Saturday, November 08, 2014

Saturday Morning Musings - just a point in time

Think of this morning’s Saturday Morning Musings as a moment stuck in time. Nothing profound. A simple record of a point in history. 

Spreading Wings

Youngest’s latest piece on Media Hype 101 is out:  Late to the Party – Sleepy Hollow recap S1E1. It begins:

It’s always a little awkward being late to the party, or late to a TV show.  So join me as I hurriedly try to jump on bandwagons before they pull away.

It’s a good read. Clare is also now writing for The Australia Times as part of the games team. This gives her press accreditation to gaming conventions. Her bio reads:

My name is Clare Belshaw, I'm 25 and I've been a gamer for most of my life, spending endless hours on my dad's PC playing Age of Empires, then promptly getting frustrated when every kingdom ganged up against me, forcing me to spawn a bunch of big daddies to sort out the problem. I've sunk more hours than I would care to admit playing Minecraft and Planetside 2 (Because jetpack), and I have a Bachelor in Ancient History. Currently I'm working towards becoming a novelist because I have an allergic reaction to the idea of being financially successful. Aside from video games I love comic books, movies and trashy genre television.

I had forgotten big daddies. I, too, spent hours playing Age of Empires before I got bored. I regarded big daddies as cheating! But hey Clare, I’m not sure that you actually have an allergic reaction to being financially successful. I suspect a desire for that best seller may lurk. Besides, you have a father to support in his old age (ahem!). One of us has to make some money!business class

On Facebook, eldest wrote: “Omg omg omg first time in business. Wait, play it cool.”  Helen is coming back to Australia from what has become one of her regular business trips to Copenhagen.

I laughed. I, too, remember those firsts. First class is out of my reach now as is business class, but I remember.

I was on a business trip. It had been tiring. At the end of the trip I flew from Edinburgh to London to Munich, arriving late. Early next morning I was picked up early, spent the day touring an aerospace plant and was then rushed to the airport to catch the plane to London so that I could catch the plane back to Australia.

I was absolutely wrecked upon my arrival at Heathrow. I could barely stand up, let alone think. At the QANTAS counter they told me that I had been upgraded to first class. I staggered onto the plane, turned left to be met by a steward who took my bags and showed me to my seat.

“Champagne, Sir?” I sat drinking a good French champagne, eating hot snacks and listening to the Australian accents. Suddenly, the fugue dropped away. I could think because I was comfortable and already at home. And that while still sitting on the tarmac!

New England Writers’ Centre

Regular readers will know that I am on the Board of the New England Writers’ Centre. It’s been an interesting if sometimes difficult experience.  Interesting because I am mixing with people such as Sophie Masson (our chair) who actually make a living from writing. Difficult because of funding and structural change issues.

I suspect that NEWC has more writers in its membership than most other equivalent bodies. It’s just a factor of location. But that location has its own acute disadvantages in terms of remoteness when it comes to getting grants. Last year we got a reduced grant at the last moment, this year none on the grounds that we were not competitive in terms of the criteria set.

I could see the point of those making the assessment. They worked within rules. My own view is that the Centre has to stand outside the official system. It distorts too much.

Earlier this year, I spent the equivalent of a week full time writing the NEWC response to the ARTS NSW call for submissions on the development of a cultural policy for NSW. I did so knowing that nothing we said would have impact. It could not, for we were actually challenging the assumptions set for the development of that policy.

Why bother if you can have no influence?  I suppose, partly, it’s because of intellectual interest. There is an intellectual challenge in trying to work out how things might be done better. There is also a discipline in it, for it forces you to think about your own organisation and it’s role. In this context, I was consciously trying to put the NEWC in a broader frame. Then it provides a base for later work and argument.

This is where the need to combat the distortion imposed by official systems comes in. That distortion comes in many subtle ways. If you are going to stand outside, you have to have a base to work from.

Our submission is not on line. I had hoped that Arts NSW would put all the submissions on public record, but its probably beyond the budget and indeed the physical capacity of a cash strapped agency to do so. I  will look at ways of putting the submission up. I didn’t spend all that time to have the submission just vanish.

Broader Issues in Government Policy Making                    

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time on the policy making process inside and outside of government.  Increasingly, government policy making seems driven by two dominant influences. One is getting more for less, a second the need to achieve integration across the mega agencies that now dominate the official scene.

Sometimes with the first, it’s necessary to say that you can’t get more with less. You have to accept that you get less with less. All Australian governments operate in an environment that says that spend must be reduced. Yet, in reality, neither politicians nor the public are prepared to accept the results that must flow.

You can see this clearly across every aspect of policy making. A child dies, that’s a failure of the child welfare system. A terrorist attack may loom, therefore we  must spend more on national security. A homeless man is killed; we must spend more on a homelessness strategy. Our education results fall by OECD standards, we must address this. Boats come, we need a border force and spend a fortune on life boats to force people back.

It’s not rocket science, actually.

The next time the Australian Government, for example, attempts to cost shift onto the states, a state government might do this. Release a green paper. This cut requires us to cut so much from spend in this area.

We can increase taxes by so much to compensate while maintaining spend. Here are some indicative increases for you to consider. Alternatively, we can cut spend on other activities. Here are some cuts for you to consider. I am not talking here about cuts designed to maximise political impact. Rather, cuts that reflect the priorities of the government  in power. This is what we recommend.  Then let the discussion run.

The problem of the mega-agencies is more complex, for the results here are largely unseen. Each of the mega agencies attempts to create integration, bringing together all the different bits into a seamless whole. But the mega agencies weren’t created following rational analysis. In forcing all their sub agencies into a common fit, they lose that variety, that sense of purpose, that previously existed. Everything becomes bound to a single mission formed by the dominant thread within the mega agency.

Difficulties become still more acute when, as in NSW, you get multiple conflicting threads. In NSW, for example, the new mega agencies are trying to create their central theme while also cutting costs and dealing with changes in people management imposed by the GSE Act. The ordinary worker bee tries to keep things going in the midst of increasingly constipated and ever changing decision chains.

No doubt things will settle down. Still, it pays to remember an old rule of organisational change. Change imposes immediate costs, the gains take time. If you impose another change before the gains start flowing, you start the process again. In the end, you get maximised costs with mistella bowennimised gains.

 The importance of the visual

“I love being with someone …….who lived through his eyes in the same way I did”, Stella Bowen wrote. “We took such perceptual and unanimous pleasure in the look of everything.’

I was running round the Dangarsleigh War Memorial pointing out features of interest when a friend commented on just how visual I was. I knew that I was visual, but hadn’t really realised just how much that was true until then. It’s a physical as much as visual thing. The scent of the different types of rosemary, the hard lines of the monument, the sound of the bees in that quietness otherwise  only broken by the distant sound of the crows. All these things were real and important.

I am a writer, not a painter. I would love to be able to paint, but was put off early by art classes in primary school. Now my tool is words. That is what I have.

I do wonder, though. Could I still learn to paint?        


Evan said...

If you find a good teacher or method you can learn to do painting to an ok standard fairly quickly. To get good will only be limited by your time and good teaching and methods.

I'd like to see the Writer's Centre submission when you put it up.

Jim Belshaw said...

Sounds good, Evan. I will let you know when the NEWC submission goes up.