Sunday, April 28, 2013

Doug Lewis - may he Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory

Doug in Sept 2012
My beloved uncle Doug died this month. Born in Hampton he lived there all his life (apart from a year spent travelling with his wife in the 1950s). His father left the family when Doug was young so he was something of a surrogate father to his younger siblings: my mother and her sister and younger brother.

He worked in a precision engineering factory, rising to be works manager and then a consultant, married his charming wife Pat when they were quite young and they had two sons now a successful businessman and a successful GP.

Doug was enormously kind, and enthusiastic about the achievements of others with whom he had a connection - whether it was family or though his Hampton connections. Julian Bream had been a friend in his youth, and indeed had played the guitar at Doug's 21st. Any success by a Hampton person or a family member was a cause for celebration.  He worshipped regularly at St Mary's Hampton which is (unless I'm much mistaken) where he was christened and married, and on Thursday it was his funeral to a packed Church.

When he found he had terminal cancer his first concern was for his wife. He made sure accounts were transferred to her sole name, that she could use internet banking etc.  He declined aggressive treatment and died at home in his sleep, having said farewell that day to his wife, sons and sister (his other sister had died aged 19) and his brother who lives in the Hebrides had visited recently.

We saw him a couple of weeks before he died and he asked that I play a piece at his funeral with my brother and sister who are both talented violinists. I told him it should be the slow movement of the Bach Double Violin Concerto and sent him the Podger/Manze recording. So that is what we did on Thursday, playing it somewhat faster than usual and with a note of triumph in the final reprise of the theme.  He has run the good race, he has fought the fight, the crown of victory is his!

Very appropriately the bible reading at the funeral was 1Cor 13:
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things...
The second para is an excellent description of Doug.

May he Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Beijing, Fausto, Dawkins and Welby

Kunming - not typical China!
Back from an amazing trip to Beijing and Kunming (hence lack of posting). Largely un-bloggable I'm afraid though I did give a seminar on strategic leadership at Peking University and it was as always stimulating to interact with the bright Chinese students.

The first Sunday I was there I was again able to join the congregation in the South Cathedral which was as always a delight.

Maggie Thatcher's funeral was shown live on Chinese TV which was interesting in itself - and Richard's Sermon was of course masterly. I'm told that she was by far the best known Brit in China - even people's rural grandmothers had heard of her.

The little play-let that I helped Marcus Miller write is now published by Prospect - though not yet now on the web.  Some of the lines I'm rather pleased with at a technical level, as when "Richard Fausto" - the banker who sells his soul to the Devil, says:
I see it now! We’ll lure into finance
the very best and brightest of the young.
With boasts of bonuses beyond belief,
we’ll take them from their nearest and dearest.
To the music of Morphosa they will dance,
laughing all and forever gambolling;
and Fausto will be the Pied Piper of Hamelin!
(frustratingly the published version leaves out the "the" in the final line).

It seems that Dawkins' fan club have voted him "the world's leading thinker" in the Prospect  poll - pity they didn't also nominate Kim Kardashian who would no doubt have beaten him into second place. However in the real world people are moving on from his simplistic nonsense. "Richard Dawkins has lost" proclaims a Spectator article, whilst in The Guardian we read that:
Richard Dawkins and Twitter make one of the world's great pairings, like face and custard pie. But whereas more accomplished clowns ram custard pies into the faces of their enemies, Dawkins' technique is to ram his own face into the custard pie, repeatedly. I suppose it saves time and it's a lot of fun to watch.
More significantly from the point of view of the scientific community there is a very sensible article in Nature  which specifically criticises Dawkins:
Take evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins' description in Prospect magazine last year of the gene as a replicator with “its own unique status as a unit of Darwinian selection”. It conjures up the decades-old picture of a little, autonomous stretch of DNA intent on getting itself copied, with no hint that selection operates at all levels of the biological hierarchy, including at the supraorganismal level, or that the very idea of 'gene' has become problematic. Why this apparent reluctance to acknowledge the complexity?
Very much the point that Brian Josephson and I made in our article.

Meanwhile as Dawkins becomes increasingly a figure of fun, Justin Welby continues to impress.  I met him at a dinner this week and he is a really good guy. It will be fascinating to see how things develop.

PS Indeed in terms of ghits in the last week Welby is rapidly catching up on Dawkins and in terms of ghits in news sources in the last week he is now level pegging. And whereas what Welby says is almost universally considered a significant and important contribution, what Dawkins says is widely mocked and ridiculed and he offers no new ideas whatsoever ("I don't believe in God" "Religion is Bad" "Down with Islam" "Down with Catholicism" - how original!)

Monday, April 08, 2013

Maggie RIP

Maggie is dead. May she rest in peace and RISE IN GLORY!

I never met her but once when we were in Church in St Merryn in Cornwall she came to an ordinary Sunday service, sat as I recall towards the back with no fuss and no press. So I'm pretty sure she had a sincere Christian faith.

My mother, on another occasion when she was down (she would holiday in Constantine Bay which is the next bay from our family house) sent her a note to invite her to come and enjoy the view from our house - which is, due to it's location, the best view in the entire system of bays. Maggie sent a really nice hand-written note back.

I'm old enough to remember what it was like pre-Maggie and she turned round the psyche of inevitable decline.  My late father was very unsure about the Falkland War at the beginning since he was concerned that the Russians might intervene. But that went well for all parties - in that the Argentine Junta fell.

I also recall one genuine Thatcher joke - her first interview as PM on TV was by Brian Walden, a failed Labour politician who became quite a serious TV interviewer. He put it to her that, even if her reforms worked economically, they would be undesirable because they would encourage inequality.  Her response was, as I recall, "But I think it's fine that people should be paid according to their abilities an experience. For example, I don't expect to be paid as much money as you are, Mr Walden".

PS Paul Krugman accepts that Britain was turned round. He plots UK UK GDP per capita vs France

From Prof Krugman's blog post.

Indeed according to the OECD Factbook UK GDP per capita went down from 100% of France in 1970 to 87% of France in 1982, by which time the Thatcher reforms began to kick in.  It was a commonplace at the time that if things went on we'd be down to the level of Portugal. In fact, if that trend had continued, we'd now be at 60% of the GDP per capita of France ie $20.3k vs $35.9k at present. Portugal is $25.6k so we'd be much poorer than Portugal, more or less on the level of Hungary (43% worse off per capita)

Thursday, April 04, 2013

A joyful Eastertide: is the tide turning?

Memorial window at St Merryn Church
Back from a few days in Cornwall for Easter.

The Good Friday mediation in church was excellent - well chosen readings read and chosen by the vicar. She was doing a full 3 hours, one in each of her three churches.

Then Easter Sunday was an absolute delight.  My mother was on duty as an extra sidesman so we arrived 25 minutes early and it is a good job we did. The Church was pretty well packed by 10:50 (the service started at 11) and we had to put out chairs in the aisles. By 11am when the service started it was utterly packed. The associate vicar led the service and the vicar preached - the best sermon I have ever heard from her which drew applause from the congregation at the end.  This was apparently the first time this had happened to her.

The sermon was about how Christianity and Christ can really change lives, and she was clearly much encouraged by both Pope Francis and ABp Justin.  She is rather from the liberal wing of the Church and I find it enormously encouraging that ABp Justin is so warmly welcomed from all parts of the CofE.  It will be fascinating to see how things play out over the next 5-10 years but I am very optimistic. 

Dawkins & co have made themselves very unpopular amongst most of the non-committed by their absurdly confrontational style.  And the absurd AC Grayling, trying to become a well-remuneated Atheist Prophet also has delightful pratfalls.  Craig Brown skewers his latest Prospect pontifications in an excellent "Hell has no fury like an Atheist scorned" (picking up many of the points I made on the Prospect comment page and here) and Keith Ward demonstrates many of Graylings serious philosophical lapses in a review "The Bad Argument".

Meanwhile one of the greatest philosophers of his generation, Tom Nagel (whom I met at one of Ned's conferences a couple of years ago) has published "Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False " - given an interesting commentary here.

Justin Welby said that he sees every reason to be optimistic about the future of Christianity in the UK. So do I.