Monday, 30 May 2011

Hay brained

Sunday turned out cold and windy, also pretty intellectual, starting with Meghnad Desai talking about India's formation as a multi-national nation. Interesting enough, but it's not really my thing.
Paul Nurse, Nobel prize-winner and President of the Royal Society talked about the differences between Milton and Darwin's view of creation. I found the presentation dry and hard work, but it really came to life as he started to define and champion scientific method and the importance of hypotheses which can be tested and refuted. The first question was long, convoluted and boring beyond belief but things picked up from there, with Prof Nurse respectfully disagreeing with a series of religious questions and arguing against 'Just So' stories which purport to explain a phenomenon without proper evidence.
My most stimulating session was Dambisa Mayo on the Prospect platform. She's a Zambian economist and argues that aid is fundamentally wrong and inhibits African development. I didn't agree with everything and there were several moments when I found her analysis simplistic or felt she was drawing false oppositions. But she had a different and provocative view, argued fluently. It was really stimulating to follow her argument and think at the same time about whether I agreed or not, why, what I'd want to query or challenge. A fantastic session.

Tristram Hunt was scripted - clear, interesting and with some good political gags, but I thought it was a shame because off-script he was more human. I loved references to how Northern cities including Manchester had defined themselves by reference to the Civil War, and look forward to browsing his book (I'll do some skimming before I commit to buying it).
I missed Niall Ferguson but heard he was as consummate as you'd expect, a really interesting and enjoyable talk. Still doesn't justify such a desperate attempt at coolness with 'killer apps' though.
Finally, David Miliband talking to Matthew D'Ancona. Obviously a politician and a half. He had some considered things to say about centre-left politics in the UK and across Europe, but steered clear of saying anything explicit about the current direction of the Labour Party. I smiled to see how he was positioning himself with specific words or by drawing attention to the fact he wasn't answering some questions and was struck at how Blair-ish his gestures and some phrases were. Don't think he's got a book to sell at the moment.
'Celebrity' spots - Ian McEwan, Danny Alexander, Mariella Frostrup and David Lammy.
And reading update - I finished the Victor Gregg book and spent gaps between sessions drinking tea and reading Ghost Map. It's as good as I'd been promised.

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