Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Queen of Mathsexuality

Last year, I found myself falling hopelessly in love with a supremely gorgeous, comprehensively attractive brunette.

And what was it that attracted me to her?

Was it her long straight brown hair that made her look like Angelina Jolie? Was it her tall forehead that betrayed a strong South-East Asian streak? Was it her dark olive skin resembling that of the delightful Kate Ceberano? Or was ut her thuck eksunt thet gave away her Kiwistani roots?

Actually, to quote the ‘80’s one-hit wonder Thomas Dolby, she blinded me with science. This babe had the brain of an Einstein. She could tell me all about the brain and its functioning, about the effects of certain medications and much much more.

Brains are sexy. And as I was cleaning out my previous editions of the Australian Financial Review, I discovered another beautiful mind.

Hiding in page 31 of the April 10 edition, I found a profile of academic and writer Dr Clio Cresswell. This 30-something brainy bombshell is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney and regularly hits the speakers' circuit. She has appeared on ABC TV, Radio National and on the Triple-M breakfast show.

Dr Cresswell’s book is entitled Mathematics And Sex and is published by Allen & Unwin. I checked and read someone surnamed Hyman complain as follows:

“I disliked that there was not enough math. Formulas are presented without defining any of the terms.”

Which, I guess, is a compliment. Heck, I'm not exactly mathematically challenged. Despite going onto fail 3 undergraduate accounting subjects, I managed to get 143/150 in 3-unit maths in my NSW Higher School Certificate. But I certainly couldn’t be bothered reading another boring bloody mathematics textbook!

Another dude, known as Bob Z, complains:

“The author writes rather too often about her sexual past, her personal views on orgasm, etc. It would have been better if she'd avoided personalising it altogether. Maybe she thought personal sex/relationship anecdotes would be funny, but if so, it didn't work with this reader.”

Bob obviously doesn’t have much of a sex life, or else he’d be writing his own edition. Or maybe Bob should have attended the course Dr Cresswell taught at Canisius College in Buffalo NY in 2004.

Then again, maybe I should have gone as well!

If these are the sorts of reviews Dr Cresswell is receiving for her book, I am extremely jealous. Apart from not being mentioned as part of her mathsexual exploits, I’m also doubtful anything I wrote would be reviewed in such tones.

Indeed, probably the best I could do is to write a book entitled “Sex and Industrial Relations Law – Why downloading porn shouldn't lead to instant dismissal!”.

Thankfully AFR writer Rachel Nickless focuses her attention on Dr Cresswell’s mathsexuality. Cresswell is described as a pioneer researcher whose “tough work” includes finding “the formula for the perfect orgasm”.

Nickless tells us that Dr Cresswell is hardly “the stereotype of the retiring mathematician”. Instead, Cresswell looks “more like a bronzed surfer, albeit a very articulate and intelligent one.”

And for those contemplating a visit to the dating agency, Cresswell suggests a more mathsexually appropriate alternative would be trying the “12-bonk rule”. According to this formula, you should try the first 12 partners and then pick whoever is the next one better than the others.

At least I think that’s how it works. I guess I wasn’t that good at maths. Maybe Dr Cresswell could explain it to me over lunch.

As part of her further research, Dr Cresswell will be examining the key factors of the orgasm. Once these can be identified, they can be explained using formulae and graphs. Sadly, this will limit the need for practical testing.

If you want to learn more about the calculus of coitus, you might have to join me and probably a few thousand other mathsexual converts at Dr Cresswell’s public lecture scheduled for May 17 2006. AFR’s Rachel Nickless says that the number to call is (02) 9351 3021.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

New Blog

I don’t always have the time to update my many blogs with article-size (700-plus word) analyses. But I still like to keep my brain ticking over with short snippets on what I am reading at the moment.

With this in mind, I’ve started a new blog which (I hope) will be updated with some regularity. You can check it out here.

Hopefully, I will have some stuff to write about on this blog in the near future. Anyway, back to my 6-minute units!

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Clarke forces now even targeting Christian MP’s

“I’ve had it with the New Right. They’ve become like a religious cult. The other day, one of their members came up to me and told me she prays every Sunday for the defeat of the Moderates. Talk to me about politics, but why bring prayer into it?”

These words were spoken to me by a former conservative Liberal Party member who has run for Local, State and Federal Parliament as an endorsed Liberal Candidate. They indicate a battle being waged for the soul of the Liberal Party.

This war is now being played out in the preselection process. Clarke’s faction is now openly threatening long-standing and loyal sitting Liberal MP’s. The Clarke forces are openly moving to defeat popular Member for Baulkham Hills Wayne Merton.

Mr Merton is a popular local figure and a devout Christian whose family are active in church affairs. It seems strange that a Christian MP is being challenged by a faction claiming to promote Christian values.

The challenge against Merton is a most unusual one. Merton has not acted against Clarke or the Religious Right. If anything, Merton should be seen as an ideological ally of the Christian Right.

But it doesn’t stop with Merton. Sources tell me that longstanding MP for the Hills and Shadow Environment Minister, Michael Richardson, is also facing threats for his seat from the Christian-Right. Like Merton, Richardson is also a devout Christian with very strong links to congregations across the north-western Bible-belt of Sydney.

John Howard has always insisted that his Party is a broad church incorporating conservative and liberal strains. Notwithstanding recent adverse comments on aspects of some religious cultures, Howard himself has always had a strong aversion to sectarianism. During his term as inaugural “resident of the NSW Young Liberals, Howard went against the sectarian powers-that-be and supported state funding for Catholic schools.

Yet religious chauvinism plays an increasing role in the recruitment practices of the dominant Right-faction of the NSW Liberals led by David Clarke, a former personal injury lawyer and current Member of the Legislative Council.

The mere recruitment of members from churches shouldn’t pose a problem for a party that prides itself on welcoming people of all backgrounds and faiths. However, in Clarke’s case, it is more a case of the unfortunate use of religious wedge politics.

Clarke’s speeches in the Upper House reflect the selective use of sectarian chauvinism. In a speech to the NSW upper House on 23 February 2005, Clarke described Australia as not having a Judeo-Christian or Abrahamic ethos but rather on exclusively “Christian foundations and institutions and in accord with 2,000 years of Christian western tradition”.

The modus operandi of Clarke and his allies are quite straight forward. They contact a small Christian minority community, often from the Middle East, and plays on their sense of victimhood to attract members to the Party. Often Clarke’s rhetoric is aimed at using pre-existing ethnic and religious tensions, thereby excluding other communities from branch stacking and recruitment drives in the area targeted.

On 3 May 2005, Clarke addressed the NSW Parliament on the virtues of one competing faction of the bloody Lebanese Civil War which raged since the 1970’s and whose embers are still burning. His interpretations of Lebanese affairs would be regarded by many Lebanese Australians as extremely provocative.

Clarke praised the Lebanese Forces as “protectors of Christianity and the embodiment of the history, faith and traditions of Christian Lebanon” and “the legitimate and authentic voice of Lebanon's Christian population”. He paid special tribute to Dr Samir Geagea, a man regarded by many Lebanese as a war criminal.

Clarke described Lebanon as “a centre of Christian civilisation, culture and faith” and Palestinians refugees as “largely of a different religious faith”. He also described the foundation of the Lebanese forces by the “martyred” former Lebanese President Bashir Gemayel as a response to “an upsurge of an extremist Islamist presence seeking nothing less than the Islamisation of the country” that included efforts of “every Imam who followed Osama Bin Laden”.

It’s quite likely that the period of the Lebanese Forces’ ascendancy coincided more with a time when the al-Qaida leader was busy chasing skirt in London and Beirut nightclubs to bother about Imams of any persuasion. This doesn’t stop Clarke from making inaccurate and deliberately provocative comments on Lebanon’s sectarian politics otherwise known for its complex and slippery alliances.

Clarke’s other speeches have praised Christian denominations such as the Hillsong Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

It would be unfair to criticise Clarke for merely praising various congregations. However, it is known that such praise is often used as the basis for recruiting socially conservative members from these communities who are used to fight factional battles inside the Liberal Party.

Perhaps the most contentious sectarian manoeuvre by Clarke has been his apparent support for the establishment of an Assyrian homeland inside Iraq. Since the bombing of a Shia Muslim shrine on 22 February 2006, Iraq has been plunged into an orgy of sectarian violence that has claimed over 20,000 civilian lives in a mere 6 weeks.

Assyrians are one of any number of Iraqi ethno-religious communities vulnerable to attacks by extremists and terrorists loyal to al-Qaida or the deposed former Iraqi government.

The notion of an Assyrian homeland (either autonomously within or independent of Iraq) is, in the current climate and notwithstanding the merits of the cause, a political hot potato.

For a Liberal Parliamentarian to raise such issues at a time when Australian troops are currently risking their lives to secure Iraq for the benefit of Iraqis of all denominations is grossly irresponsible.

Overtures by Mr Clarke and his allies to supporters of Assyrian independence will severely embarrassment the Federal Government at a time when Ministers are being cross-examined at the Oil For Food Inquiry.

If Peter Debnam wishes to win the next State Election, he would be well advised to rein Clarke and his allies in. Or perhaps to push them toward the Christian Democrats. Either way, the rise of sectarian politics will only benefit the Iemma government.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Middle Eastern crime without Muslims

Last night, I received a call from the producer of a Sydney talkback radio show. She asked me if I wanted to make any comment about comments made by one Dr Jamal Rifi which were quoted in the Daily Telegraph.

Dr Rifi is a GP based in Belmore, and was at one stage (and perhaps still is) a Commissioner of the Community Relations Commission. He at one stage was a broadcaster and board member of the Voice of Islam radio station that was at one stage broadcasting from the offices of the Islamic Council of NSW in Chullora.

Dr Rifi allegedly told the DT that the reason Lebanese Australians were reluctant to dob in the perpetrators of much of the Middle Eastern gang violence was because they feared retribution from gangs and did not have any confidence in the police to protect them.

I haven’t read the actual article, which as far as I know was not on the DT website. What I have said above is merely hearsay from the producer of the talkback show mentioned in the first paragraph.

I am always amused by attempts by some elements of Lebanese Christian denominations to paint the problem of crime gangs as one strictly limited to the Lebanese Muslim communities. The same claims are also made by reconstructed Marxists and senile pseudo-conservative monoculturalists whose views were heavily promoted on the op-ed pages of the Australian in the immediate aftermath of the Cronulla riots.

The basic message was simple – those bloody Muslims gang-rape our women, assault our lifeguards, plant bombs in our nuclear facilities and turn our suburbs into crime hotspots.

Of course, the fact remains that many of the most notorious Middle Eastern gangsters (both behind bars and outside prison) were and are from Christian denominations. Further, we know that a number of thugs and war criminals associated with the former South Lebanon Army have been granted asylum in Australia, despite their possible involvement in torture and other crimes against humanity.

And today’s Sydney Morning Herald reveals a side of Middle Eastern (and nominally Christian) crime that people living in the Fairfield city have known of all along. And this time, it is Peter Debnam who should be worried about possible criminal elements being used to stack branches in his party.

The Assyrian Iraqi community are mainly based in the City of Fairfield. They are active in small business and in local politics. A number of Assyrians are on the Fairfield City Council.

Some Assyrians are seeking the creation of a separate Assyrian state inside Iraq. Their cause presents an added layer of sectarian tension in a nation where, since February 22, at least 20,000 people have been killed in sectarian violence.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that every community has its rotten apples. The Lebanese Muslim communities are not alone in this regard. Indeed, Assyrian gangs play a prominent part in Sydney’s Middle Eastern crime scene.

In recent times, the Religious-Right faction led by Liberal MLC David Clarke has attempted to use Assyrian churches and community organisations as a recruiting ground for branch stacking purposes. Whether Clarke is directly involved remains to be seen. But people close to Clarke have openly expressed support for the idea of a separate Assyrian homeland independent from the rest of Iraq.

It would be wrong to suggest that Assyrian Iraqis have no role to play inside any mainstream political party just because some amongst them are engaged in criminal activity. However, the fact remains that political parties represent an attractive cover for criminal elements seeking false respectability.

Yet regardless of the stacking activities of the Religious-Right faction of the NSW Liberals, the fact remains that criminal elements from within Middle Eastern communities are not limited to Muslim Lebanese. But good luck if we hear about “Christian crime gangs”.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Saturday, April 08, 2006

In praise of Diesel fuel

And now for something completely different and apolitical.

Last night, I joined with my friend GG and her neighbour to see a truly awesome and inspiring performance by one of Australia’s blues supremos.

We saw Diesel. Accompanied by strings. It was tasteful. It was classy. And it cost only $25 at the Revesby Workers Club.

Apart from the 4 or 5 strings, Diesel had a bass player (who doubled as a keyboard player) and a drummer with bongos and other goodies.

Sometimes the strings replaced the electric guitar solo. At other times, they added drama to Diesel’s pain-filled voice.

Diesel performed all his hits. I lost track of exactly how many there were! His rendition of Cry In Shame had no drums, with the beat created by his masterful use of his guitar. The saxophone was replaced by the 5 strings being played behind him.

But the highlight of the night was when he did perhaps his biggest hit – Don’t Need Love – as a solo accompanied just by his guitar, with no drummer or bass in sight. Diesel’s voice sent shivers down the 500 or so spines gathered in the Whitlam Theatre.

The concert ran for a full 2.5 hours. There was no minor act. The crowd were mesmerised. So was I.

When they weren’t playing, the strings were clearly in awe of their musical maestro. Yet Diesel was no arrogant conductor, frequently joking with his bass player and repeatedly introducing various members of his band. Musical selflessness at its best.

The final piece was what seemed like a completely impromptu 20 minute jam session of one of his hits. The music was so phenomenal that I simply cannot remember the name of the song played.

What made this concert so memorable was how comfortable everyone felt. We weren’t a packed crowd standing at the rear of a crowded hall. Instead, we had some 30 tables with 10 seats at each table. The seating arrangement made each member of the audience feel like they had equal access to the stars on stage.

And given that Diesel’s music is written for hopeless romantics as well as for headbangers, this intimate arrangement was perfect.

So if you have $25 and earlobes to spare, make sure you catch this amazing and awesome musical experience.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

NSW Religious Right kicks goals for Morris Iemma

Once again the NSW Religious Right faction of the Liberal Party are kicking political goals for Morris Iemma.

The faction, led by a small bunch linked to the Catholic lay order Opus Dei, is putting factional interests before Peter Debnam’s push to become the first non-Labor conservative premier since Bob Carr was elected in 1995.

The antics of the faction are becoming more sinister, with its apparatchiks even sidelining not-so-religious conservatives.

Sources from within the faction have informed me that factional heavy Nicholas Campbell has had a severe falling-out with self-proclaimed Opus Dei supporter and NSW Upper House member David Clarke.

Campbell, a seasoned campaigner with substantial experience in campus and mainstream election campaigns, is a former staffer to Howard loyalist Senator Bill Heffernan.

Mr Clarke has, over the years, had a love-hate relationship with Mr Heffernan. Clarke’s influence within the NSW Party organisation has almost eclipsed that of Heffernan. The new NSW Young Liberal President (who is automatically granted a place on the NSW State Executive) has close links to Opus Dei. The current Federal Young Liberal President, Alex Hawke, works in Mr Clarke’s office.

Clarke and Heffernan have been vying to gain some control of the non-aligned yet largely conservative middle ground votes in the NSW Liberal Party State Council, which consists of delegates from branches and state electorate conferences. State Council delegates vote to elect members of the State Executive, and also are eligible to be drawn out of a hat in preselection ballots.

The broader conservative wing of the NSW Party has tended to be a mixture of religious and more secular conservative elements, together with disgruntled and ambitious former members of the small “l” liberal faction often referred to as “The Group”.

The near-takeover of the Right faction by the Christian Right has forced some unusual alliances to take place. Group sources have informed me of secret meetings taking place between non-religious Right Howard-loyalists (including possibly Campbell and Heffernan) and organisers for The Group.

The not-so-religious-Right are concerned that Clarke forces have been trying to stack branches with members of Christian groups and denominations with often conflicting agendas. Particular concern has been expressed over Clarke’s attempts to ingratiate some Iraqi denominations whose views on Iraqi national sovereignty represent a departure from Australia’s foreign policy.

Clarke’s involvement in local Iraqi affairs has been noticed by members of other Iraqi denominations (and therefore presumably by the Iraqi embassy).

Since the bombing of the Shia Muslim shrine on February 22 2006, over 20,000 Iraqis have died in sectarian clashes.

With Australian troops stationed in Iraq, and with extremists on all sides of the sectarian divide seeking scapegoats, it is highly irresponsible for any State MP to ingratiate him or herself with one side whilst pursuing a sectarian agenda in Parliament. Such activity could even pose a risk to Australian troops stationed in Iraq.

Clarke has already managed to stir up feelings from within the Palestinian community as well as with certain Lebanese groups with his praise of the Phalange leadership during at least one speech in the NSW Parliament. Playing Middle East sectarian wedge politics may assist in branch recruitment drives. However, in the long run, such recruitment may come at a long-term political cost.

No doubt Australians of all denominations and nationalities should be welcomed by all major parties. At the same time, the Liberal Party cannot allow itself to be used as a political caravanserai for sectarian crackpots.

Peter Debnam has placed his credibility on the line by accusing the NSW Government of rewarding Lebanese Muslim groups for branch stacking services by going soft on crime. Yet now his own efforts at becoming premier are being undermined by sectarian branch stacking which may put the security of our nation, let alone the state of NSW, at risk.

Debnam would be well advised to rein in the Religious Right now before it is too late.

(The author was a member of the Liberal Party in NSW for a decade until allowing his membership to lapse in 2002. He was a member of State Council and edited 2 conservative youth publications. He was also an endorsed Liberal candidate for Local Government and for a NSW Federal Seat, achieving a 2-party preferred swing of 5.1% in the latter.)

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

INDONESIA: Cartoon wars between Australia & Indonesia

Drawing wrong conclusions

IT was a dog of a weekend for Foreign Minister Alexander Downer with relations between Australia and Indonesia almost hitting another low.

It all started when Australia granted temporary asylum to 42 West Papuans who claimed they were being mistreated by Indonesian authorities. Indonesia recalled its Australian ambassador. From there, things just kept getting worse.

My Canberra sources advise the Indonesian ambassador was exceptionally miffed by the recall. He'd already spent $50 on his ticket to attend the fundraiser for the Canberra Islamic Centre that weekend.

Muslim comic Amro Ali was the star act at the dinner, taking the "puss" (to use less offensive Kiwi pronunciation) out of Muslim reactions to all things Danish – including some advice for Danish companies suffering from Arab boycotts. With demand skyrocketing across the Middle East, Amro suggested the Danes switch from exporting ice cream and pastries to Danish flags.

The present dispute between Australia and Indonesia has now escalated into a cartoon war whose recurrent themes make Australian tourism advertisements look a "bloody-hell" lot less crass.

An Indonesian tabloid, Rakyat Merdeka ("People's Freedom"), published a cartoon showing a dingo with a head resembling Prime Minister John Howard engaged in a morally compromised position with another dingo resembling Downer.

The caption has the dominant prime ministerial dingo saying to his mate: "I want Papua!! Alex! Try to make it happen!" The heading was "The adventure of two dingo (sic)".

The PM-dingo reference to Papua was in the context of claims by Indonesian nationalists that Australia was plotting independence for the province of Papua.

The newspaper is famous for offending Indonesian politicians and breaking corruption scandals. Its editors seem to spend more money defending defamation suits than on news gathering.

One of many newspapers competing for a readership hungry to take advantage of the liberalised political and media environment. Rakyat is apparently an Islamic-leaning paper. This humble writer fails to find the Islam in such a cartoon.

Some years back, I was handed a copy of the MMG ("Muslim Marriage Guide") to read in place of holding a bucks night.

The MMG sadly didn't illustrate any theologically appropriate matrimonial positions. But it did warn of severe divine retribution resulting from . . . um, perhaps I'll use Freddy Mercury's phrase of "riding one's bicycle". So when Bill Leak from The Australian decided to respond to the Indonesian paper, he probably said to himself: "Bugger it! I'm going to give those Indonesians some nasty goreng!"

Leak drew a cartoon of an Indonesian – said to be generic but resembling President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono – as a dominant dingo mounting a Papuan dingo with a bone in his nose.
The Indonesian addresses his mate with the following endearment: "Don't take this the wrong way" and the caption reads: "No Offence Intended".

Downer immediately went into damage control, telling reporters his Government "does not condone in any way" the cartoon and "disassociated" itself from it.

"From a personal perspective, I find the cartoon tasteless and offensive and see no merit of any kind in its publication," Downer said.

So once again cartoons are dominating headlines in Indonesia and Australia. However, on this occasion, the Muslims are having a good laugh.

It was reported the president of the world's largest Muslim country laughed when told of the cartoon. Only God knows what the dingoes are thinking.

(Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer and occasional lecturer at the School of Politics at Macquarie University. This article was first published in the Brisbane Courier-Mail on Tuesday 4 April 2006.)