Monday, March 26, 2012


This is a post I never expected to write: the return of the 78rpm record. What the heck! The message came from the label TOMPKINS SQUARE, announcing the first of a series of releases in the 78rpm 10inch vinyl format. They are previously unreleased recordings by from Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars) and Ralph Stanley. A limited edition of 500 copies of each will be launched on Record Store Day 2012.


Josh Rosenthal, owner of Tompkins Square comments: “A lot of new turntables play 78’s, and many 78 collectors listen to their records on modern equipment. Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe have all recently released 78’s. So I thought it would be fun to start a line of them.”

On November 19th, 2009 Preservation Hall Recordings released 504 limited edition hand-numbered 78 rpm vinyl records featuring two tracks by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band with very special guest Tom Waits.  The tracks are “Tootie Ma Was A Big Fine Thing” , and “Corrine Died On The Battlefield’ , originally recorded by Danny Barker in 1947, and considered to be  the earliest known recorded examples of Mardi Gras Indian chants. The tracks are taken from Preservation: An album to benefit Preservation Hall and the Preservation Hall Music Outreach Program (available on CD). Other guest artists include: Richie Havens, Ani DiFranco and Pete Seeger.

THE GENERALIST was fortunate to see The Preservation Hall Jazz Band in Brighton in June 2007, in company of the great maestro of New Orleans music Alan Toussaint [who I interviewed] You can hear the interview on the AUDIO GENERALIST: See also Previous Posts: New Orleans Preservation Band and New Orleans/Allen Toussaint

image In 2010, Elvis Costello released four tracks from his album ‘National Ransom’ on two limited edition 78rpm discs. The whimsical message on his website still reads as follows:




The Nick Lowe ‘78, now on Ebay.





Rock ‘n’ roll 78s are a hot, but sometimes overlooked commodity

An extract from a great 2011 article on the website of the excellent Goldmine record-collector’s mag. Read full version here

Today, rock ’n’ roll 78s are among the hottest commodities in the record-collecting world, with any survey of America (or the U.K.’s) most-valued records of the era literally bursting with high-ticket 78s. ..

The reason is that 78s were not built to last. They were manufactured from shellac, a compound derived from a natural resin secreted by the Lac beetle of southeast Asia. This material is extremely durable and was ideal for the 78s’ primary purpose – being rotated at high speeds while a thick steel needle passed over them. Unfortunately, it is also frighteningly brittle. Even with the most stringent precautions, mailing a 78 means taking its life in your hands, while simply transporting one from one room to another can feel like juggling fine crystal. The 78s that today sell for high prices on the collector’s market are not rare because few were made, as is the case with many of the most valuable 45s of the same period. They are rare because few have survived unbroken.

The 78 was developed by Emile Berliner, a German citizen who emigrated to the U.S. in 1870. A pioneer of sound technology, he developed the flat disc technique (to replace the bulky cylinders then in use) during the mid-1880s, unveiling his prototype at the Franklin Institute in 1888. His first discs were etched in zinc using chromic acid; from there he moved to celluloid and rubber before hitting upon shellac in 1891. It is a testament to his foresight that shellac remained the industry standard for the next 50-plus years. (Vinyl began creeping into fashion during the mid-1950s.)


Jenny Hammerton - a DJ of 78s - explores why the old discs are still alive and kicking. The 78rpm record lasted longer than any other format. Enrico Caruso recorded on 78s and Beatles records were cut on 78s in India in the late 1960s. And for some the old grooves and the heavy shellac discs are still the best. Record collectors swear the sound quality of 78s has never been surpassed and young aficianados are cutting their new pop songs on 78s. Sound artists and composers meanwhile are drawn to the patina of age that the old records carry in their scratch and hiss and some are making new music out of old noises. In the digital world where music has shrunk to invisible sound files, the wind up gramophone, a metal stylus and a box of heavy aromatic 10 inch discs seem more and more like precious and necessary demonstrations of the reality of things.

Listen to this great programme here





Friday, March 23, 2012


Winds of change blow through China as spending on renewable energy soars. 








    Earlier this month, the Bolivian President Evo Morales once more addressed a UN anti-drugs meeting to try and right a historic wrong.

    Under the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the coca leaf was declared an illegal substance and it called for the elimination of coca-chewing within 25 years of the convention coming into effect in 1964. Some chance.

    As Morales points out, the coca leaf has been part of Bolivian culture for thousands of years for sacred, cultural and practical reasons – drinking coca tea helps alleviate the effects of high altitude.

    Coca tea is just one of numerous products made from second-rate leaves, which include sweets, marmalade and soap. Only the best coca leaves are used for chewing.

    Morales was a coca leaf farmer who became leader of the ‘cocalero’ (coca famers) union before being twice voted in as President of Bolivia. It was the first time in the whole history of Latin America that an indigenous candidate became president of a republic.

    According to The Guardian Weekend, in February 2012 ‘The UN’s drugs board slammed Morales for defending coca’s non-narcotic use, saying it went against international drug conventions, and for not doing enough to combat its illegal trade. But Morales maintains he cannot defeat traffickers without a reduction in cocaine use in the west.’ The UN claim that 36,000 tonnes of coca leaf a year are produced in Bolivia by the illegal coca trade to produce cocaine.

    These two videos (with English subtitles) show Morales’ speech at the 52nd session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of the High-level Segment/Vienna/March 11-12 2009, during which he pops a coca leaf in his mouth.


    THE GENERALIST first became aware of coca leaf and it culture thanks to this remarkable book by Antonil. which, for the first time in the West, reported on the ‘war on drugs’ – which was already taking place on the continent. This is a rare signed copy of the first edition, No 86 of a limited edition of 350 copies, published by Practical Paradise COCA2101Publications.  I was given the copy when I went to interview the author in 1981.

    The book’s blurb reads: ‘Being conceived in terms of a quest for the mythological spirit which resides within the coca bush, MAMA COCA is both a searing indictment of the monopolization of the cocaine traffic by the reactionary security forces, and a passionate defence of the habit of chewing coca leaves in their natural unrefined state.’

    The material in the book was collected in Colombia on a two-month trip in 1971 and ‘a longer permanence’ in the Caucau area throughout 1973 and 1974. Antonil is the pen name of Anthony Henman who is still active on this subject and others. Here is a recent photo and an interesting and powerful 2003 interview with him from

    Anthony Henman@Hacia un Cambio de Paradigma

    Presentación del informe final de la Comisión Latinoamericana Drogas y Democracia:Hacia un Cambio de Paradigma, Centro de convenciones Colegio Médico. 8 febrero 2010. Foto:Luis Gavancho.

    In 1978, Cambridge-educated anthropologist and author Anthony Henman published "Mama Coca," a groundbreaking work of ethnobotanical anthropology that for the first time showed Westerners not only the indigenous coca culture of the Andes but also the beginnings of the politics of coca and cocaine prohibition and how they impacted traditional cultures. Since then, Henman has continued to work as an anthropologist and expert on psychoactive substances in the Western Hemisphere, and was honoured with a keynote address at the Global Social Thematic Forum in Cartagena, Colombia, this week. DRCNet spoke with Henman in Cartagena on Tuesday evening.

    The Week Online: How did you come to write "Mama Coca," and what happened once it was published?

    Anthony Henman: I first came to Colombia in the early 1970s. Things were wide open then; there was an open cannabis market in Bogota, and cocaine was just beginning to appear. At that point, I wasn't really interested in cocaine; I was more of a toker at the time. In 1973, I finished my university studies at Cambridge and was offered a job in Popayan, the regional capital of the traditional coca growing area in Colombia. It was very much a part of the gringo trail at the time, with all kinds of travelling hippies coming through town. There was very good weed, the Colombian red bud. And then there was the very traditional country scene as well.

    I was amazed at peoples' different reactions to the coca leaf. Having lived through all that, and given my interest in the plant and its traditional use, I couldn't ignore what was beginning to happen at the time. That was the first area that set up cocaine processing kitchens, although they produced pounds, not tons. And the cocaine always came out different, sometimes pink, sometimes off-white, which proved that is was coming from a number of small labs, not the monopoly business we have now. Actually, I doubt that even today it is as much a monopoly as portrayed by the media.

    "Mama Coca" was originally conceived as a classic conventional anthropological description of coca use, and cocaine was not originally part of what I had planned. But cocaine was coming on top of the traditional use, and I couldn't ignore it.

    While people were interested in the ethno-botanical stuff, what made "Mama Coca" notorious was that it was the first time anyone got into print with criticisms and allegations against the war on drugs and the drug warriors. There was a chapter in the middle of the book that dealt with that.

    For my efforts, I got harassed by immigration officials for years to come, and in Britain the book was seized by police and the publisher was prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act. I guess they read the act broadly, since it is supposed to cover works likely to "corrupt or deprave." We got a lot of notoriety in the press, but it didn't do us much good, since all the copies had been seized and were sitting in a warehouse. The prosecution lost the case in 1984, but it still took us nine more months to get the books back, and by then everyone had lost interest.

    It's a good example of how official harassment can be effective even when they don't have a good legal case. It wasn't too good for my career as an author either, because it discouraged British publishers from publishing books about drugs or ever having anything to do with me again.



    WOL: What have you been doing since then?

    Henman: I've done research on lots of other sorts of drugs and drug use. I studied mushrooms in Wales for my doctoral thesis, and I did a lot of work on drug prescribing and needle exchange programs in Liverpool and New York, including a major evaluation of needle exchanges in the late 1990s in New York. It was an annual report for the Department of Health. I've also published a few papers about empowering drug users and their organizations in that context.

    WOL: Are you affiliated with the organization Mama Coca?

    Henman: No. They asked my permission to use the name, and I said of course. We also correspond all the time, but I am not a member.

    WOL: What are you doing these days?

    Henman: I'm working on a research project in Peru on mescaline-containing cacti, specifically the San Pedro. There are three different species of San Pedro, with slight differences among the three. I'm trying to collect as many as I can in their native environments. I am not a chemist, so I try to feel what the difference may be by subjective experimentation. I've tried different ways of preparing it, but it still tastes pretty awful. Still, it is very much the basis of traditional medicine in northern Peru and coastal Peru. It is the basis for divination and curing, but I find the doses they use for those purposes disappointingly small. People feel a little strange, but they don't really trip. The curanderos, however, are a different story; they sip it all day long. It is not discussed as a drug problem; in fact, it is even legal in the US, and you will find it in every garden store that carries cacti, because it is very good for root stock. It spread all around the world as root stock, and that was before anyone knew it contained mescaline.

    My main interest has always been the coca leaf, but while it has interesting botanical, medicinal and ethnographic aspects, it is a subject that is becoming over-determined by the current politics of the cocaine business -- the violence, the corruption, all that -- so it difficult to talk about coca leaves as a traditional path in Colombia. You can do that in Bolivia or Peru, where it is still legal, but here in Colombia, when the public hears coca, it thinks of Pablo Escobar. I find it tedious and tiresome that one cannot talk about the interesting uses of coca in Colombia. This drug prohibition and drug trafficking nightmare will eventually end, or if not, the whole planet will be destroyed by it. I hope drug law reform will end this nightmare and people can get back to understanding these plants as they really are.

    WOL: How do you look at coca?

    Henman: Coca is not just an object for our consumption, but a historical subject in itself. First, we have to erase from our minds the image of the damned leaf. Coca doesn't deserve the sobriquet. It's a plant, and like every other species, it wants to reproduce. It is a hermaphrodite, it is very fertile, and it is chock full of alkaloids. It is a dangerous plant, some say, a liar, a traitor. But I say that this slander of the coca plant is hideously repugnant. After 50 years of war against coca, we have not met one goal of the anti-coca policies. The plant continues to reproduce. Even worse, every time there is a change of ministers, they come out with the same banalities about how they will fight the plant endlessly and how they will win. They can't win, but they always say they are on the verge of winning. A war against coca can never bring anything positive to the planet, despite what they say. We have to change our perspective completely and become at peace with coca as it deserves, for it is a plant with many virtues. Perhaps they can't eradicate coca because the objective is mistaken; perhaps it is because the real objectives of the war on drugs have nothing to do with their declared objectives. But I think this will pass; I can imagine a day when it is cultivated on a legal basis wherever it is advisable.

    This war on coca is violence and killing without end. They say they are doing this killing and poisoning for the good of all. How absurd! It is absurd because what they accomplish is to make coca part of a malignant trade all over the planet. This has people thinking about the legalization of coca. That would be good. It would eliminate the negative aspects, especially the criminal aspect, which, after all, are not part of the coca plant, but part of drug prohibition.




    This is a coca-based energy drink, launched in Colombia in 2005.

    According to Sibylla Brodzinsky, writing from Bogota for The Guardian [14.12.05]: ‘The drink is the colour of cider, has a tea-like aroma and is described as tasting like a cross between lemonade and ginger ale.’

    According to a 2007 post on the blog Rob’s Place:

    image Colombia’s president Alvaro Uribe.. has now decided to focus on coca products made by the country’s indigenous Indians, the sale of which, outside Indian reservations, will now be banned. The main item affected is , a coca-based energy drink… which has become an alternative to the real thing, aka Coca-Cola among Colombia’s kids. It’s obvious what prompted this new measure: pressure from Coca-Cola. No matter that the US giant itself uses coca in the flavouring for its own fizzy drink (allegedly): the Nasa Indian tribe, who make Coca Sek, are still being told that their brew infringes the 1961 treaty banning the distribution of products with the slightest trace of coca.

    Brodzinsky interviewed Kirsten Watt, a Coca-Cola spokeswoman in Atlanta: ‘As for its ingredients, Coca-Cola was tight lipped. “Cocaine has never been an ingredient,” Ms Watt said, though she declines to say whether cocaine-free coca extract is part of the drink’s secret recipe, as has been widely reported.’





    A bottle of newly launched energy drink Coca Brynco on a bed of coca leaves that Bolivians traditionally chew and are an ingredient of cocaine

    BOLIVIA launched their energy drink Coca Brynco in January 2011. According to the Daily Mail:

    ‘It has been hailed by the Bolivian government as an important step in its efforts to promote coca's health benefits and develop legal uses for its leaves.

    ‘Two years ago, another group of Bolivian entrepreneurs launched a coca-based energy drink called Coca Colla but it failed to make an impact.

    ‘But Coca Brynco's production manager, Jhonny Vargas, was optimistic the planned $million (£620,000) investment would pay off.

    'Our aim is to cover the whole of Bolivia and start exporting to neighbouring countries,' he said, adding that the plant would initially use 500lbs of coca leaves per month.’







    Sunday, March 18, 2012



    This is the second post about memory on THE GENERALIST. The first post – ‘Memory: A Very Short Introduction’ – is just that, based on a book of the same name. It gave me some preparation for tackling Alison Winter’s new history of memory science in the 20th century. Its an intensely detailed landmark work of great importance, combining elegant writing and cross-disciplinary scholarship on a grand scale. It opens up so many interesting avenues of thought and reflection that this review can only give some of its flavours. Fortunately, you can  read my scribblings alongside Jenny Diski’s great review, which is where I first discovered it: The Me Who Knew It – Jenny Diski [‘London Review of Books’/Feb 2012]

    Memory is a mystery. Winter defines it as ‘the basic recording mechanism on which both self and society rest.’

    ‘The stories we tell about our own pasts are central to how we understand ourselves,’

    ‘…everyone agreed that the stories we tell about our personal past define who we are in the present,’

    ‘…our understanding of who we are is intimately tied to other reflections on past experiences and actions.’

    These three short quotes, each with a slightly different nuance, should be pinned up on everyone’s wall as a meditation.

    Here follows some brief brushstroke summaries:

    The are two main theories about memory. One is that everything that has happened to us is stored in a stable state in our brains and is theoretically accessible to recall. The other is that memory is a dynamic system which is constantly being elaborates and shaped every time we remember.

    This raises the question of the reliability of memory. Research has shown that memories that feel detailed and convincing are, or can be. completely unreliable. Its seems that the brain is quite capable of building a confabulation around a true ‘memory fragment’ and skilfully interweaving imagined details to create a more complete story. So how can you distinguish a false memory from a true one?

    This first came up in the context of a courtroom at the turn of the 20th century. Judges and juries have to discern the truth behind eye-witness statements – a problem that is still with us. Countless trials have demonstrated the fallibility of such evidence. Truth serums, hypnosis and lie detectors all, in turn, were introduced to try and overcome this problem and deliver a ‘real truth’ through scientific means. All proved controversial and open to coercion and suggestion. Some found greater use in trying to deal with police corruption.

    This links to the issue of traumatic memories, so shocking that they are buried somewhere in our unconscious. The science of psychoanalysis was founded on the idea that these repressed memories could be released to allow healing to begin. This concept has been challenged in recent years by research that suggests that every time you remember, it strengthens the trauma rather than dispersing it.

    Periodically the USA has been plagued by strange crazes associated with uncovering buried memories. First in the 1950s, there was a serious fad for recovering memories of past lives,. In the1980s, a national craze swept America concerning recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse. To combat this, a scientific lobbying foundation coined the term ‘false memory syndrome’ and the 'Memory Wars’ broke out – an extraordinary episode of psychiatric history. (The first alien abduction stories appeared in Nov 1961).

    One fascinating strand of Winter’s book concerns the relationship between memory and the new communication/media technologies of photography, phonograph and cinema – all introduced between 1850-1900. They all became associated with the idea of remembering and the metaphor of the a filmstrip, a photo or a piece of sound tape became an analogy used to discuss the way the memory works.

    In 1914, one of the early memory scientists wrote an essay on the psychology of film which it described as a ‘new technique to control a spectator’s attention, perceptions and emotions’ which it did by ‘externalising the internal workings of the mind.’

    Flashbacks, first used in the cinema, later become a concept incorporated into memory science. So called ‘flashbulb’ memory imitates real photography and Henri Cartier Bresson’s Decisive Moment.

    The famous movie ‘The Manchurian Candidate’, which centres on a brainwashed Korean War prisoner who is programmed to kill the President was showing in Dallas in the weeks before Kennedy’s real assassination and may have been viewed by Lee Harvey Oswald. Later a serial murderer claimed that he’d been driven to his killings by memories of the shower scene in ‘Psycho’.

    In recent years, Eternal Sunshine of A Spotless Mind’ turns on the idea not of memory recall but memory elimination. In the years since the diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in 1980, work has proceeded apace to try and bring such techniques into reality to treat the combat troops of tomorrow. This is a world invented by Philip K. Dick, whose paranoid visions seemed to have anticipated such developments.

    Winter concludes: ‘The sciences of memory may well prove at least as consequential as [evolutionary biology] for the future of our society and our selves.’

     Memory: Fragments of a Modern History by Alison Winter
    Chicago, 319 pp, £19.50, January 2012, ISBN 978 0 226 90258 6


    THE GENERALIST is now hooked into a well-known provider of DVDs and, as result, have been on extended movie-watching jag –one of life’s great pleasures. Here are some of the most entertaining and interesting movies I have seen so far. Some are new, most are not. All come highly recommended.

    I am midway in a journey through the oeuvre of François Ozon, a brilliant French director who I first got into through the two marvellous films he made with Charlotte Rampling – ‘Under The Sand’ and ‘Swimming Pool’ – and I have yet to find a film of his I didn’t enjoy. All his films come over as being delightfully fresh. There are always unusual elements, plot twists and strange, magical elements.

    François OzonBroadly speaking, his films divide into two groups: the first are deep and interesting psychological studies of men and women and relationships. Most are dominated by the women  - what incredible actresses he finds to work with. The second are something approaching Ealing Films: quirky comedies that seem very strange and lightweight  and innocent at first but quickly reveal themselves to be extremely clever confections that put you under their spell. Fortunately, still have seven to watch: ‘Water Drops on Burning Rocks’ (Based on a play by Fassbinder); ‘The Refuge’;  Regarde La Mer and Other  Film’; ‘Angel’; ‘Criminal Lovers’; ‘Sitcom’ and  ‘Les Amants Criminels’. Great. His new film ‘Dans La Maison’ comes out in October 2012. Find out more at

    According to Wikipedia: Ozon is considered to be one of the most important young French film directors in the new “New Wave” in French cinema such as Jean-Paul Civeyrac, Philippe Ramos, and Yves Caumon, as well as a group of French filmmakers associated with a "cinema du corps/cinema of the body"

    ‘Monsters’  is terrific. Alien creatures have invaded Mexico and a couple – thrown together by fate – have to negotiate their way overland through their occupied territory. The effects are brilliant and the acting superb. Check the Making of.. sections. The movie was shot for some £40,000 and most of it was improvised as they travelled across central America. A triumph.

    ‘Frau im Mond’ is a lesser-known silent sf movie that Fritz Lang produced after ‘Metropolis’. Strange and quirky, its got a magic all of its own. Again the doc on the making of the film is fascinating: Lang invented the ‘countdown’ in this film and worked in close collaboration with rocket pioneer Herman Oberth, who invented the concept of the multi-stage rocket.

    This a really cool music doc about the real-life rivalry and love/hate interaction between two mad cult Detroit bands. Again check out the fascinating interview with the director Ondi Timoner who shot the film over a five-year period. You have to admire her grit and stamina. These guys are seriously deranged.



    ‘Melancholia’ by Lars von Trier is a psychological disaster movie, like a cross between Ingmar Bergman and Tarkovsky, with a great performance by Kirsten Dunst. Mysterious and intriguing. ‘Fear Eats The Soul’ is a controversial and gutsy 1974 movie by Rainer Werner Fassbinder about a love affair between a young Moroccan man and an elderly German lady, which challenges racial prejudice head-on. DVD comes with two remarkable docs about Fassbinder. For my money ‘The Libertine’ is one of Johnny Depp’s great films, based on the life of the 17th century rake and poet Lord Rochester. Worth re-watching with the Director’s commentary.


    Two stylish b&w movies by Luc Bresson and Patrice Leconte respectively. In one, a desperate hustler in deep trouble meets a very tall angel; in the other, a girl (played by Vanessa Paradis) who is about to jump in the Seine  is rescued by a knife-thrower and joins him on his adventures. Both beautiful shot, suitably quirky, very French.

    ‘Gomorrah’ is harsh, brutal and drawn from the real-life activities of mafia gangs in Naples who control the garbage industry. Not for the squeamish. ‘The Spanish Prisoner’ is an intriguing Hitchcockian mystery, directed and written by David Mamet, in which an innocent man gets tangled in a web of intrigue. Finally ‘Together’ is a gem: a wonderful warm non-cliched film about a Swedish commune, full of hilarious and touching moments.



    I started reviewing movies for the NME back in the 1970s at a time when there weren’t even videos. The only way you could see films was at the cinema. There was a rarely a chance to see a film more than once. When video arrived it was exciting, particularly as you could buy blank tapes and record stuff off the TV. I still have boxes and boxes of tapes with fading labels that I sporadically sit down to catalogue. A source of many forgotten gems.

    Back then, film critics were very high up in the journalistic hierarchy with legendary figures like like the late lamented Pauline Kael and Dilys Powell and the still-in-action Philip French whose encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema I’ve always admired.

    Now the role of the film critic is much diminished. The word Masterpiece is overused. I hate the star ranking thing.

    The fact that now you can actually get to see (but also own) hundreds of thousands of films is a game-changer; the audience is able to voice their opinions on-line.

    What interests me is the depth in which you can now study a film. You can not only view it repeatedly  - like rereading a book - but also I love the many extras about the making of the film. You can also watch the film with commentary -  a subject that merits a post in itself.

    Monday, March 12, 2012



    This is what I learnt from the 16pp supplement in the latest edition of The Economist. It gives a sharply written, hard-headed assessment for the future of nuclear power in the aftermath of Fukushima. The subhead of the keynote piece by Oliver Morton reads: ‘Nuclear power will not go away, but its role may never be more than marginal.’

    * Japan has a total of 54 reactors which in 2010, supplied Japan with 30% of its electricity from nuclear plants.. Only two are currently operating. More than a dozen are unlikely to reopen. The rest are presently shut down for maintenance or “stress tests” and are unlikely to be on-stream by the time the two still running shut for maintenance at the end of April. [To replace the power, old thermal plants are working at full capacity]

    * Some 100,000 people have been evacuated from towns close to the Fukushima plant. Decommissioning and decontamination of the plant could cost as much as 50 trillion yen ($623 billion).

    [See: FUKUSHIMA UPDATE site for latest news]

    * ‘In liberalised energy markets, building nuclear power plants is no longer a commercially feasible option: they are simply too expensive.’

    * ‘Worries about the dark side of nuclear power are resurgent thanks to what is happening in Iran.’ Nuclear proliferation has developed hand-in-hand with nuclear power. Israel is the only state that has nuclear weapons but no nuclear power stations. Only two non-European states with power stations – Japan and Mexico – have not taken steps towards developing nuclear weapons.

    * In 2010, the world’s installed renewable electricity capacity outstripped its nuclear capacity for the first time. (we still get more energy from nuclear: reactors run at 93% capacity, renewables at 20% and the power is intermittent. On the other hand,  nuclear is getting more expensive and renewables are getting cheaper.

    *Germany may have abandoned nuclear power but it is not going to disappear.

    * ‘It takes a decade or so to go from deciding to build a reactor to feeding the resulting electricity into a grid.’

    * In 2010 nuclear power provided 13% of the world’s electricity, down from 18% in 1996.

    *68% of the world’s nuclear electricity comes from Pressurised Water Reactors (PWRs), originally developed to power nuclear submarines.

    *’More or less the only practical things you can do with a reactor are to make plutonium for bombs, power submarines, produce isotopes used in medicine and to generate heat and electricity. Only the last is big business and ir can easily be done by other means.’

    *There are a number of big cities – London, New York, Hong Kong, Los Angeles – that are closer to ageing nuclear plants than Tokyo is to Fukushima.’


    China is planning to increase its nuclear capacity from 10 GW to 80 GW by 2o2o; currently, nuclear generates less than 2% of China’s electricity. The planned expansion will make it less than 5%.

    China ‘looks certain to build more new nuclear plants than any other country…and possibly more than all others combined.’ It will add more nuclear capacity in these 10 years than France has in total.

    China consumes half the world’s annual coal output. China’s Greentech initiative has a 2020 target of 200GW of wind power and plans to add 100GW of hydropower.


    At two sites on the north China coast. Work has already begun on two new Westinghouse AP 1000 reactors – the first to be built anywhere in the world. Plans are for 12 of these reactors on the two sites. Each site will have as much capacity connected to the grid as the whole of Nigeria.


    *‘Whereas a few years ago Britain was talking of building eight new reactors to replace its ageing fleet, only two are likely to make it in the near future.’

    Carbon Emissions

    * By 2020, carbon emissions since the start of the 21st century will have surpassed those of the entire 20th. …In 2000,, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by industry was about 30 billion tonnes, and was growing at 3% a year.

    *It has been calculated that if we were able to replace 700 GW of coal-fired stations with nuclear reactors over 50 years – a trebling of global nuclear capacity – this would reduce annual CO2 emissions by 3.7 billion tonnes. This would compensate for just 4 years of emissions growth.

    * ‘To have a reasonable chance of keeping the rise in temperature to less than 2 degrees C, industrial economies need to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050. The true scale of this challenge is not widely understood.’

    * Renewables are getting cheaper and through technological change and the benefits of mass production and market competition. In the long run, technologies that get cheaper can be expected to edge out a technology that has only ever got more expensive. In a low-emissions world, the role for nuclear will be limited to whatever level of electricity demand remains when renewables are deployed as far as possible.’


    WWW090 WWW2089

    This is one of the books I produced with my colleagues during the early 1980s – a lovely photo book of strange and amazing animals that live on our planet – published by Secker & Warburg in London in 1982; an American edition came out from Chronicle Books in San Francisco. My favourite picture from the book is this okapi and its amazing 14-inch long tongue. [Source: Firth & Firth/Bruce Coleman Ltd]. Here are some weird animals, all newly-discovered this year.


    Dr. Alan Jamieson with one of the supergiant amphipods (Source: Oceanlab/University of Aberdeen).

    Scientists aboard the Research Vessel Kaharoa discovered ‘supergiant’ prawns in New Zealand’s Kermadec Trench that are 28 cms long and 10 to 14 times larger than regular prawns.

    Using specially designed ultra-deep submergence technology, the team deployed a camera system and a large trap to depths ranging from 6,900 to 9,900 meters.

    The team was aiming to recover specimens of the deep sea snailfish, which had not been captured since the early 1950s but had been photographed previously by the team at approximately 7,000 meters depth.

    Peering into the recovered trap, the team realized that amongst hundreds of ‘normal’ amphipods lay several individuals 10 to 14 times larger than any of the others.

    These new sightings and specimens of the supergiant represent both the biggest specimen ever caught and the deepest they have ever been found (7,000 meters deep).



    This is a giant isopod (Bathynomus giganteus), an important scavenger in the deep-sea benthic environment. It measures over 2.5ft from  head to tail. It attached itself to an ROV at a depth of approx 8,500ft. 


     Researchers have found two new frog species in New Guinea, one of which is the new smallest known vertebrate on Earth. The results are reported in the January 11 issue of the journal PLoS ONE. The new smallest vertebrate species is called Paedophryne amauensis, named after Amau Village in Papua New Guinea, where it was found. The adult body size for these frogs ranges from just 7.0 to 8.0 millimeters, averaging only 7.7 millimeters in size – less than one-third of an inch.




    A new species of leaf-nosed bat.

    Photograph courtesy Vu Dinh Thong

    A new species of bat whose face bristles with leaf-like protrusions has been discovered in Vietnam, a new study says.

    When scientists first spotted Griffin's leaf-nosed bat in Chu Mom Ray National Park in 2008, the animal was almost mistaken for a known species, the great leaf-nosed bat, said Vu Dinh Thong, of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology in Hanoi.

    Tests revealed that the bat issues calls at a different frequency from the great leaf-nosed bat. Genetic results confirmed the species—named Hipposideros griffini—is genetically distinct, according to the study, published recently in the Journal of Mammalogy.

    Like all leaf-nosed bats, the newfound mammal has strange, leaf-like projections on its nose that may aid in echolocation—sending out sound waves and listening for echoes bouncing off objects, including prey.

    Source: Christine Dell'Amore/ National Geographic News/February 24, 2012


    With a head like a fighter-plane cockpit, a Pacific barreleye fish shows off its highly sensitive, barrel-like eyes - topped by green, orblike lenses. The fish, discovered alive in the deep water off California's central coast by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), is the first specimen of its kind to be found with its soft transparent dome intact.



    image GEOFF DYER087 We all have our obsessions; in Geoff Dyer’s case its Tarkovsky’s  ‘Stalker’ – a cult film full of mystery, unexplained phenomena and philosophical riddles – perfectly suited, in fact, to GD’s talents for forensic examination and extended digression.

    GD has seen ‘Stalker’ many times over the years in a variety of locations and states of mind – including once when he was on an LSD trip.

    Like the Stalker of the title, who takes people into the Zone and to the Room at its heart, where deepest wishes can be fulfilled, Dyer leads the reader through the film’s major movements and scenes in his chatty, wry discursive style whilst rarely missing on opportunity to veer off into autobiographical mode.

    Thus while discussing ‘Solaris’ (Tarkovsky’s least favourite film because of its sci-fi genre tag; in ‘Stalker’ he took out as much sci-fi as possible) and ‘Solaris’ (the George Clooney remake based much more faithfully on Stanislaw Lem’s famous novel; Lem said that T had not filmed his book but had made ‘Crime and Punishment}, Geoff informs us that his wife looks almost identical to the film’s actress and proceeds to explain in detail the problems and incidents such a resemblance has caused her.


    Poster image from Journal of Avant-Garde Film & Art

    Dyer is very interesting on Tarkovsky himself and there is much to be learnt here about the making of the movie, a production fraught with disaster (the first version of the whole film was shot on experimental stock which couldn’t be processed). Dyer suggests that Tarkovsky and other members of the cast and crew contracted cancers as a result of pollution from an abandoned chemical factory on the film’s location site.

    The footnotes begin by being safely corralled beneath a thin line, to provide a sub-text of thought-provoking asides, but later, at one point,  take over the main text for several pages. It begins:

    ‘On the subject of quotations within films and interesting study could be made – in a sense this book is a catalogue or compendium of proposals for potentially interesting studies – of scenes in films where bits of other films are seen, glimpsed or watched, either at a drive-in, on TV or in the cinema (Frankenstein in Spirit of the Beehive, Red River in The Last Picture Show, The Passion of Joan of Arc in Vivre Sa Vie). Actually maybe it wouldn’t be that interesting after all; one wouldn’t get far without the word meta cropping up and turning everything to dust.’

    ‘Stalker’ remains an enigmatic work, capable of endless interpretation. Dyer’s Baedeker guide to the movies’ psychogeography makes it the ideal companion for your next trip to the Zone. Mind what you wish for.

    [Zona is published by Canongate Books]


    DECONSTRUCTING DYER: A fairly lengthy piece on Dyer and his ouevre in general and a review of his interesting book on photography, ‘The Ongoing Moment’, in particular -with juicy links.

    ‘Free-thinking, non-academic, non-specialist eloquent stylists are always welcome in any age. Dyer’s struggle to breakout of the stranglehold of convention and to establish his own unique perspective on such disparate fields of study is to be applauded and enjoyed.’


    In the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone there are real life Stalkers…According to ‘Routes of penetration of stalkers to the Zone’:

    ‘Stalkers are reluctant to talk about the ways of penetration into the Zone. It seems that each of the “Game-addicted” believes that his route is somehow unique. “Ideological” stalkers hold a “hole” in secret because of the growing popularity of penetrations in the Chernobyl Zone. They are silent too about the “holes” in the security perimeter of the city of Pripyat. It seems that everyone has his own “secret” route.’

    Monday, March 05, 2012


    This week the NME will be celebrating its 60th birthday, an occasion marked by the publication of this first full-length history of the paper by Pat Long, who served his time on the paper during the Noughties.
    Both the anniversary and the book arrive at a time when questions are being asked about the relevance of the weekly paper in our digital world. [See: Michael Hahn’s piece in The Guardian].

    According to this, NME’s weekly circulation has fallen to 27,650 whilst its website gets 7 million unique visitors a month. Krissi Murison, the current editor, remains bullish about the paper’s prospects, claiming that the print edition still brings in the major part of NME's revenues and denying that the paper will soon become a free-sheet.

    Pat Long has a fascinating story to tell. It begins with the accordion boom of the 1930s when ‘Britain found itself in the grip of  an absolute mania for accordion music’. The movement had its own magazine – Accordion Times – first published in 1935. By the mid-1940s, the boom had bust and AW only narrowly avoided closure by merging with a brand-new 4pp black-and-white tabloid – the Musical Express, launched on the first Friday in October 1946. By the end of the decade it had become the biggest selling weekly music paper in the country on the back of the Big Band craze, outstripping its rival, the Melody Maker, which had been founded in 1926.

    But by 1952, the Musical Express itself was in deep trouble. Circulation had fallen to 20,000 a week and the paper was haemorrhaging money. Enter a white knight in the rotund form of Jewish music impresario Maurice Kinn, who bought the title for £1000 (an estimated £20,000 in today’s money), found offices at 5 Denmark Street (Tin Pan Alley as it was known) and launched the New Musical Express on Friday 7th March 1952 with a cover featuring The Goons, Big Bill Broonzy and band leader Ted Heath.

    The NME had a new hipper style and combined accessible and well-informed journalistic coverage of both showbusiness and popular music in an attractive pictorial format. Sales were modest until Kinn came up with the idea of publishing Britain’s first-ever UK singles chart. [The American trade paper Billboard published the first ever Hit Parade music chart in its 4th Jan 1936 issue. Long says this was a list of the most played songs on jukeboxes but I can’t find confirmation of this.]

    The chart was based on sales from 20 London shops (later expanded to 53). Within a few weeks, circulation had leapt by 50%. ‘Crucially’, writes Long, ‘this new list reflected NME’s shift in emphasis from covering the writer of the song to its performer, simultaneously opening up a new market for the music press…record buyers and fans’.

    Kinn managed to persuade Radio Luxembourg to use the NME charts via the auspices of Derek Johnson, then programme administrator for the station. He later worked for the NME as a freelance and then joined the staff as News Editor in 1957, a position he held until his retirement in 1986.

    Kinn’s other innovation was The NME Awards ceremony, first staged at London’s Albert Hall in 1953; it became a annual highlight of the music calendar and survives to this day, albeit in a slightly different form. NME sales boomed during the rock ‘n’ roll era but peaked mid-decade. Sales and advertising headed in a downward spiral until, in late 1962, Kinn agreed to sell the title for £500,000 to the newly-formed International Publishing Co (IPC) – at that time the largest media conglomerate in the world, formed out of a rationalisation of the Mirror Group, which controlled a huge stable of magazines with interests also in printing, book publishing and tv. The NME was moved from its scruffy Denmark Street office to IPCs building in the Strand next to the Savoy where formality and suits & ties were required.

    Kinn continued to be the paper’s Executive Editor and retained his gossip column (The Alley Cat) plus an expenses budget for showbiz parties. His close relationship with Brian Epstein (who had been to school with Kinn’s wife’s brother and was later to be the Kinn’s neighbour) ensured prime access to the Beatles and sales rose steadily despite increasing competition from not only its long-time rivals Melody Maker and Record Mirror (launched 17th June 1954) but also from new mags like Beat Instrumental (launched as Beat Monthly in 1963), Fabulous (launched 18th Feb 1964 with a Beatles cover and pull-out poster, which sold 1 million copies) and Rave (an A4-size monthly, also launched in 1964, which was selling a quarter of a million copies a month by 1966).

    But from mid-decade on its circulation began to decline once more, mainly due to the conventional editorship of Andy Gray – a tubby pipe-smoking, golf-playing middle-aged man. The NME’s style, which had changed little since the 1950s was looking dangerously out-of-date and out-of-touch.

    Further competition came from music mags and papers like Zigzag (16th April 1969) Sounds (10th Oct 1970),  and Bob Houston’s Cream but also from the Underground Press – the likes of OZ, IT and Friends. By the early 1970s, Melody Maker was still selling 200,000 copies a week while the NME’s sales were down to 130,000 and below. At the end of 1971, Alan Smith, an NME staffer since 1962, was summoned to IPC and told the paper was in the 'last-chance saloon' and that he had three months to reverse the NME’s decline.

    They commissioned him initially to produce a new-look NME for distribution in London and the South-East only. With the help of Roy Carr and Nick Logan (later to be NME’s editor) they set out to change the paper’s direction. One new innovation was a Gig Guide and this really boosted sales. On the back of this, Smith was given charge of the national issue, which was re-launched on 5th Feb 1972. His editorial described the new publication as being ‘an intelligent weekly paper for music people who rate Beefheart but don’t necessarily slam Bolan’.

    Smith and Logan then started hiring new blood from the underground press -  initially the two star writers Charles Shaar Murray and Nick Kent who between them established a new style of rock journalism, inspired by Lester Bangs and the New Journalism of Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson and Norman Mailer, that placed the NME on a fast-growing upwards curve.
    From 1972-1977, under the editorship of Smith and his successor Nick Logan the paper became a legendary force, with rocketing sales and huge influence. By 1973 it was selling over 200,000 copies a week. {Smith claims, in a comment to this post, that he achieved an ABC circulation of 272,000)

    Kent and Murray aside, the NME attracted a stellar cast of great writers and editors,  including  the legendary Mick Farren (IT/White Panther/Deviant), Tony Tyler (lofty polymath), Ian McDonald (NME’s Eno), Chris Salewicz and Vivien Goldman (pioneering writers on reggae, punk and African music), Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill (the hip young gunslingers of Punk) plus brilliant photographers like Pennie Smith, Joe Stevens (Captain Snaps), Chalkie Davies and later Anton Corbin and artists like Tony Benyon, Ray Lowry, Edward and Alan Moore.

    For Long and many others these were the golden years when the lunatics took over the asylum, made merry and burned with a passion, Much of what happened at that time has passed into rock mythology – the fights, the busts, the battles with the corporation, the drugs, the excess. It was not to last and and for many it ended badly. But while it lasted, the NME became the closest thing this country has ever had to a genuine youth newspaper that for hundreds of thousands was absolutely required reading every week.

    The story, 0f course, does not end there, Under Neil Spencer’s editorship, during the Thatcher Years, the paper became decidedly left-wing and politically active, through its support of initiatives like Rock Against Racism and Red Wedge. As the music shifted to post-punk and beyond, new writers like Paul Morley and Ian Penman emerged, applying the post-modern theories of French philosophers like Derrida and Baudrillard to bands like Devo and Talking Heads.

    Between the 1980s and the 2000s, the NME continued to spark intermittently as new musical genres and scenes emerged, flared and died. The narrative reports a constant stream of battles, between members of staff, between staff and editor, between editor and corporation, between corporation and unions.
    Little consensus remained. The soul boys embraced the emergence of hip-hop and rap; the rock lads went determinedly indie. The house/rave culture came and went. The Smiths and Morrissey dominated the paper for a while. Grunge lifted sales as did Britpop.

    But music, which had once been the sole preserve of the music press had gone mainstream and all the papers suffered to a greater or lesser extent, Sounds and Record Mirror closed in 1991. In 2000, Melody Maker merged with the NME ending an 50-year era of rivalry. The digital age may well be the final blow to the paper’s long and glorious existence.

    Pat Long’s account almost inevitably contains some flaws and errors. It was Mark Williams not Richard Williams who lost his editorship chance due to a coke bust. A big gap is the fact Nick Logan, one of the paper’s most creative editors, was not interviewed for the book. The chapter on the underground press needs a revise. The photo reproduction is poor. It seems strange that there are no NME front-cover images.

    These small caveats aside, this is a really nice edition to have and to hold and Pat Long is to be congratulated. He’s a good story-teller with a clear, readable style. The book is well-researched and carefully constructed. It will appeal to several generations of readers and will shift a lot of copies. But it  will certainly not be the last word on the subject.

    [The History of the NME by Pat Long is published by Portico Books.]