Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Living in an age of systemic complexity - the news

Listening to news reports and commentary over the last few days I find myself submerged.

I am reasonably intelligent with significant experience and yet I find myself struggling when listening to the news to disentangle what's really important from the dross, to know how much weight to place on things, to understand how bits fit together. Let me try to illustrate by selecting a pastiche of stories.

A survey shows that children are not getting enough sleep. This is meant to provide guidance to parents and policy makers. Did the Greens muff the chance of giving Australia a working carbon price? As protesting farmers demonstrate around Australia's Parliament House over the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, reporters and commentators try to explain within time and word constraints how the bits fit together within a cacophony of claims and counter claims. The Government is investing time and effort to repeal the medivac legislation on the grounds of national security from an uncertain threat. After some 50 pieces of security related legislation, Australians are less alert as weariness sets in but are more alarmed.

The Disabilities Royal Commission has highlighted problems in group homes for those with disabilities. This follows earlier stories on problems with the National Disabilities Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The NDIS is a very complex scheme that few understand. Meantime, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has highlighted problems in the current system that led the Government to increase home care packages and take some further action to get younger people with disabilities out of old people's homes.

 Australian Energy Minister Angus Taylor remains embroiled in the question of whether or not his claims about Sydney City Council travel expenses involved falsified documents, but has now somehow managed to embroil US writer Naomi Taylor in the discussion. Worries about obesity and sugary drinks continue. There seem to be new moves to broaden the system of TV classification to give parents better guidance than just the PG (Parental Guidance) classification.

The Australian Prime Minister apparently has blood on his hands because these bush fires might have been less if Australia had acted earlier on climate change. Bush fire smoke over cities has led to health warnings with plentiful advice on how to manage the problem. More dairy farms have closed down because of pricing issues, while many are concerned about Chinese investment in Australian agriculture. More broadly, people are worried about China and Chinese involvement in Australian agriculture, technology and politics. leading to new Foreign Interference laws.

Labor is calling for a Royal Commission into veteran suicides, while Australian Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt has become embroiled in the award of a $ 2.2 million Aboriginal eye care contact to people connected in some way with the Liberal Party. The allegation relates to the way the contract was awarded and the price for cataract surgery. Aboriginal eye care has long been a problem, something I have written on, while I actually know some of the people in this case. Meantime, the dispute has attracted from less important matters such as reconciliation and positive action to address Aboriginal disadvantage.

Westpac, one of Australia's major banks, is under attack because it allegedly failed to comply with anti-money laundering regulations on some 23 million occasions. Of these, a small number (13?) involving small numbers may have involved paedophilia. The scandal has forced the resignation of the ban's chair and and CEO.

The Australian Government's attempts to introduce a religious discrimination bill have been deferred for further consultation following criticism from all side, while the Israel Folau case proceeds through the courts, Folau is a rugby player dismissed for propounding anti-gay views, proceeds though the courts. meantime, the Macquarie Dictionary has selected "cancel culture", community attitudes that "call for or bring about the withdrawal of support from [for] a public figure, such as cancellation of an acting role, a ban on playing an artist’s music, removal from social media, etc., usually in response to an accusation of a socially unacceptable action or comment by the figure" as its word of the year.
I will stop here for the moment. I accept that those from outside Australia may find some of my references somewhat cryptic, but I am just trying to illustrate a simple point: in all this, how does one select what is important, see how the bits might fit together? 


Anonymous said...



(so much to worry about; so little time)

Jim Belshaw said...

:) Fancy you being into twitter. Or you may have been, but that's the first twitter link that (I think) that you have given me! A useful corrective, although I think those numbers have peaked! But that's a different argument.

Anonymous said...

Well, so long as they've peaked, you still have the perfect excuse to continue worrying about things completely beyond your control - hey?

I'm not "into" twitter. I think it's a shallow cesspool of ill thought-out brain-dumps, all looking for life-affirming "likes" and re-tweets.

Get a life and - these days - maybe even keep your job :)

That said, I happily admit to being a fan of Titania McGrath as a zen master of the short, sharp skewer: https://twitter.com/TitaniaMcGrath


Noric Dilanchian said...

Traditional media has long had less commons in it than I recall in my lifetime.

As profits and jobs shrank in journalism, agendas or tiresome deadwood genres/formats/formulas or attention seeking or distraction festered in trad media, with some exceptions.

Speaking personally, little for me in trad media is now habit-forming except for The Financial Review, Sunday morning on ABC TV with Insiders (which I have almost given up on) and the ABC TV feed on Monday evenings (which annoys and once every quarter delights.

I feel there is nothing to get when I make a rare walk through a newsagent, also they have shrunk or disappeared.

Seekers for frameworks I suggest should selectively try long form video or podcast interviews or best of all read books.

Anonymous said...

Agree very much with ND here. The world is a lot different to what it was when sanity infected 51% of the population. I just flicked on to the SMH main page, and am confronted with this:


- as something worthy of celebration, apparently indicative of "restaurants that define Australian dining right now"

Are we breeding a race of Australians with dislocatable jaws? And the content: "Crispy crumbed pig's head sanga"

Looking forward to the next election to watch ScoMo get his mouth around that lot!


(and you think you have things to worry about Jim? These articulated-jaw people dine regularly here in my quiet valley. Waiting on the new restaurant opening shortly: Mandibles)

Anonymous said...

More "bit-fitting-together" for you to worry about Jim:

The last couple of days has seen the various media gleefully deep-diving into the scene showing Macro and Trudeau seemingly laughing behind Trump's back at the Nato conference.

But now today we see "France paralysed by the largest strike in a decade, and Canada's unemployment rate rising to 5.9% despite predictions it would remain a steady 5.5%.

South of the border (aka USA), unemployment was posted as 3.5% - lowest for 50 years - and not to mention the China has just announced the removal on some tariffs, most notably on American pork imports. It mightn't all be to Trump's credit, and so I await the inevitable negative spin from our media analysts.

(That last bit re pork might have something to do with the loss of an estimated 45% of their pig population to ASF, but I could be guessing here :)

And the impeachment saga continues; which sort of reminds me of those cartoons where the idiot grabs something large and dangerous, and can't then figure out how to safely let go.


Jim Belshaw said...

Afternoon both. I think that new cafe of yours should be more properly entitled The Broken Tooth, kvd. As happened to me earlier this year when a tooth snapped at the based while consuming a pork roll!

I'm still sorting my ideas The post was meant to be an opening shot with more to follow. That will come.

One problem, I think, that I am addressing here lies in the sheer complexity of modern systems . The Murray Darling Basin is an example. A second lies in the way that we overlay so many different issues, many of them secondary if not trivial. Then we have problems of structural change in the media that we have talked about.

There is still some good longer form reporting in different formats, but we do have an overlay of trivia, opinion. I suspect that I will come back to all this a little down track.For example, the way that certain structures reinforce patterns.

Specifically on Mr Trump, kvd, as at the time of writing, the main Guardian story is on hand washing and water saving devices. I happen to agree with Mr Trump on this one, although its a second order issue for a lead story on an Australian news web site. But then, it fits with the pattern of other stories on the web site.

As you know, kvd, we have somewhat different views on President Trump. The story on US unemployment was covered, but mainly on the business pages. When I first wrote on Mr Trump very early I focused on his administrative competence. Now that is the least of our worries. I have written very little on President Trump, partly because he is a random element not an easy subject for my type of analysis, partly because discussion has become so febrile in the US and elsewhere that it's hard to make sense of it all. No doubt all these things will work themselves out, but for the moment all one can do is to wait and see what happens.

Anonymous said...

Ha! Well you must by this stage think of me as an enthusiastic Trump supporter - no?

That is actually not correct, if that is your opinion, Jim. The reality is I have always despised the claimed superiority of most of the media commenters, who are people I wouldn't put in charge of a church bazaar - given their lack of experience in the real world.

I didn't really take much notice of anything Trump until I read an article by Paul McGeogh, who had a platform on the SMH, but really no grasp afaics of anything connected to reality. And he ended up with "such a dreadful man" - as if that was significant? - I think I even commented on this on your blog at the time.

So I bookmarked his twitter feed, and started paying attention to this "dreadful man", and nothing I've seen since has convinced me that the American left is composed of anything other than hypocrites, grifters, and straight out liars.

And if that's the best that can be produced by the chosen few on the left of politics in America, then we are all doomed - and Australia, as always, mirrors this insanity.

The world these days revolves around only China and the USofA as far as I can tell. Therefore what happens in those two domains is pretty significant for the rest of us, I've always thought.

China is fighting a battle with its own citizens in full view of the world at present, but I think the ASF crisis will be more significant in the long run: they need to at least feed their population to quell continuing unrest.

And America is yet again displaying all that is coarse and ugly about a free society, yet continues to be hugely admired simply because its people are free to do so.

Who'd have ever thought?


Jim Belshaw said...

You know, kvd, I have never thought of you as an enthusiastic trump supporter! You just like having your own independent sometimes contrarian view!

I really don't know in all this. It seems to me that if the Chinese objectives are to retain power for the communist party while asserting China's national power, they are going the wrong way about it. I described Mr Trump as a random element. I didn't necessarily see this as a bad thing, but he is doing real damage to the US. As for the democrats, they have gone over the top.

Australia is a bit player in all this. a lower mid-power whose power will slip because of demographic change. We have to be clever and lucky and I don't see this. It's hard. Australians have a view that their views matter and they don't really. Oh well.

And i have been finally subject to a boomer alert in a conversation elsewhere. I was quire flattered!

Anonymous said...

Article written, I think, before the UK election, but well written, and logically argued, by a guy who I don't always agree with, but nevertheless respect:



ps intrigued by your "going the wrong way about it" sufficiently so that further explanation would be appreciated.

Jim Belshaw said...

Morning, kvd. That was a very well written piece.

On China, I think there are inherent tensions built into their approach. Party power has depended on an implicit social contract in which people accept limitations on certain freedoms in return for economic freedom, improved economic conditions and security. The Government wishes to maintain, restore or establish Chinese sovereignty not just over Taiwan but extend it far into the South China sea. China desires to assert both political and economic influence. Thus the Belt and Road initiative has both economic and political components.

It was always going to be difficult to manage the transition from a high growth approach where growth depended upon high savings, high investment and high exports to lower growth with more emphasis on consumption and on productivity improvement. China had gained a demographic dividend which has now gone into reverse as the workforce ages, requiring transition to new types of industry which in turn requires access to markets and opening of the Chinese market to more competition.

Effective management of the tensions built into varying objectives required a degree of subtlety and patience that has been lacking.

Anonymous said...

Fair comment Jim - thank you.

And my apologies for posting my "china pig concerns" on a later thread - was accidental on my part.

Back to this post, and I see that Maria Folau has (not) announced her retirement from NZ Netball. What a shame, to lose such a wonderful player. 32 years old I think? Too young to walk away from a stellar career imo.