You Say You Want a Revolution

On Friday 10th February, Tamara and I went to see the ‘You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970’ exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

Tamara thought it would be good to see something from ‘our’ period – although I am five years older than Tamara and so ‘our’ periods overlap but don’t match.

And of course, I grew up in the UK and she in the USA.

The V&A advertises the exhibition thus:

This major exhibition will explore the era-defining significance and impact of the late 1960s, expressed through some of the greatest music and performances of the 20th century alongside fashion, film, design and political activism. The exhibition considers how the finished and unfinished revolutions of the time changed the way we live today and think about the future.

The very word ‘revolution’ sends shock waves and tremors through me and I guess through most people. A revolution in thinking is a different beast than a violent political revolution, but where one exists it tends to rub against the other. And that’s the rub.

I’m not here to get into a big discussion of how violence or the threat of violence underpins all authority in society.

We know it is true and we understand that when the society is just and fair both socially and economically, that the threat of violence is a communal censure and not the censure of a self-serving elite.

So, to the exhibition.

Everyone was given a pair of headphones that played different music depending on which room you were in.

The exhibition affected me. It was not something I viewed with passing interest. It was the same with Tamara. We spent about five hours there. When we came out it was 8:30pm and we both thought for a moment that that must be wrong. It didn’t seem like five hours.

What follows is what I thought. It won’t be the same for other people. I know that. This is just what it triggered in me.

In the first room there were posters and statements from people – mostly in the USA – talking about their vision of what things should be like and how they were working towards that.

There was a short quote from Marcuse about how our decisions are directed and controlled, but hidden under the illusion of choice. But the overall tone of the room was positive.

At the entrance to the second room there was a short film made in Britain in the ’60s. It was a caustic film about the delights of a video camera that could capture your whole life.

The voiceover was soothing and led you want to appreciate this wonderful technological thing – except we saw the camera capturing all the vacuous, angry, painful moments as well.

The intent of the film was to show how wrong things were. But in the manner of the production it hit me how even in critiquing the malaise of modern life the English approach was to spend all its time irritating the wound with finesse rather than turn its back on it and look for something better.

It came to me that the English never wanted to turn their backs on the horror – they revel in it too much. Passed off as a greater insight into the true nature of man, it is really just sadism and self loathing cloaked as critique.

You Say You Want a Revolution

And then on with the exhibition and the flowering of ideas. Until we get to the room with films of police baton charges and riots. And I read a quote from Abbie Hoffman’s ‘Steal This Book’ which says that all the nice flower power things mean nothing, and nothing will get done until the power structure is changed.

But then I read that the Diggers felt Hoffman had betrayed his promise not to publish details of the scams that could get people free things.

Suddenly, they said, all the deals that kept poor people in the Lower East Side alive outside of the system were exposed and sucked dry by disaffected kids from better-off backgrounds.

That’s important isn’t it – someone who promotes changing the system rather than living outside of it but who broke his promise to those who took him in?

Is it true? Are they more shades of grey to what happened? Perhaps they were precious and exclusive and he was right to spread the word to as many people as he could. Shades of grey.

Understanding what things are and how they work is important because when we decide we want to follow a certain direction, we better be sure we have good foundations.

And that’s the other famous problem: Thinking people worry about what is right while others just march in and take it.

And I got thinking of Kent State and dead students and comments about how young the National Guard soldiers looked scared and innocent.

Except they opened fire. And I am thinking that the real elephant in the room is the question of when it really comes down to it – how many people will stand on the other side of the line and open fire on the people who want a fairer and more inclusive society?

Wise Words Circulating

Bernice Albertine King is an American minister best known as the youngest child of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. She was five years old when her father was shot. She put this on FabeBook with a previous version of point #1 saying to use ’45’ rather than his name. The amended version here makes more sense:

Some Wise Advice Circulating:
1. Use his name sparingly so as not to detract from the issues. I believe that everyone, regardless of their beliefs, deserves the dignity of being called by their name. However, this is a strategic tactic. While we are so focused on him we are prone to neglect the questionable policies that threaten freedom, justice and fairness advanced by the administration.
2. Remember this is a regime and he’s not acting alone;
3. Do not argue with those who support him and his policies–it doesn’t work;
4. Focus on his policies, not his appearance and mental state;
5. Keep your message positive; those who oppose peace and justice want the country to be angry and fearful because this is the soil from which their darkest policies will grow;
6. No more helpless/hopeless talk;
7. Support artists and the arts;
8. Be careful not to spread fake news. Check it;
9. Take care of yourselves; and
10. Resist!
Keep demonstrations peaceful. In the words of John Lennon, “When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system’s game. The establishment will irritate you – pull your beard, flick your face – to make you fight! Because once they’ve got you violent, then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don’t know how to handle is non-violence and humor.”
When you post or talk about him, don’t assign his actions to him, assign them to “The Republican Administration,” or “The Republicans.” This will have several effects: the Republican legislators will either have to take responsibility for their association with him or stand up for what some of them don’t like; he will not get the focus of attention he craves; Republican representatives will become very concerned about their re-elections.

Fukushima Daiichi

This is a series of articles that I wrote here before I rebuilt the site.

Originally published 12 Mar 2011

Reuters reported today that Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology said the Earth’s axis had shifted 25 cm as a result of the quake and the U.S. Geological Survey said the main island of Japan had actually shifted 2.4 metres.

I find it difficult to imagine the power that was released by the earthquake and the fact that is moved the Earth.

We get used to the Earth just spinning around in its orbit, so to learn that it can be moved by what is, after all, a small event in terms of the size of the Earth, is unsettling.

What if there were an even bigger earthquake in the future? What could that do to this spinning ball?

Nuclear Meltdown and Risk Analysis

The news from the Fukushima nuclear plant has everyone wondering whether the breakdown will be contained or whether there will be a meltdown. The authorities say that the plant has containment vessels built around the reactor cores to prevent the kind what happened at Chernobyl.

But there have been a string of unexpected events that have led to this point. The tsunami was bigger than planned for as an eventuality. It killed the power grid. It killed the diesel back-up generators. The back-up batteries ran flat. The blast from one reactor blew apart the fire engines that were feeding sea water coolant into the reactor that had already blown.

Sea water corrodes. Assuming there is no meltdown, the reactors are dead, done, and finished. The use of sea water is itself evidence of a desperate last-ditch attempt to kill the meltdown.

And the bottom line is this.

When the consequences of an error or an unforeseen event are so potentially catastrophic, the normal rules of risk analysis should be scrapped.

The only safe course is not to run the risk.

If that means no nuclear plants along a seismic fault line, then so be it. If that means no nuclear plants in Japan, then so be bit.

I have been saying this for years.


My wife has a friend who is Japanese and who lives in Tokyo. We corresponded on Facebook last night – they lost some good china that fell off their shelves but apart from that they are OK.

Of course that was before the news about the nuclear power station – that is a different category of worry – insidious because it is unseen.

I have a friend in Ofunato, a town which I now learn has been badly hit by the tsunami. Thus far, I have not been able to get any news about my firend or his community.

Originally published 17 March 2011

I keep thinking about Apocalypse Now and the scene in the film where the captain of the boat is speared with a homemade spear thrown by some tribesman from the bank of the river.

And the captain looks at the spear impaling him against the bulkhead of the boat, looks in disbelief.

He looks at it as though he sees how the spear has chased him down through the generations.

He looks at is as though he sees and understands that the spear has followed him throughout his life and found him here on a river in Vietnam or Laos.

The spear has found him. It has found him, a black man who is an officer in the army. A man who has tried to put his black roots behind him and has risen in the ranks of the army – or the navy – whichever.

And now, the spear – the symbolic spear – returns him all the way back to where he thought he had come from – was going to kill him.


I am not sure why I think of Apocalypse Now when I think of Japan and the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station.

Perhaps it is because the Japanese have been so eager to please, so willing to enter into the new model of the spirit of the modern world since their dreams were shattered at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

And now their enthusiasm is coming back to bite them.

Who can say what is in store? A couple of days ago, a meltdown wasn’t possible. A couple of days before that there was no risk of any breach of the containment vessel. And tomorrow?

I met a very nice man in the coastal town of Ofunato in Japan some fifteen years ago. He was very kind and benevolent. His whole community was as friendly as could be and I had a wonderful time.

I picked wasabi with them.

Ofunato is three hours north of Sendai, where the tsunami hit.

A couple of days ago I heard that Ofunato had been hit hard by the tsunami. I haven’t been able to get any information about the man I knew or his community.

Now there is this added dimension of nuclear material being spewed into the air.

I feel so sorry for them all.

Originally published 27 March 2011

It Will Take Years To Decontaminate The Water Pooling At the Fukushima Plant. Lake Barrett, a nuclear engineer who was a section leader in the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation and helped direct the cleanup of Three Mile Island is reported in the Washington Post today as saying that he believes there could be one million gallons of radioactive seawater in the Fukushima facility.

“It will take them years, probably, to get rid of all that water,” Barrett said. “The science is known. But it is a Herculean task.”

UPDATE 01.00 Monday March 28
As the Washington Post reports, Yukio Edano, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, said in a televised interview yesterday morning that the reactor itself had not been breached but that “Unfortunately, it seems there is no question that water, which could have been inside the reactor, is leaking.”

Arnold Gundersen, who was an expert witness in the investigation of the Three Mile Island accident, is chief engineer of energy consulting company Fairewinds Associates.

He is reported as saying that unlike with newer reactor designs, there are dozens of holes built into the bottom of the reactor vessels at Dai-Ichi.

Each hole allows a neutron-absorbing graphite control rod to slide into the reactor from below and so stop the nuclear reaction. This happened when the earthquake shook the plant March 11.

However, the graphite has begun to melt under the intense heat – allowing radioactive water to get into the broken pipework around the reactor.

Originally published 9 July 2012

The failure of Fukushima was the design of the reactor vessel. The tsunami caused the mains power to fail. The unimagined height of the tsunami reached the back-up generators and caused them to fail.

But neither of these would have caused the damage that happened but for the fact that the reactor was designed with the holes for the cooling rods at the bottom of the reactor vessel.

When the unimaginable happened and the rods melted, everything just poured out.

So, on top of all the possible things that could happen in these real-world scenarios, there is also human design error.

It was also human error that caused Chernobyl…