Tuesday, April 26, 2016


In the wee small hours of this day, the 30th anniversary of the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, I am reading 'Chernobyl Prayer', the single most powerful book yet written about what happened on that fateful day and its terrible aftermath. 

Belorussian journalist Svetlana Alexievich  recorded more than 500 interviews with eyewitnesses of the disaster and its aftermath and crafted them into a new form of oral history that earned her the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015. 

Its impossible not to be moved to tears by these accounts. Her valuable work brings us a broader multidimensional view of the catastrophic social, cultural and medical effects produced in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster. 

She writes:

'How many times has art rehearsed the apocalypse, offered different technological versions of doomsday? Now, though, we can be assured that life is infinitely more fantastical.'

The book opens with some hard facts about the small totalitarian state of Belarus, an agrarian land, predominantly rural, with a population of 10 million. 

One in five live in the contaminated zone - a total of 2.1 million people of which 700,000 are children. 

After Chernobyl, the country lost 485 villages and towns, seventy remain buried forever beneath the earth. Radiation is the leading cause of the country's demographic decline. In the worst hit provinces, the mortality rate outstrips the birth rate by 20 per cent.

The Chernobyl disaster released 50 million curies of radioactivity into the atmosphere; 70 per cent of this fell on Belarus, contaminating 23% of the country's land.

As a result of constant exposure to low-dose radiation, every year Belarus sees a rise in the incidence of cancer, child mental retardation, neurospychiatric disorders and genetic mutations.

These quoted facts come from the entry on Chernobyl in the Belorusskaya Entsiklopediya [1996]

Svetlana Alexievich explains her approach and motives in an essay entitled 'The author interviews herself on missing history and why Chernobyl calls our view of the world into question.' Here are two brief extracts:
'I see Chernobyl as the beginning of a new history: it offers not only knowledge but also prescience, because it challenges our old ideas about ourselves and the world. When we talk about the past or the future, we read our ideas about time into those words; but Chernobyl is, above all, a catastrophe of time. The radionuclides strewn across our earth will live for 50,000, 100,000, 200,000 years. And longer. From the perspective of human life, they are eternal.
'This is not a book on Chernobyl, but on the world of Chernobyl... What I'm concerned with is what I would call the 'missing history', the invisible imprint of our stay on earth and in time. I paint and collect mundane feelings, thoughts and words. I am trying to capture the life of the soul. A day in the life of ordinary people. Here, though, everything was extraordinary: both the event itself and the people as they settled into the new space. Chernobyl for them is metaphor: it is home.'
In between reading thinking in that dark night, I listened to 'Up All Night' on BBC Radio 5 where a energy expert was interviewed about the nuclear energy industry post Chernobyl. He said the problem is that the technology evolves very slowly. 

The only new type of reactor that claims to be safer  - the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) - is dogged with problems and cost overruns. The first two of these are in Finland and France and two others are supposed to be being built in England at  Hinkley Point. These two 1.65GW European pressurised reactors would be among the biggest in the world. The smart money says the project is doomed.

Decommissioning  ageing nuclear plants is an incredibly expensive and technically challenging process. Disposing of nuclear waste also raises major problems.

In the last five years, the massive expansion of solar energy and wind proves that this is the direction of travel - a point underlined by the fact that the Saudi government has announced a $2 trillion investment fund for solar energy aimed at weaning their nation off oil within just 20 years

As a result of Chernobyl, I worked with Greepeace running their international publishing operation and producing a number of books including the organisation's official history. One of these was 'The Greenpeace Book of the Nuclear Age' which was at the time the most comprehensive record of civil and military nuclear accidents.

(Top Left) Gollancz (UK)/Pantheon (US); (Top Right)  Selas (Greece), Knaur (Germany)
(Bottom left)  M&P Document  (Netherlands)/Frassinelli (Italy); (Bottom right) Ordfront (Sweden)

Sunday, April 24, 2016


The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution [DVD]

This great documentary by Stanley Nelson, first released in 2015, took the film-maker  seven years to produce. Those of us who were around in the 60s and 70s still remember the days when America was close to having a revolution on the streets, with the Panthers on the front line. The film follows a strict chronological structure and is composed of a number of main elements - first-hand original interviews with former Black Panther members and BP historians, hundreds of fabulous black and white photos and yards of original film and tv footage - all seamlessly edited together in what must have been a herculean task. It describes one clear narrative arc but this is a complex topic and still a subject of great controversy on many levels.48th Anniversary of the Founding of the Black Panther Party

Only one of the Panther's leaders is still alive: Bobby Seale , who was the original 1966 Founding Chairman & National Organiser of the Black Panther Party. His story is told in the film but he declined to be interviewed for it. His website encourages you to buy his books and other items to help raise funds for his own documentary: 'SIEZE THE TIME: The Eighth Defendant, presumably based on his books 'Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton' and his autobiography 'A Lonely Rage' 

Here is the classic photo from November 1966 of the six original members of what was then called the Black Panther Party for Self Defence. Top left to right: Elbert "Big Man" Howard, Huey P. Newton (Defense Minister), Sherwin Forte, Bobby Seale (Chairman) Bottom: Reggie Forte and Little Bobby Hutton (Treasurer) Elbert Hoard is still alive. Sherwin Forte, who appears in the film, was a teenager at that time, as was Little Bobby Hutton, who was subsequently gunned down by a police death squad.
There was so much police violence against the black community that Huey Newton, who had studied law, exploited the  statute which said that anyone could carry a shotgun and, under the Constitution, had the right to bear arms. On this basis, the brothers patrolled the streets in cars and, when there was an incident, they stood nearby with guns, to make sure there was no brutality.

When a move was afoot to try and amend the law to make carrying guns in public a misdemeanour, the Panthers rocked up at the hearings of the California State legislature at the Capitol in Sacramento fully armed and marched into the building and the chamber where the hearing was taking place. The pictures of this are stunning. 
The Black Panther Party took off like a rocket and chapters were opening in major cities all over the US. In fact it grew too fast and became too big too soon for anyone to keep control on what was developing into a chaotic system. Huey Newton had the vision and Bobby Seale was a strong credible figure but at this point a new figure emerged on the stage. Eldridge Cleaver was a force of nature. According to one of the film's speakers he was crazy and uncontrollable, a rottweiler. From here things escalated into open armed war between the Panthers and the police.
In Oakland on 25th October 1967 there was an incident in which a policeman was fatally wounded and Huey Newton was arrested for murder and was facing execution. Thousands flocked to join the party and lead a campaign to Free Huey.
This period was when the Panthers and the 'black is beautiful' cultural wave merged and the classic Panther look captured the mainstream media's gaze. The berets, the shades, the leather jackets and the beautiful afros. It was a stunning look, carried off with style and swagger.
There are many women speaking in the film and, according to Eve Jane Clair's blog post '5 Things You Didn't Know About The Black Panther Party', at the height of the BPP's influence, 60-80% of the membership were women, although one of the film's female speakers makes it clear that male chauvinism was a hard thing to break down.
One of the most important aspects of the film is the revelations concerning the FBI's secret COINTELPRO operations  - a shorthand for counter intelligence operations. J. Edgar Hoover  made it clear that his agency would use every means at its disposal to infiltrate, expose, disrupt, discredit, neutralise and cripple the Panthers. From then on members of the organisations were constantly followed and harassed and phone tapped. As a result, many of the sisters and brothers moved into communal houses - Panther pads - for mutual protection. They launched a paper, the Black Panther News, and it was the money from sales of this that helped them survive.
Then Martin Luther King was assassinated (4th April 1968) and there were riots across America. 
On the night of April 6, 1968, Bobby Hutton was killed by Oakland Police officers after Eldridge Cleaver led him and twelve other Panthers in an ambush of the Oakland Police, during which two officers were seriously wounded by multiple gunshot wounds. The ambush, turned into a shoot-out between the Panthers and the Oakland police at a house in West Oakland. About 90 minutes later Hutton and Cleaver surrendered after the police tear-gassed the building. Cleaver stated that police shot Bobby more than twelve times after he had surrendered and had him stripped down to his underwear to verify that he was unarmed.
Charged with attempted murder, Cleaver jumped bail and fled first to Cuba and then Algeria. where he set up an international office for the Black Panthers. With Huey and Bobby Seale both in prison, David Hillyer became the new leader.
In August 1968 following massive countercultural protests in Chicago on the occasion of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. eight people were arrested and charged with conspiracy, incitement to riot amongst other charges. On of them was Bobby Seale.
Early in the course of the trial,  Seale was denied his constitutional right to counsel of his choice and was thereafter illegally denied his right to defend himself. Seale vehemently and repeatedly protested the Judge's illegal and unconstitutional actions and, on October 29, Judge Hoffman ordered Bobby Seale to be bound, gagged, and chained to a chair. For several days Seale appeared in court bound and gagged before the jury, struggling to get free and managing to make muffled sounds. Then Judge Hoffman severed Seale from the case, sentencing him to four years in prison for contempt of court, one of the longest sentences ever handed down for that offence in the US up to that time. The contempt charges against Seale were soon overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals. The film features the remarkable court drawings of Franklin McMahon, one of which is reproduced below. 
By this time, David Hiller was replaced by Fred Hampton. One of the FBIs great concerns was the rise of "black Messiah". Hampton was non-confrontation, eloquent and charming he appealed not only to his black brothers and sisters but also to the Hispanics of the Young Lords, to churchgoers and, more worryingly for the authorities, to poor working class whites. His personal bodyguard was an infiltrated FBI agent.
When Nixon was elected in January 1969 on a strong law and order ticket, the Black Panthers became Public Enemies No 1 and the gloves were off. Armed raids began on Panther offices all over the country and, on April 2nd, 21 Panthers were arrested and charged with terrorist activities. They faced a joint total of 360 years in prison; bail was set at $100,000. After a 13-month trial, the jury found them all not guilty. 
On December 3rd 1969, the two Chicago leaders of the party, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, were killed in a police raid at their Panther HQ. By the end of the decade, according to the party's attorney, 28 Panthers had been killed and many other members either were in jail or had been forced to leave the United States to avoid arrest.  A similar attack came a few days later at the LA office.
The following year in August, Huey Newton's case was given a retrial. The jury deliberated for four days and found him not guilty. Huey now had mythic status and he set the future path of Panthers away from armed struggle and towards looking after people in the community with free food and medical care. This not please Eldridge Cleaver who was still concerned with overthrowing the government. The split between the two factions of the party was actively encouraged by the furtive actions of the FBI who worked hard to raise paranoia levels and widen the rift. Eldridge was expelled from the party and chaos ensued, others left too and the Black Panther Party lost its way. 
Bobby Seale ran for Mayor of Oakland in 1972 and  narrowly lost. Huey Newton started losing the plot and became addicted to multiple substances. As one speaker put it, he started listening to his demons. He had a special guarded penthouse apartment and there were increased rumours and reports of his physical and sexual assaults and pistol whipping. Bobby Seale left and that was the end.
After the departure of Newton and Seale, the party's new leader, Elaine Brown, continued to emphasize community service programs. Black women were a majority in the party by the mid-1970s. By the end of that decade,the Panthers were no longer a political force.
On August 22, 1989,Huey Newton was fatally shot by Tyrone Bobinson shortly after leaving a crack house. His last words, as he stood facing his killer, were, "You can kill my body, and you can take my life but you can never kill my soul. My soul will live forever!" 
 Eldridge Cleaver died of a heart attack in 1998. Fred Hampton's family eventually received $18.5m compensation. Twenty Panthers remain in prison
.Useful Links:
Interview with Marshall "Eddie" Conway was a Leader of the Baltimore chapter of the Black Panther Party. Conway was released from prison on March 4, 2014 after having served 43 years and 11 months
Non-Fiction Film features an interview with the film's director Stanley Nelson
'The film by producer Stanley Nelson, entitled “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution,” is a well-produced documentary with a specific focus. Nelson makes good use of footage of actual events and music from the era to serve as both a background and accompaniment for the main ingredient of this film – comments from a number of former Black Panther Party members, featuring mainly some of the so-called “rank and file” members. This is, in and of itself, a unique achievement, as most other films have never done this, but solely relied on interviews with the leaders.

'I think that Stanley Nelson produced the best film he could with the information, materials, time and money that he had to work with. He also did a good job of getting the film out there to allow as much of the public as possible the opportunity to see it.This particular film concentrates on giving the viewer a closer look at the Black Panther Party from a particular perspective. It by no means even begins to tell the “whole story” of the Black Panther Party. No one film can do that – the Black Panther Party was the most revolutionary and progressive group of freedom fighters of modern times.
'To critics and detractors of Nelson and the film, I say this: There is indeed much more of this story to tell, including more of the vital and innovative community programs and the many accomplishments of the Black Panther Party. There are still so many of our comrades locked up in dungeons for more than three and four decades. There are still many more former Black Panther Party members who have important stories to tell, and I would encourage future filmmakers to seek information from them while they are still around.'

Black Panthers unveil 50th anniversary plans with eye to future

April 22, 2016 [San Fransisco Chronicle]

The New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (NBPP) is a U.S.-based black political organization founded in Dallas, Texas, in 1989. Despite its name, NBPP is not an official successor of the Black Panther Party.[2] Members of the original Black Panther Party have insisted that the newer party is illegitimate and have firmly declared, "There is no new Black Panther Party". The Huey P. Newton Foundation issued a news release denouncing the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Its release reads in part:

As guardian of the true history of the Black Panther Party, the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, which includes former leading members of the Party, denounces this group's exploitation of the Party's name and history. Failing to find its own legitimacy in the black community, this band would graft the Party's name upon itself, which we condemn. [T]hey denigrate the Party's name by promoting concepts absolutely counter to the revolutionary principles on which the Party was founded. The Black Panthers were never a group of angry young militants full of fury toward the white establishment. The Party operated on love for black people, not hatred of white people.”
Bobby Seale, one of the co-founding members of the original Black Panther Party, spoke out against the New Black Panther Party. Calling the rhetoric of the New Black Panther Party xenophobic, he spoke of their remarks as absurd, racial, [and] categorical.  Just to hate another person because [of] the color of their skin or their ethnicity—we don't do that. That's not what the goal objective is. The goal objective is human liberation. The goal objective is the greater community cooperation and humanism. The goal objective is to get rid of institutionalized racism...." [Source: Wikipedia]

According to the Mapping Police Violence website:

Police killed at least 346 black people in the U.S. in 2015


Saturday, April 23, 2016


By way of introduction: Matthew De Abaitua is a lecturer in creative writing and science fiction at the University of Essex. I recall that Matthew did a major project on the history of science fiction for, I believe, the Channel 4's Film Four website. 

For a period of a couple of years, he and his family lived in Lewes (my home town), during which time we often spent long evenings discussing austerity measures and shooting the breeze on a wide variety of topics, which was always a great pleasure. During this period, MD wrote an excellent book on 'The Art of Camping: The History & Practice of Sleeping Under the Stars'. It's not something I've done since Glastonbury 1982 but the book is great. See Previous Post here. 

These are two of the three science fiction novels, written by Matthew, the first one being 'The Red Men' [Gollancz]. We are informed by the author that each one can be read as a stand-alone book. One character is common to all. 'If Then' was published in 2015; 'The Destructives' in 2016 - both by the delightfully named Angry Robot imprint. I read them both in the course of three days, during which time the Queen turned 90 and Prince died. Reading these books did not help my feelings of reality.

To my surprise, 'If Then' is set in and around Lewes. Everything has fallen apart, including the internet and all things digital - a process known as The Seizure - and society is being run by artificial intelligences known collectively as the Process who are using Lewes and other communities as a test bed. The inhabitants are required to have some kind of brain operation that links them into the network and their psychological and biological data is constantly monitored by sophisticated algorithms which assesses each person's value. Those surplus to requirements are annually removed from the community by a bailiff named James, the story's main character, who achieves this by donning a vast set of armour that turns him into an unstoppable beast. Right at the beginning, he meets a World War 1 soldier named Hector who turns out to artificially manufactured. This links later in the story to a replay of that period - but with strange twists.

It's a remarkable read even if you don't live in Lewes - but if you do live in Lewes it's a very strange experience indeed as it takes you down streets you walk on every day and across familiar landscapes. Matthew has successfully plugged into the deeper levels of this ancient town and the primeval downland that surrounds it - a green and white chalk world that has a spirit all of its own.

The book is also embedded in a deep knowledge of British science fiction and the historic period that it so cleverly re-imagines. The ghosts of Kipling and Wells are here but one is also reminded of the sf readings of one's youth - John Wyndham in particular. Its a work that also chimes in with the New Worlds  writers especially the great Mike Moorcock and Keith Roberts, whose book 'Pavane' I loved so much -  a fable of an alternative England of traction engine masters 

'If Then' is by any measure an extremely fine work s which stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the best for several reasons. The overall concept is complex and original and is handled with complete confidence. The characters are fully formed and the sheer quality of both the vivid descriptive passages and the believable dialogue makes the book a complete cerebral and visceral three-dimensional experience.

MD also brings these skills sets to bear in 'The Destructives'. This is also set in a period after the Seizure and part of it is set on the Sussex Coast at Newhaven - except that the whole area has been devastated and is now dominated by a vast city-sized abomination called Novio Magus. As for the rest we're out in the universe - on the far side of the moon and on Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. All the artificial intelligence on earth, known in the book as the 'emergence' has left the mess that is human Earth behind and decamped to a ring of bases near to the sun. They travel through space in sailships. There's a robot called Dr Easy whose job it is to monitor every single action, thought and incident of  Theodore's life, the main character.

Again the story contains the DNA references of past writers in the genre - strains of William Gibson, J.G. Ballard and Samuel R. Delaney. I don't mean that it's derivative rather that it draws strength and lineage from these other works but stands out on it's own, a distinctive and grand work of the imagination. You don't need a VR headset to appreciate this work of art, just eyes and a brain.

See MDA's website: www.harrybravado.com

Thursday, April 21, 2016


 'The Story of Emoji' by Gavin Lucas  is right on the button - a smiley button. 

Before language, humans drew pictures and created symbols with which to communicate. These early heiroglyphs and pictograms evolved into a written language of marks that, in turn and over time, became standardised letters and alphabets.

Some 40,000 years after the cave paintings and despite the sophistication of our written language systems, Lucas focuses on the fact that millions of us are still harnessing the potency of symbols, pictograms and ideograms in our everyday communication - thanks largely to a set of internationally recognised symbols,  called emoji -  a term derived from two Japanese words - e for image and moji for character.

Part of this journey from then to now forms the first 50 pages of this narrative. Back in the early days of printing, typesetters developed 'fluerons' or 'printer's flowers' to provide ornamentation on title pages. In a later development, printers used graphic elements that could be combined into typographic illustrations. When type moved from metal to digital, a huge variety of symbols were created as fonts. Typefaces like Zapf Dingbats or Windings allowed symbols and pictograms to be interspersed in bodies of texts.

 Other elements of the evolution towards emoji  include 'expressive punctuation' marks, developed to extend the possibilities of type. This 'percontation pont' (left) was designed by English printer Henry Denham in the late 16th century, to mark rhetorical or ironic questions that require no answer.  In the 1960s, the 'interrobang' - a combination of a question mark and an exclamation point was invented by Martin K. Speckter, the head of an American advertising agency who believed advertisements would look better if these various emotions could be expressed with a single mark. 

Another strand of the story is the emoticon (a portmanteau word and of 'emotion' and 'icon') - a combination of typographic characters that look like a face. The earliest so-far found is from the 17th century. The transcript of an Abraham Lincoln speech from 1862 records the audience's response to Lincoln's droll introduction as "(applause and laughter ;). These examples ( above) were published in Puck magazine in 1881. The  well-known smiley in computer communication was first used by Scott Fahlman in an online bulletin board post in 1982. 

"Never in the history of mankind has a piece of art, so simple and with such a positive message, reached so many people" - Harvey Ball (1921-2001)

Fahlman's emoticon came almost 20 years after the iconic “smiley face” designed in 1963 by American graphic designer Harvey Ball on the occasion of the merger of two life insurance companies - State Mutual Life Assurance Company of Worcester, Masachusett's and the Guarantee Mutual Company of Ohio. Morale was low and Ball was hired to create something that would cheer up the 
employees and could be distributed as buttons and posters. He was paid just $45. Ball never applied for a trademark or copyright and by 1971 more than 50 million smiley buttons had been sold. Frenchman Franklin Loufrani did register the image in 1971 and his son Nicholas now holds the SmileyWorld licence which generates millions of dollars a year. In 1999, Ball created the World Smiley Foundation which sells Smiley merchandise and used the profits to fund children's charities.

The 'smiley face' became a hippy symbol thanks to Bill 'Ubi' Dwyer, organiser of the Windsor Free Festivals. [This handout is from The Generalist Archive]

Fatboy Slim
 Later of course it became the icon of rave and acid house culture. I went round Fat Boy Slim's house to do an interview and kick myself that I didn't get a picture of him in front of the huge glass cases full of Smiley merchandise in his hallway.

The immediate precursor to the emoji came in 1995, when sales of pagers  were booming among Japan’s teenagers. The phone company NTT Docomo’s decided to add a heart symbol to the must-have 'Pocket Bell' devices. This allowed high school kids to inject a new level of sentiment (and cuteness) into the millions of messages they were keying into telephones every day.

Says  Gavin Lucas:  'But when new versions of the Pocket Bell abandoned the heart symbol in favour of more business-friendly features like kanji and Latin alphabet support, the teenagers that made up Docomo’s core customer base had no problem leaving for upstart competitor Tokyo Telemessage. By the time Docomo realized it had misjudged the demand for business-focused pagers, it was badly in need of a new killer app. What it came up with was emoji.'

 A young employee named  Shigetaka Kurita, following the idea of the heart symbol, came up with the idea of  creating simple faces to add tone to textual messages. He assembled a team who produced a complete set of 176 12-by-12 pixel characters that could cover the entire breadth of human emotion. The rest is history.

Lucas quotes Vyvyan Evans, a linguistics professor at Bangor University in Wales, who suggests that 'emoji are the fastest-growing form of language of all time. His research suggests that 72 per cent of people between the ages of 18 and 25 find it easier to express their emotions if they use emoji. Furthermore, 50 per cent of the people in this age group believe that emoji enable them to be better communicators.'

All this is a fascinating story that Lucas tells well but its only half the book. The second section 'Inspired by Emoji' is a wonderful visual cornucopia of work produced by artists and designers around the world. It's inspiring and underlines the global effect these tiny emblems of human emotion have become. They've sprung out of being just communication elements in the digital realm and spread into the worlds of art, fashion and beyond. There's 'the novel 'Moby Dick' rendered entirely in emoji and the main scenes of  the Cohn brothers cult movie'The Big Lebowski' ditto, plus political emoji, rings and cushion emojis, and a set of emojis designed for the World Wildlife Fund to raise awareness about endangered species. This cool and groovy seminal book will find and inspire a wide audience. It makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the history of human communication.

(Left) Illustration created by Takakakura Kazuki using the emoji.ink web app.
(Right) MIND BLOWN by FL@33



Whilst waiting for this book to arrive, I did some research of my own on the web. here's a few interesting additions from Wikiedpia and beyond.

Image result for ambrose bierce
In 1887, according to Houston, the author Ambrose Bierce, best known for his satirical lexicon 'The Devil's Dictionary'  wrote a 'tongue-in-cheek essay on writing reform entitled "For Brevity and Clarity." 'In this, he 'presented a new mark of punctuation intended to help less fortunate writers convey humour or irony, which he called "the snigger point, or note of cachinnation." ("loud or immoderate laughter.") It looked like a line with the ends turned up ( ‿ )  which he wrote, "represents, as nearly as may be, a smiling mouth." Of course, his proposal was itself an ironic act, and unsurprisingly, the mark didn't catch on.'

In a 1936 Harvard Lampoon article, Alan Gregg proposed (-) for smile, (--) for laugh (more teeth showing), (#) for frown, (*) for wink, and (#) for "intense interest, attention, and incredulity".
According to science fiction writer Gregory Benford, emoticons were in use in sci-fi  fandom in the 1940s,
Keith Houston also reports that, in 1967, a Baltimore Sunday Sun columnist named Ralph Reppert was quoted in the May edition of Reader's Digest. Reppert, writing that his "Aunt Ev is the only person I know who can write a facial expression," explained that: "Aunt Ev's expression is a symbol that looks like this: —) It represents her tongue stuck in her cheek. 

Image result for NabokovIn April 1969, New York Times reporter Alden Whitman visited the world famous novelist Vladimir Nabokov  in Montreux  for an interview  shortly  before his 70th birthday. On request, he had sent his questions in advance. One of them was: "How do you rank yourself among writers (living) and of the immediate past?" 
Nabokov answered: "I often think there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile – some sort of concave mark, a supine round bracket, which I would now like to trace in reply to your question.

(^._.^)~ <(o.o )>

The widespread usage of ASCII art can be traced to the computer bulletin board systems of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The limitations of computers of that time period necessitated the use of text characters to represent image."
 See Wikipedia entries: Emoticon, List of Emoticons, ASCII art, 

A colon, followed by a dash, followed by a closing bracket. They resemble a smiley face.

The computer symbol for “not serious” or now more generally “happiness,” made up of a colon, dash and a right parenthesis, was born into existence at 11:44 a.m. on September 19, 1982, when it was posted on an online bulletin board by Carnegie Mellon computer scientist Scott Fahlman.
“If someone made a sarcastic remark, a few readers would fail to get the joke, and each of them would post a lengthy diatribe in response,” Fahlman explained in a post on Carnegie Mellon’s website about the invention of the sideways smile. 
“The problem caused some of us to suggest (only half seriously) that maybe it would be a good idea to explicitly mark posts that were not to be taken seriously,” he added. “In the midst of that discussion it occurred to me that the character sequence :-) would be an elegant solution ... So I suggested that.”
Fahlman also suggested the reverse — what has come to be known as a sad face — by using the other parenthesis marker.
“This convention caught on quickly around Carnegie Mellon, and soon spread to other universities and research labs via the primitive computer networks of the day,” he writes.
“I probably was not the first person ever to type these three letters in sequence, perhaps even with the meaning of ‘I’m just kidding’ and perhaps even online,” Fahlman wrote. “But I do believe that my 1982 suggestion was the one that finally took hold, spread around the world, and spawned thousands of variations.”

Image result for Scott E Fahlman

In a lengthier account about his invention of the emoticon, Smiley Lore, Scott Fahlman writes about the fact that the text of his original proposal had been lost.

'Several attempts to find the post on old backup tapes were unsuccessful. But in 2001-2002 Mike Jones of Microsoft sponsored a more serious “archeological dig” through our ancient backup tapes. Jeff Baird and the CMU CS facilities staff put in a heroic effort ...and they found the proper tapes, located a working tape drive that could read the ancient media, decoded the old formats, and did a lot of searching to find the actual posts. I am most grateful to all who participated in this successful quest, which I call the “Digital Coelacanth Project.”
Here it is:

19-Sep-82 11:44 Scott E Fahlman :-)
From: Scott E Fahlman
I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers:
Read it sideways. Actually, it is probably more economical to mark
things that are NOT jokes, given current trends. For this, use


Back in April 1991, I read a review in New Scientist of this book, 'The Telling Image: The Changing Balance between Pictures and Words in a Technological Age.' It made fascinating reading then as it does now - but for different reasons. The original author Duncan Davies died before the book was published and his work was completed by Diana and Robin Bathurst who in the Preface write:
'Duncan Davies saw that great and influential changes are taking place in society as the balance of the means of communication tilts progressive from words and number towards pictures or images....'
'Duncan felt that too few people are aware of either the scale of the speed of this shift in the balance towards pictorial communication, or of the problems posed by the need to store and retrieve pictorial data, or of the possible consequences for the future. Adapting to this transformation would, he believed, require profound modification of attitudes and of the ways in which we prepare the young through education.'

In Chapter 1, Davies wrote the following:
 'There were 250 centuries when we had pictures alone and could not learn how to use them generally and effectively. Next there were 20 centuries when we learnt how to use formalised pictures (pictograms and ideograms) as message carriers. There followed some 15 centuries or so during which clerks made the great leap forward of alphabetic reading and writing. During the next five centuries, reading and writing thrust picture-communication into the background.
'However, over the past one-third of a century, the picture has suddenly and explosively become the main means for 'reading' and learning but not yet the main means for the ordinary person's 'writing'. Not surprisingly, we are reeling from the shock.
'The return of the picture, although it has been the subject of intense political concern and enquiry, has not been thought about or studied at all broadly. We now have a rich array of options for recording experience ideas and messages. We are suffering from indigestion and embarass de richesse. The time has come for a little therapeutic self-discipline.'