The economy:

Les Heimann writes: Re. “Ask the economists: we’re seriously going gangbusters” (yesterday, item2). So most “experts” think things are going well for us in Australia. What recession? Typical media exaggeration, and so on — we are not at all in such a good place.

If it were not for the stimulus injection we would be absolutely shot and if employment trends continue we are going to need every cent of that stimulus working through our economy for a long time yet. Our employment stats are terrible! Consider how strongly our work force is being shoved into part time scenarios. Look at the underemployment stats and the absolutely massive level of under employment — almost a perfect downward spiral in the making.

Be alarmed, be very alarmed. Especially when interest rates start rising and mortgages become unaffordable. Let’s face it: a couple working 35 hours a week between them cannot pay back an average mortgage — they won’t even qualify for one! Then up goes rent. Unless this country is able to quickly accelerate up to around 90% plus full time employment in the work force we are going to be simply stuffed.

So let’s stop this garbage about how we dodged the bullet. We are building shooting ranges at light speed.

Campbell Newman:

Michael Corkill, Senior Media Adviser to Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman, writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 8). Don’t tell me the Left has captured Crikey too? I refer to your rumour on Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell “Can Do” Newman yesterday.

Rest assured, the Council of Mayors (CoM) is still going strong with nine regional member councils since the withdrawal of Ipswich and Moreton Councils for political reasons. Some say that Labor Mayors Pisasale and Sutherland were following ALP calls for payback after Newman’s forthright comments about the poor handling of an oil spill in the middle of a State election campaign. Either way Newman has never attacked Pisasale, and Pisasale’s imaginings are nearly always followed by a phone call to the Lord Mayor claiming he was “misquoted”. Far from a bottomless pit, the City Hall restoration project remains at $215 million.

And talk of a $60K a week PR bill is way off. The funding for the project runs for three years, not one, and people will need to be kept informed. The exact budget is yet to be decided. Finally the old chestnut of the Lord Mayor having a bigger PR staff than the Prime Minister may have been broken by Crikey, but it does not mean it is correct. Newman has a total team of four media people who handle himself and the additional seven members of Civic Cabinet, while Mr Rudd and his Ministers would have about four advisers each. Do the maths.

I am happy to report there has been no change in staffing levels in the Lord Mayor’s office since former Labor Lord Mayor Jim Soorley called the shots for 13 years from 1991. It’s bad Mr Soorley did not lift a finger to try to save the grand old building during that time.

Remember Crikey, we are always here if you want to get both sides of the story.

WA’s oil spill:

Glen Fergus writes: Re. “What’s big, slick and floating towards the WA coast …” (yesterday, item 10). Bernard Keane’s arithmetic is amiss: 3000 bopd x 159 L/bbl x 49 days is about 23 million litres, not “half a billion”. Still, that’s more than half what the Exxon Valdez spilled, so this could become a huge slick (albeit of thinner oil, in warm water, and far from the coast – for now).

It’s easily the biggest ever in Australian waters. And that’s all assuming this “relief well” hits first time, kilometres below the sea bed, a target a few metres wide (the location of which might not even be accurately known).

The AMSA needs to stop spinning selectively cropped sat pics and start explaining what they’re doing with a few pretty obvious questions:

  1. Why did the blowout preventers fail? Those who remember the heady days of Red Adair and offshore blowouts might wonder what changed to end all that. The answer is these high tech, ultra powerful wellhead valves that can shut off a well if the mud doctor stuffs up.
  2. What are they doing to stop this happening again, particularly in the seriously deep water at Gorgon (and dozens of others) where plugging will be no six week exercise?
  3. This was a brand new rig from a major operator. Did it perhaps also come with a brand new, inexperienced crew?
  4. If so, how good was their well survey on an incomplete well? Do they actually know where the target well is in the ground, to hit and plug it? And what will AMSA do when they fail?
  5. At what point will the obvious fix of igniting the leaking well be considered?

[The uncropped NASA satellite image is here (~3MB), and the explanation here. The interpretation — slick wave damping affecting fortuitous sun glint — appears unlikely to detect a thin oil film like Senator Siewert reported seeing much closer to the coast.]

Della Bosca:

Tony Barrell writes: Re. “Della-gate: since when were ‘poor personal decisions’ a reason to quit politics?” (Tuesday, item 1). I notice this new trend to use the expression “poor personal choices”, or “decisions”, when referring to deviant, violent or drunken behaviour has been used quite a lot by football players trying to explain a drunken assault. Now we have John Della Bosca using the same phrase.

What’s the source of this slippery little euphemism? Could it be the idea that we always have “choice” in all things and always “decide” what we are about to do? You can just see it: “Mmmm, I wonder if I should take this woman up on her offer of s-x on the desk”.

Why this reminds me of Thatcherism I can’t quite explain. It probably has nothing to do with a rightwing spin on the nature of behaviour at all, but somehow it’s slid into the, err, discourse in a way that flattens transgression into a mysterious new human attribute that has nothing to do with impulsive behaviour, greed, lust, or madness.

Nothing is “wrong” no-one is ‘guilty’ certainly not “sinful”, just unlucky they made the wrong choice, like choosing the wrong numbers at a roulette table or in a Lotto draw.

I find it weird.

Christopher Ridings writes: Any moment now the Keystone Cops will be called in to run the NSW Government as the Opposition shows no greater talent than the lot we now have in. This raises the issue whether anyone exists who can possibly run the State of NSW given the fact that its capital greater Sydney is at the top of the Australian list when it comes to high maintenance.

Has anyone thought that the best way might be to divide the State into more manageable chunks and create equal entities of New England, the Riverina, and other neglected slabs of the State?

Or is thinking outside the square not allowed now and we all still have to keep bashing our respective heads against brick walls?

Niall Clugston writes: David Havyatt is right (yesterday, comments). I am heartily sick of the media’s nonsense about the NSW Government. We have never ever been able to recall governments in Australia. And while I don’t disagree with them in principle, citizens’ initiated referenda and recall have, in practice, proved a total fiasco in California.

The fact is, the public had the chance in 2007 to remove the Government and failed to do so. I can’t understand why anyone believes the Government would vote no confidence in itself == and then presumably campaign against itself being re-elected!

And, anyway, I don’t see why a minister having an affair constitutes a crisis. I for one would rather be governed by bumbling, adulterous hacks than a lynch-mob of hysterical twerps.

Health Taskforce:

David Imber writes: Re. “Health Taskforce wishes you all a long, dull life with nanny” (yesterday, item 12). How very dull, and yet so predictable, to see another cookie cutter “less regulation and Government interference is the answer” piece from Tim Wilson — this time on the report of the preventative health taskforce. With the report being public for less than 24 hours by the time he’d written it he clearly hides not having fully read and absorbed the report by telling us how many pages it is and the key chapters subject areas.

Yet rather than grapple with the diversity of policy choices the report recommends to deal with the significant burden of disease (and deaths, and economic and productivity costs) caused by smoking, alcohol and obesity he merely uses its release as another opportunity to try and present his radical free market ideology as an exercise in common sense.

His contribution contains all the devices of a hack university debater with plenty of clichés, over simplifications, emotive language and the selective use of material all of which barely masks his real rationale for writing. Which, of course, is that any form of Government intervention is likely to impact negatively on the “freedom” of companies that produce products that are inherently dangerous (tobacco), have the capacity to be dangerous (alcohol) and that are becoming more dangerous (calorie loaded processed foods).

And why should he care about that? Well those companies just happen to be the very ones who always blame the individuals for the impacts of using their products as directed rather than considering what role they have in continuing to be able to harm individuals and cause cost to the community.

Every policy issue has a number of dimensions and racy debate is one of the hallmarks of Crikey, but accusing the report of essentially consigning Australians to longer and less interesting lives is so illogical and teenage an argument as to call into question why his contribution was even published.

If Tim truly believes that essence of an interesting life is drinking, smoking and being fat then he is welcome to it but I don’t think it’s appropriate for him to believe that while he can live that way, everyone else should feel free to pay for his right to chose and not ask him (the individual) or the companies associated to also contribute to the negative costs.

Geoff Russell writes: Tim Wilson says he wants Australians to take responsibility for their actions and accept the consequences. Back when people smoked in pubs, this would presumably mean that the people whose smoke gave a bar-person lung cancer should organise a roster to nurse them in their illness?

Perhaps also companies who, in their advertising, portrayed the joys of alcohol while conveniently forgetting to mention the hazards of drunk driving should also do a stint of community service cleaning up the consequences of their image management in hospital emergency rooms.

Excellent suggestions Tim.

Alister Air writes: The first sentence of Tim Wilson’s diatribe is enough to reveal he’s an intellectual lightweight. No analysis, faux-populism, and the silly claim that the Parliament is going to legislate to compel gym attendance and abstinence.

Fortunately, Wilson uses convenient shorthand signalling the lack of merit in his piece. Anyone who refers to “the elites” is immediately ruling themselves out of a sensible discussion.

Australian film:

Angus Sharpe writes: Re. “Crikey cage match: Is Australian film still down in the dumps?” (yesterday, item 18). Luke Buckmaster says that “[t]his year demonstrates what many of us have known all along: that the problem is not just with the quality of Australian films but the public’s perception of them.”

Bollocks. The more logical explanation is that the movies are just crap.

Luke cites the below as good movies that Australians are not going to see. Now I may not be a compulsive cinema-goer, but the only one of the below that I have even heard of is Balibo. And it didn’t sound fun, or particularly interesting.

So let’s go to the impartial judge (Margaret and David from At the Movies) for impartial movie descriptions and ratings. And note that it is an unwritten At the Movies rule that Margaret and David add (at least) 1 star if a movie is Australian, and bend over backwards to be nice about it.

So (from the At the Movies website):

  • Samson & Delilah — “Explores issues of survival for two ostracised teenagers from a remote indigenous community in Central Australia” — Margaret 5 stars, David 5 stars. Sounds awful and depressing (and probably only interesting to Australian Champagne Socialists).
  • The Combination — “Lebanese-Australian John, is released from gaol to find his younger brother Charlie caught in the same world of crime that put him behind bars” — Margaret 4 stars, David 4.5 stars. Probably sounded great when they were applying for the government grant — “We will employ Lebanese-Australians and make an action movie that people will want to see!”. They didn’t. Ah well…
  • Mary and Max — Plasticine animation. Enough said — Margaret 4 stars, David 3.5 stars.
  • Balibo — “War correspondent Roger East and the young Jose Ramos-Horta travel to East Timor to investigate the murders of the Balibo Five in 1975.” Margaret 4 stars, David 3.5 stars. Even Margaret and David couldn’t bring themselves to give this movie (about a topical left-wing issue) good ratings. It must be really bad.
  • Cedar Boys — “A journey into the lives of Middle-Eastern Australians in Sydney’s outer-west.” Margaret 3.5 stars, David 4 stars. See all my negative comments above regarding Samson & Delilah and The Combination with none of the … wait … there were no positive comments…
  • My Year Without S-x — “A happily married woman collapses with a brain aneurysm and on doctor’s orders has to abstain from s-x for a while…” Margaret 4 stars, David 3.5 stars. Mahahahahaha. You can just see four movie producer friends sitting round a bong playing the game of “Let’s see if we can get a government grant for …”
  • $9.99 — Can’t see this on the At the Movies website. Was it even reviewed?

Gabriel McGrath writes: I’m sure most of your feedback will concern the content of Aussie films. But I’d like to talk about advertising Aussie films. As in… HOW ABOUT DOING SOME?

Whenever some new Hollywood film is coming, we’re bombarded via ALL media. But Aussie films hardly advertise at all. (Note: Advertise means big mainstream promotion on radio & TV, not “an interview with the director on David & Margaret’s show”).

Yes — advertising costs money. But not as much as making films that 90% of Australians never hear about.

Bob Smith writes: Balibo, Samson & Delilah, Beautiful Kate and My Year Without S-x are all crackers. Why should anyone whinge except to shout “more please!”?

The internet:

Robert Johnson writes: Re. “Happy birthday, internets!” (yesterday, item 4). OK – happy birthday internet. By way of comparison in such technological advances, in September 1969 I was operating one of those room-size mainframe computers (which was a popular ooh-aah flashing lights highlight to passers-by in the Southern Cross arcade in Melbourne at the time) for a leading computer company. Its main memory was a very impressive 16 KB (yes, KB).

Far from transmitting information by cable between computers, we were manually feeding punched cards, paper tape and cash register ribbons through readers for transfer onto magnetic media.

A few short years later, the new computer doubled in size to 32 KB.

The font line:

Wayne Smith writes: Re. “The full fonty: why type nerds went mental over IKEA” (Tuesday, item 5). Tahoma Concern, anyone who gets in a fury over fonts is a Dingbat.

To be Franklin, Arial man can accept that Times change and so do catalogue layouts — if marketers want to maintain their Impact.

Last night I had a Lucida dream that I was talking to my postman about this and he agreed. You see? Even the Courier [k]New!

Sorry if this comment is Sans Comic value.

First Dog on the Moon:

Sam Harrison writes: Re. “First Dog on the Moon” (yesterday, item 7). I’m extremely disappointed by the reference to “stupid gay babies” in the First Dog on The Moon yesterday. It stopped me in my tracks. It is homophobic and offensive.

You would not publish a reference to stupid Jewish babies or stupid black babies — so what makes you think it’s appropriate to publish something about stupid gay babies?

This type of language normalizes homophobia and I am extremely surprised you chose to publish something so offensive.

Tim Holding:

Brian Haill writes: Re. “Who found Tim Holden? Sorry, Holding” (yesterday, item 5). Given that Victoria’s Water Minister Tim Holding attracted the use of a secret spy plane to rescue him after his tumble in the snow during his weekend trek at Mount Feathertop, why should another Australian, a Rockhampton man — out walking in India stumble and become a quadriplegic and be left for dead?

George Dobson’s family has exhausted its savings, spending tens of thousands of dollars on his medical expenses but over $50,000 is apparently required to bring him home. He had tripped and fallen 15 metres over the side of a steep mountain road in Mussoorie.

Australia has its Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in India at the moment trying to rescue Australia’s multi-billion dollar Indian student industry that’s being savaged by racist attacks in Melbourne and Sydney, and a series of some disgraceful course rip-offs.

Why can’t Julia bring Mr Dobson home with her? After all, Mr Rudd did find the time to enquire as to Mr Holding’s welfare, following his rescue.

I’ve no idea if Mr Dobson is a Labor voter or not. That wouldn’t, shouldn’t, matter, would it?

Personality disorders:

Guy Rundle writes: Kevin McCready (yesterday, comments) suggests that I veer onto the loony anti-psychiatry fringe in my discussion of personality disorders. Firstly I don’t think the anti-psychiatry movement is “loony” though a lot of it is extreme and one-dimensional. But I wasn’t being anti-psychiatry. In the article I said:

In some cases that [the psychiatric relationship] is necessary and therapeutic as a stage in treatment of people in a severe bind. But its remorseless spread [personality disorder diagnoses] is simply an attack on the idea of the free, or potentially free, human being, shaping their own lives

Some people sometimes lose that freedom or never gain it (most serious personality disorders result from violent childhoods or disturbed families — the personality “sets” like a permanently broken bone, another reason not to be flippant about it).

I think that makes it pretty clear that I think psychiatry is a legitimate treatment and that personality disorders are real. However as far as McCready’s statement about how we should all accept that bipolar, schizophrenia etc are genetic in basis — well yes, and no. Clearly a lot of what is labelled as such is. But a lot isn’t.

Bipolar disorder has been treated with lithium and other medications for a half-century, and we still don’t know what its physiological cause is — when there is one. Many people taking refuge in a genetic/physical explanation of their manic depression are in fact simply not dealing with the internal conflicts provoking their extremes of mood. And the same goes for many other conditions.

Happy Planet Index:

Kirill Reztsov writes: Re. “Forget GDP, we rate 102 out of 143 countries on the Happy Planet Index” (yesterday, item 13). I am not sure what the Happy Planet Index was measuring if Burma was rated better than Australia. If military rule and doing nothing to relieve your people after they’ve been hit by a cyclone are the hallmarks of happiness, then I would like to remain sad.

Saudi Arabia also got a better score than Australia. I guess barring women from driving cars reduces car exhaust emissions. It must be hard to develop alternate measurements to the GDP and to try to calculate something abstract like sustainability or welfare.

But if your index ranks rapacious dictatorships ahead of stable, developed countries, then it’s a pretty stupid index.

Fibre to the node:

Steve Callachor writes: I live in a sleepy coastal village on the central coast. Huge machines are boring holes under my street. The blokes, about 50 of them, tell me it’s for the new Optus/Telstra stuff. I think there’s a fibre winding its way towards my node!

The Age:

Gavin Robertson writes: Re. “Voting on The Age’s new business-sport-tabloid hybrid” (yesterday, item 17). I’m not sure why you’ve given this such prominence — the SMH has already told all its readers they’re getting a business-at-the-front/sport-at-the-back tabloid second section from later this month. B&T reported this last week. I don’t think The Age considering doing the same thing is any surprise.


Peter Rosier writes: Since he brought it up, I’m inclined to disagree with Michael James (yesterday, comments) and glad of the chance to scratch an itch … Q&A is not a “waste of Tony Jones” — Tony Jones wastes Q&A.

If Q&A were a commercial transaction, the ABC would be in serious trouble for misleading and deceptive conduct. It should be called “Tony’s Q&A if he lets you“. He is appalling in the role of moderator, interrupting, often reinterpreting questions and, worst of all, asking more questions himself numerically than the audience ever gets to ask (seriously — count them!).

Leaving aside the obvious stacking of the audiences, this is a good concept which has been seriously damaged by a TV ego (albeit that he is, in other circumstances, a very good and intelligent interviewer) who can’t control himself.

Q&A isn’t, as it is presently done, worth even a triple speed run through.

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