Thursday, 28 April 2011

AV'ing another Crack

Yes, I'm back on the subject of AV.

I've tried to explain the logical reason why I'm going to vote "no".  I've explained why I'm not impressed with the "Yes" campaign (note - the "No" campaign is equally pathetic; I will try to find time to explain why).  But I've been aware that I have a gut reaction against AV, meaning that - convinced as I am by the merits of the "No" argument - I've known that is not the only reason why I'm going to vote "No".

I've just realised where that gut reaction flows from. And it's quite simple, really.  This whole referendum is a stitch-up.

I tweeted yesterday that the referendum should offer us all the possible voting options, and let us try AV out in the process of choosing from them.  That was the first part of the realisation.  AV is just one system of many - there are loads of them to choose from.  From FPTP, Run-off, Elimination Run-off, Primary, IRV (which is actually AV), AV+, SV, PR, Multiple-Member, STV and so on, there is enough choice to make you feel like throwing in the towel and letting Her Majesty take the reins again.  However you count them, there is more than just FPTP and AV.

Which means that this big thing, this tectonic shift in the electoral landscape of the country that will (we are told) shift power away from the politicians and back towards the voters, is the one that has been chosen for us.  By the politicians.  Do you remember those card tricks done by magicians, where the victim was invited to "pick a card, any card"?  We all knew that the poor sap would choose the card the magician wanted them to pick. The one that matched the duplicate up his sleeve.  The one that suited the magician's needs, not the victim's.

This is the same.  Clegg is proferring this option to us because of all of the options available to him, he knows it fits his career needs best.

Of course, there is a slightly ironic side.  No-one (so far as I know) has ever spent their political career desperately fighting to introduce AV.  The Lib Dems have always wanted PR - the system by which after they lose all the constituency votes, they are given a raft of extra free seats for their party bigwigs,to make it "fair".  They have never (to my knowledge) campaigned for AV.  But they insisted on electoral reform as a condition for the Coalition Agreement, and AV was (presumably) all that the Cameroons would let them have.

So, the electoral system that will probably let the runner-up win instead of the candidate that most people want, was itself the runner-up system that was adopted over the system that most reformists wanted. Says it all, really.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Playing Politics

Peter Mandelson has, it seems, given us the benefit of his views on AV.  In a world where things change at such a pace, it is in some ways re-assuring to know that Mandelson is just the same as he ever was.

It seems that Mandelson's principal objection to the "No" campaign is that it is led by Cameron and is aimed at short-term political advantage for Cameron, that he is fighting for the benefit of the Conservative party and to shore up his own political position.  This, in Mandelson's eyes, is wrong. Presumably, he thinks that constitutional change should not be a political football, that it should not be a party political matter, that we should be putting the country's interests first?

Except that his quote is:
"Labour shouldn't ignore this chance to defeat the Tories on 5 May."
and that the AV referendum is apparently a chance to "inflict damage" on Cameron.

Now, I can't recall Cameron arguing for a No vote on the grounds of narrow political interests, as per both the Mandelson accusation and the explicit Mandelson argument.   So this is just the same old Mandelson, same old hypocrisy.  Good riddance.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Season's Greetings...

Just to say that I wish you all a happy and joyous Chocolate Sunday Easter Sunday.

And the first shall be last?

So the Church of England has taken a good, hard, look at its schools, and decided that the problem with them is that too many of the children attending them go to church on Sunday.

You couldn't make it up.

Assuming that this policy is successful, and that it encourages more poor children into the local school, and ten of those families are inspired to start attending the Eucharist as a result, would that mean one of those children has to lose its school place?

If so, how will they decide?  Will the child of the most enthusiastic family be thrown out?  Or will they just turn on the most traditionalist until they decide to go elsewhere?

The Broken window fallacy

With a hat tip to the Filthy Engineer, here is a simple, clear explanation of the broken window fallacy - source of pretty well every New Labour economic plicy and about half the Coalition's.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Contra Mundum, Contra Me

I've been thinking about the recent "contra mundum" injunction. As I understand it, it applies to everyone, in any jurisdiction, and proscribes them from publishing details of an affair between some married bloke and a woman he works with.

Now, let me first say that I can see the logic behind these injunctions, and behind so-called "super-injunctions" that also ban people from mentioning the existence of the injunction itself. It is quite clear that it would be pointless granting an injunction that banned publication of the identities of two politicians involved in a gay affair if the papers could happily tell us that it resulted from the case of Cameron & Clegg vs Associated Newspapers plc, for example. However, understanding a principle behind something does not mean I think something can be extended without limit.

One particular aspect of these injunctions worries me. If it applies to everyone, then it applies to me also. That means it would be contempt of court for me to tweet or to blog details of this affair. However, because it can't be reported, I don't know whose affair it is that I can't talk about.

That seems to me to breach a basic principle. If I am subject to an injunction granted by a Court, then the scope of that injunction ought to be spelled out to me, such as by serving the injunction on me. All of the injunctions that I have obtained for clients have said that they start as of the date on which I serve them on the unlucky recipient - and quite rightly. Bur here we have an injunction that applies to me but whose terms I am not aware of. That seems fundamentally wrong. It is also worrying, given that contempt is an offence punishable with imprisonment and one which would bar me from my profession.

I think I see a way forward, though. Presumably, I could write to the Court or to the celeb's solicitors to ask them for full details of the case, including a copy of the injunction and a copy of the evidence used in support of the application for it. After all, I am a party to the case - I must be, as I have been injuncted. As one of the subjects of the injunction, I must surely have the right to challenge it in the Court of Appeal, in which case I need a copy of the papers in order to develop my grounds of appeal.

Of course, in providing me with these papers, the solicitors will be providing mr the identities of the guilty parties. Tsk. Ah well. And if we all do that, then we will all know, and (amusingly) will have been told at the celeb's expense.

Seriously; does anyone see a fundamental flaw in this reasoning? And does anyone know which solicitors are involved?

It does go to prove one thing, though. The easiest, and the cheapest, way of stopping the papers reporting that you have been involved in extra-marital affairs is to keep your todger inside your trousers.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Quick Whinge

Now, I know I'm going to sound like a mix of the grandpa in the Werther's Originals ad and Victor Meldrew himself, but when I were a lad (sorry) we 'ad t'video games that were actually games. You could load it on your computer and play it on the telly in the living room. Some intelligence had been applied in the writing of the game, and the games were therefore attractive to play because they were a mental challenge as well as a test of co-ordination and reflexes. I'm thinking of games like Elite.

Modern games seem to just compete on how gory and horrifying they are. With a very small number of honourable exceptions like (say) Portal, they are all basically the same. You view the world down the barrel of some kind of weapon and kill what you see. The only competition amongst game writers seem to be to make the most vivid scenes of (basically) murder and torture that they can.

Which means that every few weeks, Master P and I have a conversation which starts "Can I have this game please, I know I'm only 11 and it's a 15 but its alright, honest". I agree to look into it, do some googling, and come away with a varying degree of revulsion. On one occasion, I did in fact feel physically sick at what I saw on Youtube. Then I have to say "no", and we have the "all my mates have it" whine.

Why can't they drop this pointless dead-end format of the first-person shooter and think of some clever games?

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Harsh, but fair

I caught up with some of my podcasts today, including a freebie that the BBC sent.  I subscribe to the "More or Less" podcast with @TimHarford, so the Beeb guessed I might be interested in "The Story of Economics".  As its title suggests, it looks at the basics of economics with a slight historical bent.

The first episode (linked) looks at the moral underpinnings of economics.  Apparently, and this is news to me, Aristotle thought it unnatural to buy something that you did not need, something that you planned to sell on at a profit.  So even he looked down on speculators; banker-bashing may have a longer history than we think.  But the part I want to recount for you is the hypothetical question that they put to a group of sixth form economics students, to illustrate the moral side of economics.

Suppose, they said, you have to choose one new employee from a shortlist of three equally-qualified candidates, each with one significant and defining feature.  Angela, the first, is generally and non-specifically unwell, with an illness that could be treated if she gets the job and can pay for treatment.  Beatrice is depressed, but the sense of purpose that she will obtain from a new job will lift her out of that.  Clarissa is very poor; the income that she will obtain from the job will easily improve her well-being by an amount equal to the improvement in Angela's health or Beatrice's psychological state.  Which should we choose?

Needless to say, the students did not have a clue, and made this clear at length.  Sadly, the BBC did not provide us with an answer, presumably to show that some questions are insoluble.

It isn't, though.  There is a clear, obvious, and moral solution.  Have a moment to think about it, then scroll down for my answer.



First, and most obviously, it is impossible that all three will be equally qualified.  This never, ever happens.  So in real life, you choose the best-qualified. But, for the purpose of the question, I will assume that there has been a miracle and we do, indeed, have three perfectly even candidates.

In which case, applying a strictly moral and economic analysis, Clarissa is the obvious choice.  Why?  Well, the improvements for Angela and Beatrice are predictions, or assumptions, or estimates - whatever you want to call them, they are not 100% certain.  So we must assume that they may not come about.  In which case, Angela will take a lot of sick leave and will therefore be less productive.  Beatrice may well not take sick leave, but a depressive in the middle of the workplace will drag everyone else down, reducing productivity generally.  Clarissa's improvement, however, is bankable (literally).  So from the perspective of the business, Clarissa is the obvious choice.

Clarissa is also the moral choice.  Your job as the manager is to advance the ends of your business, which is why Clarissa should be chosen.  To choose otherwise is to shirk your responsibilities.  Angela, Beatrice, and many others like them can best be helped by a free medical care system, and by public amenities that create a pleasant living environment.  But that costs money, which will have to be raised from taxation of businesses such as the one employing Clarissa.  Therefore, by acting in the best interests of the business, you maximise the taxation income of the state and enable these to be provided for all, including Angela and Beatrice.

By choosing Clarissa, you help all of them.  Choose one of the others, and the tax take falls, and you may only be able to help two of them.

And that is why I hold the economic views that I do; it is because they are morally right.

(in my opinion)