Sunday, February 26, 2006

Back from Lanzarote

Back from a longish holiday in Lanzarote - first at Club La Santa and then in the south of the Island. La Santa is a Danish company - which if we had known would have encouraged us even more to book - loads of sport and a great atmosphere. Then we had a day on a yacht and 3 days in a nice hotel.
Frantic work before and afterwards - and a bit during - so little time to blog recently. Iraq depressing but possibly not terminal, UK politics will be a long slog but no General Election for 3-4 years. A lot can change by then.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Slavery & Anti-semitism

The admirable Ruth Gledhill is understandably depressed about the apparent anti-Israeli bias in the General Synod. And the idea that Caterpillar Inc. really cares about the CofE's puny shareholding is ridicuous. It is ironic that at the same time as apologising for their role in slavery it is arguably stoking the fires of anti-Semitism - while Iran is arming itself with nuclear weapons and working for the destruction of Israel. Although Rowan Williams has written a characteristically helpful and nuanced letter to the Chief Rabbi and I'm sure that none of those who voted for the resolution intended to stoke these fires.

On slavery, it was entirely right that Christians got it abolished. Although it's hard to see that the descendants of the slaves shipped to the USA are significantly worse off than their cousins whose ancestors were left behind in Africa, so financial reparations don't seem to make much sense.

Friday, February 10, 2006

May, Nowak, Cameron, Mikado

Hectic few days! Lots of work, but also lunch with Bob May which was fascinating. Amongst many other things discussed he told me about Martin Nowak, his utterly brilliant former graduate student now a leading mathematical biologist at Harvard doing cutting-edge work on eg the evolution of altruism, and a devout Catholic. Also went to the major Conservative Ball and quite unexpectedly found ourselves sitting next to a lovely friend we hadn't seen for years who is now a leading style journalist. Cameron very inspiring and convincing - though didn't meet him alas.

The by-election gives an additional air of decay to Labour. The World at One had, as the Minister to comment, a junior minister no-one had heard of from the department of Culture, Media & Sport. Luckless fellow, the presenter commiserated. Though I guess it was meant to send a message to the BBC - don't forget we decide your licence fee.

More work, but took time out to see delightful ENO production of the Mikado (set in Edwardian England) with Felicity Palmer as Katisha. I'd forgotten the evolutionary jokes in it (1885).

50 mile running week last week, only 40 to do this week. Toes suffering but losing weight and gaining fitness I think.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

These extremists are not the voice of Islam

It's really important in the Cartoon row that the Western Media don't give credibility to the extremists who are whipping up trouble. For example, of the burning of the Danish Embassy in Lebanon: "Lebanese Grand Mufti Mohammed Rashid Kabbani denounced the violence, saying there were infiltrators among the protesters trying to "harm the stability of Lebanon." Speaking on Future TV, he appealed for calm and said there were some who were trying to exploit the protests to cause trouble and "distort the image of Islam."

Lebanon's Prime Minister Fuad Saniora also urged calm. "Those who are committing these acts have nothing to do with Islam or with Lebanon," said Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. "This is absolutely not the way we express our opinions."

Of the cartoons in question, one (the turban bomb) arguably does show Mohammed as a suicide bomber, two show him trying to stop violence, one shows him brandishing a sword (which he did often in his life) and contrasts the (supposed) prohibition on his image with the (supposed) prohibition on islamic women showing anything but their eyes in public. One raises the issue of whether he is a force for good or evil, one seems a perfectly innocuous illustration of his early life, and 4 satirise the newspaper for wanting to publish such cartoons. I suppose therefore that 2 or the cartoons could reasonably be seen as offensive and you could argue that these two should not be re-published, but what's the objection to the other 80%.

An Islamic 'Moderate' on Sky condemned the death threats but demanded an undertaking that newspapers would never publish such cartoons again. So who exactly demands the right to censor European newspapers??

Politicians should tell them robustly to get lost.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Cartoons - the plot thickens?

It increasingly appears that the "Muslim outrage" is carefully orchestrated by extremists.

According to The Guardian: On October 19 ambassadors from Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran, demanded a meeting. They wanted the paper prosecuted. The PM gave them the brush-off, arguing that his government could not interfere with the right to free speech. At this point a group of ultra-conservative Danish imams decided to take matters into their own hands, setting off on an ambitious tour of Saudi Arabia and Egypt with a dossier containing the inflammatory cartoons.

According to Jyllands-Posten, the imams from the organisation Islamisk Trossamfund took three other mysteriously unsourced drawings as well, showing Muhammad with the face of a pig; a dog sodomising a praying Muslim; and Muhammad as a paedophile. "This was pure disinformation. We never published them," Lund complained. But the campaign worked. Outwardly the row appeared to be calming down. But in Muslim cyber-chatrooms, on blogs, and across the internet, outrage was building fast. From Denmark, the pictures were being pinged by SMS from Kuwait to Palestine. Then last week came the diplomatic explosion. Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador from Denmark for consultations, Libya shut its embassy.

I fear that the media are colluding with this, making it appear that all Muslims are protesting, when it's a tiny minority.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Sense from unlikely quarters

"It is the insecurity of the Anglo-American cultural elites about their own values and moral vision of the world that encourages their frenzied attacks on religion." Not often that I'd expect to agree with Frank Furedi but I think he's quite right about this. I also see a sensible comment from Munira Mirza on the BBC website, making the point that " There are a lot of British Muslims who I'm sure would not be offended by the cartoons... In Denmark, there are counter-demonstrations by moderate Muslims saying they don't want the images banned."

I finished Earthly Powers a couple of days ago - brilliant, and puts a lot of the 'secular society' discussion in context.

Daniel Dennett is giving a talk at the RSA to promote his book about the study of religion. They have McGrath as his intelocutor, so despite the unbearble Polly Toynbee chairing it whose anti-Christian rants are lambasted by Furedi I'll try to go - I'm on the waitlist. Dennett rather dents his credibility with Consciousness Explained when years afterwards it manifestly isn't

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Fundamentalist Censorship and blindsiding

The row over the Mohammed cartoons proves the point that the orginal paper was trying to make. The newspaper said "it printed the cartoons as a test of whether Muslim fundamentalists had begun affecting the freedom of expression in Denmark.” Hats off to the French and German newspapers that followed suit once gunmen had made threatening demonstrations and a boycott of Danish goods was planned. Does no British newspaper have guts? It should be clearly understood that if a credible death threat or similar is made against a newspaper for publishing an 'offensive' cartoon these cartoons will be published by newspapers around the world in every major country. Otherwise we are submitting to censorship.

Meanwhile the normally rather good Anaotole Kaletsky declares in The Times that 'Bush is a dolt'. I have emailed him:

I have long admired your work but on the question of George W I fear your judgement has become increasingly shaky. Leaving aside ones political views, it is clear from the reports that subsequently emerged about his complete inability to manage his campaign team that Kerry, whom I think you endorsed, would have been a hopelessly incompetent president. Of course Bush has made some mistakes, althoughthe primary blame for the disasterous incompetence around Katrina restssquarely with the City and State governments. But his strategic focus on democracy and R&D is surely sound, and the dems have no coherent alternative - look at the utter shambles over the Alito filibuster.

I know it's conventional wisdom amongst the euro-commentariat and blue-state america that George W is an idiot, who just happens to win elections with ever-increasing majorities. But at your best commentators challenge convetional wisdom, not swallow it whole. And you might want to apply the Churchill test - by the standards that you & your like apply to George W, Churchill was far far worse, a complete blunderer, incomtetent, dolt, who never even made it to Harvard. And yet ....

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Science and humanity

Wonderful dinner last night with John Polkinghorne, Simon Conway Morris, Sir Andrew Huxley & my son, at excellent restaurant in Cambridge. I was hosting and had to get back to London, left them all talking happily. Son gave me copy of a book of which he co-authored a chapter, the Implicit Genome, which makes the case very strongly that the naive idea that DNA = Genetic Code is nonsense, for many reasons. Implications for Dawkins's simplistic ideas are devastating.

Very sad that there have been 2 deaths of UK servicemen in quick succession in Iraq - possibly linked to increased pressure on Iran. But good news that the Commons defeated the Govt on their 'Religious Hatred' bill, that Sam Alito has been confirmed, and that George W wants to ban all forms of human cloning and patenting thereon.

Delicious bon-mot on Kerry calling (in vain) for a filibuster on Alito: "I think even for a senator, it takes some pretty serious yodeling to call for a filibuster from a five-star ski resort in the Swiss Alps,"