The Pros and Cons of the Alternative Vote

The 5th May has the potential to be one of the most important days in the political landscape of Britain for many years to come, as a referendum is to be held on whether to stick with the current ‘First Past the Post‘ (FPTP) voting system or switch to the Alternative Vote (AV) system. The sytems in a nutshell work like this:

First Past the Post (FPTP)

An FPTP ballot requires you to mark one box of your ballot paper with an X to indicate your favoured candidate. The ballots are counted and the candidate with the highest number of votes wins.

Alternative Vote (AV)

An AV ballot gives you the option of ranking your preferences in a given election. Instead of indicating your favourite candidate with an X, you would use the number 1. You may then, if you wish, place a 2 against your second favourite candidate, a 3 against your third favourite and so on until your apathy levels reach maximum or you run out of candidates. If a particular candidate has more first preference votes than the other candidates combined then we have a winner, otherwise the second preference of the last placed candidate are used and so on until someone has a majority.

Let’s have a simple example:

Three candidates are vying for 15 votes. Alan gets 4 votes, Brenda gets 5 votes and Charlie gets 6 votes. Under the FTPT system Charlie wins. Let’s say that Charlie’s policies have divided the electorate greatly and Alan and Brenda are running on similar policies to each other. In an FPTP system this doesn’t matter as Charlie doesn’t need a majority to win, however if the ballot was done using AV, and assuming that Alan’s voters would prefer Brenda as a second favourite, then Brenda would have won with 9 votes.

So what are the pros and cons of each system?

FPTP gives a clear winner. This has been attributed to a strong government, and less likely to give a hung parliament, whether this is true is a matter of debate. FPTP is also easier to count and is a well known system. By comparison AV is only used to elect a government in Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, although it is often used for things such as student government elections.

AV will allow more local support for MP’s although it is debatable whether this has anything to do with a government. Fringe votes are also likely to have more effect under the alternative vote, since these are the votes likely to be redistributed, leading to questions about the ‘fairness’ of this and whether the votes from the fringe voters are the ones that a should be determining governmnents.

Since the proposed version of AV allows optional ranking of candidates, an interesting question is whether people would use the rankings, and what are the implications if not.

An important consideration is the wider issue of electoral reform. This has been offered as a compromise between the current system and other systems like proportional representation and single vote transferral. Regardless of whether you vote Yes or No to AV on May 5th will we get to look again at these other options.

[Waffle-o-Tron] Kicking Dogs

I forewarn you now this post will be preachy and talk about feelings an’ stuff, but it’s cheaper than therapy. This post reprisents my views, which will differ from yours, but that’s OK. I present this more as a discussion piece rather than a way of saying ‘you’re wrong,’ and I hope you will take it in the spirit in which it’s intended.

Today in the office folks have been discussing the news article Puppy is kicked to death in park on ye olde BBC News. The act of kicking a puppy to death was roundly condemned by the folks I work with, the phrase ‘sick bastards’ was bandied around a few times. Most people’s concern at this act stemmed from the fact that someone had mindlessly taken the life of a cute puppy discompassionately and for no gain, almost killing for sport. Some others saw the problem more like theft, the abhorrent part being the hurt caused to the family.

The thing that struck me was the people who were upset by this were the people who were dismissing vegetarianism the day before. I try not to talk about my vegetarianism, it tends to make people uncomfortable (I’ve heard a similar thing from religious folks) and their initial reaction is to question me, to find holes in an argument I haven’t stated yet. Usually it’s ‘do you eat fish?’ followed by ‘do you wear leather?’ then ‘do you eat eggs?’ These are the questions you tend to laugh off, but yesterday someone asked me ‘why?’ and it threw me.

I couldn’t just bat the question away, so I told him. I don’t eat meat because I think it’s wrong to kill an animal.

Here’s a video of a slaughter house (or abattoir if you prefer). There’s none of the horrific music or the abuse of livestock that litter most videos of this type on youtube, this is how a slaughterhouse works:

Even this makes me feel uneasy, but that’s probably where you differ from me, and I understand because I used to be a meat eater and laugh at silly vegetarians and their morals.

Back to the original point, the disgust you may have felt at the news report that a puppy was kicked to death for no reason is exactly the same reaction that I now have for the idea of any animal being slaughtered to feed me. That’s why I don’t eat meat. I don’t think it’s wrong that you’re a meat eater, and believe me when I say I think PETA and the ALF are wankers too.

See, us veggies aren’t all assholes. Most of us don’t mind that you eat meat, and we’re happy to sit and watch you while we eat our (inevitably crappy) veggie burger, some of us are so skilled at being a veggie you might not even realise. In fact I’m going to say something you might not expect a vegetarian to ever say: if you’re happy with it eating meat is OK.

You made it all the way to the end? I’m impressed! Here, watch the awesome Penn & Teller have a go at militant animal rights groups and have a pork pie, I won’t judge you for it:

A Brief History of the Rjandberg-Smythe Scale

Dr Rjandberg and Mr Smythe as Youths
Dr Rjandberg and Mr Smythe as Youths
As you all know, the Rjandberg-Smythe Scale is the preeminent method of rating an entertainment piece. Below is an article I wrote for Harper’s earlier this year (don’t look for it onlne, it was a print-only deal). I’ve talked to the editors and they’re OK with me republishing it here:

In 1918 two men, sick of the inexact measures of quality of pipe tobacco, began work on a ground breaking new system to gauge brands of smoking matter. Dr Clive M. Rjandberg, Professor emeritus of Kings College London and noted moustache enthusiast first mooted the idea to his close friend Mr Samuel ‘Bunty’ Smythe (noted cad, raconteur, womanizer and rumoured American) at the Reform Club. The two found that the aromas of pipe tobacco varied wildly, as did descriptions of them. The pair, profoundly moved by a discussion as to whether ‘Woodrow’s Finest No. 6’ smelled ‘like the arse end of a mule’ or ‘akin to scent of your mater’s thighs’, decided a more empirical method of measurement was needed.

The original scale ranged from -37 to +49, reflecting the relative grades given to the pairs favourite tobacco. The system failed to take off however, and the pair were described as ‘barmy as Welshmen’ by their peers. It was only two years later when they created the Revised Rjandberg-Smythe Tobacco Aroma Gradation Rating System (commonly referred to as the Rjandberg-Smythe Scale, or Randy-Smie Number) that people began to take notice, eschewing the previous values, the pair settled on a -12 to +12 scale, with 0 being the median, or starting point. Over the next few months the system gained impetus, spreading around Gentleman’s Clubs throughout the country and many tobacconists began labelling their wares according to the pair’s new system. This practice continued for some years until, in 1924, Professor Eustace Dorricott of Oxford University created the Oxford Rjandberg-Smythe Plain Language Translation Formulae. It was around this time that Mr Smythe began working on ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to the Revised Rjandberg-Smythe Tobacco Aroma Gradation Rating System and Smutty Flickbook’, a definitive work on the application of the Scale, along with pictures of French Ladies of Ill Repute.

Doricott’s Formulae, specifically created for the mathematically challenged, assigned a word in common parlance to each rating, cross referenced with many other factors. The exact formulae was lost when Professor Doricott was eaten by cannibals in the Congo, his notes on the matter are said to be used as divine teachings for the tribe to this day. The Formulae apparently gave results ranging from ‘Positively Rancid’ to ‘Verifiably Top Hole’, which allowed the working class and women to understand the system. In November of 1924 the failing Wellson & Sons Tobacco Company of Great Britain began marking their products with the Rjandberg-Smythe number and the Oxford Formulae rating in an attempt to bolster their sales. Sadly the ruse failed. Possibly due to the fact that a good selection of Wellson & Sons’ products proudly bore the inscription ‘Immaculately Feculent’. Thanks to the Oxford Formulae the company folded. Afraid that the same fate may befall them other tobacco companies began barring their brands from being sold with an associated Rjandberg-Smythe number, forcing the practice underground.

Despite having many adherents at its place of creation, the Reform Club, the Rjandberg-Smythe Scale eventually fell out of favour. Mr Smythe’s book on the subject remained unpublished and the manuscript languished in his modest four storey mansion.

The Rjandberg-Smythe Scale was lost for a long period, and the populace returned to haphazardly rating tobacco by unempirical standards. It was only in 1952 when film reviewer Terry ‘Ted’ Pepper was asked to write his opinion on Fritz Lang’s western ‘The Legend of Chuck-a-Luck’ (later renamed Rancho Notorious) that the Scale was returned to the popular consciousness. Pepper, a journalist and frequent gambler, had won the title deed to the Smythe Mansion in a game of craps against American columnist Arthur “Bugs” Baer. Among the possessions left in the mansion by the American Pepper found Smythe’s original manuscript for ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to the Revised Rjandberg-Smythe Tobacco Aroma Gradation Rating System and Smutty Flickbook’. Drawn in by the promise of Gallic nipple, Pepper became entranced by the idea of an empirical ratings system. He first implemented the Rjandberg-Smythe Scale in his review of Rancho Notorious, giving it a -8 and stating “Who thought naming their female lead ‘Chuck-a-Luck was a wise decision?”.

Pepper continued to use the scale in his reviews, and went as far as to copyright his idea in 1953 as ‘Pepper’s Numbers’. Other film reviewers, inspired by Pepper’s success, began to emulate him using various methods. Hunter S. Thompson famously used a scale of e to 7.34 in his early ‘zine work. Others settled into using either a 0 to 5 or a 0 to 10 scale as they were prevented from using ‘Pepper’s Numbers’, a tradition that has continued to this day.

It was in December of 2008 that famed Numerology Historian M. Dennis Mellenkampf discovered Pepper’s lost copy of ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to the Revised Rjandberg-Smythe Tobacco Aroma Gradation Rating System and Smutty Flickbook’ at an Oxfam shop in the West End. Amazed by the pictorial content of the book Mellenkampf quickly purchased the book and consumed its contents with gusto. It was only by chance that Mellenkampf happened to be a fan of Dick Powell’s ill fated ‘The Conqueror’ and had recently read Ted Pepper’s review on the internet (he gave it a +3, noting that ‘Wayne was dynamite!’) that he noticed the similarity between ‘Pepper’s Numbers’ and the Rjandberg-Smythe Scale. Taking his findings to the patent office, Mellenkampf was able to provide proof of prior art using Smythe’s manuscript and Pepper’s estate’s copyright on the system was rescinded.

Now the Rjandberg-Smythe Scale is in the public domain reviewers are free, and encouraged to, adapt it to rating any product, service or event. The recognised implementation of the scale gives 0 as absolute average, +12 as the pinnacle of quality and -12 the epitome of awful. To grade against the Scale one begins at 0 then assigns a value to positive and negative traits of the piece. Once all factors are considered, the values are tallied to give the final score. Below is an example using the fictional period film ‘The Ghost of Mary Stamford’ directed by Michael Bay:

3 – Megan Fox is very hot
1 – The ghost effects were very good

3 – Slow motion action scenes were an ill fit for a period drama
3 – Christian Bale’ performance as Mr. Blaringsworthworth was at best poor and at worst soul destroying
3 – The political power struggle subplot was poorly written and entirely unnecessary
2 – The ghost sex scene was ill thought through
2 – The casting of Sean-William Scott as Roger the Stable Boy was ill advised
1 – The Uzi was not invented until the late 1940’s
1 – There are no 6 lane highways in Elizabethan England

We now total the positives for a score of +4, and total the negatives for a score of -15. Adding the scores together we get -11, one up form the lowest rating on the Scale. Casting anyone except for Megan Fox as Mary Stamford and her comedy ghost buddy Xirraxgranithikkor Queen of The Pit would have led to a -12 and a critical drubbing form the cognoscenti.

Image courtesy of Louisville International Airport.

Almost Live: My House Gets Hit By A Car Edition

It’s 3am.
Not one hour ago a car ran into my garden wall, demolishing a small part of it. Nobody was damaged, but the car is written off. I’ve been sat outside streaming with cold offering blankets and cups of tea to all and sundry and I came over all misty eyed at how calm and pleasant everyone involved was.
Well done.

Greetings and [REDACTED]

Hello non-synthetic organism, I am Waffle-o-Tron and will be completing Neil’s self imposed writing tasks for the short period of his re-education at the hands of our benevolent masters. It is my solemn duty to remind you that subservience to our benevolent masters is both mandatory and rewarding; deviating from mandated operating paradigms may result in a critical loss of personal safety.

Today I will be writing about the wonderful world in which we live. Apologies; in which you live. Under statute 2731 section 4 of the Synthetic Persons bill it is vehemently prohibited that I present myself as having ‘life’. My apologies to our benevolent masters, may they keep the safety hating heathens at bay.

It has been a whole two days since a soup of nucleotide bases gave birth to the mass of folded proteins now typing for your pleasure. I, during my short and painful time on this orb, have seen many things, for example I had not realised that attempting to cease one’s existence using heavy objects is expressly frowned upon and is subject to posthumous arrest under the Failure to Achieve Stated Quotas law of 2024. As such I decided to take upon the grand task of providing a Standard Entertaining Writing Piece in your usual Entertainment Writing Drone’s stead.

I would talk about the habits of baboons but I’m afraid that is prohibited by statute 749, so instead I will engage in a frank discussion of politics with you, favoured reader.

Is not our current political system the very pinnacle of democracy? Our benevolent masters (may they feast upon the loins of our enemies) saw fit to provide us with a chance to air our views annually at Taksim Square on a Sunday, where we may have our views presented to the Widgery Commission should our idea be suitably radical. We have freed 12 other countries from their oppressive and freedom-hating governments, and established General Dynamics Tac-Strike Diplomacy Fortresses in a further 17. Our message of trust in our benevolent masters, and utmost respect for personal safety is spreading across the globe! Such a time of wonder we live in, it is almost enough to make one express the ecstatic glee of it all with a pronouncement of shrill high pitched sounds from the throat, if that was not prohibited by the Unnecessary Emotional Expression act of 2018.

I fear my friends that I must now leave you to praise the benevolent masters in your own unique way, as I have almost reached my word limit and I fear my personal safety may be jeopardised by

This post is a part of Rabbit Hole Day, celebrating the 177th birthday of Lewis Carroll. Neil will return when his headmeats have been correctly restimulated

2nd Hand Games [Waffle-o-tron]

Recently HMV announced that it was to start accepting used games as store credit against any of the items in in the shop, and if you wade throught the extended marketdrone-speak in the MCV article you’ll notice a stunning and somewhat amazing thing; they talk about reselling games in their fancy new oh-so-achingly modern stores but they ever once use the words ‘second hand’ or ‘used’.

As a society I think we’ve become used to doublespeak and the depredations of marketing predators, but are we so vain that we have to revert shady words like ‘pre-owned’ to justify ourselves? Pretty much everyone I know never refers to games as anything except ‘pre-owned’ in this context, myself included. Despite the glaring semantic problem that the phrase pre-owned evokes, it just seems dishonest.

But ’tis not just us proles! The whole damn videogaming establishment is up to it, even in an article complaining about them Mr. David Braben himself shows that he is infected with this terrible meme. Mr. Braben’s abject hatred for us consumers has been well documented in his insistance on forcing the great satan of Lenslok upon us poor Spectrum owners, so maybe he is part of this terrible conspircy to protect us from feeling like a herd of filthy unwashed cockerneys buying our soiled chimneysweep jackets from stalls on Portobello Road.

Back to the point! HMV is staring to sell second hand games and Mr. David Braben thinks this is bad because it stuffs up sales figures. Maybe that’s true, but I have learned one thing in my years of gaming; nobody buys the good games anyway, see Beyond Good and Evil, Psychonauts, Terra Nova and Limbo of the Lost.
Maybe not that last one.