Monday, May 23, 2011

Francis Fukuyama

Excellent interview with Fukuyama in today’s Guardian (G2, pp 7-9).  The following statement particularly resonated with me.

“Collectively it seems to me that the EU is in big trouble,” he says.  “They basically let in a whole bunch of countries that they shouldn’t have.  There’s no mechanism for disciplining them once they’re in and there’s no exit strategy.” He doesn’t understand why Greece, Ireland and Portugal are submitting to the euro straitjacket.  “The policy which is now being dictated out of Berlin is crazy.  There’s just no way those countries are going to grow with a strong currency and an austerity policy that stretches out for years into the future.  They’ll have to consider coming out.”

The interview is by Stephen Moss.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The best writer I have discovered this year

Karin Fossum, the Norwegian crime writer who is now being published in English on the back of the success of Mankell and Nesbo.  I have not read any Nesbo but I am familiar with Mankell.  I much prefer Fossum.  She is obviously influenced by Ruth Rendell – specifically, Rendell in her Barbara Vine style – but develops and refines the genre.  On the surface The Water’s Edge is a procedural detective story about a paedophile, but the depth of characterisation Fossum gets into barely 200 pages, her compassion, and above all the final devastating twist are truly remarkable.  I want more!  I will get more.

The value of a Humanities PhD–in America

This week’s Times Higher Education contains s report by Matthew Reisz about a recent conference at Stanford called Google Wants You, the theme of which was that hi-tech businesses rely on people who have highly-developed thinking skills, whatever the subject.

He writes: “For June Cohen, executive producer of TED Media, anyone who had studied for a PhD, however seemingly irrelevant the topic, had ‘learned stamina and focus and how to listen’ – and those skills would always be valuable to employers.

“As long as PhDs were regarded as essentially academic qualifications, commented another speaker, many people were likely to feel like failures because there were never going to be enough academic jobs, particularly tenure-track ones at elite universities, to go around.  Yet the reality was that PhDs offered transferable skills, that many people with doctorates went into business, and that universities needed to acknowledge and celebrate this.”

The keynote speaker, Google’s engineering director, Dr Damon Horowitz, summed up:

“You go into the humanities to pursue your intellectual passion; and it just so happens, as a by-product, that you emerge as a desired commodity for industry. Such is the halo of human flourishing.”

There, in a nutshell, is the reason the US is emerging from recession while the UK sinks ever-deeper in the mire.  The US values independent thought, the UK loathes it.  The US has proper businesses, the UK’s main commodity is the unemployed.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Franzen’s Freedom

I’ve been reading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom (2010), the latest attempt at the Great American Novel.  His subject – the aspirant, midwest nuclear family – is the subject of all GANs and Franzen undertakes a forensic scrutiny of their interrelationships with masterly aplomb.  This is his territory; he knows every inch of it.  The problem is the context in which he places the Berglund family, the traditional American battleground of nature versus commerce, in this case updated to conservation versus the corporate machine.  The character arcs within the context are just too facile – Walter is arbitrarily given control of a multi-million dollar trust to save the cerulean warbler while his 20 year old student son finds himself cutting a deal with a thinly-disguised Halliburton.  The story points themselves are acceptable, but the way in and out is so crude and clumsy that it is obvious Franzen has no knowledge of either world.  This kills the book, undoing all the fabulous character work.  Freedom is a great novel by an American writer but falls some way of short of being the Great American Novel.  Shame, because a little more research might have done it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Best radio drama at the Sony Awards

The Sony Radio Academy Awards 2011 were announced yesterday, May 9th.  Gold went to Every Child Matters (Christopher Reason), a play about child protection, directed up in Manchester by Gary Brown.  Silver, predictably enough, went to the most illustrious writer who deigned to write for radio last year, David Hare’s Murder in Samarkand (I really don’t care).  Bronze to RIP Boy (Neil McKay) set in a Young Offenders’ Institution.  RIP Boy was directed by Melanie Harris for Red Productions, and would probably have been the recipient of my vote if I had one.

For more info check out