Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Wednesday, March 4, 2009: Lies, damn lies and statistics. And dairies.

Fun with statistics: When I was at a certain Auckland boys' secondary school, we called teachers 'Sir', lined up quietly outside the room before class, and spent our lunchtimes doing algebra. These days, apparently, kids spend most of the school day stabbing, gang banging and feeling each other up. At least, that is the message I am getting from the Herald, who were already going on about increasing violence in schools before an overseas student stabbed a teacher at Avondale College yesterday. According to Jacqueline Smith, education reporter:
"The number of people arrested for drugs, violence and sex attacks at schools, universities and other education institutions has spiralled over the past ten years. Between June 2007 and June last year there were 1658 apprehensions, of which 1064 were for violence. This was a 27 per cent increase from the 1998/99 year."
Do these statistics show that our schools are wallowing in violence? I suspect not.
  • I'm not certain that "spiralled" is the right word. 27% is quite a bit, but even if it had happened in one year "spiralled" seems an exaggeration. Of course, it didn't happen in one year, it happened in ten. I'm no statistician, but that seems like an average yearly increase in incidents of just over 2%. Not exactly spirally.
  • The number of arrests increased by 27%, but that includes drug and sexual offences. Did the number of violent offences (since that is what the hysteria is over) increase by that much too? We don't know, because the Herald hasn't said, presumably because they don't know.
  • Oh, the statistics include "universities and other educational institutions". Sure, violence at uni isn't anything to be proud of but, again, it's not what we're talking about. And with the proliferation of private training establishments these days for everything from being a security guard to learning tarot, I wouldn't be surprised if a big chunk of the increase was to be found there.
  • Is 1658 "apprehensions" even that many, given how many people are in places of learning? Obviously there would ideally be none, but that is hardly realistic. A 27% increase from 'not very many' is quite possibly still 'not very many'.
I'm not trying to belittle the problem here, but I don't think an outbreak of hysteria over school violence is going to help anyone, least of all the kids. Perhaps, if we had a more detailed set of statistics, it would show that my misgivings were misplaced and that the reporting is actually pretty on the money. But that's just the point: we don't have them.

Vigilantism is fun: In the wake of the latest strike by the now-notorious Icecream Bandits, there is a definite national focus on protecting our dairies. Henant Kumar, proprietor of the Dissmeyer Superette in Otara is fuming after a 13-year-old girl allegedly stole the rather practical combo of "a bag of nappies, two packets of toffee pops [good choice!] and a carton of milk" and then, when confronted, pulled a knife and ran. But Mr Kumar is now prepared - he has a bunch of stones and a hammer to defend himself and his goods, and - even better- he is training a German shepherd (the dog, not the German) to defend his store... I'm sorry, what?

I am sure that even small-scale shoplifting is a bane for the small business owner, so I can understand Mr Kumar's frustration. But surely the lesson to learn from recent events is that no one got hurt; Mr Kumar lost some nappies, not his life. What's more, both the icecream bandits and the 13-year-old are now in police custody, so it's not like they got away with it. If the shopkeeper had pulled out a hammer, or a knife, or a gun then, sure, maybe they wouldn't have gotten away with any goods or cash, but there is surely a much higher chance of the bandit, the owner or both getting seriously hurt. This is, after all, what happens in a place like the US, where everyone is armed to the goddamn teeth; it doesn't stop robberies, it just means that robbers come better armed and someone usually gets shot.

Possibly the most depressing part of the whole story is the dog. "I'm training a dog myself and we will just go for them now ... they'll go for it," says Mr Kumar, who does, to be fair, specify that he is "training him to go for the leg - the muscles - but not to kill someone." He will even "use his own hand for him to practice biting on" - I hope he can still wield the hammer. But seriously now folks, brutalising an innocent dog so that it will wreak its owners revenge on children is not the kind of behaviour that ought to be encouraged by the Herald, which, by the way, features a large photo of the subject with his rock and hammer. There is a reason that no civilised country, be it left- or right-wing, liberal or conservative, allows vigilante justice - it violates the very foundations of human society; that the Herald gives this article the size and weight it has is hardly responsible journalism.

Ignoring Hillary: In my first post on this blog, I wrote about the interminable 'debate' about a monument to honour Ed Hillary, and I was relieved when it fell off the pages of the paper for a few weeks. But now there is news that Hillary's Remuera house is up for sale, and we are told we need to do something before a piece of our national heritage is lost to greedy developers. "Remuera Heritage [some kind of group dedicated to the heritage of Remuera, I suppose] wants to buy the home of Sir Edmund Hillary and turn it into the museum," says reporter Bernard Orsman. Except they don't, Bernard; they want us - the city and regional councils and the government - to buy it for them. The house is down a private driveway in a residential zone, points out daughter Sarah Hillary; more importantly, she says, "a static museum would not fit her father's proactive approach towards people." But since when do we listen to anyone with the last name Hillary - least of all Ed Hillary - when we talk about commemorating the life of the man, who might well have had other projects in mind had he been the one about to invest $2m in taxpayers' money? Of course, the Herald are damned if they are going to let sentimentality get in the way of a story, so they raise the stakes and take it to "Your Views", where there is the usual incisive debate: "Spend the money on bringing back Beckham instead", harr harr; "he was overrated because he spent most of his time helping Indians and Nepalese"; "he was no Thomas Jefferson". Maybe if I just stop thinking about the whole thing again it will go away...

Carbon cowboys: "'Carbon cowboys' using dodgy tactics - from selling carbon credits twice for the same trees to taking money to plant trees that never find their way into the ground - have been told that they may face fines of up to $200,000 if they are caught by the Commerce Commission", reports Eloise Gibson today. It's lucky that we have responsible people like Mike Tournier, business manager for the 'carboNZero' programme, and employee of Landcare Research, which "provides more than 90 per cent of New Zealand's carbon offsets." Say what you will about the interests of such a massive monopoly in keeping out rivals, I don't care. Sure, most companies just go 'carbon neutral' as a PR exercise, so presumably don't really care whether the trees get planted or not, so long as the customer thinks they are. Sure, 'carboNZero', a product of a company that makes money from offsetting carbon, rates the carbon footprint of a trans-Tasman flight as three times what Qantas claims, so presumably makes three times as much money. Sure, the whole concept of 'carbon offsetting' seems pretty bogus and unscientific anyway. But... sorry, I don't know how to finish that sentence.


  1. Unlike you and the Herald I looked at some actual statistics: (don't worry, you are right)

    Crimes per person in the education sector increased a whopping 1.45% from 1998 to 2007.

    As you say, considering the 80% increase in the size of the tertiary component in that time (including "Learning to play the guitar" at Stotts Correspondence College) I would hazard a guess that the numbers show secondary schools are actually improving.... but who knows, like the Herald I can't be fucked figuring it out. Unlike the Herald, that's because I have other things to do.

    The (readily available) data:
    The number of people enrolled in tertiary education increased from 268,518 in 1998 to 484,104 in 2007. Secondary school rolls increased from about 725,000 in 1998 to 760,000 in 2007.
    A 27% increase to 1658 means that there were 1305 apprehensions in 1998. No idea about violent crimes because the 2007 number was not qualified.

    School data:

    Tertiary data:

  2. You're missing an apostrophe somewhere in the post. Happy hunting!

  3. Damn you Anonymous. I couldn't help myself and looked for it and couldn't see where the apostrophe is missing. Must keep looking

  4. Muhahahahaha the missing-apostrophe-pointer-outer was I! Glad to cause mass (or slight) frustration. I'll give you a clue, it's in the dairy-focused section...

  5. I found it! My life is complete but my grammar geek confidence shattered.