Saturday, March 20, 2004

Remedial Mathematics for Education Ministers

I heard Brendan Nelson on AM today, being very huffy about the peace deal between the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and the Sydney Catholic Education Office which allows the Catholic Education Office to offer twelve male only teaching scholarships as long as it also offers twelve female only teaching scholarships. Doctor Nelson demanded to know how this measure could possibly increase the percentage of male primary teachers:

[It's been told that in order to attract more men into teaching, it has to attract more women into teaching as well, and if you offer in this case, 12 male and 12 female scholarships, how on earth does that change the percentage of primary school teachers who are men?]

Here's a simple answer.

Imagine you have 76 primary school teachers (who all play trombone in their spare time), all of whom are female. The percentage of male teachers is, therefore, zero. Now add 24 new teachers, 12 male and twelve female. You now have 100 primary school teachers 12% of whom are male and 88% female. The percentage of trombone players is at least 76% but we can't say any more than that without knowing if any new trombone players were added.

Update: Now that today's AM is finally on-line, I've been able to add the relevant excerpt from the transcript to this post. Of course, Dr Nelson sounds much better in audio.

Friday, March 19, 2004


Climate variables are described by non-linear stochastic relations, which in simple language means that they cannot be used to project or forecast anything. However, like econometricians, many climate scientists are in awe of the processing power of computers, but utterly unaware that garbage-in = garbage-out. This is a continuing problem with the social sciences - using techniques of the physical sciences without understanding the limitations of those techniques.

Post Modernists would, however, disagree with this statement. As they would.

Well, that explains why the Bureau of Meteorlogy has such a hard time predicting Melbourne's weather; basically they're a bunch of jumped up sociologists. Maybe it's about time they employed some real scientists.

Commenters are cordially invited to speculate on possible post-modernist approaches to meteorology or to compose short excerpts from academic papers by deconstructionist climate physicists etc.

Update: there's also a chuckle or two to be had from the comments thread, where Louis questions the statistical validity of atmospheric temperature measurements:

It is not too difficult to show that measurements of temperatures, as published, are statistically unsound. The science of statistics was initially conceived to deal with measureable attributes of discrete objects, be they humans, cannon balls, marbles, tennis balls, etc. When restricted to these categories, statistical analysis is sound.

However when extended to mining and other phsyical objects, statistics hit a conceptual wall. When one measures the temperature of the air at a particular place, say in Australia, what is one measuring?

Is one measuring the attribute of some physical object? If so, what is that object.

In the absence of an objective basis, measurements of "un-objects", while measuring something, cannot be amenable to statistical analysis, since the measurements do not have, in the statistical sense, uniform "support".

What was that about post-modernists again?

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Enough Already

I'm getting thoroughly sick and tired of all the witless Lerner and Loewe jokes I keep coming across in blog posts and opinion pieces about Spain. There's only one of them that's any damn good - you'll find it if you scroll down the page a little. As for the rest, the headline of Ann Coulter's bilious offering at Yahoo is pretty typical. It's another one of those "the Spanish have no cojones" pieces. At least Coulter has the good sense to recognise the lameness of the joke in her headline; by the end of her piece she's abandoned Lerner and Loewe in favour of a humorous riff on a theme from Rogers and Hammerstein:

No matter how many of our European allies may surrender to the terrorists, America will never be alone. This is a country founded in a covenant with God by people who had to flee Europe to do it.

Sailing to the New World in 1630 on the ship Arabella, the Puritans' leader and governor, John Winthrop, said Americans were entering into a covenant with God to create a "city upon a hill." We would be judged by all the world if we ever broke that covenant. But if we walked with God, "We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when 10 of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies." He has intervened in our affairs before, such as in 1776, 1861 and 1980.

With the Spanish election, we are witnessing a capitulation to savagery that makes full-scale war inevitable. The Democratic candidate wants to represent godless Europeans. The Republican candidate wants to represent Americans. As Winthrop said: "The eyes of all people are upon us."

I had to check out the dates to work out which historical events Coulter believes show divine intervention in American affairs. 1776 was, as I vaguely remember from high school history, the year of the Declaration of Independence. 1861 was the year the American Civil War started and in 1980 Ronald Reagan succeeded Jimmy Carter as President. God truly does work in mysterious ways his wonders to perform.

The Condensed Andrew Bolt

(We misread and misrepresent Andrew Bolt so that you don't have to)

Today, Andrew takes up more or less where Mark Steyn left off, and draws out the local implications of Al-Quaeda's recent victory in the Spanish elections. He remarks that:

... journalists everywhere are insisting the Howard Government tell them a reassuring falsehood -- that, like Spain, what makes us a big target is that we went to war in Iraq.

How this is meant to be reassuring I'm not sure. It's not as if we can turn back the clock on the war in Iraq; it's a done deed. I'd be more reassured if the Government told me that Australia is a terrorist target because too many Australians still practice the religion of Pope Urban II: that's something you could actually do something about, if you were of a mind to appease terrorists. Not that any government would, unless they were determined to commit electoral suicide. Back to Andrew:

It is now said again and again that these bombings are the price Spain paid for being a "strong ally of the US" in Iraq. And that Australia is therefore in greater danger now, too. Both claims are false, or desperately misleading.

"Said by whom?" you may ask. Andrew doesn't say, so your guess is as good as mine on that topic.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Turd Way Watch

WHAT do you give someone who’s been proved innocent after spending the best part of their life behind bars, wrongfully convicted of a crime they didn’t commit?

An apology, maybe? Counselling? Champagne? Compensation? Well, if you’re David Blunkett, the Labour Home Secretary, the choice is simple: you give them a big, fat bill for the cost of board and lodgings for the time they spent freeloading at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in British prisons.

Paddy Hill figured spending 16 years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit was bad enough, but now, to add insult to injury, the Scotland resident is being charged by the British government more than £3,000 for each year he was incarcerated to cover the cost of his housing and food.

And Hill is not alone. Many others wrongly convicted are receiving similar demands from London.

Britain's David Blunkett, the Labour home secretary, sees nothing wrong with charging an innocent man for what he cost the government in upkeep, reported Scotland's Sunday Herald.

In fact, Blunkett is scheduled to fight in court tomorrow for the right to charge victims of wrongful convictions.

This has to be one of those urban legends, doesn't it? Perhaps not:

A judge’s ruling which increased compensation to two men wrongly convicted for the murder of paperboy Carl Bridgewater was being challenged in the Court of Appeal today.

The independent assessor asked by the Home Office to work out the scale of compensation is appealing against parts of the High Court judgment which includes the quashing of his 25% deduction for “board and lodgings” while in jail.

Losing the Plot (II)

Australian interests overseas and foreign interests here were at increased risk of a terrorist attack because of the Iraq war, the nation's top spy said today.

Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) director-general Dennis Richardson said the close alliance with the United States and participation in the war on terror contributed to Australia being a terrorist target.

"Threat levels in respect of some specific foreign interests in Australia however were raised because of the war in Iraq," Mr Richardson said.

Appeasement, Spanish Style

WASHINGTON, March 15 (Xinhuanet) -- The United States said Monday that it is possible to consider the adoption of a new United Nations Security Council resolution to accommodate request by Spain for a UN mandate to maintain its troops in Iraq although such mandate is already available.

"It has been said that there needs to be a UN mandate for those troops. We believe there is such a mandate in (UN Security Council resolution) 1511," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said at anews briefing.

"At same time, we've also said that in the context of a transfer of sovereignty (to Iraqis) on June 30, a new resolution is possible," he said.

Ereli made the remarks after Rodriguez Zapatero, prime minister-elect of Spain, vowed earlier Monday to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq by June 30.

But Zapatero also indicated that Spain could maintain its troops in Iraq if there is a UN mandate after June 30, when the US-led coalition occupation authority returns sovereignty to Iraqis.

China View(link via a comment from vaara at Kick & Scream)

PSOE leader and prime minister-elect José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, former European Union special envoy to the Near East and probable future foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, and Socialist EU Deputy Francisca Sauquillo outlined the central points of the future government's foreign policy.

"My government will be deeply pro-European. We will recover our traditional strong ties with Europe, Latin America and the Mediterranean region," Rodríguez Zapatero told a news briefing Monday.

Referring to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, he said George W. "Bush and (Tony) Blair should engage in self-criticism because you can't bomb a country 'just in case'."

He also confirmed that "unless the UN takes over in Iraq, I will withdraw Spain's troops before Jun. 30," the deadline set for the transfer of power from the occupation forces to Iraqi authorities

After many years of being tormented by ETA terrorist tactics, the Spanish have come to abhor terrorism more strongly than anybody else. Their rage was vigorously expressed in the anti-terrorism demonstrations that brought more than 10 million people into the streets after the bombings. The incoming prime minister, Socialist leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, echoed the public sentiment by declaring his immediate and absolute priority would be to combat terrorism.

The fact that Spanish voters have given the reins of power back to the Socialists, who opposed the war against Iraq, clearly reflects their decision that cooperation with the U.S.-led war has been neither an appropriate nor effective response to the challenge of eliminating terrorism.

The election result undoubtedly is a major blow to the Bush administration, which will lose one of its key European allies in the war. Zapatero said both Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair ``will have to reflect and engage in some self-criticism'' about their actions concerning the war.

It remains unclear whether the new Socialist government will immediately withdraw its troops from Iraq. Zapatero has vowed to bring Spanish soldiers home if no new development emerges by the end of June, when the United States has promised to hand power to a provisional Iraqi government. He also was keen to see what role the United Nations would be allowed to play in the process. He will make the decision after watching developments of the power transfer and the U.N. involvement in the process. His position that ending the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq quickly is the best way to fix the frayed international coalition against terrorism seems to be similar to the posture of France and Germany.

Cheap Shot

So, you reckon that the defeat of Spain's Popular Party shows that the Spanish people have lost their cojones. That the election result was a victory for cowardice and appeasement. When can we expect you to admit that the result of the 2001 Australian election was a victory for racism?

Postscript: I doubt that I shall get away with saying that the question is entirely rhetorical and doesn't represent my somewhat more nuanced opinion of the Tampa incident and the Children Overboard affair. But it's worth a try anyway.

Not About Madrid

Last week I hinted that I might give the Committee Hansard of Federal Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Treaties a bit of a going over for more gems from Senator Santo Santoro. The committee was discussing a proposal that Australia withdraw from the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development. Our reason for doing so is, in brief:

Australia supports relevant and effective multilateral agencies that deliver cost-effective and tangible results in South-East Asia and the Pacific region. We do not believe that IFAD adequately satisfies this criterion.
Mr Charles Tapp, Deputy Director-General, Papua New Guinea, Pacific and Global
Programs, Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID)

Mr Tapp gave the committee extensive testimony on the background to the decision, including the numerous problems AusAID has had with IFAD's disinclination to engage with Australia on AID isssues which fall within IFAD's purview. In May 2002, Mr Tapp wrote to IFAD's President, Lennart Båge, expressing Australia's frustrations with IFAD in the strongest terms possible:

... I think it appropriate to advise you that AusAID in the course of its ongoing multilateral assessment process has developed significant concerns about the continuing relevance of IFAD’s operations to Australia’s development cooperation objectives and priority countries. As you are aware, only a small proportion of IFAD supported programs are allocated in the main focal regions of Australia’s aid program, South-East Asia and the Pacific. As a result, opportunities for operational interaction between AusAID and IFAD have been extremely limited. Where such interaction has occurred it has been characterised by communication difficulties related to IFAD’s proxy management arrangements and limited headquarters engagement. In these circumstances it has been difficult to achieve the kind of bilateral-multilateral synergies for which we increasingly strive. Australia will therefore be assessing the level of its participation and seeks replenishment from first principles.

Senator Santoro was naturally curious about how President Båge (Boge in the transcript), responded to this letter:

Senator SANTORO — What was the response to that letter?

Mr Tapp — None. Very shortly thereafter the Director-General of AusAID had a meeting with the President of IFAD. There was no response provided to that letter whatsoever.

Senator SANTORO — At that meeting?

Mr Tapp — At that meeting—none at all.

Senator SANTORO — What is it? Is it rudeness, lack of knowledge of diplomatic protocol, personality clashes—or they just don’t give a stuff?

I think Senator Santoro is being a little unfair to Mr Båge. I know that if I had received such an openly vitriolic communique, whether via E-Mail or old-fashioned snail-mail, I'd need to lie in a darkened room for several days until I got over feeling that nobody loved me any more. Mr Båge is Swedish, and we all know, from the films of Ingmar Bergman, that they're inclined to be very gloomy people. It's quite likely that it's taken Båge till now to recover sufficiently to deal with the AusAID letter.
Political leaders and pro-war commentators may not know what they are for or where they are heading or where they stand in the Culture Wars or what ever happened to tradition and morality or why every domestic initiative ends in crisis or why major institutions are always beset by scandal....but they do know one thing for certain. They Are Against Terrorism. They are opposed to mass murder, to nihilistic bombings, to the killing of 200 innocents as they travelled to work on a Thursday morning. This is the morality of the lowest common denominator, an empty political vision defined in response to empty terrorist acts. To paraphrase Tony Blair: 'It is as pathetic as the terrorists are opportunistic.'

And where does defining your worldview through terrorism get you? It gets you to a place where, although you don't like to admit it out loud, you secretly, guiltily welcome massacres like that in Madrid, as an opportunity to berate your opponents and as a reminder of your own moral indefatigability. Nice.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Steyn on Spain is Really Quite Inane

To be sure, there are all kinds of John Kerry-esque footnoted nuances to Sunday's stark numbers. One sympathises with those electors reported to be angry at the government's pathetic insistence, in the face of the emerging evidence, that Thursday's attack was the work of Eta, when it was obviously the jihad boys. One's sympathy, however, disappears with their decision to vote for a party committed to disengaging from the war against the jihadi. As Margaret Thatcher would have said: "This is no time to go wobbly, Manuel." But they did. And no one will remember the footnotes, the qualifications, the background - just the final score: terrorists toppled a European government.

It just goes to show you how a country and a people can totally lose their moral fibre in the space of four decades; it's utterly inconceivable that, in 1964, a terrorist attack in Madrid could influence the outcome of a Spanish election. General Franco would have seen to that.

Losing the Plot

THE nation's police chief, Mick Keelty, has been personally chastised by a senior member of John Howard's staff after contradicting a key government claim - that the war on Iraq has not increased the terrorist threat to Australia.

The Duck of Steel might need to get onto his mate George and ask him to pull the FBI into line too:

A terrorist attack on Australia was inevitable, and the nation was clearly more of a target because of its alliance to the United States, a senior FBI counter-terrorism expert said today.

The Mathematics of Sympathy

Although many commentators have excoriated the Spanish electorate for its capitulation to terror, we must never forget that the slightly smaller half decisively rejected it. These we honor and the rest we pity.

The [Spanish] Government's defeat also reflected public anger with the decision to back the United States in the invasion of Iraq, a policy initially opposed by 90 per cent of the Spanish public.

If we're going to distribute honor and pity among the Spanish population according to how they voted in the recent elections, it seems only reasonable that we apply a similar rule to those who died in the Madrid bomb attacks. Those who supported the Popular Party's decision to back the United States are worthy of being mourned as martyrs to the cause of freedom and democracy; that's 20 people. The other 180 we can write off as a bunch of paella munching appeasement monkeys who paid the ultimate penalty for their refusal to recognise the harsh realities of the world we find ourselves in.

The calculation assumes that those killed in the Madrid bombings were a representative sample of the Spanish population. This is a questionable assumption; there's little reason to believe that the terrorists were looking to perform a statistically reliable massacre. But it's reasonable to conclude that the majority of the Madrid victims had probably opposed Spain's involvement in the war in Iraq.

Which all makes me wonder why any of the various bloggers and commentators who have depicted the Spanish election result as a clear case of caving in to Al-Qaeda are wasting any sympathy on the Madrid victims, when what the Spanish people really deserve right now is a bloody big "I told you so!"

Monday, March 15, 2004

AFP Commissioner Soft on Terror?

That seems to be Mark Steyn's message in this opinion piece in today's Oz:

"THE bombs dropped on Baghdad exploded in Madrid!" declared one "peace" protester in Spain. Or as Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty put it, somewhat less vividly: "If this turns out to be Islamic extremists . . . it is more likely to be linked to the position that Spain and other allies took on issues such as Iraq."

By "other allies", he means you – yes, you, reading this on the bus to work in Australia. You may not have supported the war, or ever voted for John Howard, but you're now a target. In other words, this is "blowback". This is what you get when you side with the swaggering Texas gunslinger and his neocon Zionist sidekicks.

It's a worry isn't it; there you are reading the Oz on your daily commute from Belgrave to Flinders St and, on the opinion pages of the jewel in the crown of Australian journalism, you discover that one of the nation's key police agencies is being run by some soft-headed loon who's prepared to go on national television and run that crazy "Islamic terrorism is all our fault" line. Well, it might be, if Steyn wasn't such a lazy bastard (sometimes, I'm a lazy bastard too, that's what makes it easy for me to recognise Steyn's lazy bastardry).

If Steyn had bothered to do a little more research - if for example, he'd obtained a video or transcript of Keelty's interview with Jana Wendt on the Sunday program - he might have spared himself the embarassment of trying to score points off Keelty. Early in the interview, Keelty spells out the police approach to the problem of terrorism:

JANA WENDT: So what conclusions are you drawing from what we now know about this attack?

MICK KEELTY: Well, I think the arrests early this morning indicate that some of the early predictions about who might have been involved are starting to shore up now in terms of Islamic extremism. But we have to let the investigation run its course, like we did in Bali. We have to let the evidence emerge from the investigation, and then make our determinations from there.

Because unlike, for example, intelligence agencies and others who quite properly make statements and make predictions about many of these things, the law enforcement role is to provide the evidence and use that evidence as fact.

I suppose Steyn might be counted here as one of those "others" and, unlike Steyn, for whom it might be quite proper to "make statements and make predictions", the AFP are constrained by the need to actually gather evidence before they go pointing the finger of blame or, as Steyn does in his article, speculating on the complete lack of intelligible motivation on the part of terrorists.

Keelty's "it's all our fault" statement comes later; here it is in full:

JANA WENDT: Well, Commissioner, that brings me to the question that most Australians are asking themselves. Could this happen here?

MICK KEELTY: Well, I think we've said all along this is an uphill battle. This is a marathon, not a sprint. The reality is, if this turns out to be Islamic extremists responsible for this bombing in Spain, it's more likely to be linked to the position that Spain and other allies took on issues such as Iraq. And I don't think anyone's been hiding the fact that we do believe that ultimately one day, whether it be in one month's time, one year's time, or ten years' time, something will happen.

And no one can guarantee it won't. And I think there's a level of honesty that has to exist here in terms of what the problems are here, not only in Australia but in our region.

But on the threat level, the threat level here in Australia hasn't changed. It still remains at medium. It has been at medium for some time for an attack on Australians in Australia.

Beyond the suggestion that the bombing in Madrid was linked to Spain's position on Iraq, what precisely is wrong with what Keelty has said? it strikes me as a reasoned and honest assessment of the situation; certainly more reasoned that Steyn's third riposte:

Commissioner Keelty is confusing old-school terrorism – blowing the legs off grannies as a means to an end – with the new: blowing the legs off grannies is the end.

Nothing Keelty has said, incidentally, is inconsistent with Steyn's belief on this score; it's quite possible that Keelty would agree with Steyn on this score - he might see the Iraq rationale as merely a convenient excuse for terrorists to blow the legs off grannies. This still leaves the possibility that terrorists are more likely to blow the legs off Australian grannies than, say, Venezualan grannies because in the latter case they would have to strain their intellects to come up with new excuses.

Steyn finishes with a lesson from history:

So the choice for pluralist democracies is simple: You can join Bush in taking the war to the terrorists, to their redoubts and sponsoring regimes. Despite the sneers that terrorism is a phenomenon and you can't wage war against a phenomenon, in fact you can – as the Royal Navy did very successfully against the malign phenomena of an earlier age, piracy and slavery.

Personally, I'd find the lesson a little more salutory if it weren't for the fact that both malign phenomena were fostered by the English in the first place; the first through privateering the second through various slaving companies set up under Royal charter. In both cases it took them a century or two to clean up their act.

Afterword: Bizarrely, Phil Ruddock was on AM this morning, arguing, like Steyn, that Keelty was wrong to link the Madrid bombing to Spain's involvement in Iraq. He even used one or two of Steyn's examples. Unlike Steyn, he was trying to hose down the threat.