The magic asterisk*. The would-be Premier of Queensland Lawrence Springborg has moved on to the “where is your money coming from?” stage of his election campaign and, like many good politicians before him, has found the dollars with the help of the magic asterisk.

It was President Ronald Reagan’s budget adviser David Stockman who brought the little reference mark to financial fame when he used it to blithely denote all of the future deficit problems (back then in 1981, some $60 billion a year) that were to be taken care of with additional budget reductions, to be announced by the President at a later date.

For Opposition Leader Springborg, the magic asterisk is being given a similar meaning. The “new financial streams” The Australian reports he is to announce today are “most likely to be from efficiency dividends that squeeze across-the-board savings from the public service, as well as a massive redirection of what the LNP regards as wasteful spending.” What a wonderful thing the asterisk is — the Liberal National politician can give all the gain from spending promises which Labor in Queensland costs at $2.5 billion without explaining where the compensating pain will be felt.

* The Education of David Stockman which appeared in The Atlantic Monthly of December 1981 is still a wonderful read for those interested in how to temporarily finesse the hard budget questions.

USA taxpayers to win five soccer trophies? There are two down and three to go. The 54.6 million pounds which insurance group AIG provides to English soccer team Manchester United has produced two trophies so far this season — the World Club Championship and the English League Cup. I am sure US taxpayers will be delighted if Sir Alex Ferguson’s men can finish off the season with the English Premiership, the FA Cup and the European Cup as well. After all, they do own 80% of Manchester United’s sponsor AIG, having contributed a $60 billion loan, a $40 billion purchase of preferred shares and $50 billion to soak up the company’s toxic assets before the extra $30 billion tossed in this morning.

Giving credit before it’s due. Another day and another opinion poll. This time it is a slight revival in the fortunes of the NSW Labor Government as measured by Newspoll that has attracted The Australian to give some praise to Nathan Rees’ new chief of staff Graeme Wedderburn for assisting the Premier’s surer handling of his portfolio in recent weeks. As the Newspoll numbers are an accumulation of information from polls taken over two months, most of the improvement in the Rees popularity ratings was measured before the Wedderburn arrival.

Eaters doing their bit. Whatever else might be suffering from economic troubles, eating by Australians clearly isn’t. Australian Bureau of Statistics retail sales figures out this morning show sales at cafes, restaurants and on takeaway meals up an impressive 2.3% in January on the December figure in seasonally adjusted terms. Food retailing in the month was up 1.5% with clothing and soft good sales increasing by a healthy 0.8%. The end result was total retail sales up in January by 0.2% after falls at department stores (down 0.5%) and household goods retailers (down 4.0%). This was a better result than the economic pundits predicted with the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg being a decline of 0.5% following the record climb in December of 3.8% that was helped along by the government’s stimulus package.

Nice timing on the chondrichthyans. Sharks are the story of the Australian summer so the CSIRO showed impeccable timing with its decision to publish a new edition of its definite work on 322 chondrichthyans found in the nation’s waters. Spookfish, numbfish, stingarees, fiddler rays and cookie-cutter sharks are all there in “Sharks and Rays of Australia” along with that tabloid favourite the Great White. And it seems the scientists keep finding new monsters in the deep. Since the first edition of Sharks and Rays of Australia was produced in 1994, 29 species have been discovered in Australian seas and more than 100 species have been named and formally described.

Accuracy in cross words. Serious matters are debated in the New York Times . This week the question to ponder is: what obligation does a crossword puzzle have to be accurate? In particular, can clues refer to common knowledge as if it were fact even though that common knowledge is clearly wrong? Provoking the question was the clue for 46 Across: “Emperor who fiddled around?” The accepted wisdom is that Nero fiddled while Rome burned and the phrase has become established in the English language. It seems to matter little that violins had yet to be invented. What do Crikey readers think? Legitimate or not?