Friday, May 30, 2008

Complain, complain,complain

As a sunny weekend is upon us I just want to reflect for a few minutes about the unbelievable amount of unnecessary complaining that Karlstad residents indulge in via letters to newspapers.

Here is a list of recent unbelievably stupid and unnecessary complaints to the letters' pages of the two local newspapers

Complaining about:
People exposing skin while sunbathing
People sunbathing in public places
People lying on the grass
Buses not taking every single route that every single person wants
Radio stations playing current music
Radio stations not playing music from 70 years ago that no one wants to listen to anyway
Pensioners, pensioners,pensioners
People who drive too slow

And so on.....

So Karlstad calm down and listen to some Bob Marley ..."sun is shining..."

Friday, May 23, 2008

Finally - a memorial to the non-famine caused by the British


However, the fact remains that the so called "famine" in Ireland in the 1840s was nothing of the sort - it was a failure by the British government (some say an attempt at genocide) to feed the people of Ireland with the other food that was still being produced by the Irish in Ireland (meat, fish, vegetables, crops) The Irish don't refer to it as "The Famine" but as "The Great Hunger"
Because they were denied food when there was plenty of meat and crops available.

And the word famine means "severe shortage of food" But there was no shortage of food, there was plenty of food being shipped out under armed guard to England and being eaten by the English in Dublin!

The two basic facts everyone needs to know, but which the British government still keeps quiet about after more than 150 years are these:

1. The potato crop failed, in other words the potato blight destroyed all the potatoes. Thus destroyng the one staple food source that the working and poor Irish were "allowed" to eat. Especially those working the land in rural areas.

2. There was plenty of food in the country, plenty of meat, and other crops and other vegetables. It's remarkable that the British seem to think that the potato blight must have killed off
pigs, cows, carrots, wheat, oats, fish and chickens as well!

HOWEVER, the poor people of Ireland were not permitted to eat these foodstuffs, the majority of which was produced for the English living in Ireland or was being shipped to England for English tables during the famine.

Listen to Sinéad O'Connors song "famine"

Or read any good book about the history of Ireland and you'll soon realise that calling, The Great Hunger a "famine" is like calling an April shower in London a monsoon!

Here's the lyrics to Sinead O'Connor's song "Famine" for those of you who don't want to watch Youtube or who can't understand everything she's singing:

OK, I want to talk about Ireland
Specifically I want to talk about the "famine"
About the fact that there never really was one
There was no "famine"
See Irish people were only ALLOWED to eat potatoes
All of the other food
Meat fish vegetables
Were shipped out of the country under armed guard
To England while the Irish people starved
And then on the middle of all this
They gave us money not to teach our children Irish
And so we lost our history
And this is what I think is still hurting me
See we're like a child that's been battered
Has to drive itself out of it's head because it's fightened
Still feels all the painful feelings
But they lose contact with the memory
And this leads to massive self-destruction
All desperate attempts at running
And in it's worst form
Becomes actual killing
And if there ever is gonna be healing
There has to be remembering
And then grieving
So that there then can be forgiving
There has to be knowledge and understanding
An American army regulation
Says you mustn't kill more than 10% of a nation
'Cos to do so causes permanent "psychological damage"
It's not permanent but they didn't know that
Anyway during the supposed "famine"
We lost a lot more than 10% of a nation
Through deaths on land or on ships of emigration
But what finally broke us was not starvation
Schools go on about "Black 47"
On and on about "The terrible "famine""
But what they don't say is in truth
There really never was one
So let's take a look shall we
The highest statistics of child abuse in the EEC
And we say we're a Christian country
But we've lost contact with our history
See we used to worship God as a mother
Look at all our old men in the pubs
Look at all our young people on drugs
We used to worship God as a mother
Now look at what we're doing to each other
We've even made killers of ourselves
The most child-like trusting people in the Universe
And this is what's wrong with us
Our history books
I see the Irish
As a race like a child
That got itself bashed in the face
And if there ever is gonna be healing
There has to be remembering
And then grieving
So that there then can be FORGIVING

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Disgusting class perceptions in Britain's universities

This appeared on the BBC news site today in the education section.
And once again we’re reminded of the elitist attitudes of some university professors, doctors, lecturers with regard to the intelligence or as they would have people believe, the lack thereof of the working classes.

Of course we all know their opinions aren’t worth the air they’ve expended to utter them. Simply because these type of people aren’t professional psychologists, they are simply expressing their bigoted right wing "nurture over nature" academic views as yet one more way of defending the class discrimination that still goes on in UK universities at all levels from application to graduation.

Charlton’s view is yet more protection of the status quo and his idea of academia. And he seems so caught up in his idea that the upper classes are more intelligent, that responses stating the logic of cause & effect, like that from Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, seem to be something he can’t absorb or is unwilling to acknowledge.

Sally Hunt said: "It should come as little surprise that people who enjoy a more privileged upbringing have a better start in life.”

Exactly! And I’m reminded of a research project on class perceptions that was carried out in England almost 20 years ago.

One part of the project interviewed a societal cross-section of 12 year old girls to identify how they viewed themselves and what expectations they had.
One indicator was the following simple question “Can you ride a horse?”

Now, in well-off middle and upper class areas the girls at private and boarding schools invariably answered “Yes, I can” or “Yes, but I’m not very good at it” or “Yes, but I don’t really like it” or “I don’t know, because I haven’t tried yet” or "I'm sure I'll be able to when I try" and other similar responses, but none of them answered “No”. Because clearly they had been given the chance to try horse riding and could ride. Or clearly expected that they would be able to try it in the near future. Note the use of the word “yet” in the last response.

In less well off mixed middle and working class areas school girls at comprehensive state schools responded invariably with “I don’t know” or ”I’ve never tried” or “Yes” or “No” With no clear future expectations identified either way, but rather a clear ambiguity amongst the different social/class types of the respondents, who obviously had varying expectations of what they might or might not be likely to achieve or try in the future.

Then finally they asked school girls at comprehensive schools in poor working class inner city areas. And now they found, as they had expected from the outset, that there was now absolutely no ambiguity whatsoever. All the girls simply assumed based on their own perceptions of their class and social situation, as well as the perceptions of others about their class and social situation, that horse riding was something that wasn’t even considered and dismissed as an impossibility for them, it was even lower than that, it wasn’t even given a second’s thought. And so close to a 100% of the girls, when asked, “Can you ride a horse?” simply and in a matter-of-fact manner answered, “No”.

The fundamental fact is this: that denial of access to something doesn't mean you're no good at it, or not suited to it, mentally or physically, it simply means you haven't even been given the chance to try it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Advertising and the expression of strange theories dressed up as research and science

Advertising and the expression of strange theories dressed up as research and science


Mathematical lies, statistics, and scaremongering

They amount to much the same thing, but before I dive into an analysis of this, illustrated by a current example, let me give you my favourite quote regarding statistics:

Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital. ~Aaron Levenstein

Indeed, and a truer and more concise quote on statistics you won’t find anywhere. Believe me, I’ve tried, and I always come back to Levenstein’s as the best description in under 20 words. There are some great anonymous quotes about statistics but by being anonymous they lack credence. And just as importantly they lack the sting that comes with quotes from famous people. I mean, if you relate an Oscar Wilde quote to someone and say you don’t know who it’s by, it doesn’t have the sting and panache of delivering the quote then rounding off grandly by simply saying two words –Oscar Wilde.

A lengthier but equally dismissive quote regarding statistics comes from one of my favourite authors:
While the individual man is an insoluble puzzle, in the aggregate he becomes a mathematical certainty. You can, for example, never foretell what any one man will be up to, but you can say with precision what an average number will be up to. Individuals vary, but percentages remain constant. So says the statistician. ~Arthur Conan Doyle

Anyway, I am often amazed how various companies; especially motor vehicle manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, security companies, medical companies, and even individual scientists, doctors, politicians, and bureaucrats use statistics to enforce their claims and to hide the truths contrary to their claims.

Sometimes I get the feeling that people using statistics think they have invoked some kind of sacred shield that prevents questioning or rebuttal and that makes everyone else ignorant to what the statistics in question are concealing.

Here is one so mind-numbingly unconvincing that I choked on my breakfast back on 27th March when it appeared in a small article in my local daily newspaper VF (Värmlands Folkblad), here in Sweden.

The article was entitled (all following translations are my own, which as a professional translator didn’t prove difficult) :

“A roundish waist at 40 increases the risk for dementia”

So, my first thought is, well, I’m in the risk zone then, I’m 46 now, I’ve got a roundish belly and have had for several years, so I’m interested, I’ll keep reading.

So having got past the scaremongering of the title and the first paragraph telling people in their 40s with round bellies that they are going to suffer from senile dementia in later years and espousing the unreliable findings of this research and therefore this strange theory, I got down to the cold hard statistical lies….sorry I mean…facts.

Of course, by now, even before I’ve told you, you know this is going to be about a study in the US!

Well, the study took 6,583 healthy people in the USA and measured their waists when they were aged between 40 and 45.

Thirty six years later, 16 percent of them were found to be suffering from dementia…… OH MY GOD THAT’S TERRIBLE! SIXTEEN PERCENT…OH NO…THAT’S AWFUL!

I better start dieting, I better exercise more ………HANG ON, HANG ON, HANG ON A SECOND……hold your horses, not so fast there…. 16 percent? 16 percent? That’s not even one quarter!
That means that 84 percent …read that again, EIGHTY FOUR PERCENT didn’t develop dementia!

Please now read Levenstein’s quote again: Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.

So what was the point of this article other than to scare people approaching 40 into exercising and dieting? Well, as far as I can see there was no point because no companies were mentioned, no medical institutions in the US were named, and no individual scientists or medicos were named.

The only answer I can come up with is that once again, someone at the news agency, in this case TT, has been blinded by statistics and thought this particular statistic newsworthy, even though it is clearly unreliable, and that there simply is no news story there.

This kind of reporting of statistics could go on ad infinitum were it allowed to occur on a daily basis, for example, we would end up with reports like this : 88 percent of all Irishmen living in Sweden are married to Swedish women – totally uninteresting, totally irrelevant, totally pointless… the statistic that is, not the marriage to the Swedish woman!

And then someone at VF has also been impressed by this non-newsworthy, unreliable scaremongering statistic and thought, “WOW we must print this!”

Which all goes to show that statistics are simply numbers, instead of words, telling you what someone else thinks, and what someone else wants you to hear, wants you to believe and buy into, and ultimately to buy their product or service or follow their advice.

Numbers, and especially when used as statistics, seem to be, for many people, more trustworthy than words, and many people believe that numbers don’t and simply can’t lie.

Well just like words, it is what the numbers don’t tell you that you need to look into, because every single person who uses statistics has an agenda, so don’t be scare mongered or forced into thinking their agenda is the same as yours, especially when the statistics come from what many view as reliable sources i.e. government officials and medical experts.

Let me leave you then with a quote which perfectly captures the essence of number manipulation:

Torture numbers, and they'll confess to anything. ~Gregg Easterbrook