Monday, 25 April 2011

Rubbish arguments in the AV referendum

In the UK, we are about to have a referendum on the voting system on May 5.  I vote by post, so I have received my ballot paper already.  The question on it is

At present, the UK uses ‘first past the post’ system [sic!] to elect MPs to the House of Commons.  Should the ‘alternative vote’ system be used instead?

Let’s just take a deep breath and pass over the question of how on Earth there can be a grammatical mistake on a ballot paper.  Here is a video explaining the differences between FPTP and AV, from the Electoral Commission:

Just ignore the instructions to click things. I’m not sure why the tone of voice used appears to be addressing children when children can’t vote.

I have seen a lot of the arguments for and against a change, a great number of which are rubbish.  Below I have listed a sample, along with an explanation of the rubbishness of that argument.  Credit to Full Fact for doing a lot of the legwork.

Rubbish arguments for AV (the ‘yes’ campaign)

AV would require the winning candidate in a given constituency to win the support of 50% of the electorate there
As the video above shows, to win under AV a candidate has to win 50% of the votes in a single round of voting.  But to claim that this means that the candidate has the ‘support’ of 50% of the electorate is misleading.  If I rank candidates Ed and Fred 5th and 6th out of 6 respectively (because I hate them both, but Fred slightly more), and the vote comes down to a runoff between Ed and Fred and Ed wins, he does not do so with my ‘support’, even though I prefer him to Fred and my vote counted towards his getting elected.  There were four candidates I would have preferred!  (Thanks to DB for this example).

AV would mean an end to safe seats
Paddy Ashdown claimed that changing the electoral system to AV would mean ‘no more safe seats, ever’.  This goof must result from some delusionally wishful thinking.  Under AV, some seats would get less safe, while other seats would actually get safer.  Overall it wouldn’t make much of a difference.  My local MP got over 50% of the vote last time despite having dodged £180000 worth of capital gains tax by telling HMRC one thing and the Parliamentary Fees Office another.

AV would mean that politicians have to appeal more to voters for other parties
Mortal enemies Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have both banged this drum.  This is a rubbish argument not because what it claims is untrue, but because this consequence is actually undesirable.  A lot of people complain (rightly, I think) that politicians all sound the same at the moment.  Can you think of a better way to get them to sound even more the same than to force them to canvass not only for first preference but also second- and third-preference (etc.) votes as well?  No, neither can I.

Rubbish arguments against AV (the ‘no’ campaign)

AV would mean an end to ‘one person, one vote’
The front page of the ‘NO2AV’ leaflet that came through my door this week urges me to ‘keep one person one vote’.  This is a fair enough demand, but it is irrelevant in the AV debate.  Under AV, if your first-choice candidate is eliminated, then your vote transfers to your second-choice candidate (unless he/she has already been eliminated, in which case it transfers to the third choice etc.) in the next round of voting.  This means that in each round of voting, everyone has one vote, under the reasonable assumption that if your first-preference candidate has not been eliminated then you are still voting for him/her.

AV would help extremist parties, or policies of extremist parties
That’s what Baroness Warsi thinks.  The idea is that mainstream parties would, in seeking second(etc.)-preference votes from people voting for an extremist party as their first choice, extremetise some of their own policies.  But since extremist parties have relatively few first-choice supporters (being, y’know, extreme and all), this kind of policy extremetisation would surely backfire as it would be more likely to lose the mainstream parties second-preference votes from non-extremist voters backing other parties with their first choice.  FYI, the BNP is against AV.

AV would give all the power to those cackling Liberal Democrats and their evil leader
CleggAVThe back page of the ‘NO2AV’ flyer that came through my door this week carried ← this bizarre claim, which is close to being the stupidest statement I have ever seen on a political leaflet.  Still, let’s try to reconstruct a coherent argument out of it.  The idea is that AV would benefit the Liberal Democrats, leading to more hung parliaments and consequently the chances of the Lib Dems (as the third-largest party) remaining in coalition government for perpetuity.  Their leader (Clegg or otherwise) would therefore wield a disproportionate amount of power.  This argument is rubbish for several reasons.  Firstly, we’re probably set for more coalition governments in future whatever happens in this referendum.  Secondly, the assumption that the Lib Dems would gain massively under AV is based on people having listed them as second-preference in the past, but since they hadn’t been in government in the past this was a lot easier to do than it will be in the future – expect a collapse in their support in the local elections next month.  Thirdly, who exactly thinks that Clegg is wielding a disproportionate amount of power in government at the moment?  The Lib Dems are very much junior partners in the coalition; as Alan Johnson said, ‘This is a Tory government with the Lib Dems strapped on as ballast’.

Whichever way you vote, let it be for reasons other than the above.

Sunday, 24 April 2011


This is a clever and interesting way of telling the Easter story (HT: Jen Smith):

Will you follow?

Happy Easter everyone!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Theatre review: The Bible at Shakespeare’s Globe

Yesterday I headed down to the Globe Theatre to see part of the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Translation of the Bible which began on Good Friday and finishes on Easter Monday.

Perhaps the first thing to note is that I didn’t see quite the portion of the Bible that I had planned to.  I arrived at 4:30 pm expecting the beginning of Ezekiel after a short break.  I quickly realised, however, that we were in Jeremiah 33.  I don’t know how things got so far behind but Ezekiel didn’t begin until after 6:30.  I had to leave at 11:30 to be sure of getting home, at which point Hosea had just been completed.  Goodness knows what time they reached the end of Malachi, and how many people were left in the audience.

But that’s by the by.  This commemoration is a good idea, and I was not disappointed with the execution of it.  There were four speakers reading reciting speaking a chapter each in turn, and all four were changed every so often – I saw three sets in total, one which finished at the end of Lamentations, a second which went through Ezekiel and Daniel and a third which began at the start of Hosea.  The crossing out above is because, as I hope can be seen from the video below, the speakers were not reading but not reciting either – they were being prompted by headphones.  For the most part this worked very well, although there were occasions on which the speaker misheard the beginning of a word or tripped over a barrage of numbers in ancient measuring systems, but these are very minor complaints.

Ezekiel 47:1-6, performed by Andrew Havill

This set-up of rotating speakers had its advantages and disadvantages.  It was great to see the words of the Bible performed in different ways: RP accents and regional ones, declamatory styles and emotive ones, gesticulating and wandering around the stage (and even, in one case, into the audience), male and female voices.  This meant that, if one style of performance didn’t get you, another certainly would (although all the speakers were good, even if I naturally had my preferences).  However, at some points this lead to a degree of unwelcome unevenness as speaker would switch mid-passage.

It was also great to be able to take in so much Scripture at once, as in doing so I caught onto parallels I perhaps hadn’t before, or only slightly: hearing Daniel refer to Jeremiah having just heard Jeremiah a couple of hours beforehand, the shifting attitudes from pre- to mid-exile, the sheer obstinate persistence of Israel’s idolatry, and the reoccurrence of evocative phrases like ‘the day of your visitation’ and references to heifers.  Of course, those last two parallels depend on the KJV translation, which was the point of the occasion!  I found it easy enough to keep up with the Jacobean English for the most part, particularly sections I know well, although of course some passages were easier to follow than others.  The whole audience was particularly captivated by the performance of chapters 1-6 of Daniel.

If I hadn’t had to leave because of transportation issues, I would have stayed to the end; the seven hours I was there seemed to fly by.  If you have the time to go tomorrow or on Friday then I recommend it.

Friday, 22 April 2011

The curtain of the temple was torn in two

Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary.  A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place.  Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant.  Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.
When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry.  But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.  The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper.
Hebrews 9:1-9

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split

Matthew 27:50-51

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
Hebrews 10:19-20

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Painful but necessary cuts

No, not that.  In order to do something about the lethargic speed at which this page sometimes loads and scrolls down, I’ve made the following changes to the layout:

  • Cut the number of posts per page from 10 to 7 (and may yet cut it further)
  • Cut the number of ‘popular posts’ displayed on the sidebar from 7 to 5
  • Cut the ‘blogs I read’ feed from all to the 10 most recently updated
  • Removed the sitemeter and visitors map
  • Cut a number of links from ‘podcasts to which I listen’ and ‘other links’.

So far there has only been a small change in speed, but then I may well have hindered things by uploading three embedded videos into a recent post.  Ah well.  All suggestions as to how I can speed things up will be welcome.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Rod Liddle on BBC bias

Writing in The Sunday Times Magazine yesterday on the upcoming BBC part-relocation from London to Salford:

It is often said, by its critics, that the BBC has an inherently left-wing bias across its output.  I don’t think this is correct.  It is certainly biased, but it is not, to my mind, a left-wing bias: it is a metropolitan liberal bias.  It is not noticeably biased on issues such as the minimum wage, or redundancies, for example, or the need for the government to invest in industry, which you might expect if its bias was truly from the left.  Its bias is that of London: a sort of mimsy faux-leftism based on economic self-interest.  We are ruled by the ideas of London – or, to be more accurate, a certain affluent and arrogant part of it. […] From within this place emanate all the shibboleths of Politically Correct Britain, and its epic sense of rectitude that no person in public life dare challenge.  Evangelistically secular, socially ultra-liberal and unwilling to allow even the mildest challenge to its political hegemony.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Flagrant scientism alert

Martin Rees’ decision to accept this year’s Templeton Prize has dismayed Harry Kroto.  Writing in The Times today, he says

Martin Rees is a brilliant astrophysicist and a personal friend, but I believe he has made a mistake in accepting £1 million from the Templeton Foundation.  In doing so, he supports its primary aim, which is to undermine the most precious tenet of science: that it is the only philosophical construct we have to determine truth with any reliability.

Kroto had better hope he’s wrong about what I’ve emphasised; if he were right, then since ‘science is the only philosophical construct we have to determine truth with any reliability’ is not itself a claim of science, it cannot be deemed to be true with any reliability, and therefore ‘the most precious tenet of science’ would be self-refuting.  The incoherence of scientism needs to be constantly restated, it seems (and is science really the sort of thing that has ‘tenets’?).

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Experts’ evidence for Easter

From Tyndale House in Cambridge, three very short videos giving some evidence for the reliability of the Easter story:

Evidence for Jesus’ Trial (Dirk Jongkind)

Evidence for Jesus’ Crucifixion (Peter Williams and David Instone)

Evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection (Peter Williams)

See also the following Easter-related posts:
Christ is risen! (2009)
Happy Easter (2008)