Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Obama 338 - 163 McCain

As you can see from the result above, the Illinois Senator Barack Obama was elected to be the next President of the United States. He will start that job on January 20th, 2009.

Results breakdown
Here is a graphical representation of who won each state:

Here is a simple breakdown of the numbers
ChoiceNo. states

The result above is about electoral college votes and that's what decided who won the states. Remember that the votes of the people don't count in the US, although it's expected that the members of the Electoral College assigned to each state will vote the way the people do. It hasn't always happened like that though (have a look at the results from the 2000 Gore vs. Bush election).

Big switch
One of the most interesting facts from this result is that nine states switched there support and in all cases it was from GOP (the Republicans) to Democrat. Those states included Florida, an important state in 2000 and has been Republican for a number of years. It was an area that Rudy Giuliani concentrated on heavily when he was campaigning.

What reasons could there be for the big switch in those nine states? Well, there are several possibilities. A campaign theme for McCain was based around fear (because of the terrorist attacks). Maybe Obama's message of hope was more appealing. The VP picks have been frequently analysed and maybe the gaffes of Sarah Palin were a factor.

Exit poll analysis
The exit polls on CNN reveal some interesting information about the way people voted. Some of it is stating the obvoius, but it's better when it's confirmed with numerical data.

It seems a large proportion of John McCain's votes came from the older white population. Obama dominated the young and non-white demographics. As an example, 55% of the white population voted for McCain and a spectacular 94% of African-Americans went for Obama. Another example is that McCain got 53% of the 65 and older demographic.

This goes to confirm that age and race still play a major part in the election. It's worrying, but not unexpected.

The following is Barack Obama's victory speech:

This is the sort of speech that Obama has been giving throughout the camapign. Although it is full of inspirational talk and essentially a message of hope and change, it doesn't give us anything new.

Lack of detail in speech
He doesn't go into specifics about all his policies either. A criticism of him has been that he hasn't done that thorughout his campaign. However, I believe he has - for example, he has a plan for improving national security freely available on his website and it contains budget figures, military numbers and deadlines. Also, he can give us more detail when he actually gets into the Whitehouse because then he'll have access to more information.

GOP defeat
John McCain was gracious in defeat, saying that he now hopes that America can move forward:
"This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African-Americans and the special pride that must be theirs tonight"
"These are difficult times for our country. And I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face."
International recognition
There were many leaders who congratulated Obama on his victory - but then that's to be expected. They want to have good relationships with one of the most powerful nations on earth. It's something that's been done over many years. Here is what Gordon Brown had to say:
"I hope to be able to work with Senator Obama to bring the world together so that we can face these difficult times with more coordination and more unity than we've seen before."
It seemed to be a relatively smooth election day. The only problems that were reported mainly focused on long queues and faulty e-voting systems. The queues are unavoidable, but they could be minimised if more polling stations and voting booths were made available. It's a simple formula. The availability of voting machines cannot be based on the turnout of a previous election because it doesn't take into account the candidates and the current public feeling towards politics and other current affairs.

E-voting was something heavily criticised in previous elections and it is something that I've blogged about before, but providing more research and development is done, it can work.

Summary and conclusion
It has been a very long election process. Most people will agree that it has been too long. There needs to be some reform in this area soon. The scheduling of primaries needs to be worked on too - entire states were robbed of the delegates that would normally go to the party conventions where the presidential candidates are announced.

It has also been heavily money-driven. There were several stories in the media about campaign funding. Several people support the idea of a funding cap. It's something I agree with because if everyone has the same amount of money, it shifts the focus from finances and onto the important politics.

Despite all that, I believe a high calibre candidate has been elected as President and hopefully his promise of change will be reality during his tenure (whether it's four or eight years).

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Politics, US Election, John McCain, Barack Obama, Government,

Monday, 20 October 2008

All the excitement of a governance review

I won't bore you with the reasons why I haven't blogged much recently. I could have posted my opinions on the credit crunch or the latest news about the US election, but I'm not going to today - that will come later. This post is more of a continuation of my last post as it's about HUU's latest governance review.

The last post analysed the draft constitution when it was at it's green paper stage. Now it's after the white paper stage and it's time for a referendum - the point where the student population gets to decide whether the document is acceptable.

I have to admit that the publicity for the voting period has been superb. There's been balloons, flyers, posters, information on HUU's website and more. Some people might say that it's too much (too many posters was often a complaint in previous sabbatical elections) however, you cannot say that they haven't made people aware that something is happening. There was a budget of £5k for this campaign though (see minutes of the UEC meeting from August 20th).

There is a couple of things wrong with the publicity though. Firstly, they don't have the details of how to vote on the flyers (e.g. website). A big ommission, especially considering not everyone goes on the union's website regularly.

Secondly, everything says 'vote yes'. This is a classic psychological tactic that used in the NUS and used by a number of factions within the student movement. It plants a thought in the mind of the student populus that there is only one option, when there's clearly two. The whole point of having a vote is allowing students to make their own decision. The union should present their proposed documents alongside the facts and the history of the governance review. If the UEC were right, then it's quite possible that the students could vote yes without needing their choice forced.

The final point about publicity is fairly serious. Considering there is a substantial budget for this, it would be sensible for large expenses to be approved by UEC. In the minutes of the UEC meeting from September 23rd, there is this in the President's report:
"Have ordered the 'year of change' banner to go across the entrance to the Union. Apologies to all members of UEC for ordering this without approval and not consulting on the cost. Hope to have the banner up for Welcome Week."
Helen apologised for the oversight, but it's still a significant expense and it has a message that was not approved by the UEC. It sets a dangerous precedent.

Draft Constitution - Part 1
The first issue in this part of the constitution is in point 2 ('The Name'). It states:
"The Association’s name is Hull University Union."
Currently, the student union is an un-incorporated association, but under the new constitution it will be a registered charity. Surely it should read 'The charity's name is Hull University Union'.

The next problem is in point 3 ('Objects of the student union'). These are included to tell you the union's reason for existing. They have to feature in the list of charitable objectives in the Charities Act. This is from the union's proposed constitution:
"The objects of the Students’ Union are:

1.1. The purpose of Hull University Union is the advancement of Education of students at the University of Hull.
1.2. It will achieve this by:
  • 1.2.1. Promoting the interests and welfare of students at the University of Hull during their course of study and representing, supporting and advising members.
  • 1.2.2. Being the recognised representative channel between students and the University and any other external bodies.
  • 1.2.3. Providing cultural, sporting and recreational activities, opportunities to volunteer in the community and forums for discussion and debate for the personal development of its members."
For an official document, this is incredibly poor layout and could easily be misinterpreted. According to that section, the union can advance the quality of education at the university by providing such things as sporting and cultural activities. That makes no sense. Sport is an object separate to education.

In point 4 ('Application of Income and Property'), sub-clause 3 places restrictions on what money/remunaration can be given to members (for instance, no income or property of nthe charity can be given to a member) unless it's a reimbursement for a product or service. However, sub-clause 8 conflicts with that by stating that a trustee can receive a benefit not permitted in sub-clause 3 providing they declare interest, do not attend relevant meetings and do not vote.

Draft Constitution - part 2
In the section aout membership, it lists the various different types of membership for the student union:
  • Full members
  • Honorary Life members
  • Life members
  • Reciprocal members
  • Associate members
  • Temporary members
It also provides detailed information about your rights as a full member. However, there's no part of the constitution that gives information about the other types of membership.

The next point refers to Union Extraordinary General Meetings. The Board of Trustees, UEC or 100 full members can convene an EGM. Is 100 members enough peopleconsidering there are several thousand members in total? I can only assume that it's this number due to the apathy that exists amongst the members of the union. The problem is, this could lead to minority rule. A larger number is required, but nothing like e.g. 40%, because that is just ridiculous.

In the point about the board of trustees, it states that trustees must keep minutes of meetings. Wouldn't it be better if an actual secretary did this and sent the minutes to the trustees afterwards? It would ensure consistency.

Ten committments
From the UEC meeting on the June 3rd (i.e. last academic year when Ed Marsh was the President), the following committments were agreed and would form part of the new constitution:
  1. Week 2, semester 2 council and open policy forum to be held in Scarborough
  2. the removal of VP SC will be reviewed against bench marks after 2 years
  3. all committee's must be run with representatives from both campus's, e.g. Women's, Societies and Media
  4. Union Manager Scarborough to keep a record of Sabbatical Officer attendance in Scarborough, to be presented at Council in week 12
  5. creation of Video Conferencing Facilities in both Unions
  6. president to hold 2 open forums a semester in Scarborough
  7. part Time officers to visit Scarborough twice a semester
  8. to run a Scarborough Specific Marketing Campaign aimed at explaining that Scarborough students can run for cross campus positions from President to A.U Council rep on union council
  9. to safeguard the recognition of Scarborough’s individuality by ring fencing its proportion of representation for 6 years
  10. to ring fence the wages of the VP SC for 5 years, so if it is reintroduced by UEC the required funding will be available
Under the consitution that is being put to referendum, Open Policy Forums no longer exist (despite it being implied that their existence is set in stone according to the UEC minutes from September 4th). Instead, there will be a one-per-term General meeting. There is no information about whether the committments relating to OPFs would be applied to this new meeting.

There is also no follow-up information in the UEC minutes about whether point 2 will still be happening. The same applies to points about finance. Also, will any general meetings, Zone meeting, EGMs or AGMs take place in Scarborough? If this is to be explained in the standing orders, fair enough. However, standing orders should already be available for viewing on the governance review pages of They are governance documents and I presume new versions will be written.

Summary and Conclusion
The constitution that is being voted on contains sections that are poorly laid out and could be easily misinterpreted. The section about money for trustees contains a potential loophole and the publicity is highly visible, but has a message which almost forces a particular choice from the students. Parts of the publicity are not approved either and some key details have been missed off.

All that, plus the fact that some pledges agreed last year have not been included in the new constitution. Unfortunately, the proposed documents cannot be altered now as it's part way through the voting period and it would mean voiding the votes that have already been cast.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Student Unions, Politics, Governance

Monday, 12 May 2008

The HUU Governance Review

This year, after a referendum at HUU, a review of the current governance structures has been initiated. It's the second one in three years and it attempts to correct any flaws in the existing setup that was created to make the union more compliant with charity laws. At the time of typing, the green paper has been available for a few days and this post serves as a critical analysis of it.

Membership of the UEC
Currently, there are 10 members of the Union Executive Committee (7 full-time, three part-time). The part-time officers (UEOs) were a recent addition in the previous governance review. See the bottom of this page for more information. In the green paper, the following is proposed:
  • President
  • VP Community
  • VP Education
  • VP Sport
  • VP Welfare
  • Chair Scarborough Executive Committee (part-time)
There would also be the non-exec positions of Campaigns & Democracy Officer, Chair ISA, Media Officer and Societies Officer. A clear benefit of this will be the fact that meetings will be quicker. However, I think there are some problems with it.

You will notice that there is no Treasurer position on the committee, something which has been present in various forms over a number of years. The green paper states that the responsibility will be given to an external trustee. According to a source in the union, the reasons for this are:
"The charity is too complicated for anyone but an expert to understand the complicated finances"
Another reason was that it's often the case that the UST doesn't have a finance-related degree, so if the Finance Manager isn't doing his job properly, he may not notice.

During the training period for new sabbaticals, all members of the exec are given budget/finance training and there is also a presentation from Cazenove, which is the investment group HUU work with. In the handover time the present UST gives the successor information and advice about this area. The General Manager also gives comprehensive information and resources relating to charities. All that, as well as the self-learning you're expected to do, should mean that the UST would be prepared to do the job. Providing that the UST is doing their job properly, they should also be able to notice if the Finance Manager is not doing their job properly. If there is some uncertainty, you could always talk to the GM about it.

If the responsibility is given to an external trustee, it means there isn't anyone with that responsibility on the exec to give relevant reports. The external trustees aren't there all the time, so how can they do the job that the UST currently has?

I can understand why Campaigns and Democracy is a part-time position in this proposed structure. The UST used to have responsibility for societies, but that's under the remit of VP Media & Volunteering at the moment. The new proposals also take away the treasurer responsibilities, so they obviously feel there's not enough left to justify a full-time position. However, it would mean there is no-one on the executive who is responsible for ensuring there's a democratic union. There's many elections to co-ordinate and the perennial task of battling against the dreaded student apathy. Whether this is a full-time position or not, I think it deserves a position on the exec.

I can forsee the decisions about Scarborough causing big problems. I'm not sure how many people would like the fact that the Scarborough exec chair would lose VP status and not be full-time. To some people, 'Chair' doesn't sound as important as 'Vice-President'. Scarborough is a big responsibility and previous VPs of that campus have shown that they have a large amount of work to do. Could a part-timer cope with that whilst doing their degree?

This could be an attempt to strengthen the Two campuses, one union image though. If the rest of the exec spend more time at the Scarborough campus, the workload could be shared. However, there is also the issues affecting the Hull campus and the union as a whole to take care of - would this be too much for the other positions?

The green paper states that the VP (Academic Representation) would be called VP Education. I think this is a good decision because many other unions across the country (for example, Surrey SU and Loughborough SU). Apart from this and the inclusion of the zones, there doesn't seem to be a great deal of changes.

The exec might want to look at the committee lists to see if they're accurate. For example, I notice they made some valid changes to the VP Education committee list (which I recognise from Standing Order 3.001 that I rewrote), but there are still some inaccuracies (Graduate Research Committee is now called the Research Degrees Committee and there is no inclusion of the Library User Group, Free Electives Panel or Widening Participation Committee).

VP Community
The current role of Chair HUSSO is part-time, but the changes stated in this paper would mean that student community action would have a full-time officer again and more time can be given to making this valuable area of the union even better.

Meeting times
"The UEC shall meet in weeks 1, 4, 6, 8 and 10 of each semester. Meetings shall also occur outside of term-time as and when they are required"
This has the potential to be good for the increased number of part-time officers as it reduces their workload slightly. However, fewer meetings could mean that the executive is less responsive in certain situations. Remember, if there isn't enough to justify a meeting at some point, then it could always be cancelled.

This is a similar model to the one that the NUS use. I can see some students thinking that this is easier to find who is responsible for certain areas, but I see it as too many layers. You would have the zone committees who each decide on a policy that will be submitted to an Open Policy Forum. The OPFs decide which policy ideas go to a referendum (this is noted at Union Council). Too many layers means too much bureaucracy and additional paperwork.

The point about only one policy from each zone going to an OPF is a serious one. What if there is more than one vitally important policy that needs to be pushed through? It means one would have to be either abandoned or delayed until the next Zone committee. This could cause severe delays in the improvement of the union.

Open Policy Forums
The following is from the green paper:
"The OPF to Referenda process will run independently of the governance structures of HUU..."
This is total nonsense. Governance policy can pass through that process. It's part of the union's democratic processes, so how is it independent?
This is from an entry on the CommonSenseAlliance blog:
"This year, Open Policy Forums were introduced - and haven't been the biggest hit in the Union... It is all down to the shortcomings of the Constitution - it only had about three lines about OPF's - so really, the UEC have done a good job with it. But this review cements it into the constitution."
It's not all down to the constitution. Yes, it might have helped if there was more detail about them (maybe even a standing order), but in this situation it's up to the UEC to sort out suitable times and publicise them appropriately. Using and Facebook isn't necessarily enough because not everyone is a member of the relevant groups and not everyone visits regularly. I saw no posters in the union stating that these were taking place.

Referenda and voting
This is from the green paper:
"All members of UEC except the Chair are entitled to vote at UEC. All votes of UEC shall be recorded and displayed in the minutes to allow UEC to be held to account by council. In the event of a tied vote the Chair of UEC shall have a casting vote. In this instance the casting vote must be justified for the minutes."
Does this mean the number who voted for and against, or the specific names? It doesn't specify if it's 'secret ballot' and that needs to be clear (as is the case in other parts of the paper, e.g. the part about the election of zone chairs).

Proportional representation is something which is mentioned repeatedly, but there is no mention of the specific version (if I remember correctly, it's Alternative Vote, the single seat election mechanism approved by the Electoral Reform Society). The paper also doesn't mention the method of election for the multiple-seat Union Council. Just saying 'proportional representation' is far too generic because it allows people to constantly change the election method and there would be no consistency.

Other points
On page 13 of the green paper, it states that the UEC is "elected once annually", but what about the part-time officers? Does this mean that they can no-longer go for a full-time position and therefore a second year?

The paper doesn't mention the AGM anywhere, which is one of the most important events in the union calendar. The publicity arrangements for this year's AGM were heavily criticised - so much more planning is needed.

There is also no explicit mention of the fact that the trustee board can reject policy approved by the students.

This is from the CommonSenseAlliance blog entry that was mentioned earlier:
"This year we've moved to change the standing orders so that only 10% of the students have to vote to change."
I understand the reason for this. Votes in the past haven't had the required numbers to be legitimate. Going down to 10% means that more referendum results will become union policy. However, 10% isn't really representative of the whole student union membership. It needs to be a higher percentage (e.g. 20%).

I feel this is too soon after the last governance review. There hasn't been enough time to fix the initial teething problems that you get with anything new. Some of the problems could be fixed by altering timings and publicity, without the need to alter the constitution. What would other people think of us if our governance is in a constant state of flux? I'm not against regular reviews - I just don't think they should be as regular as this.

Summary and Conclusion
This green paper definitely has some good points in it. I think the people who have contributed to this have put a lot of effort in and genuinely want to make the union better. However, I believe it needs significant changes before it goes to a vote as a white paper.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: HUU, Student Unions, Politics, Governance

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

The '08 primaries - not many left

On May 6th we had the primaries for Indiana and North Carolina. These states were incredibly important for Hillary as it was a chance to build up more late momentum (after her win in Pennsylvania). For Barack Obama, they were a chance to get an even bigger lead in the delegate count prior to the Democratic National Convention in June. As for John McCain, he was able to do more profiling and preparation for the general election portion of the election season.

Here are the Democrat results for the primaries that took place on May 6th:

North Carolina
Candidate Vote %age Delegates
Barack Obama 56 58
Hillary Clinton 42 42
Candidate Vote %ageDelegates
Hillary Clinton 51 37
Barack Obama 49 33
If you just look at who won, you would think it's 1-1. However, it's a bit more complicated than that. Obama won North Carolina by a significant margin (in terms of votes and delegates) and only narrowly missed out on a win in Indiana (2% behind Clinton in votes and a difference of four between the two delegate counts). In reality, this was a good night for Obama because he takes 91 delegates and Clinton only takes 79.

Naturally, Hillary tried to put a positive spin on the results by saying:
"Not too long ago, my opponent made a prediction. He said I would probably win Pennsylvania, he would win North Carolina, and Indiana would be the tiebreaker.

Well, tonight we've come from behind, we've broken the tie, and, thanks to you, it's full speed onto the White House."
This is a clever thing to say because the voters who aren't necessarily interested in the finer details may think she's still got a really strong chance of winning and then go and vote for her. The truth is that she has a chance, but it's far from strong.

This is what Obama had to say:
"You know, there are those who were saying that North Carolina would be a game changer in this election. But today what North Carolina decided is that the only game that needs changing is the one in Washington, D.C.

I want to start by congratulating Senator Clinton on what appears to be her victory in the great state of Indiana."
This was also a clever things to say. He is getting the people of North Carolina on his side and also pandering to the Hillary Clinton supporters. This will become increasingly important if he wins the nomination because he'll need all the votes he can get when he goes against McCain, who's had solid GOP backing for a while.

So, how can Hillary win? Well, according to the CNN Election Center, Obama has 1,836 delegates and superdelegates. Clinton has 1,681 (which means there is a difference of 155). In the remaining primaries, there are 217 delegates available. This is one of the reasons why I said Clinton didn't have a strong chance earlier. She would have to win nearly all the remaining primaries by significant margins.

Of course, it would be easier for her if some of the undecided superdelegates pledged their allegiance to her (270 available), but they might just go with the popular vote if they haven't made their minds up yet.

Michael Tomasky has an interesting point in this article. Even though he believes Obama has the advantage, he thinks that Obama has had multiple opportunities to "close the deal" and hasn't done that so far. He wonders if that is an indicator of what may happen.

Obama, like any candidate, can theoretically have a runaway victory providing there's enough positive publicity and decent early results. Obama certainly had that (e.g. Iowa). However, John McCain has proved that you can come from behind and finish strongly. Tomasky cites New Hampshire, California, Texas or Ohio and Pennsylvania as points where he could have won. I agree with Pennsylvania because of the significant number of delegates, but the others aren't good choices as they are too early on in the process (especially new Hampshire - that was the second primary/caucus).

This article states that some of Clinton's aides are now saying it's nearly impossible. That is something very important. If the people in your campaign team are losing faith in your chances, what hope do you have?

It gets even worse for Clinton because Obama seems to have survived the problematic issue of Jeremiah Wright - his former pastor. That could have (quite easily) turned into a public relations nightmare, but it hasn't.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: USA, Elections, Politics, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton,

Friday, 25 April 2008

The NUT industrial action

On Thursday, April 24th, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) members went on strike for one day, but there is the possibility of further action in the future. The reason for the strike was poor pay and conditions, however I think that this is a dubious claim and the type of action was the wrong one.

The following is a statement from the NUT website:
"Thousands of members turned out to support this day of action. It shows the NUT made the right decision to call upon its members to strike. Erosion of teachers’ pay is now firmly on the public agenda as a result. We have highlighted the case for pay which at least keeps up with the rate of inflation as measured by RPI."
So, the main point is that they feel they are not being paid enough for the work that they do. I will agree that teachers do an absurdly large amount of work and can get very stressed as a result. However, I do think they get decent wages. In this document, the following pay scales are shown:
Level E & W I. Ldn O. Ldn Fringe
M1 £20,133 £24,168 £23,118 £21,102
M2 £21,726 £25,548 £25,548 £22,692
M3 £23,472 £27,327 £26,247 £24,438
M4 £25,278 £29,328 £28,053 £26,250
M5 £27,270 £31,584 £30,432 £28,239
M6 £29,427 £33,936 £32,751 £30,393
N.B.: E&W = England and Wales, I. Ldn = Inner London, O. Ldn = Outer London

That doesn't seem too bad, even on the bottom end of the scale. It means that a relatively inexperienced teacher gets more than I do in a year. However, that is an unfair comparison as their work goes beyond 9-5. I'll compare the above rates of pay with the wages in nursing - another high pressure job with long hours:
Level Min.(£) Max.(£)
Band 1 12,182 13,253
Band 2 12,577 15,523
Band 3 14,437 17,257
Band 4 16,853 20,261
Band 5 19,683 25,424
Band 6 23,458 31,779
Band 7 28,313 37,326
Band 8A 36,112 43,335
Band 8B 42,064 52,002
Band 8C 50,616 62,402
Band 8D 60,669 75,114
Band 9 71,646 90,607
According to the NHS payscales, a teacher at the M1 level in England and Wales gets paid more than:
  • Clinical support workers (both nursing and community)
  • Clinical support workers - higher level (nursing, community and mental health)
  • Maternity care assistants
  • Nurse associate practitioners (acute, community and mental health)
  • Nursery nurse (community)
  • Midwife (entry level)
A more experienced, M6 level teacher gets more than those plus most non-management nurses. I should point out that there's a scale of pay for teachers above the one that I have shown where they get paid more and advanced skill teachers can get over £30, 000. These numbers make me think that teacers aren't the ones who are struggling.

Support for the strike
Despite this, there are groups who support the strike. The University and Colleges Union (UCU) and the National Union of Students (NUS) recently did demonstrations that called for teachers to get better pay.

Photo originally taken by Dave Lewis and can be found here.

In the Independent, there were quotes from a few supporters and they were mainly people who'd recently graduated from university and were still saddled with debt:

Carrie-Ann Taylor earns £25,000 a year and is paying back her student loan at a rate of £1,000 per month:
"That's half my income gone. I'm getting a 2.45 per cent pay award but inflation is at about 4.5 per cent. Even as an English teacher I can see that the maths doesn't work."
Catherine Tooley survived on £3,000 as a student and is paying back her loan with a rate of 4.8% interest:
""Only half that as a pay rise is a bit of an insult," she said. "I have to spend part of the summer holiday working at another job to pay back this debt I got in order to be a teacher."
I have to agree that the situations described above are tough ones. When I was studying for my degree I often heard stories of people struggling due to lack of funds. For some of them that was the case even if they had a proper budget and didn't spend their money too quickly. However, paying back their student loans won't be as difficult as it is for other people.

Other teaching unions and the government
It seems the NUT are the only union that want strike action (it's important to note that even though the UCU want better pay for teachers, their members are not on strike). The Association of Teachers and Lecturers strongly advise their members to not show support as they say the action is unlawful. The NASUWT agree with the pay offer and have no plans to strike. According to their website, when other teaching unions go on strike, it is unlawful for any NASUWT member to join them.

According to this article, all of the main political parties condemn the strike aswell. With this lack of support from a number of major bodies, their chances of getting what they want have to have been reduced.

What about the children?
  • In Liverpool, 135 schools were either closed or had to turn some pupils away. Council officials had predicted 67.
  • In Birmingham, predictions were that 75 schools would be affected; 164 closed and 84 turned some pupils away.
  • Camden, Nottinghamshire, Worcestershire, Warwick, Middlesbrough, Oxfordshire, Doncaster and Bristol all reported more schools affected by the strike.
  • In Wales, half of schools were shut or partially shut.
Those stats were in this article. The children who go to the schools in all of those areas had their education interrupted. It might only have been for a day, but that could still cause problems as it's e.g. harder to get all the required knowledge across to the pupils/students in the time that they have (that will be even more apparent if there is more strike action).

This also affects working parents. They will have to rush to find necessary childcare for the time that would normally be taken up by school. They might even have to take a day off, which will disrupt their working routines too.

Summary and Conclusion
As I have alreay mentioned, teachers have an incredibly stressful job. The media piles pressure on the curriculum that they teach and they can frequently get abuse from some of the pupils/students. They may even get criticised by parents at times. However, they do get decent pay (especially when comparing it to some people in the medical profession) and the strike action is unlawful. Any future action has the potential to harm the progress of many pupils/students. In short, I didn't support the action that took place yesterday and I won't support further action from the NUT either.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: NUT, Strike, Teachers, Employment

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Pennsylvania Wars: Clinton Strikes Back

Photo taken by Barbara Kinney

Before the voting day in Pennsylvania, many people felt that Obama would lose in that state. He was behind in the polls and the citizens are people who fall into the categories that typically vote for Clinton. However, I'm always skeptical about polls - especially after the surprise in Iowa earlier on this year.

Anyway, as the results show, the polls were correct:
CandidateVote %ageDelegates
Hillary Clinton5552
Barack Obama4546
This is undoubtedly a good result for her as it's a big state with plenty of delegates and it will give her a certain amount of momentum. However, it's not as big a margin as everyone thinks.

It seems that even after all this time, the media still doesn't undertand how the election process works in the US. They are all reporting the "big" 10% gap and forgetting that the vote percentage counts for absolutely nothing. The important statistic is the relatively small difference between the two in terms of delegates (six). That doesn't prove there's a huge swing towards Hillary (which is why I said 'a certain amount of momentum').

This is what Hillary had to say after the results were announced:
"You know, some people counted me out and said to drop out. But the American people don't quit, and they deserve a president who doesn't quit, either"
It's true - she hasn't quit. It would have been easy to do that earlier on because Obama continually won primaries and got to the point where he went past her delegate count. However, she realises that there is still time to overtake him because there are 9 Democrat primaries/caucuses and numerous delegates left before the the party's convention.

As a side note, it seems that Mike Gravel dropped out a few weeks ago. It shows how effective his campaign was when the media barely report it. I was thinking that he decided to remain in the race because he wanted to do some profiling before a run as an independent. However, due to the lack of media coverage I doubt that many people will know about him when the general election starts.

So, what about John McCain? I haven't heard much from this guy lately. It's possible that he could be pleased that the Democrat race is still going on. It means that there is still indecisiveness among the party and that could give him an advantage. It also means he has a bit more time to prepare his general election campaign. However, the continuing Democrat contest gives more media coverage to that party. It means that the voting population know more about the candidates and what they stand for. To stop this from being a problem, I think McCain needs to start doing a lot more.

According to the polls, the presumptive GOP nominee is way behind Obama and Clinton. As an example, here are the fundraising totals for March:
CandidateMoney ($)
Barack Obama40m
Hillary Clinton20m
John McCain15m
It's amazing that Obama is able to raise twice as much as Hillary and 25m more than McCain in just one month. It'll give him a great advantage interms of creating publicity if he becomes his party's candidate.

It's interesting that, despite all that Obama momentum and the total dominance of McCain on the Republican side, there are still some sections of the media that have a bias towards Clinton. Take this article in the Telegraph as an example. All it mentions is Hillary. It's almost as if nobody else was running. I wonder if this is still the case on some of the US media networks aswell.

Another thing that hasn't changed is the ability of each candidate to use tired clichés. On Monday's episode of WWE RAW, each candidate made a short speech about why they should be the President. Each speech contained a healthy dose of clichés that were (presumably) included so that they would appear to be in touch with the people that they are talking to. There were classics such as "the election is like the King of the Ring" and "Can you smell what Barack is cookin'?". Oh dear. I'm sorry, but if they wanted to appear 'in touch', they should have avoided those and respected the intelligence of the fans by just talking about policies.

Anyway, the race to the Whitehouse carries on and the conventions to decide the candidates are getting closer (I say that because McCain is only presumptive and, technically, the delegates still have to cast their votes). There will be many people who will be glad when this lengthy process is over, but I have found it both interesting and enlightening.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: USA, Election, Politics, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Zimbabwe - the current situation

Since my last post about the problems in Zimbabwe, there has been even more developments - most of them are worrying. There has been increasing pressure on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and even more comment from the international community as well as further involvement from South Africa.

The ZEC and the results
The results of the presidential part of the Zimbabwean elections have not been announced yet and the Movement for Democratic Change (the opposition party led by Morgan Tsvangirai) has gone through the courts to get this information released.

The decision in the court case was recently revealed in the state-owned newspaper, The Herald:
"HIGH Court judge Justice Tendayi Uchena yesterday dismissed with costs an application by MDC-T seeking an order compelling the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to announce results of the presidential election"
This can only be seen as an unfortunate result for the MDC. Later on in that article, it's reported that a spokesman for the ZEC mentioned that it was up to them when the results should be released. That same spokesman also said that the "integrity" of the ZEC should not be questioned and that "trying to interfere with the independence of ZEC would create problems in future".

The Constitution
It's interesting that he used the word independence in his statement. Let's examine that. The following is from the Constitution of Zimbabwe, which was created in the year that Mugabe took power:
"1. There shall be a commission to be known as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission which shall consist of:
a. a chairman who shall be a judge of the High Court or the Supreme Court or a person qualified to be appointed as a judge of the High Court or the Supreme Court appointed by the President after consultation with the Judicial Service Commission

b. six other members, at least three of whom shall be women, appointed by the President from a list of nine nominees submitted by the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders.
2. If the appointment of a chairman of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is not consistent with any recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission in terms of subsection (1)(a), the President shall cause Parliament to be informed as soon as practicable."
This basically states that the chairman and all other members of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission are appointed by the President (Mugabe). It also states that he must consult with the judicial branch when appointing the chair, but (according to section 84 of the constitution), Mugabe also selects the judges. These facts mean that the ZEC can't possibly be independent. If you read the full article in the state-owned The Herald, you'll notice that this issue isn't raised - Mugabe wouldn't want the population knowing all the facts.

Thabo Mbeki and the SADC
The Southern African Development Community has enlisted the South African President, Thabo Mbeki, as the person who will mediate with them and Zimbabwe. At the moment, Mbeki feels that there is no crisis in that country:
"There is no crisis in Zimbabwe....The body authorised to release the results is the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, let's wait for them to announce the results,"
What the South African leader fails to understand is that even though the ZEC are the group that release the results, they are not independent. Theoretically, Mugabe could influence them so that they delay the announcment for several months.

Another indication that Mbeki is out of touch his own party, the ANC, disagreeing with him:
"The ANC regards the (Zimbabwe) ruling party ZANU-PF as an ally. However it is concerned with the state of crisis that Zimbabwe is in and perceives this as negative for the entire SADC region"
Oh dear - was he really the right choice for mediation and diplomatic duties in this situation?

A strike
The MDC stated that there should be a general strike (in the form of a 'stay-in'). They felt that it would force the ZEC into releasing the results. A lot of citizens ignored this as they simply cannot afford a strike and the unemployment rate is 80%, so people have questioned whether it would make a difference. I feel that any strike at this stage would be a bad move for the MDC. Doing nothing would give Mugabe more time and it's unlikely that the ZEC would be influenced anyway.

The following is from this article:
"Government spokesman Bright Matonga said the only violence in Zimbabwe was by the opposition MDC party, which he said had "sent their youth to burn down property."
This was said in response to the MDC's accusations of intimidation and suggestion that Mugabe uses youth militias. What Zanu-PF (the current ruling party) fail to point out is that their supporters have been clearly violent and in one reported case, they have even killed an MDC supporter. The Zimbabwe police claim that the violence isn't political, but that is ridiculous. However, I guess the police were forced to say that as they are run by the government.

David Miliband and the UN Charter
The UK's Foreign Secretary recently stated that "The international community, given the consequences of the situation there, has a responsibility also to engage with the issues". I'm pleased to see that this stance has been adopted. Non-military action by external countries is the way forward in this situation. In my previous blog post I stated that no country has the right to intervene by using force.

Morgan Tsvangirai recently called for the intervention of the UN and other countries, but it's important to remember that the UN or it's members cannot take military action as it's only a domestic issue. If Mugabe is re-elected, it would not e.g. greatly affect the economic status of all the other nations. If military action was taken right now, the Charter of the United Nations would be broken (in several places).

For instance, point 1 of Article 1 states that the UN should maintain international peace and security. Starting a war would be the exact opposite of that (anyone remember Iraq?). Point 4 of Article 2 states that:
"All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state"
Only using military force in international situations is also mentioned in articles 41 and 42.

Conclusion and Summary
The biased Zibabwe Electoral Commission is delaying the results and isn't stating when they will be released. The result of a court case means that there is no progress. The MDC is (worryingly) making some questionable decisions such as proposing a strike, but fortunately nothing happened with that. The international community can do nothing but continue to impose sanctions. Alongside that, it seems that violence is increasing dramatically and it only improves the chances of Mugabe being re-elected. However, as he has lost the parliamentary election, how much power would he have?

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, Election, Government

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Ofcom's social networking report

There have been many developments in social networks recently. It all started with the likes of Friendster and Friends Reunited. Now we have Facebook and many more people hoping to mimic or eclipse the success of Facebook's creator, Mark Zuckerberg. The positives and negatives of this variety of website were looked at in Ofcom's recent report called Social Networking: A quantitative and qualitative research report into attitudes, behaviours and use. This blog post is an analysis of that report.

What were the objectives?
  • to set social networking sites in the wider media literacy, online and communications context
  • to profile the use of sites
  • to understand people’s use of sites
  • to investigate concerns about privacy and safety
Looking at these makes me think that Ofcom didn't make any large assumptions before conducting the research. They will also be looking into one of the most important issues that has been talked about recently - security, which makes the report relevant. One concern I do have is that they are using significance testing. There is an argument against this as it can require a lot of benefit for very little benefit. You could quite easily create this report and ignore statistical signifcance.

Research methodologies
This is an area of the report where I have major concerns. It is absolutely vital to get the methodology right. If you don't, there's a risk of the data being misinterpreted and it being unrepresentative. This social networking report makes use of multiple methodologies.

The work that was done especially for this report has a sample size that is far too small (52). That means that the outcomes are likely to be unrepresentative of the UK's opinion. There is also an unfair weighting given to the users of social networks (39 of of that 52 are users). It would be much better if the ratio was 1:1. People who have used social networks before also had to complete a small task beforehand. We have no idea of what that task was, or if there was a time limit. Another thing is that we don't know if the experience of those who are users is equal. Finally, the observation is done using pairs, groups of three and groups of four. I see no point in having anything other than the pairs.

For complete descriptions of the methodologies in the other sources, look at Annex 1 of the report. Here are some of the problems I have with those sources:
  • In the report Ofcom Media Literacy Adult Audit research, they class adults as 16+, which is completely wrong of courses and means that an inappropriate group of people are used in the results. The sample size is bigger (2905), but it's not necessarily representative. There is also no specifics of the weightings used on the old census data and we don't know the diversity of the sample.
  • In the Ofcom Communications Tracking Survey, adults are incorrectly defined as 15+ and we don't know the specific of the weighting system that they state is used to make the data representative.
  • The Ofcom Young People and Media Tracking Survey is used, but we aren't told about the weighting and data is used from 2001 (the census).
  • Third party research is also used and I don't know about the methdologoies used there. I wonder if they're up to standard!
Engaging with social networks
This section looks at internet usage and rules imposed regarding the use of social networking. It therefore means that the reader will have a better idea about how popular social networking is at what it's limits are.

An early part of this section uses this article as a reference. The article is about Trasport for London stopping it's employees from using Facebook.
"UK users spend an average three hours 11 minutes on the site each month, according to data from web monitoring firm comScore, slightly lower than the global average of three hours 41 minutes."
This might be true, but what if the employees complete their work to the required standard, despite their usage of the site. 11 minutes isn't a lot. Also, how much of that 11 minutes of use was during work hours? You also have to remember that this decision was based on "concerns", rather than 'evidence'.

It's interesting that the people who noted this used F.W. Taylor's Scientific Management model. That's the one that states money is the most important thing and determines whether an employee works hard. Elton Mayo performed the more recent Hawthorne Studies and found it's not necessarily the most important factor. He found that a pleasant work environment that has the occasional break is important to. Maslow discovered (using his hierarchy of needs research) that both structure and socialising are crucial. Surely these two studies prove that employees shouldn't be banned from using social networks and providing that they don't use them 24 hours a day, that break from work could actally improve overall performance.

Other rules are generally imposed on children as some parents feel that too much internet usage can have negative effects. Section 4.6 of the report states that rules include not being allowed to meet someone in person after you have befriended them online and revealing personal details. I can understand the one about befriending people online though because some children may not realise that some of those people could be paedophiles.

Attitudes and usage of social networks
Sections 5 and 6 concentrate on these areas. Section 5 focuses on the types of people who use social networks and the reasone why some sections of the public don't use them. Apparently, the categories that the users tend to fall into include "Alpha socialisers" (those who like making new friends at every opportunity), "Attention seekers", "Followers", "Faithfuls" (those use use the sites to strengthen existing relationships) and "Functionals" (these are the people who use a site for a specific purpose, such as finding out information about a potential employee, or looking at upcoming events for a local band).

The report states that those who don't use social networks are people who think they're a "waste of time", think there are too many security issues or are people who don't have enough IT expertise. This information is both interesting and useful.

The report mentions that these benefits include being "a tool to build confidence", "an easy way to link up with old friends" and being "an efficient way to manage existing relationships". It also points out some negatives though. For instance:
"Some younger respondents who were committed users of these sites reported using them ‘to get back at people they had fallen out with’, by posting rude or abusive message on their sites or even going so far as to set up a fake site in the person’s name and posting obscene messages about them."
I don't think that section 6 tells society anything new at all - it simply confirms what we already know.

Privacy and safety
Section 7.3 of the report lists the following risks:
  • Leaving the privacy settings ‘open’ as default
  • Giving out personal information
  • Posting personal photographs
  • Becoming online friends with people they did not know
  • Meeting people they didn’t know
The report (correctly) states that these problems often arise due to a lack of expertise, lack of reasoned judgement or a feeling of invincibility (particularly relevant with young children and teenagers). It is also true that registration procedures for some websites are totally ineffective. For instance, without an image of a randomised code for the user to enter during the signup process, it easy easy for 'bots' to enter a site. It is also easy to work out what birth dates would mean you are above the minimum age to use a social network.

However, not everything is the fault of the social network. Many make great efforts to provide help systems, technical support and customisable privacy settings. It's up to the users to take notice of these before they consider using a service - it's common sense.

This report gives the reader plenty of interesting information in a well structured document. There are plenty of fairly useful facts and statistics, but I don't think it tells us many new things (e.g. we already know there are privacy concerns). I am also really worried that they haven't taken care with the research methodologies, which risks making a lot of the work useless.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Social Networking, Ofcom, Internet, Privacy

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe

1980 will always be perceived as an important year in the history of Zimbabwe. It was the year the Robert Mugabe became Prime Minister of the country. He stayed in that position until 1987. After that he was appointed President and discontinued the role of Prime Minister. It meant he had increased powers and control over the country. Prior to 1980, he was the Secretary General to parties that were supressed due to their opposition to white rule. His current part is the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

Despite is involvement in the end of white majority rule in that country, he has made several decisions which have had catastrophic effects. To say he is reviled by the international community is an understatement. Over the past 28 years, the economy has spiralled out of control, healthcare is poor and foreign-relations are non-existant.

The economy
In this article, it's reported that the current rate of inflation is 24,000%. The country has also recently introduced a $10m bank note. As an example of the price change of products, the current retail price of the state-owned Herald newspaper is $3m. That is a 200,000% more than it's price in January 2007. A further example is the value of basic food ingredients. On the TV news yesterday I noticed that a simple bag of flour was $12.5m. These statistics mean that citizens find it difficult to get information about what is going on and also starve becasue they cannot afford the basics for meals. So, Mugabe wanted an end to the white majority rule and he's now forgotten about the people he fought for in the first place.

International relations
I don't believe that nations such as the United States have any right to intervene in the running of the country, regardless of whether they oppose Mugabe. However, this doesn't mean they cannot apply sanctions. In this document, there are details about restrictions, which include the following:
"The new Executive Order prohibits U.S. persons, wherever located, or anyone in the United States from engaging in any transactions with any person, entity or organization found to: 1.) be undermining democratic institutions and processes in Zimbabwe; 2.) have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support to these entities; 3.) be or have been an immediate family member of a sanctions target; or 4.) be owned, controlled or acting on behalf of a sanctions target."
This means that a US citizen cannot conduct any business with the current Zimbabwean government or it's supporters. The European Union has also implemented sanctions and these include travel to Zimbabwean government members being banned from travelling to EU countries and European-based assets being frozen. The EU ruling was introduced in 2002, but it has already been broken as Mugabe was allowed to attend an EU-Africa summit last year. At that event he signed a pledge which meant he would introduce democracy. Allowing him to attend that summit means the strength of the sanctions has been weakened and that 'pledge' doesn't necessarily mean he'd do anything.

Honours and awards
This has proven to be a highly controversial subject. In June 2007, The Times reported that Mugabe had just been stripped of an honorary degree that had been awarded to him by the University of Edinburgh in 1984. That was the time that a British university has done that. The University of Massechusetts has also given him an honrary degree in the past and there was a large camapign to revoke that award aswell.

In March 2007, Andrew Robathan MP called for Mugabe's Order of the Bath medal to be revoked. However, Margaret Beckett (the Foreign Secretary at the time) felt that there were more important matters to deal with. While it's true that the oppression of the Zimbabwean people takes priority, I do not believe that Robert Mugabe should have any awards such as those that I have mentioned. They are for people who have achieved great things, not for people who destroy countries and intimidate people.

The opposition
For many years, the largest opposition body has been the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which is lead by Morgan Tsvangirai. His period as leader of that party hasn't been easy. In 2003, he was arrested for organising anti-government protests. This was a move to silence both competition and free speech - both would mean that his control over the country would have been weakened. In 2004, the Guardian reported that Tsvangirai had been accused of plotting to assassinate Mugabe, but he was later found to be not guilty. If it was true, it would have meant that Tsvangirai had gone down to Mugabe's level - that would have been terrible.

In Zimbabwe, there are separate elections for the House of Assembly (210 seats), the Senate (93 seats) and the role of President. Both the lower (Assembly) and upper (Senate) houses operate on plurality voting systems (First Past The Post) and the election for President is uses Universal Adult Franchise, which basically means you can vote if you're an adult. If none of the presidential candidates receives 50% of the vote, there is a runoff between those with the most votes.

At the time of typing, Mugabe's Zanu-PF has lost the elections for the houses. The full results can be found here. Tsvangirai's MDC won with 99 seats, compared to Zanu-PF's 97.

As for the Presidential election, one of two things could happen. Either Mugabe will step down and Tsvangirai would be elected, or there would be a runoff as neither man as achieved the required 50% (despite the MDC saying otherwise). This could potentially take a long time and would give Mugabe an opportunity to use coercion to get people to vote for him.

Robert Mugabe has destroyed the quality of life for the people of Zimbabwe, despite being involved in the ending of white majority rule. International relations are hostile and he uses intimidation to retain control. In short, he has to go. Morgan Tsvangirai would have to keep his promises though. Without that, sanctions would not be lifted and the country would go nowhere.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, Election, Government

Monday, 24 March 2008

The Single Transferable Vote system

In the publication How to conduct an election by the Single Transferable Vote, the following objectives for a valid election are listed:
  • To discover the wishes of the electorate
  • To ensure that as many voters as possible have an equal effect on the outcome
  • To ensure as many people as possible have their choice of elected representatives
  • To make sure that the outcome of the election is proportional to views of the nation
The publication goes on to say that multple voting systems fulfil these criteria, which is perfectly true.It is also true that multiple methods don't meet all those objectives. For instance, the United States use the Electoral College, which discovers the wishes of the electorate (the 'popular vote'), but not everyone has an equal say in the result as delegates decide who gets into the Whitehouse and there are also different types of delegates.

The authors of the publication believe that the Single Transferable Vote (STV) method achieves all the above objectives with "economy, efficiency and certainty". So, how does STV work? Basically, you have a list of candidates and you put them in your preferred order. In the first round of counting, the person who had the least '1's gets knocked out and votes for them get transferred. People who were the second choice get those votes added to their total and the person with the most votes at the end of the final round wins. There is a version of this system which uses Re-open nominations (RON). This means that if RON gets the most votes, the relevant officials have to restart the election for that position (or positions).

The Electoral Reform Society offers these arguments in favour of the STV system:
  • The system offers more choice
  • Fewer votes are wasted
  • Parties have a powerful incentive to present a balanced set of candidates (helping gender balance and opportunities for ethnic minorities)
  • Parliament is more likely to be representative of a nation's views and more responsive
  • No safe seats
  • Negative campaigning is diminished
  • Tactical voting isn't necessary
  • A more sophisticated link between constituency and representative
The Chief Executive of the ERS made the following comment in this article:
"Make no mistake. The change in the way Scotland votes has transformed the political landscape. It has empowered voters to boot out previously unshakable administrations that simply don’t enjoy popular support. It has given a voice to independents and party candidates in places that were until 2007 no go areas."
In 2003, voters in Vancouver decided they wanted to use an STV system. According to the author, a by-election (which was recent when that article was posted) would have had a very different using that method. He stated that under the current system, 66% of the people didn't influence the outcome. He went on to mention that votes wouldn't be wasted using STV. You can read the complete article here.

So, many people seem to think it's the way to go (not just in this country). A major organisation also has a large list of the system's advantages. It is also the de facto method of voting for elections in student politics. What could be wrong with it? Why would you want anything else? At the most basic level it achieves all four of the objectives at the top of this blog post.

There are problems with Single Transferable Vote though. The ERS list of advantages states that there would be "no safe seats". This is nonsense. With First Past The Post, it's true that you can get the majority of people voting for the same people every year. However, under STV voting preferences could also be the same every time. In that case it's not the system that makes the difference, it's the quality of candidates and party loyalty.

Another point was that parliament would be more representative and responsive. Unfortunately, STV doesn't stop candidates (or parties) from saying one thing during an election campaign and then changing their minds once they are elected. This is another area where the voting system makes no difference. It's not going to be more responsive either. That can only be improved with changes to governmental administration and faster decision making from the politicians.

As for a "sophisticated" link between the constituencies and representatives, I would have to disagree. The ERS says there is more incentive to campaign at a local level, which would mean that the politicians are in sync with the electorate. It's not STV that does this though - it's the approach of the politicians. You could have perfectly good local campaigning under First Past The Post aswell because you are still trying to get as many people as possible to vote for you.

The ERS also talk about reduced tactical voting. Sure, with FPTP you could hope that a third party takes away potential votes from your opponent to increase your chances - that can definitely be considered tactical. However, it's also tactical to say "if you're not putting me as your first preference, at least put me as number 2", because even if you're behind after the first round, you could always catch up later and win.

What about the article about voting and elections in Vancouver? It's true that under STV, your voting preference has greater longevity as you are allowed more than one choice. It would mean you would still have a say in future rounds if your first choice was the first to be eliminated. However, what if some voters only want to consider one person/party or less than the total number of choices? There votes aren't carried all the way through in that case. There is no real incentive to consider the views of all the candidates.

There's also the perennial evil that is voter apathy. How does STV counteract that. In all the articles and papers that I have found, nothing is mentioned about this. Getting the population of the country more interested in politics is the only real way to make a Parliament or set of officers representative. It means it is more likely that those who are elected will be the most responsive ('most responsive' doesn't necessarily mean 'responsive enough' though).

In conclusion, I don't think that Single Transferable Vote is a system that has definite advantages over other methods such as First Past The Post. I prefer FPTP because it means the party with the most votes wins and that is shown in a quicker way because there is only one round. It doesn't mean that a party is chosen because they were voted e.g. 5th choice the most times.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Voting, Politics

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

E-voting: should we use it?

There are multiple methods of voting and, for many years, a paper-based method has been preferred (in the UK, the United States and many other countries). However, in recent years there has been movements towards electronic methods. Several people have pointed out flaws, but there are also some great benefits. So, should we change to e-voting and what version of it should we use?

Governmental stances
The Institute for Public Policy Research published a background paper called E-voting: Policy and Practice and it revealed that the UK government has plans to implement an e-voting system as a way of increasing voter turnout. In the government paper In the Service of Democracy, there were four things listed that could help to achieve their goal:
  • Online electoral register
  • Online registration and online applications for postal votes
  • Online and text voting
  • Electronic counting and collating of election results
The United States have had e-voting systems for a number of years. In March 2002, California approved the Voting Modernization Bond Act, which allowed the purchase of modern electronic voting systems to replace their existing punch-card method.

The following shows the state's committment to this form of voting:
"In December 2003 California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley released My Vote Counts: California's Plan for Voting in the 21st Century, which outlines California's plan for complying with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The state expects to receive over $100 million in HAVA funds. In November 2003 the Secretary of State issued a position paper on the deployment of touch-screen voting systems in California."
The Electoral Reform Society disapprove of most of the current state of e-voting in their policy document that can be found here. However, one thing they do approve of is electronic counting of paper ballots. They feel it speeds up the whole process and if it failed, you could always do a manual count as there is a paper-baseed element to it. The IPPR document mentioned earlier also details the benefits of e-counting and goes on to say that "In India the electronic system allowed the results to be announced a matter of hours after the polls closed".

I'm glad that there is approval for electronic counting and I can understand why some people would want a paper backup. However, there really is no need for paper providing the technology is implemented properly. For example, you could have a voting machine using RAID 1, which means that if the primary disk fails, you still have the information on the second disk and you could even remove it and do the counting on another system. If you have to use paper ballots, you could always do multiple electronic counts (possibly on more than one machine) to ensure accuracy. That would reduce the amount of staff/volunteers required and therefor reduce costs.

Machine voting
The following is from the Electoral Reform Society's policy:
"To minimise the risk of fraud, voting machines should produce voter verifiable audit trails. Rather than the voter completing a ballot paper, the machine should produce a ballot paper which the voter verifies and then puts in a ballot box. Should there be a dispute over the result, the paper ballots should be regarded as the definitive votes rather than those recorded on the machines.

Additionally, there should be safeguards equivalent to those described for e-counting."
I get the impression that they would be happy happier if machines weren't used as their suggestion still goes through the same amount of paper as a non-electronic system, therefore reducing the machine to 'an extra hurdle', which could potentially slow things down.
"Following the March 2004 primary election, the performance of Diebold touch-screen systems used in some California counties came under increased scrutiny. In public hearings conducted by the Secretary of State's Voting Systems and Procedures Panel, it was confirmed not only that uncertified versions of Diebold software had been used in some counties, but that some of the software had been inadequately tested and had performed poorly, resulting in lost and miscast votes"
If you read the quote above, you can see why some people would stop trusting machine voting. However, that situation wasn't totally the fault of the machines. It was the counties at fault for not implementing approved systems.

Remote voting
I can understand why the ERS don't approve of this as networks can be hacked and if you have unsupervised locations, there's the possibility of coercion. Despite this, you could still have polling stations with electronic voting machines until the security for remote voting has been suitably improved.

In all the articles and research about e-voting, the biggest problem is security (especially in the case of remote voting). The IPPR document states that
  • ID cards and/or passwords could be stolen
  • If passwords are to be used, they would need to be short so they can be remembered, but that makes them more vulnerable
  • Biometrics could be used, but there would be a huge cost (the UK government estimates £31bn)
  • Viruses, firewall holes and network hacking
  • Voting programs are made by commercial sources. In the US there were calls to make the code 'open source' to ensure transparency, but doing that would mean voting systems could be hacked more easily
The last two problems could instantly be solved by not having remote voting until security has improved. You could just have unnetworked voting terminals and put together the totals at the end of the voting period. With biometrics, there is a long-term benefit, so the high cost might be worth it. Biometric cards would definitely be better than standard ID cards.

So, how would you improve security so that remote voting could be trusted? Well, you could use strong encryption on the database where the votes are kept. You could also use SQL stored procedures for website logins. This has been proved to protect against things such as SQL injection. There's also RAID, mirrored servers and making sure the server is in a physically secure location. Some would say that encryption can be weak, but there are also extremely strong varieties.

Paper-based systems
Dr. Rebecca Mercuri is a noted expert in this field and was involved with the decision to have a hand recount of votes in Florida in the 2000 US Presidential election. She strongly opposes any 100% electronic method (so she'll probably not be happy with the fact that 23 US states don't require paper records of votes). In this article, she mentions the problems in California. What Dr. Mercuri fails to realise is that is was at least partly the fault individual counties for not using approved versions of the Diebold voting system. She also doesn't consider the fact that a lot of security problems are caused by the machines being networked (they don't have to be). E-voting speeds up the counting process and can help people with disabilities, so there is benefits.

Disabled people
According to the IPPR background paper, privacy is increased for disabled people (this is because they can use the same systems instead of going to a separate location). The height of the machines could also be increased or decreased for those with back problems (or for people in wheelchairs). You could also have audio versions of the ballot for those who are blind. E-voting can therefore make democracy more inclusive.

In Britain there were several trials (15 in total) and the most notable ones were in Swindon and Sheffield. In both cases the voter turnout increased. In Swindon, 61% of voters in a survey felt that e-voting was better and 94% stated that they would use e-voting again in a general election. In 2002 (the Swindon trial), turnout was as high as 31.2%. This may seem low, but it's still a significant increase compared to previous years (for further details of the trials, see the E-voting: Policy and Practice document).

Usage in the student movement
Many student unions across the country have recently started to use e-voting and most seem to include remote voting in their implementation because it means people don't necessarily have to go to the campus just to vote (they may not necessarily have lectures/seminars/labs on that day). At Hull University Union, the first year of e-voting had had 1718 voters, which was a 25% increase on the 06/07 total. There has been a lot of controversy with remote voting though. The University of Essex's student union had to change the result of their presidential election because there was electoral misconduct and an unusually large number of votes coming from certain IP addresses. This could have meant that people were taking others over to a particular machine and influencing the way they vote. Coercion might have happened, but cancelling all the votes from those IP addresses could mean that some perfectly legitimate votes were made useless. They should have got the usernames and investigated those people instead.

There are (currently) a number of security issues with e-voting and many of those are linked to remote voting. This is unfortunate because remote voting allows greater flexibility. However, there are ways to improve security. E-counting and machine voting definitely have benefits and there is no reason why they cannot be used straight away (providing approved systems are implemented).

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: E-voting, Technology

Sunday, 9 March 2008

The BMA vs. MMA

Since 1982, the British Medical Association have had a strong anti-boxing stance. It has called for a total ban on all amateur and professional competition. However, everyone has ignored this and many people continue to watch and enjoy the highly trained competitors in action.

Now the BMA are taking on the world of Mixed Martial Arts:
"As with boxing the BMA opposes mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting and calls for a complete ban on this type of contact sport. Ultimate fighting can be extremely brutal and has been described as ‘human cockfighting’. It can cause traumatic brain injury, joint injuries and fractures.

The BMA believes that doctors cannot stand by while violent fighting tournaments are allowed to take place. Large amounts of money can be earned by participants, promoters and others linked to ultimate fighting but no amount of money can compensate for permanent brain damage and premature death."
There are two things in that first paragraph that really annoy me. First of all, it would be good if the BMA did their research properly so that they could get the terminology right. 'Ultimate Fighting' is a term that's linked to one promotion - the Ultimate Fighting Championship (which happens to be the first and biggest of the promotions). Mixed Martial Arts is the sport.

'Human cockfighting'
This was the second annoying thing about the above quote. It was the Arizona Senator (and current Presidential candidate) John McCain who used this to describe MMA back in 1997. This article tells you that he has attempted to get shows banned in the past. Back in those days, MMA was still relatively young and there were fewer rules. It was closer to Vale Tudo fighting, which means 'anything goes' (that particular style became popular in Brazil).

However, that was 1997. On November 17, 2000, UFC 28 was the first event organised by that promotion to follow the Unified Rules of Conduct, which were implemented by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board. Now, all MMA events in the USA must follow these rules. In the UK, Cage Rage (the buggest British-based promotion) also follows these rules, even though they don't necessarily have to.

In the second paragraph from the quote, the BMA state that can cause "traumatic brain injury, joint injuries and fractures". You can get joint injuries and fractures in football and many other sports - why aren't the BMA banning those? You can get brain injuries if you're involved in certain types of driving accidents, so why doesn't the BMA ban both the sport and non-sport versions of driving? That's what you call double standards!

The rules of conduct
The following is what you aren't allowed to do if you follow the Unified Rules of Conduct:
  1. Head-butting
  2. Eye gouging
  3. Biting or spitting
  4. Hair-pulling
  5. Fish-hooking
  6. Groin attacks
  7. Intentionally placing a finger in any opponent’s orifice
  8. Elbow strikes that point downwards
  9. Small joint manipulation
  10. Any kind of strike to the spine or the back of the head
  11. Heel kicks to the kidney
  12. Throat strikes
  13. Clawing, pinching, twisting the flesh or grabbing the clavicle
  14. Kicking a grounded opponent in the head
  15. Kneeing a grounded opponent in the head
  16. Stomping on a grounded opponent
  17. Abusive language
  18. Unsportsmanlike conduct
  19. Attacking during a break
  20. Attacking the opponent if he/she is under the referee's care
  21. Being too timid
  22. Interference from a fighter's team
  23. Throwing your opponent out of the combat area
  24. Ignoring the referee's instructions
  25. 'Spiking' an opponent to the canvas on his or her head or neck
A classic theory of martial arts is that technique can overcome power and weight. However, as an additional safety measure, weight classes have been introduced in a lot of competitions. There is also no inter-gender contests.

What about non-mixed martial arts?
After doing several searches, I cannot find a single article which states that the BMA have similar campaigns against non-mixed martial arts, e.g. Karate, Tae Kwon Do and Muay Thai. As a brown-belt in Gendo-Kai Karate, I know that both minor and major injuries can happen e.g. dislocations and breaks. However, I also know that there are and regulations (e.g. these) that have existed for a long time. Competitive Karate has referees and you can be warned and disqualified for breaking the rules. The BMA should either drop it's campaigns against boxing and MAA or make attempts to get all competitive contact sports banned.

Recent news
The BMA reminded us of their policy recently because the first English-based women's MMA bout took place at Cage Rage 25. It was a short fight, but it meant that anyone doubting the ability of female fighters was proved wrong. It should be noted that there was a female MMA fight in Wales a few years ago and matches between women have been taking place in the likes of the United States for ages (competitiors such as Gina Carano have enjoyed considerable success). Yes, they get both minor and major injuries (proven in the match at Cage Rage 25) just like the men. However, if they have the talent and determination, there is no reason for them to not compete.

Criticism from the fighters
In this article, Ian Freeman (a veteran MMA fighter who has just announced he's coming out of retirement), expressed his annoyance at the BMA's stance and reminded us that they had a similar policy with Kickboxing a few years ago:
"You had people saying guys were going to get maimed, they were drawing comparisons with boxing and saying it’s more brutal and guess what? There wasn’t a single KO for something like 6 months."
We have learned that the British Medical Association are basing their opinions on outdated information. In reality, the sport of Mixed Martial Arts is well-regulated and has been for some time. Many promotions have drug testing policies and events have on-site medical staff in case there are any injuries. The BMA also use double standards in their reasons for wanting to ban the sport. In short, their campaign is incredibly weak.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Mixed Martial Arts, British Medical Association, Regulations