Saturday, October 30, 2010

Been on holiday...

Holidays, friends - two wonderful things that are even more wonderful when combined. Normal service will resume some time this week.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ollie - updated

Ollie has a lump on his left jaw (you can just about see it on the photo above, taken this afternoon). He has to have an operation tomorrow to remove it (general anaesthetic!!), and have it biopsied. It might just be blocked glands; it might be something a lot worse :(

If it's the sort of thing you do, please say a prayer or two.


He's all clear! Thanks for all concern

Fiona Apple

Discovered this via looking at Paul Thomas Anderson stuff.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I do like it when...

... I read an article that I really agree with :)

"Perhaps the problem isn’t the lack of a narrative, but that the public has formed one already, and it seems to go something like this: A young community-organizer-cum-seminar-leader, having led a sheltered political life in deep blue America, is swept into office on the strength of a financial collapse weeks before the election plus the emotional need for a biracial redeemer. He misreads the country, the times, and his mandate, pushes through plans to turn the country into a social democracy at the exact moment that model is proving unworkable, governs in every way against the will of the people, and proves himself to be a bad politician, a coalition-destroyer, a fish out of water, and over his head."


Britain's defence review and the end of NATO
8 reasons why the UK SDR must not savage the military

Capitalism saved the Chilean miners
Psychobabble didn't

Judith Curry on the specific nature of IPCC overconfidence (part one)

My new favourite blog, Edward Feser with a brilliant analogy for humourless atheists
and a specific rebuttal to Stephen Law's 'God of Evil' argument
More succinctly, Kim Fabricius with twelve swift ripostes to atheists

Monday, October 18, 2010

Reason, emotion, judgement, faith

Here is one of those truisms that I quite like:
"The definition of insanity is to repeatedly do the same thing whilst expecting a different result."
This seems to embody some wisdom - it might be told in order to bring someone trapped in repetitious behaviour to realise that they are doing something wrong, and that if they are unhappy with some aspect of their present situation then they need to change something.

Now compare that with the story of Robert the Bruce and the spider making a web, which generates the truism 'If at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again'. Once more, this seems to embody some wisdom - it might be told in order to encourage someone not to give up, not to be daunted by a sense of failure but to learn to overcome the obstacles in their path and treat triumph and disaster just the same.

My point is not that one of these truisms is 'more true' than the other. My point is that discerning what is appropriate depends upon the faculty of judgement, what Aristotle called φρόνησις phronesis, or practical wisdom.

In my chapter 3 I was quite critical of "reason" - a position that I maintain. "Reason" - as understood in contemporary society - is, to my mind, radically inimical to the cultivation of phronesis. This is due to the idolatrous conception of reason, in particular, the way in which it systematically denigrates the emotional aspects of human life.

Now Scott responded with this comment: "Emotions follow beliefs. That is, they are involuntary reactions we have as things happen to us, but what they are (and how strong) depends on how those things are evaluated (subconsciously) by our beliefs. Hence, they are data that, if we are self-observant, tell us what our beliefs are -- in particular, in this context, what we idolize. But the only way to change beliefs (short of personal revelation -- different data) is through reason."

I disagree with this. I would want to discriminate between "reason" - by which I would understand our capacity to exercise logical thought - and "intellect" which I understand in a much broader sense. Intellect is to my understanding something much more reflective and, indeed, a much more integrated-with-emotion sort of faculty. It is intellect which gives birth to phronesis. In other words, our emotional reactions are not (they do not remain) unconscious - the whole point of spiritual maturity is that the emotions progressively become more integrated into the wider personality.

What I mean by this is that the choice between sanity and Robert the Bruce can be made entirely rational on either side - I see that as simply a sterile working out from whatever premises are chosen, and trivially true. What the intellect can do, however, is work out which of sanity and Robert the Bruce is applicable in the particular instance. This faculty derives from, and is dependent upon, a high degree of self-understanding and awareness with regard to values. It is this faculty which, to my mind, can only result in faith - for all other value commitments end up producing idols. (I don't expect this to be persuasive to those who currently worship such idols, but it makes sense to anyone 'outside the bubble'.)

Which brings me to how this links in with faith. The commitment of Christian faith is that in Jesus Christ we see the truest account of what it means to be human - the image of God in human shape. In other words, Jesus Christ is the idol of the system, in the sense of being the capstone and summation of it. The choice between sanity and Robert the Bruce is one that ends up being drawn into an intellectual reflection that brings Jesus into the conversation (much more could be said in unpacking this - another time).

To walk with a particular faith is to make choices that reveal that the judgements formed derive from a specific set of assumptions and beliefs about the nature of reality; in other words, a Christian faith is displayed by a series of decisions that only make sense if the actor is assumed to believe the truth of the faith. The worth of Christianity is then assessable by the fruits of those decisions made by such actors (called saints in Christian theology).

The saints are those whose capacity for judgement has been built up from the intellectual integration of reason and emotion; or, to put that differently, the emotions of the personality have been trained to love God with all heart, soul, mind and strength. The saint is the one who has been enabled to desire one thing, and thus has purity of heart. That is why they see God.

Cooking up conflict

One of my more barking posts, when I was in my salad days as a blogger, and green in judgement, was predicting World War Three by Easter (of 2006!). I'm very glad to have been wrong, but I still ponder those elements indicated. I think we have all the ingredients of a messy conflict in place - obviously it requires a certain sort of leadership to actually turn those ingredients into a conflict.

Here is a list of some 'thinking out loud' as to the ingredients:

- the US is strong militarily but weak financially; in essence it is a declining empire;
- in contrast, China is strong financially, regionally strong militarily, and is a growing empire.

Tension here is between a USA that won't - possibly for good reasons - be willing to accept a smaller role, esp in East Asia, and a China that is rapidly asserting itself. You have a lot of other regional powers feeling rather nervous about China, who have traditionally looked to the US for leadership.

This part of the ingredients list is not necessarily conflict-inducing - it depends upon the nature of the leadership being deployed on each side.

Next major bit: Islam and the West. The Iranian situation becomes more scary every month, and it doesn't just scare Israel it scares the Arab states too. Throw in the instability in Iraq (and the vast oil wealth there) and the problems in Afghanistan/Pakistan and the West's options seem very restricted. (For what it's worth I have a growing sense that the UK needs to come out of Afghanistan as soon as possible - the costs are getting larger and the benefits getting smaller the longer it goes on). This is a situation that could literally go 'bang' very quickly.

Will China stay out of any Islam vs West conflict? India? Russia?

The way that public opinion in the US seems to be developing is in a more anti-Muslim direction, with all the attendant dangers. I happen to think that more conflict with the khawarij is inevitable, the question is as to how it is done.

Underlying these two major areas of tension is the economic meltdown that is playing out - and will carry on playing out, along with the random acts of God like the Pakistani floods. Peak Oil will be the heat applied to these ingredients, and will likely make everyone's experience worse.

I wouldn't even be surprised if Argentina had another go at the Falklands...

OK, end of pessimistic train of thought.

Free Essex

Originally posted 2006...

I am an Essex boy, born and bred.

Essex has a population of around 1.3m. If it was a state in the US it would lie 40 out of 50, in other words, bigger than Maine, New Hampshire, Montana or Alaska.

It has a GDP of £15bn. That makes it bigger than, for example, Latvia or Bolivia, which have UN representation, and about the same size as Vermont or Wyoming.

All those places carry certain responsibilities. They can elect their governments. They have their own legal systems. They can control their own affairs.

We can't. We're going to end up being controlled by a Scot.

This does not seem just to me.

Is this the beginning of the end for Manchester United?

Just thinking out loud here...

- last season, MU were carried by a great performance by Rooney, which compensated for their loss of their previously best player, Ronaldo;
- MU are already suffering from significant injuries, especially Hargreaves and Valencia;
- there is nobody waiting in the wings to replace Rooney;
- the rest of the team is looking decidedly ropey - as they did last year, but that was hidden behind Rooney's genius.

Of course, the last six months hasn't seen Rooney playing as he did, but why was that? Rushed back too soon after his injury?

So - despite having probably the greatest football manager ever, MU are looking distinctly vulnerable for at least this season - fourth place is by no means unthinkable.

Now add that to the precarious financial situation, whereby success on the field is essential to keep paying down the Glazers' debt, and suddenly what was a virtuous spiral starts to look ominously like a vicious one.

Of course, this is sheer speculation :)

As for where Rooney is going to go, I'm not convinced about Spain. Real Madrid have overspent on forwards, and I can't see Rooney wanting to play second fiddle to Ronaldo again. As for Barca, that would surely be a better fit - but they too have just splashed out on a new striker, and they are cash-strapped. I have a sneaking feeling that he is going to go to Chelsea - he is, after all, six or seven years younger than Drogba, and one of the few people on earth who could conceivably do as good a job...

(Of course 2 - he and Lord Ferg might just kiss and make up, but I think not. Now that it has gone public, I can't see SAF backing down).

Interesting times.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Our journey is just beginning

A repost

The beginning of the film 'Contact' provoked awe when I first watched it, on a trip to Boston in 1997. It is the ultimate in 'pull-back shots', beginning from the surface of the earth and just going back, and back, and back, and back. Out of the solar system, past the heliosphere, through the Milky Way, beyond the point where our galaxy is just a small dot in a haze of other galaxies. I had thought that I had a good sense for the scale of the universe, but when I lost my sense of depth about three-quarters of the way through the sequence, I realised that I had been deluding myself. The sense of scale that we need to try to comprehend when we consider our position in the universe is quite possibly unattainable to the human mind. Our Galaxy, the Milky Way, has some 400 billion stars. There may be 125 billion galaxies in the universe. There are probably more stars than there are grains of sand on earth. I find these numbers meaninglessly large.


(My MA thesis, without footnotes - it's the argument that's important!)

This is my MA thesis on Wittgenstein - the pinnacle of my academic career. (So far ;-)
Having just re-read it, six years after production (now ten years!), I feel rather proud of it. Certainly my thinking hasn't changed, and I think I make a solid case - but then, I would, wouldn't I?

My essay can be summarised as an argument for the following theses:
a) Wittgenstein had a consistent purpose in his philosophical work, composed of two elements –
i) a belief in the ineffability of the mystical, that value cannot be spoken; and
ii) a consequent need to put limits to the realm of philosophy, in order not to distort our understanding of what is of value; and
b) the change from the early to the later Wittgenstein is only concerned with part ii) above, viz. Wittgenstein’s understanding of the nature of philosophy changed (the division between sense and nonsense in the Tractatus mutated into the development of a new method for philosophy in the Investigations) but the rôle of philosophy within his overall thinking remained constant.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Does Anglo-Catholicism have a future?

I've written before about where I think the CofE is headed (see especially here, here, here and, most simply, here). And I'm just wondering... I wonder what future the TEC-sympathetic clergy and congregations have in the CofE? Which is really one way of asking: what is the future for those of us who are Anglo-Catholic in theology and worship and spirituality, but who neither want to go to Rome nor embrace liberal-ish evangelicalism?

I read this post a while back, which made me think a lot. I know the church and people concerned (close to where I did my curacy) and the vitality of that sort of Anglo-Catholicism has surely vanished - rightly, on many things.

If I were to dream up a recipe for 'my' sort of Anglo-Catholicism, what would it look like?


Something about the new Bishop of Southwark
Last minutes with ODEN (dog lovers prepare to cry)
Stanley Cavell's philosophical improvisations
13 theses on writing
What classical theism actually is ("if one hasn’t grappled seriously with the arguments of the great classical theists, then one simply cannot claim to have dealt a serious blow to theism as such. Not even close.")
The case for living with uncertainty
As Western Civilisation lies dying
If you build it (cycle-friendly transport) they will come
Verifying the Export-Land model (people really should become aware of this...)
Opinion warning signs

Idolatry and Science - chapter 3 of my book

(Shorter - 4500 words - and easier to read than the transcript!)

Chapter three – idolatry

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6)

“Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 19)

Jesus repeats and amplifies this when he says “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22.37)

If this is the first and greatest commandment – so that, if we fail to keep this commandment, we fail in our duty as Christians – what does it mean? How are we to keep it? Answering those questions is the burden of this chapter.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Blink (Malcolm Gladwell)

Excellent, highly recommended.

I now want to write blogposts about global warming, on the having of too many opinions, and why Sarah Palin will make an excellent President.

Maybe later...

Film notes

Big Fish - 4.5/5 - rather wonderful, though not at all the family entertainment that I was expecting (children were ushered out from the film half way through...)
Pandorum - 4/5 - better than expected, a collage of classic sf tropes
Horton Hears a Who - 5/5 - tho' I haven't read the book, just before watching it I read Michael Connelly's 'Chasing the Dime' which features the motifs. I want to say 'My name is Sam and I approve this message!'
Sherlock Holmes - 4/5 - great fun, look forward to the sequel

I also rewatched A History of Violence the other day. It's climbing into my 'top ten all time favourites'...

PS - am enjoying Dexter series 4, and Fringe has returned! Saw the first episode of series 3 last night (thank you Sky+) - all sorts of interesting paths lined up to follow.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The language of 'should' and 'ought'

I think I've written about this before but can't think where...

When I hear the words 'should' and 'ought' alarm bells go off. So often the language is used to reinforce social pressure to do certain things - because that is the way that the community does them, it reflects what the community expects and considers "right".

Christians need to exercise extreme caution when dealing with such worldliness. I use this corrective: when considering an action that 'should' or 'ought' to be done, try to rephrase it in terms of the great commandments, ie:
- will this action give glory to God, or
- will this action show love to a neighbour?

If the answer is 'No' then the Christian is free from any obligation, no matter how strenuous the efforts to say 'you should be doing this!!'

Friday, October 01, 2010


A cartoon (from here) that really spoke to me. This is a good relevant article.

And then there is this (found here):

The way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross … Here we touch the most important quality of Christian leadership in the future. It is not a leadership of power and control, but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the suffering servant of God, Jesus Christ, is made manifest … To come to Christ is to come to the crucified and risen One. The life-giving apostle embodies in himself the crucifixion of Jesus in the sufferings and struggles he endures as he is faithful and obedient to his Lord. So Paul preaches the crucified and risen Jesus, and he embodies the dying of Jesus in his struggles to further point to the Savior. His message is about the cross and his life is cruciform, shaped to look like the cross … I leave you with the image of the leader with outstretched hands, who chooses a life of downward mobility. It is the image of the praying leader, the vulnerable leader, and the trusting leader. May that image fill your hearts with hope, courage, and confidence.