Monday, September 11, 2006

Leftist propaganda in school textbook

A high school textbook that teaches Victorian VCE students that the United States and Israel have been linked to "state terrorism" has sparked outrage and a demand from the Federal Government that it be immediately withdrawn from classrooms. The book, used by about half of Victoria's 700 politics students, is being criticised for playing down the threat of terrorism and containing flawed thinking and ideology.

A furious federal Education Minister, Julie Bishop, has called on the Victorian Government to withdraw the book. "It is inconceivable that information is being taught in schools which claims Australia is 'reaping the harvest' of our foreign policies and our 'Western imperialism'," she said. "Of greatest concern is the claim in the textbook that the Howard Government is deliberately using the threat of terrorism to keep Australians fearful and thus supportive of Government policies and actions. "The person who wrote this text should talk to the families of those killed in Bali and explain to them that there is no need to be fearful of terrorism."

But the Bracks Government said the book was not a set text or officially endorsed by the Victorian Curriculum Assessment Authority (VCAA) or the Education Department. "You can't withdraw a text that is not compulsory to start with, so the Bishop thing is a furphy," said Tim Mitchell, a spokesman for Education Minister Lynne Kosky. "The decision about the use of textbooks in classrooms, and the treatment of issues in classrooms, is a matter best left to teachers and school principals, not politicians," he said.

The textbook, Power and National Politics, published by the Victorian Association of Social Studies Teachers, is one of two texts being used in schools for the new national politics subject. The author is Northcote High School teacher Paul Gilby, 35, who says he is "very concerned and distressed" at the furore surrounding his work. He said he had written the book quickly last year for a new course, but that he had tried to present all viewpoints in good faith and felt the book was being subjected to "a very decontextualised attack". He rejected the claim he played down terrorism, but acknowledged that the terrorism section was "problematic" and said it was being revised, along with other parts of the book, for the second edition for next year. Mr Gilby, who is not teaching national politics this year, was a member of the VCAA review panel that developed the international politics course.

The 166-page book contains a one-page sub-section headed "Fear of terrorism" in the section dealing with Australian foreign policy. It adopts as its definition of terrorism: "Any action taken with the aim of achieving a political or military purpose through the use of violence against civilians can be considered terrorism." This definition is challenged by the Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council's analyst, Ted Lapkin, who says it crucially lacks the element of "intention" to harm civilians. The book says terrorism is not new "and is not necessarily increasing" and that students need a historical perspective "to gain insight into the current media response to the terrorist situation".

The book asserts that "throughout history, most terrorist acts have been carried out by nation states. "The United States itself was accused of committing acts of state terrorism in Nicaragua in the 1980s. "Other examples of state-run terrorist campaigns have taken place in Russia (in Chechnya most recently), Turkey (in Kurdistan), Israel (in Palestine), Indonesia (in Aceh, West Papua and East Timor most recently)."

Seeking to address the context of terrorism, the book acknowledges there is no simple solution. But it then goes on to elaborate only one theory - that the US and its allies are "reaping the harvest" of their foreign policies and Western imperialism. The book directs students' attention to critics of the Howard Government who accuse it of using anti-terrorism policies to keep people in fear of terrorism and therefore supportive of Government actions and policies.

The executive director of the Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council, Colin Rubenstein, said the section was "rife with partisan bias and errors of fact". "The claim made about the greater danger of 'state terrorism' is the product of ideology, not scholarship," he said. State Opposition shadow education spokesman Martin Dixon backed calls for the book to be withdrawn.


Irwin brings out the Leftist miseries

A good comment by Andrew Bolt on those sad and jealous souls who cannot recognize a better person than they themselves are. Irwin was a brave and brilliant man who had more guts than all of the Leftist miseries put together

Professional harpy Germaine Greer was one of the first to publicly cackle over the death of Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin. "The animal world has finally taken its revenge on Irwin," the feminista gloated in an article published in Left-wing newspapers such as The Age and The Guardian. And if she meant by "animal world" the slavering pack that has paraded its resentment of Irwin since he was killed she'd be right.

On Jon Faine's ABC radio show, for instance, you could hear a dingo bark: "I'm glad he's no longer an ambassador for Australia." Rodents and peacocks squeaked and squawked that Irwin had been a mere showman, bad for animals and not worth this fuss. A jackass brayed that others did far more for wildlife, but didn't have a PR machine like Irwin's.

Some beasts can also write. At one of their dens, The Age letters page, I found this missive clawed out in the dirt: "Irwin was an outmoded cliche and a truculent clown who regularly harassed wildlife for the amusement of bored tourists." Another snarled that it was "nauseating" that we should so grieve over this "serial animal abuser and relentless self-promoter". And some mouse trembled to note that Irwin "exhibited the unreconstructed nationalism that in men of more malice and arrogance is the wellspring of warfare". Over at the zoo that is the Sydney Morning Herald it was little better. "Steve Irwin spent his life irritating animals . . . karma," hissed a snake in a letter.

I should add that on Faine's show, as well as in The Age and SMH, there were also far warmer tributes to Irwin -- a loving father, marvellous entertainer, great patriot, generous donor, humble achiever, employer of 500 people and creator of a much-loved wildlife park. Elsewhere, the grief was overwhelming and yet there was this loud minority who were not just unmoved by Irwin's death, but felt compelled to write or ring to berate the dead man and call us cretins for crying for him.

You may see this simply as more proof that ideology -- especially a Left-wing one -- has so hardened hearts as to exclude compassion. Greer, for instance, couldn't help but complain of Irwin that he'd called Prime Minister John Howard "the greatest leader Australia has ever had." That alone, for some by the waterhole, would have turned off the tap of tears. But it wasn't just this horde's brand of politics that Irwin seemed to mortify. He also offended our new green believers, who insist man is Nature's slave, unfit to touch even a scale on a dopey lizard's back.

Irwin, though, like most, seemed to believe that man is boss, or had better be. A croc to a man is just a croc, after all. But a man to a croc is lunch. Yet, Irwin's greater fault was that he raised the hackles of a cultural class that feels threatened by blokes in work boots who shout "crikey". "I was embarrassed that such a cringe-worthy and sometimes reckless caricature represented Australia to so much of the world," sighed one Age letter writer. And callers to Faine asked why we couldn't be represented overseas by one of our artists -- once they'd finished their latest work damning us as vicious racists, that is.

Yes, this was a class thing, driven by folk so insecure that they cringe to think cultured foreigners might take them, too, to be just like Irwin, the Australian on TV. It was this same fear that had our new Tourism Australia "bloody hell" commercials condemned. How boorish we were to replace the old ads of artists (which didn't work) with new ones starring beach bunnies and camel drivers, who seemed no-airs friendly, deep-tanned outdoorsy and even drug-free.

Irwin, a huge star overseas thanks to his wildlife documentaries, was just such a happy Australian, too. So, how dare he hog the gaze of a marvelling world that could have feasted instead on such as, well, Greer? Or, to put it another way -- how dare he show that such as he are still the kind of Australians we tend to love best? And the world with us.


Feminist and wowser outrage over mere suggestiveness

A new national advertising campaign portraying childlike young women in sexually explicit poses has outraged childhood and family groups. The Lee Jeans advertisements suggest prostitution, pornography and oral sex and the models involved, although aged in their 20s, appear to be much younger. Australian Childhood Foundation chief executive officer Dr Joe Tucci said the pictures were a "horrific" representation of young people in sexually explicit poses. He called on the Advertising Standards Bureau to ban the billboard and magazine advertisements, shot by American photographer Terry Richardson.

There are plans to publish more of the provocative pictures in niche youth magazines such as Oyster, Rush and Yen.Australian Family Association president Gabrielle Walsh is drafting a letter of complaint to the ASB, calling the images beyond common decency. "I'm horrified by these images. We are concerned about the public portrayal of young women in this manner," she said.

ASB chief executive Fiona Jolly confirmed she had already received a complaint about one of the images posted on the Lee Jeans website. "There is no formal mandatory process of assessing ads prior to publication. Once we get a complaint (about the content of the ad), then we can act," she said.

The Lee website now tells browsers that sexual material has been removed. Richard Bell, the marketing manager for Lee parent company Icon, defended the campaign, saying it reflected the brand's dynamic and innovative image. "It's definitely risque, but I don't think there is anything offensive about the images whatsoever," he said. "Sexuality is part of human nature. "We're showcasing sexuality in its most beautiful light. It's not about being derogatory to women."

But Swinburne University media and communications lecturer Trish Bolton said the images suggested female submissiveness. "I don't see these young girls being empowered at all," she said. "It's concerning that young girls are looking at these images and thinking this is what is attractive about women." Young Media Australia president Jane Roberts said the campaign's designers had "chosen to portray these women as a pubescent Lolita". She was referring to the Vladimir Nobokov novel about a man's obsession with a 12-year-old girl. "When you look at the real story behind Lolita, it is pedophilic and they're using this in a national advertising campaign," she said. "You'll get a whole cohort of young girls who will look at these ads and think this is quite acceptable."


The water shortage problem is political, not technical

Managing water supply is the biggest climate-change adaptation facing Australia. And governments and planners realise the problem is upon us. Faced with the converging threats of population growth, a warming climate and increased environmental flows into the nation's river systems, water policy-makers are pursuing a suite of controversial new technologies to ensure urban Australia does not run out of water. "Australia doesn't have a water problem. It has a water-management problem," says Adelaide University's professor of water economics Mike Young. Three-quarters of Australia's population live in the urban centres, but they consume only 8 per cent of available water. Irrigators account for 67 per cent.

The price paid for water by Australian households varies between cities, but lurks at about $1.30 a kilolitre. This translates into less than a dollar a day for most households. Irrigators pay no more than a few cents per kilolitre. The entire flow of water tapped by Adelaide from the Murray is equivalent to the allocation of just 15 large-scale rice farmers. It's little wonder then that talk of linking urban and regional water markets has some farmers more than a little nervous. Allowing urban water authorities to freely buy irrigators' allocations would be like letting loose a busload of Australian tourists in a Kuta Beach department store. Their buying power would be phenomenal. The scale of the transfers is likely to be small - less than 1per cent of Australia's total water supply - but Young says within that range are many farmers who are only too keen to sell to new urban players. "The thing that many people forget is that a small amount of water in a rural setting goes a very long way in an urban area," he says. "We're not talking about very big transfers of water; there can be some local effects but in terms of the national economy the effect on Australian agriculture is not very big."

Increasing water scarcity around the world is driving a similar evolution. Water has become a valuable resource and governments are forced to find ways of getting it to the highest-value users. As sure as water always runs downhill, this is creating tensions between the historical and the new users. In the Australian context, this means a transfer from farms to cities, and it has already started. Adelaide recently purchased water from former dairy farmers in the lower Murray, while Perth's water authority bought similar entitlements from Harvey Water in return for investment in infrastructure that will result in water savings equivalent to the entitlement purchased.

National Farmers Federation natural resources manager Vanessa Findlay says the farm sector recognises that this water market transition is an evolving reality. While acknowledging that the effects would be felt unevenly across regional Australia, Findlay says the political pain of the transition will be eased if farmers see a genuine effort by urban Australia to similarly improve its water efficiency. "But we acknowledge that with increasing population forecast over the next 30 years, taking the position that we are not going to trade with urban Australia isn't sustainable."

Despite this view from farmers, the new market thinking is casting a more critical eye over the appropriateness of maintaining severe water restrictions on urban households while selling them the water at bargain prices. While recognising the need to use tools such as short-term restrictions to deal with a supply crisis, National Water Commission chairman Ken Matthews is more doubtful about institutionalising such arrangements in the long term. "We often hear people say that after the drought ends, we really should institutionalise these urban water restrictions forever. I wonder whether that's so," he told the Australian Water Summit earlier this year. "We know that there are better and worse urban water restrictions in different cities of Australia, and why would we concrete the worst such restrictions into a fixed regime?"

Young says the existing regime of restrictions has thrown up a number of inequities that are unsustainable. "If someone is prepared to pay the full cost to enjoy a green environment and the water is available, then that is a perfectly acceptable use," he says. "We need to build mechanisms that make people aware of the value of water. But at the moment people who have swimming pools are allowed to keep them full but poorer people who can't afford them are not allowed to let their children play under a sprinkler when doing that would use a lot less water than what a swimming pool would evaporate. "I can see prices generally being twice as high as they are today but even with that, water would still be very cheap."

At the International River Symposium in Brisbane this week, water engineer Mark Hamstead postulated that Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide are best placed to tap into these irrigators' markets because of their proximity to river systems, which means they are able to set up inexpensive pipelines to make such trading viable. Sydney has the capacity to establish pipelines to the Hunter, Central Coast or the Murrumbidgee river while Melbourne could tap into the nearby Goulburn system. Adelaide is already plugged into the lower Murray.

By contrast, Perth and Brisbane - which combined are predicted to grow by more than a million people within 15 years - have far more limited opportunities to access farmers' water and will therefore rely more heavily on new water technologies being developed. These include the political hot potatoes of desalinisation and recycling, trapping and reprocessing storm water and tapping into ground water, which are all expected to play an increasing role in securing water for urban Australia for the next century and beyond.

Young says urban water authorities are likely to discover that recycling and stormwater capture would be prohibitively expensive, which would make them look again at desalination, which is becoming increasingly efficient. Despite controversy about its high energy use, new technologies from Israel have driven efficiencies up and costs down to nearly half the price for urban water. Desalination is a serious option for cities such as Perth, with limited alternatives and access to inexpensive, low greenhouse emission energy sources such as gas. "The great thing about desalination is that it is not climate-dependent. So you can actually have the water continuously and have it just in time: you don't have to store it and let it evaporate while you are waiting to use it," Young says.

Tom Hatton, the director of a CSIRO water program, says initial public resistance is almost inevitable when new technologies are proposed. The challenge for policy-makers is to foster public understanding and confidence in the ideas being proposed. "Most of our cities have traditionally had one source of water, or maybe two," Hatton says. "Over the next 10 years people will notice they will start to diversify to three or four." Hatton doesn't express a view as to whether such a free market for water is a good thing. What CSIRO is doing is building a national water stock market, to be known as the water resources observations network.

The network is about 10 years from completion and will allow instant trading of water entitlements, adjustment for seasonal and natural flows, and the creation and trading of derivatives such as water futures, options and hedges. It will be better able to allocate optimal environmental flows, remove uncertainty from the market process, optimise prices, find the most willing buyers and sellers, and signal scarcity. "The solutions are going to be different for Perth than they will be in Sydney. Those choices will not be made on perceptions but on analysis and a lot more technical confidence," Hatton says. "We need to get to the point where those in the market almost have real-time modelling available to them to tell them the state of their water system at any given moment and how vulnerable that is in the near term and medium terms to drought, fire pollution and other environmental threats."


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