Windschuttle hoax

Julian Gillespie writes: Re: “How Windschuttle swallowed a hoax to publish a fake story in Quadrant” Ooo wee — our very own Deep Thr-at guessing game to start the year off with — for mine I’ll place a twenty on Mark Latham!

John Craig writes: Re: Margaret Simons and “Behind the story: How the Windschuttle hoax unfolded“. It is rather a pity to imply that there is virtue in dishonesty — as your recent Crikey article seemed to imply about an allegedly scientific article by one Sharon Gould. Fraud in science seems to be a major problem, and to discredit what some see as a major hope for humanity’s future. Google ‘scientific fraud’ and see. Likewise, while con men may be heroes in movies like The Sting, in real life those who are caught are usually sent to jail. And very few people admire regimes that use deceptive propaganda to mislead their subjects. Telling the simple truth has been a traditional Western virtue (eg see Matthew 5:37). I guess ‘Sharon Gould’ will be too embarrassed to apologise.

War on Terror

Derryn Hinch writes: I have to break into my holiday reverie to correct Niall Clugston (Monday, comments). He describes a good movie Charlie Wilson’s War as ‘bizarre’ because it ‘proceeds as if September 11 never happened and never mentions Osama bin Laden.’ That’s probably because the Soviet-Afghanistan war ended more than a decade before 9/11 and back then nobody had heard of bin Laden. And, speaking of ‘scrupulous historical accuracy’: it wasn’t an ‘uncanny prediction of the Bhutto assassination.’ The Julia Roberts character in the film was referring to the execution of Ali Bhutto in 1979 not the assassination of his daughter Benazir in 2007.

Niall Clugston writes: Can I risk being pedantic and say that Irfan Yusuf (yesterday, comments) has totally misconstrued my point? My issue was with the movie Charlie Wilson’s War with its dialogue about “the crazies … moving into Kandahar” only after the Americans left, not anything the crazy Congressman Charlie Wilson may have said. I heartily agree with Yusuf’s statement that “the fact is that the Afghan mujahideen and their supporters consisted of some pretty crazy people” — except that he forgot to add “especially US policy-makers and their allied cheer squads”. I simply repeat: why can’t we be told the truth?


Neil Appleby writes: Re: “Australia’s own ponzi scheme: the property market“. Property Ponzi Scheme? You’ve got to be kidding Adam! Adam Schwab continues his doom and gloom predictions for the Australian property market and this time takes Christopher Joye (Business Spectator) to task. Perhaps Adam should read through the BS property blog and spend an hour or so educating himself with some property facts. Rather than ‘realising that the game is up, most property investors I know are securing bargains. By the way Adam, the statistics show Aussie prices have fallen 2% over the year to October. That looks pretty good against the falls seen in stocks and in super schemes. I’ll play in Christopher Joye’s team any day.

The Gaza Strip

Ashley Midalia writes: Re: “The Gaza Strip: Arabs don’t count“. The Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestine question is a complex topic that contains many traps for young players. I Googled Jeff Sparrow to see what qualifications he has in the field of Middle Eastern and Islamic politics and culture. I learnt that, apart from being rather keen on communism, “his research interests include labour history, political theory, creative non-fiction and the politics of literature and writing”.

Still, Jeff has sufficient confidence in his understanding of situation in Gaza (is he writing from the region, perhaps?) to not only unscramble the complicated facts for us (thanks Jeff) but even offer an analysis of the Islamic concept of “hudna”, stretching a single statement of Khaled Meshaal – apparently set to be made three months into the future (“April this year”) – to matter-of-factly infer the willingness of Hamas to accept a two-state solution, while conveniently ignoring hundreds of unambiguous Hamas statements to the contrary.

In truth, a “hudna” is more commonly understood to be a pause in fighting designed to allow a Muslim army to gather its strength, rearm and continue the battle. As with many Muslim laws, there is significant scope for interpretation but, according to many authorities, a hudna is absolutely limited to ten years. Peace in our time and all that.

While Jeff appears to be quite enjoying his interest in “creative non-fiction”, it would be preferable if Crikey left him on the bench when it comes to the Middle Eastern politics of war and peace.


Tamas Calderwood writes: Re: “Refuted economic doctrines: privatisation” John Quiggin argues that privatisation is now a refuted economic doctrine principally because the recent global financial crisis proves that markets do not efficiently allocate capital nor price risk correctly. His argument is complex but he misses a very large and simple point: Private firms must perform or they are shut down, whereas Schumpeter’s ‘creative destruction’ is circumvented by the political process with public businesses. Now, I readily admit that markets get it wrong, but investors are then punished and we all move on and learn from our mistakes. Public enterprises, on the other hand, are not subjected to the disciplines of the capital markets so zombie firms can suck public money for a very long time before they are sold off or reformed. John concludes that marrying the lower public cost of capital with better private sector operational efficiencies — a mixed economy — is the optimal economic structure. But he offers no clues as to how this optimal structure would look in practice. Who decides which businesses remain private and which public? Should entire industries be nationalised? If not, is it fair for government companies to compete with private firms? For all its faults, the market economy has delivered Australians an enviable standard of living. Meddle with it at your peril.

Summer poetry

Ignaz Amrein writes: Re: Will Grant (yesterday, comments) Please give Will Grant a poetry column, at least during summer and pull some strings to make sure his air conditioner is not being fixed! Will, mate, keep going, I recognise a great poem when I see one. One good poem a day keeps boredom away and I’ll buy the first signed copy when you publish those gems at the end of summer.

Change of Government

Martin Gordon writes: Re: Change website (Crikey Says, yesterday) All I can say is that you must be easily impressed, as was Richard Reeves about the Obama site. I checked out the site and it is a well presented ‘spin’ site. There is genuinely nothing new in it and if you actually know a bit of background you realise how lightweight it actually is. If it were a book it would literally float off the shelf.

The fiscal policy basically claims to increase spending (particularly on infrastructure), reduce taxes and reduce the deficit. That easy! The Iraq policy glosses over the fact that the war is largely over now, and that Biden, Clinton and the other Senate Democrats that sought the presidential nomination all supported the war. Obama himself has supported all the appropriations bar one. His foreign policy is a hum dinger, he is going to kill Bin Laden, smash Al Qaeda, secure nuclear materials from terrorists, and bring peace to the Middle East. That easy!

The other policies are the same rehash of words that have been endlessly used by Obama forever. I hope he has some success in actually doing things, but his entire public office record is one of shameless self-promotion and he has actually never done anything meaningful as a legislator either in Illinois or the US Senate. He is the master publicist the classic talker not doer as Lee Kuan Yew once classified politicians.

Wilfred Burchett

George Burchett writes: Re: “The Burchett debate: Korean War POWs“. Bruce Watson (yesterday, comments) states that I attribute to “Burchett’s opponents allegations that they have never made — that Burchett engaged in ‘brainwashing’ and ‘long torture sessions’”. He is wrong. Such allegations were indeed made by Dennis Warner in his “Who is Wilfred Burchett?” (Quadrant, July-August 1967). And they are being repeated to this day with various embellishments. It is semantic nonsense to claim that Neil James’ statement last month that “at the very least Burchett was directly involved in causing the severe maltreatment, and in some cases torture, of Australian and allied prisoners-of-war” doesn’t amount to such an allegation.

As for addressing “head on the evidence given in an open court” by former POWs, this was dealt with in detail by Professor Gavan McCormack in Ben Kiernan’s Burchett – Reporting The Other Side of The World 1939-1983, and more recently by Tom Heenan in From Traveller to Traitor – The Life of Wilfred Burchett (2006). Both McCormack and Heenan find that the testimony given by former POWs under oath in a Sydney court in 1974 contradicted verbal statements made in 1952-53 to US, British and Australian authorities. Even some of their recollections were generally favourable to Wilfred Burchett (e.g. Honest John: The Autobiography of Walker M. Mahurin, 1962).

That their stories changed dramatically over time is itself an interesting story — the whole case to which Bruce Watson refers is a study in McCarthyist manipulation of the legal system and began in a notorious red-baiting US Senate sub-committee. As even Robert Manne now admits, the case found that Burchett was defamed, but under privilege and therefore he couldn’t be awarded damages. The false accusations were made under the cowards’ shield of parliament. The NSW Court of Appeal ruled that Burchett had suffered a “substantial miscarriage of justice.” The reason for the lack of a retrial is that the false testimony could only be re-examined if Burchett himself flew the former POWs back to Australia from the US, and needless to say he didn’t have the resources of his accusers.

So this testimony is flimsy to say the least – on the other hand, evidence of Wilfred Burchett giving assistance to Allied POWs in Korea is well-documented. (Australian POW, Keith Gwyther; British Marine Andrew Condron; US General William F. Dean; Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Frank ‘Pappy’ Noel, to name a few.)

What irks the cheerleaders for every US war Australia has supported — from Korea to Vietnam (and now Iraq and Afghanistan) – is that Wilfred Burchett opposed them and gave a voice to the “other side”. And that millions around the world wanted to hear that side of the story. In other words, he didn’t toe the “with us or against us” line.

To quote the man himself: “Truth always turns out to be much richer than you thought.” Indeed. And there is no need to reduce it to manipulations and gossip.

Drink driving journos

Ari Corcoran writes: Re: Shane Caple (Monday, Media briefs) The somewhat sneering approach to the editor of the NT News, Julian Ricci, outing himself as having been done for DUI is unwarranted. In fact he joins a fine tradition of reporting in the NT News, the lead paper in a jurisdiction that continues to have by far the highest rate of road deaths –and drunken driving –in the nation.

It goes back to the halcyon days of Walkey Award winning editor, Jim Bowditch, who insisted that all journalists facing drink driving charges write an account of their arrest and charges … and any subsequent court case. After all, Jim wrote five accounts of his own episodes with drink-driving charges.

Ricci, in his account of 21 December 2008 has already written his plea in mitigation (“It was raining”). Letters to the Editor of the NT News are currently calling for convicted drivers’ vehicles to be confiscated. An editorial has recently joined in this call. It’s perhaps a blessing for Ricci this is an option not currently available to the judiciary.

Ricci may well be a bloody idiot, but at least he won’t cost one of Rupert Murdoch’s vehicle fleet!