Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ten indicators on global warming

I thought this was rather good (= clear, coherent and substantiated). Links at the original article.

1. Humans are currently emitting around 30 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere (CDIAC). Of course, it could be coincidence that CO2 levels are rising so sharply at the same time so let's look at more evidence that we're responsible for the rise in CO2 levels.
2. When we measure the type of carbon accumulating in the atmosphere, we observe more of the type of carbon that comes from fossil fuels (Manning 2006).
3. This is corroborated by measurements of oxygen in the atmosphere. Oxygen levels are falling in line with the amount of carbon dioxide rising, just as you'd expect from fossil fuel burning which takes oxygen out of the air to create carbon dioxide (Manning 2006).
4. Further independent evidence that humans are raising CO2 levels comes from measurements of carbon found in coral records going back several centuries. These find a recent sharp rise in the type of carbon that comes from fossil fuels (Pelejero 2005).
5. So we know humans are raising CO2 levels. What's the effect? Satellites measure less heat escaping out to space, at the particular wavelengths that CO2 absorbs heat, thus finding "direct experimental evidence for a significant increase in the Earth's greenhouse effect". (Harries 2001, Griggs 2004, Chen 2007).
6. If less heat is escaping to space, where is it going? Back to the Earth's surface. Surface measurements confirm this, observing more downward infrared radiation (Philipona 2004, Wang 2009). A closer look at the downward radiation finds more heat returning at CO2 wavelengths, leading to the conclusion that "this experimental data should effectively end the argument by skeptics that no experimental evidence exists for the connection between greenhouse gas increases in the atmosphere and global warming." (Evans 2006).
7. If an increased greenhouse effect is causing global warming, we should see certain patterns in the warming. For example, the planet should warm faster at night than during the day. This is indeed being observed (Braganza 2004, Alexander 2006).
8. Another distinctive pattern of greenhouse warming is cooling in the upper atmosphere, otherwise known as the stratosphere. This is exactly what's happening (Jones 2003).
9. With the lower atmosphere (the troposphere) warming and the upper atmosphere (the stratophere) cooling, another consequence is the boundary between the troposphere and stratophere, otherwise known as the tropopause, should rise as a consequence of greenhouse warming. This has been observed (Santer 2003).
10. An even higher layer of the atmosphere, the ionosphere, is expected to cool and contract in response to greenhouse warming. This has been observed by satellites (Laštovi?ka 2006).

(My position is still basically as set out here though.)

Friday, July 30, 2010


This film would have worked much better with an old soak playing the character of the Marshall. Instead we had Kate Beckinsale, a good actress, being used as eye candy. Frustrating. 3/5

Home at last :)

Home after a week, with a great deal of thanks to some wonderful NHS staff and the one above. The other kids were most excited to see her, but were even more interested in the birthday cake :)

This'll be the last update on the baby; thanks for all prayers and messages, they do make a difference.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

(500) Days of Summer

I wanted to say: one of the most intelligent, honest and sharply observed romantic 'comedies' I've ever seen, highly recommended.

But actually, all I want to say is: I was that man.


Seven Links

Phil tagged me with this.

1. Your first post: Working out how to use this thing

2. A post you enjoyed writing the most. 'The most' is much too restrictive, as I've enjoyed writing on the blog a lot. If I can take enjoyment to mean cathartic, probably this one.

3. A post which had a great discussion. To my very great regret several years worth of commenting on this blog is now in cold storage, awaiting the day when Haloscan comments can be imported into blogger - so you can't see the answer to this one.

4. A post on someone else's blog that you wish you'd written. Ooh, how to choose this? So many contenders. It would probably be something by John Michael Greer. I'm trying to do from a Christian point of view what he has done from a Druid point of view, but there is a lot of overlap.

5. A post with a title that you are proud of. The colour of my shirt.

6. A post that you wish more people had read. This one on the authority of Scripture (and my Anglican triangle)

7. Your most visited post ever. Don't know. Might be this one, which tells you all you need to know about blog stats.

I tag Banksy and Doug.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Baby update

More positive news: baby girl is now fully unplugged from tubes etc. TBTG.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Happiness is a team sport

Courier article - posted here two weeks after publication.
I wonder how many people on Mersea were closely following the fortunes of the England team in the World Cup. By the time this gets published we'll know who has won it this year. Personally I'd like it if a country that has never won it before wins the prize – so Holland or Spain – but the form of the German team (playing their semi-final tonight as I write this) is ominous.

Before watching the England-Germany game – for which I didn't entertain much hope, although I thought we'd limit it to a 3-1 defeat – I was watching the BBC build-up, and there was an interview with Boris Becker, where he said (rather smugly, it must be admitted) “football is a team sport, and Germany has the better team”. It was annoying to admit it, but he was right. Doubtless there are all sorts of long-term reasons why England doesn't do well at international tournaments but the sight of our players doing their best to impersonate cranially-challenged poultry was unnerving. I'm sure that Capello's slavish adherence to 4-4-2 had something to do with it, but....

There was another bit of feedback from the victorious Germans after the match. Thomas Muller – who scored twice against us – said “"It is difficult to have so many 'alpha males' and have them row in the same direction. You don't only need chiefs, you also need a few Indians. You need people who are willing to do the hard work. It may be a problem with England that players are simply not mentally prepared to go that extra mile for their team-mates." It was annoying to admit it, but he was right.

Football is a team sport. It doesn't matter how many 'new Maradonas' or 'new Zidanes' a team might have – if they don't work together, if they don't have a common purpose, if they are not prepared to make personal sacrifices in pursuit of a larger goal – then they will fail. The failures will be both individual and corporate. The team of brilliant individuals will always lose out to the team of lesser talents prepared to work together.

The great French philosopher Albert Camus once wrote “After many years during which I saw many things, what I know most surely about morality and the duty of man I owe to sport and learned it in the RUA” - the RUA being his football team, for whom he kept goal. It is, in truth, not a complicated lesson to learn. If we look after each other, and work for the common good, then everyone benefits.

This doesn't just apply to leisure pursuits like football. It applies to every sphere of our lives, and in our context of increasing economic misery, it will apply most of all to the fundamental matters of life – having enough to eat, having a roof over our head, having clothes for our children to wear. If we look after each other, and work for the common good, then everyone benefits.

When exploring the context of our contemporary crises – of economic collapse, resource exhaustion, wars and the rumours of wars – I am very struck by the way in which the best-informed commentators continually return to one basic truth. There are so many things that can be done to help prepare people for what is coming – getting out of debt, learning to grow our own food, investing in alternative energy – but the single most important thing is to build up a community. This is because a community working together can withstand a very great deal more than a loose collection of individuals all looking out for their own interests.

Which is one of the blessings that Mersea enjoys. Partly – but not just – because of the geographical accident of being an island, Mersea does have a community identity, and we need to do as much as we can to support and foster it. There are many ways in which that can be done – and I'll return to what they are in later columns – but one way is to be involved with, and supportive of, the West Mersea Mayor and Council, and the work that they do. In an ideal world the local council would have much more authority within Mersea than they presently enjoy – and Colchester Borough, and Essex County, and, indeed, Whitehall and Westminster would all have much less – but it will take some time for rationality to break through the entrenched bureaucracy. In the meantime we need to work with what we've got and work as constructively and co-operatively as we can. If we don't hang together, we will most assuredly hang separately.

Our common future will only be reached collaboratively. That is, our happiness is a team sport, and if we look after each other, and work for the common good, then everyone benefits.

The Hockey Stick Illusion - a brief criticism of a criticism

Real Climate has published something of a review of Montford's book. When I read it (yes, I do read Real Climate, as much as I can - that is, I tend to have enough time, I just find it difficult to digest nonsense ;-) it occurred to me that it was a perfect example of bad criticism, and thus - as I've mentioned before - something which I do think falls into an area where I have a little expertise.

I'm only going to explore one item in Tamino's review; for more substantial responses go here and here; in brief, Tamino doesn't engage with the substantive argument. No change there then.

First, it will be worth summarising one of the arguments that Montford makes. Rather helpfully for the statistically challenged, like myself, Montford takes time to explain what Principal Components analysis (PC analysis) actually does: it sifts raw statistical data in order to extract significant information (notable patterns). Crucially, each 'sifting' extracts less useful information than the last, so PC1 is very useful but each successive PC is less so. Montford: "while the PC1 might explain 60% of the total variance, by the time you get to PC4, you might be talking about only 6 or 7%. In other words, the PC4 is not telling you much of any significance at all". Montford uses this very helpful analogy:

"The PCs are often described as being like the shadow cast by a three-dimensional object. Imagine you are holding an object, say a comb, up to the sunlight, and it is casting a shadow on the table in front of you. There are lots of ways you could hold the comb, each of which would cast a different shadow onto the table, but the one which tells you the most about the object is when you expose the face of the comb to the light. When you do this, the sun passes between the teeth and you can see all the individual points. You can tell from the shadow that what is being held up is a comb. This shadow is analagous to the first PC. Now rotate the comb through a right angle, so that you are pointing the long edge of the comb to the sun. If you do this, the shadow cast is just a long thin line. You can see from the sahdow that you are holidng a long thin object, but it could be just about anything. This would be the second PC. It tells us something about the object, but not as much as the first PC. You can rotate through a right angle again and let the sunlight fall on the short edge of the comb. Here the shadow is almost meaningless. You can tell that something is being held up, but it's impossible to draw any meaningful conclusions from it. This then, is the third PC."

This is how Tamino 'responds':

Principal Components

For instance: one of the proxy series used as far back as the year 1400 was NOAMERPC1, the 1st “principal component” (PC1) used to represent patterns in a series of 70 tree-ring data sets from North America; this proxy series strongly resembles a hockey stick. McIntyre & McKitrick (hereafter called “MM”) claimed that the PCA used by MBH98 wasn’t valid because they had used a different “centering” convention than is customary. It’s customary to subtract the average value from each data series as the first step of computing PCA, but MBH98 had subtracted the average value during the 20th century. When MM applied PCA to the North American tree-ring series but centered the data in the usual way, then retained 2 PC series just as MBH98 had, lo and behold — the hockey-stick-shaped PC wasn’t among them! One hockey stick gone.

Or so they claimed. In fact the hockey-stick shaped PC was still there, but it was no longer the strongest PC (PC1), it was now only 4th-strongest (PC4). This raises the question, how many PCs should be included from such an analysis? MBH98 had originally included two PC series from this analysis because that’s the number indicated by a standard “selection rule” for PC analysis (read about it here).

MM used the standard centering convention, but applied no selection rule — they just imitated MBH98 by including 2 PC series, and since the hockey stick wasn’t one of those 2, that was good enough for them. But applying the standard selection rules to the PCA analysis of MM indicates that you should include five PC series, and the hockey-stick shaped PC is among them (at #4). Whether you use the MBH98 non-standard centering, or standard centering, the hockey-stick shaped PC must still be included in the analysis.


The truth is that whichever version of PCA you use, the hockey-stick shaped PC is one of the statistically significant patterns. There’s a reason for that: the hockey-stick shaped pattern is in the data, and it’s not just noise it’s signal. Montford’s book makes it obvious that MM actually do have a selection rule of their own devising: if it looks like a hockey stick, get rid of it.

So - Tamino's argument is that because the hockey-stick shape emerges with the fourth 'cut' it still counts as statistically significant. Although he accepts that the standard convention is to use just two passes (= PC1 and PC2) he goes on to say "applying the standard selection rules to the PCA analysis of MM indicates that you should include five PC series, and the hockey-stick shaped PC is among them (at #4)". (Please shout if I've misunderstood the substantive point that Tamino is making here.)

Can people see why I find this an inadequate response to Montford? Montford explains PC analysis at length, and a significant element of the argument is that the #4 cut doesn't give useful data. Tamino at first accepts this (with a link expanding the acceptance) but then seems to go back on himself by simply asserting that five series should be included, and that the hockey-stick shape (#4) is significant. Why? Where is the argument for this?

There are ways in which Montford could be shot down here - and I would imagine that a competent statistician, familiar with these issues, could do it quite swiftly _if_ Montford is wrong. My point is a broader one - purely as a matter of rhetoric, Montford has the more compelling argument. He makes a point and explains it in detail - I understand the argument that Montford is making and it seems coherent. Tamino's response is very different, in effect it is merely an assertion, which we are to take 'on authority'. As the authority of the realclimate site is - for me - completely shot, the argument falls.

If there is another place where realclimate defends the statistical usefulness of a PC4 analysis, I'd be interested to read it.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sorry love...

but you're going to have to get used to your father's taste in shirts :)
Continued positive news, good steady progress, thanks be to God.

Big sister and little sister

Doctors are all now saying lots of positive things, thanks be to God. She is feeding well (from mum as well as from tubes!) and making steady progress. Do please keep praying though! I'll probably put something up first thing each day while she's in hospital; I can read all the comments/ replies through the day - and I/we do appreciate them.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Please say a prayer

for my newborn baby girl, who arrived in the world yesterday afternoon extremely underweight, and is now in the special care unit at the hospital.

UPDATE: Doctors are very reassuring and say that, all being well, she should make it out of hospital in three or four days. Thank you so much for all the prayers.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A different sort of bubble

Consensus - received opinion - accepted wisdom. Different expressions for a similar sort of thing, a framework for understanding the world. We can't do without them, they are the 'inherited background against which we judge between true and false' (Mr Ludwig).

That does not mean, however, that they are not open to investigation and discussion, and that they can be quite shockingly disconnected from reality. (Mr MacIntyre has a good discussion on how to go about it in this book).

I've often in my own mind thought of the secular mind-set which is dominant in Western society as a 'bubble'. Within the bubble it all makes sense; the assumptions are reinforced by the conversations taking place with other people within the bubble; those with assumptions outside the bubble are generally denigrated for being more or less mad or stupid. Those criticised tend to be conservatives, but there is an equally cogent left-wing critique of the bubble, so it isn't just a left-wing/right-wing divide.

I was put in mind of this by reading these two articles, which each touch on the fact that the establishment bubble is becoming more and more disconnected from reality - and, I would argue, is about to burst. That bursting will lead to us living through some very interesting times.

Victor Davis Hanson: Pity the post-modern cultural elite
American Spectator: The American Ruling Class

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Truth about Muhammad (Robert Spencer)

A readable book gathering together several themes in Muhammad's life. He doesn't come out of it too well, which isn't surprising considering who the author is. There were a few moments when I thought Spencer was lacking in generosity, but, frankly, I think his main point is incontestable: given that Muhammed is seen in Islam as the perfect man, and to be emulated, the fact that supported mass slaughter, had a questionable approach to women and became incredibly hostile to Jews and Christians leads to a rather problematic inheritance. Spencer makes the case that what we experience today has direct and clear antecedents in the life of Muhammad himself.

Byron and I have been having a conversation about three major crises - financial, resource limits and ecological (we differ on the severity of the third). I think the cultural clash with Islam - probably focussing on Iran, and possibly involving a revolution against the house of Saud - will be a fourth world-changing element over the next ten years.

Sam's thought for the day:
The problem with (some) Christians is that they don't imitate Jesus enough.
The problem with (some) Muslims is that they imitate Muhammed too closely.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Gangs of New York

Underwhelming, and I've been trying to put my finger on why.

Suspect number one has to be Leonardo di Caprio. I know that the little girls love him, and I actually think that he _can_ act... he just didn't have the weight for this part. Too pretty? Too blond? Didn't help that he was up against Day-Lewis.

Suspect number two, though, is that very same performance from Day-Lewis. Every so often he seemed to be impersonating Robert de Niro, which I guess was deliberate, but was veryoff putting. I kept expecting him to say something about milkshake to little Leo.

Suspect number three has to be studio interference, which apparently was extensive. Yet even with a further half hour or so of coverage, it's not as if the film was too short - more like the opposite. Is it simply that Scorcese need to be reined in? Don't know.

Some great moments, mainly involving Day-Lewis, but I finished it feeling 'so what?' Not a good sign. At some point I'll watch it again with the Director's commentary, and see if that reveals anything useful.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Am I a man?

(Rude language warning)

Tests of Anglican Orthodoxy

John Richardson - always an interesting read, and from whom I learn a lot, even in disagreement - has a post up outlining five tests of orthodoxy, taken from the 39 Articles. Herewith a commentary on his five tests, and an alternative list of five.
Give your response to the following statements (adapted from the 39 Articles):
1. “Christ ... truly suffered, was crucified, dead and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of people.”
2. “Original Sin ... is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man ... whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil ... and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation.”
3. “We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome Doctrine.”
4. “Holy Scripture doth set out to us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.”
5. “It is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.”
What one would be looking for in the answers would be, amongst other things, an absence of ‘nuancing’...

Herewith my 'nuancing' :)
1. I would start to nuance at the point of the word 'sacrifice'. What is meant or understood by it? A Pagan concept (like King Kong - appeasing an angry monster) or a fully Biblical concept? - by which I mean something much broader and richer than we've inherited from the Reformation era. I would understand the phrase 'bearing our sins' in a different way to that associated with penal substitution.
2. Wouldn't want to nuance this much - perhaps just pointing out that we were originally created in God's image, and that our sharing in divinity is more basic than our sin.
3. The nuancing would be about how to understand faith; I agree with the substance.
4. I don't agree with this one; that is, I think that the emphasis upon the Name is not something that Jesus himself would recognise (and I think it undercuts a proper doctrine of the Trinity). I would, however, affirm that none can come to the Father except by Him.
5. This I disagree with (see discussion here), mainly because I think it is in itself incoherent and unScriptural (lurking behind it is, I would argue, a faulty understanding of what the Word of God means).

John suggests that those who disagree, substitute in other tests. I'm not averse to there being tests of orthodoxy. If the teaching ministry is essential to ordination (which I think it is) then there does need to be something to mark out what is acceptable and what is not. I think my five tests would look something like this (comments very welcome):

Do you accept:
1) the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as understood and expressed in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed?
2) that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead on the third day, and appeared to Peter and the disciples?
3) that Jesus of Nazareth is Lord of all, and the one to whom you owe your final allegiance?
4) that the Church of England is a part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church?
5) the discipline of the Church of England, and will you give canonical obedience to those in authority over you, in all things lawful and honest?

Obviously, my emphases are rather different to John's!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Framing the Good Samaritan

(from this morning's sermon)

Consider the framing of this story. A lawyer comes to Jesus and asks him 'what must I do to inherit eternal life?' What must I do...? Jesus does not answer the question by saying 'Do? Do? It's not about doing, you can't earn your way to heaven by doing good works you silly boy! It's all about faith!! Accept me as your personal Lord and Saviour here and now and you will be saved!' Which is simply a way of saying that Jesus lived two thousand years ago, not five hundred years ago, and his approach was different to what is commonly our approach.

For Jesus, as he taught very clearly in several different places, not least when he talks about separating the sheep from the goats, it is actions that count. Not in the sense of earning our way into heaven, but in the sense that this is the form that the grace of God takes in the life of a believer. We can prattle on about holy things for as long as we like, but if the words never take shape as deeds then they are hollow words, fit only to be forgotten. The biblical notion of faith is not abstract and cerebral – it is not simply a matter of knowledge but of the orientation of the heart, and if the heart believes rightly, then it becomes faith, and faith is inevitably expressed in life, in action. In other words, your actions display what you truly believe. If you truly believe that Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth then your actions will reveal that truth...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The future is not what it was

A Courier article - published here 2 weeks after publication in the paper itself.

I write this on the day that Mr Osborne has raised the rate of VAT to 20%. This is necessary, we are to understand, because without that extra income, the budget will not balance and the country will go bankrupt. Sadly, barring a miracle, I don't see any way in which some form of bankruptcy can be avoided. Now, before I go further, I should say: this is going to be a very depressing article, so don't read it until you're in a robustly positive frame of mind (that, or quite convinced, with me, that the Rector's reckoning can be wrong).


The future that we face over the next, say, eighteen months to five years, is one of financial depression, specifically deflation. Why do I say this? Well, let us begin by pondering some figures – these are in TRILLIONS of US dollars:

World gross product per year: 55
Total value of global issued currency: 65
Total value of world stock markets: 100
Total value of world real estate: 125
(So far so good, now for the kicker)
Total value of financial derivatives: 1600

Financial derivatives are all those complicated things we've heard about on the news over the last few years, like 'sub-prime mortgages' and 'credit default swaps'. The simple conclusion from the above figures is that the financial world has long-since lost touch with the real world of tangible wealth. There simply isn't enough real wealth corresponding to all the financial obligations that have now been entered into. To put this in simpler, more graphic terms – imagine the amount of wealth in the world as a cake. What the comparatively recent explosion in nominal financial wealth has done is to give a great many different people legal claims to the same bit of cake. On paper, the financial world says that we have a great many cakes – unfortunately there is only the one.

What this means is that the financial system is irretrievably bankrupt. Over the next few years we are going to see something called 'deleveraging' – in essence, all the debts are going to be called in. In Warren Buffett's famous image, 'we're going to watch the tide go out and find out who has been swimming without their trunks on'. We are in what I think of as a 'Wile E Coyote moment' – remember the great Looney Tunes character, who sprints after the road runner over the edge of the cliff, and manages to keep running on thin air until the moment that he looks down?

Our political leadership has been committed to keeping the show on the road for as long as possible – or at least for long enough to ensure that the movers and shakers are able to get some measure of safety for themselves, eg with the bonuses still being given to Goldman Sachs and other bankers – but they are rapidly running out of options. What we are going to end up living through is a severe contraction of the money supply, what the economists call deflation. Most people are familiar with inflation – the price of everthing goes up – but we're less familiar with deflation. It sounds at first like a good thing – the price of everything goes down – but the problem is that in a deflation our ability to pay goes down faster. It won't matter if the average shopping bill comes down to £50 a week rather than £80 if the impact of unemployment and bankruptcies now means that families can only afford to pay £30 rather than £75.

We have been here before – in the 1930s most spectacularly – and the consequences are frightening. One way to get a handle on what it means is to consider real interest rates. If a bank charges a 5% interest rate, and inflation is running at 2%, then the real interest rate is 3% (bank charge minus inflation). However, in a time of deflation, the cost of money could become very high (with consequent damage to the economy) even when the nominal rate of interest is low, or zero (eg bank rate of 1%, deflation of -3% gives a real rate of 4% - the two negatives become a positive). Governments who try to stimulate activity in this context are 'pushing on a string', with just as much effect (look at Japan's recent history). In this context, the very worst place to be is in debt, because the real value of the debt will increase rapidly. That applies especially to mortgages, as the nominal price of housing is likely to plummet leaving a great many people with massive negative equity.

Thomas Hardy once wrote, 'If a path to the better there be, it begins with a full look at the worst' (but see here). I've only skimmed over the nature of our financial crisis in this article - those who want to explore the background for this post might like to visit a blog site called 'The Automatic Earth' which is where I got the figures from. There is a very great deal that people can do to prepare for these and the other crises that are accumulating around us, linked to the Transition process – but I'll have to give the positive side in another article.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Inland Empire

Wow. I was trying to keep track of the different levels of reality and gave up after six - and then realised that I was missing the point, and went instead with the flow of ax(x)on hopping through the Inland Empire. A remarkable performance from Laura Dern which was the only thing that kept it at all coherent, and a surprisingly positive and integrative ending which I loved.

Of course, it's only really for Lynch fans, and if you haven't already watched Mulholland Drive - preferably several times - then much of the texture of this film would be missed or misunderstood, as in many ways it is an extension of his quite savage critique of Hollywood explored there. For me a 5/5, for other, perhaps more normal people(!) no more than a 3 :)

Dealing with conflict in the church (Mennonite guidelines)

Found this in Shane Hipps' 'Flickering Pixels' - great book, review coming prob over the weekend.

Agreeing and disagreeing in love -
Commitments for Mennonites in Times of Disagreement

"making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Eph 4.3), as both individual members and the body of Christ we pledge that we shall:

In thought
- Accept conflict - acknowledge together that conflict is a normal part of our life in the church (Rom 14.1-8, 10-12, 17-19; 15.1-7)
- Affirm hope - affirm that as God walks with us in conflict, we can work through to growth (Eph 4.15-16)
- Commit to prayer - admit our needs and commit ourselves to pray for a mutually satisfactory solution (no prayers for my success or for the other to change but to find a joint way) (James 5.16)

In action
- Go to the other... - go directly to those with whom we disagree; avoid behind-the-back criticism (Matt 5.23-24; 18.15-20) the spirit of humility - go in gentleness, patience and humility. Place the problem between us at neither doorstep and own our part in the conflict instead of pointing out others' faults (gal 6.1-5)
- Be quick to listen - listen carefully, summarize, and check out what is heard before responding. Seek as much to understand as to be understood (James 1.19, Prov 18.13)
- Be slow to judge - suspend judgements, avoid labeling, end name-calling, discard threats, and act in a non-defensive, non-reactive way (Rom 2.1-4, Gal 5.22-26)
- Be willing to negotiate - work through the disagreements constructively, celebrate small agreements along the way, cooperate with the emerging agreement (Acts 15, Phil 2.1-11)

In Life
- Be steadfast in love - be firm in our commitment to seek a mutual solution; be stubborn in holding to our common foundation in Christ; be steadfast in love (Col 3.12-15)
- Be open to mediation - be open to accept skilled help. If we cannot reach agreement among ourselves, we will use those with gifts and training in mediation in the larger church (Phil 4.1-3)
- Trust the community - we trust the community, and if we cannot reach agreement or experience reconciliation, we will turn the decision over to others in the congregation or from the broader church (Acts 15)
- Be the body of Christ - believe in and rely on the solidarity of the body of Christ and its commitment to peace and justice, rather than resort to the courts of law (1 Cor 6.1-6)


Amazing stuff.

My ideal educational system

A slightly more considered post than yesterday's, in response to some comments.

Two guiding assumptions:
a) any and every child naturally wishes to learn, and will do so autonomously and in a self-directed fashion unless other forces prevent that learning from happening;
b) an education system's sole purpose is to encourage and enable that learning, ie to act against the forces which prevent the learning from happening.

So what would I do, if I were given dictatorial powers over our education system?

1. I would abolish all qualitative grading.
2. I would abolish all age groupings.
3. I would abolish the time-structure of schools - in practice, I'd abolish all "schools" as presently constituted.
4. I would (so long as central funding continued to make sense) shift funding entirely onto a voucher scheme.

Expanding these:

Qualitative grading - by this I mean giving marks from A to F. To my mind, all qualifications should simply be of the 'pass/fail' variety, in the same way as a driving test. Students can take the relevant test whenever they want, and when they can display the competency concerned, they get the little piece of paper saying so. No mess, no fuss, no grade inflation for political purposes (and grading should be completely independent of the government).

Age groupings - children (and adults) mature at different rates and in different ways - such is not news. Shoehorning people together according to their date of birth is arbitrary and has pernicious and destructive consequences, which only tend to be alleviated when a low teacher:pupil ratio allows a good teacher to provide the personal care which overcomes those consequences. Let the student, of whatever age, pursue their own interests and run with them. It works at the beginning of the educational process, and it works at the end - why do we think it essential to turn children into industrial feedstock in the middle?

Time-structure - we have an historical legacy leading to a raving mad pattern of organisation for educating. Long holidays for religious festivals and harvest; Fordism during the day. I would abandon these things completely. Students would seek a teacher able to give them tuition at the level and in the subject they desire. Similarly, teachers would seek students to whom they had something to give. Instead of schools there would be 'academies' (I wanted to think of a different word that didn't have present-day connotations but couldn't find one, and it is the correct word!) - something much more akin to a large library with lots of different services, open pretty much all year round, and most hours of the day, within which people can come and learn at the time and speed suitable for them. If it suits a teacher to gather some students together who are at the same level, and teach them as a group - fine (and either side can instigate that). Similarly, the teachers have total authority over how many students to take, and how they are to teach them. They could even band together if they so chose. The system I envision would, in short, have a lot more teachers (and give them a lot more power) and much less 'schooling' (see, Shlottie, I do actually rate teachers, on the whole ;-).

Vouchers - the money follows the student, and can be administered by the parents to begin with, but increasingly by the child as time goes on. The funding lasts for a lifetime, up to a certain level of attainment (first degree?). The funding is fine-grained, that is, it is meted out per "course module" or equivalent, not as a single grant per year. There are very few restrictions on what can be pursued, save that funding for some things are dependent on prior attainment, eg you can't be funded to read English Lit until you've attained the necessary language skill.

Of course, all of this is the academic side of education - hence they would indeed be academies - and education involves a great deal more than this. Yet I wouldn't see the responsibility for the wider education as resting with the teacher - it would return to where it belonged, to the parents and the wider community as a whole. If the time structure is abandoned then children would once more be a full and daily presence in people's lives, and that could only be a good thing.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Dumbing Us Down (John Taylor Gatto)

Modern education is rubbish. There, I've said it - but JT Gatto said it first. Modern education was set up on the factory model, to make people fit for working in the factories - a production line, producing producers (and consumers), willing to work until the bell goes. We spend so much time and effort and wealth on tweaking the system, prodding bits here and removing bits there, and yet it simply doesn't get any better. How can we persist with such a destructive system? Gatto explains why... and it is fascinating. A highly readable and recommendable book.

Thing is, now that we have crossed the threshold into the Long Emergency, and budgets will continue to be cut for the foreseeable future, the old model is not just dead, it is deadening. Those kids that can just about fit in to the present structure can get by, those who stick out for any one of a myriad number of reasons will get squashed and discarded.

These are not new insights. The future is local, and small-scale, and probably home-ed.


Why Christians must grieve
and, via Byron, a good, simple post on Peak Oil
What are demons, really? A post that deserves a proper response - in God's good time.
As it was in the beginning - what liturgy looked like in the early days
How to plant a church
Why Cameron was lucky not to win outright

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

For the next England squad....

There needs to be a step change from the past, but not a clean slate. We need to keep the best technical players, and those with a bit of wisdom. My twenty three suggestions:

GKs: Hart, Green, Robinson
No point keeping James, and I would explicitly make Hart the number one and give him an extended run in the side (even if he dropped clangers). Green (to rebuild confidence) and Robinson (experience) as cover.

Ashley Cole - best player in the world in his position.
Glen Johnson - yes, he needs to work on his defending, but the potential is there and he won't become accustomed to performing at international level without the exposure

This is tough. I'd be very tempted to leave Terry out, along with Ferdinand, King and Carragher - time to clear the decks a bit. Sadly, I can't see anyone else able to replace him.
Terry, Dawson, Micah Richards (also covers RB), Ryan Shawcross.

Defensive midfielders:
Owen Hargreaves, Lee Cattermole, Jack Rodwell, Barry.

Attacking midfielders:
Joe Cole (best technical player in the squad), Adam Johnson, Frank Lampard (I'd make him captain - a highly intelligent player willing to work for the team as a whole), Aaron Lennon, Ashley Young, Milner (also covers LB).

Rooney, Crouch, Gerrard, Defoe.

Jeffrey John for Southwark?

Thought I'd say something about this story; put simply, I think it would be wonderful if John were to be appointed to Southwark.

Jeffrey John has, at (presumably) some personal cost, demonstrated what it means to obey a teaching that you do not agree with. I think we could do with more of that witness to the virtue of obedience, especially at the highest levels of the church.

It would put right a past injustice. The objections to John being made Bishop of Reading did not seem to be made with Christian charity or notions of 'bearing each other's burdens' - rather there was an attempt to force the hand of the hierarchy, which succeeded, and, in my view, gravely damaged Rowan's ministry.

Following on from that, an appointment of John would represent an affirmation of traditional Anglican inclusivity, and a rejection of homophobia. I think the charge of homophobia is easier to make with regard to John because of his celibacy - the real motivations become clearer.

Unless the motivation is with regard to his teaching re homosexuality - but then the totalitarian ideology is exposed. The spirit blows where it will, and Jesus has many more things to teach us that we can't cope with yet.

Personally speaking, I had been getting quite gloomy about the way that developments in the church had seemed to be moving, and I had started to believe that a really quite profound split was likely to take place - mainly because what I generally perceive to be the 'middle ground' in the church was seeming to be on the path to being excluded. Appointing John would, in my view, make that tremendously less likely, and, at the same time, a different split more likely. This is a selfish point really - if John were to be appointed I'd personally feel 'safer' in the CofE than hitherto.

My one suspicion - my cynical side emerging - is whether the appointment of John is designed to 'buy off' opposition to the Archepiscopal fiddle with regard to women bishops. I hope that isn't the case.

I shall follow the story with great interest, and if John is appointed, I shall cheer.
UPDATE: I thought it was too good to be true. How very depressing.

Monday, July 05, 2010

On feeling like Cassandra (whilst thinking about Jeremiah)

"Considerabam ad dexteram, et videbam; et non erat qui cognosceret me... Non est qui requirat animan meam." - Ps. cxli
["I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me; man cared for my soul." - Psalm 142:4.]

WHEN the clouds' swoln bosoms echo back the shouts of the many and strong
That things are all as they best may be, save a few to be right ere long,
And my eyes have not the vision in them to discern what to these is so clear,
The blot seems straightway in me alone; one better he were not here.

The stout upstanders say, All's well with us; ruers have nought to rue!
And what the potent say so oft, can it fail to be somewhat true?
Breezily go they, breezily come; their dust smokes around their career,
Till I think I am one born out of due time, who has no calling here.

Their dawns bring lusty joys, it seems; their evenings all that is sweet;
Our times are blessed times, they cry: Life shapes it as is most meet,
And nothing is much the matter; there are many smiles to a tear;
Then what is the matter is I, I say. Why should such a one be here?...

Let him in whose ears the low-voiced Best is killed by the clash of the First,
Who holds that if way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the Worst,
Who feels that delight is a delicate growth cramped by crookedness, custom and fear,
Get him up and be gone as one shaped awry; he disturbs the order here.

Thomas Hardy, 'In Tenebris II'

I have referenced the last verse many times, but on tracking it down (for work on the book! first time in six months!) I realise that the quotation I have been using is inexact...

Bearing another's burdens

"Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6.1-2)

If we see someone coming back from the co-op with heavy bags of shopping – and they're limping – and you can see that they have a bad back – and they're having to stop every five yards because they're short of breath – et cetera... then the normal human reaction is to feel compassion, and desire to help. In a sense this is easy - we can see that a person is struggling, and their struggle has nothing to do with us. That is, our own hang-ups are not involved.

If, however, we see someone speaking angrily about us, calling us lots of names and threatening us with all sorts of dire consequences – then the response of compassion is much harder to find. Yet, from a Christian point of view, the two situations are the same – the one who is being overcome by sin is the one who is greatly in need of loving and compassionate help – of being restored in a spirit of gentleness, as Paul puts it.

This is much harder. It is much harder because we do not have the necessary distance from our own spiritual weaknesses. We resist and defend ourselves - and this demonstrates our lack of faith. We have but one defender, and our trust is in him. When sinned against, we are often so conscious of our own hurts – how could a person do such a thing? Yet if we can step back from that immediate feeling, it may be possible to ponder the well springs for the hurtful action. People who are hurt themselves tend to be the ones hurting others – this is the burden of sin that we are called to help people to bear.

Our calling is not to judge, not to condemn, but to forgive - and in forgiving, to find that we are forgiven ourselves.

Sunday, July 04, 2010


Quite brilliant, and very interesting, well worth a re-watch - but not sure if there is a religious sub-text or not (as opposed to simply a meditation on being human). Excellent 'riffs' on 2001 et al. 5/5

Of gyrovagues

I've put up this morning's sermon on my other blog. Bit of a theme for me at the moment (for me personally, as well as for me 'professionally').

Thursday, July 01, 2010

American Psycho (movie)

When I first heard about this, it didn't appeal, but then I caught part of it on TV one night and was intrigued - and thanks to Lovefilm I've now managed to see the whole thing. Very, very dark satire. Right up my street. And this monologue deserves an award all of its own. Brilliant. 4/5