I recently caught up with Ben Eltham, founder of the Straight Out Of Brisbane (SOOB) festival, and one of the cultural creatives I met at This Is Not Art (TINA) in Newcastle. Eltham is in Melbourne to work on the Melbourne Fringe Festival and with the new independent think-tank the Center for Policy Development. You might have read Eltham's articles in Artshub, Crikey and New Mathilda.
Some highlights from our conversation at Fitzroy's Terminus Hotel:
• Eltham contends that many of the artists he has worked with in TINA and SOOB are "micro-entrepreneurs" who are able to multi-task, work on many different projects at once, collaborate with a range of stakeholders, promote their skills, and handle business functions such as budgeting and marketing. We debated how SOOB and TINA alumnus might translate to corporate business.
• We discussed Eltham's research into bushfire science and hurricane monitoring, and how it might be applied to counterinsurgency and counterterrorism dynamics. Eltham pointed me to a Michael Lewis article in The New Yorker on hurricanes and risk. We talked about the lack of long-term data for hurricane forecasting and the risk profiles of possible hurricanes in Queensland.
• Eltham told me an anecdote about the US Navy's risk management system for its nuclear submarines: any employee at any time can "red flag" a problem or issue that goes directly to a US Navy team for review and actioning. "Killing the messenger" or obsessing about the bureaucratic politics of communication flows is not an option when you're responsible for a nuclear submarine fleet, Eltham observed.
• We debated the approaches, merits and differences of Australian security and strategic thinkers from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute to Paul Monk. You can read Eltham's critique of ASPI here. Eltham and I agreed that the ideological focus of left-wing politicians often meant that there wasn't a strong analytical culture of defence and strategic studies. Two of Eltham's New Mathilda articles on Australian defence: Angus's Vision and Brendan's Toys and The Toughest Kids on The Block.
• We traded analysts that we kept an eye on, from Fred Kaplan and Stratfor's George Friedman to hilarious "contrarians" such as The War Nerd who dared to say publicly and without apologies what many realist analysts had privately thought.
• Eltham has a science and statistics background so we discussed his research training: how he approaches a research question, the frameworks he uses to assess data and evidence, and the various statistical tools. This hypothesis-driven approach is very different to the belief-driven approach in cultural and media studies. This was a really useful overview, as I'd been reading statistics guides for the Six Sigma methodology.
• Eltham and his partner Sarah-Jane are working on video projects as the Ministry of Truth TV.
The Terminus Hotel conversation was one of the best I've had in 2007.