Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Thanks to all my friends, comrades, contributors and
readers who have encouraged me this far. And on we go.....

James Lovelock: Man of the Moment

The Terra satellite's orbit around the earth
See the wonders of the Blue Marble from space
at Visible Earth: A catalog of images and
animations of our home planet

Like some Old Testament prophet, James Lovelock of Gaia fame currently bestrides the headlines and the talk shows with two big messages: we will soon be facing planetary conditions of lethal heat due to our mistreatment of the earth and the atmosphere, and that our only viable option at this stage of the impending crisis is to go for nuclear power.

This is set out in his new book 'The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth is Fighting Back' [Allen Lane] in which he also claims that fasionable causes like organic farming and renewable energy may be just as damaging as the systems they replace, as they put short-term human interests before the health of the planet.

Now something has been bothering me. I remember very well The Independent running a front-page story on Lovelock, the gist of it being that this ultimate green had almost committed blasphemy by arguing that we had to go back to nuclear power.

The article: 'Only nuclear power can now halt global warming: Leading environmentalist urges radical rethink on climate change' by Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor was published on 24 May 2004. It read in part:

'Global warming is now advancing so swiftly that only a massive expansion of nuclear power as the world's main energy source can prevent it overwhelming civilisation, the scientist and celebrated Green guru, James Lovelock, says. You can buy the full article here

(The full text of a background profile on Lovelock by McCarthy, which appeared the same day, is available for free: 'Guru who tuned into Gaia was one of the first to warn of climate threat')

In the ensuing months, opinion pieces began to spring up in all manner of papers and magazines arguing the case for nuclear and developed such a head of pr steam, that the government felt strong enough to begin pushing for the revival of the nuclear power programme.

On 3rd December 2005, The Independent published 'James Lovelock: The green man' by Ian Irvine, which began:

'James Lovelock has complained before about the lack of urgency with which governments have reacted to his warnings about the future of the planet, but he must be pleased with last week's news. The strong indication that the Prime Minister supports the building of a new generation of nuclear power plants in order to cut our greenhouse gas emissions comes only 18 months after Lovelock's bombshell of an article in The Independent, which launched a fierce debate among scientists and green activists. It was the breaking of the great green taboo. In it he declared that there was no viable alternative to nuclear energy if we were to alleviate the already dire consequences of climate change which will become obvious within a few decades. Lovelock believes that the widespread fear of nuclear energy is ignorant and irrational: "What at first was proper concern for safety has become a near-pathological anxiety.'

The highlighted sentence is the one that gives me pause for thought - mainly due to the fact that Lovelock has aways been advocate for nuclear power, or at least he was an enthusiast for it when I went to interview him on 1 May 1984 to conduct a taped interview (which has yet to be published).

Being an organised soul, I dug out the Lovelock folder from the HQINFO archives and found not only the tape but also contemporary notes about the day. They begin as follows:

'We drove in a powerful car out of Plymouth. Talked about university and encyclopaedias'; the latter he considers 'a tool for marketing men'. (He tells me he was 'conned into buying the Encyclopaedia Britannica when he was a student and that he sold it again - for half-price - through an advert in The Times'.)

'Stopped off to visit the church of Saint Michael of the Rock' (a tiny chapel perched atop a steep granite outcrop). I note: 'L. bounds up the rocks. I'm out of breath. He never breaks his stride. Has great respect for the master masons.'

Then comes the key paragraph: 'We start talking about nuclear energy. Surprisingly he is an advocate. He likens his passion to that of being a heretic. Chances of accident equivalent of airliner landing on his house. Willing to store suitcase-sized chunk of nuclear waste produced by large power station for a year, in a shed in his garden, use the heat it gives off. Happy to have his grandchildren stand by it. Happy to live near Windscale.' Says of Hiroshima that 'death rates of survivors from cancer lower than comparable populations. Deaths from radiation exposure need to be put in proportion compared with tobacoo etc. Far greater threat from CO2 build-up.'

The point I am rather long-windedly making is that Lovelock's views have been consistent and well-known to environmentalists for at least a decade before The Independent's story.

I have consistently remained a great admirer of James Lovelock's and a staunch opponent of the further development of nuclear power.

See also: Paramedic to the Planet [The Guardian]

Rad Decision is a techno-thriller about a looming disaster at a nuclear power plant, written by James Asch an engineer with over twenty years of experience in the American nuclear industry. It tells the story of the people and machinery that make up a nuclear power plant, and the dark tale of a man who believes it is his destiny to destroy it. The novel includes an overview of how electricity is made and a step-by-step, inside look at how a nuclear plant operates - - from its equipment to its people to the politics and money behind it. Chernobyl, TMI and the wonderful world of radiation are also discussed. Armed with this background, the reader plunges into a nuclear accident in the making.
The whole novel is available for reading and download on the this site which is, in itself, an extremely interesting model of how to publish on the web.

It carries an endorsement from Stewart Brand, creator of The Whole Earth Catalog: "I'd like to see 'Rad Decision' widely read." Stewart Brand’s controversial article 'Environmental Heresies' discussing nuclear power, amongst other issues like GM, is available on-line in the May 2005 issue of Technology Review. An extremely interesting piece.

There are, incidentally, some fascinating other articles in this magazine including 'The Internet Is Broken' and
Hack: The iPOD Nano

Curious Clips

The Beat Library [New additions]

[Left]: The two remarkable beat guides to New York and San Francisco by the late great Bill Morgan (turned onto same by Miles, fresh back from the 100th birthday celebrations of Dr Hoffman, the inventor of LSD, in Basle). (City Lights Books. 1997/2003)

(Left) Kevin Ring's excellent evergreen 'Beat Scene' British monthly. Issue 49 due out anytime now.
(Above right) 'All Poets Welcome: The Lower East Side Poetry Scene in the 1960s' by Daniel Kane. (Univ of California. 2003). (Below) 'Women of the Beat Generation' by Brenda Knight (MJF Books, New York. 2000)

'In many ways, women of the Beat were cut from the same cloth as the men: fearless, angry, high risk, too smart, restless, highly irregular. They took chances, make mistakes, made poetry, made love, made history. Women of the Beat weren't afraid to get dirty. They were compassionate, careless, charismatic, marching to a different drummer, out of step. Muses who birthed a poetry so raw and new and full of power that it changed the world. Writers whose words weave spells, whose stories bind, whose vision blinds. Artists for whom curing the disease of art kills.' - Women of the Beat Generation

No Special Night

'Frozen Leaf : Paying Attention'. One of a series called 'Lewes Light'

This a slightly edited version of one of those late-night laptop rants, written on 30th October 2000, rediscovered today as part of an archaeological expedition through my computer files. The piece has been deliberately bowdlerised in a couple of places to protect sensitive readers.

'And so tonight, no special night, in fact a Monday night, I was reading the latest issue of the New Yorker I had managed to get my hand on, in fact, and in particular, reading about post-Milosovec Yugoslavia, when I started thinking about the fact that they say writers can only write about what they know about, and this started me thinking.

In fact, what I am trying to get to is reality, and by that I mean ordinary, everyday, grind-in-your-face reality, which is so rich that you could spend your life trying to capture its richness. So much detail, in one day, that a whole novel could not contain it. And yet that is what increasingly seems to be the only thing there is left to write about.

In this sense. There are figures in history, and scenarios in the space-time continuum, notions, capers and inventions of the mind that writers have employed and sustained since time immemorial to entertain their readership. Stories have been passed down, handed down from hoary legend, many of them, perhaps most of them, replays of some ancient set of stories that men and women would tell each other in windy huts as the night drew in and the stars shone in bright empty skies, free of neon reflection.

But in fact, life as we know it can only be experienced in the real-time here-and-now, and it’s the attention to the details of this life, mundane and mysterious, that now seems to fill my consciousness with its desperate need to be recorded in some meaningful way. Time trying to impress its importance before it gets away.

Just so. It seems right now, as I write these words, that the winds of change are blowing, that words are flowing, and that the mystery of literature is upon me. I am listening to the Jazz Passengers, with Debbie Harry, and outside the window a storm is blowing up real good, lashing raindrops against the window as if it meant it.

So, later, there I am back in the bar, and I’m looking around at all the characters here assembled, as most nights, in a flushed and cozy camaraderie of alcoholic consumption, which helps fill the empty part of our lives with some kind of human contact and, flushed with good feeling, we then feel able to continue with our workaday world, that sustain our alcoholic nightly habit.

Only if I was in prison for life would I have time to write at length about just today. Increasingly it’s the minutae, the microscopic detail of life that captures my attention.

And of course, the stories. And the language. Everywhere is the same in that respect. Even if they say nothing, people possess body language. It’s like that feeling when you arrive at Victoria Station and emerge into this flowing river of humanity, All those walking stories, coming towards you, brief glimpses of entire histories, compacted into a single glance. Is that resonant energy or the true insight?

Before you’ve reached the escalator, you’re cup is full. And yet there is the rest of the full-on city to understand, swallow and digest, like some god-given blast of oxygen at high altitude.

So have we got back yet to the leaves in the gutter, and their colours, their particular angular arrangement around the drain cover. And the odd word, overheard in the darkness, enough to set one off on several trains of thought, which also float, close to the darkening sky. Earlier the trees looked whipped by the wind, like damp bronchial fans, and for a moment the skies were clear, with stars and clouds of smoke.

All these spooling moments, that largely go unrecorded, are the stuff of life. And don’t you forget it. If this was my last evening, I would want to say, simply, how rich it’s been. How very rich.

Last night, there was a ladybird in the bar. In November. Maybe it’s all fcuked up. Or maybe, it’s the breath of a prayer. Is prayer an antidote to technology. I just can’t make up my mind.

So today, the whole country was paralysed, in the grip of a storm. Is this a manifestation of our collective state of mind? Are we in such turmoil?

I do not know, but I care. Goddamn. I fcuking care. And that’s the hard part and also the good part.

The State of the Groundhog

In a few hours time, President Bush will deliver his annual State of the Union Address to Congress.
Thanks to Martin L. for sending us this.


This year, both Groundhog Day and the State of the Union Address fall on the same day. As Air America Radio pointed out, "It is an ironic juxtaposition: one involves a meaningless ritual in which we look to a creature of little intelligence for prognostication, and the other involves a groundhog."

The full Address can be found here

Transcripts of all the State of the Union Addresses going back to Harry Truman can be found here

Monday, January 16, 2006


Happy to report that the book I worked on last year, featuring a 'lost' set of Dylan photos from June-July 1964 by Douglas R. Gilbert [Da Capo Press], with an excellent essay by legendary rock journalist Dave Marsh, is now widely available. Book is packaged with four 8x10 b&w prints. Further details on the background story to these photos is posted here.

Delighted to be in contact with Mike Marquesee, author of the extremely fine 'Chimes of Freedom' which has just been updated and reissued under a new title 'Wicked Messenger' [Seven Stories Press]. The new material on Chronicles is insightful ('His memoir is entirely silent about the critical time-span (1962-67) during which the rupture occurred. He circles the wound, touches it gingerly, finds it's still tender, then shuffles away. He exposes it, then covers it up.') and the personal words at the end, which begin: 'Dylan has long complained about people like me, who presume to decode his mystery. He sees us as part of that army of noisy intruders trespassing on his private domain. But the complaint might easily be reversed. Dylan has burrowed into our flesh and lodged in our minds. For four of my five decades, his words, images, tunes, have been swimming through my head, rising up from the depths at unexpected moments.'
See also Mike's review of the new biography of Sam Cooke here.

As yopu probably all know now, Dylan has signed on to do a weekly hour-long radio show on XM satellite radio starting in March. See here.

UPDATE: Bob Dylan and Philosophy

just published by the Open Court Press

See also: 'Silent Protest: Why we are still turning to Dylan for the soundtrack to our demonstrations.' by Ian Buruma.

Mkutano - Taj Mahal
The Jazz Album - Shostakovich [Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Decca]
Thelonius Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall (The lost recording)
The Sound of the City: New York (compiled by Charlie Gillett)
Swing from Paris - Django Reinhardt [Le Chant du Monde label]
Nu-Jazz Volume 2 [Wagram Music]
Miles Ahead - Miles Davis
Ghetto Funk Sessions [2 CD set]

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Wikipedia Debate

Anyone with an interest in the history of encyclopaedias cannot fail to be interested in the current debate regarding the progress of Wikipedia - the online interactive encyclopaedia.

First came 'The Faith-Based Encyclopedia' by Robert McHenry, a critical essay from a former editor of 'Encyclopaedia Britannica', which challenged the value of Wikipedia's organic editing process, claimed this was a flawed way to reach a highly accurate article.
See: http://www.techcentralstation.com/111504A.html

This was followed by an analysis published in Nature which examined a wide range of articles from both Britannica and Wikipedia and found their accuracy levels were quite similar.
See: http://www.nature.com/news/2005/051212/full/438900a.html

These and other issues are expertly reviewed in an article in Village Voice
See: http://villagevoice.com/arts/0602,aviv,71632,12.html

This subject has also been discussed at The Institute of Flaneurology to whom I am grateful for the references.

UPDATE: 'Comedy of Errors hits the world of Wikipedia' [Sunday Times]

Plan B 2.0: Make That Change

You can buy the book here and find out more about the author.
The whole book is also available on this site as pdf downloads.

“Our global civilization today is on an economic path that is environmentally unsustainable, a path that is leading us toward economic decline and eventual collapse,” says Lester Brown in Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble.

“Environmental scientists have been saying for some time that the global economy is being slowly undermined by environmental trends of human origin, including shrinking forests, expanding deserts, falling water tables, eroding soils, collapsing fisheries, rising temperatures, melting ice, rising seas, and increasingly destructive storms,” says Brown, President and Founder of the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based independent environmental research organization.

Although it is obvious that no society can survive the decline of its environmental support systems, many people are not yet convinced of the need for economic restructuring. But this is changing now that China has eclipsed the United States in the consumption of most basic resources, Brown notes in Plan B 2.0, which was produced with major funding from the Lannan Foundation and the U.N. Population Fund.

Among the basic commodities—grain and meat in the food sector, oil and coal in the energy sector, and steel in the industrial sector—China now consumes more than the United States of each of these except for oil. It consumes nearly twice as much meat (67 million tons compared with 39 million tons) and more than twice as much steel (258 million to 104 million tons).

These numbers are about total consumption. “But what if China reaches the U.S. consumption level per person?” asks Brown. “If China’s economy continues to expand at 8 percent a year, its income per person will reach the current U.S. level in 2031.

“If at that point China’s per capita resource consumption were the same as in the United States today, then its projected 1.45 billion people would consume the equivalent of two thirds of the current world grain harvest. China’s paper consumption would be double the world’s current production. There go the world’s forests.”
If China one day has three cars for every four people, U.S. style, it will have 1.1 billion cars. The whole world today has 800 million cars. To provide the roads, highways, and parking lots to accommodate such a vast fleet, China would have to pave an area equal to the land it now plants in rice. It would need 99 million barrels of oil a day. Yet the world currently produces 84 million barrels per day and may never produce much more.
The western economic model—the fossil-fuel-based, auto-centered, throwaway economy—is not going to work for China. If it does not work for China, it will not work for India, which by 2031 is projected to have a population even larger than China’s. Nor will it work for the 3 billion other people in developing countries who are also dreaming the “American dream.”

And, Brown notes, in an increasingly integrated world economy, where all countries are competing for the same oil, grain, and steel, the existing economic model will not work for industrial countries either. China is helping us see that the days of the old economy are numbered.

Sustaining our early twenty-first century global civilization now depends on shifting to a renewable energy-based, reuse/recycle economy with a diversified transport system. Business as usual—Plan A—cannot take us where we want to go. It is time for Plan B, time to build a new economy and a new world.

Plan B has three components—(1) a restructuring of the global economy so that it can sustain civilization; (2) an all-out effort to eradicate poverty, stabilize population, and restore hope in order to elicit participation of the developing countries; and (3) a systematic effort to restore natural systems.

Glimpses of the new economy can be seen in the wind farms of Western Europe, the solar rooftops of Japan, the fast-growing hybrid car fleet of the United States, the reforested mountains of South Korea, and the bicycle-friendly streets of Amsterdam. “Virtually everything we need to do to build an economy that will sustain economic progress is already being done in one or more countries,” says Brown.

“Among the new sources of energy—wind, solar cells, solar thermal, geothermal, small-scale hydro, biomass—wind is emerging as a major energy source. In Europe, which is leading the world into the wind era, some 40 million people now get their residential electricity from wind farms. The European Wind Energy Association projects that by 2020, half of the region’s population—195 million Europeans—will be getting their residential electricity from wind.

“Wind energy is growing fast for six reasons: It is abundant, cheap, inexhaustible, widely distributed, clean, and climate-benign. No other energy source has this combination of attributes.”

For the U.S. automotive fuel economy, the key to greatly reducing oil use and carbon emissions is gas-electric hybrid cars. The average new car sold in the United States last year got 22 miles to the gallon, compared with 55 miles per gallon for the Toyota Prius. If the United States decided for oil security and climate stabilization reasons to replace its entire fleet of passenger vehicles with super-efficient gas-electric hybrids over the next 10 years, gasoline use could easily be cut in half. This would involve no change in the number of cars or miles driven, only a shift to the most efficient automotive propulsion technology now available.

Beyond this, a gas-electric hybrid with an additional storage battery and a plug-in capacity would allow us to use electricity for short distance driving, such as the daily commute or grocery shopping. This could cut U.S. gasoline use by an additional 20 percent, for a total reduction of 70 percent. Then if we invest in thousands of wind farms across the country to feed cheap electricity into the grid, we could do most short-distance driving with wind energy, dramatically reducing both carbon emissions and the pressure on world oil supplies.
Using timers to recharge batteries with electricity coming from wind farms during the low demand hours between 1 and 6 a.m. costs the equivalent of 50¢-a-gallon gasoline. We have not only an inexhaustible alternative to dwindling reserves of oil, but an incredibly cheap one.

“Building an economy that will sustain economic progress requires a cooperative worldwide effort,” notes Brown. “This means eradicating poverty and stabilizing population—in effect, restoring hope among the world’s poor. Eradicating poverty accelerates the shift to smaller families. Smaller families in turn help to eradicate poverty.”

The principal line items in the budget to eradicate poverty are investments in universal primary school education; school lunch programs for the poorest of the poor; basic village-level health care, including vaccinations for childhood diseases; and reproductive health and family planning services for all the world’s women. In total, reaching these goals will take $68 billion of additional expenditures each year.

A strategy for eradicating poverty will not succeed if an economy’s environmental support systems are collapsing. Brown says, “This means putting together an earth restoration budget—one to reforest the earth, restore fisheries, eliminate overgrazing, protect biological diversity, and raise water productivity to the point where we can stabilize water tables and restore the flow of rivers. Adopted worldwide, these measures require additional expenditures of $93 billion per year.”

Combining social goals and earth restoration components into a Plan B budget means an additional annual expenditure of $161 billion. Such an investment is huge, but it is not a charitable act. It is an investment in the world in which our children will live.

“If we fail to build a new economy before decline sets in, it will not be because of a lack of fiscal resources, but rather because of obsolete priorities,” adds Brown. “The world is now spending $975 billion annually for military purposes. The U.S. 2006 military budget of $492 billion, accounting for half of the world total, goes largely to the development and production of new weapon systems. Unfortunately, these weapons are of little help in curbing terrorism, nor can they reverse the deforestation of the earth or stabilize climate.

“The military threats to national security today pale beside the trends of environmental destruction and disruption that threaten the economy and thus our early twenty-first century civilization itself. New threats call for new strategies. These threats are environmental degradation, climate change, the persistence of poverty, and the loss of hope.”

The U.S. military budget is totally out of sync with these new threats. If the United States were to underwrite the entire $161 billion Plan B budget by shifting resources from the $492 billion spent on the military, it still would be spending more for military purposes than all other NATO members plus Russia and China combined.
Of all the resources needed to build an economy that will sustain economic progress, none is more scarce than time. With climate change we may be approaching the point of no return. The temptation is to reset the clock. But we cannot. Nature is the timekeeper.

It is decision time. Like earlier civilizations that got into environmental trouble, we can decide to stay with business as usual and watch our global economy decline and eventually collapse. Or we can shift to Plan B, building an economy that will sustain economic progress.

“It is hard to find the words to express the gravity of our situation and the momentous nature of the decision we are about to make,” says Brown. “How can we convey the urgency of moving quickly? Will tomorrow be too late? “One way or another, the decision will be made by our generation. Of that there is little doubt. But it will affect life on earth for all generations to come.”

As chance would have it, while preparing this post, I got this e-mail press release:

The Government wants a prosperous economy delivered within ‘environmental limits’. But how can we achieve this here in the South West? And who will lead us towards this ‘one planet economy’?

To address these issues, the region’s decision makers and stakeholders in its future will be in attendance at the exclusive Leadership for a One Planet Economy event. taking place at Bristol this Monday 16th of January. A number of high profile speakers have also been invited to kick-start the debate including: Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation; Peter Jones, Director of Biffa Waste Management; Simon Roberts, Chief Executive at the Centre for Sustainable Energy; Matthew Spencer, Chief Executive of Regen SW – the South West’s renewable energy agency and Michael Smith, Managing Director of the Venus Company - an ambitiously ‘green’ café outlet.

The event, sponsored by the Environment Agency and supported by the South West of England Regional Development Agency, has been organised by Sustainability South West (SSW), the region’s independent champion of sustainable development. It is the first of a potential series of big regional debates on the South West’s future to be hosted by SSW.

Leslie Watson, Director of Sustainability South West, said: “According to a recent study, our region is running on an ‘overdraft’ of natural resources – as though we had three planets instead of one! This event will begin to provide answers to the question: how can leadership help the South West to gain the benefits of moving towards a more secure, efficient, ‘one planet’, low carbon economy?”

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I Hate Rock & Roll by Tony Tyler

Cover illustration by Mark Harrison

This virtually unobtainable cult classic, published by Vermillion and Company in 1984 - unique as far as I am aware in the rock literature canon - is the inspired and impassioned work of the former Assistant Editor of the NME during the 1970s Tony Tyler - a multi-instrumentalist who played cards with John Lennon in Hamburg, was backstage the night Dylan played the Albert Hall, is an established Tolkein author - who brought to the NME an erudition, a no-nonsense attitude, great humour and a passion that made a big contribution to making the paper what it was. Its impossible to have an uninteresting conversation with Tony - who was kind enough to lend me his personal copy of this neglected classic and to allow me to present to you some extracts from same. To begin: a section of Chapter Five - 'I'll Conduct The Strings, He Can Play Moog, You're On The Spoons: the path of musical pretension,'. The subject is flares.

'Actually, I have a theory about why so many late sixties/early sev­enties Guitar-Hero 'heavy' combos ended up loathing each other; and it all has to do with flared trousers.
Care to hear it?

Strictly speaking, the subject of 'flares' (or 'loon pants1) comes under the heading of ridiculous clothing and thus properly belongs in chapter 2. Yet for me these garments are a major index of the entire loathly vision I am trying to convey. They are a part of my subjective my­thology, a card in my personal Major Arcana, a Jungian archetype dream-symbol, one of the stations of the Tyler Qabala. ('Do not touch the water!' said the Lady Galadriel softly, and Frodo drew back in awe. I know what it was you saw, for that is in my mind also,' she said, nodding. 'Loon pants! The Enemy has many weapons . . .') In fact, I firmly believe that the cut of late sixties/early seventies pop combos' onstage pantaloons contains a mystical key to the innate fatuousness and dumbo malevolence that, for me, has always underwritten the sharp end of rock and roll.

Consider, if you will, the flared-trouser style. Not the gentle, barely perceptible increase in the calibre of the trouser leg as it approaches the instep (a kind of proportional cheating of the sort used to such tasteful effect by Greek architects of Pericles' time), but - in the case of the Cream's trousers - a sudden, gross, exponential leap in leg width. Tight ('Oooh!') at the crotch and snug at the knees, at ankle level these breeks easily measured a yard from stem to stern. Feet were wholly invisible. At moments of 'excitement' Clapton and his rivals and copyists would brace legs wide apart (cf. the precise angle adopted by drunks urinating against a garage wall), don facial expres­sions evocative of Christ's on the Cross, cock their guitars at approxi­mately 45 degrees of angle and get it on (you know?). What let Clapton and the others down was not so much the getting on, nor even the ridiculously contorted facial expressions - but what befell the flared trousers while the hero held his pose.

It's a subtly visual point and I must explain it as clearly as I can, since so much depends on it.

Each violently flared trouser leg, seen from the front, takes the form of a truncated isosceles triangle.

Now, move the bases of the triangles as far apart as you can while simultaneously retaining the truncated apexes in the same general area.

Although the inner seams remain more or less perpendicular, the outer seams balloon yet further outwards, like a multi-petticoated fifties party frock, almost attaining the true horizontal. The eye naturally follows the extreme line - and this, plus the total invisibility of the feet, causes a subjective optical impression that the posing idol's legs are actually braced at an impossible, contortionist, sinew-cracking an­gle. And one waits for the ping of the buttons, the ripping of cloth and the thud-thud-trickle-trickle as the blues-wailing gonads explode and roll away across the stage towards the peace-sign-making audience, the ultimate rock and roll souvenirs.

Now it is my theory that when members of supergroups of the era wore highly exaggerated flared trousers - as most of them did - they were subjected to wave upon wave of subconscious anxiety thereby. Not all of them were thick, and many of them must have known that they were making possibly the greatest single sartorial mistake since the wholesale adoption of the kilt by peoples of proto-Celtic origin. However, onstage (where one does not, as a rule, spend too much time meditating on the cut of one's trousers) they were of course temporarily able to forget the tragicomic proportions of the garments with which they had chosen to adorn their lower limbs.

Then would inevitably come the cardinal instant, the deadly moment of anti-satori. One man would swing eyes left (or right) across the stage in a routine, showbizzy grimace of ain't-we-really-gettin'-it-on good fellowship . . . and lo! There would be his supercolleague, smirk­ing ritually back, possibly bawling 'Yeah!' - but above all decked out in the most evilly ridiculous, bitterly humiliating pair of trousers on the face of the entire planet!

Reaction One: My God, I'm in a band with this nerd!
Reaction Two: My God, I look like that too!

Meanwhile the drummer - who in any case will be the ugliest mem­ber of the band - has his shirt off, generously allowing the roadies in charge of the supertrooper spotlights to illuminate every single pustule, blackhead, 'track mark' and skin blemish in the boldest possible relief.

It's my guess that, at this point, massive, traumatic resentment then came flooding in - many bum notes and prolonged hesitations in the guitar solos of the day are, I feel sure, due to sudden off-the-wall revelations of this type striking home in mid-flow.

In circumstances like these, it's not surprising that virtually all com­bos of this kind either broke up acrimoniously, or came to be notorious for their in-band hostilities and general psychotic behaviour.

The Cream fought each other like bull terriers and broke up, snarl­ing. The Who similarly hit each other at regular intervals - but early on struck on the idea of taking out their loathing on their instruments (and their hotel rooms), and so stayed together. Led Zeppelin's drum­mer, John Bonham, and their manager-figure, former UK all-in wres­tler Peter Grant, were men of violence in every sense of the word -but also directed it outwards. Jimi Hendrix notoriously despised his back-up musicians - then died of vomit asphyxiation after drugging himself unconscious. This deed may have been due to the poor quality of London nightlife, as I flippantly suggested in an earlier chapter, or it mav have been an accident . . . or it may have been a longstanding morale problem due to his trousers! If so. then this must surely be the extremest reaction on record.

With the arrival of the Great Loon Pants*Psychosis, the Guitar Cowboy begins to clip-clop towards his inevitable sunset. Although legions of clone bands had by now appeared (a few are with us to this day), the gargantuism of the whole thing - enormous walls of ampli­fication, way in excess of need; frighteningly prolific metal Triffids replacing the humble Premier drumkit; interminable guitar solos: in­creasing 'surrealism' (i.e. meaninglessness) of lyrics; ever-escalating ticket prices; ever-louder PA systems; and above all the grotesque, inhuman proportions of the artistes’ trousers - all this rampant, Speer-like gigantism suddenly looked . . . rather ridiculous. Embar­rassing, even. Where hitherto one had joyously patronized concerts by these people, and worn the attendance badges with pride, suddenly -imperceptibly - one grew evasive, even casually dismissive. While paying lip-service to the Guitar Heroes' pioneering role, one - some­how - found oneself no longer actually listening - not very much, anyway - to their records.

Scientists now say that it may have been a giant comet that killed off the dinosaurs. This may or may not be true, but to my mind it was undoubtedly loon pants that sealed the evolutionary doom of the Guitar Hero of rock and roll's very own Jurassic period.

Never underestimate the power of fashion in this racket.'

*The term loon pants' - so apt. so descriptive - appears to have originated with UK mail-order denim companies. Originates from pantaloons, as any fule kno.

Going Toe to Toe With Lou Reed by Pete Culshaw

Delighted to be able to reproduce this great 2003 interview with Lou Reed by one of the most brilliant music journalists in Britain. Enjoy.

"He's never early / he's always late.One thing is certain / you always gotta wait."
Lou Reed, I'm Waiting for The Man

Waiting for the man, Lou Reed, in his Sister Ray production office on Broadway in downtown Manhattan, is a bit like waiting for the dentist. You're not going to back out now, but it probably is going to be painful.

For one thing, he has a professed loathing for journalists. "Show me a critic and I'll show you an asshole. They are the vermin of the century," he says on his latest record, New York Man: The ultimate Lou Reed Collection, which spans his career from the Velvet Undergound to The Raven, his update of Edgar Allen Poe, which he released earlier this year.

Reed has been called petulant, paranoid and insecure - and that's just his friends talking. He is perfectly capable of getting through an entire interview giving only surly, monosyllabic answers. That's if he doesn't swear at you, or just walk out. The only thing Reed does seem to like to talk about - at mindnumbing length - is the technical details of recording technique that are frankly only of interest to trainspotters.

So why bother? Because Reed has written some fabulous songs - such as Pale Blue Eyes, I'm Waiting For the Man, White Light White Heat, for Andy Warhol's house band, the hugely influential Velvet Underground; others like his two big hits, Walk On The Wild Side and Perfect Day, from his David Bowie-produced masterpiece Transformer; and several great tunes on albums such as New York and Street Hassle. In fact, many critics place him, even if his output of late has been patchy, with Neil Young and Bob Dylan as one of the great American songwriters.

Also, he was something of teen idol of mine - his songs of transvestites, drugs, adultery and depravity greatly appealed to my own warped adolescent sensibility. These days every gangster rapper talks about dealers and "hos", but in the '70s it was a novelty.

One of his assistants plays me a new remix of Walk On The Wild Side with added lyrics about "Georgie (Bush) looking for gas" and "kicking Iraqi ass". Reed wanders by and turns it up to deafening levels before retreating to his office. His partner, Laurie Anderson, is in the office and we have a conversation completely at cross-purposes due to the volume. I understand she has been doing some anti-war "performance art" dressed as a burger (that symbol of American evil) - eventually I realise she and her friends have dressed in a burqa.

After about an hour, I am ushered in to Reed's office, where he is eating Japanese takeaway. Although I'm expecting it, it is still unnerving when he goes into his monosyllabic schtick. The only real answer I get from the first five questions is when I ask him about the title of of the collection New York Man. "You mean you can't imagine anyone doing an album called London Man?" Not really, no. "Well, you gotta admit it's better than Akron Man," he cackles. Other questions - about his being an alternative New York icon, about the changes in the city (you are as likely to find a real estate dealer as a drug dealer at Lexington 125 these days) - about his anti-war efforts are stonewalled.

Why does he find interviews such an imposition? "Maybe when the Internet's better I won't have to. You have a new record out, you want people to know about it." Then he drawls, "I enjoy talking about music." I know, with a sinking heart, what these words mean. He spends the next 10 minutes droning on about remastering, 16-bit CD, acetates, analog and digital remixes. At least he's talking. I tell him that as a music specialist, I'm slightly interested in all this, but mostly people don't give a damn. They mostly listen to music on tinny beat boxes and car radios. "What kind of barbaric age are you talking about?" he says.

I suggest that I would rather hear Billie Holiday as originally recorded than any singer I can think of recorded perfectly today. "You are missing the point. Even if most people are deaf. That's like saying why spend time with the lighting for the camera, Marty? What's the big, f---king, deal?"

He spits out the words. In any case, I'm not so keen on what he calls his "cleaning up" digital remastering. I liked the sludgy noise of the Velvet Underground, a shadowy version of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound. Even the lyrics are not necessarily improved by hearing them. There's a line on Pale Blue Eyes (the best version is by Brazilian singer Mariza Monte) that I'd always misheard as "I thought you were my mom and pop", which I thought rich in dark, Freudian meaning. Turns out it was "Thought you were my mountaintop" - much more banal. I say I think vinyl is warmer to listen to, he agrees, apparently undercutting everything he's said on the subject.

Does he actually like making music? "Coming up with the idea. That's not the bitch. Unless you can't do it. Everything else is the bitch."

We talk about the music business and he says, "People here argue about which is more disgusting - the movie business or the music business. Just depends which way you would rather be raped and pillaged."

I tell him I never made any money when I made some records. "You thought you'd make money?" he condescends. "How sweet. How cute of you."

It has occurred to me that Reed, often encrusted in leather, with bug-eyed shades and poisonous tongue, is rather reptilian. But at least his blood is warming up a bit. It occurs to me I haven't yet been enough of an asshole, so I try a high-risk question. "You realise that if you had overdosed on all the drugs you took in the '70s," I suggest, "it would have been a great career move."

There is a silence, during which I'm fairly sure I'm about to be ejected. But he says, "Yeah, think of the number of records I'd have sold. I'd be a legend. Thank you very much." He tells me he's fit now, he's given up smoking.

The thing is, Lou, I venture, people think you're pretentious. Another pregnant pause. "I don't give a shit. I've always done what interests me". True enough, including a double album of atonal feedback called Metal Machine Music (the record company ended up apologising to distributors for that one). He tells me that some German group has played it live and it is now considered an avant-garde masterpiece, influencing industrial rock, although, of course, ignorant critics hated it at the time. Some of us still do.

Many people think he's a great American writer, like Saul Bellow or Philip Roth, but because he's working in the rock field he's not given the accolades due to him. "I wanted to combine Burroughs and Ginsberg with rock. I mean, here was this great music with not much going on lyrically, and here's a book like Last Exit To Brooklyn. You'd have to be retarded not to see the possibilities. I'm amazed," he says, with true arrogance "that I pretty much still have the field to myself."

Lou was christened Lewis Allen Firbank and was born in 1942 in suburban Long Island. He made his first record as the Shades, aged 14, called So Blue - his middle-class parents were so upset by his rock'n'roll tendencies, they persuaded him to have electric shock therapy. He ended up studying English literature at Syracuse University, which is where he met his first mentor, the poet Delmore Schwarz, author of In Dreams Begin Responsibilities. "

One of the greatest short stories ever written, five pages and not one polysyllabic word." When Reed has that directness, his songs are at their best, although The Raven, his recent adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe, is full - nay, replete - with arbours of sculpted ivy, entablatures intertwined and kingly halls that are melancholy shrines, read by plummy actors, and is entirely indigestible. One rock number has Edgar Allen Poe, not once but several times, rhymed with "not exactly the boy next door", as if it was any good the first time round.

His other mentor was Warhol. How important was he for you, I ask. "My God, what luck was that - of all the people to adopt you as his band. It was fantastic. He did it all - we played the same music we had been fired for and beaten up elsewhere. The first week he projected films onto us and we wore black: that was the first multimedia show. People hated him, but now he's dead, he's maybe the greatest American artist."

For the first time, Reed's clear enthusiasm and admiration for Warhol shows a brief flash of humanity, but then his publicist pops in to say my time is up. I tell Reed I hope he keeps up not smoking, that I haven't, and he fishes out the number of his Chinese herbalist. Thanks, Lou, for caring. When I ask him what he's up to next, he says he's interviewing a singer called Anthony for a magazine. He has been out shopping and was considering getting the same microphone as mine. This I can hardly believe. So, Lou, you're joining the assholes? "Well," he says, and his eye twitches like the woman winking at the end of The Weakest Link, "a few of my friends are journalists, actually".

Monday, January 09, 2006

Curious Facts: Art Attacks

'Fountain' - the notorious 1917 artwork by Marcel Duchamp - a standard porcelain urinal exhibited upside-down, was attacked for the second time on January 4th by the same person – a 77-year old French artist from Provence named Pierre Pinoncelli.

Police said the first attack came at an exhibition in Nimes in 1993 when Pinoncelli urinated in the urinal and set about it with a blunt instrument, claiming that his attack was a work of performance art that Duchamp would have appreciated. At his trial, he said that he was ‘restoring dignity to this object, victim of an abuse of purpose if not of personality.’ The judge decided Pinoncelli had wanted to ‘hijack the fame of the original artist’, jailed hjim for a month and fined him €45,000.

This time, Pinoncelli hit 'Fountain', worth £2m, with a hammer, chipping it slightly. The piece was on display at a Dada exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Pinoncelli was held by the police overnight. He was released on Thursday and ordered to appear in court in Paris Jan. 24 to answer charges of damaging the property of others. As in 1993, he could face a prison term or a fine.

According to a New York Times story on the incident: 'Since the early 1960's, Mr. Pinoncelli, based in Nice, has been busy with what he calls "les happenings de rue," or "street happenings." In 1969, he used a water pistol to spray red paint on André Malraux, who was then the French culture minister. In 1975, he "held up" a bank in Nice with a fake gun to protest Nice's decision to become Cape Town's twin city while South Africa was still under apartheid rule. The same year, he paraded outside Nice's courts, covered in large yellow stars, in what he called a homage to deported Jews.

'Perhaps his most striking act unfolded in 2002 at a festival of performance art in the Colombian city of Cali. There, he protested the kidnapping of a Colombian politician, Ingrid Betancourt, by the country's leftist guerrillas by chopping off half of the smallest finger of his left hand. He then used his blood to write "FARC," the acronym of the guerrilla group (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), on a white wall. "The idea was to share in Colombia's violence," he told reporters at the time. But it apparently did not impress the guerrillas: Ms. Betancourt is still being held.'

Many years ago, I saw the urinal at first hand at a Surrealist exhibition at the Pompidou. At the time I was told that Brian Eno had also pissed in the urinal. Boing Boing confirms that in 1995, Eno collected some of his urine and used plastic tubing to splash it onto 'Fountain' even though the work was displayed behind glass at the MoMA. The full story of this incident can be found on Everything2.

In 2000, two Chinese artists, Yuan Cai and Jian Jun Xi Ianjun, who had jumped on Tracy Emin's "My Bed" the year before, also urinated on 'Fountain' (the Tate Modern's version), noting that Duchamp himself said artists defined art.

Marcel Duchamp's Fountain recently came top of a poll of 500 art experts in the run-up to this year's Turner Prize. Picasso's ‘Les Demoiselles d'Avignon’ (9107) was second, with Andy Warhol's Marilyn Diptych (1962) third, Picasso's ‘Guernica’ fourth and Matisse's ‘The Red Studio’ fifth.
Duchamp (1887-1968)

"Fountain" was rejected for being neither original nor art when Duchamp offered it for the first exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York in 1917. That version of the urinal signed "R. Mutt," was subsequently lost. The Pompidou's "Fountain" is one of eight signed replicas made by Duchamp in 1964.

See also:
'The Richard Mutt Case: Looking for Marcel Duchamp's Fountain' by Michael Betacourt
The Elegant Pisser: Fountain by "R. Mutt" - Max Podstolski
'Making Sense of Modern Art'

Whose Britain Is It Anyway?

The forthcoming BBC2 programme of this name (Tuesday 9th Jan) promises to make fascinating viewing, judging by the Sunday Times piece by its co-producer and presenter Peter 'Swingometer' Snow.

It reveals that there have been only two occasions in the past one thousand years when land has been fully registered. Once when the Domesday Book was compiled 20 years after William the Conqueror invaded in 1066. The second, 800 years later, in 1872. The so-called Return of the Owners of Land managed to register every acre in England and Wales. Today’s Land Registry is able to tell you who owns only 50% of the land. The other half is unregistered. (Scotland is different, there land registry is much more comprehensive.)

'In just over 130 years more than 30m acres have mysteriously gone missing,' says Snow. The Land Registry is hoping to persuade those who own the unregistered half of Britain to own up by 2012 — its target date for full registration.

'There are 60m acres in England, Wales and Scotland, roughly one to each member of the population but I was startled to find,' writes Snow, 'first, that 90% of us live on less than 10% of the land and even the plots we inhabit are shrinking. Second, just under one-third of Britain’s land is still owned by aristocrats and traditional landed gentry. Ordinary British homeowners (freeholders) who have greatly increased in number over the past two decades are competing for land that gets tighter and dearer by the day. '

We in Britain live in smaller spaces than anywhere else in the 15 countries of the old Europe. Housing statistics show that in 2002 Britain’s newly built dwellings had, on average, the smallest floor areas. Britain is actually less urbanised than Germany, Holland, Denmark and Belgium.

Traditionally, says Snow, the crown, church and aristocracy each owned around a third of all British land. Now the church and crown both own just 1% each while the aristocracy still own 30% of the land

The main gainers in ownership of land have been the Forestry Commission and heritage organisations such as the National Trust.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

BIFF Retrospective

One of the casualties of The Guardian's change to a Berliner format was the Biff cartoons and strips that had appeared regulalrly in the paper since 1985. Happily a retrospevctive exhibition of the work of Chris Garratt and Mick Kidd (the originators and creators of the world of Biff) will be held at the Newsroom, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R from Jan 19th to March 3rd. Opening times: Monday to Friday 10:00-17:00. Saturday: 12:00-16:00. Admission is free.

Mick and Chris met at grammar school in the 1950s and have collaborated on BIFF since the mid-1970s. Chris creates the artwork - a mixture of collage, found images, tracings and original drawings, and Mick is responsible for the text.One of the unique aspects of BIFF is that Mick lives in London and Chris in the Scilly Isles. They have created their strips and other artwork over the last 30 years by phone, post, email and occasional meetings.

To see more of their work, visit: www.biffonline.com

Inside Dope by Dick Tracy: Cannabis Psychosis, Marijuana Munchies,The Sativex Papers and Does Marijuana Make Your Brain Grow

'Where there's smoke ..' by Blake Morrison, was published as a five-page cover story in the G2 supplement of The Guardian (Friday December 16, 2005). The pitch was as follows: 'When the government last year downgraded it to a class C drug, the message seemed pretty clear: cannabis is harmless. Since then, there has been mounting evidence of a link between the drug and mental illness. So is it safe to skin up?'

The history of cannabis and cannabis prohibition is, of course, littered with scare stories that have been used, at various points in history, to demonise the drug for political reasons. Yet this time we are being asked to believe that this is the proverbial horse of different colour by such prominent spokeswomen as columnist Sue Arnold (who in 1997 extolled the wonders of cannabis after it temporarily cured her eye-condition (retinitis pigmentosa) but went through a volte face when her son had a psychotic incident after smoking skunk and spent six m0nths in hospital) and Rosie Boycott (who memorably led a legalise cannabis campaign when she was editing The Independent but, more recently, has made a tv documentary and written a major piece for the Daily Mail ('The Cannbis Catastrophe') on cannabis psychosis which states that 'cannbis users today are playing russian roulette with their mental health.')

The article is one of the most prominent yet to investigate what has now become a popular media story. But is there any truth in it ? Read the article and see how you feel at the end of it. There's an awful lot of ifs and buts, arguments for and against and, I would say, an unproved causal link between smoking cannabis and psychotic behaviour (particularly schizophrenia). You may disagree.

But you should know this. One of the central planks of the 'cannbis psychosis' argument is that the strength of modern cannabis ('skunk' in particular) has increased dramatically and that this is the principal cause of the problem.

Blake Morrison wrote the following: ...'whereas 30 years ago an average joint contained about 10mg of THC, a joint of skunk today might contain as much as 300mg.'

So it was with some surprise that one read the Letters page of The Guardian a few days later (19 December) to read the communication from Dr Leslie King, former head of the drugs intelligence unit of the Forensic Science Service. King had co-authored a report for the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction which had specifically studied trends in cannabis potency in the UK and the EU. (the full report is available here for download)

The report clearly states: 'Statements in the popular media that the potency of cannabis has increased by ten times or more in recent decades are not supported by the data from either the USA or Europe.'

In his letter he writes that 'the amount of herbal cannabis or cannbis resin found in reefer cigarettes has not changed significantly in more than 20 years. The average weight of a cannabis in an unsmoked reefer has remained at around 200mg to 250mg. In other words, not only does a typical joint not contain 300mg of THC, it doesn't even contain 300mg of cannabis. A joint made from 'skunk' with a typical potency of 12% would contain around 30mg, not 300mg THC.' OOPS!!

Dr King traces the origin of this myth of super-strength cannabis back to Alan Walters, the then US drug czar, whose comments to this effect were published in The Washington Post five years ago. He says the same misinformation is on the Royal College of General Practitioners site, which reports that: 'A ‘reefer’ in the 1980s contained about 10mg of 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active chemical, where as a ‘joint’ today may contain around 300mg THC.' [The reference given for that is hardly up to date: 'Marijuana, In 'Comprehensive Handbook of Alcohol and Drug Addiction' by MS Gold (Marcel Dekker Inc, New York (1991)]

Then, to make things even more confusing, in 'The week's questions' (The Guardian Saturday January 7) James Ramerson answered the poser 'Is cannabis getting stronger?'

His answer: 'No. The home secretary, Charles Clarke, charged the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs in March to look at the decision to declassify cannabis from class B to C. One thing he wanted to know was whether extra-strong varieties such as skunk were raising the average strength.

This idea was given credence five years ago when Alan Walters, the US drug tsar, claimed that modern grass is 10 to 20 times more potent than the benign stuff in the carefree hippy days. This, it appears, is a myth - at least in the UK and almost all of Europe. Paul Griffiths at the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction in Portugal said: "Some of the figures quoted are just nonsensical."

He co-authored a report in 2004 which reviewed data on potency. It found that the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the effective potency of cannabis, in Britain has stayed at around 6% for the past 30 years. Strong varieties make up only 15% of the market. The only country in Europe where potency is increasing is the Netherlands where intensively-grown cannabis has more than 50% of the market.

He argues that concentrating on potency is a red herring. " Do people who drink whisky take in more alcohol than people who drink beer?" he asked. More important is how often people smoke, how early they started and how much they put in a joint.'

And there's more. The day before the above (Jan 6) The Guardian's political editor Michael White weighed in with a story 'Clarke paves way for U-turn on cannabis.' He wrote:

'Charles Clarke, the home secretary, was criticised yesterday from both sides of the debate on the misuse of drugs when he publicly indicated that he is considering restoring the class B status of cannabis in the light of medical evidence.

'In what the tabloids labelled a "humiliating climbdown" from the decision of his predecessor, David Blunkett, to downgrade the widely used drug to class C, Mr Clarke used media interviews to signal his approval of an imminent report, which he has already read, from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

'Without divulging the report's contents Mr Clarke said he would accept one recommendation - to increase education about the dangerous effects of cannabis and its legal status, after Mr Blunkett's decision two years ago caused anti-drug partisans to claim that the drug had been '"decriminalised".

'In an interview with The Times the home secretary confirmed what his officials have been saying, that new medical evidence has prompted a number of people to change their minds. "I'm very struck by the advocacy of a number of people who have been proposers of the reclassification of cannabis that they were wrong," he said. "I am also very worried about the most recent medical evidence."

The following day, The Guardian recieved the following response:

'The worst kept secret in the drugs field is that, after a detailed scrutiny of the evidence, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs does not advise the reclassification of cannabis to class B and recommends it remains in class C (Clarke paves way for U-turn on cannabis, January 6). If the government's own group of experts is clear about this it begs the question: why are politicians flying so many kites?
Sebastian Saville
Director, Release

So how come the political editor didn't know that.

In conclusion, most readers will have read Blake Morrison's big splash G2 piece but many will have missed the letters and corrections. Thus are myths perpetuated.

On a lighter note, researchers at Columbia University claimed to have uncovered the machinery of The 'Marijuana Munchies'. See story here.
[H.J.Jo et al.: "Integration Of Endocannabinoid and Leptin Signaling in an Appetite-Related Neural Circuit." Publishing in Neuron, Vol. 48, 1055–1066, December 22, 2005, DOI 10.1016/j.neuron.2005.10.021


The UK company GW Pharmaceuticals was founded in early 1998 and recieved its first Home Office licenses to cultivate, possess and supply cannabis for research purposes were received in June that year with cultivation beginning in August.

In November 1998, the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology published its report "Cannabis: The Scientific and Medical Evidence" which recommended that clinical trials of cannabis medicines should be carried out as a matter of urgency. The Committee warmly welcomed GW's research programme.

Sativex is GW's lead cannabis-based medicine which contains tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol and is taken as a spray into the mouth. It does not contain the active substance found in recreational cannabis and so patients taking Sativex will not become intoxicated.

In April 2005 Sativex received regulatory approval in Canada for the symptomatic relief of neuropathic pain in adults with multiple sclerosis. The law in Canada is such that as soon as Sativex is launched in Canada, doctors will be able to prescribe it legally.

Sativex has recenty been given the go-ahead to enter final stage trials in the US to treat severe pain in cancer patients . A spokesman for the GW Pharmaceuticals said: "This is a major step. The US is the world's largest pharmaceutical market." The trial, which will involve about 250 patients, will establish whether the drug relieves pain in patients suffering from an advanced form of cancer who do not experience relief from opioid drugs such as morphine.

To meet demands for Sativex, GW Pharmaceuticals has increased production of cannabis at its fortified greenhouses to 60t/y.

In the UK however, the company is still conducting trials to try and gain approval for using it to treat muscle tightness in multiple sclerosis patients - approval which may be harder to get following an inquest into the death of a 70-year old woman who had ben involved in earlier trials of the drug.

Here are the 'Notes to Editors' on the GW site in response to the coroner's verdict:

'The inquest into the death of Mrs Rene Anderson commenced on 12 December 2005. Mrs Anderson was 69 years old with a 25 year history of diabetes mellitus, and also suffered from resistant hypertension, clinically significant depression and hyperlipidaemia. She died in March 2004.

One of the factors in her case, which has received media attention, is that Mrs Anderson had taken part in a Sativex clinical trial over a three week period during October 2003. Mrs Anderson’s total exposure to Sativex extended to a total of 42 doses (a total of less than four days worth for a typical patient). During October 2003, Mrs Anderson developed confusion and other intoxication effects and stopped taking Sativex. At the end of October 2003, a full four months before her death, a urine test confirmed that there was no presence of cannabinoids in her body.

A further period of four months of hospital inpatient care passed prior to Mrs Anderson’s death in March 2004 after pneumonia and kidney failure, during which time she received numerous medications under the direction of various doctors.

There were a number of other potential causes of confusion in this patient. Mrs Anderson was also taking a wide range of other medication both before and after her brief involvement in the Sativex trial, including tramadol, haloperidol, nitrazepam, simvastin, citalopram, losartan, frusemide, atenolol and doxazosin. All these medicines have side effects of their own, and a number list confusion on the product label. There are over 50 prescription medicines which list confusion as a side effect.'

In his verdict at the end of the inquest today, the Coroner stated that “Mrs Anderson died on 3rd March 2004 in the Northern General Hospital as a consequence of prolonged immobility following an illness for which she had been admitted on 28th October 2003. On the balance of probabilities, an idiosyncratic reaction to a trial drug (either alone or in combination with other medications) was at least a significant contributory factor to the initiation of this illness.”

According to Drug Development-Technology.Com: '...queries from the [UK] regulators have seen approval repeatedly delayed and raised the question of whether Sativex will ever be approved in the UK. GW Pharmaceuticals and Bayer will not seek wider European approval until UK regulators have given the green light.'

'Estimates suggest that between 10% and 30% of MS patients in Europe smoke cannabis to ease the pain and disabling symptoms of the disease. This activity is illegal and patients run the risk of prosecution. In the UK, cannabis-based medicines were in fact outlawed in 1968 after legislation banned doctors from prescribing tincture of cannabis.'

They conclude with a Marketing Commentary: 'In Europe alone there are some 500,000 MS patients on top of the 4 million experiencing neuropathic pain. This fact, together with a market poorly served by currently available drugs, presents an excellent opportunity for Sativex if the encouraging results seen in multiple sclerosis are reproduced in other patient groups. Regulatory approval of Sativex will set an important precedent for the use of cannabis-derived drugs.'

According to 'Marijuana May Make Your Brain Grow.' [Nature 13.10.05], neuropsychologist Xia Zhang and a team of researchers based at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, aimed to find out just how marijuana-like drugs, known collectively as cannabinoids, act on the brain.

The researchers injected rats with HU210, a synthetic drug that is about one-hundred times as powerful as THC, the high-inducing compound naturally found in marijuana. They then used a chemical tracer to watch new cells growing in the hippocampus. They found that HU210 seemed to induce new brain cell growth, just as some antidepressant drugs do, they report in the Journal of Clinical Investigation1. This suggests that they could potentially be used to reduce anxiety and depression, Zhang says. He adds that the research might help to create new cannabinoid-based treatments.

"I think it's a very exciting study," says Amelia Eisch, an addiction researcher at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. "It makes marijuana look more like an antidepressant and less like a drug of abuse."

Although his findings point to potential benefits of smoking pot, Zhang says that he does not endorse its use. "Marijuana has been used for medicine and recreation for thousands of years," he says. "But it can also lead to addiction." He says his group's next studies will examine this more unpleasant side of the drug.

Greening the Olympics

I was recently asked what was my best article. The one I chose was written about the environmental impact of the 1992 Winter Olympics, which appeared on the prestigious Op-Ed page of the New York Times on February 17th that year.

The reasons I gave for choosing it were as follows: Receiving a telephone call with a commission from the New York Times was a real Bob Dylan moment; I had two days to research and write the piece and delivered it on-length and on time - and the piece went in virtually intact; it had a big impact, as I was later told by Al Gore when I met him in London on the eve of the Rio Earth summit and as evidenced by a flood of feedback.

The piece reads as follows:

World-Class Destruction

'As you hunker down with CBS for another week of winter wonderland, bear in mind the words of Fritz März, president of the Ger­man Alpine Organization: "The Alps are being literally reconstructed be­cause the good Lord was obviously not a skier." Raped might be a better word.

The Albertville Olympics may be a mother lode of white gold for a few corporate sponsors and international athletes, but "mining" the mountains has exacted a terrible price: the de­struction of the very environment the event is meant to honor and celebrate.

An entire region has been scarred to provide two weeks of televisual de­lights. Albertville itself has been transformed into Alphaville with 32 lanes of traffic entering and leaving this artificially inflated boom town. To create the Olympic sites, which spread over an area of 74 miles,1.3 million cubic yards of earth were carved out of the mountains in the buffer zone around a national park.

More than 60 acres of trees have been cut down. Alpine pastures have been scraped smooth, new landscapes cre­ated. Highways, tunnels, bridges, via­ducts, hotel complexes, parking lots and waste dumps have been created in a mountain region where the envi­ronment was already in jeopardy.

No expense was spared. At Courchevel, a design for an inexpensive, ecologically sound removable metal ski jump was rejected in favor of a concrete colossus so heavy it had to be affixed to the mountain with hun­dreds of 100-ton anchors.

For three years the residents of La Plagne (10 hotels, 106 ski lifts, 118 downhill runs) had to endure construc­tion work on the 1,500-meter bobsled run, whose final turn protrudes into the town. To insure that the artificial ice remains at the correct tempera­ture, a cooling system with 50 miles of pipe, containing more than 40 tons of toxic ammonia, was installed. The run was closed by the Ministry of the Environment until residents were is­sued gas masks in case of a leak.

A key man behind the games is Michel Barnier, a local member of parliament and author of "The Eco­logical Challenge: One For All." He has helped create an event that may permanently scar what the Interna­tional Union for the Conservation of Nature has called "the most threat­ened mountain system in the world."

But let's be even-handed here. The Winter Olympics are only the most dramatic illustration of damage wrought by the ski boom. Since 1960, 40,000 ski runs and 12,000 lifts have been constructed in the Alps. In that time, seasonal visitors have increased fivefold, to 40 million people a year, compared with the region's perma­nent population of seven million.

A recent report by the International Center for Alpine Environments in France contends that downhill skiing is the most damaging human activity in the Alps. Development in the region over the last 20 years, the study said, has been "completely anarchic."

If this trend continues, a third of the woodland in the Alps will be gone by 2050, mainly from acid rain damage caused by emissions from traffic and power stations. Trees anchor the soil, stabilize the water table and shelter roads and villages from avalanches. If they disappear, soil erosion, desertification and then disaster will follow.

In addition, the Alps contain the busiest mountain road network in the world, bearing 20 percent of all pas­sengers and 15 percent of all goods transported in Western Europe. In­creased industry and human wastes have led to the pollution of mountain lakes. More dams have been quarried out of the mountains to meet in­creased demand for electricity.

The same conflict between develop­ment and conservation is also found to varying degrees at ski resorts in the U.S., notably in Colorado and the Adirondacks.

Perhaps the destruction of Albert­ville has served a salutary purpose. Future Olympics will require envi­ronmental impact statements. Or­ganizers at the next venue, Lillehammer, Norway, claim theirs will be the first "green games." This trend may even result in the establishment of fixed venues to replace the current Olympic traveling circus.

Similarly, there is high-level pres­sure, principally from Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, chairman of Alp Action, an environmental group, to modify the Olympic Charter to unite environmen­tal principles with its humanitarian aims. To the five rings that symbolize international harmony, we can then add a sixth to confirm our commit­ment to the rest of the living world. '

The upcoming Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy (10-26 Feb) have not been tarred with the same brush. On 9 November 2005, the UN environmental agency UNEP announced the following:

'As part of its efforts to encourage eco-friendly sporting events, UNEP reports a raft of measures to cut greenhouse emissions and water usage at next year’s winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, as well as an upcoming agreement for the 2008 summer games in Beijing.

UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said “I am sure the measures they are both undertaking will make the upcoming Winter and Summer Games a crucial guide for environmentally-friendly mass spectator events everywhere over the coming years.”

The Torino Olympic Organizing Committee (TOROC) unveiled its new Sustainability Report, 'one of the
cornerstones of which is the Heritage Climate TORino (HECTOR) project designed to make the Winter Games carbon neutral. The organizers calculate that the 10 to 26 February Games will generate the equivalent of just over 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide with the main sources coming from transport and the operation of the venues.

'Under HECTOR these emissions will be offset via forestry, energy efficiency and renewable energy schemes both at home and abroad in line with the international climate change treaty, such as by financing renewable energy and sustainable energy projects.

'Other measures include water-saving in snow-making machines and other steps to reduce the scale of construction and thus minimize the impact on the landscape, as well as a waste materials plan to handle the anticipated increases in rubbish and the use of pollution-free materials in eco-friendly buildings at the Olympic Village. '

A detailed article on this can be found here.

Ironically, the biggest threat/embarassment to the success of the games are the ongoing actions by tens of thousands of protesters against the planned high-speed rail link between Turin in Italy and Lyon in France. This would involve excavating a tunnel through the mountains in Italy's northwestern Susa Valley. Local residents are concerned because they believe the drilloing would disturb asbestos and uranium desposits in the rock that would pollute local water supplies and that the scale of the construction would irrevocably alter the local environment. The Italian government have tried to mollify the protesters by commissioning another Envionemntal Impact report on the project but they remain concerned that the protestors may try and disrup the Games in some way.

'Alpine valley shuts down for rail protest' - Jane Barrett The Guardian 17.11. 2005
'Italian PM undeterred by mass protest over Lyon-Turin rail link' AFP 8.12.05
'Winter Olympics under threat from 40,000 violent protesters' - Richard Owen The Times 10.12.05
'Italy to review rail link to France amid protest' AFP 11.12.05
'Italy Government Tries to End Anti-Train Protests' (Reuters) 12.12.05
'Tens Of Thousands Join Protest Over Turin Lyon Rail Link' (AFP) 17.12.05

So what is the situation in the UK ?

In 'JOINT AMBITIONS TO MAKE THE 2010 AND 2012 GAMES SUSTAINABLE', a media release from the London 2012 Press Office (12th December 2005)

'Teams behind the Vancouver 2010 and London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games are agreed that sustainability is a central theme of their planning and preparation, with many aspects of common interest.

'The subject of sustainability is a far reaching one, extending beyond merely physical attributes, such as creating environmentally friendly buildings. Participants agreed that the Games provide a hugely powerful opportunity to connect with and communicate to the public, on a broad range of social and environmental issues. Both Organising Committees are working on ways to engage, inform and educate individuals, whether they work on the project, visit the Games, or are impacted in some other way.

'In a world where they are now often seen as major celebrities and role models, athletes also have a key role to play. They can share the sustainability story with younger people, relating it not only to sport, but to their lifestyles and the personal choices they make.

'Both Vancouver and London are on a very similar time track in their preparation for the Games, which offers the unique opportunity to combine thinking and collaborate on key issues, such as how to measure sustainability and exploring ways that carbon emissions can be mitigated and offset.

'John Elkington, Founder and Chief Entrepreneur, SustainAbility facilitated the event and commented, “VANOC and LOCOG are making the most of the opportunity to begin working together early on. These two great cities recognise that they have an unparalleled opportunity not only to leave local legacies, but also to transform the way the entire Olympic and Paralympic movement plans and runs future events. That would be a truly global legacy.” '

Also worth reading is; The State of the World's Mountains: A Global Report'
Edited by Peter B. Stone on behalf of Mountain Agenda Date: 1992
( Zed Books. 1992. London and New Jersey)
Full textcan be found hereL http://www.mountain-portal.co.uk/text/state/state.htm

Stopping the Big Burn

'Smoke from A Chimney'- Nigel Cole

This week attended a public meeting organised by DOVE (Defenders of the Ouse Valley and Estuary) in Lewes Town Hall to discover the current state of their campaign to try and prevent the building of a waste incinerator in the port of Newhaven on the South Coast. DOVE are running a very professional campaign and have an excellent website here. DOVE outline the current state of affairs as follows:

East Sussex County Council and Brighton and Hove City Council have adopted a combined plan to deal with the waste from East Sussex. The plan proposes building a waste incinerator in Newhaven.

Incineration doesn't make sense on any level. Incineration does not solve the waste problem nor make the waste disappear. It merely releases dangerous toxins into the atmosphere and concentrates all the remaining hazardous materials into toxic ash which has to be disposed of. This is usually landfilled, mixed in with construction materials which then become toxic themselves or by other means but it cannot be safely disposed of. There are proven safer and ultimately cheaper alternatives to waste management that have been implemented successfully elsewhere. A zero waste strategy based upon these ideas has been sent to the councils.

When the first draft of the Waste Local Plan was put on public deposit, record numbers of people objected and forced a public enquiry. DOVE made representations throughout the enquiry and the Inspector produced his report.

The report accepts almost all of the points raised by DOVE and the Inspector has made many recommendations that call the plan into question. The Councils have now proposed a modified version of the Waste Local Plan but this revised plan ignores the majority of the inspector's recommendation. We believe the Councils are behaving arrogantly and undemocratically in sweeping his findings aside and call on them to uphold the inspector's recommendations.

The modified plan was put on public deposit until 24th March 2005 and thousands wrote in to register their objections. East Sussex County Council have now (September 2005) processed each letter and form and registered each individual point of objection. They claim that they will take these objections into consideration when they decide whether to modify the Waste Local Plan, to adopt the Waste Local Plan or to call for another public enquiry. DOVE will, of course, oppose both the adoption of the Waste Local Plan and the Planning Application for an incinerator.

DOVE are currently seeking to get thousands of residents in our local area to write objection letters/e-mails to ESCC by January 27th. Details on their site here

I took notes on the evening in my ever-handy Silvine Memo Book and here are some of the things I learnt:

The plant is designed to handle waste from the a large part of East Sussex, ranging from Brighton to Hastings. It is designed to last for 25 years. Its twin chimneys (65m [200ft] high) will emit 4 million cu.m. of gas a day, which includes nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide and traces of dioxin, a toxic substance for which there is no safe limit.The plant will produce as much CO2 as a gas-fired power station.

The plant will operate 24/7. It is not a heat recovery plant and is highly inefficient. The plant site is near a children's school, residential areas and will affect an Area of Natural Beauty (AONB) and an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). To get the waste to the plant will require 210 giant lorries a day. The Councils get fined if the levels of waste fail to meet the plant's pre-set targets.

'It is vital everybody makes some noise' concluded the last speaker, film director Nigel Cole.

Waste incineration is, of course, a national issue and Friends of the Earth (FOE) are one of the lead organisations opposing this approach to waste management. They have an excellent set of reports, briefings and action packs located here. This includes a 2004 FOE research paper on municipal waste incinerators which shows that environmental problems are adding to the deprivation that the poorest communities face. It shows that 50 per cent of operating municipal waste incinerators in England are located in the most deprived 10 per cent of Council wards.

Greenpeace have an excellent map showing the status of all built or planned incineration sites in the UK here. More information about their national campaign here. They have an excellent animated tour of an incinerator here.

Current campaigns in the UK:
England: Defenders of the Oust Valley (DOVE)
Capel Action Group
Guildford Against Incineration
Redhill Incinerator
Basingstoke Burner Action Group
Stop Kidderminster Incinerator
RABID (Sheffield)
Sheffield Against Incineration
Byker & Newcastle Waste Group
Ireland:No Incineration Alliance
Scotland:Aberdeen No Incinerator Group
Wales:Stop the Incinerator Campaign (Swansea)
Campaign Against the New Kiln (Many links to other groups )
Sources for international information: Global Anti-Incineration Alliance
Sources for European information:No Incinerators for Europe (Many links to other groups )

According to a UK Parliament Post Note NO 149 (dated December 200o) on the incineration of houshold waste: Each year UK households generate around 30 million tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW). The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) reports that this figure appears to be growing at about 3% per year.

Management of MSW in the UK is dominated (83%) by landfill disposal with less than one-tenth either incinerated or recycled.b There are 13 MSW incinerators (MSWIs) operating in Britain (there are none in Northern Ireland), burning around 2 million tonnes of MSW each year (8% of the total). All MSWIs recover some of the energy from combustion as electricity or in district heating. As such, these facilities are known as 'energy from waste’ (EfW) or ‘waste to energy’ plants. Current facilities range in size from a plant in Lerwick, handling 26,000 tonnes per year (26kt/yr) and producing heat for a local district heating system to an 600kt/yr facility at Edmonton, generating 30 megawatts (MW) of electricity. Over half of all current incinerators handle more than 200kt/yr, and 40% between 100 and 200kt/yr.

The UK government is currently implementing a waste strategy that could well see the building of over 100 incinerators over the next 15 years.


On 14th June 2003, UK. More than 235 groups from 62 countries today took action against waste incineration to serve notice to their governments that time is running out on the controversial technology despite vigorous attempts by the incineration industry to repackage their burners as renewable energy or modern thermal systems for waste disposal.

Public opposition has killed many proposed and existing incinerators worldwide. For instance, at least 33 proposed burners have been refused planning permission in the UK due to public opposition and a massive grassroots movement has defeated more than 300 municipal waste incinerator proposals in the United States in the last 15 years. In Japan, the most incinerator intensive country, public pressure has resulted in over 500 incinerators being shut down in recent years. Jurisdictions in 15 countries have passed partial bans on incineration and one country, the Philippines, has banned all incineration.

See also:

'Burning Issue' by Dave Waller (Guardian 23 May 2001)

UPDATE: The British Society for Ecological Medicine, have just published [FEB 13TH 2006] an extensive new report entitled 'The Health Effects of Waste Incinerators.' Its available for free download HERE