Sunday, August 17, 2014

University rankings out again

There are now rather a lot of these rankings, all using slightly different methodology, but the latest out is the well established Shanghai Jiao Tong ranking.

No great surprises in the top ten, though Oxford would be sniffy about being ranked lower than Cambridge.

As usual, Australian universities had a good showing, with Melbourne in the top 50 and ANU at 74,  Queensland at 85 and UWA at 88.  Queensland is my Alma Mater so nobody can cast nasturtiums on my background.  My son is back there too.

And one of Brisbane's newer universities (Griffith) put out a press release expressing pleasure at being ranked 400th!  That is not as silly as it sounds when you realize that is 400th out of 10,000 -- and rankings lower than 500 are not released. Newer universities are somewhat disadvantaged by the weight that Jiao Tong gives to Nobel prizes and Fields medals.
And Israelis will be pleased that their small community produced two in the top 100 -- Hebrew and Technion. And that is despite the "brain drain" of Ashkenazim to American universities.  No Palestinian universities made it into the top 500, however.  I believe there is one. Maybe the Palis could send some suicide bombers over to Shanghai to show those Chinamen at Jiao Tong University a thing or two!

The first non-American university on the list was -- at 19 -- The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, which I know nothing about.  I have certainly never seen a paper from them.  Did Einstein go there or something?

The ranking of Leiden university in the Netherlands may indicate that there is such a thing as Dutch modesty.  They ranked at 77 when in the ranking system that they themselves run they come in only at 100!

Brits will be peeved that LSE made it only into the 100-150 bracket.  I gather that they have a lot of Muslims there.  And I was slightly peeved to see Sydney also in that bracket  I have a large document issued to me by that university. At least it did better than Macquarie, which was at 201-300.  I also have a large document issued to me  by Macquarie.

Three New Zealand universities made it into the top 500, which isn't bad for a country of only 4 million souls, though the ranking of Victoria University Wellington (401-500)  will disappoint many. I very nearly took a job there once.

The methodology used by the Shanghai rankings is entirely academic and research oriented. The project is supported by the Chinese government so it is a pretty good look "from outside".  The huge preponderance of American universities in the rankings would have to be taken with a large grain of salt if it were Americans who were doing the rankings but since the work was in fact done by Chinese academics, it is not subject to that suspicion.

Terrorism supporters to lose dole payments, says Tony Abbott

Australian terrorism supporters will have their unemployment benefits and other welfare payments cut off.

In a significant crackdown on homegrown extremists, Prime Minister Tony Abbott says new legislation would allow the Department of Human Services to cancel benefits to those assessed as a serious threat to national security.

"These new measures will ensure Australian taxpayers are not financing people known to be members of, or working with, terrorist organisations," he said in a statement on Saturday.

Mr Abbott said under current arrangements, welfare payments can only be suspended or cancelled for those who don't meet social security eligibility rules.

That includes failing to fulfil participation, residence or portability qualifications.

The government has already cut benefits to those abroad, but not extremists in Australia who continue to meet eligibility requirements.

Mr Abbott said he was committed to ensuring Australians engaged in terrorist activities were not receiving taxpayer-funded welfare payments.

He said legislation would be introduced to ensure benefits can be promptly stopped for people identified by national security agencies as involved in extremist conduct.

"The new legislation will enable the Department of Human Services to cancel a person's welfare payment if it receives advice that a person has been assessed as a serious threat to Australia's national security," he said in the statement.

Advice will be provided by the Attorney-General, Minister for Foreign Affairs or Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.

"Ministers will exercise discretion and take into account all relevant factors including advice from national security agencies, before requesting cancellation of welfare payments," he said.

Mr Abbott said the government would also ensure relevant agencies worked more closely together to share information on issues of national security where that relates to cancelling welfare to those regarded as posing a threat.

"Australians travelling to Syria, Iraq, and other conflict zones to engage in, or support, terrorist activities are committing criminal offences," he said.

Mr Abbott said Australia's welfare system already allowed payments to be suspended or cancelled for those who don't meet their obligations.

"This measure is based on the same principle. It is designed to make sure taxpayers' money is not being used to undermine Australia's national security," he said.


Proposed Islamic school starts new push for registration in the ACT

An Islamic school, whose initial application to set up shop in the ACT failed after a highly critical review, have reapplied for registration under an altered name.

The Canberra Muslim Youth group have resubmitted an application for provisional registration for a kindergarten to year 3 school to open in 2015.

The group submitted the application under the new name "Taqwa School" after previously applying under "At-Taqwa School".

The proposal was opened to public comment in early August after it was submitted on July 30.

Hassan Warsi, the chairman of the board of governance for the school, declined to comment on the move, saying it was too early to do so.

The school was originally proposed for Gungahlin in 2012 and was rejected for registration last year by a review panel.

The panel's report said in February that the application failed to ensure staff were registered properly and that the education programs and curriculum were tailored for the students.

The review also questioned the financial viability of the school's application and said the group had so far failed to consider child protection procedures and background checks of volunteers.

The panel said interviews with the principal and board members "revealed an absence of thorough pedagogical understanding and principles of curriculum design, as it applies to a primary context''.

Andrew Wrigley, the executive director of the Association of Independent Schools of the ACT, said he was aware of the application.

"They have been working very hard on the requirements to gain provisional registration," Mr Wrigley said.

Mr Warsi is also associated with the Islamic Society of Belconnen, whose social media pages reveal the groups has been fund-raising within the Islamic community to get the school off the ground.

The school has lodged a development application for a site in Gungahlin to allow for the installation of fences, demountable classrooms and toilets.

An ACT Education and Training Directorate spokeswoman said a panel would now be appointed to report to the minister on the proposed school.


ABC bias against coal hurts the poor and the workers: Sell the ABC

A new report shows ABC journalists are fond of renewables and overlook their dismal economic value, while putting out bad news on coal, and ignoring the benefits of vast cheap profitable energy. Who could have seen that coming: a large public funded institution attracts employees who like large public funding?

The IPA arranged for a media analysis firm to compare the ABC reporting on coal and renewables.

The analysis of 2359 reports broadcast on the ABC over six months before March 15 this year found 15.9 per cent of stories on coalmining and 12.1 per cent of those about coal-seam gas mining were favourable, while 53 per cent of those on renewable energy were favourable.

It also found 31.6 per cent of stories on coal mining and 43.6 per cent of stories on coal-seam gas were unfavourable, while only 10.8 per cent of stories on renewable energy were ­unfavourable.

The ABC has become its own best case for privatizing the ABC. How much could we get? The funds from its sale, and the savings of the $1.25 billion it costs annually, would help to pay down the massive debt left by the Rudd-Gillard government.  The real benefits could be much much higher. The ABC has become an advertising agency for any group dependent on public funding. Without the constant one-sided promotion of wasteful spending, Australian policy might shift towards self sufficient entrepreneurs instead of rent-seekers. How many countless billions is that worth?

The economic situation of renewables and coal is blindingly obvious:

Brown and Black coal provide electricity in Australia at less than 4c /KWhr, while Solar costs nearly 20c.  Figures thanks to Alan Moran: Submission to the Renewable Energy Target Review Panel, IPA, 2014

Australian energy generation, coal, oil, gas, renewables, hydro, biomass.To put a perspective on it, coal is Australia’s largest exporter industry, producing 33% of our energy and a whopping 75% of our electricity. (Wind and solar produce all of 1%.) The coal industry provides the ABC with funds, via tax, while the wind and solar industries are a net drain on the public purse. The cheapest way to reduce CO2 (and by a whopping 15%) looks like being an upgrade for our coal fired plants so they are like the hot new Chinese plants. But how important is reducing CO2 to the ABC? Apparently it’s not quite as important as cheering on other big-government babies.

We can debate the environmental pluses and minuses of coal, but the economic case is a lay down misere. Renewables are anywhere from 200% to 500% more expensive.

The renewables industry on the other hand makes expensive electricity, which punishes the lower income earners and makes everything from health, to education to organic hemp hairshirts more expensive. Higher energy costs makes it harder for employers to employ people.

Because renewables are awful for the poor and reduce jobs for workers, we can expect the ABC will leave no stone unturned in accurately reporting the economic effect of renewables. Or not…

In a sane world we could expect a broadcaster serving the people  to relentlessly pursue poor government decisions — like, say, a plan to buy overpriced energy in the hope of changing global weather.


We’ll fight radical Islam for 100 years, says ex-army head Peter Leahy

AUSTRALIA needs to prepare for an increasingly savage, 100-year war against radical Islam that will be fought on home soil as well as foreign lands, the former head of the army, Peter Leahy, has warned.

Professor Leahy, a leading defence and strategic analyst, told The Weekend Australian the country was ill-prepared for the high cost of fighting a war that would be paid in “blood and treasure” and would require pre-emptive as well as reactive action.

“Australia is involved in the early stages of a war which is likely to last for the rest of the century,” he said. “We must be ready to protect ourselves and, where necessary, act pre-emptively to neutralise the evident threat. Get ready for a long war.”

Senior intelligence officials have moved to shore up public support for the Abbott government’s tough new security laws, including enhanced data-retention capabilities enabling agencies to track suspect computer usage.

Australian Security Intelligence Organisation director-general David Irvine said the proposed data laws, which require phone and internet companies to retain records for two years, were “absolutely crucial” to counter the jihadist terror threat.

The government’s security package also includes a $630 million funding boost to intelligence agencies and police to help prevent domestic terrorist attacks.

Professor Leahy — a former lieutenant general who ran the army for six years, from 2002-2008 — said the threat of radical Islam would require action on several fronts, including a strengthening of controls against biological, chemical and nuclear attacks.

It would also include greater protection for critical infra­structure and iconic targets against attack.

The Western withdrawal from Afghanistan did not constitute the end of the so-called war on terror, “nor, as was claimed by prime minister Julia Gillard, in January 2013, a transition from the 9/11 decade”, he said.

Michael Krause, a former senior Australian Army officer res­ponsible for planning the coalition campaign in Afghanistan, said he agreed “absolutely” with Professor Leahy. “I have seen these people,” the retired major general said.

“I know how they think. I know how they fight. There is no compromise possible.

“These long wars require long commitment to outlast radical ideas and provide viable, meaningful alternatives which require a whole-of-government response, rather than assuming the military can or should do it all.’’

Professor Leahy said politicians needed to “develop an honest and frank dialogue” with the Australian public.

“They should advance a narrative that explains that radical Islam­ism and the terrorism it breeds at home and abroad will remain a significant threat for the long term, it will require considerable effort, the expenditure of blood and treasure and it will, of necessity, restrict our rights and liberties,” he said.

Professor Leahy is the director of Canberra University’s National Security Institute and part of the Abbott government’s team carrying out a comprehensive review of Defence.

He said radical Islamists intent on a new world order were already a threat to the survival of nations in the Middle East and Africa.

If the declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq survived, bases would be established there for attacks on the West and that would embolden “home grown” radicals to attempt attacks in Australia. Military action would be needed to eliminate the threat.

Radicals saw the West as “the far enemy” and they were undoubtedly planning more attacks in Australia. Senior intelligence believes the view that the threat posed by radical Islam would pass was “optimistic”.

Mr Irvine, who took the unusual step of speaking to the media yesterday, said the current terrorism threat level of “medium” meant that a terrorism “event” in Australia was likely.

“Where our volume of work has increased is that this event could occur in a dozen different places now, whereas before it was in a small, refined area,” he said.

Professor Leahy said that when Australia did choose to be involved its aims must be measured and realistic, with nations under the greatest threat from radical Islamists supported while care was taken not to inflame local tensions.

The solution had to come from within the Muslim world, which so far seemed disinclined or unable to imagine a path to peace.

Professor Leahy said the threat was likely to worsen as radicals returned from overseas and the internet dumped Islamist propaganda into Australian
living rooms.

Some efforts at deradicalisation had begun but a much greater effort must be made to engage Muslim clerics and Islamic thought leaders to debunk radical ideologies being offered to young Australians.

“Dual nationality must be reviewed and, where appropriate, terrorists and their sympathisers either expelled from Australia or denied re-entry,” he said.

Professor Leahy said Australia must support moderate nations with radical Islamist problems, such as Indonesia and The Philippines.


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