Peter Costello — saint, sinner or sideshow?:

David Hand writes: Re. “Costello’s mission to destroy the Liberal Party” (Friday, item 1). One feature of the Costello debate is that it is the commentators of the left, most recently Saint Kevin himself predicting Liberal leadership conflict before the next election, and Bernard Keane fearing destruction of the Liberal Party, that have most to say about it. And of course, the “helpful advice” these writers provide is that Costello should go, and as soon as possible.

To even a casual observer, this suggests the ALP expects to profit from his departure and also points to a strategy to focus on Liberal leadership issues in order to get this government’s shaky grip on the country’s progress out of public debate. In this, I think they are doing OK as there seems to be more news about Costello’s supposed political ambitions than the progress of the $42b package or the action over the ETS, two issues that will directly affect people’s lives for good or ill for many years to come.

Costello’s political future is a sideshow; very interesting and significant, but a sideshow nevertheless. It may be a political problem for the Liberals but the fortunes of the ALP Government will ultimately rest of what it actually does and how it leads our country in this difficult time.

Eventually the smoke and mirrors focus on what may or may not be said or thought by someone on the back bench of the opposition must inevitably give way to a cold, hard assessment of this government’s performance.

That is what will decide future elections and maybe Crikey could focus on it a bit more.

Stephen McDonald writes: Regarding Bernard Keane’s article, I’d forgotten about Mr Turnbull’s jibe from the backbench! However, I contest the suggestion that Peter Costello actually believes “bizarre religious wingnuttery”.

Sure, he enthusiastically speaks to a few nutjobs, but that’s called sophistry (consult the all-knowing oracle?) or at least narcissism. (If someone prophesied my rise to the Prime Ministership, I’d speak at their breakfast!) Most other politicians are open to both of these charges.

Because Mr Costello’s brother is a Baptist pastor, it is assumed that he genuinely believes the messages of the Christian groups he speaks to. That presents a problem: Remember when he spoke to the congregation at Hillsong (just before the 2004 election?). Danny Nalliah’s attacks on user-friendly Christianity are in direct opposition to Brian Houston & co.

Any MP who finds a bunch of fanatics supporting them will do what they can to keep them onside, but that doesn’t mean they believe what they say.

John Goldbaum writes: Peter Costello stands condemned by his own words in an answer to a question on Thursday night’s Q&A in which he said: “And I’ll make this offer to Mr Rudd. If Mr Rudd would like to appoint me as his special advisor, Ill be around in his room tomorrow.”

It is now up to Tony Nutt, the State Director of the Victorian branch of the Liberal Party, to take action under the Party’s Constitution and expel Peter Costello from the Liberal Party under Section 4.1(a)(i) for “disloyalty to the Party” and Section 4.1 (a)(ii) for “conduct detrimental to the best interests of the Party”.

Paul Mitchell writes: Bernard Keane clearly viewed a different version of Q&A than I did. Though, I guess some of us see only what we wish to see. I thought Lindsay Tanner and Peter Costello both made some sensible points – from questions they were asked. Did Mr Costello volunteer information about himself or his future, unprompted? No.

Ignaz Amrein writes: Peter Costello is just finishing what John Howard started.

S-x and International Women’s Day:

Robbie Swan, Media Director of the Eros Foundation, writes: Re. “How men can get more s-x AND celebrate International Women’s Day” (Friday, item 5). Eva Cox is one of our great feminist thinkers but her reply to one of our other great feminist thinkers, Bettina Arndt, on the issue of Bettina’s new book, needs a libidinous reply.

I agree totally with her labour-sharing strategies for successful relationships but Eva has no idea where men’s s-x drive comes from. She thinks that if men do half the housework they will be equally tired and equally uninterested in s-x. Most men I know could be on the verge of death from exhaustion or starvation and it would not alter their interest in s-x one iota. Meaningless chore after meaningless chore will not stint their interest.

Men’s s-x drive is similar to that of male spiders and tiny marsupials who will f-ck themselves to death or get eaten after the event. It is of little consequence when the energy that changes the seasons and makes the planets whir is behind your arse.

Denis Goodwin writes: I agree with Eva Cox that Bettina Arndt’s research methodology and analysis are questionable; however, surely Eva’s counter research proposal is also flawed. s-x and domestic activities are very complex areas of human interaction. Many a disagreement between couples is centered on competing claims of equity in the distribution of domestic activities.

Women do generally perform more domestic activities — the term used in the ABS data cited by Eva — but men perform more paid work. It may be argued that the ideal is that men and women should share all duties equally, both paid and unpaid work. The suggestion by Eva, however, that men should be blackmailed by the availability of s-x to work harder ignores the real forces at work, such as the fact that a women is more likely to raise the children and take time out the workforce as a result.

How to overcome this and provide an even balance is the real question but neither Bettina or Eva has any real answers on this issue.

Experimental writes: I have for some time been a fan of both Bettina Arndt and Eva Cox, so I have mixed feelings about seeing them in a cat fight.

Now as it happens, I have already conducted Eva’s recommended experiment on myself and I can report that sadly it has neither improved my s-x life nor decreased my desire, although it does I suppose give me something more constructive to do with my hands.

Most interestingly and unexpectedly however, I have acquired an almost maternal sense of moral superiority — an unfamiliar but pleasant sensation.

Of course I’d swap it in an instant for s-x.

Happy International Men’s Day 1 of 364!

Where’s the hyperinflation?:

Andy Cole writes: Re. “Recession? You’re standing in it” (Friday, item 24). I live on an allocated pension. Unlike most professional “financial advisers” that makes me an expert in fiscal current affairs. Having presented my credentials, I would now like to let readers to benefit from my painfully acquired wisdom.

This is my analysis. We are in a meltdown because of excessive personal and corporate debt, and the consequent paralysis of banks, who either have no assets to lend against (but aren’t telling anyone), or have assets but are afraid to lend for fear of not getting it back. In short, there is overwhelming debt, and no money.

There is one solution to both these problems. Print money. Lots of it.

The “experts” decry this, because they fear hyperinflation, citing the Weimar Republic after WWI, and Zimbabwe today. However a much greater immediate risk is deflation, whose social consequences would be similar to those of hyperinflation.

On the other hand, a dose of inflation, whatever else it might do, would certainly mitigate debt. Anyone buying a house in the 70’s (in the UK at least) will remember how double digit inflation made great inroads to their mortgage. I certainly do. It was a very welcome side effect of something that was otherwise regarded as undesirable.

Gordon Brown has started doing it. Whadya say Wayne?

Radio Australia. WTF?:

Alan Kennedy writes: Re. “Nothing quite as it seems with News and ABC International” (Friday, item, 10). With Sky sniffing around Australia Television it’s perhaps worth having another look a Radio Australia and the odd stuff it churns out to its hapless listeners. The Asia Pacific footprint is huge, going from around Laos to the far flung islands of the south Pacific. In Vanuatu recently, I was forced to listen to it and was left wondering WTF? Who is this station aimed at?

There are bursts of good programming; you get AM, PM and the ABC news but then you get a morning program featuring someone called Phil Kafcaloudes and a woman whose name I missed talking about sorting out their cupboards. I kid you not. It sounds like the vicar reading the minutes of the last meeting of the women’s group.

Other times we get the Sheffield Shield. Even people in Australia don’t listen to that so why is it inflicted on the poor bastards in Phnom Penh? I suspect, as Autumn closes in and the flannelled fools give way to the muddied oafs, the footy will be on soon and the familiar cries of “up there Cazaly” and “ball” will ring out across Tanna, Efate and Espiritu Santo. I think the only reason Humphrey B Bear isn’t on is that he doesn’t talk although maybe he was on the other morning when Radio National was dead for hours.

Over at BBC World we have good newsy analysis and the Francophones have three stations to choose from. Radio Australia should have access to the vault of wonderful material from Radio National. Why not let the people under the RA umbrella hear that? After all, they speak English and are probably rising middle class and educated and so would appreciate hearing the best of what the ABC has to offer.

I think many are still pondering the problems of the Kafcaloudes household where his wife chucks everything in the cupboards and Phil goes over and takes everything out and sorts it. Rivetting I know but there is a limit.

For the past 10 years all the Pacific Region has seen of Australia is that ridiculous blimp Lord Downer lisping and patronising his way from island to island and occasional visits from the hectoring Howard. More recently they have had Kev in his nerdish sunglasses and Hawaiian shirt. We need to show there is more to us than that.

For God’s sake Radio Australia lift your game send Phil home to sort his sock drawer, ask him to in future keep the excitement of that activity to himself, and then put on some decent programs.

Keyboard warriors:

Katherine Stuart writes: Re. “Hamilton: The Internet’s belligerent Brutopia” (Friday, item 4). It certainly appears to be true that the more distant we are from each other physically, the easier it is to become belligerent. Why is this so? Perhaps it is more than, as Clive Hamilton wrote, anonymity and that: “There is little scope for the back-and-forward of debate when the normal social rules of respect and reciprocity do not apply.”

Without all the input our brains get unconsciously or semi-consciously from the face-to-face encounter, it is easier to become uncertain about what is actually being communicated, to get the wrong end of the stick, misunderstand, miss vital pieces of the communication — and uncertainty breeds fear and fear breeds belligerence.

Oddly, in an age where technology has given us so much, it has also contributed to text — the written word — becoming a far more dominant means of everyday communication — whether it is with family and friends or others in the wider community via blogs. And text, because of its very limited scope for communication (lacking all the clues to what is actually intended conveyed by our voices, our gestures, our body language, even extremely subtle things like smell) — is in fact the narrowest of narrowband communication.

It requires significant skill to use it successfully to communicate anything beyond the most basic of “data exchange” — such as shopping lists or I’ll meet you at the corner of X and Y streets at Z o’clock. Emoticons might be a start — but it’s notoriously difficult to convey emotions let alone complex ideas reasonably accurately via text. So why should we expect the average person to have those skills?

Either we all have to become better writers (hardly likely) or as a community we need to develop cultural/social rules of engagement for technology-challenged forms of communication by firstly recognising what a handicap it is only having text to convey your meaning.

Lake Albert:

Glen Fergus writes: Re. Friday’s editorial. Estuaries are the special places where rivers meet the sea. Where fresh and salt waters meet and mingle at the behest of the tide, where nutrients concentrate, fish breed, waterbirds feed, and people come to visit and live. Australian estuaries are particularly special because our rivers are so ephemeral; flows vary hugely with the season, not just annually but over years and even decades. Water may be saltier or fresher, muddy or clear, deeper or shallower, depending on the whim of the river.

Our biggest estuary is, or rather was, where our biggest river meets the sea — at Lakes Albert, Alexandrina and the Coorong. But this system was altered utterly by the deliberate action of the South Australian and Commonwealth governments in the 1930s, with the construction of the Goolwa Barrages.

These long, low dams prevent seawater from entering the two big lakes and prevent lake water from reaching the Coorong. The effects of this depression era nonsense have been profound and terrible. The barrages reduced the tidal pool within the estuary more than five fold, so tidal current alone became too weak to keep the entrance open. It is now constantly (and largely ineffectively) dredged.

The reduced tidal flush and lack of fresh water input converted the upper Coorong to a hyper-saline dead zone. And, more recently, river flows cut by over-extraction and prolonged drought have left the two big lakes below sea level and beyond usable salinity.

That’s seriously bad, because estuaries naturally concentrate nutrients, which mud bacteria feed on by converting sulphates from the sea water to pyrite. Pyrite buried in mud is normal and natural. But dry it out and it oxidises to sulphuric acid. That acid death is what’s happening now on the dried out lake beds of our biggest and best estuary. Let’s not pretend.

The state of the Murray is terrible and needs attention. Desperately. But the state of the Murray estuary reflects decisions and civil engineering works implemented by the South Australian Government early last century.

Works that are within the power of that government to reverse, now, and at trivial cost.

The Catholic Church:

Paul Gilchrist writes: Tim Mackay and Geoff Tapp (Friday, comments) quote examples of reform in the Catholic Church, such as “sale of indulgences”, “habits of nuns, priests and monks” and “evolutionist theories”. I don’t know the details of these, but I am more than happy to research them.

However, these are a very diverse group of issues and I don’t find them helpful in describing reform in the church. Of course, some things change and evolve, but like it or not, the dogmas never change, for example the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus and life after death. There are also things which are disciplines rather than dogmas, such as a celibate priesthood.

Reform can mean correction of errors (e.g. sale of indulgences), modification of practices (e.g. habits of nuns) or understanding of new ideas (e.g. evolution). However, the basis of the faith, the dogmas, never change. It is here that the disagreement with Fr Kennedy and South Brisbane lies.

Of course, the good works of the parish are commendable, but so are the good works of the Smith family, for example. The claim of the Catholic Church is that it is the means of spreading the Good News of Jesus that eternal life is possible.

You don’t have to believe it, but if you call yourself a priest and sit in a building labelled “Catholic parish” it is indeed strange if you don’t.

Stephen Magee writes: Geoff Tapp falls into a common error. He appears to believe (along with some newspaper subs) that the Catholic Church has recently changed its mind about evolution. He claims that the Church now believes that creationism and evolution are “mutually compatible”. Sadly, he’s wrong on both counts.

The Church has never condemned the theory of evolution. Since 1950, it has said openly that there is no conflict between Catholic doctrine and the theory of evolution. So, not only has the Church’s position not changed, but it does not believe (and to the best of my knowledge has never believed) that creationism and evolution are “mutually compatible”.

The Church’s position is that it’s daft to think that all the animals were created in their current physical form when the best available evidence points to evolution as a more credible explanation. The Church’s only concern with evolution is with aggressive atheists who claim that the theory of evolution is a killer argument against religion.

As far as the Church is concerned, faith and scientific theory are two separate fields of inquiry: there’s no science of religion and no religion of science.

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