Stuart MacGill and fast food sponsorship of sport:

Rosemary Stanton, nutritionist, writes: Re. “Just Chew It: don’t sell KFC, MacGill tells his cricketing mates” (yesterday, item 1). It’s good to see Stuart MacGill standing up for what he knows is right.

Sponsoring cricket, little athletics or any other sport is popular with sellers of junk food. They then claim some kind of moral high ground for encouraging exercise that leads to the line that exercise will balance their fatty/sugary/salty junk foods.

Studies in NSW show more kids are taking part in sport but they’re still fat and the fat ones are growing fatter.

Playing sport does burns kilojoules but not nearly as many as are put back into the body from the sponsor’s junk foods and drinks.

David Havyatt writes: Could this be the same SCG MacGill who hosted a TV show called Stuart MacGill Uncorked which was all about wine? Did he not do commercials for Wolf Blass?

While I get the point about the evils of sports stars promoting fat and sugar laden foods, promoting alcohol consumption is just as bad!

A GST reconstruction:

Harvey James writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s chunky bits” (yesterday, item 12). Like Richard Farmer, I have a healthy respect for Nikki Savva’s abilities as a spinner and her political insight. Which is why I can see through her clever reconstruction of the debate that preceded the introduction of the GST.

Nowhere in her piece did she mention the $500 million taxpayer funded advertising campaign the Howard Government hurled at the electorate. Imagine the outcry if Julia Gillard tried to win a debate about a new tax using taxpayer funds.

But the real clincher is the line about the anger over the GST and the Business Activity Statement subsiding around July 2001.

“By then people knew Kim Beazley had little to offer,” she says. Really? How masterfully Ms Savva manages to avoid mentioning the Tampa and the September 11 terrorist attacks (and the disintegration of Ansett Airlines).

Complaints about the GST were comprehensively buried by these events, ensuring an incumbent Government would be re-elected in 2001.

Anti-Semitism:

James Burke writes: Re. “Rundle: what’s with Galliano, Gibson ‘n’ ******’s anti-Semitism?” (yesterday, item 4). Guy Rundle’s analysis of the resurgence of anti-Semitism makes a number of points, none of which I necessarily disagree with, but some of which are emphasised at the expense of others.

Of course, Rundle underplays the role of “leftists” in this issue.

A revolting feature of the post-Cold War era has been the continuing moral relativism of so many politically-minded people toward bigotry and fascism. The loyalty of “conservatives” to the likes of the Saudis and Pinochet, the embrace by “liberals” of Gaddafi and Musharraf, the admiration of “socialists” for Castro, Chavez, even Ahmadinejad and the Taliban, has been nauseating. A low, dishonest decadence has seen public benevolence showered on such vicious bigots as Joerg Haider, Avigdor Lieberman and the alumni of One Nation, now pursuing their various careers in reality TV, talk radio and the opinion columns.

As the web has broken open the global conversation, conspiracy mania (largely derived from anti-Semitism), pseudoscience, propaganda and disinformation have thrived. I have heard, from superficially sensible people, theories that the Twin Towers were brought down from the inside, or the levees at New Orleans were deliberately breached, or that civilisation itself is threatened by a sinister conspiracy of ex-communists who have suborned the international scientific community.

The “left” and the “right” are intellectually and morally bankrupt, as they were in the 1930s and 1940s when communism and fascism slowly strangled democracy, almost to the death. Anti-Semitism was a feature of both, as the ultimate conspiracy theory. It is also part of the new Islam-centred conspiracy theory of Beck et al, as it is part of the conspiracy theories peddled to Islam by the remnant Trots.

Maybe if we can learn not to tolerate these forces of darkness in our politics, we can extend a genuine tolerance throughout our society.

Climate change:

Nicholas Adams writes: Re. “Academy of Science: how has climate changed during the recent past?” (yesterday, item 10). It’s nice to see that the Australian Academy of Science is helping you to wade through the (steaming) swamp of climate change evidence, but it is worth pointing out that some science is more, well, scientific than others.

The scientific method involves the following steps: observation of a natural phenomenon, development of an hypothesis to explain the phenomenon, and finally the design and execution of an experiment to test the hypothesis. Unfortunately, this last crucial step is missing in a number of scientific disciplines because it is either impossible or impractical.

These disciplines include geology, palaeontology, cosmology, economics, history and of course climatology. We only have one universe, one earth and only one global economy to observe and this makes proper experimentation impossible. Scientists in these disciplines are forced to resort to models of the real world to test their hypotheses. All models of complex systems like the economy or climate, no matter how sophisticated  are only flawed imitations of reality — we only construct the model because we don’t fully understand the system, so it follows that the model will be imperfect.

This lack of true experimental testing of hypotheses is the crippling flaw of these semi-sciences. It is interesting that many of the protagonists in the science change debate come from similar semi-scientific disciplines (e.g. Plimer — geology, Calderwood — economics). Not many physicists are weighing into the debate because they don’t see any hard evidence to talk about.

Apart from the use of models, the other concept that keeps cropping up in the climate change debate is scientific consensus. Apparently, if all the scientists agree on something it must be true, whether the evidence is there or not. Well, in my field of medicine we have developed a hierarchy of evidence to guide us in deciding which treatments work and which don’t.

Multiple randomised trials (a form of experiment) constitute the highest level. And down near the bottom? That’s right, consensus of expert opinion. Just above the opinion of your taxi driver or that talkative old bloke down the street…

Australian complacency about land:

David Thackrah writes: Urban fringe development is starting to impact on the use of arable land for food production. Similarly, in the wheat, barley, oats and sheep farming sectors the use of cleared land is possibly reaching “unproductiv” status.

Driving around farming regions shows large tracts of land seemingly untended and in some cases eroding from wind action. In the “hills” sub-regions near Perth, Adelaide and Sydney the effect of the 2.5 hectare house block is sucking up quite viable and arable land useful for horticulture and fruit production.

As Australia consumes about 20% of its’ food production, in a general sense we are quite well fed. However, for defence reasons over the longer term it seems sensible to be planning for efficient use of cleared land in producing food for export.

There is also a complacency in the population where farmers tend to be aging with the traditional family “following on” disintegrating. Presently is appears foreigners are keen to buy up tracts of farmland but they don’t seem to know what to do about dealing with the farming responsibilities.

So, if we have a social and defence issues developing, why isn’t the government looking at more support for small farming communities and the encouragement of younger farmers ?

Peter Fray

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