Re. “Dictator Watch: Syrians continue to protest despite massacres” (Friday, item 6). The article quotes a “Matthew Hall from the ANU’s Centre for Middle Eastern Studies.” It should have read “Matthew Gray from the ANU’s Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies.” Crikey apologies for the error.

The problem with cheap booze

Geoff Munro, policy director at the Australian Drug Foundation, writes: Re. “The weird world where Australians whinge about cheap beer” (March 24, item 10). The oddest thing about Bernard Keane’s column, in favour of cheap beer, was his devotion to short-termism. Yet Keane often complains of politicians choosing the easy, populist, vote-catching option in place of the scientific but difficult-to-sell, evidence based, long term view.

His fervid defence of the supermarket duopoly selling grog below cost price flies in the face of a mountain of research that indicates the human and social impact of cheap alcohol. When prices go up we drink less; when the price declines we drink more, because we can. The problem is that as more people drink more alcohol, more people put themselves in harm’s way. And we all end up paying for that.

Michael Livingstone of Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre has reported between 1999-2005 the proportion of males aged 16-17 taken to emergency rooms in Melbourne due to binge drinking increased by 33% while the rate for underage females increased by 66% (ANZ Journal Public Health, 2008, 32, 3). As they are too young to drink in licensed venues much of the alcohol they drank was most likely bought as packaged liquor: 75% of all alcohol is purchased in that form.

Keane might not be expected to know those details. But he should have noticed that every capital city and many local councils are busy erecting policies to manage alcohol problems on their streets and in and around entertainment centres. And how has he missed Noel Pearson lamenting that cheap grog is literally destroying Aboriginal communities?

We need controls on the price of alcohol because cheap booze costs too much. We might have to pay a bit more for a bottle, but that’s the cost of the social contract.

The larger issue is that alcohol should be removed from the competition policy. It is no usual consumer good, but a drug whose use causes massive preventable harm. Previous generations knew that; we forgot, and are learning it anew.

Intervention in Libya

Richard Milroy writes: Re. “Rundle: Libya and the torch of life burns brightly” (March 24, item 11).  I’m afraid Rundle may have been taken in by British government spin (a friendly word for propaganda). He may be right that this is no planned western imperialist take-over of Libya or anything like it.

But surely the pressing reason for this intervention by any of the military powers mentioned is based on a judgement that this is the best way to medium-term stability in Libya (i.e.. overthrow of Gaddafi). Stability of oil supply is the only issue at stake here.

Surely it is clear that the humanitarian cause, whilst very real, is not the main reason for the intervention.  As with so many other interventions, it’s the excuse.  Nothing else makes sense given so many other terrible humanitarian catastrophes that take place at the whim of governments around the world, but with no similar interventions.

Whilst I’m no conspiracy theorist, why does the Bahrain/Saudi situation seem to be getting so little airplay?  This is where the serious attention is being paid — if it gets out of control there is a potential Iran/Saudi conflict at hand which could have terrible global implications.  Perhaps there is no mention of it because it is so clearly a breach of one country’s borders by another, to put down a popular rebellion no different from the one in Libya. But the same Western powers are happy with a convenient distraction (ie. Libya)from what is going on there, perhaps?

School fights

Neil Stollznow writes: Re. “Bullying: protecting kids is all cheques and no balances” (March 24, item 5)  I enjoy beating up media as much as anyone, but it strikes me that Margaret Simons comments are off track. What is worse than appearing on a show that will be forgotten about by everyone (including Crikey) in a week’s time? Going to school for years, being called fat, and having your head smashed in on a daily basis — that’s what.

If we really do want to point fingers at something external, let’s consider the public school system and the teachers working within it that allowed it to happen. The limitations of public schools with its archaic ‘promotion on seniority’ system rather than merit are obvious to all. Parents recognise this as, whenever possible, they make enormous financial sacrifices to use private education to save their children from having to endure the poor outcomes for both safety and education that the public system consistently delivers.

Disagreeing with Bill Williams

Andrew Lewis writes: Bill Williams (comments, Friday) writes a spirited and erudite response to Bernard Keane re. the Carbon Tax issue. How disappointing to see that he hasn’t really put a fertile mind to very good use.

The best thing in Keane’s piece of a few days earlier was in tagging the anti-carbon tax rag-tag group not as climate deniers, as Williams accuses him, but as people who are just struggling with the changes in society that they are seeing but have no control over.   It is self evidently true when you see the worthlessness of attempting to change the mind of a climate change denier, or an anti-carbon tax advocate, by use of logic and reason.

So Williams summation that Keane had categorised everybody against the tax as a naive climate change denier was exactly the opposite of what I took from Keane’s piece. It has nothing to do with climate change and tax or no tax debates, it is the change-averse struggling with real change that isn’t going to slow down soon.

Williams then seems to cast doubt on the idea of approaching the challenge on the basis of rational economics. Paul Keating said it best when he said something to the effect of “what choice did we have, irrational economics?”

The anti-tax group tend to run on the mantra of ‘how will a tax stop any carbon going into the atmosphere?’  It’s a reasonable question on the face of it, but it isn’t hard to find the reasoning behind it. Even irrational people start to change their behaviour over time, or in this case they will pay a price for their irrationality. But even this analysis ignores the other side of this equation.  As we live in a democracy, the irrational have every right to use every CO2 producing form of energy available to them.

Daniel Kahneman’s work is brilliant, but hardly relevant. Irrational decisions will continue to be made by some householders, some of the time.  Businesses, who will hopefully be less irrational (psychopaths are usually brutally rational), make up a significant component of ‘energy users’, and they will have to compete with the rational businesses. And then there are the energy producers who will be rational or defunct. Real energy will have to be produced rather than being dug out of the ground for a ridiculously meagre sum.

It internalises a cost of producing energy that is currently not priced into the goods/services being traded.  It means that those who used to gain the greatest advantages by this market distortion (externalities) will no longer be ahead of the curve.

But here is the really important point.  It’s about justice Bill, it’s about paying your way. It’s about giving something back to those who will act rationally with the right incentives, and for those who do give a tinker’s cuss and have already made an effort.

Dammit, it’s about fairness.  It’s about seeing a train coming at you in that tunnel and doing something about it, rather than just sitting there like a bunny in the headlights. It’s about using our talents rather than just shrugging our shoulders because some people will feel a bit uncomfortable with change. It’s about trying to think of solutions rather than just pooh-poohing everyone else’s ideas.

It’s about handing over a world to our children that isn’t beyond redemption. Get on board!

Jon Buckeridge writes: Bill Williams wondered if concerns over climate change might eventually be seen as being “……. an enormous human collective anxiety response to the wolf at the door, something similar to the Y2K.”

Rather than seeing Y2K as something of a fraud on society, instead it should be hailed as one of the most successful examples of cross-industry and international co-operation seen in modern times. Huge resources were devoted to preventing the potential disruption from computer systems not being able to distinguish years in the 1900s from those in the 2000s. This was driven by commercial organisations with little to gain from non-essential activity, and then taken up by governments around the world.

As a side-benefit, it provided employment for former programmers in forgotten languages like Fortran, COBOL and C, dragged from retirement to sanitise legacy systems.  Many firms brought forward plans to replace computer systems before 1 January 2000, resulting in a modernisation of our overall systems architecture.

That the disruption from Y2K proved to be so minimal goes down as one of the great success stories.

Dave Horsfall writes:

  1. I wish that people such as Williams would recognise that Y2K was a very real problem.  I am a computer programmer, and I (along with my colleagues) worked over Easter and Xmas etc, to make sure that nothing would happen.  I was on duty on Saturday morning, and yes, we found a few problems; Williams wouldn’t have noticed them, because we fixed them before the coming Monday.
  2. I wish that the media would stop giving oxygen to Y2K denialists such as Williams.
  3. I wish that the media would actually publish our stories in turn.

The Australian

Harold Thornton writes: Chris Mitchell (comments, Friday) has a nationally distributed megaphone for his and his boss’s bizarre view of the universe.  I pay to read Crikey, something I have chosen not to do for many years in regard to the substandard toilet paper Mr Mitchell publishes. Please ensure I have reason to renew my subscription, due in three months, and keep any correspondence between yourself and Mr Mitchell private. Thanks in advance.

Trouble in Japan

Japanese citizen Sachi Hirayama writes: I would like to get attention regarding the disastrous situation in Japan especially Japanese media. In Japan the media doesn’t report that the Japanese government rejected the offer to send rescue teams.
Many Japanese don’t know that everyone around the world is praying for Japan, and feeling isolated and lonely without support.
Media reports everyday “everything is getting better, it is going alright, people are helping each other, they are calm.” Therefore the rest of Japan doesn’t know the disastrous situation in Tohoku. In many shelters people still don’t have food, water, medicine, milk, petrol. Children and elderly people die because of hunger, cold, lack of medicine. But other Japanese don’t realize.

The media is not telling the truth. Please let Japanese know what is happening in Japan.  We just want to know the truth.

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