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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.)

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