March 2010 Archives

Whittlesea Leader journalist Mark Smith's article 'Trapped roos shot in South Morang' (22nd March 2010) raises some concerns about DSE's decision-making process:

1. Who made the 'go' decision for a 'controlled shooting' of the kangaroos? What was the decision process, timeframe, and options considered? Why was the 'controlled shooting' acted upon, despite a "working group" to relocate the kangaroos? Was the 'controlled shooting funded by taxpayer money?

2. At any time, was the bushland site owner Westfield consulted about the kangaroos, and if so, what was their preference for resolving the situation? At any time, was Westfield a factor in the decision to use 'controlled shooting' to resolve the situation?

3. Given that "the health and safety of these kangaroos was at risk" and that the 'controlled shooting' was viewed as a "tough decision":
(a) Why was 'relocation' not acted on as an alternative to the 'controlled shooting'? and
(b) Why were there no other contingency plans acted on that would have kept the kangaroos alive?

4. What was the status of the "working group" formed to relocate the kangaroos? Why was the "working group" not consulted or informed about the 'controlled shooting' until after it had happened? Again, why was 'relocation' not pursued as an alternative?

DSE's clarification on these matters would be most appreciated, thanks for your time.
Provisional go-ahead to work on a new journal article with Ben Eltham.

CFA Institute's strategies after the global financial crisis: raise awareness of the CFA Charter through regional investment conferences such as in Bahrain, with CFA Bahrain; and new memoranda of understandings with capital market regulators.

A profile of Lehman Bros. fallen CFO Erin Callan revisits an early chapter in Andrew Ross Sorkin's Too Big To Fail. Sorkin recounts how Callan is promoted too quickly by Lehman's board, and then forced into a corner by market volatility. As the firm's CFO, Callan then adopts a charm offensive strategy with analysts and financial media. The strategy fails, most spectacularly when Callan has a war-of-words with David Einhorn, the hedge fund manager of Greenlight Capital who 'shorts' Lehman's stock. Guardian scribe Andrew Clark blames the 'glass ceiling' and trader floor misogyny. Perhaps true, but for me there's another, more compelling explanation: Callan opted for media-savvy public relations strategies which Einhorn as a masterful short-seller was trained to see through. For more on his investment research process, see Einhorn's book Fooling Some of the People All of the Time (Hoboken, NJ John Wiley &.Sons, 2008).

CNBC: The Fall of Erin Callan, CFO (March 2010)

CNBC: David Einhorn on Lehman Bros. and Erin Callan (June 2008)
A vivid nightmare.

Insight during a morning meeting: to follow the money and find the 'edge' in an industry, listen to the 'water cooler' discussions at investment conferences. The topics may turn up in academic journals about two years later.

Foxtel senior executives and I agree on something: too much Andre Rieu on the Ovation cable channel.

PhD 'draft zero' progress: several journal articles I had missed on 'strategic culture' --- one argues that it is a research program instead of a variable. Six pages in to John Hutnyk's article 'Jungle Studies: The State of Anthropology', Futures 34 (2002): 15-31; this exemplifies the fusion of critical realism, cultural studies and post-Marxist critique of universities that I saw in the mid-to-late 1990s. I wondered: Is this the kind of research design that probably led ARC assessors to rank Futures as a B-level journal for the 2010 ERA rankings? A page on how post-September 11 'conflict anthropology' has 'borrowed' ideas and insights from anthropological research.

Found in notes pile: two detailed outlines for unfinished, never-submitted journal articles.

The Norwegian band Ulver as a model for the unfolding creative process: a shift from three influential black metal and folk metal albums, to prog rock, ambient glitch, and then to film soundtracks, and jazz-influenced symphonic rock. It helps that Ulver's Kristoffer Rygg owns his label Jester Records. Occulture bonus points: Ulver's second album, rumoured to have been recorded on an 8-track in a forest after the band spent their advance money, turns up in HBO's The Sopranos.

Wrote two pages for PhD draft on Alastair Johnston's generational model of strategic culture analysts in security studies and international relations theory.
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Michael Lewis on Bloomberg's 'For the Record' to promote his new book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010). Amazon's #1 book although the reviews are affected by end-user problems with the Kindle  version. Lewis clearly has had extensive media training.

Major points that Lewis makes:

The five main people that Lewis profiles are outsiders --- stockmarket analysts rather than bond market specialists --- who had to learn about the subprime mortgage market in order to track stocks that they were interested in, and who then decided to short the market.

Financial innovation should be regarded with some skepticism - we can see examples that led to greater inefficiencies rather than more efficient markets, so some innovation can have a downside, and this may be clear only in retrospect. Lewis believes collateralised debt obligations should be more transparent, i.e. traded on exchanges and clearinghouses, so that all parties can manage their counterparty risk.

Financial service firms are now more professional than what Lewis saw at Salomon Brothers during the late 1980s. Yet Wall Street is now far more cynical: bonuses, incentives and hypercompetition have eroded the partnership ethic that keeps these firms stable.

Reviews of The Big Short: The Big Money, Washington Post.

A 20th anniversary piece on David Lynch's Twin Peaks has a couple of interesting anecdotes on how Lynch dealt on-set with his actors.

Roger Lowenstein asks: Who needs Wall Street?

John Kay on oblique decisions.
Morning meeting: get people face-to-face on sensitive issues, avoid escalation by email, and remove roadblocks. Some interesting anecdotes on what really happens on an overseas consultancy.

Late afternoon meeting over tea and donuts with collaborator Ben Eltham in Melbourne's Nicholas Building. Discussion: EMI's troubles; how ERA will affect two articles we are working on; Australian academic and zine maven Anna Poletti; why journal workshops have bad percolator coffee; sick buildings; and the psychological impact of glass desks in offices.

Evening: PhD 'background research' viewing the first episode of Gwynne Dyer's mid-1980s series 'War': archival footage of World War I nationalist mania, the Western Front trenches, machine guns, German zeppelin raids, and World War II aerial bombings, ending in the Trinity nuclear test and Hiroshima. The nationalist mania, and generals' decision that led to the sacrifice of 60,000 English in one day to German machine guns and no-man's land, are examples of George Gurdjieff's 'terror of the situation'.

An insight whilst viewing Dyer's series: the Napoleonic innovation of national conscripts and total war, and German air-raids, broke the taboo on targeting civilians. Prior to this, 19th century Russian anarchists usually targeted police and political leaders. After this, many groups acted on the taboo, for different reasons: anti-colonialist and nationalist revolutions, radicalisation in the shadow of the Vietnam War and other conflicts, strategic tactics such as during hijack negotiations, and religiously motivated violence. This hypothesis appears to be a close fit to David Rapoport's waves thesis and to Mark Juergensmeyer's research program. Is this testable using the Correlates of War data-sets?
Gardening, housecleaning, writing, playing with our border collie/blue heeler dog Monkey.

I last ten minutes into John McTiernan's film The Hunt for Red October (1990), before falling asleep. Alec Baldwin's portrayal of analyst Jack Ryan is cited in management literature as a case study in following your hunches. Author Tom Clancy claims to have used open source intelligence sources for his 1984 novel.
Generating a range of different grant and funding ideas for a client's 'program of research'.

Tony Boyd in today's Australian Financial Review ('How Myer float sprang a leak', p. 64):

The joint managers of the Myer IPO, Goldman Sachs JBWere, Macquarie Group and Credit Suisse, did a masterful job in locking up just about every broker in Australia.

Were there no 'contrarian' views or Monte Carlo testing of Myer's post-IPO valuation price?
Creating a survey using Qualtrics software.

Attended a great panel session on 'clarity of thought' and decision-making, run by The Churchill Club Melbourne, in which part of the meeting was held under the Chatham House rule. I had previously met Dr. Paul Monk of Austhink who explained to the audience how analysts avoid decision traps. Detective Senior Sergeant Ron Iddles of Victoria Police gave some very grounded, practical advice on investigative judgment and how to manage small teams. Dr. Amantha Imber of Inventium explained how she uses evidence-based research and findings from academic journal studies in a commercial environment. Lots of 'actionable' ideas from senior practitioners, and good audience questions.


For the PhD research design, trying to get my head around the event studies coding, logistic analysis, time-series trend estimation, and ordinary least squares analyses in Matthew Baum and Tim Groeling's academic study War Stories: The Causes and Consequences of Public Views of War (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009).

Follow-up emails with internal clients on various projects. Publication Syndicate written feedback.
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Three chapters into the audiobook edition of Andrew Ross Sorkin's book Too Big To Fail (New York: Viking, 2009). Sorkin did over 500 interviews and looked at primary and forensic evidence. Already, this book has loads of succinct, nuanced details of decisions, meetings, and organisational politics. Maybe Sorkin can be on CNBC 'Squawk on the Street' as a regular guest co-anchor.

In contrast, Gillian Tett's book Fool's Gold (New York: The Free Press, 2009), which I wrote about here, is focussed on the J.P. Morgan team, its peers, and anthropological visits to securitisation fora.

It will be interesting to contrast how Tett and Sorkin portray decision-makers such as J.P. Morgan banker Jamie Dimon.

Tett and Sorkin's books on the 2007-09 global financial crisis also illustrate two key points I made in November 2009 academic conference paper and presentation on journalists cowritten with Barry Saunders:

(i) Journalists are adopting methodological practices and innovations from areas outside media, such as anthropology, investment banking and criminology.

(ii) Business and financial journalists will conduct an average 250+ interviews for their investigations, which will take an average 9 months to 2 years to research and write. Some of the most influential investigations will have 300 to 500 interviews, which will include with key decision-makers.

Compare (ii) with many PhDs that can take 4 to 6.5 years to research and write instead of the allotted 3 years, and that may have only 20 to 40 interviews. Sorkin's journalistic and non-fiction craft leads him to create a strong narrative, to condense the key facts and details, and to use 'deep background' interviews to cross-check and verify meeting accounts.
Two separate meetings on career directions: Where do you want to be in 3-to-5 years? What actions can you take to move toward these goals?

Collaborator Ben Eltham has written a piece on how the 2010 final rankings for Excellence for Research in Australia (ERA) has affected his academic publishing record: 'When Your Publication Record Disappears'. A title reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails' song 'The Day The Whole World Went Away.'

For the past year I have been dealing, professionally, with issues that Ben raises.
Whilst outside academia, journal publications are often viewed as irrelevant, they are crucial to the academic promotions game, and to getting external competitive grants. A personal view:

ERA is the Rudd Government's evaluation framework for research excellence, developed by the Australian Research Council, to include a ranked list of academic journals and discipline-specific conferences. The ARC released the final ranked list in February 2010. It may be revised and updated in the future, but not this year.

The ARC's goal for this ranked list was to ensure it was comprehensive, peer-reviewed, would stand up to international scrutiny, and would provide guidance to administrators, managers and researchers on quality research outputs.

In the near-term ERA's 2010 final rankings will require adjustments to our academic publication records. Some of the journals we have published in such as M/C were revised down or excluded, probably because of perceived issues with their peer review process. More starkly, ERA's guidelines for academic publications filters out most of my writings over the past 15 years: magazines and journals that no longer exist (21C, Artbyte), websites (Disinformation), magazine articles with original research (Desktop, Marketing,, unrefereed conference papers, technical reports, and contract research. It also does not usually include textbooks, research monographs, and working papers. The 'disappearance' effect that Ben describes also happens elsewhere: when Disinformation upgraded its site to new servers, we sometimes lost several articles during the transition that writers had no back-ups of.

Others are in a tougher position: mid-career academics who have taught and not published or applied for external competitive grants, or who understandably focussed on quantity of articles for DEST points rather than ERA's focus on quality ranked journals and 'field of research' codes. ERA has caused a dramatic re-evaluation for some mid-career and senior academics of their publication record, impact factors, and other esteem measures.

The Cove

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The Cove (film)
Several months ago I wrote Don Webb about a documentary I had just seen at the Melbourne Internationa Film Festival: the eco-thriller The Cove. We talked about Arkte, Runa, the scientist John C. Lilly, the media's power to construct and shape social realities, and exchanged anecdotes about dolphins and other cetaceans.

Tonight, The Cove won the Best Documentary Oscar at the 82nd Academy Awards, beating out Food, Inc and Burma VJ, which are also worth seeing. National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos and dolphin activist Ric O'Barry attended the Academy Awards ceremony (Psihoyos' acceptance speech was cut short). To learn more, visit the sites for the Oceanic Preservation Society (Psihoyos), and the Earth Island Institute and Save Dolphins Japan (O'Barry).
Facebook message to my sister: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Rosie returns to Hobart.

Afternoon watching the Oscars live telecast: one of the worst Oscars ever, with production mishaps, missed cues, and barely audible announcers over the orchestra. Tom Hanks messes up the Best Picture Oscar, or were the producers demanding to stay on-schedule for their cable affiliates? Deadline Hollywood's Nikki Finke blogs here on the debacle.

The Cove wins an Oscar for Best Documentary.My thoughts here.

Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker triumphs over James Cameron's Avatar. I expected the Oscars for editing and scriptwriting: Mark Boal's shooting script will be studied by many up-and-coming scriptwriters for years to come. Will Boal write his next script using Final Draft for Apple iPad?
Morning: Rosie and I go to see Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland reboot at IMAX Melbourne. The car park is overcrowded with parents and cars, due to a baby expo next door. Rosie talks her way into a car space. Our consensus is that Burton watered down his vision for Disney: Alice has a couple of good sequences, but it's a 2D film marketed on Avatar's 3D hype, Depp's performance blurs into his other collaborations with Burton, and we would have preferred to learn more about the (reunited) family of bloodhound dogs.

Burton, his wife Helena Bonham-Carter and Depp: how long can a team maintain its high performance, across multiple projects, before it becomes derivative of earlier work?

Lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant in Richmond's Victoria St precinct: amazing food, confusion amongst the waiters.

Evening: half-watching Paul McGuigan's Push (2009): the Hong Kong scenes remind Rosie of Kar Wai Wong's superior 2046 (2004). The film's opening sequence creates a narrative that combines several memes: Cold War paranoia, the early 1970s Nazi Occult cycle, the 1990s disclosure of government funding into remote viewing psychics in which the money went up in smoke, and David Cronenberg's early films. Push's one genuinely interesting idea was to have a taxonomy of different human capabilities that interact in a simple rules-based system.
House cleaning, gardening, and article writing.

Working through the assessment exercises from Timothy Baldwin, William Bommer and Robert Rubin's textbook Developing Management Skills: What Great Managers Know and Do (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008), book site here.

Watched Stanford entrepreneurship lecture on Adding Value to Companies.

Martin Van Creveld on a 1998 television interview: soft-spoken, dismisses claims that the 'future of war' will be dominated by 'cyberterrorism' and other Revolution in Military Affairs trends.

A colleague told me this week of how a professor used the Australian Research Council's national competitive grants program as a bootstrap process for promotion to dean. First, they established their expertise, publication track record, and created a cross-institutional and collaborative research team. Second, they split the ARC grant proposal into different components, delegated each to different team members, and then reassembled them into a completed proposal. Third, they ramped up the number of applications to 15-to-20 per year, with a 50% success rate. The grant revenues made a significant contribution to the department funding. The professor was soon promoted to dean.
'Pair of hands' project finishes: debriefs for process improvements and advice provision.

Tonight, I attended a Melbourne Business School (MBS) talk on the changing investment landscape. In reality, it was a case study and walkthrough of Macquarie Group's online retail trading platform Macquarie Edge, with speaker James Leplaw, head of Direct Investing at Macquarie Direct. The talk was far more than a sales pitch though, due to the Leplaw''s candour and willingness to talk about the decision traps and execution mistakes.
'Pair of hands' work continues.

Subjects during tonight's dumpling dinner at Market St with Ben Eltham and partner Sarah-Jane Woulahan: how Everett M. Rogers' diffusion of innovation theory can be applied to customer demand for dumplings; Pavement's much-anticipated set at the 2010 Golden Plains Festival; what qualities empower an office space to support a team's creativity; if underground emo band Forlorn Gaze would do a hospital tour like Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison (1968); how Ben manages to keep up-to-date on current issues for Crikey and New Matilda; and current projects. Thanks, Ben and SJ, for dinner.
'Pair of hands' editing and budget development on a research tender.

Finished reading Gillian Tett's book Fool's Gold: How Unrestrained Greed Corrupted a Dream, Shattered Global Markets, and Unleashed a Catastrophe (New York: The Free Press, 2009). Tett's social anthropology perspective highlights the role of securitisation and financial innovation in the 2007-09 global financial crisis. Most of her sources appear to be a J.P. Morgan cohort, interviews with J.P. Morgan Chase chief executive officer Jamie Dimon, and industry conferences such as the European Securitisation Forum. Tett believes the J.P. Morgan cohort pioneered collateralised debt obligations in the mid-1990s and that this 'super-senior debt' had a pivotal role in the crisis. Fool's Gold is most interesting when Tett describes the cohort's original goals and the CDO innovation-to-market process; although Dimon is also portrayed as a savvy corporate philosopher and details-oriented manager.

In response to a Geert Lovink post on blind peer review in academia, Barry Saunders and academic friends tweet this process in an open ecosystem. My take? Many authors will already know who their critics are if there are clear personal agendas rather than constructive suggestions on how to improve an article. Look at the list of associate editors when applying to a 'target' journal as they will probably review your work. There are ways to handle 'rejoinder' processes - such as to show the internal inconsistencies between positive and negative reviewers. Many academic journals now use a hybrid approach.

In November, Ben Eltham and I wrote a conference paper and presentation on Twitter's role in Iran's 2009 election crisis. It's been read by Australia's Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, and been heavily downloaded. Today, Ben received news that University of East London senior lecturer Terri Senft has used our paper in her coursework on digital media culture here. Check out Terri's personal site, LinkedIn profile, and LiveJournal blog.
Still feeling ill after yesterday's Bruny Island Cruises eco-tour trip to Adventure Bay and a seal colony in the Great Southern Ocean. Amazing scenery and crew, but we hit rough weather on the way back, perhaps in part due to a tsunami warning. At a few points we feared the boat might capsize. Kenneth Kamler's book Surviving the Extremes (2004) takes on a new meaning.

Lessons from sorting out a GPS that failed Sunday morning: Customers in a time-critical bind want a solution, not 'shifting the blame'. Frontline staff need 'decision rights' and not to rely on managers who can't be contacted at weekends. Unless you check it beforehand, critical technology will create revenge effects.

Today's major task: finishing and submitting a research team's ARC Discovery proposal. This has been a personal 'shaping experience'. It takes a multi-university team up to ten months to craft a proposal. Apart from myself and the research team, the proposal had feedback from over 10 people. Advice to future applicants: read the ARC's 'funding guidelines' and 'instructions to applications closely; have lead-time to iteratively develop your proposal and form your team; and update your research impact and publication details in advance.

Alfred Hermida kindly sends me a forthcoming paper on ambient journalism, for a paper I'm drafting this week for the ERA C-ranked journal M/C. I picked up several Brian Eno events to review.

Wrote to Waldo Thompson on his website plans; Underbelly as a police-crime 'repeated game' in Australian culture; and its predecessor mini-series: Scales of Justice, Phoenix and Janus.

Several people sent me Larry Derfner's Jerusalem Post article on Mossad and Mahmoud al-Mabouh's assassination. Local coverage has emphasised Mossad's alleged use of Australian passports for operational cover. Will this incident reinforce Mossad's status amongst intelligence agencies and its reputation for careful operations? Or will the incident lead to a broader debate in intelligence studies about how counterdeception and operational security practices might, in certain outcomes, undermine an allies' sovereignty? As an independent researcher, Robin Ramsay and Lobster Magazine is sure to explore this territory.

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