Archive for May, 2009

Management should learn from the past.

May 31, 2009

In his column in today’s issue of The Observer Simon Caulkin, draws his readers attention to The Puritan Gift  by  brothers Will and Kenneth Hopper in which theyargue that up to the 1970s, US management was living “on the strength of its Puritan inheritance, part of which (with idealism, mechanical aptitudes and unparalleled ability to galvanise energy behind a single aim) was a belief that the coherence of the collective was more important than any individual”

But from the seventies onwards, America, forgetting what had served it well in the past, went in altogether different direction.

 Managers abandoned true north in favour of “neo-Taylorism” – quantitative techniques, “the cult of the expert”, of which the temples were business schools, and heroic CEOs. Raging self-interest and the malign influence of shareholder value did the rest;

Managers in the UK were all too easily persuaded, or could persuade themselves all to easily, to follow suit:

….. lacking their own tradition and burdened by inferiority complex, UK managers were all too easy to drag in the same direction.

Caulkin ends his piece by saying that that the Hoppers’ book does end  on a note of “qualified optimism”

Just as the French had to go to the US to reintroduce resistant vines after their own had been wiped out by phylloxera, so the most thoughtful Anglo-US firms are relearning what they once knew from Japan, inheritor of the human-centred US tradition via Deming and others after the war.

The Puritan Gift2

For those who may have never heard of Deming, a good place to start learning about him and his work is The W. Edwards Deming Institute.


Clive James for Oxford professor of poetry?

May 31, 2009

Commenting, in today’s edition of The Observer,  on Ruth Padel’s decision to resign from the Oxford professorship of poetry, Robert McCrum, the paper’s literary editor, says who it’s supporting to replace her in the post.

Who will now step up to challenge for these slightly tarnished laurels? One thing is certain: the quiet campaign to persuade Clive James to step forward will have the support of the Observer, where he first made his name as a critic.

While James would not have been among my choices  of candidate the first time around, I can see that this time around he’s a very good one.

Stuff no longer posted to the Pete Atkin Web Form

Derek Walcott by Clive James.

May 22, 2009

Over the last couple of weeks, the poetry-loving public has been exposed to the a rather ugly campaign in which the favourite for the post of Oxford Professor of Poetry, the West Indian poet, Derek Walcott, was forced to drop out of the race because of a vicious whispering campaign against him. Supporters of Walcott’s female opponent, and the person eventually elected to the post, Ruth Padel, are accused of anonymously spreading rumours about a twenty-year-old allegation of sexual harassment. The whispering campaign culminated in the circulation of a dossier accusing Walcott of being a sex pest.

 Click here to listen to Clive James – in a podcast for The Guardian – talk of his admiration of Walcott’s work, and read a poem he wrote in tribute.

Stuff no longer posted to the Pete Atkin Web Forum.

Phil Robson wins at 2009 Parliamentary Awards.

May 21, 2009

Last year I was pleased to post my congratulations to Chrisine Tobin on her win at the BBC Jazz Awards.

Today, it is with great pleasure to say congratulations to her life-partner, frequent musical partner, and ace guitarist, Phil Robson for last evening’s win in the Best Musician category of the 2009 Parliamentary Jazz Awards.

 The great and good – our MPs, that is – may not be getting much right recently, but in choosing Phil they can congratulate themselves on getting something right this time.

Phil Robson giving musical support to Christine Tobin at ''The Crypt' London, 07th September 2007.

Phil Robson giving musical support to Christine Tobin at ''The Crypt' London, 07th September 2007.

Photo by Helena Dornellas















The winners of the 2009 Parliamentary Jazz Awards, announced last night at the House of Commons, are:

Jazz Musician: Phil Robson

Jazz CD: The Sam Crockatt Quartet – Howeird

Jazz Ensemble: Ryan Quigley Sextet

Jazz Venue: Fleece Jazz (South East England)

Jazz Journalist:Kevin LeGendre

Jazz Broadcaster: Sarah Ward

Jazz Publication:

Jazz Education: Richard Michael

Services to Jazz:Val Wilmer

Is this fair treatment?

May 21, 2009

In an article published in today’s edition of The Guardian commentator and broadcaster Jenni Russell asks why a man with two children who had worked for more than 20 years, and in ­recent years earned about £30,000 a year, when he loses his job, is immediately reduced to £64.30 a week because his wife has a part-time job.

 The French, German, Finnish and Dutch systems treat payment of  unemployment benefits differently. For one thing, they are more generous, and, for another, they are linked to employment records and pay.

In France, anyone who has worked for at least four months in the previous two years gets between 40% and 75% of their pay. The minimum rate payable is around £150 a week, and the maximum almost £1,500. ……

Russell says that  it was under Thatcher in 1982 that the earnings-related benefit payments, which had been introduced in the sixties by Labour, were replaced by needs-related payments. The state, she writes,  now helps only those who have savings of less than £6,000, and neither partner is in work. The state does not feel that it has to give help to anyone with a standard of living to lose.

This policy can be dressed up as fairness – we won’t help anyone until they are on the edge of destitution. But it’s really a calculated attempt by governments over the past 25 years both to save money, and to make unemployment so unattractive that anyone will be driven to keep looking for work.

….. The safety net is set so low because the priority isn’t to reassure, but to ensure a swift return to work. Its discomfort is a key part of our much vaunted flexible labour market. And as far as the adviser is concerned, it has worked. The proof is that for much of the last decade British unemployment was lower – mostly about 5% – than the continent’s 8% or 9%.

And here I was thinking that were dealing with a government might have the courage to  take on recruitment agencies which treated jobseekers badly. Fat chance of that.

The abused of Ireland.

May 21, 2009

“A climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions and all those run for boys. Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from,” a report form Ireland’s Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse, published yesterday, concluded.

The five-volume, 2,600-page report, the outcome of a nine-year investigation by the Ryan Commission, painted detailed and damning portrait of church-administered abuse. The decades of rapes, humiliation and beatings in Catholic Church-run reform schools and other institutions is said to have shocked the Irish.

John Cooney of The Irish Independent comes close to what I believe lay at heart of the problem when he says:

Society handed over responsibility for its children to an immensely powerful and authoritarian Catholic Church. The great grey walls of these institutions were surrounded by even higher walls of secrecy.

What he does not say is that this was a conservative society – with as big a C as one can find – which held almost Dickensian views on child-rearing.  What he also refrains from saying is that while rapes may not have been the order of the day in other learning institutions, the humiliation and beating of children or teenagers who, very often through no fault of their own, were thought to be failures was. His avoidance of this is understandable, since the Ryan Commission was not set up to look into what was happening outside a specified group of institutions.

 Had the Commission a broader remit, I,  and others,  could have told it there was a secondary school in one of the larger towns in west of Ireland that employed a number of teachers, lay and clerical, who can now –with the benefit of hindsight – only be described as sociopaths. One, I recall, brought into the classroom a strip of car tire with which he would flail anyone he considered delinquent. Another – a priest who was held in high regard – would, as a routine part of every lesson, cane severely a handful of people, and often went so far as giving someone a severe beating with his fists.  

 How did these people get away with this? John Cooney’s explanation of how they got away with it in the institutions the Ryan Commission investigated got away with it applies.

 Institutional state and Church silence has meant that these bastions of brutality have been slow to yield their horror stories. It is finally becoming apparent that the State, Church and society as a whole turned its back on these forgotten children.

 John Naughton, who is a contemporary of mine,  notes in his online diary:

I’ve been reading the report. In one way, it takes one’s breath away — especially when one realises the extensiveness and scale of the brutality. But in another way, to anyone who grew up in 1950s Ireland, it’s eerily unsurprising. And, in a way, the worst thing of all is the tacit connivance of the Irish state in allowing it all to happen while its authorities were perfectly aware of what was going on.

That about sums it up.

£189m squandered on epilepsy treatment?

May 20, 2009

I’m not an epilepsy sufferer, but I know enough people who are to make a report which appears in today’s edition of The Guardian disturbing.  

In an era of recession and belt-tightening, you would think the government would leap at opportunities to save money. But according to a forthcoming report by the Joint Epilepsy Council (JEC), the NHS is knowingly squandering £189m a year on ineffective epilepsy services.

A report by the all-party parliamentary group on epilepsy two years ago found that £134m was wasted as a result of misdiagnosis, resulting in 74,000 people taking anti-epileptic drugs they did not need, while £55m was spent on disability benefits that would not be necessary if epilepsy were better treated. The human cost is also high: each year 990 people in England die of epilepsy causes, of which 400 are avoidable. A further 69,000 people have to live with unnecessary seizures. The unemployment rate among people with the condition is nearly double that for other disabilities, and 30,000 children with epilepsy are not doing as well at school as they could.

The report concluded that the cost of improving epilepsy services would be cheaper. But, two years on, the JEC’s new report will say nothing has been done.

The short litany of recommendations that The Guardian reckons have not been implemented makes for depressing reading, especially when one considers that experts are saying that full implementation would actually save the government money.

Headteacher and his bonus 3

May 19, 2009

Over the last month or so I have been keeping track what happens next in the headteacher and his bonus story that the Education Guardian has been running. Here’s a neat twist

• Notebook has been waiting weeks for a call or an email from Sir Alan Davies, head of Copland Community College, north London, on the subject of why he had suspended three members of staff after they revealed his £80,000 bonus (on top of a £100,000 salary). But last week Sir Alan himself was suspended pending inquiries into the school’s financial management, along with the deputy head, Dr Richard Evans, and the bursar, Columbus Udokoro. The borough has often made headlines down the years, but in Brent at the moment it’s all suspension, suspension, suspension.

Hazel O’Connor – Coventry’s Walk of Fame.

May 18, 2009

A little while ago I mentioned that three people I greatly admired were to be honoured by the City of Coventry by having their names added to the city’s walk of fame. One was my good friend Hazel O’Connor.

Hazel o'connor star

Hazel O'Connor - Coventry's Walk of Fame plaque. Unveiled 16/05/2009

On Saturday the 16th, Hazel was in the city just long enough to see her star unveiled in Walk of Fame.

 Hazel, who was also celebrating her 54th birthday on Saturday, said: “I ran away from Coventry when I was 16, not because it was Coventry, but because I was a wild, crazy, hippy chick!

“I’ve travelled the world but always come back to Coventry because it’s my roots and the people have such good spirit.”

Informal photograph taken at unveiling ceremony.

Informal photograph taken at unveiling ceremony.

Philip Larkin on John Coltraine.

May 18, 2009

For reasons which may become clearer later in the week, I have been reacquainging myself with some of  Philip Larkin’s prose and poetry. I’m not certain why it is, but every time I come upon a piece of his prose, I delightfully surprised all over again by how good it is.

Well, I still can’t imagine how anyone can listen to a Coltrane record for pleasure. That reedy, catarrhal tone, sawing backwards and forwards for ten minutes between a couple of chords and producing ‘violent barrages of notes not mathematically related to the underlying rhythmic pulse, and not swinging in the traditional sense of the term’ (Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Sixties); that insolent egotism, leading to forty-five minute versions of ‘My Favourite Things’ until, at any rate in Britain, the audience walked out, no doubt wondering why they had ever walked in; that latter day religiosity, exemplified in turgid suites such as ‘A Love Supreme’ and ‘Ascension’ that set up pretension as a way of life; that wilful, hideous distortion of tone that offered squeals, squeaks, Bronx cheers and throttled slate-pencil noises for serious consideration.” (Philip Larkin, ‘Looking Back At Coltrane’ in “All What Jazz: A Record Diary 1960-1971″)

The reader does not necessarily have to agree with Larkin to take pleasure in reading this. It’s prose writing of the highest order.