29 August 2006


A common topic for discussion these days is a reduction in of people's interest in politics and the political process. This is variously ascribed to the smaller gap between the major parties' policies, particularly economic, the ascendancy of 'spin' over substance, broken policy 'promises', and so on. In fact I had just such a discussion this morning.

The thought has been chasing itself in the wide brown vacant areas of my brain that maybe one could apply Simon's theory of
'satisficing' to this phenomenon. This theory has it that people will preferably look for an easy first best choice rather than expend lots of energy in seeking out the optimum choice. In an environment where the choice is seen to be becoming smaller, why waste your effort? Presumably any such trend would be backed up by a rising informal vote and the extent to which voters go to the trouble of allocating preferences, where they have such a choice. I might check that out later and update, after I've done tonight's work.

You'd kind of expect that, over time, parties would respond to any such indicators. Regrettably, I see the dominance of the current accepted wisdom - budget surpluses, less investment in infrastructure and increasing fees for service, more cost-shifting onto the consumer - as continuing. The minor parties should fill this gap, but get demonised by the majors. Even moreso now with the passing of Don Chipp. His loss just makes the Democrats easier targets for the headkickers of the Coalition and Labor.

Somewhere else in the aforesaid wide brown vacant land was the original point I was going to make. But there has been a duststorm that has blown all the thoughts away.

A bit more on classical music, listening to, in car. After decades of listening to rock, you forget how powerful a symphony orchestra can be and also the dynamic range between the soft bits and the bits where they all give it the guts. On the way home I was listening to Haydn's Symphony No 57 in D Major (had to look on the CD cover for the title!). Wow baby. I did have the stereo screwed up but you don't need that unless you want to blow your ears off (and let the wide brown bits out). Good stuff. I liked the last movement, the Prestissimo (you can guess the nature/mood) - lots of sizzling violins. I interspersed that with some of my favourite jazz, Jacques Loussier, who I can listen to all day.

For an ever so random diversion into what people think about the world of politics, go here.

27 August 2006

the organ of the rich

At last I got around to getting the old man's Scandalli accordion out. It was very dusty - for some reason he had insisted on throwing out its case, which he had fabricated from pieces of a downed B24 Liberator (as I recall) . When I cranked it up it was a bit wheezy - playing notes even when no keys (treble) or buttons (bass) were being pressed. He was going to show me how to pull it apart but we never got round to it. Nonetheless I figured out how most of it comes apart and gave it a preliminary clean which fixed the wheezing.

It weighs a bloody ton and so I might start to 'play' it a bit just for the exercise. It's a 120 bass for which you need to rewire your head in order to remember how the buttons go. Longitudonally they go up and down in fourths, while laterally they go tonic note, major, minor, seventh, diminished, augmented (I think). The thing is, it's quite loud so it's hard to play/practise without disturbing half the neighourhood - similar to bagpipes, I imagine.

Actually, when I say 'play' that is an rough approximation - I can still play piano but my abilities on the 'stomach Steinway', as father used to call it, are very limited. He had played it in a jazz band in the early 1950s and could still pump out Stardust, Elmer's Tune and similar songs when he was well into his sixties. Still, it'll be worth having a go occasionally.

(2) I was going to write something about the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us. Chip Goodyear only turned in a $10.5 billion profit for BHP Billiton last year so the board didn't pay him his maximum performance bonus - he got stock currently valued at $3.6 million with about the same again in options. These figures are just beyond the average worker's comprehension - they're certainly beyond mine. The article in the newspaper made much of the genuinely stringent performance hurdle/s that the board had evidently set. Still, I can't see that such disparities in income are sustainable. I read somewhere last week about the combined total of bonuses paid to the financial whizzes in the City of London last year. Juts staggering amounts. This is globalisation - the incomes at the top get driven up by competition for talent, and the incomes at the bottom get driven down by competition for lowering costs. Doesn't seem right.

(3) Sale of remianing bits of Telstra. As someone who bought into T2 (I did check with our then 'adviser') I have pretty much written off that money. It's in my daughter's name, we may as well sit on it until she has an income and needs a tax write off. I think I really don't understand this stuff. I'm supposed to be working - good night.

23 August 2006

the minute waltz

Things have started to get busier at work and are about to get even moreso. There will be an impact on the frequency of posts, so I suppose I'll have to concentrate on quality. Starting with the next one...

The new car speakers
(Focal splits, mine are the 165v2 model) are extremely suitable for classical music so I've bought a stack of CDs from the el-cheapo Naxos range as I wouldn't know the difference. I've bought a selection - Brahms, Chopin, Liszt, Dvorak and so on, desperately trying to recall what little I knew about the various composers when I was a wee tacker and learning piano. So far so good - I found that I was getting sick of the rock and so on, except for some all time faves such as Little Feat, Crosby Stills & Nash, Steely Dan and so on. We'll see whether it lasts. The Focals are smooth as: clear, detailed and modulated (eh?) in the middle ranges. The highs are just so, and while the blurb says the bass extension is good, I found that I need to give them a teensy bit of bass boost for best results. And some volume, of course. The car has a secondary amp, 30w a side, so I can drive the speakers easily. I've found the experience of driving around with classical on at fairly high volume to be sort of liberating.

I am sure it has been well over two weeks since anything John Howard-related graced these pages. I gotta say, I feel better for the experience. So even if I don't collect on the wager, the details of which still elude me, I've won already. There is, of course, nothing I can say that isn't being said either better or louder elsewhere, so why induce the stress, eh? I don't think he reads this little blog. If he did, that might be a different matter. Suffice to say, the wheels will fall off one day and when they do, I hope the road is icy, the bus is full and the surroundings are proximate and unyielding. If you catch my metaphor.

Mentoring this morning was conducted in brilliant early summer Brisbane sunshine. I did more of the talking than I usually try to do, but we had agreed that I would do a personal explanation of some stuff I used to do in a group/course context a few years ago. It seemed to get as good a reception as it used to, probing questions back at me etc, so I think I delivered something of value. I can see an alternative career starting to invent itself, but the big question is 'what is it worth?' Finding answers to that question is something I will need to put some devoted effort into. Starting next week or the week after. Or while I take some holidays hopefully later in the year. Mrs VVB and self haven't had a decent holiday together for over ten years so it will be a new experience, almost. Something to look forward to. And on that note, goodnight.

Hmm, that took well over a minute.

21 August 2006

steely dan phil

Tonight I was just about to throw out a paper bag that the old man had kept some of his papers in when I saw a scrap at the bottom, that didn't look much like scrap. It turned out to be a cutting from an old newspaper and indeed it was: a poem I had published in what must have been the Canberra Times (regrettably there's not enough of the cutting to date it).

You see, I went through a poetry period, starting in about year 11 with a teacher who was really quite a good bloke and encouraged us - to do things like this ("Phil, your poems are too dense: K, yours are too light; N, yours are just awful"). Yes, this is encouragement.

K - do you remember that? Worms? Poems about worms? Plays about worms?

I kept it up for a few years after high school and I've still got a folder of them somewhere (I hope). Anyway, as a sort of insight into the evolution of Leafy Western Suburbs Man, I give you Cold Steel. Sometime in the early 1970s. I wasn't big on revising so this would have been how it came out.

Cold Steel

Not for me the cold steel of your buildings;
For me, the grass,
Scented as home, and friendliness,
Warm and comforting,
Close to creation.

Not for me the sterility of your logic;
For me, meditation on an empty field,
Eternal, inviting,
Yielding to intrusion by family,
And familiar welcomes.

19 August 2006

i can see clearly now

From the ABC news:

"Last night the Department of Health issued an alert in relation to meningococcal disease," he said.
"A mistake was made when that alert was issued in that it had an embargo on it - it was not an active decision it was a mistake.
"It was an inadvertent mistake to issue it with the embargo on it, the media brought that to our notice straight away and we issued further information to the media to get the embargo off it."

I'm glad that's clear....

18 August 2006

the road to Mandalay

Here are some photos of Burma (as I still call it, now officially Myanmar of course.

This is the plain at Pagan. I've forgotten how many temples - the figure 140 springs to mind but this was 20 years ago....

Bullock cart near a village on the road to Mandalay - yes, really.

Temple outside Mandalay.

The U Bein bridge.

This has taken me about two hours. I had to close down Blogger and IE after each upload. Sometimes the uploads didn't work. Sometimes all I got was the previous photo, hence having to close down so I could do a fresh load. When they did load, the first two were loaded in order, then the next ones were loaded at the front of the post, not where the cursor was. Very frustrating. Anybody got any ideas why and/or how to fix?

Anyway, I hope you like them.

triumph of the will

Here is the car I was telling one of you regular readers about this morning. There are a few stories associated with this car, but I was reminded of one infamous incident earlier this week by two mates who were there at the time.No details, I'm not proud of it.

The car itself is a 1970 Mk2 Triumph 2.5 pi. This was my second Triumph. These photos were taken after I had got it back on the road after I fed the motor with flood water, trying to ford a swollen stream outside Dapto and momentarily (well maybe longer than 'momentarily', maybe just long enough to do the damage) forgetting that the air pickup was about 15 cm off the ground, rather than at manifold level. Lotsa bent rods.

The other car is of course Eric the Half a Car, a Mk1 Wolseley 24/80 bought for $180 to keep me on the road while the Triumph motor got rebuilt.

17 August 2006

Psalm 23: The Office version

I was sorting through the old man's papers the other night and found this newspeak, bureaucratically correct version of the 23rd Psalm. I don't think he wrote it, but as a fan of the peculiarities of the English language, as well as knowledgeable in several other tongues, he certainly could have given it a good shake. In any case, despite a few clunky bits I think it needs a broader airing, so with no further ado...

The Lord and I are in a shepherd-sheep situation and I am in a position of negative need.

He prostrates me in a green belt grazing area.

He conducts me directionally parallel to the non-territorial aqueous liquid.

He returns to original satisfaction levels my psychological make-up. He switches me on to a positive behavioural format for maximum prestige of his identity.

It should be said that notwithstanding the fact that I make ambulatory progress through the umbrageous inter-hill mortality slot, terror-sensations will not be instantiated within me due to paraethical phenomena.

Your pastoral walking aid and quadruped pick-up unit introduce me into a pleasurific mood-state.

You design and produce a nutriment-bearing furniture-type structure in the context of non-cooperative elements.

You act out a head-related folk ritual employing vegetable extract. My beverage utensil experiences a volume crisis.

It is an ongoing deductible fact that your inter-relational empathetical and non-vengeance capabilities will retain me as their target focus for the duration of my non-death period.

And I will possess tenant rights in the housing unit of the Lord on a permanently open-ended time basis.

14 August 2006

c'mon wheels, take this boy away

Eventually, they did. Who wants to sit a uni exam on a warm, early summer Saturday morning? Certainly not me. Here's the Datsun 1600 sports story.

When my family moved to Canberra in the mid 1960s, I fell in with a group of blokes at school, one of whom corrupted me for life by turning me on to cars. He had an enormous collection of Wheels and Modern Motor and we discovered Cars and Car Conversions and Car, featuring the wonderful, late
LJK Setright.

As we got closer to turning 17 we started to buy our first cars. His first was one of these
rare little Berkeley B105s, one of only five in Australia. He followed that with a series of Triumph sports cars. I began with the Austin A30, then the Morris Isis that I bought from the old man, then an early (long stroke) Mini Cooper, then an Austin Freeway wagon. By this stage I reckoned I was ready for a sports car. I had an open mind on what, except for an MGB because I reckoned there were too many of them about. So by a laborious process of trundling out to the old Sports Car Centre in Fyshwick, ACT, I eventually got the Datto, an early 1966 model, with a 3 main bearing crankshaft but not bearing the Fairlady name badge. It had a leaking rear main bearing so the first step was to pull the donk out to replace this, so that oil no longer got onto the clutch and the thing might actually go forward in the approved fashion.

By chance - is it ever? - the very next weekend one of
these little buggers came up for sale. One of only 15 in Australia, quick and rare and this one was not only in good nick, but the owner only wanted the same as I'd just paid for the Datto. Bummer!

Anyway we got the Datto going, it overheated regularly for a while and then came good. By my lights, if you owned a sports car you should leave the hood down all the time and so I did, even through the Canberra winter. The car had a good heater (gets cold in Japan!) and I wore sheepskin mittens and a beanie. It was bracing but exhilarating, given a broad interpretation of that word. The only other downside to top-down motoring was the half hour spent getting knots out of my fashionably shoulder-length 1970s style hair after any long road trip. Ouch!

The 1600 proved a reliable enough little toy. Around that time, European tyres were becoming popular and I put a set of Metzlers on it. There may well have been worse tyres in the wet, but if so I don't know what - the damn thing was close to uncontrollable, although the enthusiastic driving style may have been a factor. That said, the only bingle was inflicted by a girl I was keen on, when I let her drive it after the office Christmas party. Didn't get me anywhere, either.

Some time around then, I must have also sat down to a uni computing exam one Saturday morning. I couldn't recognise anything on the paper that rang any bells and it seemed a bit pointless to waste three hours of such a beautiful day. Those the precise sorts of days when sports cars are in their element...

Eventually I got a bit bored with the Datto - I quickly got bored with all cars in those days - and so one Saturday when I was taking a young lady out and thought I needed something more comfortable, I traded the Datto on the first of a long line of Triumph sedans, a
Mk1 Triumph 2000.

But that's another series of stories.

12 August 2006

i can see for miles

Every once in a while you can get very lucky. You get a glimpse of what is possible, you get a chance to see the world through someone else's eyes. Allow me to tell you about my Saturday morning. Get comfy, this could take a while...

I went to collect the money for the old Yamaha. I'd arranged to go early to catch the guitar teacher before his first student arrived. When arranging the meeting, I'd mentioned how different the replacement guitar - a Maton 12 string - felt, and that I was on the point of going back to the Yammy. He said "bring it out and we'll check the set-up". I mumbled "OK".

Of course this caused me a problem. He'd want to see me play to identify why I was having trouble and, of course, the truth is I'm shit at at guitar. I can't really play properly. So I asked Mrs VVB, who gave me one of those...female...looks, and said something including the words "male", "pride", "testosterone" and "stupid". I eventually deduced I was being given a message.
Back to this morning. I waited until he opened the doors and then in I went. "Did you bring the Maton?", he asked. Ummm. Went back to car and got it. Laid the case on his desk, he took it out, played a few chords. I had never heard that depth of sound from it since I'd owned it. "Yes" he said, "it's got a wider neck and I bet you hold it like this?" demonstrating. Ummmm. "This is what you'll need to do."

Then a short anatomy lesson; how the hand works, which tendons get used and overused, how the tension goes up your arm, the elbow ('tennis elbow') and into your neck. Yep, it all sounded very, very familiar. Now in fact I knew a little of this, but to have it explained very carefully and matter-of-factly was actually somewhere between reassuring and revelatory. I started to get the feeling this bloke just loved what he did.

And that's when it started. He's playing at his nephew's wedding this afternoon (the teacher's brother being a good friend of mine, hence the connection). He showed me the set list, picked up a classical guitar and off he went. Not just playing...explaining, telling the story of the music, the composer, who else around the world plays, the different schools of thought on classical guitar, why he belongs to a particular school.

Now, I love music but I'm a legend in my own lunchtime, as already admitted. That said, I reckon I have some feel for it and I love music in my life. But this was another dimension. For a second, I saw down through the ages - why some chords provoke certain feelings and responses, why some keys have similar effects on people. The timelessness...the relationship of key to key, of note to note, that hasn't changed over all that time.

For a second, you understand how
"music hath charms", why it is such a universal language. How it can bridge divides. You wonder what more it could achieve given the right conditions.

This was all pretty amazing and uplifting, for a Saturday morning especially. But as it turned out, his 9am lesson never arrived so we just got chatting. We covered a bit of politics, teaching, children, the decline of civility, and people we'd known. Why are people the way they are, why do they do the things they do. Maybe not 'they', maybe 'we'.

Concerned that not having students show up wasn't a very good business model, I asked about his plans. He's a primary school teacher as a day job but the music shop and teaching is the retirement strategy. The cash flow is less important than his own continuing progression as an artist, but more importantly the pleasure he gets from transferring his knowledge. This was so tangible I could feel it. I mentioned about my fear that he'd ask me to play something. "No" he said, "you can do that when you're ready. Drop in anytime."

I reckon we should start cloning as soon as we can, and we should clone people like this. The world would be a far better place.

11 August 2006

m-m-m-m-my g-g-g-g-g-generation

But before we get to the endless self-absorption of the boomers, a point or two on the London arrests. As will have been extremely apparent over the life of VVB I am, for want of better stereotyping, wishy-washy left and as part of this I am generally opposed to war, capital punishment, 'tough love' and all similar sorts of straightener and punisher policies. This includes of course preemptive bombing of places just because they might hurt us, or be associated with people who might hurt us, in the future.

The interception of an apparent terrorist act as seems to have happened, though, should cause even those of us of similar disposition to think twice. What if they - the people who preach pre-emptive action at a 'maximum', 'strategic', level - are right? I don't think we can just dismiss it from a purely ideological standpoint. I don't like it, but I have to consider the implications both positive and negative. I'll come out with my same preferences. But I do think that all positions should be examined, and none dismissed out of hand. That's playing the 'other side's' game.

The more wishy washy thing is to just ignore it and talk about something more pleasant, and also within power to influence. The regular Friday coffee was good as usual this morning (well, the actual coffee not so, we had to order a second, stronger one) and the theme of generational differences got another run.

My Friday interlocutor mounted an argument along the lines that, contrary to usual assumptions, baby boomers are just as - if not more so - adaptable to change than Gen X and Gen Y. His example was a former colleague, now about 55, whom he had assisted in searching for a job. He is an expert in ERP, or Enterprise Resource Planning. But this bloke's advantage is that when he started out as a production scheduler, he learnt to do it manually - pad, paper, and head. Then came the calculator. Then came the computer. He learnt the new systems but, as results of having learnt in the manual era, he actually understands how it works. I know this will resonate with a couple of my readers.

And I think that applies to a lot of us in this age bracket: we do understand the basics and we have adapted to - well, actually invented - the computer age. Just don't ask me to try to work a new device - mobile phone particularly - without giving me some time. Somehow I bypassed the early computer games period and, as a result, I just find it difficult to relate to some types of screen displays that, to me, mimic games screens. Script too small. Too many doo-dads going on.

Maybe the generalisation above doesn't really apply to me. I like real stuff.

Have a good weekend. May do some brewing this weekend, and I'll try to get photos of the remaining models so I can resume the ongoing car story.

10 August 2006

turning Japanese

Actually, the Japs are turning into us, only moreso. It seems that adoption of the Anglo-American model of competition and individual pursuit of promotion is having a disproportionately greater effect in Japan, where tradition dictated knowing your place in the team. And singing company songs, of course.

My usual immediate cheap shot would be denigrate the Washington Consensus model, but dammit, if Richard Stiglitz can turn apostate, why can't 'umble observers make a few similar observations. Of course the world is more complicated than this and it will be interesting to see whether any counterfactual evidence emerges from Japan or whether other factors are identified.

My theory of people's almost infinite capacity to absorb change, in particular in the workplace, should lead to saying something like "so what" to news such as that from Japan. I think people do find ways to get around or subvert the system, but then I've never worked on a chicken plucking production line. I don't know how you subvert that.

On a kind of similar note, there was a letter to the editor in yesterday's AFR from a young lawyer lambasting the culture of chasing billable hours, the heavy workloads this produces and the effect on work/home life. In today's edition there is a reply from an evidently more successful - or perhaps more driven - young lawyer arguing that yesterday's correspondent is obviously a failure and that the recent rise in such complaints is evidence of those will never make the grade because they're not good enough, so they just moan about the situation.

When I read today's letter, my first response was "maybe you shoud wait until you've matured a bit and you might see that different people hold different values and yours are not necessarily superior to the others, and yours might even change over time." And then I thought that I wouldn't want to be a client of a firm where an insufferably arrogant young lawyer valued maximising the firm's billable hours over providing the best service to the client.

We are all individuals.

more bits and pieces

Well I don't have to hate Howard today becos' the Beazer and (insert appropriate description here) Tuckey have provided the grist for the mill. Tuckey, if you want to make a cheap political shot, as is your calling, don't be offended when you get it back, as is Beazley's calling.

Oh oh, 7.30 report on, just gotta go and change channels in case you know who...done!

The PM said he was "disappointed" at the three who crossed the floor on the offshore processing division, but his visage betrayed a baser emotion. Watch this space. Mind you, as many commentators have pointed out, Labor boots you for such treachery. Talk about regulatory constraints...

The Business Review Weekly (not available online) contains a story that I haven't seen elsewhere, about political interference in ensuring that Mark Vaile's preferred supplier, Wheat Australia, got the Iraq supply deal after the Iraqis blackballed the Australian Wheat Board. There were seven other applicants but apparently Wheat Australia got the job on a late bid. All dates are mentioned. Media diversity, anyone?

Ah shit, this gets tedious. I know you agree.

In various situations today I've had conversations about generational change. My mentoree this morning made the observation that there are so many more support mechanisms for new job entrants that enable them to become effective so much quicker. Induction courses, ongoing training and of course mentoring programs themselves. The same theme was reflected this arvo when a job applicant mentioned that they always seek a mentor when joining a new organisation.

Afterward, a couple of us doing the interviewing reflected that when we started, a public bawling out was routine: no such thing as being taken aside and either counselled or yelled at. Such public dressings-down really only diminished the boss in the eyes of all the staff who had to witness it, but that was the way it was done. No one ever seemed to think it was odd. Today it would result in some extended grievance procedure, but the fundamental thing is that it's counterproductive, so why do it? I think we recognise now that such behaviour is usually a sign of insecurity and it gets treated appropriately.

So maybe we have made some progress over the years. Put it down to the sixties? Well maybe, maybe not. There are always at least two views on any particular issue and while the sixties may have expanded many people's views of what might be possible, over the longer term I can't imagine that it changed the overall balance of X's and Y's, righties and lefties, hardasses and softcocks.

09 August 2006

bits and pieces

Well as all you regular reader will attest, I haven't been here lately. No particular thing to put it down to - apart from the bet with DH to desist from any Howard-hating activities - just been doin' other stuff. This has partly consisted of trying to replace the headlights in offspring no 2's replacement car. This has gone partly well: one went in OK, the other has been a real nuisance as I keep breaking bits of it. I haven't done this sort of work for about 25 years and when I last did it, headlights were a standard circular 7 inch affair and they all went together the same way. Now headlights are all odd shapes and are very complex inside and when you break a bit, it's bad news. Out with the glue when I've finished here.

If I was to walk the thin line in relation to Howard-hating, I'd have to talk a bit about current issues as Parliament resumes. The renascent discovery of backbone in some of the so-called 'broad church' is very welcome. The interesting thing will be to see how Fielding (Family First) swings. No doubt he will have been offered all manner of inducements that we either will never find out about, or so late it won't matter. I thought Labor's immigration spokesman, Tony Burke, came across on TV as well briefed and very adept at the sound bite. What a shame that Beazley will forever sound like a year 12 debating student confecting a rage.

A thinner version of the same line would probably make some comments about chicken noises in Parliament yesterday. Bring it on, and more often. Costello's rooted and everyone knows it.

A little while ago I mentioned that I had started on Hugh Mackay's book Australia at the Turning Point. I'm still wading through it and I still wince a bit at its earnestness and obvious bias (even if I agree with him). I retrieved my copy of Generations today so I'll be keen to go back through it to look at the differences. I guess - and it is a guess - that after a further three years of the current government, Mackay had had enough and decided to go for the polemic, whereas I think my interest is more in the descriptions of the preferences, foibles and beliefs of each of the generations as a reflection of the Australia we have become. Swapping family stories with a mate today, I was again blown away by the stories we all carry of the peculiarities found within families, how they get ignored, covered up, explained away or sometimes just never explained. No wonder so many of us end up a bit bent (more on bent in a minute). I occasionally will suddenly recall some incident from childhood and think, "now what did that signify? Why did that come back to me just now?"

So, not much grist for the mill today I'm afraid. I have left a few comments elsewhere around the 'sphere but the muse is not with me. What an empty life with no whingeing to be had.

Bent: that was the personalised plate I saw today on
one of these. I guess that's how the rich do whimsy. I certainly liked it.

06 August 2006

pressure down up

Blood pressure, that is.

In another of her typical efforts at eliding the truth to suit her extreme views,
Miranda Devine manages to confuse so many elements in this piece railing against Jon Stanhope's nomination of Terry Hicks as Father of the Year it's hard to know where to start.

A "cult" that has grown around David Hicks? He is being "sanctified?" No, just an increasing number of people who have woken up that he is a political prisoner. Get him in open court, get the facts out. And why would Australian youths be seeking to emulate him, given his treatment by his own government? She's a dill, but that's no impediment to earning a living as an opinion writer, I realise.

Then Devine slides artfully into a review of Flight 93, just to confuse those who may have forgotten that any alleged links between what Hicks may or may not have been doing - with the Taliban, remember - and the al-Qaeda attacks on the United States, are yet to be proven.

However, her most egregious error is to sign off with "Lest we Forget". That should reel 'em in, eh Miranda? Draw some inference between the awful Mr Hicks and our fine diggers?

Oh, how I wish the old man was still here so I could get him going on this one. Because one of his main objections to the glorification of war in this country was the (in his view) misappropriation by the RSL of that particular phrase from Kipling's "Recessional". I wish I had a quid for every time I had to listen to him ranting that the poem was all about regret at England's loss of empire and nothing at all to do with honouring those who lost their lives in war. He was quite monomaniacal about it and it was, I believe, the reason he never joined the RSL. See this article, he was pretty much on the money.

Finally, from everything I read that is happening in Canberra recently, Stanhope appears to be a grade-A dill. If he really wanted to get Terry Hicks up, he should have organised for someone else to nominate him, because his own nomination is such an easy target.

04 August 2006

i believe...

..for every drop of rain that falls, a conspiracy theory grows.

Sure seems like it and this, I reckon, is one trend you can put down to the internet. While some folks have always leant towards the less probable, but more exciting, version of events, it used to be relatively hard to get the word around. Now, with instant mass communication, you can relay, interpret, embellish and distort to your heart's content.

In the case of the story linked, it'd be easy to draw a few more conclusions around why lots of folks believe this particular story as things in Iraq get worse, Lebanon has emerged, and so on.

But it's late - well, late for me - on a Friday night and any comments made here wouldn't be particularly insightful or helpful.

So, back to the usual refrain in these cases: if it's a choice between a stuff-up and a conspiracy, go for the stuff-up every time.

02 August 2006

broken social scene?

Yesterday's post has been enthusiastically received by all one of my overseas reader, for which I am grateful. There were a few jumping-off points in that piece for subsequent expansion and, while driving to work this morning, I thought of a few to use tonight. Regrettably, the passing parade of the day has immersed those brilliant thoughts in a miasma of fog, so...

Note to self: need to install a voice-activated note-taker in the car so random brilliance is not lost. Or do some memory exercises.

But first, another coincidence. I was in someone's office today, busily planning the future - ha! - when I noticed Hugh Mackay's Turning Point on his bookshelf. A couple of copies, in fact, which struck me as I had mentioned Mackay's Generations only yesterday. So I snaffled a copy which I will read with interest. However, even the first few pages seem to indicate that by the time he wrote this, Mackay was turning his social research into the social democratic ('lefty')
polemic that we see fairly often in his contemporary writing. Nonetheless, I'll be keen to see how he works through the arguments. Interestingly, in searching fruitlessly for a book review or similar page I could link to, I found dozens of references to the book in sermons and papers by religious leaders. Hmmmmm...

Also by sort of coincidence, I had early morning coffee today with one of the former mentorees I referred to yesterday. Said person complained - no, maybe boasted - of a raging hangover although my diagnosis, delivered after 10 minutes of having my ear bent, was still pissed. Not to worry, I guess one of the joys of being Gen X is being able to sustain a hangover midweek.

Said person had also come to a decision about the next couple of years: going travelling. This, after I had spent some time providing comments on said person's CV to help in getting the next job. Well, such a job may well be overseas and in all of this activity we see 'typical' Gen X priorities: travel, flexibility, the job isn't everything, and not so concerned about security as some baby boomers, at least.

I found as a manager that the propensity to travel did cause a few headaches, in that at all times there was at least one team member on a six month trip somewhere. Once you got used to it, the problem became a bit more manageable in that you can start to plan for it, eg by distribution of projects to fit with who might conceivably be around for the projected duration/delivery date.

The level of comfort with uncertainty is probably the trait that I personally find hardest to understand, as I have been very security-conscious for as long as I can remember. More to the point, I'm not sure what drove this preference: maybe father's stories of the Depression, maybe that when I was growing up, everybody's parents were in stable jobs. It was just the way things were.

Interestingly, offspring numbers 1 and 2 are quite different in this regard - one a voracious traveller, one a bit more stay-at-home. And I imagine these different preferences are distributed throughout the population although in Gen X cases the travellers are in the majority. Implications for policy? Well, it fits well with flexible workplaces - increased casualisation, part time work and so on. Reduced demand to purchase housing, because they would rather rent? Well, housing affordability is decreasing, but what is the cause and what is the effect might be open to debate, I reckon. After all, if you know you won't be able to buy, if you know (based on experience and data over your lifetime) that share investments will return you more, why not rent, invest and travel?

What would a scenario be that took this trend and extrapolated it? Less investment in housing, or fewer people bearing more of the cost and the return? What if declining oil reserves pushes up the price to the extent that - as I read somewhere yesterday - air travel again becomes the preserve of the rich?

Probably the single greatest thing driving us as parents is that we leave our children a better life and perhaps even a better world. I read that this will be the first generation where this will not be the case. But we all face the same problem in trying to understand different values. What if the life/world we leave is just different - maybe not as good as we would like, but not a problem for those who inherit it?

Baby boomer dilemma. Poor us - always focused on our own needs and values. Somehow, I don't think so.

in which we eat humble pie, crow, hat, whatever...

I once I said I'd treat the PM with something other than derision if and or when an industry group supported an interest rate rise...

Well blow me down, look what Peter Hendy said today:

Peter Hendy, the chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says
his organisation supports the Reserve Bank's decision to raise rates.
"We think there's quite a lot of justification for this particular rate rise," he
"We've been very worried about inflationary expectations building up."
He acknowledges that it will cost business but says rising inflation is also
a burden to businesses.
"We're hoping that it will be the only rate rise that's necessary to get us back to the 2 to 3 per cent target for inflation the Reserve Bank has," he said.
Caught like a rat in a trap. Hoist by own petard. Done like a dinner. So, something other than derision, eh....

OK, the PM is correct to say that every dollar that a worker gives up in previously agreed, negotiated, contractually binding agreements, is a plus to the economy's competitiveness. That is why, as I understand it, profits are taking an increasingly greater proportion of GDP.

Doesn't make it right.

DH: whatever...

A more interesting post will follow later this evening.

01 August 2006

what's my scene-ario?

In the course of preparing a talk last week, I ran across this piece of scenario development sponsored by the Business Council of Australia. I was surprised I hadn't heard of Aspire Australia before, as I do try to keep up with these sorts of things.

I'm also usually a bit suspicious of scenarios, mainly because they seem to be a bit of a 'must-do' for all sorts of organisations, but then there is no follow through. That is to say, they devote resources to building the scenarios but then don't use any of the findings in their strategic planning. Everyone cites
BP's experience (even those who claim that the subsequent strategic change and rebranding was just greenwash), but how many organisations have done scenario development and then left them on the shelf?

All that said, the three scenarios produced here are quite appealing in that they reflect trends that we can see, attitudes to which we can relate and provide a reasonable basis for any subsequent planning and action. The three are, in the BCA's own words:

  1. Riding the Wave explores the consequences of a breakdown in trust between people and institutions. It is a story about reform fatigue and complacency. In this scenario a loss of faith in institutions eventually undermines Australia's capacity to grow. A lack of long-term, focused investment and reform results in economic decline and social crises, ultimately leading to a reexamination of our political structures. In Riding the Wave, global prosperity is no guarantee of prosperity for Australia. Efficient and effective Government and trust between people and institutions are critical to building the capacity of the nation.

  2. Stormy Seas focuses on Australia's international relationships. It explores Australia's policy options in a future where there is a sustained decline in Asia Pacific stability and security. Regional instability challenges Australia's international and economic relations. Australians become more nationalistic, more cohesive - they are more tolerant towards difference within Australia, but at the same time cocooned in their view of the rest of the world. While it is stressed that this is only one possible story about how these relationships might evolve, the Stormy Seas scenario presents a difficult future for Australia.

  3. Changing the Crew examines the social dimension of change in Australia - in particular the potential value tensions within and between generations as baby boomers, who have dominated Australia's policies and values, are moving into retirement in unprecedented numbers. In Changing the Crew, a new generation of pioneers creates a sharper-edged Australia, resulting in friction with other generations. Australians are more strongly connected with the rest of the world than ever before, economically and culturally.
I'd usually be a bit suspicious of the BCA in any exercise such as this as it is an organisation best known, I feel, for aggressively pursuing its own interests to the detriment of other sections of society. Big Business, and so on, you understand. However, in this case the scenarios provide food for thought across the board. There's the usual incessant references to globalisation, of course, with the also usual assumption that it's an irreversible trend. Those who forget the lessons of history, etc, I say.

But when you look at the list of eminent Australians who participated, it is a very representative list of both broad and sectional interests and the scenarios reflect not only a substantial and careful process to develop them, but also can be understood as having emanated from those who took part, ie there is no obvious overlaying of any agendas (econo-gabble excepted, as I have said).

My interest was particularly piqued by "Changing the Crew", as Gen X/Gen Y and their impacts on the country are a special fascination of mine, dating back to
Hugh Mackay's Generations. This mainly comes about because offspring no 1 and offspring no 2 are on the Gen x/Gen y cusp, but also because as time goes on, the people in the units I have led are increasingly Gen Y. I've found I need to work hard to get comfortable with their frames of reference and that the assumptions I lazily make on their behalf are nearly always wrong. One way I have found to bridge the understanding gap is through being actively involved in the mentoring program that the organisation where I work runs for its new graduates. I've been lucky to have had a series of grads as mentorees with whom I've been able to forge good relationships, so that we can discuss generational difference issues and each party gets something that they can take back to the workplace.

But I also feel that the pace of change in all areas of life, particularly technology, has the potential to drive unnecessary wedges between the generations that could be avoided with a little effort by all parties. For those who follow the random scribblings here, you will have seen that occasionally I try to do a piece on my experiences in running a blog. To what extent is blogging - and similar trends such as podcasts etc - the new medium of exchange? What do they give us that other mediums of communication don't? What, if anything, do we lose from not using other mechanisms? Like talking to each other...

To be continued.

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