Mr Bigg's Blog A blog about politics, theology, education and the rest…

3May/111

The influence of the Septuagint on the New Testament

Posted by Mike

I spent quite a while today trying to find a copy of my MPhil Thesis today and luckily I found it in and old sent folder. The upshot is that I thought I'd post a copy here so I don't lose it again.

It's a study of Romans 9-11 and how the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) influences Paul's theology in this passage. It is intended to show that biblical translation strategy can influence the very writing of the Bible and is therefore a call to be careful in how we interpret the Bible ourselves.

If anyone wants to read it feel free: The Influence of the Septuagint on Paul: A Study of Romans 9-11 (2424 downloads)

Any comments would be gratefully recieved! It was a year's worth of work so if you use it please credit me!

3May/111

The shame and misinformation of the No to AV campaign

Posted by Mike

I was dismayed to come home today and find that the No to AV campaign have written to my house again. They've written to everyone in the house except me (what do they know about me and how?!)

Their flier was full of outrageous misinformation and poor argument so I thought I'd rebut some of it (again).

"Vote NO to the Altervative Vote on Thursday because..."

...it will produce more coalitions. Under the AV system, we would have coalitions most of the time, with Nick Clegg deciding who would be Prime Minister by cutting a deal behind closed doors after the election

Where to start with this? Firstly, there is little evidence that AV will produce more coalitions. We simply don't know how people would have allocated their second/third/fourth preferences had AV been in force in previous years so it's difficult to project backwards. My guess would be that Tony Blair's landslide in 1997 would still have happened under AV but we simply don't know. Anyway, are coalition governments by definition a bad thing? I don't think so.

The other major problem is the ad hominem argument against Nick Clegg. The campaign to change the voting system is NOT about the results of the next election, or the one after that. We are talking about a change that could last hundreds of years. It is simply not acceptable to argue against AV because we don't like Nick Clegg (just as the Yes to AV argument isn't made any stronger by saying "The BNP are voting against AV so we should vote for it"). The question is about how we can deliver an electoral system that most fairly and democratically represents the will of the people. The issue of which system will be most beneficial to the party one happens to like is neither here nor there.

...it is only used by three other countries in the world - Fiji, Australia and Papua New Guinea - and Australia want to get rid of it.

Oh, good Lord! Firstly, I am not aware of ANY other country in the world that uses our bizarre form of FPTP. The argument that hardly anyone uses the system is not a good one in favour of FPTP. Besides, what's wrong with doing things differently? We were one of the first countries to legislate against the slave trade. I'm sure plenty of people said, "No-one else is doing it so we shouldn't either". Does that make the slave trade a good thing? No.

Secondly, the No to AV campaign have greatly exaggerated the claim that the Australians want to get rid of AV. Antony Green, an Australian, despairs at this misinformation.

...it allows the second or third placed candidates to win. We could end up with third-best candidates becoming MPs.

Well, this really depends on your definition of "winning". If winning is a matter of rallying your core support in order to get to Westminster on 30-40% of your constituent's votes then FPTP is for you. If, on the other hand, you consider winning to mean reaching out to at least 50% of the voters in order to be an MP then AV your system. I'm not the only one who thinks the second definition of winning is preferable!

In reality, the only times in which the "third best" candidate could win is if there was a close three-way split between three candidates and the third candidate happened to garner significant support from those who put the fourth/fifth/sixth placed candidates first. If the top three candidates got 30%/29%/28% respectively and the third candidate then had significant numbers of votes from the remaining 13% of the electorate after redistribution then I'm not sure (s)he'd be considered "third best".

...it will cost the country £250 million, at a time when money is tight

How much longer will this lie go on? No-one is planning to buy voting machines. The only extra expense will be the extra pencil lead it takes to write "1, 2, 3" rather than a cross. The only technology required is a pencil and paper.

Sure, it'll take a little longer to count, but it will be worthwhile.

...it means that someone else's 5th preference is worth the same as your 1st

Nonsense! I've written about this here.

...it will mean that supporters of the BNP and other fringe parties would decide who wins... that will encourage candidates to pander to the likes of the BNP

Yes, it is true that (God willing) BNP candidates will be knocked out at an early stage and their votes will be redistributed. However, to suggest that this means that candidates are likely to pander to the BNP for votes in ludicrous. Do they seriously think that candidates will start saying: "I'm planning to kick out all the foreigners and withdraw from the EU" in order to attract far-right votes? As everyone knows this would lose candidates more votes than it would gain them. It does, however, mean that green issues might be taken more seriously when the minority of Green votes is to be redistributed.

No candidate is going to become schizophrenic because of AV. Candidates will still have to have clear policies upon which they hope to be elected. Any candidate that says one thing to one voter and something else to another will soon find themselves with no votes at all, and rightly so.

Conclusion

Is there anyone to whom I can complain? Points 2 and 4 in particular contain downright lies. I will be appalled if this referendum is voted down because of this shameful campaign.

Yes to AV!

3May/110

Job application clangers

Posted by Mike

Recently I had the privilege of looking over job applications to shortlist applicants for interview. I don't get to do this very often so it was interesting to see how it's done. With almost 30 applications for the job I thought it would take ages to whittle it down to 4 or 5. However, I was surprised that it took well less than an hour and often it was simple mistakes that put serious question marks over otherwise reasonable applications. In a competitive market you need to make sure an application will get through the initial "sift" so it is more likely to be read fully.

Therefore, I thought I'd make a note of a few common "clangers" that put an application closer to the bottom of the pile. None of the things listed below would instantly lead to the dismissal of an application but the moment alarm bells are rung it becomes less likely that an application will be shortlisted. I hope these may be helpful for anyone applying for a teaching job in future!

Your covering letter is a letter!

Many of us email job applications these days. However, even if you email an application your covering letter is still a "letter". Therefore it should have your address in the top right hand corner with the date. It should end with "Yours Sincerely" and your name. This is a basic bit of ettiquette which, if not adhered to, can make you look less professional.

Get the form of address right...

Following on from the last point it's important that your letter is addressed properly. You'll almost certainly know to whom the letter is to be directed. Unless the advert explicitly says to write to someone else you'll be writing to the head teacher. If you don't know the head teacher's name then look it up on the school's website or phone to find out! Your letter should then start "Dear Mr(s) [or even Dr/Revd - try to get this right]..."

Applications I read were addressed to "Dear Sir or Madam" (lazy), "Dear Mr(s) " (slapdash), "Dear colleague" (you're not my colleague - this sounds rather presumptuous). If you don't get this right (at a time when it is assumed you are doing the best you can to impress) it leaves the person reading wondering what else you might get wrong.

Spell check and proof-read

Teaching is a profession. Part of being a professional is being able to communicate clearly. If your application contains typos, bad grammar, awkward sentences or meaningless statements then you look less professional. At the very least you ought to proof-read your application to check these; I find that reading out loud helps me to find many errors. Obviously writing an application can be a rather involving process and sometimes it is hard to spot one's own mistakes so get someone you trust to proof-read too. Most people are glad to do these things and are flattered to be asked. If you really can't find anyone to do it then email me and I'll do it myself! I hate to see decent applications let down by silly mistakes.

Keep it tight

A covering letter is not the same as your life story. Two pages of size 12 A4 should be plenty to sell yourself. If you write more you should be damned sure that it's captivating stuff otherwise you look like a waffler; no-one wants to waste their time with a waffler. A covering letter should be enough to grab attention and make the employer think you'd be worth talking to in interview. Don't say everything you could possibly say otherwise there'd be nothing to talk about!

(On a similar note don't cut it too short either. Saying, "Please find enclosed my application" does not constitute a covering letter).

Avoid "elephants in the corner"

Plenty of people apply for jobs in unusual circumstances; there's nothing wrong with this. You may be a deputy head in a school wanting to spend more time with your family and so you're applying for a standard teaching job. You may have only been in your current job for one year and are looking to move. You may have come into teaching late and be looking for a change. You may be looking to side-step into a different kind of role.

Whatever your circumstances you need to be aware if your application might be considered "unusual" in any way. If this is the case then your letter ought to address this. This doesn't mean you have to explain in detail about your family circumstances or your position in your current school. It does mean that you need to at least acknowledge that your application raises questions. If you leave an "elephant in the corner" it may look like you have something to hide.

Back up what you say with evidence

This is basic Level 5 stuff. Explain! If you say, "I believe in inclusive education" then great! You should at least try to back this up with some evidence. What have you done to put this into practice? Do you promote the use of ICT in your lessons? Prove it. If you don't do this then your application can look wooly.

These are all things I noticed today which, I'm afraid, meant that a lot of applications (that I'm sure people had spent a lot of time working on) ended up being sidelined. I hope this helps anyone thinking of applying for a teaching job!

Anyone else got any tips, advice or pet peeves when it comes to job applications?

23Apr/113

Why I will be voting “Yes to AV”

Posted by Mike

A lot has been said and written about the forthcoming referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) system. As many have commented the level of debate has often been poor and come down to shameful ad hominem arguments or simply criticising the other campaign. There are many good articles already out there on this issue (I recommend Gower on AV in particular, LibDem Voice has some good ideas too) but I thought I'd set out a simple post outlining the positive reasons why I plan to vote yes to AV. It is not intended to criticise the "No" campaign; this is a plea for AV as a positive step for our democracy. Here goes:

AV is FPTP

My first argument is that AV provides a genuine first-past-the-post (FPTP) system. The current system doesn't actually have a fixed "post". The current race is not set up with a target other than to beat the other candidates and one vote is enough to do this. This can (and does) mean that in some constituencies the winner can have 30% of the vote as long as the other 70% is suitably split between between the other candidates.

AV is quite different. The "post" is set at 50% and the winner is the first person past this fixed target and guarantees that whoever wins has a democratic mandate from a majority of the (voting) constituents. No longer can candidates rely on a "core" vote safe in the knowledge that most of the time 40% of the vote will suffice. Candidates are compelled to reach out to a broader range of voters because even those who don't put them as first preference may be important.

AV preserves and enhances the principle of "one voter, one vote"

A dearly cherished principle of parliamentary democracy is that every voter is equally important. AV preserves this principle and, I believe, develops it. As a recent letter to the Times observed AV is, in essence, a highly efficient way of holding a series of elections in which candidates are knocked out one by one until a candidate has the democratic mandate of getting to the 50% "post". In each round of voting each voter gets one vote and the (reasonable) assumption is made that if your first preference candidate is still in the running at any stage then they will still be your first choice. If your first choice has been eliminated then your second/third/fourth choice gets your vote.

This seems highly reasonable to me, much akin to presidential "run-off" votes that other countries have when there are more than two candidates. However, instead of the costly and time-consuming process of having separate votes, it is done through the simple process of ranking candidates in order of preference.

By doing this we enhance the "one person, one vote" principle by ensuring that no vote is "wasted".

AV reduces the potential for "tactical voting"

Although there is clearly some scope for "tactical voting" under AV it is greatly limited. Where the current system can lend itself to voting for a candidate one doesn't really want in order to avoid getting an MP that one definitely doesn't want, the AV system encourages us to vote for people we DO want, safe in the knowledge that we can still express dislike for other candidates through our other preferences. Our voice is heard in the first round of voting (even if we don't expect the candidate to win) but we can still express a preference for a candidate we think is likely to be in with a chance. Surely this is a good thing.

Consensual politics is good politics

Much has been made of the idea that AV is likely to lead to more hung parliaments and coalition governments. Am I the only one who doesn't think this would be a bad thing? Many people argue that clear majorities produce "strong" governments who can get through significant change. My perception is that large majorites produce governments that can steamroll policies through Westminster with little consultation. This can be done even without clear democratic mandate in terms of vote percentage (have a look here for a few examples).

Under coalitions or small majorities government is forced to seek consensus and a "middle way". Is this a bad thing? I am glad that we have a Lib-Con coalition in that I am glad that the Lib Dems have the power to put in place safeguards which I suspect would not be in place if the Tories were governing alone. Under this government we have seen a significant increase in the personal income tax allowance and many packages to support poorer students who will be put off by larger tuition fees (and I am cross that not more has been made of these). This comes as a direct result of forced negotiation and discussion as a result of a hung parliament. Good. Hung parliaments are not a bad thing by definition.

(On a separate note, it is rather difficult to "model" the results of previous elects had AV been in force given that we do not know what other preferences would have been expressed. It is hard to predict whether AV would in fact lead to more hung parliaments).

AV preserves a constituency link

One reason I prefer AV over proportional representation (PR) is that it preserves a clear link between the voter and their parliamentary representative. I am lucky enough to have an excellent MP (Julian Huppert, who makes excellent use of new technology to keep constituents informed - good man) and I do think it's important that an MP represents a particular group of people and is accountable to them. AV ensures that an MP will represent their constituents and that a majority will have expressed a preference for the person elected.

There are many reasons to vote AV and the main ones for me have been outlined above. I sincerely hope that people will engage in honest debate on this issue and seek arguments rather than sling mud. If electoral reform does not go ahead on May 5th then I fear it will not do so in my lifetime. Now is the time! Yes to AV!

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