Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Miliband throws down the gauntlet

So it could be Dave vs Dave quite soon. Milliband's article in the Guardian is quite good. He is surely right to say: "To get our message across, we must be more humble about our shortcomings...we should have got on with reforming the NHS sooner...[and] devolved more power away from Whitehall and Westminster. We needed a clearer drive towards becoming a low-carbon, energy-efficient economy, not just to tackle climate change but to cut energy bills." In other words: Gordon messed up and can't get us out of this mess.

He still tends to recite tractor statistics to prove that society isn't "broken" - for example there is no evidence that "school standards are going up" other than bogus government figures and all the objective data (PISA results, reports from universities and employers) suggests the reverse. But Gordon surely can't survive such an attack - nor can he sack (either) Miliband.

However, as a poster on LabourHome has astutely observed, "The other big problem, and it's a really big problem, that Labour has got with Gordon is what happens when he's finally ousted. He's temperamentally likely to spend the rest of his life in a monumental Ted Heath-like sulk, sniping at his successors from the sidelines, trashing any appearance of unity or cohesion, and reminding us all of what life under Labour was really like...for decades. "

PS: Alan Johnson responds to speculation that he is running a Deputy to D Miliband by saying he was "not talking about that, thank you very much" - so that's a yes then! And "an ally of GBrown (are there more than 3?) says "David Miliband has shown himself to be not only disloyal but also self-serving. People at least thought he was a serious figure and a grown-up politician but by allowing his head to be turned by this leadership nonsense, he has revealed a surprising lack of judgment and maturity."

PPS the party accounts have come out. Labour has a surge in donations (presumably from the Unions) which have reduced its net liabilities from £25M to £16M, with total income of £32M. The Conservatives have net liabilities of £8M on similar income. Labour membership is about 177k down from 182k last year - Conservatives membership is not disclosed as far as I can see.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

RSA Enquiry into Cognition

The RSA is starting an enquiry on congnition and neuroscience and its implications. There is an interesting blog by the enquiry leader on which he invites comments. He draws my attention to "research published in Nature" (actually a brief communication in Nature Neuroscience) that "found that “the outcome of a decision can be encoded in brain activity of prefrontal and parietal cortex up to 10 s before it enters awareness”". But athough the paper is quite interesting what it actually claims is that there is a c.55% chance of predicting a free L/R decision a few seconds before it is consciously made. This is of course entirely consistent with freewill - it would only be a problem if there were a 100% prediction.

One of the premises of the enquiry seems to be formulated at present in terms of the insight from Evolutionary Psychology that “the mind is a system of organs of computation designed by natural selection to solve the problems faced by our evolutionary ancestors in their foraging way of life” I think we need to re-formulate this because it displays a level of philosophical and scientific naivite that I hope we can avoid in the RSA. Listing the problems with that sentence exhaustively would be a long task. But amongst the difficulties are:

  1. It is very unclear how far the metaphor of "system of organs of computation" can be pushed.
  2. Cultural evolution demonstratbly happens on much faster timescales than normal biological evolution, and clearly has a large effect on the mind.
  3. Sexual selection means that there are considerable evolutionary pressures even from the recent past.
  4. Strictly, minds don't evolve but brains and bodies do. The beautiful "messiness" of the brain means that changes to one "module" will often have wierd side-effects in the other modules.
  5. It is far from clear that "computation" is the correct metaphor for the mind.
  6. Much of Evolutionary Psyhcology is at the level of "just-so stories" and it is quite certain that there will be major upsets on suprises on the way to making it properly scientific.
We certainly know a lot more about the brain than we did 10 years ago, but we still know very very little - for example we don't know all the types of neurons let alone their functions. We need some scientific realism, not too much "gee wizz"

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Brown, Miliband and Nixon

The prospect of the annilhilation of Labour grows steadily. I suggested last year that it was possible that the LibDems could overtake them, and also that they would sink below 25% in the polls. I wasn't expecting them to loose Glasgow East (I have no feel for Scottish politics) but was not at all suprised that they did. Pretty much everyone except Gordon realises that he's got to go, but there are very poor checks and balances to allow an incompetent leader to be removed by the Party.

From a narrow partisan PoV one would like Brown to stay leader as long as possible, grinding Labour down and down. But the prospect of appallingly incompetent government continuing for a year or so is incredibly depressing and very bad for the nation. It is also not good for any government to lack an effective opposition. What should ideally happen is that Brown is replaced by Milliband in October, who promises a General Election in May 2009. This will give him a chance to define his Cabinet and approach, and allow the electorate to decide. I'm pretty sure he would loose, but with honour and Labour might end up with 150-200 MPs. If Brown soldiers on then Labour will end up with 50-150.

The appalling Polly Toynbee and a number of Labour activists think the way forward is a windfall tax on oil company profits. This is a terrible idea* for several reasons.
  1. Already several major PLCs are considering leaving the UK, one FTSE 100 has already done so and Royal Dutch Shell is of course based in the Netherlands. Even the serious threat of "windfall taxes" would cause a mass exodus.
  2. Our ability to protest when other countries retrospectively clobber our companies is greatly undermined by doing this.
  3. A major reason for the fall-off in North Sea Oil production has been the tax hikes by the incompetent Brown. Do we really want to increase further our dependence on foreign energy sources?
This last point brings me to one of my earlier political memories, when I stayed up late at Cambridge to listen to Nixon give a live address to the nation to launch his "Project Independence" which was to increase US oil production and reduce consumption, in response to the first oil price shock. He told the world that this was to ensure that the US "will not be dependent for its oil on any foreign enemy" and then immediately realised the terrible blunder and corrected it to "energy source".

* I must declare an interest, I have an oil company client, though of course I haven't discussed this post with them!

PS: If this story in the Independent is true then it says pretty well all you need to know about GB. The fact that it is credible says a great deal: "The other day, Gordon Brown was convinced that Dominic Grieve, the shadow Home Secretary, had made such a strong attack on 42-day detention as to impugn his commitment to national security. Although Downing Street advisers trawled and Googled, they could not find the quote. Their boss expressed gratitude for their efforts in the way that a sergeant-major would thank a recruit for a speck of dust on his rifle. Mr Brown then stationed himself at a terminal. For the next four hours, he sat there unavailingly, emanating gloom and rage."

Friday, July 25, 2008

Freewill - and Glasgow East

Great meetings with Martin Nowak over the last few days. In addition to the main project work, also got a chance to discuss my work on the ED of Freewill which looks very promising - some elegant simulations beginning to give real quantitative insights. Martin likes to add to the famous quote:

  • Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution
  • and Nothing in evolution makes sense except in the light of Evolutionary Dynamics.

The sheer scale of managerial incompetence involved in the loss of Glasgow East is almost unbelievable. Appointing a leader of Scottish Labour just because she is the sister of your #2 mini-me. Then having a public fight with her, and losing her just before a by-election. Then having a public fight with the Catholic Church which is the bedrock of your support in Glasgow. Etc... etc...

If this were just a party matter it would be one thing, but the same amazing leader is supposedly running the country. I don't think the electorate will forgive the Labour Party if this breathtaking incompetence continues for another year or two. The chance of Labour having fewer than 100 MPs in the next parliament is now, in my view, over 15%. As a Conservative I should wish that Gordon Brown stays Labour leader as long as possible, but as a patriot the sooner he goes the better. Straw or D Milliband would be a lot better.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Romeo, Juliet & Brown

Very nice French Exchange (daughter of friend-of-friend) over to be with Daughter - they had never met but seem to get on v well. Last night took them to Romeo & Juliet in Regent's Park. Nicholas Shaw and Laura Donelly excellent in the title roles, though all in all the production not quite as good as the outstanding Much Ado we saw, though Oscar Pearce v good as Mercutio (he was also Orsino). Martin Nowak is over here so we're working together pretty intensively for the rest of the week.

Politics: polls seem to be stuck with the Weighted Moving Average pretty constant at 45:26:17. As I suspected there is no Labour revival - the headline numbers are constant (with random fluctuations due to sampling errors) but the underlying trend is dire - we're looking at a process like the breaking up of a large ice shelf: the ice stays together while the temperature rises and water leaks away, then crash another slab falls.

Until the problem of management competence at No 10 is solved, disasters will ineluctably follow. Reports of infighting and resentment between Carter and Heywood seem to be the tip of the iceberg. However according to Mori, although amongst voters overall Brown's net satisfaction rating is -51%, this rises to +7% amongst Labour voters.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Definition of Freewill - and a lovely family party

Back from Cambridge where Son hosted a family party to say au revior to Elder Daughter and Son-in-Law who will be going to the other Cambridge next month. All our descendants and living ancestors present. I also had to dash to Trinity to a Benefactors Reception - saw Martin Rees, John Polkinghorne, Rodney Holder and many others. Discussed Questions of Truth with John and Martin and a v useful step forward made in launch arrangements - watch this space!

Am working on outline proposal to JTF for our project on Neural, Computational and Evolutionary Aspects of Freewill (NCEAF) to discuss with Martin Nowak and Hava when Martin is over next week. I think we'll take a preliminary working definition of freewill as something in the neighbourhood of “an integral ability to take non-deterministic decisions when it is advantageous to do so”. Any comments on this warmly welcomed.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Rings and Song

Weds to Lord of the Rings - the musical - with both daughters and son-in-law. A remarkable spectacle, with a truly amazing performance from Michael Therriault as Gollum. And the whole concept of a musical with composers from India, Finland and England is remarkable. I wish I had seen Laura Michelle Kelly in it - the clip is amazing, I hope she is the next Janie Dee.

Thurs to the drinks party of an old friend we hadn't seen for years, and then to Soho House to meet a dear friend and her new finance. Then tonight supper with Nicole Cabell who is an utter delight. She'll be back in Chicago when we're over there to launch Questions of Truth so we should see her then if not before.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Labour MPs think they're all doomed - defections later

Interesting discussion with someone who works for a Labour MP. She says the attitude is "we're all doomed" - Cameron is going to be PM and there is nothing we can do about it. I said that I expected to see defections to the LibDems and the Tories as MPs realise it's the only way to save their seats. She said it was a bit soon for that ... indeed. Not whether, but when.

I’m back in the UK so I can calculate the Weighted Moving Average of the polls properly, it’s 45:26:17. So basically no change since mid-June. But as it sinks in just what a mess Gordon Brown has made of the economy I think there will be a further swing, and by Oct my guess is that we’ll see something like 48:23:20. A Labour wipeout isn’t certain but it is certainly on the cards. There has never been a PM this incompetent or unpopular. His (few) defenders on Labourhome try to suggest that it's all the fault of his incompetent advisers. But of course it is a key skill of a competent leader to select and motivate a team. If the team, handpicked by the leader, is incompetent then it's the leader's fault.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Alla - two wills, and Questions of Truth

Back from a delightful long weekend in Malta with both daughters and Son-in-Law. Maltese are delightful, hospitable, resourceful - good news, and the culture is amazing. Worshipped in a small evangelical church in Malta - and faced with 5 of us and 7 other visitors from Holland they kindly decided to preach in English rather than Malti (a fascinating language in which the word for God is Alla and King is Sultan). Valetta and Mdina utterly remarkable, both co-cathedrals stunning.

In a discussion on the holiday I was exposed, for the first time, to the curious doctrine that God has two wills: his Moral Will and his Decreed Will. This doctrine appears to be developed on the basis that God is Sovereign therefore whatever happens must be according to His Will. However since obviously events like the Holocaust are not according to His will, there must be 2 wills. The concept of a Person having two wills is a difficult one, although Monothelitism was condemned so it is orthodox to hold that Jesus had a human will and a divine will - but they were in perfect union. Here the idea seems to be that God's Moral Will does not want the Holocaust but it is according to Hi Decreed Will. What the praye "thy will be done" is meant to mean is not explained. Really odd, but the person who proposed it was unwilling to discuss further.

Last week's issue of Science has a big review article on Transient Dynamics for Neural Processing, which fits in beautifully with our work on indeterminism and the brain. I had a good chat to Hava and we'll have a conference call next week, when Martin is over here.

Back to the UK and the copy-edited MS of Questions of Truth has arrived, so we need to go through it carefully. I also seem to have made a small breakthrough with the Press and Ray Lewis - watch this space.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Great performances and a continuing scandal

David Cameron was guest of honour at a lunch we attended yesterday. This was the 5th or 6th time I have heard him speak and he really is very impressive. He is clearly determined not to win simply by default, and passionate about wanting to address the challenges of the broken society. Also very aware that oppositions can lose elections - the notorious Kinnock Sheffield rally. The combination of deep competence in the opposition and deep incompetence in the government is striking and somewhat toxic. Lance Price gives some hint of the fundamental failures of leadership in "the bunker" as No 10 is now known. And John Kampfner reports serious concerns about the possibility that Labour will pretty well disappear after the next election. There are at least 43 Labour MPs who might be able to save their seats if they defected to the LibDems.

Outrageous front-page headline in the early editions of the Evening Standard reporting lurid allegations leaked by "a senior church source" about Ray Lewis when he was working as a priest. They also report, in the small print, that another woman who was at the conference where the alleged improper behaviour took place and shared a room with the person who made the allegation completely refutes them. What conceivable public interest is served by a "man asked me to take my clothes off 12 years ago" story. Even if it were true, which it seems not to be, how can that possibly be relevant to someone being Deputy Mayor?? And now that he has resigned, he is a private citizen. That's done it! I am formally reporting the utterly disgusting Bishop of Chelmsford to the Archbishop of Canterbury under the Clergy Discipline Measure and to the Information Commissioner under the Data Protection Act.

In the evening went to see our lovely and brilliant friend Janie Dee as Olivia in Twelfth Night at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park. This was tremendous, the best production of this wonderful play that I have ever seen - I think I first saw it 38 years ago, since I did it of O-Levels. Saw Janie, who was utterly wonderful, the cast and director afterwards - it was the first professional engagement for Natalie Dew who played Viola but I'm sure it won't be the last! Congratulated her, Tim Woodward (Sir Toby) and the Director ( Ed Dick) - also the remarkable last-minute understudy who played Maria to perfection, on apparently 2 hours rehersal. Janie is off to Scarborough after this to work with Ayckbourn and I think we must make the trip to see her and meet him.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Cameron on the Broken Society

David Cameron is going more and more public on his "broken society" theme. He is vilified by left-liberals who see it (correctly) as a fundamental criticism of their non-value set. Alice Miles, who typifies this establishment in so many ways (it's fine to have an illegitimate child by a married man, but any newspaper that prints the names of the prominent journalists involved in threatened with contempt of court), suggests that by saying people have a moral responsibility he is excluding "not only the lazy and the drunk, but a vast array of other miscreants - the fat, the poor, the poorly educated, people with broken marriages behind them, the products of those relationships. ". Nonsense. Love and personal responsibility are two sides of the same coin. Treating people as responsible adults is not "excluding" them, it is empowering them.

Melaine Philips praises him lukewarmly but suggests he isn't real unless he says "it is morally wrong to undermine the defence of Britain against the threat of an attack unprecedented in its scale and nature by falsely claiming that ancient British values are at risk from counter-terrorism measures?" What on earth has "42 days" got to do with moral responsibility?? There is no evidence that this 42 days nonsense will do anything to reduce the terrorist threat, and the number of people killed in the UK by Islamist terrorists this century - although 52 too many, is probably less than the number killed by bee and wasp stings (estimated at 2-9 per year), and less than 0.2% of the number killed on the roads (rather over 3,000 per year).

I've now watched Harriet Harman on PMQ - she was terrible. Fluffing her lines terribly - at one point she said how it was important to keep unemployment high - "it is important for government examples to set a department" etc... And her failure to respond to William Hague's offer to expedite depositor protection was terrible.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Ray Lewis - the tide turns?

I'm delighted to see that commentators in The Times and The Mail are now realising what an appalling thing has been done to Ray Lewis.

It would seem that the Bishop of Chelmesford and his appalling Chaplain have been leaking Sensitive Personal Information as part of a smear campaign against a great and good man. Not only is this immoral, it is illegal under the Data Protection Act. They should be investigated and, if they have acted illegally, sacked.

In addition they should be asked whether they have ever had any allegations made against them and if so, what they were. If they reply that this is confidential...

Sunday, July 06, 2008

More smearing of Ray Lewis

More lies and distortions about Ray Lewis. The Telegraph and the Guardian both carry stories that "Mr Lewis appealed against the ban in 2000 and must therefore have known he was disbarred." But in the CofE priests are licensed to a particular diocese. When you leave that diocese you licence is automatically “revoked”. This is not at all the same a being placed on the “Lambeth List” (the Lambeth and Bishopsthorpe Register) which is what apparently happened to Lewis. If he applied to be licensed to preach in Chelmsford Diocese in 2000 that is not at all the same as “appealing against the ban” and it does not follow at all that “he must have known that he was disbarred” (technically he wasn’t disbarred, being placed on the list just means that “bishops should exercise caution” in any appointment, but in practice it is unlikely that anyone would be appointed).

Suppose for example a journalist left the Telegraph and went to the US for 2 years. Unknown to her the Telegraph placed you on a secret list of undesirables. She came back from the US and offer to do a piece of freelance work for them, and they turned her down. It does not at all follow that she "must have known” she was on the list.

The Guardian and the Telegraph seem to me to have libelled Lewis and should be made to publish apologies and pay substantial damages.

The Guardian neglects to mention that Lewis's EYLA was awarded Charity of the Year in an award sponsored by ... The Guardian

As for the odious-sounding Chris Newlands - Chaplain to Rochester, lecturing in The Times: " "If you want to employ someone in a high-profile job, you check with their employers, you take up their references. None of that was done.” words almost fail me. You don't go back more than 10 years - and in any case even he should know that the Diocese is not the employer of a vicar.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Appalling hounding of Ray Lewis

It is appalling that this outstanding black leader has been hounded out of public office, on the basis of alleged "misdemeanours" 10 years ago. Unless he is lying (and there is no reason to suppose that he is, this JP thing is utterly trivial) then the worst case scenario seems to be:
  1. While serving as a priest in the UK up to 1997 he may (or may not) have acted in ways which appeared to his superiors to be unwise.
  2. They placed him on a secret blacklist in 1999 which would have prevented him getting a job as a priest in the CofE. (It seems this was done without any kind of basic natural justice, such as advising him of the allegations and allowing him to answer them).
  3. He was removed from this list in 2005 (apparently the first time his entry was reviewed). So by 2005 the CofE had concluded that there was no reason to continue to bar him from service as a priest in the CofE.
  4. He founded and ran EYLA with support from the great and the good including the Archbishop of York.
  5. Nevertheless there was (apparently) some ill-feeling towards him in the Diocese of Rochester (whose Bishop has missed out on being appointed Archbishop of York). A junior bishop wrote to Johnson on his appointment that Lewis was not licenced to be a priest in the Diocese. So what?
The JP thing is trivial - of course he is right that "they did not stop me from becoming a JP" and admittedly it would have been better if he had said "from being cleared to be recommended to serve as a JP" but you try getting that right in the middle of a such a hue and cry.

Meanwhile a clear message is sent by the Guardian/BBC/Liberal establishment to young black men: if you conform to our gangsta stereotype we will lionise you, but if you make a real effort to provide positive role models and help reduce crime, hopelessness, and dependency, we will hound you out of office.

I very much hope that he is exonerated and re-appointed, and that his accusers have to pay substantial damages to his charity.

Curiously my readings last night were Psalm 3 ("Lord, how many adversaries I have...I do not fear the multitudes of the people, who set themselves against me all armed") and Romans 2:12-24). Both quite appropriate for Ray Lewis.

In addition the behaviour of the Diocese of Chelmsford stinks. Whether or not the allegations are true or any form of natural justice was followed (both highly doubtful) the fact remains that the CofE removed him from their blacklist in 2005. So if the CofE was happy with him then, how can these allegations possibly be relevant to his being Deputy Mayor in 2008? And on what basis can the Diocese possibly be justified in revealing confidential information in his personnel file?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Hewish, Huxley - and Ray Lewis

Tony Hewish sent his foreword to Questions of Truth. I'm touched an honoured by his kind remarks. Went last night to the RS Soiree which was v interesting and great to catch up with friends there. At the end I saw Andrew Huxley and was able to tell him briefly about the work with Hava on freewill.

The attacks on Ray Lewis have all the hallmarks of a bogus politically-motivated smear campaign. If the CofE had real concerns about Lewis the Archbishop of York wouldn't be Patron of the EYLA which Lewis founded and ran.

The BBC initially screamed "Sexual irregularities" but now claims that they were financial. The substance of the allegation is that Lewis was placed on the "Lambeth List" between 1999 and 2005 You can go on the "Lambeth List" without formal disciplinary procedures. As for background: he is a JP* and was a Prison Governor!

John Gladwin the Bishop of Chelmsford has been personally involved in this smear campaign, and if, as it appears, he has been misleading the public he should be forced to resign and/or be sued for libel. He has a history of having problems with Afro-Caribbeans. And it is possible that he may bear a grudge against the Archbishop of York since, according to the Yorkshire Post, Gladwin was hotly tipped to get the job when it went instead to Sentamu.

* correction - apparently he had been cleared to be a JP but not yet appointed. He has now resigned but I very much hope he clears his name and is re-appointed.

Questions Gladwin should be made to answer include:
  1. Were the allegations on the basis of which "Lewis was placed under the formal disciplinary structures of the Church of England" ever put to Lewis?
  2. Was he given an opportunity to respond to them?
  3. Was there any kind of hearing at which the basic principles of natural justice were preserved?
  4. If the answers to any or all of 1-3 are no, on what basis can it be said "a misdemeanour of such seriousness had been committed"?
  5. When (if ever) was he informed that he had been placed on the list?
  6. When he was removed from the list, was it on the basis that the allegations were unsubstantiated or that they were no longer considered serious enough to warrant continued suspension?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Conservative Summer Party

Went to the Conservative Summer Party last night - a very enjoyable event at the Roundhouse. The table host was a charming former diplomat who runs the McCabe Foundation which provides small loans to help young people set up businesses. Met David Cameron - charming and on excellent form, and was able to catch up a bit with my former colleague William Hague.

Cameron quite rightly avoiding any hint of triumphalism and being very clear that the Conservatives need to earn the trust of the electorate in as many parts of the country as possible, and be very clear that the aim is to govern in the interests of the whole country.

I'm a little concerned that the economic situation when the Conservatives get in will be much worse than they think. I've offered a couple of thoughts about this to Dominic.

The relentless drumbeat of bad news for the Government in general and Gordon Brown in particular continues. Though amazingly the betting markets suggest a probability of just under 30% of Labour winning the next election, and that the probability of Brown going within the next 12 months has dropped to about 45%. It seems quite possible that they will lose Glasgow East to the SNP. This ought to be curtains (and the FT reports a senior Labour MP as wishing for it) but Brown's lack of self-awareness may make even that message hard to sink in.