Why a “No” vote isn’t even a “No” vote

I understand that you might want to vote No in Australia’s rapidly-approaching postal survey about whether or not we should stop treating our gay and lesbian fellows as second-class citizens. I disagree with you, but it’s your right to do it. I won’t stop you.

I will, however, point out that your No vote isn’t really a No vote.

It won’t settle this issue once and for all, and if you believe it will, you’ve read too much propaganda about the namby-pamby Lefties. If the result of this vote in No, it won’t change a thing for the Left. We won’t stop fighting until we win this fight, and a decade after we’ve won, even you will wonder what all the fuss was about. The fuss you made – but I digress.

This survey is not really a question of if. It’s a question of when.

Your No vote is, at most, a Not Yet vote. That’s all.

That’s as much as you can hope to achieve by voting No.

Not an end to homosexuality, not a guarantee of the primacy of the Christian churches, not an end to the ever-growing societal acceptance of homosexuality – simply a delay in the recognition that we are all human and all deserve the same rights. Just a delay.

The ALP is already on record as saying that they will legislate for Marriage Equality in the first hundred days after they’re elected, and you know that the Greens will vote with them on this, so it will sail through both houses – which means that, at most, it’s about two years away (unless the LNP starts to perform markedly better than they have since winning office in 2013, and really, what are the chances of that?).

You can delay it, but you can’t stop it. And really, what does the additional delay gain you? Seriously. I want to know. What measurable, concrete benefit do you derive from it? Because I can’t think of anything, and I’ve tried. I’ve also read a lot of the No side’s arguments, and it’s pretty obvious that no one much on that side can list any either.

So vote Yes. Vote to bring the future into the present. Vote to recognise and celebrate our common humanity:

Vote Yes

Why is your crap in “My Documents”?

I’ve just been trying to get my documents folder organised. I have a bad habit of just dumping things in there – little snippets of txt files, longer doc files, even the odd spreadsheet or presentation – at the topmost level and not giving them another thought. Which is fine and dandy, until the volume of stuff gets too high to easily find things.

So I start creating directories to put things in, and before long, there’s a hierarchical tree structure that makes some sort of sense, at least to me.

But there’s also a bunch of random crap also sitting there, in smug little directories of its own, jostling for position and serving as an unnecessary distraction. You know the kind of things I mean. The folder labelled “Custom Office Templates” that Windows puts there, despite the fact that the standard templates are stored with the Office apps that use them. The “Saved Games” folders that Steam and GOG and apparently every game designer thinks are better placed in the Documents folder than stored under their applications – which also tends to mean that they don’t get deleted if you uninstall the game, just to really rub it in.

Coders, programmers, console cowboys, keyboard jockeys, whatever the hell you’re calling yourselves this week, I would like to make a request of you. I want you, before you set a default saving location, to ask yourself one simple question:

Is the file I intend to have saved here actually any sort of Document?

Because if not, it doesn’t belong in the My Documents folder. It’s really not that hard.

And don’t weasel – you know what a document is in this context, and if you’re honest, you find this just as annoying as the rest of us. Although perhaps not quite as annoying as this guy or this other guy do.

Hell, at this point, it’s such a rare thing to do that you could probably advertise it as a selling point of whatever it is you’re selling. At very least, it’d be a feature, not the bug we currently have.

My First Podcast: “Look Back In Wonder”

This is actually kinda funny. After noodling around with what I wanted to do podcast-wise, and even announcing here a while back that I had three different podcasts in mind, it turns out that the first cab off the rank is going to be a different one entirely. This is it:

Look Back in Wonder is a song by song journey through the back catalogue of David Bowie. In each episode, I’ll interview someone about the Bowie song that means the most to them. The people I interview will come from all walks of life, united by our common love of Bowie.

So I need your help for this. If you have a story you want to share about a Bowie song and what it means to you, get in touch. Email me here to let me know what song you’d like to talk about. If we can at all make the scheduling work, I’d be happy to talk to you. (I live in Melbourne, Australia, so if you do too, we can probably do this in person. If not, well there’s always Skype and such.)

What’s coming up

I have a variety of plans, and the point of this site is to tell you about them, so maybe it’s time I did that. I have a variety of balls that I’m currently juggling, and here’s a list of them:

Websites

Aside from this site, I have two others – The Centre Cannot Hold and Reading Orders (plus a third one that’s getting near a launch) – aside from this one. Both of these are getting worked on and having new material added to them at least once a week.

Podcasts

I’m in the process of setting up a bunch of podcasts, with two taking primacy at the moment. (There are two others, but one is research heavy and the other is vastly more ambitious, and thus, they’ll be along later.) More news on that as we get closer to launching.

Apps

I’m currently in the process of building my first app, and once that’s completed, I have ideas for more of them. Again, more news on these as it comes to hand.

Writing

I am working on some writing projects with various people at the moment, but all of these are longer term projects at the moment – although I’ll probably push one of them closer to launch when I finish the app, and then go on alternating between them as I go forward. And yes, more news as launches draw closer.

That’s my 2017 as it stands at the moment, although it’s possible that some or all of these projects will be delayed by contract work, because I often need to prioritise short term income over long term income. But these jobs are almost always short term in nature, and I’ll always be returning to the projects listed here.

I know, I know…

There’s nothing much happening here right now.

At least, nothing visible. There is work going on behind the scenes, but it only becomes visible to you on rare occasions, since it’s mostly very minor adjustments to the CSS and other coding. Trust me, it will be worth the wait – I’m hoping to be able to reveal a little more about this sometime next week, but I don’t know exactly when that will be as yet. I know this is annoyingly vague, but I promise, I’ll be revealing things to you as soon as possible.

2017, here we come

In fact, here we are.

Worn out from worry and grieving, but nonetheless optimistic that a new year is a new chance to get things right. I don’t know about you, but I have big plans for this year. That’s the reason for this new site: a place for me to just speak about stuff. I have other, more specialised sites for other purposes, but this is for announcements and thoughts.

Some of the former will be along as soon as they’re ready; the latter will be along as I have them.

Australia Federal Election 2016: What Happens Next?

The short answer is “counting continues”. The long answer is that “counting continues, and it’s a much more complicated process than you might think”. But before I go into how votes are counted, it’s worth taking a look at how they’re cast, because understanding that is important to understanding why counting takes as long as it does.

Starting at the Start:
Voting actually commences before polling day, in several different ways.

There are pre-polling centres across Australia (and the world, but I’ll come back to them) where you can vote ahead of time for whatever reason (say, if you have to work on polling day). Many, but not all, of these are also polling booths on election day. In the cases of those that are also polling day booths, these pre-poll votes will have begun being counted by now, after the polling day votes are counted on election night. In the cases of those which are not, these votes will have been sent to the divisional office to await counting.

There are also mobile pre-polling booths, which primarily exist to serve people in hospital who cannot physically attend a polling booth otherwise. These booths operate throughout the pre-polling period and also on polling day, finally reporting back to their respective divisional offices. (If you look at the results for nearly any division across the country right now (that is, on this Sunday after election day), you’ll see that the majority of votes from these mobile booths have not yet been counted.

There are postal votes, for people who can’t get to a polling booth. These are individually addressed: for each division, postal votes go back to the divisional office for their division. Postal votes are allowed two full weeks – up until the second Friday following polling day – to arrive at their divisional office.

Finally, there are international votes, which are chiefly held at Australian embassies and consulates across the world. Most of these operate pre-polling and polling day services. These votes will be sent back to Australia, and then separated out to their respective divisional offices.

The Big Day
Polling day is when the majority of the country votes and eats sausages (or the local and/or dietary equivalent). According to surveys, it’s also when the majority of voters decide who to vote for, which implies that the gut rather than the mind drives a lot of our electoral results. After the business of voting finishes – it runs from 8AM to 6PM in most locations (and if you go too early in some of them, you’ll be there before the sausages are ready) – the business of counting the votes begins.

Spare a thought for the poor bastards doing the counting on election day, because they are the unsung heroes of this story. The AEC hasn’t updated its staffing practices in a long time – and unfortunately, what we have doesn’t scale well. FT employees on election day start at 7am, and work until they’re allowed to go. They do get some breaks, but they’re not allowed to leave the premises during their entire shift. (They also get paid a fixed amount, irrespective of how many hours they work – this year’s crew got ripped off there.) It’s a pretty shit job, no matter how many sausages you eat.

On election night, the only votes counted are those cast at the physical polling booths on that day for the division the booth is in. (Some few polling booths serve more than one division – counting is particularly slow at those booths, because the staff have to split up and each of them works on only one division’s votes). Very few divisional offices are also polling booths (they mostly lack the space for it), so votes that are sitting at the divisional office do not get counted on election night. This year, with a very high pre-poll vote, that means there’s a good chunk of votes still to be counted – 25-30% in most divisions – so this election is still, potentially, anyone’s game.

Also, on election night, Senate votes are barely looked at. This year, we have a count only of first preferences of above the line polling day votes only counted on election night. I’ll come back to this.

They don’t work the Sunday, never have. No idea why not.

You Keep Talking About Divisional Offices
I do, and it’s because they’re very important.

Divisional offices are where all votes are centralised for counting. So not a lot of counting gets done on Monday, because the Monday is largely taken up by logistics. Monday is when all the polling booths return their votes to the divisional offices, and they each need to be checked to make sure that the numbers match. (A counting of ballots, rather than votes, if you follow me.) From these, the absentee votes (votes cast in one division that belong to another division) have to be separated out, and sent on to where they should be. In most divisions, this means nearby and intra-state votes get sent directly to their divisional offices, while votes for divisions in other states are bundled separately, but sent to their respective state head office to be dispatched to their divisions (which usually means an extra day for the travel and sorting).

From Tuesday onward (sometimes late Monday for the smaller urban electorates), divisions start receiving their own absentee votes, which must also be checked off and then added to the counts.

Throughout this period, postal votes will continue to filter in – the AEC allows until the second Friday following the election for all of them to arrive – they are also each checked off and added to the count.

International votes, like other absentee votes, go to state head offices first, then out to divisional offices. They usually take longer to arrive due to the vagaries of travel times and international freight schedules – some of them will take more than a week to arrive, and the AEC cannot declare a count completed (which is different from declaring a result) until they are all counted.

Plus, all of this is complicated by human error – which is less about votes miscounted than mislaid. It’s not uncommon for a division to receive votes intended to go to another division with a similar name, and these need to be redirected to their correct location.

What About the Senate?
The Senate votes take much longer to count than the lower house votes, for a number of very good reasons:

  1. Before you can even begin counting Senate votes, you need to separate the above and below the line votes, because these two groups are counted apart from each other (and totalled at the end of each count). Currently, all Senate votes go into the same ballot box on polling day – the AEC could save quite a bit of time and money just by putting them in separate boxes.
  2. There are a lot more candidates. Even the simpler above the line vote usually has twice as many candidates as a lower house vote, and below the line there can be more than a hundred candidates.
  3. More candidates mean more eliminations, and thus, more rounds of counting. A lower house seat might have a dozen candidates – at most, it gets counted 11 times. A Senate vote, with over a hundred candidates, is likely to get counted more than twice that.

And because the Senate does not determine who forms the government in our system, it is also generally given a lower priority in counting than the lower house. Each day at each divisional office, there will be at least one count for each house, but the lower house will inevitably be counted before the Senate – although towards the end of the count, the pace picks up, and the Senate votes will be counted multiple times each day as candidates are eliminated.

But Wait, There’s More!
And all of this does not take into consideration the possibility of recounts, which are certainly going to be demanded by a variety of parties in some of the seats with narrow margins (Batman and Cowan, for example, are both very likely to go to recounts based on what we’ve seen so far in the count). There is no set number at which the AEC must have a recount, but generally any result with a margin under a hundred is going to be recounted.

And then, of course, there’s still the possibility – at this point, the likelihood – of a hung parliament when all the counting’s completed in any case. In which case it will be up to the crossbenchers – projected to be at least six of them right now, with possibly more to come – to decide who they want to back. If anyone.

Which means we might go back to the polls yet again, and who knows how that will come out. Probably an even closer result.

Oh, and after all this, the joint sitting of both houses that’s required to try to pass the bills that served as the trigger for the double dissolution in the first place will still need to be held, and will quite likely result in those bills being defeated anyway, because on current numbers, there’s no way that the LNC – even if it wins the election – has the combined numbers in both houses to get it through.

Nolite timere

The Latin motto “nolite timere” translates as “be not afraid”. It is the personal motto of Archbishop George Pell, three words said repeatedly by Jesus in the Bible, notably at Mark 5:36, where he also amplified “Be not afraid, only believe.” As admonitions go, it falls a little short of “trust me” or “this will be our secret”, but it has a similarly child molest-y vibe.

Quite apt for Pell, who has definitely had an interesting week. His accustomed air of saintly naivete has been tested to the absolute limit by his four hours of testimony before a Victorian Parliamentary enquiry this week. Despite it all, he comes across as still convinced that the Catholic Church is being singled out, and that this is all just persecution.

Never mind that, as he himself told the enquiry, there were numerous coverups, and that he himself had participated in some of them. Never mind that, in numerous other cases – notably those of Gerald Risdale, Ted Dowlan and other Catholic clergy in Ballarat in the Seventies – he claimed an ignorance so profound that he can only be regarded as either terrifyingly incompetent at his assigned jobs or the most mendacious liar currently active in the Australian media. Never mind that Pell is absolutely infamous for his lack of empathy to those whose lives are destroyed by his actions and inactions. Never mind that he still has the temerity to threaten Parliament with dire consequences if they continue their current investigations. Never mind that he claims that there is “no moral obligation” to increase the size of compensation payouts, because obviously, we should all take the word of a man with the demonstrated morality of His Eminence, George Pell.

None of this matters, because as far as can be told from Pell’s statements, what’s really important here is the good name of the Church. Pell’s major defence of the coverups, after all, is that they were motivated by fear of scandal. The fact that coverups are, in and of themselves, scandalous, seems not to register with him. The fact that, in lying and bullying, he’s betraying the very same ideals that his service in the church is supposedly based on, every bit as much (and every bit as damagingly) as those who carry out the actual abuse.

I’ve spent most of this week writhing in disgust and rage, wishing there was more I could do, fearing for all the children still in the clutches of an organisation that increasingly seems to think that all it’s done wrong is get caught.

One of my most cherished ideals is that of the presumption of innocence. I think it’s a basic foundation of any civil society, and I have since I was old enough to think about this stuff. (Hell, one of my greatest regrets is a friendship I blew up one night when in the heat of the moment I forgot to be guided by this ideal.)

That said, I’d like to see every single member of the Catholic clergy in this country dragged before the bench and asked to testify. Asked to swear on a goddamned Bible that they were going to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Because I’m sick of the child-molesting elephant in the room – and I’m sick of it throwing its weight around.

I have a personal stake in this, you see. If you click here, and scroll down to the testimony of “Jamie” (not his real name, and I won’t be telling you what is)…

…I knew Jamie. I was in the same class as him at Cathedral College. I even attended the confirmation ceremony he mentions – some members of my extended family are still involved with that particular parish, in fact. I didn’t know about it at the time, but even then, there were rumours about Ted Dowlan. And that was just in the one school – we didn’t know anything about his history.

Unfortunately, that was all I knew when Jamie called me up, shortly before the case came to court. He asked me to testify, and I had to apologetically tell him that I didn’t know anything except hearsay. The most help I could give was help him get in touch with other boys from our class, whom we both hoped would know more.

Even now, nearly twenty years later, just thinking about this – the mere mention of Dowlan’s or Jamie’s names – fills me with outrage for the past, and fear for the future. “Nolite timere”? I don’t think so.

And so I freely confess that this particular post comes from a place of absolute hatred. Of contempt and loathing, and of rage and fear…

But not, I think, from a place of factual inaccuracy.