Friday, 4 March 2011

Even Educated Fleas Have Got It...

I came home from work today and there waiting on the doormat, along with my weekly copy of Powerplay (a British ice hockey magazine) and the new Elbow album, was a leaflet:

It turns out that it is the AV voting system (apologies for the poor quality pics, I couldn't find my camera and had to take them on my phone).

Yes, this was a leaflet telling me to say No to AV when the referendum takes place…erm, when is it…let me have a look, surely this leaflet will tell me…ah, here we are, it says “next May”. This is early then, they can’t mean May 2011, or the leaflet would say “this May”, wouldn’t it? Hang on, let me have a look on google or something. Oh, it’s May 5th this year is it? Well then the leaflet’s wrong and misleading there then.

This wrong and misleading tone is kept throughout the whole leaflet. Here’s some more examples of the twaddle it contains, and my thoughts on that twaddle (which are in italics).

Why Our Current System Works

It creates strong governments – The system creates strong accountable governments and means that coalitions are less common, with no horse-trading behind the scenes.

Granted, but look at some of the decisions our last strong government made, from civil liberties to the war in Iraq. Look at some of the decisions made by this coalition government - imagine what wholesale changes the Conservatives could be doing if they actually had a mandate to govern. Strong government does not mean correct government, hopefully now the Lib Dems have seen how the public thinks of them in the Barnsley Central by-election, they may start instigating the checks and balances on the Tories that most of us that voted for them hoped they would be.

2) It's simple to understand - Each person votes for the candidate that they support and the candidate that they support and the candidate with the most votes is declared the winner.

AV isn't exactly
A Brief History of Time you know. Who do you support? Mark them with a 1 then. Who would you support if your first choice is eliminated? Put a 2 next to their name then. And so on.

3) It excludes extremist parties - Parties such as the BNP have never been able to get enough support in a single constituency to have one of their candidates elected as an MP.

Well it's probably likely that these minority parties will continue not having enough support to get an MP. AV is not PR. I don't support the BNP by any stretch of the imagination, but the solution to diluting their influence is to challenge what they stand for, not to maintain an electoral system that gives them next to no chance.

4) It's cheap - Staying with our current system means we will not need to spend money on expensive vote counting machines.

Anything looks cheap when you're comparing it to figures you've pulled out of your arse.

5) It's fair - One person, one vote - unlike AV, where supporters of minority parties end up getting multiple votes.

So do supporters of major parties. If necessary,
AV takes up a series of rounds. Everyone gets one vote per round. If your chosen candidate is eliminated, your vote is transferred to your next preference candidate. If your candidate isn't eliminated, your vote is for that candidate in the next round. Everyone gets the same amount of votes, unless you choose to only vote for one candidate - then your vote is discarded if that candidate is eliminated.

6) It's the most widely used system in the world - People all over the world have copied our tried and tested system. It's used in Canada, India and the USA among many others.

So what? So those countries haven't had electoral reform either. Although if you want to get picky, India also uses
STV for election to it's Upper House. Even in the UK, the majority of elections don't use First Past the Post anyway.

7) It's quick and easy to count - Because of its relative simplicity, our current system is easier and quicker to count than the AV system, which can take some time.

And in that rush to get a quick result, mistakes can be made. The country survived for 5 days without a government last May, so I don't see the harm in waiting for results to come through.

The winner should be the winner There's a very simple principle in politics and governments - whoever gets the most votes wins. It's wrong that the person who came second or third can overtake the person with the most votes and be allowed to win because the second and third choices of the little parties are counted again. Imagine applying the same principle at the Olympic games and giving the gold medal to the person who came in third!

This is a shit analogy. As I've said, the AV system is, if necessary, made up of rounds of counts, so if you're going to have an olympics analogy (because next year is of course olympic year and so everything must be tied in to the olympics, the same as every advert has a football theme whenever there's a world cup), the modern pentathlon is probably the best event to compare it to, where the person with the best score after five rounds is the gold medal winner.

AV would have no effect on safe seats - In the 2010 UK General Election, over a third of MPs were elected with more than half of all votes cast. If the AV system were to be adopted, second and third choice votes in these seats would never be counted. This supposedly 'nationwide' reform will have absolutely no effect for the 15 million people living in these constituencies.

So that's two-thirds of constituencies where AV would come into play then? With an effect on around 45 million people? The above is a perfectly valid argument for PR, but not for First Past the Post.

The leaflet also mentions only 3 countries currently use AV, one of which it says is Fiji, which has "had enough of AV and (is) about to ditch it. Seeing as Fiji had a military coup in 2006, and hasn't had an election since, they may have more pressing things on their minds.

The rest of the leaflet pretty much repeats the arguments above in a slightly re-worded form, so I'm not going to repeat my arguments again. If you've received the same leaflet and you're thinking "ah, but what about this?", please leave me a comment. There probably is a decent debate worth having on voting reform, but while half-truths like this, and false dichotomies like the ones Steven Baxter has covered, are presented, the No to AV group don't seem interested in having it.

Friday, 14 January 2011

David Cameron always reads his reports...

I’m a bit late with this, but I was reading through Lord Young’s report on Health & Safety today and found this. In David Cameron’s foreword to the report, he says:
"A damaging compensation culture has arisen, as if people can absolve themselves
from any personal responsibility for their own actions, with the spectre of
lawyers only too willing to pounce with a claim for damages on the slightest
If you go on to read the part of the report that deals with compensation claims, you find this statement from Lord Young:
"The problem of the compensation culture prevalent in society today is, however,
one of perception rather than reality”
Mind you, Lord Young also says “I have agreed with the Prime Minister that I will continue in my role to deliver all the reforms identified as being necessary”, and we all know what happened there…

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

15 Albums I've Played to Death

You may have noticed I've not exactly been too proficient with the blogging this year. Over the past few months I've been thinking about expanding the remit of the blog, as when I tend to get ideas for blogposts they tend to be a little way away from the stuff I've done in the past. One thing I want to do in particular is blog a bit more about music. Hopefully you should start to see a few more posts appearing on here for now on. Whether this is a good idea, given I'm about to start a nine-month OU course, remains to be seen. But I'll start with this and see how we go.

This has been a meme on a few blogs I've read today - 15 albums I've played to death. No making complicated lists with dozens of options and hours of agonising, just write down the 15 that come to you. So, although not in any particular order, here we go:

1) Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures I got into Joy Division during Sixth Form, although this was about 18 years after Ian Curtis killed himself. The sparseness of the recording drew me in, and the lyrics were perfect for my 17 year old, slightly melancholy self. Amazing to think that there was just 13 months between the release of this and...

2) Joy Division - Closer "Here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders", goes the often-quoted lyric from Decades. This is children becoming men stuff, Ian Curtis was just 22-23 when recording the album, but had to cope with being a husband, a father, an adulterer, a rock star, and an epileptic. His lyrics were his way of trying juggle all this, and they are magnificent. The music as well is fantastic, Colony and A Means to an End standing out for me in particular.

3) Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Levez Vos Skinny Wrists Comme Antennas To Heaven I'm never entirely sure where to put that exclamation mark. Pretty much an instrumental album, unless you count field recordings of shopping mall announcements, children singing in French, and a man pining for the glory days of Coney Island as vocals. The absolute pinnacle of the post-rock genre, this is at turns menacing, joyous, saddening, and breathtaking. Recently reunited, I managed to get a ticket to see them in December, and I cannot fucking wait.

4) Slowdive - Just For A Day Recently it looks like Slowdive are getting reappraised, which is great because more people need to hear their slow, ethereal beauty. Most Slowdive fans prefer Souvlaki, but this record holds more memories for me as I played it pretty much once a week throughout my first year at Uni, so its shimmering guitars and whispered vocals are linked to a lot of memories I hold dear.The Cherry Red reissue of this contains a disc with their EP tracks on, which makes it well worth getting for extra tracks like Avalyn and Morningrise.

5) My Bloody Valentine - Loveless Bought on the same day as Just For A Day, and although both are lumped in to the whole "shoegazing" thing, for me they're two different sides of that coin. Loveless is the hard, spiky, noisy cousin of Just For A Day, and one of the few albums where I genuinely thought "What on Earth is this?" when I put it on. I can listen to it and still find stuff I hadn't noticed before, so packed are the tracks, To Here Knows When especially.

6) Oasis - Definitely Maybe I got into all of the above albums a little while after they were released (ranging from 1 year late to Levez... to some 18 years for Unknown Pleasures), but here is one I got in on the ground floor with. For all its sins (and boy there were some... Northern Uproar, Heavy Stereo...) Britpop was my movement, and it was incredibly exciting to be 14/15 and see so many bands come through with albums that defined my life at the time. One of them was Definitely Maybe. Literally everyone in my year at school owned this and (What's The Story) Morning Glory, even the kids that were more into hip-hop and dance music.

7) Pulp - Different Class Not as many people at school owned this one, but then that wasn't the point of Different Class. Not being one of the coolest at school (I know, you can't believe it can you), I took Mis-shapes to my heart, and for a couple of months at least really believed in it. The fact that this, in all it's spoken-bit-in-the-middle, slightly seedy, Daily Mirror-outraging glory, was actual, proper, pop music, made the autumn and winter of 1995 so much better. The first band I saw live as well.

8) Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid I'd been an Elbow fan since their first album, Asleep in the Back, and having listened to Guy Garvey's show on 6music for a while as well, and growing to love the guy, when Elbow won the Mercury Music Prize in 2008 it felt like my football team winning a Cup Final. It's an album I badgered my Fiancee with that year, giving her a copy and simply telling her "This is the best record that will be released this year". She's now pretty close to agreeing with me, which, given her ipod is mostly Fleetwood Mac and Glee, I class as a result. Obviously Grounds For Divorce and One Day Like This are the big tunes on it, although my personal favourite is The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver, which is one of the most majestic songs of the past five years.

9) The Auteurs - Now I'm A Cowboy A slow-burning masterpiece. I'm currently re-reading Luke Haines' Bad Vibes - Britpop and My Part in it's Downfall, and it's brilliant. If Haines ever decided against writing, acerbic, literate pop songs, he could do worse that start writing acerbic, literate books.

10) Belle & Sebastian - Boy With The Arab Strap I've been in two minds as to whether to go this or Tigermilk, but Simple Things won it for this. I remember just before this was released there was a massive hype about the band simply because they didn't do interviews, there were no pictures of them, and you hardly heard them on the radio. That and the tunes, which were fantastic. This album is no exception, it's perfect indiepop.

11) Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas Another band that had that "What the heck?" effect on me. Swirling guitars, great vocals, slightly indecipherable lyrics. They were so good at shunning publicity that, having got into them in 2000, I didn't see a picture of the band until about four years later. Of course now you just type the band's name into Google images and you get loads, but there was so much mystique and drawn veils on their album sleeves I didn't really want to know what they looked like - I was fine imagining the music had been beamed down directly from another planet, it sounded so unlike anything else.

12) The Pipettes - We Are The Pipettes Put simply, a bloody fun pop album. A direct descendent of the Shangri-La's, the Ronettes, the Marvelletes and all those great 50's girl groups.

13) The National - High Violet Only came out this year, but oh my what an album. I hope I won't experience it, but it feels like the perfect break-up album, especially Sorrow ("Sorrow hit me when I was young....I don't want to get over you"). At the moment, definitely my vote for album of the year.

14) Interpol - Turn On The Bright Lights When bands like Interpol, The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Hives et al broke, I was about 19, with a student loan, and a great independent record shop down the road (The now sadly departed Sonic Sounds in Lincoln's Stonebow) and a weekly indie night at clubs both at Uni and at home in Essex. God knows how much I spunked on records, but of the big (at least to the NME) names of the time, this is the album I turn back to the most. I remember driving out of a deserted Reading Festival car park with NYC on the stereo, and it felt like I was in the final credits of some incredibly earnest European film.

15) Ladytron - Witching Hour In any sane world Ladytron would be massive. How Destroy Everything You Touch didn't go straight to number 1 and stay there for three years solid is one of the mysteries of the age. It's great - a pounding, Pet Shop Boys meets Wagner epic. The album is a great mix of Goldfrapp and ooh, I don't know, Ride? Or maybe Lush. Either way it's stunning.

For a Spotify playlist of 14 of these albums (Unfortunately Levez Vos Skinny Wrists Comme Antennas to Heaven isn't available) click here.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

2 Teams Good, 8 Legs Better

Paul the Octopus has been causing quite a stir in the press, having correctly predicted the outcome of all of Germany's World Cup games. I've been doing a bit of thinking and I don't think it's as unlikely as it seems - in fact I believe the odds may be as low as 1/10.

Although in each group game the probability of him picking the winner is 1/3 (although Paul wasn't (as far as I know) given the opportunity to pick a draw, the possibility of there being a draw still remained), and each knockout game the probability is 2/1, that doesn't mean that the probability of Paul guessing all the games correctly so far is 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/2 x 1/2 x 1/2, because the possibility of Paul picking the winner of one game relies on him getting the previous guess correct. So, for example, if he had guessed the result of the 1st knockout game wrongly, he wouldn't have got the chance to guess the winner of the Quarter-Final. So the options of what he could have done are (what Paul actually did is in bold):

Guessed first game correctly
Guessed first game wrongly (Germany Lose)
Guessed first game wrongly (Germany Draw)
Guessed 2 correctly
Guessed first correctly, second wrongly (Germany Win)
Guessed first correctly, second wrongly (Germany Draw)
Guessed 3 correctly
Guessed 2 games correctly, third wrongly (Germany Lose)
Guessed 2 games correctly, third wrongly (Germany Draw)
Guessed 4 correctly
Guessed 3 correctly, fourth wrongly
Guessed 5 correctly
Guessed 4 correctly, fifth wrongly
Guessed 6 correctly
Guessed 5 correctly, sixth wrongly

So he has had 6 outcomes from a possible 15. At first, I thought that 6/15, or 2/5, were the odds, but if at any point Paul has got all his guesses right, he will guess the forthcoming game, so any previous outcome involving him getting them all right can be discarded. This leaves:

Guessed first game wrongly (Germany Lose)
Guessed first game wrongly (Germany Draw)
Guessed first correctly, second wrongly (Germany Win)
Guessed first correctly, second wrongly (Germany Draw)
Guessed 2 correctly, third wrongly (Germany Lose)
Guessed 2 correctly, third wrongly (Germany Draw)
Guessed 3 correctly, fourth wrongly
Guessed 4 correctly, fifth wrongly
Guessed 5 correctly, sixth wrongly
Guessed all six games correctly

Which gives us 1 in 10. Am I barking up the wrong tree here?

Saturday, 16 January 2010

How to Deceive Your Fans in One Easy Step

No doubt you all know of the furore over the Mail on Sunday and Sunday Telegraph reporting that IOSH (the Chartered body for health and safety professionals) advice over clearing snow from your drive. If you don’t, Anton Vowl and uksceptic cover it well.

As you can see on Anton’s first post, Richard Madeley sent forth the notion that this was another case of health and safety gone mad. When IOSH printed a correction on their site, I tweeted the link to Richard, asking him:

@richardm56 Any chance you could tell your followers that the Mail & Telegraph got it wrong over gritting? Ta.

I didn’t hear anything from him (not that I was really expecting it) and he didn’t tweet anything about how the papers had got it wrong. To be fair to him, he has got over 11,000 followers, so probably gets a number of comments a day. He may have missed it. So on Wednesday I tried again:

@Richardm56 Richard, can you tell your followers that the gritting stories were wrong please? Thanks.
Again, nothing from his twitter feed, except some nonsense about him taking his Christmas tree down a week late. So on Thursday, I tried another tack:

Asked @Richardm56 twice if he can tweet the correct facts re Nowt from him. Obviously likes spreading ignorance.
This antagonistic post didn’t raise anything either. Now, this isn’t supposed to be a post about how I can’t get a reaction from a celebrity, but some clarification from him would be nice. As I said earlier, Richard Madeley has over 11,000 followers. The Richard and Judy book club can propel books to the top of the bestseller lists. A lot of people listen to him. If he’s propagating myths, then I believe he has a responsibility to also let people know when he is wrong. Other people on Twitter are only to happy to issue corrections when they have got something wrong, Graham Linehan for example.

In a way, it’s not really about Richard Madeley either. All sorts of celebs make stupid claims that are taken as read by people. Look at Jenny McCarthy and the furore over her anti-vaccination claims. Imagine if someone like Robert Pattison or Jonas Brothers came out with something like that – I’m willing to bet that the vaccination rates amongst teenage girls would fall dramatically. If you know that what you say will be read by thousands of people, surely you have a responsibility to make sure what you are saying is correct? This is why promoting critical thinking is important - so people know that they shouldn't just trust what they read in the papers, or what somebody else tells them, but they should investigate these claims, and make up their own minds.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Conkers Head sends readers goggle-eyed

An interesting piece in the Comment is Free part of the Guardian today, as Shaun Halfpenny, head of Cummersdale Primary School in Carlisle, tells the truth about the "Schoolchildren wear goggles to play conkers" story that, frankly, spawned a monster. Mr Halfpenny, it turns out, was the man who initiated the wearing of goggles whilst playing conkers. Unfortunately, thanks to some digging by Guardian readers, developed in the comments section, it turns out that what he's actually writing is, at best, poorly remembered, and at worst an attempt to completely revise the whole history of the event.

In the Guardian piece, Mr Halfpenny says "It was a child who actually asked if they could wear goggles". This, however, is not what was reported at the time. The BBC covered the story by quoting Mr Halfpenny as saying "
I said they would have to wear goggles to play, mainly because they could get bits of conker in the eye. They thought it was a great idea."The Cumberland News also reported that "Mr Halfpenny said he had no choice because of health and safety rules...'The children asked to play conkers in school and I thought it would be really mean if I said no. These days you cannot be too careful, especially when health and safety inspectors are watching.'"

"What are they doing?" "They're playing conkers, without wearing goggles." "Fuck it, that's too dangerous. We're going in."

The BBC also quotes Mr Halfpenny as saying "It's just being sensible", to which the only correct reply is "No it fucking isn't". A few people have said to me "Oh, Health and Safety is just common sense", which is fine, until you spend 30 seconds thinking of some of the idiotic things your workmates do, and then realise that you may have to rely on their "common sense".

The thing that really baffles me about this Guardian piece though is that after having kids wear goggles, Mr Halfpenny then went to the media and told them about it. The "Health and Safety has gone completely over the top" attitude was well underway by then, as shown by this article by Jeremy Clarkson. How the Head didn't realise that the story was going to run and run is frankly, remarkable. It seems in this case, the Head didn't use his, well, head.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Tories go after health and safety, brick by brick

In the time that has passed since I last updated this blog (apologies for that), I turned 28. Time to start getting respectable, stop dressing like a student and acting like a proper grown-up and everything. Well, no. As exhibited by my choice of advent calender, which this year is Lego Pirates (I suppose technically the fact I have an advent calender at all is really an indication that I haven't really grown up yet, but there you go). Honestly, it's great, you get a few bits of Lego each day that make up a character or some Pirate furniture or something. Behind the first window was a cheery Pirate captain. I noticed that the stud at the top of the head of the character was open, presumably so that if a child swallowed it, they wouldn't choke (as much) on it as air would pass through the head. I mentioned this at work, which was obviously a mistake, as people started off on the "Oh, how did we survive all when we were kids" bollocks, before someone launched into an anecdote about how they were in a shop that wasn't allowing anyone under the age of 21 to buy crackers because there's a bit of gunpowder in them and how health and safety has gone too far nowadays. I said it was probably something that the shop had bought in itself, and wasn't part of actual law, a bit like when it was claimed that "Health and Safety" (by which most people mean the Health and Safety Executive) had banned kids in school playing conkers, when that hadn't happened and it was the head of one school that had made children wear goggles when playing conkers until someone had said to him "Don't you think that's a bit daft?" Unfortunately it seemed like the only words of my explanation my work colleagues heard were "goggles" and "conkers" and they went away now believing that all schools had to put kids in some sort of protective coccoon before they went outside, and I was left banging my head against my desk in frustration (metaphorically speaking, obviously).

With ignorance like that, it's no wonder newspapers spray the "Health and Safety gone mad" routine all over their print and web editions. It's so much easier to believe the lie or exageration than to actually find out the truth. What's even more depressing is that the Tories have swallowed all those lies and are now using them to try and win votes. The anecdotes used by Cameron in his speech (and, as uksceptic once said to me, "remember, anecdotes ain't worth shit) are a mixture of half-truths and some rare, slightly over-officious people. But just because a few people are a bit over the top shouldn't taint the whole health and safety industry - you wouldn't say that the guy that you got in to do your bathroom, who made a right mess of it is an example of "plumbing gone mad".

Cameron goes on to say:

The Health and Safety Executive enforces 202 statutory instruments – or regulations: two thirds of these were passed in the ninety-nine years before Labour came to power...

...a third of them in the twelve years since.

Some of these over-officious, bereaucratic nonsense regulations bought are to do with (list from the IOSH website):

Control of asbestos
Decommissioning of nuclear reactors
Offshore safety
Control of lead
Pipelines safety
Control of major accident hazards
Control of noise at work
Export/import of dangerous chemicals

According to IOSH, 180 people died last year in accidents at work. 180. The Health and Safety Executive lists some of them here. That is the real work of the HSE, preventing those deaths and injuries that are all too easy to stop. But Cameron has decided to focus instead on lies and media exaggeration instead.