Sunday, March 30, 2008

Foot, Book, Polls: Team Brown incompetence and Clinton Lies

Madeningly twisted my foot while running yesterday, so did the Last Half Half today on a bike, supporting my fellow-Serpies. I think I'll be OK for the Marathon, but I will have to set a really slow pace - 9:30 is slower than my Long Slow Run pace. Boat Race a disappointment as well - we got an excellent view and where we were it looked as if Cambridge might have held Oxford off - but no.

Working on the 3 Appendices to Questions of Truth - Appendix A (Astrophysics) and B (Brain and Mind) are almost finished and we have 2 distinguished Reviewers lined up (each) who can check them from a technical PoV. More work to do on Appendix E (Evolution) - also 2 outstanding reviewers ready there.

UK Opinion Polls seem to confirm a further loss of support by Gordon Brown. The Weighted Moving Average C Lead is now 11% the highest ever since I started the analysis - in fact it is the highest since 26/1/88, since I have now pulled the analysis back to 88. My impression is that everyone is just fed up with Brown - the Civil Service seems particularly disgruntled - but he will hang on for dear life and Hope that Something Will Come Up. So we may be in for 2 more years of dithering, pettiness and incompetence. There is clearly massive in-fighting as the new team of professionals comes in and assesses the competence of the Brown cronies. Beth Russell's claim to remain as Brown's Chief Speechwriter is apparently (according to Ben Russell, are they realted??) that she "knows her boss's voice better than any other person in Whitehall." This may very well be true. But since his speeches are dreadful this is hardly a recommendation. Apparently his other speechwriter is a Scottish crony of his who is a Consultant in Geriatric Medicine. Clearly an ideal qualification!

In the US my view for a while has been that there is a 60:40 chance that Obama will be the Candidate and if he is there is a 60:40 chance that he will win, but if Clinton is the candidate there is a 60:40 chance that she will lose. Her "mis-speaking" (ie blatant lies) may have cost her the nomination - part of me very much hopes so but since I think McCain would be an even better President than Obama perhaps I should hope that she steals the Nomination as many people suspect she will. Obama seems to be 7pts ahead of Clinton amongst Democrat-leaning voters at present.

Coalition fatalities in Iraq remain somewhat above 1/day alas - huge improvement on the levels until Sept 07.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Nobel Prizewinner, a break in Cornwall, and back to work

Back from a delightful short holiday at our family house in Cornwall. Elder Daughter and Son-in-Law came down Fri-Mon which was great.

Last week was really hectic, both from a work PoV and also for the book - we had a working session on Weds and made huge progress, although a set of suggested re-orderings from the publisher arrived the day before which didn't give us much time. We're abolishing footnotes from the main text and having 3 technical appendices, on Astrophysics, Brian and Evolution: these will have references to papers, including cutting-edge research where appropriate. There is also a very exciting possibility for the launch. On Weds evening we had dinner with a Nobel Prizewinner who is happy to write the foreword. And Winners Don't Punish came out - the Telegraph used a shot taken by my camera.

Really interesting paper in Science about how giving money to others increases happiness but spending it on yourself doesn't.

Why does Gordon Brown keep claiming that David Cameron was Economic Adviser to Norman Lamont when he was a Special Adviser, and keep referring to the Liberal Party? I thought his performance at PMQ was exceptionally lame even by his clunking standards - but I admit I'm hardly an impartial viewer. We'll see in polls next week I guess whether Labour's slide continues.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Harvard, book, catch-up


Back on Sat from another highly productive session at PED. My collaborators also very excited because their Nature paper is coming out on Thurs, with significant press interest. Also one of our UK team had to fly back on Fri because her paper at the RES Annual Conference was featured at their Press Conference.

There was a fascinating lunch at Harvard on Fri presided over by Sarah Coakley at which we had an interesting but flawed presentation on the evolutionary advantages of belief in Divine Punishment. Fellow guests included John Hare, though I didn't have a chance to speak with him much as I had to rush back to work.

Sat evening we hosted a party for a number of our friends and family to meet Elder Daughter and Son-in-Law, my mother was up from Cornwall and so this was the first time for ages I had all my descendants and living ancestors together. Son & grandchildren stayed the night and on Palm Sunday we all went to Catholics for packed service. After lunch I ran 14 mi, not great but at least getting back into training after the US trip disrupted it, and finished Appendix B (Brain and Mind) of the book. Editorial Meeting on Weds and then we should be able to send the MS to readers and subject-matter experts and generally polish until end April.

Much interesting going on in politics (WMA C lead is 9% not sadly the 16% in you.gov) and economics. Bear Sterns bears out Warren Buffet's remark about only when the tide is out can you see who is swimming naked ... or with Bare Sterns??

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Philosophy, Neurons and Climate Change

V V busy. Finished Conclusions chapter of the book on Thurs. On Friday went to RIP lecture by Peter van Inwagen exploring (and gently demolishing) Clifford's doctrine of "sufficient evidence". Of course from a Bayesean perspective you can see that Clifford depends on an equivocation of what sufficient means, and a failure to focus on the critical role of background assumptions/prior probabilities. However van I's arguments were (of course) very interesting: he focused on his disagreements with Lewis over Compatabilism and Freewill.

Reading My Neurons Made Me Do It. There is much to agree with - they are good on non-reducibility and emergent properties but they give away far too much and describing their stance as (non-reductive) Physicalism is un-helpful, especially when they go on to claim that (p48) "ontological reductionism is entirely unobjectionable" (with a footnote(!) adding "That is, when applied only to the cosmos itself, and no illegitimate inferences are drawn regarding the source of the cosmos.) They have quite a useful taxonomy of reductionisms and do distinguish their position from "atomist reductionism" but not I think sharply enough. Dual-aspect monism is a much better term I think, for a position which is close to theirs and better in accord with all the evidence. But I'm only on p81 and there is more to read.

Depressing thought comes from putting together the article in this month's Prospect about how the developed nations "must" pay vast subsidies to the developing world to reduce carbon emissions - even though the developing world will be most harmed by them - with the recent paper in the PNAS about the behaviour of "save the climate" games in which only about 50% of the time did the players manage to avert catastrophe. Going around saying to the developing nations "leave it to the Rich to offer more" is certain to increase the risk of no solution, even if the developing nations governments acted totally "rationally". Since they are often highly dysfunctional - as indeed are governments in the developed world - this kind of rhetoric is simply going to make the problem worse.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Sea, and Brown disappoint - books progress

Went last night to The Sea - wonderful cast acting well but a terrible play. Bond is revered as a Grand Old Man of the theatre but what we saw was un-funny, superficial, full of faux-profound references etc.. Most disappointing.

John Cottingham's The Spiritual Dimension continues to be of enormous interest. He is talking about traces of God in the world. He rather disagrees with Tom Wright's view of The Enlightenment, but of course The Enlightenment means different things to different people - we can accept Newton, Faraday, Maxwell & co without having to accept Atheism!

Decided not to finish drafting the conclusions of Questions of Truth because I really need to look at the whole first - and we're waiting for John to send his redraft of the introduction. Instead pulled the whole thing together in a Word Master Document, which helps get a feel of what is happening. Found some interesting references which I have added (as footnotes) including some discussion about Electrical Synapses which are clearly another place in the brain where quantum uncertainty would matter.

No sooner did we discuss the appalling lack of shelter for the British forces in Basra when a British airman is killed. I hope it was not in a tent. Brown has a lot to answer for.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Wisdom from Buffett, gloom from Brown

V enjoyable dinner party last night, friends varying from a former Director of one of the Intelligence Services to someone who has just left the Navy and served in Basra. Ex-officer says that the poor equipment of UK troops is shocking - and the Army lives under canvass whilst exposed to rocket and mortar attacks, whereas the US Army have hardened huts. Considering all things loss of life is amazingly low, but people lose limbs and it is all so un-necessary. Fundamental cause: Gordon Brown's implacable hostility to the MOD. Saw his speech to the Labour Spring Conference - terrible. He reminds me a lot of Hilary Clinton. As Christopher Caldwell says in today's FT: "Obama wants to be US President; Clinton wants to capture the government for her faction".

Weighted Moving Average of Opinion Polls brings the C Lead back to just over 7 points - I expect it to grow about 1% per month until it reaches 10.

Former Director talks gnomically and fascinatingly about how he has cultivated selective loss of memory.

Warren Buffett in his Letter to Shareholders on fine form. I particularly like this: "Susan [Jacques] came to Borsheims 25 years ago as a $4-an-hour saleswoman. Though she lacked a managerial background, I did not hesitate to make her CEO in 1994. She’s smart, she loves the business, and she loves her associates. That beats having an MBA degree any time.
(An aside: Charlie and I are not big fans of resumes. Instead, we focus on brains, passion and integrity. Another of our great managers is Cathy Baron Tamraz, who has significantly increased Business Wire’s earnings since we purchased it early in 2006. She is an owner’s dream. It is positively dangerous to stand between Cathy and a business prospect. Cathy, it should be noted, began her career as a cab driver.)"

PS According to the BBC: "As the applause died down in the Birmingham conference centre, Gordon and Sarah Brown dawdled awkwardly on stage, apparently unsure which way they were supposed to exit." Hopefully the Electorate will help him make up his mind when the time comes.