Saturday, September 23, 2006

On learning from reality and from compassion 

Here is a bit of self-discipline to make us politicians pause:

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the
easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you've
not fooled yourself, it's easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be
honest in a conventional way after that."
That was Richard Feynman commenting on his approach to science, and I came across it again this week while pondering two important events – our Party Conference and my son going up to University today to study theoretical physics. I really hope that he acquires this kind of scientific discipline, and that when he sees me operating politically he can still respect me.

So are there things we can think about in this party on how to behave and use evidence and put forwards policies?

Perhaps from Peter Medawar in his classic book ‘Advice to a Young Scientist’ which includes this:
"I cannot give any scientist of any age better advice than this: the intensity
of the conviction that a hypothesis is true has no bearing on whether it is true
or not. The importance of the strength of our conviction is only to provide a
proportionally strong incentive to find out if the hypothesis will stand up to
critical examination."
Many of us are feeling enthusiastic about our green approach to economics and have high expectations of success. But the strength of our feelings is not the criteria for success. We have done something quite radical, with precise predictions, and we need to find ways of testing our policies against actual developments. Not ‘targets’, God forbid we should fall into the New Labour target trap. We need to find a strategy for implementation and try to measure real results. And have the discipline to learn from reality.

As Feynman described the central discipline of science, we learn by making guesses about the real world and then doing hard tests to try to prove and disprove our guess. And what then?

" If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. In that simple statement is the
key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It
does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his
name is - if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong."

Perhaps some politicians should look closely at what made Feynman tick.

I will have another think later about integrity in politics, about the horrors of target culture, about the need to find the weaknesses as well as the strengths in any policy we put forwards, about the horrible example of Labour’s failed mass IT projects and how this should give us resolve and caution in our policy development and implementation.

But just for now, and my mind wandering back to my son two more threads. One from Feynman again, on what he learned form his mother

"She taught me that the highest forms of understanding that we can achieve are
laughter and human compassion."

And something completely different (though with Feynman you never know)… from the Tau Te Ching

Living plants are flexible,
In death, they become dry and brittle.
Therefore, stubborn people are disciples of death,
but flexible people are disciples of life.

I hope my son too finds that the greatest understanding he finds are in laughter and human compassion ,and that he stays as he is, a disciple of life. And I hope we all can help build a world a little better suited to laughter, compassion and life. That, with hesitant humility, is what I hope for from my politics anyway.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

A view from a chair at home 

Ok let’s admit it – we have a light entertainment crisis in this party. Ming will never cut the mustard swapping quips on ‘Have I Got News for You?’. He just hasn’t got the timing to take a stream of side digs to script. But Hurrican Gordon went down fine.

He did however survived the Storming Strobes ordeal inflicted on his entry by some overexcited media geek. Now what was the carbon footprint of that stunt? Never again please - the press were all set to laugh at the slightest corny stumble.

On the other hand when it comes to showing a bit of belief in what he is saying, he rather carried conviction. That this man is Liberal and unapologetic with it is beyond doubt.. That makes me feel good.

As for the World Out there – well the BBC daily Politics show had its online viewer reaction gizmo on parade recording second by second approval and disapproval rankings. Self-declared LibDems seemed pretty happy. Self-declared Tories seemed half and half positive and negative , and interestingly hardly any responded to the Tax Proposals even the 50-p bit. But self-identified Labour supporters gave very positive responses with big plus spikes for the contested items from last Tuesday.
Taking another breakdown, women viewers responded massively favourably to the remarks on Darfur while men barely managed to yawn. Yawns too from older voters on the Green Agenda, while under-60s responded enthusiastically.

So – it may be worthwhile targeting younger ex-Labour women voters?

OK so this is the Focus Group trap, but we got here by addressing the issues and not by running round trying to find a mob to follow.

Bottom line we have a leader who is a human being with some clear strengths. We have a job to do and we can do it – provided we work with people as they are. So that settles the leadersip business, right?

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A possible reason why Libdems got early awareness of Global Warming? 

Way back in the late 1960's and all through to the mid 1980's when I religiously attended Liberal Party Assemblies we had an instinctive knowledge of what to expect in weather terms. Assembly would start in the tail-end of Summer with sunny days but half way through the weather would break, and autumn rains soaked the late night survivors of Glee Club. We had to pack shoes as well as sandalls.

But recently September seems to be part of summer.

So with glorious sunshine predicted right through to the Leaders Speech this year, LibDems of a certain vitage can feel in their bones (and unsoaked shoes) the reality of Global Warming.

Mind you rougher weather is on its way with the remains of Hurricane Gordon due to hit Britain in time for the traditionally soaking Labour Conference in Blackpool.

Incidentially on Google News this morning, the little thumbnail picture that illustrated the news stories about Hurricane Gordon was ... a picture of one Gordon Brown. Was this a deliberate human inserted michievous comment, or just a glitch in the automated story collation software? If the latter then the soul of the famous computer with a sense of humour in Joseph Heller's 'Catch-22' may still be around in cyberspace. Major Major anyone?

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Afghanistan dimensions not helpful 

The situation in Afghanistan remains grim and as far as our own party response is concerned we seem more and more bogged down in conventional fogs, unfortunately. At conference today (Tuesday 19th) Tim Garden was having almost to defend the bad intelligence now admitted by the Minister of Defence underlying the UK troops deployment in the Pastun areas of Afghanistan.

Incidentially the Polish forces promised for Afghanistan are destined for very peaceful provinces in the North where the Taliban never had any local support even in the days of their power.

The recent NATO military success - and lets hope it was actually a success and not an US-military style body-count exercise – is not a reason to rush in more troops. Well, not without showing that our strategists are taking into account the whole situation…

NATO apparently is teetering on the brink of issuing an ultimatum to Pakistan on the way it is becoming even more of a safe haven for Taliban forces -but backed down. As Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid reports

President Pervez Musharraf has just signed a controversial ceasefire with the
Afghan-Pakistani Taliban living in this tribal region after his army got a
beating over the past three years, losing some 800 soldiers.
This means that hundreds of Taliban militants are being reased from custody and border posts between Pakistan and Afghanistan are being dismantled. NATO in this perspective is losing the battle for hearts and minds. And Osama bin-Laden may be well and on the move again according to this story in the Asia Times that Paul Rogers says is based on usually reliable sources.

Meanwhile in Pakistans south-westernmost province, the leader of the Balochi Nationalist party was killed in a Pakistani air raid in August – and some claim that the man concerned was something of a secularist and an anti-Taliban figure. It all gets very complicated for some reason. This account linked about Nawab Bugti may be biased, be warned.

For anther perspective see this story on an US Blog –and I cannot vouch for the background of one of the sites this links to ( I suspect that it has an Indian bias) so I am just saying that if these stories are not true then the fact that they are being disseminated is almost equally worrying. Overaching all of this is the relationship between two nuclear-armed states, India and Pakistan, who do not necessarily see our concerns as the centre of the world.

I cannot help feeling that a period of reflection is called for.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Deeper into Afghan dust 

Why is Poland so keen to send 900 extra troops to Afghanistan? Well, having Radek Sikorski as Minister of National Defence might be part of the explanation. Sikorski was undercover in Afghanistan with one or other of the western-backed guerrilla groups for two years during the anti-Soviet wars, as a journalist his official story says. He has played up on this background heavily in his adventures in Polish politics and has written many articles for neocon publications on the success (his words) of the US-Led invasion of 2001. A man therefore with something of an investment in a certain version of the world’s history, and with a personal stake in the idea of having a job to finish.

For our part I think we UK LibDems need to rethink our official position on the continuing Afghan adventure. In the leadership election the candidates all (I think) got us onto the ‘ finish the job’ line and therefore (notably unlike Iraq) we are tarred with the conventional government wisdom. But the original job was irredeemably compromised by the Iraq detour. And we still have not shown that we grasp the almighty complications of the Pakistan Factor in all this – something that could be important as we gain more support from British Moslems originating from that part of the world.. Can we debate this somewhere with light rather than heat as the consequence?

Inner West makes a good start at a discussion..

By the way, I had thoughts on Sikorski in an earlier posting, which included thoughts on Dave ‘Flipflop’ Cameron’s meanderings on foreign contacts for the Tories.

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

The 9/11 path farrago 

A question –does the BBC employ fact checkers when it buys in foreign made documentaries? The drama-doc due out tonight (Sunday 10th Sept) ‘Paths to 9/11’ advertises itself as a sober look at history as documented in the official findings of the 9/11 Commission. But key scenes in that docudrama, highlighted in trailers, are complete fictions, directly contradicting Commission findings. This is most evident in the scenes involving former President Clinton.

Is it a coincidence that the programme was apparently made by virulent anti-Clinton activists in the USA? Has the BBC been bamboozled by US Republican dirty tricks operatives?

The 9/11 Commission made it clear that Clinton while in office gave the go-ahead to pursue and kill bin-Laden and destroy his network. Some may remember the controversies over bungled attempts at this such as the destruction of a pharmaceuticals factory in Sudan and a cruise missile strike on an empty house in Afghanistan. There is an awful lot of real hard fact to distangle and Clinton does have some questions to answer. But the programme is simply libellous to suggest that bin-Laden was allowed to escape when he was directly in the crosshairs of an US hit squad or that 9/11 happened because Clinton was distrated by stains on a blue dress..

Lets hope that this farrago due to go out tonight does not confuse people and distract from clear thinking about the Mess in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Just another thought – the BBC has I know been warned that this programme is grossly defamatory and broadcasting it here will bring it under the umbrella of UK libel law. Ouch. I do NOT like the way our laws operate and can be used by foreigners …

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