Saturday, July 29, 2006


Each hour-long show on XM Satellite Radio is composed of Dylan's own hand-picked tracks, and follows a theme - the first being Weather followed by Mothers, Drinking, Cars onto such topics as Coffee, Cigarettes, Marriage. Divorce. The track listing for these first four shows can be found here. The shows are recorded at Dylan's home or on the road

Lee Abrams, XM's creative officer, spent 18 months of negotiation in order to set the Dylan show up. Read his direct first-person account of the events leading up to showtime (in 3 parts) here.

Dylan is the latest big name to be drawn into a battle for radio subscribers between XM Satellite and its main rival Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. See full story: 'Dylan the DJ? You're just gonna have to get used to it' by Jamie Wilson (The Guardian).

'Hey Mister DJ...' by David Smith is The Observer's exclusive preview of the first show.

To these ears: Dylan is a radio natural, a medium that inspired him as a kid back in Hibbing. The programmes are a real joy to listen to, a bit like a musical version of 'Chronicles', mixing a wide range of largely vintage American music with modern tracks, trivia and suprises, occasional interviews and lots of on-air chat from BD himself, full of amusement and erudition. Bob takes great delight in reading out many of the lyrics from the music of what Greil Marcus calls 'wierd, old America.' His voice is stagy, tricksy, waspish, downhome. he never misses a beat and
everything flows perfectly. Like he was born to it.

H ere are some excerpts of Bob's remarks from the Mothers show, broadcast on Mother's Day, as transcribed by the New York Times:

Tommy Duncan/"Daddy Loves Mommyo"
His real name was Thomas Elmer Duncan, born on January 11, 1911, in Whitney, Texas — full of iodine and iron. He won an audition against 66 other singers to join Bob Wills's Light Crust Doughboys, who later became the Texas Playboys. Tommy Duncan left the band in 1948, recorded a number of songs including "Gambling Polka Dot Blues," "Sick, Sober and Sorry" and "There's Not a Cow in Texas" — lot of fuzzy logic there. But in honor of Mother's Day, here's a song. Tommy Duncan, "Daddy Loves Mommyo" — no fatty acid in there.

Buck Owens/"I'll Go to Church With Mama"
Buck Owens. Come out of Sherman, Texas. Made his way to Bakersfield, California. In the 1960's, the Beatles recorded a song of Buck's called "Act Naturally." In those years Buck had 39 chart hits, 19 of 'em at No. 1. Hey, let's not forget "Hee Haw." Never missed it. I still remember some of them jokes from "Hee Haw": "My mother-in-law's very neat — puts paper under the cuckoo clock." Here's Buck singing about hymns that warm your heart in the sweet by-and-by, that chapel in the sky.

Bobby Peterson Quintet/"Mama Get the Hammer"
Some songs you don't have to talk about; they just say it all: "Mama get the hammer, there's a fly on baby's head."

Ernie K-Doe/"Mother-in-Law"
Today's e-mail comes from John Rudolph. ... He writes, "Dear Bob: I've got a hammerhead of a mother-in-law, an ugly, evil-lookin' old woman, so pitiful. She's careworn, drawn and pinched — gaunt and lank. I bought her a new chair, but she won't let me plug it in. She belittles me, depreciates me, disparages me. She downgrades me, berates me, censures me and condemns me, libels me and raps me, dismisses me and rejects me. Could you please play a song for her?" Well, thanks for the letter, John. Your wish is our command.

LL Cool J/"Mama Said Knock You Out"
Don't call it a comeback, he been here for years, rocking his peers, putting 'em in fear, making tears rain down like a monsoon, explosions overpowerin', over the competition LL Cool J is towering. LL Cool J — stands for Ladies Love Cool J.

UK citizens cannot subscribe to the shows unless they have a US billing address. Presumably the same applies to the rest of the world.

The postie arrived with my copy of 'The Bob Dylan Encyclopaedia', yet another weighty tome from the pen of Michael Gray, following the author's jumbo-sized work of criticism and erudition, 'The Song and Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan', which went into its 5th expanded and revised reprint in 2004.

This new black-bound 736 page hardback is an equally delightful oddball reference work, containing many different kinds of entries which Gray describes as follows: 'some key moments fromDylan’s career and life; singers, musicians, songwriters and composers who have influenced Dylan and/or worked with him; writers, poets and other non-musical cultural figures who have impacted on Dylan’s work and/or who are mentioned within it, in each case delineating the sometimes surprising ways in which they connect to Dylan’s work; critical assessments and factual details (including place and date of recording, date of release and original catalogue numbers) for all Dylan’s albums and for individual songs from all through Dylan’s decades of work; critical assessments and factual details on Dylan’s own books and films; relevant music critics, authors of books and major websites on Dylan; and topics like artists v. critics, angels, Dylan interpeters, the co-option of real music by advertising, early 1960s pop music, Beat poetry, rock’n’roll, country blues, pre-20th century American poetry, Dylan fanzines, cowboy heroes, the use of film dialogue in Dylan’s lyrics and many more.'

Th longest entries by far are Gray's critical disquisitions into individual tracks in which Gray summons up an entire lumber room of references and teases out every last drop of meaning - the entry for the track 'Dignity' for instance, is 5pp long. The biographical pieces are excellent - very good entry on Ramblin' Jack Elliott for instance. He is quite tough on his fellow Dylan critics and writers and, unusually for a reference book writer, includes an entry on himself!

This is a book full of delights, unusual highways and byways, strange connections, original research, refreshing insights and quirky opinions. Turn to the entry on Duluth, Minnesota and its clear that Gray has not only been there but also driven many a country mile following the directions in Dave Engel's book 'Like Bob Zimmerman Blues: Dylan in Minnesota'. In fact, Gray has devoted the largest part of his working life to date chasing Bob Dylan's art and his love and enthusiasm for it permeates every page.

His intro concludes: 'If in 100 years time Dylan's art goes unheard and discounted, well, in 200 years time it may bounce back. If not, The Bob Dylan Encyclopaedia, might well help some scholar of the future to sift through the rusted nuts and bolts of our mistaken enthusiasm.'

Final note: the book contains a disc at the back, a non-printable searchable pdf packed with cross-references. (Did I mention that the typography is very good and that the book smells really nice)

Michael Gray is doing lots of promo, personal appearances, radio shows and the like in the UK
and in the US. Check out his blog for further details.

Not included in the Encyclopaedia is an entry on Dylan Bootlegs (history of same - there is an entry on all the 'official' bootleg series) in general and 'Great White Wonder' in particular - not only the first Dylan bootleg but also the record that ushered in 'rock bootlegging'.

I wouldn't have thought about any of this had not a beat brother lent me a hardback copy of 'Bootleg: The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry' by Clifford Heylin [St Martin's Press/New York June 1995]. This book is extremely hard to find and expensive to buy. It is a primary source on this topic, full of original interviewers with the leading 'bootleggers' of several different decades.

The book is permeated with Dylan bootleg stories and the diaspora of releases of varying quality in many countries. But let's concentrate on the Great White Wonder - hereafter known as GWW - documented in detail in Chapter 3: 'The First Great White Wonders'.

Briefly: A 14-song acetate - drawn from the summer 1967 Basement Tapes sessions of Dylan and the Band - were being circulated within the music industry and played on the radio but were not made publicly available. Dylan had not released an official album for two years.

Michael O heard 'Wheels on Fire' on an underground radio show, located the tape at Records and Supertape on Peco, LA but never did anything with them. It was down to 'Dub' and Ken, also in LA, with some funds from the Greek, who issued 1-2,000 double-albums, in a white cover, white label. They got friend Patrick, an army deserter, to go into the stores to sell them at $12 each.

Immediately he found a demand, first off at a bookstore on Fairfax owned by the LA Free Press. The 'Jewish woman' they spoke to was v. enthusiastic, ordered some and named it right then and there - Great White Wonder. Dub and Ken bought a rubber stamp.

The albums were cut-and-paste jobs, with material from several different sessions - including the Basement material - rearranged in a less-than-ideal order. No matter. Five radio stations immediately began playing the album, the story hit the mainstream press, Dub and Ken became underground heroes. Greil Marcus wrote a six-page article in Rolling Stone' devoted to unreleased Dylan recordings. An insatiable demand was created.

Two LA record store owners thought they'd get in on the act, got hit by an injunction from Columbia Records, gave-up 'Dub' because they thought Dub's girlfriend had snitched them to Columbia's lawyers. However Dub and Ken hi-tailed it to Canada to 'run a gas station' and Columbia's legal action ground to a halt. The cat was out of the bag and a new industry was born.

Todd Haynes' told 'The Times' in 2005 that Dylan was ‘too complex' to be played by a single actor, adding: 'I am setting out to explode the idea that anybody can be depicted in a single self.'

Haynes is directing a $20 million movie entitled ‘I’m Not There’ (aka ‘I'm Not There: Suppositions on a Film Concerning Dylan’ ) the first biographical screenplay about Dylan, which was scheduled to start filming in July in Montreal. Christine Vachon, principal of Killer Films and Dylan's business manager, Jeff Rosen are producers. Dylan assigned the filmmakers the rights to his life story and music for the film in June 2004.

Dylan will be played by seven different actors to represent the artist's ever-changing personas, including an 11-year-old child and a black woman. Announced cast list: Heath Ledger (who replaces Colin Farrell), Richard Gere, Christian Bale, and Kate Blanchett (who’ll play an aspect of Dylan, an androgynous singer-songwriter named Jude), Michelle Williams (a model named Coco Rivington) Julianne Moore, and Charlotte Gainsbourg. It is not clear from the reports whether Dylan himself will appear in the film.

Born January 2, 1961, in Encino, California, Todd Haynes has his roots in the US ‘New Queer’ cinema movement. He was famously sued by Richard Carpenter for his 1987 film, ‘Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story’ (which uses Barbie dolls as actors) and was removed from distribution. His 1991 film ‘Poison’, based on the writings of Jean Genet, partly funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, was attacked by right-wing family groups in the US as inappropriately federally funded ‘filth’. He is known to a broader audience through movies like the glam rock inspired ‘Velvet Goldmine’ (1998), and the Douglas Sirk inspired ‘Far From Heaven’ (2002).

Previous Posts:
Dylan Digest 14.2.06
The Lost Dylan Photos 11.9.05
Deconstructing Dylan 11.10.05

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


The 1973 film 'The Wicker Man' is not only one of the most enduring of modern cult films and one that repays repeated viewings but its soundtrack has also provided inspiration to a new generation of British folk musicians, according to a fascinating piece by Will Hodgkinson entitled 'It was a way into a magical world.'

More worrying is the news that Neil LaBute has done a remake which is due for UK release on September 1st. It stars Nicholas Cage in the Edward Woodward role. Cage claims: "My late friend Johnny Ramone invited me to come over and see this movie The Wicker Man. "I was extremely disturbed by it and it stayed with me for a couple of weeks." (
Christopher Lee's character, Lord Summerisle, is replaced by the head of a matriarchal society, played by Ellen Burstyn, and the action is set off the coast of Maine.Yes, its being Americanised.

Acording to LaBute in an interview with Total Film: "I always loved the movie and I loved the script in particular, but I never thought that it was completed so well that it couldn't be touched again...." You can read the screenplay review here.

Speaking at the Vancouver International Film Festival Trade Forum, LaBute said that when he first saw the movie, he felt it was a "strange kind of creepy thing" and said in an interview that it could bear being remade, but people who like it "are occultists." The intyerview continued: What does he like about the original? "Not the songs: they went. And the strange half-naked girl. The story and the ending really works," he said. Oh dear.

Wicker Man director is flaming furious over Hollywood remake
Brian Pendreigh/The Scotsman (11.9.2005)
'He gave the world arguably the most iconic Scottish film ever made but a US remake which adds a swarm of killer bees and changes the sex of a pagan lord has proved too much for Robin Hardy. The original director of The Wicker Man has called in his lawyers to have his name taken off promotional material for the $40m movie even before lead star Nicolas Cage has finished filming. "The amazing thing is that all the publicity keeps on saying that I have written the screenplay, which is obviously not true," says Hardy, who did not even take a writing credit on the original, though he worked closely with writer Anthony Shaffer.'

According to The Movie Blog: Robin Hardy and Anthony Shaffer are hard at work on their new movie which, they claim, is a 'reimagining' of their earlier work. Called 'May Day' (another source says 'Cowboys for Christ'), it revisits the theme of paganism in modern Scotland and follows two young American evangelists who discover the Border ridings are more than just a quaint tourist attraction. Shooting was meant to begin in Scotland and Texas this spring and 80% of the £3m budget was in place at the time the story was written. (25 November 2005). Vanessa Redgrave and Sean Astin from 'Lord of the Rings' have signed on for it.

There's an extensive and very interesting Wikipedia entry on The Wicker Man here



Private Collection/Conseil Investissement Art, BNP Paribas

Lovely little portrait of Johnny Depp in one of his Libertine absinthe-soaked roles you might think. In fact, its 'Despair' (1844-1845), a self-portrait by the French realist painter Gustave Courbet (1819-77).

It first came to my attention in a newspaper story in the summer of 2006, at the opening of an exhibition entitled '
Rebels And Martyrs: The Image Of The Artist In The 19th Century' at London's National Gallery. The Independent reported that the exhibition's curator's knew of the painting's existence and wanted to include it in the show. However the painting had vanished, after being last seen in 1978 at a Courbet retrospective at the Royal Academy. The week before the Rebel show was due to be installed, the curators received a phone call from France offering to lend them the painting. The owner's identity remains a mystery.

Yesterday, I bought the New York Review of Books' to see the painting staring out at me once more. There is a major Courbet exhibition which recently ended in Paris, soon to be seen at the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (February 27–May 18, 2008)

As John Golding writes in 'The Born Rebel Artist': 'This is the image that was chosen for the traditional banners that Paris sports to advertise major exhibitions. It would have pleased Courbet to be presiding over hundreds of thousands of Parisians as they roamed through the streets of the capital. And the fact that this relatively small picture survives magnificently the test of being blown up to twenty or thirty times the size of the original testifies to its power and the beauty of its paint effects. It will be seen on posters in New York.'

Read Chrissy Iley's exclusive interview with Johnny Depp here.


Why did Tony Blair preempt the publication of his party's own Energy Review by opening the door to the possibility of reviving nuclear energy in Britain ?
Why have Britain and France signed a new nuclear energy accord?
Why has the Australian Prime Minister returned to his country after a visit to the US with talk of expanding uranium production and processing in his country?

They have all been in discussion with George Bush about his big new idea; THE GLOBAL NUCLEAR ENERGY PARTNERSHIP

Part of his Advanced Energy Programme, the plan is to form an alliance between the US, Russia, France, Japan and the UK - countries that already have nuclear fuel processing capabilities - that would work together to set up a new global nuclear energy regime.

The plan is designed to deal with two major issues that have effectively held back the development of the nuclear industry worldwide:
- the problem of nuclear proliferation and of plutonium in nuclear waste falling into
the wrong hands
- the problem of disposing of huge quantities of nuclear waste.

Under this new regime, the 'supplier' nations (above) would offer to build new nuclear power stations of two main types in developing countries around the world.

One type would be a virtually sealed 'turnkey' reactor, which already contains all the fuel it needs for its 20-year lifecycle. The other would be a new design conventional reactor, to which the 'suppliers' would deliver fuel and then retrieve the waste at the other end.

To make this work, the suppliers will build three or four major reprocessing and waste management facilities in various parts of the world, that will include two new types of reactors:

One would be designed to generate energy using plutonium and all the transuranic elements that form high-level waste as its fuel. This would remove the proliferation/terrorism risk.

The other is designed to be fueled by lower-level waste from all other nuclear power stations.

This would mean that waste will become a resource rather than a problem and that the quantities of waste that need to be disposed of in long term geological storage would be much reduced.

(It is key to the US that they are able to activate the nuclear dump at Yucca Mountain. At present, many dumps of the same size would be needed just to cope with the existing waste from US reactors over their lifetimes, without any further expansion of the industry.

The business plan behind Bush's concept was developed by the Nuclear Fuel Leasing Group (NFLG), a group of four key members, supported by an international grouping of private sector interests that are lobbying governments around the world. One of the NFLG four is reportedly John White the head of Global Renewables, a subsidiary of Gold and Resources Development which recently won a uranium contract in Malawi. White is also chairman of the Australian government's Uranium Industry Framework. (The others have not yet been identified).

Indonesia and Vietnam have already announced plans to develop a nuclear industry - with no objection from the US. They are the first new potential clients for these new reactors and systems.

The Australian PM, whose country holds 40% of the world's uranium reserves, wants to expand their nuclear processing capabilities and develop Australia's role as a nuclear waste repository.

It appears that France and Britain have bought into Bush's plan and Blair's job is to overcome public resistance and all other arguments to try and enable a new generation of reactors to be built in Britain.


30.6.06 Australia to debate nuclear future amid waste fears
By Richard Pullin/Gulf Times
Australia, a top US ally, could become the world’s nuclear bank, leasing enriched uranium to other countries to generate power and then storing depeleted fuel rods in its vast, empty outback.But analysts say it won’t happen without a spirited debate. Prime Minister John Howard reignited the nuclear debate in Australia after a visit to the United States
last month, and a prime ministerial taskforce is to report on all aspects of the industry by the end of the year. [Full story here}

28.6.06 Senate appropriations subcommittee approves nuclear spend
Nuclear Engineering International
The Senate appropriations energy and water subcommittee has approved a $30.7 billion spending bill for the Energy Department, $1.25 billion over the budget request, with new funding for the advancement of energy initiatives authorised by the National Energy Policy Act of 2005. Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) is allocated $250 million, plus $36 million for facilities upgrades under the bill.
Full story here.

21.6.06 Nuclear Energy Plan Would Use Spent Fuel
By Peter Baker and Dafna Linzer/Washington Post Staff Writers
The Bush administration is preparing a plan to expand civilian nuclear energy at home and abroad while taking spent fuel from foreign countries and reprocessing it, in a break with decades of U.S. policy, according to U.S. and foreign officials briefed on the initiative.

21.6.06 Greens call for resignation of uranium industry body chief
The Australian Greens today called for the resignation of the chairman of the federal government's Uranium Industry Framework, John White. Full text here.

2.6.06 Vision products/ Nuclear Engineering International
The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership
is the USA’s bold vision of how the nuclear industry should operate in the 21st century. GNEP is a very ambitious global vision, which is centred on the USA and a small number of trusted states. The scale of the plan is such that only the USA would be capable of proposing it – let alone achieving it – but GNEP has the potential to address four very significant problems that face nuclear power. Full story here

1.6.06 GNEP: the eight way forward ?
Steve Kidd/Head of Strategy & Research at the World Nuclear Association (formerly the Uranium Institute)/Nuclear Engineering International

The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) proposed by US president George Bush in February 2006 has received a great deal of publicity, much of it centred on the apparent change in US strategy towards reprocessing used fuel, rather than continuing on the march towards repositories (see link below to 'Vision products'). There is, however, much more to the initiative than this and it is worthwhile to examine the obvious ways in which it addresses many of the awkward issues currently faced by the nuclear industry. But at the same time, there are undoubtedly some serious difficulties on the road ahead to ensuring the concepts become a serious reality. Full story here.

24.5.06 House Scales Back Bush Nuclear Power Bid
By H. JOSEF HEBERT/Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- The House late Wednesday scaled back President Bush's ambitious plan to resume nuclear fuel reprocessing as part of an international program to boost nuclear power. A broad spending bill, passed 404-20 and sent to the Senate, cuts Bush's request for the first installment of the nuclear initiative in half, to about $130 million. An attempt to slash it by an additional $40 million was rejected.

23.5.06 Secret committe looking at nuclear power
The Age
An internal government committee has been created to look at Australia's possible role in world nuclear energy, it has emerged.Public servants have confirmed to a Senate estimates meeting that the committee had been created to deal with emerging nuclear issues. It comes as Prime Minister Minister John Howard flags a full-scale nuclear debate when he returns from an overseas trip later this week, and as momentum builds within his own party to develop nuclear power and uranium enrichment programs. The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet 's deputy secretary Duncan Lewis said the committee had been formed following statements by US President George W Bush to create a global nuclear energy partnership. He said the committee would effectively try to develop an Australian perspective on the American proposal."It's essentially a fact finding exercise to scope what this energy initiative might entail," he said. Full story here.

15..5.06 Strange Love
Keith Barnham and David Lowry/New Statesman supplement
A new US/UK civil nuclear link was revealed in a little reported speech by President Bush in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on 20 February this year, when he said that the US had UK support for the initiative he launched following the last G8 meeting July 2005 at Gleneagles - the ‘Global Nuclear Energy Partnership’ - involving countries that have got advanced nuclear energy programmes, or civilian nuclear energy programmes "like France and Great Britain and Japan and Russia".[7] British involvement was confirmed month later in a written Parliamentary answer [8]. That such a link could influence Blair is suggested by his increasing support for the Asia-Pacific Partnership (AP6) in which the US, Australia, India, China, Japan and South Korea pledge to cooperate on energy technologies outside the Kyoto Protocol [9]. Full text here.

20.2.06 President Discusses Advanced Energy Initiative in Milwaukee
Speech given by George Bush at the Johnson Controls Building Efficiency Business, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

And so we've got some challenges, however, in dealing with this issue. And that's why I put together what's called a global nuclear energy partnership. It's a partnership that works with countries that have got advanced nuclear energy programs, or civilian nuclear energy programs like France and Great Britain and Japan and Russia. And here are the objectives of the partnership.

First, supplier nations will provide fuel for non-supplier nations so they can start up a civilian nuclear energy program. In other words, a lot of countries don't know how to enrich; a handful do, and it makes sense that we share that -- share the benefits of our knowledge with others, but not share the knowledge because there's concern about proliferation.

One of the concerns you hear from critics of expanding nuclear power is all this will do to create proliferation concerns. Well, here's one way to address those concerns - to say, we'll provide the fuel for you - and we'll collect the fuel from you, by the way. And after we collect the fuel from you, we need to reprocess the spent material. By reprocessing you can continue to use the fuel base, but equally importantly, we'll reduce the amount of nuclear waste that needs to be stored. Full text here..

13.2.06 Platt's Nuclear Energy Conference
Remarks Prepared for Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman
'I think most people would these [critical concerns] that I have mentioned at or near the top: the proliferation of nuclear materials, the political concerns over oil dependecy, the need to reduce poverty through economic growth, and curbing or even eliminating the pollution and greenhouse gases emitted by using fossil fuels. The message I want to drive home today is that the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership represents a multi-layered and sophisticated plan to address, at least in part, all of these challenges.' Full story here

8.2.06 US launches Global Nuclear Energy Partnership
Nuclear Engineering International
A $250 million programme, the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) that will see spent nuclear fuel reprocessed, has been launched in the USA. The GNEP programme is aimed at opening the international nuclear power industry and spent fuel disposal by forging a partnership with other countries that deal with spent nuclear fuel. The programme will see new generation nuclear power plants developed in the USA along with new spent fuel reprocessing technologies that supply fuel to those plants. Full story here.

6.2.06 Department of Energy Announces New Nuclear Initiative
WASHINGTON, DC – As part of President Bush’s Advanced Energy Initiative, Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman announced today a $250 million Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 request to launch the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). This new initiative is a comprehensive strategy to enable the expansion of emissions-free nuclear energy worldwide by demonstrating and deploying new technologies to recycle nuclear fuel, minimize waste, and improve our ability to keep nuclear technologies and materials out of the hands of terrorists. Full report here.


This piece was originally published in the Fall 1987 issue of the Whole Earth Review, the successor to the Co-Evolution Quarterly, itself a spin-off from Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Catalog operation. (Illustration: Don Ryan)

I want to build a bridge across the Bering Strait.

I'm not the first to have the idea. The honour for that belongs to Joseph Strauss, the man who went on to design one of the world's great bridges — the Golden Gate. In 1892, for his graduation thesis from the University of Cincinnati, he outlined his plan to build a railroad bridge across the Bering Strait.

A look at the map will show you the attractions of such an idea. The Bering Strait separates the Seward Peninsula of the Western Hemisphere from the Chukchi Peninsula of the Eastern Hemisphere and is about 85km (53 miles) wide at its narrowest point.

In the middle of the Bering Strait are two islands, Big Diomedes and Little Diomedes. Big Diomedes ' is 2.5 miles long by 1.5 miles wide and is Russian; Little Diomedes is one-third the size, is owned by the U.S., and is inhabited by about 100 Inuit.

Contained in the narrow strip of sea between these two specks of land is not only the imaginary border between the two countries but also the international date line. In other words, this small stretch of water separates North America from Asia, the Soviet Union from the United States, and today from tomorrow. The advantages of bridging that gap should be obvious to all.

For the historical record, the Strait was discovered by and named after Vitus Bering, a Dutchman who was sent by Peter the Great to explore the eastern margins of Siberia to see if it connected with North America. He successfully rounded the Peninsula on the Russian side in 1728 but completely missed see­ing the North American coast due to dense fog.

Russia owned both sides of the Strait until October 18, 1867, when Captain Aleksei Peschchurov, repre­senting the Emperor of Russia, formally sold Alaska to Brigadier General Lovell Rousseau, representing the United States, for some two cents an acre.

American popular opinion of the time held that it was an expensive deal at that price and dubbed the useless wilderness Seward's Folly after then Secretary of the Interior William Seward, whose determina­tion led to the acquisition of these 375 million acres.

The fossil record indicates that a land bridge more than 1,000 miles wide, known as Bering Land or Beringia, existed at two different times. The first was some 65,000-35,000 years ago, after which it was submerged. It was later reestablished during the Later Wisconsin glacial period — about 28,000-25,000 years ago. This second bridge lasted for another 15,000 years before it was completely submerged by the advancing sea. Not only did it separate Alaska from Siberia, but it also cut off the Pribiloff and Aleutian Islands from continental America.

During the periods that the land was linked there were intensive migrations of plants and animals from continent to continent. The latest evidence also suggests that the original native nations of the American continents (north and south) came over the land bridge from Asia in three waves of migration.

The first wave came from northern China and Mon­golia some 20,000 years ago. These people were the ancestors of the Indian tribes known collectively as the Amerind, including the Aztecs, Cherokee and Algonquins.

The second wave came slightly later from north­eastern Asia, people called collectively the Na-Dene, ancestors of the Navaho and Apache Indians, the Tlingit and Haida tribes of the American Northwest. Some anthropologists believe a "third wave" of migrants arrived 10,000 years ago and became the ancestors of the modern Inuit and Aleuts. This third-wave theory is still controversial.

[Two recent articles examine these ideas in more detail: "The Ancient Bridge" by A. P. Okladnikov (The Alaska Journal, Autumn 1979) and "Getting One's Berings" by Knut R. Fladmark (Natural History, November 1986.]

Such evidence suggests a spectacular opening cere­mony which might be staged when the bridge is unveiled: present-day Amerindians handing over buffalo skins, quetzal feathers and parchments in return for mammoth tusks and magic fungi from the Siberian steppes — an ancient kinship rekindled. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The superpowers have conveniently ignored their common ancestry. In 1984, for instance, a maritime boundary meeting was opened to try to update the demarcation lines as a preliminary to mineral and oil exploration in tbe region.

By the end of the year, talks had broken down. The stumbling block was an area of ocean south of the Strait called the Navarin Basin, situated 400 miles from the U.S. and only 150 miles from the Soviet Union. The Americans claim the basin under the 1867 deal and have sold exploration rights in 20 tracts in the disputed zone to Amoco, Arco and Union Oil. The Russians regard the salt as "provocative."

No doubt plans for the bridge would come up against this sort of international bureaucracy. I am sure one can explain the value of such a link both aesthetically, commercially, and as a means of establishing more stable relations in the world. After all, connecting the Americas with the Eurasian/European, African continental mass could be seen as plate tectonics in reverse.

Of course, there may be construction difficulties and for this I will have to take specialised advice. One colleague has suggested using "icecrete" — ordinary freshwater mixed with wood fibres for strength, poured into a skin made either of concrete or laminated plastic and then frozen and compressed tightly for extra durability and shape.

It occurs to me that perhaps the bridge couk! be simply conceptual — a giant hologram with lasers on both sides of the channel. Naturally, the funding could come out of the SDI budget.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


The first Leonardo Bridge in the town of As, near Oslo in Norway. Photo by Terje Johansen. This article was originally published in my Tree News magazine [Autumn/Winter 2005]

A visionary project aimed at building a global network of landmark wooden bridges on every continent, based on an original design by Leonardo da Vinci, is the brainchild of Norwegian artist Vebjørn Sand.

According to his mission statement: This global public art and civil engineering project, honouring the legacy of curiosity about the natural world left to us by Leonardo, integrates the disciplines of art, architecture, natural sciences, history, civil engineering and mathematics, linking people around the world.'

Leonardo wrote a letter in 1502 to Sultan Bejazet II in which he outlined his plan to bridge the Golden Horn, an inlet between present-day Istanbul and Pera in Turkey, with a 340m-long stone bridge, with a 240m -long free span and a 40m clearance for ships. If built, it would have been the greatest bridge of the ancient world but the Sultan remained unconvinced and, like many other of Leonardo's visions, it remained unrealised in his lifetime.

Sand was thirty when he first saw Leonardo's drawing for the bridge in a show of the master's inventions held in Stockholm in 1996. He took his modified and shortened version of Leonardo's original vision to the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, which agreed to fund the project. The resultant pedestrian footbridge in the town of As outside Oslo, built by Knut Selberg of Trondheim and the Moelven Group structural engineers at a cost of $1.47m, was dedicated by Queen Sonjaof Norway on October 31, 2001 .The glue-laminated wooden bridge, smaller than Leonardo's original design, is 110m long, 3m wide, has a span of 45m and sits 8m above a major highway.

With his first bridge completed, Sand is now working to realise the grander vision of a network of such bridges around the world. As he imagines it, in each location the design of the bridge will be modified to suit local circumstances and conditions.

Melinda Iverson, who is handling international liason for the project, told Tree News: 'In our vision, each new footbridge would be like a reinterpretation of a passage of music. The elegant geometry of the design would be created in local materials by our team in collaboration with local artisans and engineers.'

Now comes news that a 15-foot long scale model of the bridge will be one of the exhibits in ‘Leonardo da Vinci: Experience, Experiment and Design, which will be running at the V&A in London from 14 September 2006 to January 2007.

According to the Project’s latest press release: ‘Projects for China, Japan, France and the United States - and hopes to finally construct the Project in Istanbul - are currently being discussed. A public art project on Majorca, in the Balearic Islands to build an authentic hand-hewn stone version of the design is also planned.’

More details about the project:

For more information on Vebjørn Sand: and

After being expedition painter for two Norwegian expeditions to Antarctica, he displayed his work back in Oslo in an outdoor gallery made of ice and snow that drew 150,000 visitors. He also created a "Norwegian Peace Star" first unveiled at the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony then permanently installed outside the Oslo Airport. It is a 135-foot sculpture, the tallest in Norway, using the platonic solids incorporated into a star form discovered by the astronomer, Johannes Kepler. (News of Norway, November 07, 2001)


Truman Capote with Alvin Dewey Jr, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation's lead detective on the Clutter family murder case and his wife Marie.
'Dewey gets much of the credit for an investigative effort that involved law enforcement agents from Washington, D.C., to Nevada. But 45 years after the Clutter murders in Holcomb, it's difficult to separate where Dewey's involvement in the case ends and other lawmen's begins. Furthermore, for all Dewey's experience, some Garden City, Kan., residents are critical of his relationship with Capote and how that affected what ended up in the book.' Full story here.

Belatedly, I sat down to ‘Capote’ on Sunday afternoon and now look what’s happened. I can’t stop thinking about it. Let’s get one thing straight right away. I hate biopics, hence my reluctance to see this film. However Philip Seymour Hoffman does a great job, for which he won the 2006 Best Actor Oscar, the script, based on the 1988 biography by Gerald Clarke, is well-crafted, its elegantly shot and well-directed. The character of Harper Lee, played by Catherine Keener, is beautifully drawn and strikes a perfect note in the unfolding drama. There are false notes but not many. By and large, it works.

History tells us that ‘In Cold Blood,’ – the writing and researching of which is the subject of this film – was the first nonfiction novel and blazed the trail for what has come to be known as New Journalism (see previous posting: The Archaeology of New Journalism). If one wanted to be flippant, you could certainly says it certainly launched the true-crime market.

More importantly and interesting to me was the fact that Capote claimed to have 94% recall of conversations and never used a tape. So how non-fiction was this breakthrough book? Had the years since the book's publication and the author’s death in 1984, revealed new insights as to the veracity of Capote’s account?

A good place to start is in an early chapter of Marc Weingarten’s Whose Afraid of Tom Wolfe ?, which carries an interesting four-page account of the making of In Cold Blood. It confirms that Capote never tape-recorded or recorded any conversations during his six years of research but, for much of that time, Harper Lee (actually Nelle Harper Lee), worked as his stenographer. After each day’s work, Weingarten says, Capote would head back to his hotel room, type everything up from memory and Lee’s notes, and all this was then filed and cross-referenced.

Weingarten also claims that Capote had ‘taught himself to be his own tape recorder’ and that the fact checker at The New Yorker magazine, which had commissioned the story, ‘found Capote to be the most accurate writer that he had ever worked with.’ This, despite the fact, says Weingarten, that ‘Capote was venturing into unknown territory for The New Yorker, writing about events that he didn’t witness, dialogues that he had received second-hand, interior monologues that could only be stitched together from his interviews and a fair amount of creative licence on his part.’

(The magazine published it in four consecutive issues beginning 25th September 1953 and says James Wolcott in Vanity Fair: ‘It was the closest thing the publishing world had seen to Beatlemania.’)

The New Yorker also published a review by Thomas Mallon [Sept 13th 2004] of ‘Too Brief A Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote’ by Gerald Clarke. Mallon writes: ‘And yet, with this collection of letters, as with each biography that has come along, the fictional quotient of Capote’s ‘nonfiction novel’ has to be revised upward…the effect of these small revelations is always dismaying, and diminishing. The more artistry we espy, the less artistic seems the book, which Capote always touted as a miracle of scrupulosity.’

According to ‘Truman Capote's In Cold Blood: The Nevada Connection’ by Guy Louis Rocha: '‘Capote was a novelist using a reporter's approach, and In Cold Blood suffered from the difference. While Capote claimed in a well publicized interview with George Plimpton in the New York Times Review of Books (January 16, 1966) the book was "immaculately factual", the novelist side of him, many times, permitted great liberties with the facts. And some would say he abused both conventions. For example, we know Capote invented the book's final dramatic scene…

"By insisting that 'every word' of his book is true," Phillip K. Tompkins wrote in the June 1966 issue of Esquire, "he has made himself vulnerable to those readers who are prepared to examine seriously such a sweeping claim." Interviewed by George Plimpton, John Richardson, an acclaimed biographer of Pablo Picasso, claimed that "Truman had absolutely no respect for the truth." Richardson continued, "He felt that as a fiction writer he had license to say whatever came into his head as long as it had a surprising point or shape to it, or an unexpected twist to its tail."

Mallon’s New Yorker review of Capote’s letters goes on to say that Capote claimed to be ‘in closest daily contact with some seven or eight Kansans’ in order to nail down the story. That material, says Mallon, is not in the letters ‘but the serious devotee of ‘In Cold Blood’ would like to see them anyway, if only to measure the gradient of the slippery slope that Capote rolled down towards ‘Handcarved Coffins (1980), a superfictionalised ‘nonfiction’ account of another American crime he’d heard about from Alvin Dewey.’

He’s referring here to the centrepiece of Capote’s collection of journalism and short stories called Music For Chameleons’– a lengthy story entitled ‘Handcrafted Coffins’, written in a similar style to ‘In Cold Blood’, about a strange and unsolved series of murders in another small but unidentified Midwestern town.

It was serialised over several weeks in the Sunday Times, but was later exposed by the very same newspaper two years later, as a hoax. In ‘Hoax: Secrets that Truman Capote took to the grave’ by Peter Gillman, published on June 21, 1992, Capote’s account was revealed to be a weaving together of pieces from various cases he had been told about by Alvin Dewey, the very Kansas detective who is the main investigator portrayed in the ‘Capote’ movie. (Dewey was miffed by the book’s publication as he himself had hoped to write a book of his own memoirs, including the real stories that Capote had confected into his own ‘real crime’ story).

According to Wikipedia: ‘In Cold Blood brought Capote much praise from the literary community, but there were some who questioned certain events as reported in the book. Writing in Esquire (1966), Phillip K. Tompkins noted factual discrepancies after he travelled to Kansas and talked to some of the same people interviewed by Capote. In a telephone interview with Tompkins, Mrs. Meier denied that she heard Perry cry and that she held his hand as described by Capote. In Cold Blood indicates that Meier and Perry became close, yet she told Tompkins she spent little time with Perry and did not talk much with him. Tompkins concluded: 'Capote has, in short, achieved a work of art. He has told exceedingly well a tale of high terror in his own way. But, despite the brilliance of his self-publicizing efforts, he has made both a tactical and a moral error that will hurt him in the short run. By insisting that “every word” of his book is true he has made himself vulnerable to those readers who are prepared to examine seriously such a sweeping claim'.

The Book That Changed A Town
In autumn 2004, a class of seven reporting students, a photography student and four documentary film students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln spent the season studying Capote's work and its impact on literature and journalism, the community where the story unfolded and some of its principal characters. The students obtained exclusive interviews from people who had refused to talk publicly about the crime or the book. The four-part series based on their investigations was published in the Lawrence Journal-World, a Kansas newspaper, to mark the 40th anniversary of the original publication of the book. These and the documentary film are available for download.

In an introductory essay: ‘Holcomb still deals with the pain and attention by Truman Capote's novel’ journalist Van Jensen notes: ‘Without In Cold Blood the murders probably would be forgotten to all but those who lived through the suspicion and fear. And that, in part, fuels the lingering pain so many in Holcomb and Garden City feel. But, West says, Capote harmed the people here in another way. West and many others share stories of Capote misquoting people, describing things incorrectly and making up scenes.’

Adam Mars-Jones wrote an interesting piece in The Observer about Capote's long-lost first novel Summer Crossing, first published in November 2005. He notes: 'Capote claims to have turned himself into a human tape recorder for the purpose of In Cold Blood, since witnesses would be put off by recording equipment or a note book. This always seemed a preposterous claim, making the authority of the book rest entirely on his say-so (and the mystery remains of why anyone said anything whatever to this worldly pixie), but his ear was always good.'


‘Infamous’ (previously named ‘Have You Heard?’), written and directed by Douglas McGrath, covers the same territory as ‘Capote’. Starring English actor Toby Jones as Capote, Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee, the movie also features Sigourney Weaver, Peter Bogdanovich and Gwyneth Paltrow making a cameo appearance as Peggy Lee. The film is adapted from George Plimpton’s oral biography Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career. It is due to be released by Warner Independent in September 2006.

In Cold Blood was filmed twice. Richard Brooks directed the 1967 movie which starred Scott Wilson and Robert Blake as the two murderers Dick Hickock and Perry Smith. It was filmed at the actual Clutter house and other locations around Holcomb, Kansas. The "semidocumentary" received four Academy Award nominations in 1968, including one for original music score by jazz/pop-legend Quincy Jones. (Ironically, actor Robert Blake was recently put on trial for murder - and acquitted.)

More recently, a TV miniseries, directed by Jonathan Kaplan and starring Anthony Edwards (Dick Hickock) and Eric Roberts (Perry Smith), aired on US tv in 1996.


*Capote grew up in a small town in Alabama, next door to Harper Lee whose famous book ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ has a character based on him.

*Capote was hired as a copy boy at The New Yorker when still in his teens.

*Capote considered Bob Dylan an unspeakable phony and said of Kerouac’s work: ‘That’s not writing, that’s type-writing.’

*Capote died in the Los Angeles home of Joanne Carson, one of Johnny's ex-wives, on August 25th 1984.
The official cause of death was liver diseas but he had likely overdosed on drugs including Valium, codeine and barbiturates. (Tim Engle, Kansas City Star)

*In an interview with the novelist Edmund White (‘Sweating Mirrors’/After Dark, Sept 1980.) he says that he thinks the most perfect story in his collection ‘Music for Chameleons’ was ‘Then It All Came Down’, which records the visit he made to Robert Beausoleil in prison, ‘the mystery man in the Charles Manson cult.’ [The hired photographer, whose entrance is recorded in White’s reportage, was Robert Mapplethorpe]

*In ‘Tru Grit’ [Vanity Fair /October 2005] James Wolcott says of Capote that he 'looked and sounded like a stunted child – or a hermaphrodite.’ Capote said of himself: ‘I’m about as short as a shot-gun and just as noisy.’

* Capote was, incidentally, forever peeved that this book was overlooked for a Pulitzer Prize which was awarded, a couple of years later, to Norman Mailer’s ‘The Armies of the Night,’ a book which also won the National Book Award. Capote was furious: ‘Norman Mailer, who told me that what I was doing with ‘In Cold Blood’ was stupid and who then sits down and does a complete ripoff.’

Thursday, July 13, 2006


This week we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Nikola Tesla, one of the most remarkable inventors and visionaries the world has ever seen, who is only now receiving the worldwide regard his talent and ingenuity deserves. In fact, UNESCO has declared 2006 the 'Year of Nikola Tesla,' according to 'From Fishing Rods to Death Rays: the man who invented the 20th century' by Vesna Peric Zimonjic in The Independent this week.

The best single round-up ofTesla information can be found at A Blog Around the Clock by Coturnix, a link I found while visiting Pharyngula one of the most popular science blogs written by a scientist on the net, according to Technorati.

That's Tesla on the left, featured in the cover of our first
published book - An Index of Possibilities (1972. Wildwood House/Pantheon Books). This giant alternative encyclopedia - hard to locate these days, even at internet second-hand book sites - was the work of a baker's dozen of us when we were mainly in our twenties, working from an office at 2 Blenheim Crescent in Ladbroke Grove, just off Portobello Road. More extended reminiscences about the Index - now a true cult book - in due course.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


This is how it happened. Twenty years after last hearing from her, the fashion designer Katherine Hamnett called me up and said she was Guest Editor of the Big Issue and asked me to get involved. hence I became, for one issue, Associate Editor of the 10pp cover story of this weeks' mag - the Alternative Energy Review, designed to coincide with the
publication today of the Government's Energy Review, in which it is recommended that we build a number of new nuclear power stations. We reckon there are at least 10 really great reasons not to go for nuclear; rather we should embrace what we're calling the New Energy Revolution. Its on the streets this week so try and get one if you can. More info and news on this issue in due course.