Friday, March 21, 2008

Will Someone Please Sit on This Man's Head?

Preferably while he's prone, but supine will do - as long as it stops Laurie Ferguson getting pronouncements like this out of his mouth:
"People fear there is a monoculture in some suburbs. They believe there is an over-dominance of some cultures in schools, which is denigrating the quality of education," Mr Ferguson told The Age [through its earpiece, reporter Jewel Topsfield].

"So they are withdrawing their kids from government schools and sending them to religious or selective high schools. This leads to further concentration of marginalised communities in government schools and the further stigmatisation of these schools."
Through the rest of the report Laurie is given ample opportunity to demonstrate seven shades of stupidity. Calling for refugees to be housed across a wider spread of suburbs sounds reasonable - until you ask the question, and where are these people going to find the community supports they need to get themselves settled, even integrated to a degree, in their new environment. And in the following statement, Laurie takes off into cloud-cuckoo land with his finger pointed in the general direction of a possible scapegoat:
Mr Ferguson told The Age [through its earpiece, reporter Jewel Topsfield] more needed to be done to avoid children from places such as Africa, who had grown up in refugee camps and had limited education, being so heavily concentrated in some areas and schools. "Deliberate policy decisions" needed to be made about diversifying the location of housing for refugees and humanitarian entrants.

He said settlement workers should also try harder to find private rental properties for their clients in a broader range of areas, rather than simply dealing with the same real estate agents. (emphasis added)
What makes him think that settlement workers aren't trying hard enough to find private rental properties for their clients? Hasn't he heard of the current housing shortage housing affordability crisis, or did that simply slip his mind?

When it comes to stupidity, The Age (through its earpiece, reporter Jewel Topsfield), shows it's no slouch itself, with this cursory investigation of the problem of "white flight" from the public education system:

The president of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals, Brian Burgess, said the exodus from state schools in Victoria was "more like a middle-class flight" than a white flight.

"It has more to do with middle-class people living in lower socio-economic areas moving into private education or what they would view to be a more upmarket secondary school in the next suburb," he said.

But teachers at racially diverse schools, who asked not to be named [by The Age (through its earpiece, reporter Jewel Topsfield or her offsider, Bridie Smith)], told The Age [through its earpiece, reporter Jewel Topsfield or her offsider, Bridie Smith] white flight was occurring in Melbourne.
There's nothing like investigating the facts and checking the evidence for yourself, is there? Nothing like it there at all.

Elsewhere, Andrew Bolt suggests that the term "white flight" is a misnomer. Excuse me, while I go off somewhere quiet to grind my teeth for a couple of minutes.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Coming Soon: The Return of the Worried Well

MENTAL health treatment could fall victim to the Rudd Government's budget razor gang, with Health Minister Nicola Roxon flagging cuts to Medicare coverage for the mentally ill...

Asked whether the Rudd Government would keep the present funding for the program, Ms Roxon said it was looking at ways to spend money more "effectively" and would not rule out cuts the Medicare-funded mental health program.

"I'm not going to rule things in and out, but we are certainly looking at ways mental health money is being spent to make sure it is effectively being used in the community," Ms Roxon said.

She said she was reviewing which treatments Medicare would continue to fund...

Ms Roxon said she had been alerted to possible misuse of the services. "I certainly won't rule out that part of my job as Health Minister is to make sure that money is being spent effectively … for people who have mental health problems." (The Age, emphasis added)
I'd say that Leo Shanahan's parsing of Roxon's statements on the Mental Health Reform Package is pretty well spot on - "looking at the way money is spent to make sure it is effectively being used" is fairly obvious bureaucratese for "looking for any spending cuts we can conceivably get away with". And when a minister mentions "possible misuse" of services, it's pretty much a dead cert that the cuts will be found.

It won't take long, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, for the "possible misuse" Roxon mentions will have become "public concerns over possible misuse of health funds" then "a public perception of misuse of health funds" and on to "public outrage over the rorting of Medicare rebates under the so-called Mental Health Reform Package". This scandalous misuse of the taxpayer dollar will, of course, be a very bad thing for working famblies. It will have to be stopped.

Is the money really being spent on "people who have mental health problems"? Here's a web page that says it is, but clearly the page is out of date:
Who benefits [from the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners through the Medical Benefits Schedule Initiative]?

Patients with a clinically diagnosed mental disorder who would benefit from a structured approach to the management of their care needs, using the short to medium term treatment available under the Better Access items.

Reading Shanahan's report didn't do anything for my depression, but it worked wonders on the constipation.

Word of the Day: Anecdotal

An anecdote is "a short account of an interesting or entertaining incident" - at least that's what my Pocket Oxford says. The word derives from the Greek anekdota "things unpublished". Anecdotal, the adjective derived from the noun "anecdote" (as in "anecdotal evidence") isn't defined in the Pocket Oxford - if it were, the definition would probably read "of, pertaining to or derived from an anecdote or anecdotes".

Question: what's the value of anecdotal evidence, of the kind Jenny Macklin cites in this report on the Northern Territory intervention:

Ms Macklin said Labor supported the changes because there was overwhelming evidence of high levels of child abuse and neglect in certain communities.

She said anecdotal reports from affected communities were encouraging.

"We're certainly getting anecdotal evidence that it is (working)," she told Fairfax Radio Network.

"Many of the grandmothers are saying that more money is being spent on food and of course one of the worst forms of neglect is children not being fed properly, going to school hungry, and of course that just means that they don't grow the way they should and can't concentrate at school."
Answer: almost, but not quite bugger all. In this usage, "anecdotal" is being used as a synonym for "hearsay". Evidence you accept because it supports your existing opinions.

Anecdotal evidence is Clayton's evidence.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Born Sluts and Instinctive Doormats

Which of the following quotations is the odd one out?

  • Clear evidence of women’s promiscuity throughout evolutionary history is in the size and shape of men’s genitals and what men do with them. (Satoshi Kanazawa)

  • For any woman, the need to submit, to surrender, to place all your trust and faith in another is a natural and useful instinct—despite assumptions to the contrary by the prevailing culture. (The Submissive Wife)

  • There is a female instinct to want to be saved by a man who sweeps them up, marries them and causes them to live happily ever after. In a tempered form, this instinct mightn't be such a bad thing; many men do have the corresponding impulse to play the rescuer role.("Still not getting it" at OzConservative)

  • Your prince may not ride up on a white horse, but it's not too much to ask to spend your life with someone attractive who makes you feel like a princess. Being loved by a man is your birthright as a woman. Mating is one of the oldest, ingrained human instincts. While self-sufficiency is admirable, it doesn't fulfill your need to be held and touched, to be intimate with a man. Acting as though you don't crave a leading man in your life doesn't make it so, but it does contribute towards keeping you single. (The Surrendered Single by Laura Doyle)

Whichever quotation you picked, you were wrong. It was a trick question. They're all bollocks.

If you find that unfair, here's a small concession. The last, from Laura Doyle's The Surrendered Single, only implies that women have an instinctual need to find either Mr Right or Mr Adequate and get themselves married. The other three - and the linked pages - make quite explicit claims about what is innate behaviour for women. They all use evolutionary just-so stories to support the authors' views of what women should be and how women should behave.


One of life's potentially embarrassing situations is getting caught in the act of servicing yourself by your new girlfriend.

Should this happen to you, you could do worse than to tell her that you started out with purely scientific motives - to examine for yourself the evidence, such as it is, for the theories of Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist. You could do a whole lot better, but it's not entirely inconceivable that you could do worse.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Maybe 50%

How reliable are the Snopes Urban Legend Reference Pages? Judging from Andrew Bolt's recent behaviour, his answer would be no more than 50%. It all depends on the topic.

If the topic is a little cockle-warmer about a young girl receiving a reply from a "special angel" after sending a letter to God about the death of her beloved dog, and Snopes confirms the truth of the story, then you take Snopes' word for it. If the topic is global warming, and a photograph of deep snow from "near New York right now" (emphasis added) which (according to Snopes) is actually a photograph of Canadian snow taken in 2004, then maybe you don't put so much trust in the Snopes version of the truth - you just put up a snarky update:


Readers say the above image sent by Janek was from Japan, or Canada, or somewhere else not enjoying Adelaide’s bit of heat.

But for those wanting a newer picture, here’s one of the Ottawa garages crushed by Canada’s huge snows...

Well, maybe. The official story on the Ottawa garage that collapsed takes up just one paragraph of this report:

Ottawa fire Platoon Chief Paul Whitney said the cause of the collapse had not been determined, but noted that the garage was covered by snow.

As far as I can tell from my quick Google news search, there was only the one Ottawa garage that collapsed. A number of neighbouring buildings were evacuated - a sensible precaution, no doubt. Interesting how that one garage became one of several in Bolt's description of the photograph.

So what's the truth here. Well, maybe it doesn't matter - there might be higher considerations involved.

(Hat tip to Nexus 6).