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The Daily Briefing 8/12/05

THURSDAY 8TH DECEMBER 2005          
Your round-up from today's newspapers plus the best writing, analysis, critical thinking and humour from around the world.

In today's email:
1    Steve Coll of the education of Osama bin Laden/New Yorker
2    David Crossland on Rice's failed European trip/Der Spiegel (3 links below)
3    Report on the first climate change refugees/Reuters (2 links below)
4    David Barash on C.P. Snow and two cultures/Chronicle (2 links below)
5    Carrie McLaren on advertising and subliminal seduction/Stay Free
6    MEDIA: Harper's after Lewis Lapham/New York (4 links)
7    Edward Wyatt on falling book sales/NYTimes
8    Gene Weingarten wonders 'what if ...?'/Washington Post
9    Report on changing approaches to child rearing/Times
10    THE REST: The spy who came back from the dead/Times (7 links below)
11    IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up

1 The education of young Osama
Steve Coll visits Al Thagher Model School in Jedda to discover more about the formative experiences of the Al-Qaeda leader. The result is a great essay that is also rich in historical and cultural details. "Eventually, after an awkward period of pulling away from his study-group friends, he joined a different circle of boys. During the next several years, he said, he watched as bin Laden and the others in his former group, who continued to study with the Syrian, openly adopted the styles and convictions of teen-age Islamic activists. They let their young beards grow, shortened their trouser legs, and declined to iron their shirts (ostensibly to imitate the style of the Prophet’s dress), and, increasingly, they lectured or debated other students at Al Thagher about the urgent need to restore pure Islamic law across the Arab world."
2 Tortured diplomacy
Squeamish Europeans! Cheese-eating surrender monkeys the lot of them, even the Germans it seems. Disaster is  the fairest word to describe Condoleezza Rice's visit to Europe and her efforts to defuse the issue of secret CIA prisons and torture. As Der Spiegel reports, her meeting with the new German Chancellor Angela Merkel was meant to improve relations that had been strained by Gerhard Schröder's opposition to the invastion of Iraq. "Monday's meeting between the two most powerful women in the world resulted in a diplomatic spat and highlighted a growing rift between Europe and America over whether the end always justifies the means in the war on terror." The magazine also reports on the reaction from German newspapers, under the heading "Does Anyone Believe Condoleezza Rice?"

The Times reports that Rice "appeared to announce a shift in America's policy on the interrogation of terrorist suspects today when she said that US interrogators were barred from using cruel or degrading practices wherever in the world they were", although as this NYTimes editorial implies, statements like that only appear to damage the US's reputation further. "It was a sad enough measure of how badly the Bush administration has damaged its moral standing that the secretary of state had to deny that the president condones torture before she could visit some of the most reliable American allies in Europe. It was even worse that she had a hard time sounding credible when she did it."

3 Water world comes to Vanuatu
"Rising seas have forced 100 people on a Pacific island to move to higher ground in what may be the first example of a village formally displaced because of modern global warming, a U.N. report said on Monday."

And, according to The Guardian weekly, no matter what action is taken now, seas will continue to rise. "Global warming is doubling the rate of sea level rise around the world, but attempts to stop it by cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions are likely to be futile, leading researchers warned last week."

Meanwhile, The Independent reports that severe weather around the world has made 2005 the most costly year on record with unprecedented levels of insurance claims on damaged property.

4 The two cultures of C.P. Snow
This year being the centenary of the birth of C.P. Snow, British physicist and novelist (the man who coined the phrase "the corridors of power"), much has been written about him. David Barash (professor of psychology) joins in with a look at his work and ideas - specifically his notion that the divide between science and the humanities constituted "two cultures" - and what impact they have had. "We might also ask whether scientists are doing a better job of communicating with the public, crossing the Snow bridge and thereby constituting a Third Culture, as John Brockman has claimed. The late Carl Sagan was a master at this art, as are Richard Dawkins, Jared Diamond, Brian Greene, and many others. But there is nothing new in scientists reaching out to hoi polloi; Arthur Eddington and Bertrand Russell weren't slouches, nor was T.H. Huxley, and yet they couldn't prevent Snow's "gap." And it is not obvious that Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time bridged the cultures so much as confirmed their mutual incomprehensibility. Within academe, there is eager lip service to bridge building between humanities and science, but has there been any progress?"

Nicholas Kristof makes a passing reference to Snow as he expresses the concern, now heard regularly in the US, that its production of wonks and geeks has fallen below that of rising economic competitors China and India (subscribers only). "Without some fluency in science and math, we'll simply be left behind in the same way that Ming Dynasty Chinese scholars were. Increasingly, we face public policy issues - avian flu, stem cells - that require some knowledge of scientific methods, yet the present Congress contains 218 lawyers, and just 12 doctors and 3 biologists. In terms of the skills we need for the 21st century, we're Shakespeare-quoting Philistines."

Did Einstein bridge the two cultures? Don Howard in Physics Today looks at how philosophy influenced Einstein's scientific thinking. "Einstein was typical of his generation of physicists in the seriousness and extent of his early and lasting engagement with philosophy. By the age of 16, he had already read all three of Immanuel Kant's major works, the Critique of Pure Reason, the Critique of Practical Reason, and the Critique of Judgment.6 Einstein was to read Kant again while studying at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic Institute in Zürich, where he attended August Stadler's lectures on Kant in the summer semester of 1897."

5 Ads and subliminal seduction
Whatever happened to .... subliminal advertising. And was this method of turning passive viewers into consumer zombies really an option in the first place? Carrie McLaren explores the history of "subliminal seduction" from its first appearance in Vince Packard's 1957 book "Hidden Persuaders", and looks at how the industry adapted to the furore about it. "Advertising has long proved itself adept at co-opting critiques of consumer culture (think Nike, Sprite, Diesel, and other brands built on the mocking of advertising). In other cases the industry hasn't even needed to co-opt its critics, because the criticism was ambiguous or misguided at the outset. And that, I suspect, was the case with the attack on subliminals: the effort to expose advertiser manip-ulation ironically benefited the ad industry, at least in the short term. How and why that happened is what I hope to show below."
6 Harper's, freebies and new journalism
In an essay that's better than the tag "will Harper’s magazine become less of a lefty echo chamber" suggests, Kurt Anderson (link below)profiles out-going editor Lewis Lapham and the impact he has had on the 155-year-old publication. "In fact, most of Harper’s is not fusty and Euro-lefty, Lapham’s “Notebook” column notwithstanding. But because his 2,500-word essays lead each issue, they tend to color one’s sense of the whole magazine. And they all amount to pretty much the same contemptuous, Olympian jeremiad: The powers-that-be are craven and monstrous, American culture is vulgar and depraved, the U.S. is like imperial Rome, our democracy is dying or dead. All of which is arguably true. But, jeez, sometime tell me something I didn’t know, show a shred of uncertainty and maybe some struggle to suss out fresh truth."

In The Guardian, Stephen Brook looks at the newspaper craze for offering free DVDs in a bid to increase circulation, and wonders if it has any lasting effect. Rupert Murdoch doesn't think so. "Murdoch went on to explain that the effect of the DVD is temporary. "Sales go up for a day. And are right back to where they were the following day. People just grab the paper, tear the DVD off and throw away the paper ... That's got to stop." But it will not stop, despite the displeasure from on high, because free DVDs in newspapers are a massive success. The Mail on Sunday sold about 2,489,000 copies the day it included the blokey war film Wild Geese, a staggering hike of more than 300,000 copies on its base figure and a significant number of additional men to sample its new male-orientated Live magazine."

Also in The Guardian, readers' editor Ian Mayes responds to complaints that it is no longer a secular newspaper; and Hugo Drayton, a former managing editor of The Daily Telegraph is unhappy at the direction the paper has taken under its new owners, the Barlcay brothers.

And from the NYTimes, Janet Maslin reviews "The gang that wouldn't write straight" by Marc Weingarten. The book looks at "Wolfe, Thompson, Didion and the New Journalism Revolution", and Maslin says it demonstrates two things clearly: "The first: there is no substitute for reading the classics of this genre firsthand. The second: the writers who are commonly lumped together in this category didn't have that much in common after all."

7 Publishers do it tough
Falling movie ticket sales, the rise of the internet, the dramatic slump in newspaper circulation, the move by advertisers to the net - the rapidly changing world of media and communications has figured prominently in TDB this year. But not so book publishing. Edward Wyatt reports that it too is struggling, particularly fiction. "Still, the Association of American Publishers reported last month that sales of adult hardcover books, sluggish for several years, have fallen by 2 percent so far this year. Similarly, the American Booksellers Association, a trade group representing bookstores, said that overall bookstore sales in the first nine months of 2005 declined 2 percent from a year ago. Some much-anticipated novels have fallen short this fall. Salman Rushdie's "Shalimar the Clown" sold just 26,000 copies, according to BookScan, and "Wickett's Remedy," Myla Goldberg's follow-up to her heralded 2000 novel, "Bee Season," sold only 9,000."
8 What if things were different?
Whimsical musings, with an occasional serious edge, on whether things would be different ... if things were different. "Okay, what if the universe were controlled by a just God who openly rewarded virtue and punished evil, in this life? The existence of God would be manifest, and everyone would Believe. People would begin being virtuous in the hope of achieving material success and avoiding misfortune. The cynicism behind this behavior would therefore transform every selfless act into a selfish one, meaning God would begin punishing the virtuous, resulting in a backlash of illicit, greedy, rapacious activities."
9 Child-rearing, how thing have changed
The Times flicks through back issues of the magazine Nursery World which has just turned 80, and notices that ideas about child-rearing have changed over the years. "Is your toddler a fussy eater? Then starve him for 24 hours and he will soon eat anything. Your baby won’t sleep through the night? Simple: smack her until she stops crying."
10 The spy who came back from the dead
Some articles to update issues touched on previously, or just because they seemed interesting at the time. The report from The Times linked to below says "Spain's most infamous spy came back from the dead yesterday, six years after his family published a death notice and paid monks to pray for his soul" and traces his larger-than-life story.

One spy back from the dead, another heads out into the cold. The LATimes reports that Valerie Plame will leave the CIA - "her secret resume was exposed in a newspaper column that eventually led to the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff".

The BBC reports that Judith Miller, just one of those caught up in the Plame affair, has apologised to her readers because her stories about WMD and Iraq turned out to be wrong.

The NYTimes reports that a wildlife extinction crisis is looming Mongolia ("overhunting and excessive trade in skins and other animal products"); and it reports on the woman, raised as a Belgian Catholic, who died undertaking a suicide attack in Iraq. "European women who marry Muslim men are now the largest source of religious conversions in Europe, the experts say. While a vast majority of those conversions are pro forma gestures for moderately religious in-laws, a small but growing number are women who willingly adopt the conservative comportment of their fundamentalist husbands."

Most of the coverage of Darfur linked to by TDB has come from Nicolas Kristof at the NYTimes, who may have ended his long crusade for action to end the genoicde to judge by comments in his last column. For a different take on the situation, Jonathan Karl in The Weekly Standard follows US representative Robert Zoellick's frustrating mission to stop the bloodshed and viloence.

The New Scientist reports on research that shows the stress of domestic arguments causes wounds to heal more slowly.

US politicians John Edwards and Jack Kemp speak out against "Moscow's empty Red Square", the move by Russia to ban "foreign nonprofit organizations from having offices in Russia and deny foreign funds to Russian organizations that are suspected of engaging in undefined "political" activities."

11 IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up

Peace in our time! Or a phoney truce before the real shooting war begins? It's that man Peter Costello again, and this time he may find more joy in the papers. The Age (Michelle Grattan) reports that Costello has taken a major backward step in his push for the prime inistership, effectively declaring he will not challenge John Howard and confirming he will present the May federal budget. The Australian has the strong news story, with Dennis Shanahan reporting that John Howard is likely to reshuffle his cabinet within weeks after Peter Costello ruled out a leadership challenge and resigned himself to staying on as Treasurer until the Prime Minister decides to step aside. It is commentary on all of this that the man who would be if he could be is likely to find most pleasing. Matt Price says Costello has exercised a responsible and intelligent judgment, showing why he is still the natural successor to Howard; Shaun Carney says the Treasurer's ambitions have not dimmed and that he still expects to have 12 months as prime minister before the next election; Peter Hartcher says a six-month cease-fire has been declared, one that will ultimately increase tensions between the two men; and Norman Abjorensen (opinion) and Stephen Bartholomeusz (business) both make Costello-friendly assessments of the situation.

No joy for AWB though - " Wheat bribes funded bombers" -  The Australian reports that paid by kickbacks Australia's monopoly wheat exporter to the regime of Saddam Hussein were put into a bank account used to finance a $US10million ($13 million) slush fund for families of Palestinian suicide bombers. The paper also reports that the literacy war will be reignited today with the release of a damning report into teaching methods that supports a push for back-to-basics learning (expect to hear much, much more on this topic, one of the papers agendas); and that a world authority on Hitler's Final Solution has called on Australian actor-director Mel Gibson to publicly repudiate the Holocaust denial of his father Hutton Gibson and to clarify his own position on the extermination of the Jews. And speaking of agendas, Oz editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell has long been a climate change denier. Check out the lead on this story for "fair and balanced" journalism - "The climate-change scaremongers couldn't have chosen a more appropriate day to release a report predicting 2005 would be the hottest, driest and stormiest year ever experienced."

The Herald reports that the Family Court will be required to consider whether children in custody disputes should spend equal time with both parents under the most important changes to family law in 30 years (a "win for fathers"); that Qantas is due to formally unveil plans for its Jetstar International offshoot, fuelling union suspicions the new low-cost airline could become the poster child for the Federal Government's workplace changes; that in unprecedented extreme security measures for a NSW court, the Commonwealth is likely to seek to have most of a Sydney terrorism trial kept secret, and has suggested ASIO officers be allowed to privately brief the judge (justice must be seen to be done?); that one the same day a teenager was charged over the bashing of lifeguards at Cronulla, more violence erupted at the beach, and an email circulated urging locals to reclaim their suburb from visiting gangs; that the abortion drug RU486 is being used in Australia in a clinical trial to establish whether it can treat side effects of a popular contraceptive, despite a legislated ban on its importation; and that seven people from the former Yugoslavia who now live in Australia are under investigation by the Department of Immigration as suspected war criminals.

The Age reports that the economy almost screeched to a halt in the three months to September as soaring petrol prices choked spending, but booming business investment has raised hopes of a solid rebound; that Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce has sworn he will block the Government's push for voluntary student unionism unless universities are allowed to charge a compulsory fee for sports and campus services; that business has been urged to act quickly on the Government's industrial relations overhaul after the new regime cleared its final parliamentary hurdle yesterday; that former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mamdouh Habib said last night he felt vindicated by revelations of secret prisons used by American agents to torture kidnapped terrorist suspects.


The Age: Gwynne Dyer says that by losing her patience and acknowledging rendition is occurring, Condoleezza Rice has all but ensured that there will be investigations into the practice, opening up a can of worms; Kenneth Davidson believes the industrial relations changes will produce no economic benefits, and that John Howard is risking electoral defeat in the hope that by killing off the trade union movement as a force in Australian society he is permanently destroying the nursery for future leaders of the ALP; Peter Craven thinks the "top 10 movies" was an exercise is popular pap that was of no interest to anyone with a developed taste in movies (Uh, oh, here comes another "elites" versus "aspirationals" battle); Chris Ellison (Justice Minister) argues the Government did all it could to save Nguyen Tuong Van; and Guy Barnett (Liberal Senator) says more should be done to protect kids from internet p*rn.

The Australian: Mike Steketee ponders the "great complacency" surrounding Australia's trade deficit, and wonders if it will take an economic shock to shake us out of it; Norman Abjorensen talks up Peter Costello as potential PM and says the amazing thing about the Gerard affair is that it is one of the few political miscalculations he has made in a long career; Greg Sheridan reports on Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda's views on  next week's East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia's warming relations with the US and Jakarta's evolving and more intimate relationship with Canberra; and Ross Fitzgerald (rusted on ALP supporter and strong contender for Australia's most consistently boring columnist) looks at the state of the Queensland Coalition.

The SMH: Matthew Zagor (law lecturer and member of the Migration Review Tribunal) offers a detailed analysis of how immigration law is being applied, mainly through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, and says that "not only can protection be denied to refugees on the basis of relatively weak evidence of criminality, the Government has yet to prosecute or extradite anyone excluded for having committed an international crime"; Julia Baird argues that the US policy of buying good news in the Iraqi media is just one of the examples of its failure, despite spending large sums of money, to build a vibrant free press there; Miranda Devine turns political commentator and opines that Peter Costello has not suffered enough to be Prime Minister (an argument that requires ignoring Bob Hawke's rise to the top job); and John Pucher and Adrian Bauman (two professors) come to the defence of the bicycle following recent attacks by Michael Duffy.


Telstra is again leads the business pages for the wrong reasons, as all the papers (Herald here) report that the market's downgrading of Telstra continued apace yesterday with credit rating agency Moody's Investors Service dropping its debt rating on the telecom a notch. The SMH also reports that Coopers Brewery shareholders have fired a warning shot at predator Lion Nathan and its $420 million, $310 a share hostile bid by voting overwhelmingly in favour of a buyback at $260 a share; and that News Corp is forecasting a sixfold jump in revenue at its internet businesses this year, driven by more than $US1 billion ($1.34 billion) in acquisitions including MySpace.com.

The lead in The Australian says that close connections between a potential buyer of the Myer department store chain and parent company Coles Myer have embroiled the retail giant in perceptions of a possible conflict of interest. The paper also reports that the Australian share market moved marginally higher yesterday, ignoring a rally in oil prices which is adding further pressure to long-term positions; and that Qantas is believed to have ended a marathon board meeting yesterday without finalising its $15-20 billion fleet plans.

The Age reports that the Ten Network is still the country's most profitable television company but its crown is slipping in the face of tough competition, a weak advertising market and poor ratings; that ExxonMobil has served notice that its Bass Strait partnership with BHP Billiton will continue to be a force in the south-east Australian gas market for years to come; and that financial services industry employees are older and smarter but are working longer hours and experiencing greater pay disparity compared with their bosses, according to a Finance Sector Union report.

Stephen Bartholomeusz provides Peter Costello's best reading in days, arguing that there has been not the slightest suggestion that Robert Gerard failed to discharge that role properly or act in any way that damaged the interests of the Reserve Bank, and that the current process of appointing directors "has served us remarkably well". Elizabeth Knight thinks it's time to administer the last rites to Lion Nathan's bid for Coopers; and Bryan Frith, who won't be happy about that, says comparison with the current bids for overseas ports operators, P&O and PD Ports, casts a favourable light on Toll Holdings' $5 billion bid for Patrick Corp.


The Daily Telegraph: Racial tension at Cronulla beach threatened to explode yesterday after a brawl erupted near the scene where two lifesavers were attacked last weekend; The head of Sydney Water yesterday failed to name a single water expert who agreed with the desalination plant proposal.

The Herald-Sun:  Victoria will be locked down if bird flu strikes here, under radical plans unveiled by the State Government - Melbourne would become a virtual ghost town as sporting venues, concerts, churches, cinemas, the casino and other areas were shut down; Premier Steve Bracks' teenage son was the victim of a suspected drink-spiking at schoolies celebrations in Lorne.

The Courier-Mail: Premier Peter Beattie will mount a last-ditch effort to spare former minister Gordon Nuttall from criminal charges over claims he lied to a parliamentary hearing; State Parliament will be recalled from its summer recess tomorrow to debate whether former minister Gordon Nuttall should face criminal charges or simply answer to his colleagues.

The Advertiser: A senior Liberal MP has called for widespread reforms and cuts to South Australia's taxation system, claiming the tax take has risen 35 per cent since the election of the Rann Government; Adelaide -born Hollywood actor Anthony LaPaglia has offered himself as the ambassador for the campaign to lure the World Cup-bound Socceroos to Adelaide in March.

The West Australian: A whale shark tagged with an electronic tracking device off Ningaloo is believed to have been caught and eaten by East Timorese villagers; After a day of hearing evidence in the Matt Birney file-enhancing case, the State's most powerful secret committee has decided it has heard enough to wrap the whole thing up before Christmas.

The Mercury: A Tasmanian man yesterday confessed at an attempted murder trial that he -- not his sister -- injected his mother with insulin; The tragic death of a Hobart man who jumped from the Tasman Bridge has spurred calls for a national campaign on the dangers of cannabis.


On a day for the remarkable and a night for the extraordinary, Andrew Symonds' record-breaking 156 helped Australia take out the Chappell-Hadlee trophy in Wellington yesterday, but only through a thrilling two-run victory; England's World Cup-winning coach, Clive Woodward, believes the Australian Rugby Union has made a grave error in sacking Eddie Jones, and has implored his long-time adversary to join the UK coaching ranks; Australia's potential World Cup draw has become a little clearer after FIFA's division of the 32 finalists into four groups, or pots; and day finals are set to become a thing of the past as NRL clubs favour Friday- and Saturday-night fixtures in a revamped play-off series for next season.

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re: The Daily Briefing 8/12/05

Astute observation, Trevor Kerr. If any of us (welfare, small business, PAYE, migrants, etc) tried anything remotely the like of Gerard, we'd be dangling in the wind.

My thesis remains that that Gerard is the norm rather than atypical as to the Big End of Town.

Actually this links up with Wayne's inclusion of Kenneth Davidson's Age article on the destruction of the ALP and Unions. People just haven't realised yet that critical mass has already been reached as to Australia - now it is now WELL within the Mussolinist paradigm.

Some one else mentioned the half trillion dollars of debt, too - the neglected orphan Annie of politics that no one wants to know of or know about, a neglected child who DOES fit into the equation, and may yet one day have her day.

On the subject of redemption through suffering, Wayne mentions Miranda Devine. Have not read the article yet, but if true it would be a mature thesis. Costello clearly had no idea of what it was that was offended people out here in Struggle Street, by his reaction last week when the thing took off on the first place.

An out of touch Treasurer for a country full of out of touch and complacent people who are not acquainted with adversity; a la Pakistan (but may be, sooner than they think, if they continue to take things for granted!).

Did read Julia Baird's article and that WAS an astute piece. What DO the Americans think they are bloody doing?

Will they not EVER learn, to deal with reality on its own terms?

re: The Daily Briefing 8/12/05

Dear Margo,

We go back a while. I first 'met' you when you appeared on Late Night Live. Ah, those long ago days. How I HATED to miss the Wednesday repeat. Then, the SMH Web Diary. New territory and all the visibility it brought only increased when you went solo.

I am pleased , for your benefit, that you are taking a break but admittedly my heart sank when I belatedly read of your decision.

Next, perhaps meanly, my thoughts flew to one particular cybosphereblog that's got to be totally bereft without your Webdiary to berate and shrill about.

Someone said once: 'you are what you do' and Margo, you have done plenty and I thank you for the example you have set.

God speed and I look forward to hearing about your endeavours once you are deservedly restored and refreshed.

If in Tassie,do look us up.

ed Hamish: thanks so much for your kind words Barbara. It might be needless to say, but if you do wish to post again, please provide a full name. See Webdiary Ethics.

re: The Daily Briefing 8/12/05


Can you link to page 1 on the 'orrid SMH articles rather than page 2.

Nothing like whinging and complaining people is there?

re: The Daily Briefing 8/12/05

Chris Seage's letter to Financial Review Dec 8th ('DPP must query why Gerard slipped by') is pretty gutsy:

As a former senior audit manager in the Australian Taxation Office for 23 years, which included two years on the large case audit program, and now a gun for hire in the tax consulting arena, I think I'm well placed to make comment on the Robert Gerard fiasco. Treasurer Peter Costello says that Gerard is like any other taxpayer who has disputes with the ATO. I'm sorry to have to wipe the smirk off the Treasurer's face but this claim is erroneous. Yes, taxpayers from all walks of life do have disputes with the ATO. Squabbles over protective clothing, self-education expenses, car diaries, overseas travel and quantum claims are typical issues the ordinary taxpayer has to deal with. Business taxpayers have different issues liketrading stock valuation, depreciation, hobby or business questions and section 51 (1) deductions.

The Gerard matter is a different kettle of fish. What we are talking about there is allegations of international tax avoidance involving hundreds of millions of dollars, the use of sham companies set up in tax havens deliberately contrived to deceive the tax commissioner, false and misleading atatements made to tax officers and the hindering of tax officers. All of these alleged offences are indictable under commonwealth law. ...

The editorialist at Financial Review is no climate-change denier:

... disappointing that BHP's successor, BHP Billiton, should have chosen to turn the clock back a decade with a selective briefing to invited analysts last Friday. The company insisted that the briefing - on how its petroleum division, a fifth of the business, had been affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita - was no big deal. But this was a bit like pre-Reformation clerics arguing that the masses didn't need to be able to read scriptures as long as they believed in them. ...

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