The crime of reason: And the closing of the scientific mind is a book that has gripped me since I heard the author discuss it in a podcast with the lovely Dr Moira Gunn. It central message is a sad one for me as the book describes, in detail, why modern society is dismantling the freedom of scientific inquiry. Worse still, the book also describes why such dismantling is necessary.
I must quote this story from the book though which gave me such warm feelings about physicists, bless them:
In March 1986, Las Vegas newspapers buzzed with rumors that the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino had suffered its worst weekly take in history – including the week of its terrible fire. MGM had made the mistake of hosting a big physics conference. The scientists, it turned out, didn’t care for neon cowboys, tiger shows, topless barmaids and other distractions. In fact, they complained after returning home that these things had interfered with their concentration at seminars. Vegas cabbies got real mileage from this story and presumably generous tips too. No Las Vegas hotel has ever invited the physicists back.
Here is a wonderful video featuring Prince Sultan bin Fahad, سلطان بن فهد, the first person in a long time to get me interested in football:
The video shows some post-match commentary on Saudi Arabian television. Now, personally, I think that watching a football match is a waste of my time, but watching commentary about a football match is a far worse use of my time. Most commentary is low quality, and when you consider the topic of football…
Still, in a country like Saudi Arabia, football is one of the few outlets of free debate. In this case, the commentartors began critiquing the strategy, or lack thereof, of the football team. Then they opened up the phone lines for viewers. One of the viewers was Prince Sultan bin Fahad, president of the kingdom’s Youth and Sports department, i.e. the sports minister.
You do not need to understand Arabic to understand the thoughts of the commentators by watching their facial expressions or hearing the Prince’s shouting. He ended by saying: “If you’re not well-mannered enough, then let me educate you myself”.
I witnessed a wonderful thing on Tuesday with the election of Obama. America’s brilliance is not presidency, but process. It is America’s ability to change. No other nation does this so well and for that it can justly be proud.
Read this passage below from the diary of Henry Seward as he journeyed with his wife through Virginia in 1835 and saw ten black children:
Ten naked little boys, between six and twelve years old, tied together, two and two, by their wrists, were all fastened to a long rope, and followed by a tall man, gaunt white man, who, with his long lash, whipped up the sad and weary little procession, drove it to the horse-trough to drink, and thence to a shed, where they lay down on the ground and sobbed and moaned themselves to sleep.
On November 5th 2008, Virginia was one of the states that voted for Obama as president. America was one of the worst countries in the world when it came to treating with dignity those of African descent. It still has a long way to go. We all do. But on Tuesday its citizens took leadership by giving leadership to an African American.
The USA has an extraordinary infrastructure for change. It is well worth listening to Gavin Newsom discuss how he changed San Francisco law to allow gay marriage. America was one of the least progressive in the West for the rights of homosexuals, but individual states are beginning the change. Hearing Robert Klein talk about how Californians voted to provide $3 billion worth of funding for stem cell research taught me about so many initiatives that were not discussed in the press. America had one of the worst policies for stem cell research, but California’s initiative alone meant the USA had world leadership in government funding.
But it is not just that California made progressive choices that I liked. After all, they elected Schwarzenegger, who I hate. Rather, listen to the speakers discuss the opposition they received – strong, vociferous, and passionate – and how they overcame it – with more passion from more people.
Obama captures that passion. “Change we can believe in”, he said, and “Yes we can”, he chanted. And along with millions of Americans he achieved what millions of non-Americans thought was impossible.
So. What are we non-Americans going to do? Will a European country give her highest office to a citizen of color? Perhaps the UK, as a Bahraini doctor and I were discussing on Tuesday, will elect and British Asian. And will Bahrain do something similar? Or more relevantly, will Arab voters be able to vote outside of their tribe or sect? Will we able to vote for the common good and the higher cause?
More immediately, what can we do today? In the UK, there is a crisis of politics as the rich are too scared to give any money to parties, the middle classes refuse to pay, and the working classes occasionally funnel money through the few remaining unions. The major parties are running on deficits and teetering on bankruptcy. And in Bahrain, most of the non-religious candidates have been overwhelmed and over-run. The results in the UK and Bahrain are not the moral majority at work but the apathetic majority failing to work.
Obama has shown that citizens paying $5 can make a $500 million difference. No matter how bad you think your local party or representative is, look at your options, pick the best, and pay them money so they can work better. Turn up to their meetings. Explain to them what you want and help them explain to others what needs to be done. Yes. We. Can.
 I read this quote in the book Team of Rivals: The political genius of Abraham Lincoln. The book describes how, Lincoln, another unlikely lawyer from Illinois became president, running on an anti-slavery platform. It also describes how this brilliant man was so brilliant that he felt confident enough to hire all three of his election rivals (including Henry Seward) into his new cabinet and to use them to steer the nation through difficult times. I wonder who Obama hires.