Monday, May 30, 2011



The Legacy, Ira Cohen (1935-2011)


William Burroughs captured in 1966 by Ira Cohen in his Mylar Chamber built in his New York loft

Ira Levin was a prolific multimedia artist and traveller who created a constellation of connections between The Beats, underground artists, writers, theatre people, filmmakers, occultists, poets. There is some wonderful material on him in this collection of links:

Psychedelic Photography by Ira Cohen on chillipaprika , an excellent showcase of his wide-ranging photographic work.

October Gallery. Photo showcase of the work exhibited there from 29 November 2007 to 26 January 2008

Chris Salewicz’s obituary in The Independent


Ira Cohen (1979) by Gerard Malanga. Source: John Coulthart’s wonderful blog Feuilleton

View Cohen ‘s short psychedelic, avant garde film “The Invasion of Thunder Bolt Pagoda” here.

‘Ira Cohen made phantasmagorical films that became cult classics. He developed a way of taking photographs in mesmerizing, twisting colors, including a famous one of Jimi Hendrix. He published works by authors like William Burroughs and the poet Gregory Corso. He wrote thousands of poems himself. He wrote “The Hashish Cookbook” under the name Panama Rose. He called himself “the conscience of Planet Earth.” But his most amazing work of art was inarguably Mr. Cohen himself’

Ira Cohen, an Artist and a Touchstone, Dies at 76. Obituary/New York Times

Ira Cohen: The story of a Storyteller

Ira Cohen remembered on The Allen Ginsberg Project


Image from Ira Cohen’s film ‘King of Straw Mats. See more of his varied work at


@generalist blog

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Photo Editor_gil-scott-heron

Image Source: 13thfloorgrowingold At this link you will find videolinks to the great BBC documentary: ‘The Revolution will Not Be Televised: A Film About Gil Scott-Heron’



Paying tribute to the late great Gil Scott-Heron, who died on 27th May at the age of 62. Widely regarded as one of the godfathers of modern rap ( a title he rejected) his latest music was amongst his strongest. One of the greats. My favourite GSH video here: Me and The Devil

As chance would have it, was reading this excellent book ‘33 Revolutions Per Minute’  By Dorian Lynskey [Faber & Faber], which has an essay on GSH’s most widely known track ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ and other radical political black music of the period. including  the Last Poets.

Lynskey tells us that Scott-Heron was born in Chicago, raised in rural Tennessee, played piano by the age of four and wrote detective novels at the age of 12 and had two novels and a poetry book published before he made his first sound recording – a live recording entitled ‘Small Talk on 125th and Lenox’ – whose highlight  is ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, recorded with the backing of three percussionists. GSH reprised the track on his next album Pieces of A Man (1971), ‘now in possession of a muscular, prowling bass line and darting flame which made Scott-Heron’s words both more commanding and more seductive, and let his sly humour breathe. His subject was a revolution of the mind, not the gun.’

Now to the book as a whole which, as you would guess, contains 33 profiles of protest songs in Western music from ‘Strange Fruit’ by Billie Holiday to ‘America Idiot’ by Green Day, via many of the usual suspects (Guthrie’s ‘This Land Is Your Land’, Dylan’s Masters of War, The Clash’s ‘White Riot) and more abstruse choices (‘I Was Born This Way’ by Carl Bean, The Dead Kennedy’s ‘Holiday in Cambodia’ and Huggy Bear’s ‘Her Jazz’)

PROTEST MUSIC CRASS934 Was pleased to find the essay on Crass’s ‘How Does It Feel’ which has enabled me to identify the fact that the 128pp/A6-size booklet in The Generalist archive – entitled ‘A Series of Shock Slogans and Mindless Toxic Tantrums’  - was first published in leaflet form to accompany their August 1982 double-album ‘Christ: The Album’. The booklet, published later that same year,  contains all the same text (minus the song lyrics), including Penny Rimbaud’s ‘intense memoir-com-manifesto’ called ‘Last of The Hippies.’

[According to a small NME clipping inside the book, Crass planned to publish several more titles under their imprint Existencil Press. Whether they materialised or not I’m not sure.]

‘33 Revolutions Per Minute’ is an extremely useful piece of work. The profiles are well-researched and written, setting song and artist in the musical, political and social contexts of the time. All albums and other artists’ works mentioned are scrupulously listed at the back. There is also a list of 100 other protest songs not mentioned in the book. Extensive notes and index make this a valuable source of reference.

In his Epilogue, Lynskey says that when he began the book, he intended to write a history of a still-vital form of music. Instead, he says, ‘I finished it wondering if I had instead composed a eulogy. He believes that in the ‘atomised age of digital music...the age of the heroic activist-musician is decisively over and the disincentive towards writing protest songs is…the audience’s impatience with any musician who purports to do more than entertain.’

He concludes on a slightly brighter note: ‘To create a successful protest song in the twenty-first century is a daunting challenge, but the alternative, for any musician with strong political convictions is paralysis and gloom. And what I think this book demonstrates is that it has never been easy.’

Now there’s a challenge !


Other Protest Song Lists by isiria on Melange blog


Good post on Smithsonian Folkways archive compilation of classic protest songs [On An Overgrown Path blog]


10 Big Protest songs for An Election Day Soundtrack.  Source: Mystery Tricycle



 This post on the history of the UK road protest movement in Britain was triggered by a chance meet with Jim Hindle, who was good enough to supply a review copy of his excellent book ‘Nine Miles: Two winters of Anti-Road Protest’. This engaging and well-written first-hand account of Jim’s life in various protest camps takes the reader right inside the world of some of the treehouse-dwelling protest groups in the mid-1990s.


A book already lodged in The Generalist library is ‘Copse: The Cartoon Book of Tree Protesting’ written and illustrated by Kate Evans, which documents a number of the main road protests of the 1990s and includes a lot of practical information a ‘Beginner’s Guide to Tree-Protesting’. Packed with cartoons, comics and photos, with numerous first-hand accounts. Some second-hand copies available on the net but the book is currently out of print. Some material from the book is available on the Cartoon Kate site.

There is a useful basic history in Wikipedia: ‘Road Protests in the UK 1950-1979’. Britain’s first motorway was opened in 1958 and, at that time, all political parties were in favour of a substantial road building programme. The first wave of substantial protests against such schemes began in the 1970s; one of the most notable and successful was the fight to stop the London Ringways Scheme.

- ‘a series of four ring roads planned in the 1960s to circle London at various distances from the city centre. They were part of a comprehensive scheme developed by the Greater London Council to alleviate traffic congestion on the city's road system by providing high speed motorway-standard roads within the capital linking a series of radial roads taking traffic into and out of the city. Following the campaign by Homes before Roads, the scheme was cancelled in 1973 at which point only three sections had been constructed’

The movement really kicked off the the 1990s,

In 1989, the Government of Margaret Thatcher ] launched proposals for a trunk road enlargement programme, outlined in the Roads for Prosperity white paper [7] The stated aims of the proposals were to assist economic growth, improve the environment, and improve road safety.[8] The 10-year programme was estimated to cost of £23 billion (1989 prices),[9] with 2,700 miles (4,300 km) of new or improved road to the trunk road network and 150 new bypasses.


Photo: Andrew Testa

Some of the most notable battles were at Twyford Down (1992), Solsbury Hill (1994) Newbury (1996). During the latter campaign, 1,000 people were arrested; the policing bill was £26m. In Nov 1995, 300 road schemes were cancelled; the rest were cancelled when Labour got back into power in 1997.

Protest revived post 2002, following Labour plans ‘a new major road-building program with 360 miles (580 km) of the strategic road network to be widened, 80 major new trunk road schemes to improve safety, and 100 new bypasses on trunk and local roads.’

For current protests see : ‘List of Road Protests in the UK and Ireland.’

There’s a useful and thoughtful history of ‘UK Road Protest up to 1997’ at The Green Fuse, with much more detail of many of the key protests.

How do we measure the success of such a broad based campaign? Specific roads have been completed, but UK Government policy shifted considerably. In a memo allegedly leaked from the U.K. Dept. of Transport, Government civil servant Wenban-Smith admitted that the protests had been effective. Steven Norris, the Tory transport minister who approved the Newbury bypass, finally admitted that protesters were right to oppose the road building programme (Panorama, 17th March 1997).


One of the key anti-road campaigners is Rebecca Lush Blum, who was one of the founders of Road Alert, a national networking site (now defunct) and now part of  the  Campaign for Better Transport

These two sources bring things up to date:

You can follows latest developments in transport policy and road building in the UK at the Roads page on the main Parliamentary website

The page provides links to ‘Transport Policy in 2011: a new direction?’ ( a new Coalition statement from 2nd March this year) and ‘Transport Policy in 2010: A Rough Guide’

A useful Parliamentary briefing paper: ‘Roads: Highway Infrastructure (2nd Nov 2010)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel. Source:

The 25th Anniversary of Chernobyl has passed but the problems remain. In our five Previous Posts [see March and April listings], we have documented some of them in considerable detail. Now a new one has emerged. According to Patrick Evans in The Guardian [26th April]:

‘A consortium of Ukrainian and international scientists is making an urgent call for a $13.5m (£8.28m) programme to prevent potentially catastrophic wildfires inside the exclusion zone (CEZ) surrounding Chernobyl’s ruined nuclear plant.’

There have been 1,000 fires in the 18-mile of radius ring of the CEZ since 1992. Forest accounts for 60% of the CEZ’s 260,000 hectares (642,000 acres). These trees lock up radioactive particles which are held mainly in the needles and bark of Scots Pines. If there is a catastrophic fire, radionuclides could be dispersed over a wide area.

The Generalist flagged up this issue in a Previous Post [NUCLEAR FIRES: RUSSIA AND USA].


A technician checks a spot with a Geiger counter in a forest that burned in 1992. The wildfire released radioactive particles into the air that were deposited there during the 1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl. Experts worry nearby forest, which is becoming overgrown, could again be ripe for a blaze. Patrick Landmann/Getty Images

A technician checks a spot with a Geiger counter in a forest that burned in 1992. The wildfire released radioactive particles into the air that were deposited there during the 1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl. Experts worry nearby forest, which is becoming overgrown, could again be ripe for a blaze.


"The forests have been crowded and untended, and they could very well go up in a catastrophic fire similar to our Western fires," says Chad Oliver, a forestry professor at Yale University who has visited the forest.

"The problem with a catastrophic fire is that they even create their own weather patterns, so you get some very tremendous dispersion of smoke."

"The worst concern is the firefighters going in there would be inhaling quite concentrated radioactive smoke," Oliver says.

He says firefighting equipment at the site is antiquated, and roads are poor, but Ukraine has been getting help from the U.S. Forest Service.

Teams from the Service are advising Ukraine on how to lower the hazards posed by overgrown or downed trees, as well as studying wind and weather patterns in case another conflagration hits Chernobyl.

Source: Challenges Loom Large, 25 Years After Chernobyl by Christopher Joyce. []


HUMAN  925

My son Alex and his partner Anna Dumitriu are two of the participants in this interesting international exhibition at the Science Gallery in Dublin. which explores many aspects of the possible future augmentation of the human body.

Naturally, one of the stars of the show is Stelarc, who is growing an extra ear on his arm, which will be electronically augmented and internet enabled. [See Previous Post: BIOART]

Alex and Anna are Visiting Research Fellows:Artists in Residence in the Adaptive Systems Research Group at the University of Hertfordshire. Their exhibit, produced in cooperation with Prof Kerstin Dautenhahn and Dr Michael Walters, is called ‘My Robot Companion’.

HUMAN  2926

‘What will we do when life extension technologies become the norm and we enter an age when there are no longer sufficient numbers of young people to care for the ageing population ? One likely solution will be to employ robots to care for us, to entertain us and even to provide companionship. My Robot Companion asks what kind of robots do we really want? This project of speculative robot heads is designed to provoke the viewer to consider their future robot companions and ho0w they should look, move and behave.’

The exhibition run until 24th June. Further details at

Anna and Alex are running a ‘My Robot Companion workshop for adults and teenagers at the Gallery on the morning of 4th June.Build your own ideal robot companion. To read further details and book in -  go here

See Alex talking about on the project:

Saturday, May 14, 2011



The Generalist is a big fan of the work of Michael Gray. You can hear a long interview with him on the Audio Generalist in which explains how he came to write the first ever critical study of Dylan’s work entitled ‘Song and Dance Man’, published originally in 1972, and talks at length about his truly excellent book on Blind Willie McTell [see Previous Post: Chasing the Blues].

He now has an audio disc of readings from his remarkable book ‘The Bob Dylan Encyclopaedia’, first published in 2006, now available in paperback. See the BDE Blog for updates. You can buy signed copies of his books and the audio disc from



Published by Aloes Press in London by Jim Pennington (who did the printing and layout)  in either late 1971 or 1972. It was an edition of 300. The poem it contains was first printed as liner notes to ‘Joan Baez in Concert Part 2.It has an introduction by A.J. Weberman, the garbologist, dated 14 November 1971. It reads as follows:DYLAN4923


Undated with no publishing details except: ‘the bob dylan archive ultd’. written on the back cover. In form: a 48pp A5 booklet, staples with a card cover, printed on interspersed buff, blue and white paper with black and white photo sections. Subtitled ‘Personal sketches 1962-65’, it contains the following poems:


Any further information on these publications gratefully received. [Both are smoke-damaged, having survived a fire in my library back in the 1990s]

In the middle of preparing this post, discovered BOB DYLAN IS 70 on May 24th. via on excellent piece by John Harris, entitled ‘The Day I (Nearly) Met Bob Dylan’ in The Guardian.  Paper also contains review of Greil Marcus’ new book ‘Bob Dylan: Writings 1968-2010’ which doesn’t seem to be available on the web. Here’s a US interview with Marcus from the Speakeasy blog of the Wall Street Journal




The Generalist was intrigued to read this article in The Independent: ‘Breathe In, Breathe Out, and drop the Coke’ by Sholto Byrnes. Here as some choice quotes. I like the cut of his jib."Capitalism brainwashes us through advertising and the skewing of priorities .... We need economies that promote human values, seek to limit suffering, and are committed to democratic principles, rather than ones dependent on global trade and a blind commitment to neo-liberal economic policies."

"You in the West have been indoctrinated by the Cartesian concept of thinking: I think, therefore I am. But the ego, the 'I' – it's not real. We are all inter-related." His path is not "cogito ergo sum" but "I breathe, therefore I am".

Sivaraksa suggests that the West should open itself up to "cognitive diversity", to truths from different cultures. "As Gandhi said, 'Any wind coming through.'" Or, as Sivaraksa puts it in his new book: "We uncritically accept 'established knowledge' ... It is time for us to question the fundamentals of the Enlightenment in order to become truly enlightened."

‘you have to start with personal happiness, with helping others and the feeling that others are more important than us. … When people change, then the governments will change."

The Wisdom of Sustainability: Buddhist Economics for the 21st Century by Sulak Sivaraksa (Souvenir Press £10)





Following a Previous Post [Out and About: Michael Chapman and William Tyler], both recording artists on the Tompkins Square label, The Generalist received an e-mail from the label’s founder Josh Rosenthal, who talks/writes about the hows and whys of founding the label, initially inspired by a certain number of key guitarists including John Fahey and Robbie Basho, who were creating a new kind of instrumental music which linked ‘primitive’ blues sounds with a kind of New Folk that sounded fresh and inspired, strange and wonderful. In our current time, it is a music that many young players are drawing on.

To create such a label is a considerable achievement and Tompkins Square is stuffed with interesting sounds. Josh was good enough to send me four for review:

- the aforementioned William Tyler’s ‘Behold the Spirit’ (full description in earlier post) which is atmospheric and unexpected, an exploration of sonic possibilities, from a third generation Nashville guitarist.

Frank Fairfield’s eponymous debut. Greil Marcus describes him thus: “A young Californian who sings and plays as someone who’s crawled out of the Virginia mountains carrying familiar songs that in his hands sound forgotten: broken lines, a dissonant drone, the fiddle or the banjo all percussion, every rising moment louder than the one before it.” He’s on tour in US and Europe promoting his new album ‘Out On the Open West.’

Ben Hall’s  first album is full of guitar tunes heavily influenced by his heroes Merle Travis and Chet Atkins. According to his official bio ‘in 2005 he won the National and International Thumbstyle Guitar contests as well as the Horizon Award from the National Thumbpicker’s Hall of Fame.’ In other words, he’s pretty nifty.

Imaginational Anthem 4: a wonderful compilation of mainly young players headed by an awesome first track by Chris Forsyth. An ideal taster of what Tomkins Square has to offer.

Josh tells me that he started the label after 15 years at Sony Music and is really enjoying it.  He writes ’I lived on Tompkins Square Park for 15 years. Great tradition of radicalism going back to the mid 1800’s in there. But just a wonderful square acre in the E Village where I spent a lot of time with my kinds etc.’

This is a label that deserves your attention and support.

Sunday, May 08, 2011




Yesterday, across Europe and in China, demonstrations and events were staged as part of the ‘Make IT Fair’ Action Day. Their particular focus this year was Apple.

makeITfair is coordinated by the Dutch organisation SOMO (Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations).  It is a European project focusing on the electronics industry, especially on consumer electronics like mobile phones, laptops and MP3 players.

logo fair apple small

They say: ‘We want to let young people across Europe know about the labour abuses and environmental problems that are going on right now around the world – just to satisfy our demand for all the latest electronic gadgets. And we want young people to get active to improve the situation. Together we can hold big brand electronics companies to account – asking them to take responsibility for the labour abuses and environmental damage at the bottom of their supply chain.’

SOMO hosts the website of GoodElectronics, the International Network on Human Rights and Sustainability in Electronics

Find out why makeITfair and Good Electronics are targeting Apple


Exhausted workers take their 10-minute break from the production lines at the Foxconn factory in China. Apple is one of Foxconn’s biggest clients.

Their giant factory in the industrial city of Shenzen employs almost half a million people. Wages are poor, overtime obligatory, management harsh. Workers have to stand for the whole of their shift and are not allowed to talk to their colleagues.

In May 2010, there was  a wave of workers (18 in total) at Foxconn who tried to commit suicide.

[Source: ‘The Story behind Apple’ by Leontien Aarnoudse)



‘The Other Side of Apple’ is a report by the Institute of Environmental and Public Affairs, a Beijing-based NGO, published in January this year, based on a nine-month study of working condition at seven locations in China. It ranks Apple last out of 29 global technology companies in terms of responsiveness and transparency to health and environmental concerns in China.

‘Since 2007, Apple has used a combination of style, design and innovative technology to create a sales frenzy over its iPad, iPhone, and other products.   

‘Whenever new Apple products go on sale, crowds of fans eager to be the first to get their hands on them line up overnight in cities like New York, London, Tokyo and Shanghai.

‘Behind their stylish image, however, Apple products have a side that many do not know about  - pollution and poison. This side is hidden deep within the company’s secretive supply chain, out of view from the public.

‘At the same time that Apple has been breaking sales records, workers making its products have been harmed by toxic chemicals.   Many of the employees who have been sickened still suffer physically  and emotionally.    Their labor rights and basic dignity have been ignored and their communities have been burdened with polluted water and air.

‘The year 2010 witnessed a rash of suicides at the company Foxconn, a major Apple supplier.  In all, twelve employees jumped from the tops of buildings, ten of them to their deaths.    The grief and pain of these ten young lives cut short is still felt today.    Given that Apple rarely discloses information regarding its supply chain, it is hard for the public to know Apple’s views, other than what was released in a simple statement which merely commented that it was “saddened and  upset by the recent suicides at Foxconn.” ‘


image image

‘Foxconn has reportedly sought the help of Buddhist monks and hired a hundred mental health professionals to counsel its factory workers. Concerns are growing regarding the pressures of factory life in China and the emotional vulnerability of young employees. ‘


Foxconn's walled Shenzhen factory complex, the Longhua Science & Technology Park, is a citadel, within a city within a megalopolis of 14 million people and growing. The Daily Mail dubbed it iPod City back in 2006 - since then its size has nearly doubled. Here Foxconn employs over 420,000 people - more than the population of Bristol (in fact there are only 9 cities in the UK with more people). With such a large migrant workforce, lacking residency permits (hukou), most employees live in company owned dormitories, and travel to work on company buses. The streets, buildings and infrastructure are all Foxconn built and owned.

In addition to its dozens of assembly lines and dormitories, Longhua has a fire brigade, hospital and employee swimming pool, where Mr. Gou (the founder of Hon Hai) does early morning laps when he is there. Restaurants, banks, a grocery store and an Internet cafe line the company town's main drag. More than 500 monitors around the campus show exercise programs, worker-safety videos and company news produced by the in-house television network, Foxconn TV. Even the plant's manhole covers are stamped "Foxconn."



‘Apple engineers refer to the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen – where the world’s iPads, iPods, Playstations, Nintendos and Kindles are assembled  - as ‘Mordor’

- Will Self, review of ‘Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next’ by John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay/London Review of Books


Foxconn  Hand iPhone Suicide Case to Chinese Police/

A Look Inside the Foxconn suicide factory/Daily Telegraph

Apple Boss Defends Conditions at iPhone factory/BBC

Foxconn Plans Brazil Factory for Apple Products /PC World


The latest Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics (published in October 2010) ranks Apple at No 9, down from No 5 the year before.

‘The guide ranks the 18 top manufacturers of personal computers, mobile phones, TVs and games consoles according to their policies on toxic chemicals, recycling and climate change. Last updated: October 2010. Our three goals for this guide are to get companies to:

  • Clean up their products by eliminating hazardous substances.
  • Take back and recycle their products responsibly once they become obsolete.
  • Reduce the climate impacts of their operations and products.

The entry on Apple reads as follows:

Apple does best on the toxic chemicals criteria, where it scores most of its points. All Apple products are now free of PVC vinyl plastic and brominated flame retardants (BFRs), with the exception of PVC-free power cords in countries where their safety certification process is still ongoing. For this Apple continues to score full marks (doubled). Apple scores points for its chemicals policy informed by the precautionary principle and for lobbying the EU institutions for a ban on PVC, chlorinated flame retardants and BFRs during the current revision of the EU’s RoHS Directive (Restriction of Hazardous Substances in electronics), but for full marks it needs to provide a public position on its support for immediate restrictions in RoHS 2.0 on organo- chlorine and bromine compounds. It also needs to clarify its stance regarding the position of the trade federation TechAmerica on further immediate restrictions and in particular PVC and BFRs. Apple scores only one point on information about its management of chemicals and its supply chain communications; this criterion evaluates disclosure of information flow in the supply chain. Apple also continues to score poorly for the minimal information it provides about its future toxic chemical phase-out plans.

Caption: Illustration showing hot and cool areas in a server row. Data centers visualize this information to ascertain areas of excessive heat and overcooling. Overcooled areas are a waste of energy and areas that are too hot jeopardize equipment performance.

Source: Datacenter Architecture for Environmental Sustainability - “Green Datacenters”

Greenpeace has more recently {April 2011]  produced a very interesting report on data centres: ‘How Dirty Is Your Data: A Look at the Energy Choices That Power Cloud Computing’

According to Greenpeace, the data centres which house the virtual information cloud, consume 1.5%-2% of the all global electricity at present. This is growing  at a the rate of 12% a year.

The report analyses the following companies: Akamai, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo.

They assess their use of renewable, use of coal, transparency, infrastructure siting and Mitigation Strategy. Yahoo came top, Apple came last.

Apple’s Mythical NC Data Center On Brink Of Reality

Source: ‘Apple’s Mythical NC Data Center On Brink of Reality’ by A.T. Faust [21st April 2011/

One of the major reasons for Apple’s mark down is their decision to locate a new Data Center in North  Carolina which, say Greenpeace, ‘has an electrical grid among the dirtiest in the country (61% coal, 31% nuclear) [which] indicates a lack of corporate comittment to clean energy supply for cloud operations….The massive iData Center has estimated electricity demand (at full capacity) as high as triple Apple’s current total reported electricity use, which will unfortunately have a significant impact on Apple’s environmental foot print.’

Here is Apple’s official website  statement: The Story Behind Apple’s Environmental Footprint

Here is the company’s first environmental statement - ‘A Green Apple’ by Steve Jobs, released on 4th May 2007. It makes interesting reading now.


image The Olusosum dump site in Lagos; Image Courtesy of Greenpeace.

image E-Waste Protester at CES, Image Courtesy Abby Seiff

Source: ‘The Story of E-Waste: What Happens To Tech Once It’s Trash by Gord Gable [GIZMODO/23rd April 2011]



On average a computer is 23% plastic, 32% ferrous metals, 18% non-ferrous metals (lead, cadmium, antimony, beryllium, chromium and mercury), 12% electronic boards (gold, palladium, silver and platinum) and 15% glass. Only about 50% of the computer is recycled, the rest is dumped. The toxicity of the waste is mostly due to the lead, mercury and cadmium – non-recyclable components of a single computer may contain almost 2 kilograms of lead. Much of the plastic used contains flame retardants, which makes it difficult to recycle.

How do you recycle a computer?
In many countries entire communities, including children, earn their livelihoods by scavenging metals, glass and plastic from old computers. To extract the small quantity of gold, capacitors are melted down over a charcoal fire. The plastic on the electrical cords is burnt in barrels to expose the copper wires. All in all each computer yields about US $6 worth of material (Basel Action Network). Not very much when you consider that burning the plastic sends dioxin and other toxic gases into the air. And the large volume of worthless parts are dumped nearby, allowing the remaining heavy metals to contaminate the area.


‘Old computers and other e-waste from British government departments have been discovered at dumpsites in African countries and in containers headed for the continent, according to the UK’s environment agency.

‘The chairman of the agency, Lord Smith, warned that the amount of illegally exported e-waste is rising and that in addition to health and environmental concerns, it is also a threat to British national security, due to the risk that sensitive information could still be stored in the computers’ hardware.’

Source: ‘UK govt and European e-waste illegally dumped in Africa’   [13th Sep 2010/]

‘…there is no question as to the benefits offered by technology. But apart from its use, other stages in an electronic product’s life cycle such as its manufacturing, recycling, and disposal entail impacts that could make one look at electronic gadgets differently. Contrary to the “clean” image being projected by the high-technology industry, there are also serious health and environmental downsides.’

‘The U.S. is said to export 50 to 80 percent of its e-waste to Asian countries, namely, China, Thailand, Singapore, India, and Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaysia are suspected to be e-waste destinations too.’

Source: ‘The bane of hi-tech waste’ by Karol Ilagen [ The Daily PCIJ/10th Oct 2008]


‘Challenging the chip: labor rights and environmental justice in the global electronics industry’By Ted Smith, David Allan Sonnenfeld, David N. Pellow



Garbage In, Garbage out [The Economist/24th April 2011]

‘WEEE is the fastest growing garbage problem in Europe. To make matters worse, authorities do not know where half of it ends up. At current capacity only one-third of waste electrical and electronic equipment, to give its full name, is safely discarded. Annual generation of unwanted TVs, computers, mobile phones, kettles, refrigerators and the like, far outstrips the ability to collect and recycle it. By 2020 Europeans will be creating more than 12m tonnes annually.

‘In addition to environmental and health risks, Europe faces a supply shortage of many rare materials needed for electronic products, including cobalt, mercury and lead, which can, in theory, be recovered. It is no great surprise, then, that collection for recycling of e-waste is a major priority for EU policymakers. Laws to this end have been in force since 2004, but are regarded even by eurocrats as excessively confusing and ineffective, and are in the process of being rewritten.’

The article also reports:

‘Aaron Engel-Hall, a member of the Stanford University team which last year created a prototype for the world’s first fully modular and recyclable laptop, explains that an entire portable computer can, theoretically, be recycled. "The most difficult step is separating the materials.” For example, Apple's MacBook is built around an aluminium shell which could be safely disposed of with general household waste. Problems arise with the embedded its glass display, rubber-padded edges and vacuum-sealed LCD screen inside.

The modular concept, known as Project Bloom, is appealing in other ways, too. Modules, such as a USB drive, circuit board or LCD screen, could be swapped in as they break or become obsolete. The laptop design is such that it can be dissembled without tools in under two minutes. Such devices could prove a boon to cash-strapped consumers, all the while making them easier to dispose of (eg, the computer can be dismantled into parts small enough to post off to recyclers).’

See more details on Inhabit: ‘Stanford students design a fully recyclable laptop’

‘Better management of e-waste needed’ [The Times of India/23rd April 2011]

‘It is time that we accept that e-waste should not be treated as any other normal waste or as scrap. It can be dangerous causing ill-effects to the human health if not recycled properly. It can also be used to extract confidential data of an organisation for misuse.

‘Officials are drafting rules that pin the responsibility for disposal on the producer. Various recycling units are coming up to take over from the unorganised sector, which currently handles this hazardous waste in the most primitive and environmentally unfriendly methods. But the problem is that the method of recycling is still hopelessly outdated in India. Presently, there are some formal recyclers in India, but their operation is limited to disassembly and segregation.

‘Only one recycler provides complete end-to-end, integrated recycling facility in India. Of the 70 million tonnes of e-waste generated globally, about 450,000 tonnes is from India, the bulk of it from television sets.

‘Mobile phones, printers and industrial equipment are also sources of electronic waste. The concern here is that,it is growing at a rate of 10-15 per cent annually in India,whereas the global rate of growth is 3 per cent.’

Does this belong to you? Apple e-waste in China.

Does this belong to you? Apple e-waste in China.

© Greenpeace / Bruno Rebelle

Sunday, May 01, 2011



Discovered this book thanks to a recommendation in the back of Rory Maclean’s ‘Magic Bus’ [See Previous Post: The Hippie Trail], for which I eternally grateful. It describes a journey from Geneva to the Khyber Pass made in 1952/1953 by writer Nicolas Bouvier and artist Thierry Vernet in a tiny but sturdy Fiat Topolino, This one of the great travel books. Patrick Leigh Fermor describes it as ‘…nothing short of masterpiece’ with which I concur. Long a cult book in France and Switzerland, the first English translation was not published until 2007 by Eland Books, a fantastic imprint.

Bouvier’s stylistic and observational skills are CULT BOOK5916 extraordinary, describing what is now a lost world, a magic journey illustrated with Vernet’s striking artwork. Trundling at 20mph for the most part, through a sequence of stunning landscapes, surviving on scraps of money they earn along the way, they encounter gipsy musicians, mystics, fortune tellers, shepherds, merchants, imams and peoples of many tribes and beliefs, all of whom, by and large, take the young men into their hearts and homes. Vernet played the accordion with musicians they met en route and also recorded many of them on a trusty tape recorder. Bouvier, who authored several other travel books and novel died in 1998; Vernet, a multitalented artist, died  in 1993. Their legacy is this priceless gem of a book.


‘Among the Irish,’says Anne Enright, ‘Dermot Healy is the writer’s writer. He is the man.’ This new novel, his first for 11 years, demonstrates why he is held in such high regard.

Set in modern-day Ireland, in a small coastal community, its central characters are a lad nicknamed Psyche, his granduncle Joejoe, his uncle’s friend Blackbird, plus Ma and Da, girlfriend Anna and a wealth of other finely-drawn characters. Its a novel of intense charm, beautifully realised dialogue, sensuous landscapes, eccentric humour and great tenderness. Healy’s immaculate style draws you into this world and magically brings it to life in such an engaging manner that you share and deeply feel the joys and sadness of this beautiful tale. It will touch your heart.


 American gay novelist James Wilcox has written eight novels set in or featuring characters from the fictional town of Tula Springs, Louisiana, of which the finest and best known is ‘Modern Baptists’, first published in 1983.

Widely regarded as a comic genius by his many better-known literary admirers, his work has singularly failed to achieve mass-market recognition. As a result, according to a 1994 New Yorker profile (‘Moby Dick in Manhattan by James B. Stewart) he lives on the edge of penury, eking out three meals from a $4 chicken, determinedly devoted to his singular literary output.

In an informative introduction, novelist Jim Crace, tells us that Wilcox lived in New York for thirty years before brevisiting his home state in the 1980s. The novels are built on the tension between the reality he found there and his own nostalgic memories of how the Pelican State used to be. Crace writes: Into this rich, nostalgic loam…James Wilcox has planted his shuffling conga line of ill-starred and unrequited lovers, with chunky Burma LaSteele, check-out girl at the Sonny Boy Bargain Store adoring her hopeless assistant manager Bobbie Pickens, while Bobby himself pursues the skinny counter assistant Toinette Quaid, who has set her heart on Bobby’s parasitic Catholic half-brother, the handsome coke-snorting FX…It is fertile ground for Wilcox’s comic eye, and the resulting novel is touching, hilarious and frenzied.’

The Generalist found it highly entertaining and can only hope that the Coen Brothers do a movie version that will bring wider acclaim and a generous dollop of lucre to this fine writer who so richly deserves it.


Let’s not mince words. This is one of weirdest and most disturbing novels I have ever read. It defies easy classification. I am reluctant to give much away because a huge part of the power of the book lies in the unfolding sense of surprise and dread that the novel gradually reveals. Lets just say the main character is Isserley who is obsessed by picking up well-muscled male hitch-hikers for a her own strange purposes. The unexpected nightmare begins.