Patricia Nelson writes: Every time I read an article on David Hicks, it makes me feel sick. Sick to think I am part of a country which has allowed a foreign country to hold an Australian citizen for five years without charging him with any crime. Sick every time I read that John Howard or Alexander Downer or Philip Ruddock have been assured that David is being treated well. Who are they trying to kid? Themselves? Are they aware of what the rest of the world is saying about Guantanamo? Of course they are. Sick when I read these same people believe he is in good health mentally and physically. He has been kept in solitary confinement to ensure he gets “humane” treatment. What! The whole situation has been turned into a circus by these people, they don’t really care what happens to our citizens unless it’s someone with some commercial or political power. John Howard now “demands” that the US charge Hicks by mid February. Wasn’t the original deadline the end of January? I’m sure our high-minded prime minister is only doing this in the name of justice and not because this case is turning into a political hot-spot for his party, or that there is an election this year. Sick to think that another country has so much intimidatory power over my country that our leaders have not raised any serious questions about this case. Why haven’t any of these people had a look for themselves? Because they couldn’t justify their ostrich stance on this any more without blatantly lying to the public. Still, that has been done in the past anyway (children overboard etc). Sick to think David Hicks could remain where he is for some time to come, thanks to our limp-wristed stance. Don’t forget, five years in sub-human conditions, with no charges, no questions asked, no chance of release until people start demanding it for him. It makes me sick but nowhere near as sick as David Hicks is. Come on Crikey, generate some fire amongst the gang and help this bloke get out of hell, because our appointed leaders have no such ambition.

Paul Gilchrist writes: I’m alarmed and confused. Gerard Henderson yesterday wrote that David Hicks damns himself because: “In letters to his father, Hicks boasted that he was officially a Taliban member, quoted a poem supporting decapitations for those who disagree with the prophet Muhammad, declared he enjoyed firing at targets from the Pakistani side of the Kashmir line-of-control while training with the Islamist terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba and called for an end to what he termed the ‘Western-Jewish domination’ of the world.” Sounds bad, doesn’t it? But far from Guantanamo Bay, in downtown Lakemba we have a conference held by a group called Hizb ut Tahrir. Gerard Henderson’s former boss, John Howard, says the government hasn’t found enough evidence to ban this group, but according to BBC’s Newsnight program: “The party has expressed support of suicide bombings in Israel. It denounces Western governments and what it sees as their lackey regimes in the Middle East. And Hizb Ut Tahrir is calling on Muslims in Britain to decide whether their loyalty lies with this country or with God.” Errr, can Gerard tell us why David Hicks is a criminal who has to be locked up for more than five years, whereas Hizb ut Tahrir are just a group of maddies who should not be banned lest they go underground?

Martin Taylor writes: It was amusing to read your story about the “new” department, DIC, or Dept. of Immigration and Citizenship (yesterday, item 1). Now, if we’re to follow the department’s spinner, surely its full “acronym” would be DOIAC. Anyway, I wish to comment on this line in particular: “The exception to the rule appears to be the Department of Transport and Regional Services (DOTARS), but in this case buying a vowel makes sense – the acronym would be unpronounceable without it.” An acronym is a collection of letters which represent words, and is PRONOUNCABLE. According to Dr Kate Burridge, one time head of Linguistics at La Trobe University in Melbourne, an acronym is a pronouncable word. And as far as I’m aware, prepositions and conjunctions usually do not form a part of the acronym. Or if they do, they do so in lower case. eg; Department of Justice (DoJ). However, whichever way you look at it, jumble the letters, or whatever, DIC, DOIC, DOIAC etc., arguably are all acronyms.

Mark Scott writes: One Commonwealth Agency Jane Nethercote missed in her article on DIAC and other Departmental Acronyms is the Department of Finance and Administration. Their official short name is “Finance”, but they are colloquially known amongst any poor soul that has to deal with them as simply, “DoFA”.

John Goldbaum writes: The acronym for the new Department of Environment and Water Resources will become clear after it has been privatised. Privatised Environment and Water Resources will be known as PEWR and will ensure pure air and water.

Maurie Joyce writes: When the Dept of Primary Industry and Energy was set up in the 1990’s, the “and” was excluded. The acronym was DOPIE. Very apt.

Bob Gosford writes: Just a quick note from the desert – about 15 or so years ago someone on the committee examining the structure of the proposed university for the Northern Territory came up with the name “College of the University of the Northern Territory” … fortunately someone realised the difficulty with this name otherwise my law degree would be from a real C-NT of a uni …

Mike Martin writes: Jon Jenkins offers “two little facts to put a damper on the Climate Change party” (yesterday, comments). If Jenkins enjoys clutching at straws, he’d do better to find a bigger bundle. He claims a downward trend in global temperature since 1998. That was an exceptionally hot year. It is not surprising that subsequent years haven’t yet been quite as hot. Even so, 2006 was the sixth hottest year ever recorded, hotter than any year before 1998 and hotter than 1999, 2000 or 2001 (data from Australian Bureau of Meteorology). This is not a downward trend. He implies that resignation of Chris Landsea from the IPCC hurricane subcommittee two years ago somehow casts doubt over the entire IPCC findings. In point of fact, the resignation arose from a spat in late 2004 between Landsea and another subcommittee member, Kevin Trenberth, over whether increasing sea surface temperature was affecting hurricane strength or frequency – a spin-off from Hurricane Katrina and thus a highly politically charged debate. Landsea has since written, “Anthropogenic climate change has the potential for slightly increasing the intensity of tropical cyclones through warming of sea surface temperatures…” – not exactly the words of a climate change skeptic (“Hurricanes and global warming”, Nature, Dec 22-29, 2005). Landsea simply disagrees that such an increase in tropical cyclone intensity is yet detectable. Is this the best that Jenkins can do? Jon, old son, you really need to try harder.

Adam Michell writes: Jon Jenkins is at it again; it would be nice if he could back up his assertions on global warming. Here is a link for interested readers on the US NOAA report for 2006 global temperature data. A glance at the time series reveals that his assertion of a downward trend since 1998 is correct if you use the top of the error range in ’98 and compare it to the bottom of the error range in ’06, but I think that is often referred to as “cherry picking” the data.

Rob Garnett writes: Re. “Maxine McKew: a long way from Howard’s battlers” (yesterday, item 2). Richard Farmer is right. Maxine McKew is a long way from Howard’s battlers. But they would be a lot better off listening to her interview their glorious leaders than listening to the Alan Jones, Neil Mitchell, John Laws and their various cardboard counterparts on the glowing screen. She asks the right questions in the right way. She keeps at them, and manages to control her ego so that the issues are at the forefront rather than her personality. There is no Maxine cult, just bloody good journalism and interviews. She was one of the best. The battlers won’t think of her, they only read the front of the Sun-Herald and the sports page. But Maxine will be thinking of them and it won’t be with cynical and exploitive objectives in mind like the current ministry of conservatives who occupy the front benches in Canberra.

Mike Burke writes: Richard Farmer’s invariably astute commentary is a delight to read. But the question must again be asked, just as it was by an overwhelming majority in December 1975: if it’s time to pass beyond the battlers, what is the point of the ALP?

Sean Malloy writes: Re. “Amanda’s Very Useful Italian Phrasebook” (yesterday, item 5). You forgot to translate “I don’t recall” – surely a staple phrase for any serious politician.

Matt Hardin, CRC for Sugar Industry Innovation through Biotechnology, writes: Re. Biofuels. As part of our work with the Sugar Industry Innovation through Biotechnology CRC, my colleagues and I have run economic and environmental comparisons of fuel and plastic precursors derived from corn and from sugar cane. Based on the average cost of sugar over the past the 20 years, the estimated cost of producing fermentable sugars using excess cane juice is US$180 per tonne. This is less than the cost of producing fermentable sugars from corn using the excess starch, US$220/tonne. In addition, cane juice has a number of indirect advantages. In particular, during the production of fermentable sugars, a sugar mill produces excess energy that can be used in subsequent processing, while a corn mill has to import all of its process energy. Apart from significantly reducing processing costs, this makes products produced from cane greener than those produced from corn. While energy inputs into corn and sugar production are similar at the farm level, fermentable material derived from corn requires an order of magnitude more energy (10.6 GJ/tonne of corn fermentables compared to 1.7 GJ/tonne of cane fermentables) once all energy inputs and offsets are accounted for. The energy gained from sugar derived ethanol (provided the bagasse is used as a fuel top run the plant) is more than the fossil energy used to produce it. Considerable work remains to be done to quantify the energy offsets as well as land use and pollution impacts. For other products, eg poly(lactic acid) production, for example, the amount of energy used in farming and processing is twice that embodied in the plastic itself. In a corn-based process the plastic would be “35% green”. Using sugarcane with bagasse (a sugar milling byproduct) to supply process energy, the same plastic would be “80% green.”

Tom McLoughlin writes: Re. “Keep Australia Beautiful sticks its head in the bag” (29 January, item 19). Mr Pascoe is a great Crikey writer but I disagree this time. About plastic bags: 1) there is the throw-away mentality that goes with the little buggers; 2) volume per se of landfill is no measure because they wrap other stuff thus prevented from natural breakdown, greatly expanding their volume impact; 3) plastic anything is not just an adjunct to the fossil fool industry, it’s an integral part oil retail business model, so weaning off one re. greenhouse impact probably means weaning off the other too (just like woodchips so called “adjunct” to log harvesting in natural forest). Then we get to the evidence based issues of impact on marine, litter (though the Ireland ban looked good to me on my seven day drive around). Also call me extreme but my advice (via waste expert John Denlay) is that Keep Australia Beautiful was invented to prevent South Aussie style 5c deposits on drink containers. That’s just plain wrong. I look forward to corn starch chuck away bags. Now that’s sounds compostingly good.

Chris Phillips writes: Re. Recycled water. Robert Bond’s letter (yesterday, comments) is typical of the emotional claptrap that is written about recycled water, using words such as “effluent contaminated water”. Doesn’t he realise that all water is recycled and that the proposed new venture will produce a cleaner and more pristine product than his tank water that comes off a roof and gutter. This has all sorts of contaminants including insects, spiders and possum and bird sh-t. I know which water I would rather drink.

John Parkes writes: Re. “Who can we blame for poor student English?” (yesterday, item 13). Continuing on yesterday’s story, I detected a fellow believer in the truth of Yes Minister. In the news broadcasts yesterday the Minister, Ms Bishop, stated that she had seen no evidence of the alleged lack of English language skills among recent university graduates. Yes Minister, we know you haven’t seen any evidence, but that probably only means that you have successfully avoided finding any, and your staff are well aware that there are some things that you desperately don’t wish to know. The applicable cliche would be “Seek and ye shall find”. Following the Yes Minister theme it is clear that fiction (?) is becoming fact. Sir Humphrey had an education in classical Greek and couldn’t have a conversation with his Prime Minister. I have an education in Year 12 English plus a lifetime of dealing with many barristers and specialist scientists, but I am finding it increasingly difficult to converse and make myself understood with doctors, pharmacists, and nurses especially in public hospitals. I can’t speak of other graduates because I don’t have any contact with them. Of course I also have difficulty in understanding what is said in the thousand words a minute dialect of Hungry Jack’s staff, including my daughter, but I maintain that is itself a new language. It’s only about a year ago that the SA Government proposed (very publicly) appointing a specialist doctor to a public hospital here only to run up against registration problems because the doctor failed an English examination. The real scandal here is the fact the universities, and lesser organisations as well, will push through almost anyone simply to get the enrolments and the associated fees. If they get a reputation for toughness, that is, intellectual honesty, they won’t get students, so that’s not an option.

Stuart Glazebrook writes: Yesterday’s Crikey editorial misses the point on Barack Obama. The most disturbing element of Obama’s bio has been his apparent “conversion” to Christianity. He is a member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. On its website the church describes itself as “a congregation which is Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian with roots in the Black religious experience and tradition [that] are deep, lasting and permanent. We are an African people, and remain ‘true to our native land’, the mother continent, the cradle of civilisation”. The congregation “do not apologise for its African roots” and “are called out to be ‘a chosen people’.” Bush is chided – as is much of the conservative movement – for his apparent alignment to the Religious Right. As a member of an obviously fundamentalist Afro-Centric Christian congregation, is Obama the best candidate for the US Presidency? If a Democratic Party hopeful was a member of a white congregation who held such extremist (white) views the media (including Crikey) would be having a field day. Potential voters need to be aware of a candidate’s religious affiliation: Muslim, Christian, Agnostic, Atheist. It foments their character and shapes their philosophy and character. How about giving us the full story of Barack Obama?

Nick Shimmin writes: Re. “Editor runs amok in Fleet Street brouhaha” (yesterday, item 18). What kind of idiot is Paul Dacre? Do well-paid right-wing editors need to be so ridiculous in their feeble attempts to attack liberal journalism? The argument is simple – there are three “left” quality papers in the UK and one “right” quality, by Paul’s analysis. Therefore, the left readership is split in three. This is what renders the papers unprofitable, not the ludicrous idea that they “don’t connect with sufficient readers to be commercially viable.” Left journalism connects with the number of readers of those three papers ADDED TOGETHER, Paul, whereas the right can only connect with enough readers to support one paper. There are FAR MORE left readers than right. This is mental arithmetic from around about Year Two. Presumably he has a team of accountants to count his salary for him, because he clearly couldn’t do it himself.

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