Friday, June 30, 2006
The news that the US Supreme Court has declared illegal Bush’s reliance on the grotesqueries of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp is welcome. No-one doubts the dangers posed by Osama bin Laden Inc., but the contempt of the US administration for international rules has been flagrant, even if initially understandable. Attempts to pressure companies like Starbucks for their presence at Guantanamo Bay are at least worth trying (http://www.reports-and-materials.org/Further-exchange-between-Starbucks-Quilty-about-Guantanamo-May-2006.doc), but in the end this one will need political solutions. The moral authority of the US has been strikingly eroded since 2001.
This year’s mid-term elections (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._midterm_elections,_2006), but it’s the 2008 elections the world should be working towards. Coincidentally, at least on current plans, SustainAbility will be holiding its first-ever Board meeting in the US a week later, which will lend a degree of immediacy. But even if the world doesn’t have a vote in US presidential elections, it certainly now has an increasingly direct interest. Indeed, it’s interesting to imagine what would happen if the US had another supreme court responsible for assessing the global reputation and value of ‘Brand America’. Since that value has collapsed catastrophically on Bush’s watch, there can be little doubt that the ruling would go against him on that one, too.
DYING TO CYCLE
The good news is that cycling has taken off in many parts of Britain, with London in particular seeing a 50 percent growth in the number of cycling trips since 2001, from 300,000 to 450,000 a day. But the bad news, reported in The Times today, is that the number of cyclists killed nationwide climbed 10 percent from 134 in 2004 to 148 in 2005. Much of that may be to do with novice cyclists, who it has been hard to avoid on London roads since the 7/7 bombings.
Having myself been left unconscious in over 30 years’ of London cycling, once with three broken ribs, I can’t help thinking that we are going to have to take a leaf out of Amsterdam’s book and make drivers responsible for damage to cyclists and pedestrians, almost regardless of where the blame lay. Only then will motorists–and bus drivers–pay sufficient attention. And I would happily double the sentences for the drivers of the new ‘bendy’ buses, who are an absolute nightmare.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
ALL YOU NEEDED WAS LOVE
With Elaine away in Edinburgh, and after a long day working on the new book on social entrepreneurship, I slumped down in front of the TV to watch one of the later DVDs (7 & 8) from The Beatles’ Anthology. It included the recording and performance of All You Need Is Love in 1967, much of it just along the road here in Barnes, at Olympic Studios. The roll call of the bands which recorded there is extraordinary (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympic_Studios), with the result that we have often come across well known faces in Church Road or around the Pond.
But back to All You Need, which is pretty much panned by the late, great Ian MacDonald (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_MacDonald) in his brilliant book, Revolution in the Head (Fourth Estate, 1994). A key reason was the slapdash way in which the basic music was put together, with The Beatles having lost much of the professionalism that had peaked in Sergeant Pepper. But All You Need lives on both as a distillation of the hippy essence of the time and as an early celebration of the technological and cultural aspects of globalisation, since the recording was broadcast globally by satellite.
As I watched the Beatles talking about their time in the Himalayas with the Maharishi, I was struck by how good a band they were at their best–with the DVD spanning the range from the sweetness of I Will (which took 67 takes to record, according to MacDonald) to the invective of I Am A Walrus, which MacDonald sees as the high water mark of Lennon’s creativity. But what really caught my attention was the sequence of John and Paul being interviewed on the thinking behind their new Apple store, ultimately doomed. Paul described it as a way of making the world a better place, without being a charity, sounding very much like an early social entrepreneur.
As I watched and thought of Richard Dawkins’ idea of memes, the cultural equivalent of viruses, that can infect large numbers of people, I also had flashes of an obituary I read in this morning’s Times. It celebrated the life and work of Raymond Davis, a US chemist and Nobel Laureate, an award he got for his work on detecting the elusive neutrinos coming from the Sun, that great fusion reaction over our heads. What struck a chord with the whole All You Need era and memes, was Davis’ discovery that neutrinos–despite their elusiveness–are all around us. Indeed, thousands of billions pass through our bodies every second. Yet Davis had to set up a 100,000-gallon tank of the dry-cleaning solvent tetrachloroethylene nearly a mile down in the Homestead goldmine in South Dakota to have any chance of detecting them on their way through.
For all his efforts, Davis managed to detect only about 2,000 neutrinos over 30 years. While his patience and professionalism contrast starkly with The Beatles at their All You Need stage, the sense of being linked to a much larger world, or universe, struck me as strangely shared.
A nice article on SustainAbility’s recent report The Changing Landscape of Liability appears on CNN Money, at http://money.cnn.com/2006/06/28/news/companies/pluggedin.fortune/. As Fortune‘s Mark Gunther explains, “Most FORTUNE 500 companies employ brigades of lawyers to limit their legal liability. But how many worry about their ‘moral liability’? Probably not enough, if only because the lines are blurring between the two. Moral liability is the idea that companies will pay a price if they fail to meet society’s expectation that they act ethically. Sometimes the price will be damage to a brand or reputation. Other times, the cost will be more concrete, in the form of lawsuits, damage awards or lost sales.”
For more on the report, see http://www.sustainability.com/insight/liability-article.asp?id=180
Sunday, June 25, 2006
DID HELMUT’S JACKBOOTS FLOOD?
Helmut Wick’s Bf109
The story continues. One of the top-scoring Luftwaffe aces of the Battle of Britain period, Major Helmut Wick, is the latest character to enter the roiling cast of the endlessly evolving story of my father Tim’s Icarus moment on 16 August 1940. That was the day he was shot down over the south coast of England.
For us, as children, the story began when we asked what the holes in Tim’s legs were. The answer: scars from the cannon fire that raked his Hurricane. Much later, in 1990, I wrote an article for The Guardian on the theme (
http://johnelkington.com/inf-people-father.htm) and, once this blog began, followed up with a number of entries. These include blogs posted on:
6 February 2004, when John Hayes-Fisher, making a TV programme on No 1 squadron, sent me photos of Flt Sgts Berry and Albonico—Berry having been the man who saved Tim’s life.
6 June 2005, when Berry’s granddaughter got in touch after coming across the mentions of her grandfather on this website, long after we had given up searching for her family, Berry having been killed a few days after the incident.
25 June 2005, when Tim gave me the vertical speed indicator from the Hurricane in which he was shot down, discovered by an archaeological team.
The latest development in the story is that a Swedish researcher, Christer Bergstrom, who has long studied WWII air warfare (http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/Author%3DBergstrom%2C%20Christer/203-8041716-7817543), asked questions that spurred Tim into a research process that, in turn, suggests that the previous theory on who had shot him down was almost certainly wrong. (One additional theory which he has never credited, is that he was shot down by our own anti-aircraft guns near Portsmouth: he insists he saw no evidence of such guns in action that day.) Bergstrom’s provocation spurred Tim to check Luftwaffe and RAF records, and to contact several of the RAF squadrons in action in the area at the time.
And the upshot is that it now looks very much as though the man responsible was Helmut Wick. As it happens, I first came across Wick some years back in Luftwaffe Fighter Aces: The Jagdflieger and their Combat Tactics and Techniques (Greenhill Books, 1996), by the delightfully named Mick Spick. Wick, I learned, had ‘understudied’ one of the ultimate Luftwaffe aces, Werner ‘Vati’ Mölders. But why had he suddenly turned up on our radar screen after all these years? Well, take a look at Wick’s eighteenth ‘kill’ (http://www.luftwaffe.cz/wick.html). This happened on 16 August 1940 – and in exactly the right place.
For Wick, this wasn’t even half way through his eventual total of 56, including an amazing 24 Spitfires, apparently making him the world’s top-scoring ace by the time he was killed a few months after his alleged intersection with my family tree.
Interestingly, if the Wick hypothesis is true, Tim is one of the ‘kills’ recorded on the tailplane in Chris Banyai-Riepl’s extraordinary painting of Wick’s Bf109 (see above, and image no. 5 at http://images.google.co.uk/imgres?imgurl=http://www.cbrnp.com/profiles/quarter2/bf109e/bf109-6.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.cbrnp.com/profiles/quarter2/bf109e.htm&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;h=148&w=600&sz=22&hl=en&start=63&tbnid=poayXTAf7l7JmM:&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;tbnh=32&tbnw=133&prev=/images%3Fq%3DHelmut%2BWick%26start%3D60%26ndsp%3D20%26svnum%3D10%26hl%3Den%26lr%3D%26sa%3DN).
Wick congratulated by Hermann Göring (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermann_Goering)
Wick, perhaps not surprisingly, was one of Göring’s favourite pilots, as the photograph above shows. A pilot’s pilot. (Interestingly, and totally in character, Anthony Beevor’s latest book, The Battle for Spain, reviewed in today’s FT Magazine, shows Göring selling weapons to the Spanish Republicans during the Civil War—at the same time that they were fighting his own men.) Wick’s own personal creed was clear—and rather more patriotic. “As long as I can shoot down the enemy, adding to the honour of the Richthofen Geschwader and the success of the Fatherland,” he said, “I am a happy man. I want to fight and die fighting, taking with me as many of the enemy as possible.”
This seeming death wish was fulfilled over the Channel on 28 November 1940. He was shot down by Flt Lt John Dundas, someone whose history I also already knew, mainly because of his listing in Men of the Battle of Britain, by Kenneth Wynn, underneath his brother, Hugh ‘Cocky’ Dundas. One of the things that Cocky Dundas is remembered for is the reinvention of the ‘finger-four’ formation with Douglas Bader (http://www.xs4all.nl/~blago/planewriting/index.html?bios2.html).
The Dundas brothers were both aces—a fact dramatised by a painting by Geoff Nutkins of John Dundas and ‘Red’ Tobin in pursuit of a Dornier (see http://www.aviartnutkins.com/battle.php). Then, when I was discussing all of this yesterday with my mother, Pat, she recalled meeting ‘Cocky’ Dundas years later—and being struck both by the fact that he was as tall as Tim (like Roald Dahl, another WWII fighter pilot, something like 6’ 3” or 6’ 4”) and that he seemed to have almost no shoulders, “like a bottle.”
Height of the Battle
Once Wick had been shot down, his No 2, Hauptmann ‘Rudi’ Pflanz, is reported to have circled the area for a while, trying to save Wick by calling in British air/sea rescue planes, radioing that a Spitfire was down. Nor was that a lie. Pflanz had shot down Dundas within minutes of the RAF pilot’s downing of Wick. Neither Dundas nor Wick were seen again. Pflanz, incidentally, shot down 45 Spitfires before himself being killed over France in 1942 by one of these legendary aircraft, http://www.luftwaffe.cz/pflanz.html.
A final, probably apocryphal, story I have heard was that Wick, who was given to wearing jackboots even when flying (see photograph below), was pulled under when they filled with water. Who knows, but there is something mythic about the image.
Jackboots on the wing
Sidebar: Having celebrated my fifty-seventh birthday yesterday, on my return from São Paulo, it struck me that I am now exactly three times Tim’s age when all this happened. John Dundas was just 24 when he died, Wick 25, Pflanz 26.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
VELVETS AND CAKE
Was watching a DVD of The Velvet Underground’s 1993 Paris concerts late this afternoon, including my favourite Sweet Jane – quite serendipitously given that my first real girlfriend, now Jane Davenport, had called this morning – when Gaia and Hania sprang a home-made birthday cake on me. Sprang a camera on Hania, with the following results. Now we are six, apparently.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
CLAUDIO PADUA: POOR, BUT HAPPY
Had a serendipitous dinner last night with Nelmara Arbex, previously with Natura, now moving to Amsterdam to join the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Among others, she introduced me to Claudio Padua, one of Brazil’s leading conservationists, dubbed by Time magazine as one of its ‘Green Heroes’ (http://www.time.com/time/2002/greencentury/heroes/text_paduas.htm). We had breakfast together this morning, together with Chris Marsden of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. Claudio is a prototypical social entrepreneur, as the Time piece makes clear. Many considered him crazy when he decided to leave the business world for the world of conservation. At the time, his wife – now every bit as much engaged as he – suggested either therapy or divorce.
He tells me that he has read SustainAbility’s report The 21st Century NGO several times. His Institute, IPE, which he founded after stepping aside from his role as finance director of a pharmaceutical firm and going back to school to learn biology and, ultimately, get a PhD, now has 100 staff. It is building its strategy for corporate engagement around our analysis – and using a key table in the report as its compass. Fascinating example of how our work can have an impact even when we don’t get direct feedback.
HELICOPTERS AND VULTURES
As I was packing to leave, a series of helicopters were coming in to land over my head, on the roof of the Hotel Transamerica. Then the sequence ended, leaving only what I took to be turkey vultures revolving in the burning sky.
WHALESONG: A WAKING DREAM
Had a wonderful dinner last night with Nelmara Arbex of Natura, who I have known for some years here in Sao Paulo. Among other things, we discussed dreams, and I told her about the one I had soon after the publication of the Green Consumer Guide, probably in 1989.
In the dream, I was driving through countryside with Gaia and Hania. Through trees, we could see flashes of a ship museum. Once there, we boarded a glorious old wooden sailing ship, up on blocks. Decommissioned. From carvings in its rails I learned it was the erstwhile Greenpeace. Next, the three of us were heading down into a gradually narrowing tunnel, increasingly hot and steamy. The walls were like those of a Turkish bath-house, ornately enamelled and bejewelled. Increasingly, though, I had a sense of danger, and brought the three of us out. I awoke with an interpretation already forming in my mind: the dream spoke of the danger that, poorly handled, our work could help undermine edgier groups like Greenpeace and, in the process, we – and the wider movement – could be seduced into a materialist, consumerist trap. Every so often, such dreams have had quite a powerful impact on my thinking.
In any event, I woke this morning with the most extraordinary dream dialogue still playing out in my head. It centred on the interrogation of a sole survivor, conducted in a small cabin alongside the flensing deck of a Japanese whaler. It was presented as the log of the interrogation – and was no doubt triggered by the recent attempts of Japan to overturn the International Whaling Commission’s (http://www.iwcoffice.org/index.htm) ban on whaling.
The two protagonists in the dream were:
(1) the sole survivor of the ramming of a submarine by a whale tender; a fairly old, male environmentalist who had been part of the crew of the geriatric submarine. Losing patience with the Japanese insistence on whaling – even insisting on taking fin whales – the crew, it seemed, had torn a leaf from the old Sea Shepherd saga. As background, I once went aboard the old Sea Shepherd in Alexandria harbour. The ship was captained by Paul Watson (http://www.seashepherd.org/), the man who had limpet-mined and sunk several whaling ships in Reykjavik harbour. In the dream, the submarine – with due warning – had torpedoed a Japanese whaling factory, and
(2) a young, female Japanese marine biologist. American-trained, but seeing a resource where he sees a symbol, a metaphor.
The dialogue appeared to play out over several days, involving a complete collision of worlds in terms of the role of the oceans and of whales, as the icons of the wild oceans. One of the real crystallisation points in the conversation was when the two of them discussed the sort of whale song Roger Payne recorded (http://www.livingmusic.com/catalogue/albums/songshump; http://www.oceanalliance.org/wci/ml). He hears music akin to Bach or Mozart, she the communication patterns of an elusive, vanishing prey. (When Gaia and Hania were young, we would sometimes listen to Payne’s recordings of whalesong in the dark: http://johnelkington.com/inf-music-discs.htm).
Later, the marine biologist describes the history of European and American whaling in justification of what Japan is now doing. Images like the women of New England watching to see whether the sails of the returning fleet were white (bad news) or black (good news, because the oily soot from the rendering of the blubber had stained them). He counters with the uncomfortable reality that the whales Japan is catching are often now being fed to dogs. As the dream ran on, Moby Dick surfaced here and there, as did the protracted wranglings of the International Whaling Commission, with Japan getting nations like Mongolia (totally landlocked) to register as whaling nations and support the resumption of the industry.
Bloodily, the main sequence ended with the environmentalist being processed along with the whales. The final sequence was the log of the tender, “accidentally” colliding with the submarine. Oil slick, debris, the distant, eerie sound through hydrophones of bulkheads collapsing under pressure. No survivors. In my dream, the title rolled up and read Whalesong. It could equally have been No Survivors.
All slightly odd, but no doubt reflecting the fact that both Gaia and Hania are now working with film-makers and script-writers. And, as the sort of conferences I have been speaking at in Sao Paulo increasingly focus on the question of how our social, human rights and environmental movements can work with business and with financial institutions, perhaps another reminder that the old battles are never really won.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
CEBDS ACTION SHOTS
Some shots taken while I was doing the CEBDS event. Not quite how I see myself, but for the record …
THE BOY’S IN BRAZIL
Arrived in Sao Paulo at around 05.00 on Monday, riding into town with Chris Marsden, who chairs the Board of Trustees at the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (http://www.business-humanrights.org/Home), where I am also a Trustee. Have since been kept fairly busy with interviews, teleconferences and speaking sessions at the Brazilian version of the Business Council for Sustainable Development (http://www.cebds.org), yesterday, and the annual conference organised by Institute Ethos (http://www.ethos.org.br/DesktopDefault.aspx?Alias=Ethos&Lang=pt-BR&init), today.
It’s great to be back: Brazil is one of four emerging economies SustainAbility has been focusing a growing amount of attention on in recent years – and is the subject of a new SustainAbility country study (http://www.sustainability.com/sa-services/emerging_article.asp?id=420), produced by Jodie Thorpe.
One of the stories that sticks in my mind from the event yesterday was that of government environmental inspectors who were visiting an industrial plant where the management had installed a tank of fish outside the gates, to show how pure their effluents were – since, they said, treated effluents were piped through the tank. True, but then an employee let slip that they were having to change the fish 5-6 times a day because they were dying so fast.
At the other end of the spectrum, Brazil also hosts a (small) number of companies that would be leaders wherever in the world they operated. One of those is Natura (http://www.natura.com/), which I visited on a previous trip to Brazil (see November 8, 2004 entry). They have been highly unusual for an emerging economy company in ranking well in our every-second-year benchmark survey of best practice in company reporting – the latest round of which SustainAbility is now working on.
A point that has come up in a number of the sessions here is that there should be a fourth element of the triple bottom line – focusing on the individual. As someone said yesterday, at the CEBDS meeting, there aren’t enough policemen in the world to ensure that everyone does the right thing. Indeed, the problem is made worse here in Brazil by rampant police corruption. So, for example, Sao Paulo has been in the news recently because of alleged ‘executions’ by the police of people thought to be involved in violent gangs (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4771455.stm; http://uk.news.yahoo.com/12062006/325/nearly-500-died-during-sao-paulo-violence-streak.html).
Someone who lives in Brazil and apparently reads this blog regularly saw that I was headed this way and sent me the following travel tips a couple of days back:
Sao Paulo Travel Tips
(1) Don’t bring anything with you that you are not prepared to lose, i.e. jewelry, etc.
(2) Don’t speak English in public if you can avoid it.
(3) Carry at least R$75 at all times because if someone kidnaps you, they may be satisfied with R$75 and decide to let you go.
(4) Dress like the locals (do not wear clothes with foreign logos).
(5) If someone tries to rob you, just give them the money.
(6) Don’t ride around in a foreign car (BMW, Mercedes, etc.) unless it is armored.
(7) Do not carry a laptop bag or any other case identifiable as containing electronic equipment of any sort (digital camera, cell phone, etc.)
(8) Do not talk on a cell phone in or near the airport (they will clone your phone).
(9) Do not talk on or hold a cell phone in public.
(10) If you walk on the street, make sure that you are with a Brazilian from Sao Paulo who knows the area.
On the other hand I’m constantly struck by the vibrancy of this country – and not just when it comes to football, as in tomorrow’s match against Japan. (I shall try to be on my way to the airport well ahead of the rush to get home to watch the match – which I’m told is likely to turn traffic into an exercise in solid state mechanics.)
Maybe it’s just having watched the sun rise this morning, but I’m really quite hopeful. One positive sign: the sheer size of the audience at the Ethos event, around 1,000 people. And another: there has been a surprising amount of interest in our work on how to get more transparency injected into the world of corporate lobbying of government. Jodie (Thorpe) will be back here next month for the next CEBDS session and I’m very much looking forward to coming back. Am also delighted to hear that the latest recruit to our Washington, D.C. office is Brazilian.
A new dawn in Sao Paulo
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Gaia came to supper last night with Steve and Sandar Warshal. In passing, she mentioned that on the odd occasion that I posted an image of her on this blog it tended to be one she didn’t like. Since she liked the one a newspaper shot of her up a tree in Scotland a few years back, I’ll make amends by reposting that one. I always liked the combination of the insouciance, the garb, the para boots and the chainsaw.
Aerial Gaia with chainsaw
So, The Who returned to Leeds University last night, 36 years after the concert immortalised in their Live at Leeds album. Today’s Sunday Times carries a photo of surviving band members Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend standing in front of a blue Civic Trust plaque marking the occasion. Slight weird to see the counter-culture morphing into the culture.
I remember listening to the band around the same time, from a student launderette under the concert venue at Essex University, with the sound coming down through a thick concrete floor – and they were still utterly deafening. Oddly, they’re one of the few bands whose sound seems to improve every time they pop up on my iPod. At Bryanston, in the mid-Sixties, I shared a study with someone who was deeply into The Who (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Who), at a time when I was obsessed with the likes of The Beatles, Beach Boys and Kinks. Now think we were both right.
My main memory of The Who, though, was flying back from New Zealand many, many moons ago with Elaine and Gaia. Because I was speaking at a conference sponsored by Air New Zealand, Elaine and I were flying ANZ first class, while Gaia was flying steerage in her wild Plains Indian make-up and paratroop boots. Her war-paint had been applied earlier in the day when we visited the hot springs in Rotorua (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotorua). Shortly after we got to the first class lounge in Auckland, The Who suddenly arrived, and Gaia – who we had imagined might be slightly out-of-synch with the first-class world – synchronised immediately. Breaking out of steerage, she spent a fair bit of the flight to LA and beyond in conversation with Daltrey and Townshend’s brother, Simon.
Friday, June 16, 2006
Ahead of impending trip to Brazil, worked at home today. Still recovering after collapse on Wednesday morning which had me in the Urgent Care Unit at the Princess Grace Hospital. Spasms of intense pain from what seem to be torn muscles around my diaphragm: no idea how it happened. Was given three different types of painkiller which have since occasionally had me in a slightly different universe, though have now stopped taking the things to keep a clearer head.
In any event, a delightfully sunny day. Convalescence speeded by Kathy Hudson (http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/bioethics/people/faculty/hudson.html), someone we had met a couple of years back in Davos, who came to lunch today with her family. Afterwards, we all took a leisurely walk around the Barnes Wetlands Centre – Kathy’s boys raring to see crocodilians, saurians and the like, whereas I was happy enough with huge blue dragonflies, an inquisitive swan, cascading blossom and lush, aromatic water mint. Back to find I had missed an interview with a Brazilian business magazine journalist, but she was calling again as we opened the door.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Dinner at the Reform Club this evening with 8-9 company CEOs and Chairmen, hosted by WWF UK . Fascinating how far the CEO-level discussion has come even in the last 3-5 years, although it seems de rigueur these days for all sides to challenge each other’s business model.
In the spirit of the World Cup, WWF is promoting its own listing of humanity’s worst environmental ‘own goals’ (http://www.panda.org/news_facts/multimedia/fun_games/own_goals/global_warming/index.cfm). A visual clue to the worst own goal appears below:
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
GYORGY LIGETI AND NORTHERN LIGHTS GOWN
Extraordinary obituary in The Times today – of Gyorgy Ligeti, whose music provided a key part of the acoustic fuel for my first and only LSD trip, in 1968. Stanley Kubrick had ripped off Ligetti’s music for his film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which had a huge impact on me at the time. The Blue Danube, which also appeared in the film, features in my Top 16 musical tracks (see under ‘Influences’).
A born outsider, Ligeti’s life story was incredible. He was one of Jewish group used by the Nazis as slave labour, handling high explosives near the front line in WWII. He deserted and, evading the Russians, walked home to Romania over two weeks. When the Russians later invaded Romania, he escaped to Vienna, making part of the journey in a mail train, hidden under mailbags.
It was during a sequence of his music that I had a vision of a shimmering, swirling Madonna-like figure, with a dervish-like ring of what Aldous Huxley once dubbed “five-and-ten” figures dancing around her Northern Lights gown. In the aftermath, I tried to sketch the image, and – on now increasingly aged paper – the drawing is still upstairs, on Gaia’s bedroom wall. A very rough form of visual shorthand.
Truly, LSD opened my doors of perception. I did a sequence of drawings and paintings between 1968 and 1975 – after which the process stopped dead as I got deeply involved in the environmental field. But there are a couple of drawings I have had in mind to do for just over 30 years, one of a group of humpback whales spiraling down into the depths with accompanying dolphins, the view interrupted by passing gulls. One day, perhaps.
Ligeti partly to blame: Northern Lights Madonna
Monday, June 12, 2006
Trustees’ meeting today at the Business & Human Rights Centre at 1 Charlotte Street. It’s extraordinary what Chris Avery and his colleagues have managed to achieve in such a short period of time. Highlight for me today was meeting the three new recruits to the team: Joanne Bauer, Mauricio Lazala and Roddy Shaw Kwok-wah.
One of the issues we discussed which I hadn’t come across before was that of the plight of the “beer promotion women” in Asia. Young south east Asian women are being exploited and subjected to sexual assault and violence while working in restaurants and karaoke bars to promote well-known beer brands including Heineken, Carlsberg, San Miguel, Stella Artois [part of InBev], Beck’s [part of InBev], Bass [part of InBev] and Budweiser [part of Anheuser-Busch]. Research has found that 20% of the female beer promotion women in Cambodia are HIV positive. For the most part, the beer companies say it’s nothing to do with them.
Sunday, June 11, 2006
The World of Beatrix Potter™ © Frederick Warne & Co., 1902; 2002.
Our latest Grist column, featuring Peter Rabbit, can be found at:
It draws on SustainAbility’s work for the owners of the Peter Rabbit brand, Frederick Warne & Co., a division of Penguin Books, who I am pretty sure we originally connected with via recent negotiations around our colleague Yasmin Crowther’s first novel,
The Saffron Kitchen (http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0316731846/202-0602046-3788645).
Originally, though, is a relative term. Many moons ago, in fact pretty much two decades ago, Penguin also did two of my books as Pelicans, Sun Traps (1984) and The Poisoned Womb (1985), see http://johnelkington.com/pubs-books.htm.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Yesterday really was a day to remember. Very energetic – but highly productive – working day at the office, including sessions with Rupert Bassett on my website, then on the SustainAbility website (with the lead here taken by Craig Ray), and on the overall design for the latest round of our Global Reporters benchmark study, due out in the late autumn.
The day had started gloriously, too, with cycle ride to Holborn, under stunning blue sky. That said, it’s amazing how grit and/or tree seeds get into – and irrtitate – the eyes at various poijts in the journey, particyularly when riding alongside Rotten Row. Snapped a fellow biker there, partly because when I cycled past the same place yesterday I couldn’t find my camera as some twenty Horse Guards galloped towards me, against a towering cloud of dust. Spectacular, but choking once they had passed. (Put me in mind of the sculpture I had seen in Calgary Airport last week, when I was en route to Edmondton – see below.)
Then, in the evening, Gaia and Hania came to dinner with Peter Kinder of KLD and Doug and Margot Miller of GlobeScan. Rather weird moment when all the candles Elaine had lit began to lean over more or less in unison and melt each other: never seen anything quite like it. The photo below catches the start of the process. One of the most delightful evenings I have had for a very long time, with a late concluding passage including watching six songs from ‘The Concert for George,’ which Eric Claption organised a year after George Harrison’s death. Gaia, Hania and I ended up sitting out in the garden at 02.00 in the morning after the guests had gone, with the stars, the moths and the cooling stillness.
Today, the wonderful weather continued. Craig Ray, his wife and son came over, mainly for Craig to work on my Mac-based home computing system, to get it ready for Skype, podcasting and rest of the twenty-first century. Thing is now very energetically butting its head up against the ceiling of its storage capacity, largely because of the amount of music I have on it. Time for more memory – something I wish I could order for myself.
Candles in need of a pick-me-up
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
HERONS, LOONS & 3M
Arrived home this morning from Chicago, where I flew yesterday afternoon from Minneapolis. Bumped up to First Class by BA for the trans-Atlantic hop, but was told at Chicago O’Hare that I would only get upgraded if I wasn’t identified as a vegetarian – which I have been for decades. Was told to remove the instruction from my records, which I certainly won’t do. In any event, delightful flight, but returned home with a streaming head cold.
Since leaving Canada nearly a week ago, I have been in the Twin Cities and northwards in Minnesota. The first few days I stayed at a hotel out near the 3M site east of St Paul. First reaction was semi-despair, looking down on the rats’-nest of roads and car parks, but then saw a great heron (which I have always considered my lucky bird) flying in over nearby trees and concluded there must be something at least semi-natural close to hand. And how. The photos below were taken as I took a wonderful walk around a lovely park.
A tall white 3M building hovered over the trees at various points, but there was a tremendous ease about the place. Dragonflies and damselflies, a heron chasing ducklings with pterosaur-like croaks, bullfrog tadpoles rumbling around in the water like gelatinous Hells’ Angels, three fishermen being coached on how to cast flies over grass, as if a river ran through it, and the air full of some cottony, downy seed that may have come from the bulrushes, but just as likely came from the trees. All the pictures, incidentally, were taken with the tiny camera that Canon gave me when I visited them in Tokyo last year. It seems to like bright sunlight.
Mainly, though, I hunkered down in the Holiday Inn and worked on the book. It may be a sad case of cabin fever, but it seemed to go very well.
On Sunday, June 4, I was driven north by Keith Miller of 3M to the Grand View Lodge, Nisswa, for the 3M senior management I was to speak to the next day. Spent the night in a lovely little cabin right by the lake’s edge, and woke to the sound of loons. Had read much of A Century of Innovation: The 3M Story (http://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/!ut/p/kcxml/04_Sj9SPykssy0xPLMnMz0vM0Q9KzYsPDdaP0I8yizeINzQw0i_IcFQEABqk_Rc!) ahead of the session, but still came away enormously impressed by the professionalism and achievements of the company, not least in the sustainability area (http://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/!ut/p/kcxml/04_Sj9SPykssy0xPLMnMz0vM0Q9KzYsPDdaP0I8yizeINzTy0S_IcFQEAILZSrE!).
Grand View Lodge
Arriving back in Minneapolis late on Monday afternoon, having been driven back by Keith, and on the way crossing the Mississippi River, I found myself staying in another huge Holiday Inn, though this time on the 13th, ‘Concierge Floor.’ When it came to breakfast on the second day, the concierge proved to be a very attractive Venezuelan mother-of-two, who was campaigning to save a nearby semi-historic bridge. Once she knew my areas of interest, she showed me her photographs of water snakes in the Minnesota Wildlife Refuge, which Keith had told me to try and walk around. Needing little encouragement, given the view of the Minnesota River from my window, I had done so on the evening I arrived, though by the time I was heading back it was spotting quite hard with rain. Shortly after I got back, the clouds opened, and I awoke several times during the night as the lightning lit up the room even with drawn curtains.
Minnesota Wildlife Refuge, ahead of the storm
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Am currently holed up on the thirteenth floor of a hotel overlooking the Minnesota River in Minneapolis, working on the new book. And making good progress, I think, as I listen to the rumble of incoming flights and the wail of distant trains. Flew in a few days back for a session with 3M directors, several hours’ drive north. All of this followed my sessions in Calgary and Edmonton last week, with the Canadian Green Building Council. Am due to fly on to Chicago this afternoon, and then Heathrow.
After a ramble down to the river shore last night, through the Minnesota Wildlife Refuge, with a distant view of dazzlingly white congregations of egrets, I returned to the hotel in spotting rain – and then all hell broke loose. A night of thunderstorms. The flashes were coming through closed curtains.
And the bronze? Nick Robinson, a Kiwi colleague, sent me a link to a website in China which has kindly awarded me Third Prize in terms of CSR-related blogs (http://trevorcook.typepad.com/weblog/2005/01/csr_in_china_cs.html). As I said to Nick, I hadn’t realised I was competing, but it’s always nice to be noticed.