers such as J. L. Mackie supported Aquinas’ theory as they believed modern science could defend the idea that infinite regress is illogical. 'A train cannot consist of infinite amount of carriages, it must at some point have a driver and engine' this is so with the universe and life.

Another philosopher who created a theory which proves God’s existence is William Paley. Paley developed the teleological argument which explains that a designer must exist since the universe and living things exhibit marks of design in their order, consistency, unity, and pattern. A typical analogy of this is the Watchmaker Argument, which states that if you found a watch in an empty field, you would logically conclude that it was designed and not the product of random formation. Likewise, when we look at life and the universe, it is natural to conclude there is a designer since we see how perfectly the universe and life forms operate. The teleological argument can prove Gods existence because it supports the theory that everything has a purpose for example the eye which is made up of many intricate parts. Moreover, it is an a posteriori and inductive argument, so it is a scientific theory which can actually be assessed and Paley’s observations of regularity are supported by science. Pale’s analogy is an easily understandable and logical type of argument which could be supported by evolution and the Big Bang theory as both of these processes could be part of the design of the universe. The design argument is supported by Isaac Newton who used the fact that we all have different thumbprints to show God has planned each of us separately. He also used the fact that humans have opposable thumbs as evidence of design and purpose because the way in which they can be used to grasp things is a movement only found in humans and primates. Finally, the Anthropic Principle reinforces the teleological argument because it suggests physical properties or parameters seem to be “just right” to allow for life there is evidence which shows that life on earth did not happen by accident-it was planned.

Are Our Differences Inventions?

by Alfred Perry-Ward

Pierre Bourdieu was a French sociologist who has wrote copious amounts of material on an array of concepts. He often focused on the structural makeup of systems, be it social, political or economical. Significantly he deduced, across all social constructions, that “we exist in relation to our social ties.” This concept suggests that we as human beings can only live in accordance with the reality in which we enter and the people that we surround ourselves with. It's interesting observing social groups through the eyes of this theory; take the social structure of our school for example; is it not fair to say that people are drawn to those who are similar to them? It's a simple (and some would say obvious) idea because why would you not be drawn to people with similar ambitions, thoughts, personalities and opinions. In all honesty, it's never a bad thing to exist in a social construct. Many people find purpose and comfort being part of a bigger, cohesive group or structure and it’s a fairly natural thing if you look back at the overall history of human organisation. What many sociologists take issue with is the idea of letting a social construct render one’s everyday existence. The book “The social construct of reality” by Berger and Luckman explains, in simple terms, that when people exist in different social groups they habituate certain thoughts and concepts that, over time, develop into genuine, mutual ideologies. These ideologies and ideas can be manipulated very easily to become manifestations of hatred and prejudice just as much as manifestations of love and kindness. For example, concepts of racism, sexism and classism had to have a beginning and be manipulated and sustained by certain people if they have been so prevalent throughout human history and (one could argue) are even worse today. As these ideas develop, they often spread and become embedded in the normality of our understanding of the world. For example, why is it that we have come to accept that when a woman “sleeps around” she is degraded and insulted whereas if a man does the same thing he is championed for it. Are they not doing exactly the same thing, the only difference being that one is female and one is male? This is the idea behind all reality being a construct and that our differences are, to an extent, invented by us.

If we study children and the way they interact with one another in their social structures, anyone will notice that this concept of “groups” is far less coherent than it is with teenagers and adults. This is because our differences are not made aware to us until we progress through the education and maturation systems. If you trace back your own childhood it is difficult to say when you became aware that you were different to other people, be it physical or aesthetic differences. When people are made aware of their own differences it leads them to notice other people's differences. For some reason, we are encouraged to marginalise and mock people for their differences, which is quite a brutal and confusing period for victims of bullying. Shane Ryan, the chief executive of ‘Working with men’ (which is a charity that combats issues around masculinity), said in a forum that his first “memory of being black” was the day he found out racism existed, the day when he was attacked by 3 white men on the way to school. As unusual as it sounds asking people “when did you actually realise your were a girl” or “when were you made aware that you were Indian?” people often struggle for answers. However, those who have an answer usually recount an experience when they were on the receiving end of prejudice or being told that they couldn’t do something because they do not conform with requirements.