The Henson fracas:

Cathy Bannister writes: Re. “Hamilton: Art or p-rn is not the question” (Monday, item 2). I’ve been trying to understand how I feel about Bill Henson’s photographs. Clearly it’s not an easy question; I’ve got three girls of my own and I wouldn’t have allowed them to be photographed in such a way. But, it must be said that the images themselves are only immoral when we equate nudity with s-xuality, and clearly that doesn’t need to be the case, and historically hasn’t been. What we seem to have forgotten, as we often do in these frenzies of opprobrium, is to consider the person most likely to be damaged by all this: the subject of the photographs, a real girl. There’s no evidence that the photo session itself was an unpleasant or s-xual experience, except that the child was naked. Children go through far worse in a doctor’s office. So what happened at the session is not the problem; that seems to be in the interpretation of the photographs. How the girl will be affected depends on how people react to them. If the photographs are judged to be art, then she can go through her life feeling proud that she’s been part of a great, if controversial, work. However, how would she feel if she heard that people were calling the photos ‘disgusting’ and p-rnographic? She may well go on to feel that she has been a victim. Imagine what that would do to her psychologically. We need to think about how that is going to affect her for the rest of her life, before indulging in a moral rampage.

Dave Liberts writes: The outcry over the Bill Henson photos has certainly highlighted the truth behind the old axiom that the censor is the greatest publicist. This is a shame for the models in Henson’s photos, who previously knew that their appearance would be relatively anonymous and who now probably feel that, to some extent, they’ve done something wrong. For this, ironically, they can thank anti-child-abuse campaigners such as Hetty Johnson. I thought Kevin Rudd’s suggestion that we should just let kids be kids was a great one, and I for one would not mind seeing this become policy, especially in respect of kids who have a higher profile than Henson’s models. No more teenage sports stars having to train for hours each day while their classmates do kids things, even though that would decimate our national swimming team and pretty much all high-level gymnastics competition, and reduce our talents in tennis. No more kids working as actors on film sets (which, realistically, must take long hours). No more kids modelling fashion, particularly where outfits are a bit revealing or ‘adult’. No more politicians parading their children for the cameras to win votes (did you think about that one, Prime Minister?). It would be a good outcome because, after all, the public spotlight can be pretty unfair on kids (such as the young swimmer whose expulsion from school attracted national headlines). But it would cost a heap of gold medals and reduce gossip magazine fodder, so we know that Australians won’t stand for it and Rudd would never actually look to back up his rhetoric with actions if it meant having to criticise himself for sticking his teenage son in front of the cameras. It seems that exploiting kids is absolutely fine as long as they’ve got all their clothes on.

Daniel Saks writes: There is such a polarisation between the art versus p-rn camps in this debate and none of it is relevant. The only question that needs to be considered is the welfare of the children in question. Let me say at the outset that I would defend the right of art to represent any idea, to give expression to any observation, however confronting or distasteful some might consider it to be. The issue here is whether or not it’s okay to take a child as an object and use that object to convey the idea. Not one letter in Crikey has remotely addressed this. Depiction of nakedness is about s-x and s-xuality — without question. These are children who, by any test in social and legal contexts, do not have the capacity, by virtue of their age, to give informed consent. Their bodies are being exploited for somebody else’s benefit, pleasure, entertainment or, and I use the term advisedly here, creativity, without their having the benefit of a wisdom, that can only come with maturity, to help them decide for themselves whether it’s appropriate for them to have their bodies displayed in this way. This is a principle that arose out of a civil society’s expectation that the vulnerable will be protected. Trying to make a case that 12 year old children are not vulnerable and know their own minds in the same way a mature adult does, is not a long way from the argument of the man who engages in a s-xual relationship with a young teenager but maintains that she instigated it or was a willing partner. Society rejects that notion unequivocally. I have no difficulty with nakedness and eroticism in a variety of situations, but the unfettered exploitation of naked children under the rubric of art should never be allowed. This is not about censorship per se. It’s about protecting the vulnerable. And if children aren’t vulnerable, I don’t know who is.

Greg Samuelson writes: The question of art versus p-rn in the Bill Henson debate misses the point. P-rnography is an abstraction of the s-xual from the whole person, and all nudity is p-rn if the viewer makes that abstraction. In the case of p-rnography, the photographer makes this abstraction the only logical one by depicting the model in a one-dimensional, s-xual way, with no attempt at presenting him or her as a whole person with feelings, hopes, fears, dreams and integrity as a sovereign person. The Henson photographs that the Herald has published at the very least appear to extend an invitation to the viewer to consider the models as far more than s-xual beings, if the viewer is open to doing so. The real question raised over the past few days is whether or not Miranda Devine, Hetty Johnson et al have themselves deliberately abstracted the s-xual from Bill Henson’s photographs in order to satisfy their own narcissistic, self-aggrandising urges. If so, they are morally no different from the p-rnographers they decry.

Peter Hislop writes: Just to add some perspective to the current outcry about Bill Henson’s work … you might remember David Hamilton’s soft focus/soft p-rn photos of young women which were used to sell all manner of things – tissues in mainstream women’s magazines, countless posters, bicycles and made into feature movies (Bilitis was one) etc, etc all without stirring any furore … all very “arty” … and perhaps more salacious than those of Mr Henson. So what has changed?

Julian Gillespie writes: What do our moral crusaders do when walking the streets of Rome with its many statues of naked boys?

Petrol politics and FuelWatch:

Ross Copeland writes: Re. “Comitatus: FuelWatch = $7.50 saving per working family per year” (yesterday, item 4). Possum Comitatus’ calculations comparing Perth petrol prices with other capitals is interesting but misguided. The right calculation to make is to compare the cheapest price available in Perth with the average price in Perth (why anyone would pay above average I don’t know but apparently some do). Buying the cheapest compared with the average can yield a 4-5c a litre saving. Combine that with a supermarket 4c a litre discount where available and you start to make real savings. The petrol retailers anywhere in the country have access to details of what their competitors are charging but without FuelWatch the poor old motorist does not know what range of prices is on offer in the market and where to get the cheapest price available. Who hasn’t bought petrol at what you thought was a reasonable price only to find it cheaper down the road. FuelWatch at least gives motorists a chance to be informed. I am absolutely certain none of the political parties will go into the next WA election advocating scrapping FuelWatch. I urge people from other states to check out the WA FuelWatch web page to see what it is about.

Matt Hardin writes: I am not sure why the government has fallen for the fuel cost gambit of the opposition. The saving from the elimination of GST on 100 litres of petrol a week (a lot to use in a week) would be $3.80 a week or about $16.00 a month. The tax cuts announced for low income earners by Mr. Swan are more than four times this. The cost to the deficit would be of the order of a billion dollars (according to the States’ claim for compensation). This seems like an amount flooding back into the economy that could tip the reserve bank into raising interest rates gain; an increase for an average mortgage of about $20 a month. Or a similar increase for renters of the costs are passed along. I don’t know why the spinners have missed this line of argument, it seems obvious and you can throw in the line: “A billion dollars buys you a lot of hospital but $4.00 buys not much at all”.

Phil and Marg Lawrence write: Re. “Petrol facts: It’s too cheap so expect more pain” (yesterday, item 5). You and many others keep saying in the debate about fuel prices that Australian prices are close to the cheapest in the world. Just where do these figures come from? I live in China where prices today are 93c AUD per litre. There are estimated over 13 million cars at the moment with numbers rising at about 1000 per day in Beijing alone. Their consumption must be enormous in comparison to Australia but their prices are much lower. How? Please stop using this incorrect information about Australian fuel prices.

Mark Byrne writes: Tamas Calderwood (yesterday, comments) is correct that reserves of coal, tar-sands, shale-oil amount to a considerable store of fossilised energy, sufficient at least to raise greenhouse concentrations far beyond 700ppm CO2e. Yet this does not diminish the challenges concerning our current energy trajectory. Firstly, coal, tar-sands and shale-oil are less concentrated forms of energy (more mass is required for the equivalent energy return). Also, to replace oil, these lower-grade fuels must be processed into a form of higher utility (the by-products of which will require sequestration). Each of these steps results in diminishing energy return on energy investment. The second major obstacle is price, each of the above steps requires extra capital and rising input costs. Major sectors of our society and economy have been structured around access to cheap oil. A range of these sectors face collapse when certain price thresholds are crossed, with cascading effects. Change is inevitable, but the impact and cost of change can be mediated with infrastructure and urban design. For a start, it might be wise to prioritise government resources on improving our rail networks rather than widening roads.

Petrol solutions – it’s a gas:

Sue Novak writes: Re. “Has the PM done everything possible on petrol prices? Not likely” (yesterday, item 14). When is the question going to be asked, if we are selling gas to China, and it is obviously a resource we have copious quantities of, why are we not collaborating with motor vehicle manufacturers to promote gas fuelled cars at point of sale, rather than a government subsidised conversion? There has to be some serious questions here: 1) Are all governments and vehicle manufactures so scared of the oil conglomerates that they will not go against them? 2) What are the kick backs to governments, manufacturers from oil conglomerates? 3) Is this gas suitable for cars? 4) If so, haven’t we got a fait accompli for controlling the economy, if we are the regions provider of our own fuel for our own cars, we can dictate the world price for our region?

Peter Haydock writes: Ignaz Amrein is right (yesterday, comments). I’ve been asking the same question for years. Since there seems to be no reason why most Australian cars could not switch to gas with no loss of performance, why do not governments, at a stroke, advocate and mass subsidise the switch to gas for motorists. They would neutralise the threat of peak oil and avoid rewarding troublesome exporting autocracies, lower the price at the pump to voters, improve carbon emissions, reduce our import account and look, for once, as it they had a master plan in the energy area. I believe this would translate into a huge vote winner. Incidental problems like home filling of tanks, as raised by Amrein, surely could be worked out. If ever there was a no-brainer surely this is it. Or are we both overlooking something?

Publicly dealing with complex issues:

Leah Marrone writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Crikey wrote: “It would be nice, someday, to talk this stuff through with an eye for complexity and commonsense. Yes? No?” Yes Crikey, yes indeed. Particularly on petrol. Listening to the news radio lately I am flabbergasted to think journalists get paid for asking such un-interesting and irrelevant questions (not to mention questions which are now very predictable and boring). We have a useless Opposition and a fairly useless media who don’t ask the questions that keep the government to account, rather they both drum up such time wasting hype over a few cents off of petrol which, rather than hold the government to account, wastes so much government time.

Chris Davis writes: “It would be nice, someday, to talk this stuff through with an eye for complexity and commonsense. Yes? No?” Nice standard for art versus p-rn, or for petrol pricing but Crikey would not consider it for the RTD Excise “alcopop” debate. There was no other side to that coin…

Mal Brough:

Robyn Deane writes: Re. “Indigenous Australia thinks Brough is a joke” (yesterday, item 9). Thanks for yesterday’s article on Mal Brough. You put to shame our local Sunshine Coast Daily and their sycophantic defence of Brough and the Liberals. However, I am perturbed by your reference to the $100,000 granted to the Woodford Folk Festival. Knowing many of the people involved and their track record of supporting indigenous performers and great respect to the traditional owners of the land where the Queensland Folk Festival holds it festivals, I am sure it was money well spent and utilised for the advancement of the indigenous people involved. The QFF has been holding indigenous festivals for the last three years with the next one, The Dreaming – Australia’s International Indigenous Festival, to be held from the 6th to 9th June at the Woodford Folk Festival site.

Rudd, Obama and Olbermann:

Martin Gordon writes: Re. “US08: Obama may struggle against McCain” (yesterday, item 2). It has been fashionable of leaders of late to package themselves as “new way” leaders, our PM Kevin Rudd is one, Barack Obama is another. The same “new way” or “third way” approach was taken by Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, and look how much credibility they have now? Given the heavy weather that Kevin Rudd is making of most things now that the symbolic things were easy like an apology or Kyoto, why do we imagine that he is different to the traditional Labor approach, or Obama different to the traditional US Democrats? The fact is they are not; they are the same ideologues pushing the same tired old ideas. Sometimes they win and we eventually realise that we were conned.

John Hughes writes: I agree with Michael Tunn (yesterday, comments) that it would be great if CNBC could give us a daily dose of the MSNBC Keith Olbermann TV show in place of an hour or so of “dull market watch reruns”. For me it would represent a small compensation for CNBC’s ceasing a month or two ago to broadcast the wonderful hour-long US Sunday NBC TV show “Meet the Press”. (CNBC tell me the rights to this show have passed to Channel Seven, but if that’s so then sadly Channel Seven don’t appear to be exercising those rights.) As to Michael’s other suggestion, I doubt Foxtel would contemplate any change in the current mix of their cable news channels. ( I got nowhere in trying to obtain from them recently an explanation as to why they don’t carry the increasingly popular English language edition of Al Jazeera in addition to, or instead of, the Arabic edition.)

Iemma’s NSW and Clover Moore:

John Taylor writes: Re. “Clover Moore’s spectacular backflip with pike” (yesterday, item 11). As many of us in NSW would recall, Clover Moore’s main claim to fame is that, with three other Independents, who held the balance of power at the time, she was instrumental in bringing in four year parliamentary terms. Wouldn’t we like to get rid of that one in the “Days of Iemma”?

Marty O’Neill writes: I wish to register my utter disgust at the antics of Catholics in the Iemma Government who – apart from using taxpayers’ money at George Pell’s urging – are closing roads, closing hospitals and generally imposing martial law on the people of Sydney – all in the name of World Gestapo Youth Day!

Mungo and Albrechtsen:

Dominic Kelly writes: Re. “Mungo: Enter Malcolm, radiating availability” (Monday, item 16). I’m not normally a defender of Janet Albrechtsen, but Mungo MacCallum’s continued attempts at humour by resorting to s-xual analogies when referring to her are blatantly s-xist and just a little disturbing. There is plenty to attack in what she writes rather than descending to this childish level.

Seven News:

Debbie Turner, publicity manager, Channel Seven Brisbane, writes: Re. “Media briefs and TV ratings: The New York Times link, Marieke Hardy quits” (yesterday, item 21). Just a correction to yesterday’s edition of Crikey. Glenn Dyer wrote: “Seven News again won nationally and in every market but Melbourne and Brisbane.” In Brisbane, Seven News won the night with 340,000 average viewers and was the number one program for the night ahead of Nine News with 268,000 average viewers and in the number five position. Seven News has now won 13 out of 13 ratings weeks in south east Queensland.

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