Doors closing please stand clear

passenger trainIn life there are opportunities everywhere. It is possible to start a revolution, a company or a friendship almost anywhere at any time. All you need is enough energy and commitment.

It is a marvel of the human condition that the societies we create mostly facilitate this desire for opportunity that is in all of us. We even pen a plethora of self-help literature on the back of this universal potential. Books on positivity that show us the glass as half full to overflowing only sell because they catalyse our innate desire for opportunity.

Fair enough you say.

Such a hippy-dippy worldview may be upbeat but it is only part of the truth. There is the downside too.

The cheats, naysayers and greed infested abound to ruin many an opportunity with their negativity. The world is nothing if not two-sided. It always has enough ying and yang for everyone, even those with a library full of Tolle tomes.

I agree. Opportunity does exist for us all but so too does misfortune. Both are a heartbeat away.

Here is the thought. I suspect that those who cheer their way through life easily coping with misfortune and insatiably seeking opportunity know one crucial thing…

Doors closing please stand clear

In other words everything is transient. The opportunity will not be there forever any more than the misfortune. The doors will close on both so that new doors can be opened.

The human condition is honed to this flux.

We intuitively know that when an opportunity comes along it will only be there for a short time. Our chance at it is likely to be brief. We either act to grab the chance or we watch it pass by and say ‘better luck next time’.

In day-to-day life the loss of an opportunity is rarely life changing. There will be stories of the record producer who passed up the Beatles or a soccer manager who said no to signing Lionel Messi, but these are rare anecdotes. The frequency of opportunity in everyday life means that misses do not matter that much.

Not so with nations. They move more slowly and are less nimble in both recognising and taking opportunities. Leaders of nations must be much more alert to see opportunity on the horizon and position themselves and their constituents to be ready.

Australia for example has done very nicely out of wool and then minerals, especially iron ore and coal. It took these soft and hard commodity opportunities with both hands and has become wealthy as a result. Only to keep the wealth coming it needs to ready to grab the next opportunity. Current leadership seems to be doing the opposite and holding on tight to the past.

It’s a poor choice.

Sayre’s law now applies to politics

Wallace Stanley Sayre (1905–1972) was a U.S. political scientist and professor at Columbia University who came up with the following law of human nature: “In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake.”

Smart fellow to notice the universality that when it doesn’t matter, we get really intense.

The law would clearly apply to ‘does my bum look big in this’ or ‘that really isn’t your colour’ or equally ‘Rooney will never be a number 10’.

Much of this is because we are more attuned to drama than the truth. The soap opera formula is the definitive expression swaying as it does from one drama to the next failing elegantly to resolve any issue. Most reality TV offers up the same basic plan.

Sayre found the proof of his law in observation of academics. He is quoted as saying “Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.” And having had a previous life in the hallowed halls of academia I have to agree. Create job security and it takes everyone off their toes only to channel energies at each other. It’s weird indeed. When I left the ivory towers it was because I am cursed with a copy of the entrepreneur gene, but the bickering was easy to leave behind and observed from a safe distance.

What concerns me is that Sayre’s law appears to be leaking into big P politics. There is fierce agreement over the big values such as perceived threats to security even if they are a loose excuse to justify war. Much head nodding and stoic repose on the cross-benches whenever the PM speaks of response to atrocity.

Move to question time and suddenly there is mayhem over a medicare co-payment. The shadow health minister turns red and is about to explode forcing the speaker to announce that the end of the world is near. It makes crazy posts like Fun with flags seem normal.

This should be a big worry. Am I wrong to expect parliamentarians to get fired up about the big stuff? No, I want them to debate the crucial decisions even if they end up in agreement — and it can’t get more serious than war and what to do about terrorism.

Yet we are deafened by silence. Instead the debate spills into the streets causing pain to many an innocent. This is very poor leadership.

I am left with the absence of Australian PM at the UN climate summit in New York, only for him to take the proverbial by pitching up in the big apple the very next day to address a somewhat disinterested general assembly.

Agreement mutes debate and so does avoiding the issue. It’s not good at all.


Warriors beachThe desert bakes the feet of the brave warrior even in the shade of the acacia. A waft of thick air brings a strange scent, somehow fresh and made of vibrant colour. Our warrior turns toward the smell and an urge comes to stride out. Instinct draws feet forward ever faster as clean air banishes the torpor of heat. So powerful is this cleansing that he runs towards the breeze. As beads become rivulets down his temples he reaches the edge of a cliff and is amazed at what he sees, an azure vista full of promise and opportunity. Fatally he stops to think. The view is too much. It calls and repels in equal measure, pregnant with the opportunity of pastures new and yet is far away. His breath hurts and his legs stiffen in fear of further exertion. He thinks again and returns to the safety of the scalded earth.

Away team

StarTrekPhotonTorpedoThe instant a photon torpedo rents the hull of the USS Enterprise, the explosion ejects hapless crew members into the vacuum of space. Red and blue arms spiral over black booted legs into the ether.

It is always a haunting image that mixes death with vast emptiness.

And yet there are worse ways to go. Being hit by a bus or the ravages of a carcinoma seem much nastier.

Imagine the same scene on the Enterprise in super slow motion. In this version nano-seconds become months or even years. Now the torpedo is visible. It takes forever to deliver the inevitable, the fusilage opens without force and the air feels still rather than explodes. It takes a long while for the expression on the faces to change and the reality of consignment to cold emptiness doesn’t seem sink in at all.

You see we  respond to real and present danger with fight, flight or freeze [the last one being a recently discovered ability of our brainstem]. These core instincts trigger when the scene plays in real-time, but slow it down and we just don’t feel the same. Our brain just says ‘get on with it already’ and finds something else to think about.

Now imagine that the developed world is the USS Enterprise. It has been hit by a photon torpedo. Disabled and defenseless, its contents fly into the depths of space. Only this is happening in super slow motion. So slowly that nobody has the attention span to notice. The crew are still blindly going about their business as usual.

We don’t see that there is no leadership, no options or ideas to deal with the situation, and no James T Kirk to save the day. It is all happening so slowly that there is no drama in it and nothing to hold our attention.

It is as though Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Sulu and all the other members of the flight deck, right down to the unknown ensign, have all gone on the away team. The only ones left on the bridge are nameless crewmen who are ultimately anonymous and dispensable making ready for their cartwheeling exit.

We remember Lincoln, Kennedy, Churchill and their ilk because they were leaders. Few will remember modern politicians for they behave like the dispensable extras. Nothing is expected of them.

Our real problem is that we cannot speed up our scene. It is designed to play out slowly, far slower than our instincts can detect. Even the moderating effects of the limbic and frontal cortex of our brains that have helped us to slow things down, to plan and to think can’t see the rent coming. We cannot see the consequences of leadership loss ejecting us into the true emptiness of the universe.

And for this we must be eternally grateful. For if we knew what was coming it would be chaos as we are overtaken by fear. At least without leadership we can stay blissfully ignorant.

Thank goodness Kirk are still on an away team.

Fun with flags

fun with flagsWould Nick Xenophon, the independent senator for South Australia, be in favour of scrapping the market economy? Perhaps he is.

Recently he teamed up with DLP senator for Victoria John Madigan to decry the deplorable situation that the Australian flag flying over commonwealth buildings might not be made in Australia. The senators are to introduce legislation to the Australian parliament that mandates all flags flown above government buildings be wholly produced in Australia.

But what if flags made in China are better quality and cheaper?

In a global economy it is smart to find the best value for money, not just because value makes sense, but because you also want the global economy to find value for money in Australian coal, iron ore, beef cattle, financial expertise and a whole raft of other goods and services. Or not.

Maybe instead we should be parochial and let everyone else buy globally. After all we have no need for a global economy purring along to everyone’s benefit thanks to buying and selling.

But hold on, fans of Big Bang Theory know there is something in the flag issue.

I reckon we should get Dr Sheldon Cooper to stand for election to the Australian parliament. He’s so popular that he’d be a shoe in and then we could get some real fun with flags.

And then I thought…

That the ABC radio news reported this nonsense is amazing; that I wrote a post about it is equally bizarre. That elected leaders don’t have better things to do with their time is a real worry.



Barry O’Farrell resigns as NSW premier

So there we have it.

After 7 years as leader of the opposition waiting for his tilt at the top job, Barry O’Farrell lasted three years as premier. Forced to resign for misleading the Independent Commission Against Corruption because he obviously did receive a $3,000 bottle of wine as a ‘gift’ after all.

This is not what usually happens. In politics there are no lies, there is just being economical with the truth. Politicians usually spout so much waffle and fluff their comments can be cut down to one word without loss of meaning. Consequently a host of dodgy doings and ‘mistakes’ can be erased, buried or simply forgotten.

So why did he resign? Many a politician of every hue has survived much worse.

Clearly it is not about the wine. Or even that he claimed not to have received it. It is about a system that is the epitome of not what but who you know.

We all walk around blinkered thinking that the world is meritorious. We believe that the best athletes play professional sport for our team, the best singers are the ones we download, the best minds are employed to engineer better lifestyles for us, and that the best organisers run our commerce.

We also believe that we elect the best politicians to sit in parliament and make the laws that we live by — yes, believe it or not, politicians are elected to make the laws that we are expected to live by. Not only that, but we believe they do the right thing in selecting the help they need to run things.

Well they don’t.

Barry resigned because he stuffed up. And presumably because he is an honest sort of bloke, felt that the stuff up was irretrievable. Except that by resigning he also took the spotlight off the truth of the matter. The political system is about who and not what you know. People get the job and companies get the tender because they are known. And sometimes to get known you need to send out expensive bottles of wine. It is the way of things. It is not necessarily corrupt but it always comes close.

The premier resigned because he nearly exposed the system for what it is and always has been… dodgy.

Sounds crazy series summary #1

Well in a blink we have reached double figures in the Alloporus ‘Sounds Crazy’ series and, as the headlines suggest, we have covered wild craziness territory.

There is plenty of lunacy out there, especially in the unfathomable worlds of policy, planning and bureaucracy.

The series could run for many more episodes without the need to hire expensive Hollywood writers. This in itself is odd. It’s crazy that we are so crazy.

It got me thinking about why.

I get the human need to be busy and that this overrides any logic of what we are busy at. Add the need to be seen to be busy and we can explain away many a craziness. In the extreme we have the lap dog ‘being seen’ in a $300 Louis Vuitton collar as Monsieur Vuitton laughs all the way to the bank.

I also understand the fear that drives illogical policies that ensure there will be enough people to buy white goods [baby bonus, policy choice] and puts business opportunity above all else [Waiting for the road to dry out, Where to build a house]. The economic growth spiral is as consuming as a black hole and we will struggle to break free of its gravitational pull so long as we keep reproducing at 9,000 an hour.

Reluctantly I understand the fear that drives obsession with human safety [Hidden hazards in the back yard]. Survival is a base instinct after all.

I even accept ostrich behavior [Wild planet] because sometimes we need denial as a handy way to make things go away. We are far more courageous when we pretend there are no sharks in the water.

Then there is the inertia that emerges when we create institutions and the pedantry that they generate [Count your beans].

Only now my tolerance is stretched.

I get the logic of becoming stuck just because there are more than a handful of people involved. This makes sense for force of personality can only hold so much sway. It takes a big ego or considerable oratory skill to sway the crowd.  But this constraint of and by the many should not be an excuse. Some of the craziness of institutions is the craziest of all.

It seems that craziness is in part inevitable [because we all have fear and cannot do without institutions] and in part our choice. We seem to want to be ‘a bit nuts’ — and not just for some light relief — for some part of us may want it.

The latest Alloporus website adventure is Ask Alloporus where environmental issues are explained [including some of the crazy ones]. Most pages on the site conclude with some ‘pragmatology’, our attempt to both invent a new word and provide some pragmatic understanding of the environmental issue.

Yet even this sounds crazy. Why should we expect that some pragmatism can help the craziness go away?

Here are the links to the Sounds Crazy series to date…

  1. Where to build a house
  2. Waiting for the road to dry out
  3. Baby bonus
  4. Logging of native forests
  5. Carbon price forecasts
  6. Policy choice
  7. Hidden hazards in the backyard
  8. Wild Planet: North America
  9. Bandwidth
  10. Pest control means getting on with it