Correction:

Crikey says: An item in Tips and Rumours yesterday stated Caltex purchased wine chain Cellarmasters. They did not; Woolworths did. Caltex had nothing to do with the purchase or with any of the details of the tip.

Correction 2:

Reuben Aitchison, Corporate Affairs Manager, writes: Crikey published:

“Suncorp-owned insurer AAMI has been quietly rejecting flood claims in Queensland for the past month. The company started knocking back claims in Ipswich and the Lockyer Valley last month, and is now telling Brisbane policy holders that they’re on their own. Suncorp is trying to keep it all quiet, given AAMI’s sister brands Suncorp Insurance, Apia and GIO cover flood and are paying out without question.”

A rumour without a leg to stand on usually still manages to get around, so I thought perhaps it might be a good idea for AAMI to supply you with some facts.

In the event we deny a claim, we do so one on one with the customer, for two principal reasons: first and foremost, we believe it’s insensitive to announce we are denying a claim or claims via the media. It’s not good news for a customer and they should hear it from us directly. That also allows us to explain our decision in terms of their specific circumstances and to advise them on what steps they can take if they are not happy with our decision.

Which brings me onto my second point: AAMI doesn’t make blanket decisions — we assess claims on an individual, case-by-case basis. It’s only fair. Often, as is the case in parts of Queensland affected by the floods — including Brisbane and Ipswich — it’s not always cut and dried, even where a river has flooded, so we do individual hydrology reports, which have helped us pay out on more claims than you might think.

But let’s get back to the “facts” of your tip: We didn’t start knocking back claims in Ipswich last month and we are not denying claims in the Lockyer Valley — our investigations show it is principally storm/rainwater run-off in the Lockyer, which is covered under AAMI’s building and contents policies.

Next time you hear a rumour on such an emotive topic, why don’t you pick up the phone and call me? I’d be happy to help.

Assange:

Mads Andersen, in Canberra, writes: I would like to congratulate Guy Rundle for writing what has been thoughtful and intelligent pieces on the Assange case. Too many people have skewed this story for their own ideological reasons, whether they are pro or against the WikiLeaks founder.

As for Assange, he should hang his head in shame for disgracefully nourishing ideas that the legal case against him is some sort of American conspiracy, claims that have led to the two women receiving death threats.

That does not change the fact that there is a disturbingly irrational undercurrent to some forms of Swedish feminism, and that it is at least possible that Assange might be on the receiving end of that.

The best journalistic exposè to date of the influence the more radical branches of feminism has on Swedish politics is the 2005 TV documentary Könskriget, or “Gender War”, created by Evan Rubar, a Swedish journalist of Kurdish extraction. You can see it here, with English captions in case Crikey doesn’t have Swedish-speaking writers.

For foreigners it is hard to understand just how aggressive some strains of Swedish feminism can be. It is not inconceivable that some might feel Julian Assange, as a high-profile man, is someone who should be made an example of.

The Middle East:

Benjamin Lee writes: Re. John Richardson (yesterday, comments) on Libya. Mr Richardson appears to be calling Americans and the UN hypocrites for imposing a no-fly zone over Libya when they are failing to protect civilians in Bahrain and the Americans actively invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. This is a fair point; American, and to a large extent Western, foreign policy has been characterised by ruthless realism since imperial times. However, I struggle to discern what Mr Richardson would have the US and UN do.

If, in Mr Richardson’s hyperbolic example of an armed uprising in Australia, the government turned out to be corrupt and tyrannical, I would certainly expect government reprisals and consequently I would call for a no-fly zone to protect me and my fellow rebels. The Americans themselves sought assistance from the French during their revolution in the 1770s. Why can’t the Libyans, and why couldn’t we? As for the Iraqis and Afghans, can anyone really argue that they enjoyed more democratic freedoms and self-determination under Saddam or the Taliban than under their current (albeit incompetent and corrupt) administrations?

With respect to Bahrain and the Palestinian territories, the sad reality is that it is not possible for the Americans to enforce no-fly zones or otherwise intervene without losing allies which, oppressive (Saudi Arabia) or recalcitrant (Israel) as they may be, are valuable and necessary in the geopolitical morass that is the Middle East. Conversely, with Libya a pariah once again, why not take the opportunity that has fallen the West’s way and help to bring down at least one vile dictatorship? Is it not better to make one good choice and act than sit still to lament all the bad choices one has made?

Nuclear power:

Guy Rundle writes: Patrick Bowman (yesterday, comments) makes a mistake common to many people in assessing nuclear power, risk and public response — he assumes that there is no categorical difference between nuclear and other technologies, and between abstract technology and natural processes. There is obviously a difference between abstracted, invisible technologies — electricity and nuclear power — and visible processes. Everyone understands this at some level.

Most people doing DIY on their house will get on a roof, or do other risky activities — but will quite sensibly steer clear of working on electrics, for reason of its potential invisible lethality. So a rational distinction is embedded in common sense, and rational behaviour.

Nuclear power is a special case, because it dismantles nature at the level upon which life depends — the bound atom. The forces that make it possible may be a part of the universe, but until we created the technology, nuclear fission simply wasn’t a part of “nature” — of our given life-world, in which we evolved. If it were, we would be differently constituted and radiation would not be such a potentially mass lethal threat.

As a technology which transforms our life-world categorically, it has a categorical effect — the uncontrolled chain reaction, the mass radiation release, a disaster in which a technological process simply cannot be stopped. The political consequences of this are that millions of people have the question of life and death decided for them by experts working either for corporations governed by profit, or bureaucrats cutting corners, or both.

The one group of people who tend to be least aware of this categorical difference are those who work with the technology itself, for whom it becomes “second nature”. It’s one reason why they are so often surprised when masses of people assert their right to have greater control over the type of risks they take with their world, and the lives of themselves and their children.

Food, East African style:

Diana Simmonds writes: Re. “Daily Proposition: food out of Africa, out of this world” (yesterday, item 18). Injera and wat (not wot) are specifically Ethiopian rather than “East African” — which is really the food of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and would be dishes like ugali, nyama choma, sukuma wiki, kuku paka, githeri, matoke and so on. Yum.

The missing links:

Martin C. Jones writes: Re. “Media wrap: Libya at war, as coalition attacks key targets” (yesterday, item 16). I’d like to commend Crikey intern Rhiana Whitson for her piece yesterday, which contained no less than 15 links to sources. It’s rare for news articles to contain even half that number, as a quick glance at Crikey over the last week shows — Andrew Crook was a notable exception on Wednesday with 12 links; Antony Loewenstein managed 20 on Thursday, but in a much longer piece.

Not that all journalism requires that many links, obviously, else we’d get stuck in synthesis and never progress to original analysis. But it was gratifying that Whitson allowed us to test her claims against the source material, and I hope it becomes standard practice. (Those who dislike the inline linking can petition for footnotes.)

Climate change:

John Craig writes: Re. “The Long View: climate change and the search for balanced reporting” (yesterday, item 5). I noted Margaret Simons’ endorsement of Ross Garnaut’s suggestion that unbalanced media reporting (which gives equal weight to mainstream science and to speculations that are not subject to peer review) is undermining public support for action against climate change.

May I suggest that the bigger problem may be the apparent lack of balance in support for research into climate change? Overwhelmingly resources have been made available to try to demonstrate the validity of anthropogenic theories of climate change. The IPCC was established initially mainly to investigate that hypothesis.

In yesterday’s Australian it was noted that the then UK Prime Minister (Margaret Thatcher) had a leading role in supporting the establishment of research capabilities to address climate change. [As I understand it her support led to the creation in the mid-1980s of the influential Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in the UK — which was paralleled by the creation of the IPCC and had similar goals].

Mrs Thatcher was described as “the first major political figure to accept that climate change was happening and that mankind had caused it. She was a scientist by training and she cross-questioned the experts in the way only she knew how. She would have preferred them to have been wrong too. However, the whole assembly of facts, even then, more than 20 years ago, convinced her that we had to act.”

The problem with this is that: (a) every serious student of the subject in the late 1980s (including the present writer) reached the same conclusion as  Mrs Thatcher; (b) that conclusion apparently created an institutional bias in the climate change theories that it was politically-correct to consider if one wished to gain research funding; and (c) there have subsequently been so many plausible alternative hypotheses suggested that have seemed to remain unexplored due to a lack of research funding that the present writer is no longer prepared to unquestioningly accept that the anthropogenic climate change hypothesis is the end of the story.

The best way to move forward is not to criticise those who advance alternative hypotheses through the media but are unable to get funding to fully develop their theories through peer reviewed processes. A better alternative would be to support a deliberate process to try to falsify the mainstream scientific view, by providing funding support for diverse plausible alternative hypotheses so that the relevance (or otherwise) of the latter could be properly assessed. This process should have been started 15 years ago, but there is no use crying over spilt milk.

Peter Fray

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