Thursday, October 26, 2006

Al-Hilaly on chastity and fidelity: How can I but blame the victim?

Sheik Taj al-Din al-Hilaly So Sheik Taj al-Din al-Hilaly has been a ditz again:1
... In his Ramadan sermon Sheik Hilaly 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, the sheik 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." [Rapist Bilal Skaf initially got 55 years' jail for leading the 2000 Sydney southwest rapes, but later had the sentence reduced on appeal.]

"But the problem, but the problem all began with who?" he asked.

"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." (source)
I checked the article on's AdelaideNow section and there a certain Peter Minnie had commented:
Wake up people the Sheik comments were not defending these animals but [pointing out] something that is blatantly obvious of what is always the fear we hold as parents of teenage daughters who are caught up in these new "trashy" dress sense that unfortunately is sweeping the western world. (source)
So much for the widespread criticism of the Sheik's remarks – by both muslims and non-muslims. It looks like his comments got through to some fundamentalist loose in this city! No doubt there are a small minority of AFL footy players who also understand his comments since they too feel that the mere act of a women dressing in skimpy clothing is equivalent to her consenting to have sex with him.

By the way, I imagine if meat covered with a headscarf was put outside the cats would still come, rip off the covering and eat the meat anyway. Animal nature is like that. The ability to rise above that kind of 'basic instinct' behaviour and consider the basic impact on society before we act is what makes us human. Enough stating the obvious though.

Black cat It made me wonder... if you wanted to make a sermon criticising non-conformance to a ultra-modest dress code, how could you do it without making some kind of controversial statement? It must be almost impossible. What is the purpose of covering most of the body in really hot countries apart from keeping out dust and avoiding sunburn? Of course it is related to helping ensure chastity and fidelty – for both men and women. So therefore criticising someone who doesn't cover up properly is always going to seem like you're justifying the actions of someone who rapes or sexually harasses them – again regardless of whether the harasser is male or female but traditionally I imagine the harasser was male.

Take note oh-so-diplomatic henchman Keysar Trad, I think I've just made a much better defence for the Sheik than you did. Perhaps you could also suggest to the Sheik to make up for his blunder by preaching next week about exercising control against basic instincts that are unethical or hurt society, in the same way a well-trained cat won't eat the most delicious meat put in front until he's given permission.

Cat image courtesy of Hot Athens Cat Spot
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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

About desert pea blog

It's a bit over a year since I started this blog. Given that the inspiration for its conception was to understand what it was like to blog I think it's a good time to write my 'about this blog' page to link to from the sidebar and reflect on what I've discovered over the year. Thongs, Grange, South Australia

The blogging adventure
In the beginning the main aim of my blog was to test out the blogging experience. I'm constantly interested in how people adopt and push the limits of new technologies and technological approaches – and how the very potential or actual presence and widespread use of ICTs creates a feedback loop which in turn affects people.

Now I can't let the blog go!

Topics and themes
This blog isn't a journal. It's not very personal. A blog is a very public way of communicating so I choose to delve only into issues of public interest, although those issues tend to be quite Australia-centric.

The themes covered on this blog have started to emerge. I thought that I would mainly blog on topcis related to my professional interest, community informatics (or "technology in society" for want of more accessible term), but I've ended up blogging on Australian politics much more. Blogging on politics seems to be unavoidable for me and I think it is because the policy and regulation of ICTs and media, especially the Internet and its associated infrastructure is intimately connected with the reality of technology in Australian and Asia-Pacific society.

I also occasionally comment on current events and ideas. I think everyone has good ideas. Some people even come up with good, forward-thinking and sustainable plans to implement good ideas. Some people even go ahead and execute them. Bloggers generally just write what they think about them!

Over to the geek side
The challenge of this blog is to push the limits of Blogger to achieve the best (as in most feature rich and community-usable) blog I possibly can. In fact I write this post/page so I can keep using this free tool rather than migrating to a privately-controlled Wordpress or Joomla blog.

I have in fact found some advantages of sticking to the Blogger paradigm. For example, because I use a account for my post categories (see sidebar just below the Sturt's Desert Pea picture), feeds are offered per category on my blog via the engine, unlike on a Wordpress blog.

According to the free webstats I use, I have a reasonably consistent hit rate of 20-40 page loads per 24 hours if I haven't posted for over a week and 50-90 at other times. At least half of these are hits from googlers searching for images. I get more google hits from images than keywords I think! The rest appear to be hits from keywords, other blogs and visitors who've bookmarked the blog or its feed.

The percentage of hits from Australian visitors fluctuates from 15% to 70% depending on how often I blog. Obviously I tend to get more local visitors when I'm regularly posting. When I've posted less than 7 days ago, the breakdown is around 50%-70 Australian visitors, 15-30% USA visitors, 5-10% British visitors, with other Western-oriented countries making up most of the remainder. Probably not a surprise given that my blog is in English and tends to espouse Western values – whether I try to or not.

I see some hits from Asia, especially Singapore and Japan. I rarely see visitors from any middle eastern country except Israel. I see a few hits from South America occasionally. I see fewer from Africa and almost none from the rest of the Asia Pacific (except New Zealand). I've never seen a single hit from China. I think the great firewall of China must have blocked completely.

Comments and feedback
There is typically no logical place for general or off-topic comments on a Blogger blog. That doesn't mean they're not allowed. Feel welcome to use the comments facility on this post for your 'guestbook-style' comments and questions.

On the topic of comments, I've never had to delete or moderate a comment – except in the case of administrative stuffups (and spam). That is much appreciated. Keep up the comments!

I'll be updating this post whenever I need to add information about this blog. I'll date each update so it's obvious when I've changed information.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The great Aussie obsession with the heroic farmer

Australian sheep farmer Today on ABC's AM radio, Clive Hamilton of the Australia Institute criticised the latest drought relief package ($350 million) the government is setting aside for Aussie farmers.[1] There are two interesting points here:
  1. Hamilton suggests such a relief package is practising bad economics; and
  2. such bad economics are supported by what he calls the "bush myth".
Hamilton points out that the government consistently bails out farmers who manage their land poorly, continuing a vicious cycle of bad land management and bad farming.
"Droughts happen regularly in this country and there is a marked difference between how farmers prepare for drought ... some do it well, some do it badly and if the soil blows away that is a sign of bad farm management." ...

... Dr Hamilton says he believes it is other farmers who often feel most frustrated by the awarding subsidies.

"The real difference is going to be within the bush itself because there are more and more farmers out there who are managing for drought. They are the ones who manage to maintain grassed areas, or covered areas, which continue to be grazed during a drought," he said.

"They don't qualify for drought relief because they are good managers, they are the ones that are becoming annoyed because they see the farmers in the next paddock who aren't managing for drought are constantly getting bailed out by the taxpayer."
This is a completely fair point. The major agricultural industries are very protected in Australia for various reasons, but that level of protection does absolutely nothing to discourage poor farm and land management – in both an economic and environmental sense. And, perhaps more pertinently, it does nothing to encourage untalented farmers to try their hand at alternate professions!

When I was of pre-school age, my family bought a piece of land which included an area about twice the size of a footy oval which was simply a huge dustbowl. The previous owner had allowed cattle or some other livestock to overgraze this delicate, low-lying area rendering it completely useless for any farming with it's nutrient-rich topsoil having blown away long ago in the wind.

My father's first act was to fence that area off and leave it alone. Now, twenty years on it is almost completely covered in saltbush and is minimally useful for occasional grazing – such as during a drought. And a small part of it – no doubt with the help of inorganic fertilisers – has been annexed to the area used in the crop-growing cycle. Most importantly though, it's being used in a sustainable way now.

Now, Hamilton is known for his "radical" or "forward-thinking" ideas in Growth Fetish but I find nothing overly radical or revolutionary about the following:
The great Australian bush myth, Dr Hamilton says, is behind the community and bipartisan political support for farming subsidies.

"I think the only way to explain why the governments, that otherwise claim to be economically rational bail out families constantly is because they are such an important part of the Australian mythology," he said.
I've carried a similar idea myself for some time but not been able to articulate it.
"I mean we love to imagine ourselves to be stoical Aussies out there battling against the elements and I think we in urban areas get a kick out of thinking those farmers are somehow representing our better selves.

"But it is a very expensive way to maintain a national myth." ...
'Shearing the Rams' by Tom Roberts I think some people may claim that this is a gross over-generalisation by Hamilton, but no one can claim the heroic conceptualisation of Australian sheep, cattle and crop-growers in previous decades didn't exist and doesn't still pervade Australia today. There are numerous examples. Think of iconic Australian paintings — Tom Robert's Shearing the Rams or Russell Drysdale's Drover's wife, etcetera... Think of classic Australian poetry — the narrator in Banjo Patterson's Clancy of the Overflow talks dreamily of swapping places with Clancy the drover, and the jolly swagman in Waltzing Matilda steals a sheep!

To be fair, the heroic Aussie farmer is not a national myth, but neither is the hopelessly incompetent Aussie farmer. And it's hard not to begin to suspect that this national obsession with overprotecting agricultural industries in Australia doesn't have a detrimental effect on the health of the land for one, not to mention progress in indigenous land rights...

I clearly would like to stand behind Hamilton here and say how about taking a different approach where farmers who really are heroes, who treat the land with respect, who educate themselves on how to manage it properly and sustainably get the rewards. Let's not reward those who mistreat land their ancestors got for free 200 or less years ago and make no effort to adopt measures to ensure their farming is at a level of intensity appropriate to the changing environment and changing climate. Above all, let's not let politicians who want to reward bad farming practices get away with it!

Woolgrower and dog image courtesy of
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Friday, October 13, 2006

Vale Aussie media

Vale Aussie media
(thanks to Crikey's home page today).

I'd like to add David Flint, former ABA chairman, to the list of murderous architects of Ozzie's death. Both he and Steve Fielding (in addition to Helen Coonan and the rest of the Liberal party tag-alongs) claim ownership of a newspaper doesn't affect what gets printed in the newspapers and the ownership of a TV station doesn't affect what gets screened. For example:
David Flint: Rupert Murdoch [of News Corp] is an absentee proprietor. The idea that he determines what appears in, say, The Australian, is preposterous. If he does, he must do this for every newspaper he owns. Now he does work hard – but he is not a superman... [source: Crikey mail (10/10/06)]
What fool says this – especially given Flint's level of experience in the domain! Anyone can tell it doesn't take that kind of micromanagement to filter out dissenting views. All you have to do is sack a couple of journalists who "step over the line". And as for the first Family First senator
Steve Fielding: The argument that ownership is the sole determinant of ideas is simplistic. It is a myth... [source]
Of course it's not the sole determinant – but it's still a determinant – a big one. Herman & Chomsky, in Manufacturing Consent listed ownership as the top filter of news outputted by the media in their well-known propaganda model. It is simplistic and misleading of Fielding to imply with slippery words that ownership influencing media output is a "myth".

For this, Flint and Fielding are not just "accessories to the murder" of Ozzie, but either highly unprincipled or highly unintelligent.

The interesting thing to come out of this is to ask why Steve Fielding would vote with the Liberal party on this when there would be no conceivable benefit to his constituents, but a potential detriment. Crikey writers and others publicly wondered what Steve's price was – what it was the Liberal party could have offered him. Nothing apparently, according to Fieldings chief staffer, Felicity Dargan. Dargan today wrote:
Family First did not do any deals with the government over the media changes. Why? Because Family First doesn't do deals. It is as simple as that. We have said repeatedly we won't do deals... [blah, blah, blah] least consider the possibility that a politician can look at legislation on its merits and not seek anything in return... [blah, blah, blah] ...I wonder if the journalists – and some aggrieved politicians – will ever believe it?
I don't believe it of Family First and I don't believe it of any political party. I don't believe Fielding voted for this legislation* on its merits for the simple reason that it didn't have merits – not weighing it up against Family First's published core values anyway. I think instead that Fielding judged that Family First voters wouldn't care which way he voted and that the party would be better off to avoid offence to the Liberal party where possible. Simple. But unprinicpled for a party that's supposed to be all about principles!

* I should point out that obviously the legislation was about more than just the dropping of cross-media ownership laws. Other parts of the legislation may have merit. All the same, I'm still convinced senator Fielding's decision was not based on the merits of the legislation, but a desire to offend as few of his supporters and potential allies as possible.

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