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Archive for February, 2007

Why did the European Space Agency Mission to Titan succeed? And Why does it Matter?

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

There always has been, and probably always will be, argument about what factors contribute to the success of a firm or enterprise such as a museum, a scientific organization, an orchestra or a company. There is even argument about how one recognises success: what does an excellent company look like, an outstanding orchestra sound like, and so on? The pages of this site deal fairly extensively with this, for instance in discussing performance indicators.

One factor which seems to be critical is, as mentioned in two quite different articles, the way people work together and how decisions get made. And a major contributing factor must surely be the attention paid to recruitment of those who are to join in the enterprise. That is the principal conclusion of the study, “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. (Please look halfway down the page for the commentary on the study.)

A forthcoming article will deal with this further. It is important to note, however, how little agreement there is so far as government and business enterprises are concerned and how little attention is paid to the actual research findings on this issue. Some of it seems to be like the exhortation that if we want to achieve better outcomes from our school system then we should have more rigorous tests, something akin to pursing an increase in the growth of large cabbages by weighing them more regularly.

In the meantime, consider these questions:

Why did the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn’s moon Titan succeed? In its planning and execution it spanned some 25 years, it involved some four successive directors, the last of whom had served only a few months when Huygens landed – a point he made when announcing the success of the landing.

Why has the Airbus super jumbo project, another cooperative European project, failed (so far)? Does the argument that Boeing is making – about government subsidy of the Airbus – have any real basis in fact, by the way?

There are similar questions relating to the success or failure of Apple, Hewlett Packard pre and post Carly Fiorina, the BBC briefly until Iraq came along and Tony Blair checked his intelligence at the door.

Here is some further information and relevant links to the Huygens/Cassini venture.

A Masterpiece of Collaboration: The Huygens probe lands on Titan.

“The Cassini/Huygens venture is a masterpiece of collaboration, uniting NASA, ESA, ASI and scientists and engineers on both sides of the Atlantic.”
The European Space Agency website

A NASA/ESA/ASI mission to explore the Saturnian system. The ESA component consists largely of the Huygens probe, which entered the atmosphere of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, and descended under parachute down to the surface. The Cassini spacecraft is currently undertaking a four year exploration of the Saturnian system.

To reach Saturn, Cassini-Huygens used a series of gravity-assist manoeuvres, with swingbys from Venus (2x), Earth and Jupiter.

On 1 July 2004 the spacecraft entered into orbit around Saturn after being captured by the planet’s gravity.

The Huygens probe successfully landed on Saturn’s largest moon Titan at around 11:30 UTC 14 January 2005. This event makes it the only landing to take place in the outer Solar System and the furthest from Earth.

To the Orbiter, built in the USA, ASI (Italy) contributed telecommunications equipment. A Europe-wide industrial team constructed the Huygens probe. European scientists lead two experiments in NASA’s Orbiter, and participate in all of them. Conversely, US-led teams supply two instrument packages in ESA’s Huygens, and American scientists contribute to three others.

To elaborate the BBC issue. An inquiry chaired by Lord Hutton into the statements made on a TV program implicated a senior scientist who later committed suicide and led to the resignation of Andrew Gilligan, the journalist responsible for the initial Today programme broadcast. Gavyn Davies resigned his chairmanship of the BBC, Greg Dyke, who was Director General, offered his resignation, which was accepted by the governors. Huge crowds of BBC staff appeared at the various offices of the BBC to farewell Dyke who had shown himself in only a few years to be an outstanding leader in the real sense of that word. (There is a reference to and partial transcript of an interview with Dyke here.)

The Hutton inquiry was denounced by critics as a kangaroo court and there have been threats of legal action over the findings. (I think this is defamatory of kangaroos.) Hutton’s criticisms were alleged to be extreme and unbalanced.

The incoming Chair and Director-General oversaw considerable downsizing which was protested by strikes. The responsible Minister talked of difficulties with funding. (Finding links to relevant articles on this topic is easy: newspapapers like the Guardian UK have very full coverage.
There is an interesting controversy about the extent to which the BBC has been constrained in its coverage of issues like criticism of the Prime Minister at Labour Party conferences. The ABC has dealt with this in its programs.)

We now know the statements on the BBC program were correct! The Prime Minister remains in power, albeit for not much longer..

Global Climate Change

Monday, February 5th, 2007

It is a truism to say this has become a major issue! It is, however, an extraordinary feature of the modern world that, despite a huge and increasing scientific literature leading increasingly to the conclusion that the world’s climate is warming and becoming more unstable and that it is our activities which have contributed to this, especially since the beginning of the industrial “revolution” and its reliance on fossil fuels, people are still prepared to deny these conclusions.

My contribution was an attack on the ridiculous views advanced in December 2004 by free trade advocate, climate change sceptic and consultant to the developing world Alan Oxley.

“Global warming is happening right now” On Line Opinion Monday, January 31, 2005

“December 2004 saw the partial collapse of support for the United Nations’ Kyoto Protocol at the Buenos Aires Conference of the Parties. Only limited and informal talks were agreed on for the future. As environmental groups objected to the “obstructionism” of the US attempts to kill off the Protocol altogether, Alan Oxley, well known Free Trade advocate and opponent of the Protocol gleefully reported, “The United States, China, India and the rest of the developing countries have taken over the UN climate process and sidelined the Kyoto Protocol”. More, “… the Howard government is now in the international mainstream of climate change policy”. And, “The science used to justify the Treaty has been steadily unwinding”.

“In fact, European countries are enlarging their carbon trading, science reveals increasing evidence of warming, and Britain’s Tony Blair is committed to progressing solutions to warming described as “in the long term, the single most important issue facing the global community” and to involving the US in finding solutions. Saudi Arabia will endorse the Protocol even though it will lose billions of dollars as a result of emission reductions by industrialised countries. Meanwhile, the US Administration has removed or watered down protection for the environment, promoted high energy use and ignored inefficiencies. Australia is simply following along after the US wherever it goes…”

It is absolutely imperative that governments, business, the scientific community and we, as ordinary people, do everything we can to reverse the trends. We are told that while it is unlikely that action now will have have much effect in the next few decades, it may alleviate the situation later. It is not reponsible for people to say, as the Hon Malcolm Turnbull, recently appointed Minister for Environment and Water, did, that there is little Australia can do but adapt to it.

The “Stern Report” for the British Government made important points about pricing carbon emissions: the reaction of some was to protest that any imposition of prices would lead to economic decline, job losses and more. This is despite many studies showing that moves to alternative and renewable energy sources and more efficiencies in energy use would be economically positive.

The latest report by the International Panel on Climate Change “The Physical Science Basis: a Summary for Policymakers”, was released February 2, 2007 in Paris and adopted in a line-by line review by the governments of 113 countries, including the United States. The Report is here. It is worth going to the Report and examining the graphs of increase in concentrations of CO2, methane and nitrous oxide.

Too many groups in the community which have attained influential views are too reluctant to face the consequences of inadequate action now. How will their reluctance be viewed by our chidren and grandchildren, should they survive? And too many people are not listening closely enough and are too prepared to make their own broad claims, unsubstantiated by the evidence, about the views and positions adopted by others, for instance on issues such as nuclear energy. Calling for debate about nuclear energy does not constitute endorsement of nuclear energy.

Too much argument centres around exaggerated claims about negative economic impacts of taking remedial action, searches for single solutions to the phasing our of coal and oil and the assertion that little effect will flow from actions of smaller countries like Australia until large devleoping nations like China and India take action. There is insufficient attention to the savings to be made by increasing efficiency in the heating and cooling of buildings of all kinds, the gains from more efficient public transport, especially off-road transport.
An example of on going denial is yet another item on how the world is not warming on the site of Jennifer Marohassy which has links to the Fraser Institute in Canada. You may care to read the comments on the post as well!

Undoubtedly there will be further posts on this issue.

Australian Values and a Human Rights Bill

Monday, February 5th, 2007

The Online magazine New Matilda initiated a discussion in mid 2006 on policies and values. At the launch of the discussion, John Medadue pointed out that “Our Common Wealth “is not about policies and programs. It is about the values and principles which should underpin policies and programs. It is a statement of where New Matilda stands. We have spelled out the values driving our own policy development and we are calling on all political parties, both state and federal, to do likewise.

My contribution to this was an article suggesting that values which united us as human were not obvious to all. Many distinguished people have contributed views to this proposition. Some have pointed out that the “Australian” values promoted by the Howard Government are common and universal values. One of those was Geoffrey Robertson QC speaking at the “Cornerstones” Conference on Public Education in September 2006 on “Human Rights and Public Education

My article The Common Wealth – Vision and Values: Are they enough right now? New Matilda 9 January 2006

New Matilda has embarked on a project to articulate a set of values that should underpin policy development in Australia. The Common Wealth is the first articulation of these values.

Vision and values matter. Policies and programs are driven “given expression“ by vision and values. We imagine that if we share the same values we will act the same way. Some people can sign up to values but when put to the test find they don’t agree with them after all. The larger and more diverse the group the more difficult it is to gain commitment to common values. Achieving agreement on values requires commitment, political will.

In a civilised society everyone builds relationships with others and works consciously to reinforce those relationships as part of a community. A community shares common values. Citizens take responsibility for the consequences of their actions and respect other people and their dignity as human beings; these matters are codified in laws along with rules which preserve safety and ensure contractual arrangements are honoured and so on.

It seems obvious but apparently it isn’t!

“Workchoices” and Industrial Relations

Monday, February 5th, 2007

In 2006 the Howard Government in Australia passed the Workchoices Bill which significantly altered most of the provisions governing employment and not least the extent to which unions would be involved. In part this reflected the government’s paranoia about unions and their impact on all domains, including universities where even student unions have been banned. But principally the legislation determined the relations between employer and employee. To those supporting the legislation the changes were promoted as increasing employment and productivity. Those opposing the changes believed it significantly eroded rights established over more than a century and made possible disruption of family life through the ability of employers to require employees to report for work at almost any time at short notice.

The legislation was tested in the High Court in late 2006 by all the States and the ACTU. The Court found the Government was entitled to use the provisions of Corporations Law to effect the changes of the Workchoices legislation. The implication is that the Commonwealth is able to apply sweeping powers to almost every area of activity in the States, even to the conduct of school boards. Professor Greg Craven of Curtin University is amongst a number of people who have spoken strongly on several occasions about the implications of the High Court’s decision.

In the early stages of the debate about the changes, the two sides took issue about the existing situation in workplaces, the need for “flexibility” and the impact of unions through restrictive practices which were alleged to limit the employer in dismissing workers and forced the payment of wage rates which diminished the opportunity of the employer to hire more employees and so on.

The literature on this subject is vast. Three articles which I wrote dealt with some of the issues, starting with the unsubstantiated assertions derived from a consultants report commissioned by the Business Council of Australia. Links to the three articles together with the first several paragraphs are below.

What price economic growth and progress? Taylorism revisited

On Line Opinion, 14 September 2004

“Older people remember the Charlie Chaplin film, “Modern Times”, Chaplin emerging from a manhole with a red flag to unknowingly lead a march of striking workers. It is easy to think we are not much further advanced in our understanding of industrial relations, getting a productive and satisfying workplace and intersection of work with life.

“In July the Business Council of Australia (BCA) released a report commissioned from Access Economics. It asserted that the ALP Industrial Relations Policy had negative economic consequences: the interventions proposed would mean significant losses of jobs. Access Economics’ Report assumes that present economic wellbeings are due to the application of recent workplace reforms including particularly individual agreements on wages…”


Workplace reform: inequity, more stress, less choice On Line Opinion Monday, 7 November 2005

The Howard Government’s industrial relations-workplace reforms commenced their progress as legislation through the Federal Parliament on Wednesday, November 2. Among the benefits claimed for them are more jobs, greater choice for employees and higher wages. And a multitude of workplace arrangements in the various states will be brought together, tidied up. Up to $40 million of our money has been spent just in promoting these benefits and countering the seemingly effective union campaign against the changes.

But the evidence for benefits resulting from the changes is absent or at most weak and there is little doubt the costs will be high. Of most concern is that, in fact, investment in training and development, creative structuring of work, higher than average wages and opportunities for collective bargaining all produce higher productivity, attract business investment and generate employment: facts shown by two recent major reports.

Howard’s changes have been attacked by labour economists, industrial relations experts and distinguished members of the judiciary. “Market” economists and analysts point out the changes do not address major workplace issues. Church leaders oppose the changes as having potentially deleterious impact on families. Economic and general commentators have pointed out errors in the claims and how the reforms will inevitably trade off less recreation and family life for what will turn out to be small gains in wages. All Andrews, Howard and their supporters have done is repeat the mantra.

“How to Wreck a Working Nation” New Matilda Tuesday 12 July 2005

“The Howard Government ‘reforms’ to workplace relations will cost the community dearly and achieve next to nothing for employment or productivity. Genuine leadership and investment in people would. The Government should play a different role and address the complexity of the issues in the long-term.

“Employer groups, especially the Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (’ACCI’), in endorsing these reforms, talk of increased opportunities, greater flexibility, higher productivity and more jobs. The present system they say, particularly ‘unfair dismissal’ provisions, frustrates employers in their efforts to increase productivity.

Those opposing the changes are addressing different consequences…”

Introducing the New Site

Monday, February 5th, 2007

The site was launched as a blog 1 February 2007, thanks to the guidance of Russ Weakly of maxdesign, who designed the latest version of the site several years ago.

The site originally included information about museums. As a blog other rmaterial will be featured from time to time. A number of articles dealing with various aspects of “current affairs” have been published over the last few years.

These deal with a variety of topics including global climate change, industrial relations (IR) and changes to IR laws in Australia, Australian “values” and so on.

These will be dealt with in separate posts.

There are additions to the pages made at the time of update to a blog. These particularly include additional articles on leadership, governance and organizational development, a special page on an important paper on governance by the late Sumantra Ghoshal. There are also some updates of recent developments in the relationship between museums and Indigenous peoples. Additional material has been and is being added to the pages dealing with museum strories. Attention is drawn to the important site for the Arts Journal, a daily digest of arts, culture and ideas which includes numerous stories about museums.