Thursday, 14 April 2016

Link Round-Up

Looking through the news, I saw a surprising number of stories I could write posts on.  Rather than do them all justice, however, I'm just going to through a list of links together with a couple of sentences of commentary.

Privatised Social Service Fails

From the Guardian, we hear of systemic failures with the privatisation of the NHS ambulance service:
Hundreds of patients including people with cancer and kidney failure have missed important appointments for treatment because ambulances did not arrive to take them to hospital, after privatisation of NHS non-urgent transport services in Sussex this month.
Some elderly patients have had to wait more than five hours for ambulances and been stuck at hospital for long periods after their appointments because the transport service, now run by the private firm Coperforma, has proved so unreliable.
Patients, relatives, NHS bodies and local MPs have severely criticised the service’s performance, and a trade union representing ambulance crews said it was an “absolute shambles”. The NHS organisations that awarded the four-year, £63.5m contract have now launched an investigation.
I'm shocked, shocked I tell you to hear that privatising an important public service has lead to a drop in quality.  It's never happened before, except for all those times that it has.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Amusing American Primary

By which I mean the Democratic one; the Republican side is just scary.

After Sanders lost all five states last week, he faced more calls to drop out of the race.  There's a lot of things in that statement alone that amuse me.  One is that in Illinois, Clinton and Sanders split the delegates equally; while in Missouri, Clinton won one extra delegate on the basis of 1500 votes1.  A small shift in those two elections, and there'd probably be a fair bit speculation about a Sanders comeback, for no real change in the status of the election.

Monday, 21 March 2016

The Iain Duncan Smith Saga

The fallout of the budget took an unexpected turn on Friday, when work and pensions secretary (and former leader of the opposition) Iain Duncan Smith resigned.  His stated reasons were in opposition to the continued cuts to social services that have been criticised by many, including me.  The result has been a vicious exchange between Duncan Smith and George Osbourne that, given the former's tenure as party leader, reminds me of the famous quote that being attacked by Geoffrey Howe was "like being savaged by a dead sheep".

Of course, Howe ended up bringing Thatcher down, which makes that an interesting comparison.

The other thing of note is whether Duncan Smith is being entirely honest.  Some have suggested that this is just a front, and his real disagreement is over Europe.  And it's not as if he's been opposed to cuts before, although the decision to spend £1.6 billion in corporate administration, to save £1 billion in welfare payments, suggests that perhaps he does object to having to spend less.

Moriond and 750 GeV Diphotons

So the big news of the week is that we've just had Moriond.  CMS presented a reanalysis of their 13 TeV data on the diphoton excess; this included some additional data taken with zero magnetic field, equivalent to a 10% improvement.  I heard that ATLAS pulled out of presenting a new analysis, though that's not obvious from their talk.  CMS's new result, including 8 TeV data, has a 3.4σ local significance for the excess (up from about 2.4σ).  The rumour I heard for ATLAS was 4.7σ local!!  Which may be why the pulled out, that they got a significance too high for them to put faith in it.
ATLAS (red) and CMS (blue) results, from Strumia's Moriond talk

Friday, 18 March 2016

Corbyn's Labour Ahead in the Polls

For the first time since Jeremy Corbyn's surprise victory in the Labour leadership contest, an opinion poll has them above the Tories:

A new poll has put Labour ahead of the Conservatives for the first time since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader.
...
A recent poll by ICM had put the Conservatives and Labour level on 36 per cent, but some had thought this might have just been a one-off, freak result.
Sadly, as someone who likes Corbyn more than not, this is probably a feature of disaffection with the current government more than anything else.  The recent Budget announcement probably exacerbated discontent with the economy and government cuts.  And we still see large discontent with both parties, with a third of the electorate preferring someone else, most notably UKIP (spit).

Budget Time

Let's talk a little about British politics for a change.  The BBC decided the headline for their story on the new budget would be about the surprise inclusion of a "sugar tax" on soft drinks.  In a clear example of its left-wing bias, news that welfare spending would have to be cut to reduce deficits, but that there was certainly money to cut corporation tax and the top rate of capital gains, was buried in the middle of the article.

Of course, it's hard to judge what the impact of the budget will be on social inequality since last year the government decided to stop including that information.  But I'm sure there's no nefarious intent.  Why, neither Cameron nor Osborne has a mustache to twirl!  Plus, as the Hufington Post pointed out, cutting corporation tax is a major example of fixing inequality, allowing all companies to pay closer to what Google does.