Thursday, July 31, 2008

Qantas's oxygen bottles

The news that an exploding oxygen bottle had caused the fuselage damage to Longreach, the Qantas jumbo jet, caught my attention.

I have flown on this particular jet. Further, it is named after the town that marked the first ever starting point for a Qantas flight.

Now as it happened, on one of his forays into Sydney Gordon Smith captured in a photo those infamous oxygen cylinders waiting to be loaded onto a plane.

You can see from their size just how they might do serious damage in the event of an explosion.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Barbara Martin and the War of 1812

Back in October 2007 in Alternative Histories - the War of 1812 I briefly discussed the war of 1812, really 1812-1815, between the US, the settlements in what was to become Canada and the Empire. Before going on, a quote from Thomas Jefferson in a letter to a colleague:

The acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighborhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching, and will give us experience for the attack of Halifax the next, and the final expulsion of England from the American continent.

Jefferson could be forgiven his view.

The British Empire was engaged in a fight to the death with Napoleon. There were only 300,000 or so settlers in what is now Canada as compared to 8 million people in the US. Further, many of those settlers were French who had little reason to love the British.

Still, Jefferson was a little in error. The war saw US humiliation. Had the authorities in London had the will, the US could have ended split in two.

I mention this because Barbara Martin has a rather nice post describing the start of the war and setting it in a local historical context.


Barbara has now put up her second post in the series and a good read it is too.

Postscript 2

I thought that I might provide a full list of Barbara's posts to this point for those who are interested:

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Magnetic Island in transit - updating a few blog posts

My plane does not leave Townsville for several hours, so I am waiting on here on Magnetic Island, taking the time to catch up on a little blogging. The computer is in fact in the resort's lobby, giving me a view of water and the ferry terminal (photo).

I have been out of touch with the world, so I have little idea as to what has been happening beyond snippets picked up on the TV news. Really a good thing, because the break has given me a chance to catch up, including time for a stocktake on the things that I have had on my list to write about. Its become quite a long list, so I have been doing a bit of pruning.

The FICPI (Australian Federation of Intellectual Property Attorneys) Conference itself has given me a fair bit to mull over.

In preparing my conference presentation I went back over past blog posts on corporatisation, using one long blog post I had written triggered by the float of Slater & Gordon, Corporatisation, Corporate Structures and the Law - The Case For, as a base for a new paper. Once I have written this up, I can make it available as a stand-alone paper.

Some of the presentations at the conference not only gave me material for new posts, but also caused me to shift some of my views. Not a dramatic change, more a shift at the margins.

Mmm! Looking at the time, I am going to have to move. But first, a few of my more recent posts on other blogs:

Monday, July 28, 2008

Magnetic Island Meanderings

Have you noticed how time seems to change depending on what you are doing?

This time last week I was driving from Armidale to Tamworth in the midst of another workshop round. Then I still had workshops in front of me in Tamworth, Sydney and Newcastle before flying to Queensland for a conference. In the midst of all the travel and training, the pre-workshop world had become vague and misty.

Getting to Queensland was a bit of a battle. Before leaving I had to prepare my presentation, managing to squeeze this into late night cracks. Then leaving for Sydney airport at 5.30 to catch my flight it was cold and damp, while I felt crabby and distinctly spaced-out.

The conference itself was being held on Magnetic Island. Getting there involved a two hour flight to Townsville, then a 25 minute ferry journey. Finally I arrived at the Peppers resort where the conference was to be held.

After dropping my gear in my room I went down to the dining area. It was warm and sunny. I was sitting at an outdoor table in the shade, looking over a path to the small harbour with its boats. Just beyond a small range of olive green hills lay dappled in sun and shade. For the first time in weeks I started to relax, although I still had to finalise my presentation.

That was Friday. It is now a warm, sunny, Monday. The computer I am using is in the resort foyer, looking out to the ferry terminal. Behind me a group from the conference is getting ready to go on a snorkeling tour of the barrier reef. That hectic workshop world now seems remote. This is the real world even though it will finish tomorrow.

The Conference itself was the annual meeting of the Australian Federation of Intellectual Property Attorneys or FICPI.

Legislative change is coming through that will allow Australian patents and trade marks firms to incorporate, something that has already happened in most other professions. So the conference was about the adoption of corporate forms. I was the keynote speaker at the session on corporate approaches, focusing on management and operational issues.

Never let it be said that patent attorneys are dull. They are not. I have had a great time.

In a response to my post on The new conservapedia - where I rank. And what does it all mean? Stephen said.

"So, you're in favour of teacher-led prayer in schools? I'm not quite sure what position you have - there's a double negative in there (what you've said is that you oppose the censorship of teacher-led prayer).

Censorship of teacher-lead prayer in classrooms and school sponsored events

Generally oppose."

I was careful about my words here.

I do not necessarily support teacher-led prayers in school. One of the problems that the public school system in Australia had to address was the deep sectarian divides between Roman Catholics and Protestants - this led to a secular school system that I support. On the other hand, the way that political correctness came to stop or at least limit things like nativity scenes or indeed discussions on religious expression made me very uncomfortable. I think that it is a question of balance.

In a comment on my post In Praise of Centrelink Mark Two Garrie wrote:

Jim : while at may have reduced queues, this online service is fraught with danger for the average " customer ". At some point in every customer's dealing with Centrelink, documents have been "lost" " deleted " or misplaced, at great inconvenience and often expense of the " customer". With an online entry, it will only take one keystroke to alter, delete or totally misrepresent a customer's details or information.

As we all know, the onus is on the customer to " get it right"; hence any mistakes will be allocated to the customer while Centrelink will remain blameless ( just as it is now). There was a recent flurry of activity when Centrelink announced that as of July, 2008, cross-referencing of customers Bank accounts would be conducted. My contact with my Bank indicates that NO such legislation is in place, and Banks would be legally obligated to advise their customers beforehand if any such action was requested. Is this just Centrelink's way of " conditioning " customers to expect it, so that when it happens no-one will react, inspite of it being another illegal activity ??

Perhaps, if you have a moment spare, you could peruse our website, in which we highlight the oft times demonic treatment of its customers by Centrelink. Actual stories here would have you questioning just HOW an Australian Govt. Agency could treat its clients with such abyssmal contempt.

This is NOT a website for the faint hearted .. no punches are pulled.

Garrie Cleveland

I have yet to check Garrie's site, but his comment does raise some important general issues.

One session at the Conference made me think of Bob Quiggin and the still incomplete discussion we had been having on Kondratiev cycles - Kondratiev cycles, innovation and over-regulation - a challenge from Bob Q.

Peter Williams, CEO of Deloitte Digital, was presenting. I found his discussion of developments in the on-line world very interesting and picked up a number of ideas. The linkage with Bob lies in the question of the future impact of ICT. I suggested that the peak economic impact of the ICT had passed. Bob challenged this.

So when I have time, I will spell out a little of what Peter said and the implications for both sides of the discussion between Bob and I.

Well, it is now 9.30, so it's time to stop this post.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

In Praise of Centrelink Mark Two

Since my last post on Sunday I have flown to Grafton that evening, delivered a full day workshop Monday and then driven to Armidale. Overnight there and then a drive to Tamworth for another workshop. Back to Sydney Tuesday night, today a full day metro workshop and then to Newcastle tomorrow for another workshop. Friday to Queensland for a conference.

In all, I am stuffed and had no intention of posting. Then I was provoked!

In Praise for Centrelink I commented on some of the new things that Centrelink is doing. Neil (Ninglun) responded with Personal Reflections: Praise for Centrelink. This led Benjamin Solah to comment:

I rather think Jim’s praise for Centrelink is a bit short sighted given thatn it doesn’t matter to most people if they can apply online or not when they don’t get their payment anyway, are harassed by Job Networks for jobs that cannot sustain them anyway, are asked to pay back money for Centrelinks mistake, staff are trained in how to breach clients but not how to refer them to assistance programs…

The list could go on. I think people’s hatred for Centrelink is very very reaching.

I know where Benjamin is coming from. However, I do feel obliged to add to my comments in Centrelink's defence.

Centrelink officials are there to deliver services and administer Government policy. When, as happened with the Howard Government, they get directives to do certain things, they respond. This is reinforced by the modern performance management techniques with their emphasis on the measurable. Change what is measured, and you change official performance.

Now my personal view is that some of the things that the Howard Government attempted to do via Centrelink was bad policy, while also being obscene in moral terms. I suspect that Benjamin and I might disagree on detail, but would still reach common ground as to thrust.

I was impressed about Centrelink's approach to e-services because there was a focus on making things easier for people, not just shifting processing load onto them.

Anybody who has been to Centrelink will remember the long lines until you reached reception. Who would want to repeat this? Frustrating, especially if you just have a routine processing matter.

To solve this, you give customers access so that they can alter details on line.

Not everybody has a computer, especially the poor. So you create self-service points at the front of the office. Here people can do their own thing. You also encourage people to use local libraries. And you enter into a deal with a not-for-profit to provide refurbished computers to Centrelink customers.

These computers come from firms such as Westpac as they upgrade. They are refurbished, new software added by Microsoft. This means that people can get a Pentium 4 with a full Office suite for $250. Demand has out-run supply, but thousands of computers are now being supplied around Australia.

Long lines still exist in some places. However, they have shrunk. Further, Centrelink sick days have also shrunk because staff no longer have to deal with so many frustrated customers.

In all this, the big demand area that has surprised Centrelink are the "elderly" such as Neil. Demand here has really pressed against Centrelink's ability to supply!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Christian Truths

I did not intend to post again today. I am flying out shortly, but I have been listening to the Pope celebrate mass.

Regardless of one's views on Christianity or any of its sub-divisions, the faith offers two great liberating truths.

The first, in the old words, is forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

There are two legs here.

One leg is forgiveness of our own weaknesses, faults and sins. This allows us to put our past aside, to try to do better. The second leg is to treat others in the same way.

The second great liberating truth is to treat thy neighbour as thyself. So as you judge, shall you be judged.

One can argue detail. For example, these two truths do not stop one arguing against injustice. Indeed, they almost require it.

In all, its not a bad basis for a faith.

The new conservapedia - where I rank. And what does it all mean?

Neil had a fascinating post on the Conservapedia, apparently a US conservative response to Wikipedia. This included an article, Liberal - Conservapedia, on what constitutes a liberal. I decided to rank myself! The links come from Neil's original post.

The article suggests that a liberal supports many of the following political positions and practices:

A government with large spending on social programs, and high taxes to support such programs.

I certainly support government spending on social problems. The question of what constitutes high taxation is a matter of judgement. However, in general I am not a supporter of high taxation.

Taxpayer-funded and/or legalized abortion

I have very mixed views in this area. As a statement of general principle, I am not opposed to medicare payments for abortions in appropriate circumstances, I am opposed to the universal criminalisation of abortion that used to apply.

Income redistribution, usually through progressive taxation

I support a mildly progressive tax structure as well as income redistribution to ensure that all Australians share in the benefits of growth.

Government-rationed and taxpayer-funded medical care, such as Universal Health Care


Taxpayer-funded public education


The denial of inherent gender differences

Depends on what is meant. Men and women are different. However, I oppose stereotypes and mandated roles.

Wanting men and women to have the same access to jobs in the military

Support. The only issue here should be capacity to perform.

Legalized same-sex marriage

Do not oppose.

Implimentation of affirmative action

I do have reservations about affirmative action programs. However, this depends on what is meant by the term.

Political correctness


Censorship of teacher-lead prayer in classrooms and school sponsored events

Generally oppose.

Support of labor unions

I am in favour of trade unions.

Teaching “comprehensive” sex-ed programs instead of abstinence-only programs.[1]

I support more comprehensive sex-ed programs.

A “living Constitution” that is reinterpreted in a modern context, instead of how it was originally intended

I have mixed feelings in this area. Things change. A constitution should be a living document. However, I have some problems with some Australian High Court decisions on Federal powers because they go to far outside what I perceive to be the intent of the constitution.

Support for gun control

Support, although I thought that Mr Howard went to far after Port Arthur.

Government programs to rehabilitate criminals


Abolition of death penalty



My position here totally depends upon the definition used.

Disarmament treaties



Generally support.

Opposition to an interventionalist American foreign policy [3]

I am cautious about interventionist foreign policies by any country. However, I think it important that the US continue to play an active role in global affairs.

Support of obscenity and pornography as a First Amendment right[4]

Very odd! Oppose.

Opposition to full private property rights[5]

As a general principle, I support property rights and oppose moves that take such rights away without full and fair compensation. However, I suspect that this is not the same as supporting "full property" rights.

Reinstating the Fairness Doctrine

Cannot really comment on this without investigation.

In 2005, it was reported by CBS News that liberals were the most likely supporters of the theory of evolution. Support for the theory of evolution which is a key component of atheistic ideologies in the Western World.

Dear me! I support the theory of evolution because it best seems to fit the evidence.

Opposition to domestic wire-tapping as authorized in the Patriot Act


Calling anyone they agree with a “professor” regardless of whether he earned that distinction based on a real peer review of his work (see, e.g., Richard Dawkins and Barack Obama).

How very odd. Not guilty.

Looking back over the list, I can see where they are coming from on some points. However, what Conservapedia does illustrate to my mind is the way that our thinking on social and political issues is conditioned, determined, by the society in which we live.

Australia is a different society to the US with very different traditions. US mental constructs cannot automatically be applied in Australia, nor can we apply Australian ones to the US.

I make this point in part because we all have a tendency to assume that our own views are right. We also interpret developments in other places through the frame set by those views. In doing so, we say things like "I agree with that" when we should be asking "what does it mean." This leads to nasty shocks when the reality of views and actions proves to be different from our expectations.

Take Senator Obama as a case in point. I have a degree of caution here because I feel that I do not properly understand what some of his words might mean in practice for Australia.

If I interpret the interface between his rhetoric and the dynamics of US politics correctly, then one possible outcome from his election might be a more inward looking and protectionist US. This is not in our interests because Australia as a small economy in global terms depends upon an open global trading system.

I am not arguing for or against Senator Obama here, simply using him as an example to illustrate my point.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Praise for Centrelink

Earlier in the week Neil (Ninglun) reported on a visit to Centrelink. Apparently, he was the first to apply for a pension on-line, at least at that office.

Now I find it hard to comprehend that Neil has gone for an old-age pension. He is older than me, but it still makes me feel ancient. So I am going to close my eyes and ignore his application as an inconvenient truth! However, his post does provide me with an opportunity to say something nice about Centrelink.

I have mentioned several times including my last post, Meeting old friends, Canberra airport chaos, that I have been running workshops around NSW. I did not mention, however, that the first part of the latest round of workshops involved a presentation from Centrelink staff on their e-services, something that they are trying to promote.

So far I have sat through presentations in Sydney, Orange and Queanbeyan. I have been impressed. I thought that I might say why.

For the benefit of my readers outside Australia, Centrelink is the Australian Government organisation concerned with the delivery of pensions and other social service benefits. Necessarily it is a very large, centralised, organisation combining central activities with a very large number of local offices.

Centrelink's job is not easy. A core challenge is to find ways of delivering services more efficiently while still improving customer service. Here e-services are central.

I am and remain sceptical about some e-services because so much of the apparent benefits come from pushing responsibility onto the client in order to achieve cost savings. We all have all seen this. But e-services also have a place because they can make service delivery so much more customer friendly. Centrelink is trying to achieve this.

On one side they are trying to improve the interface between Centrelink and other service providers such as community housing organisations. The aim here is to improve service delivery by those providers by giving them better access to Centrelink so that joint clients do not have to visit Centrelink offices.

On the other side, they are trying to assist clients to do things on-line so that they do not have to visit Centrelink offices.

One problem is that Centrelink clients tend to be the most disadvantaged members of the Australian community. It follows from this that many do not have access to basic things such as computers, while their knowledge of the on-line world is less. This is part of the digital divide that is adding another layer to social deprivation in the Australian community.

To overcome this, Centrelink has provided computers at its offices so that people can use them to print off things like income statements or to record changes in details without having to wait in line. Centrelink is also promoting other access points like local libraries, as well as charities that provide low-cost refurbished computing equipment.

I am sure that there is still scope to improve Centrelink services. My aim in this post is simply to give praise for improvements already made.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Meeting old friends, Canberra airport chaos

Today to Queanbeyan early for a workshop. This was to be held at the Letchworth Neighbourhood Centre. The Canberra taxi driver got lost. This is pretty normal. Queanbeyan has its own taxi service, so Canberra cabbies do not get a lot of traffic there except from Canberra airport.

Not a big group at the workshop, although attendees came from various parts of southern NSW. I do like running country training courses. They tend to be friendlier and a lot more fun. Because people have to travel they always start a little late, in this case people were held up by roadworks at Bungendore, but we still finished an hour early.

Any trainer will tell you that there is an enormous amount of satisfaction when people get what you are trying to put across.

This was one my second Queanbeyan workshop. Like any trainer, I distribute evaluation forms to try to gauge participant reaction. While the the previous forms were positive, you cannot really know results until later.

In this case, some of those were already putting into action the skills I was trying to install at the firts workshop. I felt a real sense of satisfaction.

In modern philosophy and jargon, we trainers are meant to call ourselves facilitators in the sense that we faciliate learning. I actually think that this is very silly.

In these workshops, I have to get across certain skills that I know and the participants don't. I am not facilitating. I am driving, controlling, performing, anything that will assist learning. If they cannot do what I want them to do at the end, then I have failed. This is a far more pro-active approach than that implied by the fairly wishy-washy facilitation concept.

Once I had bid them all goodbye and tidied up the room, I called a taxi for the airport. Now here I had an unexpected pleasure. My taxi driver was an older Polish bloke who had lived in Queanbeyan for many years.

By way of background here, I lived in Queanbeyan for fifteen years and was very active in community activities. But that was a long time ago. Now here I had some one who could bring me up to date on all the people I had known.

So we chatted and chatted.

We talked about the local police before the new police station and the huge increase in police numbers with their new professional approaches.

The past was not all good, we also spoke about the illegal casinos protected by the police, but there is actually something to be said for police who saw their role in broader terms than the current black-letter law approach.

I am reminded here of the country policeman who used to say to drunks up or down. Up meant home. Down meant the police station, a night in the cells, then a morning session chopping the policeman's wood. No one was ever booked!

We spoke about the various people who had made up Queanbeyan, one of Australia's first truly multinational communities. Poles, Ukranians, Serbs, Macedonians, Croats, Italians, Germans, Greeks.

This was a community of huge home gardens that provided a wide range of produce, some of which went into the production of illegal liquors. Political campaigning in Queanbeyan could be a liver threatening exercise!

Our arrival at the airport was far too soon from my viewpoint. I asked him for the fare. He blanked out the meter and said let's say $25. It should have been at least $10 more. We parted in great amity.

I was early anyway, but flights were in chaos. This had started with ice on the planes in the morning - I was late getting into Canberra - and then continued. So I got a beer and started reading Jasper Fforde's First Among Sequels. I had bought this earlier in the day because I thought youngest (Clare) would like it.

Then, blow me down, David Neyle appeared on his way to Adelaide.

In the past when I flew a lot I was sure to find someone I knew at any airport. This is no longer true. It's partly because I fly less, partly because the world has got bigger.

David is an expert trainer and one of my Ndarala colleagues, so we chatted. Then the woman who runs the Munjuwa Queanbeyan Aboriginal Corporation came up. We had met on a previous training course in Queanbeyan. She was seeing family off for the Northern Territory.

So I had a great time. I do love villages.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Wheel Turns - return of wood fires

Back in April I wrote a post, In memory of our old fuel stove, that was a somewhat nostalgic look back at the wood stove we used to have in the kitchen. That stove finally went in part because of age, in part because wood stoves themselves had come to be seen as environmentally unfriendly.

Now it appears that wood fires are back because of their small carbon footprint. The quantity of CO2 released by burning is apparently the same as that flowing from natural decomposition. There can still be issues in particular locations because the smoke can create local pollution problems, but it is nice to know that something I like is once again okay.

Looking back, it is remarkable how environmentally friendly my childhood now appears to have been!

We grew our own fruit and vegetables, saving on money but also transport. As kids we walked or biked everywhere. Much of the water used in cooking and to drink was tank water - the town supply was both heavily treated and very hard. The slow combustion stove provided heating, cooking and an unlimited supply of hot water.

Mind you, in all this I do remember very clearly the need to chop wood. I suppose I could say that that was a good thing too - exercise and all that. However, collecting or chopping wood on a cold frosty morning with frost everywhere can hardly be described as fun.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

History of Child Pornography in Australia

One visitor came to this site because he/she searched on the history of child pornography in Australia. My one post on the Henson matter came up number five on the Google search. This got me thinking.

I know of no history of child pornography in Australia. I suppose there is a problem here in a general sense because you have to access to sources to write a history, and I know of no sources in this area. Indeed, to write a history you would now have to download illegal material.

That said, I do not think that Australia can be said in any way to have a history of child pornography until very recently. It did not exist or, to the degree that it did exist, it involved smutty photos exchanged in private.

This is not to say that we did not have a paedophile problem however defined. We clearly did. But child pornography, again however defined, seems to be new.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Crocodiles, climate change and the pattern of adjustment

For the benefit of my international readers, there are two types of crocodiles in Australia - fresh and salt water. Males of the salt water variety can be seven metres long. Anybody who has seen them will tell you that they are not to be trifled with.

I have not written much about the current debate on climate change including the possible policy responses because I have little original to say. However, I have been musing over the outcomes of various scenarios. This includes questions like just how far south the salt water crocodiles might move as water temperatures increase.

I find with climate change that I simply cannot handle the very broad questions. They are just too abstract. However, I can understand and am interested in far more micro questions, like what it might mean for particular industries or areas. Here I feel that there is a major policy disconnect between the global and the Australian, a bigger one still between the Australian and regional or local.

Assume, for the moment, that something approaching the worst case occurs.

At present, Australia feeds somewhere between 70 and 100 million people. Our agricultural exports remain a major source of national wealth. If rainfall declines by 40%, will we still be able to do this? I am sure that we will still have enough food for ourselves, but our exports will decline in volume. Food prices will rise. The dollar value of our exports may even increase. But all Australians will pay a lot more for basic food stuffs.

Then we have the lakes at the bottom of the Murray. Can they survive, or should we be writing them off now? Can we afford the luxury of maintaining them when we need the food and cash? On the worst case climate change scenarios. I think that they will have to go.

The current problem with petrol prices provides a salutary reminder of our future worst case world.

Present petrol prices are a function of limited supply and rising demand. However, they provide a useful reminder of just what happens if transport costs rise. I have not done the maths, I do not have the information, but at eight dollars per litre for petrol or a petrol equivalent (and this is one projected price) our entire social and urban structure would have to be be reshaped.

How do you maintain our current distribution and service delivery systems if we can no longer afford them? As a simple but striking example, how do you justify a centralised base hospital if the cost of getting a patient there for a doctor's appointment exceeds the daily pay of a specialist?

Now we can debate the detail. But my point is that we are dealing with a totally new scenario.

As I write, water buffalo's are making a come-back in Thailand because they are presently better value than tractors. I can see this type of thing happening across the board.

I am not being negative in all this. I am simply saying that we might need to start thinking about things in new (and old) ways.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Canberra's changing life style - past and present

Photo: What is now Olims Hotel Canberra was the Hotel Ainslie. Designed by architect CFA Voysey in English deco style, it was opened in September 1927 (the year the Old Parliament House opened) to house member of Parliament and public servants.

Going back to a place where one has lived and worked for many years after a gap is always strange.

I worked in Canberra for just over twenty years. Later I visited often, but always going for business reasons. Then came a gap of several years. Over the weekend, Dee and I were there as visitors on holiday, finding old places and looking anew.

We decided to stay at the old Hotel Ainslie. When I came to Canberra, this was one of the city's very few pubs. Now run by Olims with an attractive central garden, it retains some of the old feel.

As we drove over the hill and saw the lights of Canberra before us I was struck by the city's increased size. Now obviously I knew that the city was bigger. After all, it's only three weeks since I flew in on a previous visit. However, I had not come in by road at night for many years.

I relied, successfully as it turned out, on my bump of direction to get to the hotel. In fact, I found that so long as I did not think too much about it, I could get anywhere I wanted to. If I did think, the doubts would set in.

I had a writer's diary with me and took notes of my impressions. I will write these up in various posts, for there was much of interest. Yet in all this, the thing that struck me most was just how run-down some of the original inner suburbs had become.

As we drove from place to place where we had both lived, we passed dry and unkempt gardens, with the winter leaves piled up everywhere. Many of the houses were neither large nor especially attractive, but they were set in attractive streetscapes. This seems to have gone under the pressure of water restrictions. There was also rubbish around in a way that I had not seen before.

I was also struck by the ugliness of some of the new buildings. The sheer physical beauty of Canberra's location remains, but the city has somehow lost the organic beauty associated with the original Burley Griffin design in later urban and monumental accretions.

Part of this is no doubt a function of increased size. But I was left with a strong impression of planning failure, of an ad-hoc urban dynamic that had somehow taken over from the previous coherent approach.

Don't get me wrong. Canberra is still very much worth a visit. I was just saddened at what appeared to me to be a failure of vision for the place.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Canberra Pause

For the benefit of my few regular readers, I will be in Canberra this weekend, so will miss at least my normal Saturday Morning Musings, possibly the Sunday post as well.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Modern Australia's obsession with sexuality

I am so tired with Australia's current obsession with sexuality. I find it tiring, depressing and, to a degree, confusing.

As I write, the case of Dennis Ferguson is much in the news.

Apparently a convicted pedophile, new charges against Mr Ferguson were thrown out on the grounds that media publicity meant that he could not get a fair trial.

Moved by police to one location, he was forced to move again by publicity. Moved to a second place on a country property where he was under supervision, local opposition including a public meeting attended by 1,000 people appeared to threaten his very life.

I saw the TV footage. I thought the blind outrage was at least as ugly as Mr Ferguson's alleged crimes. Now he is costing the tax payer an arm and a leg to protect him. Mr Ferguson may be a sick man in a moral sense, but the threat that he poses under supervision hardly warrants the outrage.

Again as I write, the single post I wrote on the Bill Henson matter (Bill Henson, art and child pornography) continues to get more hits than most other posts, ignited again by the rather silly decision of Art Monthly to put an art work of a six year old on its cover.

The art work itself is hardly prurient, although Mr Rudd as the leader of Australia's new Gen X moral majority was disgusted by the photo.

In the midst of all this, TV and on-line sites such as facebook carry images that would have been classified as as pornography twenty years ago. Some I just gulp at.

I have no desire to go back to the sexual confusions and mores that dominated Victorian Australia through to the sixties. I would never wish on my children or their children the internal confusions this created in me. On the other hand, I think that there is far too much explicit sexuality in material that is available to all, including children.

I suppose in all this there is a question of balance. While I could wish that there was less explicit sexuality around, I do not find the new puritans balanced, while their anger repulses me. It seems to me that Calvin is alive and well, living in Yarralumla.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Kondratiev cycles, innovation and over-regulation - a challenge from Bob Q

In a comment, Bob Quiggin challenged the arguments I put forward in Kondratiev cycles, innovation and over-regulation . I do like challenges because they force me to check and refine.

Bob began his comment:

Dear Jim,

Rubbish. :)

The reason you haven't heard of Kondratiev cycles since uni is because they lacked both provability, predictive force and explicative force (i.e. they stand as an article of faith).

Why? because the period of the cycle is defined post-hoc, which is why long term can mean anything from 30 years to 70 years or in some writers' belief 150 years. So much happens in such a cycle that to ascribe it to a single factor beggars belief.

Secondly, because the timing is post hoc, so is the explanation, which means that thirdly there is no predictive force.

Now here I think Bob is both right and wrong.

When I first came across Kondratiev cycles in economics, I was also studying history. Historiography is littered with examples of people attempting to define patterns that can then be used for explanatory or predictive purposes. The great British historian Arnold J. Toynbee is an example with his focus on comparative history.

As an aside, I did not know that Toybee was first married to Gilbert Murray's daughter. I wrote about the Murray family in Patrick Desmond Fitzgerald Murray 1900-1967. I am constantly struck with just how small a world the old British Empire and Commonwealth was, at least among the educated elites.

The problem with all these attempts at pattern definition is the risk of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, literally after this, therefore because (on account) of this. Just because a follows b does not, of itself, imply anything about causation.

Kondratiev cycles certainly suffers from this problem.

If I remember my history, Kondratiev himself was a marxist. Marxist theory suggested that capitalism must collapse under its own weight, yet this appeared to Kondratiev to be at odds with the historical evidence. He developed his cycle or wave concept to explain this, a theological sin for which he was to perish in Stalin's gulags. Kondratiev's work was then taken up and popularised by the great American economist Joseph Schumpeter in his explanations of economic development.

Yet while Kondratiev cycles do suffer from the problems as specified by Bob, I still find them useful because they challenge some of the implicit assumptions and world views embedded in modern economics.

Bob went on:

You blithely talk about the exhaustion of the ICT wave - I see terabyte desktop machines for less than $A1500, when Paxus (now extinct) had a 20 terabyte facility in Canberra that was the largest or second largest in the southern hemisphere less than 20 years ago.

IMHO Moore's law continues to operate but it allows rigidities like onerous record keeping and all the other up-the-down-escalator brakes on progress, some of which are justified and some of which are not.

Over-regulation is indeed a key problem, but its relationship to ICT of Kondratiev is about the same as mine to the consumption of Resch's Pilsener (a near zero correlation, which if anything is negative).

How is your silver bullet campaign going, BTW.

Bob, I fear that my silver bullet campaign is making slow progress, although I do now have a regular supply of Resch's Pilsener. As a consequence, my overall shopping at the nearby Woolies is down about sixty per cent because I tend to buy things at the IGA next door to the bottleshop!

My response to Bob's core comment is a simple one.

Concepts such as Kondratiev cycles force us to ask new questions of the evidence. Take the ICT revolution as an example. Yes, it is true that technological advance continues. But does that mean that the new developments will have the same impact? I think not.

The impact of the motor car in Australia is instructive in this context.

The really big impact came in the first twenty years when cars and lorries replaced horse drawn transport. In the ten years between 1919 and 1929 the new form of transport wiped out not just horses, but all the activities and industries linked to horse drawn transport. In doing so, it totally altered the structure of life, especially in regional Australia.

The next big impact came in the 1950s when growing wealth allowed mass ownership of cars. While this had a major impact on city structures, the trigger was wealth, not technology. The same thing holds today in India and China.

My point here is that the greatest impact of ICT lies, I think, in the past. Developments will continue, but now we are dealing with change at the margin. Greater processing power, greater storage capacity, greater bandwith will allow new things, but these are changes at the margin.

To my mind, the next big effect from the ICT revolution will, like the car before it, come not from technological development, but from diffusion associated in developing countries with growing wealth.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Kondratiev cycles, innovation and over-regulation

In my last post I mentioned Kondratiev cycles, long development waves linked to new innovations. I wondered whether we had come to the end of such a cycle.

Recently I was trying to explain to a colleague why I was so concerned about rigidity in our current systems, including the growing burden of compliance. I put it to him this way.

The growing proportion of resources tied up in monitoring, measuring and controlling reduces resources available for real investment. It also increases fixed costs. This reduces growth, while increasing economic vulnerability.

As an example, consider a firm with annual revenues of 100, fixed costs of 70 and a profit of 10. Assume that recession hits, leading to a drop in sales of 20%. Revenue is now 80, fixed costs are still 70, variable costs fall from 20 to 16. The previous $10 profit has been replaced by a $6 loss.

The Australian economy, indeed all western economies, is a bit like this firm.

Debt levels are high. That debt has to be serviced. As interest rates rise and the economy slows, the burden of debt increases. We respond by trying to save more, thus reducing demand.

The global asset bubble, the rise in price of assets such as shares and houses, has provided a buffer. We can spend because the overall value of our assets has been rising. The rise in asset prices stops or, worse, turns into decline. Again, we respond by reducing spending.

Economic growth slows and turns to recession.

Economic adjustment in these conditions can be slow and painful. This becomes worse if we are in fact at the end of a Kondratiev cycle.

The rise in global productivity has in part been underpinned by new computing and communications technology, while the technology has also opened new investment opportunities. All the easy fruit from the new technology has now been picked. Worse, we are left with the centralised organisational command and control structures and their associated rigidities and costs whose rise has been facilitated by the new technology.

Monday, July 07, 2008

End of a Kondratiev cycle?

Driving home from work I listened to an interview on ABC Counterpoint with Professor Wolfgang Kasper suggesting that the world might be coming to the end of the latest Kondratiev cycle. This really took me back.

All those years ago when I was doing undergraduate economics at the University of New England we looked at Kondratiev cycles as part of our studies on trade cycles. I have rarely heard the term mentioned since.

Now for the benefit of non-economists, much of macro economics focuses on short term fluctuations. By contrast, the term Kondratiev cycles is used to refer to long term growth waves - 30-70 years - associated with major technological change. Kondratiev supporters suggest that we are coming to end of the latest wave, the IT and communications wave.

Kondratiev waves are followed by Kondratiev winters, five plus years of economic stagnation, before the next wave gets underway. If Kondratiev supporters are right, and I think that they may well be, the global recession that we are now entering may prove to be a longish term economic winter.

The problem for the modern generation of economists in dealing with this type of problem is, I think, their very denial that it might exist. Most do not remember the seventies, the end of the last wave, when all our established nostrums failed to work.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Wikipedia Woes - and the challenges of the on-line world!

One of the key things to remember about history is that a thing does not exist if it is not recorded or written about in some way. It is also true that a thing can cease to exist if people stop writing about it. So to this degree history, perhaps more accurately the writing of history, is a creature of current fashion and interests.

I make this point because of my oft repeated complaint that parts of Australian history that are important to me in a personal sense have diminished, in some cases vanished as though they had never been.

The process can be a slow one and is often unseen.

The theses and journal articles that provide so much of the raw material stop. There are no new books. Those things that have been published go out of print. The topics vanish from school and university curricula. Finally, whole fields vanish or are, at best, relegated to footnotes.

I write in part to try to preserve and present elements of the past that I consider to be important. In doing so, I noticed that Wikipedia was very weak in my areas of interest.

Initially I ignored this. Then I picked up a Wikipedia talk page that mentioned two of my blogs, suggesting that while not suitable for direct citation, they did provide access to useful sources. This set me thinking.

Wikipedia has become a key information source, coming up first on most searches. Consequently, we all use it. This means in turn that if my blogs are not suitable as sources, then I have a major problem.

I need a new writing platform like I need a hole in the head. Still, if the blogs cannot be used as sources, then I really have no choice but to look at Wikipedia itself.

I began by putting up a short historical overview on the New England New State Movement, an overview that a fellow contributor kindly edited to put it in the proper format. In doing so, I struggled a bit with the Wikipedia rules. These preclude original research, limiting content essentially to published sources.

I can understand this. However, it does create a problem where so much of the historical material is simply not available in published form. I almost have to go back to writing for journal publication, meaning that I end up writing material for yet another format.

While thinking about this, I decided that what I could do was to correct some obvious gaps on Wikipedia. So this morning I added a few references to the stub on my grandfather, David Drummond. This one actually cites my original Australian Dictionary of Biography entry as the source!

I have a fair bit more to do on the Drummond article, but in the meantime, I decided to add a short article on a different topic to fill another gap. Now here I wrote the article and then lost the damn thing. Yes, I know that I should have written it in Word and then transferred it, but it was only meant to be a stub for later work.

On a somewhat related topic, Helen (eldest) is presently in Milan, travelling with friend Elise. Yesterday evening Dee and I went over to Elise's parents for a video skype link up with the girls in Milan. Somewhat clunky, but still interesting.

Coming back, I was thinking that I should put up a daily log on facebook to keep Helen up to date.

All this leaves me wondering just how to survive the on-line world. Yes, many aspects are great, but the time demands!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Saturday Morning Musings - round the traps

Photo: Gordon Smith, Khan's Mine Adit 1

It seemed a good idea to begin this blog round up with a photo from Gordon Smith, lookANDsee. This particular shows an adit, lower left, from one of the many old mines lying in the gorge country to the east of Armidale.

Gordon himself has been back in Sydney, something that I know he would prefer to avoid, so has continued his Sydney photo series.

As a photographer, Gordon roams. When in Armidale he roams the surrounding ranges. In Sydney, he roams the streets looking for shots. Do have a browse. In writing about one old building, Gordon says:

This grand old building, on the edge of the Eveleigh Railway Workshops, was formerly used by New South Wales Government Railways but has been left to grow into a state a disrepair - very sad.

I though that the comment could equally well apply to NSW itself. In disrepair, but still with faded signs of past glories.

Neil's template instability has continued! Leaving that aside, in Smart Art he carried some rather nice reproductions of the work of the Australian artist Jeffrey Smart. I like Smart's work, and enjoyed the paintings.

To me, Smart's work is very Australian. We live in a visual world surrounded by images and visual language. In all this, I find it remarkable how little exposure Australian art actually gets.

Still on art, it has been a little while since I visited Will Owen's Aboriginal Art & Culture: an American eye. I can only describe this as a serious error of judgment. Will has had so many good posts recently that I don't know where to begin in describing them. They really deserve a full essay in their own right.

I spoke of visual language in the context of Jeffrey Smart. As Thomas (still overseas) suggested in Tone, meaning, and socialisation, language has meaning because of the way we attach meaning to symbols, the words we use. The writer has one meaning in mind, the reader another. Communication depends upon shared meaning.

Something of the same thing holds for visual language.

All painters paints from their own context and experience. We can appreciate the painting as a work of art, attaching our reactions to it. We often appreciate it more when there is some linkage, a context if you like, between the painting and us.

Now take a look at Will's Warlayirti Artists, Balgo (Wirrimanu), WA. Here we have a juxtaposition between art works and photographs. Here if you look, you can see the linkage between art and landscape, the way in which varying colours and textures translate from one to the other.

I am not a desert person, although I do claim to be a country one, since I grew up in Australia's New England. This, the country of many of Gordon Smith's photos, can be rugged, but is less stark.

Yet while my own country is different, I can appreciate the colour and form in Will's photos and the link between this and the art. I have been imprinted with the visual images and the stories attached to them.

There can be no greater contrast between all this and the Virginia green Will reveals in Mr Kluge's Gift. This is an interesting story from an Australian perspective because I, for one, had not been aware of this US collection of Aboriginal art.

Mixed with the many posts on different aspects of Aboriginal art, many with stunning visuals, are a number of posts dealing with the Northern Territory intervention, triggered by its anniversary.

I did not write on this at the time, in part because I had nothing useful to say beyond a feel that the whole thing was being re-captured by the attitudes and policies that had so failed us in the past.

I cannot come at these things from the same perspective as some of my urban friends and colleagues. When I look at some of these communities, at things like the out-station movement, I do not see Aboriginal, I see country. In this sense, I am colour blind. I see no difference in problems in medical services or education between a small NSW country town and an NT community. The core difficulties are the same, accepting that there will always be local variations.

In My new book, Geoff Robinson reports on the forthcoming publication of When the Labor Party Dreams: class, politics and policy in New South Wales 1930-32. Congratulations, Geoff. I will read with interest. I reserve the right to be critical!

Marcellous's musical mania continues, an education in its own right, as does his interest in bike riding.

I don't know if I mentioned this, but David Maister (one of the management gurus within professional services) has suspended his blogging, at least for the present. I can understand. My two purely professional blogs are badly behind, and I need to do something about this. I hope that David returns re-charged in due course.

Good lord, look at the time. So much still to write, but I do need to stop.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A blessed sense of relief

Photo: Gordon Smith, Sydney Town Hall.

Yesterday as I walked through the city crowds I felt a blessed sense of relief. I had had to go into the city for a meeting, and then managed to squeeze in coffee with Noric. As I walked round looking at the people and buildings I gawked, just as I had all those years ago when Sydney was still fresh.

The relief came from the fact that I had resolved some things that had worried me. The renewed interest in things about me was linked to this, giving me a capacity to look at things anew.

Last week end I tried to explain to a friend why blogging could help him. I don't think I got the message across. But, to me, blogging has been a salvation.

Part of it is the discipline of writing. Since I started, I must have written a million words. Every day, every week, I try to write. I do not always succeed, but it builds up.

Noric, too, is an inveterate writer. We have worked on joint issues for many years since we first met at a Screen Production Association Conference. He uses his web site and blog to give him a major presence.

Over coffee, we talked about the ways we might use our growing content, given our very limited time. This is a recurring theme between us, one that will never be fully resolved simply because time is so short.

It was a little while since we had been able to get together, so I noticed the ways in which our respective positions had continued to evolve simply through the act of doing and then responding.

Today I was talking to Christine at work.

I had been talking to her about Australian food. She doubted that there was such a thing. To her mind, Australians cooked so many things from different places that we could not sensibly talk about Australian food.

I said that I was going to print off some of my posts in a special book just for her. She was chuffed. She is actually a very Australian girl, but she said that in Australia she lived Chinese, talked Chinese, ate Chinese, watched Chinese TV and went to a Chinese church. Anything that gave her a window into the culture of her new country (she came here as a child) would be great.

I came home from work and started to download posts broken up by themes - people, culture, life style, writers and writing etc. After about an hour, I had the skeleton of a new book.

Now I had actually been meaning to do something like this for a while, but Christine provided a reason and a focus. Knowing her quite well, what would she (and others like her) find interesting? What might give her the flavour, the variety, of Australia as I have known it?

Setting up the structure and indeed the content of such a book is not hard. This is simply a matter of selection and ordering among the hundreds of posts that I have written. The hard and time consuming part will be the editing and formatting.

Later I may try for proper publication. At this stage, I am simply aiming for something that looks okay and which can be photocopied both sides of the page and then bound. Once this is done, and if it is interesting to the reader, then I can think about further steps.