University funding:

Geoff Baars writes : Re. “Don’t be duped: our universities have been impoverished” (yesterday, item 1). Margaret Thornton’s left-wing diatribe left me staggered. I had no idea people still harboured let alone propagated such archaic and totally discredited ideas. Education is a substantial source of export earnings for Australia, and nowhere in Asia can come close to the variety and quality of Australia’s tertiary education institutions. By far the majority of university places are reserved for funded students, and ability (in the form of demonstrated and achieved school leaving results) is still the mechanism by which the vast majority of places are allocated. But by opening education to the stiff breeze of competition (ghastly concept according to Ms Thornton), and enabling market forces to have an impact on what universities offer, to whom and at what price, tertiary education in this country has become far more relevant to all of us. The closed, isolated, anti-competitive and totally government-funded universities of continental Europe all practise Ms Thornton’s philosophy, and the results are clear: quality of education is dropping, students are voting with their feet (and getting educated elsewhere), business complains about poor recruits, unemployment is high, productivity low, etc. Next thing you’ll want to bring back permanent tenure for useless teachers?

The political economy:

Joanna Hishon writes : Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 7). Regarding your tip on the term “political economy” — what unis are rebadging? I’d love to know! I’m half-way through the Masters of Economics in Australian Political Economy degree at the University of Sydney. I enrolled in 2005, and completed four of the eight units in 2006 before being told the University of Sydney had ceased running the degree due to lack of student enrollments (funding, in other words). Although I’m able to “complete” my degree, many of the Political Economy units are no longer available (certainly most of the units with an Australia-specific focus have been canned). It’s a damn shame because the course and the lecturers were fantastic.

A PhD in economics writes : Your item on “political economy” dying out in favour of “economics” is very important. Lumping economics together with “business” is a major problem which goes beyond the public funding issue. I am a PhD in economics. I’ve worked in two university departments where the accountants (“business”) became dominant players. It is a disaster. Without wishing to diminish the role of practising accountants in our society, I would say the nature of the disaster is akin to making architects subordinates to brick layers. It doesn’t work — not because sensibilities about social stratifications being offended but because essential knowledge is simply excluded by reversing the knowledge structure. The accountants ruin research, teaching and freedom of inquiry in economics. All intellectual activity is dwindled down until the numbers fit into balance sheets, whereby most accountants seem to be unaware that even simple stuff, like financial data, doesn’t fit all into the balance sheet. They dilute research because they write a lot of commentaries which count as research (there are a few notable exceptions). They are offended when being told that they are trying to reinvent the wheel, with a lag of about 80 years, and missing some elementary results. While Ross Milbourne was at UNSW, he insisted that the faculty was called Economics and Commerce, hence preserving the distinction in teaching and research objectives. Unfortunately, academic jobs in economics are very rare and relatively lowly paid. Please continue publishing on this topic.

Election-day options:

Mike Dwyer writes : Re. “Election-day options narrowing for Howard” (yesterday, item 9). 29 September is AFL grand final day — odds 10,001 more likely. 3 and 10 November cover Melbourne Cup week — again much longer odds than on offer. Most likely campaign would start after Melbourne Cup, leading to 8 December poll.

Protecting political embarrassments:

Robert Bromwich writes : Re. “Secrets and putting public interest before public duty” (yesterday, item 4). Your article reminded me of the efforts the UK Government invested in trying to stop Richard Tomlinson ( From Top Secret to Maximum Security ) and Peter Wright ( Spycatcher ) from publishing their books on MI5/MI6 and the ease that others (eg. Chris Patten, last UK governor of Hong Kong) can publish “sensitive” documents. Readers need to remember that the 1911 version of the Official Secrets Act (which is still on the statute book) was “targeted” at German “infiltration” in the lead up to the 1914-1918 conflict. Put simply, both versions of the Act (1911 and 1989) are designed to protect political embarrassments from happening rather than to serve “national interests”.

Second Life:

Funky J writes : Re. “Cyber crime set to explode in Second Life?” (yesterday, item 5). I’d really like to know where you got the figures of six million subscribers to Second Life from. It appears Sophie has been duped by Linden Lab’s marketing monkeys. Beta News investigated the claims of Linden Labs, as they won’t release the number of users they have. “In a story for InformationWeek published last week, executive editor Mitch Wagner asked a representative of Linden Lab for a clarification of [numbers] … While the company estimates its own flesh-and-blood user base to have reached 3.2 million at the end of March 2007, its actual user retention rate is close to 10%. Based on that formula, Linden Lab’s everyday user count is close to 320,000.” They go on to say the number of habitual users is probably half that at roughly 128,300.

Eddie McGuire not equipped for CEO post:

Recruitment specialist Rob Lake writes: Re. “Eddie Everywhere: everywhere but Willoughby” (Friday, item 20). In the modern corporation, executives can be divided into three groups. Those who make or source the product; those who sell the product and the camp followers – accountants, IT, human resources etc. In the world of media, the first group consists of production, program buyers and on air talent. To become a successful chief of any significant corporation, a manager must have well developed skills in at least two of the three groups. (People whose expertise straddles all three are extremely rare). And as the scale and complexity of the corporation increases, the importance of financial skills climbs steeply. Eddie McGuire is a skilled on air performer. However, there is scant evidence of any competencies in either sales and marketing or any of the camp follower disciplines. He was bound to struggle, he was short of breadth. One must also question whether the depth of his experience equipped him for the scale of the job. Nine Network sales are around twenty times those of Eddie’s previous gig as chair of a football club with a turnover of around $50m (about the turnover of a big Bunnings store). While Collingwood Football Club is in the sports and entertainment business, it is pretty much a one trick show, lacking the complexity of television network – unless we compare the club with a blokey, jobs for the boys, look after your mates, liniment powered operation like the Nine network.

Independent Contractors Association:

Geoff Robinson writes : Re. “Craig Emerson: Labor’s IR winner” (yesterday, item 14). Why does anyone take the Independent Contractors Association seriously? It is an employer front-group set up by the Institute of Public Affairs with the usual combination of shonky stats and new age econbabble. The IPA runs more front-groups than the Soviet Union used to, but a few minutes of web research will identify its scams.

The underemployed:

Shirley Colless writes : Re. “Boom time for the underemployed” (yesterday, item 16). It would be interesting to see a percentage comparison of the figures you showed today based on the total population 2007 vs 1974 and (if possible) the potential workforce.

Bastard Boys :

Sonja Davie writes : Re. “Corrigan lets the dogs loose on Bastard Boys” (yesterday, item 20). I enjoyed watching Bastard Boys . It reminded me that Australian values of mateship and struggle against oppression weren’t just forged on foreign battlefields. The labour movement is an integral part of Australia’s national identity. Imagine the outcry if John Howard used his Senate majority to legislate the abolition of the anachronistic Anzac Day public holiday, despite the productivity increase that would result.

Bolt, Williams and climate change:

Richard McGuire writes : In response to Grant Burfield (yesterday, comments). Grant you should go and look again at the comments Andrew Bolt attributed to Robyn Williams, in his Herald Sun piece on 9 May. “ABC Science Show host Robyn Williams told me on air, we could face sea level rises this century, 100 metres higher”. Then go and re-read the transcript from the Science Show , 10th March this year. Andrew Bolt “I ask you Robyn, 100 metres in the next century, do you really think that? Robyn Williams: “It is possible yes.” In case you still don’t get it Grant, Williams was responding to a question from Bolt about sea-level rises next century, not this century as Bolt inferred in his Herald Sun  article. Whichever way you look at it, be it deliberately or inadvertently, Bolt misrepresented what Williams had said. As for those scientific publications that show that if every piece of ice on earth melted, sea levels would not go within a cooee of 100 metres, believe me, Grant, we’d all love to know about them.

Stefanovic and Jones:

David Havyatt writes : Re. “Karl Stefanovic: protected parrot?” (yesterday, item 24). How can Jones “protect” Stefanovic when they are on air at the same time — does the Jones audience think it’s watching cricket (watch the TV but listen to the radio)?

Kangaroo meat:

Tom McLoughlin, Ecology Action Sydney, writes : Re. Eating kangaroo. Ever since I did a zoology degree at ANU (which specialises in parasite ecology) I’ve been wondering about risk-profile of wild game meat like kangaroo. Milo Dunphy founder of the Total Environment Centre and a keen hunter in his younger days was against kangaroo as a general food source for this very reason. The kangaroo meat industry refuses to convincingly address the inevitable, dangerous parasite load in kangaroos unlike farmed animals subject to the usual chemical treatments. Recently on talkback on ABC Sydney radio, an industry representative lied on air by claiming kangaroos only have worms in the gut not hydatid cysts in the meat. This is verging on criminal negligence: Hydatid is a seriously underestimated issue, which apparently has gone off the radar. Yet 80 or 90 Australians per year suffer potentially catastrophic consequences of infection via farm dogs getting at wild kangaroos and other infection pathways. Nor does it help to refer to indigenous consumption for thousands of years. My advice is traditional folks of the central desert cook the kangaroo meat almost to charcoal to feel safe about eating it. Not exactly your gourmet experience. And we shoot for a much longer life span today. This report from ABC Landline in 2005, “Tapeworm continues to thrive in wild dog population”, is a very frightening traverse of hydatid parasites in wild dogs and farm dogs feeding on kangaroo and wallaby carcass, the same kangaroos shot for supermarkets. Crunching into a hydatid in a kangaroo steak could be the worst dining experience of your whole life. The industry says they do inspections under the regulations but the point is farming and chemical treatment to avoid parasites is a far superior prophylactic for high-volume food supply which is just not possible in wild kangaroo.

Animal Liberation committee member Geoff Russell writes : Tim Thomas (yesterday, comments) has a response to my post about kangaroos. In regard to his claim about the production of methane representing a loss of 25% of the energy in the feed, the attached article “Direct Measurements of Methane Emissions from Grazing and Feedlot Cattle” (by CSIRO researchers, Harper et al) shows that the methane from grain fed cattle amounts to about 2% of the energy in the feed, but with grass-fed cattle the methane represents about 8% of the energy in the feed. The AGO 2004 Inventory references a paper which found as high as 10% for some breeds. And, your State of the Planet section had a pointer to a story “Deforestation: The hidden cause of global warming”. If anybody thinks this was hidden, then they haven’t been paying attention. The United Nations report last year, “Livestock’s long shadow”, made precisely the same point (based on a truck load of data) and pointed out that livestock is “the major driver of deforestation”. And it won’t stop as long as people in Brazil and Indonesia want to eat like CSIRO’s head honcho Geoff Garrett (on the CSIRO Total Planetary Destruction diet) — the diet where no species gets out alive. But it’s not only Brazil and Indonesia that go for deforestation in a big way. The Australian Greenhouse End Use Allocation of Emissions report allocated almost all of the deforestation of the 1990s in Australia (about 1/2 million hectares annually) to cattle. Presumably, so that other countries can increase their rates of colorectal cancer and heart disease to match those in Australia while stuffing the planet at the same time.


Yesterday’s typos (house pedant Charles Richardson casts an eye over the howlers in the last edition of Crikey): Item 16: “So the definition today is quiet borad …”. If your spellchecker let those two through, then I think it needs some work. Item 21: “Fairfax newspapers last week pointed to some prominent septics within the News Corp empire …”. Hey, it’s an American company — it’s full of septics. (I think he means “sceptics”.)

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