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May 11, 2019

More time off (11/5/2019)
Saturday May 18 is the day that Australians head to the polls to elect the next federal government. I will be working from 7am to 11pm as an official at my local polling place so I will probably be useless for the rest of the weekend. On the Sunday I was supposed to have lunch with some friends and then attend a couple of hours of lectures about science, but I will probably spend the day relaxing and either celebrating or bemoaning the election results.

I'll leave you with some things to read.


How we do things here (11/5/2019)
I keep seeing horror stories about how elections are run in other countries, so here's some information about how this election will happen in Australia.

The election will be administered by the Australian Electoral Commission. Every address in Australia received a pamphlet setting out all the procedures and rules for voting, and it is the same at every polling place in the country. You can see the guide by clicking on the picture at the right.

The polls open at 8am and close at 6pm. Anyone in the line at that time will be allowed to vote, no matter how much time it takes or how many are in the queue. (Officials can't start opening the ballot boxes and counting until the last voter has gone.)

Provided that no suggestions are made about who to vote for, any voter can ask for and receive assistance to vote. If they need to get someone to fill in the ballot papers there must be a witness (who can't be a candidate).

When deciding if a vote is formal or not, the voter's intention has to be considered and benefit of the doubt given. You have to number the candidates in your preferred order, but you can write (and even mix) words like "one", "two" or even Roman numerals. The whole process is based on making the election the result of including as many people's votes as possible.

No hanging chads, and sausage sandwiches for all.

I should also point out that elections are held on Saturdays when most of the working population have a day off, if you can't get to a polling place on the day you can vote early or by post, if you are away from home on the day but still in your home state you can vote at any polling place and if you are interstate there are very many interstate voting places. If you are in hospital or have certain other problems a mobile voting service can come to you, and if you are homeless or itinerant with no fixed address and let the AEC know in advance you can still vote.

Everybody matters or nobody matters.

Also, despite the brochure saying that voting is compulsory, what is compulsory is to attend a polling place and have your name marked off. Except in the case mentioned above where a voter can ask for assistance, no official can see what if anything is on a voting paper before it is placed in the ballot box.


The writing rolls on (11/5/2019)
Obviously I'm famous for running a web site and writing about car rallies for the newspapers so when I say something it carries a lot of weight, even if it has nothing to do with cars or web pages. That's how the celebrity endorsement business works. This didn't stop me from being a bit critical of other celebrities in my latest column for Australasian Science magazine. (With winter approaching this will probably be the last column I can write for a few months while getting fully into Naked Skeptic character. Once the snow starts to fall I'll probably have to put some clothes on.)

I'm a celebrity. What do you want to hear?

Celebrity endorsement has been a part of advertising since the first advertising agent thought "This will sell if we get someone famous to say they like it". It relies on the halo effect, where success or skill at one thing is assumed to transfer to some other thing. It's perfectly acceptable when the celebrity has some relationship to the product through what they are famous for, like tennis stars endorsing racquets and shoes or motor racing drivers telling us that some company makes the best tyres in the world. People quite rightly assume that the celebrities are being paid to say what they say, and again there is nothing much wrong with that.

You can read the rest here



One of those anonymous Facebook memes


Other people write and I write about the writing. (11/5/2019)
The Australian Book of AtheismIt's probably no secret that conspiracy theories are of interest to me, and I've reviewed an excellent book about the phenomenon.

Republic Of Lies: American conspiracy theorists and their surprising rise to power
by Anna Merlan

It's probably not surprising that the content of this book Is somewhat US centric because the subtitle does say "American conspiracy theorists", but there is still a lot that is relevant to Australia (and probably the rest of the world). Many of the US conspiracists rely on (deliberate?) misinterpretation or misunderstanding of the US Constitution, but I suppose that's more understandable than Australian conspiracists citing the same document. I've heard Australians claim their 2nd Amendment right to carry guns and their 5th Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. (The second amendment to the Australian Constitution allowed the Commonwealth to take over debts incurred by the states prior to federation; the fifth extended the rights and responsibilities of citizenship to the indigenous population.)

You can read the rest here


The Who sang "Won't get fooled again" but the WHO did (11/5/2019)
One of the problem that sane people have is that there is so much misinformation out there that it is easy to get confused about what is truth and what is lies, what is a good source of information and what is a cesspit. One of the cesspits full of lies is an organisation named VINE (Vaccine Information Network). Like the similarly named National Vaccination Information Center, there is very little information there that isn't a lie. It used to be run by one of the vilest anti-vaccination liars around, a thing named Erwin Alber. Alber did the world a favour by dying in 2018, but the putrescence survives.

My Facebook feed went berserk when it was revealed that the World Health Organisation had posted a link to VINE. While the error was soon corrected, it showed that even a group as au fait with vaccine safety and efficacy as the WHO could be fooled if they didn't read closely enough. Unlike the WHO, VINE is resolutely committed to the spread of measles, no matter how many children it kills or blinds or how many get meningitis or other sequelae of the disease.

Oh, and I mentioned conspiracies above. Alber dropped dead outside his house in Thailand. Almost immediately there was speculation that he must have been murdered because of his anti-vaccination stance. Just as anti-vaccination liars can't believe that anyone can oppose them without being paid to do so, they just know that when anyone on their side of the fence dies it must be murder. I suppose that's the sort of thing you think when you don't have a working brain or conscience.


One for the science lovers


See more from Martin Perscheid here (I assume that there's a collection in English somewhere.)

May 25, 2019

The vegan mindscape (25/5/2019)
This is not a joke. This is not satire. This was published on a vegan group on Facebook by someone who really believes that sheeps (sic) are "murdered" during transport to wherever they take sheeps (sic) and their fluffy fleeces are tossed onto the side of the road. Why the murdering truckers don't toss the bones and other waste materials away with the wool is a mystery, as is why people who farm sheeps (sic) around where I live cut off the wool regularly and sell it rather than throwing it into the weeds on roadside verges.

It might be a coincidence that a lot of cotton is grown in my state (don't get me started on growing cotton on the driest continent on Earth and how cotton farmers have almost destroyed the country's largest river system by stealing water). When the cotton is being moved around, some of it blows off the trucks. But that can only be a coincidence, right?

I wonder what the vegans would think if they found out it was really cotton by the roads and then someone told them that cotton is one of the most GMOed crops around. This old cartoon seems appropriate.


See more XKCD here



Another unattributable meme from Facebook


I'm only laughing a little bit. No, actually, I'm laughing a lot. (25/5/2019)
You know that replica of Noah's Ark in Northern Kentucky? The one that cost millions of dollars to make and is supposed to be an exact replica of the one that carried Noah and his family and all those animals around. This ark.

Well, it seems that the owners are having a bit of trouble getting some money out of an insurance company and have resorted to the courts. I could of course point out that someone who believes that the Earth is only 6,000 years old is already primed to believe that any insurance company has any intention of paying any claim, but that would be churlish of me.

And what is the disputed claim about? It seems that there was some rain (although not forty days and forty nights of it) and there was some flood damage to nearby roads that the insurance company is refusing to pay for.

Flood damage! I'll repeat that in case you missed it the first time. The owners of a true-to-life replica of Noah's Ark have submitted an insurance claim for flood damage. It's possible that the insurance company is refusing to pay on the quite reasonable grounds that flooding didn't cause Noah any harm so why should this ark be any different. Or maybe they just class this as an Act of God.

Time to recycle another old joke.


And another thing ... (25/5/2019)
I often see atheists ridicule religious believers for not knowing what their religious texts actually say. If you want to make this sort of claim it helps if you have read and understood the texts yourself, otherwise you might commit the Strawman Fallacy (attacking something which is not your opponent's position). Comments on the incident mentioned above reminded me of this, because I have seen reference to the forty days of the Genesis flood. If you actually read the book, it says that it rained for forty days, but it was many months later before the flood waters subsided.

Another "forty" that invites ridicule is the forty years the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness before getting to the Promised Land. This ridicule is often accompanied by a map showing how close Cairo is to Jerusalem and how hard it would be to take forty years for the trip. Perhaps the ridiculers haven't read Numbers 14:33 ("And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years") where God decrees that no adult will get to the Promised Land because they haven't behaved properly.

I don't need to point out that as an atheist I don't believe any of these stories, but if you are going to criticise the stories it is essential to know what the stories actually are.



If 20th Century Fox or Marvel want to whinge about copyright they can
seek out whoever posted this to Facebook. It wasn't me.


Speaking of whingers who want things removed ... (25/5/2019)
Tim O'RanterFor reasons that don't matter I don't use Gmail even though I have to have an account to do some Google things (like use an Android phone or have a YouTube account). I sometimes have to check it though and the most recent check told me that a YouTube video had been removed because it violated someone's privacy. A bit of investigation revealed that it was our old friend Patrick Timothy Bolen, spokesarsehole for cancer quacks and dentists who grope their patients and commit insurance fraud. When he was deposed in the insurance fraud matter (the insurance company had refused to pay for a "treatment" which they explicitly did not cover - the dentists sued on the basis that as they had fraudulently used a different item code they should still be paid) he was asked about his education. He seemed to have trouble remembering which schools and colleges he had attended.

Making it even funnier, when Pat was asked for his address he couldn't remember that either.

Embarrassed, Pat? Privacy violated? Well, that's tough. I don't really care.


Things change. Get told. (25/5/2019)
If you want to know when this site gets updated (and who wouldn't?) there's a really useful service at visualping.io that will send you an email when differences are detected on this page. I use it and it it doesn't seem to be harvesting email addresses for spammers. There's no privacy issue, because I have no way of knowing who gets reminders about the page or even how many people have subscribed.

I'll give you a hint, though. After entering the page URL and your email address, click on the "Advanced" dropdown, go to the box on the right hand side of the screen and tell it you only want to be notified about major changes. This means you won't be told if I do something small like fix a typo but you will get an email after a full update.





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