MUP publisher Louise Adler writes: Nick Cater, as editor of The Howard Factor, misunderstood my concern that the collection might not be fully representative of the spread of political views among The Australian’s columnists. Given that the book sought to analyse the extraordinary success of John Howard, the absence of columnists such as Michael Costello might be seen to undermine the value of the project. In my editorial judgement it would have been equally instructive to read the assessment that Labor commentators made of the Prime Minister’s decade in office. I was surprised that the editor of the book leapt to the conclusion that my call for a more comprehensive spread of analysis had political imputations. When we spoke by phone on this matter Nick Cater was in the supermarket. Perhaps he was unable to discern the distinction between political partisanship and balanced analysis.

Peter Tucker writes: Regarding the Christian Kerr item Friday 25 August: “Queensland, Tasmania soft on corruption – Morgan Poll.” Christian Kerr’s, and Morgan’s, reporting on this poll is statistically misleading. For Tasmania we know the sample size is under 50 (Morgan tell us that much) and as any researcher knows that is just too small to be statistically meaningful. To generalise a finding from such a small sample to the population of Tasmania cannot be done. Further, one would question the findings for all the states. Morgan only tells us the total sample size, 656, and out of that total Tasmania is under 50. OK, so excluding Tas we have a sample size of, say, 610. That’s an average of 120 each for the other states, still statistically dodgy. If you want to be 95% confident of the outcome, for a sample of 120, you are looking at a margin of error of about 10. Surely that is way too great for meaningful analysis. This is still a useful poll by Morgan, but it should not be used for state-by-state analysis. I am not an apologist for the Tasmanian government, but if and when they do come in for criticism then it should be based on reliable evidence.

John Parkes writes: RE. Telstra sale. I read in The Australian that “Mr. Howard… delayed the sale announcement… as they sought assurances of Telstra’s dividend policy” etc. etc. As a shareholder in Telstra would I receive an answer to such a query prior to selling the shares I hold, and even if I did would such a statement not qualify as one which should be made available to all shareholders or potential buyers and be made as a release to the ASX? This is a perfect example of insider trading in my mind. More importantly having sought the assurances what protection does the Government have (as shareholder rather than regulator) that Telstra will keep those private promises? What if someone decided they were “non-core”, and I can’t help but think that a promise made in secret to only one shareholder would better fit the description.

Mark Cridland writes: Maybe Foxtel boss Kim Williams could spend a little more time answering Glenn Dyer’s correct assertion that PBL has been having an influence on Foxtel’s AFL negotiations with Seven-Ten. As PBL own 25% of Foxtel and more importantly 50% of Premier Media Group (Fox Sports) with News Limited, is it just a coincidence that Foxtel will only offer Seven (who are suing the owners) and Ten (jumped out of bed with Nine mid-season) half the cash they currently pay to Nine/PBL? Of course not.

Robin Rothfield writes: I refer to the statement by Ted Lapkin that Burnside’s pro-Palestinian sympathies are a matter of public record (Crikey 24/8.) I have followed closely Julian Burnside’s valiant efforts in defence of human rights for some years. If Julian is pro anything he is pro the underdog, especially pro-refugee. This could perhaps lead one to charge him with being pro-Iraqi or pro-Hazara or pro-Iranian since he has been active in defence of refugees from these backgrounds. But it is also worth noting that Julian Burnside launched noted Jewish writer Arnold Zable’s most recent book Scraps of Heaven which describes the life of Jews liberated from concentration camps who found a haven in Melbourne in the 1950s. So one could also charge Julian with being pro-Jewish. What disturbs me most about Ted Lapkin’s statement is that he has used “pro- Palestinian” in a pejorative sense which he thinks Julian should wear as badge of shame. My observation of Julian Burnside’s work on behalf of the underdog leads me to the view that he should wear any title given to him as a badge of honour. The Julian Burnside I know is quite different from the Julian Burnside whom Ted Lapkin seems to know.

Jonathan Tjhia writes: I would like to register my complaint regarding Stephen Feneley’s article ‘Cross-pollination at ACMI’ (Friday, item 16). It’s quite clear from the writing style of the piece that Feneley hasn’t got much to go by. For instance, he cites the involvement of artists such as Stelarc in the exhibition Transfigure. If Feneley knows anything at all about new media art, he would know that regardless of Stelarc’s representation or ACMI’s curatorship, Stelarc is a world-leading pioneer in his field, and his work is deeply concerned with the relations between body and technology. To suggest that his inclusion was merely at the behest of Cavallaro is downright foolish and self- serving. Likewise, Granular Synthesis are a groundbreaking duo whose inclusion in ACMI’s Sensurround exhibition could only have served the best interests of the organisation, and in turn, the art-loving public. Your anonymous ‘prominent new media artist’ is right to say that Cavallaro is one of the good guys in the arts. He has a genuine interest in art and in people, and the sleazy ‘networking’ manner is refreshingly absent in him. He is one of the more talented curators and critics of new media art in Australia, and it’s in light of all these things that Feneley’s accusations seem all the more pointless. Tony Sweeney could prove his worth as director by bluntly refusing to engage with Crikey on this non-issue. Again: if Feneley had any idea about new media art, he would know that its relatively small size means that artists and curators will inevitably cross paths in different contexts. That is all.

Noel Bottrell writes: Re. Ella James comment 25/8, No Ella I do not see St George [in the Crikey logo] , my first reaction was South Sydney!

A. Sargent writes: Ella James writes: Crikey, your new logo… does anyone else think of St George Bank when they see it or is it just my over-branded brain? My first thought (feel free to sing along): “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas …”

Liz Johnston writes: Can one of your economists tell me whether it’s a good or bad thing that governments can use the Future Fund to park their mistakes in, eg Telstra? Seems to me that could make the future grim for generations to come.

A Current Tax Auditor writes: Chris Seage supposes the ATO “leaks like a sieve.” Not so, Mr Seage. As an ex-ATO employee you should be well aware of who the ultimate boss is, and given his current press standing you should also be aware of which department such leaks are likely to stem from. Especially considering the tax commissioner is not elected. You should also know that under the privacy act the ATO as a department is prohibited from leaking the very information you have taken offense to. Another consideration to bear in mind is the likely prejudice such information may engender to a jury should said individuals be taken to court over their actions. No. The ATO’s form in the past with regards to cases of this nature is to publicise the outcome after the fact. And besides all of which, the successful prosecution of tax evasion activities has the potential to lower the tax obligation for us all — after all, who is more likely to engage in practices of this nature? Welfare recipients or those who can afford to pay their share?

Nicola Bell writes: I think Margaret Simons could run an entire blog just examining the various claims of celebrity magazines (I’ve always wondered, just who are these “close friends of the star”?) The trouble is, writing it could cause one to lose all faith in the world where there are more celebrities than things worthy of celebration.

Kate Woodford (who can still, just, provide first-person commentary on the 18-35s age group) writes: Re. Editorial Comment (25 August) – Funny how you assume, Crikey, that younger readers don’t already get enough “celebrity gossip and dumbed-down editorial fodder” elsewhere and that we will turn to newspapers for more of the same – we can access plenty of it via the internet and TV (being much better mediums, as you get sound and moving picture as well) or in a myriad of magazines. What turns us off newspapers at the moment is obvious editorial bias and the sneaking suspicion that not a lot of the rubbish being reported is actually news or journalism anyway – it’s just re-doctored spin-doctoring from the same, tired old sources. If newspapers really want to reinvent themselves with any relevance then they’re going to need to start reporting relevant issues and stories and stop pandering to advertising and political masters.

James Matthew writes: I’m inclined to think that Dr Steven Downes may have missed the obvious “Mexican” connection in his comments about Mr Sol Trujillo. It could be that, in the popular collective consciousness “mexican”, when applied to Mr Trujillo and his executive compadres, relates to the image of a hard-playin’, tough-talkin’ (very rich) bunch of cowboys who don’t care much about who gets in their way. Sound far-fetched? Well, maybe, but here’s what the Denver Westword website had to say about Sol’s previous gig with the “US West” telco in an article “Liars on the Line” back in November 1999: “…the company has apparently ranked every neighborhood in Colorado by the income of its residents, labeled each as “gold,” “platinum” or “bronze” and instructed its employees to give priority to the gold neighborhoods. When angry customers called to complain, the company told its employees: Just lie. “If you don’t see a facility in place to install service, give the customer an artificial due date and hope we make it.” I wonder how rural Australia will fare if Senor Trujillo gets his unregulated Telstra.

John Richardson writes: Re. Sol Trujillo and “country-of-origin brand association”. Stephen Downes’ indignant thesis that Australian journalists have engaged in “racial stereotyping” at the expense of Telstra’s Sol Trujillo & his compatriots might well be sound. Of course, others might argue that the sledging of Sol & his mates simply reflects a fundamental scepticism as to their real business credentials. Still others might perceive Sol & his pals as being big mouth smart arses, given their very public campaign against the TPC & their apparent readiness to take on all comers — all the way to the Lodge. And others might simply harbour resentment, believing that local carpetbaggers should have picked-up the lucrative telco gigs, rather than a bunch of yankee blow-ins. Maybe all these factors are at play, or could it be that the amigos are just seen as easy sport? As I sip the last of my tequila, I can’t help wondering how the real Mexicans might feel about Uncle Sam’s management of their brand over the years?

Gary Price writes: Your editorial on Friday suggested that democracy had survived the advent of TV. Not so fast buster. Back when communication relied on words in print democracy enjoyed a marvellous expansion, and we all have benefited from that. Sadly the decline of the printed word and more importantly of the reading of the printed word has rung the death-knell for anything that approaches democracy. The reasons are simple enough. Printing presses are small and cheap and not easily regulated. Pamphletts are easy to distribute and sequester, and not easy to trace back to the author. Enter TV and the Internet. TV, still the 800-lb gorilla of mass communication, is massively expensive to use to disseminate information and out of reach of the small reformer, ideologue, entrepreneur, nay-sayer or do-gooder. On the other hand it is an ideal tool for the “manufacture of consent” if you have the means to use it. Everything you put on the Internet can, with sufficient legislative muscle and/or skull-duggery be traced back to its origin. There is also the awesome power of statistical analysis of electorates, something not easily recognized by the non-expert. With mass communication, statistics is on the side of the well-organized dictator. Add to this the spectacular growth of wealth and in the numbers of the wealthy, which means that there is an ever-growing band of well-heeled spruikers willing and able to push their loot-laden barrows towards the state and national capitals. So basically, democracy is hosed. Just wait for the next developments: subversion of the tax and electoral offices, faith based initiatives, government sponsored history texts, subjugation of free speech to the new terrorism laws … It certainly is a brave new world. My advice is, anyone who lives in a “safe” government-held electorate, think about making it marginal. If all seats were marginal we might get our democracy back.

Cathy Bannister writes: Wendy McMahon (24 August, comments) can breathe easy. Poor, uneducated, third-world women are not going to be pressed into giving up their embryos as there is a ready source of unwanted embryos created by in vitro fertilization treatment. Ms McMahon can rest assured that these embryos are largely from white, middle class stock.

Catherine Kraina writes: Julian Sheezel and his team helped deliver a stunning result in Victoria at the last Federal election. They drove the best-organised campaign many Liberals can remember. 104’s service to branches and electorate councils has improved out of sight. Cheap shots like your item on 25/8 just expose Crikey’s propensity to take leaks from a small minority of whining spoilers at face value.]

Niall Clugston writes: The Economist might foresee the possible demise of newspapers (25 August, editorial). But newspapers weren’t killed by radio. Newsapapers weren’t killed by television. Why does anyone think that newspapers will be killed by the Internet? The history of new media is about coexistence not supercession.

John Hayward writes: The Tasmanian plantation story by Margaretta Pos was a great demo of intimidation in the benighted isle. There was no mention of King Kong/Gunns Ltd, but rather a focus on Great Southern, who is a pygmy marmoset down here which lacks Gunns’ gargantuan appetite for native forests and doesn’t own the Lennon Government. The plantation jobs argument is a knee-slapper. Tasmanian agriculture has lost over 87,000 ha of land in recent years, mostly to plantations, and consequently 1300 jobs in the past five. Forestry has also shed thousands of jobs since the Tas RFA was declared in 1997 due to the minimal labour needs of woodchipping and plantations, and the starvation of value-adding industries such as timber milling. Things look to get worse, with the plantation industry now pushing for the admission of foreign forestry workers- no, not hordes of serfs, but those trained to operate the giant robotic plantation harvesting equipment which replaces almost everyone. Its a classic Tasmanian bout between Big Money and the public interest — no contest.

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