Friday, October 27, 2006

Muslim leader blames women for sex attacks

The nation's most senior Muslim cleric has blamed immodestly dressed women who don't wear Islamic headdress for being preyed on by men and likened them to abandoned "meat" that attracts voracious animals. In a Ramadan sermon that has outraged Muslim women leaders, Sydney-based Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali also alluded to the infamous Sydney gang rapes, suggesting the attackers were not entirely to blame. While not specifically referring to the rapes, brutal attacks on four women for which a group of young Lebanese men received long jail sentences, Sheik Hilali said there were women who "sway suggestively" and wore make-up and immodest dress ... "and then you get a judge without mercy (rahma) and gives you 65 years". "But the problem, but the problem all began with who?" he asked.

The leader of the 2000 rapes in Sydney's southwest, Bilal Skaf, a Muslim, was initially sentenced to 55 years' jail, but later had the sentence reduced on appeal.

In the religious address on adultery to about 500 worshippers in Sydney last month, Sheik Hilali said: "If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat? "The uncovered meat is the problem." The sheik then said: "If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred." He said women were "weapons" used by "Satan" to control men. "It is said in the state of zina (adultery), the responsibility falls 90 per cent of the time on the woman. Why? Because she possesses the weapon of enticement (igraa)."

Muslim community leaders were yesterday outraged and offended by Sheik Hilali's remarks, insisting the cleric was no longer worthy of his title as Australia's mufti. Young Muslim adviser Iktimal Hage-Ali - who does not wear a hijab - said the Islamic headdress was not a "tool" worn to prevent rape and sexual harassment. "It's a symbol that readily identifies you as being Muslim, but just because you don't wear the headscarf doesn't mean that you're considered fresh meat for sale," the former member of John Howard's Muslim advisory board told The Australian. "The onus should not be on the female to not attract attention, it should be on males to learn how to control themselves." Australia's most prominent female Muslim leader, Aziza Abdel-Halim, said the hijab did not "detract or add to a person's moral standards", while Islamic Council of Victoria spokesman Waleed Ali said it was "ignorant and naive" for anyone to believe that a hijab could stop sexual assault.

More here

Working hours for young doctors still insane

Young doctors are still being compelled to work far more hours than are good for either them or patients, the Australian Medical Association said today. Despite the best efforts of the AMA over recent years, the latest safety audit of doctors found some still worked more than 100 hours a week, AMA president Dr Mukesh Haikerwal said. In one case, a doctor reported working 63 hours continuously.

The audit covered more than 15,000 doctors from hospitals around the country. Details will be released today. Dr Haikerwal said it showed 62 per cent of hospital doctors still were working unsafe hours and were classified as working at high or significant risk. "It used to be part of the folklore and it continues to be part of the myth and the myth is that you need to work long hours non-stop continuously to gain the experience," he told ABC radio. "At the end of the day, you can't actually learn anything if you are dead beat on your feet. "People who are seeing a doctor would expect them to be sharp and aware and alert when they are being treated and they certainly wouldn't want to be seeing them on their 80th or 39th or so hour on the trot."

Dr Haikerwal said he had been working in this issues since his days as a student and as a young doctor. The situation had improved, "but it is still not acceptable for people to be working 39 hours non-stop and it's not acceptable for people to be working up to 100 hours on average a week," he said.

Dr Alex Markwell, from the AMA council of doctors in training, said there was still an element of older doctors who trained under the old regime who felt their junior colleagues should undergo similar experience. "We need to start putting in place strict guidelines that actually enable safe rostering, enable doctors to say 'hold on, it's 16 hours, I am tired, someone else needs to come on and take over'," she told ABC radio. "We just need to stop expecting our doctors to keep going until something tragic happens which we have unfortunately seen in some states."


Pill for infertile men 'doubled' pregnancy rates

An Australian scientist has developed a revolutionary pill for men, which has doubled the pregnancy rates of infertile couples. The capsule, Menevit, containing seven antioxidants and minerals, will be available next year. "The results have been miraculous, better than we ever expected," said inventor Kelton Tremellen, an Adelaide fertility specialist. Dr Tremellen will announce the findings of his research at the Fertility Society of Australia Conference in Sydney tomorrow.

Fertility Society of Australia chair Dr Anne Clark said the findings would have wide-ranging implications for men around the world. "To have a method of treating sperm issues rather than their partner having to go through a fertility treatment is fantastic," Dr Clarke said. She believed it would prove an effective "preventative medicine" to tackle the decline in male fertility.

Menevit is to be sold through international drug company Bayer and follows three years of intensive research including two trials. The most recent involved 60 couples, two thirds of whom were given the tablet daily. Of those who took Menevit, 17 babies were conceived, compared to four babies from couples who had the placebo.

The new pill is aimed at attacking free radicals, such as smoking, obesity and exposure to chemicals, which damage sperm. Dr Tremellen said the results suggest the pill reduces sperm DNA damage and improves embryo quality. "The men gave very positive feedback," he said. "They often feel powerless as they watch their wives going through all the injections in IVF."


Deconstructive criticism

The evidence upholds the belief that the teaching of English has fallen victim to political correctness, writes Kevin Donnelly

Geoff Masters, head of the Australian Council for Educational Research and the person in charge of the commonwealth-funded inquiry into state and territory Year 12 subjects, argues concerns about school curriculums being politically correct are without foundation. In relation to senior school English -- in particular, the NSW Higher School Certificate course -- Masters concludes there is no left-wing bias and that federal Education Minister Julie Bishop's concerns about the cultural Left taking the long march through the education system are misplaced.

Masters is wrong. As those who have followed the articles in these pages about the effect of critical literacy on English teaching and the way the theory approach of teaching has destroyed the moral and aesthetic quality of the literary canon know, there is ample evidence of how English has been politicised.

In NSW, students are made to deconstruct texts such as Shakespeare's Othello and Tim Winton's Cloudstreet from a Marxist, feminist, postmodern and post-colonial perspective. The Board of Studies English stage 6 annotated professional readings support document, designed to tell teachers how English should be taught, is awash with the kind of gobbledygook associated with theory.

In opposition to the more traditional approach to literature, NSW teachers are urged to adopt what is termed "critical-postmodernist pedagogy'', described as: "This involves drawing on and seeking to integrate into a dynamic, strategic synthesis the currently evolving and ever mutating discourses of critical pedagogy, cultural studies and postmodernism, within which notions of popular culture, textuality, rhetoric and the politics and pleasures of representation become the primary focus of attention in both 'creative' and 'critical' terms.''

As argued by writer Sophie Masson, the result is that good students jump through the hoops as they know what has to be done, while less able students drown in the arcane and turgid jargon associated with the new English.

The Victorian and Queensland English studies are also prime examples of the impact of the cultural Left on the classroom. The Victorian study asks students to analyse texts from a range of perspectives. These include: "Marxist, feminist, psychoanalytical, reader-response, deconstructionist (and) postmodern''. In a similar vein, the Queensland literature syllabus favours an approach that argues that all texts are inherently political as "texts play their part in upholding or challenging prevailing world views and compete with one another to persuade readers to accept versions on offer''.

Western Australia, not to be outdone, in addition to making students respond to texts "using different theoretical frameworks [for example, Marxist, post-colonial, feminist, psychoanalytic]'' and checking "for consistency, contradiction and the privileging of some ideas over others'', argues that there is nothing universal or profound about classic literature.

The basis for this is that "the concept of the literary is socially and historically constructed rather than objective or self-evident'' and "texts and reading practices enact particular ideologies, playing an important role in the production and maintenance of social identities and reinforcing or contesting dominant ideological understandings''.

Within the new English, as a result of theory, William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is criticised for its emphasis on stereotypical heterosexual love and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness for being inherently racist. Even worse, students' appreciation of literature is destroyed as they spend time analysing mobile-phone messages, graffiti and Australian Idol.

Evidence that senior school English courses have fallen victim to politically correct theory is easy to find. The reasons the cultural Left has targeted English are also clear. Professional associations such as the Australian Association for the Teaching of English are staunch advocates of critical literacy and theory. Both the AATE and sympathetic teacher academics such as Allan Luke, Wayne Sawyer and Bill Green argue English teaching must be used to transform society.

Says Luke: "We would argue that text analysis and critical reading activities should lead on to action with and against the text. That is, there is a need to translate text analysis into cultural action, into institutional intervention and community projects.''


The nuclear revival

It was striking how quiet it was when the nuclear industry held an international conference in Sydney this week. A handful of anti-nuclear demonstrators made a fleeting stand in Pitt Street outside the hotel hosting the 15th Pacific Basin Nuclear Conference, then left. The conference's trade hall was full of international companies spruiking the latest gadgets to make nuclear power plants go faster, as delegates from Russia, South Korea, China and Japan milled around.

Nuclear energy provides 16 per cent of the global electricity supply, with about 440 reactors operating in the world, another 30 under construction and 200 in planning or proposal stages. China alone wants to build 50 reactors by 2030. Like an ageing pop star on the comeback trail, nuclear energy is in the middle of a revival as countries look for ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions while keeping the lights on.

World Nuclear Association director-general John Ritch enthusiastically calls it "a global nuclear renaissance". Federal Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane, a nuclear sceptic turned convert, told the gathered representatives that "uranium is coming in from the cold".

But don't tell the environment movement or the Left, because they remain dug in behind their no-nukes barricades, first erected in the Cold War. "The environment movement is ideologically opposed to nuclear energy," Ritch said this week. "There is a carry-over from the anti-weapons movement and there is also an unexamined premise that nuclear power somehow embodies the evil of the military industrial complex. "Serious environmentalists who have looked at nuclear power recognise that against the cataclysmic projections of climate change this technology will be absolutely essential if we hope to avert a catastrophe. It's not even a close call."

Hang on. Is this the same technology that caused the meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania in 1979? Or, more seriously, the disaster at Chernobyl in 1986 that directly killed 56 people, caused the relocation of 336,000 others and dropped a plume of radioactive fallout across northern Europe?

The growing momentum of climate change as a threat to the planet is changing the rules of engagement. Not only has nuclear technology become safer, more reliable, more efficient and cheaper, but its ability to generate large quantities of base-load electricity with low net greenhouse gas emissions has given it new lease of life.

Prime Minister John Howard seems enchanted by its spell. Since May he has been running nuclear energy up the flagpole of public opinion with increasing ardour, from a flirtatious "may consider" in May to a full-blown proposal this week with the suggestion Australia could have nuclear power within a decade.

This is all the more intriguing as the business case for a nuclear industry in Australia remains remote. As the energy generation industry points out, Australia's abundant supplies of coal and gas mean that even with significant efficiency gains in nuclear technology, it is still about 50 per cent more expensive than existing base-load generation capacity. That means a local nuclear industry will need an unlikely large spike in the price of coal and gas or an equally brutal cost placed on carbon dioxide emissions. Neither is likely in the immediate future, but even if they were, no generator would seriously consider building a nuclear plant until the political risk had diminished. A lot.

Indeed, recent experience suggests mainstream Australia's naivety when it comes to nuclear energy makes fertile ground for a localised fear campaign, particularly over the thorny issue of where nuclear plants would be located. In July, left-wing think tank the Australia Institute mischievously issued a list of potential sites across the country, mostly picturesque seaside towns 100km or so from the big mainland cities. Media dutifully took the bait, interviewing fearful local residents who, unsurprisingly, were strongly opposed to a nuclear power plant in their back yard.

Despite these political risks, Howard obviously sees an upside in driving a nuclear debate in Australia. The debate on climate change has moved faster than even a veteran political strategist such as he could have predicted. Given his lack of any serious policy blueprint in response, promoting nuclear energy as a low-emissions technology creates the impression of a strategy, even if it is impractical in the short or medium term.

When it comes to wedge politics, there are few issues as good as nuclear energy for its ability to polarise and marginalise those on the Left, which includes some environmental groups. The environmental Left remains dogmatically opposed to nuclear energy and its perceived relationship to nuclear weapons. For these groups, no nukes is more than just a policy decision, it's a belief. Greenpeace, the first and most celebrated of these groups, was forged in the crucible of the anti-nuclear testing and anti-Vietnam war movement in 1971.

In May, former BP executive and now Australian head of the World Wildlife Fund Greg Bourne accepted the reality that Australia was a uranium exporting country. He didn't endorse it, just acknowledged its reality. That was enough to elicit a withering response from fellow non-government organisations. Wilderness Society campaign director Alec Marr told Bourne to go "back to industry where he came from".

Climate change may have been put on the radar by environmentalists but they are victims of their own success. They ignited a broad debate, but the extensive resources of government and business have taken over most of the discussion. Business leaders are more practical and less ideological than the green movement. Their position is simple: any technology that can deliver sustained growth in energy supply and cuts in greenhouse gas emissions at a bearable cost is in the mix of possible solutions. In the stable of solutions on offer there are promising yearlings such as carbon capture and storage, wind, solar thermal and hot rocks. But so far there are few real starters. For most countries without Australia's cheap energy sources, nuclear power bears closer consideration. Reflecting this, uranium demand is tipped to double by 2020.

A recent CSIRO survey found 93 per cent of Australians think climate change is a serious issue. As with other complex and global problems, they expect governments to fix it. Howard is betting they don't go to bed at night worrying about the risks of nuclear energy and he's probably right. Mainstream Australia, like business, is likely to be more than happy to accept compromises that sustain their quality of life while fixing one of the biggest challenges on the planet.

If he is right, the environmental Left will find itself isolated in its own debate, trapped in a Cold War-style dogma that ignores changes in technology and attitudes. The cracks are already appearing. While the main environmental Left groups are locked into non-negotiable opposition, individuals are not. Two years ago British environmentalist James Lovelock was the first headline act to back nuclear energy as a serious solution to climate change. Last year it was departing NSW premier Bob Carr. This year it was scientist Tim Flannery.

Labor is having headaches with its policy of no new uranium mines, with Opposition Leader Kim Beazley out on a limb in flagging a desperately needed review of that position at next year's federal convention. This week, unions gagged this month's ACTU congress from debating the ban. "We've already got a policy from 1979 opposing uranium mining and my straw poll of the union movement has detected no great desire to revisit it," ACTU chief Greg Combet says.

It speaks volumes about how hamstrung Labor is that Beazley's best shot in reply to the Government's support for nuclear energy is to back solar energy. "Solar Not Nuclear" may have made a sassy bumper sticker in the 1980s, but it makes lousy environmental policy in the noughties. Today's photovoltaic technology is about 10 times more expensive than conventional energy, while the best guesses on emerging technologies such as solar hybrid and solar thermal are about three to four times. Few see solar as anything but a bit player in the short to medium term.

Howard's other objective is more strategic: to reposition nuclear fuel in the minds of Australians as environmentally friendly. The Wilderness Society's Marr says Howard is positioning the debate to make it easier to promote Australia's more likely involvement in the technology - uranium mines, enrichment and even waste storage - after the Prime Minister's taskforce reports next month.

The green movement has a dilemma. It says climate change is the most pressing problem facing the planet, but it is prepared to accept only a narrow set of solutions. It is dealing itself out of the policy-making process.


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