Sunday, December 30, 2007
Compline tonight a Church - very deep and moving. The confluence of the Evangelical and Catholic traditions continues apace.
181 questions on the Q&A pages - lots of material for the book. I'm glad I got to refer to Lucas's Theorem - I hope this makes Questions of Truth. The CH award was designed for outstanding achievements in the arts, literature, music, science, politics, industry, or religion - but there is no-one on religion. Perhaps we should nominate John Polkinghorne.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
The Health GOAT has admitted (some aspects of) how dysfunctional the NHS is. His "interim report" rushed out before the Election that Never Was severely damaged his reputation for its panglossian approach and was evidently written for him to a large extent by health bureaucrats. Let us see if his final report restores his reputation with candour. Alex Singleton in the Telegraph brings to public attention Gall's Law: "A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system."
Encouragingly the Chinese Government has agreed to the introduction of full Democracy in Hong Kong - admittedly phased in from 2017 but this is quite soon by Chinese standards. Fortunately we'll get our chance to vote a bit before then, however long GB tries to delay..
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Instead The Independent claims there is a plan to install a "CEO" in Downing Street, a "Fixer" who, they say, will probably be Wilf Stevenson - a v old friend of Brown who runs the Smith Institute, Brown's favourite think tank. This has some interesting Trustees (incl Paul Myners, Ruth Rendell and the Archbishop of York) . Previously Stevenson ran the British Film Institute, and his only job before that was Secretary of Napier University. An unusual background for a CEO of a major enterprise, but he's an able fellow and a lifelong friend of Gordon so having him as a "Willie" who can tell Gordon "NO" might be a smart move. Someone needs to do this, but making them a "CEO" would be a disaster. We shall see ...
PS Ian Dale claims that, according to the PinkNews.co.uk the 2 most influential LGB people in politics are: 1: Spencer Livermore, Director of Political Strategy, 10 Downing Street and 2: Nick Brown, 57, Deputy Chief Whip, MP for Newcastle upon Tyne East and Wallsend.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
On Sunday we all (except C: ie daughters, me and son-in-law) went to (new) Church for 10am - no band but worship songs from the piano, a fine sermon and all over in 45 mins (no repetition of choruses). Great to see many friends, but we had to get back because we had 12 people for lunch. Much enjoyment and some delightful presents, although my principal present was say 1/4 of the Piano. Elder Daughter gave me Kierkegaard's Philosophy of Becoming: Movements And Positions by her friend Clare Carlisle. Wife's bro-in-law and I both gave eachother copies of The Bottom Billion although I received one signed by the author. It is a brilliant book which I am reading avidly.
Today everyone is gone - peace on earth! and I'm reading, playing piano, running (10 miles with C accompanying me for first 5) and updating Polkinghorne Q&A. Our brilliant Research Assistant starts next month - we should have 200 questions by then, and picking the 50 best will be fun and interesting.
While on Peace on Earth, I'd delighted to see that the Iraq casualties count is just 17 this month, a daily rate of 0.62 which is the lowest ever, and less than half the Nov levels. And less seriously, The Golden Compass continues to tank at the box-office. By the end of its 4th week Narnia had taken $225M in the US (and $113M by the end of its 2nd) whereas the Golden Compass looks set to take about $50M by its 4th week and just $41M by its 2nd. With a budget of $180M they are set to loose a fortune. "Box office disaster" is one headline.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Final version of the contract for my book with John Polkinghorne arrived and I have printed copies for signature. The advance is slightly increased (now 5 figures!) but the only problematic aspect is that the first royalty payment will be 12-14 months after publication. We were hoping to use the royalties to fund the 2nd year of our Research Assistant, and if they don't arrive until the end of 09 that may be a bit complicated!
Continuing to read Atheism and Theism by Smart and Haldane, which is decidedly interesting, although it does largely go over old ground. Haldane makes some very cogent points against "physicalist" reductionism.
Fine article in The Times by Rowan Williams - also a fine lead editorial pointing out some of the absurdities and limitations of Dawkins and his crew. And Jean-Paul Flintoff says: "It’s almost entirely down to the atheist polemicist [Dawkins] that I’ve been drawn to religion recently. I’ve become increasingly fed up with reading or listening to him bang on about God not existing. Dawkins pretends that everybody religious is either an idiot or dangerous or both; but it’s bad science to ignore the evidence that most believers of whatever faith find religion a useful support in their efforts to be better people – and that most don’t wish to be suicide bombers." he ends up praying for Dawkins - and so shall I.
A very merry and blessed Christmas to one and all.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Sadly the Telegraph also has a Front Page headline that "Britain has become a 'Catholic country'" and claiming that "Roman Catholics have overtaken Anglicans as the country's dominant religious group." This is on the basis that there are allegedly 1% more Catholics in church on Sunday in England than Anglicans (although if we add in Scotland and Wales there are 1.1M Catholics in Church on a Sunday vs 0.92M. However since Anglicans are not required to go to church every Sunday and Catholics are, the number of Anglicans is in fact much higher. And of course "the dominant" is not the same as "having more practitioners" anyway. Further more this is based on a "survey of 3,500 churches" and could well be skewed - the Cathedrals are very full esp. at Christmas.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
The latest poll from ICM (39:34:18) is clearly a rogue - it was done at the same time as the yougov that gave a 12 pt lead. This poll makes the WMA 41:32:16 so has an error of 4. It also makes the YouGov/Sunday Times poll show a retrospective error of 4 and that is very unlikely indeed: about a 3% chance. I wonder whether one reason that this (Telephone) poll seems to under-estimate C support by 2% and over-estimate Lab and LibDem by the same amount is that C supporters (and in particular people who have switched from L to C) are more likely to be out celebrating whereas diehard Labour and LibDems are at home?
PS I observe that The Golden Compass only took $26M on its opening weekend which means that with an estimated budget of $180M it will probably loose money. LWW took $65M and has apparently grossed $750M worldwide, which probably means it has made something.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Closing Mass of 07 for the Westminster Leadership Conference - the text was Zacharias's vision in the temple, which ends "and when his time of service was ended, he went to his home". These were the last words of scripture I read to my father on the day he died: he asked to stop at that point. Nicholas Bannan set them to music for the Memorial Concert, where we had Peter Rose and Cathy Wyn-Rogers singing at St James's Piccadily. The main item was the Nelson Mass in which I, wife and son sang and my brother and sister played violins in the orchestra.
Everyone seems to have noticed that the situation in Iraq is improving, even the Guardian. Casualties have almost halved since the Oct/Nov levels which are themselves half the levels of July/Aug and 20% of the levels in May. Dec currently the 2nd lowest level ever, and could be the lowest. Very welcome news for all except Al-Quida and the fanatical anti-Bush brigade. Many US troops could find that their times of service will be ended.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
We went last night to Parsifal - the first time I had seen it. Bernard Haitink and John Tomlinson were amazing, and Christopher Ventris (Parsifal) and Falk Struckmann (Amfortas) pretty good. Willard White (Klingsor) was great but it's a small-ish role, 2nd Act only and he was not on hand for the Curtain call. However the staging was execrable - making the whole thing unbearably dull and deliberately missing a whole slew of Wagner's clear intentions. Avoid Klaus Michael Gruber and probably Ellen Hammer. Fascinating essay in the programme by Rosamund Bartlett comparing his return to (his own rather unorthodox) version of Christianity, which disgusted Nietszche, to that of his contemporary Tolstoy.
Latest poll by yougov shows a 13 point C Lead - the Weighted Moving Average 42:32:16 and both the C Vote and CLead (9.6) are the highest in the last 186 polls. Furthermore the back-interpolation suggests that, as I suspected, the last I/Mori poll was indeed too kind to Labour by 3 pts. Given the general accuracy of yougov and the known tendency of I/Mori and Populus to overstate Lab support, I strongly suspect the real C Lead is over 10%. The trend over the last 2 months is C lead increasing at 4.2% per month: obviously this can't continue indefinitely but I won't be surprised to see C Leads of 15% by the end of Feb.
How 32% of the electorate can still be supporting Labour is a mystery to me. But since Brown has given up answering Cameron at PMQs and just drones on about his wonderful economic record, it will be interesting to see what happens when this economic record starts coming visibly unstuck next year. Meanwhile The Economist compares Brown to “The Idiot”. Not great for morale, which from various sources does indeed appear to be in freefall. Friendly advice from John Rentoul might not have helped either. And Martin Bright's suggestion that many Labour MPs have given up is also very interesting.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Kids for Kids concert was superb. Ruth Palmer was musically the highlight of the show, with a superb Bach Sarabande. Amongst our guests was the brilliant young composer Sasha Siem who we were able to introduce to Ruth, and I hope we'll be able to play something of hers in Jan. Alastair Stewart compered in excellent form, and Lord Cope read a hilarious poem by Henry Haslam - author of The Moral Mind - called The Gift of a Goat.
Camilla Cavendish courageously highlights another injustice from the terrible and Kafkaesque world of the "Care" system. I find that when an MP raised this case in a written question, he was batted away with "My Department will not comment on individual prisoners." So much for parliamentary scrutiny - anyone who is fooled by this aspect of the 42 days proposal take note.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Today applications close for the Research Assistant post - I wonder how many we've got. And we have the KidsForKids Christmas concert tonight.
I looked at the data on UK Polling report, trying to assess how reliable the opinion polls are. With 186 polls in we can test for normalicy of the error distributions compared to the Weighted Moving Average. It's not too bad in the 90% confidence interval but the probability of a big underestimation of the C lead is much higher than a Normal Distribution would predict (for example there is a 1.3% chance of an under-estimate of 7.6% compared to a 0.13% chance predicted by Normal). Given that the WMA will itself be varying from the "true" level by about 1% we can say that the real 90% confidence interval for the polls is probably +/- 5.4% and that +/- 3% is in fact a 70% confidence interval.
In Iraq, casualties in Nov were marginally higher than Oct, but so far in Dec they are less than 50% of the Oct/Nov levels, and the moving average has been below 10/week for 10 weeks, which is encouraging.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
- There are clearly questions that science cannot answer, such as questions of meaning and purpose. However science can shed light on ultimate questions.
- It "just isn't true, if you take an unbiased look" that there is no evidence for religious belief. Of course people may evaluate the evidence differently. Those who suggest that writing about Science and Religion is gibberish "obviously haven't heard or read anything by John Polkinghorne".
- The evidence that has emerged over the last 50 years of Anthropic Fine-tuning is strong evidence of an Intelligent Creator. For example, to have both Light and Heavy stars you need to get the ratio of electro-weak and gravitational forces right to one part in 10^40. This is like mixing a sponge cake to an accuracy of one grain of sugar in a cake 10,000x the mass of the Sun. The alternative hypothesis that there are 10^40 other universes in the "multiverse" is bad science because there is no prospect of testable predictions. It is not ridiculous but is "pure speculation".
- Although Darwinian Evolution is a plausible explanation of how simple life can evolve into complex life, it provides no explanation of how life got going. Handwaving arguments about how life "might" have started randomly are like claims that enough monkeys would eventually type the complete works of Shakespeare: actually it would take far longer than the age of the universe even if the whole mass of the universe were super-monkeys who type 1M characters per second. At the present state of knowledge "mathematical simulations have knocked random beginnings of life on the head". "Dawkins's central argument is destroyed by the mathematics. You must have intelligence to start life."
- If there is an intelligent Creator it is reasonable to suppose that He would have communicated with His creation, and this is what we find in Jesus.
- "The concepts of Physics are so strange and odd that they prepare you to accept mysteries in other areas". Dark Matter and Quantum Mechanics are two examples. Science is a help in facing up to these mysteries. He quoted with approval a review in the J Amer Acad Arts & Sciences; "in my view he doesn't know how the mind works - nor to I - and I suspect that, if God told us, we wouldn't understand it".
- He agrees with John Barrow that the reason Dawkins doesn't understand these ideas is that he is not really a scientist. Dawkins's biology is full of hand-waving arguments but when you do real science you make difficult calculations that often force you to accept very counter-intuitive ideas.
On the way back I read much of A Catholic Replies to Professor Dawkins by Thomas Crean OP - a very impressive scholarly and philosophical demolition of TDG. Sometimes Crean is a bit too certain of his Thomist positions, but he makes a number of very interesting points.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
I found John Polkinghorne's review in the TLS of Darwin's Angel (named one of the FT Books of the Year). Amusingly in the Dawkins.net re-posting the Dawk complains that the TLS have not made it clear that he is THE REVEREND John Polkinghorne. Well TLS readers, unlike the denizens of Dawk, are probably considered intelligent enough to see the implications of an autobiography called "From Physicist to Priest". But neither the TLS nor Dawkins mentions that John is an FRS, with his fellowship earned for major academic merit and not bestowed as an attempt to broaden the fellowship to a populariser who has made no real scientific contributions of the substance and calibre required for election. They make much of the fact that TGD has sold 1.5M copies: well The DaVinci Code, that other "scholarly" work by the same publisher, has sold over 36M copies, so they have some way to go.
I find that our local council is proposing a 3% Council Tax cut next year, on top of a 3% cut this year. They have achieved this whilst going from 3* to 4* on the Audit Commission ratings, and increasing expenditure on policing and parks. Economy measures included dispensing with the Personal Advisers that all the Labour "Cabinet" members had, saving £300kpa. Similar swathes could be cut in Central Government, and will be, we hope, after the next election.
Excellent article by Dominic Lawson in the Independent suggesting that a robust Christian response is needed to militant Islam. Let's see what happens.
Friday, December 07, 2007
The Today Programme just ran an item on the daughter of a UK Imam who converted to Christianity and has been repeatedly threatened, including having a mob of a dozen men led by her father threatening to break the door of her house down and kill her. She prayed and they went away. A spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain said that this behaviour was completely unacceptable, and that whereas the Koran may requre death for apostasy the UK is not under Sharia Law, that Sharia requires Muslims to obey the law of the land in which they live, and that in this country there must be no violence used.
Apparently Gordon Bean seems to think that pushing for 42 days detention without trial will give him some kind of political advantage, and allow him to paint the Tories as "soft on Terror". Further signs of the Bunker Mentality I'm afraid. Still he might possibly make it an issue of Confidence, which would give Labour MPs a neat way out of the nightmare which many of them now face. The Murdoch re-shuffle is further bad news for Gordon: his "secret weapon" was that he had hired Kath Raymond who is Les Hinton's "partner" into Number 10. But if Hinton is going to the Wall Street Journal GB's hot line to the Sun is diminished. This is presumably why the annoucement was rushed out, to get a "42 Days Vital" editorial in The Sun. Pathetic.
Meanwhile Theodore Dalrymple is in charateristically trenchant form in The Times, explaining to those of us with very limited contact with the criminal classes why we need to build more prison places.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Fascinating evening last night when a friend hosted a dinner for Baroness Warsi. This had been arranged long before she became the heroine of the moment, but it was fascinating to hear her account of the recent events in Khartoum. I told her about kids-for-kids and I do hope to be able to introduce her to Patricia. Other guests included Angie Bray - what a trouper - and the Deputy High Commissioner of Pakistan who is also very impressed with Ambassador Fu.
Cameron's "paddle" comment seems increasingly to have hit the mark, as it emerges that Mr Darwin is under investigation for dodgy financial dealings in the North-East. And the latest Guardian story, that "Labour helped Abrahams set up secret cash transfers" keeps adding fuel to this fire. There is an interesting "fun" thread on ukpollingreport about "the best PM we never had" asking for nominations. I suggest William Hague - although it’s of course too early to say “never” in his case. Several other posters agree.
The Golden Compass is getting panned by the critics: 2/5 in both the FT and The Times. Is it too much to hope that this insidious atheistic propaganda will loose money and that there will be no sequel?
Contract on Questions of Truth should be issued shortly: slight disagreement between me and John since I suggested it was by "John Polkinghorne and Nicholas Beale" and he replied "I prefer alphabetical order". Publisher also is inclined to my ordering, but we might go with the compromise of:
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Nothing is certain in politics, but this is certainly an interesting time. A lot may depend on the next opinion poll: will it show a continuing fall in Labour support (as I expect) or some kind of bizarre turnround. Meanwhile Northern Rock still has the possibility of turning very nasty.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
This does not seem to have been picked up (yet) by the other papers, but is in many ways a far more damning indictment of incompetence than the myriad other examples.
I met recently a lifelong labour activist, very close to Blairite sources, who is convinced that the next election is lost, and that Brown is terminally hopeless. The Tories must not count chickens, but in any battle morale is more than half the struggle..
Sunday, December 02, 2007
I suggested on 23 Nov that there was the possibility of a leadership challenge to Brown next year. We shall see. It's clear that present trends can't continue: with an 18 point swing against them in the last 2 months Labour are sure to get below 30% in the Weighted Moving Average, but I doubt whether they will go below 25%. If they do, all bets are off: it's not impossible (though still rather unlikely) that the LibDems will overtake them.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
I also had the pleasure of meeting someone who had been at school with Ruth Polkinghorne (may she rest in peace and rise in glory!) and of seeing, in the facsimile of the Signature Book, that my late father signed in on the same page as Murray Gell-Mann and Martin Rees.
Another poll confirms the continuing swing towards the Conservatives (from 8.7 points behind to 8.7 ahead in 2 months, on the Weighted Moving Average I calculate) and this is as at 28 Nov. Since then the fundraising scandal has got worse. The police have been called, Wendy Alexander has been found to have accepted an illegal donation, and it has emerged that Harriet Harman "QC"(!) and her husband (the Labour Treasurer) took out a £40k loan to fund HH's campaign to be Deputy Leader which she "was under the impression that" she didn't need to register with the Electoral Commission. Well the law is perfectly clear: A "donation" includes "any money lent to the donee otherwise than on commercial terms", any such donation "must be reported" within 30 days, and if not the donee (or responsible person) "is guilty of an offence". Plainly the Mortgage company (luckily, not Northern Rock!) would not have lent the money had HH's husband not agreed to pledge the security of their house, so effectively the Labour Treasurer has made the donation, which should have been declared. If she has committed an offence, she simply has to resign and be prosecuted. As a QC she can't claim to be ignorant of the law.