The royal spare:

Venise Alstergren writes: Up to a point Everingham makes a powerful argument for an Australian Republic (Friday, Feb 29 Item 3). So many useless royals littering the landscape whose sole job it is to wait around until Pa or Ma drops dead. To tweak a well known line…their position is not unlike the job of the royal wh-re; all of the pomp and none of the responsibility. For the sake of his fellow soldiers it may have been a bit uncool of Nought Idea to reveal Harry’s whereabouts. But hey, the celebrity circus equals megabucks and New Idea knew they were onto a sure fire best seller in Australia, the land of crawl and grovel. Or, as one typical reader of the Herald Sun opined. “In another era New Idea would have been guilty of treason”. If that statement doesn’t make my point about groveling and crawling, nothing does. I’m reminded of some of the old whackers who infest men’s clubs. Someone will offer the loyal toast and and someone else will chime in “And God love her!” Great cringe-worthy stuff! Harry is a soldier and it’s his job to go wherever he is sent. Why should his life be more sacrosanct than that of his fellow soldiers? They know he was born a demigod and that it is their job to offer up their own lives for Harry, England and Saint George. And no doubt they love him for it.

John Richardson writes: The spare heir sees action; second in line stays home. A bit over the top Barry. Whilst I’m hardly a fan of “No Idea”, it’s a big stretch, on the one hand, to try and pin the wrap on them for “outing” Harry’s presence in Afghanistan or perhaps, on the other, crediting the rag with a scoop they don’t deserve. As the rest of the universe is aware, poor Harry’s brief appearance on the battlefield of Afghanistan was brought to a halt courtesy of the US Drudge Report. And whilst Harry might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer for wanting to play soldiers (as attested to by the number of politicians’ kids in uniform), methinks he deserves some points for trying to assert a level of independence from the smothering control normally exercised by a dysfunctional royal family over its hapless members.

The Iemma government:

E.K writes: Alex Mitchell’s article about Winten and Anthony Otto (Friday 29 Feb Item 11) is factually incorrect. The land was re zoned prior to its acquisition by Winten in 1996. It was rezoned under the Liberal government in 1994. The article implies corrupt conduct by Ottos and Winten without asserting a scintilla of evidence. I fully expect there to be no apology and no retraction or correction. This will confirm that Alex Mitchell and Crikey are at least as vain, proud and self interested as those they criticise. Alex Mitchell’s article about the Iemma government in the weekend Fin was fantastic. Pity that a lack of interest in the facts as displayed in the Haywards Bay article will always hold him back.

GM foods:

Katherine Wilson writes: BioTechnologyNews.com’s Nick Evans’ attack on my article “Victoria gets ready to lift GM crop ban” is a textbook example of the biotech industry’s disingenuous spin on GM food issues. Evans argues that only the inventors of GM products and their industry-funded researchers have the expert knowledge to speak on the safety of GM foods. Not the independent “hodgepodge of dieticians, geomorphologists and epidemiologists” he so readily scorns (and he forgot to mention the geneticists and medical scientists I link to). If we followed Evans’ logic, we would have only nuclear physicists reviewing the health or environmental impact of nuclear energy, or cigarette chemists reviewing the health impacts of smoking. We would have only drug company chemists observing the health effects of pharmaceuticals. As for Evans’ claim that the withdrawal of CSIRO’s hazardous GM field pea shows that regulation is working — well, this is an outright fib, and again textbook industry spin. Australia’s Office of Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) does not require the rigorous independent testing
that the dud GM pea underwent. Instead it relies on demonstrably inadequate GM industry-funded data. No such rigorous testing has been performed on other GM foods now on the market, and as biochemist and dietician Dr Rosemary Stanton (among many other scientists) has pointed out, the introduction of products like GM soy overseas coincided with the skyrocketing of soy allergies. Now, who better
than an epidemiologist or allergy specialist to study whether there is a link? Instead, Evans would have it that GM inventors or GM industry- funded researchers are the only voices worth listening to.

Dr Rosemary Stanton OAM writes: re Comments from Crikey, 29th February. Nick Evans, editor of BioTechnology News.net complains that opposition to GM foods is coming from a “hodgepodge of dieticians, geomorphologists, epidemiologists and anti-gm activists”. As a nutritionist who has called for transparency and more appropriate testing of the current crop of GM foods, he may well be including me in his “hodge podge”. In fact, I have repeatedly stated that I am not against GM technology as such. Like three of his four “hodge-podge” groups, I am a scientist, and as a scientist, I object to the method of restricting tests on the current GM crops by claiming they are “substantially equivalent” to other crops and allowing only industry-funded testing (independent scientists have great difficulty obtaining GM seeds for testing). For all we know GM foods may be entirely safe. They obviously don’t kill you, but the fact that the current crops have been released without adequate testing and are unlabelled (so the poor epidemiologists would have little hope of trace any ill effects) means we have no scientifically valid evidence to make such an assumption. Why are GM companies so against independent scientific testing?

The binge drinking epidemic:

Kevin Tyerman writes: The attempts by Richard Farmer to defend the respectable art of binge drinking are getting increasingly amusing. On Thursday he quotes Tasmanian Health Minister Lara Giddings’ view that closing bars “early” at 1:00 am results in “lots of punch-ups” because “everyone was out on the street at the same time”. The same used to sometimes happen in country New South Wales towns on Friday and Saturday nights when pubs all closed “late” at midnight. Interestingly though, both Richard and Lara (a HEALTH minister who seems to be encouraging longer drinking hours), overlook the fact that many towns and cities have standard shop closing times that result in large numbers of people being out on the street at the same time at 5:30 pm, or 9:00 pm on late shopping nights, without resulting in “lots of punch-ups”, brawls, or, in the case of some country town main streets, escalating vandalism against local businesses. If Richard were to join Lara Giddings and Kevin Rudd on the “fact finding tour” he recommends, he may just see that alcohol rather than “early” closing times is the contributing factor to much of the described late night “punch-ups” and other anti-social behavior. There is a difference between responsible drinking and binge drinking, and I suspect that it is mainly irresponsible drinkers who indulge in anti-social behaviour after so-called “early” closing times, or, in some cases these days, being locked out of bars due to curfews.

On alternative energy:

John Bennetts writes: I know that this is a little late for a fast-moving publication such as Crikey, but I cannot but comment on one contribution. Bruce Graham wrote (Tuesday 26th Feb comments), in relation to solar thermal power stations “Moderately sized solar thermal electricity generation systems are in use, and more are being built. The only one under construction in Australia is a small (10MW) installation in Cloncurry (Queensland).” A substantially larger solar thermal array is currently approaching the commissioning stage at Liddell Power Station in the Hunter Valley, NSW. Perhaps Macquarie Generation (operators of Liddell) and the designer/constructor, Solar Heat and Power are not well known to your readers, but they are respectively Australia’s largest power generating company and Australia’s home-grown solar thermal pioneers. Solar thermal energy has the capacity to substitute for coal in existing coal-fired power stations, thus reducing these generators’ consumption of fossil fuels. With a construction lead time of only a few years, this technology has a part to play in reducing the impact of carbon on the environment.

Bruce Graham writes: Ken Lambert is correct that the installed base of photovoltaics is almost inconsequential in global energy supply. He is also correct that photovolatics are poorly utilised in Germany. They are more than twice as efficient in Hawaii, or central Queensland. He misses the important point that, in the four years since the figure he quotes, the installed base has increased 50%, and that this continues a 25 year trend. In 1999, the installed base globally was 1GW. About 2.5GW were installed in 2007 alone. ‘Low growth’ industry forecasts are for a further doubling of production in the next 4 years. “High growth” forecasts are for a tripling in that time. Mr Lambert also ignores the observation that the cost of production has continued an uninterrupted downward trend, and that prices are sustained by short supply and high profits. There are no absolute constraints on the raw materials , but polysilicon manufacturing capacity will continue to be a bottleneck until at least 2011. There is a realistic probability that cost of manufacture will continue to fall, to the point that they are cost competitive for peak load in urban Australia. Cost competitiveness for peak load outside urban centres was achieved years ago. Sufficient supply for massive purchases is still ten years away. Even then, they will not be the dominant source of electricity, because battery storage will remain expensive. All of this is beside the point though. Thermal solar is cheaper, and is also getting cheaper. Wind is cheaper again. Solar thermal provides reliable baseload, which can replace coal. Electricity costs are not a critical input in the Australian economy – unlike water, for instance, which nuclear and coal plants use heavily. Some industries – like aluminium smelting – are very sensitive, but aluminium smelting is an industry Australia could live without: Attempts to value add onto that smelting capacity have been a dismal failure, and the industry is effectively subsidised with long term power at below average cost. Australia can start converting to a combination of wind and solar power now. More realistic pricing will drive efficiency, as it always has. Some shifts in tax will be needed to compensate industry, and low income households, but they will be small.

The once every four years edition:

David Havyatt writes: We might have leap years every four years, but that doesn’t mean we get a February 29 edition every four years. 29 February 2004 was a Sunday, and Crikey is a Monday to Friday journal. You are safe for the next few leap years – but if you make it as far as 2020 well, then it is a Saturday. Pedants rule OK!

Peter Fray

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