Monday, March 20, 2017


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

HUMAN  Vol 1 and Vol 2

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

Friday, March 10, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



THE END OF PAPER ? [9 Sept 2008]

Monday, March 06, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Publisher: Vintage Books
    Publisher; Chicago University Press

    UPDATED: 19TH MARCH 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

    Friday, March 03, 2017


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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