Subjective Objectivity – The Blog of The Reasonable Man

February 21, 2011

There is no “liberal” case against AV in May

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 1:48 pm

There are plenty of utterly wrong-headed reasons to oppose electoral reform. Read the Telegraph blogs if you want a rehearsal of them, apply logic and you should have an idea why they’re bunk. I can kind of get why you’d oppose it if you’re a die-hard partisan of the blue or red variety. Save for the last election, the First Past the Post system will deliver solid majorities for Your Side, so that they can Win. Why mess with that?

But more pernicious is a brand of so-called “liberal” opposition to the AV bill, putatively on the basis that it’s a compromise. To demonstrate this phenomenon, I’ll need a volunteer from the audience. How about David Allen Green of the New Statesman. Step right up and give us your two-cents:

There are two good reasons for any liberal to oppose the introduction of this proposed voting system.

For those unfamiliar, I agree with probably two-thirds of what Green says on any given day, and as a law blogger he’s usually excellent. Not the case here I’m afraid:

First, AV is not in fact a good form of proportional representation. Because it retains the single member constituencies, there is no inherent reason why the national shares of the vote would be reflected in Westminster. AV also does nothing to deal with the very safest seats – those where the winning candidate already gets more than 50% – and so, in such constituencies, the losing votes will be as “wasted” as before. And other seats will just be as “safe”, depending on whether the there is a natural Tory/Lib Dem or Labour/Lib Dem majority.

This is a shortcoming, I’ll admit. But is it any worse than the status quo? Nope. It doesn’t refelect the national share of votes at large, but I’ll let you into a little secret – a lot of people like the fact that local preferences are reflected in who gets to represent their area. Indeed, the retention of single member constituences is a function, not a defect, and the last time I checked, no one was callng it “proportional representation”. This is kind of like criticising an apple crumble because it’s not chocolate ice-cream.  It’s either no worse than, or beats, the current system, which is what I like to call “a net improvement”.

The appeal lies in the fact that a member of Parliament will have been elected to that position with 50% of the vote. At least that’s what I thought:

Second, the practical operation of AV is fundamentally undemocratic and offensive to the principle of equal treatment of voters. In the less safe seats where AV is triggered, the votes cast by those who favour the most popular candidate are not of equal value to the votes cast for less popular candidates. The second and third choices of the voters favouring the most popular candidate are just disregarded. If all second and third votes were given equal value then the overall result may well be different. The charge that AV means repeated bites at the cherry for some voters but not others is impossible to rebut.

Oy. “Fundamentally undemocratic and offensive to the principal of equal treatment of voters”? I’ll admit the use of this language is where he lost me, but let’s soldier on, shall we, and tackle the substantive argument here. The idea is that because my AV first choice is for the third choice candidate overall, I’ve been given the super-awesome opportunity to have my vote counted twice more. How about we strip it to its core. Here’s a helpful diagram, courtesy of Wikipedia that explains AV (or Instant Run-Off Voting as they call it, which is the same thing).

Seems reasonable to me. Of course the second and third choice of the voters are disregarded, because they got their first bloody choice to begin with. The person who gets his third choice may have had two more bites at the cherry, but he only got his third choice. Again, imperfect, but “fundamentally undemocratic”? Hardly, and still better than FPTP.

Indeed, no one really wants AV. It is a compromise. It may not even be a step towards proportional representation. AV retains many of the faults of the current “first past the post” system whilst treating the votes cast by voters in an unequal way. National shares of the vote may still have no national impact, and safe seats and wasted votes remain. AV is a rotten system, and so it should be opposed on 5 May.

Really? No one wants AV? Then I have no fucking clue what all those people from the “Yes To AV” are doing emailling me. Are they part of an audio-visual club? I guess their preferences don’t count. Maybe it’s because it’s their second or third choice. I’m not sure anymore. The point is, nobody ever wanted compromise in the history of anything.

Snark aside, so what if it’s a compromise? Green writes as if we’re choosing between AV and some other option for voting reform (Spoiler Alert: We are not). What Green doesn’t seem to realise is that there is lukewarm support for any type of voting reform in this country, and an actual system of proportional representation isn’t on the ballot for a reason. Aside from his weird “not all preference votes are equal” point, which I’m still not convinced stands up to logical scrutiny, his basic argument is that the liberal case for voting to retain the FPTP system is that the Alternative Vote isn’t proportional representation.

He’s right that it doesn’t necessarily lead to greater proportionality, but let’s be clear – if it is defeated, the spin will not be “the British public didn’t think it was a far enough move towards proportional representation” it will be “the British people stick by the good old traditional system of one-man-one-vote”. The opportunity voting reform will be gone for at least a decade (believe me, a Labour or Conservative majority government won’t pick up the issue again) if not more.

Perhaps I am being overly cynical when I wonder if some liberals, such as Green, would prefer an AV defeat for the effects it will have in destablising the current coalition government, which are potentially quite significant.  At the very least, they’re taking a very wrong-headed stance in terms of reform, and utterly miscalculating the prospect of actual proportional representation being on the books any time soon, as it’s only the peculiar dynamics of the coalition government that have even AV on the ballot this May.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable


February 18, 2011

In which I blog about Justin Bieber

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 1:55 pm

Hello Blog! Did you miss me? I missed you. Sure has been a wild ride these past few weeks, what with revolutions and the like. There was even a domestic coup for civil liberties, in case you missed it. Hell, a computer won Jeopardy, putting us one step closer to the inevitable obsolesance of humanity, assuming that a zombie outbreak doesn’t occur. But these are all contentious things, and with the exception of the latter, I wasn’t able to commit to a blogpost without it turning into an intemperate and ill-advised public essay. Then there was a series of economic news pieces so utterly depressing that the thought of writing about them through a haze of ignorance and bourbon was too much

But, dear Blog, one thing has brought me back to the fold and one thing alone. Our Lord and Saviour* Justin Bieber has spoken from on High with regards to abortion. To professional Catholic Telegrapher blogger, Christine Odone, this represents a huge coup for the pro-life lobby:

Justin Bieber, pop icon and every teeny bopper’s dreamboat, has given the pro-life lobby a totally unexpected and extraordinary coup: he has told Rolling Stone magazine that he thinks abortion is “like killing a baby”. The 16-year-old, a committed Christian, has actually come out and said that an embryo is a human being. Gasp! Gulp! From Montreal to Manchester, this is the most important person in a teenage girl’s universe. Whatever he says, she will listen – and even maybe act upon.

Gasp, and Gulp indeed Christine, but the question is when the shadowy Hollywood liberal Pharisees will conspire the subdue the Good Word of Bieber.

The pro-choice brigade are gnashing their teeth. Already, liberal women journalists old enough to be his grandmother have been raging against the “inappropriate” subject matter and suggesting that he’s too young to have an opinion on it. Cute, megastar, pro-life? Nooooo! That’s not a formula veteran Hollywood liberals are used to: the stars are far more liberal than ordinary Americans – aren’t they?

Their one hope lies in the showbiz establishment. How long before the elite that runs the pop industry shuts Bieber up? His unfashionable Christian values will irk the group of ultra-liberals who decide who should be promoted and who should be muzzled. They’ll be branding his defence of the rights of the embryo as a “PR disaster” and muttering darkly about how much MONEY this could cost the young star.

Don’t worry Christine, the Word of Bieber shall not be stifled, not while I can still blog, damn it! Here are those considered and sage Christian Bierberian values in full:

He isn’t sure what political party he’d support if he was old enough to vote. “I’m not sure about the parties,” Bieber says. “But whatever they have in Korea, that’s bad.” He does have a solid opinion on abortion. “I really don’t believe in abortion,” Bieber says. “It’s like killing a baby.” How about in cases of rape? “Um. Well, I think that’s really sad, but everything happens for a reason. I don’t know how that would be a reason. I guess I haven’t been in that position, so I wouldn’t be able to judge that.”

Such wisdom from one so young! From his deep thoughts on democratic principles to his espousal of that core element of Christian catachism, that brings so much comfort to the world – Everything Happens For A Reason. Including rape! I’m sure prospective Gospel author Christine Odone can explain that to rape victims everywhere. This sort of sarcastic rejoinder from Jill at Feministe is just wildly off-piste:

Yes, ladies, everything happens for a reason — including being raped and getting pregnant. Maybe next time the Beebs gets into an accident or suffers an injury, he should tell himself that everything happens for a reason, and so there’s no need to avail himself of Canada’s excellent health care system. Wouldn’t want to interfere with God’s plan. That’s what the Koreans do.

Poor Jill. Worry not, my dear, soon Bieber will show you the Way. You will Understand.

And of course it’s like killing a baby. How stupid could I have been, assuming that legal abortion wasn’t actually anything like killing a baby, for so many reasons that I can’t list them all here? Praise Bieber for showing me the Light.

Yes indeed, his collective thoughts are proof positive that these are the opinions of someone who has thought deeply about the world, and come to some stark conclusions about the nature of human morality and the personhood of the developing fetus. It is in no way the rather sad repetition of anti-choice boilerplate that proves he’s not even remotely concerned with the rights and agency of the woman who has to go through the labour of bringing the child to term.

As an example of what passes for Feminazism critique of the pro-life position, here’s a laughable piece from a man of all things, about the supposed “concerns” that women face in the birthing process:

It’s been some time since I read “What Hath God Wrought,” but my recollection is that in the mid-19th century men actually lived longer than women. As a society, the Western world has obviously made significant strides in reducing maternal deaths. (In Afghanistan some 1,400 women die per 100,000 births.) This is excellent news. But it can not obscure perhaps the most specific and nameable species of male privilege–of all the things that may one day kill me, pregnancy is not among them.
My embrace of a pro-choice stance is not built on analogizing Rick Santorum with Hitler. It is not built on what the pro-life movement is “like.” It’s built on set of disturbing and inelidable truths: My son is the joy of my life. But the work of ushering him into this world nearly killed his mother. The literalism of that last point can not be escaped.
Every day women choose to do the hard labor of a difficult pregnancy. Its courageous work, which inspires in me a degree of admiration exceeded only by my horror at the notion of the state turning that courage, that hard labor, into a mandate. Women die performing that labor in smaller numbers as we advance, but they die all the same. Men do not. That is a privilege.
Read the whole thing, if only so you can get a sense of how much better Justin Bieber and Christine Odone would be at managing the business of uterus’ like that of the author’s wife. What relevance have the experiences of Mr Coates in the face of their insuperable superior knowledge? The only reasonable answer is “None”.
The old Me (let us call my prior existence “Before Bieber”) might say “Fuck you Christine Odone for co-opting a 16 year old kid into your dogma on the right of women to choose how to exercise the rights they have over their own body. It might not be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that the rest of his statement shows that he’s given virtually no thought to the matter beyond reading a placard at a rally somewhere or listenining to Bill O’Reilly. I’m inclined to give Bieber a pass, because at least he has the rather reasonable excuse of youthful ignorance for his views, whereas yours seem to be borne of the adherance to the doctrine of Church heirarchy notable for its misogyny and hypocrisy on the matters of the sanctity of life as well as rather pathetic desire to just piss off liberals.”
Luckily, Bieber has shown me the Light. And the Light is Good.


Cross-posted at Something Quotable

February 6, 2011

Dispatches from the Robot Apocalypse – Part X

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 3:44 pm

From today’s Observer, we’re gifted an insight into the next nefarious plan of The Machines. They want to take our game shows. Watch as Watson, schools a couple of trivia nerds at Jeopardy:

Crucially, according to IBM whizz David Gondek, Watson has the ability to learn, and so engineers have been feeding it with tens of thousands of books’ worth of information. “Just like the other contestants, Watson has been studying up,” said Gondek last month. He didn’t mention whether Watson had yet been exposed to military textbooks, or karate manuals – but the machine had been let loose on reams of information culled from the internet, especially to analyse human interaction and better learn how people speak. 

Because of its size Watson currently resides behind thick glass at IBM’s New York HQ, but the company is looking forward to a day when miniature Watsons will be commercially available. Future iterations, says Gondek, will be “smaller, use less energy… Everyone could have one.” The humanitarian ideal – and ask any sci-fi writer, there’s always a humanitarian ideal – is that the machine will one day be canny enough to aid busy doctors by diagnosing patients and assessing x-rays. No word about potential jobs at the Pentagon.

We have met our new ruling class, people.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

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