Friday, 31 August 2012

FRIDAY MORNING RAMBLE: The Conscience Edition

With two conscience votes this week recognising the right of consenting adults to choose for themselves, it turns out MPs do have a conscience.


Yes, that’s me saying “Bravo!” to politicians.  It happens. Rarely.

Make the most of it.

“Just when you start to lose hope in Representative Democracy and write the lot of them off as a bunch of out-of-touch buzzword-infested den of compromised sluts, along comes a couple of old-fashioned conscience bills to clear the air.”
Same -sex marriage and the age of alcohol – Will de Cleene, GONZO FREAKPOWER BRAINS TRUST

Canterbury Uni economist Eric Crampton would like to remind you that problem drinking among 15-24 year olds was no different in 2006/2007 than in 1996/1997 before the change in the alcohol purchase age; that per capita alcohol consumption is down substantially since 1991; and light drinkers have about a 14% reduction in their chance of dying from any cause than people who never drink.
And along with that evidence there’s evidence of some very serious figure-fudging by wowsers, and some seriously unintended consequences in the US of raising their drinking age.  “Be skeptical of the moral crisis around alcohol,” he concludes.
Alcohol purchase age – Eric Crampton, OFFSETTING BEHAVIOUR
Alcohol stats– Eric Crampton, OFFSETTING BEHAVIOUR

Oh, by the way, widely-quoted state-funded anti-alcohol wowser Doug Sellman is dishonest.
Disclosures – Eric Crampton, OFFSETTING BEHAVIOUR

There is good reason for the advocates of individual liberty to be rejoicing tonight, as the alcohol purchase age stays at 18 for both on and off license purchases.
Act Party Fails to Increase Off-License Purchase Age – Stephen Berry, SOLO

It’s not often you can enjoy a speech by a Green MP.  Now is such a time.

“This morning Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee gave a comprehensive and wide ranging "State of the Recovery" speech to selected business people, media and others.
The speech was carefully crafted by the bureaucrats, with extensive statistical information, illustrating the recovery "performance" to date. Most importantly, it was carefully drafted, to persuade the public to support the Minister and his officials’ "vision" ("nightmare" to the rest of us) for the future of Christchurch.
But when the dreary hype and cherry-picked information is considered alongside the realities and the train of events - it is not a rosy picture…
Brownlee;s long winded "Kremlin Style" speech to the compliant and cowering adherents to the Party Line, could most kindly be described as "bureaucratic bull.”
Brownlee’s “State of the Non-Recovery” Speech
- Hugh Pavletich, CANTABRIANS UNITE [scroll down to story and click “read more.”]

Land prices are exploding across Australia for the same reason they have ben here: because the planners having been locking up the land.
The Land Bubble – Leith Van Onselen, MACROBUSINESS

Ryan’s Economic Plans Aren’t as Ayn Rand-Based as You Think – Harry Binswanger, YAHOO NEWS

Obama says, “Honey, you didn’t build that.”

Sure, it’ll all be okay as long as we all go down together.
Chicago Fed President Wants Global Money Printing – ECONOMIC POLICY JOURNAL

While know-nothings continue to fiddle, American capital is being burned up just staying afloat. “Enterprises are consuming themselves to report rising profits while revenues fall and costs rise.”
CHART OF THE DAY: The Historic Decline In The US Capital Stock Is A Bad Sign For The Economy – BUSINESS INSIDER

Making the point that there’s a very big difference between productivity and profitability
Gross and net product – Toby Baxendale, COBDEN CENTRE

So repeat after me:
The Key To Escaping Poverty Is Productivity – PETER SCHIFF BLOG

America, however, is becoming a nation of moochers.
The Rot Runs Deep 2: Don't Call Out My Scam and I Won't Call Out Yours 
– Charles Hugh Smith, OF TWO MINDS

“The United States has produced one of the most successful economic stories in human history…Each advance built upon the innovations of the previous ones, along the way boosting productivity and revving the American economy, which in turn made American consumers richer and more able to buy stuff.
Well, guess what? Future growth in consumption per capita — the main engine of the consumer-based US economy — could fall below 0.5 percent a year for an extended period of decades."
The US Economy and the Future of Growth: Well This Is Depressing – CNBC

In Europe meanwhile, the next stage begins: moves to initiate the European Federalist state are being demanded.
With Vacation Over, Europe Is Back To Square Minus One: Merkel Backs Weidmann, Demands Federalist State – Tyler Durden, ZERO HEDGE

“Today billionaire Eric Sprott spoke with King World News about one of his frightening predictions, “I always postulated that the financial system would go bankrupt, and it has, save for one thing, it got bailed out.” 
Sprott - We Are Staring At Chaos & Collapse In Front Of Us – KING WORLD NEWS BLOG

“Economic wizard Harry Schultz stated back in the early 2000's that what he anticipated was "ten years down and ten years up." At the time, many thought that his projection was extremely prolonged…”
After the Storm - The 11 Stages of the Crash – Jeff Thomas, CASEY RESEARCH

The perfect analogy for the “heavy lifting” of the central bankers, wonders Tyler Durden, and an illustration of the likely outcome?

For many years, says the BBC, calling for "a return to the gold standard" in the United States put you in the company of economic eccentrics and libertarian Congressman Ron Paul. But this week, the Republican Party agreed to set up a commission to look into fixing the gold value of the dollar. Why?
Gold standard: Could it return in the US? – BBC MAGAZINE
The Gold Standard Goes Mainstream – Seth Lipsky, WALL STREET JOURNAL
The Gold Commission 2, Don't Make Me Laugh – Gary North, ECONOMIC POLICY JOURNAL
Ron Paul's Platform Victory on the Federal Reserve and A (Sort of) Gold Commission – HIT & RUN
Could the US Republican Party take gold seriously? – Steve Baker, COBDEN CENTRE
Republicans Consider Returning To Gold Standard: Real Or Red Herring? – Tyler Durden, ZERO HEDGE

“Gold reveals governments’ deceitful actions in destroying the value of paper money and the wealth of nations. This is why most Western governments dislike gold. Because gold tells the truth and the truth is that since August 1971 the US dollar has declined 98% in real terms.”
Gold & Silver off to the races – Egon Von Greyerz

A pretty good history of the various gold standard flavours and subsequent monetary system changes from 1821 to today in a series of well put-together infographics that explode a few of the myths about gold standards. [Click the strip pic to enlarge it.]
A history of excahange rate regimes – GOLD MONEY

You know, there was a time when Alan Greenspan was not a know-nothing. That time was 1967…
Gold and Economic Freedom – Alan Greenspan, USA GOLD

Meanwhile, the money printing continues.
More QE is on the way – The central banks are digging themselves a deeper hole 
– Detlev Schlicter, PAPER MONEY COLLAPSE

A market economy is indescribably vast and complex—its success
depends on so many intricate, changing details all somehow being
made to work smoothly together that the “facts” that are essential
to its thriving cannot be catalogued with anywhere near the
completeness that can be achieved by a 21st-century scientist
studying and cataloging the “facts” that enable sparrows to fly. A
sparrow is complex compared, say, to a limestone rock. Compared
to the modern market economy, however, a sparrow is extremely simple.
- Don Boudreaux, “Deep and Unobservable Complexity,” CAFE HAYEK

Never has economic education been so important. Time then for a new super-blog at Sci Blogs “picking posts from our country’s top economics blogs.” This blog wishes that blog well. Here’s it’s first po:
The Dismal Science – THE DISMAL SCIENCE

Astonishingly, there are even alleged economists who insist the Nazi economy was an example of “intelligent central planning.”  They can’t do that after the release of British historian Adam Tooze’s book on the Nazi economy, The Wages of Destruction. “He shows that, far from illustrating the success of intelligent central planning, the German economy of the Third Reich was a disaster.”
Central Planning: The Failings of a Nazi Economy – Bill Bonner, DAILY RECKONING

New film, Fraud: Why the Great Recession, a crowd-funded Spanish documentary, argues free markets are not to be blamed for the Great Recession. “On the contrary, its origins rest upon the deep government and central bank intervention in the economy. Through fraudulent mechanisms, this causes recurrent boom and bust cycles: bad policies create phases of irrational exuberance, which are then followed by economic recessions, a result from which every citizen ends up suffering.”  The truth is we do not live in an age of free markets. We live in an age of monetary socialism.
Here’s the three-minute trailer (and here’s the full 66 minutes):

Everybody talks about gun control. But nobody talks about controlling the government’s guns. Yet the threat of deadly force is implicitly present in every law, regulation, ruling, or decree that emanates from any government office, at any level.
Gun Control — on the Government's Guns – George Reisman, MISES DAILY

“I contend that the developing world has been betrayed. Emerging from colonialism, they sought the best ideas to advance and develop, for the best reasons. But they were betrayed. Instead of the ideas that made the West great, they were offered the evil nonsense of socialism and communism by our intellectuals. In comparison, the faith healers who convince their duped followers to forgo scientific medicine in favour of faith are clean and wholesome. This is the crime for which I can never, ever forgive our intellectuals.”
Capitalist Internationalism and How Objectivist Victory Will Become Inevitable. 
– Hugo Schmidt, SOLO

“It should be clear that any governmental interference with the
depression process can only prolong it, thus making things worse
from almost everyone’s point of view. Since the depression process
is the recovery process, any halting or slowing down of the process
impedes the advent of recovery. The depression readjustments must
work themselves out before recovery can be complete. The more
these readjustments are delayed, the longer the depression will have
to last, and the longer complete recovery is postponed.”

- Murray Rothbard

Marc Morano takes a reality check on the 1970s: “Fears of a coming ice age, showed up in peer-reviewed literature, at scientific conferences, by prominent scientists and throughout the media.”
Don't Miss it! Climate Depot's Factsheet on 1970s Coming 'Ice Age' Claims 
– Marc Morano, CLIMATE DEPOT

Flashback to 1974, and Der Spiegel says: “Temperatures Over Last 20 Years Have Dropped Faster Than At Anytime In The Last 1000 Years,” blaming expanding deserts on man-made cooling.
Spiegel 1974: “Temperatures Over Last 20 Years Have Dropped Faster Than At Anytime In The Last 1000 Years” – NO TRICKS ZONE

A new study finds man-made CO2 can not be a driver of global warming. The study concludesCO2 released from use of fossil fuels have little influence on the observed changes in amount of atmospheric CO2.”  The paper finds “overall global temperature change sequence of events appears to be from 1) ocean surface to 2) land surface to 3) lower troposphere.”
In plain English then, the very opposite of what warmists claim.
New blockbuster paper finds man-made CO2 is not the driver of global warming – THE HOCKEY SCHTICK

Another new film, The Boy Who Cried Warming… (watch the full thing here).

In 95% of cases natural talent does not determine who will be an expert at something. So what does it take to become the best?
What does it take to become an expert at anything? – BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE

imageWant to see the top-15 most spectacular logo failures ever? Like this one on the right, an actual award-winning logo designed in 1973 for the Catholic Church’s Archdiocesan Youth Commission.
Top 15 Worst Logo FAILS Ever – BORED PANDA

It can be easier than you think. Just get out there and start making money.
4 Myths About Starting a Side Business- MONEY CRUSH

It very nearly fall right off the keyboard through lack of use. And then it met the internet age!
The accidental history of the @ symbol – 3 QUARKS DAILY

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, along comes a drunk Serb.
Sharks Wary of Drunk Serbs – MACEDONIA ONLINE

Free Apps make more money. Apparently.
How Free Apps Can Make More Money Than Paid Apps – TECH CRUNCH

Don’t laugh. We have a bar at the Auckland waterfront named after another mass-murderer.
In India, Businesses Named After Hitler Defend Their Decision – NY TIMES

Bowing to pressure from U.S. Muslim groups, actor Kevin Bacon announced he will be formally changing his “offensive” last name.
Actor Kevin Bacon Changing Last Name To Appease Muslims – DUH PROGRESSIVE

Not so fast, folks. The world’s first porn cartoon--from the 1920s!--has been uncovered. And it’s even more NSFW than anything you’d find today.
One of the earliest adult cartoons was gonzo even by today’s standards (NSFW) – iO9.COM

Rare footage of an aging but still tuneful Coleman Hawkins playing his classic interpretation of Body and Soul. Compare it here with him at the peak of his powers.

Barry Adamson gets a special guest on vocals. But it’s not Dana Andrews…

Here’s the guest again, with the great Warren Ellis on violin. Some band starting with a ‘G.’

Try though she might, Verdi’s Lady Macbeth just can’t wash her hands clean of the blood…

[Hat tip Julian D., Gennady S., Bosch Fawstin, Keith W., Great Opera Videos, Noodle Food, Amanda Morrall, Climate Depot, Humble Libertarian, Chris Martenson, Erosophia, Thrutch]

Thanks for reading,
have a  great weekend! 

PS: A very fine gentleman just walked in and handed me these attractive looking wares to sample over the weekend. My weekend will now be starting earlier than previously planned.


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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

“Here’s the offer. Have a nice day”–Roger Sutton

_hugh-pavletich-smlGuest post by Hugh Pavletich

In this mornings Press Marc Greenhill reports unwilling Christchurch  land-owners are about to get an ultimatum from government: Sell up or else.

Landowners unwilling to negotiate with the Government on central Christchurch blueprint buyouts will be told, 'This is the offer, have a nice day', the earthquake recovery boss says.
Speaking on Newstalk ZB yesterday, Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority chief executive Roger Sutton said most affected property owners were pleased with the process, and he denied post-quake market value offers were a "bum deal."
" I think the majority are really happy; absolutely,' he said."

NG building owner Roland Logan tells a very different story however.

"NG building owner Roland Logan, who is against compulsory acquisition, said he believed Sutton's view of the number of willing landowners was 'grossly inaccurate'."
"About 100 disaffected landowners had contacted him. “I bet you your bottom dollar you could times that by four or five with the people who are unhappy."

Sutton’s arrogance is unbelievable.

Talk about "bureaucratic brutalization”—that same theme that occurred throughout 2011 is now being played out with only slightly different variations this year.

There is a way forward. But the clearly "out of his depth" Roger Sutton first needs to be gently reminded New Zealand is not yet a fascist society, and that there are still neither costings, feasibility studies nor economic and social impact reports to support either his clownish bureaucratic bullying or his organisation’s top-down anti-recovery plan for central Christchurch—which, as anyone with an ounce of "development nous" would be able to tell him, is another disaster waiting to happen.

Please tell me - who is paying for this bureaucratic Central Area circus?

And how much?

Hugh Pavletich is a Christchurch entrepreneur, the owner of website Performance Urban Planning and the co-author of the Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey, 2011 .


Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Graham Crawshaw, 1931-2012

I’ve just received the very sad news that inspirational literacy campaigner and friend Graham Crawshaw died on Sunday at his home.


Graham Crawshaw’s greatest passion was teaching young boys to read. In around two weeks on what he called his Reading Adventure Camps, he gave un-reading and troubled young boys “alternatives to angry behaviour, offering them activities involving the three key elements boys love – mud, fire and water. After awhile, they forget to be angry.” And they were taught to read.

Graham’s  two criteria for choosing boys for his camps were 1) they couldn't read, and 2) they were considered unmanageable. From this unpromising material he changed young lives.

Graham began his life’s work in 1962 on a small scale, starting camps for boys on his farm. He always loved working with the “hard cases”—the kids forgotten or ejected by the factory school system; the misfits, the rebels, the rejects, the ones who didn’t fit in. The first camps were held in his woolshed, where a loft was constructed for the sleeping quarters.

The boys loved it [he remembered a few years ago]. Later on, they helped us build 10 rough cabins – it was this hands-on approach, as well as our focus on activities designed particularly with boys in mind, that made us different from the many other camps that were around.
The boys came to us from the Auckland Baptist Tabernacle – some were very hard cases. We could see the camps were making some radical changes in them. You could see the delight in their faces when they were doing things they enjoyed. Camps were held regularly from 1962 through to 1991.

Over time he identified a common theme with his troublemakers, and the troublemakers he met elsewhere.  Following his intuition he began to haunt the courts, astonished at what he found: the troublemakers at both the courts and his camps had all been through the mainstream schools system, yet nearly all of them had never learned to read.  Victims of Dame Marie Clay.

The year 1991 was a key time, he says. We had 42 boys at a camp and I decided to test their reading ability. We were appalled at some of the results. The problem cut right across wealth and ethnic boundaries. Although I knew nothing about teaching reading, except my memories of the good primers we had had at school which taught phonics, I decided to try to do something to help the boys who had such low reading ability. It was a case of trial and error.
    We started with the poorest readers. Then, in 1995, we held our first reading adventure camp in Titirangi, which was attended by about 30 boys. Girls didn’t seem to need the camps as much as boys - they seem to have been better at surviving the whole language (look and guess) methods used by schools. I realised that conversation is an integral part of literacy learning and there is a marked absence of conversation in many boys’ lives. We hear of boys disrupting the school, but I sometimes wonder if it is the school system disrupting the boys’ learning style. Since then we have held 70 reading camps, now called Farmstays. I still believe the level of illiteracy in our nation is a national scandal. No boy should pass his seventh birthday without being able to read. If there is a problem, such as dyslexia, Irhlen or Asperger syndrome, then they need to be diagnosed early so teaching can be adjusted accordingly.

Graham adjusted his teaching.


Many kids find reading hard. They don't need to. Poor reading is mostly a result of teaching reading poorly—especially teaching based on the failed 'Whole Language' method. Using phonics, Graham taught kids who’d given up on reading that it's really not hard once you "break the code” -- that reading is fun, and far less difficult than they thought. (Try reading that hieroglyph above by “whole language” and it will be difficult. Decode it syllable by syllable however and you’ll crack it.)

The elephant in the literacy room is the failed ‘whole word’ – or ‘look and guess’ – method of scaring children away from learning to read, a non-method of non-teaching made up out of whole cloth by wholly ignorant academics. Yet the fight to rid schools of the ‘look-and-guess’ nonsense has been interminable, internecine, and still on-going.

It was a fight that set many school teachers against a man who only wanted to give schools’ inmates the learning they never received.

Since 1995, Graham held 69 six-day Reading Adventure Camps up at his Phonics Farm near Dargaville, teaching over 1400 children the joy and skills of reading there, and many more at his Windy Ridge Boy’s Farm, south of Warkworth, that he opened 12 years ago.

He was a legend.

Said one parent after one of Graham's reading camps,

My son wasn't that keen on going to a reading camp. But the difference towards reading was amazing. He read his first novel in one week and couldn't put it down... It has been evident to me this camp is essential for all children with reading difficulties...

And so they were.

You can read more about Graham and his reading camps at page 11 of the digital edition of Free Radical 73 [pdf], and an interview with him in Free Radical 74, page 12 [pdf]. And of course, feel free to enjoy the rest of each magazine.

To help you laugh, here’s one of Graham’s favourite funny phonics stories. A story about a frickin’ elephant . . .

Five-year old students are learning to read.

Yesterday one of them pointed at a picture in a zoo book and said,

"Look at this! It's a frickin' elephant!"

I took a deep breath, then asked..."What did you call it?"

"It's a frickin' elephant!

It says so on the picture!"

And so it does...

" African Elephant "

Hooked on phonics! Ain't it wonderful?

Graham talked to Lindsay Perigo last year:

I will miss him. 

Since this has turned into an obituary for my old friend, let me post the obituary that he wrote for The Free Radical magazine in 2007 on the death of Dame Marie Clay, the person he held more responsible than any other for NZ’s disgraceful legacy of illiteracy being passed down the generations.

The Look & Guess Lady”
Marie Clay (January 3, 1926 – April 13, 2007)
By Graham Crawshaw

Reading advocate Graham Crawshaw has for many years “picked up the casualties of the present system of reading instruction” at his reading camps for boys and girls. He challenges here the many glowing tributes to her that have appeared since her death in April.

A NZ Herald obituary to Marie Clay – I refuse to recognise her grand title of “Dame” – concluded that “her influence on literacy in New Zealand is unparalleled.” With that judgement I wholeheartedly agree – except perhaps for the equally disastrous influence of her mentor, Clarence Beeby.

Marie Clay [her first name is pronounced MAH-ree, but hey, just go right ahead and guess; it’s what she used to encourage] has certainly earned for herself a place in literacy history that is unchallenged. She is credited with changing the face of primary school literacy in New Zealand, and she did: largely by discarding the teaching of phonics as the very foundation of learning to read, leaving several generations of New Zealanders adrift in a world of words, and without any means by which to decode them.

The results can be seen in literacy surveys such as the 1996 world survey on adult literacy, which demonstrated all too clearly -- and it's worth reminding ourselves of this fact frequently – that too many New Zealanders emerge from school without two of the basic skills that were once (pre-Clay) taught there: they can neither read nor write at a skill sufficient to function in the modern world.

The survey found that a staggering 66.4 percent of Mäori are below the minimum level of “ability to understand and use information from text,” and an equally tragic 41.6 percent of non-Mäori. 40 percent of employed New Zealanders and 75 percent of the unemployed are below the minimum level of literacy competence for everyday life and work. Universities organising remedial reading and writing courses for first-year students report that "University students can't read, write or spell," and that "Students fail basic skills," and the Labour Department estimates that up to 530,000 New Zealand adults have inadequate literacy and numeracy skills.

530,000 New Zealand adults! You’d have to think that levels of functional illiteracy that dire did not happen by accident, and you’d be right. They happened after Marie Clay’s “look and guess” method of reading was substituted for the teaching of phonics.

Phonics teaches children to match the sounds of letters and groups of letters that make up words, a skill that once mastered allows the student to match letters to sounds and vice versa – in short, to learn to read. Eighty-seven per cent of the English language can be easily learned using phonics, and the remaining thirteen per cent by rote and memory -- not a difficult task once the groundwork has been laid. It is a tried and true method by which the mystery is removed from those mysterious marks that appear on the page.

Marie Clay rejected this thinking altogether. In her book Becoming Literate (given me by a training college student for whom it was required reading), she writes,

Teachers may feel that the critical thing for the child to learn is his sounds, and they may provide an elaborate scheme for teaching that overrated aspect of reading known as phonics… Current thinking suggests that we may have to revise our thinking about the value of phonics…

Perhaps instead, given the tragic results of lost generations before us, we might find more value if we “revise our thinking” about the work of this woman, who threw out the baby of phonics without even leaving any bathwater behind. I suggest a more appropriate name for her book is Remaining Illiterate, which sums up the situation for several generations of functionally illiterate New Zealanders who have her own overrated system to thank for their minds having been turned to mush.

Although some schools and even some of Clay’s own protégées claim to teach phonics as part of a “mixture of methods,” in reality this teaching is mostly confined in the early stages to teaching the ‘names’ of the letters (rather than their sounds) so that children may identify the first letter in words, at which point children are encouraged to guess what words say by using “the context of the story,” or “picture clues,” and then to commit them to memory by “shape.” Other approaches bizarrely introduce children to whole words first, only then getting them to sound out letter combinations within words. Where more structured phonics is taught it is usually later on, and then chiefly for spelling purposes.

However research evidence shows that pupils do not learn to distinguish between the different sounds of words simply by guessing, or by being exposed to books by a process of osmosis. They need to be taught the connection between letters and sounds, rather than an over-reliance on guessing.

Supporters of Clay will point to her much-vaunted Reading Recovery programme, initiated by Clay to pick up the casualties caused largely by her own implementation in NZ schools of the wholesale rejection of phonics, and which earned for her a Damehood. It was adopted by NZ schools in 1983, and for a time even bought overseas in both the UK and the US, and in Australia.

However research in the US and by James Chapman and Bill Tunmer at Massey University in NZ show that the true results for this programme have been grossly overrated. Reading Recovery programmes often resulted in lower self-esteem, they found, and no long-term improvement in reading ability. US education writer Martha C. Brown summarises the reasons that made California and Texas drop Reading Recovery and Whole Language and begin again to embrace phonics. Reading Recovery's stated goal, notes Brown, is to bring “the bottom 20 percent of readers up to the average reading level in their classroom.”

The Reading Recovery programme claims an 83 percent success rate, promising to cut other remedial costs. However, Timothy Shanahan, professor and Literacy Center director at the University of Illinois, and Rebecca Barr, professor of reading at the National-Louis University in Evanston, Ill., found Reading Recovery rejects some eligible children and drops others who progress slowly. Reading Recovery omits these children in figuring its success. With this data included, the researchers found the short-term success rate was 51 percent, not the 84 percent Reading Recovery claimed with one group of children…

A New Zealand Ministry of Education study blames Reading Recovery's failure on lack of "systematic instruction in word-level strategies" (phonics). Reading Recovery uses "principles and practices very similar to those of whole language," says Patrick Groff, emeritus professor at San Diego State University. Reading Recovery books, like Whole Language books, contain repetitive sentences and pictures to help children guess.

"The Whole Language approach to reading simply does not work for children with reading disabilities. A structured, phonics-based approach is more likely to help them," concludes a 13-year study by 100 researchers in medicine, education and psychology.

Despite flawed methods and high cost, Reading Recovery 's average annual enrollment increase between 1986 and 1998 was 47 percent, based on figures from Reading Recovery Council of North America. Nearly 11,000 U.S. schools use Reading Recovery, and 560,000 children have participated.

A Battelle Institute study shows the average annual cost of a Reading Recovery tutor is 30 percent more than the cost of a teacher for other remedial programs…

The scandalous problem of rampant illiteracy has for too long been denied, disguised and explained away by insiders in the training colleges and the elite clique of educationalists who have followed along behind Clarence Beeby and Marie Clay. Their confusing ‘look and guess’ system of illiteracy is increasingly discredited, and continues to consign the young people who can’t cope with it to the scrap heap. Her influence on New Zealand literacy has indeed been unparalleled – and I do not intend that as a compliment.

And his 15-point cure for the malaise:

Putting a Rocket Under Reading

Here are fifteen things governments could do immediately to stem the rampant and almost unchecked illiteracy in our very beautiful country:

  1. Restore the teaching of phonics at training college level to equip teachers to teach literacy properly. This will mean replacing most training college principals and staff.
  2. Utilise existing qualified and able literacy experts such as Cathy Aplin, Janet Barnaby, Brian Botting, Miriam Holloway, James Chapman, Doris Ferry, John Lewis, Tom Nicholson, Bill Tunmer, Anita Bagrie, Ann Emery, Lindsay Middleton, Soraya Landell, Pam Rogers and others.
  3. Retrain existing teachers.
  4. Recognise support and utilise existing programmes that help.
  5. Make reading more ‘boy friendly’ and ‘girl friendly,’ recognising their unique learning needs.
  6. Make the phonics teaching a compulsory part of the curriculum, as it is in Texas, UK and elsewhere.
  7. Reorganise primary schools’ schedules to focus more on literacy, as is being done in Abercanaid in Wales.
  8. Re-establish the responsibility and authority of parents in training and building up their children and empower them to select suitable sub-contractors eg., teachers who will efficiently perform their tasks, focusing on teaching the basic skills (weren’t they once called the three R’s?).
  9. Reimburse and finance parents for payment of outside tutors, camps, etc.
  10. Reprint suitable books, such as the Progressive Primers. Use existing proven materials, such as the Bannatyne Programme, Australian Language Foundation. Dump superficial material now used in schools. Curtail or cancel over-rated and over-expensive programmes such as Reading Recovery.
  11. Clip the wings of the NZEI and make teachers and educationalists accountable.
  12. Test teachers’ own literacy levels.
  13. Revamp the selection process for teachers entering training colleges, ensuring that each prospective teacher genuinely respects children and will show them respect, compassion and understanding.
  14. As children enter school it is very important that their literacy level is clearly established, and that they keep moving up from there in an environment where they can flourish.
  15. Visit prisons, identify the illiterates, test their reading levels and apologise to them for not being taught to read. Implement suitable top quality phonics-based reading programmes. When anyone is arrested, test their reading when their fingerprints are taken.

Farewell, Graham. There will be none like you again.

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Why be a taxpayer when you can be a tax spender?

Children used to dream bug dreams about their future. They aspired to greatness. Now…

[Hat tip Gareth V.]

Monday, 27 August 2012

Artist Moving Forward

Started five years ago, artist Michael Newberry signed off last week on his latest painting, Man Moving Forward.

Watch it change and develop over those years:

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Moral panic ‘du jour’: drugged driving [updated]

Today’s “moral panic” is drugged driving, on the back of stories like this one in the Tabloid Herald titled “Tests reveal most crash drivers had taken drugs,” to which there is a whole lot less than meets the eye.

First, the sample size is just 453--being the number of crashed drivers for whom the Ministry of Transport had blood samples. One presumes, but is not told, that a blood sample is generally only taken if the police on the scene consider it possible the drivers involved were under the influence of something more than just euphoria. Meaning many crashed drivers (i.e., some number not determined by the study, or the journalists who (mis)reported it) had not taken anything more stimulating before crashing their vehicle than their evening or morning meal.

So the headline might more accurately read:

“Tests reveal most crash drivers from whom police collected and saved blood samples had taken drugs.”

But that’s not the only problem here. The Tabloid headline screams DRUGS!!! (cue: moral panic) but buried in the story itself is news that:

Drugs were detected in the systems of 258 drivers… Of that group, 156 were found to be on drugs not administered by a medical professional.

Meaning nearly one-quarter of those who were supposed to be terrifyingly out of control were driving not having taken DRUGS!!! (cue: moral panic), but having taken the sort of drugs prescribed by your local family doctor. Maybe they’re just bad drivers on aspirin?  Who knows, the details are completely unreported.

So the connotations so carefully suggested by the Tabloid’s headline don’t fly. It might have been more accurate, for “most” readers who rely on reading headlines for their news, to report,

“Tests reveal some crash drivers from whom police collected and saved blood samples had taken drugs.”

But that’s not exactly news.

But there are further problems for those who do read further on. We are also told by the Tabloid that “drivers with more than the legal limit of alcohol in their system made up just over half of the 453 samples analysed.” With “more than half” meaning “most” to most people, you might have thought (as Stats Chat noted) that the headline might have involved alcohol rather than drugs.

So the headline might even more accurately read:

“Tests reveal most crash drivers from whom police collected and saved blood samples were drunk.”

But since there’s already a continuing and grossly out-of-control moral panic about that particular problem, the story would neither have made page one nor been re-(mis)reported with all the associated moral panic on talkback, blogs and Twitter. Which would not have given the alleged journalists the bonus they were obviously seeking in writing their story.

Yet even with this headline we have a problem. Because we’re also told “fifty-three per cent of the alcohol group had drugs in their system” -- i.e., 53% of “more than half” of the 453 whose blood featured in the study. So that’s perhaps a full third of that 453, with (we’re also told) “90 crashes caused by people with both alcohol and cannabis.”

So which had the most causal influence? The alcohol, the cannabis, or just being shite drivers?

Because the presence of a drug or some alcohol in a person's blood does not mean that they were impaired by that drug or alcohol. Correlation is not causation. To draw the conclusion desired by the authors of this latest moral panic, the study would seek to need to show the causal link between the crashes and impairment caused by the recreational pharmaceutical or the alcohol. Which hasn’t even been attempted here.

So perhaps our headline should just say:

“Crashes caused by lots of things.”

But that’s never going to sell a newspaper, is it.

Still, the more you look at it, this study and the story about it looks increasingly less worthy of being re-reported, and more use to statistics and journalism students as an example of what not to do.

To be fair, the politicians, talkback hosts and Tabloid journalists are not the only ones playing fast and loose with the story’s too few relevant figures.  David Farrar, that well-known self-described Stats Guru, weighs in as well, opining that “the data above indicates a much much higher presence of drugs in drivers who have crashed than in the normal population.” But of course it does nothing of the sort—even if the sample size itself was truly representative of drivers causing crashes, which is presumed by the Tabloid staff but not shown, there is no comparison whatsoever performed on the “normal population” with which to compare this selective statistic.

And not could there be.  Because few if any survey respondents in the “normal population” are going to accurately report to a person carrying a clipboard the presence of drugs in their system.

It’s all just so much total bollocks.

UPDATE: 8-page report on the “research” here.  The study targeted drug use by drivers from three groups.

1. Drivers hospitalised following a crash (a section of the driving population not previously studied).
2. Drivers who were found to be impaired by the Police Compulsory Impairment Test and had used methadone.
3. Drivers whose blood samples were sent to ESR under the drug-driving legislation but no drugs were detected in their blood.

The sample of 453 drivers reported in The Tabloid was group 1 drivers only: i.e., drivers hospitalised following a crash who were “deemed” (not necessarily by the courts, but by the MoT) to be at fault for the crash. Blood samples were not received from all hospitalised drivers, or even from all drivers, but only those deemed responsible from whom a blood sample had been taken to test for alcohol…

The number of “drug drivers” reported by The Tabloid has been further enhanced by the alleged journalists responsible for writing the story failing to notice that a very large large proportion of the drugs detected (around 210)  were “very likely” to have been administered in the course of hospitalisation.

'Which rather makes a mockery of the whole moral panic, doesn’t it.

And as the report itself notes,

The presence of a drug in a person’s blood does not mean that they were impaired by that drug.


Students are on holiday this week, so there is no session tonight for the Auckland Uni Economics Group.

To keep your economic thinking machines warm, however, you might like to watch this short film on the financial crisis by Johan Norberg.

It looks into the causes of the meltdown and argues that government policies since are simply re-inflating another bubble to burst sometime in the near future. Includes interviews with former comptroller general of the GAO David Walker, as well as predictors of the financial crisis, Peter Schiff and Gerald Celente.


“…a giant leap for mankind.”

There can only ever be one first-man to walk on the moon.

imageNeil Armstrong, 1930-2012

In centuries to come, when man has slipped the surly bonds of earth and begun to colonise the moons and planets, the name of Neil Armstrong might be the only one from the last century still remembered.

To the Conquerors of Space, “Bravo!”

But has their enormous achievement conquered the culture? Like hell, said American literary critic George Steiner in 1994:

Nothing is more symptomatic of the enervation, of the decompression of the Western imagination, than our incapacity to respond to the landings on the Moon. Not a single great poem, picture, metaphor has come of this breath-taking act, of Prometheus' rescue of Icarus or of Phaeton in flight towards the stars.

Apollo 11 enacted the story of an audacious purpose, its execution, its triumph, and the means that achieved it—the story and the demonstration of man’s highest potential.” As the number of men still with us who have touched another celestial body rapidly diminish, the demonstration has still failed to find a commensurate cultural response.

Cartoon by xkcd

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Sunday, 26 August 2012

On Atheism and absolutes

It’s not enough just to reject the existence of gods if one ends up embracing nihilism.

“Atheism means only that one does not believe in god; it does not mean that one embraces reason… Far more important than whether someone rejects religion, is whether someone embraces reason—thinking grounded in observation of reality.”
  - Ari Armstrong, “Atheism Rises in U.S.—But What About Reason?

Ayn Rand makes the case that reason, rather than faith, should be one's moral absolute:

Yet the irreligious left are now attacking Rand for for her atheism (something the right typically does). Odd, reckons Ari Armstrong--“but Rand's positive philosophy of evidence-based reason and this-world values deserves a closer look,” he says.

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