Sunday, April 30, 2006

Ministerial Code & Prescott.

The Ministerial Code says:
  • Ministers of the Crown are expected to behave according to the highest standards of constitutional and personal conduct in the performance of their duties. (1.1)
  • Civil servants should not be asked to engage in activities likely to call in question their political impartiality (3.1)
  • Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise. (5.1)
  • it is the responsibility of Ministers individually to order their own private lives in such a way as to avoid criticism (5.2)
No wonder Sir Alastair Graham is prepared to go on record as suggesting that Prescott has broken the Code. It seems very clear that he has done so in 4 places. So he should go.

Since as far as I know no-one has ever suggested that he has his Department because he is any good at running it, this would also be a great gain for the country. Interestingly, the you.gov poll in the Sunday Times suggests that only 9% think Prescott is doing a good job and 51% think "he is a buffoon and should never have made it to high office." 73% consider his affair "sleazy" (and 57% of Labour voters) vs 17% who do not (what planet are they on??) And this was before further details of his behaviour became public.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Fiascos

Anatole Kaletsky in The Times: "The NHS is becoming an incubus ... voters and politicians will soon face a choice: do they want a tax-financed health system and a paralysed government or will they start paying for their healthcare and hope to get a government that works?"

The Prescott/Hewitt/Clarke fiascos are fundamentally about the culture of immorality and incompetence in this Government. They "ran the country" on the basis of "eye-catching initiatives" and spin and thought they could get away with anything, and never be accountable. Hewitt's "best ever" claims show she is completely out of touch: everyone who works in the NHS knows that things are pretty well the worst ever despite all this extra money that has been largely wasted.

The story of all these is that they were repeatedly warned, they denied that there was a problem, and were finally caught.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Families of God and Man - and skandalon

Lovely family gathering yesterday, prematurely celebrating my in-laws' Golden Wedding. Made rather more lively by the presence of a fire-engine since C's sis-in-law had started a chimeney fire accidentally at their delightful house near Banbury. Sadly our grandsons were too late to observe the firemen. Just as they and we were getting in our respective cars, our Daughter-in-law had the inspired idea that one of them might stay the night with us - two little hands shot up and we had both of them. I have never seen anyone so happy about nothing in particular as S - our little 4-year-old grandson - running around with happiness.

Today it was our grand-daughter's christening so we all drove up to Cambridge, they went to the RC church and my daughters and I went to StAG - the main evangelical church in Cambridge. An excellent sermon by the Vicar on the need to learn from Jesus and not try to mold him into your preconceptions. Then after lunch, the Christening at OLEM. Sadly the Priest managed to get her name wrong 4 times, the 3rd I shouted a correction and the 4th my son and I both did. At least he got it right for the actual Baptism (no Tristram Shandy incident!). Party back at our son's house, very much all hands on deck but a good time was had by all. One of his more brilliant friends, Indian origin medic and researcher, would be seriously interested in becoming a Tory MP, because the NHS is in such a mess.

Then back to drop our elder daughter at her church for her theological college attachment. Also had m y mother in the car and staying with us tonight. So two golden days. She went to Great St Mary's where the sermon was on the Prodigal Son. Elder daughter told us that one of her friends had worked a lot amongst the Bedouin and to them it is (apparently) obvious that when the son returns the father should kill him for having dishonoured the family. Though in the Bible the father saw him and ... has compassion and runs to meet him (not saw him and ran to meet him and .... had compassion on him).

The NIV has one of its 'funny turns' when in Matthew 11:6 it translates mee skandalisthei en emoi as "does not fall away because of me" rather than "takes no offence at me" (RSV). I can't understand why they did such a strange thing - Mark Ashton had to explain that this was a bad translation. It's depressing that a Bible used so much should have such needless errors. Jesus uses the same words in Luke 7:23 so it's clearly an important saying.

The readings at the Christening (selected by our Son) were "suffer little children" and 1 Peter 2 4-5 and 9-10. This was brilliantly read by our elder daughter, though it was a pity to omit vv 6-8. Interestingly in v8 Jesus is described as, for those who do not believe, "a stone yo make them stumble and a rock to make them fall" kai petra skandalou. It seems clear from EDNT that the basic sense of skandalon is a trap - enticement to unbelief - cause of salvation's loss. Skandalozw carries the sense of give offence that results, or might result, in loss of salvation, not just take offence (as at an off-colour joke). So in Lk 17:1 it means primarily "Temptations to sin" as per RSV, (AV offences) but really anything that may act as a trap to obstruct people from faith. It's worrying that we offer temptations/stumbling blocks/skandaloi so often - and woe to us.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Easter and overconfidence

Back from a lovely Easter break in Cornwall - but although my L foot is better I now have a serious problem on my R foot - so London Marathon is off.

The Vicar at Easter started her sermon v. promisingly. A local had died aged 106 and by getting 21 volunteers she demonstrated that if living memory was about 95 years then there are only 21 living memories from a contemporary of Jesus to us now. However she then utterly spoiled it by suggesting that the message of the resurrection was about ecology - despite pointing out that the only references to "gardener" in the NT are to Jesus being mistaken for one.

Meanwhile, a salutary lesson from an expert in Behavioural Finance at DB. People in general, and experts in particular, are grossly overconfident in their estimates. Weathermen get it about right, Doctors are hopelessly overconfident. And he offers the following quiz. Without checking, give your 90% confidence estimates (ie a Low and a High figure, so that you are 90% sure that the true value lies between them) for the following 10 questions:
  1. Martin Luther King's age at death
  2. Length of the Nile River
  3. Number of countries that are members of OPEC
  4. Number of books in the Old Testament
  5. Diameter of the moon in miles
  6. Weight of an empty Boeing 747 in pounds
  7. Year in which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born
  8. Gestation period (in days) of an Asian elephant
  9. Air distance from London to Tokyo
  10. Deepest (known) point in the ocean (in feet)
Most people find that at least 2 are outside this. I had 3 but I misread OPEC for OECD!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Luke 18:31-34

And taking the twelve, he said to them, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.
paradotheesetai gar tios ethnesin
kai empaichtheesetai
kai hubristheesetai
kai emptustheesetai
kai mastigwsantes apoktenousin auton
kai teei hemera teei triteei anasteesetai"

But they understood none of these things; this saying was hid from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
I'd love to understand where these rhymes and rhythms come from. Was Jesus speaking in verse, and was that one reason why they could not understand?
Our elder daughter, delightfully home for a few days, is very doubtful, alas. What did Aramaic verses look like? Could this verse be the way people remembered it (after all Luke is collecting testimony from "eyewitensses and ministers of the word")?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Cambridge - and eco-terrorism?

Delightful visit to Cambridge yesterday to see our grandchildren - all growing beautifully. Sadly I have to go to Cambridge again tomorrow for Ruth Polkinghorne's funeral. May she rest in peace and rise in glory. Had a filthy cold so couldn't hold or kiss the baby :-( And now feeling v doubtful for Marathon :-( :-(

Finished playing the 48 Book I (another one I didn't know in Bma) - starting on Book II but that is even harder work, C#mi fugue ...

Disturbing email about the apparently deranged call for 90% of the human race to be exterminated from Dr Eric Pianka (a leading US ecologist) - though there seems to be some doubt about what he actually said. It raises the disturbing prospect of bio-terrorism unleashed by eco-fundamentalists, yet another risk to add (cf Martin Rees's book Our Final Century)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Fascinating stuff from Our Final Century

Martin Rees's book Our Final Century has many excellent and thought-provoking points. But one of the most startling is the tale of Vasily Arkhipov, who has some claim to be "the man who saved the world"! In Oct 1962 during the hight of the Cuban Missile Crisis Brigade Commander Arkhipov was on board the Russian submarine B-59 patrolling off Cuba. It was detected by a US Destroyer (USS Cony) which dropped practice depth charges (in accordance with Notices to Mariners) to require it to surface. The Captain Captain Second Rank Vitali Savitsky was furious and wanted to assemble their nuclear torpedo and fire it at the Cony, but Arkhipov would not agree. The potential consequences are mind-blowing! But I can't find out what happened to Arkhipov afterwards.

Other interesing apercus include:
  • "We are still flummoxed about the bedrock nature of physical reality, and the complexities of life, the brain and the cosmos."
  • (Quoting Frank Ramsey with approval) "I don't feel the least humble before the vastness of the heavens. The stars may be large, but they cannot think or love ... My picture of the world is drawn in perspective... The foreground is occupied by human beings, and the stars are as small as threpenny bits"
  • "The phrase "theory of everything" often used in popular books, has conotations that are not only hubristic but very misleading."
He also talks about the Torino Scale - a numerical index of the seriousness of unlikely catastrophes, and the related Palermo Scale.

There is of course a great deal more to the book, and it is well worth reading. But the title should certainly end in a "?"


Friday, April 07, 2006

More reverberations

Listened to Barneboim's Reith Lecture this morning - very good indeed. Particularly interesting his comments on the Oslo Peace Process - would never have worked because the timing and rhythm was all wrong. Also that after playing the 48 you think that all music since then is pointless! I went and played the 48 book I immediately (up to XVI at the moment) including Fugues III and X which I didn't know at all.

Still reeling from the amazing experience of playing with Ruth which has really 'raised my game'

Pleased to see almost universal agreement on the BBC Have Your Say site with the judge in the 10-year-old case.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Wonderful Music - and Final Century?

Music party last night was wonderful. Playing with Ruth a tremendous experience, really raised my game and greatly deepened my understanding of Mozart.

Now reading Our Final Century by Martin Rees - chilling wake-up call. Just how far will God go, and has He gone, to protect us from our stupidity and folly. There was probably a 15-50% chance of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War.

Hope I can run this Marathon, leg OK but foot now hurting :-(

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Death & Spring

Announced Ruth Polkinghorne's death on the Polkinghorne.org website - using the words of The Times notice.

Went last night to the Society of Authors London gathering, about a dozen of us in a pub but v interesting because people have such diverse backgrounds & experiences. Chatted to retired Headmaster who has self-published gritty teen novel - he said my 14-yr-old daughter would like it & I bought a copy but alas it's rather too 'gritty' and not v well written.

Beautiful day - I hope I'll be able to run again soon.

Dinner & Mozart tonight. Not the 'Spring Sonata' alas - but one composed on the death of his mother.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

NHS, Iraq and Exploring Reality and Music

A GP blows the gaff on the tremendous pay increases that GPs have recieved for doing less work, due to the mind-boggling incompetence of the DH. Almost all the extra billions poured into the NHS has gone on extra pay and bureaucracy. New procedures mean that hospital doctors don't see their patients through so get poor feedback, and nursing standards are appalling. Although the polls still show Labour and Conservatives neck-and-neck, when the public realises how badly the wheels have fallen off the wagon, Labour will go into freefall.

I'm delighted to say that the level of coalition casualties in Iraq is indeed just half of the level in Feb, the lowest since Feb 04 and the 2nd lowest since hostilities started. Let's hope and pray that it stays this way - but interesting the the media has not reported this at all.

Am writing up a summary of Exploring Reality mainly consisting of juicy quotes. This is great fun and perhaps a good discipline I should try with other religious books I like.

Siu Li is a wonderful teacher. We had a 2-hour lesson on K306 and I learned an enormous amount. Last time I heard it was Sophie Mutter at the Barbican and I got her to sign my piano part afterwards - Ruth will play it as well but sadly I won't.