Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Congratulations to Bob May - and gentle quibbles


May I offer 3 gentle quibbles with the points you make in your Presidential address (as summarised on the RS website)?
  1. Is it wise to (apparently) conflate objectivity in science with Scientific Materialism as a wider philosophical worldview? Neither the Framers nor the Founders of the RS were Scientific Materialists in real life? We both know that the 'warfare between science & religion' is a myth - what is increasingly apparent is that if societies are forced to choose between science and faith they will, in fact, choose faith. Dawkins "Selfish Gene" rhetoric has a lot to answer for.
  2. Isn't suggesting that the condom debate should be purely about "a scientific assessment of the effectiveness of condoms in preventing the transmission of HIV" somewhat an example of the over-simplistic thinking against which you speak so eloquently? The impact of AIDS on developing economies is going to be a function inter alia of the extent to which (w) "caring for others" is a value-in-use and of (x) "ability to attract donors". HIV transmission is a function of (y) promiscuous sexual behaviour and of (z) the probability of HIV transmission per sexual encounter. Promoting condom use may decrease (z)* but almost certainly increases (y), clearly decreases (x) and arguably decreases (w). Mathematical modelling of the interaction of these would be fascinating, but it's obvious that the system is far too complex for any definitive conclusions to be drawn for the real world.
  3. The teachings of the RC Church and of the evangelicals (neither of whom are, of course, Fundamentalists in the strict sense) are far from irrelevant to modern theology. They may be considered irrelevant by Modern Theology as taught at Oxbridge and Harvard but that is a different matter! It is truer to say that that kind of Modern Theology is largely irrelevant to the real world.
Congratulations though on a wonderful and highly successful term of office. See you this evening!



* Though even this is not clear cut, and certainly not equivalent to the scientific question of whether a sterile, hole free condom, correctly applied, reduces the probability of HIV transmission to nearly zero. There are of course issues of compliance, re-use, and of economics, given that condoms are really quite expensive esp. in relation to the health budgets of developing countries.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Many are called

Got my acceptance for the London Marathon today. Looking at the small print, I find that I was rejected on the initial ballot. But they have an excellent system whereby there is a 2nd ballot with 1000 places available for those who agree to donate their entry fee to Charity if they do not get in, and I was fortunate in that.

Today's gospel was Matthew's account of the Wedding Feast - many are called, but few are chosen. Quite possibly there is a 2nd ballot. And interestingly, in London there is also a guaranteed entry if you are 'good for your age' - unfortunately that means in my case a recent sub-3:15 Marathon time and since I have only done 3:46 the chances of that are remote.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


To parish church for Advent Sunday - v g visiting priest (Evangelical but quite happy to wear robes and do a pretty 'Catholic' Eucharist) preaching on judgement. Sadly he has a full-time day job as a teacher and Bishop seems to be keen to appoint people who depend on the Church. There are hints in the newsletter that things are happening towards an appointment which would be very good - numbers definitely dwindling.

Managed a decent 10mi run outdoors since threatened snow not materialising. Spent time updating the EM Delafield website - I think I have decoded some more of the references in Provincial Lady.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Always the insidious voice of appeasement

Appalling OpEd by Matthew Parris "the war is lost, we must get out" - No evidence, just capitulation. Heaven knows what he'd have been writing in WW2! The defetaest attitude of much of the European Establishment is profoundly depressing. Charles Moore makes similar points (against this attitude I'm pleased to say) the the Telegraph. "In Iran, the new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [says] The battle over Palestine ... is "the prelude of the battle of Islam with the world of arrogance", the world of the West. He is busy building his country's nuclear bomb."

Friday, November 25, 2005

Work and Reading

An excellent meeting with a delightful business friend to start some work for him and his firm. We think we got the go-ahead (subject to contract so we'll see) but it will make a lot of difference and builds on work we have done for years. Quite worrying how work going well puts you in a better mood! Still running 35miles/week so getting somewhat fitter.

Reading Kauffman's At Home in the Universe which is intriguing (suggested by reading a polkinghorne response to a question about evolution). There is no doubt that there are some deep principles about emerging complexity - Kaufmann admits he is scraping the surface but the Dawkins idea that it's all just Natural Selection is clearly hopelessly naive and innumerate. Meanwhile an e-correspondent from Australia draws attention to the theories of Philip Mainlander who published a book suggesting that the Universe was created as a means for God to commit suicide (since non-being is better than being) and then shot himself the day after publication. I thought this might be a philosophical joke, but apparently not!

Sunday, November 20, 2005


To the wonderful production of Mary Stuart with Hariet Walters and Janet McTeer as Elizabeth and Mary. The brilliant actress we went with said it was pretty well the best thing she had ever seen on the stage - and I must agree. Some historical liberties (although Schiller was a Prof of History!) Cousins of course, but (contra the play) they never met.
Now have party for 19 members of our family (well 18 +one charming american Boyfriend) Lots of cousins. Delightful.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Remembrance Sunday

Back to our parish church - nice young evangelical curate leading who had also served as a RN chaplain. Introduced him to our distinguished retired Actor friend who had celebrated his 20th Birthday on the Normandy Beaches at D-Day.

Of course every Eucharist is a Remembrance Day of The Supreme Sacrifice - and a thanksgiving. Since eucharistos means thanksgiving I can't help suspecting that St Paul's letters are talking about the Eucharist as well as a general desire to be thankful.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Could this be the beginning of the end?

There has been, rightly, furious condemnation for the Jordanian Hotel bombings. I do hope that this becomes a turning point in draining popular support from the murderous and evil Al Quaeda. This would be a wonderful gift from God on Armistice Day.
Not the end.. not the beginning of the end .. it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Continuing to do daily readings in Greek, which bring out many shades of meaning that the translations cannot. eg in Col 3:12 'lowliness' is tapeino-phrosuneen which means humility of lowly-mindedness. But it is the tapeinoi who are exalted in the Magnificat, and Jesus describes himself as tapeinos in Mat 11:29.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Democracy restored

At last we now live in a Parliamentary democracy! There is a wonderful Saki story (The Comments of Moong Ka) where the punchline is that Moong Ka says "the people of Britain are what is called a Democracy", and when his friend Moung Thwa says "Then, if the people of Britain are a Democracy -"
"I never said they were a Democracy," interrupted Moong Ka placidly.
"Surely we both heard you!" exclaimed Moon Twa.
"Not correctly," said Moung Ka; "I said thay are what is called a Democracy."

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Say no to peace ... if

Researching on Cyber-chaplaincy I came across this in a very thoughtful article by a British Army chaplain, quoting a little-known poet Brian Wren, who wrote these words:

Say no to peace, if what they mean by peace is the quiet misery of hunger, the frozen stillness of fear, the silence of broken spirits, the unborn hopes of the oppressed.

Tell them that peace is the shouting of children at play, the babble of tongues set free, the thunder of dancing feet, and a father’s voice singing.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Mary Kaldor, IDS and Appeasement

Two big work colloquia so no time to blog till now. Went to A Touch of Venus (Kurt Weil and Ogden Nash!) - wonderful - last night. Today had time to email Mary Kaldor who had written an atrocious OpEd in the FT(!) on why the British should withdraw from Iraq now (see below). Pleased to see a v sensible piece by Ian Duncan-Smith giving the opposite view. Also a characteristically trenchant analysis by Theodore Dalrymple here.

Dear Prof Kaldor.

I'm afraid I am profoundly disappointed with your article in the FT suggesting that because British troops face "the real possibility of being embroiled in a dangerous counter-insurgency war which they cannot win " and we have only 8,500 troops in a population of 2M we should declare victory and leave - regardless of the consequences for the transatlantic alliance and the wider implications. I appreciate that you are a consistent opponent of the war and of Bush and it would be perfectly logical to say "we should withraw becasue it would be a kick in the teeth for Bush" - though even the FT might not print this. But my objection is not that I disagree with your conclusions but that your arguments were specious.

It seems to me that your piece ignores a number of key points:
  1. Iraq has a democratically elected national government and a constitution overwhelmingly approved in a referendum under which a second democratic government with greater participation will be elected. Until the elected government of Iraq asks us to leave it would be a complete betrayal of them, and of democratic principles, to do so. As it is they are, at present, imploring us to stay. Of course they are not white liberals, but should their views therefore be totally disregarded, as you do in your article??
  2. A British Troops:Population ratio of 1:235 is actually rather high. In the Raj the total British population of India never exceeded 0.05% of the total, and British troops about half that, ie a ratio of 1:4,000.
  3. The fact that the British Army "faces a real possibility" of a conflict which they might not win (only a complete fool - which I'm sure you are not - can claim to predict the outcome of any complex military conflict with certainty) has never been considered a sufficent reason for running away. I imagine that you would regard appeals to British tradition as "sentimental" though a deeper reflection would perhaps allow you to consider the value of having pride in one's country (It would be perfectly rational to argue that even if the presence of British troops did not, in the end, succeed in helping Iraq to a stable and peaceful democracy it would still be worthwhile because of the effects in the UK or elsewhere). But intellectually you must see the fact that an army which withdraws in the face of 27 deaths per annum (0.3%) ceases to exist as a credible fighting force.
  4. I see no evidence that the UK fatality rate is increasing. Since the day after the Iraqui elections we have had 12 killed (0.3/week). In the period since the end of major combat operations until the Iraqui elections we had 52 killed (0.85/week).
  5. "When police are [allegedly] not police and [some] soldiers are [said to be] not soldiers, and when all sides are accused of "meddling", surely it is time to leave." Can you seriously stand by such a statement?? A few allegations and the British Army withdraws??
I know that under the old regime the FT would print anti-Bush pieces regardless of the rigour of their argument. Possibly under the new regime they will be a bit more sensible. And surely, even at the LSE, professors are expected to adhere to certain intellectual standards even when writing for newspapers.