Thursday, January 24, 2008

Vale "The Bulletin"

So the Bulletin is no more.

This is sad news, especially because of the inadequate reasoning offered by the publisher - that it was effectively killed by the internet. The net is great for breaking news and some forms of extensive writing, but not for the kinds of article based journalism of which The Bulletin was a part.

Somehow I don't see Time or The Economist going the same way as The Bulletin. The Bulletin couldn't find its way to sustain the kind of writing found in those journals and had more in common with its Womans Day stablemate than either of them.

The early history of The Bulletin was of a highly nationalistic, populist rag - that employed some really great writers. One wonders why in its more modern guise the publishers didn't try taking it down the populist route - a bit more humour (why did The Chaser need to start their own outlet), a bit more depth in the politics (maybe sack some of the old columnists).

Now we don't have a news magazine - in my youth we also had a weekly news paper of Bulletin pretensions in Nation Review, then Fairfax did a good job with The National Times. There are the writers and the material - some of Quadrant and The Monthly would fit well in the weekly.

Given the magazine didn't compete with anything else in the stable - why not at least try to sell the masthead/brand? And was this a decision L. Murdoch new of before deciding to buy in?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Glad I'm not there

An item in the SMH describes the problems being experienced by AAPT's new call centre (and computer system).

You can bet the consequence will be a huge increase in TIO complaints, so I'll be able to bask in the glory of declining complaint levels while I ran the show and increases after I left.

The story really is a bit more complicated!!! However, one does question the wisdom of the whole "step out" change process that was employed. While the theory is great - maximise the benefits of the change by creating the opportunity to remove the most staff - the practical reality is that there really isn't such a thing as a "labour market". By that I mean that the skills required in a job are not ever actually available "off the shelf" in the marketplace.

What I'd really like to see is the report by the change management consultancy - Deloittes - on the change. Will the blame be laid at the door of management changes at AAPT, failure to properly implement the Deloittes change program or will it be a questioning of the Deloittes change methodology!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Ming's Legacy

In the Weekend Australian Christopher Pearson has a swing at the great Ming's legacy.

He has taken exception to an item in the Higher Education Supplement by Bob White which had harked back to the expansion of the Universities and the creation of Commonwealth funding under Menzies as the last time a Commonwealth Government had done anything positive for Universities. Perason's generally elitist critique is based on the assumption that the threefold increase in student numbers and the linked increase in academic posts came at the expense of quality because the expansion must have required admitting people of lower standards. He then makes the usual "cluture wars" critique of the academic sector being made up exclusively by rabid left-wingers who then supposedly have melded all thinking in the country in their own image. He includes the usual snide distinction of the 5 new "besser brick" universities from the "Gothic".

It is all pretty pathetic really. The first thing to note is the high population increase post war - both from baby boomers and from immigration. The second is that university places possibly simply hadn't kept pace with existing population growth, and certainly would have declined through the war. So the claim that the increase of places equals a reduction of quality is based on some assumptions that all other change had followed a "standard" path.

As for the so-called invasion of the left, this is and remains a myth. At least it is a myth that this has had any enduring effect on the make-up of intellectual debate, there are plenty of functioning right-wingers out there. Heck, even Tony Abbott survived the university system, and Peter Costello went through a Menzies University.

The idea that the five Menzies institutions are second rate is really getting confused. Yes that claim might be able to be levelled at the Universities spawned by the Dawkins reforms (of which the University of Western Sydney from which Bob White hailed is one) but then again if there are n universities one must be the best and one must be the nth.

Pearson simply is a big bag of wind. But also the likes of Bob White should get a little bit more real about the developments since - without the Dawkins reforms he'd be a Lecturer at a Teachers' College.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

For the record

This man taught my daughter to ride a bike, but I can promise you I am her biological father!!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

John Winston "Mr Right" Howard

A photo on page 2 of this morning's SMH that accompanied this carry-overed front page article was captioned spot the celebrity. (Unfourtunely I can't find the photo on-line.)

It featured the man who used to be the Prime Minister flanked by the NSW Shadow Attorney-General Greg Smith and his son Nathaniel. We guess the former PM was meant to be the celebrity - but it is the company he now chooses to keep which is telling.

Remember that Epping pre-selection in which Howard supposedly backed Pru Goward? Hard to believe that the PM really got rolled by the NSW Right. We'll never really know who the PM backed.

We know (see my earlier blog) where the Liberal Party in NSW stands. It looks like the former PM stands right beside it!!

The Democrats in the SMH

It all started with an article by Laura Chipp. It is fair to describe this as a basically predictable "establishment" Democrat post-election justification and wishful future thinking.

The letter from Andrew Elder of Eastwood in today’s SMH has some interesting responses to the piece, some of which I agree with. (Elder also wrote about it in his blog - but I can't understand the gormless writing style. He comes across as obnoxious, but some of his observations are reasonable).

In the end the Democrats went to the election not standing for anything. "Bring Back Balance" isn't a campaign theme - it gives no indication of how you intend to act, especially when you know the biggest brand issue is the number of people who believe (wrongly) that the Democrats sold them out on workplace reform in 1996 and the GST in 1999.

Contrast that with the description of GetUp! also in today's SMH. I think it is a mistake to over-read the numbers involved in GetUp! It is not the vocal end of a larger group - this is the entire group of people concerned about these kind of social justice, civil rights, indigenous, refugee and democratic process issues. They are by definition "activists" because holding the views they do is already an "active" position - they have thought for themselves and resisted the mainstream view. Politically the "cartel parties" will mostly represent the "mainstream" view - that's what you do to get a majority of votes. And that mainstream view becomes self-reinforcing because the masses (a good Marxist term) get their biases reconfirmed for them by their political leaders. Howard was the master of that, sometimes described as the dog-whistle.

But GetUp! continue to kid themselves that they have influence. Sure they may get audiences with their local member about what they have discussed - but so will the local Right to Life group. Sure they generate some petitions and letter writing campaigns - but so do the Catholic lobby groups who want everything censored. And it remains my belief that their contribution on election day was negative for progressive causes...all they did was harass voters with their rating of parties on the issues they regarded as important. I saw wavering voters decide to vote Liberal after their GetUp! confrontation but no one do the reverse.

What those flocking to GetUp! meetings (and those enamoured by ideas like the Third Voice Alliance) need to do is to realise that what counts is getting votes for your cause. So campaigning without a candidate to support is pointless - as is some vague line like "Vote for Change". (I should note that the US system of primaries makes this slightly different - there external vote gathering groups can help).

On the flip side those who do have a plan to get candidates elected need to focus on all the work needed between elections. GetUp!'s constant campaigning works. The Democrats got seduced into thinking it was just up to the elected representatives to keep the party in the public consciousness, and didn't do anywhere near enough between election street level campaigning. And what they did wasn't capitalised on - signatures on petitions did not become a database of "fellow travellers". And they also fell for the trap of letting policy be something defined by the parliamentary representatives - as the GetUp! meetings showed people like the chance to do policy work. (It should be noted that the messy clash between the parliamentary and organisational wings of the party in the Lees/Stott-Despoja explosion can be identified as the source of this problem - a problem that will be resolved now on 1 July 2008).

Finally, many Democrats - Laura Chipp included - are now suggesting a role for the Democrats in local Government elections. This is especially tempting in NSW where the timing (September 2008) gives us something to do before the 2010 Federal Election (not getting a State election till 2011) (I personally discount the likelihood of a double dissolution - the Liberals would be insane to give Rudd a trigger). If the Democrats are serious about this then there is alot of policy, infrastructure and campaigning work to do now.

It is an interesting challenge - I hope there are people ready to take it on.