Thursday, November 26, 2009




Check out this review.


'There are more new innovative ideas . . . coming out of Israel than there are out in [Silicon] Valley right now. And it doesn't slow during economic downturns." The authors of "Start-Up Nation," Dan Senor and Saul Singer, are quoting an executive at British Telecom, but they could just as easily be quoting an executive at Intel, which last year opened a $3.5 billion factory in Kiryat Gat, an hour south of Tel Aviv, to make sophisticated 45-nanometer chips; or Warren Buffett, who in 2006 paid $4 billion for four-fifths of an Israeli firm that makes high-tech cutting tools for cars and planes; or John Chambers, Cisco's chief executive, who has bought nine Israeli start-ups; or Steve Ballmer, who calls Microsoft "as much an Israeli company as an American company" because of the importance of its Israeli technologists. "Google, Cisco, Microsoft, Intel, eBay . . . ," says one of eBay's executives. "The best-kept secret is that we all live and die by the work of our Israeli teams."

Israel is the world's techno-nation. Civilian research-and-development expenditures run 4.5% of the gross domestic product—half-again the level of the U.S., Germany or South Korea—and venture-capital investment per capita is 2½ times that of the U.S. and six times that of the United Kingdom. Even in absolute terms, Israel has only the U.S.—with more than 40 times the population—as a challenger.

Read the rest  of this review in the  Wall Street Journal

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Computer artist George Snow is on a teaching assignment in Palestine and is sending THE GENERALIST his thoughts and impressions.

Ramallah Boy I caught sight of the Holy Land from beneath the wing of the Alitalia flight from Rome. A long straight coastline stretching from the Lebanon to Gaza with Palestine in-between. So familiar from the maps of the TV news reports on the region.

As the plane descended and approached Ben Gurion airport I was aware of the large number of houses. Square ones. Round ones. Tall ones. Small ones. Extending well beyond the limits of Al Lud (or Tel Aviv as it is known to some) the whole landscape was speckled with houses.

From that height, looking down at the toy town houses, I considered the role of housing in times of war. I recall how Churchill reduced the great German cities to rubble. Ignoring strategic or military targets he chose instead to simultaneously reduce the local population and the German housing stock. (Commenting on the Nuremberg trials he told 'Bomber' Harris, head of Bomber Command, words to the effect "Lucky we won old fellow, or it would be us up there.")

One doesn't have to be in Palestine long before one catches sight of the garden fence that the Israelis have erected around their house. Made of concrete and steel this picket fence has the occasional opening to allow military and human movement. It separates existing Israeli housing from that they intend to demolish and re-build in future.

Israeli policy, it would seem, is to knock down the homes of their enemies and build their own. They flatten Gaza, leaving thousands homeless, but prevent the importation of building materials to rebuild homes. (All of this done with the approval of European governments by the way.)

So. Perhaps I have misunderstood the true nature of war. One might have thought the idea of war was to kill the men and rape their women. That at least is how the common foot-soldier might see it- but in truth it has more to do with knocking down the houses of your enemy and building your own. The bulldozer is mightier than the sword? Or I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house up.

In the mornings I run around Ramallah, choosing a different route on every run. That way I get to know the city and its layout a little better. I am struck by the quantity of new high quality housing. There are houses for the rich, houses for the not so well off, gymnasiums, offices and shops. Something is happening here in Ramallah. Large sums of money are flooding in. It's a political process not unlike that that occurred in Northern Ireland a few years back. Throw money at the problem and it'll eventually go away.

If I were to go away and return in 10 years I might not even recognise the old Ramallah. By then it may be a shining gleaming metropolis- or the Israelis may have decided to bomb it flat.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


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Title page and illustrations from 'De anima brutorum commentaria'  (Commentary on the soul of animals), Francesco Maria Soldini 's  De anima brutorum commentaria: curiosum nobis natura ingenium dedit (Commentary on the soul of animals: nature gave us an inquiring mind) (Florence: Cajetan Cambiagus, 1776). This is now believed to be the earliest known published depiction of  evolution, issued nearly a century before Darwin’s theories.

Source: Princeton University Library

darwin The Generalist is a great believer in serendipity and today was a delightful example. My friend Michael had sent me some clippings from Nature  which included two out of a series of four pieces they published about how Darwin's concept of evolution was received around the world by other cultures. I read them at the coffee shop and, back home, got on the web only to discover that today is the 150th anniversary of the first publication of 'The Origin of he Species.'

The first piece, 'Eastern Enchantment' by Marwa Elshakry demonstrates the ease with which Darwin's ideas were assimilated into local traditions of thought.

Scholars from Calcutta to Tokyo and Beijing constructed their own lineage for the theory of evolution by natural selection, tracing it to older and more familiar schools of thought and claiming ownership of what they saw as the precursors to these ideas.'

In China the scholar Yan Fu in the 1890s reinterpreted Huxley and Darwin in the light of Confucian ethical debates.

aumab In India, Satish Mukherjee saw Samkhya, one of the oldest schools of Hindu philosphy, as a precursor to the modern view of evolution. In his view Samkhya was the theory of evolution applied to the whole cosmos.


Muslim philosophers had long held the view that species ('kinds') could change over time and early texts refer to a hierarchy of beings and even argued that apes were lower forms of humans.

Darwin said he had seen an essay on the Origin in Hebrew showing that 'the theory is contained in the Old Testament.'

But Christianity, it seems, was alone amongst the great world beliefs in being in conflict with science and discussion about Darwin in the West has been dominated by this supposed clash ever since.

Globally, says Elshakry, Darwin was not so much a revolutionary or a scourge of faiths, as he was a revivifier of traditions. He straddled worlds between the moderns and the ancients, giving a new lease of life to ancient philosophers, ethical debates and even dynastic loyalties.

The second piece 'Contempt for Competition by Daniel Todes addresses the reception of Darwin's idea in Russia. In summary, they balked at the Malthusian 'struggle for existence' of Darwin's thought, seeing it as a very British idea which reflected their competitive individualistic society.

kropotkin_mutual_aid As a result, many Russian naturalists turned to the theory of mutual aid, which emphasised cooperation between species in their joint struggle to survive in hostile conditions. Karl Kessler's 'On the Law of Mutual aid (1879) established this concept as a staple of Russian evolutionary thought. One of Kessler's admirers was the exiled anarchist prince Peter Kropotkin, who produced his own text 'Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution' in 1902.

The third and fourth piece (unread) are :

'Global Darwin: Revolutionary road' by James Pusey which argues that 'in China, under the threat of Western imperialism, interpretations of Darwin's ideas paved the way for Marx, Lenin and Mao.'

'Global Darwin: Multicultural mergers'  by Jürgen Buchenau who writes that ' Latin Americans first saw evolution as a reason to 'whiten' their societies, then as a reason to take pride in their mixed lineage.'


popup According to a recent article in the New York Times (2 Nov 09) - 'Creationism, Minus a Young Earth, Emerges in the Islamic World' - a report on conference held in the States in October 2009:

'Creationism is growing in the Muslim world, from Turkey to to Pakistan to Indonesia.' Their belief is so-called 'Old-Earth Creationism' - they have no quarrel with astronomers and geologists as to the age of the earth but insist that life is 'the creation of God, not the happenstance consequence of random occurrences.'



Image Source:

Darwin's Notebooks go on-line today

Darwin's Lost Egg Has Been Found

Rare Charles Darwin Book Found On Toilet Bookshelf

Help Find Darwin's Missing Galapagos Notebook

Darwin, 'The Origin' and the future of biology

On 150th Anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, Professor E O Wilson, considered by many as Darwin’s natural heir, gives his assessment of the master naturalist, Darwin’s big idea and his own vision for a new system of biology equipped to tackle the threats to our natural world.

Darwin in the World: Evolution And Faith In The 21st Century

Bridget Kendall chairs a debate about evolution and faith from a conference at the famous Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt. They discuss how Darwin’s ideas were received around the world in his own time, and how attitudes vary today, from the Christian fundamentalist heartland in the USA to faith schools in the Middle East. Will there always be conflict between evolution and religion? Do they apply to different, non-overlapping worlds? Or can science live in harmony with faith?

10 ways to celebrate today’s ‘Origin of Species’ birthday

"I Had No Intention to Write Atheistically": Darwin, God, and the 2500-Year History of the Debate

Evolution of Evolution



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Seattle-based photographer Chris Jordan’s Gyre, 2009 depicts 2.4 million pieces of plastic, the estimated number of pounds of plastic pollution that enter the world’s oceans every hour. He collected all of the plastic used in the image above from the Pacific Ocean. See: for the full sequence.

The United Nations Environment Program estimated in 2006 that every square mile of ocean hosts 46,000 pieces of floating plastic


Our Oceans are Turning Into Plastic by Susan Casey. A vast swath of the Pacific, twice the size of Texas, is full of a plastic stew that is entering the food chain. Scientists say these toxins are causing obesity, infertility...and worse. [Source: Best Life]


Researcher Charles Moore, shown on an expedition in the Pacific in 2002, holds a water sample from the North Pacific Gyre that contains small pieces of plastic taken from the mass of garbage. Algalita Marina Research Foundation photo by Matt Cramer

Alagalita Marine Research Foundation are dedicated to the problem of plastic pollution. Led by Charles Moore who has been studying and publicizing the patch for the past 10 years, According to Justin Berton, writing in SFGate :

'The Garbage Patch is not a solid island, as some people believe, Moore said. Instead, it resembles a soupy mass, interspersed with large pieces of junk such as derelict fishing nets and waterlogged tires - "an alphabet soup," he called it.  Also, it's undetectable by overhead satellite photos because it's 80 percent plastic and therefore translucent, Moore added. The plastic moves just beneath the surface, from one inch to depths of 300 feet, according to samples he collected on the most recent trip, he said.'

Video of Eastern Garbage Patch Research


The Independent/ 5 February 2008

Charles Moore found the Pacific garbage patch by accident 12 years ago when he c am upon it on his way back from a sailing race in Hawaii. According to  Lindsey Hogshaw writing in the New York Times (9 Nov 09) Moore is convinced that there are  several similar garbage patches which are undiscovered.

Hogshaw claims that: 'Many scientists believe there is a garbage patch off the coast of Japan and another in the Sargasso Sea, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.' There may be others in the giant gyres scattered across the world's oceans.

The Pacific garbage patch, says Hogshaw, doubles in size every decade and is now believed to be about 1.4 million square kilometres.




Gyre illustration by Jacob Magraw-Mickelson. See full-size graphic at GOOD,  a collaboration of individuals, businesses, and nonprofits pushing the world forward



 Part of Greenpeace's  "Defending our Oceans" expedition in 2006 See: The Trash Vortex

SEAPLEX Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition

The Plastiki Rendering

Plastiki, the 60-foot plastic boat David de Rothschild and crew will sail from San Francisco to Sydney to draw attention to the Pacific Garbage Patch. The boat is made of  12,500 empty 2-liter plastic soda bottles. Rothschild plans to set sail early next year.


See video on



Monday, November 23, 2009



Remember when we first discovered fractals. I got Benoit Mandelbrot's book back in the 1980s when I was working on a book about computer graphics. How amazing it seemed then that a relatively simple math formula could generate such complex and fascinating patterns and that fractal patterns could be found everywhere in nature. Now prepare yourself for that extra dimension: Fractals in 3-D. a truly awesome sight. See The Unravelling of the 3D Mandelbulb

[Thanks to Alex who picked it up before slashdotcom]


photoIs From The Basement the best music site on the Internet? I think so. 


Nigel Godrich - engineer, producer, mixer of such bands as Radiohead, Beck, Paul McCartney, REM, Divine Comedy, Neil Finn, McAlmont and Butler and many others, has created a wonderful site. He describes  it as: ' A sort of music show / labour of love produced by a small group of dedicated individuals. We shoot it all on HD video and the sound is produced by me.


'The whole emphasis of the show is about being artist friendly and making our bands as comfortable as possible so that they can give great performances without the usual agony of TV promo which everyone has to do but no one seems to enjoy. TV world is a pretty hostile environment for your average musician to have to walk into and bare his soul on cue.. It also doesn't hurt that a lot of the people we've filmed are friends or people we've worked with before so they trust us and know that we understand what recording music is about as well as making good TV.All in all I think it all adds up to something unique and special which I don't feel happening anywhere else in either the music side of mainstream TV or online.

'My own personal goal is that in the future some of these performances might be seen as the truest representation of the state of their artists work, captured in a way that lets their talents speak without the interference of presenters, or audiences. That is what I feel when I watch Talking Heads or Bill Withers on the Old Grey Whistle Test, that they are most definitely playing for me, not someone else in the room. If we can even touch on that kind of directness and quality then I think the whole project will have been a success.'


There's some stellar performances up there already - with many more to come. The Beck material is truly awesome. I've enjoyed Queens of the Stone Age, Iggy and the Stooges, Albert Hammond and the cool and groovy CSS. The sound is perfect and the filming thoughtful and stylish. Beautiful stuff. So much more to listen to. Don't miss this.

Thanks to Louis for the tip-off. That's one I owe you.


This weekend have been sorting through The Generalist Archive for material from Rock Festivals of the 1960s and 1970s following a request from Rob Young, Editor-at-Large of The Wire  magazine, who was looking for visuals for his forthcoming book 'Electric Eden', to be published by Faber next summer.
This was a useful opportunity to review the material I hold in detail and naturally brought back memories, particularly of the 1969-1972 period when crowds of us went to a number of great festivals. The Generalist Archive contains a wealth of clippings, tickets, photos, handouts, programmes etc from a much wider number of events but, for this post, am concentrating on the ones I personally went to.
Of course, the site on the web for this subject is www. This is the biggest 'collective memory' site on the subject, which is growing all the time. Checking my holdings against theirs, I have a number of things they don't have. Hoping to add at least some of this material to their collection. My account below links each one to their more substantial entry, which will tell you exactly who played what, lists available recordings, and carries photos and first-hand accounts.
June 7th:: Free Festival, Hyde Park. First appearance of supergroup Blind Faith, featuring Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Stevie Winwood and Rick GretchFESTIVALS GEN1378.
Local newspaper photo of members of the Worthing Workshop, the Arts Lab we were running at the time, getting ready to board a coach to take to Hyde Park. JM at far left.


[Image: Cover of reasonably rare 32pp on-off newsprint magazine, a tie-in for the 53-minute tv documentary 'The Stones in the Park.' directed by Leslie Woodhead shown on Granada TV. Jointly published by Televista Publications and Lancashire Colour Printers.]
July 5th : Free Festival, Hyde Park: Rolling Stones, who dedicated their set to Brian Jones, who had died just three days before.  A number of us went up the night before and slept there overnight, which meant we were reasonably near the centre and front of what was by the afternoon a massive crowd estimated a half a million.  

FESTIVALS GEN3380 Photo by Peter Dunne which appeared on Page 2 of the Sunday Times (10 Aug. 1969). Shows JM dancing with Izzy.
August 8-10th : 9th National Jazz, Blues & Pop Festival, Plumpton Racecourse, East Sussex
This was a great Festival where we camped for the whole weekend, featuring huge line-up. Stand-outs included massive Pink Floyd show, using the Azimuth Coordinator - the first quadrophonic sound system(Frid), great Who performance (Sat) and ended with The Nice playing with an orchestra (Sun). [Met this girl who knew the band so managed to creep into an afternoon rehearsal for this performance] Saw blistering King Crimson show in one of the music tents, Robert Fripp with his black guitar, full-on strobe light. Discovered later that both Nick Kent and Joe Strummer were also in attendance.

FESTIVALS GEN4381 Original handout (left) and cover of Official Programme (below)/The Generalist Archive
August 30-31st: Isle of Wight Festival: Bob Dylan
Remember hitchhiking from Worthing and getting one lift more the whole way. Arrived in the evening with just a sleeping bag and bedded down outside a tent. All night people were walking over me; in the morning discovered it was the latrine. Spent much of the Festival walking through the giant crowd selling underground papers. Remember the heat from the crowd had dispersed the clouds which formed a ring in the sky above the arena.

bath-poster-1970 June 27-28th: Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music '70, Bath and West Showground, Shepton Mallet Stellar line-up of great American bands including Zappa, the Byrds. Jefferson Airplane + Led Zep (who I remember watching from a small tent in the arena with a bunch of people on LSD. Lots of casualties due to strength of local scrumpy. It rained a lot. Concert didn't in fact finish until the following morning - last act on was Dr John at 5:00 am.

FESTIVALS1369(Left) Front page article from the Worthing Herald'. JM in centre;       (Below) Rare Phun City ticket [The Generalist Archive]FESTIVALS GEN6383
July 24-26th : Phun City, Ecclesdon Common, Patching, Nr Worthing, W. Sussex. As we all lived near the site, we helped set up the whole Festival and lived in the woods for a week. The first great free festival, it featured the first British appearance of the MC5. Awesome. Lots of police hassle at the end.

10th-natjazzadvert-500  August 6-9th : 10th National Jazz and Blues Festival, Plumpton Racecourse.
Just remember having a good time!

(Above) Photo from Plumopton accompanying piece in The Guardian entitled 'Peace by the Jesus tent' by John Cunningham. (undated); JM playing guitar at bottom left. [The Generalist Archive]

 iow-aerial-shot500 August 26-30th: Isle of Wight Festival This was a monster. Got down to the site a week early and got a job working at the communications centre for the site - a dormobile that had the only accessible phone. The outside was plastered with messages from people looking for list friends. All the press would use the phone for dictating stories to their copy desk. actually heard Daily Mirror reporter dictating story about LSD in the water supply. There was a virtual riot on-site and some heavy vibes. Incredible line-up including the amazing Jimi Hendrix, Sly & The Family Stone, Leonard Cohen, the Who etc. FESTIVALS GEN8385
Photo by Frank Herrmann accompanying piece by Lewis Chester in the Sunday Times entitled 'Money can buy you love - if the sun shines.' [The Generalist Archive]
DIRK CAMPBELL 22nov09 019
Bizarre footnote: JM in centre (cut out of the Plumpton pic above) Article was by John Sparrow, Warden of All Souls College, Oxford.

FESTIVALS GEN9386 Rare sticker for Glastonbury album on revelation records [The Generalist Archive]. Pyramid stage at night.glasto-pyramid-paul-misso
June 20-24th: Glastonbury Fayre. Worked for three days on the stage, ferrying the equipment from the ground to the stage - some 20-30ft above - using a wooden platform and a chain hoist. Dodgy. One of the great festivals. Not many people, no hassles, great music, especially Traffic.

June 25th-27thth: 10th National Jazz, Blues & Rock Festival, Reading. We drove straight from Glastonbury and, the minute we opened the van, got busted by two hippy cops. All ferried to church hall where people were being strip searched 24/7. Courts were sitting all night. They found a couple of tabs and the girl who owned them fessed up. There was torrential rain, the site was a quagmire and there was no firewood or proper facilities. We produced a protest newsletter on-site -  the Shit Stirrer (which claimed that there had been more than 100 busts)  - and for some reason I was elected to take a list of complains directly to (I believe) Harold Pendleton, the promoter, back stage. Can't remember too much about the outcome.

FESTIVALS GEN10387 Rare Weeley Press Pass [The Generalist Archive]
August 27th-29th: Weeley Festival, Clacton-on-Sea, Essex. We drove down in Donald's yellow transit and hooked up with the rest of the underground press. Spent most of the festival selling papers. Battles between security and Hell's Angels. The Bad Trip tent was full. 

Trouble at Weeley. Unidentified photographer [The Generalist Archive]

Having a kip after a heavy day of street-selling undeground papers.Unidentified photographer [The Generalist Archive]
FESTIVALS GEN12389 Cover of the original fold-out prospectus for the Festival [The Generalist Archive]
May 5-7th: Bickershaw Festival, Lancashire Handled the arrangements for press passes for the whole underground press with Jeremy Beadle, the festival organiser. Got delayed on the long drive up and, when I arrived, was ushered through all security to sign off the passes. Just got backstage as Dr John was walking up the ramp. Followed him up and watched him and the Night Trippers weave their magic. Another mudbath. Hawkwind had a huge tent where we all hung out. The Grateful Dead played a long set, man.

Sept 16th: Rock At the Oval, The Oval, Kennington, London.
A one day concert headlined by Frank Zappa. This is me, aged 22, street selling the second-to-last edition of Frendz,  designed by Pennie Smith. Wearing my favourite patched jeans and an Australian biker's jacket given to me by Jamie Mandelkau. Photo by Ron Reid.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


mob70_12168997861 One of the most extraordinary people I have met in my life is the African man who went to Greenland  - Tete Michel Kpomassie.
I was a Secker & Warburg author at that time and often spoke with Barley Alison, who ran a subsidiary firm within the company. She picked up the book, supervised its translation by poet James Kirkup and published it in 1983.
I believe she showed me the manuscript and I then pitched the story to Andrew Stephen, then Senior Editor at the Sunday Times magazine, received a commission and first wrote to Michel on 4th January 1983. I travelled to Paris on April 22nd and spent three days with Michel and his family and every night we sat and talked into the small hours whilst sipping whisky. Much of those conversations exists on tape.
JM with Tete Michel Kpomassie, his wife Annick and baby son in their flat in Trappes. 24th April 1983.
                                              Kpomassie2367                                                                                        At the time of my visit, Michel was working shifts as a telex operator for Mitsubishi. This picture of him at work is by English photographer Bob Norris
I delivered this piece, which was not to the magazine's liking. In a letter dated 7th July 1983, Andrew Stephen wrote: ' I'm afraid I don't think the piece works: it comes over as long and complicated and too mystical...I cannot see any way of salvaging for our purposes, either, so I fear that we should probably put this down as one of those projects which simply hadn't worked out.'
I called the piece 'Searching for Clean Contact' and when I sent it to Michel this was his reaction.
'I appreciate and at the same time  congratulate you for the title...a whole message of course. I could have never found this title myself though it lies, as you put it, at the root of my journey, but can also be applied to all my contacts today because I always feel that human relationships are not yet as they should be. Some old and out-of-date ideas and values still prevail but I feel that a better step is being made by the present generation, especially on the side of the European youth towards that clean contact. It is true that only very few people are concerned and it is important they work hand in hand with people of other origins having the same will.'
 Barley Alison368 Barley Alison read it and wrote to me: 'I loved your piece on Kpomassie and completely saw the point of both it and your defence of it in your letter to the Sunday Times. The trouble about us, I suspect, is that we have read the book and Andrew Stephens has not.'
This was praise indeed from a remarkable and formidable woman, who was involved in intelligence work during the war and had a life of great diversity and adventure. She published a distinguished list which included works by Saul Bellow. Barley Alison died in 1989. This is her obituary from The Bookseller. A much more detailed piece was published in The Independent  on 1 June 1989. (Not available on-line. There is no Wikipedia entry either)
I was back in Paris to visit the French Greenpeace office in October that year and met again with Michel. The following month his book was short-listed for the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. Michel came to London for the award ceremony on December 1st but his  book did not win the prize, which went to Vikram Seth's 'From Heaven Lake.'
I tried many other outlets for the piece but with no success. In the end, I managed to get it into print as a kind of epilogue to my book Curious Facts 2  (1984), its inclusion based on the fact that it was one of the strangest stories I had ever heard. The full text of the piece (with hypertext links) is reproduced below.
Our correspondence continued sporadically. Michel's letters were lengthy, written carefully in pen and encompassed a wide range of ideas and subjects. His book was published in Holland and, in March 1988, I had a postcard from Greenland in which told me he was back in the Arctic making a BBC documentary, with filming to follow in Togo and Paris. The resultant film 'An African Eskimo', produced and narrated by Richard Vaughan, was premiered on 4th October at BAFTA in London, where I met up with Michel again. I wrote several times in the following six months and finally received a postcard from Togo (dated 1st August 1989), where Michel was holidaying with his family. It was the last word I heard from him. Monsieur Kpomassie touched me deeply. I hope you enjoy this story.
The hardcover edition of the book is still available on Amazon in two editions (Secker & Warburg/Norton) and as a paperback published by The New York Review of Books .
A. Alvarez’s introduction to the NYRB edition is available here (pdf). Listen to Kpomassie’s appearance on The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC in 2003. John Derbyshire writes about the book in The New Criterion. Matt Steinglass recommends it in his piece on Togo for Salon’s Literary Guide to the World.