Interesting appointments. Hell hath no fury like the women’s movement spurned. Selecting an actress as the only woman on the 10 person selection committee for his 2020 taklfest must rank as one of the most politically stupid decisions ever made by a Labor Leader. It will cause Kevin Rudd nothing but trouble. No poor people. No Jews. A token woman. With 20:20 hindsight the Prime Minister will wish he had never called this conference.

Beware of silly hats. Barack Obama should have known better. It is one of the fundamental rules of campaigning: politicians must avoid silly hats. They do nothing for your image. When your middle name is Hussein and you are running for President of the United States, putting on Somali head gear is especially stupid. From the distance of Canberra the story is not who leaked the photo to The Drudge Report but why Senator Obama dressed up in the first place.

Backing Hillary. My only wager so far on the US presidential election campaign was to take $13 about John McCain becoming the Republican Party candidate and $30 about his ending up President. Having seen that Obama picture, and having a healthy fear of the underlying racism and bigotry of the American people, I am now intending to invest a little of my current hypothetical profit on Hillary Clinton becoming the Democratic Party candidate. The Crikey Election Indicator, based on the prediction markets where people support their opinions with their own money, Obama has an 81.7% chance of getting the nomination with Clinton 17.1% and a 1.2% chance that a hung convention will see someone else – probably Al Gore – emerge. Yet in the two primaries to come next week, Clinton is favoured 72 to 28 to beat Obama in Texas (these odds do not include the parallel Texas caucus) and 54 to 46 to win in Ohio.

The anti-drink campaign continues. “Is this the last shout for pubs?” the Courier Mail asks this morning as the anti-drink campaign continues to gather pace with Tim Costello in the vanguard as one of Kevin “I’m really a wowser not a binge drinker” Rudd’s hand picked 2020 leaders. “There are far too many outlets,” the Revd Costello said yesterday as he promised that tackling that problem would be high on his agenda at the April summit in Canberra. “Closing times need to be adjusted. The way we serve alcohol in a responsible way, the codes for serving alcohol, need to be tightened.”

The Professor should be pleased. I don’t know whether Milton Lewis is still a senior research fellow in Public Health at the University of Sydney but if he is then Prof Simon Chapman should call in on his academic neighbour for a briefing on binge drinking. While Prof Chapman wrote in Crikey yesterday that “an increase in binge drinking, which has been increasingly documented by drug and alcohol researchers, is not incompatible with a plateauing in total alcohol consumption” his colleague has a more balanced view. Back in 2006 Mr Lewis gave an interesting interview about alcohol in Australia and the intertwining of social and personal histories in which he observed a change in the pattern of drinking. “Although we still deplore the levels of alcohol consumption in our society, compared to earlier times these levels have significantly declined … Some forms of heavy binge-drinking survive to this day,” he said, “but that was once the dominant pattern of drinking. In Australian culture there has been a change since the 1960s with the introduction of a wine culture and a move to integrate alcohol with food. To drink in moderation, with food, as part of a pleasurable activity that doesn’t necessarily have the purpose of getting drunk, is a new trend.” If that social history approach is too anecdotal for some, then consider this from the 2004 publication A guide to Australian alcohol data published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and paid for by the Federal Department of Health and Ageing:

Surveys conducted as part of the Australian Government’s National Alcohol Drinking Campaign found over the last three years the number of under-age teenagers drinking alcohol has decreased. For example the proportion of 15–17 year olds who drank alcohol in the three months leading up to the survey decreased from 68% in February 2000 to 63% in August 2002. Among the “high risk” drinkers there was a reduction in the total amount of alcohol consumed compared to earlier surveys. Significant shifts in the type of alcoholic drinks consumed were also noted.For example, from February 2000 to August 2002 fewer males and females reported drinking full-strength beer (46%–39% for males and 15%–8% for females). Alcohol-related hospitalisation rates from 1998–99 to 2000–01 increased for females aged 15–19 years by 4% and 20–24 years by 7%. Male rates of hospitalisation on the other hand decreased in the same period for 15–19 year olds by 9% and for 20–24 years olds by 10%.

And one final comment; as for disclosing interests let me repeat the words that accompanied my story on the official figures showing no real increase at all in alcohol consumption that prompted the good professor’s chastisement of me: Richard Farmer apologises for making the mistake of drinking fruit juice and promises in future to stick with the alcoholic products he has imported, sold, made and promoted over the last 30 years. I do remember those glorious days, to which he refers, when brewers would part pay me in beer and regret that lobbying by the likes of Prof Chapman stopped cigarette companies from rewarding me with Freedom!

The Daily Reality Check

If anti-depressants are a waste of time for most patients then why are suicidal dogs being given them? This is the big question that emerges from today Crikey check on the reading habits of the major Australian internet news sites. The concern for humans makes the top five list at the broadloid Age with the dogs being of more interest over at news.com.au. and not a whiff of interest in local politics on either of them. Nor at Ninemsn (unless you rate a government blocking the release of a triple murderer), the SMH, the Tele and the Herald Sun. Up in Brisbane the Rudd plans to cut back drinking hours stirred some interest and in Adelaide changes to workers compensation laws still attract the readers. Yet again it is only at The Oz and the ABC where politics reigns where, in what may be an ominous sign for Kevin Rudd, stories about the paucity of women in the top posts at the 2020 conference rate highly.

The Pick of this Morning’s Political Coverage

Eddington to fix infrastructure logjams – Adele Ferguson, The Australian
Budget: entire programs face axe – Peter Martin, Canberra Times
Feds’ health funds threat – Nick Clark, The Mercury
Rann faces compo war – Greg Kelton, Adelaide Advertiser
Our $4bn bet – Intralot super scratchies loom for punters – Michael Warner, Melbourne Herald Sun
Business gives up on ACT Liberals – Cathy Alexander, Canberra Times

Peter Fray

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