Archive for October, 2010
26 Oct 2010
I'm a bit behind on my Guardian Science Weekly Podcasts, but I learned this evening that you might well be my sixth cousin (according to Steve Jones). Yes, you - If you're British that is (I'm probably not so closely related to you otherwise). Fascinating stuff.
Incest means having sex with a relative - and we all indulge in it, whether we realise or not. On average, two randomly chosen British people are sixth cousins, which means that they share an ancestor who lived in the year of publication of The Origin of Species (1859).
Update: this can't be correct, surely. Sixth cousins share their great-great-great-great-great grandparents, and I have 128 of those. In order for it to be likely that you are my sixth cousin, these 128 together must have around 60 million descendants. But this means that at each generation there must have been around seven children born, every one of whom would then go on to have another seven children, and so on. But that's surely absurd, since the UK population in 1851 was around 20 million, so there hasn't really been a huge amount of growth. Assuming two fertile children per generation, the probability that you are my sixth cousin is around one in 7000. Assuming four fertile children, it's around one in 60.
16 Oct 2010
This has to be one of the most extraordinary things I've ever seen or heard - and we're doing part of it in the wonderful Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF), in the "Four weddings and a funeral" concert one week today (Saturday 23 October)!
To quote a British Film Institute description: "Una Stravaganza dei Medici was devised for the marriage celebrations of Ferdinand de Medici and the French princess Christine of Lorraine in 1589. It tells five mythological stories through music, singing and dance, to music by Marenzio, Bardi, Cavalieri, Malvezzi, Peri and Caccini. This production uses the most advanced twentieth century technology to recreate the original spectacle. Performed by the Taverner Consort and Choir conducted by Andrew Parrott, this programme won the Special Prize at this year's Prix Italia."
5 Oct 2010
For a long time I've been aware of the Jubilee Centre in Cambridge, but only recently have I started to delve more deeply into their resources.
Tonight's reading was a Cambridge Paper from September 2009 by Michael Schluter, entitled Is Capitalism morally bankrupt? Five moral flaws and their social consequences.
My immediate reaction to that kind of question is "Yes, probably, but I think we're stuck with it." Now, according to the Jubilee Centre, there is an alternative towards which we can move; that will have to wait for another day. Until then, here are some reasons why we might dream of finding an alternative. First, the five moral flaws of capitalism that Michael Schluter identifies:
- An exclusively materialistic vision
- Reward without responsibility
- Limited liability of shareholders
- People disconnected from place
- Inadequate social safeguards
and then the two social consequences:
- Family and community breakdown
- Giant government and giant corporates
Definitely worth reading.
4 Oct 2010
As I mentioned a few days ago, I'm strongly in favour of electoral reform, and given the choice between the Alternative Vote (AV) and First-Past-The-Post (FPTP), I would choose the AV any day. There are plenty of good reasons for that.
But those good reasons do not include the oft-repeated mantra that the AV guarantees that MPs "would have the support of a majority". It doesn't.
First, and most obviously, there is the matter of exhausted ballot papers; I was addressing that last time.
But another issue is what we mean by "support". When I put a cross (or a number) on a ballot paper, I am not thereby expressing support for a candidate. Rather, I am expressing a preference. I might loathe all umpteen of the candidates, but I still have a responsibility to use my vote for damage-limitation (unless I spoil the ballot paper as an act of protest, or shoot all of the candidates and force a by-election with fresh nominations). So the "support" I have for my first-choice candidate might simply be that I loathe all the other candidates more than I loathe him or her. That's hardly saying much.
So, under the AV, suppose that all of the voters assign preferences to all of the candidates, so that there are no exhausted ballot papers (unrealistic, but there's no good reason not to do this). Then the MP will indeed have the "support" of a majority of the voters. But we need to be clear exactly what majority "support" means.
It means that a majority of the voters dislike at least one of the unsuccessful candidates (including the second-place candidate) more than they dislike the successful candidate. Or that they like the successful candidate more than they like at least one of the unsuccessful candidates. Or that they have a preference for the successful candidate over at least one of the unsuccessful candidates.
But not that the successful candidate has majority "support"—unless it is possible simultaneously to hate someone and be their "supporter".
So I wouldn't use the "majority support" argument, except in this sense: that the AV explicitly prevents the least-favoured candidate from getting elected. FPTP leaves this as a very real possibility, through vote splitting, which opens the door for the likes of the BNP to be elected, even when the majority would rank them last in any sensible (preferential) voting system.