Corrections:

Ninox Television’s John McEwen writes: Re. Glenn Dyer’s “Ninox Television in trouble?” (Wednesday, media briefs). You have made very inaccurate statements concerning Ninox Television. The company did not collapse — it was a restructuring. We would appreciate if you could call and get the information correct.

Mark Ryan writes: Re. “Premier Rees’ latest recruits offer new hope” (yesterday, item 11). I don’t know where Alex Mitchell gets his information from, but Graeme Wedderburn was never Bob Carr’s COS for eight years. He replaced Kris Neill when she resigned in 2000, following the very successful 1999 election win.

ASBO:

Guy Rundle writes: Peter Johns (yesterday, comments) corrects a major inaccuracy I made concerning ASBOs (anti-social behaviour orders) in my report on the UK — yes, ASBOs do need to go through a court process.

However, Jones has made some major errors of his own. ASBO requests go before a magistrates’ court and thus are not necessarily heard “by a judge” as Jones suggests. The magistrates’ courts can be convened by Justices of the Peace, “upright citizens” with no legal experience.

Though ASBOs can be contested, the standard of proof is a “heightened civil” one, permitting hearsay evidence, with legal representation not guaranteed. Legal aid for initially contesting the ASBO is only sometimes available. By 1985, 98.5% of ASBO applications were granted — including one to stop an old man making “sarcastic” remarks, teenagers wearing garments with hoods on, women feeding birds, etc.

Jones accuses me of “not taking all perspectives”. Here is what I said in the article:

The companion to CCTVs was the ASBO, or anti-social behaviour order, whereby noxious people — the one criminal family that terrorises a housing estate for example — could be dealt with without the messiness of going to court, an ASBO being issued by a local council “anti-social behaviour committee”. There’s no evidence that CCTVs reduce crime, but people believe they do. There’s good evidence that ASBOs do…

I don’t know how much clearer I can state that ASBOs seem to work, and are a response to real problems, than that. My point was that New Labour’s historic failure was to institute this expansion of state power and criminalisation as the principal way in which people’s lives could be improved — and then duck the harder task of lessening inequality and improving opportunity. Any objection to the deeper political effects of this is then met with braindead phrases like ‘champagne socialists’ — wielded by social care/control professionals confident in their ability to speak on behalf of the poor for, surprise surprise, more social control.

Nuclear power:

James Eggins writes: Re. “Costello’s foolish flirtation with nuclear power” (yesterday, item 17). Dr James makes quite a few errors in his piece on nuclear electricity. The most egregious is his inference that Europe, apart from France, has abandoned nuclear power. Wrong! Sweden revoked its long-standing nuclear phase-out policy on 5 February this year; the UK’s nuclear generator, British Energy, was bought by Electricité de France in January this year with commitments from HMG that at least four new nuclear plants will be constructed on existing sites; Italy overturned its nuclear prohibition in November 2008 and has signed an agreement with France for the construction of 4 new nuclear plants.

Only Germany now has a legally binding nuclear phase-out policy which actually preserves nuclear electricity until 2021, and Austria is the only EU member which closed nuclear plants and has not reviewed its policy, which interestingly does not prohibit the import of French nuclear power.

There is a worldwide swing back to nuclear (even in the USA) where it is appropriate and affordable. Nuclear may not be either appropriate or affordable in Australia, but that is not a basis for implying it doesn’t work, or in the words of the quoted Nature article “is just an impediment to sustainable electricity”. Can the same be said about large scale geothermal, wind, or solar-thermal I wonder?

Matt Heath writes: Do the nuclear “generators need to be close enough to the cities (not to mention massive water supply)? Why do they need to be close… for what reason?” Most of Australia’s coal fired aren’t, they sit quite sensibly over the coal mines that feed them. That’s why Australia has all those EHV transmission lines criss-crossing the country side. There’s also quite a lot of water for cooling available in the Indian and Pacific Oceans; the Timor, Arafura, Tasman and Coral Seas; not to mention the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Great Australian Bight. The modern Canadian reactors already use salt water for this purpose.

Someone might also want to inform eDF Energy that the UK has abandoned nuclear power as they’ve recently forked out £12.5b on the old British Energy sites with the intent to build new nuclear powered generators on them. National Grid (the British Transmission system owner and operator) is also gearing up for a major infrastructure build with the aim of exporting the generated power from these sites. How do I know this? Apart from being another expat living in the UK, I actually work in the industry and for a firm in alliances with National Grid that’s designing and building these transmission lines.

One last point to make is that the while wind and solar farms might seem environmentally friendly and sustainable, the fact is that they’re currently extremely low density (i.e. not much power is generated at each site) and highly dispersed. This means they require massive resources to enable them to export the power they do produce to load/population centres (people hate the look of wind turbines as much as cooling stacks).

No one’s carried out a study that I’m aware of (thesis anybody?), but spending tens of millions of pounds and installing 30 miles of underground cable (people don’t like the look of towers either, go figure) to connect 20-30MW (maximum export capacity) of generation doesn’t sound very efficient to me. Add that to the facts that the wind turbines are falling apart halfway through their expected 20 year lifespan and don’t allow onsite maintenance, the environmental advantages start looking very marginal.

True renewable and whole-of-life efficient generation is needed over non-renewable fuelled generation without a doubt, but in the meantime nuclear is the best option we’ve got.

Catholic rebellion:

Tim Mackey writes: Thank you for your half complete history lesson Roger Franklin (Wednesday, comments) but I think you will find that the Council of Trent did indeed involve significant Church reform despite your claims to the contrary. This supposed ‘tosser’ thinks you were selectively ignoring the abolition of the notorious Church abuses such as the sale of indulgences which was was central to Luther’s list of complaints. Lo and behold at Trent the Church reformed its stance on the issue.

From Trent let’s also add in the new disciplinary measures that were introduced on the clergy including curtailing the very loose habits of nuns, priests and monks and the then drastic step of actually requiring the clergy to be educated. And all bishops were forced to actually live in their dioceses. Prior to Trent they held several bishoprics each as distant landlords and collected extortionist rents on their extensive land holdings from afar.

I cited the Council of Trent and the Second Vatican Council as examples of the Church being able to reform itself — the examples stand. The Church is more than capable of reform.

As to the statue of Buddha in the Church, that was one parishioner’s allegation, Roger. Others claim it was a praying monk. We’ll never know — it was smashed so why don’t we just refrain from resorting to allegations and childish personal abuse.

Geoff Tapp writes: Now that the Vatican has accepted that both the creationist as well as the evolutionist theories are mutually compatible then surely it is time to tell the fanatics of all religious bents fighting to assert their religion as the “real” one that there should be no more of this nasty infidel business and that we can all get along together in a whole new chummy world knowing that we all were right all along. Makes me feel almost like rejoicing and praying… although, I’m still not too sure with and/or to whom.

Paul Keating:

Les Heimann writes: Re. “Keating: a chance to remake the global financial system” (yesterday, item 3). The Liberals have Costello; not a patch on our Paul — who really was the gutsiest, most forward-looking Treasurer in Australia’s history and really did provide the platform for all those “good years”. Now the great one points out one most important aspect of how to move forward from the slippery economic morass we all find ourselves sinking in.

Of course he is spot on! Of course he would have much more to say — if we asked, and I hope Crikey begs him to spell out a lot more. The difference between Paul Keating and all the rest, Liberal and Labor alike, is that Keating actually concentrates on taking advantage of a situation in determining the best way forward. Contrast this with Turnbull — bluff, bluster and tax cuts.

No other useful suggestions. Rudd, Swan et all. Spend, spend spend and here’s the money! Neither are looking at moving forward. Is it right that the only solution is to spend more? is it right that the market that was overblown and debt ridden should be allowed to overblow a little more? If we are to rely on infrastructure spend when? Do we rely on the bureacrats to process at speed? Oh woe is us.

Keating has provided a glimpse of something positive. Give us more oh great one, give us more.

Chris Hunter writes: God knows I was only doing my daily Crikey thing, scrolling down the articles. Paul Keating’s mantra of hope about the G20 structure slowly wound through with my inwardly nodding approval. I reckon my brain snapped when near the bottom of the article I read “A burst of inclusion is the only way to make the world anew.” Suddenly a mental picture of Imran Khan on last night’s telly imploring that an end be sought for the “ridiculous war on terror,” superimposed itself over the screen.

How can their ever be a “burst of inclusion” with Afghanistan ramping up? We don’t have an economic crisis, we have a soul crisis.

When Obama proudly proclaims “God bless America” he disenfranchises the rest of the world. That kind of remark epitomizes the disease. Somehow we have to get past that religious nonsense and realize that God, whatever that means, just isn’t the answer. Get your f-cking gun out of my face Yank and I might just begin to breath a little easier. That is the world’s proclamation. It’s the answer to the so-called economic crisis as well.

Economy:

Matthew Auger writes: Re. “Dunkirk done, it’s time to defend the economy” (yesterday, item 2). Steve Keen is certainly working hard at his media career as The Voice Of Doom with his belief that Australia’s Debt to GDP ratio will get back to the 1960s levels of 25-50% from 160% today. I don’t disagree that the Debt to GDP figure will drop but 25-50% is being silly and smacks of attention seeking rather than serious economic analysis.

Steve should look beyond the numbers to the social realities of debt access in the 1960s and appreciate the structural reasons as to why debt levels will be higher today, regardless of a recession. Women have a much higher participation rate in the workforce now. If you earn an income you are better able to borrow money. That’s the first structural difference.

As for the second structural difference, a working woman in the 1960s (and before) had Buckley’s chance of getting a loan in their own name due to blatant s-xism, if they were part of a couple, the bank would discount the woman’s income in assessing the amount the couple could borrow. Thanks to the Anti-Discrimination legislation a woman’s income is now fully included in a loan application, hence an increase in structural debt levels. The real life example of this is the rise of DINK’s living in trendy inner city suburbs driving house prices up.

Thirdly, the rise of No Doc lending at 65% Loan to Valuation Ratio’s and Lo-Doc Lending at 80% LVR’s has allowed more self-employed people access to home loans than in the past. Due to the LVR’s used, they are not the Sub-Prime risk to the banking system that the doom-sayers would like us to believe.

Fourthly, credit cards (and their consequential debt) didn’t exist in the 1960’s, now we have a collective balance (according to the RBA in Dec 08) of $45 Billion debt. Sure, we are all looking to cut that amount but that is hardly going to go back to $0.

I agree that Debt to GDP will drop, margin loans shrink as shares drop, businesses go broke and debts get written off and people borrow less for housing. We are all going through “balance sheet repair” but with such low interest rates, the holding costs of debt funded assets becomes more tolerable. I simply don’t believe we will see 25-50%.

James McDonald writes: Re. “This “recession” is built on rubbery figures (yesterday, item 25). Glenn Dyer wrote, “the savings ratio is imprecise, hard to work out, and subject to frequent revision”. It’s normal practice in the physical sciences and engineering to express figures along with the degree of uncertainty or “error” in them. There’s a rigorous and mature branch of mathematics devoted to this, because it’s recognised that measurements all have some error and they need to know how it affects their calculations — whether it might lead to a plane crash or not, that sort of thing.

So why don’t economists and analysts ever express the degree of error in their figures? Too boring? Not good for public confidence? Not really good for their perceived usefulness when they say something like “forecast growth is 0.5 per cent, give or take 5 per cent”?

Gavin E. Greenoak writes: Has it occurred to you, the extent to which many “forecasts” are now resembling augury? The Haruspices of the economy, examining the entrails of a dead animal.

Sydney Writer’s Festival:

Cherry Brady writes: Re. “Journalistic ethics, UTS and the Sydney Writers’ Festival” (yesterday, item 7). Margaret Simons writes that the imbroglio over last year’s publication of Sydney Writers’ Festival newspaper, Festival News, “might seem like a storm in a teacup to most of us, but for student journalists encouraged to believe in the independence of the media, it is taking on the characteristics of a test case”.

As someone who has been involved, via the festival, with past issues of the paper, I’d like to point out that it did indeed take a completely different tack from previous years. Indeed, it looked like some tabloid hack had taken an egg beater to it.

In essence, Festival News is a student publication. It contains interviews with attending writers, and reports on various functions associated with the festival. Some of the stories are well written, some are atrocious. Great journalism it ain’t.

It’s worth noting that the paper had a new editor last year and one can’t help but think there might have been a bit of wanting-to-make-her-mark involved.

At the same time, the assertion by Dean of the UTS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Professor Theo van Leeuwen, that “Sydney Writers’ Festival had not sought to censor Festival News in 2008, or to control the editorial content of this publication in any other way” is clearly fatuous.

Festival organisers did censor and seek to control, as is their right. This is client publishing — Sydney Writers’ Festival being the client and UTS the publisher — and the client, under whose banner the paper appears, has the final say.

Let’s hope that this year’s paper goes back to what is has been in the past: sometimes entertaining, sometimes tedious, but essentially a vehicle for UTS Sydney students to practise their burgeoning skills.

US Republicans:

Marty Ross writes: Re. “Republicans follow the Obama script” (yesterday, item 16). “Tarring the Republican party as mad extremists is not just a strategy for this year’s battles in congress; it’s also about discrediting GOP brand for the future and ensuring Democrat supremacy for 2012 and beyond.”

The reason that it is so easy to tar Republicans as mad extremists is because, by and large, they are mad extremists.

Australian Financial Review:

Stephen Lewis Matthews writes: Re. The Australian Financial Review (yesterday, Crikey says). “This is not an issue isolated to the AFR (a tabloid after all, and thus exciteable by nature)…” is a mockery of the newspapers by the new masters of the fourth estate.

It’s true that printed publications such as the AFR are losing their commercial relevance … ’cause they are losing their readership . But I counsel against this display of hubris.

Surely you would prefer to have the journalists at the AFR refer to you one day as an esteemed new age publisher. Don’t make too many enemies… please.

Centrelink:

Magnus Vikingur writes: The piece on Centrelink (yesterday, Tips and rumours) is interesting but it leaves me with a lot of questions. What defines their performance indicators? How does an employee qualify to receive a performance bonus? Is performance measured in how efficient the staff is at refusing genuine needy cases of benefits to give a false reading of the actual unemployment figures to make the government look good? Pardon my naivety but my understanding of performance indicators in any institution is cost cutting and profit. What are the exact criteria that Joe Ludwig used to make his decision? Would one of your learned columnists please try and explain this for me?

I have dealt with Centrelink in the past in genuine need. If there is a next time I may go and live under a bridge rather than go to back to them. I liken it to having my gums scraped.

Journalists and alcopops:

Paul Gilchrist writes: Today an open letter about the alcopops tax was published in the newspapers today. 20 senior health researchers have supported the tax and pointed out that since the tax was introduced, sales of alcopops has dropped by 26% and less than half of that drop was compensated by transfer to other mixed drinks. So now we have quantitative data to prove that the vocal criticism of the tax by Senator Fielding and Joe Hockey was based on nothing other than vague ideas they pulled from thin air, or from some of their bodily orifices. So how about a journalist confronting Messrs Fielding and Hockey with these facts? I haven’t heard it, and why not? What is it with journalists, is it too hard to follow up stories, or is there an agenda they are all following?

Vaccination:

Kevin McCready writes: Re. Ignaz Amrein (yesterday, comments). The anti-vaccination Ignaz Amrein digs himself deeper with the hoary old misconception that “science doesn’t have all the answers.” Iganaz, science never claims to have all the answers. What we do know is that 99% of unvaccinated kids exposed to measles will get very sick, some will suffer mental retardation and some will die. What we also know is that many more than 99% of vaccinated kids have no lasting side effects. Is that answer enough or is the earth flat?

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to [email protected]. Preference will be given to comments that are short and succinct: maximum length is 200 words (we reserve the right to edit comments for length). Please include your full name — we won’t publish comments anonymously unless there is a very good reason.