Niall Clugson writes: Re. “Why the Massachusetts Democrats are Browned off” (Friday, item 3). Reading Possum Comitatus’s analysis of the “Boston Red Shock”, what strikes me is that American politics is polarised. Sure the Democrats ran an incompetent, probably complacent, campaign. But the Republicans turned out in force. Why? Because they are motivated to protest against Obama.  The Democrat supporters are still in a cloud of euphoria.  Disillusionment may be seeping in, but in no way does this motivate them to “get out the vote” to “fight the right”.  For the Mad Haters’ Tea Party, on the other hand, all America’s traditional enemies –  the blacks, the Muslims, the socialists, the Nazis, the financiers, and the British — have inexplicably coalesced into a clear and present danger never before posed outside the manic imagination of Lyndon LaRouche.  Of course their numbers held up.  And of course the Democrats’ wilted.

Graph Nitpicker writes: Possum Comitatus left Boston off yesterday’s graph because of scale issues, I just wanted to say that he could have used a log-log scale, which would have spread out all those pesky little towns in the bottom left corner and made it possible to include Boston.

The IPCC confusion:

Ralph McKay writes: Re. “Crikey Clarifier: how the IPCC works” (20 January, item 12). Andrew Macintosh says, “The glacier incident has provided a vivid illustration of the need for the IPCC to be exacting in its standards and for scientists to be cautious when engaging with the media.” However he did not mention the obvious fault in the IPCC procedures or how to fix it. The IPCC has never invited scientists to vote. This means the IPCC’s processes for representing scientific opinion fail the most basic test of robustness and transparency. Custodians of all democracies understand that a secure vote is the only reliable and scientific way to measure group opinion.  Yet no one in authority has invited scientists to vote. It’s remarkable that the media, policymakers and scientists have all overlooked this point.

The IPCC’s use of working groups is an efficient way to condense peer reviewed scientific papers and other material into a single less technical report. However this process does not guarantee that the authors of the scientific papers endorse the IPCC reports. The process also excludes the views of many scientists less exposed to any conflicts of interest yet qualified to comment on the published research. Without the vote legitimate doubts remain and no one has scientific authority to represent the experts. It means the most basic questions on climate change science and economics remain unanswered. Vested interests will inevitably determine the outcome, which may or may not align with the best measure of scientific opinion. The risk is a dangerous overreaction or expensive and useless under-reaction to the actual threat. Without the vote, failure at Copenhagen was obvious.

Vocal and frustrated scientists concerned about global warming say there is no debate about its cause while other scientists write letters and books in strong disagreement. Naturally the public is confused and losing interest. A vote will resolve the debate and sharpen public focus. For several years I have been inviting scientists to vote on climate change issues. From all sides the response is that scientists don’t vote. So where is the voice of political scientists in this debate?

Water privatisation:

Geoff Russell, Animal Liberation SA, writes: Re. “Diving into water privatisation is a suicidal leap” (Friday, item 14). Great article exposing the fundamental selling out of Australia’s water future to private greed by Ian Douglas. But water markets, whether theoretically optimal as advocates claim, or as downright greedy profiteering as history shows, also have a massive international knock on impact.  How we use our water isn’t just our business, it can expand or shrink the food we can export. Reductions in our food exports caused by suboptimal use of water, are, quite literally killing people on the other side of the planet. For example, at its peak in 2000/1 the dairy industry used more than double the water used by rice (and far more than cotton … and 10 times more than Cubbie) and nine times more water than the fruit and vegetable industries combined in the Murray Darling Basin but produced just 20 percent more calories of food than rice.  What’s more many of those calories are saturated fat and removed before sale.  The real calorie per mega litre ratio is far more tilted to rice than simple calculations reveal. The water market allows rich lovers of cheese to outbid the poor who need rice.

A similar argument applies to grain markets. Grain, like water is dominated by a market mechanism where it is sold to the highest bidder. This means beef cattle feedlots or chicken factory farms in Victoria easily outbid the poor in Nigeria or Haiti. Factory farm domination of the grain market is the number one cause of the continuing world food crisis. Some commodities are far too critical to be under the control of market forces, and that includes both grain and water.

Princely PR coup:

Peter Wotton writes: Re. “Republican movement’s new enemy: Prince William” (Friday, item 5). Oh , for heaven’s sake, did the Palace really pull off an extraordinary PR coup? Prince William may be an extraordinarily nice young bloke  but the crowds (?) he pulled were by no means large. There will always be the elderly who still remember the days of empire and the young girls who remember the romance of Princess Mary. I would imagine that if Madonna were to undertake a similar sightseeing tour, the crowds would be far more extreme. Prince William is British, not Australian. I cannot imagine that his visit will have any significant long term effect on when we eventually become a republic. He is a visiting celebrity whose visit has received minor coverage. He is largely irrelevant to the political process in Australia.

Green Loans:

Shaz Gerchow writes: Re. “Tips and Rumours” (Friday, item 7). I suspect your tip about the Green Loans is correct. I was assessed in September last year but only received my report late in October. I had intended to apply for a green loan to replace my ancient electric hot water system, which was the only item rated poorly by the assessor.  My assessment report, however, states that I should replace my toilet and install a rainwater tank – an interesting suggestion since I live in a block of units.  Since then I have been calling the Department regularly to try and have my assessment reviewed so that I may purchase a new hot water system. .  Each time I call I am told that someone will call me back, but do date have received no contact.  I have even tried emailing the Department on their feedback form but that also failed. Today I couldn’t even speak to anybody but had to record a message for the assessment team. As I only have six months from the date of  receiving the report in which to apply for a loan, any bets that I won’t receive a call back until May?

Bagging The West:

Nigel Dolan writes: Re. “Talking the Town: Pilger’s wrong to bag The West” (13 January, item 17). I would like to advise you and Mr Apps of errors and disparaging comments made in your recent article concerning a public lecture at UWA Extension held on Tuesday morning 12th Jan.

1. I am not aware of a ‘stumbling introduction’ by the session chair. This should be clarified factually.

2. There is no indication of what this ‘technological glitch’ might be. Note it is not unusual for adjustments to be made to computer and AV equipment in Lecture Theatres, e.g., adjusting the lighting and sound level.

3. Mr Pilger’s preamble was not ‘rambling’. It was focused, on topic and clearly enunciated.

4. There WERE journalists in the audience, though it was true that they did not make themselves known — for their own reasons.

5. Mr Apps should be aware that while Pilger said relatively little about the West Australian, the paper’s indigenous coverage was vigorously praised from the floor. So what is his issue – strongly titled: ‘Pilger’s wrong to bag the west’? I would hardly think that the main focus of the discussion was about bagging the West.

6. The session format DID lend itself to questioning Mr Pilger on anything that he said and about his work in general 0- it was a largely audience-oriented Q and A session. As such there was plenty of opportunity to ask Pilger to comment on ‘media moguls’ or any other related issues. I believe the engagement of the audience and the unusually loud and vigorous applause was a telling statement of their satisfaction.

Abandoned trolleys:

Nikos Andronicos writes: Re. Ava Hubble’s comment (Friday, comments) Regarding the proposed fines on Coles, Woolworths etc for dumped trolleys – notice that the top five ‘culprits’ are all stores in inner-city suburbs where people WALK to the supermarket rather than DRIVING THEIR TARAGOS right up to the loading dock. Penalised supermarkets would surely pass the fees onto customers, and believe me, things are expensive enough in Surry Hills as it is. The councils should work out how much carbon is being saved by environmentally-friendly pedestrian shoppers before slapping fines on. One truck driving around retrieving abandoned trolleys is clearly less harmful to the environment than hundreds of 15-year-old Corollas clogging up the Coles carpark to pick up their litre of milk. Amen.

Rod Metcalfe writes: Why is it we continue to blame the victim rather than the perpetrator in these instances. Why should supermarkets be responsible for the actions of the individuals who take trolleys and leave them in the street (and bear the cost which is put onto the price of groceries). It is the same with newspapers which attack public transport for dirty trains/trams/buses when it is the passengers who leave rubbish behind. Okay, I admit it is hard to police the actions of these individuals but Ms Hubble’s suggestion is very simplistic – and we all pay for the action of a few.

Pete Wilson-Jones writes: I am not sure how fair it is punishing the supermarkets, or in fact how it would stop trolley theft, when the fact is the customers are the ones who take the trolleys and dump them out on the street/in parks, etc. I live in Campsie, and it’s no different here. Nearly every second person going past my place is pushing a Woolworths or Big W trolley (I live a kilometre from Woolworths BTW).

In NSW by law the police can arrest and charge someone for taking a trolley away from a store or it’s car park — it is theft — but I have never seen it enforced around here. I am aware it is already a big financial problem for the supermarkets, who constantly have to purchase new trolleys, as well as employing people to drive around and find dumped ones.

Short of installing cattle grids at the perimeter, or hiring security to man the entrances, I just don’t see how Ava Hubble and the City of Sydney Council’s NIMBY idea can be a solution to this problem.

Crikey ruins Australia Day:

Anna Louise McNaughton writes: Re. “Oz day spoiler: ABC leaks Hottest 100 victor” (Friday, item 4). Boo to you for spoiling JJJ Hottest 100. Just because you can report something. Doesn’t mean you should. Boo Crikey Boo.

Smoking Sigourney:

Laurie Patton writes: Has anyone counted how many times Sigourney Weaver lights up a cigarette in her role of chief scientist and, ironically, resident social conscience in the movie Avatar?  The first gasp occurs within a few minutes.  These days most people would take exception to anyone smoking in a confined space, let alone an oxygen enriched space vehicle.  It is worth noting that Weaver — one of the few high profile ‘heads’ in the movie – is the only one to pull out the fags.  There is plenty of material on the web about smoking in films and the tobacco industry.  This Cancer Council link is a good start.

Peter Fray

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