Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wind bellowing through the steppes and trees

While I'm drawing your attention to unconsidered trifles from the UB Post, I should direct you towards this brief but informative piece on khoomi or Mongolian throat singing.  Khoomi gets a few passing mentions in The Outcast, and if you don't know what it sounds like, well, here's an example

Sub Standard

I've so far managed to avoid eating in a Subway sandwich bar, but I understand that its competitive pricing is going down well in the recession.  Certainly, they seem to be intent on occupying every spare inch of retail space across the world.  It doesn't look as if they've quite reached Ulaan Bataar yet, but some enterprising souls have got there first

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Happy birthday, Will

As you're probably aware, today is Shakespeare's birthday (and, supposedly, also the date of his death).  I've always thought that almost any other nation, presented with the coincidence that its greatest writer's birthday falls on the day of its patron saint, would have been only too eager to declare a national holiday, but to my disappointment the English have always resisted the idea.  I'm disappointed, I should add, not for any nationalistic reasons, but just because it happens to be my birthday as well.

Still, the English do finally seem to be reclaiming St George and their national heritage from the far-right.  There's an interesting article in today's Guardian looking at the St George's day folk-music bash being organised in Trafalger Square by the Mayor of London, alongside a rather more radical commemoration of the Topuddle Martyrs being organised on the same day by Billy Bragg and Martin Carthy.  The article  touches on the rather depressing attempts by the British National Party to appropriate English folk music to its political aims. All the more reason, I suppose, to applaud Billy Bragg's notion of the 'progressive patriot'.

Elsewhere in the Guardian, the poet Ian McMillan draws our attention to the remarkable array of other poets who followed Shakespeare's example by dying on 23 April.  These include, apparently, Cervantes, William Wordsworth, Henry Vaughn and Rupert Brooke.  I'm not really a poet, but I have had a few poems published over the years.  So perhaps I should keep my head down today, just in case.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Farewell to Ballard

I suppose the death of J G Ballard wasn't unexpected, in that he'd been ill for some time.  But somehow Ballard seemed so quintessentially to embody the modern world that it's surprising that he's no longer part of it. 

I can't really claim Ballard as an influence on my writing (although, when I think about it, my depictions of the decaying factories in The Shadow Walker perhaps owe more than I realised to Ballard's characteristic post-industrial landscapes).  But, when I read him as a teenager, he was one of the authors who first made me want to write - I wanted to be able to evoke a world in the way that he did.

I suspect that, in time, Ballard may be seen as among the best and most under-rated British writers of the 20th century - and perhaps as the author who most effectively delineated the second half of that century.  The Guardian todays carries a fascinating series of short articles tracing Ballard's influence on other art forms.  Incidentally, various commentators (including the BBC and The Guardian again) have highlighted Ballard's influence on popular music.  But I've not seen any reference to the song which seems to me to capture, whether deliberately or not, the essence of one strand of Ballard's work - the Mekons's wonderful 'Ghosts of American Astronauts'

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Guesting on Petrona

I haven't posted on here for the last week or so because I had a bit of a domestic crisis to sort out (my father was taken ill at the far end of the country, but I hope everything's now okay).  So I was particularly pleased when I returned today to find that Maxine Clarke of the excellent Petrona blog had taken a comment I'd made on one of her earlier postings and turned it into a fully-fledged posting in its own right.  I'm extremely flattered, and I was also very interested by some of the responses. 

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Dealing with the black swans

Not having got around to reading it, I suppose I'm slightly sceptical about Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable" but only because his core thesis seem to me a statement of the blindingly obvious.  Life is less predictable than we like to pretend.

However, a tip of the proverbial to David Hepworth's blog for pointing me towards Taleb's 'Ten principles for a Black Swan-proof world' at FT.com which says pretty much everything that needs saying about the current state of the world economy.  Hepworth's conclusion is that 'cleverness is overrated'.  That's probably not quite fair.  In my experience, there's a lot to be said for cleverness.  But then my definition of 'clever' wouldn't encompass, say,  Structured Investment Vehicles

Friday, April 03, 2009

Tattinger and Party Spuds

This article, from the Wall Street Journal, tells you pretty much everything you want to know about the life of a Western business traveller in Ulaan Bataar.   Doesn't sound too bad to me. 

Thursday, April 02, 2009

How can Mongolia be a state if it doesn’t have secrets?

Apologies for the radio silence on here for the last week or so.  My excuse is that I'm working hard on finishing a new (non-Nergui) novel.  The good news, for me at least, is that I've got the first draft almost finished so I'll soon be able to start thinking about other things again.

In the meantime, I was intrigued by the news that Mongolia is looking at passing a Freedom of Information Act.   I've written quite a lot in the novels about the impact of the country's secretive Communist past on its democratic present and, as the UB Post article points out, a move towards full disclosure would be a significant cultural step.  The article concludes that progress towards introducing greater freedom of information 'will depend on how badly the nation’s politicians...want information in Mongolia to be freely accessible'.  And, I guess,  on how much they have to hide.