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The Three Little Pigs: an Alternative Vote fairytale

Monday, April 4th, 2011

I’ve grown tired of hearing the No2AV campaign talk about how the proposed Alternative Vote system is too complicated for people to understand. They know perfectly well that it isn’t, but just spreading the claim is enough to muddy the waters and put people off trying to understand it, because, by golly, if the Prime Minister thinks it’s complicated then what chance do we have?

At the same time, though, I don’t feel that the Yes campaign have been particularly strong at responding to that claim: by over-simplifying it through weak analogies (“it’s like going to the shops for a chocolate bar, and finding that they don’t have your first choice, so you have to go for your second choice instead – but you still only get the one chocolate bar”) people are being left with the impression that the pro-AV crowd are glossing over important details, and the suspicion that it’s probably a lot murkier once you start digging under the surface (which people aren’t going to do, because we’re all too busy to read up on voting systems, and someone said that it was really complicated. And so on ad infinitum).

So, to do my bit to support the cause, and hopefully quash the “it’s too complicated!” mantra once and for all, I’ve attempted to explain AV in full, through the medium of a children’s story.

I’m no Lewis Carroll – this is really just an idea that I thought was worth putting into words – so I’m releasing it under a Creative Commons attribution licence. If this captures your imagination, and you have literary / copy-editing skills, please do go ahead and weave your magic on it. Or make some illustrations, or print out a bunch of copies and make a load of money off it, or persuade your celebrity friends to make an audiobook version of it. Or even, if you’re so inclined, rework it into a pro-first-past-the-post story. What this debate needs is more down-to-earth constructive arguments, from both sides.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin:

The Three Little Pigs: an Alternative Vote fairytale

by Matt Westcott

Once upon a time, there was a farm. On this farm, there lived some pigs, some cows, some chickens and some horses.

The animals on the farm were very unhappy, because the farm was run by the Big Bad Wolf and his four wolfy friends. They were very cruel to the animals on the farm, and every harvest time, they would take all of the farm’s crops for themselves. All the other animals longed for the day when the Big Bad Wolf wouldn’t be running the farm any more.

Every summer the animals would get together in the yard outside the big farmhouse for a special ceremony. Each animal would get to choose who they wanted to run the farm for the following year. One by one, they would go up to wise old Mr Owl and tell him their choice, and wise Mr Owl would count up the votes and decide who would be king of the farm.

One summer, Billy, Benny and Bobby, the three little pigs, decided that they’d had enough of the Big Bad Wolf. Each of them thought long and hard about what to do… and slowly, one by one, they each had the same idea. “If I get the animals to choose me as king of the farm,” thought Billy, Benny and Bobby, “I’ll run the farm in a much fairer way. I’ll make sure all of the animals have enough food, and together we’ll all live happily ever after.”

And so, on a beautiful summer morning, Billy the pig went to visit Dora, Debra and Dinah, the chickens, to tell them about his plans. “If I become king of the farm,” said Billy, “I’ll send the Big Bad Wolf and his four wolfy friends back to the forest. At harvest time, we’ll take the farm’s crops to the market, and with the money we make, we’ll paint the hen-house red.” “Oh, Billy, what a wonderful idea!” exclaimed Dora. “We’ll vote for you, we promise!”

Meanwhile, Benny the pig went to visit Myrtle and Molly, the cows, to tell them about his plans. “If I become king of the farm,” said Billy, “I’ll send the Big Bad Wolf and his four wolfy friends back to the forest. At harvest time, we’ll take the farm’s crops to the market, and with the money we make, we’ll paint the cow-shed blue.” “Mmm… That does sound like a good idea,” said Myrtle as she chewed on a strand of hay. “We’ll certainly vote for you!”

Meanwhile, Bobby the pig went to visit Henry the horse, to tell him about his plans. “If I become king of the farm,” explained Bobby, “I’ll send the Big Bad Wolf and his four wolfy friends back to the forest. At harvest time, we’ll take the farm’s crops to the market, and with the money we make, we’ll paint the stables yellow.” “I say! What a jolly good idea!” said Henry. “I’ll be voting for you, that’s for sure!”

And so the day came when the animals would choose who was to become king of the farm. The chickens were the first to come up to wise old Mr Owl and tell him their choices. “Hello, Dora,” said wise Mr Owl. “Hello, Debra, Hello, Dinah. Whooo do you choooose?”

“We choose Billy!” said Dora, Debra and Dinah. “Very well,” said wise old Mr Owl.

The cows were next to visit wise old Mr Owl. “Hello, Myrtle,” said wise Mr Owl. “Hello, Molly. Whooo do you chooose?”

“We choose Benny!” said Myrtle and Molly. “Very well,” said wise old Mr Owl.

Next, it was the turn of Henry the horse. “Hello, Henry,” said wise Mr Owl. “Whooo do you chooose?”

“I choose Bobby!” said Henry. “Very well,” said wise old Mr Owl.

Finally, the Big Bad Wolf’s four wolfy friends came up to wise Mr Owl to make their choices. “Hello, Wolfson. Hello, Wolfingham. Hello, Wolferton. Hello, Wolfhamstow,” said wise Mr Owl. “Whooo do you chooose?”

“WE WANT THE BIG BAD WOLF!” they all shouted together. “Very well,” said wise old Mr Owl.

The animals all gathered round to hear who would be king of the farm for the next year. “In fourth place, with one vote – Bobby the pig”, began wise Mr Owl. “In third place, with two votes – Benny the pig. In second place, with three votes – Billy the pig. Which means that this year’s king of the farm, with four votes, is… The Big Bad Wolf.”

All the animals gasped with surprise.

“Oh, Mr Owly!” cried Dora. “None of us wanted the Big Bad Wolf to win. We chose Billy because we so dearly wanted our beautiful new hen-house, but really we would have been happy with Benny or Bobby. I know that Henry and Myrtle and Molly feel the same way too. The only animals who wanted the Big Bad Wolf to win were his four wolfy friends!”

“I’m sorry, Dora… that’s how the rules work,” explained wise Mr Owl. “The Big Bad Wolf got more votes than any of the three little pigs, so he becomes king of the farm.”

Autumn came, and at harvest time, the Big Bad Wolf and his four wolfy friends were worse than ever. Once again, they kept all the farm’s crops for themselves, and the animals went hungry. Winter came, and rainstorms battered the hen-house, the cow-shed, and the stables, leaving the walls rusted and the old paint flaking off. Spring came, and the three little pigs were determined not to give up – they decided they would stand up against the Big Bad Wolf once again.

And so, on another beautiful summer morning, Billy the pig went to the hen-house to visit Dora, Debra and Dinah. Once again, he told them that if he became king of the farm, he would share out the crops more fairly, and with the money they made at market, they would paint the hen-house red. “Oh, Billy, it still sounds like a wonderful idea,” said Dora, “but how will we make that happen if the Big Bad Wolf wins again?” “We’ll make it work out – somehow,” replied Billy.

Meanwhile, Benny the pig went down to the cow-shed to visit Myrtle and Molly. Once again, he told them that if he became king of the farm, he would share out the crops more fairly, and with the money they made at market, they would paint the cow-shed blue. “It still sounds like an awfully good idea,” said Myrtle, “but how will we make that happen if the Big Bad Wolf wins again?” “We’ll make it work out – somehow,” replied Benny.

Meanwhile, Bobby the pig went down to the stables to meet Henry the horse. Once again, he told Henry that if he became king of the farm, he would share out the crops more fairly, and with the money they made at market, they would paint the stables yellow. “It’s still a jolly good idea,” said Henry, “but how will we make that happen if the Big Bad Wolf wins again?” “We’ll make it work out – somehow,” replied Bobby.

Soon, the day came round when the animals would choose who was to become king of the farm. They all gathered round in the yard outside the big farmhouse to hear wise old Mr Owl make an announcement. “We’ll be doing things a bit differently this year,” he explained. “This time, you’ll still give me your favourite choice, but you can also tell me your second choice, third choice, and even fourth choice.”

The animals all chattered with excitement at the news. The chickens were the first to come up to wise old Mr Owl. “Hello, Dora,” said wise Mr Owl. “Hello, Debra, Hello, Dinah. Whooo do you choooose?”

“We choose Billy,” said Dora, Debra and Dinah, “but our second choice is Benny, and our third choice is Bobby.” “Very well,” said wise old Mr Owl.

The cows were next to visit wise old Mr Owl. “Hello, Myrtle,” said wise Mr Owl. “Hello, Molly. Whooo do you chooose?”

“We choose Benny,” said Myrtle and Molly, “but our second choice is Bobby, and our third choice is Billy.” “Very well,” said wise old Mr Owl.

Next, it was the turn of Henry the horse. “Hello, Henry,” said wise Mr Owl. “Whooo do you chooose?”

“I choose Bobby,” said Henry, “but my second choice is Billy, and my third choice is Benny.” “Very well,” said wise old Mr Owl.

Finally, the Big Bad Wolf’s four wolfy friends came up to wise Mr Owl to make their choices. “Hello, Wolfson. Hello, Wolfingham. Hello, Wolferton. Hello, Wolfhamstow,” said wise Mr Owl. “Whooo do you chooose?”

“WE WANT THE BIG BAD WOLF!” they all shouted together. “Very well,” said wise old Mr Owl.

The animals gathered in the yard, eager to hear who would be the new king of the farm. “I have some very interesting news,” declared wise Mr Owl. “The Big Bad Wolf had the most votes, but there was no clear winner. He only received four votes, out of a total of ten.

“This means that we need to go to a second round. Bobby the pig only received one vote, so we’ll take him out of the contest, and count the votes again. Now, the Big Bad Wolf still has four votes. Billy the pig has four votes, and Benny the pig has two votes.

“Well I never! We still don’t have a clear winner! That means we need to take Benny the pig out of the contest, and go to a third round. Benny and Bobby are out now, so we need to use Myrtle and Molly’s third choice. Counting it all up, then – the Big Bad Wolf still has four votes, and the new king of the farm, with six votes, is… Billy the pig!”

All the animals on the farm cheered. All the animals, that is, except the Big Bad Wolf and his four wolfy friends – because they knew that their time of treating the other animals unfairly was at an end.

The following harvest time, the farm had its biggest crop ever. The wolves were no longer around to take it away from them, and when the animals took it to market, they were delighted to find that they’d made enough money to paint not just the hen-house, but the cow-shed and the stables too. The animals enjoyed their newly decorated homes, and they all lived happily ever after.


Creative Commons License
The Three Little Pigs: an Alternative Vote fairytale by Matt Westcott is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Wi-fi is GRATE.

Friday, June 6th, 2008

Sitting in my garden this evening when an impressively-coloured bird landed three or four feet away. It just so happened that I had a portable device with me which could tell me, without me having to make any sudden movements or noises that would scare it away, that it was a goldfinch.

Now tell me. When, in the entire history of civilisation, has that been possible before now? Technology – it’s blimmin marvellous.

Blurry screen resolution (one pixel out) on OS X?

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

Because I just had a minor panic thinking that the screen on my MacBook was completely screwed, and I think the solution needs a bit of Googlejuice:

The symptom: Your screen shows patches or bands of alternate in-focus and out-of-focus pixels, as if it was set to a resolution one or two pixels out from the correct one. Moving your mouse pointer up and down the screen causes the screen to shift up or down by one pixel (and the blurriness to move to another region). Restarting doesn’t fix it, although the problem only reappears part way through logging in, and it doesn’t affect any other users on the system.

The solution: Press Alt+Apple+8.

The explanation: You accidentally turned on OS X’s ‘zoom’ accessibility feature. It seems that if you’ve never used this before, or you have your preferences set up in just the wrong way, the default zoom level is “just a couple of pixels in from full screen” – enough to make things go nasty and anti-aliased without it being obvious that it’s zooming in on anything.

…and no, this is not your cue to crack jokes about things that give you blurry eyesight and their possible correlation to being a mac owner.

Sundown 2007

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

Sundown 2007 – the UK’s premier demo party, happening beside the seaside in lovely jubbly Budleigh

Best. Spam. Ever.

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

Ah, the joys of having an online pseudonym that’s completely irrelevant to anything…

Dear Gasman,

I am Mr. Alex Ibe, an accountant with one of the reputable banks in
Nigeria. I was also an account officer to late Mr. Gary Gasman, a national of your country who was a contractor with Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Company (NLNG). On 18th May 2003, Mr. Gary his wife and their two Children were involved in a car accident along Kaduna-Abuja express road.

All occupants of the vehicle unfortunately lost their lives. Since then I have been trying to locate any of Mr. Gary’s extended relatives, but this has also proved unsuccessful. After these several unsuccessful attempts, I decided to track his last name over the Internet, to locate any member of his family hence this proposal to you in other to assist repatriate the money left behind by late Mr. Gary before they get confiscated or declared unserviceable by my bank.

You can guess the rest.

I’m in two minds as to whether it’s a straight cut-and-paste job, or whether this guy spent some time lovingly hand-crafting this tale of Mr Gasman who works for a gas company. I really wish it’s the latter.

Biscuits

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

I notice that McVities Digestives now have a little note on the packet saying “Lower in salt”.

So I did. It was disgusting.

Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?

Tuesday, August 1st, 2006

In the town centre this morning, I had this exchange with a random bloke:

Him: ‘Scuse me, have you got the time?’
Me: (checks watch) ‘Twenty-five past eleven.’
Him: ‘Cheers.’
(double take)
Him: ‘Twenty-five past one?!?’
Me: (checks watch again) ‘No – eleven.’
Him: ‘Ah. Thanks.’

This in itself might seem fairly mundane, but what makes it rather amusing is that
1) only 30 seconds previously, I’d just picked up my watch from Timpsons where I was having the battery replaced, and was pleasantly surprised to note that the nice man in the shop had set it to the correct time, and
2) since Friday night I’ve been intentionally mucking around with my sleeping patterns and attempting to work to a 27-hour(ish) cycle to try and get my demo finished for Assembly, and up until that point I’d been trying to persuade myself that it was in fact some time around 5 in the afternoon.

What, still not amusing? Please yourselves.

Songtitleisms

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

Here’s something random to distract you on your next coffee break. As many people are no doubt familiar, when you play a song on an iPod it displays the following information arranged in three lines:

Title of song
Artist
Title of album

On the way to work this morning with my colleague Dave, I noticed that his iPod was displaying

The Hand That Feeds
Nine Inch Nails
With Teeth

and after briefly wondering whether those nine inch nails had teeth or were being fed them, I set off thinking about other songs which spelled out phrases and sentences in the same way. They seem surprisingly uncommon – besides a few dubious constructions (“I Do Edie Brickell And The New Bohemians Shooting Rubber Bands At The Stars”) the only good one I could come up with was “In A Graveyard Rufus Wainwright Poses”.

Any others? Three million bonus points if you can find one that fits 5-7-5 syllable haiku form.

Chamonix

Thursday, February 2nd, 2006

I’m back from a skiing holiday with folks from work, in Chamonix in the French Alps. It was my first experience of skiing apart from one afternoon on the dry slope at Pendle aged about ten, and over four days I acquired some stylish moves on the green run at Le Tour, a chronic fear of ski lifts, and a large quantity of photos which are up on my newly-created Flickr account.

So. Blogs, eh?

Monday, January 23rd, 2006

A warm welcome to everyone who stumbles upon this site! I’ve finally caught up with the year 2004 and got myself a Proper Blog, and this is the first real entry. (Just to be confusing, I’ll be extensively back-dating entries to cover things I’ve done in the past, so eventually this is going to end up somewhere in the middle of the archive. Never mind.)

The main reason it’s taken so long to get round to this is my pathological mistrust of other people’s software. I really wanted to write my own blog engine, something like Blosxom but in PHP and even more minimalist, but having watched that sink slowly down my personal todo list, I swallowed my pride and (encouraged by Tom, who has generously let me loose on his UML server) installed WordPress. And, I have to begrudgingly admit, it mostly does what I want. Just not as elegantly, that’s all. (Plugins that do their own database queries? Shock horror! They should be doing it through a billion levels of abstraction, so that the database can be swapped out and replaced with an NNTP server, or a P2P network, or…)

I’ve already made a (two line) hack to the code to set up the events listing in the sidebar just how I want – the EventCalendar plugin is pretty good, but it’s based on the assumption that you’re going to write a whole blog entry about that event. Why on earth would I want to do that? It’s someone else’s event, and they’ve invariably already got a perfectly good page that I can link to directly.

In fact, that’s more or less going to be my philosophy for this site as a whole. I’m determined not to let this become one of those blogs that just regurgitates other people’s news stories in different words, or plays trackback table-tennis with speculations about Steve Jobs’s new haircut. I reserve the right to indulge in opinionated rants now and again, but it’s primarily going to serve as an outlet for my own original work. No gimmicks. Just me, in a pub, with a pint of John Smiths.