Roger Fry writes: Re Malcolm Fraser – I’ll be happy to extend the trivia. Diana Gribble discussed (yesterday, comments) Gary Foley’s comments on Malcolm Fraser’s shyness after a one hour meeting. How about two years’ experience? I worked in the office next to Fraser for two years, and saw or spoke to him and his staff frequently. He was an extremely shy person; those close to him agreed. Re the urban myth of his aloofness – that’s a matter of geometry. Photographers were always shorter than Fraser, so their cameras were pointed up his nose, and therefore the pictures showed him looking down his nose. Body language is a bit more complicated than that, and its experts pick up any meaning in seconds.

Richard McGuire writes: Yesterday Christian Kerr’s comments regarding the future of trade unions, item 8, were a rehashing of the usual tripe dished up by conservative commentators. Kerr was responding to comments by Kim Beazley, that, were the coalition government to be returned at the next election, “the trade union movement would be wiped out within a decade” ie, legislated out of existence. According to Kerr it’s about employees voting with their feet, or “freedom of choice = freedom of association.” Try telling that to any employee who has had a workplace agreement thrust in front of them. There is no argument that unions have faced enormous challenges over the past couple of decades. These include the casualisation of the workforce, the trashing of the public sector, globalisation and of course malevolent conservative governments. For years conservative commentators and politicians have been quick to point to union membership only making up about 30% of the workforce. What they fail to mention is that the pay and working conditions of the vast majority of employees are underpinned by benchmarks achieved by unions. Well things are changing. If unions go, so does the free ride enjoyed by those who considered union membership unimportant. Kerr is not alone in his anti-union sentiment at Crikey. Rarely are unions (“the bruvvers”) mentioned in a positive light. A healthy trade union movement is essential in any functioning democracy. Just as important as, say, media diversity or the participation of minor political parties.

Holger Lubotzki writes: Crikey! Is Lord Downer actually qualified to comment on the mental health of others? Sounds like the loonies might be in charge of the asylum.

Paul Kish writes: Re “Beach cricket, a turf war between two breweries” (yesterday, item 23). I just thought I’d bring to your attention after reading the piece about Beach Cricket and turf war between Australia’s “Big Two” Breweries that Lion Nathan is also involved with South Australian cricket, not just Queensland. Lion’s West End subsidiary sponsors the SACA and, as such, also has pouring rights at the Adelaide Oval.

Peter Hill writes: Re Items 7 & 15, yesterday. Item 7: “Taxation and welfare spending are at record levels”. There’s a big difference between way too high tax RATES and nicely positioned rates that bring in heaps of dough because the economy is kicking along nicely. Which do you think Tanner is ACTUALLY referring to, as opposed to spinning off? Item 15: Glenn Dyer writes: “SBS not responsible for ham-fisted Top Gear editing. Well, I got it wrong on SBS and its sensitive editing of Top Gear to fit in ads”. The rest of this article is for Crikey subscribers only. “Subscribe now for instant access.” If you are going to clarify/correct/apologise/self-flagellate for an article you made freely available, shouldn’t the clarification/correction/apology/flagellation be likewise?

David Mackay writes: In yesterday’s Crikey, Geoff G wrote: Re. Murphy’s Law (yesterday, editorial). Buttered toast always lands buttered side down. A cat always lands on its feet. So if you strap buttered toast to a cat’s back it should spin just above the floor without ever touching it! I don’t own a cat so I can’t prove it but the theory is sound.” Murphy’s law states that “things will go wrong in any given situation, if you give them a chance.” (Wikipedia). If you consider that the worse result from the cat’s point of view is not landing on its feet but rather on its back, Geoff’s scenario works out rather differently. The cat, which now has a piece of buttered toast strapped to it, is destined under Murphy’s Law to land on its back, so the result is not a gently-spinning cat but rather a piece of buttered toast rammed into the floor with the full weight of the cat behind it. This is less good (for the floor and the cat) – which once again satisfies Murphy!

Mike Martin writes: Richard Farmer might explain that the hydrogen economy is not a “vision thing” but a “mirage thing” (yesterday, item 11). Yes, hydrogen gas is a clean fuel, but it is expensive to store and transport and, more importantly, it does not exist on Earth. It has to be manufactured. The most cost-effective method currently is by steam reforming of methane (from natural gas). This

 process liberates the carbon dioxide that would be produced if the gas were otherwise burned, and wastes about a third of the gas’s energy content. Hydrogen can also be produced (far more expensively) by decomposition of water, using electricity generated by wind farms or other renewable energy sources. It may, in the long term, be a viable intermediate form of energy storage for vehicles, but it is not obviously superior to biodiesel or ethanol manufactured from crops. But this won’t stop the Prime Minister. He will be ready, when the truth eventually emerges, to swear that, “I wasn’t told”.

Philip Carman writes: Re WA radioactive canister found (yesterday, item 1). Well done Crikey! You are the leader so far in reporting of this story (with a little, helpful push) and now the big questions are: Was the poor sod truck driver aware of the fact that he was being irradiated (if he was within five metres of his load) before he lost it??? How did it “fall off” the back of the truck?? When?? And was Toll the carrier?? If so, why did they disclaim all knowledge and responsibility?? It would be too easy to let all these questions go by, but too much is at stake with nuclear energy being pushed down our throats as safer and cleaner etc etc…

Andrew Cameron writes: Simon Rumble and Deborah Nesbitt (Comments, yesterday) should avoid the stress of reading Christian Kerr, as I do, and just skip through it. This meant yesterday I didn’t have to read Articles 6,7,8,9 and 10. I was able to read all of Crikey in my lunch break and still have time for a walk. Much better for your physical and mental health.

Steve McKiernan writes: All episodes of Top Gear are available as ripped bit torrents for those with broadband connections, (and larger hard-drives). Not only can we shuffle forward through the boring celebrity driving conversation with Tory plonker Clarkson and C-grade celeb, but the intrusive and irrelevant adverts are joyously avoided. And rewind on the entertaining bits. The show broadcast on Monday night was first broadcast on BBC2 on 13 November 2005, series seven of Top Gear. New 2007 season (series nine) with the Hamster on deck will be broadcast in UK starting on 28 January. Should take about two days for the torrents to appear on the web. SBS may not be responsible for the editing, but it is certainly guilty of outdated programming and a failure to accommodate and compete with alternate media. The British comedy available via bit torrent outclasses anything on free-to-air.

Dick Stratford writes: Re: Will we ever get an accurate idea of the Iraqi death toll? (yesterday, item 13). When recently in Boston I watched a detailed interview on C-Span with the authors of the Johns Hopkins study on casualties in Iraq. They were articulate, measured and persuasive. They defended vigorously and plausibly their statistical techniques. They were subjected to intensive questioning by a panel of Congress. Not once did they flinch. Howard has the blood of around 650,000 Iraqis on his hands, no question of it. As a PM he is a marvellous suburban solicitor, wills and conveyancing his specialties. He is a moral and intellectual grub.

John Kotsopoulos writes: Henry Thornton (The Economy: The great disappearing water and electricity trick – yesterday, item 20) quotes a dinner companion as saying “The water in a 5,000 litre tank is worth about $35, so why spend $5,000 to install one?” The cost benefit ratio is much worse than that. Even at the highest Block 3 rate of $1.4185 per kilolitre the water is only worth $7.09 and will allow about five hours of garden watering before it runs out. Take into account depreciation for the cost of the whole thing and the figures are a complete farce.
In the meantime “about 44 billion litres are lost each year to leaking pipes, burst water mains, metering error and other unaccounted factors” according to Yarra Valley Water managing director Tony Kelly. This at a time when routine maintenance has apparently been dropped to save money! Rainwater tanks may give some people a warm inner glow but the money would be much better spent on uns-xy things like pipe maintenance and stormwater diversion at a community level.

Stephen Matthews writes: Re. The trashy AFR Access service (11 January, item 15). Resisting my better judgment I took up the two week “free trial” offer in early November… requiring me to provide my credit card details. Within minutes I realised what a trashy service it is. Clunky navigation around the site, only half the stories in the paper version of the AFR available online and search queries throwing up dozens of useless ASX announcements. I resolved that day that my trial would lapse… a sick joke to be sure. Some weeks later I got a shock to find a $25.00 debit on my credit card, levied on day 14 of the free trial. I phoned in a vain attempt to say “you’re cheating me “… but of course no return of call. As consolation I thought I may as well use the available credits to store some useful AFR stories. Today when I attempted to use my account to search a story I find that after saving five archived stories at $3.30 each, my credits have expired. And they dutifully invite me to restore my AFR Access wallet. No thanks, AFR Access.

Jennifer Marohasy, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs, writes: Re: Save the weird animals (yesterday, State of the Planet). There is a real need for an established, knowledgeable and committed group of scientists to save the planet’s rarest species. But the new initiative by the London Zoological Society called “Edge” is perhaps just more spin and fundraising. A spokesman for the program, Dr Jonathan Baillie, has said: “The almost-blind Yanghtze river dolphin is at the top of the list. It’s extremely threatened.” In fact the species was declared functionally extinct late last year. Illegal fishing practices are thought to have contributed to the species’s decline. So what does the Royal Society propose to save this already extinct species? Interview Chinese fishermen to promote awareness amongst local people along the river about the importance of conserving the fragile Yangtze ecosystem and its many threatened species. It is encouraging that the Zoological Society of London, a well respected and well resourced environment group, has just committed to the conservation of ecologically distinct and globally endangered species. But perhaps it would be better if they chose living species and consider more practical solutions. For more information, click here.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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