Friday 27 February 2009

the opposite bank

Last night the Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus told his audience at the Royal Geographical Society that the approach he took when setting up the Grameen Bank was to look at what every other bank was doing and then do exactly the opposite.

Impossible not to compare two bankers - Sir Fred Goodwin and Mohammad Yunus - two world views: one that works, one that doesn't.

There's something almost Wildean about Yunus's stories. He overturns the assumptions by which a society operates. The Grameen Bank has loaned money to tens of 1000s of beggars and his bank still flourishes. Other banks that only lend to the rich (because of 'economic realities') have crashed.

(You can catch a good interview with Yunus where he explains the principles of micro-credit. The interviewer says, 'This is such a great idea, what are the road blocks?' Yunus replies, "Number one: mindsets.') more ...

Thursday 26 February 2009

the banker who doesn't need a bail-out

Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate and 'banker to the poor', gives the Ashden Awards lecture. Report tomorrow. more ...

Tuesday 24 February 2009

tweeting mozart

Tomorrow this blogger is away in Cardiff reporting on 12 hours in the life of the Welsh National Opera (see below) as it presents its new production of Marriage of Figaro.

Regular tweets from noon to midnight will be appearing here. They'll be in English and Welsh.

This could be the first bilingual twitter about the arts. more ...

idyll and elegy

In his programme note for the WNO's current production of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro (left), the music scholar Nicholas Till highlights the opera's central theme of loss.

He links this to Schiller's famous essay on the 'naive' and the 'sentimental', where the naive artist is one who doesn't experience existence as a loss, but the sentimental artist (Till writes) 'conveys modern humankind's longing to regain its lost unity with nature through the artistic modes of the idyll and the elegy.' more ...

Monday 23 February 2009


Ian McEwan tells the New Yorker (abstract here) that his next novel is not about climate change - it'll just be the 'background hum'. The novel begins:

'He was running out of time. Everyone was, it was the general condition.' more ...

Sunday 22 February 2009

up close and permanent

John Carey's Sunday Times review of the James Lovelock biography has great personal details about the man with a 'permanent dislike of authority'. more ...

Saturday 21 February 2009

belugas, dinosaur nuggets and slumdog

Beluga whales are known as 'canaries of the sea' because of their high-pitched twitter (says wiki on on twittering).

Didn't know, till I read William Shaw's RSA blog today, that you can get dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets.

An LRB reader on Slumdog: 'garish, extremely violent, gagglingly photogenic, too loud, sentimental and exploitative'. more ...

Thursday 19 February 2009

ashdenizen tweets (mon - thurs)

Just got email saying 'dandelion', 'heron', 'otter', 'magpie', 'willow' and 'acorn' have been dropped from the 6000 words in Oxford Junior Dictionary.

Google 'tweets' and 'carbon footprint'. The figures are here.

(Get tweet asking: 'post less, and save the environment?')

I knew Al Gore was on twitter. Turns out he's written two tweets this year, totalling 13 words.

In TLS, Richard Dawkins sticks up for scientists: 'thunder is not the sound of God's balls banging together'.

Hertz right. Zadie S on polyvocal Obama brilliantly draws on Shaw, Shakespeare, Keats and Cary G.

New Yorker's H. Hertzberg begs us to drop what we're doing and read Zadie Smith on Obama.

Reading George Lakoff's Don't Think Of An Elephant. People think in frames, if the facts don't fit the frame, the facts bounce off and the frame remains.

'Privacy grows round him/like fur on a hibernating bear.' From Ruth Padel's Darwin - A Life in Poems more ...

Sunday 15 February 2009

a three-day tweet

There'll be no posts on this blog on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but you can follow ashdenizen tweets during that time at more ...

'the only website... such focussed digital excellence'

From Theatre Ecology - Environments and Performance Events by Baz Kershaw (CUP, 2007):

'So by the early 21st century an international movement of environmental and ecological creative performance groups was emerging to span a plethora of forms, genres, aesthetics, venues, locations, sites, purposes, policies and, last but not least, pleasures.'

'A visit to the only website currently wholly dedicated to theatre/performance and environment/ecology gives an excellent idea of this from a UK perspective. The Ashden Directory combines magazine and database formats.'

'The directory lists more than 50 companies, and 200 productions that have serious ecological intent with links to relevant websites, many of which are wonderfully informative and/or imaginative in structure and content. Here is a 'field' that would take at least half a dozen books to explore properly and it is no doubt variously replicated in many parts of the world, though not with such focused digital elegance.' more ...

Saturday 14 February 2009


Ashdenizen is now on twitter. Go to more ...

Friday 13 February 2009

sinking feeling

A real island is sinking in the Pacific and a fake one is sinking in Dubai. more ...

Thursday 12 February 2009

get it right

You didn't go to Cambridge to read theology. You didn't keep the contents of Origin of Species secret for 20 years because you were appalled by what they contained. You didn't say that we come from monkeys. The Origin of Species isn't about the origins of life. You didn't have a eureka moment in the Galapagos Islands. You weren't an atheist. And you didn't come up with the term 'survival of the fittest.' Oh, and there wasn't a tremendous outcry when Origin was published.

My round-up of Charles Darwin tributes (for More Intelligent Life) includes an expert fact-checker from Darwin's old college. more ...

opposite sides

‘They will never agree’, said the 19th century wit, the Reverend Sidney Smith, when he saw two women shouting at each other from houses on opposite sides of an Edinburgh street, ‘they are arguing from different premises’.

Quoted in Chapter 8, Cultural Theory, Climate Change and Clumsiness by Michael Thompson. (H-t. RSA blog.) more ...

Wednesday 11 February 2009

icy tusks

Beluga whales, polar bears, foxes, seabirds ... nothing quite amazes like an arctic unicorn. Great footage here (ht: BIB.)

Watch The Great Melt (as soon as they upload it), and read our story about the narwhal and human greed and our page on whales on stage. more ...

Tuesday 10 February 2009

struck with the difference

When the first great play about climate change turns out to be a comedy, or even a farce, ponderous types will express amazement. But isn't it obvious? That's the form that best captures the gap between what people think the situation is and what it actually is.

Yesterday Oliver Postgate was quoted on the gap between between political realities and actual realities.

Today George Monbiot quotes William Hazlitt at the end of a demolition job on Hazel Blears,

'Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they ought to be.' more ...

Monday 9 February 2009

getting real

A friend emails this link to an excellent online essay by the late Oliver Postgate, the creator of Bagpuss and The Clangers, which takes aim at self-serving descriptions of reality ('political reality', 'commercial reality', 'financial reality') and, in particular, the ways this has supported inaction over climate change.

One provocation for the essay was Tony Blair's remark in May 2005 that

' . . . the reality is that you’re never going to tackle global warming by cutting economic growth or your living standards, and whatever people might want us to do there, the political reality is that it isn’t going to happen . . .'

Postgate points out that we shouldn't let 'political reality' prevail over 'actual reality'. more ...

Sunday 8 February 2009

about time

In answering some readers' questions, the New Yorker's drama critic John Lahr writes:

'I think the public discussion is moving toward a revision of the nature of American individualism and community. I think we’ll start seeing that in years to come. Characters will be dramatized in the context of society instead of focussing on the drama of the self to the exclusion of the social sphere.' more ...

Saturday 7 February 2009

the parrot cry

"Both Eliza and Pygmalion are entirely didactic," writes Zadie Smith, "as Shaw meant them to be. 'I delight,' he wrote, 'in throwing [Pygmalion] at the heads of the wiseacres who repeat the parrot cry that art should never be didactic. It goes to prove my contention that art should never be anything else.'" more ...

Friday 6 February 2009

nature of war

Rae Smith's superb designs for War Horse are now on show at the National.

The designs capture the journey of Captain Nicholls as he goes from the Devon countryside to Calais to the Western Front by showing how his sketches changed over that time.

As I wrote in the the NT programme for War Horse his drawings start out 'conservative, detached, genteel', and then, when he's on the move, they become 'rough and half-finished'. After his first calvary charge, we see how his world is blown to pieces,

'His sky has now broken down into cubist panels and the rain falls in straight lines like nails. Even nature has turned against him.'

Pic: 'Bombardment' by Rae Smith more ...

Thursday 5 February 2009

keeping theatre cool

One of the Guardian theatre blogs yesterday crammed in an impressive number of gruesome puns about snow and theatre: 'all white on the night', 'no business like snow business', 'the white stuff', etc.

But its main point, that during the winter months in Canada there's a growing appetite for site-specific work that uses snow and ice (and LED lights), is a striking example of seasonal theatre. more ...

Wednesday 4 February 2009

no flapping

'If, as choreographers say, grace is the elimination of extraneous movements, their flight is graceful. They ride air currents for hours with no flapping. They rock and sway, ranging over dozens of square miles'.

In praise of vultures. (H-t. A&L) more ...

Tuesday 3 February 2009

surrender and win

On Monday most Londoners had to rip up their plans. That's what happens (we now know) when Arctic winds from the east collide with a damp patch of air moving up from France. 20cm of snow changes your whole day. It was a case of surrender and win.

It led, for one thing, to an unexpected outbreak of nature-writing in the broadsheets. Journalists had time to stop and stare. In the Guardian, Stuart Jeffries stopped to watch a heron dive 'from the ice into water that is starless and bible black'. In the Independent, Tom Sutcliffe rhapsodised, 'Transformation simply falls from the sky, gratuitous and excessive.' In The Times Alice Miles said, 'It's snow! Lovely, skiddy, slippy, cold, wet, ferocious, gorgeous snow'.

By chance, Grains of Sand had picked up on rare glimpses of nature when linking to Ian McEwan's recent article on John Updike. McEwan had written of an Updike moment 'when a denatured suburbanite glances up beyond the telegraph poles and wires and notices that spring is coming on and experiences a jolt of indistinct excitement'. But that moment is 'quickly smothered'. more ...

Monday 2 February 2009

weather, not climate, cancels launch

As more snow sweeps across Britain, Tipping Point is forced to cancel the razzamatazz launch of its commissions for plays about climate change. Today's heavy snowfall, students of irony should note, is a weather event, not a climatic one. You can download the criteria and application form for the commissions here. Closing date: 4 May 2009. more ...

Sunday 1 February 2009

theatre critics in the age of climate change

As temperatures in South-east Australia reach 40 degrees, theatre critic Alison Croggon (left), who blogs at Theatre Notes (as 'Ms TN') , takes the train into work,

'It was the end of the first punishing day of this century-busting Melbourne heatwave, and Ms TN dragged out the gladrags and made her way into the city, leaving a little puddle of sweat behind her on the train. Boy, is it hard to maintain opening night elegance in this weather (and I won't even mention the Lindt chocolate that was lurking, forgotten but not gone, in my handbag...I just didn't know chocolate could get that liquid).'

See also: 'Australia faces collapse as climate change kicks in' more ...