Sunday, March 31, 2013

Microloan and some quotes

Went on Weds to the Microloan Foundation party to celebrate their 10th anniversary. There was an exhibition of photos taken by Liz Handy when she and Charles visited.  Charles spoke eloquently of the "microloan multiplier" effect and it was inspiring to learn of the way that small sums were changing lives.

Came across two poems worth recounting.  The first, an amusement that made me smile, is by Norman Willis.
Old John Betjeman
Went to heaven, 'n
Found to his great glee
That the Heavenly Host
Eats buttered toast
and God was CofE 
The next is by Flight Lt John Pudney (1909-1977) and is called Jack Overdue.
Come back, come back, you Jolly Jack Straw
There's ice in the killer sea
Weather at base closes down for the night
And the ash blonde WAAF is waiting tea.
How many long Atlantic hourse
Has he hunted there alone:
Has he trimly weaved on the silent air
The dullest patrol that's ever flown

How can they know that he found at last,
That he made the hunter's strike:
And swooped on a sly swift shark as it dived:
Saw gouting oli mount carpet like?

Jolly Jack Straw is beating it back,
But his wireless set is blown.
He cannot report his long sought luck,
Or the ice-dark blinding the eye and bone.

Come back, come back, you Jolly Jack Straw
For the ash-blonde WAAF drinks tea:
And the tea-leaves tell her fortune as well
Come back, come back from the killer sea.
Pudney served at RAF St Erval near our family home in Cornwall.  And he became AP Herbert's son-in-law.  This poem was set to music by Martin Shaw.

Finally a gem from Winston Churchill
We have learned to fly.  What prodigious changes are involved in this new accomplishment!  Man has parted company with his trusty friend the horse and sailed into the azue with the eagles, eagles being represented by the infernal - I mean internal - combustion engine.  Where, then, are those broad oceans, those vast staring deserts?  They are shrinking beneath our very eyes. Even elderly Parliamentarians like myself are forced to a acquire a high degree of mobility.  (Harvard, Sept 6 1942)
I will post for Good Friday and Easter later - but happy easter to all

He is Risen indeed - alleliullia!


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The new reality dawning in evolution, and society

There is a very positive review in Nature of The Bonobo and the Atheist - the book that got AC Grayling so ridiculously upset. In common with most scientists it's clear that both Frans de Waal (the author) and Christopher Boehm (the reviewer) find the posturings of the "Militant Atheists" absurd and counter-productive, even though they are atheists themselves.

Meanwhile of course the scientific discrediting of what I might call "The Simplistic Gene" continues apace. Denis Noble kindly sent me a draft of his paper which will be the basis of his President's lecture at the IUPS Congress in Birmingham in July which builds on the Suzhou lecture and one he gave earlier this month in Vienna, and which will be published in a major journal later this year. He was even kind enough to accept a few suggestions which I hope will somewhat strengthen a masterpiece. What we need now, amongst other things, is great mathematical evolutionists like Martin Nowak and Corina Tarnita to work out the mathematics of the new reality - far more complex and interesting than the Simplictic Gene.

Finally finished watching Justin Welby's "enthronement" on i-Player. It's terriffic. The near-simultaneous appointments of Justin and Francis could well prove to be a significant turning point in the history of Christianity. It will be wonderful when they meet (Francis' message to Justin said he hoped they'd meet soon). I suspect they will get on like a house on fire.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bob and Judi - Peter and Alice

On Friday to Oxford to work with Bob May and others. It was great to see Bob and the discussion was very productive. Another person at the meeting was a Prof fairly recently arrived from the US who said he didn't know many people there yet.  I said he should meet Denis Noble and - hey presto - 1 minute later as we were walking down the street we bumped into Denis and I was able to introduce them!

Then back to London to see Judi Dench in her wonderful new play Peter and Alice which is by John Logan (who wrote Skyfall).  This is about a meeting that (supposedly) occurred in 1932 between Mrs Reginald Hargreaves nee Alice Liddell (described anachonistically in programme as Alice Liddell Hargreaves!) and Peter Llewelyn Davies at the opening of the Lewis Carroll Centenary Exhibition. The Exhibition definitely occurred on 28th June, 1932: she performed the opening ceremony and speeches were delivered by J.C. Squire, The Dean of Christ Church, Sir Gerald du Maurier and B.J. Collingwood (Lewis Carroll's nephew - he was Prof of Physiology at St Mary's Hospital) but I don't know if the meeting is real or imagined.  Certainly the content is imagined, and imagined brilliantly - with excellent performances from Ben Wishaw (Peter), Olly Alexander and Ruby Bentall (as the young Peter and Alice/Wendy), Nicholas Farrell (as Carroll) and Derke Riddell (Barrie).  A very fine play indeed - catch it if you can though I think this run is sold out.

Great to see Judi backstage afterwards in amazing form - she is "on" the whole 90 mins without an interval. It'd be great to introduce her to Bob since they are both enormously brilliant at what they do and also people everyone wants to work with and who bring out the best in their collaborators.  We shall see...

PS according to The Stage "Its springboard is a small reference the playwright found in Anne Clark’s biography of the life of Alice Liddell Hargreaves, the real-life inspiration of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: “On June 26, 1932, Alice opened the Lewis Carroll exhibition at Bumpus, the London bookshop. Beside her was Peter Davies, the original Peter Pan.”"

J&E Bumpus was a famous bookshop in Oxford Street ("booksellers to HM The King")

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Confusion from Grayling and Kurzweil

South Cathedral
Back from a fascinating though largely unbloggable week in Beijing, which did however include attending Ned Phelps' conference on "Remaking the Chinese Economy for Innovation" It was great to meet Ned's fellow Nobel Laureate Alvin Roth and find that he did his PhD under as a graduate student at Stanford he took a class from our old family friend George Dantzig. And the deferred acceptance algorithm is a thing of beauty!

April's Prospect has arrived and the ludicrous AC Graying manages to make a fool of himself in reviewing Frans de Waal's The Bonobo and the Atheist.
  • He claims that Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake "for accepting the Copernican geocentric view" (even Wikipedia knows better than this!)
  • He claims that "if religion has its way, we would still believe that the earth is flat" because in 1615 a Cardinal justified a geocentric view with a quote from the Psalms (does Grayling really not understand the difference? apparently not!)
  • "Hitler was not an atheist - "Gott mit uns" said the legend on Wehrmacht belt buckles." This would be a (very weak) argument if Hitler had dreamed up the motto, but since this was the motto of the German army since Frederick 1st and appeared on every German helmet in the First World War we can only conclude that Hitler wasn't enough of an Atheist in 1935 to upset the entire German Military establishment by trashing their motto.
  • He says that belief in God is "equally contentless" as a belief in the Tooth Fairy. Now it is conceivable that belief in God is false, but to suggest that it is "contentless" is absurd (where are the great theologians, philosophers, scientists, saints, artists inspired by Tooth-Fairy-ology??)
  • He complains that "In England where 3% of the population go regularly to services of the state-established Chuch 26 bishops...sit in the House of Lords."  Of course 3% refers to the average number of people who attend in a given month ("regularly" could mean twice a year) but let that pass. It's hard to think of a good reason why these numbers should be comparable - does Grayling think that if 100% of the population went regularly to Cof E Church all the members of the House of Lords should be Bishops?  But as it happens there are 760 peers who sit in the House of Lords so 3.4% of Peers are Bishops.  By contrast 71% of peers are formally affiliated to political parties and the proportion of people who attend party political meetings on a monthly basis must be well under 1%.
He accepts that some atheists are "evangelical" or "militant" but clams that this is "because religious claims about the universe are false" (he can't seem to decide whether they are "false" or "contentless") - ignoring the obvious explanation that they do it because it makes their books sell and rakes in fame and millions.

But then it is the April issue of Prospect so perhaps it's an April Fool?

There is however a very good article by Raymond Tallis unpicking some of the confusions of Ray Kurzweil's How to Create a Mind. Tallis makes a number of very good points, including that the Turing Test leads to "the absurd conclusion that, if you are fooled into believing a macnine is consicous, that machine is aware and indeed self-aware as people are".  Sadly that article isn't yet on the website but I'll link when it is.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Veritas and Figaro

Back from Harvard where I went to the wonderful Veritas Forum with Michael Sandel and
Jean Bethke Elshtain - very eloquently agreeing with each other that religion had an important place in the public square.

Went with my mother to The Barber of Seville at the ENO. Sadly both Andrew Kennedy and Lucy Crowe were indisposed, so their roles as Almaviva and Rosina were taken by Tyler Clarke (up and coming) and the excellent  Ilona Domnich, who was already due to sing the role on the 15th.  It's a fine production well performed - Benedict Nelson was an excellent Figaro, Andrew Shore a very fine comic Bartolo and  David Soar as Don Basilo played a relatively minor part with great verve and aplomb.

An enormous amount going on - sadly un-bloggable and it was a very busy Mothers Day today.