The Costa Concordia:

Beryce Nelson writes: Re. “As Capt Chicken sips espresso with mum, rescuers search for dead” (Friday, item 1). Strangely, the first public statements about the sinking of the Costa Concordia came from the chairman of the company that owns the ship. Even before details of the grounding were clear to Italian authorities, the board was quickly and deliberately pointing the finger of blame at their captain. Desperate for the story journalists around the world ran with these claims without any confirmation of the facts.

This strategy has been the company’s consistent theme since the grounding first became public knowledge. Over the past few days more lurid and unchallenged stories about the captain’s alleged behaviour after the grounding have been leaked to journalists and run by media outlets around the world. A number of these stories were quickly proven to be wrong but never retracted. The hate media have branded him a “coward” and a “chicken” well before any of the real facts of the grounding are known. All that is clear is that the cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground on rocks close to the Tuscan coast. Of the 4500 people on board, 4460 survived.

To date, 13 people have been confirmed dead and 21 are still missing, feared dead. Despite some journalists attempting to make sensational links to the sinking of the Titanic, a quick search of history reveals the lack of any fair comparison to that disaster where more than half the 2300 passengers drowned simply because there were not enough lifeboats.

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The management of the decision to abandon the Costa Concordia may not have been text book and the ensuing confusion among passengers and crew would have made it a truly fearful situation but the number of survivors is still amazing in the circumstances. Despite advice from crew, some passengers also made the fateful decision to return to cabins for personal items, were then trapped and drowned. The rescue process was also hampered by the difficulties in accessing lifeboats because of the increasing list of the ship. None of this can be laid at the door of the captain of the ship.

We are yet to know if he changed course as suggested by the company chairman or if the grounding was a truly awful accident. Only an official inquiry will eventually provide the answers.

In the meantime is it not too much to ask that the media report the facts and not the fantasy?

Graeme Thornton writes: I have heard of wheels within wheels. But there are keels within keels. Courtesy of Wikipedia (long may you/they exist with SOFA and Murdoch moguls wanting more more more media dominance):

“The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company or White Star Line of Boston Packets, more commonly known as the White Star Line, was a highly prominent British shipping company, today most famous for its ill-fated vessel, the RMS Titanic, and the World War I loss of Titanic‘s sister ship Britannic. In 1934 the line merged with its chief rival, Cunard Line, which operated as a separate entity until 2005 and is now part of Carnival Corporation & PLC.”

So Carnival owned (historically) Titanic as well. Question is does anyone know if the Champagne bottle failed to break over the bow of the Titanic at launch? And was the launch on a 13th. And what role did Kate Winslet play? Some homework for you.


John Kotsopoulos writes: Let me make it clear that I hate pokies and wish they had never been allowed to move out of casinos and, in NSW’s case, the not-for-profit sporting clubs.

I must take, however,  issue with Julian Zytnik’s response (Friday, comments) to my challenge to Andrew Wilkie on mandatory pre-commitment where he refers  to the Productivity Commission Report as providing evidence to support Wilkie’s demands.

That report is itself based on a heap of assertions and indeed at 10.7 concedes that “there is no such thing as a single pre-commitment scheme” and that “pre-commitment could take a variety of forms, many of which would have incomplete or low efficacy, or have other deficiencies, such as complexity or prohibitive costs.”

The report in fact says that some forms or card-based pre-commitment could exacerbate problem gambling and goes on to recommend a trial of any proposed scheme involving full pre-commitment AFTER appropriate protocols have been developed. This just confirms my view that Wilkie’s push lacks evidence and is simply relying on assertions and his political leverage.

John Taylor writes: Keith Thomas (Friday, comments) suggests I missed the point with my comment on poker machine reform. In fact my comment was not about poker machine reform it was about the statistics that are quoted in support of mandatory pre-commitment. Bernard Keane had suggested that two thirds are in favour.

Now, as everyone knows 71.46% of statistics are made up on the spot, so who knows what the real figure is. If  Thomas would check the figures in my comment he would find they add up to 181%, which suggests either an anomaly in the reported figures, or that I made it up as I was typing my comment. You decide.

By the way 50% of those surveyed don’t think I should be so frivolous as to send this comment on such an important subject. I was in favour, my wife was against.

Constitutional change:

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Constitutional change unlikely, as usual” (Friday, item 9). If racism is going to be removed from the constitution, why not go the whole hog?

Remove the reference to “foreign corporations” from Section 51 (xx):  if the Commonwealth Government has power over corporations, it shouldn’t matter if they’re foreign or not.  Remove Section 51 (xxviii) regarding “influx of criminals”:  this is covered by subsection xix dealing with “aliens”.

Except we can’t.  This whole document, reeking of racism and disregard of human rights, can only be changed by referendum or revolution, the latter being the least unlikely.

Perhaps we should just honour this ridiculous constitution (which includes New Zealand, but not WA, as one of the states, and doesn’t mention the Prime Minister), salute the flag, which bears the emblem of empire on which the sun never rises, and pledge allegiance to a queen who by hereditary reckoning is a usurper.

I mean, why not?

Modern Award:

Andrew Whiley writes: Re. “Kohler: why unemployment is heading to 6%” (Friday, item 21). What Alan Kohler and the hordes of critics of Modern Awards inhabiting business and media circles never mention is that they actually asked for it. Begged for it! It was business interests and their press poodles that railed for so many years against the old state-based award systems, multiplicity of awards and called endlessly for a single national IR framework. John Howard finally obliged with WorkChoices, praise and plaudits duly emerged from the bizoids and the very same press poodles scampered around in circles, wagging their tails and yapping with delight.

The advent of Kevin 07 dented their aspirations for national awards to be truly empty vessels, devoid of anything but the most niggardly of conditions and capable of being easily undercut by so called  “individual contracts”, even if scrawled on the back of a Minties wrapper.

So now we do have a national industrial relations system, and have consolidated and modernised thousands of old state-based awards. Just not stripped them back to total irrelevance as was originally hoped. The sooking and whining we are daily being subjected to should be put into perspective. Business, Kohler and the rest of the IR cheer squad wanted it, got it, but in the process scored a giant own goal on this one.

Like the song says: Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

Climate change and pre-emptive denialism:

Andrew Davison writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s chunky bits” (Friday, item 13). Oooh! Please can I be the first to get in some “pre-emptive denialism” about the UN Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services?

  1. How do these so-called “researchers and policy experts” know what happened 65 million years ago? Were they there? No!
  2. There have always been extinctions, mass extinctions are natural. There have been five previous mass extinctions and none were caused by people. So there!
  3. “Previous periods of mass extinction were driven by … volcanism.” See? Volcanoes! It’s all caused by volcanoes
  4. IPBES /IPCC: all part of the global conspiracy — they even have the same first two letters!
  5. “100 to 1000 times faster than the natural extinction rate” — which is it, guys? No consensus there!
  6. It’s not so bad — I found a blog post that said “only one to two per cent of all species have gone gone extinct in the groups we can look at” — how is that a mass extinction?
  7. Even if the so-called “6th mass extension event” is caused by humans, it will be far too expensive to do anything about it
  8. Why should we in Australia pay? It will ruin our way of life.

That should do it for now.

Tamas Calderwood writes: So even NASA has finally fessed up that “the current global warming graphs are suggestive of a slowdown in global warming”.  They try to explain this away in their paper as natural variability caused by the solar and El Nino cycles, but it’s such a blatant asymmetry;  warming is man-made but any slowdown is natural variability. Couldn’t this languid 0.7° warming we’ve had in the past 150 years be natural too? In fact, NASA basically admit this by saying “the Sun’s influence will change rapidly to a warming effect over the next 3-5 years”. Oh, OK — so the sun could cause global warming? Who knew?

They also buy themselves a few years by saying that the current La Nina conditions won’t switch back to El Nino until 2013 or 2014, so don’t expect record temperatures any time soon … even though we have record carbon dioxide emissions. Nor do their excuses that aerosols could be causing this “slowdown in global warming” wash, given that most are produced in the northern hemisphere where the temperature trend was actually higher than the southern hemisphere in the past decade — the complete opposite of what you would expect if aerosols were masking global warming, although both temperature trends are consistent with a “slowdown in global warming”.

In any case, for those that are interested, I have a more detailed analysis of NASA’s paper on my new blog.