Saturday, November 23

Relationship with Indonesia on the brink

Prime Minister Tony Abbot’s idea Indonesia can be our most important friend whilst asserting Australia’ s right to gather information necessary for her security without specially excluding spying on the Indonesian President, his wife or high ranking elected representatives seems to me to be a oxymoron. This approach underlines the inability of successive leaders to make progress, by accepting spying under the guise of security whilst attempting closer co-operation explicitly based on trust and good faith at a personal level.
This does not mean you have a blind trust, as Indonesia was reported to be spying on Australia in 1999, or to compromise security, but rather to preclude specific wiretapping at a leaders level until such information or events would tell you any further trust is unwarranted. The latest revelations jeopardize trade and strategic security for the region, and Abbot should seek to be more conciliatory and rule out further episodes. 
What should be of more concern is the wisdom of continuing to trust in the integrity of current information sharing facilities with the USA, given the repeated leakages via Wiki leaks and now through Edward Snowden. 

Wednesday, November 20

An Optional Truth.

Synopsis of a intended novel by Lindsay Byrnes –“An Optional Truth”.  
Out of the war of 1914-1918 comes this story, of an event that temporarily halted the war, and of a soldier executed for his complicity in the event, but about whom nothing much was known until a few rudimentary facts were discovered by another generation.
The story traces the journey, nearly a century later, and two generations further on, of descendants seeking to discover their great grandfather, who was reported as shot as a traitor. The quest to discover his story is frustrated by the authorities and only snippets from what has been handed down with the family history.
In the end each of the four siblings decide to collaborate to write their own story of events from their perspective, from what they know and can imagine, as a cathartic experience, as the sense of helplessness and the cruelty of war  becomes an unexpected burden.
This fascinating account has a common thread with each sibling evoking dark days and soaring sprits in an emotive narrative that captures a hero, an idealist, a loner or the sacrificial lamb to wars brutality with the spilling of innocent blood in the name of king and country. It belongs to a different era, where there were many such stories that can never be fully told, but must forever remain unknown except for what can be imagined in the minds of those who come after, to finally pay tribute to those who still lie falsely accused in the graveyards of our inglorious past.
It begins with prelude as the sibling’s enthusiasm to discover their great grandfather ends in the realization he must remain unknown, followed by their contributions which make up the story.

Thursday, October 24

Brinkmanship the issue, not debt, in US.

Below is my published letter in the " Letters to the Editor "  section  of the  Australian Financial Review,

Brinkmanship the issue, not debt, in US


In the letter “US debt default inevitable in the long term” (AFR, October 18), Tim Walshaw contends a default will eventuate, based on the current trends.
But any such default would be as a result of political ineptitude to preclude any sensible compromise incorporating taxation reform. US federal tax revenues (excluding local and state tax regimes) will be only 17.4 per cent of GDP in 2014. The massive deficits and debt explosion are the product of previously enacted, unsustainable tax cuts legislated at the height of the global financial crisis and, to a lesser extent, the cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined with increased funding for unemployment and food stamps, whose recipients now number 48 million. 
Further tax revenue problems are due to the action of large multinational companies adding to their non-US holdings abroad to ensure their increased earnings remain in low company tax rate countries. Having an unsustainable tax base has been conveniently ignored by Congressional members who contend the budget deficit should only be eliminated by cuts to government spending. This intransigency to accommodate a mixture of tax increases and a scaling back of future benefits, opposed vigorously by civil libertarians and a radicalised Tea Party, ensures the current stalemate is likely to continue.
Hence the looming sovereign debt problem is due entirely to political brinkmanship and dismissal of any alternative that may provide fairer and more ethical outcomes.
Lindsay Byrnes

Wednesday, October 9

US confidence index falls

Americans' confidence in the economy has deteriorated more in the past week during the partial government shutdown than in any week since Lehman Brothers collapsed on Sept. 15, 2008, which triggered a global economic crisis. Gallup's Economic Confidence Index tumbled 12 points to -34 last week, the second-largest weekly decline since Gallup began tracking economic confidence daily in January 2008.”

Monday, October 7

US Deadlock puzzle

If anyone thought bizarre political outcomes are a feature of Australian politics spare a thought for the 800,000 workers now on unpaid leave at the mercy of a powerful tea party force within the Republican Party, shamelessly opposing funding for the universal health care entitlement called Obacare.

Although benefits under the scheme don’t begin until next year, enabling time to explore funding options, opponents to the scheme consider it so wasteful and an affront to liberty they feel impelled to make a stand now. Any talk of a levy or funding tax increase causes tea party die- hards to a point of apoplexy from a meltdown of the frontal lobes since they are elected on a platform the only good government is the one smaller than its predecessor.

But the reality is, once fully implemented, the amended scheme passed as law will already hold down spiraling heath care costs whilst reducing the deficit and increase productivity and jobs which mirror so called conservative values.

But on the ground insurance Agencies and websites were overwhelmed with new registrations, from an estimated 48 million uninsured Americans as the scheme gets underway. Paradoxically the early teething problems have been overshadowed by the publicity afforded to the scheme by the Republican funding rejection, unwittingly contributing to its success as millions seek to register.

One should not rule out a similar stalemate on the 17th October when the debt ceiling is reached, so investors need to brace themselves for dislocation to equity markets, should the unthinkable of a government debt default also become a possibility.

Sunday, October 6

The most successful free market that ever operated

Probably the most successful free market ever operated was that of the Australian aborigines. Like indigenous groups elsewhere, they traded ceremonial artifacts, grinding stones, sea shells, ochre’s, shields, axe heads, spears and even ‘water rights’ along the permanent waterways that marked trade routes. This enabled a “United Nations” approach to trade as scarce resources in one region were exchanged for another’s in the same manner as modern economists suggest trading between nations having different natural resources yields optimum outcomes. The tribes relied on carved symbolic message on a message stick to communicate accompanied by translators who negotiated trade agreements, sustainable because of their affinity to the land, spanning a period of over 50,000 years.  

In stark contrast in the modern world a will to power was to distort markets so that advancements in science and trade were dissipated to the extent of continuing conflicts.
But no empire dating back to the fall of the Roman Empire rivalled that which had its roots in the Industrial Revolution in England from 1740- 1780, - a logical melting pot for trade and progression of the recently discovered Newtonian mechanistic world - as suggested by John Gribbin in ‘Science a History 1543- 2001’

Hence although the industrial revolution underpinned improved living standards and supported much bigger populations, it also led to massive exploitation of people and land. The 'mercantilists' ensured laws were passed to preference British enterprises and shipping companies, to the detriment of other nations. But philosopher and moral ethicist Adam Smith criticized  the 'mercantilist' system, in his influential classical economic work entitled ‘Wealth of Nations’ in 1776. Smith pointed out that the Merchants had gained monopolistic power as a consequence of bans on foreign competition. Mercantilism was also associated with a monetary system which used exported bullion to pay for imports- mainly from Asia- which reduced money supply to exert downward pressure on prices and economic activity at the expense of impoverished workers.

Mercantilism adversely affected the colonies who were forced to use English ships, pay duties and trade in commodities whose prices were set by the British Empire. This action created an underclass of colonial citizens, a significant factor leading to world war and eventual American independence. The classical economics of Smith overturned the mercantilist system and his free market ideas remained popular up until the great depression of the 1930’s.

It was then John Maynard Keynes presented a new radically different system to offer hope we could avoid recurrences of the painful boom and bust nature of markets, which was largely adopted by Australia.

Our post World War 2 boom was fuelled by immigration and exports to markets for primary produce. But our fortunes were considerable enhanced by the discovery of large scale mineral deposits in the seventies to establish new markets for the nation , to gain further traction more recently from the huge demand emanating from China. Hence the big questions remains will the market for our minerals remain strong or do we need to brace ourselves for a significant slowdown.

We are bound to see a future slower China with exports curtailed by weak global demand and constrained by less capacity for internally based stimulus measures. However in China the response by authorities has been to loosen the banking ratio reserve( funds banks must keep in reserve)and reduce official interest rates which were cut on a number of occasions given a  more accommodating monetary policy made possible by subdued inflation. There has also been a modest pickup in the prospects in the US and the beleaguered European Union to signal weak growth for the first time since the onset of the global financial crisis.
Overall markets today,although still constrained by trade barriers and currency wars are much more open and transparent than the past. An inbuilt stabilisation is available to the extent most nations have opted for a floating exchange rate over their currency or like China, have their currency pegged to the US dollar. 
But they still remain corrupted to the extent self interest is evident with tariff barriers, dumping and import restrictions to curtail free trade between the nations. 

Saturday, September 21

Is 21 years of uninterrupted growth by Australia due to good economics

Is 21 years of uninterrupted growth by Australia due to good economics and can we continue that growth for the next decade?

Economics gets a bad press as it is known as the dismal science, prone to highlight the risks and dire consequences of alternate courses of action.  What may raise a customary laugh in introducing an expert in this field might well take the form of: please welcome .......... who has successfully predicted 14 of the last two recessions. But economics is a social science whose theories are routinely hijacked by non-rational markets and the vagaries of human behaviour. Economist’s reputations suffered a further blow since most failed to predict the global financial crisis.  There were some notable exceptions but invariably even from this elite group you will find that this correct prediction was just one from a long list of prior failures.

When I first studied economics in the mid-sixties Keynes and Samuelson dominated our textbooks, and there was a sense sound economics would guard against recessions. Keynes was one of the first philosophical economists who insisted economic theories must lead to fairer more ethical outcome for everyone. Keynes’ views were no doubt forged from his desire to avoid a repeat of the great depression where he held onto his shares and subsequently lost his fortune along with many others. His theories suggested the need for a strong regulatory regime to prudently effectively use both monetary (supply of money and interest rates) and fiscal policy (government spending and taxation) to help iron out the inevitable economic imbalances and his theories were largely adopted in Australia.

But the USA was to turn away from the Keynesian route in lieu of the monetarists who suggested you only need to vary the volume of money in circulation (money, bank deposits in demand and related interbank deposits with overnight liquidity) and vary interest rates to effectively control imbalances between supply and demand. This very much suited successive governments and business since it involved less regulatory resources. Consequently regulatory regimes were wound back with deregulation. These ideas inevitably filtered through to other countries so that we entered a prolonged period of global easy money and falling interest rates.  A number of warning bells were ignored such as was evident in the USA with the Savings and Loan fiasco and the Dotcom bubble.
In Europe the EU was formed without regulatory teeth or an effective central bank to coordinate monetary policy. Furthermore little thought was given to the risks of a single currency which prevents the stabilization afforded from currency devaluation by individual member countries whose trade cycles become weakened.

However fortuitously Australia was to benefit enormously from increased taxation revenue derived from a mining boom wisely squirreled away in reserves for a rainy day. These reserves were quickly absorbed in the subsequent stimulus packages embarked upon by the then Labour government in response to weaker business conditions emanating from the GFC. Australia has also benefited from her close ties to the expanding Asian region and from investing in a more effective regulatory regime.
The rather obvious conclusion is the application of Keynesian principles played a pivotal role in ensuring we have continued to enjoy uninterrupted growth for more two decades and even during the global financial crisis.
But now that the mining investment boom is coming to an end as we move into the production cycle we need to encourage reforms to reinvigorate the nation’s economy as the price of exports falls.

But any reform can gain momentum by encouraging more investment from the expanding opportunities within our Asian region, with resultant strong spin offs in improved productivity from joint ventures. Such an approach will ensure enhanced outcomes from a sharing of knowledge and business practices. But this will require a rethink on our trade policy to ensure our market is made foreign investment friendlier, to reduce the tax payable and to provide incentives for foreign investors.  Furthermore government thinking needs to change to a focus which encourages investment into industries that are not market price takers such as currently applies. It is now in the nation’s best interest to support moves into sectors that are market makers, to secure future growth, rather than spending money in propping up non-competitive traditional industries.

We need to encourage business to invest more in much needed innovation with resultant productivity improvements. There needs to be a particular emphasis to encourage business start-ups, with the provision of added incentive such as providing a tax holiday for their first year of profitability or for the period following the initial investment.

Monday, September 9

All the efforts of the human mind cannot exhaust the essence of a single fly.

IntroductionI remain mindful of the words of one of the great religious philosophers Thomas Aquinas who said ‘All the efforts of the human mind cannot exhaust the essence of a single fly'.

His quote is a reminder of our human limitations and the need to remain humble. His philosophical style was to argue the for’s and against before arriving at a well-constructed logical conclusion and to avoid the pitfalls of relying purely on religious texts. Instead, he recommended scientific or specific knowledge about a subject be studied beforehand to avoid making a fool of oneself and losing credibility.

Aquinas’s philosophy was at a time when philosophers logical conclusions was based upon science, as it is only in more recent times as the volume of scientific knowledge expanded we choose to separate the two.

My intention is to examine the religious philosophical implications of modern day science and ascertain how they challenge or reinforce our traditional views, beginning with the basics of Einstein’s special theory of relativity and concluding with the quantum mystery.

An introduction to the special theory of relativity.

The theory can be very difficult to understand properly, mainly due to what seem to be counter intuitive consequences, which I will attempt to explain by way of simple examples adapted from these more comprehensive references as per below.

Imagine you’re on a spacecraft and another spacecraft passes you. The difference between the speed of the higher speed spacecraft and your crafts speed will obviously be the relative differential speed.

But that is not be true in respect to a laser launched from a nearby space station as that laser flashes past you at the speed of light. What you will soon discover is that notwithstanding accelerating the speed of your spaceship you cannot make any impression whatsoever on the speed at which the laser pulls away from you at an indicated speed of light.
Puzzled you retry the experiment over and over again to soon realize the laser always disappears from view at the speed of light regardless of your spacecraft’s speed.

If you able to understand the reason for this then you can understand the special theory of relativity, but in case you’re still confused let me elaborate further with examples to enhance our understanding.
Einstein correctly concluded that since nothing can exceed the speed of light all of our motions through space will be relative to that absolute, so that any observations of the speed of light will be the same wherever you are. Hence the laser will always be observed at travelling at the speed of light, regardless of what speed you are travelling at or whether or not we accelerate or reduce our speed at the time of observation, .

Let us take another example of game of table tennis, noting it takes the same time for the ball to pass over the net when playing a game in a fast moving train as it does for a game played on the platform of the station when we are stationary. However for an observer on the train station looking into the fast moving train this is not the case since the trains speed plus the speed of the ball will equal the total speed of the ball as far he is concerned. Hence the actual speed of the ball is the same for all observers but it is relative to motion except for the absolute speed of light.
Hence all of the laws of science are the same to all observers regardless of their location in space after allowing for gravitational effects.

Einstein’ discovery paved the way for this conclusion (which however will be challenged later on) all our observations are relative to our motion through space except for the combination of space and time termed space-time. After discovering the special theory of relativity Einstein incorporated the gravitational field effects which cause time warping within his general theory of relativity.

A brief excursion into the slippery concept of time differences.

Brian Greene –in 'The Fabric of the Cosmos – Space, time, and the texture of reality').notes “The combined speed of any object’s motion through space and its motion through time is always precisely equal to the speed of light”
For further reading 

Hence once one reaches the absolute speed of light time becomes frozen. E.g.
because time + motion through space = speed of light.
Therefore if motion is represented by the speed of light then time must equal zero.

This idea of course, in reality, is quite farcical since any object travelling through space at that speed ( the higher the speed the greater the mass) would develop such an unimaginative amount of mass as would be almost the equivalent of all matter already present in the entire universe.

Although relative difference apply to us every day dependent upon relative motion through space the miniscule differences on planet earth can effectively be ignored as we revert our out dated Newtonian view of time.

We can have no doubt as to the soundness of the theory since it is has been independently verified by extremely accurate atomic clocks stationed on board aircraft. Hence If you were to spend your entire life flying in planes you will be younger than your comparable walker( because of increased motion which reduces time ) but your time advantage is so small that on your death bed you would scarcely have the additional time to think about even saying a few ‘Hail Mary’s’.
However in the vast distances of space the effects can be calculated to show huge disparities.

Returning to our spacecraft try imagining in the future we have discovered a way to travel at close to the speed of light, which would result in remarkable consequences. Any such motion at close to the speed of light drastically reduces our time in space so that any prolonged space journey lasting a number of years will require us to wind forward our clocks hundreds of thousands of years on re entry into planet earth.
But our stay at home earthlings have long since perished as those who welcome us home are thousands of generations later than those present when we left. That is because time has not slowed for them as it has for the space travellers.

Note the biological aging is no different for either group. To illustrate what I mean let me demonstrate this reality with some arbitrary rounded numbers to make it easier to understand. :

Spacecraft intrepid travellers time .10 + motion at 99.9=100.
Stay at home earthlings earth time is 99.9 +motion.10=100

Can we draw any religious philosophical conclusions?Since the universe is subject to unique laws which unfolded miraculously in exact sequences to allow life to form one can posit that we are the product of a creation in an evolving mystery to leave us in state of wonderment.
By virtue of the laws of science we can also say we live in the most probable of many possible universes which leads us to reasonably suggest within those predestined routes there only exists causality for freedom of thought or actions or choice. That causality is an evolved creation gift which gives us the sense of freedom or free will within the determinism arising from constraints of those predetermined laws.

Although we can measure time we cannot say what it is and can only understand time by combining time with space for the absolute concept of space-time. Accepting for the moment a creator then past present or future becomes irrelevant as we remain trapped within what seems to be to us our enclosed universe where time does seem to be indicative of an arrow usually always moving forward except for possibilities inherent in extreme warping effects of gravity.
But so far we have only barely scratched the surface to already reveal our rather tenuous grip on reality and of time.

Understanding classical physics through the application of the quantumSo far we have viewed the universe through the prism of classical physics which can confidently predict planetary movements and space travel to such a degree that we can have confidence in these evidence based outcomes. But if we attempt to understand classical physics through the applications of the quantum (the subatomic level of particles present in the universe) you expose those universal laws to some doubt. Indeed the general theory of relativity which has been demonstrated to be proven correct over time is only valid as it applies to large physical objects but only barely clings on to its integrity when you begin to contemplate the bizarre behaviors of the smallest of those fragile tiny particles known within our universe.

Einstein’s explanation for quantum mechanics ( the probabilities and uncertainties of sub atomic particles known as quantum laws ) where particles split into respective waves or particles to mimic behaviours as if they were still one, regardless of their distances apart, was to say those correlations were due to the underlying properties already inherent in both prior and after disentanglement. In other words these 'spin characteristics ' were integral to the separated particle and its wave function before and after they became separated.

Once again Einstein’s elegant theory seemed plausible enough but other physicists were doubtful. The matter was settled once and for all when Einstein and other brilliant physicists that followed him were all proven to be wrong half a century later. There is now overwhelming evidence for this so called quantum entanglement. (See Brian Greene – 'The Fabric of the Cosmos – Space, time, and the texture of reality').

ConclusionThe search for answers goes on with scientists now entertaining the idea of different dimensions and hidden properties within those minute particles that might provide solutions to the seemingly intractable mysteries. If you believe knowledge is reality (which can’t be proven or disproven) it could be we simply do not have sufficient knowledge about the particles since that knowledge is hidden within another dimension upon which we are not privy. Suffice to say that space may be not as we thought it was but possibly is made up of many more dimensions.
Should any of these extra dimensional theories turn out to be correct it will confirm that at the most fundamental level we do not experience the reality that underpins the universe.
In that sense we can return finally to a religious philosophical view and conclude that hardnosed materialistic evidence based science is now leading us to the view there is a reality beyond all human experience and understanding which may well always be the case. So that trust which is so important in our relationships with others, but so often can be misplaced, is also analogous to the universe, since human experience is not always a good barometer in understanding her rich fabric, bearing in mind - ‘ All the efforts of the human mind cannot exhaust the essence of a single fly.’
So that all we can do is to have trust in the human spirit and for those who have a religious leaning, an ultimate trust - we need not fear our morality for in death we return home from whence we came.

Friday, August 2

An enduring legacy

A life of extreme hardship, might justify a cynic concluding such an outcome will be unbearably miserable. But such a conclusion ignores the ability of the human spirit to transcend suffering and experience joy.

I am reminded of a poignant moment in my daughter’s life which occurred in an exchange with one of the participants in her group involved in plays and productions for intellectually challenged adults. The person concerned, in her mid-thirties, who was to be the star in the next production, was sitting pensively, deep in thought, when my daughter entered the rehearsal room.

The young women had suffered from many complications and disorders from an early age arising from cancer treatments that had ravaged her body but nevertheless was looking forward to the show. Their relationship had blossomed over time and the young actor’s enjoyment in participation was readily apparent.

‘What are thinking about’ my daughter asked?

‘Well’ I was looking back on my life and thinking what I would change if I had the opportunity to live my life all again’ she said.

‘What conclusion did you come to,’ my daughter asked?

‘Well’, she said, ‘you walked into the room and I realized there is not a single thing I would want to change.’

The young girl died before she was able to realize her dream of starring in in the next production, but her lasting legacy is bound to turn the head of even the most grumpy person to marvel at the depths and richness of the human spirit

Sunday, July 14


The bitter sweet and sour,
we face life's earthly mystery,
like fine wine, maturing,
stoically, to endure our fate, 
seeking to end all enmity,
In saving grace, our hope
In future time in space,      
that in creations delight, 
our perfect harmony
is free to love,
in all eternity  

Wednesday, June 26

Sharing in Creation-a gift of conscious life

Most philosophers agree one cannot define a meaning for life; instead one adopts values, beliefs, faith or ideals embodied in our attitude to life- for if we dig below the surface it is there!!!
Faced with the horrors of war in the late 19th and 20th century the existential philosophical movement attempted to abandon any pretense for meaning and proffered that all philosophical considerations be confined to humanity –so that  references to the abstract were deemed irrelevant. While there were differences in thinking within the movement there was some whose premise was to accept the absurdity of life which in turn was believed would lead us to seize the moment encapsulated in  real outcomes to the extent we are able to live life to the fullest. But even those who concluded our existence is an absurdity could not deny the wondrous evolutionary process that brings us to our current state of self-awareness so that we are able to ponder such metaphysical questions as to who we are and why we are here.
What we can say is that in the beginning was the big bang, what scientists portray as creation from a singularity, from nothing as confirmed by science. From the big bang emerged the primeval soup of creation in a series of chemical reactions emanating from a fiery cosmos to planet earth so that today within our bodies are those first atoms of existence. The sequence of events and chemical reactions that evolved into the building blocks of life known as DNA over billions of years now enable us to marvel at all creation and pose the question that in all probability some purpose or sharing of power forms part of our existential state.
So that in the full gambit of humanity expressed in terms of beauty, love, fear, joy, sorrow, suffering in our advanced evolved self-awareness, we can, in probability, conclude we share in some way in ongoing creation. That is within the restriction of our earthly state and to the extent we have free will.
But this question of freewill has long since occupied the minds of philosophers with views varying from the idea of predetermination to complete freedom. The way that I would like to depict this would be to imagine that when we next go on holidays it was always going to be the case, but that the choice of where we stopped, and what we did and the myriad of other small details allow us the freedom to make whatever choices we so desire.
So that this scenario concludes there is causality of freedom within the confines of predetermined ultimate fateful outcome.
Religion has attempted to explain good and evil by virtue of the idea of original sin-a choice taken in the Garden of Eden to eat of the forbidden fruit. But this theory lacks probability and credibility. I would rather pose the question that if we are part of a creation then it is more the misuse of our freedom and our lust for power that cause conflict or results in evil acts. Indeed, it seems that all of us have a certain power and we can move beyond the concept of good and evil to the use of power as part of creation for good or to bring about destruction.
The creation given gift of freewill, by necessity, carries with it responsibility (barring mental illness) to exercise judgment as to what is right or wrong having regard to the circumstances or consequences of our acts.
How we interact with the world also depends upon the extent of self-awareness but our overarching philosophy (whether formally acknowledged or not) will influence how we exercise the power to which we become entrusted. In simple terms one might express goodness as kindness aimed at leaving the world a better place so that ancestral pride is carried forward to future generations...
But what has plagued religions is the ascendancy of beliefs over anything else – regardless of outcomes, to enslave successive generations to conflict and justify heinous crimes against humanity. The problem arises where conflicting interpretations deemed to be divine results in warring parties both becoming convinced they are right.
But if our beliefs underwrite goodness, to preserve life and offer kindness then we share in the same universal aim to advance our civilization for the benefit of humanity.
Interestingly enough in Christianity, Christ, as the central figure, has few historic references and whose ministry possible only covered 2 or 3 years, remains philosophically elegant today in the application of the golden rule and in the parables. Nowhere is there a call to violence or to take a dogmatic view as to how we should believe. All that was said was there was to be an era of the messianic kingdom of love, compassion and peace which is yet to be realized.
But what is of greater interest is the question of accountability and whether in the end some form of responsibility exists in an ongoing creation – in the remnant of consciousness that continues, which I would like to think is the case.  

Monday, May 27


This is the title to a book I have just read by David H Freedman, who is a research journalist and who outlines why he thinks experts keep failing us.

The book is a good read, mostly comprising of an uncommon common sense approach as to when not to trust the experts and how to disseminate useful information.

Here are some extracts:

Characteristics of less trustworthy expert advice
1. It's simplistic, universally appealing and definitive
2. The research findings are supported by either smaller studies or only correlated from animal studies
3. It's groundbreaking
4. It's pushed by people or organisations that stand to benefit from its acceptance

Characteristics of expert advice we should ignore
1. It's mildly resonant
2. It's provocative - look for evidence before adopting a simply provocative viewpoint
3. It's got a lot of positive attention
4. Other experts embrace it
5. It appears in a prestigious journal
6. The experts backing it boast impressive credentials

Characteristics of more trustworthy advice
1. It doesn't trip the previous alarms
2. It's a negative finding
3. It's heavy on qualifying statements
4. Its candid about refutable evidence
5. It provides some context for the research
6. It provides perspective


None of this is particularly earth shattering but it is refreshingly frank and well measured in providing principals that help us sort out the wheat from the chaffs - from the mountain of information that bombards us on a daily basis.

Often it is best to test out a particular theory or revelation and see how it pans out over time. Unfortunately, experts for the rather obvious right and wrong moral issues, a lot of the experts who offer advice these days are plainly wrong, including new so called ground breaking discoveries in all fields of endeavour.

As usual that is not the problem of the science on the data but rather human nature which cannot be relied upon to uphold integrity.

Thursday, May 16

Circular seasons.

Trees, whose leaves of changing hues paint
A momentary portrait of a new season
Whose leafy arms hold birds in joyous song
Remind us of life’s eternal spring
Not otherwise discerned.

The trunks of fallen trees; circular rings
A reminder of yesteryear-of seasons come and gone
Of encouragements, the warmth of a fire glow
Of mysteries, of meanings no longer obscure
As grace unfolds, it is a gift of life.

But for all that is said and done
In grief, in joy, in all things under the sun
It is the act of kindness
That all seasons doth surpass.

Wednesday, March 20

Honesty is the best Policy - A Short Story

Doc Manders (as he was nicknamed) was a kindly senior internal auditor at the Lands Department in Sydney where I was employed in 1964 but his piercing blue eyes left little doubt as to how he felt about my intended departure to take up a position in private enterprise. “It’s only the few that make it outside the security of the public service – and you haven’t got it.” 
After innumerable “knock backs” I had developed a winning technique to land my next job by giving the impression I was a very fast adapter to any new challenging work environments. Doc Manders’ view was that I must have been ‘’ loose with the truth”.
My first employer was a fledgling retail business which eventually was to blossom into a major force.   The Managing Director welcomed me at the Arncliffe headquarters. ”Well young man seeing you’ve passed those tough accountancy exams you must be smart,” admitting to me he had found it all too hard and had quit.  “So we will be counting on you!”
What they didn’t realize was my failure to mention my work experience confined to the archaic public sector single entry system would mean I would struggle to come to grips with the complexity of private enterprise. Worse still the first assignment was at the large Neutral Bay store – more than two hours round trip using the company’s manual car. My driving experience was only on wide country roads in an automatic vehicle.      
Onlookers grimaced, on that first day, as I lurched forward in a series of kangaroo hops as the ever faithful Holden groaned in agony. Travelling across the Sydney Harbor Bridge sweaty palms made it difficult to stay in the correct lane. Sudden corrections were negotiated in response to the angry howl of horns around me.  On arrival I resembled the smelly Dick Tracey comic strip character ‘B O PLENTY’. Furthermore a black mark was registered against me when the company car repair bill came in - it eclipsed all previous records for brake, clutch and gearbox repairs. Rumor had it; the quiet young accountant was a hoon.           
Inevitably I did struggle to complete all the work scheduled and after only six month I was told I would have to be let go. My second position with a spare parts wholesaler wasn’t much different – except it lasted longer and I had enough sense to leave before I was asked.
 By that time any semblance of confidence had dissipated and at the same time I now needed to establish myself given my recent marriage plans. Applying for what appeared to be an ideal position in a midsized manufacturing company I was greeted by a much older but affable Chief Accountant intent on hiring his ‘’ right hand man” to ensure he was then able to move up the corporate ladder.
But during the course of the interview the futility of again attempting to take on more than I was capable of was becoming increasingly evident – flashes of guilt prompted me to ask myself why I was  wasting this man's time; particularly as he looked a little weary, if not laconic, during the course of the interview. It suddenly occurred to me Doc Manders was right after all; a less challenging position, even possibly back in the public sector was the go.  At the end of the interview he had asked if I had any further questions. So I stammered nervously, losing all pretence of outward coolness, “I think the job is totally beyond me.” 
The Chief accountant looked at me intently. What came next was totally unexpected – for rather than admonish me for wasting his time he proceeded to share with me his distaste for all of the preceding young “smart Alecks” he had interviewed that day. “How could I ever train any of them to take over from me,” he said.
Fortuitously I was the last cab off the rank and as I nodded in agreement I felt pleased that at least he wasn’t going to vent his displeasure on me for wasting his time. But then, to my surprise, a thin smile crept over his lips as if he was savoring a moment of anticipation- like a quiz master waiting a few seconds to keep everyone in suspense until the winner is declared, “Young man, you’re a breath of fresh air – someone I think I can mould into the fine young accountant you aspire to be …..”When can you start!?”     
Perhaps he was my guardian angel giving me a leg up when I needed it most; from that day on everything more or less started to make more sense according to HOYLE.
The story is of different era, unlikely to be repeated, but it taught me that honesty is the best policy. 

Friday, February 1

Arnold Oliver Byrnes

My uncle Arnold Oliver Byrnes born in Australia on 30 August 1913 passed away on 12 January 2013
Aged 99 he died just 5 days after his wife Dorothy to whom he was married an amazingly happy 79 years.
Her ashes were joined to his grave and resting place back to the flourishing seaside town of Ballina, in NSW. He had left instructions to be buried in Ballina which had happy memories to complement the Byrnes ancestral roots. My paternal grandparents were immigrants from Croydon in England who settled in Ballina which became a favorite holiday destination for my parents and me.   
At the service a wonderful evocative poem was included by granddaughter Jenna Kenney which is reproduced hare:  
My love
I sit and think about our history and life
 But you’ve gone away now my beloved wife

I replay our scenes inside my head
The laughter and love, as my tears are shed

How lucky we were for our family and friends
For all of our years together, my beautiful best friend

You smile, your laughter, all the stories you told
The dances we shared, your resilience untold

Our treasured girls, how proud we were and though
the years have passed, that gift has not blurred

The pain in my heart, my best t friend, my wife
My yesterday and today, you were my life

I will see you again, my Dorothy Byrnes
But until then and now, my heat breaks as it yearns.
Little did we know how quickly that would be, but we
are together now my love, just as it should be …….

Written by Jenna Kenney