Monday, May 31, 2010

Co-Opera - and Sailing

Went last night to delightful Co-Opera gala in memory of Philip Langridge, which our friend Sally Burgess was compering.

There were some fine solo performances but some outstanding comic numbers including Nessun Dorma begun by one Tenor but with a second, third, 4th and eventually 5th interrupting, and a finale at the end where 2 accompanyists were playing the accompanyment 4-hands, then a 3rd pushes the 1st off (taking over the bass part from #2) is in turn nudged by the 4th, the 5th, the 1st coming back etc.. all of course without missing a beat.

We secured one of the auction lots and were outbid on another but there are plenty more lots available online - do go to the website.

Today went sailing on our boat with Daughter - first time this year. Bliss. And in the 2nd race we came a very close 4th and were 2nd much of the time (until the wind dropped and I made a sailing mistake).

Friday, May 28, 2010

A lovely grand-daughter

A lovely grand-daughter was born to our Elder Daughter last night. We got an email from Son-in-Law to say she was going into labour at about 3:30 and we were praying and excited. I played Shostakovich Prelude No 5 at about the time she was born, and we got a call about an hour after the birth. Mother and baby are fine and we've seen them all on skype today.

For yesterday's night prayer I had Psalm 87: the word "born" occurs in 3 consecutive verses. The only other time in the Bible this happens is John 3. And then the NT reading had "born" as well.

All pretty amazed by the wonder and love of life. Not much time to blog!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lovely few days in both Cambridges

Tues pm took Acella Express from NY to Boston. Saw business friend on the board of a client and then dinner with Elder Daughter and her husband.

Weds, Thurs & Fri working with Harvard team and v good new colleague from Cambridge. Dinner discussion with Martin also touched on his forthcoming book with Roger Highfield. We discussed Bob Pollack’s ideas about the need for a higher level of cooperation in order for species to survive, and my paper about discoverability. Martin thinks this could be very germane to his arguments and might cite it in his book.

Sat began with another useful step forward in our scientific work, and then kayaking along the Charles including exploring a rivulet that runs parallel to it, finding such delights as the Boston Gondola tour company. Then spent the day hanging out with ED and Husband. We went to see the USS Constitution – oldest commissioned ship afloat. It is in the middle of a massive restoration due to be completed next year, and will be even more interesting to visit then.

Back overnight and arrived just in time to wash, change, go to Church and then to Cambridge where Son and DIL were giving a concert with their Petrucci Ensemble in the Fitzwilliam Museum. The gallery was packed (I had to stand most of the time) and the music was excellent, including a remarkable piece by Don Fernando de las Infantas, a philanthropist and composer who ran into trouble with the Inquisition and died in poverty. Drinks afterwards with the ensemble and then back to Son’s house with children playing delightedly on slides and in paddling pool.

Sermon this morning was on how the Holy Spirit gives this great urge and power to communicate. The service was in the chapel which is in an upper room, because there was to be a massive joint service with the Chinese, Korean, Phillipino and Every Nation churches later in the morning and the band was practicing. There probably weren’t many more people in the Upper Rooom at the first Christian Pentecost than were at our 8:30 service, yet through those tiny beginnings God has reached people of every tribe, language and nation, including places like the Americas and Australia that no-one in Jerusalem that day could possibly have heard of or had any contact with. So much done, so much more to do. Filling the whole earth with the love and glory of God would indeed solve the problem Bob Pollack raises. Love or catastrophe. Put like this it seems simple: but the simple is rarely easy.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

QoT in NYC

The QoT event in NY went really well. I guess 120-150 people turned up. John Polkinghorne and I and Bob Pollack made opening statements and then responded to questions and comments from the floor. My opening was along the following lines:

I’d like to try and sketch two visions of the universe.

In one, matter/energy is fundamentally all that exists. Through strange coincidences, life and indeed intelligent beings emerge in small parts of the universe, which form constructs like mind and love and God. But ultimately these are all delusions.

The other: in the beginning, God, love and mind. Matter/energy is a means to an end. Life and love are no coincidence or delusion: they are the point.

It seems to me there are many reasons to prefer the second view. Let me touch on just three:
  1. I don’t see how it can be true that matter/energy is all that exists. If numbers, equations and music exist then although they can be expressed in patterns of matter/energy, they are not themselves matter/energy. And if equations do not exist, then mathematical physics doesn’t exist, without which we can have no reliable concept of matter/energy.
  2. God, as the Ultimate Creator, is necessarily self-existent. To ask “who made God” shows that you haven’t understood the concept of God. Perhaps matter/energy could be self-existent, but they certainly not necessarily self-existent.
  3. Relationships and cooperation seem to be ubiquitous as we try to understand the world, even in scientific terms. At every level, life depends on these: the ecosystem, the population, the organism, and the cell. People focus on the completion of natural selection, but in fact natural selection, like all biological processes, involves an ounce of competition in a ton of cooperation. It is not just the heavens that declare the glory of the Lord.
Bob emphasised that humans have become very successful as a species (the size of chimps and the population of insects) but this success contains the seeds of its own destruction unless we can learn to moderate our behaviour. I very much agree: we indeed need to live on the basis of "love your neighbour as yourself". As I suggested in my article about the Discoverability Principle in Cosmology, without crossing these existential thresholds no intelligent species can survive very long.

All the books available for sale and signature were sold and signed and John and I then had a quiet meal together at a (very good) nearby cafe.

I got a sales update for the publishers before the session and amazingly sales in Q1 were 25% up on Q4. So my exponential decay model for sales is looking questionable, and it seems highly probable that we'll go to a 4th impression. This should allow them to correct the errata and if they can upgrade the cover design to splash the Francis Collins endorsement and make "Nobel Laureate in Physics" much more visible there should be a further boost to sales.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Queen Anne's Lace

Went last night to the Queen Elizabeth Hall to hear Sasha Siem's new piece Queen Anne's Lace. This was in a concert with new works by 3 other composers, organised by the LPO. Sasha's piece is an extraordinary exploration inspired by "Queen Anne's Lace" which is a type of carrot with an intricate flower and also a poem by William Carlos Williams. Both sound and space are used in an imaginative and compelling way.

Two of the other new pieces were good, and one was terrible. Apart from the Stravinsky Dunbarton Oaks, Queen Anne's Lace entirely stood comparison with the Ravel (beautifully sung by Rachael Lloyd) and Lutoslawski and was in my view better than the 17-year-old Richard Strauss.

Met her parents and one of her sisters, and Robin Holloway.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Government, Handys & Poetry

It was wonderful to hear "The Prime Minister, David Cameron..." on the Today Programme this morning.

Went to hear Charles Handy's talk at Clifford Chance about the "Four Remarkable Women" that Liz has been photographing, who run cooperatives in the West Bank. Oxfam is getting into social venture capital and they have given grants and loans to a cooperative of cooperatives run by the former head of the Ministry of Agriculture, Daoud Istanbuli. Charles in his talk suggested that a cooperative of cooperatives might be a solution to the problem that organisations tend to get bureaucratic and dysfunctional when the number of people in them exceeds the Dunbar Number of appx 150.

Managed to catch the amazing Cam/Clegg News Conference. The relationship seems to be really excellent, improvised joking with each other, (I love this!) and really serious about sorting things out for the medium term. The 5-year length of the agreement is key. Delighted about William (always a racing certainty, and I see he has been dubbed "First Secretary of State" as well) and Sayeeda. A pity in a way that Dominic is not Justice Secretary but since that has an enormous management role it will allow him as Attorney General to concentrate on the laws. And the Great Repeal Act and the Bill of Rights and Responsibilities should be landmark items and Dominic's name will go down in history for these alone.

Reading The Poet's Tongue a 1935 anthology compiled by WH Auden and John Garrett (a teacher who became the headmaster of Raynes Park County School). This has poems arranged in alphabetical order without the names of the poets (though they can be found through the contents pages) so that you can look them up and appreciate them for themselves. Sadly lacks the massive commentary that makes Edith Sitwell's The Pleasures of Poetry so wonderful.

Played the Waldstein in celebration. Seemed appropriate somehow. Cameron is the youngest PM since Lord Liverpool, who won the Napoleonic Wars and was the longest serving PM of the UK to date. When the Waldstein was written (1802/3) Liverpool had negotiated the Peace of Amiens, which lasted 1 year. Hmm...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Stunning Brahms in Cambridge

Stunning performance of Brahms Violin Concerto by Ruth Palmer in Cambridge last night. Digging deep into the emotional and musical depths, tremendous virtuosity and musical feeling, and an amazing, almost flirtatious at times, approach to the last movement - esp in the "tiddletolleytee" figure if you know what I mean.

Elder Grandson came 2nd= in a chess tournament and it will be his birthday soon so we had supper with him and family beforehand. Then son came to concert. The orchestra is remarkable in having a Contrabassoninst who is an FRS. Only in Cambridge...

Travelled back on the train with Ruth and Tim and picniced on champagne and strawberries whilst discussing the upcoming concert at St Bride's Fleet St on the 24th June in aid of Kids For Kids, which we are sponsoring and where Ruth will be appearing with Elizabeth Watts.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Towards Grown-up politics

It looks as if coalition talks between the Conservatives and LibDems are progressing well. Labour sympathisers in the media are making mischief by talking up the differences and the possibility of a "Coalition of the Losers" with a Lib/Lab pact. And some Tory backwoodsmen are making noises which, if serious would not be helpful - but may merely be attempts to help Cameron's negotating position.

I agree entirely with Vince Cable: "it is not yet clear if it is possible to reach agreement. But we must. And any agreement must be secure and lasting to remove damaging uncertainty. It is a major challenge to reconcile the need for stability with the equal need for radical change. Within a few days we shall discover whether Britain’s political classes are sufficiently grown up, and committed to the national interest, to meet this challenge."

Anyone who understands what's going on realises that the economic challenges are far more serious and urgent than tinkering with the voting system. Some things can be done immediately (a period of grace for people to vote after they are in the polling station, clamping down on fraud, and cutting the number of MPs) and all means have a commission/committee to consider possible major changes and then a referendum later on. But over £50bn has been wiped off the value of UK plc since Friday, and there could easily be another £50bn drop if the uncertainty continues.

FWIW in my view we should have Clegg as Home Sec and Deputy PM, Hague as Foreign Sec and Deputy PM, Osborne as Chancellor and Cable as Chief Secretary, Lansley, Gove, Grieve and Fox should stay in their roles but it would be fine to have 2-3 other LD Cabinet Ministers, and every department should have one LD minister in the team. Ideally we'd reduce the size of the Cabinet and the number of departments by 20% as well, but that might take time.

There should also be a Council of Economic Advisers or something similar on which Darling would sit and a Council of Social Advisers on which Frank Field would sit. Indeed I'd be very comfortable with Field being made a minster for welfare reform but I fear that Labour would not allow this. The Council of Social Advisers should also have Camilla Batmanghelidjh and Shaun Bailey

Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Little Hut

Was a bit tired after getting to bed a 4am following the General Election. Cameron and Clegg are acting in a very statesmanlike way and I do hope that the strong majority government that a Cons-LD coalition could offer is not derailed by irresponsible politicking from either party. We are a nation at war and facing a massive economic crisis. If we don't have a clear new direction we risk going the way of Greece.

Went last night to see Janie Dee in her wonderful The Little Hut. Do catch it if you can - Windsor last night tonight and then The Rose Theatre. It is a delicious romp, translated by Nancy Mitford from the French - with all kinds of amusing overtones since the French ideas about a husband and a lover are rather different from English ones. Janie is at her brilliant best and Aiden Gillet, who has co-starred with her on 3 other occasions, is also in outstanding form, with the two other cast members giving super performances as well.

To the extent that it is a play about people being unable to decide and working out a messy but satisfactory compromise it's pretty topical as well.

Janie had a large party of friends and family so we all went to the Wren's House Hotel for drinks. Amongst the guests was Patricia Hodge who was delighted that we had introduced Janie to Miranda, and delighted us with the news that she and Miranda were both up for Best Comedy Actress at the Monte-Carlo TV Awards. This brings together the best of global talent: they are competing against people like Tina Fay. It's a tremendous tribute to the quality of Miranda that they have been nominated. And I find that Miranda had the most nominations for the Royal Television Society awards and that Miranda actually won the Best Comedy Performance. Well done - richly deserved.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

General Election Day

Started by cycling to help with "Tube Action" at West Ken at 07:20 but we already had enough people, so went to Olympia. Pretty good reception. When another volunteer arrived we had enough people so gym and work.

The final final opinion polls are in. Weighted Moving Average 36:27:28. I suspect on the night it will be 39:26:26. Labour know they have lost, and the LDs don't have people on the ground: not even a teller in our polling station. In our constituency we need a 7% swing and the feeling is that we'll get a majority of about 1,000 - which pretty much equates to the 8% swing I'd expect.

Update: Well I was wrong on both counts! The vote was 36:29:23 - everyone was surprised by the extent of the LD collapse. And the swing in our constituency was a miserly 0.5% so the outstanding candidate lost. Shaun Bailey would have been a tremendous addition to parliament, one of the far too few black MPs and one of ther very few MPs of either party who really understands from the inside the cultural and economic problems on many of the estates. Defeated by a public-school educated career Labour politician. Alas.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Before the General Election

UK General Election tomorrow. Currently the polls are pointing towards a hung parliament though I think that in fact we will see a Conservative majority of 20-40.

I've heard Cameron speak 5 times and met him very briefly twice. He seems to me genuine and sincere, clearly intelligent and determined. He has always said this would be a tough and close election. The idea that he is some kind of mindless reactionary is laughable. But there is no doubt that the UK has been living beyond its means and the appalling levels of debt and deficit must be brought down. We have a higher projected deficit this year as a % of GDP than Greece. To pretend that anything like present levels of public expenditure can be maintained, as Gordon Brown does, is a cruel deception.

The "Big Society" idea that Cameron advocates is absolutely crucial. At present the State tries to take over much of people's lives, "delivering services" very inefficiently and disempowering people. Far better to have services delivered locally by people who really care and are not empire-building. And a vast fraction of the problems of the UK (poor education, low aspirations, crime, drugs, unemployment, disease) can be traced at the root to a breakdown of the family and family responsibility. Cameron's emphasis on encouraging marriage and family responsibility (hated by Labour and amazingly by many LibDems) is quite right.

In addition, we're in manifest need of a "turnround" and Cameron and his team understand the challenges of being a "turnround CEO". Focus, competence, delivery, not "eye-cacthing initiatives" and laws rushed in for effect. Not continual changes in personnel at the top. Focus on outputs and not inputs.

I do hope that enough of my fellow-electors get this. The urgent need for change is not a change to the voting system but a change to face economic an social reality. We shall see...

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Crafting papers and plays, and majorities

Another v productive trip to Harvard. Was able to get the whole team over there. V unusally for a team in econ/math bio it is 3M 3F and watching the team dynamics is a delight. The new team member H hadn't met the others (except me and K) before.

Got back Sat and went to last night of a play that a friend in starring in in the West End. Our friend is very good but the play is alas really badly crafted: written by a novelist. It makes a beautiful illustration of Tom Stoppard's "cricket bat" metaphor from The Real Thing. "This thing here, which looks like a wooden club, is actually several pieces of particular wood cunningly put together in a certain way so that the whole thing is sprung, like a dance floor. it's for hitting cricket balls with. If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel two hundred yards in four seconds, and all you've done is give it a knock like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly. What we're trying to do is to write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock, it" With really expert editing there might be a well-crafted play inside this.

Long discussion with a relative about the UK Election. I've tried to keep this blog off poltics since QoT came out. But what I think (and hope) will happen is that there will be a reasonable Conservative majority (20-60 seats) and the votes will be roughly 40:25:25. The current Weighted Moving Average of the polls is 35:27:28 but there is a statistically significant trend for increasing the Conservative lead which if carried on to the election would produce something like 36:26:28. I then think that the actual result will be a bit different because the various parties will be better/worse organised. We shall see...