Monday, June 26, 2006

Rights, wrongs and cleverness

Two on the button Comment pieces in The Times this morning. William Rees-Mogg on the ludicrous adulation of sports by ministers, and for once I agree with Tim Hames who suggests that Sir Ian Blair and Rowan Williams are excellent examples of why clever intellectuals don't usually make good leaders.

Dominic Gieve was excellent on The Westminster Hour last night, explaining why a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilites would make a difference, without withdrawing from the European Convention. The point is that the European Court of Human Rights would only strike down decisions that were manifestly incompatible, whereas by incorporating the European Convention into British Law we have a field day for jobsworths and innovative lawyers to claim all kinds of nonsence.

Meanwhile the Weighted Moving Average of the opinion polls shows the Conservatives 6% ahead of Labour, having gained 2% from Lab and Lib Dems since the end of April. I'd be amazed if Brown Backs Trident will make any difference, but this British Bill of Rights & Responsibilities looks like a masterstroke. If/when the WMA gets to 42:30:26 there will be fireworks, since almost no-one in New Labour knows what it's like to be substantially behind in the polls.

Iraq situation seems to be improving gradually. But there have been many false dawns.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Integration, new lessons and friendship

On Sat to Catholics - v g sermon by the "priest in residence" who is Chaplain at the local Hospital. The text was Jesus stilling the storm and his points were that we need to trust Jesus in friendship and in transitions esp from life to "death".

Then on Sun sailing - we were in 2 races and for once came in ahead of 5 other boats, despite major mistakes in both races. We learn by mistakes, will not make them again, and without these we'd have come quite high up the running order. Since in most previous races we have come last this is a big improvement.

A columnist friend wrote 2 articles, one lambasting the traditional Christian line on homosexuality on the grounds that it was from Leviticus and one lambasting Nuclear Power. The first one is presumably intellectually dishonest since everyone knows who can read the Bible that St Paul was also v against practicing homosexuality. In addition the AIDS epidemic that is devastating Africa and damaging many other places is spread entirely by non-Biblical sexual practices. So to approve of such things to the extent of having Bishops who openly depart from Christian teaching on these matters utterly undermines the fight against AIDS.

The second one appears to be simply ill-informed: I have offered to get her a briefing from the Royal Academy of Engineering (I'm seeing someone from them tomorrow) but alas I suspect the offer will be declined!

This evening we went to our fallback church, partly to say goodbye. The sermon was also about community and the value of friendship. The Vicar there has met our new vicar and, although they are from very different traditions, he is very impressed and enthusiastic about collaboration. Thus the kingdom advances!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Digital Fountains, Brahms, St Paul and a flash of wit

A talk on encoding schemes on monday evening - fascinating and I was amazed that I could mostly remember the maths. Some of the ideas, like digital fountain codes, are truly beautiful.

A brilliant artist friend and I belatedly celebrated our birthdays (which are within a week) by going to a concert at the Wigmore Hall last night. After a perfunctory performance of a Mozart duo we had stunning accounts of a Mendelsohn and a Brahms quintet. Followed by an exquisite meal (we met the chef afterwards, very unassuming, dedicated and not at all the sterotypical master chef) and much catching up.

Mary Ann Sieghart extols ECUSA in The Times today. But Christianity is about love of God and neighbour, not mere "tolerance". Much of the world is being devastated by an AIDS epidemic spread by sexual practices that are condemned in both the Old and New Testaments, which also cause tremendous problems in the developed world. No church that is serious about this can have a "bishop" who openly flouts Christian teaching in these matters. By siding with a few rich white liberals we are betraying millions of brothers and sisters who are standing up for the gospel, often at risk of their lives. It's also dishonest to pretend that the prohibitions on homosexual practice are OT only - St Paul is very explicit.

A flash of wit from the Speaker of the House of Commons:

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Leader of the Opposition must be allowed to speak.
Mr. Cameron: In a week when a senior chief constable has said— [Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker: Order.
Hon. Members: He is wrong.
Mr. Speaker: Being wrong does not deny a Member the right to speak in the House. If that were so, very few Members would be able to speak.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Old friends and Dorothy Parker

Two old friends had their 50th birthday celebrations last night, in a small-ish National Trust property. Delightful gathering of friends old and new, including 3 people I was at school with. English and Indian food and a Bangra band. Interesting discussion of christianity with catholics and a v bright atheist the rest of whose family are practicing Anglicans. He, like Churchill, supports the Church (financially) from without. A butress not a pillar.

Church pretty full this morning - a very nice family having their girl baptised. Super sermon from Fr Martin on the meaning of baptism. Garden party this evening and then fathers day supper with elder daughter coming home. Younger daughter is at a party so alas no sailing. Must content myself with planning our next sailing trips, practicing the piano, and swimming/cycling - can't run cos of a minor injury which is very frustrating.

Finished brilliant Tom Wright on John, now reading Dorothy Parker. From the sublime to...
Though of course she was very poignant in many ways:
  • "The affair between Margot Asquith and Margot Asquith will live as one of the prettiest love stories in all literature"
  • on Isadora Duncan's My Life "She could not do anything that was not dramatic... Other women go and have their hair bobbed, and that is all there is to it. But Isadora writes ... "I cut off my hair, and threw it in the sea""
  • She delightfully apologised (in 1928) for having said that Ernest Hemmingway was "the greatest living writer of short stories" and being reminded by a correspondent of Beerbohm' Seven Men. "I thank my correspondent, damn him, for reminding me... I am a fool, a bird-brain, a liar and a horse-thief... never again will I mess about with phrases such as "greatest living writer""
  • And her poems... The Flaw in Paganism
Drink and dance and laugh and lie.
Love the reeling midnight through.
For tomorrow we shall die!
(But, alas, we never do.)

Monday, June 12, 2006

Trinity. Dophins, Lang Lang and Shostakovich

Lovely African priest on Sat evening gave an interesting sermon on the Trinity. Learned but only semi-fluent in English (he described the doctrine as "a blessing and a curse"!) he started with a conversation with a Muslim friend of his who suggested that we worship three Gods. He said that we cannot understand the Trinity - of course he meant (as we discussed afterwards) cannot fully understand. If a picture can be three pictures in one picture (RGB on this screen and any others) then God can surely be at least as complex as a colour screen. Though of course the Priest was entirely right in saying that any analogy is imperfect, and can lead to grave error if taken too far.

On Sun we went sailing and found to our surprise that it was a long race starting an hour early. So alas we were 15 min late starting, got almost half way when the wind died and we decided to turn back cos daughter had a party in London. As we came back the wind came up, so I wondered about re-entering, but we're very glad we didn't because on the way back we spotted two dolphins and saw them 8-10 times, including one when the larger one came about 20 yards from us. Very annoyingly some idiots on jet-skis came out at the Dolphins went away, but we were thrilled.

That evening I went to a Gergayev/Shostakovich concert at the Barbican, but there was also Beethoven Piano Concerto No 4 played by the prodigious Lang Lang (of whom to my shame I had never heard!) He plays the piano as though it were an exotic oriental instrument - producing very distinctive and exotic interpretations : I feel sure Beethoven would have said "extraordinary - that is not what I intended at all - but it is very interesting - and very good". He gave a Haydn sonata movement as an encore. I was concerned that if I stayed for the 2nd half (Stostakovich 15) I'd be late to collect our daughter, and my neighbours wife was in the London Symphony Chorus who had performed Shostakovich 3 at the start (worrying pean to armed revolution - I know Shostakovich was not Stalinist but I still feel queazy) would not be able to hear the second half. So I gave him my ticket, and all were happy.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Wright, Prodi, and religious freedom

Elder daughter staying - always a delight.

Tom Wright's John for Everyone leads me dazzlingly to the crucifixion. On "Woman behold thy son" he points out that as recently as the Lebanese Civil War, women and children were left unmolested by both sides: hence Mary and John are OK to be at the foot of the cross. He also points out that the crucifixion is the seventh Sign, and that tetelestai is also what you wrote on a bill after it had been paid in full.

I read that the (new) Italian PM is adding a civil suit against the hapless Mr Mills, claiming €250k for bringing the prime minister's office into disrepute. Is Blair wondering enviously? Meanwhile they propose to bring in regulations which will (as currently formulated) make it illegal for anyone, even relgious organisations, to express their disapproval of active homosexuality by eg refusing to perform blessings for gay couples. Even the CofE is objecting - with what success remains to be seen. In Blair's britain you are free to practice your religion provided it does not contradict their secular orthodoxy.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Healthy legislators

Went to House of Lords vs House of Commons Swimming Match last night, on table of v nice business friend. One has to admire the parliamentarians who are prepared to swim competitively - David Willets is 50 and he came 3rd overall - Chris Bryant won. DW is married to the sister of a brilliant fellow-undergraduate Jeremy Butterfield now a leading philosopher of science. Also met Justine Greening who seems as delightful as one might have hoped.

Today an emeritus Prof of Medical Ethics is reported as advocating involuntary euthanaisa. He says: "Proponents of voluntary euthanasia should support non-voluntary euthanasia" - well I agree, good to have that cat out of the bag! It is rather reassuring that people like these swimmers have the humanity and decency to reject such siren calls.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Family and divine Music

Grandchildren stayed until Sun pm. Great to be able to bring them to church and meet some of our old friends. Dragon Story on Fri went down v well, M laughing so much he fell off the sofa. Ran 2 mi Sat 4 mi Sun, just getting back but lots to do before Berlin!

Latest poll puts Tories on 10pt lead, but moving average is 6pt exactly in line with poll. However what's really worrying for Lab is the polls suggesting that Conservatives are seen has having better policies on Health & Education - even before they have been announced.

First St Andrew's Choral Evensong last night, held in the Choir stalls which were packed. New Vicar and his wife are both talented singers and musicians. Tom Wright also v good on importance of music, On John 16:12-22 he says "Maybe we should add that the Spirit will give people music, to make the words take flight in a new way. That, too, is certainly a way by which the Father is glorified, as the things to do with Jesus are celebrated. Music can point to that moment, the celebration we are promised, the one nobody can take away from us. Music is, perhaps, not only a signpost to it, but the start of the celebration itself."

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Schubertiad, Wright settings and performance

On Thurs we had our Schubertiad: Carola singing (5 Schubert, 2 Mahler, 2 Goethe, 4 Ruckert and Du Holde Kunst) with Charles & Liz and Carola's husband and a new neighbour who is also a talented singer. It was a delightful evening although time flew and Charles and I weren't able to chat as we would have liked. He did sign his latest book with a very kind remark though. Interesting discussions about how teaching and peforming music depends so fundamentally of cooperation.

Friday daughter-in-law and grandchildren arrived, so family bliss.

Tom Wright commentary on John is masterly. On John 13:34 he points out that what is really new about the new commandment is just as I have loved you. And on John 14:6 "Within the western world of the last two centuries or so, this saying of Jesus has become one of the most controversial... Isn't this the height of arrogance...I know people, professing Christians, for whom it seems that the central article of their faith is their rejection of the idea of Jesus' uniqueness... The trouble with this is that it doesn't work... It isn't just John's gospel that you lose if you embrace this ... [it's] the whole of the New Testament... The idea of a vague general truth ... is ... part of the 18thC protest against Christianity - even though some people produce it like a rabbit out of a hat, as if it were a new idea."

The extraordinary relationship between words, setting and performance ... to some extent we are called to perform, to the best of our very limited abilities, the amazing choral symphony that God has written for us. Messiah from scratch, indeed!