Numeric Incompetence Syndrome (NIS)

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Here is a direct quotation from my local newspaper:

“Aboriginal women are at least 32 times more likely to be hospitalised because of an assault by their partner than non-indigenous women.

“They are at least three times as likely to have experienced violence in the past year than non-indigenous women.

“All this despite comprising a far smaller proportion of the population.”

The writer (Lauren Novak) is drawing attention to important statistics and goes on to suggest ameliorative measures. But she spoils it for me in that third paragraph. Having correctly compared rates of hospitalisation and exposure to violence, she then demonstrates a failure to understand what a rate is.

I don’t want to pick on Ms Novak, who is a much-awarded professional journalist whom I have never met. This is just one example of what I have now dubbed Numeric Incompetence Syndrome (NIS). It seems to afflict journalists and sub-editors disproportionately, but perhaps that’s because their condition is on public display more often than other sufferers’.

I’m thinking about an annual award for the most egregious manifestation of NIS: a Nissy to sit alongside the well-established and eagerly-awaited Stroppy**. What do you think?

Since writing this I have seen another howler in my local newspaper (one of Rupert Murdoch’s, by the way): a little matter of a displaced decimal point in a graphic summary of the South Australian State Budget, showing annual revenue and expenditure to be A$1.9 billion instead of A$19 billion. Now that’s the sort of thing a sub-editor should pick up, don’t you think?

** The Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Twaddle, awarded every January, for which nominations are always open.

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Published!

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The doors are locked. No-one leaves without buying a book!

 

There’s a new page on my blogsite: Books – Bobby Shafter.  Do open it and, if the blurb attracts or intrigues you, click on a link to buy my newly published book.

PS  The advertisements below are selected by WordPress, not by me, and I receive no revenue from them.

Elite Education

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When I went to university there were places for only 10% of each age cohort. By implication, the cut-off IQ level was around 120. Selection was based on examination results and an interview. At my university (Cambridge) there were men’s colleges and women’s colleges and men outnumbered women 10-to-1.

Now the situation is very different, throughout the rich world. About 50% of school leavers go on to university, which means that the implied IQ threshold is around 100 and a university degree does not have the cachet it used to. So it matters more which university one has gained a degree from.

Oxford

In the UK there is the ‘Russell Group’, which includes Oxford and Cambridge; in the USA there is the ‘Ivy League’. Here in Australia the Australian National University (ANU) stands at the head of a handful of Australian universities in TopUniversities’ global Top 100. ANU is ranked 20 and the Universities of Melbourne, New South Wales, Queensland and Sydney are bunched between 40 and 50.

The University of Adelaide is ranked 109. This is not bad, but if a foreign student is looking for somewhere to gain a prestigious degree he/she will probably prefer one of the others. So what is the University of Adelaide doing to clamber up the rankings? According to recent reports it is:

  • Seeking to merge with the University of South Australia, which is ranked 264.
  • About to advertise eight academic posts, for which only women may apply. The pool of potential candidates, from which one hopes the university will select the best, has been reduced by 50%.

On top of that, I have just read an article in the Guardian Weekly saying that the Russell Group universities have been criticised for failing “to recruit students from neighbourhoods where few traditionally enter higher education.” Labour MP David Lammy is quoted as saying, “Real progress in this area will require radical and punitive action by the government and Office for Students.”

Cambridge

I know I risk being called an elitist, and perhaps I am. The kind of education that can and should be given to someone near the top of the intelligence bell curve is not the same as can and should be given to someone in the middle. Moreover, in even the most egalitarian of societies there must be a highly educated layer of leadership with exceptional qualities. Intelligence is not the only quality that matters, but it’s probably the most important and it correlates positively with some of the others. Fiddling with recruitment of staff or students in the interests of social engineering is dangerous and wrong and it makes me stroppy.

Does anyone disagree?

Foot-In-Mouth Syndrome

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An Australian federal politician, Fraser Anning, has just made his maiden speech in the Senate, in which he called for a return to the White Australia Policy and a ban on Muslim immigration. Just to make sure he had everyone offside he talked of this being the ‘final solution’.

When it was pointed out to him that the very phrase ‘final solution’ was indissolubly linked in everyone’s mind to Hitler, Nazism and the attempted annihilation of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and other undesirables, he said his words were taken out of context.

Either he doesn’t know what the ‘final solution’ is in historical terms, in which case he may be considered too ignorant to be a useful member of the legislature; or he’s too lacking in sensitivity, political savvy and common sense to be a useful member of the legislature. Either way . . .

Mind you, Mr Anning is not alone in his choice of infelicitous words. How often, even now, do we hear politicians and activists claiming to be on a ‘crusade’?

Yes, I know, in in our nice liberal secular democracies the word ‘crusade’ just means a passionately executed campaign – nothing to do with the repeated Christian assaults on the so-called Holy Land in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. But to a great many Muslims, even today and even in educated circles, the word is still burdened with its original meaning. Its casual use only confirms the suspicion that The West has hostile intent towards Islam and its followers.

Mamma Mia!

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Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

I usually follow the film critics’ advice, and often consult the Rotten Tomatoes website before investing my time at a cinema. But I made an exception for ‘Mama Mia! Here We Go Again’ – the sequel to ‘Mamma Mia’ with an all-star cast and the music of Abba front and centre.

The critics panned it but there was a special showing for charity and Mrs SG and I were invited to go with a group. And how glad we were that we went.

It’s corny and schmaltzy and syrupy, yes, and it shamelessly exploits nost-Abba-algia. But if one accepts it as a series of video clips held together by a flimsy plot, it’s brilliant and thoroughly entertaining. In fact, if one thinks of it as an opera, dragging one dizzily through a steamy emotional jungle set to music, it sits at high table. It even features a dead woman, which adds to the operatic likeness.

Coco

And there’s another thing. As we left the cinema I found myself thinking of the last-but-one Pixar film: ‘Coco’. Both films celebrate and sentimentalise our place in the river of life – the endless flow of generations, each one building on the experience, the achievements and the follies of all that went before, and honouring them. I find that moving.

Why Are Wages Stagnant?

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Governments around the world have been throwing money at their economies in an effort to accelerate inflation. Unemployment rates in the USA, Australia and elsewhere have been falling. And yet real wages have been stagnant for decades.

Well, let me qualify that last statement. Average wages have been stagnant. Some people’s wages have soared while some others’ have gone backwards.

So what’s going on? I have several theories, which are not mutually exclusive:

  • Inflation happens when supply is inelastic in response to demand.  But for many things that we buy nowadays supply is very elastic indeed. Think about software, on-line entertainment, information, e-books (subliminal ad: Buy my books! Buy my books!), pharmaceuticals and other hi-tech products that cost heaps to develop but very little to replicate.  (Conversely, inflationary efforts have been spectacularly successful in real estate markets.)
  • Consumers are still enjoying the benefits of shifting manufacturing from high-cost countries to low-cost countries. That process will continue for some time as China takes its turn at outsourcing low-skilled and/or high-polluting processes to poorer countries.
  • Outsourcing of services is in its infancy. We’re used to dealing with call centres and tele-scammers in low-wage places, but there’s still a long way to go in back-room financial and legal services, technical support, marketing, R&D…
  • There’s another kind of outsourcing too: to customers, who work for nothing. It’s most obvious in supermarkets, where we’re encouraged to scan and bag our own groceries. And have you ever tried to get technical help online from Microsoft? They refer you to other customers who may have worked out the solution to your problem

  • ‘Uberisation’ has entered the lexicon. Transmogrifying people from employees to self-employed contractors is one thread in a weave of digital platforms, casualisation, zero-hours contracts and exploitation of immigrants working illegally** which all tend towards erosion of wages.
  • Social policies and compliance requirements that discourage taking on staff. Outsourcing to a contractor, without inquiring about their employment practices, is safer and generally cheaper.

Six theories. Any more?

** I have in mind foreign students in Australia, who are allowed to work 20 hours per week but have been found working much longer hours for 20 hours’ pay. Their employers tend to be franchisees, who claim that the onerous terms of their franchises don’t allow them to pay legal wages. The franchisors hold up their hands in horror: “How terrible! We deplore this! We didn’t know!”

Published!

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It happened at last. I am no longer just a self-publisher of e-books, but a published author in the true sense. And it happened at warp speed, which is most unusual in the world of books.

This is how it went…

Last month I heard about a competition being run by a new publishing house based in my home town of Adelaide. It was only two days before the deadline for entries, so I quickly formatted my unpublished novel ‘Bobby Shafter’ in accordance with the competition rules and emailed it off. Within what seemed like a heartbeat I had an email telling me that I had won!

The prize, of course, was publication. So on 31 August (Did I mention ‘warp speed’?) ‘Bobby Shafter’ will be launched along with the publishing house itself: Elephant House Press. Appropriately, the launch will take place at The Elephant British Pub.

The film rights are still up for grabs, so if you’re in the movie business…