Debacle yarn a real debacle:

Ken Davis, Communications Consultant, The GEO Group, writes: Re. “John Robertson’s private prisons debacle” (yesterday, item 16). Unfortunately the annual “Cock Up” award for 2009 was surely won yesterday by Alex Mitchell in his article “John Robertson’s private prisons debacle”.

Avid Crikey readers would be disappointed to know it was a well crafted article but based on the wrong company! He claimed that the GEO Group, which was awarded management of Parklea Prison last week by the NSW Government, was part of the global G4S Group. He then spent 600 words highlighting G4S track record.

The two are not related. They are entirely separate companies and active rivals in the marketplace. Incidentally GEO has a remarkable track record in the management of Australian correctional centres.

GEO has been re-awarded management of each of its correctional facilities through numerous contract renewals and competitive re-bidding processes since the company began operating in Australia 17 years ago.

Christopher Hitchens, war, atheism:

Kevin McCready writes: Re. “Rundle: Hitchens not such a lovely little thinker” (yesterday, item 4). Guy Rundle scrapes the bottom of the barrel to use GK Chesterton’s absurd straw man (“someone who believes in nothing will sooner or later believe in anything”) to attack atheism.

Atheists believe in plenty, just not the tooth fairy and other childish imaginings of the god rubric. If Rundle was a little more widely read he’d know Bertrand Russell’s elegant proof that once an unprovable god is posited you can in fact be lead to believe anything — thus the history of religions. Hitchens regrettable support for the invasion of Iraq has nothing to do with atheism. Rundle compounds his error by linking humanism to postmodernism.

The ridiculous modern but dying religion of postmodernism with its profound rejection of science (the Sokal hoax) has nothing to do with humanism.

Shirley Colless writes: As a religious person, a practising Christian and, I hope, a reasonably civilised person, I respect the choice of Christopher Hitchens not to believe in religion; but after watching Q&A last Thursday it is evident to me that he is not prepared to respect my choice to believe in God and, in my case, also Jesus Christ.

What I saw was a one-eyed, overbearing bully, continually butting in while other guests were trying to put their points of view, treating them with utter contempt, particularly in the way he dismissed any good work that might be done in the name of religion. I also saw someone who, with justification, condemned the evils perpetrated in the name of religion but chose not to mention the equally evil deeds committed by some of his fellow atheists. Try Joseph Stalin, for instance. Adolph Hitler?

And I thought it a pity that Tony Jones invited two Roman Catholics rather than bringing in a Protestant or a Buddhist. It would have been interesting watching Dorothy McRae McMahon slicing Hitchens up. If it had to be a cleric and a lay person then I am sure that one of the lay women who have been taking on the conservatives of the Anglican Sydney Diocese could have taken Hitchens on.

I accept, with shame, that those who practice religion have done some pretty horrendous things, both in the past and continuing into the present; but I find it unacceptable for someone like Hitchens to ignore the evils perpetrated by non-believers.

Chris Hunter writes: I enjoyed Guy Rundle’s piece about Christopher Hitchens, especially the bit where Hitchens, the great free thinker, supported the invasion of Iraq. That’s the bit I’ve never been able to get my head around.

Only last weekend I was talking to a local grain farmer and asked him if there had been any recovery with regards to trading with Iraq, our former major trading partner. His reply was immediate, “Not really, the Yanks still have a monopoly, that was an important objective of the invasion, to steal our trade, and with Howard’s blessing”.

It’s going to be a bumper harvest around these parts this year, but oh, the grain prices, they are mostly less than half of last year’s prices. Poor old Hitchens, wrapped up in all that delusional codswallop about democracy et al.

Tony Barrell writes: I don’t have much time for Christopher Hitchens’ shrill-sounding conversion to a) atheism b) warmongering, but I wonder about Guy Rundle too. His latest attempt to distance himself from people he assumes believe in things only because they are trendy is truly troubling.

He brazenly ladles out a new descriptor over the people the Real Left are trying to dissociate from as: “their belief system might loosely be called Darlinghurst secular-humanism”. What!!?? Who is this plonky demography supposed to be comforting? Darlinghurst — who lives there?

For God’s sake (figuratively speaking) bring back latte lappers and chardonnay chooglers — at least these lazy eponyms are so tired they are ignorable, but geographical sociology — give us a break chum.

Shaun Cronin writes: I see that Guy Rundle has subscribed to the misguided notion that there some atheists are “militant.” As far as I know, Hitchens, Dawkins et al are not trying to foment change though violence. In fact they aim to do it via intellect and reason, quite the opposite of a militant group.

Even if doubtful of the intellectual rigour of Hitchens, to describe him as militant is ludicrous hyperbole especially when you compare him to those that actually are militant defenders of their faith.

Scott Abbot writes: Guy Rundle wrote: “…the central charge that could be made against militant atheists, that of GK Chesterton’s ‘someone who believes in nothing will sooner or later believe in anything’.” And then goes on to suggest that it was Hitchens’ atheism that allowed him to support the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Couldn’t the same (flawed) logic be used to say that George Bush’s Christianity was similarly responsible for his support for the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions?

Paul Kidd writes: Guy Rundle’s article on Christopher Hitchens contains a glaring error. Brian’s girlfriend Judith was not from the “Judean People’s Front”, as Rundle claims; she was from the People’s Front of Judea. The Judean People’s Front are a bunch of f-cking splitters. I look forward to seeing this corrected.

Indian students:

Tom Pynonen writes: Re. “Special report: Has the great Indian student bubble burst?” (yesterday, item 2). For someone who claims 25 years’ experience as a journalist and boasts a website as the “global window on higher education”, Geoff Maslen (Has the great Indian student bubble burst?, Oct 5) is going to have to do better. His report — said to the first of three parts — contains not a skerrick of new information about Indian students and the decline in interest and enrolments, with the exception of maybe Glyn Davis’ email.

For one, the migration occupations in demand (MODL) has not, contrary to Geoff’s assertion, dropped cooks or hairdressers from its list.  I am not here to argue whether they are or are not in demand — that’s something for DEEWR to establish and it last updated the MODL in May 2008 — but to assert without qualification that “changes to Australia’s skilled migration programme (have) cut out hairdressing and cooking as skills in demand” is simply wrong. Maybe what Geoff is thinking of is a critical skills list introduced in March 2009, which does not include cooks or hairdressers.  But this list has never existed before, so you cannot say anything has been ‘dropped’ from it.  The critical skills list applies to people who are seeking to migrate under the skilled migration program who are not sponsored by an employer or nominated by a state or territory government. The point: if Crikey is going to give this “journalist” space, then let’s ensure it’s accurate, contains something new, and isn’t simply a re-hash of what we have been reading in the major metrops for the last couple of months.

The economy:

Jon Dennis writes: Re. “Why we’re nowhere near out of the woods yet” (yesterday, item 23). I have been following both Bill Bonner’s and Peter Schiff’s commentary regarding the current economic situation and I am convinced that we are in a depression not a recession. I just got done reading Robert Prechter’s Conquer the Crash which was written in 2002 yet had predicted the current situation perfectly.

Melburnians are convinced that we are immune to the housing bubble here as valuations continue to rise. I think (as Shiff does) that we are in for a big crash here as well. The S&P ASX A-REIT Index is still down 65% from its June 2007 high.

I am an American that has lived in Melbourne for six years. Before I moved here I lived in Michigan where I was bombarded by companies offering me home equity loans on a house I had only purchased 18 months before (with 10% down — thankfully I sold and moved before the big crash). This morning I heard my first home equity loan commercial on a local radio station (3AW).

This is a perfect contrarian scenario for disaster. The majority thinking we are out of the woods and engaging in risky financial behaviour based in an assumption that past trends will continue indefinitely.

Good luck to all!

A Tobin tax:

Robert Johnson writes: Bill Castleden (yesterday, comments) proposed the role of a “Tobin tax” on financial transactions as a means of generating funds for climate aid for developing countries. Your correspondent says that such a tax would not change short-term profit behaviour. That, in fact, was a perceived benefit of the original proposal: the setting of a tax on international financial transactions that would be sufficiently small that it would not dampen productive transactions but large enough that it would rein in speculative transactions.

The actual revenue so raised was not a primary concern; that is, it was about managing the international financial system rather than as a tool for hypothecated fund-raising, although that is what it subsequently became. The proposal got renewed impetus in 2004 when the UN Development Programme took it up as a potential means of raising funds for international development and it was thus injected into backroom discussion at the Copenhagen World Summit for Social Development in March 1995.

The problem was that the US had threatened to sink it once and for all if there was any reference made to it in formal proceedings. Three such references were made at that Summit. First it was advocated in the face of that threat by the Group of 77 (which I was called on at that time to advise on the issue), then supported by the then-new UNDP head (Gus Speth), in the plenary session prior to the presentations by world leaders. The third reference was (interestingly, given Sarkozy’s current support) by Francois Mitterand in those formal speeches, in a very rousing address that would turn out to be his last international presentation.

I have earlier (1997) written about it here.

Teaching the Third World to swim:

Humphrey Hollins writes: Re. Justin Templer (yesterday, comments) criticising the article by Justin Scarr, COO of the Royal Lifesaving Society, supporting teaching third world people how to swim.

I was in Siem Riep, Cambodia, on Wednesday last week when Cyclone Ketsana struck and I witnessed the severe flooding over the course of the day. The Khmers were out in the floodwaters netting fish all around the town and the province. They are desperate for food and this was an opportunity despite the dangers of the flood waters. Two people drowned that day.

In Kompong Thom province many people died when their houses collapsed in the 140km hour winds, others drowned. To teach third world people to swim, especially children is a very practical effort to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

To suggest that programmes to help Pacific Islanders to learn to swim is some sort of April fool’s joke is in very poor taste and I feel sorry for Justin Templar if he really believes this.

Vaccination cage match:

Stephen Lambert writes: It seems Crikey has been caught out in its ongoing efforts to portray everything associated with the Commonwealth-funded H1N1 vaccination program using the TGA approved vaccine in a negative light. A quick check of H1N1-associated articles on Crikey finds only one positive commentary — quickly followed by Melissa Sweet suggesting that the author, Michael Wooldridge, was a stooge for CSL — amongst a sea of negative reports.

The clarification by Melissa Sweet (yesterday, comments) which saw two independent contributors unhappy at being labeled anti-vaccine was interesting, but doesn’t go far enough in redressing the balance issue. Melissa Sweet’s post on August 31 asked “Why can’t we have a rational discussion about the merits of pandemic flu vaccination?” — but according to Crikey, a rational discussion only involves giving space to writers whose central message is to either trivialise the significance of the H1N1 influenza outbreak or who raise questionable safety issues with the TGA approved vaccine.

Crikey‘s coverage of this issue has been dangerous — will anyone there take responsibility when individuals are hospitalised or die next flu season having been put off vaccination by your negative campaign?

Centrelink:

Melissa Madsen writes: Re. “Fighting for a fair deal from Centrelink” (28 September, item 16). Who knew it would be so hard to tell Centrelink that you are no longer eligible for a means-tested benefit? My same-sex partner was in receipt of a Centrelink benefit until 1 July this year. As I work full-time, my income made her ineligible to receive this benefit when the rules for same-sex couples changed from 1 July this year.

After much gnashing of teeth and regret about voting for Kevin Rudd, we did the right thing and declared our relationship to Centrelink in June. My partner received various responses from Centrelink, including confusion (“it’s too early to tell us this … you have to wait until 1 July”), outright abuse (“you people wanted to be equal … now you got it”), but also unusually helpful and sympathetic assistance from call centre staff, including advice NOT to declare our relationship in order to retain the benefit.

We consoled ourselves with the thought that no longer receiving a Centrelink benefit would mean that we no longer needed to deal with Centrelink or the inordinate amount of bureaucratic nonsense and their intrusive compliance regimes. How wrong we were!

I had to fill in 16 page form to declare my income and assets before Centrelink would assess our changed eligibility. Why couldn’t we just say “we earn too much”? This seemed unnecessarily intrusive. The real shock is that Centrelink required my partner to keep reporting our combined income fortnightly for the last three months, even though she is receiving no benefits. Centrelink has just written to her to ask her to keep reporting until December!

Unlike Mitchell Holmes (30 September, comments), we are not quite confident enough to be non-compliant with Centrelink’s patently ridiculous requirements as this may be recorded as a breach against one of us, and used against us in the future. After all, as Centrelink advised us, if we break up, my partner might be eligible again!

Dresden:

Peter Isaacson writes: Melissa Donchi (yesterday, comments) should get her facts right in relation to the reason for the bombing of Dresden in the latter stages of World War II. The bombing of Dresden has been so magnified that the truth needs to be recognised.

Dresden was a legitimate target for Bomber Command of the Royal Air Force and the United States 8th Air Force. It held many industrial plants — among them a Zeiss-Ikon factory making lenses for bomb sights, factories making radar and electronic components and fuses for anti-aircraft shells, gas masks, engines for Junkers aircraft, cockpit parts for Messerschmitt fighters and U-boat periscopes.

Furthermore Dresden was a transportation centre for the German troops fighting against the Russians in the German-Russian battle zone which lay about 80 miles to the east of Dresden.

Joseph Goebbels claimed they were in excess of 200,000 deaths. The correct figure was 20,204. That they died and the city harmed was a tragedy of war, a war started for no good reason by the elected government of Germany.

Peter James writes: Melissa Donchi’s view that Paul Keating’s reference to the loss of Dresden was a cheap metaphor is unduly dismissive mainly because the cultural comparison was not intended as merely metaphorical. Whether Keating’s comparison of losses is correct or not is a matter for the reader’s judgment.

What is of greater concern is that Donchi repeats the David Irving falsehoods in the estimate of deaths in Dresden, “estimated at 135,000 people”, when the accumulation of reliable evidence is that the true death toll was within the bracket of 25-30,000.

Both estimates reveal an horrific tragedy, but the higher, and false estimate has been put about by Irving as part of his Holocaust denial and what I trust was an innocent acceptance of that figure must be corrected.

Some fine periodicals:

Doug Melville writes: Adam Rope (yesterday, comments) wrote: “Years ago when I lived in Aberdeen, Scotland, the story I heard about the local paper, The Press and Journal, was that it’s headline on or around the 16th April 1912 was ‘Local Man Lost at Sea’. Anyone remember what happened on April 14th 1912??”

Adam, it would appear that the Evening Telegraph or “Tully” — (just down the road in Dundee) had a similar reputation. Their reputed headline was: “Dundee man dies in shipping accident”. I suspect they were both owned by that well known UK publishing house D.C. Thomson, union-bashers and purveyors of such fine periodicals as The People’s Friend, The Beano and The Dandy.

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