Friday, December 16, 2011



This amphibious fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) is threatening to make the world’s amphibians extinct.



Read this powerful article in full in American Scientist: Lessons of the Lost by Joseph R. Mendelson III

Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis likely is capable of infecting every species of amphibian on Earth (nearly 7,000 species), representing the broadest host-range of any known pathogen.

Herpetologists and wildlife biologists began observing inexplicable disappearances of amphibians around the globe in the mid-1970s and especially by the mid-1980s but were at a complete loss to explain them. Finally, in the late 1990s, an insightful team of pathologists at the U.S. National Zoo, led by Don Nichols, collaborated with one of the few chytrid fungus scholars in the world, Joyce Longcore, and identified this quite unusual new genus and species. Conservationists and disease ecologists were unprepared for the reality of a pathogen capable of directly and rapidly—mere months!—causing the elimination of a population or an entire species that was otherwise robust.

The concept of a lightning extinction was foreign to researchers and conservationists, and we argued vehemently about it throughout the 1990s at symposia worldwide.

Northern Leopard Frog, a North American native species

…the pathogen itself, was not described until 1999. While we were debating the issue, a terrible lesson was playing out for us around the world as an unknown disease decimated amphibian populations.

The concept of “endangered species” does not apply here. We are witnessing the nearly complete elimination of entire clades of species. This is another lesson learned, as we were all trained that such things are only to be observed in the fossil record. This precedent from the amphibians forces us to address the serious implications for possible disease-driven losses among other major clades. Consider for a moment the potential consequences of clade-level extinctions among monocot plants (corn, rice, wheat), pollinating insects, salmonids or scombrid fishes (mackerel, tuna), mammals or birds.

Conservationists have been overwhelmed by the amphibian crisis. In the atmosphere of ongoing declines, we realized that there was no framework to address a challenge of this magnitude or rapidity. Even worse than problems of scope and scale is the reality that conservationists, collectively, are stymied by the central problem of not knowing what to do

There is a parallel between what amphibian taxonomists do these days and what homicide detectives do. Both arrive at scenes of mayhem. Maybe they solve the crime, but they are powerless to undo it.


Recent studies show the Earth's warming climate is contributing to the increase of chytrid disease, a fungus infection that is responsible for the extinction of many tropical frog species. The fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, infects tadpoles and eventually attacks the skin of adults and kills them. Scientsts know the spore stage can swim through water to infect other frogs, but there is still much to know about how the disease spreads, and if it can survive in other animals.
Credit: Nicolle Rager Fuller, National Science Foundation


A powerful and moving gallery of photos by National Geographic photographer Joel Satore.


Extinction in Our Times: Global Amphibian Decline by James P. Collins, Martha L. Crump and Thomas E. Lovejoy III, which offers a complete history of the phenomenon. See review at Conservation Maven



MAMPHIBIAN ARK is a joint effort of three principal partners: the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), the IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG), and the IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG).

Our vision is the world’s amphibians safe in nature, and our mission is ensuring the global survival of amphibians, focusing on those that cannot currently be safeguarded in nature.




Thursday, December 15, 2011



Some months back THE GENERALIST reported on the death of Richard Hamilton and my investigations into the birth of Pop Art [See Previous Post]

So was excited to receive a review  copy from Princeton University Press of this new book by Hal Foster, an American professor of Art & Archaeology at Princeton, which promised a fresh view of this intriguing art movement. It delivers.

In the book’s opening essay ‘Homo Imago’, Foster writes: I focus my reflections on five artists – Richard Hamilton, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter and Ed Ruscha – because they evoke, more graphically than any others, the changed conditions of painting and viewer in the first age of Pop, which here I take to have begun in the mid to late 1950s. Stripped to its essentials, my thesis is this: a shift occurred during this time in the status of image and subjectivity alike, and the signal work of these five artists registers it most suggestively’


So the form of the book is five substantial critical investigations, all illustrated with a generous helping of artworks by each – some well-known, most fresh and interesting. Most striking in this regard are Lichtenstein’s sculptures, like ‘Surrealist Head’ (1986), none of which I had ever seen before. Quite a revelation.

Foster views the works of these artists as ‘a paradigm in picture making.’  He describes this work as ‘an attempt to give these artists more formal due, and more theoretical aspect, than they are usually afforded, to demonstrate the nuances of the imaging and their understanding alike’

The parallel he draws is with the work of Leo Steinberg, the art history professor, who wrote the book ‘Other Criteria’ in 1972, which profiles Pollock, Rauschenberg and de Kooning amongst others, and which introduced the idea of the ‘flatbed picture plane’

He examines the leitmotifs of existing Pop criticism and says these are structured around binaries: high & low culture, form & content, immediacy & meditation, printing & photography, manual & machines, private & public, contemplation & distraction, critique & complicity.’

Foster expands and deepens these ideas. He says that Pop is ambiguous and non-judgemental towards popular culture being ‘neither critical nor complicit’. His binaries include ‘reverence and cynicism, delight and disdain, distance and immersion'.

Pop, he says, does not return art to representation after the abstraction of the previous generation. Rather. it combines the two: ‘It differs from them both and disturbs them’


(Left) A detail from a serial image of Elvis by Andy Warhol. The image is taken from the 1960 Don Siegel movie Flaming Star. It was first exhibited at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1962. In the original there were 16 identical images which serially faded across a 37ft canvas. A kind of art parallel to Jack Kerouac’s scroll.

These artists were confronting the ‘inflated images of consumer society’ with its media celebrities and brand-name products. They examined and probed ‘the changes that the new image technologies wrought on human nature’. He says they took apart ‘ the cliches of celebrity and commodity to see how they work and put them back together with differences.’

In the process, says Foster, there was a shift in the function of the artist from romantic creator to trained designer and points out that Hamilton and Lichtenstein trained as draftsmen, Warhol was an illustrator and Ruscha a graphic designer. (He could have added that Rosenquist began by painting billboards).

There’s so much more insight and depth to explore in this deft, nuanced work. These essays will repay repeated reading. If I had to draw a parallel it would be with Greil Marcus’ ‘Lipstick Traces’ – both books combine new scholarship with fresh insights and stylistic innovation, to refresh our perspectives.

The book also contains more than 50pp of references and notes which contains a mine of sources of great value.

This is certainly a major contribution to our understanding of the Pop Art shift and its continuing significance and importance. It seems to have taken us more than fifty years to really appreciate how profound the changes were. We have Hal Foster to thank for opening our eyes and minds with this important and iconic volume.


1. Marcel Duchamp was a mentor and exemplar for many of the Pop Artists. Hamilton made his first visit to the US in 1963. He travelled with Duchamp and met Warhol, Lichtenstein and ‘other young bucks of American pop art’.

2. There is a very good overview piece on Pop Art on the wonderful site The Art Story. The essay quotes Hal Foster at length and provides a good summary of the ideas in this book: ‘The critic Hal Foster has anatomized Pop art as consisting of essentially five different image types, each of which is preoccupied with a slightly different problem, and each of which has been importantly influential on subsequent artists. ‘

3. Whilst researching for this piece, discovered this excellent profile/interview with Ed Ruscha by Rachel Cooke for The Observer in 2010.

"I like to think the California sun has burnt out all unnecessary elements in his work," says film director David Lynch. "[He is] the visual deus ex machina of what has become the most over-scrutinised city on earth," says novelist James Ellroy. "The coolest gaze in American art," said the late JG Ballard.

4. Read my Previous Post Masters of the Avant-Garde, a review of ‘Ahead of the Game’ by Calvin Tomkins, which profiles Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Jean Tingueley and Robert Rauschenberg.

Saturday, December 10, 2011



Whilst rifling through the Archive for material on Bulgakov (see last post) I unpacked the time capsule of material relating to my Greenpeace trip to Moscow in 1988 and came across this photo. That is me with Vadim Gorbatov, the leading wildlife artist in the USSR. As I recall he arrived with two huge folders of his artwork which it was my privilege and pleasure to go through with him. A dazzling experience. He gave me two packs of postcards of his work and two wonderful posters which I still treasure. These are three of the cards that I particularly like.


(Top) The Five-toed pygmy jerboa which has the delightful Latin name of Cardiocranius paradoxus. According to the Encyclopaedia of Life, these jerboas ‘are found only in a few areas in Asia. In Russia they are found in the Ubsu-Nur Depression of the Tuva Autonomous Region in the extreme south-central part of the country. In Kazakhstan, their range is restricted to a small area north of Lake Balkhash, where the species was first discovered. They are also found throughout western and southern Mongolia, as well as in the Nan Shan Mountains of northern China. ("Five-toed Dwarf Jerboa", 1999; Gromov and Eszhanov, 2004; Gromov, 2002)’

(Centre) The White-naped Crane (Grus vipio) breeds on the borders of Russia, Mongolia and China. It is in the Vulnerable category of the IUCN Red List because, according to Birdlife International, ‘it is thought to be undergoing a continuing population decline largely as a result of the loss of wetlands to agriculture and economic development.’

(Bottom) This striking painting depicts either a male Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) or a Siberian bighorn (Ovis nivicola) aka snow sheep. The confusion arises because the Latin name on the back of the card reads Ovis canadensis borealis. The wonderful Ultimate Ungulate site lists no sub-species of that name. There is a borealis of the snow sheep but that Latin name would be Ovis nivicola borealis. How confusing and pedantic is that. In the course of trying to unravel this, I learnt that, according to the latest gene sequencing techniques: ‘the history of true sheep (Ovis) began approximately 3.12 million years ago (MYA). ‘The evolution of Ovis resulted in three generally accepted genetic groups: Argaliforms, Moufloniforms, and Pachyceriforms.

;The Pachyceriforms of the subgenus Pachyceros comprise the thin-horn sheep Ovis nivicola (snow sheep), Ovis dalli (Dall and Stone sheep), and Ovis canadensis (Rocky Mountain and desert bighorn). North America wild sheep (O. canadensis and O. dalli) evolved separately from Eurasian wild sheep and diverged from each other about 1.41 MYA. Ancestral stock that gave rise to snow sheep, Moufloniforms, and Argaliforms occurred 2.3 MYA, which then gave rise to two different extant lines of snow sheep that diverged from each other about 1.96 MYA. The more recent nivicola line is genetically closer to the North American wild sheep and may represent a close association during the refugium when Alaska and Siberia were connected by the Bering land bridge. The earlier period of evolution of the Pachyceriforms suggests they may have first evolved in Eurasia, the oldest ancestor then giving rise to North American wild sheep, and that a canadensis-like ancestor most likely gave rise to nivicola. ‘

Phylogenetic Analysis of Snow Sheep (Ovis nivicola) and Closely Related Taxa

T. D. Bunch, C. Wu, Y.-P. Zhang and S. Wang/ Journal of Heredity.




A more recent picture from the artist’s own website:

Sending you greetings from across time and space.


Read my interview with Russian conservationist Algirdas Knystautus, author of a book on the Natural History of the USSR. It was published in The Guardian on March 31st 1987

Friday, December 09, 2011





This post began when I read an article about Vladislav Surkov in the London Review of Books, entitled ‘Putin’s Rasputin’ by Peter Pomerantsev. You can read the whole article here.

Surkov, a former theatre director and PR man, is described by Pomerantsev as ‘Putin’s chief ideologue and grey cardinal’ and says he is also known as the ‘puppetmaster who privatised the Russian political system’

‘In his spare time Surkov writes essays on conceptual art and lyrics for rock groups. He’s an aficionado of gangsta rap: there’s a picture of Tupac on his desk, next to the picture of Putin. And he is the alleged author of a bestselling novel, Almost Zero.

‘The novelist Eduard Limonov describes Surkov himself as having ‘turned Russia into a wonderful postmodernist theatre, where he experiments with old and new political models’.

Surkov is at the centre of the show, sponsoring nationalist skinheads one moment, backing human rights groups the next. It’s a strategy of power based on keeping any opposition there may be constantly confused, a ceaseless shape-shifting that is unstoppable because it’s indefinable.

This fusion of despotism and postmodernism, in which no truth is certain……

фотография с моноклем 1920-е г. г.

…which reminded me immediately of the work of one of my favourite novelists Mikhail Bulgakov. His take on the absurdity, humour, suffering and violence of the Russia of his day and of the pomposity of power meant that virtually none of his works were published openly in his lifetime. Fortunately much of his great work is now available in good translations.


His masterpiece is ‘The Master & Margarita’ which I read when I was in my late teens and reread just recently. Its a magnificent work of the imagination made up of intertwining tales.

The first concerns the Devil’s visit to Moscow. His sidekicks include a human-sized black cat that talks. They create complete havoc, mischief and mayhem and their exploits are fantastical, hilarious, scary and astonishing by turns.

Then there is  is a book within a book, a retelling of the biblical story of Jesus and Pontius Pilate, his sentencing and crucifixion and the strange remorse of Pilate – a beautiful and vivid piece of writing.


There are many different translations. Michael Glenny’s (cover above) seems to be rated as one of the best. The cover (left) is from the original edition I had, which fell apart over the years. I kept the cover.

Bulgakov began writing this book in 1928 and continued working on it until his death in 1940. The first uncensored version was not published in  the Soviet Union until 1989. It was first published in the West in the 1960s and perfectly chimed in with the mood of that time. It became a cult book of the period.

These two are also great:


Copy of BUKGAKOV8027

‘Heart of a Dog’, written in 1928 was first published by Grove Press in New York in 1968;in Russia until 1987. It concerns a mad professor who implants a human heart and pituitary gland into a dog with bad results. Pavlov was doing real-life dog experiments at the time. This is the Picador Classic edition, translated by Mirra Ginsburg (1999)

‘Black Snow’ is Bulgakov’s hilarious fictionalised portrait of Stanislavsky and one of his productions which Bulgakov wrote after his experiences working at the Moscow Arts Theatre, a post personally arranged for him by Stalin. This is the 1999 Harvill Press edition translated by Michael Glenny.


As chance would have it my friend Lin  gave me a copy of this extraordinary sf novel ‘The Fatal Eggs’ by Bulgakov which has only recently seen the light of day. A professor discovers a strange ray which has an extraordinary effect on living cells. Panic and mayhem ensues. Bears comparison to H.G. Wells (a writer Bulgakov admired) and Karel Čapek’s strange novel ‘War with the Newts’ [See Previous Post: LARSEN, MISHIMA & ČAPEK]

In this edition there is a very interesting foreword by Doris Lessing about the relationship between Stalin and writers in general, Bulgakov in particular. She writes:

I have believed for a long time that Stalin wanted to write but had no talent. It would account for his obsession with literature. He personally oversaw everything published in the Soviet Union.’

One should mention the publisher Hesperus Press who ’are committed to bringing near what is far – far both in space and time’ They publish short classic works, around 100pp pages in length, by both great and unknown authors, works that are little-known in the English-speaking world, in fresh translations. Interesting stuff.


Bulgakov remains a potent figure in the Russian underground imagination as I discovered when I visited Moscow in 1988 as a rep for Greenpeace at the first Soviet and Eastern bloc record fair [See Previous Post: ARCHIVE: GREENPEACE MUSIC for more details.]

It was that trip where I met musicians and artists, one of whom gave me these amazing illustrations for ‘The Master & Margarita’ These are four from a larger set. I’m afraid I have no notes of the artist’s name




This is the original programme leaflet from a production of ‘The Master & Margarita’ by the Four Corners Theatre Company at the Almeida Theatre in London in July/August1992.



Viktor Pelevin, one of the great cult novelists of modern Russia, is a modern-day Bulgakov. Highly recommended. I read three or four of his books including these two some years back. Time for a reread.


Sunday, December 04, 2011


flag 2nd flyer

International Times – one of the great underground papers – is now online. A fantastic database of every issue, page by page. To check the search engine and for my own archival interests, tried to find the contributions I made to the paper. Found some as follows:

Back in 1969, I wrote two short pieces about the activities of our Arts Lab, the Worthing Workshop

In 1972: a news piece entitled FRENDZ – Still Rocking. In fact, this was wishful thinking as the paper closed that year.

In 1973 I was listed as one of a number of Associate Editors and wrote, amongst other things, two features – one of squatting and one on terrorism. These were experiments in a style where I intertwined fact and fiction.

In 1974, I was listed as one of a number of Contributing Editors. Credited as a researcher on an article called ‘Paranoi9d Panorama’. Also contributed a long book review on the chequered career of former Chancellor of the Exchequer Reginald Maudling.



An almost complete page of IT stickers. According to the International Times Wikipedia entry: The paper's logo was a black-and-white image of Theda Bara, vampish star of silent films. The founders' intention had been to use an image of actress Clara Bow, 1920s It girl, but a picture of Theda Bara was used by accident and, once deployed, not changed.


The Underground Press Gazette

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


The worldwide Occupy movement has generated some wonderful photos and graphics. Here are some of the best I have come across so far:















Monday, November 28, 2011


I have Neil to thank for, out of the blue, arriving at my house and giving me this book. As regular readers will know, I have a deep-seated love for the writers and poets of the Beat Generation, forged in my teen years. I was privileged to meet and interview Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs and to engineer (with my son Al) a live internet link-up with Lawrence Ferlinghetti from San Francisco to the Komedia club in Brighton. The many and varied beat posts on this blog are summarised below. I have a big library of beat literature and have read extensively and religiously much beat and beat-inspired texts, biographies and historical accounts. So…
For my money, this is the single best history of the Beat Generation that I have ever read and I will explain why. The story of the Beats – both the main characters and an extremely large supporting cast – is complex. They were, apart from everything else, almost constantly on the move. They were restless souls and tormented ones – constantly falling in and out of relationships. Many of them were bisexual and slept with each other in between or at the same time as maintaining relationships with women.
Out of this emotional maelstrom, out of their wanderings, missions and adventures not only on the highways of America but also in the jungles of Mexico, the medinas of Morocco,  the Beat Hotel in Paris, the Buddhist monasteries of Japan and the streets of Varanasi, allied with their almost constant experimentation with drugs of varying descriptions and illegality, flowed a body of work that continues to inflame minds and spirits and has great relevance in our own times.
Treasures from the Beat Library of The Generalist Archive: ‘Beatitude Anthology’ [City Lights. 1960]; first issue of the ‘City Lights Journal’ [City Lights.1963]; First edition UK paperback of ‘The Subterraneans’ by Jack Kerouac [Panther. 1982]; First edition of' ‘The Last Words of Dutch Shultz’ by William Burroughs. [Cape Goliard Press. 1970]
This book will rearrange your understanding not only of the Beat movement but also of the times and politics they moved through. One book, Big Sky Mind, argues that the Beats were the transmission apparatus for introducing Buddhism and eastern thinking into America. The beats in their own time were vilified by the mainstream media, arrested and imprisoned, often deported.
Bill Morgan has done a really wonderful job of integrating all this ferment  into a seamless readable narrative, formidably well-informed and beautifully written. He brings out the humanity of these characters as they battled with their demons and is, by and large, non-judgmental. He has given shape and context to the Beat Generation story and communicates it in a way that makes sense to succeeding generations. These were the pioneers of a revolution in poetics, politics, social mores, activism, communal living, backpacking, altered states of consciousness. Their collective work is like a deep well of inspiration that has great resonance in these troubled times.
Bill Morgan is the American author and editor of more than a dozen books about the Beat writers and has worked as an editor and archival consultant for nearly every member of the Beat Generation.
BEATS2008 His UK equivalent is Barry Miles, who was close with both Burroughs and Ginsberg and has written biographies of both them and Kerouac. He has also acted as an archivist  and in 2003, co-edited the revised text edition of Naked Lunch. His latest book ‘In The Seventies’ (following on from his excellent ‘In The Sixties’ a period during which he was close with Paul McCartney, ran the Indica Bookshop and was one of the founders of International Times) adds more to his Beat reminiscences.
Particularly good are his accounts of Ginsberg’s upstate New York commune and adventures on the West Coast plus Burroughs’ early ‘70s sojourn in London (seriously weird). Miles was sound-editing Ginsberg’s tape archive in the Chelsea Hotel and there’s an interesting chapter on another of the Hotel’s residents, the strange and wonderful genius Harry Smith. Also learnt a lot from the chapter on Wilhelm Reich, inventor of the orgone box.
The Typewriter Is Holy by Ted Morgan [Free Press 2010]
In The Seventies by Barry Miles [Serpent’s Tail 2011]
The Sea Is My Brother: The Lost Novel by Jack Kerouac
See IMDB details of the cast and production credits for the ‘On The Road’ movie, directed by Walter Sallis, due for release 2012.
The Beat Library [New additions]

  • W illiam Burroughs & T.S. Eliot Fighting in the Ca...