Thursday, April 27, 2017


Bill Butler at the Reading Festival/Photo of the original Unicorn Books building

Jolie Booth and Sinna One

Almost four years ago THE GENERALIST published a post on


John Upton and family
Bill and his partner Mike, established this great Beat/Psychedelic bookshop and the building was decorated with a wonderful mural by Brighton artist John Upton. 

When I was 18/19 years old, I knew these guys and the shop very well. I regularly went there to use their mimeograph machine to print our small magazine called 'Swan'. Full story in this Previous Post which was triggered by meeting Terry Adams who, for many years, has been assembling material on Bill and the Unicorn. Photographer Barry Pitman is also working on interviews with people who knew Bill well. He tells me that Graham Greene described Unicorn as 'one of the most interesting bookshops in Great Britain'.

More information on the legal problems Bill Butler had are highlighted in this interesting post: "A DIRTY AND DISEASED MIND": THE UNICORN BOOKSHOP OBSCENITY TRIAL By Mike Holliday
Jim Pennington at the European Beat Studies
Network conference at Manchester
University 2016
Ink Monkey salutes the genius of iconic publisher Aloes Books, and co-founder Jim Pennington, whose samizdat publications during the 1970s and 1980s included works by Thomas Pynchon, Bob Dylan, William Burroughs, Patti Smith and Kathy Acker.

'Aloes Books was founded by the printer Jim Pennington and two poets from the alternative poetry scene, Allen Fisher and Richard Miller.

“I was in Brighton in 1967, the year Bill Butler opened his Unicorn bookshop, and I became part of the scene around the shop," says Pennington. "Bill was more than just a bookseller – he was a presence.
'Through the shop, and the wider Brighton arts scene generally, I met a lot of interesting and inspiring people, people like Nick Heath and Jim Duke, well-known and active anarchists whose enthusiasm and spirit-warming influence had a great effect on me, and also the mural artist John Upton, who made me think more visually back at a time when street decorations, murals were the new thing.   
'What was good about Unicorn was the fact that the people who worked there, and some of the people who went there, had a harder, more political edge to their thinking. They were hippies but not the bells-and-kaftans type. Each visit to the shop was an exploration, because I would often visit not specifically looking to buy something but looking to be guided to something, often American which you couldn’t get easily elsewhere.”
Unicorn helped Pennington along the road to becoming a printer/publisher by allowing him to experiment on their machine. It was the start of a passion for the printed word that remains with him to this day.'

A couple of years ago, on a visit to Brighton, I noticed that the original bookshop building was for rent, I got the estate agent to show me round and asked if it was possible either to uncover the original mural or paint a new one. In the end, I couldn't raise the necessary finance.

Then I met Jolie Booth who runs an outfit called Kriya Arts in Brighton. She had squatted a building in the 80s and discovered the diaries and letters of Brightonian Anne Clarke, who was prominent in the alternative cultural movements in the town, Jolie made this information into a successful one-woman theatrical show in 2016. This year, as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival, she is conducting a walking tour -an immersive journey through the streets of  1960's/1970's Brighton -  exploring places that Anne wrote about and explaining how she left an imprint on the city. Details of this Hip Trip are available here. 

One of the stops on the journey is the former Unicorn Bookshop where Anne worked for a period. This gave Jolie the idea of rebooting the mural. She managed to persuade Brighton Council to fund the project and to get Sinna One (whose rock murals grace The Albert just up the road) to paint it. When he saw the photo of the original mural, he immediately thought of the character of Lady Raincorn from the animated series 'Adventure Time' which forms the main part of this new artwork. Congrats to all concerned. An opening ceremony celebrating the new Unicorn frontage will be held on May 4th at 6:30pm.

PS: Jolie Booth has also written a novel 'The Girl Who'll Rule The World' published in 2016 by The King's England Press. The blurb claims: 'This book is 'Fifty Shades'or the Trainspotting generation, 'Fear of Flying' for pill poppers or 'Bridget Jones' for  those who are so off their faces they can't remember what happened yesterday.'

Sunday, April 09, 2017


There is a whole new literature out there about remaking the world. Its the mood of the moment.

Before introducing two recent titles, I keep returning to some of Jean Paul Sartre's thoughts and words - notes I've taken whilst reading 'At the Existentialist Cafe' by Sarah Bakewell [reviewed in this earlier post].

One of Sartre's biggest things was the notion of freedom. With freedom comes choice. Ultimately you must take the plunge and do something. The whole mixture of things around you is 'the situation' out of which you must act. Sartre writes: 'Starting from where you are now, you choose. And in choosing you also choose who you will be.' This is 'difficult and unnerving' and 'the need to make decisions brings constant anxiety', To make it more stressful, says Bakewell, what you do really matters. 'You must make choices as though you were choosing on behalf of the whole of humanity.' Sartre believed that if you avoid this - claiming to be the victim of circumstance or of someone's bad advice' you will be choosing a fake existence cut off from your own 'authenticity'.

It is possible to be authentic and free as long as you keep up the effort. There is no traced-out path to lead a man to his salvation. He must constantly invent his own path. If he does so, he is free, responsible, without excuse, and every hope lies within him. [Simone de Beauvoir shared his views and spoke out for women's freedoms in 'The Second Sex']

It was 1945. Europe was in ruins, the Death Camps had been discovered and atom bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.A new world had to be built out of the old, Sartre's big question was 'If we are free, how can we use our freedom well in such challenging times'. He believed  we have to decide what kind of world we want and make it happen. In his essay 'The End of War' he wrote that from now on we know we can destroy ourselves. If we want to survive we have to decide to live.


'Flatpack Democracy' is a DIY Guide to Creating Independent Politics by Peter Macfadyen. []

We are used in Britain to the idea of Independent candidates. They are usually considered somewhat eccentric. Lone Independents can make a difference and serve a purpose but for Peter Macfadyen this was not enough.

Disgusted by local elections which he considered to be a democratic sham, he decided that the way forward was to take over the whole council in Froome, Somerset. They succeeded in capturing 17 seats and have set out to completely change the culture and purpose of the Council, successfully creating a track record of projects and schemes that have proved to be of real value to the people of the town. His book explains how to go about this.

There is another movement abroad to build a coalition of Greens, Liberals and others to take on the major parties and move the country towards proportional representation. Macfadyen doesn't favour that route.

A few other places in Britain are following the same path, either influenced by FD or arriving at the same place by a different route. They include: Liskeard (Cornwall), Newbuty (Berkshire), Bradford-on-Avon (Wiltshire), Wells, Wedmore and Shepton Mallett (Somerset), Arlesey (Bedfordshire), Buckfastleigh (Devon) and Alderley Edge (Cheshire)


See: Video Interview with McFadyen on Educating Independence website.

McFadyen writes a 'Flatpack Democracy report: The People Are Revolting' (March 16th 2017) on

How Flatpack Democracy beat the old parties in the People’s Republic of Frome
On 7 May, a small Somerset town voted against traditional party politics and gave a coalition of independents control of all 17 seats on its council. As the crucible of ‘flatpack democracy’, Frome is leading a small-scale political revolution – and it’s one that is spreading
John Harris/22.5.2015


This engaging book, first published in 2015, has acquired added relevance in our new world order. Popovic's light touch and fluent story telling make it a pleasure to read. It delivers valuable ideas. Here's some basic info from

'Srdja Popovic outlines his philosophy for implementing peaceful world change and provides a model for activists everywhere through stories of his own experience toppling dictatorships (peacefully) and of smaller examples of social change (like Occupy Wall Street or fighting for gay rights). Through examples of using laughter and music (e.g., Pussy Riot) to disarm the opposition and gather supporters, to staging a protest of Lego Men in Siberia (when flesh-and-blood people would have been shot), to a boycott of Cottage cheese in Israel to challenge price inflation while organizing around rice pudding to overthrow the dictator of the Maldives, Popovic uses true and sometimes outrageously clever examples of the ways in which non-violent resistance has achieved its means. Popovic argues in favor of non-violent resistance not for ideological reasons (as persuasive as those are) but because non-violence actually works better than violence. This is an inspiring (and useful!) guide for any activist--and a thoroughly entertaining read for any armchair politico. In addition, the stories Popovic tells here are hilarious, accessible, inspiring, and at times outrageous. Aside from his own experiences, he includes little-known stories from the lives of Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Harvey Milk, Martin Luther King Jr., etc.'

Srdja Popovic, the slacker-turned-world revolutionary--named "the secret architect of the Arab Spring" by The Atlantic--who orchestrated the non-violent fall of Milošević in his native Serbia, and went on to influence peaceful uprisings from Georgia to Zimbabwe to Lebanon.

Srdja Popovic was one of the founders of the Serbian nonviolent resistance group Otpor! Otpor!’s campaign against Serbian president Slobodan Milosovic was successful in October 2000 when thousands of protestors took over the Serbian Parliament. After the revolution, Popovic served a term as a member of the Serbian National Assembly.

In 2003, Popovic and other ex-Otpor! activists started the non-profit the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS). CANVAS has worked with activists from 46 different countries, including Zimbabwe, Burma, Iran, and Venezuela, spreading knowledge of the nonviolent strategies and tactics used by Otpor!. Recently, CANVAS worked with the April 6 Movement, a key group in the 2011 Egyptian uprising.
In November 2011, Foreign Policy Magazine listed Srdja Popovic as one of the "Top 100 Global Thinkers" of 2011 for inspiring the Arab Spring protesters. In 2012 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2014 he was listed as a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum in Davos.

See: 'Meet Srdja Popovic, the secret architect of global revolution' Jon Henley Guardian 8 March 2015


Thursday, April 06, 2017


THE GENERALIST was by last-minute chance one of the 15 participants in what was billed as a 'Campfire Conversation' in the Sheriff's Room of the White Hart Hotel in Lewes. The event was organised and headed by Pete Lawrence - the self-styled conceptualist, brand guardian and firestarter - who will be well-known to many as founder of the record label Cooking Vinyl and co-founder with Katrina Larkin of the now famous Big Chill Festival. The latter began in 1994 with a series of ambient parties at the Union Chapel in Islington and went on to become a big fixture on the annual UK festival scene, held at various locations, principally the grounds of Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire. 

In Lewes, Pete was very low-key in his presentation of his past achievements. He encouraged us to sit in a circle and then we were asked to say who we were in turn and why we were there. We were given printed sheets with information about what Campfire Conversations is all about but I don't think I was alone in not really understanding where all this was coming from. It provided a forum, giving people an opportunity to share thoughts and ideas about what is going on in the world. There were a number of people there who expressed concern at recent world events and were unsure about the future.  I wanted to be positive about what appeared to be a new social networking initiative but came away with mixed feelings.

Post the meeting, turns out Pete was staying in Lewes and he came round to see me for a hour and can now report with a better sense of where he is coming from. He has spent many years developing the idea of a Campfire social network site, which he describes as 'an evolutionary platform for creative thinkers, funded and shaped by its own members.' 

This is linked to a variety of Campfire gatherings. There is an annual Campfire Convention - the first was held in August 2016 'in a beautiful spot in the Golden Valley on the English side of The Black Mountains (just a few miles from the original and inspirational first Big Chill Gala event which created history 21 years ago) and utilises one of the most spectacular pub settings in the UK,[the Bridge Inn in Herefordshire] surrounded by a stream and open fields leading to the Cat's Back and the foothills leading to Offa's Dyke'.  and There were just 500 tickets for the event as a whole. The 2017 Convention is August 4th-6th at Harwarden Estate, North Wales.

The keynote speaker at the first convention was Brian Eno. His quote in the Campfire literature is a good one:

‘Everybody knows we are at a turning point. The old order has become unstable and is breaking down around us. That process is conspicuous but what is not so obvious is that new shoots are starting to emerge too. The future is being born but nobody is paying much attention to it. Disaster sells newspapers but hope generally doesn’t. The end of an old order is the beginning of a new one. How it turns out depends on us and what we dare to hope for.’ 

His speech continued: 

'Nicholas Albery was a man who peddled hope. He founded and ran an organisation called THE INSTITUTE FOR SOCIAL INVENTIONS but unfortunately died in a car accident in 2001. Every year he published one or two or even three books in which he collected together any good social ideas he’d picked up…and the books were bursting with them. For me, it was the best read available.

The ideas ranged from the microcosmic - how to prevent slugs eating your strawberries, for example - to the cosmic - how solve global warming by moving the Earth into a slightly different orbit.

Nick’s death left a great hole: ever since then I’ve been wanting to see an organisation that would do the same job - act as a place for the sharing of new social ideas. There isn’t any money in a lot of these ideas, so they don’t get aggressively promoted and are often ignored by the media. I want to see those ideas coming out into the open to be tried and tested and improved. 
Is that something we could do at Campfire?'

You can read more about Nicholas Albery on THE GENERALIST

The event in Lewes was a Campfire Conversation event which Pete is either organising (or encourage others to organise) around the country.

You can find out more information at these websites:

Saturday, April 01, 2017


São Paulo born, Mônica Vasconcelos has over the last decade become one of the most successful Brazilian artists working in Britain with seven albums to her credit and a long string of headline concert tours, festival appearances and support slots for the likes of Bryan Ferry, Gilberto Gil and Courtney Pine. 

Her latest album, The São Paulo Tapes, features her own versions of protest songs from the 1960s, penned during the dark years [1964-1985] when Brazil was governed by a harsh military regime. Outright protest was banned and these songs use coded metaphors to get their anti-government feelings across. Even  so, many musicians were arrested, tortured or exiled during this period. In the hands of Mônica and her excellent band, these beautiful tunes and heartfelt songs are brought back into the light of day at a time when Brazil is still racked with protest and uproar. The album, produced by Robert Wyatt, is officially released in November but is available for purchase now on Mônica's website. She and the band will be touring the UK and Europe later this year. In a message to THE GENERALIST, Monica writes about her project:

'What do you do with a selection of perfectly formed Brazilian songs written 50 years ago in defiance of a military dictatorship? If you are singer Monica Vasconcelos, you travel to São Paulo and invite a fine guitarist of the Joao Gilberto line (Ife Tolentino) into the studio with you. You record the songs and smuggle the secret files - now The São Paulo Tapes - back to London. Then, you lure the great Robert Wyatt out of retirement to produce the album. He's never produced an album before but you know he will fall for this music because it is right up his street: resistance music. Dangerous, forbidden songs, carrying secret subversive messages in them. A year later, what comes out of this  encounter between Robert Wyatt, Monica Vasconcelos, a bunch of musician dudes and Brazil's finest song poets is an album of powerful music that feels incredibly current. Uncover the secrets hidden in The São Paulo Tapes. Beautiful songs addressing universal themes. Love. Freedom. Justice.' 

The other big musical movement in Brazil in the '60s during the reign of the junta was Tropicalia - a coming together of free souls, experimenting with adding world rock and pop styles to Brazilian genres, cutting things up and making new possibilities. 

This wonderful musical and artistic counter-cultural flowering is documented by Mônica in a fantastic radio documentary for the World Service - 'Tropicalia: A Revolution In Sound'. It is truly inspiring, featuring as it does, many great interviews with the movement's movers and shakers.

[Check out also Mônica's other interesting radio documentary: 'The Secret History of Bossa Nova]

The images come from the excellent and informative 48pp booklet which accompanies a brilliant Tropicalia compilation of music by Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Os Mutantes and Tom Ze, which came out from Soul Jazz Records, based in London's Soho, in 2005. This is totally groovy stuff.

These are two great compilations of Brazilian music put together by David Byrne back in the day (1989) on his label Luaka Bop. 

The first ranges across a wide variety of styles; the second, as the title suggests, is focused on samba. There is a third in the series which I need to get.

To bring things up to date, delighted to discover the brilliant SOUND AND COLOURS site which carries news, interviews, videos and mixtapes from all the major Latin American countries. This is a real exciting site featuring fresh music from the streets. I love this compilation from Brazil, posted in 2016.

: Photo: Loiro Cunha



BIXIGA 70: If this Sao Paulo band don't knock your socks off nothing will. Great band playing one gig in London at the Jazz Cafe on July 25th.

Monday, March 20, 2017


'A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness.. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self, We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.'
- Albert Einstein
A remarkable documentary shot by Yann Arthus-Bertrand consisting almost entirely of aerial footage from 54 countries on our planet.
Planet Ocean a film by Yann Arthus-Bertrand & Michael Pitiot

HUMAN  Vol 1 and Vol 2

Currently appears to be only available in full on Netflix. Trailer on YouTube

Friday, March 10, 2017


 Over the years THE GENERALIST has published many stories challenging the notion that everything is going on-line and that newspapers and books will disappear. An important contribution to this debate is 'Print Is Dead. Long Live Print' by Michael Rosenwald, published in the Columbia Journalism Review [Fall/Winter 2016]

Knight Ridder's Roger Fidler with his 1994 tablet (left) and
Apple's 2010 iPad (right)
It focuses on Roger Fidler, who is described as the 'forefather of digital journalism, as he conceived of a digital tablet on which you could read electronic newspapers back in the early 1980s. He now believes that this is entirely the wrong direction.

“I have come to realize that replicating print in a digital device is much more difficult than what anybody, including me, imagined,”

The story's other important source is Iris Chyi, a University of Texas associate professor and author of  Trial and Error: U.S. Newspapers’ Digital Struggles Toward Inferiority. 

Here's a snatch from “Are newspapers steak? And online is noodles?” by Steve Dempsey in The Sunday Independent (25th Oct 2015), which has the biggest newspaper circulation in Ireland. According to Chyi, newspapers are so bad at digital publishing that they should write off their forays into the internet, and focus all their energies on print.
'Chyi suggests that newspaper executives drank too much of the dotcom Kool Aid. Drunk on digital, they focused on unsustainable online growth and failed to protect their core print product. As a result, they now find themselves in a self-fulfilling vicious cycle, where they are undermining print through cutbacks and lack of investment.

Chyi also posits that publishers have failed to distinguish themselves in the digital age. News outlets worldwide have consistently produced homogenous news content, which is distributed it through a plethora of platforms - apps, websites and social media - to an audience that's already suffering from information overload.'
A more recent piece Would you believe it? Print remains a favourite with readers by veteran media correspondent Roy Greenslade [The Guardian/ 31st Jan 2017] refers to research done by Neil Thurman at City, University of London,

His study, 'Newspaper consumption in the mobile age', shows that 89% of newspaper reading is still in newsprint, with just 7% via mobile devices and 4% on PCs. Greenslade claims that is 'the first research to comprehensively account for the time spent reading newspapers via mobile devices.'
'Although online editions have doubled or tripled the number of readers that national newspapers reach, Thurman argues that this increased exposure disguises huge differences in attention paid by print and online readers.
He said: “My research shows that while print newspapers are read for an average of 40 minutes per day, online visitors to the websites and apps of those same newspapers spend an average of just 30 seconds per day."



THE END OF PAPER ? [9 Sept 2008]

Monday, March 06, 2017


    Jeremy Leggett is a challenging person who is a new energy pioneer and insider. He is also a chronicler of the carbon revolution, of peak oil, of climate change.

    THE GENERALIST knew him back in the late '80s when Jeremy was working at the School of Mines, situated behind the Albert Hall, studying ways of using satellite reconnaissance as a mechanism to encourage nuclear disarmament by increasing transparency. 

    In 1988, I was drafted by the pop manager Simon Fuller to work (on the sleeve notes?) for an anti-nuclear record called 'No Winners'  being put together by Paul Hardcastle, who'd had a massive hit with '19'. The consultant on this protest/awareness record was JL. Some of the proceeds went to Greenpeace,

    Since those days, Leggett has done some excellent things - establishing Solar Century, a pioneering company -  and  Solar Aid, a charity supplying solar lamps to Africa amongst them.

    'SolarAid is extremely proud to have launched ‘the world’s most affordable solar light’.
    After years in development, this little light, called the SM100, is now being distributed across Africa via our social enterprise, SunnyMoney.'

    He is also Non-Exec Chairman of Carbon Tracker which is 'an independent financial think tank which provides in-depth analysis on the impact of climate change on capital markets and investment in fossil fuels, mapping risk, opportunity and the route to a low carbon future.

    He has been right on the front of the wave of what he calls 'The Carbon War', documenting the unfolding of the new energy revolution. You can download this in e-book form from his website and sign up to receive ongoing newsletters with new instalments of the story.

    What is significant now is that, since Trump, Leggett has widened his parameters and broadened his focus. This is what he says about it:
    'Suddenly believers in the possibility of a better civilization, one rooted in increasing human co-operation and harmony, find ourselves in a world where demagogues can now realistically plot the polar opposite: a new despotism rooted in rising isolationist nationalism and human conflict. 
    The more we dig into how the demagogues and their supporters have organised their recent successes, in particular in using technology to manipulate voter beliefs on an industrial scale, the more terrified many of us find ourselves. 
    Yet at the same time, tantalisingly, our visions of a better civilization, one appropriate for common security and prosperity among nations in the 21st century, seem more feasible today than they have ever been, at least in some of their component parts. In this struggle between two vastly different world views, a kind of global civil war seems t o have broken out in the last 9 months or so.
    I am changing this blog to reflect these changed times. For years now I have been chronicling only two relevant themes: climate and energy. Starting with this blog, I will be covering seven. After the evidence of Donald Trump’s opening month as US President, I no longer think it is valid to consider climate and energy separately from the bigger global picture.
     I invite the reader to consider my seven chosen themes as dials, each of which will need to be turned up near to full positive in the next decade. They are labelled climate, energy, tech, truth, inequality, reform, and conflict.

    This list is not comprehensive in capturing the struggle between appropriate civilization and new despotism. But I contend that if most of these particular dials are turned down anywhere near full negative, demagogues will have found their road to new despotism, and we can expect a future based on unbreakable police states.'


    Publisher: Vintage Books
    Publisher; Chicago University Press

    UPDATED: 19TH MARCH 2017

    These two remarkable books, both published for the first time in 2017, have preoccupied me over the last couple of months. The last time I was reading Camus and Sartre was back in 1968 and now their words and history seem highly relevant and exciting in the weird world of today.

    'At the Existentialist Cafe' is a wonderful, warm and above all clearly-written popular history of the existentialist scene in Paris and elsewhere, fronted by the incredible and admirable duo of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. If like me you knew little about them this is the book to engage and inspire you to investigate their life and works. Sarah Bakewell was a teenage existentialist and brings that energy to her retelling and explanations of the arcane points of the various philosophical streams of thought at play within the matrix. One of the most delightful surprises of the book for me was the discovery of the Phenomenologists - Husserl, Heidegger and Merlau-Ponty. The latter sought to unite philosphy and psychology and taught in both fields. He believed that child psychology was essential to philosophy and wrote: 'We cannot understand our experience if we don't think of ourselves in part as overgrown babies.' [I heard comedian/activist Mark Thomas on the radio yesterday describing Trump as a 'narcissistic baby'].

    'Looking for the Outsider' by Alice Kaplan is equally absorbing, telling as it does the life story of Camus' most famous book [also known as The Stranger] which established his reputation. It is remarkable how Camus, who came from a working-class Algerian family, composed this ground-breaking novel in a one-room flat in Montmartre and, without reputation or oeuvre, saw it picked up by Gallimard the best literary publisher in France at that time.

    Camus, who was often likened to a young Humphrey Bogart, had come out of the war with a grand reputation as a journalist and editor of 'Combat' the main newspaper of the French underground. A stellar rise in his readership and celebrity led him to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for a body of work that has lasting significance.  Like James Dean, his early death in a car accident in 1960, turned him into a cultural icon.

    Kaplan's focus on 'The Stranger' provides a fresh and interesting perspective on Camus and a investigates a book that has intrigued readers, writers and academics alike due to its mysterious
    central figure Meursault. Kaplan explains that the book's first person narrative lets the reader into the narrator's head but, she says, 'there's no way to feel close...It's natural to hunger for an understanding when it's withheld.' This scholarly book, impeccably researched, is immensely readable and brings to life the war-torn world that forms the backdrop to the main narrative.

    Like many others of my generation, I read 'The Outsider' when I was in my teens. It has the advantage of being short and of appearing to be a simple story and easy to read. In fact, the story is emotionally very deep and raises important moral questions. It's very difficult now to appreciate the impact the book had at the time. In each age it takes on a different perspective. Camus said that it was a book he found in himself that existed before he wrote it. His writing style was, like Sartre, influenced by hard-boiled American crime fiction, in Camus' case particularly 'The Postman Rings Twice'.

    In our time, a story of a white man shooting an Arab has new references. Camus was of French and Algerian descent and the book takes place in Oran. Algeria was, in many ways, the starting point for the turmoil that has engulfed much of North Africa and the Middle East. The remarkable movie 'The Battle of Algiers' by Pontecorvo  shows it all.

    Camus, incidentally was an Absurdist not an Existentialist, although he was grouped under the E label. Absurdism is a school of thought which states that humanity's efforts to find inherent meaning in our world will ultimately fail and are therefore absurd. Camus believed that individuals should embrace the absurd condition of human existence while also defiantly continuing to explore and search for meaning.


    Have just finished reading 'The Meursault Investigation' by Kamel Daoud. A truly wonderful debut novel by an Algerian journalist and editor that has been widely celebrated as an extraordinary work since its first publication in French (2013) and English (2015). A hip way of explaining the book is to say it riffs on the Camus novel. The Arab who is killed on the beach was never named in the original. In this book, the dead man's brother tells his story to an investigator in a bar which is empty except for a deaf mute. It interweaves not only all aspects of the crime itself but is very much imbued with the modern history of Algeria and Camus' status and meaning as a French Algerian. Like the original, the book appears to be simple but the complexity of the narrative, the elegance of the language and the sheer brilliance of the conception is impressive. The voice of he narrator is so strong and vivid, poised on the edge of explosive emotions. It provides a way for Daoud to address so many issues that it would have been hard to express in other ways. A truly great book that Camus' himself I am sure would have admired.
    You can enjoy the NRP podcast with the author here
    A movie of the book is due in 2017 (?)

    Also enjoyed Luchino Visconti's wonderful film of Camus' book, starring Marcello Mastroianni which can be watched in full on YouTube here.

    See also: Short documentary film Sartre vs Camus on Open Culture site.

    Friday, March 03, 2017


    There is no question that Werner Herzog is one of the world's greatest and most challenging of film directors. Now in his mid-70s, he has created 'Lo and Behold' subtitled 'Reveries of a Connected World '.

    This powerful and unique documentary is a profound investigation into and meditation on the internet. Divided into ten chapters, each looking at a different aspect and featuring a key speaker who Herzog interviews in his inimitable style, asking questions that no-one else has thought of asking - such as 'Does the Internet Dream of itself'.

    The film grew out of a commission Herzog was given to make a short YouTube video
    'From One Second to the Next' about the dangers of texting and driving. Annually, one out of four car accidents in the US are caused by texting while driving.
    This film is now required viewing for all new drivers in the US as part of the process of obtaining a driving licence.

    A major internet company Netscout then invited Herzog to make a whole series of short films on other aspects of the internet. It was very quickly clear to Herzog that it should instead be a film larger in scope. Before examining the film itself in more detail, it is interesting to explore the several interviews available on a second disc about the making of the film and Herzog's attitude towards digital technology.


    As you may know, Herzog grew up in one of the most remote valleys of the Bavarian Alps in a house that had no running water or electricity and no telephone or radio. He did not even know that cinema existed until the age of 11 when a travelling projectionist turned up at the little local school and he saw films for the first time. A few years later, he remembers watching a 'Fu Manchu' movie with his chums, as the first time that he began to think about how films were put together. From 16 to 18 he worked night shifts as a welder and saved enough money to start making films. He had his own production company when he was 21 and he'd already produced 10 films before 'Aguirre: The Wrath of God' made him internationally famous in 1972. He knew that it would be a difficult life so he had to ask himself would he accept his destiny or not. To be a successful film maker, he says "you have to know the heart of men". His favourite motto is: "Do the Doable"

    By and large, Herzog wants to examine the world his way and try and try and stay old-fashioned. "I live right here and, for cultural reasons I do not want to have a smart phone." He says he does use the internet sometimes for quick shallow information, sometimes sends e-mails, uses Skype to talk to his family and has a basic mobile for emergencies which he has rarely used. He likes to read.

    As a result of this film he is now on the radar of younger people around the world who think his work has relevance for them. His other recent film  'Into the Inferno', a documentary on volcanoes, was released in 180 countries simultaneously in 2016 on Netflix.

    He believes he has attracted attention on the web because people recognised that there was "somebody authentic out there" amongst all the very ephemeral. He is interested in the representation of the self on social media like Facebook. It's what he calls the "embellished self". People have set up social media sites under his name and there are many impersonations of his voice. Such media "trigger satire" but he is cool about it all. "I have a sense of humorous irony", he says. "These are very interesting times". When asked if he thought the Internet was lessening or widening our life experience he focused on computer and smart phone addiction which be believes to be an increasing problem. "It is known that it [gaming addiction] can be as severe as addiction to heroin". He wanted to go and film in China where they have rigorous boot camps for such addicts.


    As mentioned earlier 'Lo and Behold' is a film of 12 chapters, each focusing on interviews with key individuals in many fields. Interestingly, he says, for him, "it's always a conversation, never an interview". He never has a list of questions but acts spontaneously. His cast of interviewees are carefully chosen. "I have an eye for those who can get something across on the screen."

    1. The Early Days: The film gets off to a grand start at the campus of the University of California, the ground zero of the internet revolution, with Leonard Kleinrock (internet pioneer) walking smartly down a corridor and unlocking the door of a room which has become  a shrine. [They reconstructed the room 20 years ago with furniture hey wound in the basement].

    Here he shows us the first piece of the internet - a minicomputer packet switch built to military standards. He opens it up to show us the modems, CPU, logic, memory, power supply. he says " It's ugly and beautiful with an old odour" From this room, the first ever message was sent over the Arpanet on October 29th 1969 to the Stanford Research Institute 400 miles to the north. The first message was meant to be LOG IN, transmitted one letter at a time,  but the computer crashed on the G meaning the first word transmitted on the internet was LO.

    2. The Glory of the Net is various aspects of the possibilities of big data, brining hundreds of thousands of people together to focus on problem-solving. We see a team of football-playing robots and learn something about driverless cars

    3 The Dark Side: A weird Herzog episode. The surviving family of a young girl was killed in a gruesome accident and pictures of her decapitated head were sirculated on the web.  The methoer says that she always believed the internet was a manifestation of the anti-Christ running through everybody on earth.

    Life Without The Net is a profile of the people of Green Bank, West Virginia, home to the world's largest steerable radio telescope. Because it is so sensitive, there are no cell phones or Wi-fi in the locale./ It has become a home to many people who are suffering from conditions they believe are caused by microwave radiation. One women before she came to Green Bank was living in a Faraday cage.

    5. The End of the Web focuses on the possible destruction of the internet due to the effects of massive solar flares, which happen every few hundred years or so, the last being the Carrington event  in 1859. The interviewee is the remarkable looking Dr Lucianne Walkowicz, an astrophysicist and artist at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago who works on NASA's Kepler mission, studying starspots and "the tempestuous tantrums of stellar flares.". In the film she is wearing a full sleeveless Star Trek- style outfit, which reveals the tattoos on her arms, which are copied from prehistoric cave paintings (the subject of a previous Herzog movie, incidentally).

    6. Earthly Invaders is about hacking and cyber security, starting at the Las Vegas Defcom event for the hacker community, attracting 20,000 visitors including members of the FBI, CIA and foreign secret services. The star of this segment is the world's most famous hacker Kevin Mitnik who spent five years in federal prison and now earns a lot consulting to companies on cyber security. He explains the weakest link: any one person in the company who can be tricked into releasing passwords and codes,

    The other interesting interviewee is Sean Curry, a security analyst who works for Sandia, a corporation that, amongst other things, majors in cyber security and looking after nuclear weapons stockpiles. Sean keeps saying that he just can't tell us certain things but its clear that cyberwar is raging and we haven't even really noticed.

    7. Internet on Mars features a interview with the legendary Elon Musk who, apart from founding PayPal, building the Tesla electric car company and the largest battery factory in the world, is also
    planning to try and establish a colony on Mars. According to Herzog he is a complete introvert. When asked if he dreams there is a very long pause before he says: "I don't remember the good dreams. The dreams I remember are the nightmares." We then switch to meeting two brain scientists who work with MRI scans to map brain activity. "Does the internet dream of itself? Herzog artifully asks.

    8. Artificial Intelligence: Here we see some advanced robots called CHIMP which are quite scary; they could have perhaps stopped the explosion at Fukushima. The interviewee says that robots are nowhere near the point where insects are. He says it will be a great day when we do. It is clear AI is bringing about a revolution in technology which will require a new theology, a shift in morals and a new definition of what it means to be human.

    9. The Internet of Me: The move towards an environment in which every object is wired and the internet becomes invisible. One of the speakers claims that computers are the worst enemy of deep
    creative thinking. We are living in a digital dark age because all our records will be lost.

    10. The Future: We're back with the brain scientists who talk about the universality of an alphabet of human thoughts, a vocabulary that doesn't distinguish between things that are seen and things that are read. Its all one language. In the future, instead of having an MRI scanner costing $2 million and weighing 16,000 lbs, we might all be wearing EMG caps which we can use to tweet thoughts telepathically at the touch of a button.

    The final quotes come from a scientist whose name escapes me. He says he refuses to make predictions for anything less than two trillion years from now. He says: "One of the wonderful things about the future is you don't know where it's going to go." Most predictions of the future miss the most important things, the Internet being a classic example. He believes that "becoming your own filter will be the challenge of the future because the filter is not provided for you. There's no control on the internet. No matter what governments do, no matter what industries do, the internet is going to propagate out of control and people will have to be their own controls".

    He concludes: "Will our children's children's children need the companionship of humans or wull they have evolved in a world where that';s not important. It sounds awful doesn't it but maybe it will be find. Maybe the companionship of robots maybe the companionship of an intelligent internet will be sufficient. who am I to say?"

    Tuesday, February 28, 2017


    Top: Flyer for 30th Anniversary of the Headstrong Club in Lewes
    Above: Logo for the re-founding of the Headstrong Club in January 1987 plus Sussex Express front-page story on the event with photo of Rachel and David Powell, Bernard Crick and my younger self toasting Paine on the 250th Anniversary of his birth.

    THE GENERALIST has been absorbed for the last six weeks or so due to research and preparations for a significant event in Tom Paine's connection with Lewes - the 30th Anniversary of the revived Headstrong Club. This debating (or arguing!) club was established in Paine's time at the White Hart Hotel in the town. It was reestablished in January 1987 by David Powell, a biographer of Paine, and yours truly, with the help of others, in the same room in the White Hart, with Bernard Crick (biographer of Orwell) giving the encomium. Thirty years later, some 70 people gathered upstairs at the Elephant & Castle to mark the occasion, to celebrate Paine's birthday and also to pay tribute to David Powell, who died last May and is sadly missed. THE GENERALIST acted as MC, wearing a borrowed tricorn hat and running a PowerPoint presentation. It's a style that could catch on - or not.

    In parallel with this, THE GENERALIST was reading this remarkable and fascinating book in which Tom Paine plays a starring role but is offstage for most of the drama. Janet Polasky has spent much of her academic life studying the revolutionary period 1776-1804 which encompasses the American and French Revolutions. These it turns out are only the biggest and most well-known revolutions. In fact, there were various levels of unrest down both sides of the Atlantic -  hence the subtitle : 'The Call for Liberty in the Atlantic World' -  and there was a network of travelling revolutionaries who were trying to link them all together, believing that they were all  part of a larger vision that was transforming the world. Translators and printers formed a sedentary part of this network, which communicated through a paper internet.

    In Polasky's book, each chapter focuses on a different aspect of this - pamphlets & broadsheets, papers, letters, travel reports - read and discussed on networks of coffee shops and taverns. Paine was the most famous of these communicators but Polasky introduces us to some 50 more people whose achievements were significant and whose names deserve greater recognition. Her book succeeds in offering us a widescreen vision of this remarkable period when many peoples and populations were struggling to overcome border controls. Does that ring a contemporary bell with you dear readers?

    For many other Paine stories on The Generalist use search box at top left.