Saturday, June 30, 2012

Saturday Morning Musings - half lives and New Ways of Working

A few years ago I ran a network of independent consultants. As part of my role, I advised people thinking of joining independent practice. Some were in existing jobs, others had just been retrenched. All thought that their networks and knowledge could be used to generate an impendent income.

In all cases, I advised them to think of their half life. Your existing base, I explained, has a half life of about eighteen months. After that point, your success depends on what you have learned, the new networks you have established, through your own work. As a consultant, you must continually reinvent yourself. You have to recreate through your own efforts those things that your organisation and work once delivered to you automatically. You are now totally responsible for yourself.

This advice was a bit frightening to many. Yet it's very true.

Over the years, I have became increasingly aware of just how fragile the things are on which we base our lives. I have also become increasingly fascinated by the variety and interest of the lives of the people I have known.

This piece on China Daily, Watching History in the Making, deals with the Chinese space program. I quote the start of the piece:

China's Shenzhou-9 soared from the launch pad into history on Saturday. The capsule carrying China's first female astronaut, Liu Yang, and her two male colleagues, Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang, blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, atop a Long March-2F carrier rocket.

On Monday the spacecraft successfully docked with the Tiangong-1 space lab, a vital step in China's plans to build its own permanently manned three-module space station by 2020, which will be the only space station after the programmed retirement of the International Space Station in 2020.

The ninth "Divine Vessel" adventure is more than just a milestone in space exploration; it marks the rise of China as a space-going nation, just as the Russian and the US programs lose their luster. This can be compared with the world-changing rise of Spain in search of the New World. Spain's dominance of centuries of ocean-going exploration was based on advanced shipbuilding technology and a burning quest for what has been characterized as "God, gold and glory". China now has the technology, but unlike the conquistadors it is not proselytizing and not seeking to steal gold.

The story is written by John Coulter who is described in this way: "The author is an Australian researcher collaborating with Chinese academic and commercial institutions."

Dear me. Its very hard to move from the John I knew when we were both in the Armidale Methodist Youth Fellowship to now. John had come from New England's Northern Rivers to study at the Armidale Teachers College, I was at the University of New England.

We came from different worlds. I was a member of an academic family, John was, I think, the first person in his family to do further study. Here I have written about the role played by the Teachers College and University in bringing higher education to the people of the North who had never had access before. After John left TC we lost contact. Then, just a few years ago, we reestablished contact via the wonders of the on-line world.

I have done, still do and will do, some interesting things, but John makes me look like a pussy cat. His experiences have taken him into worlds that I barely know and then as a tourist or external observer. Now he lives in Beijing. Along the way, John has made mistakes as I have done. But no one could deny the sometimes strange exotica of his life!

In challenging, as I had to, the implicit assumptions held by our potential network members about the continuing value of their previous life and work, I was saying that life is a constant reinvention.

Some of us are lucky in that we have sufficient personal stability including financial stability to sink into what we are now. We can stop evolving and just enjoy. Most of us are not in this position, although many of us think that we are. We have to go on as best we can. We have to recognise our half lives!

A bit over ten years ago, my network developed what we called New Ways of Working. Central to this was the need for staff to recognise that they had to take control of their own lives, that organisations had to recognise the logical outcomes of the approaches that they were adopting in terms of their own people. The challenge was to harmonise, to join, the two. This involved a revolution in people management. We developed processes and associated policy approaches and training to do this. 

We were not able to make it stick properly because we simply lacked the resources to fund the very high  resource demands required to properly develop and market the concept. Yet the need remains.

Consider this.

We talk about the need for management and people flexibility in that most basic area, secure employment. We say that a young person will follow multiple career paths in their lives. Yet we do nothing to address the most basic questions: how might this actually work? How do we create a world that might provide the desired business and personal flexibility? How do we give people a degree of certainty about their own lives in an unstable world?

I suppose that this is the first part of my charge. We have failed.

The second part lies in our failure to address to actually recognise the implications of what we do. I will hold this one to my next post.   

Friday, June 29, 2012

Romani, tweeting the war of 1812 plus Queen Victoria's concern with ass

When I was a child, my mother had a romance that I liked set among the travellers of Ireland. I liked the different life style. It seemed so romantic. There was in fact a lot of English fiction that featured Gypsies in passing.

I was reminded of all this by an article in GeoCurrents, The Elusive Roma and their Linguistic Legacy. This caused me to look up the Romani in Wikipedia. Dear it's an interesting story. I knew of the Indian connection, but not the full story.

Staying with history, on 18 June 1812, the United States declared was on Great Britain and its dependencies and promptly invaded what is now Canada in what can only be described as a blatant land grab. The war is being live twittered. Now I'm not sure that that can be made to work. Live blogging of the Second World War is much easier to follow. We are in fact in the middle of the first battle of El Alamein when the Commonwealth forces held the German advance.

I guess still staying with history or at least the humanities, just over a week ago Victoria's La Trobe announced staff cutbacks and course cancellations. I quote:      

La Trobe University will cut 45 jobs from its humanities and social sciences faculty because of falling enrolments.

In a document sent to staff today, the university revealed the humanities faculty had a $4.36 million shortfall this year, which could rise to $7.53 million by the end of 2013.

The university will cease teaching art history, gender, sexuality and diversity studies, Indonesian, linguistics and religion and spirituality.

Now this sounds just a restructuring, indeed one that might even appeal to some of my biases! Yet I saw a later and scathing analysis that suggested that the decision might not even make commercial sense. In one of those periodic frustrations of the internet, blowed if I can find the story! Yes, I know that you can't rely on search engines, that you must bookmark sites in some way for later reference. But that takes time and I was busy!

Mike Dash continues his excursions down the obscure byways of history. Run Out of Town on an Ass tells  the story of a strange tale. Did Queen Victoria really expunge Bolivia from the map and all over an ass? 

Finishing this short post with a graphic from Ramana that greatly entertained me. 

The vagaries of the recruitment marketplace entertain me. Last year I applied for some contract work to fill a gap and got back a message saying that I had been unsuccessful in this case but the consultant wished me the best of luck in my career!

I thanked her for her kind wishes, but did suggest gently that she might actually read my CV!

I had been going to finish on that point, but I happened to check my emails. Seventy spam comments on one blog in the space of a minute! add four more to that.

Google actually catches most of them so they don't appear, me the rest. Still, it's a pain to then have to go though the process of actually marking them as spam and deleting them for ever. I don't mind some promotional comments and let them go through, but they gave to appeal.  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Jottings - Slipper, the power of the Executive

With thirty boxes still to unpack, I am struggling to post tonight. Just a few snippets.

I haven't written anything on the Peter Slipper issue and don't feel strong enough to try to explain it all to my international readers. But just to give you a feel, consider these two stories:

I must say that the whole thing bemuses me.

In my post, Jottings - the environment, entitlements and the High Court with a dash of media, I said in part:

At the end of High Court asserts the power of Parliament, I expressed the hope that Legal eagle would explain the implications of the school chaplain court case to us all. She did so in High Court Chaplaincy case and government contracting. kvd, a regular commenter on both blogs, expressed his continuing confusion. I share that confusion. The decision followed the earlier decision in the Brian Pape case and in a sense amplifies elements of that decision.

To my mind, the issue is not contracting as such, although the case has led the Commonwealth to foreshadow rushed legislation to validate a whole series of previous arrangements. Rather, the whole imbroglio appears to have profound implications for the workings of Government, with something of a baby and bath water flavour. Mind you, that's a dreadfully mixed concept!

Now kvd has directed me to this post by Anne Twomey: Parliament's abject surrender to the Executive. I think that she has well captured some of my concerns. Well, I want to unpack some more boxes!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Four fallacies of innovation

This graphic came via  Des Walsh and has a vague connection with my point tonight.

I have remarked before in the context of management and policy speak that topics often become popular when what is happening on the ground is different. Innovation is a case in point.

Innovation is all the go in this and many other countries. We see it in policy statements, in management reviews and writing, in global innovation indices. And yet, to my mind, real innovation has been in decline.

Thinking about this led me to think about some of the main fallacies connected with innovation. I thought that I might just list a few.

The first is that innovation = something new. One definition of the meaning of innovation is something new or different. Note both legs. By its nature, innovation involves the different, but that difference may not be new. In fact, innovation may involve the reinstatement of something that has worked in the past or be based on something that has worked in the past.

The second fallacy is that innovation = new technology. Innovation involves changes to the way that we do things, but those changes often have little if anything to do with technology. They are changes to the way that we do things or think about things. An example is the concept of law or the markets. 

Problems don't end here. The third fallacy is that innovation = advancement. That's not just true. it's not just that most innovations fail. More to the point, those that succeed may have very bad consequences indeed. Would anyone argue that innovation in the distribution of illegal drugs, in germ warfare, in the gas chambers of Dachau was an advancement? Yes, they may be advances in their particular fields, but ones with quite serious consequences.

My argument here is not about the value of innovation as such, but the meaning, purpose and measurement of innovation.

The next time some one says to you that Australia must become a more innovative society, ask them what they mean by innovation, what they hope to achieve, how would they measure success. Then you can have a discussion about the end results rather than implicitly accepting my last fallacy, innovation = good.  

Monday, June 25, 2012

Jottings - the environment, entitlements and the High Court with a dash of media

I have very little time tonight, so am just following up on a few earlier posts.

This graphic from Global Awakening circulated by a Facebook friend raised my ire. I sincerely hope that those who like this neither drive cars nor use electricity!

I have written a fair bit in one way or another about the interaction between humans and landscape and about ways in which farmers are trying to improve land management. There is a huge conflict between this and idealised dreams of preserving "wilderness" or restoring landscape to some idealised version of the past. Still, that's really the subject of another diatribe!

My posts Lorenzo on monetary policy, Winton on Laura Tingle, death of Helen Beh and some Sydney lights and Saturday Morning Meanderings - English summer, shorts & entitlements and associated discussion generated an interesting companion post from Winton Bates, When is a sense of entitlement justified?. At one level, Winton and I are in furious agreement, at another level not.

As an English word, entitlement carries a very specific meaning. At a second level, it has come to be used to describe a set of attitudes, a sense of entitlement. My problems lie with the second. I think used in this way the word confuses rather than clarifies.

At the end of High Court asserts the power of Parliament, I expressed the hope that Legal eagle would explain the implications of the school chaplain court case to us all. She did so in High Court Chaplaincy case and government contracting. kvd, a regular commenter on both blogs, expressed his continuing confusion. I share that confusion. The decision followed the earlier decision in the Brian Pape case and in a sense amplifies elements of that decision.

To my mind, the issue is not contracting as such, although the case has led the Commonwealth to foreshadow rushed legislation to validate a whole series of previous arrangements. Rather, the whole imbroglio appears to have profound implications for the workings of Government, with something of a baby and bath water flavour. Mind you, that's a dreadfully mixed concept!

Finally, with the apparently forced resignation of no less than three top Fairfax editors I am feeling the need to return to issues canvassed in Newspaper decline, market segmentation & a reality check. I don't have answers. I just want to pose some questions reflecting some of my previous analysis as well as my continuing confusions.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Lunch at Astrolabe Road


I guess that this post is just for my regular readers.

Lunch today at Astrolabe Road. From left to right Noric Dilanchian, Clare Belshaw, Neil Whitfield and Dennis Sligar.

I cooked roast lamb in the weber kettle BBQ.

Not a big group, but discussion ranged widely across books, writing, our respective blogging friends, the internet and the vagaries of life. It was one of those lunches that I so much enjoy with interesting people talking in interesting ways about things that I am interested in.

Three of us are bloggers, while not a blogger the fourth uses his writing skills in a professional sense.

I didn't talk a lot for much of the time, just listened while I was preparing or serving food.  

Clare talked about her writing projects. In a way, she is is bad as me with just too many projects!

I hadn't seen Neil since Lord Malcolm's funeral. Then I was a relatively new blogger. I didn't know Lord Malcolm, but went with Neil's approval because I had heard so much about him via Neil.

The internet is wonderful, I have made so many friends via that medium, but nothing really beats personal contact. I was thinking over lunch as I have done before that it really would be nice if I could continue putting together people who might not have met but who share interests in common with me.

I write a lot about writing, the internet and the need for change. But as I chatted to Neil tonight about things that I had written about but could not actually explain explicitly on line, I thought how easy it was when you can actually talk.

I think that all this gives me something to aim for in the next stage of my life. As an example, Clare's writing projects may or may not proceed, but talking to people who are interested and can offer support increases the chances of success.

Well, I have washing up to do. I should do that!  


Neil has run a companion post on the lunch - Sunday lunch in Daceyville - with some additional material on the suburb plus a photo of me holding forth! Over lunch, Clare was talking about her art work. This is a piece in progress commissioned by one of her friends.

Clare's painting continues: Photo

Friday, June 22, 2012

Newspaper decline, market segmentation & a reality check

I'm very tired tonight, so just a short ramble. I don't have time to check the links to my own writing. I will try to do so later.

In Australia, the print media is largely controlled by two groups, the Murdoch controlled News limited and  Fairfax Media. Both have announced major restructuring in the face of the internet challenge. I have a folder of press clippings on the detail of the restructuring - a folder of press clippings? Doesn't that sound quaint and old fashioned! However, here I want to focus not on the broad, but on two specific aspects of the changes taking place.

The first is the very local.

In all this stuff you read about the decline of newspapers, about the rise of the internet and the challenge it poses, you will see broad statistics used. Metrics they often call them in management. In considering metrics, remember that metrics don't buy newspapers, groups don't buy newspapers, cohorts don't buy newspapers. People buy newspapers.

Why do people buy newspapers or, for that matter, stop buying newspapers?  They do so for personal reasons that vary from individual to individual. The metrics so often used may reflect the results in particular groups, say the under twenty fives, but they don't really explain why. Further, the groups selected by their nature tend to be fairly broad, so the results are in fact averages. You actually have to segment to to a very high degree to understand what is happening. I doubt the media organisations are doing that. 

One of the critical things in the choices that people make is the presence of alternatives. People have plenty of choices when it comes to what we might call general news. This is where competition really bites. The more localised the news, the fewer the alternatives. That is why in Fairfax the Sydney Morning Herald or the Age are bleeding, the regional papers still making money.

Once people have many choices, then segmentation becomes very critical. Just what is the unique edge that will persuade people to read you whether in print or online. Not just people in general, but people as specific individuals.

This is why the Fairfax changes are likely to fail. They have ignored both localism and specific unique identifiers.

Take the Newcastle Herald or the Canberra Times. In the case of the Herald, the changes are likely to dilute the specific parochial Newcastle elements that have always given that paper its edge against the competition. In the case of the Canberra Times with its unique readership and multi-role as a source of alternative information in a company town whose business is Government, they are likely to drive the paper back to the very local and then fail because that can't be delivered better by the Times than, say, local ABC.

The second aspect I want to comment on in is naivety, at least as I see it, of some of my blogging colleagues. Here I want to quote from Ken Parish's Australian media and creative destruction. Ken wrote in part:

Serious op-ed journalism and analysis can be and already are done far better by serious bloggers and alternative media outlets like The Conversation (in effect a blog for academics sponsored by the G8 universities), Crikey, New Matilda, Online Opinion and the Global Mail, not to mention ABC Unleashed, than by the commercial mainstream media. As a fairly elite taste, serious op-ed journalism probably doesn’t need any more outlets than that. Time-poor potential readers (i.e. most people) wanting to identify the best material from these sources but averse to using a feed reader can always subscribe to the Twitter feeds of keen observers like Ken Parish, Nicholas Gruen and Don Arthur. There’s no point lamenting the deterioration of such content in the mainstream media, because the average punter never read it anyway.

I read most of the sources that Ken quotes, and I can tell you now that they are not a substitute for the serious analysis done in the mainstream print media. It's partly a matter of scale of coverage, equally as much that there is actually a lot of badly written stuff in the alternative media.

Don't get me wrong. I often wax lyrical about some of the writing of my fellow bloggers. Yet the reality is that our fellow on-line writers actually suffer from many of the same constraints as do the writers in the main stream media. There is only so much time to write. The more you research, the less you can write. So regular writers including this one find it hard to maintain consistent, high quality output.

Many of us try to leverage by cross-referencing fellow writers with something to say so that we get a compounding effect. Even then, most of us are actually dependent on the main stream media for original source material that we then build on.

Where do I go next in all this? Well, that's a matter for another post. I'm out of time tonight! 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

High Court asserts the power of Parliament

When I moved house, a work friend kindly gave me a slow cooker as a housewarming present.Tonight I sat down to eat a stew cooked in the cooker and found the time to do some browsing. It's been an interesting time. In this post I want to deal with just one item.

For the benefit of international readers, Australia is a federation in which the Commonwealth is granted certain designated powers, the rest staying with the states. Overtime, the Commonwealth has used its financial muscle to expand into every aspect of Australian. Now the Australian High Court has effectively said tutt, tutt chaps, just because you have the money and want to do it doesn't mean that you can do it in any way you want.

The judgement summary on this point reads:

By majority, the High Court held that  the  Funding Agreement  and payments made to SUQ under that agreement  were invalid because  they were beyond the executive power of the Commonwealth. In the  absence of legislation authorising the Commonwealth to enter into the Funding Agreement, the Commonwealth parties relied upon the executive power granted by s 61 of the Constitution. Relevantly, s 61 provides that the executive power of the Commonwealth "extends to the execution and maintenance of this Constitution, and of the laws of the Commonwealth". A majority of the High Court held that, in the absence of statutory authority, s 61 did not empower the Commonwealth to enter into the Funding Agreement or to make the challenged payments. In particular, a majority of the Court held that the Commonwealth's  executive power  does not  include a power to do what the Commonwealth Parliament could authorise the Executive to do, such as entering into agreements or contracts, whether or not the Parliament had actually enacted the legislation. A majority also held that s 44 of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 (Cth) did not provide the Commonwealth with the  necessary statutory authorisation to enter into the Funding Agreement or to make payments to SUQ under that agreement

Much of the media commentary has focused on the implications for the Federation and for relations between Commonwealth and states. But if you look at this summary, it appears to affirm the power of Parliament relative to the executive. I think that's important.

I am looking forward to Legal Eagle's explanation. In a Facebook comment she promised to do so after she had finished her current round of marking. Please finish soon!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fish, folly and media feuds

Sometimes Australian politics bemuses.

In Australian parliaments we have what is known as a pair. Say a Minister wants to go overseas or an MP has an urgent personal commitment, the other side will give him or her a pair, a promise to withdraw one of their own from the voting. Opposition leader Abbott has been known to play hard ball on this one in breach of normal conventions, but this time he has reduced it all to absurdity.

Federal environment Minister Tony Burke who also happens to be a former minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries announced plans for a new series of marine parks around Australia. Now I don't happen to have an opinion on this one yet, although I have become increasingly critical of what I perceive to be national parks mania based around the increasingly semantically  stretched concept of wilderness areas.

The opposition rouse to its feet in uproar at that move. Minister Burke was to go to the Rio environment conference, but the opposition refused to grant him a pair until after the first question time so that Minister Burke could answer questions on the matter. So he didn't go at all.

Fair enough you might say. After all, it's an important issue. Yet so important was it that the opposition actually failed to ask the Minister forced to stay behind any substantive questions. Talk about an own goal as you will see from this story in the Sydney Morning Herald. Tsk.

I have commented before on this blog about the very Australian habit of our political leaders in making domestic decisions or just speeches with blind ignorance of their international impacts. Alternatively, we have a bad habit of lecturing the rest of the world, often with domestic messages implying just how good we are.

Now PM Julia Gillard's lecturing of Europe has apparently attracted a European sniff. We are not amused, said the EU Commission Chief. PM Gillard has come to her own Defence, saying that Jose Manuel Barroso comment that he had not come to Mexico to “receive lessons” was aimed at North America, not her. He apparently laughed at the idea that he was responding to Australia.

Now I would be the first to admit that the fiendishly domestic focus of the travelling Australian media scrum twists things. But I was also left with the uncomfortable feel that the reason why Jose Manuel Barroso was so amused lies in the insignificance of this country!

I haven't yet written on this one yet, so this might be a good one to finish on.

Gina Rinehart, now the world's richest woman, has been making a pitch for influence if not control over Australia's Fairfax Media, one of the two large media groups dominating Australia's press landscape. At the same time, Fairfax has announced very large job cuts associated with basic restructuring linked to the impact of new technology. This case everything except sex, at least to this point! Expect more comments.    

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Saturday Morning Meanderings - English summer, shorts & entitlements

I was struck by this image courtesy of Legal Eagle. In fact, like Mebourne weather, the absence of English summer is a bit of a myth.  Still, it appealed to me.

Email from Ramana:

I find this incredible.  Extract from Bill Bryson’s Down Under.  Are these things true?

The extract referred to the death of Australian PM Harold Holt and the purported nuclear test by the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo sect in Western Australia.

Australia does breed strange stories. I give you this example without comment.

Staying with Ramana, Shorts To Work looks at an element of Ramana's past. Ramana asked in the post:

I understand that Australians do wear shorts to work in the summer and I request Jim to confirm whether this is true even now.

Sadly, I had to advise Ramana that shorts have never been acceptable work wear in white collar jobs outside Australia's far north.

It may seem odd, but Australia has always been a remarkably formal country in certain ways. Australians don't see this, nor do some visitors. I remember a British diplomat remarking to me just how open and informal Australian officials seemed to him. He compared this with the UK experience.

He was right of course, but this Australian openness at one level does not detract from formality at another. I was wondering how I might explain this to a non-Australia audience and, maybe, to Australians themselves.

A brief discussion between Winton Bates and I on the question of entitlements ( Lorenzo on monetary policy, Winton on Laura Tingle, death of Helen Beh and some Sydney lights) got me thinking. It seems to me that that word entitlements has become, to use an ugly but useful modern term, a code word for a much broader ideological debate.

Entitlements used to mean the fact of having a right to something or the amount to which a person has a right. This is the neutral meaning. Now it has acquired a heavy semantic overload.

Well, time to finish. I had more I wanted to say, but I have run out of time.

Postscript: I apologise for the missing image. There was some corruption, the image was lost, I could not trace the original.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Electricity price hikes strike Astrolabe Rd

Today I received notice of planned increases to electricity prices that come into effect from 1 July 2012. The figures that follow are GST inclusive:

  • the quarterly supply charge will rise from $53.20 to $65.20
  • The quarterly peak rates on the first 1,750kWh will rise from $22.935 to $26.84
  • The quarterly peak rates on the balance of kWh will rise from $31.625 to $37.29.

These are large percentage increases. I haven't calculated the total dollar amount because I have yet to receive my first bill at my new house. 

According to the NSW regulator, just over half the price rise is due to the carbon tax, the other to upgrading poles and wires in NSW.

I checked the Commonwealth Government's compensation package. My particular personal circumstances mean the the only benefit I gain will come from the increase in the tax free threshold.

I am not complaining just at the moment. But you can see the problem the Australian Government faces in selling the whole thing. The costs are actually reasonably clear, the benefits less so. Further, the benefits will be quickly internalised, while the costs will continue in clear visibility.

I suspect that the Government was just too tricky in trying to go the way it did. Maybe better to have left the costs stand, and then introduce subsequent measures using the money. Just a thought.   

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Boorowa Hotel

Oh dear, this picture by Gordon Smith took me back. It is a photo of the Boorowa Hotel

Gordon calls in for coffee on his way between Canberra and Armidale.

When I first moved to Canberra to work, I did the trip back to Armidale many times. Bored with a single route, I experimented.

How many time did I do this run in both directions? I'm not sure. Certainly over 400, a 1,000 k in each direction!

In doing so, I went through country that most modern coast hugging Australians never see. I guess that you could say that this is part of my country. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Lorenzo on monetary policy, Winton on Laura Tingle, death of Helen Beh and some Sydney lights

It's very dark and wet here in Sydney. It's also the Queen's birthday holiday. Thank Queenie!

For the first time in over two weeks I have the time for a proper browse around the blogging traps, looking at some of my old favourites. It's been quite fun.

Over at skepticslawyers, Lorenzo's Easy Guide to Monetary Policy is a tightly argued pPhotoiece looking at money and monetary policy. Like much of Lorenzo's writing, it is a complex but lucid piece.

If I simplify, the main take home messages to me were first that Australia's Reserve Bank still had the dual objective of inflation control and maintenance of economic activity. Central Banks whose sole role is expressed in terms of inflation control may deliver, but at the risk of crushing economic activity.

In parallel, the way the inflation target is expressed in Australia is different in significant respects from that holding in many other countries. It is somewhat higher and expressed in terms of an inflation range rather than a single target. So long as inflation falls broadly within the range over the cycle, monetary policy can be adjusted to smooth fluctuations in economic activity. All this means that the RBA has more scope for action than many of its international counterparts.

I recognise that I am simplifying. In reading, I was reminded just how much both policy and institutional structures reflect the past in ways that we don't always recognise or at least remember. Specifically in this case, the stagflation experiences of the 1970s.

[me.jpg]While I was off-line, Laura Tingle's Quarterly Essay Great Expectations: Government, Entitlement and an Angry Nation was released. Winton Bates reviewed the piece in What are Australians angry about? I heard snippets of the discussion about the piece in those brief periods where I had access to a radio.

It would be unfair to comment on specifics when I haven't read the piece, but the surrounding discussion crystallised a concern I had in my mind about the use of the word "entitlements". The point to remember, I think, is that the Australian approach to policy making has always been pretty pragmatic coloured by a strong concern for the redress of social ills. To the degree that ideology played a role, the differences between the parties reflected differing weightings between the collective and the individual, between equality and equality of opportunity. The Labor and Country Parties were more collectivist, the Liberal Party and its various precursors more individualist.

Like monetary policy, today's political language actually dates to the 1970s. The very wording that I have used - equality vs equality of opportunity - really dates to the 1970s. As a then young radical in the Country Party, yes, the Party did have them!, I remember writing about this stuff, trying to craft new messages.

Looking back, the things that most stands out today is what I would describe simply as loss of imagination.

As a member of the Country Party and McEwen House reform groups, we were trying to craft new messages and initiatives at a time when this still seemed possible. To take a simple example, I pushed through a motion at the State Conference calling for an inquiry into the NSW Public Education system. At the time, the Country Party was in fact in coalition Government in NSW with a Country Party minister for education, so the motion created concern among Party managers.

Central to my argument at the time was the role that public schools might play as community centres, especially in country communities. Here we had all of these public assets used for part of the day, part of the year. Why not, I argued, make them proper community facilities, so that their playing fields where they had them became community fields, their libraries community libraries, their classrooms meeting rooms? This, I thought, would allow for greater investment in the schools themselves, so that pupils benefited. It would also give the public school system much greater leverage in a general sense through better integration into the community.

My motion may have passed, but finally went nowhere because of the nature of institutional barriers. Still, I think that the example makes the point. There is a huge difference between the type of systemic change I was advocating and today's focus on NAPLAN and performance pay. There is not much scope for imagination in today's mechanistic systems.

In Vale Helen Beh, 1941-2012, Paul Barratt reports on the death of Professor Helen Beh from breast cancer.  

Helen Charmaine Beh was born on the 31July 1941 in Singleton,  daughter of Florence (Simpson) and Frederick Charles Beh.

  She attended Singleton Public and High Schools and was awarded a BA (Hons) at the University of New England in 1963.  In 1969, she was the first woman to be awarded a PhD in Psychology at UNE.  In 1973, she became the first woman to be appointed Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sydney.  For her services to the Faculty of Science, she was awarded a Master of Science (ad eundem gradem) by the University of Sydney in 2000.

I selected this photo of Helen from Paul's reprinted obituary written by husband Cyril Latimer because it shows her in her country setting; she was a committed horsewomen.

Because of the age difference I have only a vague recollection of Helen, but I do remember being struck by her beauty.

On my shelves in the New England collection, I have the history of the UNE Psychology Department written by Paul's dad, Professor Paul Barratt. It's interesting for two reasons at least. It reminds me of just how small and equipment limited the university departments were then, and not just at UNE. It also reminds me of UNE's pioneering role in bringing university education to New England.   

In 1965, Helen Beh co-authored with Paul Barratt Snr the paper “Discrimination and Conditioning during Sleep as Indicated by the Electroencephalogram” in Science.  This landmark paper, demonstrating that changes in electroencephalograms indicate that subjects respond more frequently to significant or meaningful stimuli during sleep than to non-significant stimuli, and that conditioned reactions may be induced in sleeping subjects, is still regularly cited. Helen went on to become an internationally recognized expert in sleep research, psychophysiology, human performance and sports psychology.

It seems that I have run out of time for this morning's ramble. Therefore let me finish with marcellous, another of my long standing blogging favourites.

Many of marcellous' posts deal with music, some with law. I am not a music person, but I do read m's music posts because they provide a picture into another Sydney world. Concert was good is an example. The post begins:

Last night to hear the SSO play Brahms’ second piano concerto and Shostakovich’s sixth symphony with Philippe Bianconi and Oleg Caetani.

There was some excitement abroad in the city owing the the Vivid Festival.  I have rarely seen so many people in town other than on new year’s eve or for Australia Day.  I’ve rarely even seen this since for many years I have avoided such crowded public celebrations.  The crowds and the traffic delayed the concert start by a bit over ten minutes and latecomers were admitted.

The photo is an example of the light display.

The house move I have just made took me only a few blocks away from the previous place, but into a different world. Walking through the light rain yesterday to the nearby Eastgardens' shopping centre to buy food for the first lunch cooked for friends since I moved into my new house, I thought just how interesting and different my new neighbourhood is.

I didn't think to bring my camera, but I will take it out and get some shots on my next walk. 

Saturday, June 09, 2012

A new dining room table

I bought a new dining room table today, together with six chairs. I really hadn't intended too. It was just one of those impulse buys.

Kingsford Retravision is just down the road from my new house. I wandered in to look for a few chairs to grace the trestle table in my new kitchen. There was a compact unit in the right colour that would fit in my kitchen with six chairs but could be extended to sit more.

I actually have a nice cedar dining room table in storage with my cousin in Wagga Wagga, but it's too big and I really don't want to put it in the kitchen exposed to all the cooking fumes. I looked at the table, and then Dennis came up.

He wasn't pushy, just helpful. I said that I liked it but didn't have the cash to pay for it. He said that's okay, put a deposit on it and well will hold it for a month. I said I can't even do that. I won't have a deposit until my next pay. That's alright, he said. We will hold it for a month anyway. So I bought it.

Delivery is free since I am so close.

I really looking forward to holding some dinners around it. I am actually a very social person. For a number of reasons I haven't been able to do this - to entertain - in recent times. Now I can.

My new house isn't in any way posh, but then I'm not either. I have no pretensions. While I enjoy high life and indeed dine out on stories from my past, it's not important. People are important.

I am looking forward to making my simple house a social centre, a place that is warm and welcoming. Out the back I have a garden with an outdoor table that can provide a base for BBQs. So inside and outside I am getting set up.

I have already invited Neil to stay. Of course, in a big metro city like Sydney it's just so much harder. Transport times are a huge burden. Yet I would like to think that my place might provide a node that would link our on-line interaction to direct human contact. We will see. It's just an immediate objective.

Friday, June 08, 2012

The savings trap

A friend attacked me today for advocating economic growth. We must, she said, reduce our human footprint on the sole planet we now inhabit. I happen to agree with her, but it doesn't detract from my point.

Regardless of current problems, we happen to live in the wealthiest phase of human existence measured by the basic measures of food, health and housing. If you want a comparison, try reading Homer. Do we really want to engage in war over a handful of cattle, some jars of olive oil?  Or engage at all?

I support economic growth because is gives us choices, because it raises billions out of the grinding poverty that has been the norm since we (the human race) discovered farming with its capacity to generate surpluses that could be expropriated by the top few. Do we want to go back to ages when old men were in their late twenties?

But what do I mean by economic growth? Not the statistical construct that actually counts costs as growth. Rather, a focus on the quality not quantity of life. Winton Bates tries to explore some of these issues in his Freedom & Flourishing blog. I am more simple minded than Winton and also, at times, have a different focus.

When I think about it, I keep coming back to a simple issue. The quantum of things that could improve the basic texture of life for the ordinary person seems inexhaustible, and that quantum does not require ever added quantities of physical consumption. It requires a reordering in the way we do things.

It was the Canadian born economist John Kenneth Galbraith who coined the phase private affluence, public squalor. He's pretty right actually. Ayn Rand, and that's a contrast!, actually had something of the same idea, for in Atlas Shrugged we see the collapse of the social structure in the face of greed and a belief in entitlement.

To be opposed to an entitlement culture, bread and circuses was the Roman equivalent, does not mean opposition to state action. In fact, in circumstances where policy leads to a Galbraithian outcomes, there is every justification for demanding public action for the common good.

Now at the moment we are caught in what I call the savings trap.

Lots of people are saving, freeing resources for investment in our future. But the returns on investment and hence on saving have collapsed. Why? There is no way of channeling savings into the things that will give us a real social return, while real investment opportunities have declined.  The millions of Australians saving for their future just won't get the returns they need to meet their retirement needs. The rest of us won't get the society that we need.

That's another part of my charge against current attitudes and structures. They just don't work. We need new approaches. 

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Just thirty houses

My main posts today are The future for the Australian economy and FIFO & decentralisation – the irony of it all. Here I want to focus on the second post.

To set a context, in a different world we want to repair thirty houses in a NSW country town. We can't do so in the time horizon we want because we have neither the builders nor the trades people. Even forty years ago we could have. But those we need have left.

I guess that's my charge. The reason why I have become such a radical defined as one who wants to overturn the existing system, the reason why I campaign so strongly for change, is that our current systems with their short term focus no longer work. They really don't. They are stuffed.

In my thinking, I always come back to the local and the individual. If we can't build or fix a house, if we can't supply land, if we can't teach a kid, we are stuffed.

I am not a revolutionary. I do not believe that we can do all things for all people. We can't. We have to make choices. But when we cannot do things that we might reasonably expect that we might we need to protest. We need to change. 

I really don't want to spell all this out tonight. For the moment, let me just say that by global standards Australia is is still a well governed society. But we could do so much better.That's my charge. 

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Coming back on line, slowly

With the internet connection finally on, I am now starting to come back on line. There is so much to write about and to catch up with. We live in a crazy, crazy world.