Portrait of the average indigenous Australian:

Don Palmer writes : Re. “Portrait of the average indigenous Australian” (yesterday, item 1). Thank you for your poignant article on indigenous life in Australia. It was valuable for us at the Jimmy Little Foundation ( www.jlf.org) and I hope for everyone else who enjoys your website and your work. We spend our time trying to help those with kidney disease in remote areas and see the problems firsthand every day. About a third of people in those regions die of kidney failure, most after having to leave their country and dislocate hundred of kilometres from home and family just to get the health care most Australians take for granted. They become health refugees. It breaks their families, their budgets and their hearts.

Adam Wootton writes : The statistics are damning on Aboriginal health and education, but a maths pedant like me couldn’t let this pass: “An Aboriginal male born today has a life expectancy of about 59 years. But our “average Aboriginal” is already 20 years of age, so his life expectancy at birth was much less, probably around 54 years. So in seven years time — at age 27 — he will have already lived half his life.” Yes, the life expectancy at birth probably was 54, but if the individual is now 27, his life expectancy is far higher than it was at birth. Why? Because, obviously, all those who die before 27 are now no longer in the equation for life expectancy. The life expectancy of the individual will now be well into the 60s! Of course, those who die before 20 pull the “average” down a long way. If mean life expectancy is 50, and 1 individual dies at birth, it takes 5 to live to 60 to keep it at 50! Try it in excel — it is very easy to see. Put in a column of ages of individuals ranging from 0 to 80 when they die into excel. Work out the mean. Then delete all those before 27 –- the mean now, obviously goes way up. This is the new mean life expectancy of individuals who live to 27. The logic that was used in the article is the same which says if you toss a coin time and time again until you get 3 heads in a row — the next one is almost guaranteed to be a tail! Statistics pay scant regard to what has happened before — no matter how unlikely it was! I don’t mean my comment to be disrespectful to the author as the point about the inequalities is well made, however, mistakes in the logic and the maths will only detract from the underlying accurate message.

Ben Allen writes : Your list of stats on Aboriginal health published yesterday was sobering reading. I don’t think however you can fairly say that the average Aborigine is “almost certainly a smoker” when you say that 49% of Aborigines smoke. A more accurate statement would be to say that they are likely not to smoke, but twice as likely to smoke as non-indigenous Australians. The stats are clear enough without the need for unnecessary exaggeration.

Chris Davis writes : Talk about coincidence — just last week I was in a mapping software training session, overlaying ABS data with maps, and one of the variables was indigenous population, and someone in the class selected a dot density map for Sydney for indigenous population. Now you can talk about statistics, but it is really brutal and brings it home to actually see the dot density and see the concentration around Newington, home of Silverwater Gaol.

Rudd and Rein:

Jon Case writes : I don’t know how others feel, but I think the world is a little worse off today than it was a week ago. Ms Rein’s decision to sell the Australian arm of her business reflects sadly on the compromises that must be made of our politicians and –especially — their partners in life. I’d say the same for the Turnbulls and their businesses, and I’d include the Costellos and Stephen Mayne’s attacks on Ms Costello’s appointment to a bank board. What now if, without Ms Rein at the helm, the former Australian arm of her business doesn’t perform as well as in the past? What should shareholders feel about the absence of her experience, expertise and drive? Is such compromise necessary in this day and age? I know many argue a resounding “yes”, because the perception and actuality of conflict of interest is all too real. In the current framework of [lack of] accountability in government decision-making and expenditure I agree wholeheartedly. But are there alternatives? Is it possible to establish a level of audit ability and governance into the political processes at all levels of government that would effectively and publicly mitigate against such corruption of the decision-making processes? I’m sure many of us would welcome this. I’d also suggest that such scrutiny could be applied to many other areas of the government decision-making and expenditure. For democratic government to succeed it needs to be open and accountable, and under the Prime Minister’s watch we have seen continual reduction of this. It’s something all oppositions complain about but all governments like. Maybe we can have members of government whose partners can continue to lead lives that contribute to the social and business community and good open scrutiny to ensure conflicts and corrupt decision making are reduced. I welcome others with more experience in government and governance to suggest what can be done.

Russell Bancroft writes : Maybe we should insist that our politicians remain unmarried/unpartnered. There is just too much risk involved if a politician’s partner decided to pursue any sort of career. And just to be safe, our MPs should be forced to “divorce” their children, parents and other close relatives. Oh, and any friendship, either inside or outside politics would be a definite no-no.

The return of David Hicks:

Former WA premier Peter Dowding writes : The return of David Hicks to Australia does nothing to allay the criticism of the Howard Government over its conduct in the Hicks case and its participation in violations of international law. Recently, US General John Batiste was offered a promotion to become a three-star general, which would have made him the second-highest-ranking military officer in Iraq. Instead, he quit over the war. Interviewed last week on Democracynow.org, Batiste called for the closing of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, said private security firms like Blackwater USA should be investigated, and that President Bush had failed by surrounding himself with “like-minded, compliant subordinates”. In the interview, he said to reporter Amy Goodman:

“…the legacy of the office of the Secretary of Defence, back in the spring of 2003, where the military of this incredible nation of ours was committed into something with a flawed strategy, a war plan that was outrageous, violated principles of war and the principles of the Geneva Convention, watered down to the point where we got to the terrible situation of Abu Ghraib and, by the way, many other instances of a similar nature. This is not good. This is a failure in leadership from the very top of this administration that generates that kind of response in our military.

GOODMAN: Guantanamo, General Batiste, just that one word. Your response to the — I guess it’s been more now than 700 men who have been held there, many for years, for up to five years, without charge.

BATISTE: Outrageous. Where is the American principles?

GOODMAN: What discussion was happening among the generals, your fellow generals, as this has been going on for years now?

BATISTE: I can only relate what I know. And that’s, within the First Infantry Division in north-central Iraq, we chose to ground our operations on the Geneva Conventions. There can be no watering down of that document. I don’t want my soldiers treated like that, should they be captured.

GOODMAN: Do you think Guantanamo should be shut down?

BATISTE: Absolutely. There is such a thing called due process.”

Our Attorney-General and Prime Minister are obviously not of a like mind. It is to be hoped that the Australian electorate might share that US general’s belief in the Geneva Convention and due process and demonstrate it with their vote in the next few months.

Neil James, executive director, Australia Defence Association, writes : Marilyn Shepherd (yesterday and Friday, comments) achieved the dubious honour of a factual mistake in every sentence both times. She must also be the only person left outside grassyknoll.com who thinks Bin Laden did not direct the 9/11 attacks as even he has proudly admitted it. The irony is that Marilyn’s opinions agree with those of the Bush administration before they were overturned by the US Supreme Court in the June 2006 Hamdan test case. The essence of this ruling is that at least Common Article 3 of the Four Geneva Conventions applies to those captured in the war in Afghanistan and subsequently detained at Guantanamo Bay — even though some do not necessarily qualify for prisoner-of-war status under the Third Convention (where their resort to illegal methods of warfare disqualifies them). The two key outcomes of this ruling were that the original military commissions were struck down as illegal because they contravened the Geneva Conventions, and that the US is entitled to detain those captured until the war in Afghanistan ends or they are judged (as per the Conventions) to no longer constitute a risk of resuming hostilities. No serious international legal authority disagrees with these rulings.

Why Australian embassies are hot property:

Barry Everingham writes: Amanda’s new residence in Rome is only one of many which political appointees can expect to grace when the prime minister of the day needs them out of his hair — another reason why permanent officers of DFAT are outraged when political failures get the diplomatic nod. The other salubrious residences are London — a mansion near Hyde Park; New York — a stunning multi-million-dollar, two-level apartment on Beekman Place right on the East River; and Paris — the award-winning Harry Seidler apartment within the Australian embassy complex on the Avenue Diana. Other sought-after sinecures for the failures are in capitals such as Dublin, Washington, Ottawa, Geneva, Athens and closer to home –Singapore, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur. It is interesting to note not one politician has ever been offered Vientiane, Almarty, Nauru or Kiribati — prime ministerial hatred doesn’t seem to descend to those depths.

MacBank and Alan Jones:

Justin Templer writes : Re. “Is the MacBank bubble about to burst” (yesterday, item 4). Stephen Mayne writes: “Everyone thought the Sydney Airport purchase was a disaster and even Alan Jones launched a vicious campaign suggesting it was headed for a fall.” Gosh — even Alan Jones, the common man’s equivalent to Kerr Neilson! The day Alan Jones’s views have a measurable effect on a stock price is the day that I move my investments offshore.

Gardasil vaccinations:

Damien Anderson writes : Re. “Gardasil, nausea and the power of the mind” (yesterday, item 18). I don’t know whether it was a “sociogenic” effect or a real physiological reaction but my 16-year-old daughter was very sore, sorry, dizzy and really quite ill after the first shot was dispensed at her southern Sydney high school last week. In fact, she was only one of three Year 11 girls left standing by the end of the school day. I also know that the response to this injection was different to other injections received by the same group at that school. Consequently, I’m less than reassured by the glib assertions about the hysteria that apparently lurks within these otherwise capable young women. I can’t wait for the next instalment of Gardasil in a week or so. Neither can my daughter. 

Acronyms of war:

John Turner writes : Neil James’s (yesterday, comments) claim that the acronym “POW” is “an Americanism beloved of Hollywood and 1960’s TV series” only reveals how little he knows about Australian military history. Several Australians who, in the years after 1945, published accounts of their wartime captivity used the acronym frequently. One of the best known, Russell Braddon, in , published in 1952 (some years before television, let alone , began here) actually included a chapter “How to be a P.O.W.” , in which he wrote (p128 in my copy): “The first essential for any would-be P.O.W. is, of course, to find a suitable foe to whom to surrender. Such a foe should most definitely be a signatory of the Hague Convention and — if possible — a fully affiliated member of the International Red Cross as well.” Change “Hague” to “Geneva” and this advice, which Braddon offered with his tongue firmly in his cheek, remains relevant today.

Mike Burke writes : I hate to contradict Neil James who is doing such a sterling job injecting a bit of reality into the lives of Crikeys left-leaning clientele. However, he is being just a tad too pedantic in claiming that POW is not an appropriate term which has “never been used in military professional or international law circles”. Whatever might now be the case in current “officialese”, POW was common, if not exclusive, usage during my entire 27 years in the RAAF (Permanent and Active Reserve). It was the official usage at least as recently as the Fourth Edition of the Commonwealth Style Manual (see paragraph 7.38, page 102). Although I no longer have access to the relevant JSP (AS) 101 and 102, I’d be amazed if it were not the official abbreviation in those NATO-based tri-Service glossary/style manuals. The term POW is used by virtually everyone from the former Japanese POW who lived in our house for many years, through the RSL, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Australian War Memorial.

Michael Brougham writes : I might disagree with Neil James on things of actual significance, but I feel for him when it comes to the transcription of his comments. As a pedant of supremely annoying proportions, I was disheartened to find that, in a recent comment submitted to Crikey, the phrase “evolutionarily relevant” was reproduced as “evolutionary relevant”, rendering it more or less nonsensical. I can’t even work out how you managed to do it; surely you’ve realised that there’s a cut and paste function on your computer?

Tasmanian logging:

Lynn Good writes: You know you are up against a new Prospero when Barry Chipman (yesterday, comments) can prove Tasmania’s native forests never diminish, despite 1% being logged yearly, and we all see the trompe l’oeil of a ravaged landscape which fools everyone driving through or flying over the state.

Helen Westford writes: I just don’t buy Chipman’s figures. Since when is coastal heath considered forest. Lets get a good look at this picture Chipman is painting and have forests clearly defined. I want to know just what you are calling “forests”, are acres of stumps now considered forests, too?

The decline of Victorian football:

John Macdonald writes: Re. “Is the AFL ready to face the decline of Victorian football?” (yesterday, item 24). The die was cast in the 1980s when the VFL chose to expand its own competition rather than create a new one. That decision was designed to preserve the interests of the V12, and had no regard for the devastation it would cause to the interstate leagues and clubs. I have no solution to today’s inevitable imbalance, but would like to lay some blame at the feet of those involved in the 1987 admission to the VFL of the soulless West Coast.


Mike Petrescu writes: Re. “Is the AFL ready to face the decline of Victorian football?” (Yesterday, item 24). Charles Happell should know better. Richmond was not one of the “1897 VFL originals” but joined the VFL, along with University, in 1908.

Tony Berry writes: Re. “Pine Gap protestors facing the long, cold arm of the law” (yesterday, item 15). So far I have refrained from pointing out your numerous typos (a euphemism for mistakes) and errors in punctuation. Charles Richardson does a good enough job. However, the headline to yesterday’s item cannot go uncorrected. They are protestERS, not protestORS. And, for the record, demonstratORS are not demonstratERS.

Yasmin Khan writes: Just a correction on the Jackie Kelly comment by Jody Bailey (yesterday, comments). Jackie Kelly was not in Dancing With The Stars , but rather that dull Channel 9 program which I failed to watch — Dancing on Ice.

Yesterday’s typos (house pedant Charles Richardson casts an eye over the howlers in the last edition of Crikey): Item 16: OK, I give up — what’s the “tragedy of the anticodon”? My COD says “anticodon” is “a sequence of three nucleotides forming a unit of genetic code in a transfer RNA molecule”, but I can’t find any trace of an appropriate metaphorical use. Or is it a typo? Item 28: “… even though he knew that the deal had buckley’s chance of succeeding.” I’m all for avoiding unnecessary capitalisation, but I think the lower case “b” on “buckley’s” is going a bit far.

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