The Quadrant hoax :

Ray Barbero writes: Re. “Outing ‘Sharon Gould’: the hoaxer’s identity revealed” (yesterday, item 1). Crikey would be the first to scream if some other publication were hoaxed as per Windschuttle at Quadrant. Yet Crikey sees nothing wrong with its own conspiratorial conduct in the Windschuttle affair. If Crikey is serious about raising its standard above gutter journalism level, then it should go back to basics and send its journos as well as its owners on a professional ethics course, and then mandate annual attendance at a refresher version of the course. Crikey would be a short-priced favourite to take out a Helen Davidenko hoax award, if there were one.

Justin Templer writes: The Quadrant hoax is generating new depths of journalist self-absorption and, after reading Margaret Simons’ breathless yet earnest analysis of this deeply unimportant issue, I am recommending the issue of a gold Wankley Award. As Simon Rumble (yesterday, comments) wrote, “nobody cares”. Which is not quite true — no real people care.

Hans van Holst writes: I presume you know the definition of an “expert”. “X is the unknown quantity and a spurt is a drip under pressure”. Sounds appropriate!

Vincent O’Donnell writes: Sorry Keith. Article hoax, you fraud. But look on the bright side: think circulation.

Kim Lockwood writes: Oh for goodness’ sake, Jim Hart (yesterday, comments), saying Nino Culotta (They’re a Weird Mob — followed, though you didn’t mention it, by Cop This Lot and two more) was a fraud, a hoaxer or similar is saying George Sand, Mark Twain and countless other users of pseudonyms were frauds. They’re a Weird Mob was merely a comic novel written under a nom-de-plume, not a hoax.

Conflict in Gaza:

Brian Allen writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s political bite-sized meaty chunks” (yesterday, item 10). I take exception to Richard Farmer’s piece in yesterday’s Crikey titled “What Makes News”. Whilst for the most part it simply represents a collection of feel good motherhood statements, I find the following sentence abhorrent: “Why, too, is there no general outrage at the barbaric deliberate slaughter of innocent civilians by Muslim suicide bombers comparable to that which is accompanying the peripheral killing of innocent civilians as the Israelis attempt to persuade Hamas to stop lobbing rockets on to the homes of ordinary Israelis?”

Perhaps someone would like to point out to Mr Farmer the extent of coloration of his language … Israelis — “innocent civilians”, Muslims — “suicide bombers”. Perhaps Mr Farmer should do a headcount on the deaths on either side over the years of this conflict. It would clearly show that it is the Israelis who are slaughtering the Muslims by a factor of many multiples. You can do your own independent research on the numbers involved. Perhaps Mr Farmer would be better to examine the issue of human rights as it that would clearly show who is the aggressor and who is the victim in this barbaric conflict.


John Richardson writes: Re. “Tasers – sexy, futuristic and lethal” (yesterday, item 15). Jeff Sparrow’s “modest proposal” that a greater effort to educate our police, such that they have a better understanding of psychiatric symptoms, would be a more positive alternative to arming them all with tasers, is eminently sensible but, unfortunately, it has a snowflakes chance in hell of being accepted, given the intellectual capabilities of taser proponents, such as Senior Sergeant Greg Davies of the Victoria Police Association.

According to the good sergeant: “A lot of the reports in relation to tasers have been wildly exaggerated and I think if we set the statistics aside and just deal in facts, we will find that there are, according to some sources, no recorded deaths directly attributed to tasers anywhere in the world.”

Energy politics:

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Europe at the mercy of energy politics” (yesterday, item 16). Binoy Kampmark’s analysis of the Russian-Ukrainian gas dispute is typically inaccurate. The claim that “No one quite knows who is responsible for starting this family spat” is rather disingenuous, as Ukraine has been refusing for years to pay market price for its gas. Western apologists have tried numerous strategies to excuse this behaviour and are now just ignoring it. It is routine for Russia’s insistence on full payment to be ascribed to the aim of “restoring Russian primacy” rather than normal commercial motives.

As to the westward impact, as Kampark says, the “EU’s apparatchiks have been cognizant of this for some time”, but they continue to do nothing to resolve the conflict (e.g., request Ukraine to pay the same as everyone else). To make my position clear, I have no objection to anyone being given cheap (or free) gas, petrol, food, or luxury goods — but why start with Ukraine?

US politics:

Jim O’Brien writes: Re. “Farewell to Dubya, worst president ever” (Wednesday, item 3). Bernard Keane asserts as fact a claim that is still hotly disputed — that the Kennedys “stole” the presidency from Nixon in 1960. The core proposition — that Joe Kennedy, Richard Daley and/or the Mob delivered Illinois to JFK through voter fraud — may or may not be true. There was undoubtedly fraud in Illinois, although on both sides. But more to the point, even if Nixon had won Illinois, he would still have lost in the Electoral College, by 276 to 246 (plus 15 unpledged delegates).

To win the presidency, Nixon would also have needed Texas, which Kennedy won by 2 percentage points. It is doubtful that any underhanded activities LBJ may have undertaken on JFK’s behalf in Texas would have changed the outcome in that state. It is also worth noting (“Was Nixon Robbed?” in Slate) that exhaustive investigations and recounts in Texas, Illinois and six other states, vigorously pressed by Nixon loyalists, uncovered negligible fraud and miscounting — and ended up costing Nixon Hawaii and three EC votes.

Tony Kevin writes: Bill McKibben’s piece in the latest Foreign Policy issue is the sort of respectable US-based generalist source that Rudd might take notice of, if it were sent to him by someone without a known axe to grind in this debate. It is well-argued for lay readers to absorb. You will also no doubt be aware of James Hansen’s important open letter to Obama, which refers to Australian coal mining and coal exports in less than glowing terms (full text on the Guardian website).

With the Howards having just subjected the Obama family to great and unnecessary insult and inconvenience of a double move, from a Washington hotel to Blair House to the White House all in three weeks — because Howard did not have the elementary good manners, as Tony Blair had, to decline Bush’s crass invitation and leave Blair House free for the President-elect in the three weeks prior to the inauguration on 20 Jan — Obama will have further reason not to think well of Australia. Hansen’s letter may be remembered.

A mixed economy:

Tamas Calderwood writes: Richard McGuire (yesterday, comments) doesn’t rebut my point so much as confirm it. The US Government’s bail-out of Chrysler and GM is creating exactly the kind of zombie firms that the market is trying to put into bankruptcy. If they can access government money, where is the incentive to reform themselves? And how unfair is that to their nimble competitors like Toyota? Further, if a government enterprise is providing a service that the private sector is unwilling or unable to provide then it is by definition not a profit making entity but a government service.

This is fine, but it would hardly be competing with other firms in the private sector. Take a look at the catalogue of disasters that have all had government backing: Fannie, Freddie, British Leyland, British Coal, Petroleos de Venezuela, Credit Lyonnais, Alitalia and Australia’s own Telecom … to name just a few. Mark Jones (yesterday, comments) is right that the market isn’t perfect but it spares us from companies like those.

David Stephens writes: Of course, we’ve been living in mixed economies for centuries, despite the rise and fall of fads like privatisation. Another fad is “market failure”, where governments are meant to step in only when markets fail. The market becomes the default position and government a mere balancing item. This view might make some sense in the case of individual markets (e.g. governments step in and do something to the market for milk to ensure that we get it and farmers get paid for it) but it doesn’t work across the board. The balance between market players and governments slides back and forth, depending on all sorts of things. In particular, it slides back towards the government side when the market players need bailing out by government!

The most cynical thing in all of this is the politicians who claim to be supporters of the market and only a minimal role for government (Reagan, Bushes, Cheney, Howard) but who still try to be elected to government. These slugs in fact fully recognise the power of government and want to get hold of its levers to deliver largesse to their mates. Government is “the problem” to these people only when it delivers for the masses rather than the special interests.


“Perth Planner” writes: “Sydney Planner” (yesterday, comments) clearly needs to undertake some ongoing professional development as the Industry Super Funds to which he/she refers as getting the “AIRC bonanza” are most certainly not the least cost effective super funds available to employers and their workers. This extraordinary decision by the AIRC is effectively a return to the “closed” shop, designed to benefit the more expensive Industry funds, even at the expense of other more cost competitive and more feature laden competitor Industry Funds, such as the highly successful Westscheme Super fund in WA.

As a financial planner who is up to speed with most of the various super funds that employers and employees used to be able to access, I can assure “Sydney Planner” that employers with their employees best interest at heart will also be looking carefully at the level of automatic group life cover they will be able to access, not to mention the extra cost of life cover that they will be now forced to outlay from their retirement savings. Many in our industry are scratching their heads as to how the AIRC arrived at this decision. There is more to this issue than meets the eye. This does not pass the “smell” test.


Zachary King writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 5). The tip regarding the CSIRO technology smacks of complete ignorance about the process of commercialisation. Commercialisation is called “Technology Transfer” as it refers to the transfer of academic research into a tangible product/solution into the marketplace. Only the tiniest fraction of inventions can simply be released directly from the research stage into the public and have any positive effects from their pure intellectual value.

The vast majority of technologies developed at places like CSIRO will require further development and testing, and in this particular case access to manufacturing and distribution capabilities. Or does the tipster expect CSIRO to move into the agrichemical production business? And the distribution business? And hire sales and marketing staff?

As for commercialisation “slowing down the process to market” I can’t even begin to understand that. Commercialisation is the path to market. In this case CSIRO would have licensed/sold the technology to Phoslock who obviously have the capabilities to deliver to the market. CSIRO will in return be compensated for their fifteen years of development work. We should be celebrating this result, not denigrating it.

Disclosure: in case you hadn’t already worked it out, I work in the commercialisation field. I have in this capacity had dealings with CSIRO.

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