Friday, October 31, 2003
The Sixties redux
Yesterday, an old friend from university days – Leigh Sebba – stumbled across my website, even though it isn’t yet launched and I haven’t seen him for years. One of his comments: How about a photo of what you looked like in the late Sixties if you’re going to have a picture of Elaine in 1973? Well, here’s something from the days when I had hair and the world was pregnant with opportunity – and seething with great music (see ‘Influences’, Music).
The big news story today is the ousting of Tory Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, with Michael Howard seen as his likely successor. I don’t think I have ever met Howard, but I remember being linked with him in an item in The Times years ago. There was a palace revolution going on at St Paul’s School for Girls, where we both had daughters and various people were trying to turf out the then High Mistress. For some strange reason, maybe because we were both then involved in the environment, we were mentioned in the piece, the unspoken implication being that we were leading the coup. No truth in the rumour.
Thursday, October 30, 2003
Rupert Bassett: writings on the wall (©JE)
Hugely enjoyable day, with new photographs being done of the team and Rupert (Bassett), our designer, also continuing putting up the stream of words and phrases around the office walls. These were all suggested by team members, with languages including German, Hindi and Japanese. One of my ten suggestions, based on The Beatles’ Revolution, one of my Desert Island 16 Discs (see Influences), was YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION. In the photograph Rupert is applying the word HOPE, following THE PEOPLE’S HALL (where SustainAbility was based for six years) and NOT CHEATING ON OUR CHILDREN. This afternoon, Yasmin and I interviewed Angela Wilkinson and Betty Amailuk of Shell about their work on a set of HIV/AIDS scenarios for Africa, for the next issue of Radar. Seb, Yasmin and I also start work on a possible new UN Global Compact project, focusing on the likely future balance between the public and private sectors in the transition towards sustainable development. Cycle home in the beginnings of an autumn mist.
Monday, October 27, 2003
An interesting comment from Geoffrey Chandler today, when reviewing what I planned to report here on last week’s Environment Foundation Consultation – and finding himself tempted into reading further back into the BabelLOG stream. In the process, he came across the reference to Arminius and the muffling of a mule bell (October 17).
Noted that it reminded him of his time during WWII with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Greece. “We used to do this to our mules when crossing roads at night during the German occupation. Recalcitrant beasts, but remarkable for (their) stamina and sure-footedness. Only the Greek mule-drivers could control them by the use of language which enriched my vocabulary, but was unusable in polite society.”
Another, American, friend spotted the mule story and says his father also worked with mules when with the WWII US Army – and recalled sitting on a military tribunal trying a man who had been caught abusing a mule, which was apparently a serious matter in the Artillery!
Sunday, October 26, 2003
Deer and jackdaws, Richmond Park (©JE)
Elaine, Hania and I take a walk in the Park: clatter of deer antlers as the stags battled. The skies overhead seemed quiter, even though they aren’t, much. But scheduled Concorde flights of BA’s Concorde did stop on Friday. Lamenting the grounding of this “time machine”, Jonathan Glancer wrote on the front page of yesterday’s Guardian that “generations of the environmentally conscious thought of her as an evil, smokebelching dragon, a gas-guzzling curse, pandering only to the swinish rich.” Couldn’t have put it better myself. Having lived under the flight lanes into Heathrow since 1975 (Concorde’s maiden flight was in 1969), I have always felt I would far rather see her in a sculpture park than overhead.
Strapping military engines onto a civil airliner must have seemed a wizzard idea at the time, but few industrial products have so conspicuously failed to deliver across the triple bottom line. That said, I was in a drear minority of one at the Windsor event, where most people wanted to see the final curtain of three Concordes landing in sequence – and lamented the passing of an icon. One elderly participant who had flown on the plane said he had been seduced by the much-vaunted saving of time, but drank so much in-flight that when he got to his destination he had to go to bed.
Soli Townsend, Sir Geoffrey Chandler (©JE)
Thursday 23rd: One of the central themes of the Environment Foundation since I took over as Chairman has been the task of bridging the gap between the generations, symbolised for me by the picture of Soli(taire) Townsend and Sir Geoffrey Chandler approaching St George’s House. We started the day with a gripping presentation by Angela Wilkinson of the Shell scenarios group. She compared two different sets of scenarios, Shell’s latest ‘Business Case’ and ‘Prism’ scenarios, and a different set which had resulted from the ‘Riskworld’ process she had led.
Then Geoffrey followed with a quite brilliant speech, which will also be posted on the Foundation’s website (www.environmentfoundation.net). It began like this:
“As I lay half-waking half-sleeping in my bed this morning there came to me a vision of the decline and impending fall of the Roman Empire. There were the gilded palaces the imperial corporate headquarters remote in style and immune in culture from the real world outside. There were the cries of peacocks, the ripple of water from the marble fountains, the rustle of silk from the slave girls clearing the remnants of the previous nights debauch, whose lingering odours were disguised by the scent of roses. And there was the Emperor himself the Empires CEO rich beyond the dreams of avarice, indifferent to the picture he presented to the world or to the fact that his disproportionate rewards brought the imperial game into disrepute.
“And yet there were some stirrings of disquiet in his mind, closed though in many ways it was. His financial gains, he felt he had to say in justification, were no greater than those of the chief gladiator who, while he survived, was richly rewarded by the symbols or logos, as they were then called in the Greek language of the wealthy wine shops and the brothel-keepers, but whose retirement, the Emperor failed to observe, was in no way cushioned and could in any case be short-lived.
“His disquiet should have been heightened by the news that the barbarians were at the gates. But he was happy to dismiss the implications of their presence. These terrorists, as he characterised them, using the Latin word rather than the Greek barbarian these terrorists, he said, spring like Athena fully armed from the head of Zeus (he was not an uneducated man), and we will simply destroy them. And to soothe the mob we will in the meantime have more bread and circuses and call them Imperial Social Responsibility or ISR for short. So pull up the ladder, Caligula. Were all right.
“But then the mood seemed to darken as I looked beyond the limen, the threshold of Rome, to the limes, the shadowy possessions beyond, which were intended to be the Empires outer protection. It was thence that the barbarians came, their origins rooted in the inequity, injustice and oppression from which their world suffered. And their operations, however dastardly they might seem to the Romans, derived succour from the conditions of that world. But none of this was understood in Rome itself. Decline, it seemed to me in my dreaming state, would inevitably become fall, since symptoms, rather than causes, clouded the judgement of men and monopolised their attention. Rome would not survive unless it changed.
“And then the vision faded.”
Because I have been reading various books on the Roman Empire, the imagery snagged my imagination, but Geoffrey’s style of speaking is itself powerfully resonant of a different, sometimes more articulate and certainly more classically informed era.
Indeed, I joked in introducing him that he sometimes reminds me of a coelacanth, the mysterious ‘living fossil’ first found in 1938. He countered that the coelacanth is primitive, has to be dredged up from great depths and begins to disintegrate as it is hauled into the sun-flecked surface waters. Behind the humour, though, lies a shared passion for history. As Churchill once put it, the further you can see into the past, the further you can see into the future.
For much of the day, working groups explored the challenges of the next 20 years. One of the things that strikes me these days is how much the NGO sector now knows about the corporate world. The best example over these few days was Sophia Tickell, of Oxfam and Just Pensions, and also – like Geoffrey Chandler, Ian Christie and Jane Nelson – a member of SustainAbility’s Council.
Jane works on ‘Next Steps’ (©JE)
Friday: After the working groups reported back on their progress with their 20-year road-maps, Ian Christie (Joint Head, Economic & Sustainable Resources, Surrey County Council and Environment Foundation Trustee) and Jane Nelson (IBLF, Harvard and Environment Foundation Trustee) treated us to a pair of remarkable perspectives on what they had heard.
Ian began by noting that the software folk who wrote the code which resulted in the ‘Millennium Bug’ scare had never imagined that their code would last as long as it did, nor that it would threaten to bring down the world’s IT systems. Now, he said, “chickens are coming home to roost on an industrial scale”. He wondered why, if the next 20 years demanded gutst political leadership we hadn’t had it – at least in this area – in the past 20 years? One key to progress, he concluded, would be for governments – which he suggested suffer from “business envy” – to be lobbied by business leaders for “smart regulation”.
Jane also focused, among other things, on the role of governments – as champions, regulators, buyers, funders and so on. She stressed the key role of stock exchange listing requirements and underscored the need to mobilise consumers, some of whom can’t afford change, some of whom don’t know about the need for change, and many of whom currently fall into the “don’t care” category. She mentioned that the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard is planning work that will convene and hopefully mobilise the chairs of the CSR committees of major companies as another “infection factor”.
In short, the Foundation’s 20th anniversary Consultation gave us a huge amount to think about in planning our programme for the next 3-5 years. The Trustees’ meeting in the afternoon went extremely well and we left feeling that this had been one of the best – if not the best – events in the Foundation’s 20 year history.
Afterglow: Sheila Bloom with Helen (©JE)
Thursday, October 23, 2003
Windsor Castle (©JE)
To Windsor for the Environment Foundation’s 20th anniversary Consultation. Held in St George’s House (www.stgeorges-windsor.org), inside the walls of Windsor Castle, these events convene 25-30 people to discuss emerging issues. The discussions are subject to the Chatham House Rule, so what follows only attributes ideas and contributions where those involved gave their permission.
The themes and results of past Consultations can be found on the Foundation’s website (www.environmentfoundation.net). Arrived feeling slightly disorientated: despite all Maddy’s carefully prepared notes, I had taken a train from the wrong station and left my mobile phone on the back seat in the taxi. As it turned out, I wasn’t too late and Helen Holdaway (the Foundation’s Director) had also mislaid her mobile.
Helen is the only person to have attended all the Consultations over the life of the Foundation – and, indeed, has organised most of them. This event,sadly, was to be her last as Director of the Foundation, since she is retiring. The latest meeting, entitled ’21st Century Values at Work’, pulled together a fairly wide spectrum of people, representing companies like BT, Dow, National Grid Transco and Shell, NGOs like the 21st Century Trust, Amnesty International, Business in the Environment, the Food Ethics Council and Oxfam, and a range of people who variously make their living trying to drive CSR- and SD-related change. For example, it was great to see Marianne Knuth again: she is half-Danish, half-Zimbabwean, and is Director of the Kufunda Village project in Zimbabwe (www.kufunda.org). She was also one of the Foundation’s Travelling Fellows.
Dilemma sharing session. Foreground: Dr Angela Wilkinson (Shell), Dr Chris Tuppen (BT), Dr David Russell (Dow Europe) and John Lotherington (21st Century Trust) (©JE).
To set the scene, the first evening kicked off with a presentation from Professor Robert Worcester, Chairman of pollsters MORI, on the trends in UK public opinion over the past 20 years – actually since 1979, just pre-Mrs Thatcher. As insightful as ever, Bob made his usual distinction between public opinion (the ripples on the surface of the sea, the foam and spray, whipped this way and that), attitudes (the deep-running currents) and values (the incredibly powerful tides driving our priorities and politics alike). He noted that values are the hardest to change, “almost beyond any counter-pressure”. Our individual values are set by the age of 25, he argued, but later pointed out that cultural values can be quite plastic over the long term. For example, we don’t do slavery any more – and are uncomfortable with those that still do.
Bob’s session was followed by an experimental sharing of dilemmas between the participants. They were asked to recall when their personal values had to some degree collided with those of their origanisation. At the suggestion of Sheila Bloom, of the Institute of Global Ethics, we broke the participants out into small working groups (see photo), which made it much easier to get everyone to contribute and explore some of the messier, taxing aspects of working life.
Tuesday, October 21, 2003
Hania and grapes (©HE)
Woke up to the news that Tony Blair has the same complaint I have, arrythmia of the heart. Meanwhile flocks of eager starlings have been tearing at the strawberry grapes that grow up the front of our house. Hania took the photo of her reflection in a sink-full of grapes she was turning into some delicious concoction. It really has been an extraordinary October, with real Indian summer weather. Cycling to and from the office today was a complete joy.
Had meetings with people like (Professor) John Stopford and Stephanie Roberts from London Business School on a new project they are planning, with Seb (Beloe) and Maddy (Rooke-Ley) on our planned December Council meeting, and a telephone conference with Etienne Eichenberger of the World Economic Forum (WEF). He and I are working on an ‘Open Space’ component for next year’s Davos summit. This evening, the Pompeii theme continued with a stunning TV film on the eruptions and the impacts on those living there. I could almost feel my flesh vaporising and my brain boiling and exploding out of my skull: too much imagination. And now they’re growing grapes on the slopes of the volcano again.
Saturday, October 18, 2003
Apple sculpture at AstraZeneca’s HQ (©JE)
Lively day at AstraZeneca’s HQ outside Stockholm speaking to a group of 30 or so people responsible for various aspects of corporate responsibility. The countryside ablaze with the yellows, oranges and reds of fall. As ever, I was struck by the way that glacier-scoured rocks break the surface everywhere you look – the sense of the sheer weight of the Ice Ages (Sweden is still rising after the retreat of the glaciers) is extraordinary. But not sure the drivers in their headlit Volvos give the next Ice Age much thought.
On the flight home I finished The Battle that Stopped Rome, the story by Peter S. Wells of the obliteration of three Roman legions – some 20,000 men – by German tribes under the leadership of Arminius. Having seen relics of the battle at the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Bonn during a recent visit to DeutschePost (heard yesterday that we got the DP contract), the book was gripping, even if the writing was a bit ragged in parts (also just starting Tom Holland’s narrative history of the Roman Republic, Rubicon, which is fantastically readable).
If Wells is right, the bulk of the slaughter was over inside an hour. The scale of the disaster, which shaped Roman thinking for 400 years, made me think – repeatedly – of the incipient American imperium. The Romans massively underestimated their opponents. The battlefield turns out to have been a pre-prepared killing zone, with a wall built of turf, 15-feet deep and two thousand feet long, to trap the legions. Many of the ‘Germans’, including Arminius himself, had trained with the Roman legions. Shades of the US support for Osama bin-Laden in the war for Afghanistan – and, in the war against Iran, for Saddam Hussein.
One of the most poignant finds was the skeleton of a four-year-old female mule, the Roman equivalent of a Jeep, I suppose, with a bronze bell around her neck. The clapper had been muffled by oat and pea straw torn from the ground – and the straw has been dated by archaeologists to the autumn of AD 9, the year of the battle. It seemed she had tried to jump the wall and broken her neck. A small drama, given the sheer scale of the disaster, but it brought the terror home in a way that statistics often fail to.
Makes me think of the Swedish minister I was told about this time who, responsible for road traffic safety, has the details of every road fatal accident phoned through to him as soon as it happens. An attempt to get to grips with the tragedies behind the the facts, the numbers.
Friday, October 17, 2003
Interesting day in Stockholm at the 10th anniversary conference of NTM, the Network for Transport and Environment (www.ntm.a.se). Most of the participants are immersed in the worlds of logistics, transport and mobility. Excellent bunch of people, some of them determined to expand NTM’s activities into the rest of Europe. Lots of discussion of congestion charges, multi-fuel vehicles, safety research, fuel cells and the like.
Invited to speak by Magnus Schwan, who SustainAbility used to work for when he was at hauliers ASG, verifying ASG’s environmental report. He moved on to Green Cargo – and then recently launched himself as an independent sustainable logistics management consultant. Bulk of conference in Swedish, but extraordinary moment when Magnus did his entire presentation in English in order that (1) I would understand and (2) help promote NTM internationally. Bit sure whether to feel pleased or guilty. Either way, I now feel responsible for helping them get the message out. Among other things, NTM have developed a computer-based interface for handling environmental data for goods/freight transport, NTMCalc.
Fascinating discussion this evening over dinner with Per Carstedt. He owns a Ford dealership in Sweden, where he has been driving a greening initiative (www.GreenZone.nu). His brother, who ran IKEA in Europe, is similarly motivated. Per is also Chairman of the BioAlcohol Fuel Foundation (www.baff.info). Much influenced by Karl-Henrik Robert of the Natural Step Foundation.
Wednesday, October 15, 2003
After the Board meeting 1 (Nick Robinson)
After the Board meeting 2 (Nick Robinson)
The bulk of the day was spent on SustainAbility Board meeting. Maddy (Rooke-Ley) now organises the meetings and does the minutes: those also taking part (and shown in the photo) were Yasmin (Crowther, who heads our consulting practice), Peter (Zollinger, our Executive Director), Geoff (Lye, Director, who chaired the meeting), Seb (Beloe, who heads our think-tank), myself and Tom (Delfgaauw, ex-Shell and our first Non-executive Director). Key issues included the financial outlook, client reviews, a spate of new projects we have won, the future of our Global Reporters program with UNEP, and the imminent prospect of opening a new office in the Asia-Pacific region.
In the evening, Phillip Toyne – who with his wife Molly Harriss-Olson runs an Australian consultancy, EcoFutures (www.ecofutures.com) – brought in Mick Roche of BHP-Billiton, to explain their evolving ‘Green Lead’ initiative (www.greenlead.com). Phillip was formerly Head of the Australian Conservation Foundation and Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth Department of Environment. Molly, among many other things was a marine campaigner for Greenpeace and then headed Clinton’s President’s Council on Sustainable Development.
Sunday, October 12, 2003
Glorious, sunny morning. The quinces are falling off the bushes onto the garden path. Key story today is that the Nobel peace prize has gone to Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian who was Iran’s first woman judge before the 1979 Isamic revolution – and was then sacked by the mullahs. In 2000, she ended up in solitary confinement. She is the first Muslim woman to win the prize. One of her key messages is that sharia law could be modernised without undermining Islam. Spent bulk of the day editing the text of website, taking on board comments of folk like Tom Delfgaauw, Tim (Elkington), Julia Hailes, Tell Muenzing, Francesca Muller and Francesca van Dijk.
Saturday, October 11, 2003
Interesting, after the WHOI visit and whalewatching off Cape Cod, to read in today’s International Herald Tribune that researchers have now identified a disease in whales akin to decompression sickness, or the ‘bends’. The suspicion is that the military’s use of powerful sonar systems may have scared the animals into surfacing too fast from deep waters, leading to mass strandings. Another possibility is that the sonar pulses themselves may directly trigger bubble formation in the nitrogen-saturated tissues of the whales.
UNEP meeting turns out rather better than I had expected, given my suspicion about industry federations. They are notoriously conservative, largely because they feel they must protect their slowest-moving members against impending environmental, human rights or sustainability laws, rules or standards. But the interest today came less from the federation people than from the speakers and people from groups like BSR Europe, CSR Europe, GEMI and the Global Peporting Initiative (GRI), particularly Nancy Bennet.
The focus was on voluntary agreements, by which business commits to achieve certain CSR or SD objectives, particularly on the UN Global Compact. (Lord) Richard Holme, representing the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), warned that a PR approach to the Global Compact would be “as superficial as a spray of paint on an old car.” Steve Sawyer of Greenpeace, who I hadn’t seen for around 15 years, accepted that there had been convergence between business and NGOs like his, but stressed the need for a new “global accountability regime”.
Ironic that because I had sent my slides as soon as I was asked, rather than the night before like some people, UNEP mislaid them – so I was halted in mid-flow, slideless, and had to speak off the top of my head. Seemed to work. Later, in response to a question I asked one panel of speakers about the way lawyers are increasingly slowing progress on corporate reporting, particularly in the US, David Vidal of the US Conference Board argued that we should throttle back on targeting CEOs and instead go for lawyers and law schools. Lawyers, he noted, constitute “90% of the drag” on the system.
Useful first meeting with the new head of UNEP’s Trade, Industry & Economics division, Monique Barbut. She’s keen for SustainAbility to push ahead with our ‘Engaging Stakeholders’ program, and together we came up with another area where we could work together. More anon.
Friday, October 10, 2003
Eurostar fish (©JE)
Worked at home in the morning, then caught the Eurostar for Paris. As usual, the fish hanging over the arrivals hall caught my eye. On my way to speak at the 20th UNEP consultative meeting with industry associations, having also been at the event that more or less started all of this, the World Industry Conference on Environmental Management (WICEM), in Versailles during 1984.
Thursday, October 09, 2003
For the second evening running, cycling home through Hyde Park, breathing through my mouth, I swallowed a bluebottle – or something leggy and frantic. Can’t have been that hungry: spat it out.
Hania home from Dublin, where she went to see a friend in a play. Another friend of hers, Peter, calls this evening to say he is leaving The Times to go to the US and work for General Wesley Clark’s campaign. Elaine and I heard Wesley Clark speak in Davos earlier in the year, before the Iraq invasion, and he came across well. A bit of a contrast to Arnie Schwarzenegger, just elected as California’s replacement Governor. Not sure I’d vote for him on the strength of his website, schwarzenegger.com.
Wednesday, October 08, 2003
A day spent developing the book on social enterprise I am planning with Pamela Hartigan, managing director of The Schwab Foundation, thinking through the revamp of SustainAbility’s website with Nick Robinson, corresponding with people who may join our Council and Faculty, working up the panel session I am involved in for UNEP in Paris on Friday, and sketching out speeches for later in the year. Also invited the Core Team to comment on the latest draft of the johnelkington.com website.
On the way home, I was forcefully struck by the beauty of the evening. The darkening blue sky had a few pink-brown slashes of cloud, as though a bear had raked the heavens, stirring underlying sediments. By the time I was cycling through Hyde Park, however, it was already dark, with a continuous stream of lights whizzing up and down Park Pane, and around Hyde Park Corner, glimpsed beneath the canopies of the great trees. Gathering drifts of plane tree leaves crunched under my tyres. The Moon posed brilliantly above an Elizabethan lace collar of pink-beige cloud. Hammersmith Bridge was wonderfully lit, the Thames lying low in its bed. Mars still bright in the southern sky.
I pondered as I pedalled down Madrid Road, why it is that often when my mood lifts powerfully I then see that the Moon is nearly full. Full Moon, according to The Times, is on 10 June. Maybe it’s the horshoe crab in me?
Tuesday, October 07, 2003
Sample of Radar cover, October-November 03
First day back in the office. Great buzz: Jodie (Thorpe) just back from Bangkok, Kavita (Prakash-Mani) from Cuzco. We receive boxes of the printed version of the first edition of our revamped newsletter, Radar, themed around the language of corporate responsibility (CSR) and sustainable development (SD). A decade or so ago, Radar was originally started partly as a way of forcing the team to read, think and write, but the thing developed a life of its own. A fairly wide range of people read it regularly (it came out 10 times a year), and many subscribed. But with so many competing newsletters in the field, we concluded a few months back that the best way forward was to go ‘New Economy’ – concentrating on providing insight rather than news, in a simplified (but attractive) format, and giving it away for free. The first edition looks very good. Free subscriptions are available either from SustainAbility’s website, www.sustainability.com or by e-mailing email@example.com.
Monday, October 06, 2003
Both the New York Times and Sunday Times carry stories today on ‘offshoring’, the process by which millions of jobs are being exported to developing countries like India. The Sunday Times headline, alongside a photograph of a train draped with hundreds of Indians on their way to work, declaims: ‘This is the 8.15 to Bombay. It is carrying Indian commuters, on the way to do YOUR JOB.’
If globalisation is to succeed, this trend is inevitable, but it will be interesting to see what happens if consultancies, think-tanks or even SRI funds start to head down this track. I’m pretty sure that major companies rated by their analysts would feel – at least for a few years – that the ratings merited considerably less attention. This is something SustainAbility will be thinking through in a new project for BT on the ‘geography of jobs’.
Late morning, Elaine, Hania and I head off to Richmond to see a matinee of Calendar Girls. Delightful film and interesting handling of a range of ethical dilemmas, though in the end most were glossed over, like the cherries on the buns that so artfully concealed middle-aged nipples.
Saturday, October 04, 2003
Nudistes (sample of photo by Yann Arthus-Bertrand)
Reader advisory: If you’re squeamish or sensitive, don’t read on. But a weird set of mental connections this morning as I opened The Guardian Weekend magazine. Saw a series of stunning aerial photos of Europe by Yann Arthus-Bertrand. One that caught my eye: a wide expanse of naked bodies – nudists on a beach at Arnaouchot, France. And these were the connections that tumbled one atop another:
1 Mass graves : The connection is almost inevitable these days, for anyone who has seen the graves opened in Iraq, Bosnia or various parts of Europe and the old Soviet Union after WWII. But the connection was even more urgent in my mind since – in a Martha’s Vineyard bookshop a few days back – I had picked up an indescribable book of photos of the executions of women and children by the SS in Baltic States in WWII.
2 Ancient Cypriot slag : A few days before that, we had visited the Museum of Semitic Studies in Cambridge, MA, to see an exhibition on Cyprus, where I was partly raised as a child in the 1950s. A small, somewhat disappointing display, but one thing I commented on was a great shard of iron slag discarded ages ago by early copper smelters on the island. It looked exactly like an opened mass grave: the corpses had that browned, leathery look, intimately nested with people they would probably not have given the time of day in normal life. And mass graves will be found – unless they’ve been ‘tidied up’ – when the Green Line goes down on Cyprus. The Turkish invasion of the northern parts of the island wasn’t quite on the scale established by the SS or Serbs, but there’s a good deal of truth and reconciliation to be done before Turkey or the northern part of Cyprus are allowed into the EU.
3 Barbed wire : Last night I began a book I bought in Cambridge: Barbed Wire: A Political History. In the book, originally published in France, Olivier Razac explores the role of barbed wire, first patented in the US in 1874, in three great disasters: the physical elimination and then the ethnocide of the North American Indians; the unthinkable bloodbath of modern war; and at the center of the totalitarian catastrophe, the concentration camps and the Jewish and Gypsy genocides.
4 Human nature : Like photography, barbed wire’s uses reflect human nature. The same technology that enable Arthus-Bertrand to capture the beauty in everything from the symbols on airport taxiing areas to offshore windfarms, enabled SS soldiers to capture the outrages they performed on innocents – with the resulting photos sometimes found on their own corpses later in the war. Barbed wire could be presented as highly eco-efficient, in that it takes very small amounts of material to do work that would otherwise take huge amounts of stone, concrete or earth-moving, but in the end it’s what we choose to do with an such innovations that really counts.
Links: Yann Arthus-Bertrand-Bertrand, The Earth from the Air – 366 Days, Thames & Hudson, London, 2003; Olivier Razac, Barbed Wire: A Political History, The New Press, New York, 2002.
Thursday, October 02, 2003
Plymouth Rock (©JE)
Left Cape Cod, via Sandwich, then headed north to Plymouth. Here the much-celebrated Rock had a wonderful Union Jack-style shadow falling over it, thanks to the surrounding Union-Jack-style fencing. Not sure whether it was accidental or not. Behind and on a rise stands a powerful monument to the Indians and a memorial tablet recalling the genocide that followed. Later, we drove out to Carver to see the cranberry bogs – and were lucky enough to arrive as migrant workers were harvesting one of the bogs. The red berries floating on the floodwaters looked like something the artist Christo might have done, though – who knows – perhaps he originally got his inspiration from the cranberry harvest?
Cranberries awaiting harvest (©JE)
The harvest begins (©JE)
Wednesday, October 01, 2003
John with horsehoe crab shell (Elaine Elkington)
Glorious day, so we take the ferry across to Marthas Vineyard. Arriving in Woods Hole shortly after 09.00, though, we are sent back 3.7 miles to Falmouth to park, and then shipped back by bus to Woods Hole. What a country! But no doubt it keeps the oil companies happy. Once in Vineyard Haven, and after squabbling about whether we should walk, cycle or rent a car, we took a #13 bus to Edgartown, then found a small, 5-minute ferry across to Chappaquiddick Island.
Picked up at the ferry dock by Dick, a driver from The Trustees of Reservations. A few miles later, we were invited to scale the Eiger-like back end of a Ford F250 open-backed truck with four over-65s, at least two of whom seemed to have had (or to need) hip transplants. We are headed for a guided tour through the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, across the infamous Chappaquiddick Dike Bridge, along East Beach which faces the open Atlantic, up to the Cape Poge wooden lighthouse – which has been moved seven times since it was first built, as erosion chased it around the island.
On the way we see a great blue heron, cormorants, a hovering hawk, fishermen taking part in a fishing derby (at least one grim-faced wife sits inside a SUV while her man does what a man has to do, rod in hand), Monarch butterflies, then a small drift of shed horseshoe crab shells, complete with claws and gills. I am fascinated, having bought just a couple of days back Crab Wars (University Press of New England, 2002), by William Sargent, subtitled A Tale of Horseshoe Crabs, Bioterrorism, and Human Health.
More or less undisturbed for 300 million years, horseshoe crabs were found some 25 years ago to have an unsuspected use. Their blood provides the basis for the most reliable test for deadly gram-negative bacteria. To date, apparently, around a million lives have been saved. That’s the good news, as presumably is the fact that the result is a multi-million-dollar industry. But the bad news, at least for horseshoe crabs, is that they are bled to extract Limulus lysate.
The book catalogues the fiercesome politics involved. But Sarah, our guide today, noted that one of the biggest current threats to the future of the horseshoe crab is lobster fishing. The lobster fishermen use horseshoe crabs to bait their pots. Elaine ate lobster tonight.
Finally, Sarah also mentioned that the lighthouse-men had to clamber up and down stairs in the night to keep an eye on their lights in the days when they burned whale oil. This burned fierce and fast. The whaling captains houses are a major feature of Edgartown. In quiet moments, I am reading Moby-Dick for what I think may be the first time, though its one of those books that feels as though its in ones life-blood.