Went for a bit more Beckett with Endgame at the Duchess Theatre. Absurdist play about the survivors of some mysterious holocaust eking out the remains of their life in a cellar.
Amusing in places, but the production was more bleak and less comic than the Picard/Magneto Godot. Impressive performances, especially from Mark Rylance as the blind tyrant Hamm. Found it a bit testing though: was getting a bit restless by the end.
What I'm Watching
2012 explores one of the less worrying threats to planet Earth: what if the Sun's neutrino emissions started "mutating into different particles", heating up the centre of the Earth like a microwave oven, thus melting the "subterranean crust" and causing all the continental plates to shift and be swamped by enormous tidal waves.
The result feels a lot like the Seventies-era disaster movies, with a disparate cast of clichés getting picked off with various degrees of cowardice or heroism. It's a bit over-indulgent and could have done with some cutting: we don't really need three different scenes where a plane takes off from a runway disintegrating behind it then dodges aerial debris.
However, it's actually pretty entertaining. The destruction of Earth is rendered nicely: I don't think I've ever seen California annihilated so satisfyingly before. The pacing is pretty good, with a reasonably amount of action, and if you get bored you can always speculate on who's next to die.
Overall, not unmissable, but you'll get your money's worth of proficient destruction if you go see it on the big screen. If you're averse to excessive cheesiness don't bother though.
What I'm Reading
The Time of My Life by Denis Healey. Acclaimed as one of the best political autobiographies of all time, it's certainly very informative and interesting. Healey was a high-level minister: Defence Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) in the 1970s.
As always with political memoirs, you need to take some things with a pinch of salt. Over the incident when Britain took an IMF loan: he points out that this was done on the basis of early borrowing estimates which turned out to be too pessimistic: on the actual borrowing no loan would have been necessarily. However, he could presumably have not cut things so close to the wire. But the enormous uncertainty in figures is confirmed by others. Well worth thinking about if you're watching columnist pontificate on the significance of an 0.7% growth figure.
His other big mistake he regards as trying to insist on anti-inflation wage deals with the unions, which led to the Winter of Discontent. He thinks if he's just chosen a vaguer target, "single figures" instead of 5%, they could have won the election. Certainly seems possible as they were ahead in the polls before that winter.
Much of the interest in the book lies in Healey's impressions of the other leaders of the day. He's pretty unsympathetic to the vacillating Harold Wilson. However he has a high opinion of Jim Callaghan as a great negotiator and consensus-builder: he reckons that Sunny Jim's problems were due to his lack of a solid majority and the economic climate around them.
As Defence Secretary he has some insights into the cold war. He regards the RAND corporation and their followers as being a little rarified: they were going into elaborate game theory along the lines that if the Soviets were building big missiles they must have a sophisticated first strike strategy, whereas the Soviets weren't that into game theory and just thought "if we can build big missiles lets build them."
Since it was written in the early Nineties, some of it seems inevitably dated. He takes incomes policy seriously, whereas that now seems to be a quaint relic already. However, some of it seems very prescient, where he warns about the dangers of too much borrowing and over-complicated financial instruments.
...the oil crisis led to a massive accumulation of bad debt by the private banks, which they tried to offset by increasing their lending to other clients. It then got completely out of control with the introduction of computer technology into the financial markets. This produced a triple revolution in which globalisation was accompanied by deregulation and innovation, making the international financial system exceptionally vulnerable to shock.His vehement dislike of Thatcher was pretty normal in the period, but looks a little odd in the current mood of nostalgia for ideological leaders rather than focus-group-followers. However that's likely to switch around the instant we next get an ideological leader.
Above all, most of the new activities spawned by the financial revolution, such as leveraged buy-outs, assume that all trees grow up to the sky -- that there will never be another recession. If the United States ever does have another recession, even one as modest as in the Carter years, the whole financial system could collapse like a pack of cards.
Today the consequences of a similar speculative fever have produced a financial system so fragile and yet so interdependent that it is vulnerable to many possible sources of breakdown, and its breakdown could plunge the Western world into a recession quite as damaging as the Great Slump of the thirties, with political consequences even more dangerous.
Overall, definitely worth reading for anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of practical politics. However while decently written, it's definitely an effort to get through: not something you can zoom through in a couple of sittings.
Video. IRC explained on TV show. If Earth had rings. Close Encounters of the Redneck Kind . 100 greatest quotes from The Wire. Slightly tasteless Twilight spoof. Water drop slo-mo. Trucker's Delight (offensive, NSFW, via, via). All the deaths in Total Recall.
Socioeconomics. Britain's debt. Bestselling authors not that rich (via). Pinker versus Gladwell. Average 8.44% of annual income spent on engagement ring. Americans lose trust in institutions. Graphs: manufacturing decline, Govt spending by nation. German productivity (via, via).
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