24th March 2010: An Open Letter to DSE

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.

23rd March 2010: The Callan-Einhorn Battle

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)

22nd March 2010: Ulver

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.


21st March 2010: Bloomberg on Michael Lewis and The Big Short

Wrote two pages for PhD draft on Alastair Johnston‘s generational model of strategic culture analysts in security studies and international relations theory.

Cover of

Image Source: Amazon.com

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.

15th March 2010: Breaking the Taboo on Targeting Civilians

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?

14th March 2010: Following Your Hunches

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.

12th March 2010: The Gentle Art of ERA Self-Defence

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?

Continue reading “12th March 2010: The Gentle Art of ERA Self-Defence”

11th March 2010: Clarity of Thought

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).

10th March 2010: Three Chapters in Too Big To Fail

Follow-up emails with internal clients on various projects. Publication Syndicate written feedback.

Cover of

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.

9th March 2010: ERA Strategies for ‘Disappeared’ Academic Publication Records

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, Internet.au), 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.


In response to Ben’s piece, I mentioned the following possible strategies:


1. Know your University’s policy and procedure on ‘research active’ status and how it is calculated. There may be variations of this at Faculty and School level. Once you finish your PhD and have Early Career Researcher status for the next 5 years, focus on building your publication record, internal grants as a rehearsal for external grants, forming a collaborative team, and establishing networks to have industry and government partners. The ARC does not want ERA to be used for academic performance reviews, but this is likely to happen.


2. Send in all relevant research outputs to your University’s annual HERDC data collection. Although there is usually at least 12 months delay in this, HERDC outputs mean you contribute to the block grant funding that your University can get for research. Some of this is usually passed on to individual researchers for School and Faculty level research accounts. Where you can, include citation data using ISI Web of Knowledge or Scopus.


3. Develop a ‘program of research’ with a 3-to-5 year time-frame. The ‘program’ should encompass multiple projects, collaborations, and creative work or research outputs. This helps the post-PhD transition to ECR status, and ensures you don’t try to put everything into one or two journal articles. One challenge is to first conceptualise what this ‘program of research’ might be, and then translating it into ‘field of research’ codes that are used as institutional metadata. A second is to be able to articulate to others how your approach differs from others in the field; what your distinctive, significant and original contributions may be; and how you will achieve your goals, on-budget, and within the specified time-frame.


4. Scholarly published books, i.e. by academic publishers, are counted for both ERA and HERDC data collection. The problem Ben notes for history academics is also a problem for political scientists, who may publish in top journals, but whose life-work usually goes into a major book for Cambridge, Princeton, Routledge, Georgetown, Harvard, Yale, or a similar academic publisher. The ARC does not have a list of academic publishers.


A second problem:


The ‘research active’ policies and procedures at many universities give a book the same points as two or three articles published in an A* or A-level journal. This points system seriously underestimates the work involved to conceptualise and write the book, and then to get it through the publisher’s development editing process. So, as an incentives scheme it may have subtle and unanticipated effects on knowledge creation.


5. Get your research outputs into your University’s institutional repository. This may be run by IT ServicesĀ or Library staff. The repository may have different policies and scope of what it will accept: I have publications at both Victoria and Swinburne universities, and each
institution is slightly different. Take the time to include the relevant metadata for each submission, especially the 4-to-6 digit ‘field of research’ codes. Keep the last version of the article you submitted to an academic journal, because due to publisher copyright and intellectual property contracts, often this is the only version that an institutional repository can publish.

6. Archive your ‘primary’ research and develop a stream of publications. Ben probably approached his excellent Meanjinwork with the mindset of a journalist and long-form essayist. He did 20 interviews for one piece. This is more work than goes into many articles for B- and C-level journals, and even for some A-level ones. He could easily reuse and revisit this ‘primary’ research, for the next three or four years in academia. For example, a paper that reviews current frameworks to identify a knowledge gap or research problem, could then lead to a methodology paper, then to comparative case studies, and then to an evaluation or meta-analysis study.