One of the great artists of modern music has left this mortal plane. His contribution is immense. I had the privilege of travelling from London to Brighton in a coach with Captain and the Magic Band back in 1971, in company of Nick Kent. The coach broke down on the way and we were stranded in a lay-by one sunny afternoon – a surreal experience. The band arrived late but when they took the stage it was the most remarkable thing to behold. It was as if everyone in the band was playing a different tune yet somehow it all gelled into something unique and magical. After the gig we were in the dressing room when a young kid, maybe 14 came in to get the Captain’s autograph. The Captain was wearing a big top hat and a cloak spangled with golden stars. The young lad was shaking to be in his presence. The Captain walked forward, put his hands on the young boy’s shoulders and held him there until he relaxed. He then invited him to sit down and they talked together while the Captain signed his albums. It was a human gesture that has stayed with me. The tributes will pour in from around the world. Here is one of the first: the Washington Post which reproduces an article written by Tom Zito that appeared in the paper in January, 1971, previewing an arena concert by Beefheart and his Magic Band. It is most excellent. Beefheart’s huge influence will now be assessed in full. He will certainly be ranked up there with the greats.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
This is my latest publication – a 36pp magazine for the Bhopal Medical Appeal – produced with graphic designer Hazel Bennington. Please download a copy and sign up to support the work that they are doing.
Digging up the web's past
Posted By TelecomTV One , 15 November 2010
An industry-wide initiative to archive the web’s bygone era before it disappears forever has been launched in London with an exhibition. Leila Makki reports.
The exhibition, entitled Digital Archaeology, is kick starting Britain’s inaugural web archive to preserve some of the earliest websites for the last two decades.
Based out of Shoreditch, East London, the small gallery space has some of the Internet's earliest known websites on display in the same hardware it was developed on.
There's an interactive Kylie Minogue website from 1997 on a Power Macintosh 6500/250 and the same NeXTstation computer used by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN, circa 1992.
Since the majority of websites are being stored on soon-to-be obsolete technology, he felt compelled to make sure history was not lost forever.
“In five years time or so, I doubt websites will exist and I expect the vast majority of sites from the first twenty years of the web to be gone forever,” said Boulton.
“Today, when almost a quarter of the earth’s population is online, this artistic, commercial and social history is being wiped from the face of earth, within millions of hard drives lying festering in recycling yards or rusting in garages."
The Digital Archaeology exhibition is part of a larger industry appeal to help "dig" up other sites from hard drives and redundant servers of yesteryear and preserve them for future generations to see.
[Big thanks to my colleague Gordon Adgey for tipping me off]
Digital Archaeology: Rescuing Neglected and Damaged Data Resources www.ukoln.ac.uk/services/elib/papers/supporting/pdf/p2.pd
Introduction to Digital Archaeology http://baheyeldin.com/technology/digital-archeology.html
The Generalist maintains a healthy interest in all new media and has noted a discernible trend in our digital age, of creatives of all stripes and persuasions moving back to what you might call analog technologies and materials – paper, vinyl, valves, old-style photographic film and techniques – as a kind of reaction to the ubiquitous and intrusive nature of the digital realm. Thus it is with great delight I received the second issue of Monika.
This 110-page bi-annual art journal draws together a wide range of photography, illustration, graphics, reportage, stories and art projects from a broad spectrum of contributors and binds them together in a satisfying and non-pretentious perfect-bound package of great quality, flair and intelligence. Its mixture of matte paper interspersed with glossy photo spreads is unusual and inventive. It was printed in Lithuania.
Monika 2 includes a great photo essay on the banger boys of London and their Destruction Derby’s, a report from an A&E unit entitled The Aesthetics of Illness, another on the secret world of the greyhound industry, another on the tunnels under London, another concerning DIY design, community-led urbanism and guerilla architecture – and more.
Rather than try and synopsise the magazine’s message, here is their statement of where they’re coming from:
Who is Monika?
The space we're in
We are surrounded by brands, celebrities, products and patented packaging. We read our world fast. We know the names we like and the ones we don't. We don't have time. Creators strive to get known. Get the work rolling in. Be accepted. It's good sense: a need to survive. But what if we could slow it right down for a little while, find ourselves time to ponder, space for suspense? Isn't there something wonderful in the not immediately recognisable?
An unknown quantity
Monika is an arts journal that does away with bylines. As respite from the exhaustive branding of conventional media, contributors adopt a disguise that enables them to experiment with new material or style, to bypass expectation and to play. By placing the quality of her content over the marketability of her contributors, Monika invites readers to decode identities, unravel mysteries and embrace the unfamiliar.
Through visual arts and the written word, Monika shares engaging ideas and observations. Each themed issue is designed to entertain readers with originality, wit and sensitivity to the everyday. Combining imagination and experience, criticism and curios, Monika's content is handpicked for its ability to render the unknown unputdownable.
Find out more at www.monikamgazine.com
The Generalist has devoted several posts already to the memory, mind and missions of the late John Michell – a man who repays constant investigation.
Happily Richard Adams and Jason Goodwin have taken the time and trouble to produce a wonderful Michellany of numerous pieces that John wrote over the years, a wonderful clutch of reminiscences from friends and family, some stunning and iconic black and white photos and numerous illustrations.
The whole package illuminates the astonishing range of interests that JM pursued with vigour, humour and passion in his 76 years on this earthly plane. Plato and Fort were the twin peaks of his universe.
This beautifully produced book is only available on subscription for £38 + p&p. Cheques made payable to Michellany Editions.
Send to: 2 Blenheim Crescent, London W11 1NN Tel: +44 (0) 207 221 7680 firstname.lastname@example.org
UPDATE; You can now order direct from their new website: http://www.johnmichell.com/michellany/
These two novels, the only known works of a remarkable writer Roland Camberton (real name Henry Cohen) have recently been republished by Five Leaves Publishing.
I have the artist Don Ramos to thank. He alerted me to them. Both his father and mother knew Henry Cohen. His mother’s portrait of Cohen sits in ‘Scamp’s frontispiece.
‘Scamp’ has an introductory essay by Ian Sinclair in which he seeks to track down the story of Henry Cohen, who disappeared from view, adopted a nom de plume and also changed his name in real life. He died at the age of 44 and no-one knows where he is buried.
He finds one of Cohen’s best friends, Douglas Lyne, and meets Henry’s daughter. There’s talk of a lost tape recording made with William Burroughs and a lost manuscript of a third book - ‘Tango – the journal of a hitch-hiking odyssey around Britain, an English ‘On The Road’.
Sinclair writes: ‘Camberton laid out his plans in a letter to The Jewish Chronicle. ‘My intention is to make two journeys: one partly on foot, through Europe…and the second to North America.’ Tango was rejected by his publisher and has not resurfaced.’
It seems Cohen craved anonymity. ‘Scamp’ won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1951, beating out Kingsley Amis’ ‘Lucky Jim’. He writes his second ‘Rain on the Pavement’. ‘Then’ , says Sinclair, ‘he vanishes, nothing is heard of him again.’
Both book covers were done for the original editions by the artist John Minton. Sinclair believes the figure in the front of ‘Scamp’ is Henry Cohen: ‘A balding man, left hand in pocket, right hand gripping a furtive typescript, slouches down the cobbles, past the pub, our of the frame, into the wilderness.’
‘Scamp’ is one of the great books on Soho life. The main protagonist Ivan Ginsberg, a writer living in a rat-infested flat, lays plans to produce the literary magazine of the title. He wanders through Soho and Fitzrovia, meeting a strange range of eccentric characters in bars and clubs, cafes and dives, in his search for funding and contributions.
Cohen has a remarkable gift for characters. They jump off the page into three-dimensions – vivid, lifelike. Many or most of them are based on real-life people – Julian Maclaren-Ross has been formally identified as the ‘former commercial traveller Angus Sternforth Simms’.
There are two marvellous chapters in which Ginsberg takes a night walk with an extraordinary Greek miser, Kagaranias, visiting a series of late-night and all-night eateries. The whole atmosphere of post war London in the late 40s is here.
‘Rain on the Pavement’ is the coming-of-age story of David, who lives and grows up in the Jewish community of Hackney and surrounds. Again it is chock full of vivid people and incidents, mad relatives, eccentric teachers. There are some classic accounts of David’s explorations into the underworld of communist, anarchist and Labour group meetings, against the backdrop of the Mosley fascist marches. David and friends roam across the city, hitch-hike around the country, search out beatnik clubs in Soho, discover girls. Its delightful.
Five Leaves Left have done Henry Cole/Roland Camberton proud in bringing these classic lost novels back into circulation in such fine editions. A whole new generation can now discover his forgotten world and words
Five Leaves ‘is a small publisher based in Nottingham, publishing 15 or so books a year. 'Our roots are radical and literary. These days our main areas of interest are fiction and poetry, social history, Jewish secular culture, with side orders of Romani, young adult, Catalan and crime fiction titles.’ Order your copies directly from them.
Five Leaves independent publishing blog also online at:
Left: Policemen on duty in Soho. Cover of Life magazine (1946)
I have a lot of books on the history of Soho and this is my favourite- ‘An Indiscreet Guide to Soho’ by Stanley Jackson, published by Muse Arts Ltd in 1946 – consisting of a series of essays, personal reflections to counter what Stanley considers the ‘nonsense’ written by novelists, journalists and film screenwriters about his beloved Soho. He brings it to life in inimitable fashion. Here is an extract from the first essay: ‘Soho Ghosts’. Enjoy.
Forget for a moment the Soho of to-day with its thumbed menu cards, delicatessen shops and sallow little men on street corners. The phantoms live in a world without ration books, cover charges, football pools and atomic bombs. De Quincey slouches into that house on the corner of Greek Street and Soho Square. His lodgings are cold and dismal after the inns and coffee-houses; a bundle of old law papers serves him for pillow. The landlord comes in rarely and always in a hurried search for money or a clean shirt. He looks over his shoulder while he talks to his lodger; the police are on his heels. De Quincey moves to Greek Street and one day discovers a chemist in Oxford Street who supplies him with opium ...
A twist of the kaleidoscope and the little restaurants, waiters' agencies and vendors of permanent wave apparatus disappear from Greek Street. You see Becky Sharp; young Thomas Lawrence nervously handling a brush; Casanova pursuing a subtle intrigue; Gainsborough finding a model for his " Blue Boy," an ironmonger's son; Karl Marx hiding 'at the back of a barber's shop and writing until daybreak; Greeks, miserable and poor, dreaming of Hellas as they sink to their knees in Hog Lane, now Charing Cross Road.
In Wardour Street Charles Lamb potters about, fascinated by the old violins, the books, the strange plaster casts. The famous cellists, etchers and makers of rare cameos form a colony in Old Compton Street. A hosier's son, named William Blake, is born at 28, Broad Street. " Songs of Innocence" is written round the corner in Poland Street lodgings. Mrs. Siddons sweeps majestically into her new house at 54, Great Marlborough Street.
The church of St. Anne's in.Dean Street is now blitzed, a battered shell with a moth-eaten garden where waiters sit and scratch their raging corns. Once it was so beautiful that Whistler could not rest until he had made an etching. Its musical services were a magnet for Court and Society. John Evelyn . . . the Countess of Dorchester . . . even George, Prince of Wales. Two tablets, sooty and crooked, commemorate two very different men in the courtyard. Hazlitt, killed by cholera; and Theodore, a hard-up German nobleman and adventurer, who reigned over Corsica for a short time and died in a Dean Street garret, befriended to the last by the exquisite Horace Walpole.
Frith Street (then Thrift Street) where young Mozart gave concerts in his rooms, and the pompous Macaulay took lodgings on his first visit to London after Cambridge. Gerrard Street, long before it was discovered by Mrs. Meyrick. Dryden, writing immortal verse ; Edmund Burke preparing his indictment of Warren Hastings ; Joshua Reynolds at the Turk's Head tavern presiding over orators, wags, painters, politicians, critics, the rooms fragrant with hot punch and tobacco. In Brewer Street walks the ghost of an undertaker who made a coffin from the wreck of a French ship sunk in the Battle of the Nile. Lord Nelson stares musingly at the coffin and orders it before setting sail for Trafalgar.*
Even in Golden Square, with its seedy parking-place attendants, woollen merchants and victims of adenoids it is possible to dream of Angelica Kaufmann who painted exquisitely and received Royalty in her studio. One thinks of Lord Bolingbroke and Mrs. Cibber, and the fashionable demi-mondaines who sinned in style. Even more vivid than reality is the Golden Square of the Victorian novelists. The Yorkshire woollen merchants and their London agents cannot quite embalm the ghosts of Ralph Nickleby and Henry Esmond in serge or worsted.
Jean Straker (UK, 1913 – 1984) founded the Visual Arts Club in Soho in 1951 ‘for artistes and photographers, amateur and professional, studying the female nude’. He was a prolific photographer, and his photographs are now part of the collection of the National Media Museum in Bradford. See: www.photonet.org.uk/index.php?pxid=944
Many a pint of bitter have I tucked away in Greek Street's " Pillars of Hercules," and more than once thought of the unfortunate man who wrote " The Hound of Heaven." Into this pub would stride Francis Thompson, full of verse and laudanum, to drink gin and write poetry, reviews, devotional tracts. A lean figure with straggling beard, battered hat, billowing brown cape, his face seared by drugs, and over his narrow shoulders the famous basket in which he carried books for review. I don't know what he would have made of the flip talk of Dean Street's film-cutting rooms or of the barrow boys who swagger in, their pockets bulging with currency made on the kerb from vending expensive peaches and bunches of grapes. Perhaps he would have smiled gently at the vision that appeared in the bar the other evening. She wore slacks and an Ethel Mannin coiffure with dandruff on the velvet collar, and she had apparently come from an excitable Communist meeting. Overwhelmed by beer and a half-digested Comintern, she was violently sick in an ash-tray.
The barrow-boys went on discussing the peculiar ways of greyhounds ; the newsreel men continued to slander Arthur Rank; the Monegasque waiter from Josef's Yugoslav restaurant swallowed his mild and bitter and rushed back to work; the landlord cleared up the mess with a frown; a Chinese chef slid across to the bar and ordered a drink in a ripe Cockney accent.
Soho to-day . . .
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
It had to happen. Student riot at the Conservative Party’s HQ at London’s Milbank is now being followed by university occupations.
Just received news of the occupation at Sussex University by the Stop The Cuts campaign, who are currently doing a ‘sit-in’ at the Fulton Lecture Theatre on campus. Here’s the programme for tonight:
5-6pm: “Activist security” talk hosted by the Anarchist Society
6-7: “Revolution and state: can we change the world without taking power?” talk hosted by Socialist Worker Student Society
7.15- 8.30: Dinner: Bring what you can, eat what you like
9: Open mic: Music, poetry, spoken word, performance and whatever else comes along.
Follow developments at: http://defendsussex.wordpress.com/
Link to Sussex University’s Special Collections site on student protest May 1968
For a broader picture of what is going on around the UK see: http://occupations.org.uk/
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Pleased to announce that The Generalist now has established a mainline connection to screeners and DVDs of upcoming cult and indie features and documentaries so we are going to be able to appraise you of some excellent cinematic delights. In honour of this, have named these posts Screen Dreams after a regular column I used to write for the NME in the 1970s.
Christening this post, watch out for this brilliant Polish film which, as I understand will be entered into the Oscars for Best Foreign Film Award. It certainly deserves it. Part of the reason I am hooked into it is due having seen the remarkable documentary ‘Beats of Freedom’ on the history of Polish rock – a vital part of young people’s rebellion during the years of military rule. [See Previous Post THE GENERALIST: NEWS DIGEST 1]
‘All That I Love’ concerns a punk band playing their rebellious music at a time when General Jaruzelski has declared martial law [13th Dec 1981]. The young 18-year-old lead singer goes through a real coming-of-age - discovering love and sex, negotiating his relationship with his father and finding a political awakening - in a story that celebrates love and the joy of rebellion. This a tender and genuinely moving film. Its feels real and fresh and it is shot with a lyricism that recalls ‘Knife in the Water’. Beautiful. Hats off to director Jacek Borcuch.
Switch channels and time frames and let me introduce you to a major cult movie: ‘Able Danger’. This cross between a film noir and a conspiracy movie is a gem. Its the movie that the Coen Brother’s tried to make with ‘Burn After Reading’.
[According to Wikipedia: Able Danger was a classified military planning effort led by the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). It was created as a result of a directive from the Joint Chiefs of Staff in early October 1999 by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hugh Shelton, to develop an information operations campaign plan against transnational terrorism.’]
The main character Thomas Flynnis a prize geek, who runs a corner coffee shop in Brooklyn, from the basement of which he operates his real passion – a website that probes deep into the black heart of Amerikan government conspiracy. Needless to say, a gorgeous dark-haired femme fatale arrives with the promise of secret information that triggers the whole plot – which straddles the sinister and the hilarious, punctured as it is with characters to match the German kidnappers in ‘The Big Lebowski’ and dream sequences in which the geek is standing on top of one of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Centre. Meantime, while all this action is going on, the movie switches to the surveillance team and their technology, who are monitoring every move. Hilarious and scary. Must be seen: Intelligent, interesting, clever, real, funny.
More to come. This is fun.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
One of the many delights of doing The Generalist is being contacted out of the blue by readers all over the world. Particularly when it is a writer of the calibre of Yahia Lababidi, who wrote:
‘It is heartening to discover your thoughtful Generalist, so full as it is with curiosity and compassion. Please allow me to take this opportunity to briefly introduce myself and my work.’
He was kind enough to send me a copy of his book of essays ‘Trial by Ink’ [Common Ground Publishing] which I have been devouring over the last week. What a stimulating pleasure that has been.
Yahia is of Lebanese/Egyptian extraction, born in 1973, currently living in Washington DC. He is a man of deep thoughts who, unusually, is best known for his aphorisms, which have been widely reprinted.
These stem from his background. He writes; ‘In the culture I come from, a saying is a magical thing. It was something people were always happy to hear or recite…I grew up with grandmothers, both maternal and paternal, who spoke almost exclusively, at times, in sayings. A string of proverbs. Singy-songy, witty-wise remarks. When I found myself writing such things, it made sense for me to share them.’
‘Trial by Ink’ is his first collection of essays. He informs us in the intro that the form was minted by de Montaigne and the word derives from the French essai, which means ‘trial’. He views his essays as ‘ a sort of mental autobiography and a collection of judgements…a catalogue of interests, concerns, possessions, exorcisms and even passing enthusiasms’ written over a seven-year period.
There is great deal here to digest, material that will pay rereading. I will try and summarise to give you a flavour of his work and range of interests.
The collection begins with a number of essays - Literary Profiles and Reviews - about the ‘fiery intense spirits’ who have inspired him – Rimbaud, Kierkegaard, Rilke, Kafka and, most significantly, Oscar Wilde and Nietzsche. He writes one of his longest essays comparing the latter duo and a further one on Wilde himself. There is also an excellent piece on Susan Sontag, from which I learnt a lot.
[These collectively took me right back to when I read Colin Wilson’s The Outsider’ when I was in my teens, my first discovery of a whole range of creative spirits)
The section ends with ‘Reptiles of the Mind’, which examines Herman Melville’s first short story, ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’, written in 1853, and ‘Souvenirs of Death’ a profile of Brian Turner, an American soldier ‘who served as a conscientious objector in Iraq.’
Part 2 is entitled Studies in Pop Culture. It begins with ‘Meditation on Murder’ about the pop fascination with serial killers. Then two essays on Michael Jackson (his teenage fascination) and a short piece ‘Monks of Los Angeles’, linking Morrissey and Leonard Cohen. ‘Feast of Fantasies’ discusses celebrity. FInally, ‘Notes on Silence’ and ‘Crises and Their Uses’ – interesting meditations.
Finally, in a section called Middle Eastern Musings, comprising seven essays,Yahia writes about Egyptian and Lebanese culture, giving a very different picture of these sensuous and vibrant cultures to the one we receive from the western media.
Yahia has a rich, elegant style and is a great phrase-maker. His text is peppered with striking allusions and choicely selected quotes that make up a stimulating brew. His work touched me deeply and is highly recommended for all seekers after truth – and for generalists with open minds.
Examples of his aphorisms: www.bu.edu/agni/essays/online/2009/lababidi.html
‘The Prayer of Attention’ www.bu.edu/agni/interviews/online/2010/stein.html
An Interview with Yahia by Caroline Leavittville http://carolineleavittville.blogspot.com/2010/10/yahia-lababidi-talks-about-trial-by-ink.html
Yahia on YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/jadkfja
A wonderful collections of videos inspired by Yahia’s poems http://btxmusic.com/index.php?key=Yahia+Lababidi
Thursday, November 04, 2010
PALIMPSEST: A manuscript (usually written on papyrus or parchment) on which more than one text has been written with the early writing incompletely erased.
The unusual cover mirrors the title. The book itself has the 1964 photo of Vidal on front and back. This is wrapped with a thin transparent plastic cover on which all the text has been printed. Maybe only used on the Abacus UK paperback edition 
Always been rather fascinated by Gore Vidal. First encountered when I read his strange book ‘Messiah’ back in the 1970s. He was often seen on tv chat shows and debates where it was impressive the way he cut people off at the knees.
This book records the first 39 years of his life, recalled from 29 years later. He jokingly suggests that the most ‘persuasively apt’ title for a memoir should be Tissue of Lies.
‘A memoir is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked. I’ve taken the memoir route on the ground that even an idling memory is apt to get right what matters most. ‘
Vidal wrote novels of many kinds – including a landmark series documenting, in a fictional form, the the birth and growth of the American Republic, alongside plays and screenplays for the theatre, tv and film. He was intensely involved in politics and ran for office twice (without success). His patrician background gave him an entre into the highest levels of power within America – he was related to Jackie Kennedy – and he travelled through the worlds of entertainment meeting Jack Kerouac, Marlon and a thousand others.
His posse, if you like, were Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer – they fought and bickered with each other and Gore captures it all brilliantly.
Gore famously wrote the first major US novel with a homosexual theme (‘The City and the Pillar’)and throughout this book he is frank and open about his own proclivities and activities – and of course those of others.
The book is a grandstand piece of writing: incisive, full of electrifying phrases and needlepoint descriptions, telling phrases and marvellous anecdotes, masterfully told. There is high drama and low jinks, catty prods and belly laughs.
Vidal is a naked singularity who remains constant to his principles and continues to this day to fulminate against the widespread corruption of America’s political traditions and body politic, and the pomposities of power.
The second volume stands waiting to be read.
This ‘found’ object is a battered copy of a remarkable book (a snip at £1), first published in the US in1962, this edition being the 1968 Penguin paperback version.
Written by Calvin Tomkins, best known as a writer for The New Yorker, the book consists simply of four profiles of major avant-garde artists – four figures whose work and influence endures, as it turns out. The prescient title says it all: Ahead of the Game.
Marcel Duchamp, the enigmatic Master, the original Cool Dude, a man who never joined a movement, remained his own singular presence. invented the ‘ready-made’ (the urinal being he most famous), was a remarkable chess player.
John Cage, an extraordinary innovator in music and sound production, who challenged our perceptions and introduced us to the value of music and silence, inventing new instruments, exploring new technologies, restless and inventive to the end.
Jean Tingueley, a force of nature, obsessed by building remarkable machines that have an unexpected life of their own, often destroying themselves in paroxysms of exuberance, built entirely of scrap and waste objects, transformed into anarchic constructions that are one of fhe ultimate expressions of movement in art.
Robert Rauschenberg, a singular charmer with German and Cherokee blood in his veins, a restless constructor of works in many styles, forms and materials, that mark his remarkable trajectory through his fecund imagination, symbolised by his ‘combines’, most famously the angora goat with a tyre round its middle
Tomkins is a remarkable and meticulous writer who had the great privilege of meeting and talking with all four men while they were alive, capturing the sound of their voice and their characters, allowing us to get up close and intimate through his detailed observations and careful documentation of their working lives, their surroundings and techniques.
Duchamp died in 1968, Cage in 1992, Tingueley in 1991, Rauschenberg in 2008.
Read this absorbing book and realise how much of our modern culture stems from their innovative thoughts, dreams, projects and products. So much great food for thought.
I love the introductory quote:
‘It is curious to note to what an extent memory is unfaithful, even for the most important periods of one’s life. It is this, indeed, that explains the delightful fantasy of history.’ – Marcel Duchamp
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Following our previous popular posts on the Hippy Trail - BIT GUIDE: OVERLAND THROUGH AFRICA and ALTERNATIVE SOCIETY 1970s: BIT Travel Guide – more material has come to light. Above is the prospectus brochure of one of the numerous independent coach companies running overland trips to India.
Intercontinental Transits, based initially in Chessington and later Goldhawk Rd, London W12, ran regular overland trips and also cheap flights to India, Katmandu, Bangkok, Singapore and Sydney. This 8pp brochure comes courtesy of Will Rogers, who made the trip back in the 1970s.
There’s a great site documenting all the various companies running bus and coach journeys to India. See: www.indiaoverland.biz/
‘The number of operators that made these journeys is endless’, they report. ‘Here is just a short list...
Aardvark Expeditions, Anglo Australian Company, Asian Greyhound, Atrek, Capricorn Overland Tours, Budget Bus, CCT, Contiki, Encounter Overland, Exodus Expeditions, Hann Overland, Hughes Overland, Indigo, Inter Trek, Magic Bus, Penn World Overland, Rotel Tours, Safaris Overland, Sherpa Expeditions, Sundowners, Tentrek Expeditions, The Overlanders, Top Deck Travel, Trans African Expeditions, King Kong, Himalayan Tiger, Tangerine Tours, The Silver Express, P.B.K., Crazy Bus, No Sweat Overland Tours & Playmates Camping
They are trying to build a database of memories and photos so if you have anything to add they would be glad to hear from you.
Currently editing and producing a newsletter for the Bhopal Medical Appeal, a Brighton-based charity who raise funds for the Sambhavna Clinic.
A good way of getting up to speed on the situation is to read Mick Brown’s piece in The Telegraph and view his interview with Sathyu Sarangi, Managing Trustee of the Clinic, on the excellent Frontline Club website.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
This is a remarkable novel concerning a journalist seeking to discover the truth about an incident in the Spanish Civil War.
The book has three parts – the first documents the search, the second, tells the story he uncovers (which is largely based on actual historical facts). The third part takes many surprising turns. The writer is not satisfied with his story, there’s something missing. By chance he meets the real-life novelist Roberto Bolano [See Previous Posts below] who, in turn, has a story to tell,. This leads the journalist on a long, strange journey to meet a remarkable larger-than-life character who brings the story to a remarkable and profound conclusion.
Cercas is a wonderful story-teller with a light touch and a beautiful and accessible style. The book is a history lesson about the complex nature of the Civil War combined with a thrilling and engaging investigation, full of surprising twists and turn. Its fully-realised characters and incidents excite the imagination and inspire deep philosophical reflection. The book is full of humour and deep insights and it will bring tears to your eyes and touch your heart. It was with great sadness that I came to the end of the story this morning, having lived in the book’s spell for almost a month. A truly great novel which will live in my memory.
Coincidentally, during this same period, I rediscovered a remarkable Spanish film whilst steadily re-cataloguing my substantial collection of VHS tapes [more discoveries to follow]
‘Dream of Light’ (aka ‘The Quince Tree Sun’) is a documentary about the Spanish painter Antonio López García who, every year, sets out to capture the beauty of the quince tree in his garden. Its is the most amazing film about painting I have ever seen. Beautifully shot, it moves at a steady, slow, stately pace. We watch the painter make up his canvas and then, step by step, follow his meticulous preparations and the various stages leading to the realisation of his work. Other characters come and go – his wife and daughters, an artist friend (who sits and talks to Garcia while he paints) and three Polish builders who are renovating his house.
One of Garcia’s remarkable realist paintings, from ANTONIO LOPEZ GARCIA - a tribute in images
This beautiful film, directed by Victor Erice (best known for ‘The Spirit of the Beehive’) is the complete antithesis to most of modern cinema. We see the world through the painter’s eyes, the camera lingering on the beauty that he perceives in the swelling golden quinces. It is a film full of small details and touching moments, which repays repeated viewings. In the frenetic modern world, it offers an oasis of calm reflection, exciting the eye and the imagination with its ravishing cinematography. A real treasure.
Friday, September 17, 2010
This is my obituary of Sid Rawle, published in The Guardian on 27th September.
Important correction re Sid’s mother received from a member of Sid’s family:
‘Sid's mother was not a Romany girl as you have reported. Our mother was a born and bred London girl, from Parsons Green, Fulham, as was our grandmother and great-grandmother. I was born eight years after Sid in the same house in Fulham -four generations of London girls. Betty, our mother, met and married Sid's father whilst working on his farm as a Land-Army girl. When Sid was seven the marriage failed and she returned to London with him. However, after a protracted custody battle, Sid was handed back to his father on the Exmore Farm. It was deemed better, by the powers that be, for him to be brought up on an Exmore farm than in post-war London. He was not brought up as a solitary child, he had three step-brothers. Sid didn't see our mother again from the age of nine to eighteen when he tracked us down in Slough. The rest, as they say, is history...’
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
This 600p tub-thumper of a book traces a silver chain of inspiration - a vision of Albion, a lost Eden, the sacred countryside and the antiquarian past – and follows its manifestations over the last100 years.
We travel down wandering roads with the first folk-song collectors and classical composers inspired to incorporate folk themes and melodies in their work, through the modern folk revivals, the electrification and modernisation of folk, the punk and pagan expressions of folk, to modern visionary musicians who the author considers are linked to Albion’s silver dreams.
The book begins by following the long journey of Vashti Bunyan - her travels and travails - as she treks the length and breadth of Britain in the 60s/70s trying to establish herself as a singer and recording artist. On her way she meets Donovan, McCartney, Joe Boyd, Nick Drake and the Incredible String Band but has limited success. Then in the 2000's, her music is rediscovered by Devendra Barhhart, makes and achieves the cult success she always craved.
We then flash back in time to the turn of the century when, says Young:
‘the concept of British music was a primordial soup waiting for an electric spark. Its twentieth-century reanimation flows directly from this concentration of radical politics, speculative utopianism and rural conservationism, all supported by a coterie of powerful national figures who shared…’the passion of the past”.
The key musical figures were Delius followed by Holst & Vaughan Williams – energetic collaborators. Holst read The Golden Bough, studied Sanskrit, admired Walt Whitman and based The Planets on astrological themes; Vaughan Williams became one of number of folk song collectors, which included Cecil Sharp and Percy Grainger.
After the war came the Celtic Twilight movement, Yeats’ Brotherhood and the first Glastonbury Festival (1914-1927) held annually in the Assembly Hall. The time of John Ireland, Arthur Machen and the Golden Dawn. I don’t think I realised that the Piper At The Gates of Dawn was the title of a hallucinatory chapter in ‘The Wind and the Willows’ composed at this time.
Folk son and dance become more organised and established. Between the end of the war and 1958 came the second ‘folk revival’ in London led by Ewan McColl, Peggy Seeger, folk historian A.L. Lloyd and folklorist Alan Lomax and the lesser-known broadcaster Peter Kennedy. Young writes that: ‘Their efforts transformed the role of folk music in contemporary life, colonising as many spaces as possible, from the smallest back-room folk club to the potentially massive reach of radio and television, and introducing a contemporary industrial sensibility to the corpus of folk.’
All of which is very much the curtain raiser to the perhaps better known period which leads onwards from the Soho folk clubs where Steve Benbow & Davy Graham, later Jansch & Renbourn and countless others, made their debuts . What I didn’t realise was that, according to Young, the guitar was an instrument ‘practically unknown’ until the late 1950s, early 60s. Spanish guitars were only available on import and other models were impossible to buy.
The trail continues with the Copper Family, the Watersons, the Young Tradition and the Early Music movement and Shirley & Dolly Collins. Young reports that there were 30 or 40 folk clubs bin 1964 and 400 by the end of the decade. Then comes Pentangle and Astral Weeks – the modernisation of folk – and of course Nick Drake, who once had tea with the 90-year old E.M. Forster in Cambridge - and the wonderful Incredible String Band (who I fell in love with again after reading this book). Jimmy Page says he just bought and ISB album and followed the directions.
Later still we are into the ‘lingering pagan presence in the British landscape’ and the technologically-evolved folk music of the Beatles. The time of Middle Earth, Gandalf’s Garden, Lord of the Rings, T-Rex and early Bowie.
Festivals are documented and celebrated, the birth and end of folk rock, the punk connections through Crass. A negative view of folk emerged from the mid 70s, says Young and, as result, ‘folk music made little impact on national consciousness in the 1980s’ but he highlights the work of Kate Bush, Julian Cope, David Sylvain and Talk Talk for keeping the vision of British music alive. He talks of our ‘folk’ music finding its place within ‘world music’. [When I met Show of Hands they said they played world music from Devon]
Young has a digressive style that is always seeking unexpected connections and which suits his wandering subject. The material is highly detailed yet the author manages to carry the reader along, maintain a good momentum in this long journey through the roots of British music. His imaginative ‘readings’ of recordings, snatches of first-person memories, biographical sketches and historical narrative are woven together skilfully. The book is a substantial achievement and a valuable work of reference.
Other Reviews & Links:
‘Electric Eden is by no means the first book to trace the modern reinvention of folk music. A farrago of essays called The Electric Muse, originally published in 1975 to accompany a triple-LP set, was the standard text in its day, but several comprehensive studies have been published since the millennium. Britta Sweers's 2005 overview, Electric Folk: The Changing Face of Traditional Music, features valuable interviews and is pitched at a reader with no prior knowledge (dutifully explaining who Bob Dylan is), but it shows its origins as a young German's university dissertation. Michael Brocken's The British Folk Revival 1944–2002, which focuses more on the mainstream and politics than Young's tome, would suit readers who wish to study the "movement" rather than have their tastes expanded.’
‘Electric Eden …is, at heart: the best of the currently available books on the modern British folk phenomenon. Despite its biases and digressions, it is a thoroughly enjoyable read and likely to remain the best-written overview for a long time.’
‘There exists a parallel universe in which I am happily giving Electric Eden an absolute rave. This, I say, is a perfectly timed, perfectly pitched alternative history of English folk music. It is wide-ranging, insightful, authoritative, thoroughly entertaining. I may even go so far as to say that, in parts, it is electrifying. There is another parallel universe, however, in which I come over all Cambridge philosophy tutor, sigh woefully, wave the weighty tome around and say, "Insufficiently rigorous, self-contradictory, partial and - worst of all - lacking a central thesis."
Material on Davy Graham in MUSICAL ROUNDUP
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Today the lead story in The Guardian trumpeted that Bjørn Lomborg, notorious for his book ‘The Sceptical Environmentalist’, calls for a massive global investment to tackle global warming. This ‘change of heart’ was hailed as a welcome boost to efforts to address climate change.
This is highly reminiscent of The Independent’s front-page story some years back when James Lovelock announced he was in favour of nuclear power – also trumpeted as a volte face.
Dramatic stuff, but as I pointed out in a Previous Post, James Lovelock: Man of the Moment [Jan 31, 2006] Lovelock had been pro-nuclear at least since the time I interviewed him in 1984 and had longstanding links with nuclear lobby groups.
Lovelock’s statements handily coincided with the publication of a new book. Lomborg’s announcement does also.
His new book is Smart Solutions to Climate Change: Comparing Costs and Benefits .Lomborg has always acknowledged global warming. This book is about how global warming spending could be more effectively supplied. Some of these solutions involve geoengineering (See: GEOENGINEERING: PAST & PRESENT
BJØRN LOMBORG: THE SCEPTICAL ENVIRONMENTALIST Read our substantial round-up of Lomborg information and videos and make up your own minds. [Posted Nov 13th, 2009]
Read these responses to The Guardian story:
But Lomborg was always a Warmist by James Delingpole [Daily Telegraph 31st Aug 2010]
Bjorn Lomborg, Climate Skeptic, Calls for Massive Global Warming Investment by Krista Mahr [Ecocentric blog/Time magazine 31st Aug 2010]
Monday, August 30, 2010
On of the most popular posts on The Generalist is ALTERNATIVE SOCIETY 1970s: BIT Travel Guide, posted in August 2006. Many of you who used the Guide have contacted me and traffic spiked when the post was included in a feature on Slate entitled ‘Baboons Are Simply Too Small for Leopard Bait: The 10 oddest travel guides ever published’ by Paul Collins (August 2008. Now, thanks to intrepid traveller Will Rogers, The Generalist Archive has acquired a copy of another BIT Guide: Overland Through Africa. The copy we have is the 4th Edition, published in July 1976. Here is the Introduction:
‘At the risk of seeming absurd we hope you'll give this guide away once you've made the decision to go since there's no such thing as a 'guide' to discovery and adventure. The only way you'll find these things is by direct personal experience. All a guide can do is point you in a fruitful direction and even then it runs the risk of becoming a leaning post and giving you pre-conceived ideas about what you will find. Having said that it would be naive to assume that you've got this far in life without being influenced in many ways by the media which is why we get these guides together - as a kind of counter-balance to the mountains of glossy tourist literature,TV and radio programmes and the like,which will take you on a whistle-stop tour of one Hilton hotel after another and leave you with little other than a numbing feeling of ennui.This guide is a collection of experiences from travellers who've tried to get out of that mould and have deliberately gone out of their way to try to experience life as it is lived by local people outside the capital cities and tourist spots. It's far from perfect since no collection of words can ever adequately convey direct experience and it is no substitute for your own initiative but it's the best we can do given these limitations.
Most places are far easier and cheaper to get to than Costa Lotta travel agents and discouraging Consular officials would have you believe. The hardest part is making the decision to go under your own steam. The rest is easy and you'll never regret it. Remember that wherever there are people there is food,shelter,company and transport of some description and the further off the beaten track you go, generally, the more interesting it becomes. lt's best not to have any definite plans or time schedule but to go the way the wind blows and stay as long as the inclination holds you. Don’t expect anything to be on time or to work in the way it does in Europe or North America - in many parts of Africa it's impossible to predict anything, especially during the rainy season when roads turn to rivers and bridges get washed away just for starters. Give yourself plenty of time, be willing to adjust to local customs and food, and try to see delays or forced changes of plans as an opportunity to do something else rather than waste energy moaning about them. There are few well-established travellers' routes as there are out East and, with the exception of South America, Africa is the one continent where you can still find real adventure - bearing in mind that you can find this in your own backyard: it all depends on how you approach it. Outside the capital cities it's still very uncommercialised and undeveloped and in many places its people are trying hard to develop an identity which won't usher in a Coca-Cola culture or a passive acceptance of Western techno-consumerism.
It's a very colourful continent with many different traditions and ways of life and the friendliness and hospitality that awaits you there is second to none. We receive letters from travellers all the time which go on at great length about the welcome they've received there especially in the small villages and even in the cities perhaps best contained in a nutshell by one of Siri & Ebba's phrases:- "We're having nothing but the best of times and all fears are unfounded'.'
A lot of people find two is the ideal number for travelling. More than that can be unwieldy and become a constant exercise in balancing inclinations. On the other hand, if you have the courage, travelling on your own is possibly the best way to go. Whichever you decide on you'll come across others who are travelling and with whom you can truck along if you feel like some company for a while. There are a number of fairly well-known crossroads where you'll meet other travellers or have the opportunity to change travelling companions. Travel as light as possible. Visas you can obtain along the way and with far less hassle and red-tape than from the Embassies in London. In many cases you can actually turn up at the border without a visa despite the fact that, officially, you're supposed to have one. Don't worry about diarrhoea and hepatitis - you'll almost certainly get the former at various points along the way if only because your body can't adjust fast enough to changes of food, but hepatitis can usually be avoided if you're reasonably fastidious and don't drink un-boiled water. The two things you must take precautions about are malaria (for which you take a preventative drug) and bilharzia (keep out of streams,rivers and lakes unless you know they're safe). Language is no real problem as you'll soon pick up enough to get you by and what you lack can be made up for in non-verbal communication. lt does help, however, to learn something of the languages of the countries you intend to visit as this makes the journey far more interesting and puts you in closer touch with the culture and circumstances of people's lives. English and French will get you through most places. Arabic and Swahili will get you through the remainder. Many people will delight in teaching you their language if you show interest.
Leave your stereotyped prejudices at home where, hopefully, they'll wither and die, even if others display them - and they sometimes do. Be open-minded, honest and friendly. If things start bugging you, try to retain a sense of humour and don't lose your infinite capacity for patience - the bureaucracy in some places is incredibly complicated and moves very sluggishly. lt moves even slower if you start ranting and raving. At the same time, be firmly discriminating in who you trust. Lean on your intuition. Most so-called rip offs are due to the carelessness of travellers who leave valuables lying around unattended. Not all hotel managers are trustworthy. Don't leave money, passports and other valuables lying around at any time. Keep them with you and out of sight even when you go for a shower unless you're certain they're not going to walk. Best leave anything behind which you'd regret losing. If you act in an arrogant manner remember that other travellers who come after you are going to pick up the pieces and it's a heavy number if local people are feeling resentful. Better to say little and learn a lot instead. These people have just as much right to their culture and way of life as you do to yours. Never make the mistake of thinking that a 'primitive' existence, a difference of opinion and way of going about things, or a different language is equivalent to stupidity. Please don t export this contemptible cultural superiority - they've had quite enough of that already and are still having it rammed down their long-suffering throats especially in southern Africa.
Many African countries are going through profound political and social changes which is often reflected in the instability and turbulence of national politics. They're still struggling with the legacy of colonialism particularly with regard to acculturisation and geographical boundaries which often bear little or no relation to the civilisations and tribal areas which were in existence before the arrival of the Europeans and they're having a hard time creating a sense of unity in the face of tribal rivalries, racial and linguistic differences, patterns of migration and geographical separation. Colonialist agricultural and industrial policies have also hindered development since, in many cases, they left a country with only one major export, the world price for which was still controlled from the business centres of Europe. There are, however, a number of promising developments which will reduce this exploitation and eventually eliminate it such as the Ujamaa scheme in Tanzania and the land redistribution schemes in Ethiopia,Libya,Somalia and Mozambique among others. For the moment, however, many African countries are desperately poor and still very much subject to the vagaries of the weather and the availability of water. The Sahel drought, which lasted for years, on the southern edge of the Sahara desert had a disastrous effect on the countries in that area and spelt the end of a centuries-old way of life for many nomads. Famines still occur in places like Ethiopia though this undoubtedly had a lot to do with the distribution of land and crippling taxation under the feudal system before the revolution. In southern Africa there's the disgusting spectacle of apartheid and white supremacist regimes poisoning the air and where change must inevitably come - and the sooner the better.
Africa is not a cheap place to travel through especially if you are going to rely largely on hotels and want to travel fairly rapidly. If this is what you have in mind then six months could cost you around £500. Inflation has badly affected many African countries especially since OPEC's oil price increases. Obviously the further off the beaten track you go and the slower you travel (many travellers walk large distances especially in places like Zaire where transport is very erratic) the further your funds will go and the more hospitality you come across. Try to give something in return. Don't expect to be able to hitch everywhere for free. In most parts of Africa hitching a ride on a lorry is a recognised form of public transport and you'll be expected to pay for it. Generally,prices are more or less fixed on well-used routes though on lesser-used tracks you will have to bargain. Some lifts take days and in the rainy season there are frequent delays due to bridges being down or roads flooded. When there are punctures or the lorry gets bogged down in sand or mud, you’ll be expected to lend a hand along with everybody else – can be great fun.
Africa is one of the few remaining continents where there are substantial wildlife parks and reserves where you can see immense herds of zebra, antelopes and wildebeests together with Lions, elephants, rhino, giraffe, hippos, monkeys and an incredible array of bird and insect life. Give a thought for them if you are offered furs and animal skins. The demand for these puts severe pressure on their continued existence. If you want them to become a fond memory of the past carry on buying furs and skins. If not, refuse to buy them.
We wish you the best of luck for an amazing journey.’
Sunday, August 29, 2010
The idea that the death of the dinosaurs was caused by a meteorite impact first surfaced in 1980 – and captured my imagination. Now there has been a new development.
This highly controversial hypothesis was based on the discovery by physicist Luis Alvarez and his team found an identical geological signature in sedimentary rocks all over the world - a thin layer of rock containing abnormally high concentrations of Iridium. This layer marks the K-T boundary between the Cretaceous and Tertiary ages which was the time when the known mass extinction of life occurred. Iridium is very rare on Earth but abundant in asteroids and comets. Hence the idea that life was extinguished by an extraterrestrial object impacting on the earth.
The following year, a University of Arizona grad student Alan R Hildebrand and his faculty adviser William V Boynton published a draft Earth-impact theory and began looking for a candidate crater which their evidence suggested should be in the Caribbean basin.
They were completely unaware that, the very same year, geophysicist Glen Penfield had presented a paper at the 1981 Society of Exploration Geophysicists conference which provided evidence of a large impact crater off the coast of Yucatan. Penfield has been prevented by Pemex, the oil company he worked for, from obtaining rock cores or other physical evidence so his case rested entirely on geophysical data sets. in addition, the conference was underattended and the report attracted little attention.
Hildebrand first learned of Penfield’s discovery from a Houston Chronicle reporter in 1990. Through their joint efforts, they succeeded on obtaining drill samples from the site which provided the hard evidence they needed.
The Chicxulub crater, as it is now known, is buried under the Yucatan Peninsula and the ocean. The crater is more than 180 km (110 mi) in diameter, and is the second largest impact structure on earth.
It has been calculated that the 15km-wide asteroid that made it was travelling at 20km a second when it struck the Earth with a force a billion times greater than the Hiroshima bomb.
Wikepdia reports that: ‘In March 2010, following extensive analysis of the available evidence covering 20 years' worth of data spanning the fields of palaeontology, geochemistry, climate modelling, geophysics and sedimentology, 41 international experts from 33 institutions reviewed available evidence and concluded that the impact at Chicxulub triggered the mass extinctions during K-T boundary including those of dinosaurs.’
Source: The Boltysh Meteorite Impact Crater Project
Now a new study of a meteorite impact crater at Boltysh in the Ukraine suggests a different scenario. First discovered in 1990, it has only recently been reliably dated and is now believed to have been created several thousand years before Chicxulub.
This suggests that the mass extinction of life that occurred at the end of the Cretaceous era may have been driven by multiple meteor strikes over a long period.
[See full story at Double meteorite strike 'caused dinosaur extinction' By Howard Falcon-Lang. Science reporter, BBC News. 27th August]
The Spaceguard Central Node, the web site of The Spaceguard Foundation and of the Spaceguard System, is freely opened to all people wishing to understand what is being done for observing and tracking Near-Earth Objects (NEOs): asteroids and comets that could represent a threat to the Earth's ecosystem in case of an impact.
[Above & Left]: Aerial picture and geological map of the meteoric impact crater at Ries in Germany. [Below]: Landsat image of crater at Talemzane in Algeria and 3-D modelling of same by Dr. Carlos Roberto de Souza Filho
The Earth Impact Database is maintained as a not-for-profit source of information to assist the scientific, industrial, government and public communities around the world in furthering our collective knowledge of impact structures on Earth. It is regularly updated with new discoveries.
The database is regularly updated with new discoveries but, to be included in the listings, the proposer must provide convincing evidence of shock features or impact formations, preferably in a published form. These rigid criteria help maintain the integrity of the data. [They have a long list of currently unproven impact structures, which they are planning to publish]
The FAQ shows two structures that look like meteor impact craters but are not – in Hudson Bay and Mauritania. Crater Lake, Oregon – often mistaken for an impact crater - is a caldera lake, the product of a St Helen’s style volcanic explosion.
There is a very interesting essay on impact craters on their site, based on a 1990 Scientific American piece by Grieves.
Our view of the importance of meteoric impacts has been radically changed in recent years by the findings from planetary exploration missions. This clearly shows that virtually all planetary surfaces are cratered from the impact of planetary bodies. It is now accepted that they have played a major role in reshaping the surface of Earth.
‘Most of the terrestrial impact craters that ever formed, however, have been obliterated by other terrestrial geological processes. Some examples however remain. To date, over 160 impact craters have been identified on Earth. Almost all known craters have been recognized since 1950 and several new structures are found each year.’
Saturday, August 21, 2010
A few days back I discovered Hands off Mother Earth (HOME) - a Stop Geoengineering protest site. You can add your photo protest pic. They are against geogineering in general and target four such projects in particular: biochar, ocean fertilisation,cloud whitening and artificial volcanoes
PLANET NEWS (Sept 2007) we noted The Climate Engineers, an excellent and detailed essay by James R. Fleming [The Wilson Quarterly.Spring 2007] A full pdf of the piece can be found on the writer’s website: Selected Works of James R Fleming. Fleming is Prof of Science, Technology and Society at Colby College in Maine.
‘As alarm over global warming spreads, a radical idea is gaining momentum. Forget cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions, some scientists argue. Find a technological fix. Bounce sunlight
back into space by pumping reflective nanoparticles into the atmosphere. Launch mirrors into orbit around the earth. Create a planetary thermostat. But what sounds like science fiction is actually an old story. For more than a century, scientists, soldiers, and charlatans have hatched schemes to manipulate the
weather and climate. Like them, today’s aspiring climate engineers wildly exaggerate what is possible, and they scarcely consider political, military, and ethical implications of attempting to manage the worlds climate with potential consequences far greater than any their predecessors were ever likely to face.’
In STEWART BRAND: REINVENTING ENVIRONMENTAL THINKING [October 2009] we discover that Brand is in favour of geoengineering.
The coincidence part of our story stems from the fact that, later the same day I discovered HOME, I found this book in a cardboard box outside my favourite discount book store in Brighton. It was £2. It knocked me sideways. It is about geoengineering using nuclear bombs and one particular project which I was criminally unaware of: Project Chariot. Here is the skinny:
‘If your mountain is not in the right place, drop us a card.’ – Edward Teller.
Following the development and deployment of atomic bombs in the 1940s, both the US and Russia conducted numerous atmospheric nuclear tests during the 1950s. Concern about the negative image of nuclear weapons, a concept of Atoms for Peace was developed and championed, principally by physicist Edward Teller who successfully established his own lab – Lawrence Livermore – to further these notions.
‘At its height Plowshare employed 290 people and spent $18 million annually to recast the bomb as a peacetime tool. Physicists became public works engineers and set about to correct “a slightly flawed planet.”
“To remedy nature’s oversights,” detonations would gouge out canals and “instant harbours".” They would slice through mountain ranges. Edward Teller spoke of “a new and important discipline,. Geographical engineering. We will change the earth’s surface to suit us.”
Project Plowshare’s principal aim was to create a new sea-level Panama Canal. In order to fulfil such a project, they needed a test site to try out the techniques of atomic earth-moving. The point they chose was Cape Thompson in northern Alaska, where they planned to create a new harbour.
Dan O’Neill has done an exemplary job in presenting the story in vivid detail. In the course of his research he managed to get a huge amount of secret material declassified.
It was his research that in 1992 uncovered the fact that nuclear waste in the form of radioactive dirt had been buried at Cape Hope during Project Chariot without the knowledge of the local Inuit. This developed into a major issue and a costly clean-up.
US Biologist/activist Barry Commoner, who has been variously described as ‘the dean of the environmental movement’ and ‘the father of grass-roots environmentalism’ had this to say in 1988:
‘I think, in so far as I had an effect on the development of the whole movement….Project Chariot can be regarded as the ancestral birthplace of at least a large segment of the environmental movement.’
The environmental study carried about by Alaskan biologists to try and determine what effect the atomic bombs would have on the local ecosystem, was the most comprehensive environmental program ever done at that time; it can be considered the first environmental impact statement (EIS).
The Inuit of Port Hope, the population who were closest to the Chariot test site, founded Tundra Times to promote their opposition to the project. The issue of Native land claims formed a core part of their arguments and their campaign can rightly be seen as the start of a process that led to the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, which conveyed 40 million acres to the Inuit people and awarded them $1 billion compensation for lands already lost.
This remarkable and important book should be more widely known.
‘The Firecracker Boys’ by Dan O’Neill [Basic Books/St Martin’s Press. 1994]