On the importance of ignorance and empathy – #TBCtraining and swanning around

One of the ways we fail (and there are many) is when we don’t understand/contain our emotions around failure.  Yesterday at the training session for ‘Brilliant Club’ (a very cool charity which aims to get students who wouldn’t otherwise go to ‘top’ universities, the trainer said at one point ‘get a piece of A4 paper, make an origami swan. You have two minutes.’

Because Origami Swans are the deal-breaker for admissions tutors at Oxbridge and we’ll spend weeks at schools teaching this crucial skill?

Not quite.

It was, of course, a way of forcing us to think about how what is blindingly obvious and easy to someone who knows how to do summat, is basically impossible for a ‘newbie’.

And there was a mix of responses. Some diligently tried (there were some very odd swans/failures) while others pushed back, since the task was clearly impossible, and ‘stupid’  (explaining why we were being asked to do this “impossible” task – to then reflect on the emotions and behaviours it provoked – would have defeated its purpose of course).

Anyway, I have since found a youtube video that is about 90 seconds long. Origami swans are easy as, ONCE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING.

It put me in mind of other training I’ve had where (to a whole room) trainers have tried to get us to empathise with other people.

As a physiotherapy undergraduate we had an OT come in and do a session on what it’s like to be old.  She turned up the music (I think) faced away from us and quietly told us to do something, and most of us didn’t even hear her.

Then there was a CORKER when I was doing stewards training one time.  A group of us was all given a card, which with a part of a bigger picture. We could describe what was on the card, but not show anyone. The task was to figure out what the picture was.  I completely stuffed it up, because I didn’t listen to the right people (the trainer had deliberately given crucial cards to people who were not assertive, and I was even more full of myself then than I am now (shudders at thought of 35 year old self, would punch if had time machine).

There was even an episode of Happy Days where the Fonz is forced to confront his ageism. True story.

The point being: if you want to help people (and be helped by them, obvs), you need to see the world through their eyes.  Things that are ‘obvious’ are only obvious in hindsight.  You can say that all you like, but failure to make an origami swan in two minutes (where you only actually need about thirty seconds if you know what you’re doing), is a very very good way of bringing that point home…



Strange poem

On the Chaos of the Disciplines and the disciples

Academic stars, they flash like a comet
As the mangy dog returns to its vomit
Deja vu – nihil novi sub sole
We lie and die in a darkening hole.

Punditry effort beyond the coming days: #Australia #auspol #climate #coal

What next?  Not next week, or next month, but in the coming years?  These are the questions our media pundits, caught up in the merry-go-round of faces are not asking, at least, not in public (e.g. Insiders was pretty vapid on Sunday 26th August).

There are several good reasons for this present-ism, not least that predicting outcomes is a mug’s game.  But I’m a mug, and I’m game.

At the moment, there are some people getting understandably worried about Scott Morrison’s chief of staff (who was a bigwig at the Minerals Council until recently) and the fact that his energy minister seriously hates wind farms, and that the environment minister used to be a lawyer for a mining company.  So far, so predictable.

Presumably the point of having these people in is to weaken legislation/tear things up so that the ALP have more work to do to build things up again. Is it possible, in six months, to set the wheels in motion for tax-payer funded coal-fired power stations, in such a way that the ALP would struggle to not follow through?  It seems hard to imagine, but presumably that is the main game for the pro-coal forces in the weeks/months of a Morrison government.

Peter Hannam of the Sydney Morning Herald interviewed Malcolm Turnbull’s son

In a wide-ranging interview just days after his father lost power in a party room putsch, the Singapore-based fund manager told Fairfax Media the Liberal Party faced being hijacked by financial interests that stood to make windfall profits if coal-related assets were bolstered by taxpayers. Those interests “have their hooks into the Liberal Party … which has no money”, Mr Turnbull said, adding that returns could be “100 to 1” if policies fall investors’ way.


The ultimate question is, how much damage can these people do to Australia’s fubarred climate and energy policy (i.e. there isn’t one) before the next Federal election, which has to occur by next May, but could possibly be forced by late October.

The assumption – based on  various polls – is that Bill Shorten will form an ALP government, with either a thumping or ginormous majority (in the lower House – The Senate? Well…).

Okay, for the sake of argument (and it’s hard to see this NOT happening), what next?  Let’s look at the Coalition and the ALP.

For the Coalition, presumably it matters who loses what seats.  At the moment it seems that the right of centre forces are slightly ahead of the ultras, the ‘delcons’.  The narrative for that loss put forward by the latter group will be, surely, that the Coalition lost the 2018/19 election because they weren’t right-wing enough, and that the ‘leftie’ wing of the LNP (yes, that’s how these people think) was responsible – a Dolchstoss for our Dutton-esque days.  Now, let’s say the LNP gets more wiped out in the southern states (NSW, Vic, SA, Tassie) but holds on in WA and Queensland.  Let’s say Peter Dutton loses in Dickson.  I sincerely believe it is possible (not likely, but possible) that Tony Abbott will become leader of the opposition again.  He’s very very good at that job.  Of course, the problem will be getting him to agree merely to wound Shorten, not to stick around to fight the 2021/2 election.  Good luck with that.

Meanwhile, what would a Shorten government. What would be up with that?  Well, first thing would be to see if Mark Butler actually gets the climate and energy gig.  I’ve no reason to doubt it, but if I were against climate action, I’d be thinking of ways to convince Shorten to get someone else in there, and offer Butler something big instead.    I am sure that as I write this, lobbying outfits are hiring ALP ex-staffers/apparatchiks in preparation for an enormous lobbying assault to water down whatever Shorten/Butler have planned.  More compensation, delayed start dates, weakened surveillance etc.

If the ALP don’t ‘need’ Green support the way Gillard did,, then the Greens will just be voices in the wilderness, and the ALP will be able to spin whatever they do as good enough.

Ultimately, the pro-coal forces have played a blindingly successful game over the last thirty years of stopping, delaying, weakening and ultimately reversing (actually pitiful) action on climate change, and then making it costly (in political terms) to get anything done. The people are extremely determined, well-funded, smart and effective.  They are not going anywhere.  They are drawing up plans, surely, for how they will operate under what in all probability will be 6 years of Shorten government.  They will therefore be thinking how to fight not a culture war from a clearly losing position, but a far more supple and insidious game.  What we will see is not the outright blocking under Howard 1996-late 2006) but the more emollient and ‘watering down’ efforts of 2007-8, at least from the corporate forces.  As for the politicos – are their enough climate deniers out there, with the right skills and demographics, to mount the kind of culture war we saw in 2011.  I don’t think so, but what the hell would I know?

Lenore Taylor, Mike Seccombe & Australian #climate politics – institutional memory

Australian content alert: Yeah, this is a bit of geekery.

There’s a Sunday morning politics show called  Insiders, which is a ritual thing I do with my mum and her next door neighbour. The format is solid (stolid?)- a host (usually Barrie Cassidy) and three hacks, sorry, journalists. There’s a long interview with a pollie, a roundup of cartoons and photos, and a comedy video skit. Bish bosh, all done in an hour.

Two weeks ago, two of the three hacks, sorry, journos, were Lenore Taylor (now editor of the Guardian but she has worked everywhere) and Mike Seccombe, now of the Saturday Paper.

At the end of the show Barrie Cassidy invites the hacks to say one thing each as a takeaway. That’s usually some observation about the horserace politics of it all. But two weeks ago Lenore Taylor pointed to the ‘planet may become unlivable’ study and Mike Seccombe wondered out loud about all these farmers suffering from drought who consistently vote for climate-change-denying politicians in the National Party and when that might change.

The thing is this. Lenore Taylor has been reporting -very very astutely- on environmental stuff since at least 1989. She reported for the Australian on the December 1989 summit that kicked off the legendary (I move in small circles) Ecologically Sustainable Development process.

1989 12 08 secret green summit praised theaus p3.png

Taylor, L. 1989. Secret Green Summit Praised. The Australian, 8 December, p3

Meanwhile, in December 1991, Mike Seccombe had a front page story on the Sydney Morning Herald about the final reports of the ESD process.

1991 12 03 blueprint for greener oz smh1.png

Seccombe, M. 1991. Blueprint for a greener Australia. Sydney Morning Herald, 3 December, p.1.

So, while Laura Tingle’s point about lack of institutional memory in political parties, bureaucracies and the media is mostly accurate, there are exceptions. And very fine exceptions indeed.

We’re toast. It’s not a problem of science- the scientists communicated. It’s not a problem of (some) journalism – we’ve had brave and smart reporters. It’s a problem of the power of incumbents, and an inability of social movements to sustain themselves. Or it was. Now, now our problems are different. And a little bit bigger.

Songs of loss and pre-emptive mourning

My new earworm is Joey by Concrete Blonde.  It’s a brilliant song, with astonishing vocals from Johnette Napolitano.

It sits alongside other songs of mourning for lost friendships, lost loves (something Paul Kelly and Billy Bragg do well).  That sense of hoping to reconnect with someone who has their own battles to fight is something of a thing for me (not that I’ve a lot of personal experience).  The Whitlams did a great one in ‘Blow Up the Pokies‘.


Two of particular note are

Bruce Springsteen Bobby Jean

Maybe you’ll be out there on that road somewhere
In some bus or train traveling along
In some motel room there’ll be a radio playing
And you’ll hear me sing this song
Well, if you do, you’ll know I’m thinking of you
And all the miles in between
And I’m just calling you one last time
Not to change your mind, but just to say I miss you, baby
Good luck, goodbye, Bobby Jean

(you’ll be shocked to hear that Clarence Clemons crushes it on the sax solo)

and there’s always Pink, of course. In this case ‘Who Knew?’

Another #climate warning from 1969. #Australia

On 25 June 1969 Ralph Slayter, an Australian scientist, gave one of the first (but not the first – that’s for another time) warnings of the dangers of the build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Slayter was talking at the Australian National University,  as part of a lecture series on ‘Man and the New Biology.’  Slayter’s lecture was entitled ‘Man’s Place in Nature’.  There were several references to carbon dioxide. Here below is the clearest.

1969 06 25 slayter man and new biology
Slayter would go on to a prestigious career in international scientific administration.  In 1989 he became the first Chief Scientist in Australia.  One of the key issues he was asked to tackle was… climate change.

We knew. We knew.  We chose not to heed the warnings we were given.

Video Vox Pop – how I would do it, fwiw.

Recently I proposed that an organisation (I am a FIFO activist on this) organise some video vox pops around an event that they’re organising for about five weeks’ time.  This post is how I would do it.  (Or rather, how I like to believe that I would be able to do it.  By now, pushing 50, I should have realised that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, and that my self-regard outstrips my ability, almost always…)

It’s divided into before, during and after.

Comments, criticisms and suggestions on all three are very welcome

With all these events, there are usually three acknowledged goals

  • Get media attention on The Issue
  • Build the media profile of the organisation(s)
  • Get the mythical New People involved

To this I would almost always add a fourth goal –

  • Build the knowledge, skills and relationships of those who are organising the event, whether they are centrally involved or more peripherally in putting the event on.


So, I’d try to get agreement from ‘the organisers’ about what the headlines of the event are, especially if you’re also doing a video advert for the event (another blog post that).

And I’d try to get organisational buy-in by framing the video vox pops as a way of not only building profile and maybe attract new folks, but as something that  can help sustain morale in the weeks/months after the event (when there is inevitably a post-event  dip in energy and enthusiasm – see my famous and much-liked post on emotathons).

Part of that buy-in is agreement from organisations and individuals that when the vox pops are published online, they will be included in news digests, e-newsletters, reposted on websites and social media.

I’d go so far as to clear the questions  we’d be posing to the people who took part, to head off any complaints and grumble (and, given that you are doing something new, and ‘stealing limelight’ from others, there will be grumbles…)

I’d come up with a bunch of different questions that were checked for wording and politics (see above)

The first one would always be someone’s name and where they are from.

The other questions would include

  • Why did you come to this event?
  • What personal changes have you made in your life because of [the issue]
  • What do you think the government should do about [the issue].
  • What do you think activists and organisations should do about [the issue]
  • Why and how should other ordinary people get involved in campaigning about [the issue]
  • How do you keep your hope alive, given the trajectory of [the issue]
  • Anything else you’d like to say?

I’d get all of these numbered, printed in the biggest possible size in landscape A4, and laminated

I’d also have a simple ‘disclaimer’ form ready – something like

‘Hi, we’re making a series of short films about the people who come to this event.  You choose three questions, think about your answers. We point a camera at you.  After the event, we will edit a short film of you.  We will stick it up on the internet in a private site. We will then contact you to find out if you are happy with the film. If you are, we will make it public. If not, we don’t.  If we don’t hear back from you, we assume you’re so unhappy you can’t actually type, and the video doesn’t go up.

We need your name

Your email and your phone number.

We will ONLY keep these for as long as we need,on paper,  and we will not share them with anyone else at all.  Once the video is up (or not) you will not hear from us again.’

[I don’t know what the laws are for consent of kids around this, and I’d be anxious anyway about asking people younger than about 15.  I’d try to get legal advice about all that).

I’d find someone (or even ideally two people) willing to work with me especially before and during the event on the day.  Find out from them what their skills and experiences are, and what knowledge skills and relationships they want to build.  This has to be someone who is reliable. Don’t bother with flaky people.

I would take the promises of help from people who on the day will be busy ensuring that their organisations logos/stalls/propaganda are prominently displayed with a large pinch of salt.

I’d then do a practice run with my sidekick(s), and address any difficulties.
On the Day
I’d turn up with

  • Video camera/recording device fully charged
  • Tripod
  • Back-up camera and/or battery.
  • Storage device to transfer files (because I am uber paranoid about losing stuff).
  • Clipboards and pens
  • Participation/consent forms
  • Two complete laminated sets of the agreed questions.


I’d have a ‘vox pop’ booth away from any point sources of noise. I’d have a neutral background for it, and the whole thing positioned as best as could be for light etc.

I’d have one person in charge of the camera (and the tripod)

The other person(people) are making sure we get copies of people’s signed consent forms

They talk them through which of the various questions they want to answer.

They mike them up if we’re going down that route (me, I am a sound clutz. That’s not good).

I’d start the filming with the person holding up their name and email on a piece of paper, which can then be edited out (obvs) which just helps make sure the right person gets the right ‘are you happy with this video’ email later.

I’d keep filming for a few seconds after they finish their answer, in case they think of something else they want to say.

At the end of the day I’d do a debrief with my sidekicks while memories were fresh.

  • What went well?
  • What went badly and what can we do better next time?
  • Other ideas?


I’d want to start getting the vox pops up as soon as possible after the event.  I’d choose therefore one of the most straightforward ones done straight away. The closing credits would include the logo of the event, but not of individual organisations that were sponsoring it (so it doesn’t look like those being interviewed for the vox pops are endorsing any/all of the organisations)

I’d stick it up on a private site, contact the subject immediately.

That first one could then be press released (with the person’s permission! – but that is probably best if it is an already engaged ‘activisty’ type person who can fake being normal.)

‘xxxx of xxxx  today said xxxxx. Speaking at [name of event] she said ……..
Once the first one(s) were up, I’d just try to plough through all the other editing (until I got tired/more sloppy than usual) , stick them up privately, send out the ‘are you okay with this?’ emails.

I’d then want the videos going up once or twice a week on the same day(s) until all the ones that had been okayed were ‘up’.

I’d then do a celebration/post-mortem event with the sidekicks and ask what more would be needed for them to lead the next time a video vox pop was proposed.

I’d not stress too much about viewer stats. That shit is only partly under your control.

If anyone wanted the names/emails/phone numbers for their organisations contact list, I’d tell them to… [redacted for reasons of taste].


What did I miss? How will it all go horribly wrong?

Words, ideas, videos