The Vital Importance

May 31, 2009

Witty! is the prevailing word in my mind, coming back from Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s 2009 Importance of Being Earnest. What, in Brian Bedford’s hands, isn’t witty? (Even his Lear was witty, which was part of the problem). But it’s perfectly right for this play, certainly; and, with a couple shaky parts (this was a preview, after all), the performances were all witty little gems, too. Mike Shara was especially good as Algernon, which was wonderful to see because I’ve always thought of Shara as the sort of boring romantic lead.

Ben Carlson, one of my favourites, was Ernest John, and just hearing that made me realize something about the play – Algernon gets most of the laughs, but Jack/Ernest is really the more fascinating character…the one who’s constructed this whole double life. It’s less expected (I’m assuming at this point, having seen at least 4 productions and myriad films), and more funny when Jack comes in mourning his brother Ernest than when Algernon comes in as Ernest. And other characters could have the same depth – Lady Bracknell’s rise, fear of social upheaval, and reaction to family tragedy; Prism and Chausable.

But they weren’t played that way, here, from Carlson on down. And I’m not sure it’s a fault of the production, just the way of the play. Certainly not as shallow as the society it depicts, but really just one or two layers removed. And this sparkling, witty production was perfectly content with that. But it didn’t make for my favourite Earnest.

Summer Projects

May 20, 2009

I usually do take on some sort of “project” over a summer…every couple years I reread Steinbeck’s works, a couple summers ago a Salinger bookclub began (and then mostly died) with some friends…

So here are my projects for this summer:

Finally starting to re-learn French.

Picking back up and finishing Infinite Jest.

Listening to Beethoven’s symphonies. This project is work-related…I’ve found that classical music is really, really good accompaniment for the detail-oriented work I do (I always put on a blues station for writing or marking papers. Seriously).

And some friends and I are attempting a Lacan reading group, which will take us from Lacan to Freud to Shakespeare and maybe some other places and back again. I think, like my overall summer “project” list, we’re being ambitious but not overly so.

Time will tell!

Common Wealth

May 19, 2009

This is what I wrote, almost a year ago, about Jeffrey Sachs’ The End of Poverty:

“I know that some of what he says or has done is hotly debated, but I would encourage any and every thinking person to read Jeffrey Sachs’ book “The End of Poverty”, if you haven’t already. Some of the proposals are counterintuitive, and maybe some elements are oversimplified, but by far, overall, it’s an incredibly effective and convincing book. And the most important thing? It’s made me think of extreme poverty, and its attendant conditions, as a problem or series of problems that have solutions, rather than one that is too big and too heartbreaking to think about.”

This is equally true of Sachs’ 2008 book, Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet.  The writing has a few more uneven patches (although it is still astoundingly clear and convincing), and there’s a great deal more criticism of George W. Bush’s policies (having lived through another 3 years of them, I guess there’s good reason), but overall it was an eye-opening, heartening argument.

And the things I liked about the first one are still here: the focus on multilateral, multidisciplinary solutions to these massive problems (ie, Sachs argues that corporations, NGOs, academia, local, national and international governmental bodies are all going to have to play a role in sustainable development) ; a commitment to rationalism and reasonable solutions, even when these might not fit with our idealism ; an understanding of both failed and successful development efforts ; an economic quantification of what it would take to resolve these issues ; and incredible (but, as I say, even better because he makes it credible) optimism.

Common Wealth argues that the greatest challenge facing the world now is our thinking: that we need to begin thinking and working more globally (because our economy is already working on a global level), and that the financial and logistical problems surrounding extreme poverty, climate change, and sustainable development are simple once our mindset has changed:

“We must keep remembering that complex global problems can be solved by collective global goal setting, reliance on scientific evidence, mobilization of technology, and most crucially, thinking ahead. We will have to appreciate, with urgency, that the ecological challenges will not solve themselves in a ‘self-organizing’ manner. Markets, we have emphasized, won’t do the job by themselves. Social norms do not suffice. Governments are often cruelly short-sighted. Sustainability has to be a choice, a choice of a global society that thinks ahead and acts in unaccustomed harmony.” (81)

And then he gets to the figures. “One day’s Pentagon spending would provide enough funds to ensure antimalarial bed net protection for every sleeping site in Africa for five years” (274). On page 301 he outlines how “seven global funds would cover the vast range of sustainable development needs”. On 309 and 310 he describes the costs of failure and the financial commitment needed to address the Millenium Promises. The 0.7 % of rich countries’ GNP already committed, but not given, would eliminate extreme poverty and put all countries “on the development ladder”, as Sachs says. All of the goals he outlines would require 2.4 % of the GNP of donor countries:

“The difference between the dangherous and unsustainable global trajectory we are on now and a sustainable trajectory that addresses the challenges of environment, population, and poverty, is a modest 2 to 3 percent of annual income. Yes, that is politically large, but it is not large in terms of human well-being, or investments needed to save the world from dire and growing risks…[As] in so many cases in the past, the ultimate costs of action are likely to prove far smaller than we fear today, since we are more clever than we know once we’ve mobilized our efforts.”   (311)

And he finishes with 8 actions we all can make:

1. Educate ourselves about the science and economics of sustainable development.

2. “To the extent that it is personally possible, travel.”

3. Start or join an organization committed to sustainable development.

4. Encourage engagement of and in your community.

5. Promote sustainable development through your social network(ing sites).

6. Become politically engaged.

7. Engage your workplace.

8. “Live personally according to the standards of the Millenium Promises. Seek out contacts across countries, cultures, and class divides to ensure that we can each appreciate the common interests of our generation.”


And let me know if you want to borrow my copy to read it for yourself.

Blackie Jackett Jr.

May 8, 2009

Okay, let’s talk for a minute about me and country music.  One of my best friends in elementary school loved country music. Like, bad 90s country music. Pam Tillis, Faith Hill with the bad, big hair and the twang. We had to listen to it all the time, and I think I OD’d. Can’t stand it. Even the pop-y stuff everyone’s making now. Last year in London when the music in the halls of my apartment building was always country was really hard. Something about “she loves my tractor”…?

Some exceptions, obviously. Well, one or two, and their names are Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. And now, Blackie Jackett Jr.

This is the side project of two members of one of my favourite bands, Finger Eleven. The amazingly talented guitarists (Scott Anderson is hot, but he only sings), James Black and Rick Jackett, have decided to explore a shared interest in good, oldschool (even bluegrassy) country. And, somehow, it works.

From the newly-appointed, first female British Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy:

Somewhere on the other side of this wide night
and the distance between us, I am thinking of you.
The room is turning slowly away from the moon.

This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say
it is sad? In one of the tenses I singing
an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.

La lala la. See? I close my eyes and imagine the dark hills I would have to cross
to reach you. For I am in love with you

and this is what it is like or what it is like in words.

The Shaw Festival hasn’t held my interest for these last couple seasons, but I got an offer for Niagara residents, and knowing I enjoy Sondheim, I thought we should make our return (one season, K and I went to about 5 shows).

There were really excellent elements – the female lead was charming, although neither of the leads were really singers. And the design of the shows is always visually and intellectually exciting.

Which was especially important in this case – a musical based on George Seurat’s painting of A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (best known as the painting from Ferris Bueller).

And the first act, focused on Seurat and his art and relationships, was quite strong. There was a scene where K and I kept nudging each other, it rang so true to how men and women communicate (or don’t). It was lovely to see all the characters gradually form themselves into the famous painting.

We both thought, and I’ve read similar opinions, that the 2nd act was a bit weaker. Less original, it seemed to me, even if the 2nd act has the most famous song from the show, “Putting it Together”.

I like theatre to move me, and this didn’t, but if you’re looking for a pleasant Sunday afternoon, it would do.