Tuesday, 25 August 2009

I've said it again and I'll say it again again....

I have been thinking and without making the argument that took a 20,000+ word dissertation to prove, I have concluded:

Organisations of every size must make an irrevocable commitment to sustainability, ideally manifest in targets to reduce their CO2 emissions by setting a two year average baseline then a five year commitment to reduce this by a declared percentage and report the CO2 value of their products to its consumers (who might in turn report it to their consumer and so on ad infinitum). Reducing CO2 emissions by improving energy efficiency is generally a good strategy because energy cost savings can finance the measures needed but managers must reconsider every aspect of their operations, such as materials and transportation and the habits and practice of its customers and personnel as well, and budget for the costs of meeting these target as an overhead.

Stakeholders (like shareholders or funders and lenders) must realise that reduction of CO2 cannot be only tied to financial payback as many sources of CO2, especially those outside of energy production, offer no cost savings by switching to alternatives while changing practice, such as keeping CO2 balance sheets, still incurs costs. Emissions reduction must be a satisfactory result in itself and as all carbon emissions will eventually be taxed, this will be a financial incentive for everyone. For anyone presently under the carbon tax threshold, there is scant luxury of time but it is cheaper in the long run to change practice now instead of later as changing practice later may not be possible because the burden of rapid adjustment could be too great. There is simply no excuse that “we can’t afford it.” The planet’s bank of CO2 is everyone’s bank and we have all overdrawn from it.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

You can't delegate sustainability

My employer, as an organisation, deserves huge praise for successfully tackling some of our sustainability challenges. A year ago our chief executive asked if any employees wanted to take them on. Eager to shine or just plain concerned enough about the environment, an ad-hoc group got a waste recycling programme going, hugely reduced the company's wasteful print production, increased the number of employees cycling to work and we have pushed through a whole load of other small but very significant measures. We have done more than most. But these were mostly external conditions handled by low-level employees acting on their initiative. We made few demands on our company's resources or created any conflicts with the organisation’s purpose.

But without sharing my examination or my criticism, the success of us downstream of the big decisions is unlikely to challenge the senior management’s purpose-driven laissez faire strategy (which is so successful in many other spheres of our business and enabled us in the first place). This could deny them the opportunity to develop their understanding of this issue’s complexity and that creates a possibility of misguided confidence. We have got a lot of other areas we can act on, if only we had the way and the will.

I have come to realise that achieving further wins will need leadership commitment to specific targets and expert managers given resources at the highest priority as in order to continue to make progress, our organisational practise will have to be significantly modified to adapt to increasingly difficult conditions. My research suggests to me that achieving sustainability for organisations with our qualities, quantum leaps will be more successful than piecemeal change. It might just be easier to go build a sustainable organisation from scratch but we have shown in the past that we are not unable to reinvent ourselves this way.

I consider that sustainable practise is possible for my organisation but adaptation to sustainable practise is extremely complex and many of the problems it presents cannot be solved downstream in the organisation but require strategic expert consideration at the core of the organisation’s purpose and at the highest level of authority. It has to be their call. I have found evidence that adaptation to sustainability is everyone’s problem and everyone contributes to its progress. Just one person can undermine adoption of sustainable practise for many others.

At major irrevocable decision points our senior management has demonstrated commitment to sustainable practise. It has many personnel highly engaged with achieving sustainability although some personnel are not and they require more leadership from management. Building that engagement needs to come from the top-down as well as the bottom-up. Unfortunately, like in many other organisations I have examined, our fundamental sustainability priorities presently appear to be located as future ambitions and they get easily sidelined by current affairs especially while the downside of avoidance or delay appears distant.

Demands for change in practise in others without their full engagement puts people in conflict. If you haven't got the authority and you find you're putting someone's back up asking them to put their paper in the recycling bin rather than the trash, your default response is usually no further action. Given huge responsibilities in many areas but without explicit authority or mandate on sustainability, some managers and colleagues are reluctant to innovate or consider the possibility of drastic change, believing that their present or short term ambitions are their priority or that it is irresponsible to act on unsubstantiated or unproven evidence or invest resources into changing practise without explicit requirements by senior management. Therefore, in response to the provable but fairly weak imperatives of customers or personnel, they make small and inefficient adjustments, hoping that sustainability can be achieved in piecemeal fashion.

However while the only threat from unsustainable practise is a distant catastrophe, most organisations believe pragmatic choices are acceptable risks. To act on sustainability places a burden on resources, increases costs and hands competitive advantages in the market to those who won’t accept responsibility.

I have concluded that action on sustainability requires a leap of faith we can prevent that catastrophe because the strongest evidence or validation for our decisions will only be evident long after the opportunities to act have passed. Actions will have to be taken without economic justifications or legislative imperatives because markets and legislation are too slow and too crude to guide best practise and, although counter-intuitive, catching up to where others have led before us is much riskier and harder than innovation of one’s own. Sustainability is like the expansion of the West in the 1800's or any kind of economic speculation or exploration; the biggest spoils usually end up in the hands of the early pioneers who took the biggest risks.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

The Last Blues Club in L.A.

Found in the files:

The Last Blues Club in L.A.

© Nat Bocking 1994

November 1963 was the tragic end of the Kennedy era and a time of rising civil rights consciousness and when Laura Mae Gross moved from her native Mississippi to Los Angeles and purchased a small bar on Central Avenue. Its previous owner had gotten rich selling drinks to jazzmen resting between gigs at nearby recording studios and was selling out and retiring to Long Beach but first he swindled the bold young woman and took the liquor (spirits) license with him. She was not the kind of woman to take this lying down and she had some contacts in the music scene so she opened her doors only serving beer as Babe & Ricky’s Rhythm and Blues at 5259 South Central Avenue.

Since the Second World War the main thoroughfare going south from downtown LA had become the center of negro culture in the segregated city. Clubs such as Johnny Otis’s Barrelhouse and The Club Alabam were legendary amongst the black owned restaurants, hotels and stores south of 48th Street. The peak was in the late 50’s when Dolphin Records at the corner of Central and Vernon broadcast a nightly Rhythm and Blues show. Carried nationwide, it influenced a generation of teenagers and laid its own tile in the road paved for Rock and Roll. By the Sixties, the avenue’s fortunes had turned the wrong the corner. Poverty crept in and clubs and businesses were shuttered one by one until the Watts riots in 1966 delivered the final blow. South Central Avenue became a ghetto, segregated not by law but by fear and economic opportunity.

Babe & Rickys has survived through it all. Even after the 1992 riots which did little else but remind people how little has changed since the Sixties. The original stage battered by all-nighters with Johnny Otis, Pee Wee Crayton, Big Joe Turner et al. remains. Now the former splendor of its furnishings are barely rehabilitated by a coat of black paint. Aficionados of dive interiors will enjoy this place as authentic to the Blues’ Mississippi juke joint beginnings. The musicians are lit by household lightbulbs focused in Folgers coffee cans and Christmas tree lights and cracked mirror tiles. The tiny club may hold no more than 80 people so when it is full, the pool table is covered with a home made bedspread. The stage is no bigger than a sheet of plywood so if a vocalist really wants to swing, they have to take their act onto the floor amongst the crowd.

The house band, The Mighty Balls of Fire, entertains you with admirable intensity and exceptional musicianship. Led by Bobby Briant on guitar with Deacon Jones on organ, who also does his thing for John Lee Hooker, the reticent but dapper Montel plays the drums and George “Stuff” Malone keeps the rhythm on bass. The honey-gravel voiced singer Delmar “Mighty Mouth’” Evans is has an engaging stage presence honed from his days as a fixture of the Johnny Otis Show. He often shares the mike with guitarist Ray Bailey, who is physically a dead ringer for Forest Whitaker but as able and brilliant as BB King. Other guest musicians drop in for a few numbers, step outside for inspiration and come back later. The mainstream superstar Eric Clapton dropped by once for an after hours jam following an LA arena appearance.

These bluesmen have professional gigs elsewhere so this is where they come to play for themselves. You can count on at least three sets a night. The club is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays while Monday nights is fried chicken night, a popular open-mike session for new home-grown talent to strut their stuff; although you would have to be sure of your chops before you got up because this is a discerning crowd who won’t tolerate dilettantes.

Laura, now in her 70’s, remains on hand to enforce standards of musicianship. Known to all as ‘Mama’ and as sharp as a tack, she holds court from a broken down booth next to the stage with a shoebox holding the bar receipts and a mass of legal papers, newspaper cuttings and blood pressure medications filling her ‘desk’ in front of her. A wrong note, a mistimed beat or off-color word gets a sharp comment from the wings and she can make herself heard anywhere in the club even over the amplification. Nobody messes with anybody in here. Mama doesn’t tolerate drugs and she makes sure she knows the face of every person who comes through the door.

Enjoy the music while you can though, because of her insistence for quality and accessibility despite her health, the club barely makes a profit and it has foundered recently. Every year for the past decade, Babe & Ricky’s has fallen behind on paying its live music license to ASCAP and it was eventually in the hole for over $9000 to the composers’ royalty organization. ASCAP had recognized the club’s long history and fragile situation and had given the club many extensions to pay up but eventually they felt that they had to enforce the law on behalf of their members. Last month they sought in the courts either full payment or a judgment for the club to close. The long time patrons of the club held several fundraisers but it was not enough until a chance meeting with a reporter brought the club’s plight to the attention of the media. A story in the LA Times was shown to songwriter Mike Stoller by his Californian wife over breakfast at their home in New York City. Appalled at the prospect of closure of a place that was part of his youth, he flew to the coast to present his check on behalf of himself and his partner Jerry Leiber.

In spite of the recent media attention and consequently the occasional ‘slumming’ trendy, the patrons inside and the street people outside are always civil, perhaps out of respect and love for the matriarch who has kept this haven alive by sheer force of will and faith in God, but just in case Mama packs a silver Colt.38. The club has no cover charge and a Budweiser or Heineken beer in bottles, still the only alcohol on sale, costs a paltry two bucks. I would advise not to drink too many beers only because of the primitive state of the toilet facilities and don’t forget to tip the short guy called ‘Willie’ outside the door when you go in if you want him to escort you to your car. If it weren’t for the neighborhood, perhaps Babe & Ricky’s would be thriving today like Harvelles, the Santa Monica collegiate hangout, instead of merely surviving amongst the burnt out misery that remains of the Reagan era but then perhaps it wouldn’t be the last true crucible of the blues either.


Babe & Rickys Inn remains in business although it has since moved to Liemert Park. www.bluesbar.com

The story above has several discrepancies compared to the history on the website but mine is as it was told to me at the time.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Support Simon Burgess

I don't endorse or condemn this. I just want to alert people to the case as after I got this email I googled it and found nowhere else had the story.

Shirley O'Loughlin of the University of Westminster has been circulating an email in support of Simon Burgess, a lecturer at East Surrey College, who is facing serious disciplinary action (and possible redundancy) for introducing students to the work of photographic artist Del LaGrace Volcano.

Management are claiming it is pornography, salacious, grotesque, worthless and not relevant to, or appropriate for 2nd year level 3 photography students preparing for higher study.

Apart from being censorious, backward, and homophobic, management's stance displays a remarkable ignorance of contemporary debates and image-making strategies. This is a serious matter that has implications for all academics, teachers, and students, and we would be very grateful for an email expressing your support for Simon, and offering your expert opinion on the relevance of Del's work to contemporary debates and practices, his status as an international transgender artist, etc.

All emails should be sent to Eugenie Shinkle (shinkle_at_wmin.ac.uk), and she will forward them on to the appropriate person (we're not sure just yet whether they should be sent to Simon, to his UCU rep, or directly to management). We're under a bit of time pressure as his hearing has been scheduled for August 17th - which I've only just found out, so apologies if this reaches you at an awkward time.

Dr. Eugenie Shinkle
Senior Lecturer in Photographic Theory and Criticism
School of Media, Arts and Design
University of Westminster
Watford Road, Northwick Park
Harrow, Middlesex


The BJP has the story which references the Sauce Blog and that it was "leaked online". I guess that was here.