The Impossibility of Angels

February 11, 2010

A Classic AngelYesterday, I attended an activists’ training course which was held at my union’s headquarters in London. I arrived slightly early, but as I sat down, I noticed that the overhead projector was switched on and that a Powerpoint presentation was ready to go. I raised an eyebrow: the presentation’s template was one that I had utilised at a previous event. I opened my pack of course materials and found a printout of the slides: to my surprise, I found that fully a third of them were ones that I had written. No acknowledgement was present.

My suspicions were further aroused when the trainer entered the room: upon seeing me, he became pale. He did verbally acknowledge my contribution; however, he let slip two facts which added to my discomfort with the situation. First, he made it clear that he was being paid by the union to train us; in contrast, I had used up valuable holiday days to attend yesterday’s course and previous ones. Second, he made it clear that the course was winging its way around the country. I have no reason to think that the appropriate attributions have been made in these additional sessions.

Part of the purpose of the course is to build enthusiasm for the creation of “action groups” on university campuses. One would think that after having indulged in a petty act of plagiarism, the trainer would have sense enough to give me a wide berth. However, my union is under pressure: it and two other unions took government money with the promise that they would set up these “action groups”. The numerical targets, which are to be achieved by Spring 2011, are laughable to say the least. Nevertheless, the union is making a go of it and going at it hard: I first heard about these groups in late November from the same trainer; I attended a further session in early December, and though I was visibly ailing from the last stages of the flu, he asked me how setting up the action group in my vicnity was going. At that point, my choked up voice and coughing did the talking for me.

He felt the need to press me on this issue again yesterday; when I explained to him that the results of such efforts were unlikely to be instantaneous given the exam period, Christmas holidays and the threat of redundancies among university staff, he replied, “What, after all the training we’ve given you?” If yesterday’s session is included, the sum total of the “training” was 3 days. The “training” has included a request for donations from my local chapter, as well as an attempt to sell books to the participants at the course. Furthermore, if one takes into account the slides and some of the themes I had raised at previous sessions which were then repeated, it would appear that the relationship was not a one-sided matter of his giving and my taking. Strangely, if his statement was a joke, it fell flat, if he was being serious, his quip was laughable.

After the session ended, I proceeded home and mulled over the day. I not only thought about the trainer’s actions, but also how the union had gotten itself into the mess. No doubt there were good intentions, but they had grabbed hold of government cash without a clear plan of achieving their targets. Furthermore, “not criticising the government” was part of the deal: this struck me as odd. As union members, we not only have a right to “speak truth to power”, often, it’s a duty. One of my colleagues was openly frustrated that the “action groups” and by extension, the unions, had been stitched up in this manner. The whole business remains a dreadful muddle, and it made me question the wisdom of the union’s management, from engaging in the project to begin with to its choice of trainer and project manager.

It’s at this juncture that one has to stop: venting is fine, up to a point. However, it would be unrealistic of me to expect the union to be run entirely by altrusitic idealists who are always exemplars of probity. While this was a mistake, or indeed, a series of errors on the union’s part, the causes for which it stands are not devalued. It may reach around in the dark, but at least it is tasked with looking for the light.

It’s often tough to remember this; we live in a world that increasingly believes in throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Sometimes this tendency is perfectly understandable and reasonable: Tiger Woods probably shouldn’t show his face in public for a while. He’s a great golfer, but considering the frequency and the brazenness of his liaisons, it will take more than sporting triumph to resurrect his image.

A more important example is the set of scandals associated with the science of climate change. The contents of the hacked emails from the University of East Anglia and the mistakes made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change regarding the retreat of Himalayan glaciers are well known. To add insult to injury, because of the widespread misinterpretation of the term “global warming”, in Capra-esque fashion, “every time a snowflake falls, a climate change denier takes wing”: the recent blizzards in both Britain and America haven’t helped matters. However, in order to deny climate change, one has to adhere to an unrealistic proposition: i.e., man’s influence on the environment is not significant. This is simply not true; dramatic examples abound, from the Great Smog of London in 1952, which killed 12,000 people to Three Mile Island and Chernobyl in more recent years. We do have the power to affect the world around us, and in quite profound ways. It’s not a pleasant truth, but the truth it remains.

Under these circumstances, acting as if our emissions are harmless is taking a tremendous risk. As I said to my colleagues yesterday, even with the most generous spirit towards the climate change deniers, following their way is rather like handing over a Smith and Wesson with one chamber loaded and inviting the recipient to play a game of Russian roulette. The only way to be absolutely sure of emerging alive is not to pick up the gun.

Climate change deniers, if pressed, cannot be absolutely sure that we have no or only marginal effects on the planet; truly, science is generally a matter of inquiry, not certainty. However, the message of climate change denial is particularly potent because it is so convenient. It’s lovely to think we can keep on using our cars, our television sets, and our jet aircraft without consequences forever. The sheer beauty of this illusion makes matters difficult for those sounding the alarm: I believe the detrimental activities of the UEA and IPCC were due to their desire to find something suitably dramatic with which to fight back. However, they forgot to be scientists first, and to leave propaganda and spin to politicians. Mixing the two roles is invariably a recipe for disaster, and only helps those who are all too ready to dump proverbial infants by the lorryload along with the water in which they bathe.

I really am not sure what to make of the mess with my union; I probably will bring up my concerns but do so calmly, and attribute what has happened to individuals being misguided. There is value in what the union does; but extrapolating from a statement by Karl Marx about society, without the dynamic of criticism, nothing can progress. But criticism is not abandonment, nor rejection; we do not live in world populated by angels, it is ridiculous to expect it to be such. The best thing we can do is try to keep our heads about us and not be swayed by momentary wrath, passions or delusions: this is easy to say, but as events prove, very difficult to follow through.

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Home Sweet Home

February 6, 2010

A British HomeThe British have a talent for self-deprecation. For someone with American origins this is nothing but refreshing: indeed, when I visit my family in the States, I am constantly reminded how patriotism can be elevated from a mere sentiment to a religion. The Stars and Stripes is everywhere: it appears as a gigantic banner fluttering above car dealerships, it’s emblazoned on the front of baseball caps and pinned to the lapels of every national politician. Indeed, the flag is almost a required accessory for every American. It is also conversationally dangerous to suggest in the presence of some Americans that their country may be anything less than extraordinary. At best, one will be reminded in the strongest possible terms that is the “best country”, “land of the free”, “last best hope of mankind”, and so on.

There is nothing wrong with self-confidence, but there is a point when it tips over into vanity, and a further milestone when it implies paranoia. It is upon arrival at this juncture that one is reminded that a national psyche can be as fragile as that of an individual, subject to the pitfalls of pride and avarice. Perhaps one of the more disturbing aspects of the present “Tea Party” movement is a neurotic compulsion at its heart: a fear that America is not what it once was, and that the promises which underpin its self-image, i.e., that of unlimited plenty and prosperity, are no longer achievable. It is perhaps not surprising that the Tea Partiers wrap themselves in the flag rather like a small child clinging to a safety blanket and that they call upon the imagery of the American War of Independence to buttress their perceived authenticity.

The British approach is quite different: someone who wraps themselves in the Union Flag is generally either on their way to the Last Night of the Proms or a member of the British National Party. Fortunately, there are more of the former than the latter. Scepticism is more the national creed than unquestioning patriotism; true, love of country does emerge at moments, such as during the last segment of the Last Night of the Proms when the massed voices sing “Land of Hope and Glory” or “Jerusalem”. However this is a much quieter aspect than the rhetorical fireworks provided by America’s jingoists; it is also difficult to imagine an American anthem referring to “dark Satanic mills” as “Jerusalem” does. I suggest the British way is much healthier. If one is sceptical, then it becomes easier to look problems squarely in the eye as difficulties are expected rather than seen as a intolerable violation of a nation’s self-image.

It is easy to deride the behaviour of British MPs and Peers at the present time, and it’s true, the conduct of their financial affairs was entirely unacceptable. However, while there remains a palpable sense of outrage, in-built suspicion means there was an expectation of their malfeasance and a willingness to face up to the task ahead: for example, it was announced this week that 3 MPs and 1 peer face criminal charges although they have laughably tried to claim immunity from prosecution. At the same time, America’s political process has been purchased by lobbyist cash. While the linkages between politicians and corporations are an open secret, it may very well be the narcotic of patriotism which is squelching sustained efforts to deal with the problem. Some, such as those who voted for Scott Brown in Massachusetts, apparently believe it is sufficient to merely vote in a different set of politicians, instead of engaging in wholesale reform. After all, genuine change may disturb the supposedly sacred designs which are part of the national delusion. Britain, in contrast, is surprisingly flexible: over the past ten years, the constitutional arrangements have been found to be imperfect, particularly in serving the needs of the various nations that make up the United Kingdom. Therefore, powers have been devolved to assemblies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. No one got dressed up in suits of armour and suggested returning to the Magna Carta; scepticism prevents too much idealisation of the past. It is also insurance against simplistic answers: this character trait may be what made Britain impervious to the ideological lunacies of the Thirties, both Stalinist and Fascist, and should keep the nation safe in the future.

I am not sure that America is so well insulated. During Stephen Fry’s recent tour of America, he took tea with Peter Gomes, a Professor of Divinity at Harvard. Professor Gomes said bluntly that Americans dislike complexity, even when the more intricate explanation was the more interesting and correct one. President Obama’s present troubles in the polls are symptomatic of this tendency: he was voted in because he was seen as an agent of change. Yet merely voting for him did not make the land burst forth with plenty: governance is a difficult and painful business and legislation is often sausage making at its worst. Despite the President’s attempts to communicate with the public, the instinct for simplicity, fed by the insistent itch of patriotism, demands much more instantaneous results despite whatever reality may dictate.

Meanwhile, Britain is preparing for its next general election; this will occur by June at the latest. While the campaign poster for the Conservatives has rightly been much derided for its airbrushed portrait of David Cameron, its statement that “Things can’t go on like this” is quite correct and taps into the nation’s mood. It is difficult to see how such a negative message would fit into an American Presidential campaign: ever since the 1980 contest which contrasted Reagan’s “Morning in America” with Carter’s more bleak message, only positive, sunny, and above all patriotic messages are permitted by the coterie of spin doctors and media advisors which flank every American politician of note. Attempts to force feed this culture to the British public has made the appearance of “spin” positively dangerous to any political party; New Labour’s demise is almost guaranteed by its failure to realise this.

It is a matter of personal choice, but I prefer a nation that has a more nuanced and realistic view of itself. I don’t expect the sun to shine all the time; I would be worried if it did. It’s sufficient to have enough sun that breaks through the clouds to illuminate the landscape on occasion. I would be concerned if everyone wanted things to be perfect, because they’re bound to be disappointed; a psyche that is satisfied with quiet and comfort is much more appealing. It may be this characteristic, more than any other, that means when I arrive back in Britain after any trip abroad, my first thought is, “Home Sweet Home”. I use the word “home” advisedly: a home is, by definition, an imperfect place. There is always a door with a squeaky hinge or a pipe that drips, but it is loved with full knowledge of its faults. The strongest and most enduring affections are those which have this acceptance at their heart; the most fleeting and dangerous are those which contain a demand for purity. So when I say, I love it here, I do not expect it to be what it is not. I question what the ideologues in America love, how they love, and if they genuinely love at all; if the nation is to progress, perhaps the question should be more aggressively asked.

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A Prayer for Contingency

February 3, 2010

A British AmbulanceLast October, my parents paid a visit to London. They spent the first few days of their holiday sampling the delights of the capital: they visited restaurants they enjoy, went to the theatre and did a bit of shopping. Then my father began to feel pain in his lower back; it became serious enough that he decided not to attend a performance of “Carmen” at the Royal Opera House. It was a very bad sign: early the next morning, he found he was in so much pain that he could not move.

The emergency services were called: after some pleading by my mother, an ambulance was dispatched. My father was taken to the nearest National Health Service hospital for examination; two of the attending doctors decided it was simply a muscle spasm. They prescribed him some painkillers and discharged him: he was literally wheeled out into the street. Yet, my father still could not move.

Fortunately, he had retained the services of a London doctor. Even more fortunately, he was due to see the doctor that morning; after a brief telephone call, the doctor told him to proceed immediately to his offices. A quick examination was sufficient to compel the physician to demand that my father be admitted to a nearby private clinic. A battery of tests were carried out with alacrity; it was suspected that my father had an infection of the spine. This diagnosis was later confirmed.

I don’t live in London; but as soon as I could, I made the trek into the city to see him. When I stepped into his room, it was a shock: my father is a hale and hearty man in his early sixties, who has taken pride in having maintained a rigorous fitness programme for many years. At that point, however, he was pale, sweating lightly due to a combination of the pain and the painkillers, and drifting in and out of consciousness. His dark eyes were sunk back into his head and had a glassy, almost tearful look in them. My sole consolation at being presented with this sight came when I took his hand in mine: at least the grip was still strong.

It took weeks for the doctors to come up with a detailed diagnosis. I took comfort from the fact that the clinic had tapped into the resources of University College London, one of the finest institutions in the country: a microbiologist was summoned as well as a team of doctors. The precise bacillus was identified. An ultra-strength antibiotic was administered. My father slowly began to improve.

It was important for him to maintain as much mobility as possible; the clinic provided a contraption called a “support walker”, which is generally given to patients recovering from surgery. It has four wheels and chest high arm rests: the patient pushes themselves along, letting the bulk of their weight settle on the rests. I accompanied my father on brief walks up and down the pastel peach coloured hall: he was sweating, grunting, working through the pain. This did not diminish his manners: he gave the nurses and support staff a grin and a friendly “hello” as we passed. All the while, he spoke about the future: I would complete my doctorate, Christmas was coming, there were trips we would take as a family in 2010, 2011 and 2012. He wanted to go to Paris, Istanbul, Rome. His eyes focused on me, then focused ahead, as if he was pushing himself towards the goals of which he spoke.

At long last, he recovered sufficiently that he was able to fly home. He received extended care in the United States; he ceased taking the massive doses of antibiotics in December. Unable to engage in the usual festivities, my sister and mother stuffed the Thanksgiving turkey. Stuck in Britain, I had additional impetus to pull myself together sufficiently to finish the doctorate; I successfully defended my thesis at the end of November. By the time I finally got to America a few days before Christmas, my father was able to walk with the assistance of a cane. He was pleased with the fact that he had lost thirty pounds, though neither he nor his American physician would recommend the method. The holidays echoed with his repetition of Barack Obama’s campaign slogan whenever he wanted to go anywhere: “Fired up and ready to go! Fired up and ready to go!” His recovery continues apace; he, and by extension, my family and I, are very lucky.

This tale is only a fortunate one because somewhere, somehow, a prayer for contingency was answered: note how the National Health Service fell down at the time of asking. This was not due to the service itself being uncaring or inattentive: my father had nothing but praise for the ambulance drivers in this instance. On a previous trip, he had come down with food poisoning and the NHS dealt with it efficiently. However, due to the government’s insistence on saving money rather than lives, there is an in-built bias in the system to discharge difficult cases. It was nothing short of a blessing that my father had sufficient connections and frankly, enough money, to be able to go an alternative route. His American doctor later told him that if he had merely followed the advice of the doctors at the NHS hospital, he might have ended up partially paralysed.

Both America and Britain are caught up in an ongoing debate about health care: what shape should the system take? Who pays? How should it be run? What are the values which will underpin the system? What balance is there going to be between efficiency and providing thorough care? The example of my father’s treatment suggests that contingency, i.e., some resilence within the system that provides an alternative means of achieving a proper result, needs to be more than prayer, it is a requirement. I am not confident that the politicians in Washington or London, absorbed as they are by bland statistics and the sweet nothings whispered by lobbyists, are fully aware of this need. Rather, they appear to be more interested in using health care as a political football, or more accurately, a bludgeon with which to beat each other. In light of my father’s experience, their behaviour is more than offensive, it’s disgusting: no doubt this sentiment is echoed on both sides of the Atlantic by people who have had similar experiences. Perhaps the politicians should stop for a moment in indulging their petty vanities or engaging in micro-Machiavellian tactics and think of a father and son pacing together down a long corridor and telling each other stories about the future intended to take away terrible pain. A spasm of mental clarity might occur: within that space, decency could triumph.

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A Bit of Fry and Laurie

February 3, 2010

I’ve recently acquired the DVDs for the programme, “A Bit of Fry and Laurie”, which is absolutely hilarious. However, their humour can also be razor sharp, as this remake of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, featuring Hugh Laurie as Rupert Murdoch, shows:

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The Politics of Waste

February 2, 2010

Downward GraphCommentators often try to obscure simple truths by utilising the dry vocabulary of economics. Behind all the superfluous talk of deficits and GDP figures, there is one underlying fact: we’re not as rich as we used to be, or rather, not as wealthy as we thought we were. Governments and citizens alike got caught up in the heady pleasures of cheap credit and indulged primal instincts to grab everything they desired. People bought expensive cars, expensive homes, expensive televisions, believing that somehow, some way, the debts would be paid. Governments also spent wildly: on wars, on public works, on bridges to nowhere, even sometimes on worthy things like education and health. They believed that tax revenues would somehow be sustained, and indeed, rise to the point that they would solve deficit problems.

It’s easy to scoff now, but perhaps we should have kept in mind the wisdom of Napoleon III: according to the historian Fenton Bresler, “when he (Napoleon III) was happy, he was afraid”. When things seem good, we should be worried about what might come along and undo it. Euphoria on both a personal and societal level is generally a transitory experience and often followed by a much darker mood.

President Obama now has the melancholy associated with sifting through the wreckage, rather like the owner of a hotel finding the main ballroom after it had been trashed by a wild party the previous night. Drunk people in stained tuxedos and gowns lay on the floor snoozing, there are unidentifiable liquid spills on the carpet, shards of smashed glasses and plates glitter in the light of dawn and there is litter strewn everywhere. The sole sensible reaction is to sigh, pick up the broom, and make a start; to be fair to the President, he is trying. This is preferable to the present situation in Britain. The current government is at least partially responsible for the catastrophe: they are now making desperate attempts to redefine chaos as order, and if their questionable assertions are met with scepticism, they then suggest that only the people who made the mess are qualified to clean it up.

However, both President Obama and the British Government are so caught up with immediate repairs that they are paying less attention to a more difficult task: the hubris of the Anglo-American entente should be punctured. New Labour and Clinton Democrats are just as much to blame as Conservatives and Republicans: thanks to Eighties era policies such as privatisation and deregulation, and subsequent stock market rises, business somehow became more trusted than the state by all parties to run matters effectively. The illusion of managerial competence, however, created a more pernicious idea: Labour and American Democrats alike thought that spending more, in and of itself, would yield to improved services, particularly if the state utilised private consultants such as Halliburton or Perot Systems. There was euphoria when the opportunity to test the theory presented itself, especially when Labour took the reins of power in 1997. The joyous crowds and the simplistic promises of a new dawn should have told us something; rather than happy, we should have been afraid.

The Economist recently spelled out why: in their report on the increasing size of government, they showed a series of interesting statistics which detailed the failures of the Anglo-American model. The government’s share of GDP in Britain is 52%; in the United States, this share is above 40% and rising. Yet, the government’s share of GDP in Germany is much less than that in Britain, and the differential between the United States’ share and Canada’s is only two percentage points.

Step back a moment: Britain is spending more as a percentage of its national output than Germany on its public services, yet by any measure these services are inferior. Take a train ride in Germany, then embark a comparable journey in Britain: the point will be hammered home. Germany also has a modern, progressive programme for encouraging individuals to utilise clean energy; Britain still struggles with getting even the most rudimentary wind farms built. For Americans, the comparisons are just as stark: the United States is spending nearly as much as a percentage of its wealth as Canada, yet doesn’t have its social welfare system, nor has its subsidised education, nor its single payer health care. An even starker comparison comes from the the United Nations Human Development Index: according to this listing, Canada is ranked fourth in the world, the United States is twelfth. Britain is one place ahead of Germany in the same index, but then again, Britain’s figures are not harmed by the incorporation an impoverished post-communist nation with all its resulting difficulties and costs.

What is more, when both Britain and the United States look to trim their spending, they appear unable or unwilling to look at systemic failures: rather, they want to cut meat instead of fat. Yesterday, it was announced that Britain’s universities will have their budgets cut by £449 million, the result of which will be to reduce access to higher education; this is likely to have a detrimental effect on an economy that desperately needs more skilled graduates in order to remain viable.

The purpose of these cuts is as dubious as their effect: the unstated intention is to restore the previous euphoria. If governments cut and the bond markets smile upon them, low interest rates can be maintained. The system, awash with liquidity, will eventually gain sufficient froth to inflate yet another bubble of heightened expectations. Pour out the gin and tonics, put on the party hats, happy days are here again. Most politicians would rather not talk about limits, however we should charge them with cowardice rather than stupidity: after all, their constituents by and large would rather not hear about constraints. We don’t want to go through the difficult, rigourous process of trying to figure out what precisely went wrong and planning for a modest, sustainable future. Being responsible gets in the way of having fun. However, the politics of waste should not be allowed to wither in the bright glare of economic recovery: any respite should give us the space to think and worry about the future. When we are happier, we should be ever afraid, particularly of the opportunities that are being missed.

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A Touch of Lime

January 31, 2010

Orson Welles as Harry LimeThe economist John Maynard Keynes once famously said to a questioner, “When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do, sir?” Similarly, I too have been subject to a political evolution since I was a young man, though it is fair to say that this development has been punctuated by particular milestones. The futility of the war in Iraq, and the lack of any evidence of chemical weapons was certainly an important step. Another point of change occurred when the size of government exploded under George W. Bush, which turned his libertarian rhetoric into a lie. Yet another step was taken when I had to face the necessity of readily available birth control and women’s reproductive services, when someone close to me attempted a dangerous procedure on themselves.

What put the seal on my evolution, however, was my experience in the business world. As a young man, I had rather sunny, optimistic views of the possibilities that capitalism had to offer. It made sense to think that the energies of the individual, if left unhindered, would make a better world. After all, efforts at collective endeavours had hitherto failed: I grew up in the shadow of the Cold War, and the grey bureaucratism of the USSR seemed to be an oppressive nightmare. My horrific visions were made flesh during a visit to Berlin; I arrived shortly after the infamous Wall opened. Citizens of all age groups and professions were in front of the Brandenberg Gate with pick axes. I borrowed a hammer and chisel and took a swing: I still have a piece of that hated barricade. Out of curiosity, I crossed the border with my family and wandered through the streets of what was then East Berlin.

Communism was a perverse way of life. One need not visit the prisons of the Stasi to get a hint of this: a look inside a parked Trabant was sufficient. It was as if the society and its accoutrements had reached a certain point of development and then froze up. Buildings around me were crumbling; the scent of an open sewer was in evidence. Perhaps strangely, my father thought it would be interesting if we had dinner in a Chinese restaurant in the East. I ordered a diet cola and was rewarded with a sludgy, bitter drink that burned my throat on the way down. The meat that accompanied dinner came from animals that were apparently starved, and the ingredients, though reasonably well prepared, were obviously sub-par. Even the money was odd: the coins were made of aluminium and felt as if they would bend in my hands, provided I exerted enough effort. My later studies indicated that this was about as far as Communism got; a subsequent visit to Russia several years later showed me living conditions that were much, much worse.

However, it must be said that if collectivist endeavours failed, then the opposite hasn’t been a roaring success either. It took me longer to come to terms with the failure of the capitalist dream, but over time, I became acquainted with its ethos and was worn down by it during my 14 years in the business world.

If I were to use a fictional character to summarise the attitude of many businessmen I’ve encountered, it would be Harry Lime, the antagonist from the 1949 British film, “The Third Man”. For those who are unfamiliar with this movie, Lime is a racketeer who made a profit in post-war Vienna by stealing pencillin from military hospitals, diluting it, and then selling on the lesser-strength medicine to other clinics, including those treating children. When asked by a friend whilst standing at the top of a Ferris Wheel how he could be so callous towards innocent people, Lime, brilliantly played by Orson Welles, gave the following response:

Don’t be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax – the only way you can save money nowadays.

Furthermore, Lime believes that his activities are achieving some sort of moral good by contributing to the chaos of the time. He stated:

Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love: they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

One can argue with the accuracy of the statement, as the Germans invented the cuckoo clock, and the Swiss invented the internal combustion engine, the breech-loading rifle, the chemical theory of electricity and velcro among other things. However, I found that Lime’s attitude was prevalent among many of my superiors. The emphasis was always on making profits, right now, ignoring the short-term and long-term consequences, and usually, ethics was a secondary consideration, if it entered the managerial mind at all. Often, it was only paid lip service.

This callousness was particularly evident in how my employees were treated. I have worked in companies in which my teams had their jobs outsourced, and I had to be strident in order to ensure they received a just settlement. I have worked in other firms in which promises of promotion and pay rises were not met in spite of superlative performance. Each and every time, I have seen corners being cut, quality trimmed, efficiency put aside, so long as there was a perception that it would generate more cash in a brief timescale, even if the result in a longer context would be to diminish the viability and the reputation of the firm. Perhaps the most blatant example of “Lime-ism” in operation occurred whilst I was working in the travel industry; on the website for which I was responsible, one could book a rental car along with a flight. The default for renting a car was ticked, sensibly, “no”. At that point in time, the profit margins on flights was in decline, and the company was having difficulty trying to generate other forms of revenue.

The Managing Director, who was notorious for his somewhat “hands on” relationship with female employees, asked me to change the default on the car rental option to “yes”. He reasoned that this would increase rentals in a short amount of time; I disagreed as logically it would only increase the amount of accidental rentals. What made the situation even more perplexing was that I soon discovered it had been tried before, and a great many refunds had to be processed as a result. But this didn’t matter to my boss, as it would boost his sales figures, albeit temporarily. Furthermore, he tried to argue that this was providing a better service indicating a logic that could best be called convoluted.

It was the “touch of Lime” that plagued my former boss and his counterparts which perhaps answers the great question of our age: how did we get here? Why are things so bad? It may be because we were so busy thinking about today and not mindful of its consequences, we forgot about tomorrow. The future arrived and laid us low. We have gigantic bills to pay for our lack of vision and absence of consideration. But an iron law remains: the cheque always comes due, and it is always paid.

Communism failed because it thought that gigantic solutions imposed by a dictatorial government would lead to human happiness; what it led to was East German diet cola, Trabants, murder and a bloated secret police. Capitalism has failed because it turned into a mess of short term gains for the rapacious which chewed up the requirements of the future.

So the facts have changed, and I changed my mind; I believe more than ever that what we need is to think long-term first, short-term second. Our societies need to emphasise education in order to achieve this change in individual thinking, and also to reverse the damage that the present business culture is inflicting on the world. We need sensible regulation, and we need to be sceptical of any solution that does not emphasise locality. Ideally, people should be allowed to use democratic means to decide the fate and direction of their communities. Finally, in order to shame and disgrace the Harry Limes of this world, we need to emphasise human rights and the dignity of the individual, which is not always achieved through less regulation: on the contrary, a strong referee saying “no” can be more effective.

I still remain a sceptic, overall. I recall the wise words of a former German Communist in a BBC documentary about the rise of the Nazis, that there is always a danger in a crisis, that someone will come along stating they have all the answers. Fortunately, our era is sufficiently cynical that demagogues are not widely believed: this is progress. However, the Harry Limes still prosper, and as a world, we have not yet made up our mind how best to rein them in. This conversation and resulting action, still needs to take place.

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Review: “The Road” starring Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron

January 30, 2010

Scene from The RoadMovies about the apocalypse are commonplace. Late last year, audiences were “treated” to the latest in a long line of films which contemplated the end of the world, namely “2012”, which was based on a ridiculous misinterpretation of the Mayan calendar. Like many of its ilk, it was little more than a demonstration of advanced digital effects and as a result was thoroughly unmemorable.

In contrast, it is much rarer for films to address the “world after the end of the world”: i.e., what would be it be like to live after an earth shattering disaster, assuming any sort of life is possible? How would people interact? What would they do? “The Road”, a new film based on the book of the same title by Cormac McCarthy, tries to address these questions and does so with a grim, determined realism.

The film begins by showing a father and son proceeding along a deserted road; we are told that the weather is getting colder, and the washed out greys and browns of the scene speak of a perpetual winter. Somehow, the planet has been made uninhabitable. No birds sing nor disturb the background scenery. Plants and trees are withered. A father, played by Viggo Mortensen, and son, portrayed by Kodi Smit-McPhee, cling desperately to an old shopping trolley which carries the sum of their worldly possessions.

This is a world in which survivors can take two routes in order to prolong their existence: the first is to try and live off of the detritus of the civilisation which has just collapsed. The second is a descent into cannibalism. The father and son, who are living off of the withered carcass of the world, are living in fear of the cannibals. Theirs is a journey born out of the last words of the boy’s mother (expertly portrayed by Charlize Theron), to head south and towards the coast.

Flashbacks are used wisely to explain the plot; we see that the father and mother had an almost idyllic existence in a rural home. Small reminders of this life pop up in the bleak present: the presence of a piano spurs the father’s memory of playing a duet with his wife, for example. We see the fallout of the disaster through the prism of his memory, the increasingly desperate conditions as demonstrated by Ms. Theron eating the contents of canned food hungrily, and the subsequent birth of the son amidst pain and candlelight.

The film is very believable as it shows civilisation’s fragility: small touches assist in the process. The father and son raid an abandoned shopping mall: an open cash register stuffed with $100 dollar bills is not valuable, a can of Coke fished out of the wreckage of a vending machine is a precious treat. A shower, made possible by finding supplies in a hidden bunker, is a luxury, as is discovering a hoard of canned goods. Furthermore, the father’s sense of paranoia is palpable as demonstrated by his willingness to perk up his ears at the slightest sound, his hand constantly on his near-empty revolver, and his determination to shoot first and ask questions later. He is not some hero of the apocalypse, rather, he is a very ordinary man with no training or preparation trying to survive as best he can.

Perhaps the film is made all the more believable because the disaster itself is not explained. Thanks to a cameo by Robert Duvall as an aged wanderer named Ely, we are given a hint that it was ecological in nature: he states that he believed “it” was coming when others did not. There are no markers of nuclear war either: the sole hints as to the nature of the calamity are provided by an earthquake which fells a group of rotten trees. It may not have been the director’s intent, but I interpreted it as the earth trying to shake off parasites, rather like a dog would try to rid itself of gnawing insects. That said, the lack of specificity is key: had it been explained, it is likely that the audience’s attention would have been fixed on the cause rather than the result.

It is disturbing to say this, but the work perhaps also contains an air of truth because of its no-holds-barred view of humanity. Yes, in this scenario, some have kept their morals in spite of the world coming to an end: the father urges his son to keep “the fire burning”. However, we see that more people have degenerated into cannibalism: the father’s discovery of a makeshift prison for human “food” was one of the most terrifying scenes I’ve ever seen, the father and son hearing the distant screams of “dinner” being “processed” later on was just as brilliantly dreadful.

It may not have been the intent of the film makers nor the author, but “The Road” makes a great many philosophical points that are central to Green thinking: human beings have the capacity to destroy themselves both by debauching the physical world and by not having a strong community which solves problems rather than descends into a mad free-for-all. Indeed, are we not engaged in a form of cannibalism now, in which predators, albeit it in pinstripe suits and wielding laptops as opposed to axes, eat out the substance of their neighbours? Are we conditioned, on a subtle level, to exist in the world that “The Road” shows us?

While the post-apocalyptic nightmare shown in this film is a distant possibility, a possibility it remains: no one I saw emerged from the cinema laughing at the absurdity of its plot. When I stepped out, I was walking amidst the snow and ice of a winter’s day: teenagers were talking on mobile phones and children were walking hand in hand with their parents to the local bowling alley. The establishments were brightly lit, the scents of freshly cooked food were in the air, people were warm, safe and dry: it’s easy to take such a state of affairs for granted and ignore the currents in human affairs that lie beneath. The Road is an unpleasant masterpiece because precisely it reminds how lucky we are and that there are possibilities for change…for the moment.

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The Art of Regeneration

January 23, 2010

The New DoctorA new year, a new Doctor: I suppose that was the motto the programme planners at the BBC had in mind when they scheduled the new Doctor Who to take over on January 2. I must confess that I was worried about the change: David Tennant has become a television icon over the past four years and almost as much a living symbol of the Doctor as Tom Baker. His replacement, Matt Smith, is 26 years old: for much of his life, the Doctor wasn’t in production. As a result, it may have been barely a speck on the fringe of his cultural awareness. Given this, how well will he perform in the role? I remain uncertain.

However, a change was inevitable. It is this process which has allowed the series to continue for over forty years as it eliminates reliance on any one actor; as much as fans wanted to echo David Tennant’s mournful “I don’t want to go” with laments of their own, it had to be. The blazing light of complicated special effects enveloped his body, his face changed, and Matt Smith emerged with a loud yelp. After a moment’s panic that he might have become a girl and checking to see that he still had all his limbs, he concluded his entrance with a loud “Geronimo!” as the TARDIS hurtled towards Earth.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that this was one of the most highly anticipated events on British holiday television. The viewing figures suggest that 10.4 million viewers tuned in for the transformation. While David Tennant is popular, and the marketing was effective, I have to wonder if that’s the entire story: is there something that we inherently like about regeneration?

Believe it or not, we regenerate as a matter of course. According to a colleague of mine who holds a PhD in biochemistry, every cell that one has in one’s body is replaced within seven years. As such, we are actually not at all of the same flesh with which we were born: perhaps it is a latent awareness of this process which makes the Doctor’s much more dramatic transformation interesting to audiences.

Perhaps we are also intrigued by the idea of starting afresh abruptly; obligingly, the script writers have generally made regeneration a part of the previous form suddenly becoming unviable. The First Doctor said “this body is wearing a bit thin” before turning into Patrick Troughton. The Third Doctor was poisoned before becoming Tom Baker. David Tennant succumbed to a massive dose of radiation poisoning, in a faint echo of the Third Doctor’s end, before his change. A situation becomes unbearable: we don’t like how things are turning out, we are plagued with aches, pains, illnesses, even self-loathing: how wonderful it would be to cast aside all that we are right now, and to have a fresh start in a blaze of glory. We can revel in the delciousness of the new, feeling the shackles of the past drop off like heavy weight, explore new capabilities and view the world through a refreshed set of eyes.

Whether by design or accident, it was apropos that the New Year was chosen for the debut of the new Doctor; the holiday is a flamboyant symbol of regeneration. By the time December 31 comes, the year has exhausted its opportunities and pleasures, its joys and regrets, its pain and its triumphs. Vast crowds of people cling together at Times Square, watching the lighted crystal ball drop, as if its perigee will represent the moment when the door is shut on the past, the slate is wiped clean, and in many cases, couples punctuate the moment with a tender kiss. Of course, there is no such thing as perfect renewal, even on Doctor Who. The Daleks and Cybermen follow the Doctor from body to body, still intent on his death. We may want to push the door shut on the past, but any victory is only partial: regardless of which form he inhabits the Doctor retains hundreds of years of memories, i.e., the narrative suggests that we are obliged to recognise the limits of renewal. However, the urge to begin again is a positive force because at its core is an idea that things can and should be better. One can start over, cognisant of mistakes made, wiser, but with fresh hope. When things become unbearable, or unviable, there is this chance so long as life is preserved: one can stop, breathe, be resolved, and start again.

We are at this point in the political process as well: for example, the Copenhagen summit, to put it bluntly, was a failure. Theoretically there was a formal undertaking by America, South Africa, China and India to reduce emissions, but it has all the meaning of an adolescent boy promising to clean up his room. The dirty socks still remain on the middle of the floor, the comic books lay strewn on the night table, the bed is still a dishevelled mess which reeks after not having been laundered for weeks, carbon belches out as China’s heaving industry continues its rapid expansion. However, there is time, albeit a brief amount: the world’s leaders need to breathe in, learn, and try again.

Health care reform in the United States is another case in point: it suffered from a massive dose of political radiation poisoning, dished out to it by an opaque process and transparent bribery such as Nebraska’s exemption from having to pay health care costs in perpetuity. The resulting bill, over 2500 pages, is a dense swamp of legislation whose true meaning would elude even the most ardent students of government. For the purposes of comparison, the original National Heath Service Act of 1946, which set up universal care in Britain, was approximately 400 pages when published in book form by His Majesty’s Stationery Office. In other words, the verbiage in “ObamaCare” says a great deal more, but does less. Worse, it may facilitate a new growth industry in its interpretation rather than its application. It is no wonder the public feared it even in bastions as liberal-minded as Massachusetts. The recent by-election in the Bay State and subsequent rejection of Martha Coakley was not entirely a referendum on this bill, but it would be foolish to dismiss this as a contributing factor to the result. With Scott Brown in place, the legislation is likely dead in its present form: hopefully this will create a space in which the Administration can refresh, regenerate, breathe in, and try again. There is still time. Yes, the process of “regeneration” could result in yet another dog’s breakfast: there are no guarantees that a fresh start won’t end any better than its predecessor. However, we hope, we try again, and sometimes, we succeed.

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Run into the Ground

August 12, 2009

Fallen RunnerI have been struggling to come up with a suitable metaphor for the state of the economy at present; however, I literally fell into one this morning.

It’s my habit to awaken at 5 AM on weekdays to go running; as pedestrians and passing motorists tend to be unkind to joggers, this is an ideal time to avoid meeting anyone in particular. The late night drunks have usually passed out, are drooling on park benches whilst clutching empty cans of cheap lager or are recovering at home. Also, it’s generally too early for morning deliveries and the odd stares of van drivers. Today, after the first few steps, my shoe caught on a fissure in the tarmac and I fell over flat on my face. My glasses were knocked off and landed a yard askew, and my hands and left knee received some minor scrapes. The injuries themselves were relatively insignificant; it was the shock that hurt most of all. After a couple of seconds lying prone on the cold surface of the street, I gathered up my wits and my eyesight and pulled myself up. I felt a thin trickle of blood ooze out of my wounds. I cast a quick look at my front door: should I go back in and wait till tomorrow? Should I carry on? Too dazed, perhaps, to think straight, I proceeded.

The jog itself was slow and painful; my left knee let me know that there was a bigger problem than a scrape, and my hands were sore. However, I managed to complete the run with something of a sprint to the finish. At the moment, however, the knee is still bothering me, and my scrapes, while having been treated, still ache slightly: it’s likely going to be a while before I feel like I’m fully back to normal. I will go out there tomorrow with much more trepidation and care. I will probably again be sluggish in my efforts too. Indeed, I imagine I will be more wary from here on in. In the blink of an eye, things changed.

While the comparison is not direct, the present recession has been for most people like a sudden fall; those who warned that a boom based on a credit expansion was unsustainable were in a distinct minority. Most people believed the assurances of leaders like Gordon Brown, who insisted that the cycle of boom and bust had been abolished. If the economy showed any signs of trembling, people heeded the advice of George W. Bush after 9/11: go shopping. The good times were not supposed to end: politicians, central bankers, economists, financial journalists, academics, and the demi-gods of Wall Street were supposed to be looking out for us.

But here we are with the economy flat on its face. Its capacity to run fast and free has been hobbled by the injuries it has sustained: credit is not flowing as easily as it once was, and the banks are using the spread between their interest rates and central bank rates to make a killing. Unemployment means that consumers neither have the capacity, nor the will to spend their way out of recession. Furthermore, the burden of government and personal debt remains a subtle portent of doom lingering in the back of everyone’s mind.

Yet, the economy runs on. Most essential goods and services are still being provided: one can go into the shops and buy milk, bread, toasters, a new pair of shoes and a garden shovel. Some of the prices are being slashed in order to attract customers, some of the shops have been forced to close. A Woolworths near where I live was a prominent example: yet the economy continues to function, in a way. The building has been bought out by Boots the pharmaceuticals and cosmetics retailer, who will turn it into a “mega-outlet”, thus closing two smaller stores. Is this good? Probably not; the renovators have put together a makeshift airlock sealing off the site, which makes me suspect asbestos is involved. More pertinently, I’m not convinced the energy use of one “mega-outlet” will be less than two smaller ones.

What is truly sad is that policy makers didn’t use the opportunity to stop and think. In retrospect, I should have stopped, tested the knee, perhaps washed off the scrapes, before I continued running. However, at that moment, the greatest priority for me was to get back up and to carry on as normal. I didn’t analyse what made me fall until later, and I endured more hurt as a result of running in spite of what had happened; my left knee is arguing with me as I type this. Thoughts that occur in retrospect include: perhaps I should do exercise that’s more low impact, I am getting older after all. Perhaps I ought to get a treadmill. Perhaps I should avail myself of my university’s facilities. Perhaps I should invest in a better pair of running shoes, or wear elastic braces around my knees. At the time I stubbornly just got back up and tried to be normal. Policy makers want us to do the same: their present emphasis sounds rather like a Warren G. Harding campaign slogan, a “return to normalcy”. But “normal” turned out to lead to the state we’re in. While all falls are not avoidable, it’s a function of sanity to take rational steps to evade them.

Policy makers should be using this chance to realise that no, we can’t trust the bankers, the economists, the semi-dieties of the financial services industry: in pursuit of their own interest, they nearly destroyed us. Furthermore, many of them are still collecting outlandish bonuses; this was an ugly fact of life when the bonuses came from private hands. It is totally unacceptable in an era in which the financial industry owes its ability to draw breath to the taxpayer. In return, we are not being helped to our feet: while much of the press lately suggests that the worst of the recession is over, unemployment is still rising; we are still bleeding, hobbling along, trying to convince ourselves that we are what we once were. Symptoms scream at us and we ignore them.

I should add that we could have tried to re-cast the economy in a more environmentally friendly way. While much verbiage has been wasted on hailing the dawn of the new “Green” economy, there is little evidence of that happening. The only wind turbine factory in the United Kingdom has been allowed to close, in a period of rising demand for new energy and particularly the clean sort. Indeed, if nothing is done about power generation, Britain may run short on its electricity supplies within the next few years. In America, the “Cap and Trade” scheme proposed by the Obama Administration appears to be in the process of dilution by Congress. At the core of our global economy there is still a caveman equation: we burn stuff to light, to heat, to cook or to do much of anything else.

The best hope is perhaps that the individual citizen has learned something; maybe the pain of the present period will increase wariness. No, the future is not necessarily a march of progress, and economic growth isn’t always a good measure of how we are doing. Numbers, which look so clear and hard when printed on paper or the computer screen, can seem as if they are an immutable calculus of our well-being. However, it may be that how little they actually tell us is now becoming apparent.

Personally, it’s my intent to continue to solider through the rest of the day; I’ll perhaps leave early, and later, take a hot bath sprinkled with Dead Sea Salts. I’ll extend the knee and tend the wounds, and relax by reading Anna Karenina. I’ll be fine. It’s a pity that the subject of my metaphor can’t find respite so easily, for all of our sakes.

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Review: “The Grapes of Wrath” starring Sorcha Cusack and Damian O’Hare

August 7, 2009

Sorcha Cusack as Ma JoadApart from “I love you”, perhaps the most dangerous statement in the English language is “Things couldn’t get worse”. In my experience, uttering this phrase is an invitation for evil to arrive. Indeed, I have wondered if the present Prime Minister has said it more than a few times. Faced with a teetering economy, he might have let fly with a “things couldn’t get worse”: then Northern Rock collapsed. Perhaps after having (sort of) cleared up that mess, he then may have tried to comfort himself with a “well, at least things couldn’t get worse”. Presumably this was followed by the financial obliteration of Halifax Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland plus the massive bailouts this entailed. If my assumption is correct, then perhaps his advisors would be well advised to grab a parcel full of duct tape and proceed to seal their master’s mouth shut, lest his curse strike again.

The point being, things can always be worse than what they are. Yes, increasing unemployment is a terrible blight which is afflicting most of the Western world: this morning the BBC showed a film of jobless individuals in New York, waiting in an office to collect a welfare cheque. The sheer hopelessness in their eyes suggests that this is not a recession which affects mainly the shiftless, rather, it is harming the productive and ambitious, who now have no means to contribute their efforts to the nation’s revival nor to better themselves.

However, it could be worse. Whether by coincidence or luck, the Chichester Festival Theatre has been running a series of plays which inform the audience of times which were much more harrowing and precarious; for example, a new play entitled “The House of Special Purpose” has been running for much of the summer. This tells the tale of the last days of the Russian Royal Family before they were killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918. The confined atmosphere of the aforementioned “house” within which the royals were detained, is made all the more poignant by the use of a small stage. While there are oddities, such as the Princess Anastasia awkwardly gliding around the set on roller skates, the play is able to convey the impression of a country in a state of violent collapse. Things are bad at the moment, but at least they’re not that awful.

Additionally, the management of the Chichester Festival Theatre decided to run a production of Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”. Before continuing, I should mention that I have a special relationship with this particular novel: as a teenager, I read Steinbeck out of my own interest. I was perplexed as to why his novels were not part of the curriculum and made my teachers aware of my frustration. “The Grapes of Wrath” was my particular favourite, largely because it elevated the Depression and the Dust Bowl out of the dry pages of history and into living emotion; a dog eared copy was at the bottom of my school backpack, often thumbed through the dull moments which seemed to plague my teenage years. So it was with an affectionate heart that I booked my ticket and it was with a critical eye with which I viewed the play. Was this particular production going to live up to the high standards set by the author?

The most important element, in my opinion, was going to be its realism. Steinbeck had first hand experience of the Dust Bowl refugees which arrived in California: he saw how bedraggled yet hopeful they were, and how their dreams were shattered upon seeing the reality of California in contrast to the promises of it being a “golden state”. The audience needs to have hope and despair churned up from the very beginning, in which a freshly paroled Tom Joad (portrayed by Damian O’Hare) is making his way home to his parents’ farm.

It’s difficult for a stage to convey hot, dry weather, but the Chichester Festival Theatre does its best with rough hewn floor boards on the stage and harsh orange lights. The actors do their bit as well, making gestures and wiping of foreheads speak of intense heat. However, the production ran into its first difficulty once the actors began to speak. That said, it may be a problem only for an American: it was very clear the actors are British and trying to speak in an accent which is not natural to them. As a result, they sound more South than South West, more Tennessee than Oklahoma. Fortunately, however, they were able to push through this barrier and make the narrative flow.

Innovative touches also helped; it was clear that a lot of time and effort was put into the Joads’ car, for example. It was a rusted heap of a jalopy: sound and lights were used appropriately to suggest movement as the family makes the trek to California. Other successful ideas included the use of “projected” billboards: a screen at the top of the stage displayed ads for everything from Chevrolet to the American way of life. Also, the use of a barbershop quartet added a bit of light relief, particularly when the crooners sang a ballad of car salesmen who were trying to unload the lemon that eventually became the Joads’ main form of transportation.

However, perhaps the most extravagant prop was water: at the edge of the stage, there was a small, narrow pool which came in handy when the actors needed to portray swimming in the Colorado River or trying to damn a creek which had burst its banks. This was supplemented by the rain which flowed in a torrent from the ceiling.

These effects are very successful in portraying a world which is harsh, overly commercial and relentless. “The Grapes of Wrath”, in essence, is about how a family is destroyed by this environment: family members die en route, some leave of their own volition, others, like Tom Joad, are forced to run away from the law. But what makes this production a success is not the special effects, nor is it even the acting of many of the characters: its core comes from the character of Ma Joad, portrayed by Sorcha Cusack. It is commonplace to regard Tom Joad as the main hero of “The Grapes of Wrath”; indeed, Bruce Springsteen produced a tribute album entitled “The Ghost of Tom Joad”. It may very well be that this impression was entrenched in the public imagination by Henry Fonda’s sensitive performance as the character in the feature film and his famous speech therein about how we are all vessels of a collective soul. However, in the play, it is Ma Joad who gives the story its soul: she is the one who is ever hopeful, ever purposeful and even when the play reaches its desperate climax and finale, it is she who adds poignancy. The demands of this role are so great they that could wither many actresses, however Ms. Cusak rose to the challenge with grace. It is also worth mentioning that her Oklahoma accent is by far and away the most believable; when she delivered a short monologue towards the end about how men are “jerked” by events and women see the world continuing in spite of what troubles may come, it was perhaps the most moving moment in the play. It may be at that point that the sense of “things could be worse” was most palpable for the spectators: unemployed as no doubt some the audience were, and perhaps lacking in hope, at least we were sitting in a theatre on a comfortable August evening. Our crops had not blown away in the dust, nor had we chased after pipe dreams to a distant place and ended up living in railway box cars, suffering from starvation. We were inside, we were well fed, we were dry. Ma Joad was right, the world continued on and to a better place. But “The Grapes of Wrath” is a success because it invites us to look back: it’s not a perfect production, however, it does open the window on a world which we have thankfully left behind. One can’t emerge from it without feeling blessed; if indeed the planners of Chichester Festival Theatre happened to choose this play for this season out of mere luck, then one can only hope their fortunes continue to hold, and their presently faultless sense of the times in which we live will compel them next year to choose productions which reflect lighter, happier days.

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Picture of meI'm a Doctor of Creative Writing, a husband, a son, a brother, an uncle, a published novelist, a technologist, a student, and still an amateur in much else.

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