Stuart Lord writes: Re. The cost of war in Iraq. Your editorial regarding the “Cost of War in Iraq” was about as far off the money as you could get. The report published in the Lancet did use household surveys, yes, but how many? 547. That is right, in a country of 23 million, 547 households were surveyed. Seem a bit under what would be reasonable for a proper study? The report in the Lancet was the worst sort of partisanship, just like the previous study – released before an election to try and influence voters. The original used an unimaginably small sample to come up with an unimaginably large number, and the latest report is worse. And the margin of error is also huge – in the original report, while it claimed 100,000 people probably died, it said that the true number was anywhere between 3000 and 195,000. Hell, even the voting polls give a better margin of error than that.

Tim Bennett writes: After reading Guy Rundle’s article (yesterday, item 1) and your editorial on the 655,000 deaths in Iraq, I’m disturbed that little was said about the methodology behind the study. The death toll is an extrapolation from around 550 reported deaths, not a straight body count. I would be very interested to read a statistical analysis of the study by somebody who doesn’t have a political interest in its validity or findings. What a coincidence that the Lancet has published two studies, that are identical in all but death tolls, in the weeks leading up to American elections. 

Felicity Dargan, Chief of Staff to Family First Senator Steve Fielding, writes: Family First did not do any deals with the government over the media changes. Why? Because Family First doesn’t do deals. It is as simple as that. We have said repeatedly we won’t do deals, we have said repeatedly our vote is not for sale. Family First has said from day one that we are fiercely independent and will consider all legislation on its merits. Family First voted for the media changes on merit. It is disappointing that some journalists refuse to believe this is possible. Family First never spoke to the Prime Minister about the media changes. We had not spoken to anyone in Government about them for at least two weeks, including Communications Minister Helen Coonan. Her office had not contacted us and we had not contacted them. The Minister was keen to meet late Tuesday night but that was not possible so Steve and I met with her in her office on Wednesday morning at 9.30am. At the end of the meeting, in which she outlined the reasons why she thought Family First should support the Bill, she asked Steve what he thought and he responded with words to the effect “At this stage I cannot see strong reasons for voting against the Bill.” That is the first anyone in Government knew of Family First’s decision. Family First does not ask people to agree with our decisions. Of course people will take issue with our voting record. That is fine. But at least consider the possibility that a politician can look at legislation on its merits and not seek anything in return. That’s how Family First operates, as we have said time and time again. I wonder if the journalists – and some aggrieved politicians – will ever believe it?

Debra Richards, Executive Director of ASTRA, writes: Jeff Wall’s exposure (yesterday, item 28) of the fraud free-to-air TV networks are inflicting on Australian sports fans through their cynical manipulation of the sports broadcasting laws is insightful but incomplete. Channel Nine is not alone in hoarding live sports rights and dudding sports fans.  Jeff Wall praises Channel Seven for broadcasting live rugby when the Wallabies play the All Blacks in NZ. He must have missed the fact that Seven broadcast The Sound of Music to rugby fans in Melbourne and Adelaide last July instead of the live Bledisloe Cup TV rights that Seven owned. In the latest example, ABC TV has chosen to hoard and not broadcast live two out of three of the current Australia-NZ Netball Tests to which the ABC owns exclusive live TV rights. Australia’s sports broadcasting laws give the free-to-air TV networks monopoly first access to sports rights. The networks have returned the regulatory favour by hoarding rights and denying sports fans live coverage of major events year after year, every time it suits them. The message the community is sending to the Free To Airs is simple: show it or let others show it. We support the Federal Government’s planned move to a “Use it or Lose it” scheme for free-to-air sports broadcasting.

Naomi Parry writes: Re. “Labor picks a President” (yesterday, item 13). Charles Richardson should check his factional analysis a bit more closely. Linda Burney is very much on the left of the NSW ALP, so the result of the ballot is was 51.5 to the left and 48.5 to the right. That IS significant, when you consider that conventional wisdom is that the right is numerically dominant within the party.

Charles Richardson responds: She’s right – I goofed. No excuse.

Lisa Thurston writes: Re. Mike Burke (yesterday, comments). Mike, do you think that when an ex-whinging-journalist has exercised his or her right to do something else for a living, the media proprietor hasn’t effectively filtered out a dissenting view? Anyone like Steve Fielding, David Flint or Mike Burke, who claim the nature of the ownership doesn’t filter certain views from a given media company’s media, has their head in the sand.

Greens Member Daniel Kogoy writes: Re. “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to save the Democrats” (yesterday, item 8). Your mission which you so far have failed to accept is the reality of Australian politics, the Democrats are a dying party, made irrelevant by Labor’s move to the centre and deals struck with the “bastards” they were supposed to keep honest. The Democrats no longer hold the balance of power in the Senate and unfortunately no other party has yet filled this void. But all is not lost – yet. Another party, the Greens, have replaced the Democrats as the major voice to hold Government accountable. They have the potential to claim enough votes in the next federal election to hold the balance of power. Perhaps they would have done so in the previous election had the corporate media not done everything in its power to discredit the Greens. Large media corporations portray the Greens as being anti-business. This is not the case, they fight against the exploitative nature of those business entities that fail to account adequately for the social and environmental costs of their work. They are not against business for business’s sake. The Greens have the vision to recognise that pursuing continued economic growth through exploitation of non renewable resources is flawed economic theory. The pursuit of continued economic growth at any cost has caused global warming. There is a broad consensus amongst the scientific community on this issue and changes need to be made now. The major parties do not possess the political will to act on this issue as they are strongly influenced by the coal and nuclear industries. With such a major environmental issue on the national agenda, the Greens are the ideal party to hold the balance of power in the Senate, regain its credibility and push for action on climate change.

Alex Lubansky writes: Yesterday, Craig Berkman (comments) asked: “Do people like Alex Lubansky, Lionel Kowal and Grant Ye ever acknowledge any wrongdoing by the state of Israel under any circumstances?” Unfortunately, I feel I must repeat part of what I wrote. Two days ago, I wrote (comments): “The truth is (and by truth I mean my opinion) that the situation in the Middle East is complex, there is blame on all sides, victimhood on all sides, and, frequently, justification on all sides.” Note the “blame on all sides” should suggest that Israel is not perfect and shares some of the blame. And as far as “attacking the person rather than the issues”, I did not attack the person, I attacked the article (indeed, a series of articles). More to the point, the issue I was addressing was biased coverage. The issue Mr Berkman seems to have completely and utterly missed. I certainly did not intend to criticise Loewenstein-as-person, and if anything I wrote came across as such I apologise. However, Loewenstein-as-commentator/journalist is not above discussion. If the writing presents a distorted, one-sided view of any given situation, does Mr Berkman think that pointing this out is unacceptable and constitutes a “standard and pathetic political method of attacking the person rather than the issues”?

Chris Ellis writes: Maybe it’s time to stop declaring Total Fire Ban days. For arsonists, they’re like a red rag to a bull. In my old home town of Hobart, as with the rest of South Eastern Australia, yesterday was a Total Fire Ban Day. You’d have to wonder how come several bush fires were burning by breakfast time. In Victoria there were more than 250 fires! That’s an awful lot of lightning. In Tasmania there will be bushfires on any Total Fire Ban Day. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember. Every sad, pathetic arsonist gets excited and wants to get a fire going before anyone else beats them to the punch. Anyone with half a brain knows that it’s not a good idea to have a fire on a day with hot gale force northerly winds. If the media advertised that the local surf was 3 metres and going off, every surfer for miles around would be there by dawn. Maybe it’s the same with arsonists. Showing endless vision of bushfires on TV further fuels the arsonist’s excitement and validates their perversion. Our media observe a protocol on detailed reporting of suicide because we now know that publicity encourages copycats. I suspect we’ve reached that point with bushfire arsonists. In this age of climate change and perennial drought, wouldn’t it be simpler to declare total outdoor fire bans from October to April, without the need for blanket advertising of the best days for lighting bushfires?

Ian Watson writes: In reference to Charles Richardson’s comment about the badness of straight line borders (yesterday, item 9), it is interesting to note that in fact there are only three straight line borders between adjacent countries (Chad/Nigeria, Algeria/Mauetania, Djibouti/Somalia). I know this isn’t really relevant to the point as there are lots that are nearly straight – just an interesting geographical factoid.

Michael Mullin writes: It’s a pity soccer doesn’t come under the same scrutiny as the other footballing codes. Wednesday night’s performance against Bahrain was pathetic, but we won and there was a big crowd, so the only response has been self-congratulation. There are serious questions to be asked of the quality of the coaching, and team selection. We have a coach that achieved absolutely nothing in two seasons at club level, and has tagged along with others at international level. If he isn’t replaced in time for the Asian Cup next year, Australia’s appearance will be an embarrassment.

Clare Henderson of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition writes: Richard Farmer’s “Loose talk on bottom trawling from our UN Ambassador” (5 October) was loose talk itself says Deep Sea Conservation Coalition Australia Coordinator, Ms Lyn Goldsworthy. Ambassador Hill did not talk about a ban on bottom trawling in Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as stated by Farmer. The qualification that Farmer did not mention — “on the high seas” — is important. What Hill said was: “There shouldn’t be deep sea bottom trawling on the high seas.” Hill, when pushed about unilateral Australian action , said “we will ban this form of fishing on the high seas for Australian vessels and we’ll enforce that through Australian legislation” but again he qualified it by noting the importance of global action “we’re trying to get the resolution of the General Assembly which would mean that a range of states would be prepared to take similar action, because if one state does it … then you only get a very limited benefit.” That said, the rest of Farmer’s analysis also goes out the window. But for the record, the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition and the scientific community are campaigning for a moratorium on bottom trawling on the high seas because there is virtually no regulation of damage to deep sea ecosystems by bottom trawling. Australia has already taken some good action by declaring some seamounts in its EEZ as marine parks and applying some sustainable fishing practices to some fisheries. But protecting high seas biodiversity requires a global response.

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Peter Fray

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