Melbourne Uni:

Christina Buckridge, manager, corporate affairs, University of Melbourne, writes: Re. “Paying more and staying longer: it’s a question of degrees” (yesterday, item 14). Had Geoff Maslen attended — he was invited — last week’s launch of the Melbourne Model at the University of Melbourne, he would have known that:

  • Melbourne has not “adopted a US model” — it has developed a distinctly Australian model which draws on US, European and Asian models of higher education.
  • The new undergraduate degrees will be three years — not four.
  • A current three or four-year undergraduate degree at Melbourne does not cost anywhere near $120,000.
  • No postgraduate (Masters) degree will take five years; most will be two, medicine four.
  • Jobs will not be cut.
  • While some subjects might go, new subjects are being added.
  • “The orchestra of staff and students”, dismissed so lightly, was drawn from the excellent ranks of the VCA and music faculty, and the music was composed by an outstanding VCA student.
  • Schools have not been asked to nominate students for scholarships but for the Kwong Lee Dow Young Scholars Program — an innovative support program to encourage and assist talented students at ALL Victorian schools to strive for a place at university.

And, in case anyone thinks Melbourne is abandoning its 150-year-old traditions, let me assure you that the current 2007 curriculum bears no resemblance to that of 1853 — or even 1953!

Telstra and the AFL website:

Craig Middleton, corporate affairs manager, BigPond and Strategic Marketing, writes: Re. “AFL + Telstra = online debacle” (yesterday, Item 22). Adam Schwab’s comments on the new AFL website need to be put in context. Despite his inference that Telstra and the AFL have just teamed up, Telstra has been providing the AFL website for at least the past four years and in that time it has been, in-season, the most popular sports website in Australia as well as winning international recognition. Unique visitors to the site have grown at better than industry averages. The previous site, which Telstra had inherited, was built upon hardware and code that was unscaleable (at a time of record broadband uptake), unstable and archaic. Rebuilding the site had to await Telstra’s successful negotiation on a new contract for new media rights. Once this was achieved in October last year, our team worked night and day to build new hardware, new content managements systems, new applications and a new user interface for the website, 16 club websites and the mobile phone platform. In total it comprises more than 70,000 web pages, with access to more than 20,000 videos and another 20,000 photos. A project of this size, with only five months to undertake before season start, was bound to have teething issues. That is why we launched the site in Beta mode and have proactively sought fan feedback from a variety of sources, including the IT literate hard core at BigFooty. The forum thread Adam referred to was initiated by us. This feedback has helped us prioritise our work. It’s been a mammoth digital media project delivering the largest sport portal in Australia against a short time frame but very soon fans will have the world class site we’ve always envisaged and they deserve.

Simon Hoyle writes: I could not agree more about the AFL website. It’s a travesty. Quite apart from the shoddy design, difficulty in navigating the site, slowness of loading and generally rotten presentation, Telstra is one of a small number of companies that seem incapable of grasping even basic technology. There’s no impediment to any company producing a website that’s compatible with virtually every web browser, regardless of whether it runs on Mac, PC or some other platform. Any IT department that tells its masters otherwise is either lying or inept – my money’s on the latter. I’ve encountered several recalcitrant websites over the years (I have worked on a Mac since the 1980s), and the reaction of the companies’ management (once you get the message to them) is almost always the same: the bosses have no idea, and have been led up a garden path by their IT boffins. In one case the company’s marketing director called back, saying he was unaware that his site wouldn’t work with Safari or Firefox. A day later he rang again with the head of his IT department on a conference call. The day after that the website was fixed, and the company made a sale (to me) which on its own would have covered the time and cost of fixing the website. I’m not sure if the IT guy still has his job. Allianz insurance’s website was decidedly unfriendly, but they, too, have recently rejigged it so it works. ING Insurance is dragging the chain (it remains in the Dark Ages, demanding that potential customers use only Internet Explorer 5, running on Windows – third-line forcing, anyone?), but I’m sure they’ll get there eventually, too. But I am not holding my breath waiting for Telstra to respond.

Julien Marr writes: I have to agree with your article about the AFL website. It is a useless travesty of sports websites. What is more annoying is that it is worse than it used to be! I was trying to find some stats the other day and it just would not work. It was broken. I’ve submitted complaints a few times with little or no response. I would go somewhere else but unfortunately all other sites don’t have much due to all the content restrictions the AFL put on other websites. Even if I wanted to listen to say, Triple M’s radio broadcast over the internet (something very simple for other sports), I have to use the defective AFL website instead of Triple M’s as BigPond owns all online rights. Or at least that’s why I assume. Yet another example of the AFL putting the common supporter last.

Michael Lee writes: This year’s AFL Website is a disgrace, it is cumbersome, slow and overly complex. The ability to watch replays via BigPond TV is limited by the poor resolution quality of the vision, and the sound/commentary appearing to be about three seconds out of sync. The coverage on Foxtel is appalling, with replays poorly edited and removing of any pre or post game commentary. So much for wealthy media deals. The brand is being killed by those who have obviously paid too much, and are now making the poor supporter pay. Where is the AFL in trying to protect its image.

Ian Pavey writes: I was curious to see how bad this site was. It took me about 55 seconds (on a 512 ADSL connection). Plus a lot of pages simply wouldn’t work on my Mac running OS X10.4.0 with Safari. I complained to Telstra. Here is some of their reply: “Thank you for your email dated 23/04/2007 regarding the AFL website. In regards to the problems you are having with AFL website being slow, we have tested this at our end, and can confirm that we were able to successfully access the website within 5 seconds without any problems or errors occurring. We also perform regular tests at the time, to ensure they are operating properly. Please make sure that your system does meet the requirements set up by AFL to access its website without any issue. In regards to your enquiry about why BigPond TV does not support Mac systems, it has been designed to work on Windows-based operating systems which have been deemed the most common operating system and able to be used by the vast majority of Internet users.” Can any Crikey reader’s access this site in five seconds — as claimed by Telstra (assuming they are doing so for the first time or their cache is empty). If so, what internet connection are they using?

Neil Hogan writes: The feedback on the AFL website doesn’t surprise me one bit, but the AFL shouldn’t take it personally as Telstra’s own website is no better and when it comes to websites controlled by Telstra they are serial offenders. Trading Post used to have a good website that was quick and easy to search until Sensis took it over and now it’s that slow and awkward to navigate I would only go there as a matter of last resort.

Moreno Giovannoni writes: Fortunately for Essendon supporters we have the Bombers’ own website which is simple and works. I watch my footy replays there. Essendon is the only football club to decide to run its own web site. Weren’t they smart? I can get my general footy news from Realfooty (The Age website). The AFL/Telstra web site just doesn’t work.

LPG tanks and the Burnley tunnel:

Matthew Mahon writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 5). There is no link whatsover between the recall of LPG tanks announced on 7 April and the Burnley Tunnel tragedy. The recall followed the identification of a defect in Axiom branded hand taps on certain LPG automotive tanks where it was found that there was a very small chance that LPG in liquid form could escape from the hand tap spindle. The nature of the fault could produce leaks and there has been no fires and no explosions as a result. Seventeen hand taps have been reported as failing and no injuries or major property damage has been reported.

ALP and branch-stacking:

Rebekka Power writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 5). Whoever gave you the “tip” about ALP preselections for the federal seat of Greenway doesn’t know the applicable party rules. The AWU employees who have (according to your informant) “suddenly started appearing at local branch meetings (complete with Your Rights at Work t-shirts) — just in time to be eligible to vote in preselection” may be stackees, but they would have had to have been stacked at least two years ago. You can’t just “start showing up” in the couple of months before a pre-selection and be eligible to vote. They either joined the branch two years ago and are attending their four meetings (which given that most branches hold only monthly meetings, if that — some only every two months) is probably too late anyway, or have been members for four years, and they have to have attended a branch meeting to join the branch and then attended another meeting within four calendar months. Not saying it’s not a stack, just saying it’s more time-consuming to stack than this person evidently thinks. These AWU members would have had to start turning up to branch meetings two years ago, at least twice, not in the last month or so.

Graham Richardson’s tax bill:

David Beattie writes: Re. “Is Richo’s tax bill being secretly settled by the ATO?” (yesterday, item 2). I was angered to read of a possible “deal” between Richo and the tax office as well. But hasn’t your correspondent heard the news? White-collar crime in Australia has now been legalised. If you commit fraud (apart from social security fraud of course), the police and prosecutors won’t want to know, because there is always “insufficient evidence to prosecute”: the standard answer given to every case of white-collar crime. Think of all the sleaze in the federal and state governments in the past 10 years, and how you know that the wealthy defendants will not be charged. Its too much bother for prosecutors. The few cases that are brought to court are of course then bogged down in our glacial and useless legal system. Until finally by sheer persistence the defence wins, or the case is struck out. Meanwhile, we’ve never prosecuted so many people for so much trivia. The burglar at Steve Vizard’s house got six years, while Steve walks free. Says it all, really.

Rupert and Rudd:

Karl Kleinig writes: Re. “Rupert I: Rudd a minnow in global power games” (yesterday, item 1). Christian Kerr was giving a fine impression of a sane and reasonable person until the last three paragraphs. Was I sleeping off my hangover as the armies of militant Islam reached the Thames in their drive to occupy the offices of The Sun? And who seriously believes Rupert gives a rat’s who can bring an end to the Iraq war? He’s still waiting for his $20 barrel of oil.

Max Le Blond writes: So there’s Gordon and David in Britain, Hilary and Rudy in America. Rudd’s in the minor leagues. Big hairy sodding deal. I can pick any of this up in mainstream newspapers. By osmosis. Get a life, guys. This surely isn’t the analysis I’m paying $100 a year for.

Rudd, Sunrise and PR:

Chris Palfreyman writes: Re. “Kevvie should have learned his lesson on that Kokoda sunrise” (yesterday, item 3). Charles Happell seems not to have noticed that Howard’s nauseating use and abuse of the Anzac image over 10 years has had a much greater impact on many of us than the Hockey/Rudd/Seven nauseating, one-off in New Guinea. I would rather see none of it, but Howard’s use of war symbolism seems to have worked nicely in the “mainstream”. And may I remind you, it doesn’t seem to have hurt him at all. So PR disaster? Probably not.

Joe writes: Charles Happell writes that Mr Rudd, Kochie and co’s planned Long Tan ceremony has “…become a rolled-gold, top-shelf, five-star PR disaster in which he has managed to offend not just every digger, but a fair portion of middle-of-the-road Australia as well.” Really? This certainly isn’t reflected in the opinion polls. And as for “every digger” — I asked my grandfather and he replied that he “couldn’t give a stuff, all politicians are the same and Fox Sports was the only station worth watching anyway.”

Global warming:

Gary Price writes: Re. “Global warming and the slow death of doubt” (yesterday, item 4). Humphrey McQueen’s website shows him to be an erudite and experienced person, yet a new book on global warming bothers him because of some imprecision of language? His complaint about the use of “climate change” is also odd — I seem to remember that phrase was invented as a euphemism for global warming, something altogether more acceptable that might mean different things to different people, and so dampen enthusiasm for strong action against CO2 producers. Lately it has turned out that in addition to global warming there will be climate change, eg., drought, extreme weather as a result. So “climate change” has taken on a different and meaningful life of its own as a descriptive phrase. And yes — I suspect that in 20 years climate-change sceptics will be treated pretty much as Holocaust deniers are treated now — as a rather weird and inexplicable fringe of the increasingly embattled human race. And I think it is inappropriate to be dismissive of Suzuki, Flannery and Diamond with such scant evidence and apparent lack of familiarity with their works. What we want and what we need as a people are rational responses to a real situation, not feeble complaints about language, yet another red herring of dissent and yet another dissing of the real heroes of this unfolding debacle.

Geoff Russell writes: If Humphrey McQueen knew a little more about climate science, he would understand that the philosopher Descartes was a mere babe in the woods when it comes to real doubt. He managed to resolve most of the objects of his doubt without leaving his bed — except to cut up a few dogs (because he doubted they could feel pain!). Climate scientists spend weeks on end in strange places like the top of mountains at a height sometimes referred to as the “death” zone trying to collect real data to show them how the world’s climate has worked and is working. The results of this mass of data collection is also used to check the operation of the global climate model computer programs. If you doubt these programs, then go and download one (e.g., the source code is freely available, you can check and verify all 130,000 lines of the NASA ModelE). The reason I think the world’s climate scientists are “on the money” is not because the majority agree with one another, but because I understand the process and have spent time reading the journals. Our politicians tend to be lawyers who have none of the skills or knowledge required to understand or verify any of the science, which makes doubt a really easy option.

Caitlin Johnstone writes: You are correct, Mr McQueen. Whether the majority of scientists believe that the planet is warming due to human sources of carbon is completely beside the point. The only thing that is certain is that scientists are often wrong. That is the nature of science. The question is whether there is a possibility that humans can arrest global warming. If there is a possibility, then we should try. Think of it as a four-square grid. In one corner, global warming is not happening and we don’t do anything which equals nothing happening. Great. In another, warming is not happening and we do something about it. Not bad either, as Stern and others have shown, our economy is hardly going to go into freefall if we do change our ways, and we will benefit from increased energy security. In another warming is happening, we do something about it. As Rove says, crisis averted! And in the fourth, warming is happening, we don’t do anything, and everything we know and enjoy is in peril. Why not take the nasty off the table, Mr McQueen? Why gamble with the planet’s future like that? It just doesn’t make scientific sense.


Anthea Parry writes: Re. “‘Mad’ Mel’s columns of mass destruction” (yesterday, item 13). I’m very puzzled as to Guy Rundle’s characterisation of rubella as a “deadly childhood disease”: “She’s caused immense damage by backing the campaign against the ‘triple jab’ MMR vaccine (on the discredited grounds that it causes autism) which has caused rates of deadly childhood rubella to rise in the UK”. While there’s no evidence that the triple vaccine causes autism, rubella is hardly a deadly childhood disease. Rubella in children is a mild disease — so mild you may not even notice they have it. Rubella in pregnant women is a different matter — it can cause Congenital Rubella Syndrome in the foetus (), which is why we immunise against it. From a public health point of view, it makes sense to immunise kids, as you get better compliance that way. From the point of view of your individual child’s health, it makes better sense to immunise your daughters at puberty, as it doesn’t matter if they get it before that, and their immunity to it will be stronger if they get the disease as opposed to the vaccine. As mumps is also harmless (before puberty, after which it can damage male fertility), I assume Guy was actually talking about the measles, which has a relatively higher rate of complications, but with a rate of one death per thousand (among non-immune compromised Western children) referring to it as “deadly” is still gross hyperbole.

Lindsay Fox’s birthday:

John Darwin writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial on Lindsay Fox’s 70th birthday bash. Before making tacky comparisons between Fox and Gates it might be worth noting that Gates spent US$97,000,000 on his home in Medina, near Seattle. There is a tradition of conspicuous philanthropy in the US which is to be applauded but such cheap shots are not on Fox’s 70th birthday celebrations are the sort of things best left to Glen Milne. Yes?

Peter Hill writes: Without speculating as to anyone’s motives or actions, yes, “a donation of course is tax deductible”. But it has to be a gift, and a gift is something given without any expectation of receiving something in return. Without that attribute, it won’t be tax deductible. Unlike most of our compendious tax laws, that fundamental feature of our tax system has remained a constant since, well, Lindsay was a boy.

Robert Askin:

Megan Stoyles writes: Re. “Robert Askin: the legacy that dare not speak its name” (yesterday, item 12). I am sure the official historian of the Liberal Party wouldn’t make a mistake, but as an old NSW-born person, I thought it was Robin not Robert Askin. “Call me Bob” apparently loathed the pooncines associated with Robin and was known as Bob but Robert he wasn’t.

Dave Smartt writes: With Nick Greiner’s two wins, he only truly won one election, that being 1988. He could only form minority government after 1991.

The paparazzi:

Mike Smith writes: Re. “Kidman and the kandy kolored, window tinted, solar-powered surveillance van” (yesterday, item 19). Addressing some of Jamie’s points. (1) Celebrity news usually contains nothing new. (5) This, too, is familiar. Glance at the magazines next time you walk through a supermarket checkout. Bias and incorrectness rehashed week after week. Apparently people are buying them, so there’s a demand for this. (6) Those who live by the sword — how can you even use the words “feel betrayed” with a straight face? (11) This pretence of innocence does not become you. I don’t see any facts here. It’s all opinion. Yours. Hers. (Ok, mine too).

Sledging cont:

Russell Bancroft writes: In reply to James Harper (yesterday, comments). Why would we want to stamp out sledging? Are players going to be fined for yelling out “chewy on your boot”? Will Adam Gilchrist be suspended because he suggests to the batsman that he can’t pick Brad Hogg’s wrong-un? Making comments that are designed to upset your opponent’s concentration and undermine his/her self-confidence are a legitimate tactic, particularly at the highest level. Unfortunately, the term “sledging” is being used for any comments made on the field. Sport is about mental toughness, not just physical toughness and a sportsperson who lacks both will be found out. I agree that players must have clear rules about what is acceptable, and anyone who breaches the rules should be punished proportionately. There are arguments that racial, religious and sexual references should be outlawed, but banning any talk on the ground is an over-reaction.

Chris Donges writes: The way to overcome sledging, like most antisocial behavior, is by communication.


Keith Thomas writes: James Perkins (yesterday, comments) slips too easily into the trendy assumption that McDonald’s, being big and very American, must also be producing and selling in Australia food that is dangerous to our health because it leads to heart disease. Can he show us clearly just where the causal link is? Can he tell us which heart disease? Is there any large-scale study that points to causality between any ingredient of the McDonald’s meals sold in Australia which he has in mind (what are they? He won’t tell us. Why not?). With heart disease in Australia? There is not even a longitudinal study linking saturated fat with heart disease in America which also controls for glycemic load (particularly processed carbohydrates), physical activity, trans fats, stress, age, smoking, soft drinks, corn-derived syrups etc over a significant time. A year or two ago the Heart Foundation gave its tick to eggs as heart-friendly after years of their official opprobrium, yet there was no apology to the nation’s egg producers, let alone compensation. This capriciousness just goes to show how shaky the link is between heart health and diet. And the list of matters I want to see controlled for shows how complex an issue this is. McDonald’s have no need to be on the defensive until a causal link can be demonstrated between a specific McDonald’s product or ingredient and heart health. The correlations to date have been spurious and reflect unimaginative research design and closed minds of the researchers.


Philip Woods writes: Re. “Qantas: the rush and the rorts” (yesterday, item 11). I don’t want to cut Charles Richardson’s grass but I believe that instead of the comment on “Qantas customer service’ suggesting it was tautology, the author should have described it as an oxymoron. Also, in “Has the GST had any affect on the black economy?” (yesterday, item 27). Glenn Dyer’s final line beginning with “Oh, dear” the comma should have followed the word ‘dear’, not preceded it.

Chris Williams writes: Re. “Has the GST had any affect on the black economy?” (yesterday, item 27). The headline for Glen Dyer’s item gives the GST more credit than is due. When using affect as a noun, the GST has results and consequences, but hardly any feelings, emotions or desires. Perchance the GST has an effect on the black economy?

Yesterday’s typos (house pedant Charles Richardson casts an eye over the howlers in the last edition of Crikey): Item 1: “Does David Milliband or any other Labour contender get a look in?” Sorry, only one “l” in “Miliband”. Also item 11: “However, hang around the Qantas Customer Service desk (a tautology in terms a lot of the time, as customer service is not always what they deliver!!) …”. In that case, they mean “contradiction in terms” — “Qantas customer hostility desk” would be a tautology.

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