Pizza and Electoral Reform

Politicians have recently been spouting a lot about the inefficiencies of the public sector. Well if it’s true, no better example could surely be found than the politicians themselves. After literally months of hundreds of them pissing around at our expense they finally decided yesterday that there would be a referendum on electoral reform. In the referendum we will be given two choices and asked to vote for the one which we think is the fairer system of electing future governments. The choices will be:

  • First Past The Post (FPTP) – our current system
  • Alternative Vote (AV)

I will be honest – I don’t know which system is fairer and that is a bit of a problem. I don’t consider myself badly informed with what is going on in the world. I am reasonably good at maths yet still I don’t know off the top of my head which system is fairer.

This is a problem not because of my personal dilemma but because I strongly suspect that I am not alone in not knowing which system is fairer. I am fairly sure there are a large number of people in the country who, like me are going to be asked to decide something they don’t have the information to properly decide.

Yesterday, I asked my Twitter followers which system they preferred. It looked like this:

Wow – almost 1 in 3 of us don’t know. If you are one of those people then look no further. I am going to work it out here on this blog and then we’ll all know. Hoorah! So let’s do it with an example.

15 friends are ordering a pizza to share from The Very Big Pizza Company. There are three options:

  • Meat Feast
  • Pepperoni
  • Margherita

Between them they need to decide on which pizza to get and so they take a vote. Their preferences look like this:

The voters

Summarised, their preferences look like this:


If they use a FPTP system then only their 1st choice preferences are taken into account so, with six votes, they will get a Meat Feast.

If they use AV however then it works like this:

Round 1

  • Meat Feast – 6 votes
  • Pepperoni – 4 votes
  • Margherita – 5 votes

In AV, Pepperoni with the fewest first choice votes at the end of round 1 gets eliminated and the Pepperoni lovers’ second choice votes are added in for round 2…..

Round 2

  • Meat Feast – 7 votes
  • Margherita – 8 votes

Margherita is the winner.

Two different systems – two different results. While we’re here though, let’s look at another system called the Borda Count. In this system 3 points are awarded for a first choice, 2 for a second and 1 for a third. Points are all added up to determine the winner. It’s a bit like what happens in the Eurovision Song Contest.

In this system we find the following:

Borda Count Results

Pepperoni, with 34 points has won.

Three different systems – three different results. So what does all this tell us? It tells us that the voting system we employ can make a big difference to the outcome of the election. With three different systems and the same set of preferences we observe 3 different outcomes.

You might think I intentionally set the group’s preferences such that this would happen. Yup, I did. But it may not be too far from reality. Imagine that it’s May 2010 and Meat Feast is the Conservatives, Pepperoni is the Lib Dems and Margherita is the Labour Party. The different outcomes here have essentially occurred because:

  • More people preferred the Conservatives as a first choice than preferred either of the other two (but importantly not an overall majority)
  • The Lib Dems are most often the second choice of both Conservative and Labour voters
  • Lib Dem voters are more likely to prefer Labour than Conservatives*

* I’m not sure whether this is actually the case but it doesn’t make it an implausible set of preferences.

So I have looked at three different voting systems and they produced three different winners but which is the fairest? Nope, I still don’t know. Let’s keep going.

First, let’s go back to the FPTP system where the group have decided to vote for Meat Feast.

They phone up The Very Big Pizza Company. Before they can place their order, they are informed that unfortunately there are no more Pepperoni pizzas left. Doesn’t matter, right? In the vote Meat Feast came first, Margherita second and Pepperoni came last. The fact that Pepperoni isn’t on the menu doesn’t cause a problem. Or does it?
Anna, on the phone relays this message to the group and they do the FPTP vote again based on Meat Feast or Margherita. Now Margherita wins on the FPTP method!

To me this seems like a big problem. In a fair electoral system, if people prefer Meat Feast to Margherita then the outcome should always reflect this, irrespective of whether or not Pepperoni is available.

FPTP says that if Pepperoni is on the menu then Meat Feast is better than Margherita and if Pepperoni is not on the menu then Margherita is better than Meat Feast!

So FPTP is cack then. Let’s look at the AV in comparison. After the AV vote they phone up The Very Big Pizza company to order their Margherita and find that Meat Feast is off the menu. Now Pepperoni wins. Bollocks.

If AV is a fair system then if it prefers Margherita to Pepperoni when Meat Feast is on offer, it should prefer Margherita to Pepperoni when Meat Feast is not on offer.

Aaargghh. All I have done so far is to find that neither is fair.

When you look at the summarised table of votes above, AV does have a clear problem. Pepperoni had loads of second place votes but these all got ignored because it was eliminated before they could be taken into account. 11 people liked Pepperoni second best but the system treated it the same as if no one had liked it second best.

When you look at FPTP though – it doesn’t just ignore all the second and third place votes for Pepperoni. It ignores, by definition, everything that wasn’t a first choice vote.

My view is that when you need to make a decision about something, you should take as much of the available information into account as possible. AV, while not perfect takes more information into account than FPTP and it is on that basis I think, a fairer system.

Let’s not though, forget about our third option – the Borda Count which we sadly will not get the option to vote for. That system takes every preference into account and I therefore think it is a fairer system than either of the two from which we can choose.

Formula 1 uses something not too far from the Borda Count to decide the world champion. Would Formula 1 be fairer if driver’s second places, third places etc were not taken into account when deciding the World Championship? Bernie Ecclestone thinks so but I don’t. I think a driver with 5 wins, 8 second places and 2 third places has more claim to be World Champion than a driver with 6 wins and 9 races that they didn’t finish.
The Borda Count system is by no means perfect but it allows us to take a lot more information into account than a simple FPTP.

This is not the whole picture though. Even if everyone agreed on the fairest system they would not all necessarily vote in the same way. For a start, some systems are more likely to benefit certain political parties. The Conservatives don’t really think FPTP is the fairest possible electoral system, they just think they will have a better chance of winning a majority than they would with the others. If the party you like the best is going to do better out of a particular system why would you want to vote for an alternative in which they would do worse?

Also, the best system may not be the fairest system. FPTP is the simplest system by far – one cross in one box and you’re done. The more complex the system becomes the harder it is for people to understand and cast their vote. A clever mathematician could come up with a brilliantly fair voting system but if a significant proportion of the electorate didn’t understand it or couldn’t work out how to fill in their ballot papers, it would be worthless.

Some people also praise FPTP for its strength in delivering a majority government with a minority of votes. That doesn’t necessarily sound like a good thing to me but if people really think it is a good thing then why should they not vote for a less fair system in order to achieve it?

Irrespective of these there is something much worse which will undoubtedly have a strong influence on the result of the referendum – the campaign of misinformation which I can see on the horizon, heading for our shores like a giant wave of bullshit. Political parties, unions and other groups will no doubt know which of the two systems benefits them the most and they will undoubtedly be feverishly preparing their campaigns to scare the public into believing that one system means 100 years of darkness to the UK.

On the Today Programme the other day, James Frayne who ran the successful campaign for the Conservative Party to vote No to a North East regional assembly said that because Nick Clegg is so unpopular, the best tactic for the No2AV campaign (yes, they’ve already made a name like a fucking X-Factor band) would be to say if you vote AV you will get Nick Clegg in government again.

It’s shameful that on one hand we will be given a chance to vote to change the electoral system and on the other hand we will be drowned in this kind of crap designed solely to mislead us. Will any political party in the next few months spend time and effort really trying to explain the underlying good points and bad points of each system in a bid to assist the voters into making an informed choice? I hope so but I don’t think so.

So – what have I concluded?

  • AV has big problems and probably isn’t a great system but it is fairer than FPTP
  • The Borda Count is fairer than either of them but isn’t available
  • A fair system is not necessarily the best if it is overly complex to understand
  • Even if people agree on what the fairest system is they will still not necessarily vote for it
  • There will be a massive campaign of misinformation which will significantly influence the choice of voters

Well, to be honest, I’m disillusioned by the whole thing now. Bollocks to this. Anyone for Pizza?



The Film is Mightier than the Book

It’s a fairly common event to be discussing a film and having someone say, “It’s not as good as the book”.
Conversely it is a pretty rare event to be discussing a book and having someone say “It’s not as good as the film.”

It seems as though taking a book and making it into a better film is a tricky undertaking but there must be some out there, mustn’t there?

Yesterday I asked you on Twitter to name films which were better than the books on which they were based. 105 of you responded with a total of 204 suggestions. So thanks for that.

A quick note before I move on to the results though – please bear in mind that the number of votes cast doesn’t necessarily indicate the gulf in quality between book and film. It’s also obviously a function of how many people have seen and read them.

Anyway, here is the top 10:

The Top 10

Thoughts on the Top 10

These are my thoughts on the top 10. I’ve indicated on each film whether I’ve seen it and/or read the book on which it was based.

The Godfather (Saw it first, read it later)

Yes, I liked the films better too. The book was good but the films were brilliant. The book, if I recall correctly, covers the first film, plus the Don’s rise to power which is covered in the second film, (the Robert de Niro bit).

The two films benefit from some truly excellent acting performances. Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, John Cazale, Diane Keaton and Robert de Niro are all excellent but it is Al Pacino’s transformation from goofy war hero to ruthless mafia boss which steals it. Forget that Scent of a Woman, “HOOOAAAAA” bollocks – this perfomance blows it out of the water.

The Shawshank Redemption (Read it first, saw it later)

Really? Admittedly I read the novella (Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption) when I was a nipper but I remember feeling fairly non-plussed by the film of it. Apart from Morgan Freeman. He was good.

Blade Runner (Seen it. Never read it.)

The book was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I never read it. The film was excellent though

Lord of the Rings (Never seen it, never read it.)

I thought about reading it once but it looked massive and I couldn’t be arsed.

Fight Club (Seen it. Never read it.)

I don’t know what the book is like but I’m the only person I know who didn’t think the film was brilliant. It had a brilliant twist at the end but I was fairly bored up until that point. Still, the book might have been worse.

Jaws (Seen it. Never read it.)

The film was brilliant. I wish Steven Spielberg still made films like it, instead of Indiana Jones 4. God, that was awful.

I haven’t read it, but according to @danbeames the shark dies of old age or something in the book. Which sounds a bit less exciting than, “Smile, you son of a -” KAPOW!!!

Jurassic Park (Read it first, saw it later.)

The film has to take some credit for the truly groundbreaking special effects. I preferred the Richard Attenborough character in the book, who was a bit of a shit rather than a nice old grandpa with a dinosaur theme park. Michael Crichton obviously preferred the film since the Jeff Goldblum character died in the book but was still in the sequel. The two annoying brats spoiled the film though. On balance, the book wins.

Stand By Me (Saw it first, read it later)

This was a novella in the same book as Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. It was good but the film was brilliant. The Richard Dreyfuss narration is a bit cheesey but I could watch it again and again.

The Bourne Identity (Seen it. Never read it.)


Stardust (Never seen it. Never read it.)

Never even heard of it.

A Pie Chart

This shows everything with more than 1 vote. Everything with 1 vote is stuck together in the Other section.

Notable Others

These are the other nominations I have both read and seen…

Romeo and Juliet

Probably a lot of screen adaptations. I thought the play was dull but the film version I saw (The Leonardo di Caprio one) was the biggest pile of shit I think I’ve ever had to sit through. “Oooh, we’re setting a Shakespeare play in a modern setting. Aren’t we clever? Let’s all pat ourselves on the back.” A truly pathetic piece of film making.

The Silence of the Lambs

That’s a possibility. The book was quite good but I did think Anthony Hopkins was a brilliant bad dude. Still, everyone says Brian Cox was a better Hannibal Lecter, so what do I know?

Also, if I recall correctly, in the book he ate the guy’s liver with some fava beans and a nice Amarone. I think it’s a better pairing with a human liver. The books wins because of it.

The Beach

Fairly dull book. Turd film.

The Running Man

Rarely can a film have been so loosely based the book. I read the book when I was a nipper. In the book, the character signs up for the game in a bid to get out of the squalid life of poverty he has. Survive 30 days and win a fortune. The game is completely different as well, he gets released into the public with a head start and then the hunters come after him. And they’re not dressed as Christmas trees either. Hard to compare them since the stories are so different but I found the book more enjoyable.


Yeah, the film was probably better, mainly because of the performance of Kathy Bates. “You Dirty Bird!”

No Country for Old Men

Hard to decide on that because both were brilliant and the film does follow the book very closely, even down to the dialogue which is identical in a lot of places. The casting in the film was superb. From Anton Chigurh and Sheriff Ed Tom, to the old man in the gas station and the fat lady who ran the trailer park, every one of them, no matter how small their part, were brilliantly cast. Someone commented that the book had a protracted ending compared with the film. That’s probably a fair comment.
I’m glad no one mentioned another Cormac McCarthy book, The Road. That book was brilliant – I cried my eyes out at the end. I haven’t seen the film but I bet they fucked it up.


No way. The book was 100 times better than the film. Robert Carlisle was brilliant as Begbie though.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Well, Gene Wilder definitely did a better job of playing Willy Wonka than Johnny Depp. Seriously, you wouldn’t let your kids near that guy. I can’t watch it though without wanting to brutally murder the insipid little shit that plays Charlie. “Granpwa Joe! Granpwa Joe!” Oh, fuck off.

Interestingly, it seems there is a pattern in my preferences. In general where I have read and seen both, I am preferring the version I experienced first. Perhaps it’s coincidence but it could be that reading the book after seeing the film doesn’t give you the same freedom to imagine it in your own way. I don’t know. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I have concluded from all of this but it was fun anyway. The full list of results is below. Thanks for playing.


The Full Listings

The Top 10


The Top 10

These films got 3 votes each

The Shining
Apocalypse Now
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Starship Troopers
The Bourne Supremacy
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Green Mile
The Wizard of Oz

These films got 2 votes each

Romeo and Juliet
Silence of the Lambs
The Beach
The Running Man
2001: A Space Odyssey
Beauty and the Beast
Bridget Jones’s Diary
Debbie Does Dallas
Don’t Look Now
Gone with the Wind
The Exorcist
The Mist

And these got 1 vote each

No Country For Old Men
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
101 Dalmations
25th Hour
30 Days of Night
All Harry Potter Films
All James Bond Films
American Psycho
Angel Heart
Big Fish
Children of Men
Clear and Present Danger
Clockwork Orange
Cobra Verde
Das Boot
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Gangbang Auditions 13
Gangs of New York
High Fidelity
High Noon
Hunt For Red October
I Am Legend
I Robot
Jackie Brown
King Creole
Morvern Callar
Mystic River
Patriot Games
Pet Sematary
Rear Window
Return of the Swamp Thing
Schindler’s List
Sense and Sensibility
Snow White
The 39 Steps
The Da Vinci Code
The Devil Wears Prada
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
The Englsh Patient
The Graduate
The Great Gatsby
The Iron Giant
The Jungle Book
The Last Temptation of Christ
The Lawnmower Man
The Little Mermaid
The Merchant of Venice
The Ninth Gate
The Princess Bride
The Snow Queen
The Third Man
The Time Traveller’s Wife
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
True Blood (TV)
War and Peace
Water For Chocolate

And Now A Small Confession…

Last night, I published the results of my eagerly awaited jazz-sushi survey, where I attempted to find whether or not there was a correlation between liking jazz and liking sushi.

If you have not already done so you can read it here. (Feel free to skip the numbers bit if that stuff bores you.)

So I proved that a correlation existed and made it into a law and all is well. Well not quite. I should come clean about something. It didn’t really prove anything and I’ll explain why.

Firstly, (as many people pointed out), my questions asked for Yes/No answers to complex questions. There are lots of different types of jazz and usually someone doesn’t like or dislike all of them. My survey forced them to interpret the question as they saw fit. Worse, it caused people to give me long-winded answers which I had to interpret.

Why’s that worse? Well I knew what I wanted the outcome of my survey to be and while I didn’t consciously seek to influence the results in this manner, I am hardly in the best position to be a neutral judge.

Also as @mapsadaisical quickly pointed out, I had a self-selecting sample. This means people were free to choose whether to take part or not. Why is that bad? Well people knew that I was trying to find a correlation between people who liked jazz and people who liked sushi. When people know what is trying to be proven it influences whether they respond or not.

On Friday night I did my sums and found that there was a correlation but it was not significant enough to prove anything one way or the other. I explained this on Twitter and asked for some more responses. Of the next 12 responses 11 were either likes both or likes neither. This wasn’t coincidence, it was simply people wanting to help me show a correlation. Those who did like both or neither kindly though “I’ll help you out.”

Another example of this came when I was watching a morning day time TV show a few years ago. It was GMTV, or Anne & Nick or Richard & Judy or some bollocks, and they had a phone in poll. A phone in poll is even worse for this problem than Twitter because the effort of making the call is greater and they charge you money for doing so. You aren’t going to bother voting unless you have some compelling reason to do so.

The poll asked people to vote on whether or not they were currently in an abusive relationship. About 50% said yes. At no point did the programme mention that the surprisingly high result could be influenced by the fact that this poll was much more important to someone in an abusive relationship and they were therefore more compelled to vote than someone who wasn’t. In fairness to the programme they didn’t try to conclude that 50% of all relationships were abusive.

There is another problem with the way in which I gathered the stats. Even if everyone who saw the question had responded, I didn’t survey a proper cross-section of the public. Supposing I did a poll on Twitter to find out whether people thought Social Networking sites were a good thing. I would certainly get a higher proportion saying Yes than if I stopped people in the street and asked. Although there is no obvious reason for people who use Twitter to have different views on jazz/sushi to the public at large, the whole experiment was to find a correlation between two seemingly unrelated things so really I should have excluded any other similarities between the respondents.

A good example of this is in the polls which newspapers do on their online websites. If the Daily Mail asks a question about immigration on its website is the response going to reflect the views of the country at large? Probably not, because people who read the Daily Mail website are likely to have different views on immigration than the average person on the street.

You should treat with skepticism any survey that can’t show clearly how it gathered and interpreted its data to avoid external factors like this affecting the results. Companies like Ipsos MORI go to huge lengths to try to minimise these problems. I didn’t and as such you should just interpret my survey as a bit of fun.


The Jazz Sushi Survey

When I was just a young rabbit, I was taken, as a treat, to see the National Youth Jazz Orchestra who happened to be playing in my village. It was an epiphany and I was transfixed. Never in my life had I imagined music could be made so utterly awful. Equally shocking was that a good many people around me seemed to be enjoying it, and not just a little bit either. A ginger man a couple of seats away with his eyes closed looked for all the world like he was having an orgasm for the entire concert and for all I know he was.

Years later, I was having a pint with a mate in our local pub, The King of Toss, near Marble Arch. Above the King of Toss was a restaurant to which neither of us had paid any attention in the years since we’d been drinking there. Seemingly no one else had been paying it any attention because on that night a member of the waiting staff came into the pub with a plate of sushi, offering free samples in a bid to entice some drinkers upstairs. So I tried some. This, ladies and gentlemen, was my second epiphany. Never in my life had I imagined food could be made so utterly awful. How could it possibly have been that bad? After all, I like rice, I like fish. In fact given the same ingredients I could probably have made something quite nice. This was anything but. The rice has a texture like it had been cooked the day before, left in the pan to dry then scraped off. It was topped with little red things which seemed to have been sprayed with essence of unwashed genitalia and it was wrapped in one of those unbreakable plastic ribbons that bind up telephone directories. Bizarrely my mate liked it.

At some point in the years since, it occurred to me that I thought about jazz and sushi in pretty much the same way. Not simply in my dislike for them but in the way that I just didn’t get them. I knew plenty of people who were enjoying these pleasures and I would never be able to understand why.
I don’t like Crufts but I can understand why people like it. They get to see the most classically beautiful dogs all standing in a row. I just prefer dogs when they’re fetching sticks and eating slippers but that’s just my preference and I understand theirs.

Jazz and sushi were incomprehensible to me though and the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if these two seemingly unconnected things were in fact connected through people’s preferences. i.e. was there a correlation between people who liked jazz and people who liked sushi? Were these two things completely unrelated or was there a disproportionately high proportion of us who liked both or disliked both compared with the proportion of people who liked one or the other?

This previously unidentified correlation has been an untested theory of mine in the years since but then came Twitter and suddenly I had the perfect opportunity to test it out.

Last week I asked people two Yes/No questions:

  • Do you like jazz?
  • Do you like sushi?

And thanks to those who responded and retweeted it I ended up with 112 responses.

And so to the numbers. Firstly, I worked out the proportion of people who like jazz and the proportion of people who like sushi. The results were:

Using these numbers, I worked out my ‘null hypothesis’. i.e. what the results would be if there is no correlation.
i.e. of the 112 respondents, if there is no correlation between liking jazz and liking sushi then the proportion of people who like sushi and like jazz is:

112 x (64.6% x 54.87%) = 40.41 people.

The full results of this are:

Then I compared this with what the 112 people actually said:

Interesting… there are more people in the like both and like neither than there should be if the null hypothesis is true. Sure enough when I calculated the correlation it came out at 0.17.

Correlation is expressed as a number between -1 and 1. A correlation of 1 means that the correlation is perfect i.e. for me to get a correlation of 1 everybody who liked sushi would have to like jazz and everybody who disliked sushi would have to dislike jazz. A correlation of -1 represents a perfect negative correlation. In my case this would have meant that everyone who liked jazz disliked sushi and everyone who disliked jazz liked sushi. A correlation of 0 would mean there was no correlation at all between the data. My correlation looked like this:

So I had a correlation and better still it was a positive one, but although my figures had a correlation could it just have been I got lucky?

To determine this I needed to work out what the probability of this happening by chance would be if the null hypothesis were true.
I decided to use a fairly standard way of testing significance – that the probability of such an outcome would have to be less than or equal to 1 in 20. i.e. if there is no correlation then results as convincing as mine could come up no more than 1 in every 20 repeats of such an experiment – a significance level of 0.05.

Therefore, if the probability of my set of results coming up is greater than 0.05 then the probability of it having happened by chance is too great, my correlation is not significant and my results are inconclusive. If the probability is less than 0.05 then the chances of this having happened by chance are negligible and my correlation is statistically significant.

Are you ready? Drum roll, please. The probability of a correlation as pronounced as mine having happened by chance is……..0.045!!

That’s right, I really did it. I really did find a correlation between liking jazz and liking sushi. The theory I have held for ages has at last been proven.

I am not going to call it RedEaredRabbit’s Law. After all it is too important to be just mine – it should belong to all of us. I am instead going to call it Cole’s Law. (Nothing to do with Cole Porter  – I’ve just always wanted to call a law that.)

At some point I’ll explain why my method of gathering the data wasn’t perfect but for now I’m just going to bask in my glory.


P.S. I didn’t mean to imply that jazz and sushi were awful in absolute terms. Just that I dislike them and am personally unable to appreciate them. Don’t lynch me, please.

P.P.S. Please also read the follow up post to this survey here.