October 1st, 2003


Graduate Top-Up fees

Mr Clarke said it was "reasonable and fair to ask graduates to contribute a proportion of the costs of the university education which they benefit from for the rest of their life".

But UCL students said this overlooked the fact that society needed educated professionals.

"Everyone needs doctors and even stockbrokers and so on because the wealth of our economy feeds down to everyone," said European, Social and Political Science student Mark Harper.

Yes, society does need those people, which is why they get paid a darn sight more than most.

I'm going to take a somewhat contentious position and say that I think that the top-up fees are actually perfectly reasonable. Under the new system students are going to pay nothing whatsoever in advance, and only start paying back their loans once they are earning £15k a year.

I don't have anything against people going to university to spend 4 years finding themselves, I just object to me paying for it. Hopefully this will dissuade people from going to university unless they actually want to, and possibly even persuade people to take degrees that they believe will be useful to them.

I _do_ object to the American system which leaves people in debt while they're still at university, but a system that charges effectively no interest and only asks you to pay back the loans when you can afford to do so seems to be the best solution.

Red Eyes

From the desk of Warren Ellis:

She used to have eyes I could lose myself in, and then she had
them replaced with laser pointers. Little red dots jumping up and
down on the bedroom wall as I took her from behind. I could live
with that until she had the animal voice import. The cheetah
purring was okay, but the dingo noises just killed the mood. The
combination of the red eyes and the gorilla sounds when she jerked
off was horrible. A few weeks later, things were moving down there
that shouldn't have. Don't be scared, she said, as stuff pumped
like organ stops under her skin. Something extended itself and
waved at me.
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I don't have a religious background.

I mean, sure, go back two generations and you'll find one, but go back two generations and 99% of the population was religious. We're pretty much the first generation where a belief in God isn't assumed.

I have a materialistic worldview. Which is to say that I don't tend to believe in the supernatural. Which isn’t to say that I'm 100% sure that there are not beings out there with capabilities beyond our own, or that telepathy is completely impossible, but that if these things exist, they are part of nature and equally subject to investigation and analysis as electromagnetic waves and subatomic particles.

I am, in fact, happy to believe in a wide variety of things, so long as I am given a reason to do so. What I find impossible is faith. Most people seem to be happy to accept things on faith. When indoctrinated at an early enough age, they are happy to stick with that set of beliefs fairly indefinitely. This is evidenced by the number of people whose religion throughout their lives is the one which they happened to be born into.

When I've evinced a lack of belief in ghosts before, I've had people ask me why I need proof, why I can't just believe. From my side of things, this seems very odd - if I went around believing in things without at least some proof, then I'd have a vast collection of beliefs, very few of them being compatible with each other. I have a sceptical outlook; not cynical, which looks down upon other things, but sceptical, where I want to question them.

Which leads, of course, into why I don't demand proof for the existence of, say, Korea. After all, I've never seen that. And the answer there is that on weighing up the existence of places _like_ Korea, and the chances of a conspiracy managing to invent a wholly fictional country and keep that fact secret long term, it seems extremely likely that it exists.

But, I hear you cry, many, many people claim that ghosts exist, so why take the word of these Korean-believers, but not of those who believe in ghosts? The difference being that I could buy a plane ticket tomorrow and investigate the existence of Korea myself. The investigation of Korea is something that is open to all and (barring plane crashes) bound to succeed, whereas when many people have investigated the existence of ghosts they have had no success at all, and those people that have announced success have not been able to describe their methods in such a way as to allow others to do likewise.

One of the the thing that scientists usually do very well (and are supposed to do all the time, if only they weren't so darned human) is to check up on each other. When a scientist makes an announcement, particularly one of a surprising breakthrough, other scientists immediately try to replicate the experiment in order to confirm (or deny) it. When Pons and Fleischmann announced their cold-fusion breakthrough several other labs immediately tried to follow their methodology. When they announced their failure to achieve the same results the original announcement was immediately discredited.

The fact that declarations are not taken at face value, but are instead replicated, analysed and thoroughly investigated makes the results more trustworthy. Over long periods those theories which have no basis in fact are slowly disproved, those that work become more accepted. The body of knowledge can never be completed, because all new work is constantly in a state of dispute, and even accepted models can eventually be overthrown when a deeper understanding is found.

Most people seem to be unhappy about this lack of certainty. They find the idea that they cannot be told "The Answer" or have access to "The Truth" very unsettling. The idea that if you just have a little faith in what you're told, you can have the inner peace that comes with knowing that you know the absolute truth and the final answer to all of your questions is very appealing. Sadly, I just can't believe these explanations without thought or question, no matter how nice it would be to do so. No matter how much I want to believe, my scepticism won't let me.

Mindset 2007

The graduating class of 2007 has just started. In case you wonder what it's like being born in 1985, here's a few hints:

3. Iraq has always been a problem.

4. “Ctrl + Alt + Del” is as basic as “ABC.”

5. Paul Newman has always made salad dressing.

11. There has always been a screening test for AIDS.

12. Gas has always been unleaded.

20. Computers have always fit in their backpacks.

21. Datsuns have never been made.

22. They have never gotten excited over a telegram, a long distance call, or a fax.

23. The Osmonds are just talk show hosts.

28. Stores have always had scanners at the checkout.

32. They have always had a PIN number.

33. Banana Republic has always been a store, not a puppet government in Latin America.

38. They have always been able to fly Virgin Atlantic.

39. There have never been dress codes in restaurants.

whole list here

Body Image

Cheers to moniqueleight for pointing me to a post by anthologie on body image problems. It contains this fantastic quote:

"When I lost weight, [my dad] was very happy with me, and when I gained weight, i became invisible to him. And this taught me: if you are thin, you are loveable. And I wanted to be loveable. So, from the age of 10 I became anorexic and then bulemic, and stayed that way for about 20 years, until one day, I just said, 'Hey, what if this is it? What if this is just what I look like and nothing I can do changes that? How much time would I save if I stopped taking that extra second every time I look in the mirror to call myself a big fat fuck? How much time would I save? How much time would I save if I just walked by a plate glass window without sucking in my gut and throwing back my shoulders?' And it turns out, I save about 92 minutes a week. I can take a pottery class. But more importantly, I pulled myself out of the game."

and this from the actual post:

Years ago, I remember watching a program about supermodels in which Cindy Crawford and others were participating in a panel on teens and self-esteem issues. She said it was difficult to get across to people that not everyone is expected to look like a supermodel, and that much of what we see in fashion magazines is fake -- makeup, wardrobe, airbrushing. The comment she said that stayed with me was: "Even I don't wake up looking like Cindy Crawford in the morning." I thought: if it takes that much work to make a supermodel look like a supermodel, then the rest of us should stop trying. It's a ridiculous and unattainable ideal, including (sometimes) for those who wear that mask.

The whole thing is worth reading.