Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Family First's preference deals

It doesn't really matter that they approached everyone (so I'm assuming One Nation as well) but Family First approached the Australian Sex Party for a preference deal.

Now these are the policies of the ASP. They want things like comprehensive sex ed in schools, same-sex marriage, protection for sex workers, ending tax exempt status for religions, you know, all the stuff that Family First stand for.

In some sort of parallel dimension.

But naturally Family First are trying to distance themselves from such a monumentally stupid decision:

Family First federal chairman Bob Day said no preference offer was made and that raising the issue was part of a Sex Party campaign to discredit Family First.

Yep because when you do something that stupid it must be because your opponents want to discredit you. That must be it.

The ABC article gives the "official" reason as to why Family First contacted the ASP:

It said Family First was keen to know where the Sex Party was directing its preferences so it would not inadvertently favour the Sex Party.

You know how you don't inadvertently favour the party? By doing what the ASP are doing and give them the lowest preference possible. But I suppose that didn't dawn on them because we all know that One Nation are the party you give the lowest preferences to.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Attorney-General's Department sure likes black highlighters

The Sydney Morning Herald managed to get their hands on a report that says the government pretty much wants ISPs to record all our browsing history.

Unfortunately it seems that Claudia Hernandez, the department's legal officer and person who handles FoI requests, tried to be helpful and highlighted all the important bits for the SMH. Too bad the highlighter was black, and the important parts is apparently 90% of the document.

Now unlike the CIA who've only just realised that they were using them accidentally, the government did this deliberately.

The Document

The document can be found here.

The proposal page is very enlightening:
Mandatory Data Retention Proposal

Telecommunications data is information about a communication, but does not include the content of the communication. Examples include subscriber information and call charge records.

[10 censored paragraphs follow]

That's the entire proposal that we're allowed to know. The contents of the document has a background a section A that discusses... something, and a section B that discusses something else, but Hernandez was kind enough to tell us that B.2 is "defintions" and B.3. is "Illustrative data". And C. is "Industry Feedback".

Of the background section, the "What is telecommunications data?" section is mostly unscathed, but it has the sentence:

This includes information about the identity of the sending and receiving parties ('A and B parties'), when a communication started and stopped, and the type of communication [censored]

The next section is "How important is telecommunications data?". The answer, apparently, is very. Of 5 paragraphs, one is uncensored, and is basically "The UK found that such a policy was helpful when it comes to solving crime".

Then we get four pages of what looks like a contents of some sort, but it's completely censored. Then four pages of a table, at least we know that the numbers are some sort of "Requirement", but what they are means nothing.

Most of the definitions get off unscathed, however the definition for Broadband Remote Access Server (BRAS) has the last line censored, so I know that it is aggregating information into a core network of some sort.

All the illustrative data (it's another table) is censored.

The "feedback" is not actually any feedback, it's a request for feedback. They are asking ISPs to consider 8 questions, of which we're only allowed to know 5.

So basically you can learn nothing from this document.

The Reasons

But the SMH didn't stop there. They've also given us the reasons from the AG department.

Under "Decision" Hernandez wrote:

3. You will see, however, that I have made some deletions to the documents. ...

Which is, quite clearly, an understatement. It wasn't "some deletions", most of the document is censored. There are two pages that don't have black highlighter. The "Information Sheet" page, and the title page.

Then there is, in paragraph 11 under "Reasons for Decision":

Further, subsection 36(1)(b) [of the Freedom of Information Act] requires that it also be shown that disclosure would be contrary to the public interest. I have considered the particular circumstances of the request and those factors which are specific to the facts at hand. Although I acknowledge the public's right to participate in and influence the processes of government decision making and policy formulation, given the early stage of this consultation, the premature release of the proposal could, more then likely, create a confusing and misleading impression. In addition, as the matters are not settled and proposed recommendations may not necessarily be adopted, release of such documents would not make a valuable contribution to public debate. Rather, I consider that release of such documents may lead to premature unnecessary debate and could potentially prejudice and impede government decision making

Yep. The premature release of the proposal could create a confusing and misleading impression. Clearly the answer to that problem is not any form of transparency at all but instead it's to get out the black highlighter.

And why? Because it might lead to "unnecessary debate". This is not an unnecessary debate. The government is potentially suggesting, and Electronic Frontiers Australia put it best, that "if it's logged (or could be logged), the A-G wants it saved."

Frankly I find it more insulting that they even bothered to give the SMH something. If you're going to censor most of the document you might as well not release it at all.

The Greens are annoyed and will probably look into this during their Senate inquiry. Maybe they'll get a more transparent version if the document. They might know what the other two questions in the "feedback" section are and also the four completely censored definitions.

Perhaps they'll be kind enough to tell us what they are.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

#stupidscientology or yes, not logic

I'd like to join in the twitter thing using that tag, but I don't have an account and I can't be bothered making one. If you have one I suggest that you tweet using that tag.

John Dixon a councillor in Cardiff (that's in Wales in case you don't know) made the following tweet when he was in London:

“I didn’t know the Scientologists had a church on Tottenham Court Road. Just hurried past in case the stupid rubs off.”

Naturally CoS decided to complain. Ok, maybe they have the right to, but seriously. Would you really complain about that? Would you?

Now I knew that CoS was thin skinned. Clearly I didn't know how thin it was.

The article I linked to above states the CoS claimed that the comments "impinged on the right to religious freedom". I'd like to see their reasoning for that, especially considering that Scientology isn't a religion in the UK.

Reading the Google update page for #stupidscientology a few people have pointed out that an anagram for Scientology is "Yes, not logic". That probably explains the reasons for this complaint.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010


At the start of the interval act of this years Eurovision you can see an audience member with an Australian flag.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Federal election 2010

Well a Federal Election has been announced for August 21 and I've go no idea who to vote for.

Now I know that I'll see pictures on the news (or maybe run in to) both Gillard and Abbott at the nearby shopping centre. It's a popular place and my electorate, Boothby, is smack in the middle of most of the marginal seats in Adelaide.

The ABC has their election page up and I've been looking around.

Now this will be my second Federal election that I'll vote in, and I like to be informed about the candidates etc (except One Nation, I mean who cares about them?) but I don't know how many will be running in the end.

Last election there were 8 candidates, and until I know otherwise I'm assuming that there will be the same this time around. Yes, I'm actually looking at various candidates even though I know that it's either going to be Liberal or Labor (most likely Liberal). However preferences are important, and if I'm going to give other parties preferences I might as well know what these people believe in, you know, just in case there's a crazy swing to someone. Also I don't like the "How to Vote" cards.


We'll start with the incumbent, Andrew Southcott. He is according to his about page, he is currently the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Health Services, Health and Wellbeing which I didn't actually know existed. I knew that he was the Shadow Minister for Sport, but I don't know if he still is though.

If you read the about page you will see that Dr. Southcott was a surgeon and has studied many other things as well. I do like that, we have someone who understands the value of education, and someone who understands health issues so I can understand why he has that really long titled position.

I suspect that he will have a battle though, in the last two elections he has lost ground to Labor, which I guess is from preferences to Labor from the Greens and the Independent candidate Ray McGhee.

The downside I have personally with voting for him is what it means. A vote for him is a vote for Tony Abbott.

I don't like Tony Abbott. I don't like how he determined social policies based on his own beliefs, like the banning of the drug RU-486 or his views on sex. I don't agree with Abbott's views on climate change either. Do I really want to give a preference to a party that, if they win, will be led by this man?

I don't know.

The second is the Labor candidate, Annabel Digance. I don't know anything about this candidate. Seriously. She already has one advantage though, she hasn't been chosen because she is a footballer's wife.

Like voting Liberal, voting for Labor means that I'm essentially casting my vote for Gillard. I may like Gillard for some things, like being an Atheist (or at least Agnostic), I don't agree with some Labor positions. The most important to me is the internet filter. Okay, they may have suspended it, clearly because of the (then upcoming) election, but it hasn't gone away.

Leaving the two major parties there are a few other candidates.

The Greens candidate is Fiona Blinco. There is one thing that she stands for that I don't agree with at all. She wants to remove the freight trains from the Adelaide Hills.

Now for people who haven't been to Adelaide I'll have to explain. Adelaide is located on the Adelaide plains. This area is enclosed to the west by the Gulf of St Vincent and to the east by the Adelaide Hills, which is the southern part of the Mt. Lofty Ranges. Now this range pretty much goes all the way down the Fleurieu Peninsula down to Cape Jervois.

The simplest way to get from Adelaide to the East is by going over these hills, and in this day and age it's not much of a hassle. But in order to get the trains out of the hills you have to reroute them, which probably means sending the trains further north only to sent them back down to the city. This would add a few hundred kilometres to a journey, and for a party that wants to lower carbon emissions makes it a really strange proposition.

If she was going to try and get Federal funding to improve the line and make it safer for freight trains then yes, that's a very good idea. But she isn't and I'd assume they won't.

It's a strange position considering that rail is a far more efficient way of moving stuff compared to trucks.

The last candidate that I could find is the Family First candidate. Her name Meredith Resce. The profile there basically says that she's a good Christian wife and mother, and that she's also a novelist.

However it's Family First, I don't agree with pretty much anything that they say. They've come out in support of Creationism, don't like what is taught in sex ed and have come out in support of the internet filter.

The Democrats haven't got anything up yet but they've taken a horrid beating in the last few elections (in 2004 there was a 16.89% swing away from them in first preference votes), so they might not field a candidate.

Last election there was a party that I'd never heard of, the Liberty and Democracy party. This year they are the Liberal Democratic Party. They haven't named a candidate yet. I don't really mind most of their principles. I really don't like the idea of competitive federalism, I also don't think that it compatible with any ideas of smaller government. I'm also not a fan of "everything should be privatised".

I don't know if there are any independents, and the only use for One Nation in my opinion is to answer the question "at what point do I prefer to be represented by a racist over other parties".

I still don't know how I'm going to organise my preferences, but the campaign has only just started so I've got about a month to properly decide.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Don't understand the science therefore religion

Since my last post on the Australian Vaccination Network I've been reading various posts from the AVN site.

I found a post there called "When 'Science' Becomes Your Religion". The title of this post is the summary for the AVN one.

It's a very standard anti-science post by Meryl Dorey (the head of the AVN) who doesn't actually understand the science behind the thing that they don't like. In this case it's vaccination.

Of course the post opens with pretty standard "I like science", "the scientific method is great" sort of statements and then goes downhill pretty quickly.

It all starts here:

This is why, when I first started to look into the vaccination issue after my first son’s reaction over 20 years ago now, the thing that took me so much by surprise was how little science actually went into the development of this medical procedure which we have been ‘worshiping’ for over 200 years.

Yep. Very little science went into the development of vaccination. It just popped out of nowhere, no observations, no testing, nothing. It's not like Edward Jenner (who is, by the way, mentioned in the AVN post) followed the scientific method of the time to come up with his vaccine.

And it's not as if we've stopped testing vaccines. It's no secret that sometimes vaccines don't work, or people have a reaction to them, and because of this we have to keep on coming up with safer vaccines for diseases. Take smallpox, the earliest known instance of vaccination for this disease was in China in the 1500's, the method had at worst a 2% mortality rate. The Jenner's vaccine had a rate of about one in a million. If we are to make the vaccines available for more people we are going to have to work on them.

But I don't think that matters to her, since it was her child who happened to have a problem with the vaccine, so therefore she's going to spread "information" that might kill more children. James Cherry in the 1999 paper Pertussis in the Preantibiotic and Prevaccine Era, with Emphasis on Adult Pertussis wrote that between 1922 to 1931 in the US there were about 1.5 million cases of which 73 000 people died. About 4% of people died of the disease before the vaccination. Another examination from 1983-1992, well after a vaccine was introduced, had 34 325 cases with only 56 deaths. That's only 0.1% of cases.

You may consider the ancient Chinese method to have an unacceptably high mortality rate, but remember that smallpox typically would kill up to 40% of people who contracted the disease.

I know what I'm writing sounds cruel, but this is one of the cases where people have to accept that no matter what you do there will be people who will die or be injured from either the disease or the vaccine, but that it's also our job to make sure that as many people aren't injured or killed from either.

Discouraging people from vaccinating themselves or their children does not protect anyone. I said before that the smallpox vaccine of Jenner's time had a mortality rate of one in a million. If you didn't vaccinate anyone you would have saved one person, but chances are 350 000 people would have died if those one million people all caught smallpox.

The post moves on to discuss the scientific method. That's what I would be saying if Dorey actually understood what a "theory" was and how that relates to the scientific method. Like a creationist Dorey seems to think that a theory is something closer to a hypothesis:

Now theories, as you can imagine, are not proven. They are a way of explaining why something behaves the way it does. They are AN explanation – but not necessarily the ONLY explanation.
This statement completely ignores the fact that theories come about through repeated testing, verification by many different scientists with plenty of evidence supporting it. Until shown otherwise, for all intents and purposes, it is the only explanation.

But apparently the science behind vaccination was disproved when Merrill Chase discovered that the body also used white blood cells to protect the body. She mentiones this obituary which says that he revolutionised immunology, not overturned it.

However in talking about this we do get the following:
We have known since the 1940s that, though antibodies are part of the immune system, their existence in the bloodstream does not indicate immunity. Instead, it indicates exposure.

(My bold)

Well duhhh... That's how most of the immune system works, exposure to infection etc. causes antibodies to be produced to fight it (although apparently there are some antibodies that appear without any exposure). Funnily enough she mentioned that two paragraphs beforehand. But because it isn't just antibodies alone that confer immunity it means that all the science is wrong.

She then uses the paper Measles outbreak in a fully immunized secondary-school population to say that immunised people can get sick. Although the abstract says that was the case, it also said that the seropositive (those that expressed the antibodies) students didn't get measles, but 14 of 74 seronegative did, even though they had been immunised. In other words if you aren't expressing the antibodies odds are you're more likely to get measles.

How this disproves any theories involving vaccination confuses me. From the comments Dorey made to a commenter who said the exact same thing it sounds like it doesn't work because some people got measles, even though the people who had antibodies didn't get the disease. And also because the herd immunity doesn't do what she thinks it does.

She talks of money, and apparently that all of Western medicine relies on vaccination to work or something and various other conspiratorial nonsense.

She then attacks those who oppose her. Yep, Skeptics are evil and if science was a religion they would be the Jesuits (I wonder why people always choose Catholics as a comparison? It's probably because their actions are better known...). Apparently:
Like the Jesuits, the Skeptics look down on those who don’t worship science in the same way they do as barbarians and somehow less than human. Perhaps it is this attitude to others – as lesser beings – that enables them to act in the cold, calculating and often immoral way they do?

Yep, it's not that her straw-skeptics (or sceptics if you prefer, although personally I prefer "skeptic") don't like her for the "information" that she peddles, it's because she doesn't worship science. Clearly the latter is the correct reason. In a way though she does explain what skepticism is:
Scepticism involves having a reasoning mind, questioning everything, never taking facts at face value and treating accepted wisdom with distrust until being shown the proof to your own satisfaction.

It might not be the best definition, but compared to some definitions I've seen from creationists, conspiracy theorists, and their ilk, it's quite good. But I don't suspect she applies this to herself. Her straw-skeptics apparently want to stop others from being skeptical, and also send her mean emails.

She then makes a list, which starts with the HCCC complaint. Apparently the complaint from the McCaffery's upset her. She also writes:
Dana’s parents have charged me with harassing them. They also said that I had invaded their privacy, perhaps because when their daughter’s death was reported in the newspaper, I rang the public health unit to ask if there had been a laboratory diagnosis of whooping cough.

Well of course. It's all just a big mistake. Let's just ignore the fact that she rang the health unit the day before Dana's funeral and that she stated that their daughter "supposedly" died from pertussis (see this Lateline transcript). I'm sure the family just overreacted to being asked to hand over their recently deceased daughter's medical records to a complete stranger.

I like point 3:

3. A group was set up on Facebook and Twitter called Stop the AVN. Though our organisation is acting within the law, these skeptics feel that they have the right to use any and every means within their power to shut us down. The implications of such an effort are shocking and one has to wonder why there apparently is no legal recourse when such anti-competitive, anti-democratic actions are taken?

How dare a group of people take advantage of their right to protest to create a group that opposes what the AVN does. It's not anti-competitive, and it's not anti-democratic. What I think is more anti-democratic is the AVN's opinion that nobody should be allowed to protest them.

Points 4 and 7 are also related to protest. 4 is that "they" (no evidence as to who) rang her advertisers and asked them not to advertise. 7 is that "they" (again) contacted places where she was/is to speak asking them to cancel.

I may as well point out that points 2, 5, 8, 9 and part of point 4 are unsourced. Perhaps I'm being too much of a skeptic to not blindly accept these points on faith alone.

Point 10, however, merits some discussion:
10. The McCafferys contacted the ABC to complain about a program I was on regarding the current whooping cough epidemic. Even though I quoted the government’s own statistics and had the information I was discussing peer-reviewed by a doctor who works as a reviewer for such prestigious publications are the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine, the ABC made a finding that the information was not correct. They didn’t say that my statements were incorrect but that the interviewer had mixed up the years we were talking about, quoting 2001 instead of 1991. The McCafferys have taken this information and used it in many public places to state that I had provided the ABC with incorrect information – a statement that is verifiably untrue.

And the McCafferys have every right to do so. If they believe that something breaches the ABC Codes of Practice they can complain about it. I don't know what the show was, so I can only guess as to which codes they base their complaint on. By the sounds of it the ABC found that they had breached either code 3.2, 4.4 or 5.3, which has to do with accurate content.

Frankly I'm starting to get a little scared at how anti-speech the AVN seems to be. It looks like they should be allowed to say whatever they want, but if someone does something they're being oppressed by the man.

She then asks us whether the skeptics are defending science. Unsurprisingly the answer is no:
All of this is supposed to be a way of defending science. But the thing is, science does not need defenders – if science is true and evidence-based – it can easily defend itself.

The science of the skeptics needs defending however because it is not true science – it is a faith-based conglomeration of twisted facts, lies and anger which form an evil perversion of the study of life and the world around us.

Yep. Apparently you don't need people to defend science, because apparently true science is so perfect that there is not a single way that you can interpret information differently. It's funny to read the second paragraph, since it's typically projection onto opponents.

She then spins the criticism as a sign that they are being successful, and the reason is apparently because people want to stop them from ensuring "free and informed vaccination choice".

We then get a list of stuff that is, again, unsourced. Is Gardasil the most dangerous vaccine ever produced? Did parents really let their kids be used for clinical trials without knowing? I don't know, it looks like I'm supposed to just accept it.

At least Dorey accepts that her organisation is dangerous but not for the reason she thinks. The actual reason is that by fearmongering and spreading misinformation that vaccines will injure your children and don't work it will cause far more people to get dangerous diseases that are more likely to kill them then the vaccine. In 2004 the Muslim states in Nigeria banned the polio vaccine because they claimed that Americans wanted to make them infertile or that they would spread AIDS. What happened was that more children contracted polio and were either crippled or died from the disease. The very reason that there are people here in Australia who want such an outcome for our country are the reason why AVN is dangerous.

Dorey believes the reason she is dangerous is:

If you are a scientific Jesuit; if you have based your career and your income on maintaining the status quo in regards to Western Medicine; if you will benefit from the sale of drugs and vaccines, the AVN is a very dangerous organisation indeed.

That's right, she thinks it's because of money. She may not believe that the Queen is a reptilian or that the Illuminati caused all disease, but she does believe in Big Pharma conspiracies.

She argues that she's there to make sure that people are fully informed. I don't think that's the case. She wants to stop people from being vaccinated by exploiting the fear that parents have when it comes to their children. But does she care that she may be causing far more harm then she thinks?

That is the question.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Australian Vaccination Network accused of harassment

Don't let the name fool you, the Australian Vaccination Network is nothing of the sort. The reality is that they are the "Anti-Vaccination Network".

The ABC reported that the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission recently released a report that accuses the AVN of providing inaccurate information to people and that they harassed the parents of Dana McCaffery.

Dana McCaffery was 32 days old when she died. The cause was pertussis, whooping cough, and at her age needed the herd immunity afforded to her by the community. Unfortunately she didn't get it. In an open letter on their website dedicated to Dana the McCafferys point out that the area they moved to had one of the lowest levels of immunisation. The area in question is also very close to the AVN headquarters.

According to the ABC article and this press release from the McCafferys the AVN decided the best time to start "investigating" Dana's death was the day before her funeral.

Of course the AVN don't really care. They consider the report to be biased because it's from the Government, and of course they are "pro-vaccination". They also claim that the commission has no jurisdiction over them.

According to the About Us page on the NSW HCCC website they say the following:

The Commission is an independent body that was established under the Health Care Complaints Act 1993. The Act defines the scope of the Commission's work, which is to:

  • receive and assess complaints relating to health service providers in NSW
  • resolve or assist in the resolution of complaints
  • investigate serious complaints that raise questions of public health and safety
  • prosecute serious complaints.
If spreading anti-vaccination "information" doesn't raise questions of public health and safety I don't know what does.

But I'm not expecting much of a change from the AVN, considering how the Lateline story (this is a link to the transcript though) shows rather well that they will just weasel their way out of the things that they've said. I've tried to find the source of the comment made in that report ("Isn't it incredible how they have made Dana into a martyr because she supposedly died from whooping cough..."), but I've had no luck. I suspect that the AVN have removed such quotes from their website.

And yet the battle isn't over, the AVN have a right of reply and I suspect that regardless of the outcome the AVN will declare victory.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

"Psychic" Octopus

I'm worried. Anoctopus from the Sea Life Aquarium in Oberhausen has picked Spain to beat Germany on Thursday morning (my time that is).

Now I consider myself someone with a skeptical mindset, but this is football and as I'm sure everyone knows you have to grasp as many straws as possible. That reasoning is why at the start of that game my mum will be singing the German national anthem as loudly as possible (even though she can't sing).

Although the BBC article does say that it only has a 70% success rate for the Euro 2008 and in the game between the two countries picked the wrong winner. Hopefully that will be the case here.

Well I should just be patient, what I want right now is to see the Dutch stomp the Uruguayans.