Saturday, May 31, 2014

Maybe this is where the aliens have gone

Pair of researchers suggest black holes at center of galaxies might instead be wormholes

What an interesting suggestion:
The supermassive black hole candidates at the center of every normal galaxy might be wormholes created in the early Universe and connecting either two different
regions of our Universe or two different universes in a Multiverse model. Indeed, the origin of these supermassive objects is not well understood, topological non-trivial structures like wormholes are allowed both in general relativity and in alternative theories of gravity, and current observations cannot rule out such a possibility.
A good idea for science fiction, too.

Weird signalling

Quantum Collect Calling

I have no idea if this any potential practical application, but it is certainly a curious result that it appears a signal can be sent with no energy from the sender arriving:

 We show that it is possible to use a massless field in the vacuum to
communicate in such a way that the signal travels slower than the speed of
light and such that no energy is transmitted from the sender to the receiver.
Instead, the receiver has to supply a signal-dependent amount of work to switch
his detector on and off. This type of signalling is related to Casimir-like
interactions and it is made possible by dimension ---and curvature--- dependent
subtleties of Huygens' principle.

A tale of 2 economics writers

Two takes on the university fee de-regulation this morning.

The first by the condescending hater of anyone other than company directors in business class, Judith Sloan, who slips this in early on: 
And no doubt the revolting students will continue to revolt for their selfish reasons.
Her charming tendency to throw in bitchiness continues unabated, then.*

Of course everything will be fine, she writes; universities won't up fees so much, these pathetic students complaining about a policy that descended out of the sky have nought to complain about.  (Even though she then goes on to identify a way it may still be problematic for government funding.)

The second is by Ross Gittins, who the economic dries of Catallaxy don't care for.

Whereas Sloan's analysis is (at heart) based on her confidence that free markets in everything always works out for the good, Gittins actually thinks deeper about what sort of "market" tertiary education is, and gives us some reasons why he thinks universities will charge higher, quite quickly:
In the early noughties, the Howard government allowed unis to raise their fees by 25 per cent. One small uni decided not to do so. It found its applications from new students actually fell. So the following year it put its fees up like all the others and its applications recovered.

In Britain, the Cameron government allowed unis to raise the £3000 annual fee they charged local students up to a limit represented by the £9000 fee charged to foreign students. Almost all of them took the opportunity to raise their fees to the maximum allowed.

Applications dropped by 9 per cent in the first year, but rose in subsequent years.
On the basis of all this, my guess is the sandstone unis will raise their fees a long way and the less reputed unis won't be far behind them.

Their notion of competition will be to make sure no one imagines a lesser fee than the big boys is a sign of their lesser quality.
I had actually heard from a former private high school teacher at one of Brisbane's major schools tell me that this happened when he was there -  the teachers were told that as the competing school was increasing their fees, of course they would be putting up there's too (with no costs justification, but just to make sure people didn't think their school was lesser quality.)

Guess which analysis I find more convincing?

*  Judith read the Gittins column, and starts off her criticism of it in what has now become pretty much her default snide, bitchy style.  

If you ask me, the announcements made over the weekend of the type of fee rises from a couple of the big universities sounded more supportive of Gittins than Sloan.  

I also part heard someone from Melbourne University this morning explaining that the reason that the VC's who wanted fee deregulation are now sounding hesitant about the government's policy is because they didn't plan on the government funding cut that is accompanying it.   (I think that was the gist of it, anyway.)

Friday, May 30, 2014

Lenore and Michelle are right

Lenore Taylor points out that if Tony Abbott is now frustrated that he has lost the allegiance of a heap of pensioners, even when their pension is actually still going to increase, it is a case of being hoist upon his own petard:
The important difference between an absolute cut and a reduction in a predicted future increase was often lost on Tony Abbott in opposition.

He would, for example, warn of catastrophic job “losses” due to the carbon tax, using as evidence modelling that in fact showed employment would continue to grow strongly, but slightly less strongly than had the carbon price not been there.

He accused the former government of “cutting” the health budget when it had in fact pared back future projected increases in the health budget because of some statistical thing that no one could ever really understand.

But now, in government, he’s right on to the difference. It’s like a miracle, or something. And it’s Labor who are suddenly having trouble with the absolute cut versus lower future increase thing.

So when Bill Shorten accuses him of “cutting” or “ripping off” pensions, Abbott responds, quite correctly, that pensions will continue to increase every six months, imploring Labor to just have the decency to tell the truth.
 And Michelle Grattan is also pretty on the mark in her column today too:
Tony Abbott seems to have fallen into the same trap as Paul Keating in 1993. Keating refused to accept that John Hewson had handed him that win; he insisted on believing it was an endorsement of him and his philosophy.
Like Keating, Abbott triumphed on negatives. But now he and his colleagues think they have a mandate to transform dramatically the society and its culture, going far beyond what people expected.
There’s little sign, however, that the government has the political skills to match its ambition, or that the community shares its often uncompromising, black-and-white view of the world.
The point is, as I'm sure many have already suggested, people voted out a chronically dysfunctional Labor Party, rather than voting with any great enthusiasm for Tony Abbott personally.   And you can  hardly argue that there was any evidence that they were ready for a great change in governmental philosophy when Abbott slid in by promising to follow most key Labor policies.

Abbott, being a professional opportunist weathervane, thereby set himself up for failure.

Couldn't happen to a more deserving politician.

Just stop giving him money

I see that Jonah from Tonga is rating very poorly:  240,000, compared to 331,000 for Spicks and Specks, which won't be made again because of low ratings.  (I wouldn't mind betting that S&S is a lot cheaper to make than Lilley's projects.)

So is this finally the end of the ABC funding Lilley?   I hope so...

Next on my hit list:  the appalling looking Housos on SBS.  Perhaps I should gird my loins and watch it first, though.   (Do I have to?)

More on the miracle (berry)

I recently posted about the taste changing "miracle" berry we bought in Canberra, and noted that there had been hopes it could be used as non sugary sweetener.  The Atlantic has an article about how that dream is still alive.

A worthy WSJ piece on Piketty

I missed this article in the WSJ on Piketty previously, which only looks at how he is viewed in France.   Unusally, for the WSJ, it manages to be wryly amusing, even if I am not sure if it is fair:
There is probably another reason why Mr. Piketty isn't as influential in France as he could be: He is a serious thinker. It is said that France is singular for its love of public intellectuals, but it might be more accurate to say that it is in love with its love of public intellectuals. In reality, many of France's most prominent public intellectuals today are lightweights, opining on things about which they know very little.

In France, many famous economists sell books and appear on TV talk shows. What most of them have in common is the lack of a degree in economics or of any peer-reviewed publications in economics. I myself am no economist—but I have been introduced as one on a French news program. Mr. Piketty is an outstanding academic economist, which, in France, hurts his credibility as an economist.

Take one with a bag full of salt

Adam Creighton recently wrote a column comparing health spending and outcomes between Australia and New Zealand without once reflecting on the fact that one of those countries is nearly 30 times geographically larger yet only has about 5 times more population.  Gee, do you think that might make the cost of providing medical services a bit more expensive, Adam?

Today he's trolling facts and figures about medical services in Australia (trying to show we are massively over-serviced) in what, I can just about guarantee, will turn out to be a shallow, ideologically driven analysis that does not bear up to scrutiny.

This one line in particular caught my attention:
Even in rural areas where the “doctor shortage” myth is entrenched, there are more doctors per person now than there were in inner-city regions in 2003.
There's not a doctor shortage in rural areas?   This will probably come down to some furphy about how "rural" is defined, is my guess.

As with the recent effort of Henry Ergas, this is all being undertaken to try to bolster an argument that the Coalition policy for co-payment is warranted, regardless of where the money from the co-payment goes.    

Anyway, I don't have the time or knowledge of where best to go to double check this article take, but I hope someone does soon.

Update:   As I suspected, Adam is engaged in spin, not in giving an accurate picture:
 Stephen Duckett: If you look at the shortage in areas like the Kimberley and the Pilbara, for example, in Western Australia, there's only about 57 doctors per 100,000 population. If you contrast that with suburban Sydney, for example, there are 122 doctors per 100,000 population. So there is only half the number of doctors in these rural and remote areas as there are in the cities. And of course health needs are somewhat greater in rural and remote than they are in the cities.
This certainly indicates that Creighton's improbable claims come from the definition of "rural"; re-read what he said and compare it to the number Duckett is citing.  

As the interview continues, it is clear that there remain large parts of the country with low numbers of doctors:
Norman Swan: And you only looked at seven rural and remote areas in this study, why was that?
Stephen Duckett: Well, we decided to tackle the worst first. We said let's concentrate our initiatives on the places with the worst access in the country and see what we can do to change that very, very quickly over a five-year period.
Norman Swan: You said north-west Western Australia being one area. Where are the other areas, just briefly?
Stephen Duckett: Northern Queensland, for example, around Mt Isa, also northern New South Wales, basically all of Western Australia is the area we're looking at, other than Perth. So we're looking at a number of places across the country, all of the Northern Territory for example is in dire straits.
Creighton is right about the large number of graduates; but it doesn't mean problems with the number of rural doctors is automatically solved:

Norman Swan: Why look for a solution when we've got this tsunami of medical graduates? We are, some would argue, over-producing medical graduates over the next few years. It's starting now. Some of them aren't actually going to have any jobs when they come out. Some people are saying there is going to be 1,200 unemployed doctors within the lifespan of this government if it goes to two terms. Why are we bothering talking about alternatives when in fact you're going to have medical graduates coming out of your ears?
Stephen Duckett: Well, the trickle-down approach, which is what you're suggesting, just pump hundreds…an extra thousand graduates into the system and hope that they will go to the places where needed, hasn't worked in the past. Sure, there has been over the last five years an improvement in access, but it has mainly occurred in what are called the inner regional areas, the major rural cities like Bendigo and so on, rather than in the more remote and rural areas.
Similarly with international medical graduates, again we push those out into the remote communities, but as soon as their time is up they try and move into the inner regional or the cities. And so these solutions don't end up with a sustained fix of the problem. So we're saying you have to try something new and something different.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A foot full of offence

In other Middle East news, I see that there has been a hot controversy over a Saudi policeman who was caught in a photo which makes it look like he had a somewhat casual stance beside the sacred cube thingee known as the Kaaba in Mecca.   Either that or it's just a unlucky shot of a man leaning back to avoid falling off a perch and being crushed to death under a mass of humanity.    Here's the photo:

As Gulf News explains
In Arab culture, displaying the sole of one’s foot or touching someone, or something sacred, with a shoe or with feet is considered highly offensive.  A picture of the policeman leaning on the sacred cube triggered a heated debate on social networks in the Muslim world with reactions ranging from gentle understanding of his condition after hours of confronting challenges to outright condemnation for not respecting the sanctity of the place.
And the story contains the first time I have ever heard the phrase "rubber sockets":
Officials initially said that the security man was not wearing shoes, but rubber sockets that staff at the Grand Mosque used regularly.
The seriousness of the issue is indicated by comments to the Gulf News, which indicate that even the publication is taking a risk by running the photo.  A sample:

Well, I hope I'm not marking myself for a Rushdie style fatwa for republishing it. I mean,  I don't think this is a very appropriate photo from inside a Roman church:

but I'm not going to freak out if appeared on the Daily Mail website, either.  (Chances are it probably did.)

Anyhow, the story made me realise I didn't know anything about what was in the Kaaba, except a vague recollection that it probably contained a meteorite which had been deemed holy.  I wasn't even sure it had an accessible interior, but the Wikipedia entry sets it all out in considerable detail:

It seems it has been around a long time, although it's rather improbable that it was built by Abraham in 2130 BC.    Some version of it was there already as a "pagan" shrine at the time of Mohammed, and if they find this policeman's action's offensive, I'm not sure they would appreciate the old time worship:
According to Ibn Ishaq, an early biographer of Muhammad, the Ka'aba was itself previously addressed as a female deity.[18] Circumambulation was often performed naked by male pilgrims.
In any event, the Wikipedia entry explains that the thing has been burnt, stoned, collapsed and repaired/rebuilt several times in its history, with the present granite appearance only being in place since 1629.   I'm not entirely sure that many freaking out Muslims know that it is only of the same era as St Peter's Basilica (current version finished in 1626 - a bit of a co-incidence.)

And as for what the interior is used for:  well, it doesn't sound like much:
The building is opened twice a year for a ceremony known as "the cleaning of the Kaaba." This ceremony takes place roughly thirty days before the start of the month of Ramadan and thirty days before the start of Hajj.
The keys to the Kaaba are held by the Banī Shayba (بني شيبة) tribe. Members of the tribe greet visitors to the inside of the Kaaba on the occasion of the cleaning ceremony. A small number of dignitaries and foreign diplomats are invited to participate in the ceremony.[52] The governor of Mecca leads the honoured guests who ritually clean the structure, using simple brooms. Washing of the Kaaba is done with a mixture of water from the Zamzam Well and Persian rosewater.[53]
There's a very clear Youtube video of this on line, at least from the outside, which is rather long and rather dull.  I have scrolled through it, and as far as I could see, the apparent image of the interior shown as the start before you play the video, is not actually in the video.   (Someone who watches the whole 47 minutes can correct me if I am wrong.)

But it is interesting at the 8min 40 sec mark, for showing the Black Stone in the corner, apparently the meteorite, in pretty close detail.  In fact, now that I look at the photo of the policeman again, it appears his shoe (sorry, "rubber socket") might have been resting on the silver surround of the sacred rock.   Damn it, I'm starting to understand the offence a bit better! 

Then if you go to the 15 min mark, it doesn't really look like the VIP cleaning crew just outside the door are exactly in awe of their surroundings.

A rather funnier video from 2009 can be viewed below, which spends an awful lot of time building up the mystery, only to show some shaky but detailed video of the inside of the place, again by Arabs who look to be not exactly awestruck, to put it mildly:

The interior is, then, quite a let down to the foreign eye.  Perhaps even to the Muslim eye.

Going back to the Black Stone, the detailed Wikipedia entry notes that, as with the building itself, it's been smashed, re-stuck together, stolen, returned, and even (possibly) this:
In 1674, according to Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, someone smeared the Black Stone with excrement so that "every one who kissed it retired with a sullied beard". The Shi'ite Persians were suspected of being responsible and were the target of curses from other Muslims for centuries afterwards, though explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton doubted that they were the culprits; he attributed the act to "some Jew or Greek, who risked his life to gratify a furious bigotry."[19]
Well, I hope the fighting in Syria hasn't got anything to do with that.

Anyway, my taste in the sacred runs more to gloomy interiors with the gentle light of candles and old stained glass.   Notre Dame in Paris, which I remember as being not at all bright inside even on a sunny day, felt much more like a place to encounter God than the bright, airy interiors of many English Cathedrals I visited, even the old ones.   It's odd to see that despite its global drawing power, the Kaaba does not seem to have much in the way of an air of mystery at all.

From the long series we like to call "Great moments in Middle Eastern Jurisprudence"

In a report about how the Kuwaiti Parliament might be about to ban the bikini, we get his story:
This week, a mother in Kuwait lost the custody of her children after her ex-husband showed the court a picture of her wearing a bikini and standing with an unrelated man on a beach in another country to argue she was not fit to raise them.
“The mother cannot be trusted to raise the children properly and the picture as an example indicates a lack of modesty and a deficiency in her morals that erode trust in her and result in public disdain as society assesses her actions morally or religiously,” Yousuf Hussain , the father’s lawyer, said.
Lawmaker Al Azemi used the court verdict to support the decision by the parliamentary committee to ban bathing suits.

Tosser on tour

Noted from Senate hearings this morning:
Freedom commissioner Tim Wilson tells the senate that he will be doing a freedom roadshow, funded to the tune of $50,000 - and seeking private sponsorship - that will travel the highways and byways of the country.
Also as part of that report:
George Brandis is again before the senate legal and constitutional affairs committee, accompanied by the Human Rights Commission, including president Gillian Triggs, race commissioner Tim Soutphommasane and freedom commissioner Tim Wilson among others.

Labor senator Lisa Singh is asking Soutphommasane to talk about the effect of Brandis' changes. The question is ruled out and Brandis counters that Soutphommasane's views are well known. That is, he doesn't like them.

So much for freedom of speech, Singh says.
 PS:  just dropped in again on Tim's grandiose, self promoting website.   It still describes him as "Australia's Human Rights Commissioner".   I'm sure the rest of the Commissioners appreciate that.

Update:  I appear to have not understood Mr Wilson's position.   Here I was thinking that all Commissioners at the Human Rights Commission could be called "a Human Rights Commissioner"; yet I see from the website that when dishing out the title for each commissioner ("Age Discrimination Commissioner" for example) that Timbo's title is indeed "Human Rights Commissioner" (and he is the only one so named on the list.)    

Why is it, then, that about the only Human Right I hear Wilson constantly banging on about is free speech?

I can see many other "Human Rights" that he could be talking about other the one that is the obsession of the IPA.

They're like a masterclass on how not to do political media management

Just up on Fairfax:
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has slapped down his Education Minister and ruled out collecting outstanding HECS debts from the estates of dead students.

Mr Abbott said on Thursday morning that the government was not going to change existing rules around HECS debts from the deceased.

''This government is not going to change the existing rules, and the existing rules in respect of university debt . . . is that they cease on decease,'' he told ABC radio.
Gee, he just can't help himself with the stupid three word slogans, can he?  Must be what they taught at Oxford during his Rhodes scholarship, was it? [The Abbott family has done well out of scholarships. :)]
The problem for Tone is that it was not just Pyne, but Smokin' Joe who thought it a good idea in principle too:
Treasurer Joe Hockey also earlier on Thursday appeared to back the idea.
''It shouldn't be different to any other loan,'' he told the Nine Network. ''It's only against the state of the individual. It’s not going to go across families and so on.''
On another issue, let's not forget the weirdness of Dennis Jensen, a climate change skeptic, nonetheless attacking his government's budget cuts to science. And people thought Gillard's office didn't do media management well!  Geez. 

More on my anti marijuana binge today

Driving After Marijuana Use Twice As Common As Driving After Drinking
Whitehill says, "There seems to be a misconception that marijuana use is
totally safe, but as an injury prevention researcher I dispute that.
We've done a good job in public health with messages about the risks of
driving after alcohol use. Clearly the idea not to drink and drive has
come through for these students, because we found only 7 percent engage
in that behavior. But our study suggests we must do better when it comes
to marijuana, since we found that 31 percent of marijuana-using
students drive under its influence." 

Yet more not-exactly-thought-through fallout from Colorado's marijuana laws

From the LA Times:
Colorado's neighbors dismayed by new wave of marijuana traffic
Law enforcement officers in the smaller, often isolated counties in states ringing Colorado say their departments shudder under the weight of Colorado pot flowing illegally across the border. Drug arrests are rising, straining already strapped budgets in places where marijuana remains illegal.

"It has just devastated these smaller agencies," says Tom Gorman, director of the federally funded Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, a network of law enforcement organizations in four Western states. "The marijuana laws [in Colorado] were supposed to eliminate the black market. But in effect they have become the black market."

A study by his organization last year found that between 2005 and 2012, the amount of seized Colorado pot heading for other states increased 400%. Although it is legal for adults to possess small amounts of marijuana in Colorado, it remains against the law to take it out of the state.

But most agree it's fantasy to think that won't happen.

Just noting if money makes a difference

No austerity in Hockey household | The Australian

Just thought I would go back to re-read the articles about the wealth of Joe Hockey and his merchant banker wife, given that in 1987 poor old Joe thought $250 was an outrageous fee for students to pay:
Searches show the austerity budget measures will have a limited impact on the Treasurer and his family, who live in a Sydney mansion worth $6m, own a beachside home south of Sydney [estimated value $1.5 million] and have Queensland cattle properties worth more than $2m....

In addition to those property assets, the Hockeys hold a family trust and a self-managed super fund.
In Mr Hockey’s parliamentary pecuniary interests register, the Treasurer notes those assets are: “Managed solely by spouse — I am unaware of interests.”
That last line is a little cute, isn't it?

Interestingly, most assets seem to be held in his wife's name.

I don't think his kids will have trouble paying for their $100,000 + degrees; upfront in fact.

[If you think I'm turning socialist, blame Piketty!]  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How very entertaining

I suggest the Abbott government just leave the building quietly now.   Just paste up some notices on the office doors "Sorry, it all became too difficult.  We are going outside and we may be some time."

The source of my amusement?    The sight of Joe Hockey, university student, talking about the fight for free university education in 1987.  According to the report, it was actually a protest about a $250 fee.

Yes, the Treasurer in a government deregulating university fees entirely, a policy introduced in haste with no substantial discussion prior to the election, leading to the not unreasonable speculation that this will mean some courses costing upwards of $100,000. 

Simply delicious material for Labor to work with.

What's more, it seems to me that the Frances Abbott undeclared "scholarship" scandal is biting a bit more than I expected, given that a fair bit of the media (including the ABC) has not wanted to touch it for fear of being seen to be inviting a Frances pile on.

No, I'm not talking about highly taxed economist Sinclair Davidson's "A new low" post in which he gets upset about some pretty low level looking protesting and sticker vandalism of the Whitehouse Institute of Design (motto - "Don't phone us for a scholarship - we'll phone you!")   (Oh, and I like the drama queenery in comments "this is not an Australia I recognise;"  "Just like Alabama in the sixties"  Update:  some are now suggesting rubber bullets and letting everyone carry revolvers for self protection for such rioters.   Having now seen video of what the students did, it looks like about 30 doing a rather mild moving protest.  Annoying if you're delayed in your car for 5 minutes, but people like Bolt and Davidson are having a lend of themselves about the seriousness of it all.) 

No, it's more the fact that there a substantial number of comments following Neil Mitchell's story on the 3AW website dispute his take that this is a matter of disgracefully attacking Abbott's family.   For example:
Its fair game. This was a merit-less award no question. That Abbotts office are even taking that position shows how dishonest they are.
a. You could not apply for the scholarship.
b. Its not a published scholarship.
c. It would have remained secret except someone leaked it.
This was a gift to a prime minister through his child, to get the girl into his school to make it more prestigious so they could charge the other pooor students more.
Plain and simple.
And then same PM guts education funding and tells people get ready to pay more.
The protest is completely valid.
And, in a remarkable turn up for the books, someone even in the Catallaxy thread (just one - mind you) gets it about 95% right.   I'm worried that hell is freezing over:
So yes the Socialist Alliance are twits and it’s a disgrace that the police are required for protection. But I for one am not going to pretend it’s a desirable state of affairs that a politician elected on an integrity platform hasn’t disclosed that his daughter was given a secret scholarship and potentially acted as a lobbyist.

Heroin revival, continued

Heroin epidemic: New York becomes first big city to make cops carry antidote 

The Christian Science Monitor has another report here on the increase in heroin in America.   Part of the reason for its increase in popularity appears to be tougher control of prescription painkillers:

No longer the stereotype of a shivering urban junkie, heroin users are now found among the working and professional classes, including suburban abusers of opiate-based painkillers like oxycodone. Faced with higher prices and shortages in the illegal market for pills, these now seek out what street users often refer to as “smack.”

Indeed, as the illicit use of painkillers has become more difficult with stricter regulations and law enforcement – which has led to a corresponding low supply and higher price, officials say – users have turned to heroin for a cheaper and more readily available high. And Mexican cartels, funneling heroin from Colombia, have been flooding the market with a purer and cheaper product.

And with its higher purity, users can now snort the drug, officials say, rather than cook and shoot it with needles – a well-known pop-cultural image that has scared away many
first-time users in the past.

Almost worth it

Watching the writhing pain of Catallaxy over the Coalition's umming and ahhing over how to amend s18C of the Race Discrimination Act so as to placate Andrew Bolt, the IPA and ethnic voters, as well as the knowledge that about the only budget measure that seems guaranteed to pass Parliament is a tax increase that will affect free speech warrior-in-chief (and all round tax hater) Sinclair Davidson (and Andrew Bolt and Tim Wilson), almost (but not quite) makes seeing a Coalition win worthwhile.  

In truth, with the benefit of hindsight, as I have written somewhere on the net (if not here), the Coalition win was probably for the good of the country, but only because it rid Labor of their disastrous experiment with Kevin Rudd.

If we could only have a double dissolution within 6 to 9 months, and a competition between a Turnbull led Coalition and a re-invigorated Labor (and held after Palmer's party has suffered its inevitable implosion), things could be looking pretty sweet.   (I somehow doubt it is going to work out that well, especially given a Labor win would probably be at the cost of a moderate bit of GST reform which seems to be warranted.)

Sucked in by an article heading?

I see that Jason Soon has tweeted about the Comment is Free article in the Guardian with the Pyne/Norton friendly title:

Higher fees don't mean fewer working class students - look at the UK for proof

Yet the details in the body of the article indicate that the true title should be something like:

Higher but still capped university fees with generous enough loan support does not put off working class students  (or so it seems after 2 years of a new system)

I mean, from the article:
In 2011 the UK's governing Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition announced substantial reforms to higher education funding. Following the recommendations of a review into higher education funding commenced by the prior Labour government, the cap on student fees was almost tripled to £9,000 ($16,400) and public funding significantly reduced
The present cap in Australia:
At present in 2014, Australia’s fee cap ranges between A$6,044 and A$10,085 (£3,358 and £5,603), varying with the type of course studied.
The Guardian piece itself says:
Readers should be cautioned against drawing too much inference from the UK experience. Alongside generous income-substitution loans, the UK still maintains a fee cap, charges a progressively indexed interest rate only when graduates are earning an income and writes off any unpaid debt after 30 years. An Office for Fair Access was also created to negotiate equitable student access targets with universities and monitor compliance.
 And Bruce Chapman in Australia thinks fees at top universities will rapidly go up:
''Fees will go up and they will go up quite significantly,'' Professor Chapman, director of policy impact at the Australian National University, said.

''I expect most universities will increase tuition fees to international student fee levels, which are currently about three times higher. The Group of Eight universities will do that pretty quickly.

'Fees will go up and they will go up quite significantly.': Bruce Chapman. Photo: Glenn Hunt

''Past changes to HECS didn't deter students from entering university, but now that there will be a real rate of interest on the debt we are in uncharted waters.''
Professor Chapman said it was plausible the cost of a bachelor of medical science would rise from $24,000 to $120,000 – the fee for international students at the University of Sydney.
''The idea fees will go down anywhere is frankly fantasy land,'' he said.
 There are a few things I don't really understand:

Pyne has been arguing that the scheme will mean lots of new university places (80,000 is bandied about, but it seems to be guesswork) available from the lower level universities for "sub degree" courses which may prepare students for higher degrees.   But wait a minute - I thought it was a common view amongst the Right that there is too much emphasis on students doing University for the sake of doing University, and that these students would often be better doing more direct occupational training?   Or is there some push on now that we want to fully emulate an American system of high school to college to university?  (As if the American system is worth emulating.)   Next I expect Pyne to be suggesting Rugby scholarships be introduced.

*  If you make medical degrees a lot more expensive, don't you risk doctors wanting to increase their fees? Is this part of the reason that the US health system is so expensive?

*  The English (see this earlier link) appear to think the Australia system is a great big experiment that will be very interesting to watch.  Yes indeed - and one which the Coalition gave us no forewarning would be suddenly undertaken.

*  Why not do it via incrementally increasing the cap and monitoring what happens?  This is what the Guardian writer actually suggests:
With the exact consequences of fee deregulation hard to predict, incrementally raising the fee cap could offer a period of evaluation. However, with the full package unlikely to get through the Senate unamended, there is a high chance some of the more dubious changes will be throttled back.

Chickens well funded

Chicken project gets off the ground 

At Nature News:
In a bid to learn more about the chicken and its lineage, the UK
government is funding a £1.94-million (US$3.3-million) effort to
determine how the chicken went from being a wild fowl roaming the
jungles of southeast Asia several thousand years ago to one of the
world’s most abundant domesticated animals. The Cultural and Scientific
Perceptions of Human–Chicken Interactions project — ‘Chicken Coop’ for
short — will examine human history from the perspective of the fowl.
OK, well the article does go on to note some practical point to better understanding their evolution:
 a better understanding of the bird’s history will help people to address
some of the problems facing chickens and the poultry industry, such as
avian influenza and leg weakness among broiler chickens. Research on
ancient breeds could help us to “refresh the genetics” of broilers, he
suggests. Last month, Hutchinson ran a conference, Towards the Chicken
of the Future, to tackle such issues. “Science has got us into this
problem through intense selection,” he says. “It can maybe help us out
of it.”
but I'm not sure that's how I would prefer to see science money being spent.

Nuclear cat litter

Nuclear-waste facility on high alert over risk of new explosions : Nature News & Comment

How odd:
The drum was one of a batch from the Los Alamos National Laboratory
(LANL) in New Mexico that contained a mix of nitrate salts — generated,
for example, in the recovery of plutonium from metal and other scrap
during waste processing — and cellulose in the form of a wheat-based
commercial cat litter used to absorb liquid waste. The DOE believes a reaction between the nitrates and cellulose blew the lid off of the container.

An interesting point about the Piketty big picture

From The Atlantic:
The future is dire, he concludes, because he expects the economies of the countries he surveyed to grow at a rate of 1 to 1.5 percent per year, while the average return on capital increases at a rate of 4 to 5 percent per year. Inequality, in other words, is bound to rise....

It is not accurate to assert that in countries like Russia, Nigeria, Brazil, and China, the main driver of economic inequality is a rate of return on capital that is larger than the rate of economic growth. A more holistic explanation would need to include the massive fortunes regularly created by corruption and all kinds of illicit activities. In many countries, wealth grows more as a result of thievery and malfeasance than as a consequence of the returns on capital invested by elites (a factor that is surely at work too)....

Most of the roughly 20 nations from which Piketty forms his analysis classify as high-income countries and rank among the least-corrupt in the world, according to Transparency International. Unfortunately, most of humanity lives in countries where “c > h” and dishonesty is the primary driver of inequality. This point has not attracted as much attention as Piketty’s thesis. But it should. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Dictionary needed at Hot Air

Right wing web site Hot Air has put up an open thread about the recent Isla Vista shooting, and makes the following "only in America" statement (my bold):
The alleged shooter – I’m going to stop using “alleged” after this, given the circumstances – purchased all of his hardware legally, and no gun control measures currently on the books or being realistically considered would have prevented it. (Unless, of course, you’re talking about a complete national ban on handguns, and I don’t think we’ve slid that far down the road to anarchy just yet.)
Yeah.  A ban on handguns is like an obvious start to anarchy.

Not just Australia, but England and Japan are all places bordering on anarchy due to the lack of handguns amongst the populace.  It's really scary.  [/sarc, of course.]

A beautiful set of numbers

While Essential Poll seems strangely, persistently, stuck on a 2 party preferred vote of 52/48 in favour of Labor (when other polls are showing clearer post-Budget away from the Coalition), this table from today's poll gives me encouragement that my take on Tony Abbott is gaining more popularity with the Australian public.  It is very amusing to look at the downwards trajectory of several of the assessments:


Bill Shorten, on the other hand, has been on the upwards trajectory.  Essential notes:
Compared to Bill Shorten, Tony Abbott is much more likely to be considered out of touch with ordinary people (+28), arrogant (+27), narrow minded (+26), intolerant (+26) and aggressive (+20).
Bill Shorten is regarded by more respondents to be intelligent (-14) and  a capable leader (-10).
 Labor should be taking some encouragement.  

Potential donations made daily

BBC News - The brave new world of DIY faecal transplant

This is a very lengthy article on the wonders of faecal transplant, and how some people are doing it for themselves.   (I really think the photo with the poo-y blender was unnecessary, but the editor probably giggled a lot about whether to include it.)

As noted at Catallaxy

Sinclair Davidson actually thinks Bronwyn Bishop is doing a good job as speaker. Simply astonishing, as he likes to say.  He likes how Scott Morrison handles himself too, as do many of the commenters at the site.  [Update:  see what Sinclair says himself in clarification in comments below.]   I'm always amused about how much some libertarian/conservative types like "hard men" (and hard haired women) who they think are successfully putting the boot into their political opponents.  (To be fair, we saw the same thing from Labor followers with Paul Keating; but I always disagreed with them too that the aggro was a good look.  Also - Morrison is making politics out of a secret government operation on the high seas - that is something to deplore, not celebrate.) 

Judith Sloan, in thinking about the Medicare co-payment, again gets the opportunity to express annoyance that other people (medical researchers) might get to fly business class.  (Last time it was those mooching pilots, remember?)

Update:  re Morrison and secrecy on ocean:

Immigration officials faced a grilling at a Senate estimates hearing on Monday night about unconfirmed reports an asylum seeker boat was intercepted off Christmas Island in mid-May and its passengers are in custody on the Customs Ocean Protector ship.

Customs chief executive Michael Pezzullo maintained that only an illegal foreign fishing boat had been intercepted near Christmas Island recently.

Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young referred to reports Christmas Islanders saw clothing packs being taken out to the Ocean Protector.

But Mr Pezzullo refused to comment on logistics, operational matters or any legal advice about holding people in custody.

He rejected Labor senator Kim Carr's description that asylum seekers were being detained on a ''prison ship''.

''People are being held in secure circumstances and subject to operational orders,'' he said, adding they were appropriately cared for with adequate food and water.

Senator Carr asked how many people were in custody on the Ocean Protector and other vessels.
''I'm not going to discuss that,'' Mr Pezzullo said.

On Monday, Senator Hanson-Young told Fairfax Media that the Abbott government's '' obsession with secrecy means that we are hearing eye-witness reports of refugee boats from Christmas Island locals, while Customs and Immigration officials remain tight-lipped''.

''The government is refusing to answer even the most basic questions about the health and safety of people who may be locked up inside a customs vessel right now,'' Senator Hanson-Young said.

Read more:
The Greens are not realistic in how they would respond to the problem - yet they are still on the money when it comes to the appalling secrecy that the government is putting over this; and it is something of a scandal that there isn't a public scandal about it.