Archive for the ‘society’ Category

The ABC of Bias!

Posted: June 25, 2014 in Politics, society


“Brooks found not guilty of hacking charges”

Headline in “The Herald-Sun”

Ok, it seems to go like this. Private media companies are allowed to be biased because they’re private. Fair enough. But the ABC shouldn’t be biased because it’s taxpayer funded. And we know it is biased, because it doesn’t agree with the private media companies. Who we accept are allowed to be biased!

So clearly, the most important thing in the hacking trial was that Rebekah Brooks was found not guilty. The fact that Andy Coulson was found guilty is not all that important. And the fact that the ABC chose to accentuate the negative rather than the positive just shows their bias. Any suggestion that the Murdoch paper tried to spin it to make themselves sound less culpable is just ludicrous. Besides it was in Britain…

The ABC show further bias in that they fail to mention that a large number of Muslims are in Iraq fighting with ISIS. One estimate put the number as high as 150, which is higher to the number of people who think that Tony Abbott hasn’t broken any election promises, but not quite as high as projected public school class sizes, once Christopher Pyne has way.

As Steve Price said on The Project, when telling us that he didn’t buy the argument that young Muslims may feel hated and vilified, “But it’s also they’ve got Australian passports, you don’t leave the country where you were born, if you’ve got an Australian passport and get on a plane and go and start shooting people in other countries. If you want to do that – stay there!” He’s right, of course, only Islamic people would get on a plane and go over to Iraq and start shooting people. No Australian – and clearly these people aren’t Australian, even if they were born here – would ever do anything like that.

There’s no reason for anyone of the Islamic faith to feel disenfranchised. Unless they’re an extremist like the guest on The Project who suggested that we needed to make some effort to understand why young men would want to go and join ISIS. Price found it worrying a man like that was teaching at a university. Anyone who attempts to understand another’s motivation is a dangerous radical.

Similarly, we should worry about moderates like Waheed Aly who – according to Andrew Bolt – should concern us because he doesn’t tell us what a threat to our society Islam is. For a start, they want to build ugly buildings and they don’t support women’s rights and they want to impose strict morals on us all. Which would be fine if they were the Liberal Party, and the buildings they want to build weren’t mosques. And the fact that they don’t approve of drinking, well, its just un-Australian.

As Bolt pointed out, when Aly was talking about Boko Harum:

As so often when Muslim terrorists strike, Aly was brought on by Channel Ten’s The Project to explain away our fears as “an expert in terrorism”.

“So who is this group exactly?” he was asked.

Not once in his answer did “Muslim” or “Islamic” pass Aly’s lips.

“They are a really, really hard group to define because they are so splintered and so diverse,” he said.

“What we do know though is that the broader movement is a terrorist movement and they’ve been wanting to overthrow the Nigerian government and establish a government of their own.

“But beyond that, this particular group, who have done this particular thing, it’s hard to identify who they are and they might just be vigilantes.”

Yes, after all, when Tony Abbott’s mob were bombing London all those years ago, the press always referred to the “Christian IRA”. Similarly, all through World War Two, we had references to the Christian Nazis. Not to identify a group as Muslim is a clear example of double-standards.

Just remember, all Muslims are dangerous. Particularly the ones who try to trick us by being moderate and not advocating Sharia Law. By sounding less extreme than Cory Bernardi, they confuse people as to the inherent danger of tolerance and diversity.

To be absolutely clear: We should not be in any way positive about any muslim and there is absolutely no reason why any of them should feel as though we all hate them. We just want them to go back where they came from even if their family has been here longer than Andrew Bolt’s.

Yeah, I think that’s the unbiased view!

The trouble with numbers is that most people don’t really think about them.

For example,  Twelve Year Old Reveals All The American Presidents Are Direct Descendants of King John.

This is not as amazing as it sounds. By direct, they don’t mean from the male line, as in the first born son; it just means that King John is somewhere in the family tree. As one traces any family tree backwards, there are so many people in it, that there’s a good chance that any two people will have a common ancestor. It just seems more remarkable when the common ancestor is someone famous like the King of England.In fact, so long as you have at least one English ancestor, there’s a good chance that you’d find King John somewhere in your family tree given how long ago he lived. To do some simple maths, by the time one goes back just twenty generations, you have over a million people in your family tree. Given that all the presidents would have had a least one person with an English ancestor, by the time you go back to the 11th Century, there wouldn’t be enough people in England to have all the members of a family tree without some of them appearing multiple times.

Measure the height of all the basketball players in the NBL. Find out the average. How many players will be below the average height for a NBL? Probably around half. Does that mean that they’re short? Hardly.

Averages, by themselves, don’t tell us much. For some things, the median will be a much better measure. But, when we talk about education, the issue is not a student’s ranking, but what they’re actually capable of doing. When we look at the ranking, people have very little idea what the numbers mean in terms of what the students can actually do. It’s like the basketball players height – it’s no real concern if a player moves from the 12th tallest to the 16th because someone else grew, but it is a concern if the poor guy has started shrinking!

And, unfortunately, people often have a problem with cause and effect.

Let’s take, as an example the number of people going to hospital. I don’t have any figures on this, but I’m pretty sure that if we did a study the mortality rate of people going to hospital in an ambulance would be significantly higher than those who drove themselves. Most of you will immediately see that as self-evident. None of you will argue, when Barry has collapsed at work, “No, don’t get an ambulance – his chances of survival are much better if we leave him there until he’s well enough to drive himself!”

Yet that is precisely what happens in many other areas. People will look at statistics and confuse cause and effect. It’s not always as clear as in the ambulance example, of course, but sometimes one needs to take a step back and think. As I’ve written before, there is a strong correlation between a student’s postcode and their academic achievement. It doesn’t mean that changing the postcode in the poor performing suburb so that it matches the one in the better performing suburb will help. Neither does it mean that simply transporting some of the students from the poorer suburb to the other one will ensure success, although, at least, that might have some effect.

And so we get the latest PISA results for Australia, and we’ve slipped! And suddenly we hear: “Look, all this throwing money at Education hasn’t led to any significant improvement. Throwing money at the problem isn’t the solution! It’s all about teacher quality!”

Well, of course not. “Throwing money at something” would rarely solve anything. Money needs to be put into the right areas and targetted carefully. And one of the areas would be improving teacher quality? The question is how do you it?

Some will argue that a “back to basics” approach is needed, and that if just go back to teaching the way it’s always been done, then it’ll all be ok. A third of our students are practically illiterate we’re told. I wonder at their definition of illiteracy. Do they mean unable to communicate at all, or are they including some kids who are using txt msg lingo 2 write? If we go back to rote learning “My Country” will spelling suddenly improve. This debate has been going on for years, with very little detail from many of the “back to basics” proponents, apart from the fact that students were always taught better in some halcyon days when no-one finished at the bottom of the class and everyone did their homework, brushed their teeth, loved God and their country and cheerfully obeyed the law.

But to me the fundamental thing about the PISA results is that nobody is actually really looking at the numbers that closely. Has anyone in the media been asking how significant a drop from 533 to 504 in the ten years actually is? It’s a decline in the score of about 5%. Is that significant? What are the possible reasons for it? Has it been arrested – for example was the decline bigger in the first five years or the second? Or could the shocking results have anything to do with the fact that “more than 20 per cent of Australian students felt they did not belong, were not happy or were unsatisfied at school”? No, let’s not spend any time on that one.

Out of 65 OECD countries it was also reported:

“The raw mean scores showed Australia was equal 16th in science and equal 13th in reading.”

So in other words, we’re a lot closer to the top than the bottom, but let’s not let that get in the way of headlines about how disastrous everything is.

I’m not for a moment denying that education could be improved or that there aren’t many things that we could do better, but simplistic slogans and solutions won’t do anything. We need intelligent people to look at the problem, to talk to all the stakeholders and to come up with a solution.

Sort of like they did with the Gonski Report!

Framing in the social sciences refers to a set of concepts and theoretical perspectives on how individuals, groups, and societies organize, perceive, and communicate about reality.  


When you get asked a question, do ever consider how it’s been framed?

If you’re watching one of the tabloid current affairs programs, for example, you may be asked to participate in a poll. Obvious, to most of us, is the fact that the previous story will have affected your terms of reference for that poll. A story about a person committing a violent crime while on parole is likely to lead to a higher figure for the “get tough on crime” options than if the previous story had been about an effective prison drug rehabilitation program.

This is why the Coaltion continually used the phrase “putting it on the credit card” when refering to any of the previous Government spending initiatives. It frames the listener’s attitude to the debt. If Hockey had said that we couldn’t go “extending the mortgage” to pay for things, then there would have still been a negative association, but it wouldn’t have sounded as bad. When the Abbott Government increases our debt above the “disastrous” $300 billion that Labor borrowed, I suspect that no-one on their side of politics will say: “We can pay for some things but for everything else, there’s Mastercard “.

When it comes to the human psyche, the work of  Daniel Kahneman* and Amos Tversky should be of particular interest to politicians. To what extent, political parties are deliberately using their studies, and to what extent the political process is dominated by focus groups, polling and media advisers, I don’t know, but there is an enormous potential for using things such as “framing” for effectively changing the way a political party is perceived by the electorate. The whole asylum seeker debate, for example, is of no importance to most people in Australia, yet it was framed in such a way that it became a hot button election issue. If you’ve just been shocked by my assertion that asylum seeker debate is of no importance, then I suggest that the “framing” has worked extremely well. Were it not for the reporting of boats, most people wouldn’t know that it was even happening. People wouldn’t be able to distinguish between “boat people”, other refugees and people coming here as part of the immigration program. Yet “protecting our borders” was seen as extremely important by a large number of people, as was Australia’s “lack of compassion” for others. Now that the flow of information has been slowed, we don’t have the same level of hysteria about the invading armada  from Indonesia. Has the flow of boats decreased significantly? Is anyone in the MSM reporting the number of arrivals any more?

(In fact, another good example of framing is an article by a columnist where he used a crime committed by a Sudanese refugee – and some dodgy statistics about his community – to argue why it was important to “stop the boats” and the “queue jumpers”. I suspect that most people wouldn’t stop to consider that these particular refugees DIDN’T come by boat – they were the non-“queue jumping” genuine refugees!)

Tversky and Kahneman’s work challenges the Economic Rationalist theory that people behave logically and do what’s in their best interest. Their studies in the field of behavioural economics have three main themes:

  • People frequently make economic decisions based on a vague idea and rather than logically thinking about them.
  • How things are framed, which is often based on things such as stories and stereotypes
  • The Market itself and its ineffeciencies.

To put it simply, when you see the headlines, “Housing Prices to Boom” and “Housing Bubble Risk”, do you put off buying your first home or investment property or do you think that you better get in quickly? Strangely, people warning about the dangers, may itself contribute to the boom.

Likewise, a decision by the Reserve Bank to cut interest rates to stimulate demand because it’s “worried about a looming recession” may make business owners concerned about their profits falling or workers about losing their job. Then, rather than spend, they try to put money away for the future.

When it comes to politics, the Coalition have largely managed to frame the economic agenda on their own terms. “We had a surplus, Labor has deficits” and “We had money in the bank, Labor has debt”. The existence of the GFC is acknowledged, then ignored. It’s been rare that anyone has ever questioned whether Hockey was arguing that there’d be no debt if they were still in charge, or even – in a time when the economy is “struggling” – whether they considern it a good idea to run surpluses sucking further funds out of the system.  Indeed, it’s interesting how they’ve been able to argue that the Carbon Tax is terrible because it takes money off us, while simultaneously asserting that running a surplus budget where you take more in taxes than you give back in services is always a desirable thing.

Perhaps, the most obvious argument against using  the politics of using polling as a way of determining a course action is when you look at the number of areas where the Labor Party’s policies were prefered by the electorate. Education the NDIS, and Gay Marriage were all pluses for Labor, and yet many people still decided against voting for them, in spite of not agreeing with the Opposition on most issues. Labor, they felt, was moving from one disaster to another. When pressed, the issues were either years ago or just part of the normal chaos of government such as when the states disagree with what the federal government intends.

The challenge for the progressive side of politics over the next three years will be to ensure that debate is framed in their terms – that means holding Abbott accountable for his promises and ensuring that important social issues don’t disappear of the agenda entirely.

*(Writer of “Thinking Fast and Slow”)

Interesting short interview with Daniel Kahneman.

By allowing state curricula to be hijacked by so-called experts pushing experimental learning techniques such as ‘whole language learning’, governments have left many young people with little grounding in spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Christopher Pyne. Press Release. April 4th 2011.

Christopher Pyne knows a lot about the education system. He attended a private school for his entire school career and then obtained a Bachelor of Laws at Adelaide University. This expertise qualifies him to take a more “hands on” role as Minister for Education. He advocates a back to basics approach to Education.

As someone who has taught in secondary schools for a number of years, the phrase “back to basics” disturbs me for a number of reasons. The first is that there seems to be some sort of assumption that the “basics” have been abandoned. The second is the fact that what we mean by basics is never actually defined in any meaningful way, and usually it’s subtext is  that you don’t actually need much in the way of funding, because all you need is a blackboard, some chalk and as many kids as can be squeezed into a room to make a success of it.  And finally, the fact that almost as certainly as night follows day, two years after advocating the “back to basics” approach, the same politicians will be  either lamenting the fact that students don’t do enough sport in school or else they aren’t being taught a number of things, such as values, how our Parliamentary system works, how to apply for a bank loan, or all the Kings and Queens of England.

“You’re just not covering what’s important,” says the man at the barbeque, “I was talking to my nephew the other day and he didn’t know about Simpson and his donkey.”

“Which bit?” I ask, “The bit about him plonking people on the back of his donkey for a couple of weeks before dying in a war to protect British interests? Or the bit about him being an illegal immigrant and a staunch trade unionist?”
End of conversation.

Phonics – it’s a discussion that rares its ugly head every few years, and I’ve discussed this with a number of primary teachers and I’m yet to find one that isn’t using it, along with a range of other strategies when teaching students to read. They all agree that teaching grammar, punctuation and spelling is important. There’s some disagreement on how much formal grammar needs to be taught. All agreed that teaching the concepts of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, as well as sentence structure was necessary, but some didn’t think that the inability to identify an “adjective clause of time” would necessarily prevent a Grade 5 student from being able to write clearly and concisely.

Of course, as a secondary school teacher, my objection to the notion that students just need to be taught phonics and all will be well, stems from the rather obvious objection that ‘phonics’ doesn’t start with an “f”. And I’m not just making a silly point. Most of the poor spelling I come across stems not from the fact that kids don’t spell words the way they sound, but because they do. And they spell the words the way they sound to that kid. “His rely pist and his gonna cum ova get u back.”

My second point = that the “basics” is never actually meaningfully defined – may seem strange to some of you. It’s the 3 R’s, right? (Notice that only one of them actually starts with the letter ‘R’). But for most students these are learned to an adequate level in primary school. Yes, people will cite studies and surveys with shock horror statistics, like nearly half the population are below average, or that the students in China are outperforming ours in PISA tests. But every survey will show you that most students read, write and handle numbers at or above the expected level.

The idea that all students should be spending their school day being drilled in the three “R”s for thirteen years is, of course, absurd and nobody is seriously advocating it. But what then is meant by a “back to basics” approach? More help for students who are below the expected level? Research into students falling behind to discover what they have in common? Or just larger class sizes and more “chalk and talk” instruction? Never mind that explicit lecturing is one of the least effective ways of teaching. (See Pyramid)


As for technology, I’m sure that we’ll have the idea that students don’t need access to computers and that they’re just a way that teachers avoid actually “teaching”  is one that I’m sure that we’ll have pushed from various quarters. No-one, of course, will suggest that politicians or journalists don’t need computers. Back in the nineteenth century, nobody had a computer and everyone learnt to read and write just fine. Not true, but statements nearly as ridiculous will go unchallenged. How technology is being used in schools and how poorly its potential is being realised is a whole discussion in itself. But schools are starting to grasp the possibilities. There needs to be a massive increase, not just in the technology, but in helping teachers use it more effectively.

Finally, I look forward to Christopher Pyne’s pronouncement some time next year that schools are failing to cover a very important area. He’s already announced that the History curriculum is far too “left-wing”,  and that he’ll fix that. But I expect something more. Perhaps, it’ll be a horrified realisation that some students leave school never having studied Shakespeare. Perhaps, it’ll be the shocking knowledge that not all students know where Albania is.  Whatever, I expect that schools will be expected to forget what they see as the priorities, and put more time into something else.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t  by Jim Collins is a book on company management which appeared in 2001. It lists eleven companies, and examines reasons for their “greatness”. Unfortunately, two of the companies are no longer with us. Both Fannie Mae (picked off by poor lending practices) and City Circuit Stores (bankrupt in 2009). A third, Wells Fargo, required a bit of propping up during the Global Financial Crisis.

Ok, greatness doesn’t last forever and even the Roman Empire fell. But it should tell us something when the top ELEVEN companies – and remember how many thousands of companies that writer had to choose form – are reduced to nine in less than ten years after the book was written.

When it comes to trying to make some general rules about success, most people fall for the “Let’s Look at What Successful People Did” problem. People rarely look at failure, in order to make a worthwhile comparison. In fact, failure is rarely examined at all. When was the last time you saw a book about people you never heard of, asking them what they did which led to them being redundant, homeless or stuck in the one low paid job for thirty years?

And the trouble with looking at successful people? Well, they’re successful. That means, it worked at the time of writing. It doesn’t mean that what they did will work for anyone else, or that it’ll continue to work into the future.

If I read the story of the singer who quit their job and poured their life savings into making an album of all the songs they’d written over the years, there’s a very good chance that the story is being written because they’ve just won a Grammy, or gone Gold. However, I suspect using them as my role model may not work as well (even if I did manage to put music to the poetry I wrote in my twenties).

As for future perfomance, if one considers a ten lap race, the person who leads at the end of the first lap won’t necessarily be the winner. They may have used up too much energy early, and collapse in a heap. The person who has planned the race in order to be still finishing strongly is a better prospect. Of course, life is not a ten lap race. It just keeps going lap after lap, so it’s much easier not to think too much and to just be impressed by those who are in front at a particular moment.

And that’s the trouble with so many business books like “Good To Great”. They appear to be taking the long view because they look backwards. If one of them uses a company like Enron or Lehman Brothers as an excellent example of a business to emulate, when the disaster hits, the new additions simply remove the entry or add a footnote about how this unforeseen event that nobody expected was totally unforeseen, so just concentrate on the good bits.

Can we learn from other people’s success? Yes. But we can also learn from failure and, with failure, I’d certainly rather learn from other people’s. We learn best when we combine the two. Of course, believe it or not, you’re own experiences may be the best information you have. What someone else writes may help you understand it, but, in the end, what worked for other people may not work for you.

Please change the bits in bold italics before publication – they make us too obvious – RM

“IN six days’ time, Tony Abbott should become our 28th Prime Minister.

It is a job Mr Abbott has wanted for much of his life. He has dedicated himself to the fight, shaping a philosophy of government that is both economically conservative and socially responsible. Mr Abbott has also demonstrated himself to be a decisive and compassionate leader. Despite the relentless and often deeply unfair goading of his detractors, Mr Abbott has avoided answering any questions about policy detail. He has committed himself to finding solutions for some of our most seemingly intractable problems, from indigenous disadvantage to business stagnation and has a new name for WorkChoices.

He has identified his own weaknesses and sought to eliminate anyone who mentions them; he has reached out to working women, for example, like no political leader in recent history, calling them “feisty” and “sexy” and suggesting that they should move a bit close. The Sunday Telegraph believes Mr Abbott is ready to lead Australia.

It seems an understatement to observe that the Labor-led government of the past six years has been a grave disappointment. In spite of Labor’s fragile grip on parliamentary majority has often passed legislation that rich people don’t like. This sort of class war has to stop. If people want to be treated fairly, why don’t they get off their backsides and earn more money. Let’s face it – people on $150,000 are struggling to make ends meet, so it must be pretty easy to get that sort of money.

Much has been written lately about media coverage of the Rudd government – but let’s cut through the spin.

This isn’t about party politics.

It is about bad government.

And this is a bad government. Rupert Murdoch said so in a tweet.

For much of the past six years, Labor has complained that we’ve been hostile to them. What a load of nonsense! We’ve only ever criticised them when they’ve been wrong which is all the time.

It started with squandering the surplus on ineptly administered “stimulus” measures during the GFC arguing that this was necessary to prevent a recession. There was no recession so clearly they could have kept all that money and reduced company tax by 50%.  It got worse with the bizarre, back-of-the-envelope mining “super-profits” tax that Labor expected resource companies to simply accept. Governments should always check that people are happy to pay more tax.

In 2010 the panicked execution of Kevin Rudd brought to a national stage the worst of NSW Labor’s obscene obsession with power and delivered us a leader in Julia Gillard who was beholden to cheap factional alliances instead of Rupert and Gina. The revelations that were to follow during ICAC hearings about the corrupt practices of NSW Labor further eroded the confidence of voters in this state, because corruption by Labor politicians always reflects on the whole party, while Coaltion Politicians believe in individuality, so Queensland under Joh was just one or two bad apples.

After the 2010 election, the introduction of a carbon tax with no mandate, the cheap deals with crossbenchers, the ham-fisted attempts at media regulation and the botched reintroduction of offshore processing compounded the Government’s sins.

Add to that the abandonment of supposed “core principles”: whatever happened to Mr Rudd’s once-vaunted federal hospital takeover? Where did all the 20/20 summit ideas go? Why have military veterans and their widows had to sweat blood to be granted the dignity of equal pension indexation because we all know that anything this Government does right should have been done sooner? Why didn’t the Government announce a single real measure to improve childhood vaccination rates until it had effectively left office? Where is the legacy of our supposedly epoch-changing mining boom because the Howard Government didn’t have the benefit of this, they were stuck with the Global Financial Crisis ? There were achievements, but most owe more to ministers, including that person we hounded from office Ms Gillard, than to Mr Rudd. The National Disability Insurance Scheme; the MySchool reforms that curtailed the education unions and allowed parents to judge schools on performance; the introduction of national quality standards for childcare centres; the apology to the stolen generations; and high-speed broadband – these were all founded, at least, on sound ideas, even if their implementation was inept. In 2007, The Sunday Telegraph recommended a vote for Labor as Australia’s best option. We had formed the view John Howard’s Coalition government had, after 11 proud years, run out of ideas and missed its chance to prepare for the future.

Another three years of Labor would be an unmitigated disaster. But declaring “this is a bad government” is not enough. Poor performance by one side is not enough for us to endorse the entrusting of Australia’s future to a new force so Abbott better continue to do what we tell him to, unless the opposition and its leader have demonstrated themselves capable, competent and ready to lead.

Tony Abbott and the Coalition have done that even if not publicly. Mr Abbott’s destiny awaits. And, as always, The Sunday Telegraph will be here as a critical voice for our readers. We are not, and have never been, cheerleaders for any one side of politics. We have consistently railed against incompetence except when Media Watch exposes ours.

We will continue to advocate for the public interest and it’s in the public interest for you to listen to us , to hold governments to their promises and to do everything we can to protect and promote an Australia blessed with free thinking, free markets and free people apart from illegal immigrants who should be locked up forever.

Tony, Tony, Tony

Posted: August 12, 2013 in Politics, society, Uncategorized

“I might as well be open and up front with people,” Mr Abbott said in Melbourne.

“I support the existing definition, while my sister Chris has argued with me until she’s blue in the face – and in fact she’ll continue to argue with me on this,” he said.

Mr Abbott said he prided himself on being consistent and would remain consistent in his opposition to changing the Marriage Act.


Tony Abbott’s sister has revealed that the Opposition Leader felt “conflicted” about voting against marriage equality in Parliament last year.

Speaking on the ABC’s triple j Hack program, Christine Forster, who is gay, said her brother’s view that marriage is only between a man and a woman is slowly “shifting”.

“There’s been a significant shift in how he approaches this whole question,” she said.

“He said it after the last vote in Parliament last year, that he felt conflicted about voting against marriage equality.

“That doesn’t sound like much, but it really is a significant shift for a man who all of his adult life has not even questioned his opposition to reforming the marriage act to have it also cover same-sex couples.

“Almost every time it comes up, with him you see slight, very small shifts”


This, of course, on the same day. So, congratulations, Christine. I guess you realise that you shouldn’t actually jeopardise your brother’s chance to be PM. He felt “conflicted”.

Excellent! But why does he pride himself on being consistent? Still, I guess it’s ok. The fact that he still speaks to a sinner like you should fill you with gratitude.