Gary Price writes: Stuart Lord (13 October, comments) says the number of households in the Lancet Iraq Mortality Study was 547. According to the paper itself, it was 1849, comprising 12801 members, carefully randomised over the country. The only reference I found to the number 547 quoted by Stuart was the number of post-invasion deaths reported in the households surveyed. The aim of the study was to estimate the post-invasion death rate using well-established statistical procedures. The authors contend that the sample size was sufficient for the purpose of identifying the “doubling of an estimated pre-invasion crude mortality rate of 5.0 per 1000 per year with 95% confidence and a power of 80%”. Such a doubling is almost sufficient to account for the number of deaths estimated. The Lancet is a scientific peer-reviewed journal, so the sample size is probably OK. The paper contains an interesting analysis of possible bias. Apart from describing the study, the authors suggested that civilians bear the brunt of war, and that an independent international body monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions and other humanitarian standards. They also noted that although the death rate had continued to escalate, it appeared that the proportion of deaths due to coalition forces had declined in 2006.

Robert Hughes writes: Stuart Lord and Tim Bennett in Friday’s Crikey both dispute the findings of the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study of post-1983 Iraqi mortality rates. There arguments would be more convincing if it wasn’t obvious that neither of them has actually read the study. If they had, Mr Bennett would not be so disturbed as he would have been able to read a very detailed account of the methodology and Mr Lord would have known that the number of households in the study was not 547, as he claims, but 1849. The Lancet is not some sort of partisan rag as Mr Lord and Mr Stuart imply, but an independent medical journal that was first published in 1823. The Lancet has a very strong peer review policy. All papers are reviewed internally by Lancet staff and then sent to be reviewed by at least three external reviewers. Less than 10% of submitted papers are accepted for publication. So who do Crikey readers think has the most credibility? A paper reviewed by experts that was written by scholars from one of the prestigious medical institutes in the USA, or Mr Lord and Mr Stuart who haven’t even bothered to read the paper?

Harold Thornton writes: Stuart Lord and Tim Bennett (13 October, comments) join John Howard in pouring scorn on the statistical methodology behind the latest Iraq death toll figures published in the Lancet. Since the methodology appears identical to that used by the ABS in calculating the Australian employment statistics perhaps Crikey readers can look forward to a scoop on the Prime Minister, in a display of consistency, dismissing the latest unemployment figures as fraudulent. Or perhaps not.

Richard Wise, Manager – Government & Public Affairs, Australian Business Council for Sustainable Energy, writes: Re. “How to tackle global warming – talk apocalypse or talk technology?” (13 October, item 7). Yes Christian, fossil fuel technology will play an important role in the fight against climate change, but in denigrating Kyoto you miss the obvious point: without a market for cleaner technology why on earth would companies invest in it? This technology will cost money. A lot of money. And will the companies volunteer this money finance out of the goodness of their hearts? I’m not sure if CSR extends that far in Australia. Under the Kyoto Protocol a market for clean technology has been established. So if you accept something ought to be done, put in place the market enablers, ratify the Kyoto Protocol and let the capital markets decide. (And besides, we are going to meet our target so its not going to cost us anything anyway … is it?)

Robert Merkel writes: Re. Howard’s disingenuousness on global warming. Yes, John Howard has been talking technology as the solution for global warming. He’s been running this line for years, now. But Christian Kerr doesn’t seem to have grasped the inherent disingenuousness of Howard’s position that technology – namely carbon capture and sequestration – will solve our greenhouse problems in a pain-free manner and consequently no form of carbon pricing will be necessary. This is nonsense. While some fundamentally different form of power generation (nuclear or renewables) may at some stage in the future be cheaper than coal, there is no way that a fossil fuel power station can capture, transport, and bury carbon dioxide cheaper than it would be to release it into the atmosphere, when releasing into the atmosphere can be done for the price of an exhaust pipe. I defy Christian, or anyone else, to explain how you can beat that. For completeness, there is one way it can be done; find a way to dispose of CO2 that in itself generates revenue, such as by using it to force more oil out of oil wells. But to assume that all the immense quantities of carbon dioxide that we would need to store could be put to profitable use is a wild leap of faith.

Phillip Adams writes: A few decades ago, when I was in advertising, my little agency Monahan Dayman Adams went for the Bank of NSW account – a whopping contract given that the Westpac launch was looming … amazingly, we got on the shortlist – as did the biggest agency, George Pattersons. A senior bloke at the bank told me that GP’s boss, Geoffrey Cousins, had phoned to cruel our pitch … he said this to the bank. “You can’t appoint MDA. They’re going broke and, in any case, Adams has terminal cancer”. Neither allegation was true – and we got the account. Tough cookie, Cousins.

Holger Lubotzki writes: I know this idea will upset Peter Faris but I think I have a proposal to solve the David Hicks problem. Hicks has been charged with being an enemy combatant and conspiracy to commit murder, but he doesn’t look like going to trial any time soon and is only a few months away from having spent five years in custody. All we need to solve this problem is for David Hicks to plead guilty to the charge of conspiracy to commit murder. He can then be released immediately for time served. Hicks has already served five times the sentence handed down to Staff Sgt. Jonathan J Alban-Cardenas, who was sentenced to one year in prison after being convicted of one count of murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder during a general court-martial at the 1st Cavalry Division courthouse in Camp Liberty, Baghdad. This would be an elegant solution indeed. David Hicks would be free. The US would have a conviction and sentence served. Hicks would not be able to sue the US government because he would have pleaded guilty and would not be able to claim wrongful imprisonment. For the record, I have no idea if David Hicks is guilty of any crime and can only refer people wanting an answer on that to the AG Phillip Ruddock who has clearly stated that Hicks would not be charged on his return to Australia because he has not broken any laws.

Zachary King writes: Re. “Is it time to sell Apple?” (13 October, item 22). Your comment regarding the encroachment of Microsoft’s Zune into iPod market share makes me wonder what your real motive is. A cursory glance at the reviews for Zune reveals that, like most Microsoft products, it will be a hopeless “me too” addition. Although it does have wireless capability, it is hideously crippled with DRM which will not allow you to play music bought through any other system including iTunes (no surprise there). But mindbogglingly, it will also prevent you from playing music purchased on the previous Microsoft offering, the now redundantly called PlayForSure. And as for the wireless? Useless; you can’t access the internet, you can’t even directly download from Zune music portals, all you can do is interact with another Zune device and it comes with a crippling 3×3 rule which means you only get to play the file three times, regardless of if you legally own it or not. Sound like an iPod killer? I don’t think so.

John Beesley writes: I have wondered for a while at the SMH online editions attitude towards Apple Computer and now Crikey as well! Why Apple as a company cops these sort of articles is beyond me, I have never seen an article that comments on a company that produces computers that run Windows, but with similar market share. I mean, to compare Apple to all Windows machines is just bad journalism and to talk about market share in those terms equally so. Rather, compare Apple to Sun, HP or IBM as companies. Finally I think you will find that Apple is moving into video for the home next and if it captures half of the market share it did for MP3 players then I wouldn’t mind a few shares.

Chris Dodds writes: Felicity Dargan’s comments on the media legislation (13 October, comments) might have rung true if the legislation actually had merit. Given the absolute lack of merit in handing control of Australia’s media to monopoly owners, is it any surprise that we are still left wondering what deal was done?

John Richardson writes: Re: Family First and cross media ownership laws. Felicity Dargan, Chief of Staff to Senator Steve Fielding, offers spin as faux indignation when she challenges us to believe that Family First politicians can consider legislation “on its merits and not seek anything in return”. Felicity’s protest is obviously designed to obscure the skinny veneer of Family First’s independence from the Liberal Party, as evidenced by both parties teaming up to paddle the same canoe in the 2004 federal general election. When it comes to the real issue, which is the government’s blatant pork-barrel pandering to the interests of the entrenched media giants, Felicity attempts to dress up her party’s support of the legislation as evidence of its “independent thinking”, citing the essence of Senator Fielding’s comments to Senator Coonan – “At this stage I cannot see strong reasons for voting against the Bill.” If Family First had exposed the legislation to the rigour of genuine independent intellectual analysis, perhaps Felicity would be better able to explain her party’s tame support for its passage?

Chris Ridings writes: Greens member Daniel Kogoy (13 October, comments) would love to see the Australian Democrats curl up and die, and so would the other parties. This is why there is so much drivel about the Democrats being called “irrelevant”, is written and spoken with the hope that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and they are left in peace. In practice in the Parliament the Greens and the Democrats have voted similarly most of the time. However, whereas the Democrats have a history of offering preferences to the Greens to promote a cross-bench alliance, the Greens have never reciprocated to my knowledge. They have set out with the intention to replace the Democrats as the third party. It is noteworthy that the Greens have invariably placed the ALP above the Democrats in their preferences, hoping that should the ALP form a minority government, as they did in NZ and Germany, they would be able to do deals with them and enter into a coalition with them. Please check out the websites for yourselves.

Rowen Cross writes: Another drought in the driest inhabited continent on Earth? Droughts on marginal land in rural Australia are as frequent as the seasons. When are we going to stop calling these weather conditions “droughts” and fess up to the fact that we should not be farming on much of this land in the first place? The declarations of a “national crisis” and “rural recession” will probably result in the government announcing another “special relief package” (which should read: subsidy for farmers). Relief for our farmers is definitely warranted, but instead of focusing on overcoming this particular crisis, relief should be used to lead a structural transition away from farming in areas where agriculture is simply not viable. These measures may seem harsh, but we are living in a fool’s paradise if we continue to ignore the inevitable reality of our position. A transition akin to what we saw in Australia’s manufacturing sector is what is required. Until government makes this switch in policy, the farming sector will continue to hobble from crisis to crisis.

CORRECTION: On Friday, we ran pictures from farmer Pete Howe (item 4), presenting a picture of sheep in drought-stricken paddocks as the 90 orphan lambs that Pete rescued because due to the big dry, “their mothers are too weak to look after them so we feed them to keep them alive.” Unfortunately, you can’t trust city slickers to get these things right. The pictures weren’t of the lambs in question. So here are the real orphan lambs that Pete and his family “feed three times a day with milk powder”. Says Pete: “If they weren’t picked up by us out in the paddock they would have to survive out in those dusty paddocks that I have taken photos of which were on the website (on Friday). Farmers do their very best to care for their animals in good and harsh times no matter what the cost is (mentally and financially). It is difficult to tell the story to someone who has never experienced the hardship of growing up and living with what nature dishes out.”


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