Robert Butler


    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, December 19th 2014

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    It is now 65 years since George Orwell died, and he has never been bigger. His phrases are on our lips, his ideas are in our heads, his warnings have come true. How did this happen? By Robert Butler

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    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, November 7th 2014

    I’ve heard the climate scientist Chris Rapley speak many times. Seven years ago I interviewed him for this magazine (when he told me Sherlock Holmes would have quickly grasped the evidence) and, since then, I've heard him at conferences, in lecture halls, on panels and at dinners. Last night he appeared on the Royal Court stage, delivering a 75-minute monologue entitled “2071”—the year his eldest grandchild will be the same age, 67, as he is now. Here was a Rapley I’d never seen.

    A professor of climate science at UCL, the former head of the British Antarctic Survey and the former director of London's Science Museum, the Rapley I know is a busy, bustling figure, who appears at the lectern with smiling flourishes and an air of importance, and then turns frequently from the laptop on the lectern to the large screen behind as he works his way through a PowerPoint presentation. On the way in last night, I’d readied myself for the graphs where lines run along the bottom axis for most of the page and then suddenly shoot up at an exponential rate at the right-hand edge; maps of the world where the parts getting hotter now appear in lurid red and orange; and those pairs of black-and-white photos of the Antarctic which show how much ice there was only a few years ago and how much less there is now.

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    Notes on a Voice: Robert Butler pinpoints a prose style as comfortable with fly-ridden grime as champagne and chandeliers

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    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, July 1st 2014

    The man in front of me, on the way in to see "Great Britain"—Richard Bean's raucous new satire about newspapers and phone-hacking—was the playwright Howard Brenton. In the mid-80s he had co-written (with David Hare) the defiant Fleet Street satire "Pravda". Following behind us was Tom Stoppard, who in the late-70s had written his own astute account of the fourth estate, "Night and Day". Last night's first night was also notable for the number of seats taken by people with a professional interest in the play. A few rows in front sat Nick Davies, the Guardian reporter who had done more than anyone else to expose phone-hacking.

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    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, April 4th 2014

    When Eleanor Catton gives talks in public, which she did at the Union Chapel in London on Thursday night (and which she's been doing much more often since winning the Man Booker prize), she doesn't mention her mum. She knows her mum would hate that sort of thing. But she does mention her dad—which is how we know that he gave her a theme and an all-important link.

    Catton was talking to Robert Macfarlane, chair of the judges who last October awarded her the prize, in front of an audience of 750, plenty of whom were twice her age. During the time when she was writing "The Luminaries", she said, her dad, who was a lecturer in philosophy, was becoming increasingly dismayed by the "corporatisation" of his university (students were rebranded as "customers") and eventually he resigned. One of the major themes of her huge second novelwhich depicts the gold rush in New Zealand in the 1860sis "the capitalisation of the world".

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    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, March 28th 2014

    The short story is a bullet. The short story is a bomb. The short story is a core sample which—if the writer has the sensitivity and ability to be glancing—can tell you as much about a world and a society as a geologist learns from a sliver of ice. Whichever image you go for, the short story has to combine the qualities of good prose and good poetry. Every word has to count. It has to be intense. It's the opposite of the kind of chat you hear at parties.

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    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, February 5th 2014

    The first piece I wrote for Intelligent Life, in autumn 2007, was about a bunch of eco-bloggers. Seven years ago this month, a middle-aged New Yorker on Fifth Avenue had turned off the power supply to his apartment and set out to see if he could live for a year without making any net impact on the environment. He wasn't alone in attempting this as he had a wife and a two-year-old daughter; but he wasn't alone in other ways either. That very February, a young woman in Toronto was trying to take one green action a day—from banning all polystyrene to getting rid of her car—and each action she took had to stick. Another person was spending a year without using any plastic. And another had got rid of the freezer, and then the fridge. It was possible to follow each of these unusual adventures because the people involved were going online and chronicling their actions.

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    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, January 25th 2014

    It started with the curtains. Viewers had noticed something odd in the first series of "The Bridge"; then in the second series, when the detective's wife Mette moved house, they noticed it again. Her bedroom still had no curtains. On the comments thread that runs below the Guardian's weekly blog someone explained, "Scandinavians don't use curtains in their houses. Source: I live in Sweden." This idea did not appeal to others. "Do peeping Toms not exist in Scandinavia?"

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    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, November 14th 2013

    When Anthony Gardner attended an evening class for us last week on how to sleep better, he discovered there were four basic rules. He wasn't the only one keen to learn what they were: the class itself was very well attended and his blogpost was the most-read article on this site. 

    I was ready to follow his advice and when I woke at two this morning I remembered there was no listening to the radio, no switching on the computer, and no checking the phone. Instead I reached for a collection of short stories and picked the one which sounded as if it would be the least stimulating. 

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