Thursday, June 30, 2005


Antarctica is a subject close to my heart, having written one of the first books on the subject by someone who had never been there – The Greenpeace Book of Antarctica: A New View of the Seventh Continent' (Dorling Kindersley.1988).

The foreword was by the late, great Sir Peter Scott, son of the great Antarctic explorer and a leading world conservation figure.

It was early 1987 and Greenpeace International had their offices a few minutes down the road from my house. I had already done one project on the Star Wars weapons programme for them and had started working more intensively with them after Chernobyl.

The publisher Dorling Kindersley had come to see Greenpeace about doing some kind of green encyclopaedia with their name on it. That didn’t fly but it led to a two book contract – for a picture book on Antarctica followed by an official history of Greenpeace. Both were very successful projects.

The Antarctic book was hairy. I started work in January 1987 and I think I had four months to conceptualise the book, find all the pictures and write all the text. At that time I knew very little about Antarctica – virtually nothing.

So began my education: at the library of the Scott Polar Research Institute, with the head librarian Bob Headland, and at the headquarters of the British Antarctic Survey. I was fortunate indeed to meet Charles Swithinbank, who was I believe the first career scientist to have spent his whole working life in the Arctic and Antarctic. His involvement certainly opened all the doors for me.

The book we produced, with a crack designer (Alex Arthur) and able producer (Jane Laing) at DK, and Ian Whitelaw and Tanya Seton at GP Books, looked really beautiful and was the first ever popular encyclopaedic work on Antarctica for the general public. It was published in large quantities and many languages around the world and was the biggest selling Antarctic book before David Attenborough’s ‘Life in the Freezer’ eclipsed our sales.

[Right]: Launch event in Covent Garden, London, on 28th April 1988. Left to right: Lord Peter Melchett (Chairman of Greenpeace UK), John May, Gudrun Gaudian (GP Antarctic scientist) and Christopher Davis (Publishing Director of Dorling Kindersley).

Now the majority of literature in the Antarctic is dominated by scientific papers and studies on the one hand and personal accounts of polar exploration on the other. The strangest of these is 'Alone' by Robert Peary, who set himself the task of doing something that no-one else had ever done before – live in a little hut on his own. He went bonkers of course and was rescued (I can’t remember the details).

I remember that book in particular because I’d just read it in the weeks before the great Hurricane hit Lewes in October 1987. Our little family was camped out in the front room with candles and the wind whipped and screamed around the house, cars outside were rocking as if in one of those scenes from Close Encounters, giant trees were being blown over, and for the first time I could imagine what being in a tent in Antarctica might be like.

Our book was innovative because we had some of the first available computer maps (crude indeed, printed on pen plotters) and published the first satellite pictures. We had some of the first underwater Antarctic shots and generally tried to make the book as scientifically up to date as we could. It included a history of Antarctic bases and exploration with a section on Greenpeace’s own campaigns in the region which, I believe, led in time to many beneficial developments, not least the continued independence of Antarctica under the Antarctic Treaty agreements.

How things have moved on. The digital revolution has transformed Antarctic studies. There are now detailed interactive Antarctic atlases. Climate change studies have accelerated in the region, tourism has become established, new dinosaur fossils have been found and there is a greater public awareness of this extraordinary continent due to Attenborough’s masterly series and other tv docs.

In addition, Robert Headland published his magisterial 'Chronological list of Antarctic expeditions and related historical events' (1st Edition, 1989/reprinted and updated 1993. Cambridge University Press).

Thus our book, now out of print but still available second-hand and still warmly recommended on many Antarctic booklists, can still be enjoyed for its photos - main contributors being Doug Allan, Colin Monteath and the legendary Eliot Porter - the beautiful wildlife illustrations of Martin Camm and much of its basic information but be aware that there have been spectacular scientific discoveries in the last 15 years.
Time for an update!

All of these memories were triggered by the discovery of The Big Dead Place. This is a dark inside view of the US McMurdo Base, the largest of the nation’s three outposts on the continent. The site is certainly a first in Antarctic history and gives a chilling picture of a contained and constantly monitored world which could have been written by Martin Cruz Smith and is rather frightening. The Antarctic Dream is over it seems.

UPDATES: See SebastiĆ£o Salgado's extraordinary Antarctic pictures here:

The Strange Angel

Now here’s a strange one. Like me, you have probably never heard of John Whiteside Parsons (1914-1952). Seems to have slipped out of the history books. Who was he ? The father of the space age and an acolyte of Aleister Crowley.

Briefly, the uneducated Parsons had deep knowledge of explosives and became a leading member of a gang known as the Suicide Squad, who began performing rocketry experiments, funded entirely from their own pockets, in an around Caltech in the 1930s, using junkyards to find spare parts.

When World War II arrived, the US military offered these maniacs funding and this strange gang of misfits evolved into the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), which manufactured the luinar and Mars landers and Voyager I and 2, and now employs 5,500 scientists on a budget of $1.4 billion.

It was Parsons work that produced stable rocket fuel that made the space age possible. But Parsons was equally interested in inner space and became a leading acolyte of the LA-based Crowley lodge, to whom he donated all his salary. This activism attracted the young pulp writer L. Ron Hubbard into his life, who took off with Jack’s girl and most of his money, supposedly for a business deal that never happened, and went on to found Scientology.

While working at Hughes Aircraft in the 40s, Parsons was stripped of his security clearance and almost prosecuted for passing classified papers to the Israelis, who was he hoping to get a rocketry gig from. He ended up doing small sfx for Hollywood movies and was killed in an explosion in his Pasadena backyard in 1952.

Appropriately, a crater on the darkside of the moon is named after him.

The full story is in a new book ‘Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons’ By George Pendle [Orion Books/Harcourt US}

This short account is drawn from Brian Doherty’s review: ‘The Magical Father of American Rocketry’ at Doherty is the author of another interesting book: 'This Is Burning Man'

Also out there is: 'Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons' by John Carter, with an intro by Robert Anton Wilson.

There is a host of references to Parsons on Google, which contain complete transcripts of his extensive writings on occult matters.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Nuclear vs Renewables

RMI: Co-gen and Renewables, Yes; Nuclear, No
25 June 2005

Countering the growing orthodoxy that a wide-spread resurgence in nuclear power is essential to address both energy needs and climate changes concerns, Rocky Mountain Institute co-founder and CEO Amory Lovins charges that not only do new nuclear plants deliver electricity at far higher cost than distributed co-generation and many renewables (not to mention plain end-use efficiency), but that co-generation and renewables have more installed capacity than nuclear, produce 92% as much electricity, and are growing 5.9 times faster and accelerating.

By the end of 2004, these decentralized, non-nuclear competitors’ global installed capacity totaled ~411 GW—12% more capacity than global nuclear plants’ 366 GW...Thus the “minor” alternative sources actually overtook nuclear’s global capacity in 2003, rivaled its 2004 and will match its 2005 output, and should exceed its 2010 output by 43%. They already dwarf its annual growth.

Green Car Congress

Mirage and Oasis
The cost of new nuclear power has been underestimated by almost a factor of three and the potential of small scale renewables critically overlooked according to 'Mirage and Oasis' a new report from nef (the new economics foundation).

Nuclear power has been promoted in the UK and globally as the answer to climate change and energy insecurity. But, as the report reveals, as a response to global warming, nuclear power is too slow, too expensive and too limited. And, in an age of terrorist threats, it is more of a security risk than a solution.

Instead, renewable energy offers as safe, secure and climate-friendly energy supply system. It leaves no toxic legacy and is abundant and cheap to harvest both in the UK and globally.

Renewable energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal could, in theory each individually meet all of the world’s energy needs. Practically, a broader combination of renewable energy sources than is currently utilized, tapped into with a range of micro, small, medium and large-scale technologies, and applied flexibly, could more than meet all of our needs. Better still, they have the ability to create new access to energy supplies for millions of people around the world who currently lack basics, such as lighting or the ability to cook without inhaling lethal indoor smoke.

“Without sustainable, reliable supplies of energy the world faces a future in which climate change and fuel shortages will combine with catastrophic results. The poorest and most vulnerable will suffer the worst. But a resurgence of interest in nuclear power, justified by voodoo economics, stands to hinder and potentially derail renewable energy,” says Andrew Simms, nef policy director and author of the report.

No Mobile: The Future of Call Boxes

I am one of the rare people left in Britain without a mobile.

The Vodafone press office told me that 'approximately 93% of the population per market penetration have a handset. Of those, a percentage have more than one mobile phone.'

According to WirelessWorld Forum: 'Christmas sales figures have brought the number of mobile phones currently in circulation in the UK to be greater than its population size! A total of 53 Million subscribers (PAYG and PAYM) were registered and active on UK networks O2, Orange, T-Mobile* and Vodafone as of 30th September 2004'

I became curious as to the future of call boxes. Had an informative chat with Les King in BT's Press Office, who told me the following:

There are currently 66,000 BT public pay phones in England, Scotland and Wales. Such has been the impact of the mobile that, he says, 'we have seen the number of calls made them halved and the revenue from them drop by 40%.

A programme to reduce the number of phone boxes began in April 2002 and is due to end by December 2005. Removing a telephone box involves BT in extensive consultations with local authorities, town and parish councils.

In order to make the numbers stack-up, BT are reinventing the traditional phone box in a number of ways:

- Cashless boxes from which youc an only make operator-controlled calls or emergency calls.

- BT already have 12,000 multimedia internet kiosks with full e-mail and texting facilities plus the pay phone. Some of these boxes and others have a mobile base station or a wi-fi connection in the top of the box.

- In S. Wales, they are testing out boxes that provide a video link to the local police.

- There are 20,000 new kiosks that carry advertising outside and inside.

- There are trialing 500 boxes that combine cash machines and pay phones.

- They are also conducting trials in the W. Midlands and later London, of boxes that have pay-phones on the outside and a vending machine inside

See also:

Mobiles Kill of More Phone Boxes

Save our iconic phone boxes plea

BT scraps plans to axe payphones

You can buy an original phone box from English Phone Boxes

Also of interest:

Are Mobile Phones Driving Down Teenage Smoking?

Star Wars: Memories of A Galaxy Far, Far Away

(Left): A picture of me with R2D2 on the set of the Bog Planet at Elstree Studios in London. I’m wearing my light green linen jacket with the pewter whale tail badge on my lapel, a white shirt, black trousers and a conspicuous new pair of Wellington boots. More of that anon. My left hand is tentatively touching R2D2. The set photographer told me at the time that I would remember this moment. So it has proved.

The time is summer 1979 and the scene is Elstree Studios. I am working on a licensed ‘news-stand special’ - ‘The Making of the Empire Strikes Back.’ - which has given me complete access to the Star Wars operation. I have already made one trip to Hollywood and am due to make another later in the year.

On this particular day I am picked up by limousine, something like a big old black Bentley and travel north of London in company with Carol Titelman, the head of Star Wars publishing.

She was most concerned about my footwear and insisted that we stop at a shoe shop in Elstree High Street. Hence the brand new Wellingtons - suitable for the Bog Planet.

Elstree Studios was a magic place where dreams are manufactured. If you think that sounds fanciful then you haven’t been to major film studio. They are awesome places when big productions are rolling, giant spaces containing strange worlds. And they don’t get much stranger than the Bog Planet.

Imagine a giant hangar disappearing into the distance. On the left-hand side is a wood – yes, what looks exactly like a real wood, with trees, undergrowth and moss on ground. I walked through it and in the middle, bizarrely, was a film technician on her break, sitting on a striped garden chair eating her sandwiches behind a tree.

In the centre of the set was a giant lake with a small beach and more trees behind it. Stretching into the distance on the right was a giant canvas painted with hazy sky effects. The whole ensemble was awesome.

The set was buzzing with scores of people busying themselves at their various tasks, preparing for the day’s shoot, which I believe was just to capture one specific scene – when Luke Skywalker is on the Bog Planet being instructed in the ways of the Force by Yoda, he tests his powers by lifting his crashed spacecraft from the lake by force of will.

The shot was the lifting of the spacecraft. A huge block and tackle device was being rigged up and for hour after hour, sweaty, burly men were hauling this thing out of the water. Time and again and again. In the final film the scene is no doubt reduced to seconds.

I stood contentedly in the background, drinking it all in. Then Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) arrived and I shook his hand and exchanged a few words.

At the time poster magazines were the big thing, selling in huge quantities. Felix Dennis had set up Bunch Books and a whole lot of us were working freelance for him on various projects. He had already made a small fortune out of Bruce Lee, publishing ‘Kung Fu Monthly’ which ran for years and years. Then came the movie tie-ins, the biggest and the best being Star Wars.

Now you have to bear in mind this was a different world then. There were no videos or DVDs. Film audiences had been falling in both the UK and the US in the mid-1970s and then suddenly this monstrous film ushered in a whole new era of special effects films that captured the imagination and brought audiences flocking back into the cinemas.

Star Wars was first released in Britain at two West End cinemas only on 27th December 1977. Mick Farren, Chris Rowley, myself and some others attended the first advance screening at the Dominion Theatre in Tottenham Court Road, one warm evening, on 2oth July. Went to another advance screening on 28th Sept. Here are the original tickets.

It was an awesome experience from the moment that first giant craft came into the screen and Darth Vader strode through the corridors. There were two old ladies behind us who were very confused by the whole thing. We were in the front row, half a dozen of us from the underground press/NME, including Mick Farren. At the end of the screening the entire audience stood up and applauded for all they were worth. Cinema moments don’t get much better than that.

We had been hired to produce ‘Star Wars Monthly’, which ran (I believe) from 1977-1979 and we began knocking out profiles of the main characters, articles on the science of Star Wars and anything else we could think of, to fill in the spaces between the pictures, which were the main reason for buying it.

Star Wars images were like gold-dust and their distribution was tightly controlled and monitored by I believe John Hillelson.. The mag itself sold well because, in a world without the internet, every piece of information about the film had to be sought out and was harder to find.

Fast forward to the end of 1978 and Felix Dennis gave me the job of doing the aforementioned 64pp newsstand special on the second film The Empire Strikes Back and sent me out to Hollywood to work on it and to collect more material for Star Wars Monthly.

We also then went on (I think) to produce four issues of an Empire Strikes Back poster magazine. I also have a copy of ‘The World of Star Wars’ – a compendium of articles from the two series.

[For collectors: There was a Japanese edition of the original Star Wars magazine. I only have Issue 1 but there may have been more or not. I am missing Issues 1, 8 and 16 of SW Monthly if anyone has copies available. (I think we produced 18 in total).

There was also published a Marvel Comics ‘Official Collectors Edition’ on Star Wars and a ‘Screen Superstar Special Expanded Ediition: Star Wars – The Full Story,’ produced in London for Paradise Press in the US. I have these in my collection.

I have a copy of ‘The Star Wars Sketchbook’ by Joe Johnston [1977] and a very battered copy of ‘The Art of Star Wars’, edited by Carol Titelman [Ballantine Books. 1979]

I also have the rarest Star Wars poster – that of a concert of the music from Star Wars by John Williams – and also the rare ‘moving card’ featuring a wonderful painting by Ralph McQuarrie (1980)], both of which were given to me when I went to Hollywood.]

I am not going to go into all the details of my two trips to Hollywood. Suffice it to say I had never been on a plane before, I was 28 and I was heading for Hollywood. It doesn’t get much more exciting than that. For both trips, I stayed with my friend Barry in his apartment in the hills (6100 Primrose Avenue) above Hollywood Boulevard, just near the round Capitol Tower. Here are his shoes.

I left the UK for the first trip on January 17th and stayed until the 25th. Following the success of the first film, Lucasfilm began building a new HQ in LA opposite the Universal Studios lot. But when I first went there in January, they were operating out of portacabins. I was working with a girl called Valerie. I remember interviewing a comic artist Russ Manning who was doing the syndicated ‘Star Wars’ comic strips but not much else at the moment.

The second trip I flew over on Laker with the cartoonist Edward Barker on October 10/11th. By this time the Star Wars HQ was completed. A kind of hybrid between a Roman villa and a corporate HQ, with a tiled atrium with plants and statues and a staff of about 20. Every day I’d travel there by taxi from the Hollywood flat and work in a small windowless office. They gave me, under high security, a copy of the script, from which I constructed a short-form version of the story of the film, for potential publication in our mag. As it turned out, this was a waste of time because we didn’t use any of it in the end as the film changed so much during the course of production.

At some point, I travelled north to San Francisco by train where I met George Lucas for the first time in a milk bar in Modesto ( I believe), a small town north of SF in which Lucas owned many properties. He was dressed as usual in check shirt, jeans and Converse-type shoes, was friendly and took me round to one of the houses – a tiny little terraced house. We went through the narrow front hall and turned the corner into the front room where I got the shock of my life. There was a giant screen, lots of equipment and several people actually editing The Empire Strikes Back. Another real gee-whiz moment. Later we wandered up to a string of cottages set amongst trees where some of the major people were staying and I met Irvin Kershner, the director, and conducted an interview with him.

I think that first day I stayed at the Corte Madera Inn before moving in with a friend of a friend who lived nearby in an amazing house on top of a hill at 51 Hillcrest Crescent, San Anselmo - the legendary and sadly now deceased cartoonist. Dave Sheridan who, amongst other things, worked with Gilbert Shelton on ‘The Furry Freak Brothers.’

A few days later, I went down to San Rafael to Industrial Light and Magic (3160 Kerner Blvd) definitely the highlight of the trip. It was located at the time in an anonymous warehouse on the edge of this small town. I remember meeting Brian Johnson, the British guy who was in charge of SFX for the film. His desk was covered in books about stunts, dynamiting things etc.

I will, try and picture the place for you. There was a small reception area, with the big cut-out magician of Lucasfilm logo and a schemata drawing for what would become Skywalker Ranch on the wall. From there I was led into this large space which was the heart of the operation. At one end was the blue screen against which many scenes were shot. In the centre was the computer-controlled camera. To the right, in the bay, was the cannibalised Vistavision equipment used for optical printing. Vistavision was by that time an outdated system that had been picked up by the original Star Wars SFX supreme John Dykstra because it has the advantage of a large frame area, allowing plenty of space to ‘matte in’ loads of separate effects on one frame – each effect being added, one pass at a time, through the optical printer. They also built two Vistavision cameras.

I remember being shown the small rectangle of velvet with little fibre optic cables coming out of that was the universe in most of the deep space shots in the film. In another area the model makers were at work on the AT-AT Walkers.

Upstairs was a very tiny computer room with one computer in it and one bearded guy in charge of it. Further down on the first floor was a giant room entirely filled with plastic models kits, that the spaceship builders would cannibalise for parts for their own creations.

Here I met Joe Johnston, in a room where the entire final attack on the Death Star was storyboarded in a series of drawings on the pinboard behind him. I had never seen anything like that.

I conducted a number of major interviews (all except Kurtz on the 22nd October, 1979) for which I have the original tapes:

Gary Kurtz: Producer on ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Empire.’ (Interview: 20th October)

Richard Edlund: Edlund was the First Cameraman on the Miniature and Optical Effects Unit on ‘Star Wars,’ the Special Visual Effects Director on ‘Empire’ and the Visual Effects director on ‘Jedi’.

Irwin Kershner: Director

Ralph McQuarrie: Was the Production Illustrator and Planet and Satellite artist on ‘Star Wars’, the Design Consultant, Conceptual Artist and Matte Artist on ‘Empire’ and Conceptual Artist on ‘Jedi.’ I had the privilege of talking to Ralph while he was actually doing a matte painting on a giant sheet of glass with a brush that only had about six hairs in it.

Joe Johnston: Johnston began on ‘Star Wars’ as effects illustrator and designer: miniature and optical effects unit and then worked as Art Director: Visual Effects on both ‘Empire’, ‘Return of the Jedi’ and ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. He also did the Effects Illustration and Design on ‘Battlestar Galactica.’He went on to direct ‘Honey I Shrunk The Kids’, The Rocketeer’, ‘Jumanjii’, ‘Jurassic Park III’ and, most recently, ‘Hidalgo.’

Brian Johnson: He was the SFX director on both ‘Alien’ and ‘Empire’, winning an Oscar for each.

Dennis Muren: Muren was the Second cameraman: miniature and optical effect unit on ‘Star Wars’, and the Visual Effects Director on ‘Jedi’. He was the Visual Effects director on the three most recent ‘Star Wars’ films.

I travelled back to Los Angeles on the 24th and finally conducted a detailed interview with George Lucas himself. (30th October) at the Los Angeles HQ. I flew home on Nov 1st.

'The Empire Strikes Back ' was released on May 21, 1980

Out and About

Madness at Bedgebury Pinetum: Never having seen the Nutty Boys before, I was curious. What a show! 5,000 of us doing silly dances. Lots of men in fezs and kids wearing shades and little black trilbys. Suggs and the lads are master showmen with a natural rapport with the crowd. Hearing their songbook live reminds you what beautiful songs they are. A joyous time was had by all.

Taj Mahal, Brighton Dome: Preceded by an African acoustic quartet (featuring the Malian guitarist Idrissa Sournaoro), Taj was playing in his long-standing trio (with Bill Rich on bass and Kester Smith on drums), and treated us to a wide selection of his back catalogue – blues that whined and whistled and touched your heart plus Caribbean and African-inspired joyful tunes. He plays like a demon and has a voice that soothes and dances or growls and barks. He’s a big man wearing a big black hat. By the end of the show, the back of his shirt was soaked in sweat.
See Robin Denslow’s article ‘Blues Traveller’ for the back story.

Sly & Robbie, Brighton Corn Exchange: Arguably the most famous rhythm section in the world (known in Jamaica as The Riddim Twins) strut their stuff, backed up Taxi Gang fronted by trombone player and part-time vocalist Nambo Robinson - to be joined later in the show by Bunny Rugs of Third World fame. Sly hides behind his tooled-up kit, driving the show along, his miked-up drums thundering, snapping and cracking, doubling or trebling the tempo and then, on the turn of a dime, bringing it back to the main beat. Robbie, a towering figure dressed largely in black, pumps out a wall of sound that hits your whole body and internal organs and shakes them around. Impressive and essential to dance to in the summer heat, two feet from the stage, in an under-attended treat.

Patti Smith Meltdown: US-UK Folk Connections, Royal Festival Hall: An extraordinary bill of fare, selected by Lenny Kaye, long-time Patti Smith collaborator. He began the show with ‘Barbara Allen’ and Donovan’s ‘Catch The Wind’ and then duetted with Martin Stephenson from The Dainties who also did a couple of solo numbers. Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band and his wife Bina played a mixture of old English, Caribbean and Hindu folk songs – all in the same verse it seemed; Bert Jansch soloed, played with Beth Orton and then Johnny Marr (formerly of The Smiths), who then closed the first half with a set from his band The Healers.

Shirley Collins introduced both halves of the show with a pithy history of the bloodlines of US-UK folk, recalling how Cecil Sharp, the English folklorist and gone the Appalachians to trace the fate of the old folk tradition in the New World and Alan Lomax had come to England to do the same thing here.

Then we had Patti Smith, singing two old Joan Baez songs with Lenny Kaye. She forgot the words or chords on both of them. It didn’t matter. Her extraordinary voice is the strongest I have ever heard from a woman.

Then came Gruff Rhys from the Super Furry Animals with a girl from his home town of Bethesda and they did a song by a Welshman, in Welsh. He said it was a song that was usually accompanied by the stomping of hobnailed boots. He then went off the stage and found one boot that approximated a hobnailed and came back and did the number while stamping his booted foot.

Next came Robyn Hitchcock, dressed in the best paisley shirt of the evening and purple trousers, did three marvellous numbers accompanied by John Paul Jones from Led Zep, on mandolin and mandolin cello. Reminds me of Peter Cooke – lofty, imposing and with a powerful style and wit all of his own and a lordly voice to boot.

Then came Johnny Marr with Neil Finn (formerly of Crowded House) who sang ‘The Wild Mountain Thyme’ and made us do it too. He has a marvellous voice.

Finally the legendary Roy Harper, whose voice if anything outshone all the others, soaring and roaming and pounding out of the speakers. He recalled how he’d lived in a red light district and sat in his red lit bedroom listening to Miles Davis. How he’d read Keats and Shelley but really first got inspired when he discovered Jack Kerouac and the Beats some 35 years ago. He then talked about Duke Ellington and ‘Mood Indigo’ which has no major keys. And then sang a song himself which he’d also composed with no majors. He then recited from memory a poem about human perception and the planet, about recognising the Reaper in yourself.

We had to leave to get the train home mid-set. There may have been a lot more. An impressive and thought-provoking night.

Meantime at the Movies:

Hitchhiker’s Guide: How could they have got Marvin so wrong – a major flaw. Apart from that, amiable and suffused with Douglas Adams’ delightful humour. The Vogons are brilliant.

Sin City: Without doubt the most successful merger of the graphic novel and the feature film. Rodriguez is a multimedia master. Shot in black and white, this nouveau noir thriller looks like it’s drawn in ink. Key elements in the frame are highlighted in colour. It’s so damn effective, refreshing and powerful. This is a very violent film. Mickey Rourke is awesome – perhaps his greatest performance ever and so symbolic of Rourke’s own Dantean journey. Brilliant.

Batman: Christopher Nolan never quite manages to inject the final dose of magic that would lift the film to Matrix heaven.Mammoth resources mean you feel like you’re watching World War III. The stylised violence palls. Some stunning moments but a hammy performance from Michael Caine. Tim Burton always was a hard act to follow.

On the Turntable:
‘There’s A Riot Going On’ – Sly & The Family Stone
‘Black President’ - Fela Kuti

Monday, June 27, 2005

Eno on Air Travel

‘I have a theory about air travel, by the way. I think we’ve reached the peak of air travel and that it will go into decline for three reasons.

One is that it will become associated with the spread of diseases people will be unwilling to expose themselves to just to go on holiday. People will either drive somewhere or they’ll stay home.

Two, there will be a few more spectacular terrorist incidents, and we all remember the effect that had on air travel last time.

Three, sooner or later governments are going to have to tackle the fact that air travel is the hugest producer of pollutants we have. There’s been a big debate going on in England about a wind farm they’re thinking of building in the north of the country, and the argument for it is that it would prevent 250,000 tons of pollutants going into the air per year.

That sounds good until you realise that one plane doing a London to Miami route for a year releases half a million tons of pollutants into the atmosphere per year.’

Read the full interview with ‘Eno: Tomorrow’s Perfect Optimist’ by Kristine McKenna in the latest edition of Arthur.

By 2020, the world aircraft fleet is expected to double in size.

While the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions fell by 3% between 1990 and 2002, carbon dioxide emissions from international aviation increased by almost 70%

In 2002, CO2 from international aviation amounted to about 12% of total national transport emissions. But the full impact is far greater.

Aircraft emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) form ozone when emitted at cruise altitudes. They trigger the formation of condensation trails and cirrus clouds, which also add to global warming.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1999, estimated the total impact of aviation to be two or four times greater than from its CO2 emissions alone.

To put the problem into perspective, a return flight for every two passengers from London to New York produces about as much CO2 as an average European domestic car does in a whole year.

Environment for Europeans [EC. No 20. June 2005]

The number of passengers passing through UK airports is predicted to rise from 180 million to 480 million a year by 2030, and it’s hard to square that with the aim of cutting our carbon emissions by 60% by 2050 – even allowing for incremental improvements in aircraft efficiency, tighter routing patterns and so on.

Green Futures Special Briefing. May/June 2005

'Concerns about climate change were nothing to do with him. He proudly declared that Ryanair intended to increase its emissions of carbon dioxide, adding that if his customers were worried about the environment, his advice was straight-forward: "Sell your car and walk."
Michael O'Leary, owner of Ryanair. The Guardian profile (24.6.05)

Friday, June 24, 2005

Degree Confluence

There's a fascinating new game afoot: See The Confluence Project

The goal of the project is to visit each of the latitude and longitude integer degree intersections in the world, and to take pictures at each location.

See also:

Mnay thanks to 'The Generalist' correspondent Jon Trux

Thursday, June 23, 2005

W illiam Burroughs & T.S. Eliot Fighting in the Captain's Tower

'The Generalist' is all about connectivity, so when I was in my kitchen listening to Radio 4 and heard Prof. Lawrence Rainey talking about how he had called the FBI in to help him crack the case of how T.S. Eliot had written 'The Waste Land' I got quite excited. If you're quick you can still listen to it on Radio 4's website: . Click on Wednesday.

Prof. Rainey spent two years travelling acros the US and Europe to sort out the sequence in which Eliot had written the poem. See:,3858,5220786-108233,00.html
He argues in his book 'Revisiting 'The Waste Land' [Yale University Press] that Eliot did not follow a plan in his composition but stitched together more than 50 drafts. 'The Waste Land', he says, was not seamless whole, but somethimg more radical.

I immediately dropped him a line asking him if he knew of the Burroughs connection (see previous posting in which Burroughs said: ' I was very impressed with 'The Waste Land.' He was a very, very great poet and that, in a sense, was an early cut-up, very successful. I never met him personally.')

Prof. Rainey replied: 'I hadn't known of the connection, but I think Burroughs is right on target. Early admirers of the poem, hoping to forestall the charge that it was incoherent, sought to portray it as a narrative, a modernized Grail legend. But it wasn't. The "Waste Land" doesn't have a narrative; instead it has the scent of a narrative, as discernible as the perfume of a woman who has left the room.'

If you read of the story of how 'The Naked Lunch' was pieced together by Allen Ginsberg you will see there is a strong connection. Both writers, incidentally, hail from St. Louis.

Also fascinating is Pro Rainey's current research into 'Office Politics: the Secretary in Film and Fiction, 1840-1940 (America, Britain, France, and Germany). See:
Again there is a connection here: Burroughs' grandfather was the inventor of the adding machine.

Larry Collins RIP and The Fifth Horseman

Author Larry Collins recently died (June 20th) of a brain haemorrhage and it reminded me that I had interviewed him in London back in October 1981 and written a piece which was published in Time Out magazine. Here it is with updates, revisions and links. It makes interesting reading. For Gaddafi read Saddam Hussein.

In the last month since Sadat’s assassination, world attention has once again focused on the Middle East in general and on the activities of Colonel Gaddafi in particular, whose volatile public statements and actions have once again confirmed his reputation in the West as a madman, a zealot and a troublemaker.

Coincidentally, he is also featured as the central character in ‘The Fifth Horseman’, a factional drama in which Gaddafi blackmails America with a nuclear device planted in New York City, threatening to explode it within 63 hours unless the U.S. forces Israel to return the Palestinian homelands.

It’s a remarkable work of ‘research fiction’, another product of a 15-year writing partnership between American Larry Collins (50) and Frenchman Dominique Lapierre (48), who already have a string of best-selling ‘faction’ books behind them - ‘Is Paris Burning?’ (1965),on the liberation of Paris in World War II, ‘Or I’ll Dress You in Morning’ (1967), about Spain and the bullfighter El Cordobes, ‘O, Jerusalem!’ (1972) about the rebirth of Israel as Jewish state and ‘Freedom at Midnight’ (1975) about the events surrounding India’s independence. [Ed: They subsequently wrote 'Mountbatten and the Partition of India' (1982) and 'Is New York Burning' (2004). Collins's first solo effort was a thriller, 'Fall From Grace" (1985) followed by 'Maze: A Novel' (1989) and 'Black Eagles' (1995).

They both live in St. Tropez and work by writing separate chapters in their own native languages and then passing it to the other to translate. Their books are published simultaneously in French and English in sixteen different countries.

They met at the HQ of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Paris in 1954 when they were both soldiers. Collins, a graduate of Yale, worked in the ad department of Proctor & Gamble before he joined United Press International and was assigned to its Paris bureau in 1956. He then reported from Rome and from Beirut before being named chief of the agency’s Middle East bureau in 1957. In 1959, he moved to Newsweek as Middle East editor in New York. He was Newsweek’s Paris bureau chief from 1961 to 1964, when he quit topical journalism to write full-time with Lapierre

Lapierre's first taste of fame came when he was 17 years old. He left Paris with US$30, worked aboard a ship, disembarked in the United States and managed a 30,000-mile jaunt around North America. This adventure led to Lapierre's first best-selling book 'A Dollar for a Thousand Miles'.

All their work is based on in-depth research using the techniques of journalists and historians. ‘The Fifth Horseman’ is a controversial departure from their previous work as it uses the techniques of journalism and historical research to recreate, with great exactitude, an event that has never taken place.

To write the book the authors spent £175,000 and three years of their time, travelling some 100,000 miles to get their facts. Written in absolute secrecy because of the controversial nature of the book, the manuscript was codenamed ‘Valentino’ and, out of the fifteen countries where the book was due to be published, only Michael Korda, their American editor at Simon & Schuster, knew the true subject of the book.

They visited Israel’s secret nuclear bases, interviewed Menachem Begin and reveal in the book that, in October 1973, Golda Meir almost used them to repel a Syrian attack. As a result the Soviets responded by rushing a shipload of nuclear warheads from their Black Sea base, the CIA detected this and Nixon put the US forces on global alert.

Lapierre interviewed the Japanese Red Army terrorist Kozo Okamoto in his prison cell in Israel [where he was imprisoned for his part in a terrorist attack at Lod airport on May 30th, 1972]. Leading him to the cell, Okamoto’s jailer warned him that the Japanese knew a karate chop that could kill a man with the flick of a hand.Then he proceeded to leave him alone with him while he went out for coffee.’

In the underground command centre of the National Warning System, buried far below a cow pasture in Olney, Maryland, they discovered the existence of a huge computer on which had been programmed a profile of Armageddon - an analysis of what would happen to every major population centre in the US in the event of a nuclear explosion. Controlled by the Department of Civil Preparedness at the Pentagon, they asked the computer for a read-out on what would happen to New York in the event of a nuclear blast.

They visited the emergency shelters built 20 years ago in New York, only to discover their rations had been looted and many had been sent to Managua to relieve earthquake victims in 1972. Those who ate them got sick.

They interviewed Frank Bolz, chief hostage negotiator for the New York City police and Henrick Jagerman, a Dutch psychiatrist who has earned the nickname Dr Terrorism for his theories on the subject.

They say: ‘We spent hours with him discussing the techniques which he has developed over the years. We brought to him all the material that we had gathered on Gaddafi himself then, together with him, constructed line by line, play by play,.an analysis of how we would counsel the President of the US to deal with Gadaffi in this situation.’

They spoke to nuclear scientists at Los Alamos and agents from the CIA, the Israel secret service Mossad, and the French secret service SDECE.

I spoke to Larry Collins, in London to promote the book, a tall, wiry energetic expatriate American who has picked up the French habit of gesticulating to emphasise his points. He wears fashionable wide-rimmed glasses, wears a red-ribbed sweater, yellow shirt, black shoes and short socks. He puts his feet up on the desk and sips coffee while we talk.

One of the most interesting features of the book is that most of the characters are real people. Why was this ?

“Because we wanted this book to be absolutely credible. We wanted the reader to believe that he is witnessing something happen. We wanted to show how real people would respond.” There are exceptions – the Mayor of New York is fictional, based on their super-agent Swifty Lazar.

The identity of the President also went through major changes in the course of writing the book. It began as Jimmy Carter but in August 1979, Collins spent some time with his friend Teddy Kennedy on a little island off Maine and the President suddenly acquired “blue eyes and a lilt of Irish laughter.” Later, Carter was rescued from the wastepaper basket only to be replaced in the paperback of the book by the jelly beans and western gear of the Reagan White House.

So why had they chosen Gaddafi for their central character?

“Gaddafi appealed to us for a very simple reason. He had never disguised the fact that he wanted to be the first Arab to get nuclear weapons. He sent his Prime Minister out to Peking on his first State visit to Chou En Lai and he said ‘We’d like to buy a few atomic bombs.’ Chou En Lai, the old wise man, sort of smiled and said ‘They happen to be items that are not for sale in general commerce.’

“Gaddafi has what he sincerely and deeply and intently believes to be a real grudge against civilisation in general, that is the society of nations at large, who have ignored the injustice he feels has been done to his Palestinian brothers.

The authors did a lot of research to make their character accurate. “We read every scrap of paper we could find on Gaddafi. Everything that he’d written, all of his press conferences, press interviews, some of his famous Green Book. We found at least a dozen people, ten of them Libyans and two Europeans, who had been at one time or other, intimately close to him, and we interviewed them in depth.

The book reveals that, in December 1976, Gaddafi flew to Moscow and met with Gianni Agnelli, the head of Fiat, the largest industrial concern in Italy. The story goes that Gadffi had already bought 10% of the company’s shares for $415 million and he proposed to buy more and make large funds available to Fiat, if Agnelli would convert part of his company, with Soviet help, into an advanced weapons industry, including nuclear research and development.”

How had Collins found out about that ? “I got it originally from a journalist friend of mine at The Economist, who publish an Intelligence Newsletter. They had some glimmerings of it. I had a friend, since dead, an American who had once worked for the United Press and had become a very, very successful business man inside the Soviet Union. He had a friend on his board who was also on the board of Fiat. My friend told me some things that we didn’t use finally, like the fact that Agnelli went on someone else’s passport.

“Gaddafi still owns a substantial holding in Fiat for which he paid something like three times what was then the market price for the shares. Normally if you buy a big block of shares you would pay ten per cent under the market.”

The book also reveals the existence of CIA psychiatric studies on world leaders, a tactic pioneered by the British on Hitler in World War II. Collins met the ex-CIA psychiatrist who had set it all up.

“It was a boiling hot day and his office was just frigid with air conditioning. Glaring Washingtonian light outside but everything is dark inside, with all the double curtains pulled down. Except for this kind of spotlight halo thing under which he was sitting.

“He was not only bald but I think he probably shaved his head. He had these thin horn-rimmed glasses and he sat there under this light. He said what was extraordinary for a psychiatrist was that you had all the vast resources of this agency at your disposal. The ordinary psychiatrist, sitting in his office, really had to improvise, become a bit player.

“For example, it’s very important to know how a man behaves sexually in certain circumstances. They had actually sent an agent to Cuba to find a whore who had been a rather constant companion of Castro in his days at Havana University. Amazing and apparently of some value.

“He said that he had also done the profile on Kruschev and he claimed that it had played a very important role in the Kennedy/Kruschev negotiations during the Cuban Missile crisis but what he wouldn’t tell me was the character thing he played on.

“What was interesting in the case of the Gaddafi profile was that the initial report had come to the conclusion that he was a paranoiac. One psychiatrist prepared the material and then it was submitted to a board of three or four who evaluated it. It was rejected and then given to someone else who did another one. Their conclusion was that Gaddafi was perfectly sane and, indeed, very clever and very shrewd but he should be judged very carefully in the context of his own society’s values.”

The book also claims that Gaddafi had tried to assassinate Sadat twice in the 1970s and that he is behind a large number of the terrorist groups in Europe,. Wasn’t that overstating it a bit ?

“I’ve got no doubt that Gaddafi is behind an enormous amount of international terrorism and has chosen this an as an effective vehicle for expressing his sentiments. We have the famous story, documented by Cy Hersh of the New York Times, of the CIA man who has gone to work for him and who was using his old CIA contacts and CIA suppliers to get detonating devices which are only effective for terrorist kind of bombs. This all came out after we did the book.”

But perhaps the most disturbing fact of all that ‘The Fourth Horseman’ touches on, is the fact that there have been fifty threats of nuclear blackmail in the US during the 1970s. The first was in Boston in 1974. It recieves a brief mention in the book. Here, for the first time in the British press, is a fuller version of the story.

“I met a guy who was on the National Security Council (NSC) and we were talking one day in the Hilton Hotel. You know how it is when you’re a journalist. You pretend you know more than you do and that’s how you get more.

“We were talking about what mechanisms do we have to respond to the threat of a nuclear attack. He said: ‘Well, you know when we had that goddam Boston incident in 1974, we found out that we were very badly prepared.’ I indicated that I knew something but wanted to flesh it out so then he described the whole thing.

“The details are this. The police chief of Boston received a threat from a very small splinter group of Palestinians and they took it to the FBI. They asked for a fairly large sum of money – a quarter of a million dollars, I think – airplane tickets and the release of some of their people who were in jail in Jerusalem. They asked to have this planted at a certain place in a suburb of Boston near MIT and they accompanied this threat with a design.

“What really got people shook up was that they sent the design out to Los Alamos and the people out there said this is viable. If this machine exists it will detonate and it would yield something in the order of two or three kilotons, which is not a huge explosion but you wouldn’t want to be near it.

“There had been some initial work on what became the Nuclear Explosive Search Teams (NEST) so they called the guy who had been doing the work and said go to Rome Air Force base, which is near Yudock in New York State, so they could keep it a secret

“He rounded up the people he knew and whatever equipment he could get, which was flown by military transport while they went commercial. There was an absolute cock-up because United Airlines lost all their baggage and there was a plane standing by to fly them up to Boston and they didn’t know it. So the thirty of them arrived at JFK and they chartered a bus in the middle of the night. It’s a long drive – four or five hours

“Eventually they got up, got a briefing and got some postal vans which they were gonna use to put their equipment in and of course they found all kinds of problems. Inevitably they’d forgotten things that they needed. When they began to map out how they were going to do it, they realised that, out there in the real world, it is so much different from the theory.

“In the meantime, the police went through the drill that had been set out for them in the ransom note. Of course people were going absolutely ape-shit at the White House because they said ‘Maybe we should think about trying to evacuate.’ But they didn’t know where in Boston it was. There was a lot of anger, agony and anguish.

Finally, they put the money up, nobody showed and thy concluded it was a hoax, which no doubt it was, and it was swept under the table. Ford was so furious that the response hade been so ad hoc, so chaotic and so confused that he said ‘We’ve got to get together and do some serious planning. That’s how a lot of things evolved.

Collins, who is a Middle East expert, has this view on the current situation. “In the book – this also corresponds to my personal feelings – Begin is a kind of counterweight to Gaddafi. They’re both fanatics, each in his own way, and the world is caught between the poles of these two fanaticisms which are incapable of compromising.”

Gaddafi was asked by a Time magazine reporter whether he had read the book. He said “Yes, but I mock such ridiculous fiction.”



Current-day nuclear terrorism

Nuclear Terrorism: How to Prevent It

U.S.-Russia Pact Aimed at Nuclear Terrorism: Bush, Putin to Announce Plan to Counter Threat
By Peter Baker and Walter Pincus Washington Post Staff Writers ( February 24, 2005)

U.S. Called Unprepared for Nuclear Terrorism by John Mintz
[Washington Post. May 5th, 2005)

Nuclear terrorism realities
(Washington Times)

In NUCLEAR TERRORISM: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe (Times Books / an imprint of Henry Holt & Co.; August 9, 2004), Graham Allison, founding dean of Harvard’s modern John F. Kennedy School of Government, a former top Pentagon official, and one of America’s leading scholars of nuclear strategy and national security, gives us an urgent call to action. He makes the case that nuclear terrorism is inevitable—if we continue on our present course—and he sets out an ambitious but achievable plan for preventing a catastrophic attack before it’s too late.

Nuclear Plant Terrorism: Securing Reactors from Sabotage and Terrorism
Three Mile Island Alert

Tulip Tree in Southover Grange, Lewes (2003).
Photo by Edward Parker Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Tree News

The new issue of my magazine Tree News is out and about. Published twice a year, this National Geo of the tree world is owned by the Tree Council and has been personally funded for the last five years by Felix Dennis. It is the world's first ever newstand magazine on the subject. Availability is still limited but try your local Borders, Smith's or other newsagents and if they haven't got it holler and tell them they can order it from Seymours. Further sub details etc at

Here is the latest Editorial


Events got deep down and personal when our local council decided to fell possibly the most important tree in our town. In this issue we are publishing our account of what it took to save one tulip tree as an encouragement to tree campaigners around the country to make a difference.

Every week, in towns and cities all over Britain, mature trees are being felled unnecessarily for short-term planning gains, through incompetence, as a result of some misguided restoration scheme, or due to fears over health and safety. Don’t let this happen in your town or neighbourhood. Keep on eye on your local trees – or lose them.

The importance of our urban trees is underlined by the findings of tree hunter Owen Johnson, who discovered a wealth of unrecorded champion trees on an extensive trip round Britain.

The echoes of the tsunami continue to reverberate around the world and trees can help avert the effects of similar disasters in the future. Climate change continues to grab the headlines and trees will be affected. Whether they also provide solutions through carbon sequestration is another matter.

Closer to home, we spotlight the terrible devastation of our traditional orchards but show how many of the survivors are being revitalised through community effort and individual enterprise.

The unusual art and science of arborsculpture – the shaping and grafting of trees in an unsual and artistic manner – caught our eye as did the story of the discovery of that living fossil the Wollemi pine and the extraordinary flora of Soqotra, the Galapagos Islands of the plant world.

Act local, think global and enjoy the issue.

Also includes exclusive interview with Bill Bryson plus articles from Thomas Pakenham and Oliver Rackham.

Spread the word

Adventures In Hyper-Reality (1): by Peter Culshaw

Here's a story I was so inspired by I wrote a song about it -

ARKANSAS CITY (EAP) -- A Little Rock woman was killed yesterday after leaping through her moving car's sunroof during an incident best described as a "mistaken rapture" by dozens of eye-witnesses.

Thirteen other people were injured after a twenty-car pile-up resulted from people trying to avoid hitting the woman, who was apparently convinced the rapture was occurring when she saw twelve people floating up into the air, and then passed a man on the side of the road who she believed was Jesus.

"She started screaming `He´s back! He´s back!´ and climbed out through the sunroof and jumped off the roof of the car," said Everet Williams, husband of 28-year-old Georgann Williams who was pronounced dead at the scene. "I was slowing down but she wouldn't wait till I stopped," Williams said. "She thought the rapture was happening and was convinced that Jesus was gonna lift her up into the sky," he went on to say.

"This is the strangest thing I've seen since I've been on the force," said Paul Madison, first officer on the scene. Madison questioned the man who looked like Jesus anddiscovered that he was on his way to a toga costume party, when the tarp covering the bed of his pickup truck came loose and released twelve blow-up sex dolls
filled with helium, which then floated up into the sky.

Ernie Jenkins, 32, of Fort Smith, who's been told by several of his friends that he looks like Jesus, pulled over and lifted his arms into the air in frustration and said "Come back," just as the Williams' car passed him, and Mrs. Williams was sure that it was Jesus lifting people up into heaven as they drove by him. "I think my wife loved Jesus more than she loved me," the widower said when asked why his wife would do such a thing. When asked for comments about the twelve sex dolls, Jenkins replied, "This is all just too weird for me. I never expected anything like this to happen."

'And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music' - Friederich Nietzsche (1844-1900)


She thought she saw Jesus by the highway
But it was just another guy in fancy dress
Sometimes you really should get a second opinion
Sometimes a cowboy is really an indian

He said: Come Back Come Back
She thought it was the Rapture, the Rapture

She saw the figures float in the sky
Towards the light shining a mile up
She said "He's back" and jumped through her sun-roof of her car
And caused a twenty car highway pile-up

He said: Come Back Come Back
She thought it was the Rapture, the Rapture

She thought they were the Redeemed
But things were not what they seemed
They were plastic fantastic blow-up dolls
For lonely guys to play when the girlfriends away

He said Come Back Come Back
She thought it was the Rapture, The Rapture

Her husband didn't seem too surprised
Said - she always loved Jesus more than me
But the moral of the story is clear
If you don't get it it will cost you dear
Sometimes things just aint what they seem
And if you see the Lord tonight you might feel the fear
But bear in mind this lady's story
It's probably a just a guy on the way to a party

He said Come Back Come Back
She thought it was the Rapture the Rapture
And those who were seen dancing
were thought insane
By those who could not hear the music


Buy you're Lock n load Jesus mug, and Jesus Starter kit here

Tuesday, June 21, 2005



Bull House in Lewes, where Tom Paine lived from 1768 to 1773.
Now owned by The Sussex Archaeological Society, the building has been substantially
refurbished in the last year in preparation for the bicentenary of Paine' death in June 2009

What follows is an account of Tom Paine in Lewes and the various projects I was involved in that led to the resurrection of his memory in the town and further abroad.

Born on the 29th January, 1737, the son of a corset maker in Thetford, Paine lived in Lewes whilst working as an Excise man (his first piece of political writing was a demand for increased wages), before meeting Ben Franklin in London and heading for America. Here he got involved in revolutionary activity and wrote the seminal book ‘Common Sense’ which was a major catalyst in the decision that the colonists made to declare war on England. It is said that he also had a hand in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.

When he returned to England he produced ‘The Rights of Man’. As a result was vilified by the repressive Pitt government (he was burnt in effigy in place of Guy Fawkes for a number of years) and only narrowly escaped arrest before escaping to France. Initially he was hailed a revolutionary hero but when he spoke out against the decision to execute the French king he ended up in prison and narrowly avoided the guillotine himself. After languishing there for a number of years, he was eventually rescued and went back to America but by then he had become a forgotten man and died in poverty.

The radical William Cobbett went to America, dug up his bones and brought them back to England, where he planned to raise the money for a proper memorial. This never came about and Paine’s bones were scattered. Thus he was never laid to rest and his spirit is still abroad, an inspiration to radicals and writers of all ages.

‘Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built upon the ruins of the bowers of paradise.’

I knew nothing about Tom Paine before coming to live in Lewes in 1985. Shortly after my arrival, I saw in the nearby bookshop a Local Author promotion of a biography called ‘Tom Paine: The Greatest Exile’ [Croom Helm. London. 1985] by David Powell, which is still one of my favourite books. I was so impressed by David's book that I got in touch with him and thus began a friendship that lasts to this day. At that time in Lewes, Paine’s memory had been virtually forgotten.

While Paine was in Lewes, he was a member of a debating group called The Headstrong Club, which met regularly in an upstairs room at The White Hart, and David told me he had been trying for a number of years to revive it. I agreed to help him do that and, in very short order, the Club was re-launched on the 30th January, 1987,on the 250th anniversary of his birth, in the same room where the members had originally met.

The opening speech was given by Bernard Crick, biographer of
George Orwell. David McTaggart, chairman of Greenpeace
International, who was the first guest to arrive that night [Greenpeace had their international HQ in Lewes for many years] and I remember his comment in the Visitor’s Book: ‘Just get on with it.’ I swear the spirit of Paine was in the room that night, such was the atmosphere.

The Club continues to thrive and has had many distinguished speakers over the years including Michael Foot, Tony Benn, Trevor Griffiths, Jack Shepherd and many others.

Other Paine spin-offs that resulted from the formation of the club were:

- the planting of a Tree of Liberty in the town, a copper beech that is now some 30-40ft high and still growing fast

the installation of a painting by Julian Bell of Paine, which is in the town's Clock Tower. Despite vandalism all round it, the painting, which is uncovered and set into the wall, has been left alone, except on occasion when some wag added a Dali moustache.

- the launch of a Tom Paine ale by our local brewery Harveys. A truly Headstrong brew.

‘Paine in the Net’ was the title of the first proper site for Tom Paine on the internet, which our company Cequel Publishing built and launched at the Jubilee Room at the House of Commons on July 4th 1996 – the first and possibly only time this great radical and writer had been celebrated in the House. Tony Benn MP was present as was Lewes’ then Conservative MP, the late Tim Rathbone.

It was a truly special affair designed to generate media attention for the site and to link Paine’s ideas and writings with the work of a number of campaigning groups - Charter 88, Liberty, the Campaign for the Freedom of Information and Demos - who were seeking to stimulate debate about democratic values in the digital age. (Unfortunately the site is no longer functioning and the URL is now used by a garden designer. No trace of it in the Internet archiving Wayback Machine site either).

By chance or not, the British edition of the digital magazine 'Wired' was launched shortly afterwards, featuring Tom Paine on the cover, with an excellent article By Jon Katz entitled The Age of Paine, which claimed 'Thomas Paine was one of the first journalists to use media as a weapon against the entrenched power structure. He should be resurrected as the moral father of the Internet.'

‘There is nothing which obtains so general an influence over the manners and morals of the people, as the press; from that, as from a fountain, the streams of vice and virtue are poured forth over a country.'

About the time we launched our ‘Paine In The Net’ site, a new biography Tom Paine- A Political Life by John Keane, Professor of Politics at Westminster University and Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy was published and I had the pleasure of introducing at a public meeting in Lewes. Subsequently, Professor Keane and I met on several occasions with view to launching a political broadcast by Tom Paine on Channel 4. No luck.

Paine is subsequently celebrated in the town through and organisation called The Tom Paine Project which for several years held a ‘Revolution to Revolution Festival’.

'These are the times that try men's souls.’

Paine’s thoughts and ideas remain highly relevant to our time and age. Any journalist should know about him as Paine was a great stylist and thinker whose writing is compact, thoughtful and stirring. His words continue to have universal resonance.


WILLIAM BLAKE & TOM PAINE: Blake is linked to Tom Paine via the publisher Joseph Johnson, the first to commission Blake as a copy-engraver. Johnson's politics were of a radical persuasion and he cultivated a circle of like-minded people at weekly dinner parties above his shop. During the time of Blake's employment, guests included Joseph Priestley and the painter Henry Fuseli; slightly later came Tom Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin.

Peter Ackroyd, in his biography of Blake [Sinclair-Stevenson. London. 1995] writes: 'It has often been suggested that Blake was an intimate member of this radical circle, and he himself seems to have boasted of some acquaintance with Tom Paine. (There is a report that he warned the pamphleteer to leave the country at the height of the Jacobin scares of the 1790s.)' In fact, says Ackroyd, he only attended one of the dinners and his friendship with Paine and other is 'pure speculation.'

A marvellous play has come out of this pure speculation: ‘In Lambeth’ written by the British actor Jack Shepherd and starring Michael Moloney as Blake and Bob Peck as Paine. It was subsequently filmed for the BBC. Shepherd, an admirer of both Paine and Blake's, told The Times (11 July 1989): "I had this scene in my head: Mr and Mrs Blake naked up a tree reading Paradise Lost when their friend bursts in upon them. That's a true incident. I made the friend Tom Paine, escaping from the mob into this little paradise."

DYLAN & PAINE: My interest in Paine was revived recently by my discovery of the fact that in December 1963, shortly after the Kennedy Assassination, the young Bob Dylan was given The Tom Paine Award by a left-wing political group in New York (the previous recipient being Bertrand Russell) for his work in the Civil Rights movement. The occasion was controversial because Dylan appeared in his speech to sympathise with Lee Harvey Oswald. The whole episode is fascinating and is documented in some detail in Robert Shelton’s book ‘No Direction Home.’

TOM PAINE THE MOVIE: For many years Sir Richard Attenborough strove to raise the funds to make a major feature film on Paine from a script by the playwright Trevor Griffiths. At one of the most riveting of the Headstrong Club meetings, Griffith read from the script which was really first-class. The screenplay was published in 2005 ['These Are Times' by Spokesman Books in Nottingham.] The film was never made but in 2008, a two-part radio drama based on Griffths' filmscript was broadcast of BBC Radio 4.


'I have no objection to that, but the farm will be sold and they will dig up my bones before they are half rotten.'
- Paine, aged 72, to Margaret Bonneville, who promised to bury him on his own farm.

‘Tom Paine died at 8am on 8 June 1809 and was buried two days later at his farm in New Rochelle. His concern over his fate after his death proved to be justified.'

So writes David Powell who, in common with many other Paine authors, told the story of how, 'eight years later,the radical journalist William Cobbett came to America to escape the threat of imprisonment in England, following the suspension of Habeus Corpus. He stayed there for two years and, when planning his return, became determined to dig up Tom Paine' bones and take them back with him to England, in order to 'effect the reformation of England in Church and State. '
'Thus it was in October 1819, at dead of night, that Cobbett rode over to New Rochelle and began disinterring the body. Some locals, noticing the lights around the grave, raised the alarm but, before a posse could be formed, Cobbett was on the road to New York, where he boarded a packet ship bound for Liverpool. Accounts vary as to what happened on his return.'

We now are fortunate to have a much more definitive story of the fate of Tom Paine's human remains thanks to the brilliant 'The Trouble with Tom: The Strange Afterlife of Thomas Paine' by Paul Collins [Bloomsbury. 2006] in which the author travels widely in the US, France and Britain to try and track down every fragment of Paine's body which was, in fact, widely dispersed. This is now the definitive account of the story to date and makes fascinating reading.

A little reported fact, which confirms the global and ongoing influence of Tom Paine, is the fact that 'Common Sense' has been translated into Tibetan by Lhasang Tserling and Perma Bhum.

Friends of Thomas Paine

Media Vision Journal
(Includes details of 'Global Sense' by Judah Freed, an updating of 'Common Sense')

TomPaine.Common Sense: An Internet journal

Selected Writings of Thomas Paine

'A History of Ending Poverty' by Gareth Stedman Jones. The Guardian July 2 2005

Sunday, June 19, 2005


This is the first publication of the original text of an interview I did with Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), on April 25, 1985 in Miles' flat in London. He was in England in connection with the publication of his Collected Poems [above]. At the time, I was hoping to place the piece in The Face or the NME but neither materialised. It is great to be able to finally get it 'into print' twenty years later in an electronic form.

A Prophet on the Electric Networks

'The received image of Allen Ginsberg is that of the wild gay poet, hair and beard bristling, reciting 'Howl' in the voice of Biblical prophet on the steps of the Pentagon.

All that insight, rebellion and energy is now compressed into a tougher, neater, more distinguished form. He looks like Ahmet Ertegun, most worldy and refined of all record company moguls. Hair and beard are close-clipped, soft rotund figure in a white sailor's vest, blue denim button-down collar shirt, top pocket stuffed with pens, grey flannel trousers, black Chinese slippers. He makes tea and talks.

"I knew about
William Blake when I was a kid - 'The Tiger and The Lamb' - then when I was 22, I had an odd visionary experience related to Blake, like a psychedelic experience but without drugs, on the sixth floor of a tenement in Harlem."

There's a loud buzzing and Ginsberg picks up the phone. Then he realises its the intercom. He goes to answer the door. The correspondent for the Daily Telegraph has arrived early. Ginsberg settles back on the sofa, rests his brain on his hand, and continues.

"I just had some auditory hallucinations of his voice, sounds like my voice now, quite deep, grounded and probably just like a projection of my latent physiology. That confirmed to me some kind of poetic transmission of wakefulness, a sense of the vastness of the universe, of all the intelligence that went into the universe."

We're in the L-shaped London flat of Miles, whose currently writing the Ginsberg biography, just north of [the office of] The Face and the Beat Master is in full flight.

"As the closet Stalinism of the neo-Conservatives emerges - mainly their centralisation of authority and their invocation of secret police powers, as in the President unleashing the CIA for domestic surveillance or Thatcher misusing MI5, or crackdowns on gays, the siezure of books, the crackdowns on the municipal decentralised governments here in England in an attempt to grab power - as that became more obvious, the awareness of it on the part of the people who are abused or who feel that unconsciously, became more overt, more palpable.

"Something you may not have read about in the papers is that across America there is a new wave of student movement activity on the issues of South African investment, US intervention in Central America and the domestic activities of the CIA."

A decade after Vietnam, in the age of video pop and AIDS, that war is back on the covers of Time and Newsweek and Ginsberg is still in the thick of it. On March 18th, he was arrested along with 400 students when they staged a
'citizen's arrest' of a CIA recruiter, working inside the University of Columbia campus, for drug dealing and murder.

He comments: "This unexpected resurgence of campus activism may or may not be long-lasting but it's an odd signal that not everybody's asleep and that there's actually an active sense of something wrong."

He takes off his glasses to rub his eyes and you notice that one of them is lazy and half closed, the other fully open and penetrating. His mouth is also kept closed at one side and he delivers his speech from the other corner in a resonant voice, honed by a million readings around the globe.

This guy travels. He's just back from China, he's promoting his 'Collected Poems' in London and doing readings in Oxford and Cambridge, then it's on to Vancouver for two weeks then back to New York, to the apartment in the Bronx he has lived in for over 20 years, to work on a book of Collected Prose.

He divides his time between this main New Yawk street base and the
Naropa Institute ("the first deep Buddhist university in the West, run by a Tibetan lama") in Boulder, Colorado ("A clean and funky shopping mall yuppie town with not many black people, on the edge of the front range of the Rockies, twelve miles from the Rockwell Corporation's nuclear bomb-trigger plants at Rocky Flats.")

There he teaches: a five-term course in Blake's prophetic books, year after year, line by line; the literary historuy of the Beat Generation (1944-64); a survey of English literature from 'Beowulf' to
Gregory Corso; writing itself, analysis of thought forms and the relation between meditation practice and poetic mind.

He says: "I am a poet and my job is to learn the poetics of different cultures. My own poetry is to do with understanding the nature of my mind, or mind itself. Consciousness. That's why I was so interested in dope and travel."

Ginsberg's story of his China trip along with three new poems was syndicated by UPI. So how did the Chinese react to Beat?

"The lady who was my host at Fu-Dang University in Shanghai had been educated in physics and was a specialist in the molecular structure of surfaces. During the Cultural Revolution she was locked out of her office and made to clean latrines, kicked around so she walks with a limp. Today she's a member of the Central Committee.

" 'I Saw the Best Minds of My Generation Destroyed by Madness' (the first line of 'Howl') is considered a giant anthem for all the people who got screwed up during the Cultural Revolution in the Sixties. Its very popular. The Junior/Senior anthology of American Literature Volume 2 (used in Chinese schools), contains fifty pages of 'On the Road' and thirty pages of Norman Mailer's 'The Executioner's Song.' "

We talk about poets past. Ginsberg is currently enthusiastic about
Christopher Smart, whose epic poem 'Rejoicing' was written in Bedlam at the tim of Dr Johnson and not published until 1920, and Edward Carpenter "who wrote long-line poems in the style that I write. He liberated E.M. Forster. Forster read the eulogy at his death. Carpenter went to visit Whitman, went to India, wrote many books on travel and the joy of sex. He was one of the first Englishmen to come out in the 1890s and he got away with it."

He shows me an old volume of Carpenter's 'Towards Democracy.' While he's on the phone, I look at the pencilled inscriptuion. 'Purchased at the Gotham Book Mart in New York on August 6th, 1966, the date of a major anti-Vietnam demonstration.'

Ginsberg's father Louis was a published poet and first-generation immigrant but Allen says he never primarly thought of himself as a poet until he met Kerouac.

"Kerouac's thing was a very simple matter: the discovery of the actual physical body of the nation and the exploration of the archetypal social faces and the vernacular and the slang and the native wisdom, as distinct from government official wisdom."

Then you remember again, this guy drove with Neal Cassady, was crowned King of the May in Prague in 1965, was at the New York's World Fair in 1940, in Havana with Cab Calloway in 1953, journeying on Amtrak with Hart Crane on the brain, in Guatemala, down in Times Square c. 1945. He's been a copy boy and a merchant marine.

By this stage of the conversation the questions are multiplying. Time and space have contracted to a pinhead as Ginsberg explains the Buddhist rules for life. The Daily Telegraph correspondent is scribbling away furiously on the bean bag behind me. So there was only one thing left to do. I had to ask about the Bomb.

"First of all, I don't think there will be a nuclear diaster, simply because I don't think the entire world is going to voluntarily commit suicide. Individuals might do sometimes but en masse it would take a wave of suicidal anger sweeping around the world to set off a war like that.

"What we're destined for is something worse, which is having to live together. Having to make the changes and adjust to the distressing disturbances and anxieties, recognising our own neuroses and having to live together, which is more difficult.

" The absoluteness of the Bomb imposes a kind of mythological insight on everybody. They have to understand certain basic things about their own agression in order to survive, so that anxiety can be transformed into wisdom. That is the traditional Buddhist way - turn shit to roses. A more polite Chinese term is turn waste to treasure. It's alchemy - turn lead to gold. Alchemise your experience by seeing pain as some manifestation of insight or wisdom rather than something to be avoided and not thought about."

I wrapped my raincoat around me and headed for the street.'

I sent the piece to Allen on 11 June 1985 and received a postcard from him sometime later (date undecipherable). The picture on the front was a photo of Ginsberg taken by William Burroughs in 1953.

The message reads:

Dear John May: Thanks for..sending Richard's and your essays. A few mental typos: my apartment is in Manhattan Lower East Side, (2) I taught 'Seafarer' to Corso, (3) Fudan not Fudang, (4) Smart's Rejoice in the Lamb (5) that wasn't really Calloway Cuba 1953 but a pimp- (something) fellow drest like Cab. Otherwise accurate and excellent gist of our conversation. Hope you print it somewhere. See you in Time - or US or England or the Moon - Allen Ginsberg USA