Friday 25 February 2011

The wild west

Desperate to find something to keep me occupied, after dropping the family off to see Joseph! at the Bristol Hippodrome (I wasn’t desperate enough to join them), I remembered there was a cinema entrenched within Cabot Circus. It had “de Lux” in the name, it was showing True Grit and best of all it had an online booking service - I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone.

But the online booking service wasn’t working so I took a chance with the 24 hour booking line; (I thought) all you have to do is press numbers. Alas, whilst that’s enough for Barclays it’s not enough to book a film and I was obliged to speak to the software on the other end. It was a short conversation:
Good afternoon and welcome… If, for example, you are calling for the Showcase cinema in Birmingham, simply say Birmingham, otherwise please say which Showcase cinema you are calling for.
I’m not sure if you mean the Showcase cinema in Cabots Circus, Bristol City centre or… Leeds.
Then I remembered I'd been using Chrome earlier; maybe I should try the old-timer, good old Internet Explorer, still good for something… and my ticket was booked.

All I needed was a cover story. It’s easier than explaining to Little Miss R why she can’t watch certain films, Black Swan was bad enough, and since she holds back from talking to people she doesn’t know - can’t imagine where she gets that from - I decided to meet a friend.
What’s his name?
Oh… ummm… Rooster Cogburn.
And then I added:
He probably looks a little different to how I remember.
Yet despite being a Coen brothers production, this new version is reassuringly familiar. It’s more subtle than I expected, the guys in black are mostly a shade of grey, and surviving, like the rest of us.

Tuesday 22 February 2011

The changing face of the BBC

Some, admittedly enjoyable, mealy-mouthed nonsense from the BBC today; from a report on Iranian warships entering the Suez Canal on their way to the Mediterranean:
Israeli [sic] considers Iran a threat because of its controversial nuclear programme, development of ballistic missiles, support for Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups, and promises to destroy Israel.
It was at least an honest, albeit rushed, assessment; I particularly like how Iran’s well documented threat to 'wipe Israel off the map' is added almost as an afterthought. Later in the day, however, the report was amended to:
Israel considers Iran a threat because of its controversial nuclear programme, development of ballistic missiles, support for Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups, and Tehran's repeated anti-Israel rhetoric.
So “promises to destroy Israel” becomes “anti-Israel rhetoric”. You know, I’ve occasionally used anti-German rhetoric when they beat us at football (so every few years), but really...

Monday 21 February 2011

You are here

Artist: Little Miss Ruse, aged nine.

Friday 18 February 2011

What is the NHS?

Close to where I live sits a cottage hospital. I have no idea what services it provides, how many people use it or how much it costs. Nor I suspect does anyone else. Regardless, I am quite sure that were an attempt made to close it the whole community would be ‘up in arms’, and before asking any of these questions. Similarly, it reminds me of a discussion I had many years ago with a friend who opined that nurses deserved ‘far more’ than they were getting paid, without even knowing how much they were getting paid. I didn’t either, but you’d have thought one statement would be predicated by the other.

That’s the thing about the National Health Service, it seems to exist in a logic-free vacuum; our relation to the institution is entirely emotional and our love measured in how many hospitals we build to house the 1.7 million people in its service. As the NHS website tells us:
Only the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the Wal-Mart supermarket chain and the Indian Railways directly employ more people.
They’re so proud of this it’s stated before the rather more relevant figure of how many patients they treat. It does at least explain the reaction of various Guardianistas to GP commissioning, where one concern would seem to be that GPs may on occasion choose private service providers because they’re… er… cheaper. This is apparently a bad thing; why, the next thing you know they’ll be closing state-funded hospitals in favour of privately run alternatives, and then how will we show our love?

I’m not for one instant suggesting the NHS should morph into a commission only service, we need an element of state provision to keep the private sector honest, but regardless of the provider, to the patient the service remains free - albeit paid for through tax. What kind of hospital he or she ends up in is irrelevant, all we should really care about is the cost. The cheaper it is, the more we can treat; now remind me, just who is the NHS for?

Sunday 13 February 2011

The best time of all

Not bad for three days. On the first I saw Black Swan, the next Atonement followed by Waterland, and on day three I finished with The Green Mile and The Road. Planning to watch Casablanca on Saturday evening, I commented to a friend how it was interesting that the film likely to have the most upbeat ending was one set against a backdrop of Nazi occupation and collaboration.

But I didn’t get to see Casablanca, my daughter took control of the television and I was banished to the PC upstairs, where I had to decrypt a region 1 DVD of American Beauty before I was able to play it. Together in the evening we watched Batman Begins; she loved every moment – a film not entirely suitable for a nine year old and shown well past her bedtime. Well... I won’t tell.

Monday 7 February 2011

Why vegetarians are bad for AV

Fairness is often subjective, at least when it comes to electoral systems, so I am taken aback at the unquestioning ease with which the more ‘enthusiastic’ proponents of the alternative vote (AV) have appropriated the term. Ever contrary, I adapted an earlier example of how AV can lead to an unfair result, by using the dinner analogy popular with such support.

Imagine you are in a party of 21 and there are four restaurants within reach for a work-time lunch; in alphabetical order: Lentil Heaven, Liver Lounge, Pizza Palace and Thai Temptation.

One strange individual plumps for Liver Lounge and puts down Thai Temptation as his second preference. Nine people vote for Thai Temptation as their first choice; it subsequently turns out their second choice isn’t relevant - likewise for the seven people who choose Pizza Palace. The four people who remain are vegetarians, they’re cool; they don’t really care where they eat so long as they can avoid the liver.

That’s fair enough, and the best way to achieve this is a feature of AV that isn’t afforded by our current first-past-the-post (FPTP) system; the ability to vote against one option – by voting for all the others. In our example the vegetarians do exactly this, and since they don’t have a preference with the other options they rank them according to the order in which they are listed. This is called a donkey vote and whilst it is most common where full preferential voting is required, it applies equally here.

With the vote in, the count begins, and after the first round Liver Lounge, having the fewest votes, is eliminated. The next preference of that singular person is now added to the vote to give us the following: just over 47% of you would like a Thai, with around 33% opting for Pizza. It’s still not quite a majority so Lentil Heaven is eliminated… and something interesting happens. The ‘second preferences’ of the vegetarians are added to the count; those would be the people whose only real preference was to avoid the liver and who consequently voted for the other options in the order that they appeared - despite having significantly less of the ‘positive’ vote, Pizza Palace wins through having a superior position in the alphabet.

What this illustration and others show is how AV can work; the result - fair or otherwise - depends on how the example is framed. What this particular example shows is that under AV it's possible to have a result that many people would consider unfair; it's a system not quite as simple as some would have us believe.