Healthcare conference season is in full swing and I can relay that medical progress continues. We see that with COVID vaccines but also across many domains of health - with many more areas still to tackle.
➳Reading about Tom Stoppard’s life and dwelling on the lack of rightwing playwrights
➳Thinking about bitcoin and crypto economy
➳Off-mainstream ideas that a new UK innovation organisation should look at
➳Reading Bill Gates' climate book
➳Listening to BlackBird (The Beatles) sung in Mi'kmaq (an Eskonia First Nations language. Wow.)
➳Chess streaming is surprisingly popular
➳Reading Nicole Krauss on using real life in writing
➳Lankelly Chase has £30K grants for reimagining media
➳Green impact investing via UK Green Angel Syndicate
➳Reminded about arguments on intangibles/ESG
➳12,000 year old art - what do we really know about being human?
On reading Tom Stoppard’s life
-Why are there so few rightwing playwrights?
-Good playwrights seem to see a lot of theatre
-I don’t want fame
-Theatremakers as not-writers
I never want to be so famous that someone will want to write a biography of me. Even a friendly biography must cover some light warts, if not deep scars.
In my early years, I never read much biography or even non-fiction. Poems, plays, novels, graphic novels even. The world of imagination seemed the most exciting.
As I age, I read more non-fiction. Real life is sometimes more incredible than fiction. Where ideas come from has been of increasing interest to me as well as what the ideas or stories are themselves.
Tom Stoppard has been described by David Hare as “conservative with a small c” although I can see his politics are complex and don’t easily fit on a left-right scale.
Still, this makes Stoppard one of the only 5% or maybe 10% of playwrights who could be viewed more right-of-centre - with particularly emphasis on freedoms and freedoms of speech.
I find this notable on many counts, but first:
Why are so few playwrights right wing? If you take the recent UK and US elections or more broadly you had for example a 69 / 66 million split in favour of Biden over Trump that’s almost 50/50. Playwrights would by 95/5, I am guessing. Is this more pronounced in theatre writers over even other creative arts? I’m unsure.
But, then, how interesting to have such a well regarded playwright be “small c conservative”. Are there ideas we should confront ourselves with in particular, as Stoppard writes in theatre from such a theatrically under-represented tribe? These are not the extreme views of an Ezra Pound but a rightish-centre.
Secondly - the importance of letter writing within all this - both as a record of what was happening and as an important medium of the time - the 1950s,1960s - perhaps emails have replaced that now but there is an element that we seem to miss from those letter writing days. I would not swap it back and lose emails but there is something about slow thinking that we have lost.
Stoppard seemed so fully immersed in theatre and arts - via journalism and meeting and conversation - in the 1950s and 1960s and of course beyond.
Theatre was a particularly exciting creative art of that time. The biographer Hermione Lee conjures up the theatre and artistic discourse of the time and extracts strangely intriguing patterns and details:
I’m going to make categorical statements which should not be taken as categorical.
If I were to state a moral precept, it would be: Beware of the writer who declares that his heart is in the right place and has it in full view. This is a body lost in an empty prison of cliché.
My characters tell me so much and no more.
Between my [knowledge] and what they say there lies a territory which is compulsory to explore … Not that I regard my characters as anarchic, out of control. I do the donkey work. The shaping is me.
[I do not agree] with the tendency to seek allegories in my plays.
There are two silences: one is where no word is spoken, and another where there is a torrent of words. The speech we hear is an indication of the speech we don’t hear … an anguished smokescreen, a constant stratagem to cover nakedness … What takes place in the silences is an evasion, a desperate rearguard action to keep ourselves to ourselves.
Of all these Pinter-statements, the one that stayed longest in his mind was: ‘Writing for me is a completely private activity … What I write is not obligated to anything other than to itself.’
He quoted it, half a century on, as a demonstration of the quality he most identified with Pinter: honesty.
How immersed in creative discourse are our greatest writers? It seems to me a great many of our playwrights are extremely immersed. (Some more on this blog here). Book is recommended for theatre types, or generally for biography.
I’m thinking about bitcoin and crypto economy
I have longish post in progress but as it seems to be of the moment (again), I thought I’d give some highlights and link you to the Bridgewater/Ray Dalio analysis on this.
Observations on Blockchain, Bitcoin, Ethereum and crypto:
-Enough people believe it to be true, could be a value store like gold
-There are other use cases but no major challenge to other money anytime soon
-Surprisingly narrow current usage as of now as befits foundational technology
-Only 400,000 transactions a day, 10 minutes to clear (vs. eg 500 million Visa transactions a day)
-8% of all Bitcoin owned by 43 entities/people
-high carbon/environmental cost
-transaction use cases (possibly ethereum)
-blockchain technology likely (IMO) to be transformational;
But, with my theatre-maker hat on, the amazing aspect is the narrative that Bitcoin proponents and their current laser eyes weave. Having a little in common with their distant goldbug cousins, the Bitcoiners weave a story about taking back control and a money that is uncontrolled by governments.
This insistent narrative irritates many - including of late - Nassim Taleb (who recently views the asset as too volatile to be a good money. Taleb calls them amoebas, FT's Jemima Kelly calls them Bitcoin bros) - but money works on belief and so the story bitcoiners tell themselves and all of us is an important part of what turns myth to a reality.
That said, for a more through financial assessment see Bridgewater and Dalio’s conclusion:
Bitcoin looks like a long-duration option on a highly unknown future that I could put an amount of money in that I wouldn’t mind losing about 80% of.
Which chimes with Naval tweeting to Taleb:
The CEO of Coinbase has been doing a lot of interviews, although I didn't find them super insightful there were some unusual quirks. In someways Coinbase much like a normal company, in others a bit different. Check him in conversatoin with Tyler Cowen or Noah Smith.
Back in 2017, I worried about the energy cost of Bitcoin, there might be some ways round this (use renewables, move to different protocols) but I think it's still a problem.
I’m wondering about off-mainstream ideas that a new UK innovation organisation should look at
➳Progress Studies (including social progress and creativity)
➳Basic Climate research (eg state of trees)
➳How creativity happens
➳Productivity schedules (sleep, diet, schedules)
➳Building Speed (how to do big projects fast[er])
➳Healthcare speed, challenge trials
The UK is creating a £800m sciency agency based on the US ARPA. Again the blog post is in progress, but as it very of the moment, I thought I’d put the headlines here in case anyone had ideas they wanted to share.
➳Chess streaming takes top spot in e-gaming. A combination of factors sees chess streaming become very popular. A game which has been around a while… I observe interesting parallels with Rupi in poetry. There’s a certain faction who thinks this “dumbs down’ chess while it obv. Brings chess to a much wider audience.
➳Nicole Krauss on using real life in writing (FT) She quotes Philip Roth (a friend) a fair amount, and it’s interesting to know how much writers use real people (or not).
➳Lankelly Chase has £30K grants for reimagining media: “We have small-scale core funding in mind – up to £30,000 per grant – which would enable us to resource a group of partners over the next 8 months or so. This should give you the time and space to think, act, and reflect on renewing and reimagining the news and media system”
➳I do some green impact investing via UK Green Angel Syndicate. If interested let me know and I can introduce you.
➳Mini Electric cars in China: “In Beijing’s southwestern outskirts, past a four-lane overpass with sidewalks as wide as the streets themselves, is Zhengyang Road. It has the usual banks, small convenience stores, and noodle houses of many areas in the capital, but it is set apart by a row of about a dozen shops all selling the same thing — tiny electric cars. The cars look, variously, like small Range Rovers, golf carts, trolley cars, or rickshaws with sheet-iron sides, and they are slow. Their fundamental attraction is their price — between $600 and $2,500 — and that drivers can charge them the same way they would a cell phone. They also come with the perks of being loosely regulated. These low-speed electric cars, nicknamed “elderly transport vehicles,” have an enormous market, made up mostly of people who earn very little. Tesla vs minis.
➳ >12,000 years ago, 8 miles worth of artwork painted on rock. What do we really know of what it means to be human? Story here.
Mi'kmaq is a first nation language and could become one of the (thousands?) of langauges we have lost over time. What do we really know about what it means to be human?
➳Bill Gates thinking on Fossil Fuel divestment.
➳Where we are on climate. Wallace-Wells (a former?) climate alarmist (now just not as extreme) looks at the evidence that the central case is for 3 deg warming by 2100 (down from 4c but not 2c).
➳Prize/grant competition for ideas in elderly care (Responsible Investor)
I chat with Rebecca Giggs on her new book looking at humanity through the lens of the whale. There is video and a transcript. Self-recommending.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to forward this letter to anyone you think might be interested in signing up.
Archive and repeat words below. Stay well, Stay safe, Ben
Micro-grants. £10K for positive impact people.
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I’ve re-issued my 2006 play, Yellow Gentlemen (4 stars in Time Out and is one of my more personal works about the night immigrant Tommy Lee is dying). Buy it for laughs on Kindle for the price of a coffee. All profits to charity. I’ve only sold a few copies at the price of a coffee - 1.99.
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“...Through a long-term orientation and stewardship, this is the time for active investment managers to show their worth. It starts with asking the right long-term business questions. Some companies are giving us answers, but are we really listening?”
My full opinion article in the FT. (3 mins, behind paywall, but you get a free article or email me and I can send you a copy)
Find out more about my aphorism book and contact me for a copy.
The move to online dating has potentially empowered women as the cost to ghosting is so low.
Notes from a conversation with former Royal Court Lit. Manager.