Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Abortion, and balance on Carbon Footprints

Discussion on the Today Programme between the Chairman of the Commons Science & Technology Committee - who have disgracefully issued a report suggesting that the safeguards on abortion should be relaxed, and Nadine Dorries who co-authored the minority report. However even Willis agreed that there are far too many abortions - 200,000 a year in the UK. I have long thought that the aborticaust will be seen like slavery by future generations - how could they? Any society that takes so many defenseless human lives can hardly expect to survive. This is a major reason why "the culture of death" ie aggressive secularism is doomed. Dawkins has 3 wives and 1 child and no grandchildren. I have 1 wife, 3 children and already 3 grandchildren, despite being younger that Dawkins. Who is fitter, from an evolutionary PoV?

Just back from a lecture by the CEO of Nestle. In the Q&A made the excellent point that an excessive focus on CO2 emissions is seriously damaging. He says that deforestation in Brazil has increased by 600% due to the insane subsides for biofuels. Of course Greenhouse Gasses are a very serious problem, but they are not the only serious problem. It also emerges that even the Stern Review team admit that their conclusions fall to the ground if a discount rate of >1% is used. It all depends on a discount rate of 0.1% which no-one would ever use with their own money. In addition Dasgupta explains that it depends on a highly questionable assumption of an eta of 1 - a higher eta would also nullify their claims. Again of course it is very important to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but the economics of the Stern Review simply doesn't stack up. I told a leading Actuary that the Stern Review was using a 0.1% discount rate - he was astonished, and scathing.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Polls, Scottish Elections and EU Treaty

The Scottish Elections report - which was the focus of last week's PMQs - says "what is characteristic of 2007 was a notable level of party self-interest evident in Ministerial decision-making". It does not, however, name names, since it goes on to say, "we have had no intention of - and, in fact, have scrupulously sought to avoid - assigning blame to individuals and institutions" (my italics) In other words: we could assign blame, but we have sought to avoid it.

An opinion poll in the Independent gives the Tories an 8pt lead over Labour (41:33:16). But CommRes is notoriously unreliable, with a StdDev of 3.3% and the Weighted Moving Average is 40:37:13. Mind you I think we probably will see 41:33:16 sometime in the next few months - Brown's credibility seems so badly dented it is hard to see how he will recover. But odd things do happen in politics. The European Constitutional Treaty is also going to cause him a lot of trouble: The Economist is quite right that: "Whatever your views on the Treaty, [the refusal to put it to a referendum] is a farce"

Monday, October 29, 2007

Oklahoma - and Tom Wright

Back from visit to Oklahoma City which was the US leg of the celebrations of Elder Daughter's wedding. Although I have been visiting the US since 1957 and have probably been there 50 times or more, this was my first visit to Oklahoma. The people are very friendly and hospitable and there is something of the pioneer spirit - well it has only been a state for 100 years.

Almost finished The Meaning of Jesus. Tom Wright is on sparking form: demolishing the nostrums of 20thC "scholars". For example: "When scholars argue...that because Jesus' hearings before Caiphas and Pilate were in secret nobody outside would have known what had happened, they are living in a make-believe world." and cites the time when the Ugandan archbishop Janani Luwum was murdered by Idi Amin's henchmen. This was "the culmination of several swift nocturnal journeys, kangaroo court hearings, and beatings. No one person was present for more than part of the sequence. Those who were involved had no reason to tell anybody what they had done. Yet by the middle of the next day the entire story was told in a connected narrative on the streets of Kampala."

There are many other gems, for example:
  • "science observes what normally happens; the Christian case is precisely that what happened to Jesus is not what normally happens."
  • "We must remind ourselves how stories functioned in the early communities. A story that carried significance...would not change; it would always be told that way in and for that community...The editors did not feel free to modify the details to make them fit with other resurrection narratives."
  • When people told him they did not believe in God he would ask: "Which god is it you don't believe in?" and when they gave the stock "spy-in-the-sky" answers he could say "I don't believe in that god either...I believe in the God I see revealed in Jesus of Nazareth"
He also has a wonderful passage about the Virgin Birth, where he considers what would have to have happened, granted the sceptic's position, for the story to have taken the shape it did: "Are they tradition critics? So am I. Are they ancient historians? So am I... I speak as a fool - I am more so. This is how it would look.
  1. Christians come to believe that Jesus was in some sense divine
  2. Someone who shared this faith broke thoroughly with Jewish precedents and invented the story of a pagan-style virginal conception.
  3. Some Christians failed to recognise that this was historicised metaphor and retold it as though it was historical.
  4. Matthew and Luke, assuming historicity, drew independently upon this astonishing fabrication...
..Smoke without fire does ...happen ...in the real world. But this smoke, in that world, without fire?"

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Polls, Abortion, Simon Jenkins and Noble's Principle of Relativity

Poll in Friday's telegraph shows Brown's credibility evaporating although astonishingly the Labour support still seems to be holding up at 38%. Indeed an Observer poll today also shows a boost for Cameron but puts Labour ahead (40:41:13) The Weighted Moving Average which I track shows the parties at 40:39:12: Ipsos/Mori tends to over-estimate the Labour lead.

Simon Jenkins in coruscating form in The Sunday Times about the Cash for Honours enquiry. And Charles Moore was brilliant in the Telegraph about the comparison between Abortion and Slavery.

I've been thinking about Noble's "Theory of Biological Relativity". As he mentions, there are quite deep philosophical implications. And it should be possible to work out the mathematics. It brings together ideas of Polkinghorne (cloud-like worlds), Midgley (aquarium with multiple window), Prigogine (the end of certainty). Would love to explore this further.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A stupendous more: Denis Noble's 10 Principles, John Lucas, Tom Wright and Marcus Borg

Excellent article by Bjorn Lomberg in the November issue of Prospect. He continues to point out that, although Climate Change is indeed a serious problem but it is not the only serious problem, and that measures should be taken that are likely to work rather than that are likely to incur large costs with negligible benefits. {PS: this has generated some rather heated comments on this post. Please can I make it clear that I am not at all denying the major human contributions to Climate Change or the need to take sensible steps to deal with this. But if you take real discount rates which are far far less than the market uses you can "justify" almost any approach to a long term problem if the "alternative" is doing nothing. And I don't like intellectually dishonest arguments, nor do I like the way in which Climate Change acquires the characteristics of a Religion - complete with the Godess Gaia to whom we must sacrifice!}

Also encouraging that The Economist is featuring Systems Biology in general and the work of the great Denis Noble in particular. I gather that Denis is heavily involved in defending his position in lectures all over the place and "Having a great time doing so". He was giving a lecture at KCL but alas didn't tell me about it until afterwards - no reason why he should have done of course, and I was in Harvard at the time anyway. The RAEng however is having a lecture on Systems Biology which I plan to attend.

Denis has now sent me the lecture and it is a cracker. It is coming out in Experimental Physiology (2008) and was published online as expphysiol.2007.038695v1. In it he puts forward 10 Principles of Systems Biology:
  1. Biological functionality is multi-level
  2. Transmission of information is not one way.
  3. DNA is not the sole transmitter of inheritance.
  4. The theory of biological relativity: there is no privileged level of causality
  5. Gene ontology will fail without higher-level insight
  6. There is no genetic program
  7. There are no programs at any other level
  8. There are no programs in the brain
  9. The self is not an object
  10. There are many more to be discovered; a genuine ‘theory of biology’ does not yet exist
Interesting e-correspondence with John Lucas and we're having lunch next month at the Royal Society. He's giving a lecture on the Nature of Time that evening which should be fascinating.

Started reading the book debate between Tom Wright and Marcus Borg called The Meaning of Jesus. Although they have very different theological positions they are friends and, as Tom says: "All historians have theological presuppositions...we all see the world through the colored spectacles of our own personal histories, backgrounds, assumptions, and so on...Those who are unaware that they are wearing spectacles are merely less likely than their colleagues to know when they need cleaning". Equally Borg now says "I became aware of how uncrtically...I had accepted the modern worldview...[but] I am confident that the time is soon coming when it will seem as quaint and archaic as the Ptolomaic worldview" and in a note says "one can make a good case that postmodern science and religion not only agree that there is 'more than this' but that 'the more' is a stupendous more."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Iraq coalition casualties improving, Grandchildren

Not only are the Iraq Coalition casualties down to an average of 1.36 per day, but of the 29 who have sadly lost their lives only 19 are due to hostile actions - that's less than 1 per day. And in the last 7 days the hostile deaths are down to 3, so less than 0.5 per day. Long may these reductions continue - there is an excellent chance that Oct will be the lowest levels since March 06, and less than half the average for the period.

Grandchildren and Daughter-in-law came to stay Monday. Wonderful to see them. The grandchildren really enjoyed the little i-Robot hoover, giggling and jumping almost like jumping the waves. Improvised some piano duets with M - he's getting quite good at this.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Time and Space

Back from fascinating trip to Boston (starting the next phase of our collaboration with Martin Nowak) and Toronto - finishing the article with Colin. Managed to sleep pretty well on the plane
but also to read lots more of The Trouble with Physics. Smolin's proposals on how we can move forward post-String Theory are fascinating. I especially agree with his view that the key missing piece is to find a better way of representing time. "We have to find a way to unfreeze time - to represent time without turning it into space". I have long believed that time is not linear but more of a lattice structure.

John Lucas's wonderful A Treatise on Time and Space (1973) begins "Time is more fundamental than space." and continues "Some theologians say that God is outside time, but it cannot be true of any personal God that he his timeless, for a personal God is conscious, and time is a concomitant of consciousness." It also had the most wonderful correction slip, because one strand of his argument depended on two persons, Red and Blue, who were in communication with each other (but in different inertial frames) and "We can obtain further clarity by thinking of Red as speaking Russian and Blue, Greek" so he has them exchanging messages like:

t'2 Home (0',0',0')
Dear Red,
Thank you for your letter, dated '
t1' which has just arrived.
Yours ever, Blue


However the bemused typesetter got some of the colours wrong, and the errata slip, which I have sadly lost, changing the colours of certain terms - which were also given in Russian and Greek.

He quotes, towards the end, Abelard's wonderful hymn O Quanta Qualia which we always would sing at the end of term at Winchester - and no doubt did in John's day - he was a contemporary of my father's.

Illic ex sabbato succedit sabbatum,
Perpes laetitia sabbatizantium
Nec inefffabiles cessabunt jubili
Quos descantabiumus et nos et angeli

Which he translates as:

There each festival is followed by a further one
No term is set to the happiness of the holiday-makers
Nor shall we cease those songs that defy description
Which we and the angels together shall sing

A truly great philosopher - Colin and I plan to dedicate our book to him.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Labour problems, Casualties and The Trouble with Physics


Somewhat alarming article by the Editor of the New Statesman complaining of "Labour's steady path to authoritarianism". The Economist has also noticed the interesting parallels between G Brown and M Campbell. Terrible news about the Bhutto bombs, but at least the Iraq Casualties continue their downward trend (1.36/day so far this month).

Bought The Trouble with Physics which is fascinating. It opens with ""There may or may not be a God. Or gods. Yet there is something enobling about our search for the divine. And also something humanizing, which is reflected in each of the paths people have discovered to take us to deeper levels of truth. Some seek transcendance in meditation or prayer: others seek it in service to their fellow human beings; still others, the ones lucky enough to have the talent, seek transendance in the practice of any art. Another way of engaging with life's deepest questions is science"

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Priorities in the DH and NHS

Interview on the Today Programme with Nurse of the Year 2007 who is leaving the NHS in disgust at the bureaucracy: endless form-filling and pointless meetings. I recall some hapless DH Minister a few days ago (I think it was even Alan Johnson) trying to deny that the NHS Target Culture had anything to do with the appalling events at the Maidstone Hospitals. Looking at the bios of the Ministers at the DH is quite interesting. I didn't realise Dawn Primorolo had a PhD in Social Sciences. Ann Kean even worked as a Nurse, before becoming an MP and being PPS to Gordon Brown. The Department Board is interesting: 16 members, 3 NEDs, 1 Doctor, 1 Nurse, 2 DGs of Finance, 1 of Policy of Strategy, 1 of IT (whose job is "to modernise IT in the NHS" - which explains neatly why it has been a disaster and he is leaving), 1 of Workforce (ex HR Director of Tesco and very impressive), DGs of Communications, Social Care, Commercial, and the Perm Sec. No doubt about priorities there!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Extending the Church, and reading the Bible with St Augustine

Impressive evening service concluding the Spread your tents appeal which is hoping to raise commitments of £1M towards the church extension (there is already a £3M fund from the sale of the Church Hall many years ago, which can only legally be spent of a church extension, and the planners won't let us build something less expensive). They are very clear that the investment can only be justified if it helps the Church reach out more into the community, building on the success of for example the Kiss the Street festival. The curate also points out that there are 40,000 office workers within 1 mile of the church, and this extension will help. I'm pretty sure we'll get the necessary pledges - we'll see.

An interesting quote from St Augustine (according to Richard Harries) "Whoever, therefore, thinks that he understands the divine scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build the double love of God and of our neighbour does not understand it at all. Whoever finds a lesson there useful to the building of charity, even though he has not said what the author may be shown to have intended in that place, has not been deceived." (On Christian Doctrine, I Ch 36)

Pretty good discussion on Today between Lord Steel and Prof Stuart Campbell on Abortion: despite the BBC clearly wanting them to be pro-late-abortion they both seem to agree that these late-stage abortions should be restricted. Prof Campbell said he wanted to show his 4D images to the Select Committee on Science and Technology. Steel said he was sure he'd be asked to. The presenter was saying "well it's only a small percentage of abortions" Campbell replies: "well it's still over 4,000 babies".

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A country wife, and the only elected leader of the Labour Party

Yesterday we went to a Matinee of A Country Wife at the Haymarket which is pretty good. I'm not really convinced that the ingenue lead will follow in the very illustrious footsteps of her predecessors (such as Judi Dench - who must have been wonderful - and Maggie Smith) but the others were very good. David Haig especially is a very fine comic talent. Then to dinner with delightful Italian/anglo-scottish couple and their friend who makes wedding dresses and is training to be a stunt-woman. We saw a bit of the Rugby, switched of at France 6 England 5 but recorded it, and when we switched on it was post-match interviews and it seemed, from the rather downbeat tone, that England had lost. Mais Non! so we watched the match on 6x fast forward.

Today did the Cabbage Patch 10 mile race along the river between Richmond and Twickenham. I've forgotten how much I enjoy running and 10 miles is a great distance. Pleasant chats, lovely weather and scenery, great exercise and beat my target time. Was chatting to one runner about the Rugby and wondering if England play South Africa whether they could "do a Cameron" on them - she knew exactly what I meant.

As the full extent of Brown's debacles becomes apparent the polls are indeed shifting. The Weighted Moving Average is now 40:38:12 but this is a lagging indicator, and the average of 5 polls shows that the IpsosMORI/Sun poll on the 10th (41:38:11) which was apparently overestimating the C lead by 4 points (compared to the WMA) was in fact spot-on. I still think we’re going to see C getting above 45 and Lab getting below 32. It’s too early to write off Brown completely - with a GE probably in 09 almost anything can happen - but those who thought that after 10 years in Govt Brown would not fundamentally change certainly seem right at the moment. I was saying on Sept 30th that the Brown Balloon will burst though I didn't quite expect it to deflate this fast. Now of course the public criticism of Brown by ex-ministers and even serving ministers, which he thoroughly deserves, will increase the perception of division and incompetence. If Labour falls below 30% there could be a serious leadership challenge. This is not as fanciful as it seems, their support was down to 30% in March when they weren't in nearly as much trouble as they are now, and they have dropped 4.4% in 9 days. I wonder who would take over. After all the only elected leader of the Labour Party is Harriet Harman. Sadly she (educated at St Paul's Girls' School and the University of York) isn't exactly a Country Wife.

PS The BBC Westminster Hour leads on ... a Department of Health Obesity story. Clearly leaned on by Labour spinners.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Brown, Mark and Selection Bias

The FT says: "The ignominious retreat from his planned snap election was an exhibition of embarrassingly weak political judgement. Still it was only a tactical defeat." but the pre-Budget report "was much more serious...intellectually empty, confused to the point of incompetence and...showed how the Brown government has lost strategic control."

We watched the England/France recorded at 6x speed, because we were at dinner with a friend. In some ways the ideal way to see it - esoif you know that England are going to win.

At the Bible Study at Life Group last Tues (we are doing Mark) we had the incident where Jesus's disciples eat corn on the Sabbath. The implication - though never quite stated in the text explicitly - is that they are doing so because they haven't had time to eat. Then in Mark 6:31 this is said explicitly.

An e-correspondent suggests that "Both scientists and religious believe astounding, wonderful and counter-intuitive things. There really is no conflict here. Where the huge gulf lies is in the reasons for belief." But it is a fundamental category mistake to contrast "Scientists" and "religious" - he might as well contrast "Scientists" and "women". It may be true in some cultures that scientists are much less likely to be adherents to organised religions than the general population, but that's rather beside the point: they have historically been much more likely to be female. And indeed one of the reasons why in eg the US scientists are less likely to believe in God than the general population is that Atheists are more likely to devote their lives to Science than Theists are - Theists see ultimate value elsewhere. Though our son says that, in Cambridge, Scientists are more likely to attend Church than Arts students. And certainly my survey of Cambridge PhDs shows that active objection to Christianity is very rare.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Politics and forgiveness

The press is pretty unanimous that PMQ was a disaster for Gordon Brown. The Guardian says, rightly that the political future is uncertain and successful politicians of any party will require "open minds and nimble feet, as well as great confidence in the destination." adding that "None of these were on show yesterday from Gordon Brown, defeated by David Cameron at a brutal" PMQ. And, in the first public cabinet criticism of GB, "Alan Johnson blamed the prime minister for the government's rocky start to the new parliamentary term" The Times and the Telegraph are equally scathing. And Matthew Paris in The Times says that the "I'll take no lectures" line "is placed at the end of the briefing: an “in emergency, break glass”, last-ditch line of defence."

I think a major part of the problem is that there is something bordering on genuine hatred of Cameron by Brown and his circle. Martin Bright in the New Statesman talks of Brown's "state of barely controlled fury" and says he "does not forgive easily." At Church we have for some time been praying for the PM and giving thanks for his Christian leadership. Cameron is also a committed Christian. I think it's very important that the level of hatred is toned down, and that forgiveness, which is an even more fundamental virtue than courage, is shown on both sides. Yes the arrogance of some of Brown's circle was appalling: there was a chilling report (which I now can't find) of a Brown aide saying, during the Labour Conference, something to the effect of "why not torture them a little" referring to the Conservatives, and of others gloating that they would "wipe these bastards out". But Cameron, having demonstrated his mastery of rhetoric, also needs to show he is a statesman. And we all need to remember what Jesus says about forgiveness.

Another part of the problem is that the Blairites in Labour, who always disliked Brown, are rather enjoying the spectacle. I don't normally read, or even look at, The Sun but Brown and New Labour court it assiduously and until recently it returned the favour. And they say, in an editorial: "it was the reaction of Labour MPs that told the real story. In his darkest hours, Tony Blair could always rely on a wall of sound to crush the Tories. But when Mr Brown needed them most — apart from a few screaming Brownites — they stayed silent. And the Blairites could not conceal their glee. As the kicking finally came to an end, an ex-Cabinet minister strolled up to a Tory MP and gloated: “What a terrible tragedy.”"

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Reviews: great for Shadowlands, lousy for the pre-Budget

Well deserved very positive reviews for Shadowlands, and for Janie's performance. The FT (4*) talks of her "wonderful performance ... the play seems empty when she is not in it" and also begins "It is astonishing and refreshing to fins a play in the West End that opens with a lecture on Christianity". The Times (also 4*) calls Janie "an actress who grows in stature with every stage outing" and The Telegraph (which also has an interview with her here) says it is a "magnificent portrait of late-flowering love and loss". The Guardian also gives 4* and praises the quality of the acting.

Mr Darling does not get such good reviews. Jonathan Guthrie in the FT calls it "the equivalent of the class plodder copying a bright kid's homework" and Irwin Selzer says "Labour is so intellectually exhausted that Alistair Darling has to steal Tory ideas, while the Tories are now the source of policies that are both new and voter-friendly." And Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian says "You've had long enough to work it out. What is your vision, Gordon?" and claims "One minister tells friends that the trouble with the Brown team is that they are obsessed with politics, never able to resist a neat manoeuvre here, a little jab there. " and that "Blairite ministers ... say that Brown's dirty little secret is that he has no vision, no programme, not even a plan of action. The great cerebral emperor has no clothes, they say - which is why he had to steal George Osborne's."

PS - watched PMQ. Jack Straw and Harriet Harman looked really glum. See this picture of Straw and Brown. Better yet, watch the body language when Brown is speaking (try it with the sound off) here.

PPS BBC Have your say is interesting. It runs at least 80:20 against Brown. Listen to this: "As a Labour supporter I have to say that the appointment of Gordon Brown was a huge mistake and will end in disaster." I wonder how many others are thinking this as well. And FWIW the petition for an election which Brown mentioned is here and now has nearly 2,000 signatures.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Darling, Dawkins - and Martin Evans

Well Darling has announced that he's partly adopting the Tory policies on Aviation, non-Doms and Inheritance Tax. Everyone can see that they are simply following the Tory lead, and it makes their suggestion that the Tory "sums don't add up" utterly laughable. The main effect of the Labour proposals is on widows and widowers. The Tories should say "thank you, we support the IHT changes, we'll raise the £700k to £1M when we get in, and use the spare money from the wider non-Dom fees for other targeted tax reductions."

I'm also astonished that Darling openly uses stolen information as well as blatantly refusing to answer questions in the House: "One of their Members...left the Tory crib sheet in the photocopier in the House of Commons. There is a suggested question on this and, by the way, I have all the suggested questions. [HON. MEMBERS: “Answer!”] I intend to answer the question that they have for me in the document. It asks whether the Chancellor can confirm that growth is only 3.5 per cent. a year. The health increase is at 4 per cent. a year—more than the Conservatives thought"

Apparently there is an interesting debate between Dawkins and Dr. John Lennox, a Reader in mathematics and philosophy of science at the Oxford, on you.tube. It's also interesting that Sir Martin Evans, who just won the Nobel Prize for Medicine, chaired the Christians in Science debate in March this year at the Faraday Institute.

Back from a great Bible study - looking at Mark 2:1-3:6.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Bottler Brown, Iraq, Science and Oral Tradition

Gosh - according to William Rees-Mogg (who has seen them all in action) "Mr Cameron is the best conference speaker since Winston Churchill retired, and a more natural impromptu speaker than Churchill himself." The BBC Have Your Say is very vituperatively anti-Brown, and Peter Kilfoyle is quoted as saying: “Unfortunately there seem to be very influential people around the Prime Minister who don’t know anything about life, never mind politics. They have never done anything else and their judgment, which should be honed with experience, has not been.” (Imagine BTW what the BBC would have made of a Tory MP and ex-Minister who said something like that about Cameron!). You can expect the Telegraph to be vituperative, but here is the Guardian "Like a child squirming after being caught out at last over some transgression, the prime minister offered every excuse apart from the obvious truth...David Cameron had a point yesterday when he said that the public are not fools and see through pretence"

News from Iraq seems to be good, though. Coalition Fatailities are running at half last month's rate and the lowest levels since March 2006. Hope and pray that it lasts.

A fascinating paper in last week's Science proves that the Polynesian oral histories of extensive voyages between the islands thousands of miles apart were indeed true, by looking at the chemical composition of adzes that had been traded and must have come from these remote islands. Oral traditions are often very strong and reliable.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Cambridge, Hewish, Genes, Midgley and Gordon Brown

Back from Cambridge celebrating Daughter-in-Law's birthday. We stayed at Trinity in The Judge's Room whose bed was slept in by Queen Victoria. There is a portrait of Judge Denman who was I think the father of Roddy Denman who was my late Grandfather's business partner in Beale & Denman, consultants in engineering physics. I think Denman was killed in the war.

Went to College Communion and heard the choir under their new Director Simon Cleobruy. They were in stunning form, singing a remarkable Missa Brevis by Daniel Roth - of whom I had never heard but I guess he was a pupil of Messien (no Maurice Duruflé), - and Messien's stunning O Sacrum Convivium. There was also a remarkable hymn I didn't know by Isaac Watts: "Give me the wings of faith to rise." It was also nice to see Michael Banner with whom I used to serve on the Science, Medicine and Technology Committee of the CofE, which was chaired by John Polkinghorne.

Nothing I really wanted to buy in Heffers but the CUP bookshop was impressive, and inclines me towards having them as my publisher. They really do have a very considerable philosophy list (and I understand that CUP authors get a 30% discount). I bought two: a RIP supplement (56) called Philosophy, Biology and Life which contains several remarkable essays. So far I've read
I also find that Anthony Hewish (FRS, Nobel Laureate) is giving a talk at Cambridge's Wesley Centre called Science and The God Delusion on Dec 10th - 19:15 for 19:45. Should be a cracker, and a further nail in the coffin of Dawkins' declining intellectual credibility.

Heard that Brown had backed down on the election at the party on Sat. Doesn't surprise me at all - I never thought he'd do it. But it will be hugely damaging to him. Perhaps the most serious problem is that the qualities that Brown was trying to project, and apparently still succeeding in the you.gov poll, were "strong" and "decisive". He is now looking weak and indecisive (this is slightly unfair, I think he is probably strong and indecisive) and as people factor that into their thinking about him there could well be further re-adjustment. The Weighted Moving Average is 37:39:13 but by their very nature WMAs will lag in responding to big changes in opinion. For example the previous you.gov poll was apparently over-estimating the C lead by 3% but if we now look at the average of 5 the polls that straddle it (which is of course only possible when 2 more polls have been published) it is now seen to have been pretty well spot on. My guess is that the C support will consistently be above 40 by Christmas, and Labour will be in the low 30s. We shall see.

PS I've now had a chance to read the press. The Observer (the most pro-Labour of the broadsheets) is suggesting, in a leading article, that Brown is "weak... opportunistic.. insecure" showed "extraordinary hubris" and "no strategic vision for government."! With friends like this!!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Shadowlands, Dawkins and Antisemitism, Courage by Gordon Brown

To a wonderful production of Shadowlands last night with Charles Dance and Janie Dee. This is now the 3rd time I have seen this play and it gets better and better - clearly a very great work. And Janie is an amazing actress, both intellectually and as a physical performer: the first twinge of pain sends a palpable shock through the audience. We went to see Janie afterwards and ended up with her and her US agent at Sheekey's

Danny Finkelstein in The Times is appalled by Dawkins' endorsement of the "Jews control american foreign policy" trope. Well, "they infect the state" goes well with "religion is a bacillus".

Philip Webster (something of a NuLab trusty) in The Times, suggests that the final 197 interviews in the Populus poll show that the Tory advance occurred before David Cameron’s speech on Wednesday and may have peaked on Thursday evening. Since the margin of error on 197 interviews is about 10% it shows nothing at all! Meanwhile Matthew Paris calls on Gordon Brown to be brave and call an election, perceptively arguing that the Brown Brand has been contaminated. I recall George Osborne's jibe "Courage, by Gordon Brown. What next - Charisma by Alastair Darling." We shall see.

Friday, October 05, 2007

For the Birds!

Well as anticipated the polls show a rapid erosion of the Labour Lead. Although the Weighted Moving Average is 35:40:15 the momentum is clearly in Cameron's direction, and the parties are probably really neck-and-neck. Brown will look foolish if he doesn't call an election, but not half as foolish as if he calls one quite un-necessarily and looses or ends up with a majority of under 15. Peter Riddell in The Times says "there may be permanent damage to his authority and that of his younger advisers. They have looked fallible. Unless Mr Brown is careful and/or gains a larger majority, we may already have passed the high point of the Brown premiership" Well if GB is running on an "infallibility" ticket then he must think the Electorate are complete chumps!

Also, if Labour ministers really think that attacking Osborne's non-Dom plans is a good idea, and will win them points with the electorate, then they are deeply mistaken. The "Treasury Figures" that supposedly show that "the sums do not add up" are based on the extraordinary assumption (for which no justification is given at all) that there are only 15,000 rich non-doms. To be fair the Treasury officials responsible don't even try to fill in the standard grid and conclude with the warning that "all figures are best estimates but need to be treated with caution due to the lack of available data or evidence" Jeff Randall in the Telegraph is on the button in any case. And The Times quotes an accountant from Grant Thornton as saying “Labour’s numbers are nonsensical,” and that an estimate of 150,000 to 200,000 for 2007 “entirely reasonable”. with at least 120,000 of these will have enough foreign assets to want to protect them by paying the levy rather than UK tax. Accountancy Age also supports the Tory view on this, pointing out that "the Offshore Disclosure Scheme, which in targeting several hundred thousand people with offshore tax liabilities must certainly have encouraged a few 'non-doms' out of the woodwork"

Interesting item in Science referring to research that shows that birds prefer Bach to Stockhausen.

PS On a BBC "Have your say" I posted a view on "How will Tony Blair be Remembered" which was apparently too late and not published. It was "He meant well and has great charm, but achieved far less than he could have done because of inexperience and a short-term focus on spin. By the time he realised that 'sofa government' didn't work and that spending without reform was a disaster, it was too late. He'd have achieved more if he had had a smaller majority, which would have forced him to listen."

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A new Master - Cameron & Brown

To the Installation Service and Dinner for the Master of my Livery Company. There were super hymns and it was far from going through the motions. A characteristically learned sermon from the Rector of St Bartholomew the Great: a Church which dates from the 12th century so has been there for 40% of the time since the birth of Christ. The Dinner was in the Guildhall and in conjunction with the BCS.

Camilla Cavendish spot-on in The Times. "Proximity to power dulls the wits. That is the only explanation I can offer for why Gordon Brown’s speech generated so many positive headlines on Monday of last week; although 36 hours later almost every journalist I spoke to had privately come to see it as barren and dishonest...By the end of last week, almost no one was saying any longer that Mr Brown was a conviction politician. Labour seemed intellectually exhausted. And an unattractive streak of ruthlessness was showing through."

Reading Cameron' speech (I haven't had time to watch him deliver it) it's a cracker, and you can see why the BBC Have your Say is so positive.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Courage and truth from Frank Field

Frank Field writing in the Telegraph courageously endorses the Conservatives policy to end the discrimination against couples in the benefits system. I met Frank last year - a very good guy.

Meanwhile a Telegraph Editorial says that "Predictions that [Brown] would not be temperamentally suited to the demands of the highest office have proved hopelessly wide of the mark. In a near-faultless display of political positioning, he has succeeded in drawing a very clear line beneath the regime of his discredited predecessor." But there is a great deal more to the demands of the highest office than political positioning, and in these respects Brown has been very disappointing.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Iraq, Conservatives, and Mark 1:9-19

Another month of falling Coalition fatalities in Iraq - down to an average of 2.3 per day, and 22 of the 66 killed were non-hostile, so hostile killings were down to 1.47 per day. In addition, Civilian killings fell by 50% to the lowest level for ages as well.

The Conservative conference seems to be going well, with strong performances from Hague and Osborne - though a friend who is there is not (yet) buoyed up with great optimism. The £25k non-dom charge is very clever since people from countries with double taxation treaties (like the US) should be able to deduct it from their US taxes. But even I am beginning to think that Brown just might call an election after all. Interestingly, even the ever-on-message FT is accusing Labour in Bournemouth of hubris and Michael White in the Guardian pleads "Don't Go, Gordon" saying that it would not be in the national interest and simply for party advantage.

Fascinating preparation for leading a Bible Study on Mark 1:9-19. Some of the points that emerged:
  • The word “Baptized” is not used in the Bible before John the Baptist. However the Jews were very familiar with the idea of ritual washing and symbolically washing away sins. In Isaiah 1:16 God calls on his people to “wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong” Also the controlling story of God’s salvation for the Jews was the Exodus, where the People of God miraculously pass through the divided waters of the Red Sea whereas their enemies drown, spend 40 years in the wilderness, and then miraculously pass through the waters of Jordan (Joshua 3) to enter the Promised Land. Furthermore (according to the IVP Bible Background Commentary) the only once-for-all ceremonial washing was the immersion that non-Jews had to go through when they converted to Judaism. So baptism signifies that people are repenting of their sins and becoming members of the true People of God.
  • The heavens are torn - the same (root) word is used in Mark 15:38 when the veil of the Temple is torn in two when Jesus dies. The idea is that the barrier between God and Man is torn apart. c/f Psalm 18 “He parted the heavens and came down;… the voice of the Most High resounded… he drew me out of deep waters” Psalm 18 also begins “I love you, O LORD, my strength” and ends “he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever.” (It's a pity that the word uses in the Septuagint eklinen is not the word used here)
  • euthusis usually translated “immediately”. But as an adjective it means “straight” (as in Mk 1:2) and the point is not always that there was no time between the two events but that the next event follows on from the first, in the working of God’s plan.
  • James and John leave their father with the hired servants - so a pretty prosperous family firm. Their father being an active fisherman also suggests they were quite young, and of course John is (almost certainly) the author (though not the final editor – Jn 21:24) of the Gospel of John. He could well have been as young as 14 when he was called by Jesus. Luke 5 and John 1:40 fill in the background. It seems that Andrew first heard Jesus preaching in the synagogue, and brought Simon to meet him. Then when Jesus was preaching by the Sea of Galilee he borrowed Simon’s boat to preach from, and afterwards caused them to make a miraculous catch of fishes, with James and John called in to help. Simon says “depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man” but Jesus says, no follow me. The Greek (and the RSV, which is generally closer to the Greek than the NIV and tends to be the translation used by scholars) in v16 is “passing along beside the Sea” not specifically walking, and in v19 they are probably mending their nets (RSV) rather than simply preparing them (katartizw means “to put (again) in order, to complete, to prepare” c/f 1Cor1:10 and 1 Pet 5:10 where “God … will himself restore, establish and strengthen you”)