Lonely Planet:

Lonely Planet founder Maureen Wheeler writes: Re. “Lonely Planet axes 10% of global workforce” (yesterday, item 20). It would have been good if you got your basic facts correct when reporting on Lonely Planet yesterday.

  1. John Singleton is not a shareholder in Lonely Planet
  2. Wheelers have never contemplated giving 12 million to a “lavish Wagner production”
  3. BBCW had nothing to do with the LP decision to make staff cuts, it was an entirely LP decision made in light of drastically reduced revenues driven by the recessions in Europe, UK and America, where 90% of our business is generated.

Crikey has removed the reference to John Singleton from the version of the story available on the website.

Andrew Bolt:

Robert Mullins writes: Re. “Everything in moderation … even for Andrew Bolt” (yesterday, item 22). I am a regular reader of Andrew Bolt’s blog. I know. I can’t help myself. The man is a genius. He preaches the hot fire of God’s will. He brooks no compromise. He is petty and small-minded, dishonest and evasive. In other words, he has beaten a path through the scrub of the world that only genius can afford to beat. He lacks the intellectual acumen and moral judgment of Robert Manne, or the semi-literate curiosity of Janet Albrechtson, but he has something else: gusto, moxy, vigour, call it what you will. His is a sublime divining of the world; I can’t turn away.

Which is why Crikey‘s new blog, Pure Poison, matters, and also why it won’t make an ounce of difference. I frequently find Bolt’s painful, logical contortions frustrating. And I frequently wish his employers would point them out to him. To provide one example, Mr Bolt has suddenly discovered he has a grave concern about fiscal responsibility. Where was this concern during the Bush years, when a pursuit of war in the Middle East and effortless tax cuts pushed the economy into unnecessary deficit? But oh well. Who cares. Bolt is a partisan, we knew that already didn’t we? Likewise his campaign against an outrageous majority of scientific opinion on the issue of climate change is cringingly embarrassing, but it is also engaging. Why not take on the science? An intellectually honest person would have changed their mind by now. But Bolt is not intellectually honest. For him to change his mind at this late stage would look like cowardice and confusion, not honesty.

So I am broadly supportive of the motives of Pure Poison, which has set up a team of bloggers with the challenge of bravely debunking sophistry and false argument put forward by Andrew Bolt and his ilk in the punditry. If it is done properly, Pure Poison will make an important contribution to Australian intellectual life, at least as far as its readership extends. It can remind us of the permanent value of the intellect: its ability to stand above partisanship and ill-tempered rancour. But don’t expect it to reduce Bolt’s readership.

The problem for outfits like Pure Poison, which set themselves up to debunk intellectual dishonesty, is that people don’t read Andrew Bolt for his searing intellectual insight. They read him to be entertained, to have prejudices confirmed, or (in my case) to be enraged, challenged, excited. News commentators have always been thus. Intellectual honesty is important. But it is not the only value we should cherish. Partisanship and loyalty are also important, in their own ways. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing older friends of my parents, content in their embrace of the wisdom of the soft-left, dining out on the platitudes of Phillip Adams, or praising the bracing courage of David Marr.

Make no mistake. Writing like Mr Bolt’s does damage to intellect. But unlike, say, Keith Windschuttle, he makes no claim to outstanding intellect. He is a commentator, and a happy and (occasionally) valuable one at that. He has never advocated harm to another, even if occasionally he has sat idly by while others were harmed (the harmful and unlimited detention of innocent refugee children never did bother him much). But who amongst us is not guilty of something similar?

We make a grave mistake if we turn to the Andrew Bolts or Phillip Adams of the world for permanent political wisdom. We should look to them for entertainment, intrigue, and occasional agreement. Nothing more. Which brings me to me point: The Poison Pen could do something important. If it is, as it claims to be, dedicated to sorting the intellectually honest from the dishonest, it can do something far more important than provide an outlet for readers who don’t care for Andrew Bolt. Intellect and reason are permanent, autonomous. They do not depend on an audience for their value. Without his audience, and the effort he makes for them, Andrew Bolt’s thoughts would amount to nothing. By all means challenge him. Point it out how often he gets it wrong, and why he often does so. But just don’t expect me to stop reading him. I wouldn’t have him in my Platonic Republic. But the earth as it currently turns wouldn’t make sense to me if it didn’t have him in it.

Sodium trees and the price of the atmosphere:

ANU Earth and paleo-climate scientist Andrew Glikson writes: As carbon emissions are rising above 2 ppm CO2 per-year and many are losing faith in the ability of business-as-usual and politics-as-usual to make the difference, some are falling back on the one faculty Homo sapiens can rely on: its technological prowess.

A new “air extractor” technology presented by Klaus Lackner, professor of Geophysics at Columbia’s Earth Institute, offers something no other carbon capture technology on the drawing board has. The use of calcium or sodium hydroxide (Na[OH])to absorb CO2 has been known for years but the question of whether it can be effectively applied to draw-down of atmospheric CO2 remains open.

Unlike conventional geosequestration plants limited to specific power plants and industries, synthetic “sodium trees” can be located anywhere, absorbing carbon dioxide from all large-emitting sources-from stationary power plants, cars and planes.

Construction of Sodium hydroxide collectors (“sodium trees”) would constitute about 20% of the cost, the rest being the separation and storage of CO2, an energy intensive process. Back of the envelope estimates suggest $80 to $100 per ton of CO2 captured, which for the capture of annual emissions about 25-30 billion tons CO2 (GtCO2) means $2.5 to $3.0 trillion per year, a fraction of the total global economic output.

Or, in order to reduce current atmospheric CO2 of 387 ppm, regarded as dangerous, by about 50 ppm, the cost of removing CO2 at about $200 per ton Carbon. Or $100 per ton Carbon would in the latter case amount to about $10 trillion.

At present there are no large-scale technologies for CO2 down-draw, well funded research and construction of industrial-scale pilot projects may allow this development. Compares with the $25-$75 per ton CO2 cost of a carbon tax or cap-and-trade scheme believe will stabilize atmospheric emissions of CO2. Lackner believes “it’s worth looking at things that start out even five times too expensive.”

For perspective compare with the global military expenditure of almost $20 trillion since 1988.

Pauline Hanson:

Peter Lloyd writes: Re. “How we might lend an ear — again — to Pauline Hanson” (yesterday, item 2). How could Jeff Sparrow write so much about Pauline Hanson without noting that her political career was destroyed by the machinations of one Tony Abbott and his grubby little cabal of Liberal milch cows, rejoicing in the name ‘Australians for a Better Democracy’. Hanson may be a fool but democracy means fools getting elected occasionally, though obviously Abbott’s real problem, given his party’s healthy population of morons (anyone heard from Dana Vale lately?), was Hanson’s independence.

Matthew Weston writes: Jeff Sparrow. I had to take a step back, deep breath, and then read it again, you said it, you did it, you equated facisim with conservatisim! Shall I equate social democrats of the pinkish hue with the joys of chairman Mao’s red guard? We all know that Lenin had the best interests of the proletariat at heart when he unleashed Trotsky and the Chekka, and that turning back the clock to year one, and creating an agrarian society was a wonderfully ideologically driven attempt to equal out the social landscape that had existed in Cambodia for some time, but what the hell has that got to do with Kevin Rudd?


Greg Bradford writes: Re. “Keen: Neoliberalism and economic breakdown” (Monday, item 26). Steve Keen writes that in respect of “negative gearing” it was stated that “it allows a landlord to deduct interest payments from his/her rental receipts, and get a tax deduction if the rental income is less than the interest bill”.

Firstly, the rort is that you get a deduction against your assessable income (and not just your rental receipts if you are in a loss position on your rental income!). Secondly, you are therefore entitled to a deduction regardless of whether the rental income is higher or lower than the interest payments (as your taxable income is legislated as a function of your assessable income minus your allowable deductions).

Thirdly, you went on to mention that “the rate of capital gains tax is half the rate of income tax”. There is actually is no such thing as “a capital gains tax” in Australia — no rate at all — and instead you are taxed on your capital gains at your marginal rate of income tax. Sure, there is a discount of 50% available to individuals, but only where such assets have been held for a minimum of 12 months.

Martin Gordon writes: The ALP attack on the LNP Opposition for opposing tax increases seems a little bizarre. Increasing the tax burden on people in a recession or protectionist measures are two of the worst things you can do as a general rule. The ALP seems to be lining up for some major tax increases. Curiously while the ALP criticises the LNP for wanting to reprioritise government spending, one of their own polices supports such a approach, that of new payroll tax exemptions to be funded from cuts to the Queensland Water Commission’s advertising budget. Reprioritising proposed by the LNP actually sounds like a good idea as a starting point.

Catholic rebellion:

Stephen Magee writes: At the risk of incurring the apoplectic wrath of David Lenihan, may I point out that Tim Mackay’s position (yesterday, comments) on Father Peter Kennedy is largely self-contradictory? Tim claims that Father Kennedy’s convictions should not lead him to leave the Catholic Church. In support of this, he likens Father Kennedy’s fight to Christ’s struggle with elements of the Jewish religious community. He also compares Father Kennedy to Martin Luther. I may have missed something in RE classes, but didn’t Luther and the Christians do precisely what Tim says Father Kennedy shouldn’t do — set up their own religious groups?

The real problem with Father Kennedy and his supporters is that they have appear to have pulled on this fight. I have been to many masses in many parishes where the legal order of the service has been changed in order to provide a richer experience for the congregation. I have heard many sermons that would have shocked my pious ancestors. All of this has happened without any hint of ecclesiastical retribution. Father Kennedy and his supporters, however, appear to have set out to see just how far they could publicly throw out orthodoxy before the authorities stepped in.

Why should he and his followers now expect the Catholic Church to continue to provide material support to them if they want to flout the Church’s rules and beliefs so blatantly? If they believe that they are right and the Church authorities are wrong, the proof will surely lie in setting up their own church and signing up new members.

Ken Lambert writes: Re. David Lenihan (yesterday, comments). The real issue is that large empires like the Roman Catholic Church have lasted for 2000 years precisely because a hierarchy and structure with a set of rules was maintained in a workable and solvent form. As we know, Jesus Christ opposed and defied the Jewish hierarchy of the time, and they ensured he was not on Earth long enough to deal with the man made practicalities of setting up a Christian church.

Putting down rebellions against the rules of the time comes with the territory of running an empire. Changing an existing organisation by subverting some of its rules is the rebel way and sure to be opposed by the existing hierarchy who believe in those rules. Fr Kennedy made a point of defying the rules of the empire (however dated or discriminatory) and his challenge could only lead to victory or sacking.

Finally it is a much harder thing to set up a new sect and survive; than subvert the corner of an old empire — one which still houses you and direct credits your bank account.

Knox Grammar school:

Glen Frost writes: Re. “Richard Neville: my school of hard Knox” (yesterday, item 3). Given the Catholics have had their coffers opened to pay for all the court cases they’ve lost and all the settlements they agreed to before the cases went to court, I’d like to ask any Crikey readers or writers from the legal fraternity what actions former (and perhaps current) pupils might take against Knox and what the potential compensation bill might amount to.

School dates:

Kirk Muddle writes: Re. “Brighton Grammar now offers more than education” (yesterday, Media briefs). If only this had been offered to me at my fine GPS School in Queensland, it may have kept me away from the vortex of life that is “the love that dare not speak its name”. Nah, probably not.

First Home Buyers grant:

Mitchell Holmes writes: Re. “First Home Buyer Grant working for whom?” (Tuesday, item 18). Helen Dickinson (yesterday, comments) writes:

Added gains of the first home owners grant is for State stamp duty revenues, lawyers charges based on sale price and ultimately Council rates. All benefit in time from the top-up effect of the inflation caused by Grant. And of course all sellers gain as long as they do not repurchase.

Helen is a little too cynical. At least in Qld, there is no stamp duty on first home owners’ properties under $500K — there are plenty of those in regional Qld. Conveyancing is very competitive and largely a commodity these days, so flat fees rather than percentage of sale fees tend to be more common. Council rates are based on Unimproved Capital Value — again no effect caused by the presence of the FHBG. Sellers however have a small amount of extra sales commission as it is based on a percentage of the sale price.

Coal seam methane extraction:

Rosemary Nankivell writes: I am interested in this emerging industry of coal seam methane extraction. Woodside Petroleum and BHP have left the gas industry alone because to almost directly quote Don Volte, coal seam methane in Australia is of an inferior quality and would take too many additives to be a commercial proposition. Treadgold of Eureka says it is of a highly speculative nature and don’t invest in it now because the transition from the exploration to production is extremely expensive. So why is it being heralded as the new thing? Goldman Sachs JB Were also back up this claim querying that actual quantities of methane gas available, the difficulties and expensive technology used in its extraction and host of other problems.

Sydney Gas claim to have found 10000petajoules of gas in the Hunter Valley. Using figures that say burning of this methane will release nearly 528,000,000 of CO2 into the atmosphere and this does not include exploration and extraction phases or establishment of pipelines etc, how can it be cited to be the new clean green energy? Sydney Gas have not disputed these figures. Why have BHP and Woodside held off and yet BG are ready to purchase Arrow Energy? Given BHP and Woodside’s local knowledge, you may begin to wonder if this whole exercise is not an attempt make a lot of quick money and get out fast.

Include the huge environmental damage gas extraction does, landowners general unwillingness to have extraction done on their properties because of proven methane migration, contamination to water holes and underground aquifers — and the list goes on, it is an industry fraught with difficulties. The extremely productive areas of the Darling Downs in Qld and the Liverpool Plains of NSW are under threat from mining and gas extraction. These areas provide food for most of Australia and a great deal of Asia so what is going on?

Navy pay:

Judy Bamberger writes: As if there’s nothing more urgent in Parliament, Opposition Leader Turnbull moved to censure Defence Minister Fitzgibbon over “The Pay Issue.” The Pay Issue emerged last October; it wasn’t yet fixed by January’s pay-run.

Is Turnbull so ignorant, doesn’t he realise that the Government and its support contractors shut down most of December and January? I work with and for Defence and the Australian Government; it’s nearly impossible to get anything done during “the silly season” — let alone something of this magnitude. Parliament itself shut down from 5 December until 3 February, sitting merely three short weeks November/December.

What merits censure is the overall attitude of Parliament; all Parliamentarians, especially those abusing tax-payer resources, wasting our time slapping-around Fitzgibbon. There’s obviously a serious stuff-up with military pay/personnel systems. Any serious-minded, self-respecting, honourable MP would raise the issue, elicit a “resolution-by” date from Fitzgibbon, and re-raise the issue at that time. All else is buffoonery, self-promoting insincerity, chicanery, and out-right mean-and-tricky-ness.

Grow up, Parliamentarians, will ya?

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