Friday, July 14, 2017

JAZZ GREATS: KAMASI WASHINGTON / JACO PASTORIOUS

KAMASI WASHINGTON rules. His triple album 'The Epic' is No. 1 default sound on my system since the end of April when I got it as a birthday present. Then yesterday I discovered in a slush pile of clippings this great article from June 2016 by the grandly named Ludovic Hunter-Tilney. LHT's punchy piece puts Kamasi and his band at the LA epicentre of a new politically infused jazz movement. Kamasi says: "The whole point of playing this music is to convey a message. That message comes from The Autobiography of Malcolm X, published in 1965, the year he was assassinated. Copies were handed out at Kasami's school by black activists and it stuck with him. The message is: "Self discipline, self understanding and self love, that's what it was really about. Just love yourself, you're beautiful, your history, your culture, you come from someone who is beautiful, you're not just the descendant of a slave, you should have pride in who you are, knowing why you are."



Kasami won a scholarship to study ethomusicology at the University of California, Los Angeles,where he learnt about 'north Indian classical music, Indonesian gamelan and Ghanaian gospel choirs.' The album took four years to make and features a 10-piece jazz band, , a 32-piece porchestra and a 20-voice choir. His touring band features seven musicians including his father Rickey who also plays sax. The band, reports LHT, is made up of his LA peers, most being also the children of jazz players. They formed a musical collective named  the West Coast Get Down who played every week at a Hollywood club. A monthy-long collaborative session in the studio provided the germ of 'The Epic'. That's all you need to know as a taster. Now book a comfortable couch and immerse yourself in this amazing music. Several great live concerts on YouTube, including a Glastonbury show. Powerful healing force or what.


JACO PASTORIOUS is widely regarded as the Jimi Hendrix of the bass guitar. He reinvented the instrument, expanding its possibilities by removing the frets and pushing the playing techniques into unknown territory. At the level of musicianship Pastorious reached, he was soon feted and showered with superlatives. His work with Weather Report, Joni Mitchell and Herbie Hancock -  to name just three  - is outstanding. His many other ensembles that played his compositions, range across many fields and emotions. Jaco's bipolar extraordinariness spilled over into drug use, uncontrollable antics and, in the end, murderous violence. Set against this is much beautiful footage of his children and himself, swimming, juggling, having fun. Packed with harsh and tender moments, great interviews and tasteful clips and tracks, 'Jaco' will bring tears but also profound inspiration that so much wonderful music could pour out of this man. Ditto as above: YouTube and many great albums to explore.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

THE HUMAN MICROBIOME

Source: Teach the Microbiome

For a long time now THE GENERALIST has been curious to know more about what is now referred to as the human microbiome - the entire ecosystem of bacteria (and other organisms) that we carry on us and inside our bodily containers. 99% of the bacteria are found in the gut.

I find this whole area of science incredibly powerful and it is clear from the research for this post that many discoveries are revealing a whole new world of medical investigation.

Published by Scribe 2016

My first main source is this highly accessible book by a young German scientist which is a great place to start understanding this remarkable new paradign shift in our thinking about our own bodies.

It seems we're built of three main tubes: the cardiovascular system with the heart at its centre; the nervous system, running in parallel, with the spinal cord, our brain at the top and nerve networks across our entire body. The third is the intestinal tube running through us from end to end via the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small and large intestines and anus.

This is where it gets real interesting. Something called the vagus nerve serves as a fast and direct link between our gut and our brain. It runs from the diaphragm, between the lungs and the heart, up along the oesophagus  and through the neck to the brain. As the brain is insulated from the rest of the body, it needs information from the gut to form a picture of how the body is doing. Enders writes:
'The gut has not only a remarkable system of nerves to gather all this information, but also a huge surface area. That makes it the body's largest sensory organ...a huge matrix, sensing our inner life and working on the subconscious mind,'
Here are other things I learnt from this book:
  • 'Stress is thought to be among the most important stimuli discussed by the brain and the gut' writes Enders. One theory is that the 'altered circumstances stress creates in the gut allow different bacteria to survive there than in periods of low stress. We could say that stress changes the weather in the gut.'
  • 'Anyone who suffers from anxiety or depression should remember that an unhappy gut can be the cause of an unhappy mind.'
  • 'Our gastrointestinal tract is home to more than a thousand different species of bacteria - plus minority populations of viruses and yeats, as well as fungi and various other single-celled organisms.
  • 'Our gut's microbiome can weigh up to 2 kilos and contain about 100 trillion bacteria. One gramme of faeces contains more bacteria than there are people on the Earth.
  • 80% of our immune system is in the gut.
  • 'We are influenced by the microscopic world that lives in us. This is all the more interesting when we realise that every person's inner world is unique to him and her.'
  • 'While 100 per cent of the cells that make us up when we start life are human cells, we are soon colonised by so many micro-organisms that only 10 per cent of our cells are human, with microbes accounting for the remaining 90 per cent.
  • 'Our lifestyle, random acquaintances, illness, or hobbies all influence the shape of the populations inside our bodies...It is generally accepted that the first population to colonise out gut lay the main foundations for the future of our entire body.
  • In the April 2011 issue of Nature, scientists cliamed to have discovered three main enterotypes - bacteriological ecosystems - which appear in humans of all ages, genders, body weight and nationality. Type 1 is domninated by high-levels of Bacteroides, Type 2 by Prevotella and Type 3 by Ruminococcus. There are indication that long-term diet influences these enterotypes. Bacteroides seem to like meat and saturated fatty acids; Prevotellas are more common in the guts of vegetarians; Ruminococcus feed on the cell walls of plants.
  • Some scientists now support the theory that our gut microbiota can be considered an organ

*


The Human Microbiome Project (HMP), involving some 200 scientists, was a US National Institutes of Health (NIH) initiative with the goal of identifying and characterizing the microorganisms which are found in association with both healthy and diseased humans. The results were published in June 2012.

The Human Microbiome
The Human Microbiome is the collection of all the microorganisms living in association with the human body. These communities consist of a variety of microorganisms including eukaryotes, archaea, bacteria and viruses. Bacteria in an average human body number ten times more than human cells, for a total of about 1000 more genes than are present in the human genome. Because of their small size, however, microorganisms make up only about 1 to 3 percent of our body mass (that's 2 to 6 pounds of bacteria in a 200-pound adult). These microbes are generally not harmful to us, in fact they are essential for maintaining health. For example, they produce some vitamins that we do not have the genes to make, break down our food to extract nutrients we need to survive, teach our immune systems how to recognize dangerous invaders and even produce helpful anti-inflammatory compounds that fight off other disease-causing microbes. An ever-growing number of studies have demonstrated that changes in the composition of our microbiomes correlate with numerous disease states, raising the possibility that manipulation of these communities could be used to treat disease.

The Human Microbiome Project

The NIH Common Fund Human Microbiome Project (HMP) was established in 2008, with the mission of generating resources that would enable the comprehensive characterization of the human microbiome and analysis of its role in human health and disease.
Traditional microbiology has focused on the study of individual species as isolated units. However the vast majority of microbial species have never been successfully isolated as viable specimens for analysis, presumably because their growth is dependent upon a specific microenvironment that has not been, or cannot be, reproduced experimentally. Advances in DNA sequencing technologies have created a new field of research, called metagenomics, allowing comprehensive examination of microbial communities, without the need for cultivation. Instead of examining the genome of an individual bacterial strain that has been grown in a laboratory, the metagenomic approach examines the collection of genomes derived from microbial communities sampled from natural environments. In the HMP, this method will complement genetic analyses of known isolated strains, providing unprecedented information about the complexity of human microbial communities.
*
Source: It's OK to be Smart

In 'Tending the Human Body's Microbial Garden' by Carl Zimmer [New York Times / July 1 2012], he writes that, for more than a century doctors have been waging war against bacteria with antibiotics. Now a new approach known as 'medical ecology' suggests that by nurturing our 'garden' of gut flora we may discover entirely new approaches to infectious diseases that have previously been treated with antibiotics. Tending the microbiome may also help in treating obesity and diabetes. Many of bacteria have co-evolved and work to maintain the health of our bodies.

*











'Germs Are Us' by Michael Specter [New Yorker / 22nd Oct 2012] quotes David A. Relman, the first scientist to sequence the genomes of a human bacterial community - which happened to come from his own mouth. 

He tells Specter: "We have to stop looking at medicine as a war between invading pathogens and our bodies". He believes we need to employ a "sort of stewardship which has more in common with park mangement than it does with the current practice of trying...to kill microbes."

'Looked upon this way,' writes Specter, 'the human body turns out to be a vast, highly mutable ecosystem - each of us seems more like a farm than like an individual assembled from a rulebook of genetic instructions. Medicine becomes a matter of cultivation, as if our bacterial cells were crops in a field.'

Specter also refers to a 2009 paper entitled 'What Are the Consequences of the Disappearing Human Microbiome'  written by Martin J. Blaser and fellow microbiologist Stanley Fallow which focused on a loss of diversity in our biomes due to antibiotics. In a theoretical case a woman born at the start of the 20th century might have 10,000 species of bacteria, From the 1930s on, most people would have  one or two courses of antibiotics in their lives and will thus have lost some species. Her child will take many more antibiotice and will lose more species. Blaer says:
"A lot of things are happening at once. The rise in obesity, celiac disease, asthma, allergy syndromes and Type 1 diabetes. Bad eating habits are not sufficient to explain the worldwide explosion in obesity...We are not talking about illnesses that are increasing by ten per cent. They are doubling and tripling and qudrupling. With each generation there is a heavier impact on the early-life microbiome. And it means we are less and less able to metabolize the food we eat.'
*
'I had the Bacteria in my Gut analysed. And this may be the Future of Medicine' by Andrew Anthony [The Observer Review / 9th Feb 2014]
'Humans are first colonised by microbes during birth. Then through breast milk, which contains both probiotics ( beneficial microbes) and prebiotics (compounds that foster the growth of probiotics).
"There is strengthening evidence ", says microbiologist Paul O'Toole, " that the explosion of auto-immune diseases and immune disregulation diseases in Western society may be due to suppression of gut bacteria from infancy onwards."
'It takes about two years from birth...for a child to attain a mature microbiome. There are several factors that may contribute to childhood microbial dimishment. One is the increase in caesarian sections...Another is a lack of breast milk and a third is the increased use of antibiotics.
'In fact there are many studies around the globe ...which point up connections between the microbiota and diseases and complaints as diverse as  irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's. Alzheimer's, autism, depression, cardiovascvular disease and colon cancer.'
*
Source: Wikipedia
'Why modern life is bad for the gut' by Clive Cookson [Financial Times / 25th April 2015]
 reports on two studies on the microbiomes of remote human communities to compare their diversity with those in the US. One was a isolated Yanomami tribe in the Amazonian forest, the other subsitence farmers in Papua New Guinea. Both had considerably more diverse microbiomes than  Americans. The team leader of the Amazonian project said:

"Our results bolster a growing body of data suggesting a link between, on the one hand, decreased bacterial diversity, industrialised diets and modern antibiotics, and on the other, immunological and metabolic diseases such as obesity, asthma, allergies and diabetes, which have drastically increased since the 1970s.We believe there is something environmental occuring in the paset 30 years driving these diseases. The microbiome could be involved."

*
In an article by Chloe Lambert entitled 'Gut Thinking' [New Scientist. 21st Nov 2015]:

In 2014, scientists at the University of New Mexico published a review of reasearch on human microbiomes and came to tthis intriguing solution: 'gut microbes don't just flourish on certain diets, they may also control our food cravings and preferences to serve their own purpose'

This raises the intriguing possibility that through the spread of microbes, person to person,  those cravings could become contagious. Lambert says: 'We already know people are much more likely to become obese if they have a friend who is obese.'

According to Tony Goldstone, an endocrinologist at Imperial College, London: 'There's evidence that gut hormones modify not only reward and consumption of food but also any drug of abuse - such as nicotine, cocaine and alcohol.'





Friday, July 07, 2017

HEATHCOTE WILLIAMS HAS DIED

This is a great picture of Heathcote Williams who died earlier this week after a long illness that kept him out of the public eye for the last years of his life, though he continued to lambast the establishment and prick pomposity until the end through his work on the online International Times website and his last opus on Boris Johnson. 

For many years Heathcote worked in our office at 2 Blenheim Crescent just off London's Portobello Road in a small back room with the graphic designer and illustrator Richard Adam. Together they founded the Open Head Press, named after the printing press you can see in this picture. 

Over many years they produced a wide variety of posters, pamphlets, booklets and other valuable outpourings. Their space was often filled with visitors including the great poet Christopher Logue and John Michell, the author of 'View Over Atlantis' and many other arcane and wonderful books. The early issues of Fortean Times were also produced in that room. Cider was often the refreshment of choice and, as the working day progressed, there was often a trace of unruly behaviour and schoolboy pranks, much laughter and the occasional altercation between the assembled bohemians.

This is the work that first brought Heathcote to public attention. This is the cover of the 1st Edition which was published in Britain  by Hutchinson in 1964. Heathcote was 22 and this was his first book. 'The Speakers' was brought back into print in 1982 by Robin Clark. Both copies are in the Generalist Archive.


I have several powerful memories of Heathcote. I remember being in his flat on Westbourne Park Road one evening when he tried out some of his newly-written verse in front of a small group of invited friends including myeslf. Heathcote had the most beautiful speaking voice and was without doubt a great and important English poet. As his mellifluous phrases rolled out, there was true magic in the air. No wonder Derek Jarman cast him as Prospero in his film version of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest'. Al Pacino was a friend of fan of Heathcote's.

[Left] First amazing issue of The Fanatic produced by Heathcote and designed by Richard Adams.

Equally memorable was the day when I travelled to Plymouth to interview James Lovelock, the now famous scientific author of the Gaia hypothesis, on 1st May 1984. You can read some more about this in my previous post in January 2006. After a remarkable afteroon of discussion, I was driven by taxi from Lovelock's house to the grand surroundings of  Port Eliot, a stately home set in beautiful grounds, at St Germans, Saltash in Cornwall. Many of you will know this as it became the site for the Elephant Fayre which began in 1980 and ran until 1986 in its first incarnation. Details of the 2017 Festival can be found here.

Was delighted to discover in the Archive this hand-drawn map that Heathcote had sent me
in advance so I wouldn't get lost. Tacked to it is a train ticket for £1.30

The owner of the house and Estate at that time was Perry Eliot, who was a friend and supporter of Heathcote's. I had arranged to meet Heathcote there and when the texi dropped me off in front this imposing Gothic building I ventured inside a maze of corridors and happened fortunately to bump into one of the house staff who directed me to the upstairs room where Heathcote was holding court.

 Heathcote always did resemble a Pres-Raphaelite figure never more so when I entered a large high-ceilinged room with a long wooden table strewn with manuscript pages and handwritten notes. Heathcote had beautiful handwriting. I think we ate and drank and I certainly slept the night there.

As I recall I was there to talk with him about his current work at the time which was a lengthy poem entitled 'Whale Nation', to be published by Jonathan Cape. I had for many years being writing about the Save The Whale movement and had met many whale experts and read extensively on the topic. I was able to feed much information into the mix which was duly acknowledged with this note on the front of a photocopy of the original manuscript. A treasured possession.


The handwriting is somewhat faded but his inscription reads: For John May: sine qua non [which means 'an indispensable and essential action']. Under his signature he writes: 'without the growth hormones supplied by you this work would never have seen the light of day.'

Incidentally it was Heathcote who first turned me on to the activities of the Animal Liberation Front, when he showed me an article by Ronnie Lee, the ALF founder, who had just been released from prison after a number of years sentence having been found guilty of arson. This led me, via journalism for the NME, to found,with my colleagues, one of the first ever animal lib magazines 'The Beast'.

THE GENERALIST ARCHIVE  is particularly rich in material from and on Heathcote. Its been some time since I've been through it all and I'm deeply touched by what I've found. An extensive exchange of correspondence, all hand typed and signed in pen + postcards, clippings + magazines and poster poems. Here are some of them:

What claimss to be the first publication of 'Whale Nation' .
Probably an earlier version. paper is undated.

The covers of Heathcote's four animal/environmental poems,
all published by Jonathan Cape in London, all signed. 'Whale Nation'
was a huge success, published in many languages, turned into a theatrical show [see poster below]
and an Arena documentary. The others were successful too but perhaps sold in lesser numbers.
The version of 'Elephants' is another early version, of 'Sacred Elephant', published on a large-format paper size
that is called 'elephant'. At bottom, cover illustration for 'Autogeddon' by Ian Pollock.





OBITUARIES TO DATE:






THE ECONOMIST

Monday, July 03, 2017

DRVING THE BEAT ROAD


THE GENERALIST had other plans for Saturday which were overtaken by a tip off from Peter Mobbs in France who pointed me to a remarkable piece of journalism by Jeff Weiss recently published in the Washington Post.

Entitled 'Driving The Beat Road' its a great account of the history of the Beats in San Francisco of which scant traces remain (City Lights bookstore, the Vesuvio Cafe plus the Beat Museum at 540 Broasdway) combined with a series of interviews with some of the surving members of the Beat Generation namely Lawrence Ferlinghetti (now 98), Michael McClure (84), Gary Snyder (87), Diane di Prima (82) as well as what Weiss calls a 'Beat-adjacent novelist' Herbert Gold (92).

Published by New Directions. 1973.
Second printing. The Generalist Library
Ferlinghetti is nearly blind now but, writes Weiss, his failing eyesight 'has been swapped for oracular vision'. He reports that F looks 'vaguely like a bust of Socrates, bald, white-bearded and wise' but, having lived nearly a century, he has sustained a 'serrated intellect, righteous integrity and good health'.

His remarkable life story includes a visit to Nagasaki short weeks after the atomic bomb blast. Of this experience he wrote: 'The city had just vanished from the face of the earth. Skeletons of trees on the horizon. Not a soul in sight...all souls melted.' He became an ardent pacifist as a result.

Ferlinghetti, says Weiss, has never 'stopped wondering where we're going, what will be lost to history and what may never be noticed at all.' As for the future, he predicts SF will be underwater in 50 years time.





Published by City Lights Book. 1sr Edition
1963. The Generalist Library.
Michael McClure is someone whose works I know less about and this valuable profile and interview is a fantastic read. For instance, he collaborated with Ray Manzarek of The Doors over a 20-year period and became drinking buddies with Jim Morrison. He says: "I don't think there was a better poet in America at Jim's age". Weiss claims that McClure 'helped crystallize the modern Rimbaud mystic archetype that Morrison ran with.'

McClure is worried about the future: "I know that young people are striving for change but it seems like they don't know how to rebel or what to rebel against." So, says Weiss, what are we supposed to do?

"Turn off the television set and turn off the distractions. Turn to your most intelligent friends and begin to imagine what's really going on...If we can...start to feel and think together again and let our imaginations and inspirationsa go...that will bring more change than anything."

One of McClure's big contribution was to help raise public consciousness about the environment in what he calls the "early bioromantic poems" alongside the remarkable and enigmatic Beat poet Gary Snyder, who Kerouac immortalised as Japhy Ryder in 'The Dharma Bums', and who is often referred to as a 'nature poet' - a kind of modern-time Thoreauvian - although Snyder considers himself to be a 'poet of reality'

Published by New Directions. 1972. Ninth
printing. The Generalist Library.
Snyder now lives in a far-flung deep country sanctuary and is, says Weiss, 'a man who doesn't particularly want to be found' and later describes him an an 'outrider of the outsiders' - a beautiful and apt phrase. Setting up the interview proved a lengthy process and following complicated directions to Snyder's hideout proved equally difficult. It was worth the effort.

Famously Snyder went to Japan to study Zen and translate ancient poems and stayed there off and on from 1956-69. Some have argued that The Beats were the main transmitters of Buddhism in America. If so, Snyder was the key figure. Pithy and meticulous, he brings his Zen training into play, challenging Weiss to ask him questions that no-one else had asked before. Its a truly wonderful encounter which bears rich fruit.

Weiss writes: 'Snyder is as close as we'll find to a legitimnate visionary....whose prescient views on recycling, overconsumption and leaving a modest footprint are now accepted wisdom among all but the most gluttonous.'

Published by Last Gasp of San Francisco.
1988. Original edition/Olympia Press 1969.
The Generalist Library
Equally impressive is Weiss' profile and interview with the most prominent female Beat Diane Di Prima, who has authored more than 40 volumes of poems, prose and stage plays. She also co-founded the New York Poet's Theatre, operated her own independent press and ran the 'Floating Bear' literary journal with her then clandestine lover LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka).

Here poetic strategies are valuable. I like it when she tells Weiss:"My subconscious would tell my mind to catch where the poem had fallen down". She reminds you that you are just receiving the poems and advises writers: "Read a lot. Read out loud a lot."

Weiss sketches a vivid picture of this truly remarkable womsan, fragile and virtually bedridden but 'her orphic transmissions continue unabated'. He writes: 'Da Prima is one such rarity: a conductor of benevolent spells, a natural-born Gnostic, an antenna for arcane prophecies.'



Published by Simon and Schuster. 1993. 1st
Edition. the Generalist Library.

Herbert Gold is the first to say that he's not a Beat but his 30+ novels, non-fiction and short-story collections and his life in general interweaves with the Beat scene. Ginsberg, he says, alweays asked him why he didn't try homosexuality. "How would I know if I didn't like it'. He didn't like Kerouac at all: "Kerouac destroyed himself with alcohol by 47. Like James Dean, he looks great stenciled on T-shirts."

His 1993 memoir 'Bohemia' is packed with reminiscences about Burroughs, Norman Mailer, Jean Genet, Anais Nin and Tom Wolfe. During his time in Paris, he was mentored by Saul Bellow and James Baldwin. Nabokov considered him one of America's finest writers. All of which whets the appetite for exploring Gold's work further.

With this long-form piece, Weiss has made great and timely contribution, bringing valuable insights and information on these seminal survivors into our  consciousness at a time when they are needed most.




DRIVING THE BEAT ROAD by Jeff Weiss can be read and experienced on the Washington Post website. The text is interspersed with some great black and white photos and peppered with video and audio links. Its a remarkable piece of work which is worth repeated readings.





Thursday, June 22, 2017

JOURNALISM FOR OUR TIMES: CAROLE CADWALLADR / FINTAN O' TOOLE / REBECCA SOLNIT


The Malestrom

Britain's suffering (or enjoying) a heatwave at present whilst an atmosphere of drama and uncertainty prevails on the political and economic front. We are in uncharted territory and no pollsters or pundits can be sure of the outcome. It's at times like this that great journalism rises to the challenge. These pieces are essential reading:


Arron Banks: ‘Brexit was a war. We won. There’s no turning back now’ by Carole Cadwalladr 
[Observer 2nd April 2017]
Now out of Ukip – the party he bankrolled – Arron Banks is creating a political movement of his own. We met the ‘bad boy of Brexit’ just before article 50 was triggered – and found his ambitions go far beyond leaving Europe

This is a very chilling piece about how a group of men, working on both sides of the Atlantic. have successfully intervened with our democratic procedures using sophisticated algorithms and dark arts. They are the real enemy.


Arron Banks (second left) with Donald Trump. Banks and Nigel Farrage with Raheem Kassam (far right), the editor of Breitbart London [a right-wing website], are the self-styled “bad boys of Brexit”. 
'Though Nigel Farage is the face of Brexit, Arron Banks is the man who made it possible. He bought Brexit. Or at least paid for it. Until 2014 he was an unknown Bristol businessman. Now he’s the biggest political donor in British political history. The most powerful. He put more money into funding the Leave campaign than anyone else – more than £7m. He donated his office space, his computer equipment, his senior staff. He’s the co-founder of Leave.EU, the so-called “provisional wing” of the Leave campaign, spearheaded by his close confidante Nigel Farage, and he’s now contemplating his next move: taking an axe to the rest of the parliamentary system.'

Britain: The End of a Fantasy
by Fintan O’Toole
[The New York Review of Books June 10, 2017]

For sometime now, it has been The Generalist's view that what we are witnessing is the beginning of the end of the Ancien Regime in Britain. This important and powerful piece nails it.

'May doesn’t actually believe in Brexit, she’s improvising a way forward very roughly sketched out by other people. She’s a terrible actor mouthing a script in which there is no plot and no credible ending that is not an anti-climax. Brexit is a back-of-the-envelope proposition. Strip away the post-imperial make-believe and the Little England nostalgia, and there’s almost nothing there, no clear sense of how a middling European country with little native industry can hope to thrive by cutting itself off from its biggest trading partner and most important political alliance.'


Protest and persist: why giving up hope is not an option 
by Rebecca Solnit
[The Guardian 13th March 2017]

The true impact of activism may not be felt for a generation. That alone is reason to fight, rather than surrender to despair

Rebecca Solnit is one of the most important writers of our time who bears comparison with Joan Didion in the 60s and Hunter S. Thompson during the Nixon years. A committed activist, her numerous books and journalism are essential reading. The above link is to a podcast. See also:

'The Loneliness of Donald Trump: On The Corrosive Privilege of the Most Mocked Man in the World.'
[Literary Hub May 30th 2017]

In recent weeks I have been reading and rereading Solnit's 'Hope In The Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities', first published in 2005 and reprinted with a new introduction in 2016. Hope is the most important idea to hang on to. Solnit traces five decades of protest and brings together deep thoughts of value in these difficult days. A superb prose stylist, Solnit will raise your spirits and will encourage you to greater efforts. She writes: 'An extraordinary imaginative power to reinvent ourselves is at large in the world.' She quotes from the aptly named Chris Bright:

'But the biggest obstacle to reinventing ourselves may be simply a kind of paralysis of hope. It is possible to see very clearly that our current economies are toxic, destructive on a gargantuan scale, and grossly unfair—to see all this and still have difficulty imagin-ing effective reform . . . We are used to constant flux in the daily details of existence, yet the basic structure of the status quo always looks so unalterable. But it's not. Profound change for the better does occur, even though it can be difficult to see because one of the most common effects of success is to be taken for granted. What looks perfectly ordinary after the fact would often have seemed like a miracle before it. '
I like the late John Berger's quote about Solnit:

 'Time and again, Solnit comes running towards you with a bunch of hope she has found and picked in the undergrowth of the rime we are living in. And you remember that hope is not a guarantee for tomorrow but a detonator of energy for action today.'

See Also: Rebecca Solnit: The self as story

Photo: Jim Herrington


Saturday, June 03, 2017

PRINT IS DEAD, LONG LIVE PRINT / RUTH JAMIESON

Having spent a lifetime working with print and having an archive of magazines and papers dating back to the early 1960s, THE GENERALIST is delighted on a number of levels to  have discovered Ruth Jamieson's book [published by Prestel in 2015].

Elegantly designed and beautifully printed [in Slovenia] on black matt paper, Jamieson profiles more than 50 independent magazines in a stylish and intelligent fashion, showing covers and spreads and interviewing the creators. The huge range of creativity on display is awesome and stimulating, showing the inexhaustible possibilities inherent in the medium.

Equally valuable is the intro essay which explains that the mainstream newsstand mags may be dead or dying - their circulations and advertising eroded by the on-line world -  but a new generation of independent mags have emerged -  beautiful, collectable and timeless
objects, largely ad free, idea led, design focused and reader funded, with an international readership connected buy the internet not geography. This revolution in content, style and priorities also extends to the business model with alternative methods of distribution and financing. It's a fascinating story.

Fortunately, since the book's publication, Ruth Jamieson has been pursuing this wave of change with articles in 'Eye on Design' the on-line newsletter of AIGA, the oldest and largest not-for-profit membership organization for design in the United States. As you would expect, their logo and website are exemplary.

In 'Predicting for 2017'' [published December 21st, 2016], she writes:
'Whatever else went down in 2016, it was a strong year for magazines; this will go down in the books as the year independent publishing came of age.'

Amongst the trends she predicted are:

F*ck perfection: who’s sick of overly precious, overly curated minimalist mags, say aye! The next wave of magazines will be fast, cheap, and fun.

No more Mr. Nice Guy: now that all the feel-good lifestyle niches have been filled, we’re overdue for some honest, thought-provoking, and accessible political discussion.

In a great essay 'From Escapism to Activism, the Indie Mag Scene is Woke: How turbulent times are changing the face of publishing' [published March 15th, 2017], she confirms Prediction 2 in spades. It concludes:
'The thing I love about print is that just when you think you’ve got a handle on its role in our lives, it changes. If you’d asked me a year ago I’d have said print magazines were affordable luxury objects that allowed us to switch off. Now, in 2017, reading magazines is more about necessity. These titles drive activism, not escapism. Necessarily ephemeral, it’s a magazine’s job to respond to its moment in time.'
BIG THANKS to Paul Gorman for turning me on to this article. His book on the history of 'The Face' magazine is to be published  later this year.
 *

Random Keim / Wired / May 1st 2014.

Why do traditional paper books remain so popular, especially for deep, immersive reading? Are some people simply too stubborn and nostalgic to adapt to new technologies? Perhaps it's because paper books are themselves a highly sophisticated technology, one that's uniquely good at stimulating focus and concentration.

[Thanks to Stephen Alexander in Queensland for tip-off]

SEE PREVIOUS POSTS

Friday, September 14, 2007

 Saturday, November 15, 2008

Monday, November 19, 2012

[Left: Signed paperback copy of 'A History of Reading' by Alberto Manguel / The Generalist Archive ]

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

COMIC AND GRAPHIC DELIGHTS: JOHN HIGGINS / PIETER COUDYZER / CHRIS W KIM


Published by Liverpool University Press
 If there is an unholy trinity in the world of comics it must be the three caballeros Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins, whose collaborations are considered amongst the very best work in the medium. Think Batman: The Killing Joke, Watchmen. Judge Dredd. Hellblazer and Razorjack.                                                             
 This summer it is Higgins that takes his turn in the main spotlight with an exhibition of his lifetime work in Liverpool until October coinciding with the publication of a hefty 278pp large-format landscape book.

Packed with artwork, John H.'s narrative comes complete with professional tradecraft info of a high order, survival tips gained from hard-won experience and technical tips to many of his own techniques. A prolific comic illustrator in his own right, John has ranged across the genres and styles, often pushing the boundaries of taste, experimenting with pen, paint and technology.

The section I found most absorbing was his lengthy account of being the colourist on Watchmen and the processes that had to be gone through in the pre-digital age. His colour use, though limited by the technology of the time, was inventive and striking, adding emotion, altering moods. All done by hand.



Dave Gibbon's pencil work and John H's colourisation





Ashton Street, Victoria Gallery & Museum, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, Merseyside, L69 3DR Tel: 0151 794 2348

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Always good to get new titles from Self Made Hero and to be introduced to  new work. 


'Outburst'  is a debut graphic novel by an award-winning animator Pieter Coudyzer. 


There are several of his short films on YouTube and a whole portfolio of his eerie drawings on the artist's own website. 


However for this work he has adopted a much more in-your-face style which suits the dark nature of the story, involving unsettling transformations, a sad and rejected child who mutates and lots of ants and leaves. 


Kafkaesque and Lynchian, its excruciating, uncomfortable but weirdly great



I am in awe of Chris W. Kim and his drawing skills. This may also be his debut graphic novel but if you check out his excellent website, there's a whole section of what he calls 'Sequentials' up to 30 or so pages long, which demonstrate

 his flowing storytelling style and his remarkable visual imagination.'Herman By Trade', as it turns out, also has transformation at its heart.A modest street-cleaner happens to be a virtuoso chameleon and catches the eye of a female cult film director called Mio for her next epic movie. All does not go exactly according to plan. Superior piece of work which pays repeated study.





Thursday, May 18, 2017

CLIENT EARTH: PLANETARY LAWYERS A GO-GO

Environmental lawyer James Thornton, Founder and CEO of ClientEarth with his partner of 25 years
Martin Goodman, the author of nine books of fiction and non-fiction, who holds the chair of Creative Writing at the University of Hull where he is the director of the Philip Larkin Centre for Poetry and Creative Writing.
Published by Scribe

James Thornton and his company ClientEarth are amongst the most effective and important environmental activists on the planet. This remarkable book, co-authored by Thornton and Goodman, recounts Thornton's history and philosophy, the organisation's many triumphs and successes, and outlines the huge challenges ahead. Amongst its supporters and founders are some of the world's richest and most powerful foundations and individuals, and one of its trustees is Brian Eno who has written the book's intro.

The form of the book consists of chapters authored by Goodman, documenting the pathway that led Thornton to found ClientEarth followed by detailed examinations of several seminal issues and cases concerning air pollution, fisheries, coal-fired power stations, forestry regulation in Africa and a remarkable account of Thornton and CE's relationship with the Chinese government at a very high level. Goodman travels to the States, Brussels, Poland, Ghana and China and gives us a real feel for the situations, characters and problems that Thornton challenges and solves.

Worth mentioning at this point that Thornton, one of four brothers who all became lawyers, is a Zen Buddhist priest and has introduced meditative practices into his legal world. He credits such techniques for helping him deal with anger and provide him with creative insights.

Goodman's travelogue and documentation is interspersed with a series of essays by Thornton, exploring his thinking, strategy and tactics. One of these, entitled 'The Lifecycle of the Law', sets out the five phases of any legal campaign: 1) start with the best verifiable scientific evidence; 2) use this to create policy; 3) spend years Law Making; 4) Implementation of the new laws through a responsible government agency; 5) Enforcement. Before ClientEarth, there was no European NGO that worked at all these crucial stages.

Apart from documenting ClientEarth's achievements, this book provides some valuable history lessons. Formal attempts to protect nature date back to 1872 with the creation of the world's first National Park at Yellowstone in the US.

Thornton writes: 'Until about 45 years ago, no one saw a need for comprehensive laws about out interaction with the rest of nature.' Unlikely as sounds, it was under the reign of President Nixon, from 1970 to 1976, that a body of environmental laws were established in the US - 'an extraordinary environmental record in every respect and one that is certainly without parallel in any administration that has followed.'. This period also saw the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

[Interesting to read that Reagan's appointee to the EPA Anne M Gorsuch was hired to bring the organisation to its knees.  According to Wikipedia: 'During her 22 months as agency head, she cut the budget of the EPA by 22%, reduced the number of cases filed against polluters, relaxed Clean Air Act regulations, and facilitated the spraying of restricted-use pesticides. She cut the total number of agency employees, and hired staff from the industries they were supposed to be regulating.' Trump's EPA appointee Scott Pruitt has deep ties to the fossil fuel industries. Earlier this month, Trump also appointed Nancy Beck, a chemical industry bigwig, to a high-level chemical safety position at the Environmental Protection Agency as Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.]

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a New York City-based, non-profit international environmental advocacy group, was founded in 1970 and today has 2.4 million members and online activities nationwide and a staff of about 500 lawyers, scientists and other policy experts. This was where Thornton cut his teeth as the only attorney working on NRDC's Citizens Enforcement project aimed at defeating and punishing big industrial polluters. His work was focused  on efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the US by taking action under the Clean Water Act. He investigated more than 1,000 companies, brought cases against 88 major violators including two giant companies Gwatney and Bethlehem Steel, who were fined $12.6m and $160m respectively for violations.

Thornton was then tasked with the job of establishing an NRDC office in Los Angeles. (He was happy to be in the same time zone as his Japanese zen master Maezumi Rashi). He discovered that the whole California coast could be lost to developers unless something was done. In order to fight this, he needed to find a threatened endangered species in the Californian coastal zone., The California gnatcatcher, a dusky grey songbird whose call sounds like the mewing of a kitten,. fitted the bill. Once this was listed as threatened, Thornton went to one of the largest developers and made a pragmatic deal, Rather than trying to block all development, he negotiated an arrangement whereby some development was possible in exchange for set-aside land for conservation, As of 2001, an area of 110,000 acres was preserved. Further investigation and use of the Endangered Species Act identified 77 endangered or threatened plants and animals species in the region.

Having established NRDC's office in LA , Thornton moved to London, mainly because Martin Goodman, who he'd first met in Europe in 1991, didn't have a green card. Despite being a member of the bar in California, New York and of the Supreme Court, Thornton had to start from scratch in a different legal system by taking solicitor's exams.

Firstly, after 10 years with NRDC, he took a 14-month break at a spiritual retreat in Germany during which he travelled to Dharamsala for a long private meeting with the Dalai Lama, who told him: "You must be confident and positive. and then you must help others to become confident and positive.

He also told him that "solutions can never emerge from an angry mind.", which proved very relevant to his next task which was to interview 50 significant players in the environmental movement. This research showed him that many activists adopted anger as the basis of their work, which explained the preachy, strident and negative tone of much of their pronouncements. This led him to found an NGO called Positive Futures which teaches meditation techniques to activists and policy makers. Anger become then a source of energy, not a driving force.

He then became the CEO of an international neuroscience research group, the Heffter Research Institute, whose aim is to 'configure new approaches to mental health and basic brain research through applied psychotropic research'.

In 2005, Thornton was then funded to report on the state of  public interest law in Europe, which was at least a decade behind the US. A Birds Directive had been passed in 1979, a Habitat Directive in 1992 and other Directives followed on air quality, energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions. Around 80% of current environmental legislation in member states now derives from the EU. A European Commission oversees the transposition of Directives into national laws but it was clear that implementation and enforcement of these laws was shoddy.

Thornton also discovered that there was at that time only 24 public interest environmental lawyers in all of Europe and Russia, compared with 500-600 full-time lawyers in the US. He met with Britain's environment lawyers and visited the big HQs of European environmental organisations in Brussels. There were an estimated 100 full-time environmental activists but no environmental lawyers, opposing an army of 20,000 commercial lobbyists.

Thornton was determined to change this and argued that by increasing the strategic use of law there would be benefits for the whole environmental movement. This led in turn to getting the funding to establish ClientEarth with offices in London, Brussels and Poland. Its three main objectives: to increase access to justice on environmental issues, limit the effects of climate change and protect biodiversity.

'Law is the gravitational system that keeps human societies moving in a concurrent direction' writes Thornton. 'Law is basically a system of mutual restraint, mutually agreed upon, mutually enforced.'

The considerable and remarkable achievements of ClientEarth have not been properly understood or celebrated in the mainstream media and the whole story of the organisation has never been told before. It is an uplifting and hope-filled one,  required reading for anyone with an interest in working to save the planet's natural environments.

If nothing else, read the chapter on what Thornton has achieved in China, where he is an honoured adviser to the highest levels of the Chinese government. They are committed to working towards creating an ecological civilisation and are operating on a vast scale and at a great speed to achieve this end.

Thornton concludes that by protecting health and the environment and empowering citizens, the West can renew its democratic values. If we are to tackle climate change we will need to find $90 trillion of investment in the next 15 years. Oil reserves are now 'stranded assets' and increasingly corporations will have to face up to the huge implications of this. Peak oil is coming. Some 50% of oil demand is for transport and electric cars may take 20-30% of new vehicle sales by 2030 or sooner. This alone will cause oil demand to peak,

ClientEarth's biggest action at present is to find a pension fund willing to partner with them to establish in the courts that climate change is a risk that company trustees must factor into their investment strategies. All classes of financial assets will be affected.

The book's final comment: 'I have no doubt that we can save the future by present action. We are capable of acting wisely. Wisdom and altruism are as much a part of our genetic inheritance as greed and aggression. The lesson of the Paris [Climate Change] Agreement is that all nations share the beginning of the new story we need. Let us work together and realise the dream.'

ClientEarth is a deep and complex work, full of wisdom but also a masterclass in tactics. James Thornton's multi-dimensional connective thinking, inspired by his deep love of nature, is radical action at its highest level. Come the time, come the man, Thornton challenges the powerful and offers them elegant zen solutions to the world's most urgent and intractable problems. Respect to this man!

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An excellent review in Nature 'Environment: Law for a healthy planet' by Hari Osofsky unravels some of the complexities of this book that I was unable to reach.

Monday, May 15, 2017

FROM ME TO WE: REVIVING SOCIAL HOPE with RONALD ARONSON

Chicago University Press
THE GENERALIST started reading this book the same weekend that Trump tweeted the single word 'We'. - his first and only message of unity. The tweet was quickly deleted and, according to www.firstpost.com, 'Twitter users seized onto the mistaken tweet by turning into a full sentence or offering mock interpretations of the word's meaning', 

Coincidence? I don't think so. What goes around comes around and individualism gets boring after a while. Are we witnessing a Me to We movement?
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American prof Ronald Aronson's title reference comes from the dystopian novel We by Evgeny Zamyatin (1924) which depicts a totalitarian society of the future that oppresses its inhabitants. Aronson suggests that - in a sense,in our time -  'it is now society and its most vital purposes that are under assault by its individuals'

This brief book (just under 200pp including annotated references) represents, he says, 'a lifetime of writing, reflection, teaching and political action'. Distilled Elder wisdom?

Well Aronson has two mentors - Herbert Marcuse , author of  'One Dimensional Man', with whom he studied the history of ideas at Brandeis University [a private university in Waltham, Massachusetts] and Jean Paul Sartre, whose ideas, Aronson writes, !I have interacted with for fifty years'. Another of his many books documents the friendship and fallout of Sartre and Camus.

'Hope is in Peril' is the title of Chapter 1: 'Today we are losing hope of a better society and a better world, and even the collective consciousness that can pose such goals.'  What's more, we're losing hope in progress, which Aronson says, reached its peak during 'the thirty glorious years of 1945-75'.

He asks 'what has become of the great political and historical goal of making our collective life better, of doing away with repression, of creating conditions in which all human can finally breathe easily? What has become of the common good?'

Aronson is upfront about the fact that he is writing this book 'in an unrepentant mood, as a political and philosophical partisan of the modern left project'. Near the end he admits that many of the ideas he espouses have a 'specific political coloration'. Why, people ask, is social hope a particularly left-wing disposition?
'My answer so far has been that a specific sense of empowerment, democratic participation, equality, and generosity is what the left and no one else has been about. A second answer is that the determination to connect the dots between different kinds of suffering and social  structures is equally a disposition of the left.'
I would dispute this position but that hasn't stopped me from finding a great deal of useful ideas, arguments and thought-provoking material within this heartfelt work.

What is hope?: 'Hope is neither a wholly subjective dimension of life nor a movement of events governed by iron laws. It is potency and possibility.'  'To hope', he writes 'is to have a positive expectation that a desired result may in fact come about.'

He references a number of previous works in this territory, namely 'The Principle of Hope', a 1,400 page work by Ernest Bloch, Terry Eagleton's 'Hope Without Optimism', Jonathan Lear's 'Radical Hope', Patrick Shades' 'Habit of Hope' and the one that attracted me most - Rebecca Solnit's 'Hope In The Dark' which Aronoson says 'takes the form of a series of mini-lectures to activists that aim at strengthening hope by educating them on how to see themselves, their attitudes, their activity and the width, breadth and depth of their results'. [The Generalist has a copy on the way]

He quotes Solnit, who talks about a  "vast inchoate, nameless  movement - not a political movement but a global restlessness, a pervasive shift of imagination and desire - that has recently appeared in almost every part of the world." That' sends some kind of shiver of excitement down my spine.

There's much valuable history here of various important social movements - the fight for civil rights and free speech in the US, the fight against apartheid in South Africa, industrial battles between bosses and unions, the cascading struggles for independence from colonial masters, the '68 battles in France.

'A movement exists in order to bring about certain changes', writes Aronson 'and in the process of participating or identifying with it we change in both our being and our perception.'  He tells us that Napoleon famously said 'First you commit yourself and then you see' a comment picked up Lenin a century later.

Says Aronson: 'Hope then can only be grasped by entering into it. It is something we produce amongst ourselves, in acting...The heart of the matter is in the action itself, including all the steps in organising for it, and in keeping alive the organisation that will carry out the action.'

A useful book to discuss, to meditate on, We is well-timed and helps us think more clearly about the next stage of the global transformation. And don't forget what Studs Terkel said:

 'Hope dies last'.


Source: Clip Art Fest

CHECK OUT:  WHERE ARE WE NOW FESTIVAL in HULL 2-4 June 2017