The World According To Fred is my blog, although no, my name is not Fred - but don't worry, that's a common misconception... My posts are a compilation of all the things that pass through my mind - a running commentary of my view of the world. Please feel free to comment and please say if there are any subjects you would like Fred to take a view on - I really do want to know!!!! In the meanwhile enjoy:
The World According To Fred

Saturday, 30 April 2011

AV: A Vanguard to the Alternative Vote

As I’m watching the news once again in the morning, an item talking about the AV referendum appears. However, despite the many campaigns that have gone on both in favour of and against the change, it seems that may people are still unaware of it happening or unsure of what it means. Hopefully, in this blog I can begin to explain what it is and why it’s happening, to clue up many of the readers.

On the 5th May, there will be a vote or a ‘referendum’ across the country to decide whether or not we should scrap our current ‘First-Past-The-Post’(FPTP) voting system and replace it with the ‘Alternative Vote’ (AV).  In our current voting system, everyone gets one vote only. You put an ‘X’ next to the single candidate you are supporting, and the candidate with the most votes win.

In the Alternate Voting system, instead of using an ‘X’, voters rank candidates in order of preference using 1,2,3 and so on – however, if a voter wishes to vote for only one, they still can – they can ‘rank’ as many or as few as they want. If one candidate has more than 50% of the ‘first choice’ votes, then they are elected. If this doesn’t happen, then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and these votes are re-allocated to their second preferences. For example, if a voter chooses Yellow Candidate, Blue Candidate and then Green Candidate, and then Yellow Candidate was eliminated, this voter’s vote would go to Blue Candidate.

If still no candidate has 50% of the votes, the next lowest candidate is eliminated and their votes re-allocated. For example, if Blue Candidate was eliminated, any voter with Blue Candidate as their first choice would have their votes re-allocated to their second preference, like in the first example. But if Blue Candidate was a voter’s second choice, then that voter’s vote is re-allocated to their third preference. If we re-use first example, that vote would then go to Green Candidate. However if a voter has no candidates left in the running, the vote is no longer counted. To use again our first voter, if Green Candidate is eliminated next, then this voter’s vote would no longer be counted. This process continues until one candidate has over 50% of the remaining votes.

Although the AV system seems much more complicated, it promises ‘a fairer vote’ according to supporters. With the current system, it can mean that a candidate wins with a minority of the vote whereas AV will only allow an overall majority to win: supposedly making sure that the real preferred party is elected. However, at least with the FPTP system everybody’s vote is counted – with the AV system, if your vote no longer applies to any candidate still in the running, it is entirely ignored. The AV system has said that it will stop extremism and that ‘For extremists AV is a brick wall’ as they are unlikely to get the majority of the vote. However, this seems to me that it restricts both the freedom to choose and the freedom to speech. The current system allows a range of opinions and voices to be vocalised in Parliament. I fear that if the AV system is followed through, it will stifle these small but valued ideas. Looking at both the support for and against campaigns for the change, it seems that the argument against is a lot stronger. During a hard economic period, it seems irresponsible to spend millions of pounds on a system that might not even work for us: with all the budget cuts, it’s a waste of the small amount of money we do have. This system also allows the party without the most first preference votes to win. David Cameron, PM, says that “AV is an unfair, expensive and discredited system, that allows candidates who finish third to steal elections”. As well as this, First Past The Post system is used widely around the world, whereas AV is used in only three countries: Fiji, Papa New Guinea and Australia – and in Australia 6 out of 10 people want to get rid of it anyway.

So why are we having it? The referendum was something the Liberal Democrats wanted as part of the agreement to form a coalition with the Conservatives. This push for the vote seems to be in retaliation to the accusations of false and broken promises. However the Conservatives will campaign for a ‘No’ vote and the Liberal Democrats will campaign for a ‘Yes’ – we shall just have to wait to see in whose favour the vote will swing.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Come Dine With Me

As I sit in my local Harvester, waiting for the waiter to arrive to take our drinks order, I begin to marvel at the way restaurants have become. It seems that they are no longer the place reserved for the special occasions and celebrations, but for the day to day dining of those who can’t be bothered to or simply can’t cook. As well as this, it becomes evident that the standard of service has slipped, to the point where it is just more enjoyable to eat at home.

After waiting too long to be shown to a table that has evidently not been washed in several months, we were left alone for nearly a quarter of an hour with no drinks. After several murderous stares and threats (not directly to our waiter of course. But out of earshot certainly), we were offered a service, that even then was below average and at points neglectful. Perhaps it’s just England – after all in America the waiting service is polite and diligent – but we seem to be lacking the simple use of manners in public dining. I understand that when the place is buzzing it can be hard to attend to everyone at once – but when the restaurant is as empty as a pub in Dublin on Easter Sunday, it’s not much to expect to be remembered. And as for the food – well cook a suspicious looking meat (possibly dog, but who knows? Maybe even human) in an enormous bucket of fat, and you begin to understand what we ate. The only thing to rid the taste of overwhelming grease was to down either the soft drinks – which are realistically more ice than anything worth paying for – or the astronomically priced alcoholic beverages. Except for me, where ice was the only option.

Naturally, the delights of the restaurant world do not start and end with the service and food - there are the other people dining in the restaurant. The overly loud people, who announce their order to the world and his wife, and then proceed to tell everyone in the restaurant about Auntie Doreen and Ben from the office; then there’s the people who sit behind with their chairs banging into yours, and the elbows bruising your arms every time they go for a new mouthful; and finally there’s the families with screaming children: wailing bundles of joy, who grace the place with songs, tears and temper tantrums – a lucky partnering table may even receive a dummy in the back of the head. And these fatalities don’t end with the members of other tables – there are many issues within your own fort. There are those people who bring along phones and DSs and PSPs, and sit playing with it all meal long; anti-social and depressing to see, they are unaware that when the Cyborg Rebellion initiates, they will be the first to succumb to the suppression (it’s coming, and soon). Then you have some people, who despite the assurances that we are not celebrating a birthday or Christmas, insist on bringing a camera to take pictures of both the food and the people eating it: although I am quite sure the flash on the camera won’t induce an epileptic fit in my pizza, I want to eat my food, rather than wait for it to go cold whilst you have your fifty pictures of artistic licence; as for photos whilst I’m eating, I don’t like pictures of me normally, let alone when I am doing an impression of a hamster. And of course, you have the heinous fiends who think it would be amusing to take some food from your plate: I’m sorry, but if you wanted my food, you should have ordered it yourself. Hands. Off.

Indeed, it is not only chain restaurants - like The Harvester – which, despite expectations to rise in performance and popularity, have failed in both. Fast food restaurants have spread across the country like vermin, spouting tales of healthy eating yet serving dubious meats, most likely to have been found in an alleyway, deep fried and smothered in barbecue sauce (except for Subway, which seems to live up to its promises. Mmm, Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki…). Only family-run restaurants seem to stem the flow of atrocities on haute cuisine, but increasing prices and the pressure to become chains are sure to silence true dining once and for all.

I hope only that in the near future that restaurant dining returns once more to true gourmet cooking, before we become too dependent on the artery lining, grease buckets that they cool food. However, it seems unlikely and even foolish to hope for this, let alone the return of real dining etiquette; we must wait some time more for silent dining.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Seven Going On Eighteen

As I’m sitting in a dental waiting room, waiting that extra half an hour for my appointment to be called, I watch a group of about seven year olds playing on their gadgets. I stare in awe as I remember what I had at that age: some paper, a pack of pencils and – the extreme of gaming – a Tamagotchi.

Suddenly now, every kid has a Smartphone, iPod, DS, PSP and XBOX before they even reach the last year of primary school. Admittedly, I have three of the five listed, but then again, I am nearly at the end of secondary school. As for my first phone, I got it right at the end of primary school, before I joined secondary school, when it was needed - even then it was very simple, unlike the iPhones, HTCs and BlackBerrys you see now in the hands if those only recently toilet trained. I’m sorry, but no-one that age needs a phone – after attempts to call Peppa Pig and numerous 999 dials, the phone is likely to end up flushed down the toilet, thrown out the window, or sitting at a miniature table surrounded by dolls, being welcomed as ‘Mrs McDougal’. Of course, the latest developments in technology make it hard for ordinary toys to compete in the children’s market, and although I say I never had these things, it was because they were never around. However, this is no excuse for the fact that kids now a days are lazy: they would rather someone else provided a story for them to watch, or at most move their thumbs to, rather than go out and play or use their imaginations to create a story with knights and damsels in distress. We’re all guilty of it; despite my avid love for reading, it is always so much easier to just pick up a TV remote and put anything on, even when I’m not interested in it.

Not only are kids losing their imagination, but they’re losing their childhood entirely. Children in year two are already being given the sex education lesson – I understand that they need to know at some point, and keeping them in the dark for too long makes them ignorant and unprotected against the adult world. However, I cannot see the harm in letting them retain their innocence for a few years more; just allowing children to be children. As it is, seven year olds are playing games for those that are eighteen, and watching films rated the same.  These games and movies are classified at this rating for a reason, not for them to just be ignored. The violence and language are something an seven year old should not be exposed to, especially as it is shown to have led to real life attacks – I personally would be scarred for life if I saw someone being mutilated by a pyscho in a mask (but then again, I am terrified by I Am Legend, so I have no chances against the likes of Saw). In addition to this, the question has to be raised as to how they got their hands on this to start with. I mean, it’s not like you see a child wandering into an off-licence asking for a bottle of Jack Daniels and a pack of cigarettes. Yet, whilst you might not see it in really young children, you still certainly see it in underage teenagers. I know I am likely to be ripped to shreds by anyone my age by my possibly ‘outlandish’ views, but drugs, smoking and alcohol in someone under 18 are illegal. I accept maybe a glass of wine with dinner once you are responsible enough (you can’t blame me for that one: the French came up with that idea), but really the only reason people my age drink are to either get drunk, seem cool or fit in. For me, if it came between not fitting in and getting in an unimaginable amount of trouble with my parents, I’ll take being an outsider every day of the week. And as for looking cool or attractive: no-one is going to look at someone stumbling around, vomiting everywhere and eventually passing out unconscious and think “Hmm, yeah, potential life partner”. As well as this, although something may start out as being funny, when you’re drunk, you’re a lot more likely to make decisions you wouldn’t normally make; and sometimes ones you can’t even remember. But this isn’t only talking about excessive alcohol consumption. Ladies, a ridiculously short skirt, ludicrously revealing top and heels you can’t walk in may get the guys for now, but they might not be the only ones who see – and not all of them will have friendly intentions. A little bit of decorum now may save you in the long run.

I doubt very much that children or teenagers will change their ways and return to the good old times of colouring books, outside games and stuffed toys. Despite it all, it does make you long for the simpler days, when seven year olds were going on nine, not eighteen.

Friday, 15 April 2011

PDA: Please Demonstrate Appropriateness

As I’m walking around my local shopping centre, I am greeted constantly by the sight of happily-ever-after in love couples sucking faces. As happy as I am to know that Love does in deed still exist in the modern world (where honestly I thought it had become extinct), it does not mean I wish to see people eating each other’s faces as if they missed breakfast.

Be that as it may, I like seeing a couple walking round holding hands, all cute. But as soon as one partner begins to look like the Kraken attacking the other, that’s when I begin to feel my Weetabix returning. I guess it’s up to people’s own personal preferences what they do, but these preferences aren’t exactly made for public places. None of this is helped of course by the films and TV series that are promoting inappropriate Public Displays of Affection and such. We are seeing it on our favourite programmes more and more often (whatever happened to the 9pm watershed?); I’m just waiting for Igglepiggle and Upsy Daisy to start making out in the CBeebies show In The Night Garden. It’s cute to see a happy Hollywood ending in a film or TV series, but when it becomes more than PG in public, I think it’s irresponsible to exploit young children to something they shouldn’t have to see for another ten years. This is likely to make me sound like an old soul spouting stories of back in the day, but realistically kids shouldn’t see tongues anywhere except when they stick theirs out at someone else and they get one back in return.  I don’t want to see it, so I doubt they will. As well as this, something as special as a movie-star kiss should be special – not just sticking your tongue down someone else’s throat as a way of claiming ownership in public.

Many of you will be thinking that I’m only having a go because I’m jealous. Maybe I am, but after all, it’s not as if everyone is fortunate enough to be in the same situation. For the singles amongst the population, we are forced into viewing a rom-com without the comedy in public, reminding us effectively of the general loneliness of our situation. For some, this is likely to sink them back into the 6 month depression of chocolates, tissues and Love Actually, wrapped up in bed with the curtains drawn shut and the phone line disconnected. It’s bad enough to know that at this rate, I’ll end up alone with thirteen cats and a subscription to Knitting Weekly, without having others relationships being rubbed in my face. It’s not as if it’s a reality I don’t know about, but I want to be able to live my life dreaming about the fairytale ending you see in films, not see it stuck on replay every time I step outside my front door.

I hope that people in a relationship treasure what they have; I just hope that they also realise not everyone wants to see it, before they are pelted with the tissues and empty chocolate boxes of the lonely people - and those who don’t want to have to meet their breakfasts twice every morning.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Religious Debate

With Easter appearing just around the corner, I am allowed another two weeks off of school in order to celebrate the religious holiday: just like at Christmas. Many would expect this to be about the commercialism of religious holidays, but those of you who know me (or have in fact been in any of my Religious Studies classes) are more likely to know the angle of this particular rant.

For a country where religion is an option, not a compulsory action, it seems absurd that term times are based so close to religious holidays; of course, the schools need to have breaks for term times and such, but apart from the Summer Holidays, the two main recesses are for religious ceremonies. Yet even worse is that these are only Christian holidays; not Muslim or Jewish or Hindu or Sikh or any other of the vast amount of religions that our country hosts. For a multi-cultural country, it seems unaccepting that the traditions of a conforming society have been brought forward into the modern era.

Not only are the Christian traditions being used as national holidays, but the ideals are being preached in schools. I am not writing to offend, persuade or discriminate against any religion or sect; however, I think that children especially should be allowed to choose their own faith and belief, without the influences of schooling. Although in primary schools most were taught the religious beliefs of as many as possible, for me, this was as far as it went. Where I live, there were two schooling options for secondary schools: a CofE school or a non-denominational school. For personal religious reasons I was sent to the latter. Yet for such a promise, it was not fulfilled: we are still made to sit in one assembly a week hosted by a member of the Christian church. For a non-denominational, it seems greatly unfair that we are not open to assemblies presented by members of other faiths. As well as this, despite the fact that an R.S. GCSE was detailed with a curriculum of Ethics and Philosophy, we have been taught nothing but Christian history, ethics and philosophy. As interesting as this may be for some – and I am in no way trying to say that it is not something worth learning – when we are promised a broad and enveloping curriculum and given only a rather narrow learning, it is misleading and discriminative. England is a rich and cultural society that welcomes many varying religions, and it seems awful that schools (or mine at least) are limiting what students are open to, at a crucial point in time for decisions to be made about adult lives.

Unfortunately, it is not just schooling that is having an effect. Around the world there are cases of religious extremism, ranging from terrorism to chants and protests. Children are being displayed this information and influenced by sources that they don’t really know anything about. Understandably, it is the news’ job to report what is happening around the world, and it falls more to parents to regulate the amount that children are seeing. Yet when it comes to education, I think it is unfair that a school or curriculum board should introduce such influencing lessons and discussions at such an early age. Teach it yes: but teach other religions alongside Christianity equally without a sense of forcing the religion upon us.

As I said, I am not hoping to offend, criticise or persuade against any religion, or say that any should be taught above the other: on the contrary, I think they should all be taught equally, from a neutral, outsiders perspective, rather than an in depth and emotive look at one particular religion. I hope that schools can re-consider, and if they can do nothing to change it, that the Government can amend the injustice of the education system, before it becomes more than one person blogging about it. 

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Music Went Down In An Earlier Round, 'Cos Nobody Seems To Be Singing

As I sat listening to the radio whilst procrastinating doing my homework, I began to realise how truly pointless modern music is. Between talentless, auto-toned, pubescent drama queens and the millions of droning artists who all sound the same with ludicrous names like Tinie Tempah, Dizzee Rascal and Chipmunk, the music industry has become nothing more than a sham. Modern society has been turned into a wave of tasteless zombies, intent on destroying the idea of actual instruments. It’s like We Will Rock You in real life: I feel like the only Scaramouche left.

Let’s take, for example, Rebecca Black. I’m sure most of you can sense the impending rant that’s coming, but why not? Friday has already been set as the most disliked video on YouTube, and to no surprise: the lyrics are so stupid, they’re just hilarious (why are you waiting at the bus stop if you get a lift with your friends? Isn’t that misleading to that poor bus driver, who not only has to deal with screaming babies and doddering OAPs struggling to get on the bus every day, but apparently now has to put up with wailing teenagers using the bus stop as a meeting point? Think people, think!); her voice is comparable to Justin Bieber’s; and the video itself is full of so many flaws, it’s like Swiss cheese (I’m sorry, has the legal age for driving in America been lowered to seven? Because there is no way that kid driving the car in the video is sixteen, and if he isn’t then someone needs to call the police; evidently he’s been playing way too much GTA). Yet whatever its origins, it is a cruel way of showing the world that anyone can become famous, despite the fact they are as tuneful as a cat being sat on by a donkey.

Of course, this destruction of true taste was neither started nor finished by the atrocity that is Friday; yet it has been led by the excuse for music that is Justin Bieber - although of course bad music has been on the scene a lot longer than he has been around.  I was excited when I started watching Glee, as I began to think that maybe times were changing, and that with decent music being covered - like that of The Pretenders, The Beatles and of course, Journey – it would soon return to its rightful place at top of the charts. Yet, they too have turned to the dark side, creating a ‘Justin Bieber’ episode, one show dedicated entirely to his inabilities. Thank you Glee: you might as well have taken a hot poker and stuck it in my ears. This floppy haired idiot has more on his head than in it, and is followed daily by desperate girls who evidently have no issues skipping school to tail a pathetic example of a musician – as well as this, any girl over the age of thirteen should be arrested  for paedophilia; Justine Bieber is, after all, only twelve. He is a narcissistic, pubescent, arrogant boy with no talent, looks or standing; only money and a good publicist. And as for his film and autobiography – ‘Justin Bieber: Never Say Never’ (You just did. Twice.) and ‘Justin Bieber: First Step 2 Forever, My Story’ (Clearly  Mr Bieber hasn’t yet reached the English lesson that explains the difference between to, too and two.)Well, maybe I should make my own too! After all, I have achieved as much as this mindless moron; probably more in fact. I can honestly say that the only time I have ever been excited to see Bieber was in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, ‘Targets of Obsession’ - when he was shot and killed (I watched the clip on YouTube over and over. It’s amazing.). However, I was very disappointed to learn that he did survive the shooting. There are always more opportunities I suppose…

What pains me more however, is the dismissal of the greater, older music. I could accept, I suppose, the auto-toned noise were it produced alongside proper music. Yet it seems that decent music (made with these funny things called instruments) has disappeared into the nether. I doubt that many of you readers will have even realised that the title of this blog is a play on words of Sugar, We’re Going Down by Fall Out Boy; of course if you did then please make contact, as it is likely we are one of few humans left in this zombified land. I weep for the days where Queen, Bon Jovi and Guns and Roses were the masters of music and were recognised for their talents.  Music used to teach you to how to live your life to the fullest; now it just asks you if “you ever feel like a plastic bag” (thanks for that Katy Perry. Another sell out artist who used to be good, but went speedily downhill when the money came rolling in)

Now it seems that there are only three options left to the modern artist: Create entirely false music, with speech not song about nothing but unnecessary swearing; stick as close to your true style as possible, yet produce at least one ‘modern’ tune in order to break through to the wider audience (like Pink with Raise Your Glass and Avril Lavigne with Girlfriend and What The Hell); or disappear entirely into the background so as to follow the road to true music, like Blink 182, Paramore and You Me At Six. Even I have to say, grudgingly, that the bands I don’t like (My Chemical Romance, Kings of Leon) are at least attempting to make good music, rather than taking the easy option and talking into a microphone for a living.

Please, music artists of the future: change your ways and pick up a guitar or two, rather than allowing the computer to do it for you, or else risk me either killing you or myself.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Question Time With Michael Gove

At a School Council Training Day, I had the unlikely opportunity to meet and question the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove. Despite my expectations that he would dodge around every question fired his way, he responded in a surprisingly honest and straightforward manner. In this blog here, I hope to enlighten my readers to exactly what the government plans to do for Education, straight from – as it were – the horse’s mouth.

I was fortunate enough to be allowed the first question towards the RT Hon Michael Gove MP, and I asked him how, with all the new budget cuts, schools are expected to have funds for resources such as books, especially considering the new curriculum for GCSEs changes every few years. After thanking me kindly for my question, he proceeded to tell of how the funding for Education would not be cut, and would in fact be the most protected area of the country, alongside the NHS. However, there is to be a slight change. Whereas before schools would be given money and told where to spend it in what proportions, the money is now to some with ‘no strings attached’; meaning that schools will now be able to spend this money in whichever way they deem most affective.

Although this may sound good to most people – and for sure it is, as education’s funding is to remain the same, unlike most services and facilities around the country – the rise in inflation and cost of living means that this seemingly generous lapse in cutting is not as advantageous as it may be viewed to be.

The next question addressed the rumours of the government raising the school leaving age. Although these rumours are not exactly on the point, Michael Gove confirmed to us that they will be raising the ‘Education Participation Age’ to 18. This means that until the age of 18 (except of course in exceptional circumstances) everyone should still be in some form of education, whether it is trainings, apprenticeships or six form colleges. Hopefully, this will enable a decrease in youth unemployment rates; the government also hopes to free up some money in order to help this.

Next, an adorable primary school child (over who’s head you would assume that most of, if not all of, the government’s policy talk would go) asked why Palaeontology (the study of fossils) and Entomology (the study of insects) were not taught at a younger age.  It was then revealed that there would be less of the ‘prescribed’ subjects, leaving more room for the flexible subjects. However, we were told that this meant there would be more rigorous classes and exams in these ‘prescribed’ subjects such as maths and science.

As exciting and enjoyable idea this may be, if schools have a larger range of choice for subjects they will need more teachers - this will cost more and if the money for schools is not increasing, how can this scheme be supported realistically?

After a rather rude and slanderous inquiry over the increase in university fees, Mr Gove first explained that no-one has to pay up front, or in fact at all until you begin to earn £21,000. Yet if you are going to university, it is – as a general rule – to improve your education so that you can achieve a better job that earns more money, so you are likely to end up earning more that £21,000; if you don’t then realistically there is little point in going in the first place. As well as this, new reports show that the more you earn, the more you have to pay back, and with averages of February last year showing average salaries for graduates fresh out of university to be around £25,000 a year, it seems a disadvantage to go to university, despite Gove’s assurances that ‘the answer is always yes’ when it comes to the big decision. Gove also told of how less than half of the population go to university, and although those who do go are said to be ‘bettering society’, those who don’t are paying for those who do. Michael Gove also told us (though I have to say that this is unconfirmed) that amongst the universities choosing to charge the highest fees of £9,000 are Oxford, Cambridge, Warwick, Durham, Surrey and Exeter.

Raised next was the discussion of apprenticeships. The government foresees more money being spent on apprenticeships, to secure more training places and remove the stigma of risk and paper work that comes with it, with Michael Gove saying that ‘[the government will] provide the money if [the company will] provide the training’ and that ‘what [the company thinks] is a gamble is actually an investment’.

The talk then turned to Key Stage 2 and 3 SATs – primary schools complaining about the year 6 SATs and the secondary schools asking why the year 9 ones were scrapped.  Michael Gove explained that the Key Stage 2 exams were there both for the school and the individual students.  He then went on to say that he worries that we rely too much on one set of measurements and that instead of removing them, we should in fact put more in. Also, these exams are to help secondary schools evaluate you when you first start (although they have, of course, access to other information and their own tests).  However, the SATs at Key Stage 3 have been removed, in order to give teachers more flexibility, and in recognition of the fact that there are already external exams at GCSEs and A Levels; to have more in Year 9 was decided as too much. Nevertheless, we were told that the government still provides the SATs for both internal and external marking were anyone to be interested; although if I find a year 9 willing to take more exams, I will be surprised.

The talk was interesting and informative, if not everyone’s cup of tea. I can only hope that everything that the Secretary of State for Education said is followed through, despite its potential negative repercussions.