Principal's Drawing Room
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Talks VI: Principal's Drawing Room

The Eternity Puzzle

Oliver Riordan (SCR)

Read more>In 1999 Christopher Monckton launched a new type of puzzle, similar to a jigsaw but with 209 plain green plastic pieces with geometric shapes. To attract interest, and increase sales, he offered a £1,000,000 prize for the first solution if found within a time limit of a few years. I'll describe some of the ideas Alex Selby and I developed to work on this puzzle, and try to explain (without details!) how mathematicians think about such things. I'll also outline where the inventor, who expected the puzzle to be much too hard to be solved, went wrong.

Who killed "Dead Meat" Thompson?

Dominik Karos (SCR)

Read more >The circumstances of LT “Dead Meat” Thompson’s (from Hot Shots) death are as unfortunate as they are spectacular: during a training flight he crashes into another jet whose pilot, LT “Wash Out” Pfaffenbach, is not allowed to fly. Dead Meat survives the crash without any major injuries, but down on earth at the crash site he is hit by an ambulance. His fellow, LT “Topper” Harley, carries him into the ambulance, hitting his head against the car several times. When they finally arrive at the hospital, the doctor takes a shot of rum before Dead Meat is brought into the emergency room - which he won’t leave alive. Suppose that in the aftermath Dead Meat’s widow (who will not benefit from a life insurance) sues all those responsible for his death. How should a compensation payment have been divided between all those involved?

Trade Unions and North Africa's Arab Spring

Dina Bishara (SCR)

Read more >What role did trade unions play in the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings of 2010/2011? This talk challenges the predominant assumption in research on trade unions and democratization rule, namely that trade unions are necessarily driven by material interests or by the defence of their members' interests in such scenarios. Instead,I argue that in some cases, especially under authoritarian regimes with highly restrictive labor legislation, unions may be, by design, incapable of defending workers’ interests. I refer to these types of unions as ‘unions minus’ (Egypt). In other cases, unions may occasionally champion agendas that transcend workers’ interests. I refer to these types of unions as ‘unions plus’ (Tunisia). In both scenarios, ‘unions’ are transformed into qualitatively different types of actors than is conventionally assumed in the scholarship on unions and transitions. 

Rethinking the American Revolution and the US Founding Myth

Trent Taylor (MCR)

Read more >This discussion emphasises the importance of looking at the American colonial period not as the ‘Thirteen Colonies’ but as a British America consisting of twenty-six colonies and provinces. The US founding myth has persisted in part because it is such a big part of American culture and identity that no one questions it, and because it has been reinforced by a Canadian national narrative which emphasised loyalty to King and Empire to distinguish it from the US. Drawing parallels to contemporaneous demonstrations in Britain and the existence of Stamp Act riots in Nova Scotia and the West Indies I will argue that the Stamp Act riots should not necessarily be seen as the start of a revolution, and dispute the image of Loyalists as predominately wealthy merchants and government officials.