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Diary
By TheophileEscargot (Sun Nov 22, 2009 at 08:30:46 AM EST) Reading, Theatre, Watching, MLP (all tags)
Theatre: "Endgame". Watching: "2012". Reading: "The Time of My Life". Web.


Theatre
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.

Review, review, review, review, review, review, review, WP.

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.
...
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.
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.

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.

Web
Pics. Hull problems. Polar Bear attack. Jack Kirby Inglourious Basterds. 3D Mandelbrot sets. What Stormtroopers do on Their Day Off. Photobomb.

Politics. Charles Stross on Digital Economy Bill. Petition.

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).

Random. Orwell, Sherlock Holmes locations mapped. High tech instruments.

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"He's crying." "Then he's living." | 9 comments (9 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
"we next get an ideological leader" by Herring (4.00 / 1) #1 Sun Nov 22, 2009 at 12:16:38 PM EST
I'm not sure I see that day coming. Yes, I am a natural pessimist but I see things getting more tabloid/populist outrage driven, not less.

Most these laws that people are bleating about now as "big brother" and "database state" were brought in as a result of public/tabloid outrage. Be careful what you wish for ...

In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.


Well by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #2 Sun Nov 22, 2009 at 01:03:57 PM EST
I meant more the "do what opinion polls and focus groups say what is popular" tendency. You could still be pretty ideological and pander to the rage of opinion columnists.

There's likely to be a lot of new members in the next Parliament after the expenses row clearout. There will be some Tories selected in open primaries. The Labour marginals are likely to disappear, which have the more centrist MPS: what's left of Labour is likely to be, er, the Left. Also, if there's a government with a smaller majority, it has to appeal to its barmier backbenchers if it's to get votes through.

So, I think it's quite possible that the next Parliament will be more ideological.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]

Blair had an ideology by Merekat (4.00 / 2) #5 Mon Nov 23, 2009 at 03:45:49 PM EST
That's why ye ended up in Iraq.


[ Parent ]

Ideology? by Herring (4.00 / 1) #6 Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 05:09:07 AM EST
Really? He was good at sounding like he believed, but as far as I could tell, foreign policy was decided by Washington, employment policy by the CBI, criminal justice by ACPO and the Daily Mail.

In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.
[ Parent ]

Foreign policy was quite ideological by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #7 Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 05:12:16 AM EST
To understand why he went into Iraq you have to look at his successes in Kosova and Sierra Leone, the latter which was against UN policy

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It's political correctness gone mad!
[ Parent ]

Endgame... by Metatone (2.00 / 0) #3 Sun Nov 22, 2009 at 02:05:18 PM EST
I saw it on a Friday after a looong week - there were moments in the middle where the dark, warm theatre and the misty white glow of the stage made my head nod... so I can't disagree that it was testing - but I was very impressed by the performances of Clov and Hamm. Rylance's part-Irish, part Hunter S. Thompson accent (googling showed me it reminded me of Brian Cox) was a great way of bringing out Beckett's construction of Hamm after his time spent with James Joyce and McBurney's Clov was brilliantly done to prevent Hamm stealing the whole show...

I've encountered some purists who were put out that Rylance played Hamm with animation and dark life over Beckett's prescription of straight delivery and menacing stillness, but I think it added more impact to the ending, something is there to be extinguished...

Not having had the luxury of seeing any Beckett live before I was impressed how much more the live performance evoked a self-contained world.



I think it was a good performance by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #4 Mon Nov 23, 2009 at 01:06:49 PM EST
I think when it works, live theatre can give a lot more emotional intensity than a movie or TV.

I see Mark Rylance got best actor in this year's Evening Standard awards, though for a different role.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]

best selling author link by garlic (2.00 / 0) #8 Mon Nov 30, 2009 at 01:19:47 AM EST
is subscriber only sadly.




Seems to have been archived by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #9 Mon Nov 30, 2009 at 01:49:25 AM EST
Google cache works at the moment, will vanish soon.
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]

"He's crying." "Then he's living." | 9 comments (9 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback