Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The sad reality of gender quotas

Bettina Arndt

My firefighter quota story has attracted a lot of attention and prompted all manner of interesting correspondence. I thought I would send an update, showing you some of the comments and intriguing news about ongoing battles on the gender quotas front.

First a wonderful story about a fracas currently taking place over the National Jazz Awards. This year this major award focused on jazz pianists and the ten finalists have been announced. Take a look at them here. Horrors, they are all men!

All hell has broken loose at this politically incorrect outcome, particularly since, due to COVID, the competition was judged through blind online auditions. All ten best candidates just happened to be men. Naturally, the very active women in today’s jazz world immediately started complaining, saying it needed to be made “fairer” by removing the blind audition and including a gender quota. Isn’t that pathetic? But, oh, so typical.

Science caves to gender warriors

Scientific American has just published an intriguing story about the most prestigious award given by the world’s largest earth and space science society, the American Geophysical Union. The AGU’s fellow’s award recognizes members who have made exceptional contributions to their fields through scientific innovation, breakthroughs and discoveries.

The list of the top five candidates, all nominated by peers after a rigorous process, came in – and they were all men. So, the committee charged with making the final decision about the fellowship wimped out. The fellowship was not awarded.

Gender battles in the police force.

Plenty of policemen have been in touch with me, talking about the impact of gender quotas on the police service. Here are comments from some of them:

“At the police academy back in 1978 all recruits had to pass an aerobic course in a limited time in order to graduate. We all had to train early in the morning for months to get through, unless you were one of the 50% female recruits who weren't required to complete the same standard. Later, after graduating, I was badly beaten by a huge drunk driver I was trying to arrest; the policewoman who was my partner had locked herself in the police van.”

Another one who has been in the force for 12 years talked about declining physical standards:

“We used to have large fences in the obstacle course but a lot of the girls trying to join did not have the upper body strength to get over the fence, so they just removed the fence from the course. Hmm, I’m pretty sure they will have to jump fences in real life and the bad guys run just as fast if it’s a female officer chasing them.”

He also mentioned other ways the training has changed:

“The actors who play the role of bad guys at the academy used to call us horrible names and really go to town on us during scenarios because that's what happens in real life. But a few of the girls complained about being called "a cunt" or being told that they were going to be raped. So, the actors are not allowed to say things like that anymore. Well. I’m sorry but on the road, you’re going to have the worst things said to you and you need to get over it! It’s your job to take it and remain professional.”

Various people alerted me to the interesting fact that six months ago Queensland’s corruption watchdog, the Crime and Corruption Commission found thousands of men had been discriminated against as a result of the Qld police department’s 50 per cent gender target. Different standards were found to apply to male and female applicants with men forced to reach “artificially high” cut-off scores and female applicants approved despite failing physical and cognitive tests. Funnily enough, the gender quota was introduced under a male police commissioner Ian Steward, but scrapped by a female one – Katarina Carroll, when she was appointed in 2019.

Thoughts from the trenches

Finally, random thoughts/comments from a variety of people, including many dealing with these gender issues in their workplaces - mostly gathered from my YouTube channel where I posted the firefighter video:

“A couple of decades ago I was a controller in the Rural Fire Service. It was notable that two occasions I had to call ambulance to female firefighters who had either collapsed or were close to collapse. In a crew returning from a hazard reduction a lightly built young woman of about 18-22 was very faint, lost muscle tone, went deathly pale. The whole crew and truck were out of the game while the group captain responded to the ambulance. Very embarrassing for her but potentially dangerous on the fire ground with half a dozen strong fit young men withdrawn.”

“Early this year, near our local shopping centre carpark, my husband noticed two female ambulance officers obviously struggling to lift patient up into their ambulance. They were grateful when he went across the road and helped them lift the stretcher (with a strapped on fairly solid male) up and over the deep gutter and up into the ambulance. He said the two youngish women were of rather slight builds and quite obviously just did not have the combined physical strength to get the stretchered patient up into their vehicle.”

“I've been a firefighter for 23 years. In reality, half the guys on my department have a hard enough time doing the job when it comes to a serious working fire. And as you get older it gets harder to perform. In my younger years it was exciting fighting fires but the past couple I have been on were taxing on my stamina. You have to have a maniacal attitude and be in shape to be able to get the job done when the sh*t hits the fan. This ain’t no reality show or TV series.”

“Women will be killed by this change in rules, or members of the public. Will there end up being civil suits against the government for allowing people that aren’t competent to do the job? I am a woman & have worked in the fishing, plumbing, and manual labour industries and I know I am unable to do physical tasks that men can do. Does that mean because I am a woman all of us should be put at risk by attempting a task that I cannot safely do? That is a blatant OHS issue that as an employer I could be prosecuted for, but the government is allowed to breach it because it’s woke.”

“It's also about camaraderie. The other firefighters want to make sure they can trust the capabilities of the other members of their team. They're trusting those people with their lives.”

“About time! I've noticed a huge gender gap in the statistics between men and women killed on the job. More women in dangerous jobs should close that gap significantly.”

“The women won’t be in dangerous jobs- they will be in admin, communications, etc, because they will be too much of a liability to their colleagues and themselves to be actually on the front line. They will, however, get paid the same, if not more.”

That’s it, folks. I hope you enjoyed reading this lively correspondence, often from people who told me they wouldn’t dare talk publicly about these taboo topics.


Are rare vaccine reactions being brushed off by doctors?

Dan Petrovic describes himself as an avid “pro-vaxxer” who has long advocated vaccines to his more hesitant friends – so it was a “comedy twist” when he was the one who suffered a rare side effect.

The marketing executive, 42, spent six weeks after his second Pfizer shot with constant chest pains, which his GP ultimately said was likely a mild case of pericarditis, or inflammation of the lining around the heart.

On September 18, four days after his jab, Mr Petrovic began to feel unwell while watching TV. “I can’t lean to the left side, I feel a bit short of breath,” he said. “It’s just like constant pain and palpitations. It doesn’t go away. Imagine enduring six weeks of that.”

Mr Petrovic, the managing director of search engine marketing firm Dejan, said he was bemused that for “six weeks of pain, they classify it as subtle and mild”. “This wasn’t a little bit of pain, this hits really hard and it was lingering for a long time,” he said.

“It’s a debilitating condition – can’t work, can’t walk, can’t walk up and down the stairs, can’t play with my daughter.”

After weeks of “ping pong” between appointments and $3000 in medical costs, he has now largely recovered with only a “little bit of pain” once a week.

While he still doesn’t regret taking the vaccine, Mr Petrovic says one thing concerns him. Neither his cardiologist nor his GP would submit an adverse event report to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

After his experience, he fears that the TGA, which monitors adverse vaccine reactions, may not be getting the full picture. “I asked my doctor, ‘Are you going to submit this to the TGA as suspected pericarditis?’” Mr Petrovic said. “He said, ‘You can go online to do it. I’m too busy.’”

Similarly, his cardiologist, having ruled out more serious myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart itself, would not submit a report as he didn’t “see any damage” on his scans.

“Shouldn’t this be mandatory for medical practitioners?” Mr Petrovic said. “There’s a big difference between a doctor report and a patient self-report. I cannot make a medical diagnosis, I’m not a practitioner.”

He did submit his own, which now appears in the Database of Adverse Event Notifications – the TGA’s anonymised list of raw, unconfirmed reports – but it’s unclear whether his case is included in the regulator’s overall numbers of pericarditis.

“My problem is that I have absolutely zero visibility into how my submission of an adverse effect has been treated, collected, processed and classified,” he said.

In its weekly safety report, the TGA lists cases assessed as “likely” myocarditis, as well as a larger number that are “suspected”.

Among likely cases, those classified as “level one” are “confirmed to be myocarditis based on strong clinical evidence including the patient’s symptoms, and results of tests and imaging”.

Mr Petrovic stresses he is still a strong supporter of vaccination against Covid-19. “The pamphlet was saying [the risk of rare heart inflammation] is one in 100,000 – even if it was one in 10,000 I would have gone ahead and done it anyway,” he said. “I was willing to accept the risk to protect the community.”

But he is concerned – from a data perspective – about what appears to be a lack of rigorous protocols for medical practitioners to report adverse events.

“I believe every doctor, every medical professional, when a patient complains of a complication after a vaccine, they should make a report,” he said.

Even if the doctor is not 100 per cent convinced the reaction is connected to the vaccine, he argues, the TGA should still be receiving this “dirty data”.

“I don’t appreciate working with bad data,” he said. “Bad data means bad science. To me that’s not OK. In my profession I work with data – if I have bad data I make bad decisions for clients, and that’s just marketing. In health there is an even bigger responsibility.”

Mr Petrovic worries that people being brushed off by health practitioners only fuels mistrust and conspiracy theories. “The public cannot lose trust and confidence in science and the scientific method,” he said.


Strollout is the word of the year from halfcinated Fortress Australia

Strollout, the term invented by ACTU boss Sally McManus to describe delays this year in Australia’s coronavirus vaccine roll out, has been named word of the year by the Australian National Dictionary Centre.

If you haven’t heard of strollout, you are not in iso – 2020’s better-known word of the year for isolation.

Strollout was chosen because it was uniquely Australian, said the centre’s director Amanda Laugesen. “It’s yet another example of how a truly Australian expression can make waves globally,” Dr Laugesen said.

The term, defined as “the slow implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination program in Australia”, had also been exported to the world. It made headlines in the United States. In New Zealand, Kiwis adopted it as their own.

“Vaccine stroll-out must now be to all New Zealanders,” said a headline.

Dr Laugesen said the expression “captured a very particular moment in our nation’s history” when the federal government was being criticised for delays in distributing coronavirus vaccinations. Since vaccination rates have risen, the term’s use has fallen.

Like many people, Richard Neville, the Mitchell Librarian at the State Library of NSW, had never heard the word before. “It is just a bad pun. And it only works if there is a bank of understanding,” he said.

Mr Neville said it was very specific to a moment in time. “We have now excelled at the vaccine rollout so strollout might be a wipe out,” said Mr Neville, who is one of the judges of the Miles Franklin awards.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus coined the term, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, which works with the Australian National Dictionary Centre to publish the Australian version of its dictionary.

In November, the OED chose vax as its word of the year but mentioned strollout as one of a range of new words coined during “our intense interactions with vaccines”. These included halfcinated (partially vaccinated) and fullcinated (fully vaccinated).

Though strollout is rarely used in relation to vaccinations now, the OED and Dr Laugesen said it seemed likely to be used to describe delays in other areas.

When Ms McManus criticised the federal government on Twitter in May, the feedback was immediate. “A crack up name for the delay,” according to one tweet.

A month later, the former leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten used it to attack Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s failure to address vaccine hesitancy. “So far, it’s been more stroll out than rollout,” said Shorten.

ABC 702 Drive host and Herald columnist Richard Glover was responsible for exporting the word to the United States and beyond with a column in the Washington Post with the headline, “Australia’s vaccine ‘stroll-out’ shows the dangers of covid complacency.”

The expression was a lovely witticism, Glover said on Tuesday. While he couldn’t claim ownership, he was “pleased to be its exporter”.

Other terms on the shortlist, some of which will be considered for inclusion in the next edition of the Australian Dictionary in 2023, include:

Double-vaxxed: Not Australian, but a word used more here than overseas, said Dr Laugesen.

Clayton’s lockdown: A twist on the old Australian expression popularised by actor Jack Thompson in an advertisement for Clayton’s non-alcoholic drink: “Claytons: it is the drink you have when you are not having a drink.”

Fortress Australia: Similar to the way Australians described early immigration and tariff policies, the term was used during the pandemic to express Australia’s isolation from other countries.

AUKUS: The security partnership between Australia, Britain, and the United States centred on the Indo-Pacific region is likely to join ANZUS in the next Australian dictionary.

Net zero: The term for offsetting the amount of greenhouse gases produced by human activity through reduction measures is not uniquely Australia, but was popular here.


Teachers complain of information overload, extra difficulty in maths exam

Several teachers have criticised the advanced mathematics HSC exam for being too wordy and overloading students with unnecessary information, while others said it was more difficult than year 12 deserved given the challenges they faced in 2021.

Their comments come after about 17,000 students sat Monday’s two-unit advanced maths exam, which is the intermediate calculus-based course offered to year 12 students.

President of the Mathematical Association of NSW, Karen McDaid, said she heard mixed reviews about the paper, but some students were upset. She said teachers’ main issue was over the wording of some questions.

“They made comments such as information overload,” she said. “I have no problem with words, but apparently the way some of the questions were worded needed students to concentrate not only on what the question was asking, but also on interpreting the questions effectively.”

She said the association had complained to the NSW Education Standards Authority last year about “wordy” questions, after a standard maths paper stumped students.

“Our concern was the amount of time students needed to decipher the question before they could even begin answering it, and the associated cognitive load they had to carry,” she said.

Dr Julie Greenhalgh, the principal of private girls’ school Meriden which typically performs well in maths, described the paper as “unnecessarily difficult”. It was the second time the new maths syllabus has been tested in the HSC.

“[It] seemed to focus on the new sections of the syllabus which meant that the students were, perhaps, encountering types of questions that they had never seen before,” she said.

“As teachers and students work out the meaning and extent of sections of a new syllabus, I think it is more helpful to see an HSC paper that contains fewer tricks and fewer surprises.”

Another teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak, said his students were in tears after the advanced paper. He said the exam contained too many questions based on material students would have learned in the last few weeks of the course, when the system had switched to remote learning.

“Experienced teachers .... are saying the advanced paper is the worst written in 30 years,” he said.

Not all teachers agreed; Burwood Girls High’s head of maths said after the exam that none of his students had left upset and the questions seemed reasonable.

Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy College student Kasia Kliman made a complaint to NESA after the exam, saying students who had finished course content during lockdown could not fairly complete the test.

“Learning mathematics online [was] extremely difficult,” she said. “Some schools were unable to finish their content due to the online learning. Going into the very long exam and seeing questions about topics we have never learnt completely shocked us.”

A NESA spokeswoman said all questions came from the syllabus and adhered to the published exam specifications.

“The exam is developed by a team of experienced teachers and reviewed by a range of experts,” she said. “This year’s exam had a balance of questions across all five topics in the syllabus. The style of wording used in the exam is consistent with the language used in the syllabus.”

The spokeswoman said the advanced maths’ cohort of 17,000 students meant the exam needed to cater to a range of abilities. “The exam includes a full range of questions from easy to hard and must differentiate student achievement,” she said.

“Recognising that COVID made it tough for all HSC students, students who experienced significant disruption during lockdown were able to access NESA’s special consideration program for the written exams.”

The Universities Admissions Centre has also released more than 15,000 early university offers this month; 25 per cent more than last year due to a spike in applications. The offers are based on students’ year 11 results and school rankings, among other criteria.

“I hope these offers are good news for all those HSC students currently in the midst of their final exams. It’s been such a challenging year for them, but they’re almost there and having an early offer could give them some extra momentum as they finish year 12 and look forward to their future after school,” said UAC’s general manager of marketing and engagement Kim Paino.




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