Jacob Blake and the Revolution

Jacob Blake Protestor

Wednesday morning, I woke up to the news that there would be no charges filed against the officers responsible for paralyzing Jacob Blake, including one officer who shot at his back seven times (four shots him him). It was sad but not surprising. The truth is, as a society, we’ve decided that blue lives matter more than anyone else’s. But I didn’t have a lot of time to think about the problems we face with policing and racism because reactionaries stormed the Capitol.

Contrast in Black and White

It was quite a contrast. On one hand you have an unarmed black man facing away from an officer shot in the back. And on the other, the Capitol Police were shockingly nice and accommodating to people who were literally staging a revolution.

Many people have noted that had the insurgents been black or brown, the police would have sprayed them with bullets. Clearly, this is racial. But it is more than that. It is about affinity.

If there had been a bunch of white people there storming the capital in the name of social justice or other liberal causes, I believe there would have been more shooting. Certainly not as many had they been black. But still a lot.

Police and Military Affinity

This is a major problem in the United States. Just as in the Jim Crow South, the police are on the wrong side of history. Police tend to be more conservative — especially when it comes to how society ought to police itself. (I’m sure that a large number of officers did go into policing because they wanted to help people. The problem is what they mean by “help people.”)

Traditionally, authoritarians gain power because the military backs them. Right now we don’t have to worry about that because Trump is not that popular in the army — and distinctly unpopular among the officer corps. But what about next time? What about when someone like Trump comes around who’s much better at talking to and about the military?

Another issue is the 147 Congressional Republicans who objected to the presidential election results even after the attack on the Capitol. I have no doubt that almost all the Republicans would have been for throwing out electoral votes if they had control of both chambers of Congress. It’s just that some were smart enough to know they couldn’t actually steal the election so it wasn’t worth putting out their necks.

Whose Votes Matter?

I don’t pretend to have much affinity with conservatives. They’re mostly people who lack empathy and don’t care about facts or knowledge. But I do share enough affinity with them to realize that they are human beings with different beliefs who vote differently than I do. And I understand that in a democracy their voices must be heard.

The issue with racism is that it allows people to see others as less human. As less valid. I don’t think that his supporters actually believe that Trump got more votes in the election. I think they believe that Trump got the most votes from the kind of people who matter.

So the responses to the attack on the Capitol and to Jacob Blake are the perfect contrast of what’s wrong in this country today and, well, let’s face it, forever.


Jacob Blake Protestor by Becker1999 under CC BY 2.0.

The Aesthetics of Revolution — Trump’s Capitol Siege

Trump - Stop the Steal - 6 Jan 2021

The storming of the Capitol building on Wednesday was, as so much during the Trump era, shocking but not surprising. Also, like so much of the last four years, it has been analyzed well by others. What I think I might have to say that I haven’t heard is about what these would-be revolutionaries did once they got inside.

Cosplay Revolutionaries

If I could look past the despair I feel of seeing our imperfect but existing democracy crumble, Wednesday was pretty funny. Once the mob got inside the Capitol, they acted like the proverbial dog that catches the car. They had no plan. So they did some vandalism.

But mostly they just took selfies of themselves and explored the area. It reminded me of what my friend Will and I did when we managed to break inside the college recording studio. (Note: we didn’t break anything. It just wasn’t that hard to get past the locks. And we had a bit of experience with that…)

I’ve made fun before of cosplay socialists. I still think they are ridiculous; they make leftists look silly; and they hurt the cause by making social progress sound easy. But I wasn’t prepared for the pretend revolutionaries on the right. They don’t even have real complaints!

Offended Conservatives

Conservatives have been very good at appropriating the aesthetics of social justice without having the cause. Aesthetics without content.

We see this a lot with conservative dust-ups over liberals not using the right word. And admittedly there are some really pathetic liberals who do the same thing. But they aren’t co-opting it. They are pointing out real problems even if the specifics are nonsense.

Conservatives, on the other hand, really think that it’s just a game. None of them were really outraged when Hillary Clinton said, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession…” Conservatives love opportunities to pretend to be offended when they aren’t.

And the nation as a whole does too. For example, a politician who uses the n-word will probably have their career ended. But no one is surprised when the n-word is unleashed. It is always following a long time in which the speaker has shown themselves to be a racist.

This kind of dedicated never-read-the-subtext game is beloved by the vast majority of Americans.

The Oppressed Elites

The one thing Trump has been very good at is allowing all of these people who are not oppressed to think that they are. To think that the results of one election that they don’t like are tantamount to tyranny. Of course, even if Trump had won these people would claim to be oppressed.

Nothing new here. Just think of John Wilkes Booth killing Abraham Lincoln. He was convinced he was Brutus striking a blow against the tyrant Julius Caesar! You have to ask why Booth felt he lived under tyranny. After all, his life was good. But he, like the “revolutionaries” on Wednesday, had convinced himself that minor complaints justified a violent response.

Brought to You By the Media

The media is a huge part of the problem here. They allow conservatives to pretend to be oppressed simply because they cloak themselves in the language of the oppressed. Conservatives are always given the benefit of the doubt. We’ve seen this most clearly with Donald Trump.

When Trump says something that is demonstrably wrong, the media claim they can’t call it a lie. After all, how can they know what’s going on inside his head? He might really think it’s true! Then they tell us that Trump thinks he really won the election! Suddenly, when knowing what goes on inside Trump’s head helps him, they are psychics!

The rules are simple. If it makes Trump look better then they can get inside his head. If it makes him look worse, though, they can’t. They don’t want to be unfair!

And this opens the door for media outlets that will go far further — who will make a buck telling people that their basest inclinations are Right and True.

More Than the Insurgents

But the insurgents who attacked the Capitol this week have been condemned! They had to be given how much coverage violence that happens adjacent to liberal protests get. But even this criticism is limited to the mainstream. In conservative media, it was really leftists who stormed the Capitol!

But all the others who support these would-be revolutionaries are given a free ride. The 45 percent of Republicans who say that the attack was justified are given a pass. We are told again and again that they really believe that the election was stolen.[1]

Well, that may be. But they are the ones who have chosen to get their news from OANN and The Epoch Times. They are the ones who continue to vote for politicians who lie to them.

[1] Check out this wonderful bit of false equivalence from The Washington Post. Yeah, a lot of Democrats were unhappy about 2004. First, what do you expect after 2000? Second, things were bad in Ohio in 2004. And people always grumble after an election loss. In 2020, we have a candidate who lost the popular vote by over 7 million votes and still they are certain that the election was stolen. A lot of political science research is remarkably facile.


Trump at “Stop the Steal” Rally 6 Jan 2020 by Voice of America. It is in the public domain.

Odds & Ends: Christmas 2020

Odds and Ends

Hell of a year, huh? It wasn’t strangely hard on me because my life is already mostly online. But even for me, it’s been hard. It’s one thing to choose to be alone. It’s another to be forced. Nothing makes me want to go outside like knowing that I can’t!

I don’t have a lot to say otherwise. Here are just a few things worth mentioning.

James Fillmore

I’m sure that this will embarrass him, but I want to highlight James Fillmore. He continues to write here. And I’ve gotten a number of compliments for his writing. So let me be clear: look at the author! I know, it’s in small print. But some of the best stuff here is by him.

His last article was particularly good, The Strange and Awful Origins of the Resolute Desk. That was really good! It reminded me of the days when I had the time to write cool articles like that! Remember the slogan here, “Everything interesting for everyone interesting!”

Sure, you can find most of that information on Wikipedia. But first, it will be poorly written in a way that will bore you to death. And second, you won’t know to look on Wikipedia for the HMS Resolute.

I spend most of my life editing other people writing. And I always know that something is good when I get interested in the text while editing. I assure you: it is extremely rare and I work with a lot of professional writers!

So thanks James! I really appreciate it. And I suspect a lot of other people do too!

Santi Claus

Early today, I was thinking of Santa Claus, as you do on Christmas Eve. And then I thought, “Oh yeah! Chico Marx and the Santi Claus.”

So I found this bit of Marx Brothers insanity from A Night at the Opera. These two are great together. And this is a great print:

And here is Chico in what I consider his best piano bit in Go West.

Christmas Evil

My favorite Christmas film is It’s a Wonderful Life. Just kidding! I actually hate that film. I love Frank Capra but at his worse, he’s saccharine. And that’s the case here.

My actual favorite Christmas film is Christmas Evil. If you want to know why, go over to Psychotronic Review. I explain this as well as why you should buy the film. But if you don’t want to, there is a free copy!

But now that I think about it, do I really explain why I love the film? The truth is that such things can’t be explained. It is unquestionably a great film. It’s a slasher film that is also an art film. But why do I love it? Because I love it!

Baroness von Sketch Show

The best comedy group I’ve found in the last several years is the Baroness von Sketch Show. They are Canadian and they do some of the best stuff I’ve seen.

Strangely, most people I know aren’t that into them. I’m not sure why. Here’s Santa’s Christmas:

Stewart Lee Doesn’t Ruin Christmas

I was going to return to this old comedy bit by Stewart Lee to go along with my tradition of “Frank ruins holidays” posts. But when I watched it, I realized that he doesn’t actually ruin Christianity. Instead, he acts very pretentious and over-thinks a simple song. It’s very funny.

This is still a large part of his act today. A good example of this is his “pirate’s letter” routine where he complains that the audience isn’t laughing fast enough. And he goes on to explain the joke. People say explaining a joke ruins it, but when it’s done by a pretentious Englishman, it’s brilliant!

I had wanted to add a video of Harry Hill to show you what he was talking about but I couldn’t find a good one. The truth is that I think he’s brilliant but I don’t find him very funny. As for Michael McIntyre, I don’t even see why people think he’s funny. He’s so artificial. But I can tell that he could be funny if he weren’t doing the crap that his fans clearly love.

Merry Christmas

My mother’s side of the family is made up of a bunch of Christian Conservatives. And it’s only since she died that I learned that my mother was very religious in her way. I wish I had known because I would have loved to have talked to her about it.

The truth is that I think religion can be a beautiful thing. So I find it distressing when people use religion for nothing more than to reinforce their bigoted social and political beliefs. As an atheist mystic, I want more.

But regardless of your feelings about Christianity, you’ve got to admit that Christmas isn’t much of a holiday. From a theological standpoint, what does the birth of Jesus mean? There are stories but it has nothing to do with the religion itself. Yet I never hear Christians complaining about the Easter Bunny.

Listen up Christians: Easter is your big holiday. The fact that Christians make a big deal (or any deal) about Christmas show that they don’t take their own mythology seriously. But honestly, I really don’t know what American Christians get from their religion.

But whatever it is would starve any seeker of truth or God.

Merry Christmas!

The Strange and Awful Origins of the Resolute Desk

Resolute Desk

The Resolute Desk. It’s the main desk in the Oval Office. Duplicated a zillion times on film and TV sets, it is immediately recognizable to everyone. (Well, that and the windows.) Let’s learn where it came from!

Search for the Northwest Passage

In the 19th century, every empire worth its salt was trying to find the Northwest Passage. What’s that? It’s an easier way of getting from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.

The route south of Argentina has notoriously awful sailing conditions. Even today, it’s a rough ride for scientists headed for Antarctica.

Lewis and Clark were trying to find a river route for it. They failed badly, of course. Eventually, we found the solution of having lots of workers die from malaria digging through Panama. But this was before then.

England Loses Two Ships

England sent two ships to explore the waters north of Canada: the HMS Erebus (named for a mythical figure in Hell) and HMS Terror (named after the English word for “terror”). Sailors are superstitious sorts, as a rule, so those aren’t great ship names.

Both ships got frozen in sea ice. Some Inuit oral history suggests that the desperate sailors went all Donner Party. Whatever happened, they didn’t come back.

There’s a brilliant fictionalized TV show about this, called The Terror, in which everyone dies horribly. The star, Jared Harris, is also in the brilliant TV show Chernobyl, which has equally gruesome deaths. It’s Mr Harris’s thing, so it seems. (His dad was in Unforgiven, where most everyone dies — but via standard means and after Harris’ character escapes. There’s no radiation sickness or Death Murder Polar Bears.)

England Almost Loses a Third Ship

The captain of the Terror had a proper English wife, so she pushed for a search-and-rescue operation. It was launched on the HMS Resolute (better name). It also got stuck in Arctic sea ice, but the crew was saved.

America, which was just then building up its own navy, and had unsuccessfully tried to invade Canada a few times, decided to be gracious and permitted the Resolute to be returned to England. Because the thing could still float, barely.

It gets back to England, and it’s basically only worth salvaging for parts at this juncture. But Queen Victoria grasps the point of America’s gesture and responds in kind. They make a very beautifully wood-worked desk out of the Resolute. And they offer it to America as a gift, which we accept

Today, it sits in the Oval Office. (LBJ had it tour the country for a awhile after Kennedy was killed; Carter put it back in.)

So, that’s the Resolute Desk. Betcha thought the name was because Presidents made serious decisions at it. (I did!) Nope, it’s from scraps of a doomed boat looking for two other doomed boats, gifted to us in a geopolitical strategy move. But, hey, geopolitical strategy move is also where the Statue Of Liberty comes from. I’ll take it!

Afterword

The wreckage of the Erebus was discovered in 2014. Two years later, the Terror was discovered in better shape. Their exact locations have not been disclosed, but from what we know I calculate that they were roughly 40 miles apart. The sites have not been fully examined and there is hope that they will find written records.


Image cropped from Barack Obama at Resolute Desk by White House (Pete Souza) — derivative work — under CC BY 2.0.

What About Those Georgia Polls?

Georgia

Like a good little numbers-oriented liberal, I was all over the polls in the lead-up to November’s election. And election night came and I was crushed. I concluded that there really was something wrong with the polls and I wasn’t going to listen to them. Then I started hearing about how close the two Georgia Senate race polls were.

Unskew the Polls!

I thought, “Aha! I’m going to show how wrong the polls were in Georgia and how no one should listen to them for the run-off!” My idea was that I could do an estimate of these conservative freaks who aren’t showing up in the polls but who are showing up to vote. I was planning to do something like Dean Chambers’ Unskewed Polls.

Back in the 2012 election, conservatives claimed that the polls were all wrong because they didn’t have a high enough percentage of white people. It was a telling claim: the more white people vote the better Republicans do!

So Chambers “unskewed” the polls by adjusting them to have the “right” number of white people. And could you believe it?! Obama was only going to win 179 electoral votes!

But this was wrong. The country is becoming less white. So there were simply less whites as a percentage of the vote in 2012 than there had been in 2008. And when the votes were cast, that was exactly what they showed. Obama won 330 electoral votes — 151 more than Mr Chambers had predicted.

A Better Plan

But I had a better idea. I was going to look at how much better Trump did than the polls suggested he would. The Senate elections are only two months after the presidential election, so that ought to be valid. Off the top of my head, I figured the polls were off by about 4 percentage points.

But I was wrong. At least about Georgia.

The Georgia Polls

The FiveThirtyEight average of national polls gave Biden an 8.4 percentage point lead over Trump. The final results were that Biden won by 4.5 points. So they were off by 3.9 points. (Note that this isn’t actually that bad — especially in an unusual election like this one with huge turnout because of the pandemic.)

But in Georiga, FiveThirtyEight had Biden winning by 1.2 percentage points. And Biden won by 0.24 points. And Real Clear Politics had Trump winning by 1.0 points!

When it comes to the Senate polls, things are more complicated. I’ll start with the easy one: Perdue vs Ossoff. Real Clear Politics showed Ossoff winning by 0.7 percentage points. But he ended up losing by 1.8 points. That is mostly due to “undecided” voters all going for Perdue. (I really do think that a lot of Republicans don’t even like to admit to themselves that they support the people they do.) That’s off by 2.5 points but it isn’t unreasonable.

The Warnock race had a ridiculous number of people running. Obviously, we know about the two major Republicans: Loeffler and Collins. But the 6 candidates only garnered 90.3 percent of the vote. A full 9.7 percent of the vote went to 14 people who got less than 2 percent (7 got less than 0.6 percent).

RCP had Warnock winning by 15.7 percentage points and he won by only 7.0 points. But remember that the people supporting the minor candidates were not generally included in the polls. So that’s probably what most of the difference is.

The Run-Off Polls

The run-off polls show the two races even. Can we trust them? Kinda.

Generally what they show is the Republican candidate slightly ahead. But this is not always the case. And it is rare for any candidate to get to 50 percent.

What does this mean? I’d say it means that the most likely outcome will be two Republican victories. But it will all come down to turn-out.

The good news is that these appear to be competitive. And I didn’t think that was the case when I started writing this.

Help Out

You can help out the campaigns. Here are their websites:

If you are going to give money, you might consider Stacey Abrams’ group Fair Fight Action. They are doing the kind of work that is most critical to turning Georgia blue.

I recommend doing what you can but not getting your hopes up. These are real possibilities for the Democrats but that’s all. But that’s better than it could be. And all the more reason to fight!


Georgia by Nick Youngson under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Alpha Stock Images.

Advocates for “The Unborn”

Dave Barnhart

“The unborn” are a convenient group of people to advocate for. They never make demands of you; they are morally uncomplicated, unlike the incarcerated, addicted, or the chronically poor; they don’t resent your condescension or complain that you are not politically correct; unlike widows, they don’t ask you to question patriarchy; unlike orphans, they don’t need money, education, or childcare; unlike aliens, they don’t bring all that racial, cultural, and religious baggage that you dislike; they allow you to feel good about yourself without any work at creating or maintaining relationships; and when they are born, you can forget about them, because they cease to be unborn. It’s almost as if, by being born, they have died to you. You can love the unborn and advocate for them without substantially challenging your own wealth, power, or privilege, without re-imagining social structures, apologizing, or making reparations to anyone. They are, in short, the perfect people to love if you want to claim you love Jesus but actually dislike people who breathe. Prisoners? Immigrants? The sick? The poor? Widows? Orphans? All the groups that are specifically mentioned in the Bible? They all get thrown under the bus for the unborn.

Pastor Dave Barnhart

Image taken from Saint Junia United Methodist Church under Fair Use. Their website says, “A community of sinners, saints & skeptics,” which is pretty cool! I saw the quote above in graphics form on Twitter and knew that I had to share it. -FM

Why I Care About “Little” Films

The Lacemaker by Vermeer

Over at Psychotronic Review, I just published The Films of Slumberjack Entertainment. It includes embeds of most of their short films, so you should check it out.

It’s almost all horror. But it isn’t the kind of stuff that’s going to give you nightmares. They are heavy on the comedy. There is, however, a fair amount of gore. I mention that only because I’ve recently found that most people don’t find blood spraying out of zombies funny the way I do!

Why I Care?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to why I love independent films like these. Some others include:

There are many more, of course. But why do I care? I think it is because it is ridiculously hard to be an artist today.

Decades ago, I came up with my “Sunday Morning Blues Jam” theory of creativity. It’s this: you can go to any Sunday morning blues jam session anywhere in the world and find people who are better than you could have hoped to have seen a century earlier.

When it comes to film, it’s even worse. With digital cameras and computer software that is a hundred times better than anything anyone had a couple of decades ago, there are a lot of really creative people making a lot of really creative movies.

It’s hard for me because I want to see everything. But it has to be far worse for the filmmakers. The people I talk about are making really great stuff. And few people notice. Yet they keep producing things. They are quite literally the best of who we are.

Caveats

Okay, some caveats. Bookwalter is something of a legend. Also: he hasn’t directed anything in almost two decades and generally isn’t even producing. But he’s still working behind the scenes and getting things restored and released.

And Tjardus Greidanus has gone on to be quite a successful documentary filmmaker. And I also don’t want to forget people like George Barry whose artistic vision is so wonderfully idiosyncratic that he left the business.

Finally, I don’t wish to minimize what any of these people are trying to do. I know they all are clearly hoping that they will take off. I hope they do too! (Admittedly, my liking all of them is normally a bad sign for their careers.) And I have little doubt that their work will at least lead somewhere fulfilling.

Creative Dedication

But even producing a fully developed 4-minute short like The Dog Walker takes a lot of work. So this is about something more than dreams. This is about the creative force that many people feel.

Regardless of what is in the hearts of any of these people, they honor us by honoring their art. And I guess that’s why I care.


Detail of The Lacemaker by Johannes Vermeer — Musée du Louvre, Public Domain.

And Now a Relaxing Article About COVID in Danish Mink Farms

White Mink

From The Guardian, a generally reliable enough website, this article:

“Denmark tightens lockdown in north over mink Covid outbreak”

As a headline writer myself, I respect the craft. Please continue:

“Twelve people infected so far with new strain against which vaccines may be ineffective”

That’s what we people doing online publishing call the “dek”; it means “deck.” It’s a subheading.

We also call the lead the “lede.” Don’t ask why, these things go back centuries. Do you want to know why windows in ships are always called “portholes” and “deck” means floor? Not really, no.

Mink Apocalypse

An outbreak among farmed mink of a mutant form of Covid-19 with the potential to be resistant to future vaccines has led to the Danish government bringing in tougher lockdown measures in parts of the country.

The measures were announced following the discovery of a new strain of the disease in animals bred for fur in the country’s northern regions.

Twelve people in the Jutland region have been diagnosed with infection with the new strain, and municipalities in northern Denmark will impose restrictions on residents’ movements between regions.”

Now, this is some fine newscraft! Let me break down how we do it in the sports world:

“Tigers 7, Twins 4: Bullpen blows lead, player also rips head off baby”

With the dek:

“In a surprising finish, the Twins lose a key division game with an unusual ‘twist.'”

See! That’s how it’s done! Ya hook ’em, ya reel ’em in. Child’s play, really. If you’ve practiced it enough.

Now, the gist of the article is about some new strain of coronavirus which blahblahblah — nobody really knows nothing about. But it has spread between minks. And humans have gotten it, which means it might have been mutated into something even scarier.

So 15 million minks are going to be killed.

Welcome to Loveable, Liberal Denmark

I do know northern Denmark a little. I attended a lovely wedding there. It was between two naval officers, appropriately held on a ship. During a smoke break, and they have those at Danish weddings, we noticed something in the far distance that looked like a ship on fire. It was difficult to be sure, but it very much looked like a very large ship on very much fire. Some watchers muttered, “That’s a bad omen.” Seagoing people are into omens.

Did it turn out, that was a fire? Yes it did! Did that marriage last? No, it spectacularly did not!

But they did go on a honeymoon, which meant one of their friends I’d never met provided me a ride to the airport. He was a farmer and spent the 90-minute drive complaining about how large-scale agricultural companies were squeezing out family farms. It was the kind of thing I’m inclined to sympathize with, so I listened.

He never mentioned mink farming.

Oh Yes: Danish Mink Farming Is a Thing

Denmark actually leads the world in mink production. For comparison, the pro-fur-farming website, Truth About Fur, says there are 268 mink farms in America, producing 2.7 million pelts a year.

The number of affected farms in Denmark? Well over 1000, raising 16 million minks a year. They are legally required to share information and innovation concepts with each other. (Obviously, in this instance, it didn’t work out too well.)

They actually have pretty decent regulations on preventing animal cruelty, but by no means are most Danes vegan. They consume insane amounts of pork, for instance; I’ve never stayed in a Danish home where bacon or chops or pork burgers or pork hotdogs aren’t served at least once daily, sometimes in combination. They all had pork liverwurst in the fridge as a midnight snack, too.

And, valid concerns about animal rights aside, I’ve eaten all these items in Danish homes, and they were all delicious. I’m a guest; it would be rude not to. Even if you only take a little bite to compliment the cook.

The End of Danish Mink? And the Best Bar in the World?

This mass slaughter will, no doubt, greatly hurt the Danish mink industry, even though worldwide demand is likely to continue. (Why wouldn’t it? Rich people spending on ridiculous luxury goods is recession-proof.) Most likely, if usual agricultural economics hold, the smallest farms will have to sell out to ones with greater cash reserves.

In a way, it’s very much like what my post-wedding airport driver was complaining about – the little farms losing out to bigger ones. He probably meant pork or potatoes farms (Danes also eat a lot of potatoes), but in this case, it’s mink. You don’t have to approve of fur farming to root for the little farmer. Or the littler minks.

How’s the naval ex-wife? (That’s who we knew of the couple.) She’s fine, still in the navy, and lives in this teensy Northern Denmark town with probably the best, most wonderful bar I’ve ever been to in my life. Picture “Cheers,” but with sailors, and a lot of people quietly smoking and reading. The grill is in the back for anyone who wants to use it.

That’s shut down because of a lockdown due to the mink farming crisis. That’s sad but maybe it’ll survive; Denmark is better at supporting small businesses than we are.

The COVID mink did not survive, however. But hey, at least this article wasn’t about the US election. A friend of mine I sent The Guardian story to actually responded, “Thanks for the distraction.”


White Mink by felixd under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Putting Off the Apocalypse

Apocalypse

As I write this, Associated Press has called all the states and Joe Biden beat Donald Trump 306-232. And it also looks like we have a chance in the two Georgia Senate races.

This is good news. But we need to be honest. The future looks very bad indeed.

Reagan vs Trump

In 1980 Ronald Reagan ran for president with a very positive message: that conservatism was going to make us all much happier. It was bullshit of course. But the people were voting for something positive — something that would make their lives better.

I’m the first to point out that Reagan was the Trump of his time. Proportionally, Reagan harmed our country as much as Trump. But at that time, Republicans still believed that they could and should win majority support.

Right now the Republicans are not offering anything to the American people. They don’t need to. As bad as Trump was, he almost won re-election.

Razor-Thin Margin

As I write this, Biden won the popular vote by 6 million. And that will likely grow as the vote continues. That’s 52 percent of the popular vote (excluding third parties). But he won 57 percent of the Electoral College. What am I complaining about?

Trump would have been re-elected had he won Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin. So let’s look at the number of votes Biden won those states by:

StateVotesPercent
Arizona10,4570.31%
Georgia12,2840.25%
Wisconsin20,5650.63%
Total43,3060.38%

Let’s put this in context. This is roughly half the number of votes that Trump won by in 2016 and we all rightly noted that it was basically nothing.

What these numbers mean is that this country is every bit as in love with Trump as they ever were. In my darkest moments I think about how I might eventually retire elsewhere because I don’t want to die in a fascist country.

The System

Because of the American system, Republicans grew their numbers in the House of Representatives. And it is likely they will stay more or less where they are in the Senate. So there will be no fundamental changes to that American system. And this is very bad indeed.

By the time we have our next election, the states will be even further gerrymandered to the benefit of the Republicans. And we have a Supreme Court that will absolutely not stop them from doing that. At the same time, we can count on the Court to stop Biden from doing everything possible via executive action — something that a less-conservative Court was not willing to do to Trump.

It’s good that Biden won. It’s better than Trump having won. But things look very bleak. It looks like there will be Republican minority rule for a generation because half of America thinks the benefit of expressing their racism publicly is more important than fighting a pandemic and saving the economy.

Our only real hope is that the Republicans will, as usual, do such a bad job governing that they throw it back to the Democrats. But that’s just at the national level. States like Michigan and Pennsylvania are still controlled by Republicans because of their 2010 election gerrymandering. And now they get to do it again!

Brace Yourself

So I think things are really really bad. Access to abortions will be gone within a couple of years. I had thought Obamacare would be gone next year with nothing to replace it, but it looks like some conservatives on the Court are exhausted by this issue. (But don’t count them out!)

In a fundamental sense, America is exceptional. We have an exceptionally bad anti-democratic system largely the result of slavery. And we still have huge numbers of white people who think the only racial problem in this country is that they aren’t given special privileges for being white. Hopefully, this will change. But there’s no indication that it will.

The Republican party has fully embraced authoritarianism. And even if people like Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio had not embraced it, the base would have demanded it. Forty percent of this country is made up of authoritarians.

Brace yourself. This is going to get bad.


Image by ArtTower via Pixabay. I cropped it.

The Problem With “No Evidence of Voter Fraud”

Sherlock Holmes

There is an asymmetry in the way that those on the left and those on the right discuss voter fraud and similar subjects.

On the right they talked about how there is voter fraud. On the left we talk about how there was no evidence of voter fraud. This is bad.

To most people this sounds like those on the left are splitting hairs. Saying that there is no evidence of fraud implies that there might be fraud, “Sure, there’s no evidence of voter fraud but we all know there is, right?”

In terms of science, it is good to make clear that there is no evidence. You want to be nuanced and only say things that you know are true. But in that situation, the other scientists wouldn’t be stating that there is voter fraud as a matter of fact. They would be saying, “Here is the evidence of voter fraud.”

Rhetorical Catastrophe

From a rhetorical standpoint, this is catastrophic. People on the right are making a simple declarative statement: “There is voter fraud!” The counter to that must be as emphatic: “There is no voter fraud!”

If evidence does eventually appear that shows there is the kind of voter fraud conservatives claim, then we can either change what we believe or make more nuanced arguments. But until then, the argument should go like this:

Con: There is voter fraud!
Lib: There is no voter fraud!
Con: How can you say that?!
Lib: Show me the evidence! You say this but you never provide evidence. And that’s because tons of people on your side have looked into it and found nothing. There is no voter fraud!

Notice what’s not happening here: we aren’t countering their statement with a less-clear statement that uses their framing of the issue. I realize that to a reasonable person, this is nonsense. You shouldn’t have to counter absurd claims with their opposite. But no one counters “Angels are real!” with “There is no evidence that angels are real.” Or at least if you do you look like an idiot.

In general when talking about things, you don’t talk about evidence. You don’t say there’s no evidence that I have cancer. You say I don’t have cancer. In the absence of evidence, you don’t assume something that’s unusual.

Tell It Like It Is

So people on the left sound like disingenuous assholes when they can’t spit out the equivalent of, “Bullshit!” People on the right at least sound like they actually believe what they’re saying.

So all over I’m hearing Republicans saying that there’s a huge amount of voter fraud. And people on the left are saying no there’s no evidence of voter fraud. Or even worse they’re saying there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Why can’t we just make a declarative statement?! There is no voter fraud! If Republicans want to come back and say yes there is and here’s the evidence, fine! But this is just bullshitting.

The truth is that people on the left think they’re being careful and honest. And they’re paid back with disbelief.

Let’s stop this nonsense. There’s no evidence that a teapot is orbiting the Sun between the Earth and Mars. But no one says that. They just say that there’s no teapot because there’s no reason to believe there is a teapot! If someone wants to say that there is a teapot, then they better be willing to present evidence that there is a teapot orbiting the Sun! How fucking hard is this?!


Sherlock Holmes image by OpenClipart-Vectors via Pixabay.

Why Wasn’t There a Blue Wave? Maybe Because People Thought One Was Coming

Blue Wave 2020

This is a “hot take” so don’t hold me to it. But I’ve had this idea ever since the results started coming in Tuesday evening and it became clear that the Blue Wave was not happening. Instead, we got the kind of election that most of us were assuming back in March. What happened? Why were the polls so bad?

I haven’t seen any analysis and it will doubtless turn out that there were a number of reasons that the polls to not do a good job predicting the election results. But I want to suggest that a big one may be feedback.

The idea is a common one in physics. The act of measuring an attribute of an object changes that object. For example: you can’t see what something looks like in the dark. You have to shine a light at it.

Under most circumstances, this doesn’t matter. It’s normally only at the quantum level that the effect is big enough to be concerned about. As a result, this is normally an issue that is only discussed along with quantum mechanics.

Polling Feedbacks

Could it be that the polling results affected voting?

During this election, a large percentage of the news coverage talked about the polls. Remembering 2016, everyone was clear that the polls could be wrong. But maybe they weren’t.

Maybe instead, the polls got people to change their behavior. In Arizona, most of the late-arriving mail-in ballots (Saturday through Election Day) favored Trump by a wide margin. This could just be votes from people who normally mail-in ballots. Elderly people often use mail-in voting.

But it could also indicate that people who might have sat out the race were motivated to vote because they didn’t like what they were seeing.

The other side is also possible: people on the left didn’t think they needed to vote because there was obviously a big lead for Biden. But this seems unlikely because (1) most liberals were suspicious of the polls and (2) the turn-out was high.

C&H Sugar Factory

Just a Thought

I don’t know if this was a big effect or not. I do, however, feel certain that public polling and election models are bad for our society.

They feed “horse race” coverage. People watch them the way they watch a sporting event. And by “people” I mean “everyone I know including me.”

The media is really good at giving us what our basest instincts crave. This is the political equivalent of gorging ourselves on refined sugar. On the other hand, we are already well sorted in terms of policy preferences. And we know that the kind of policy detail we might hear on The Weeds will never come to pass. So it’s understandable that we would pour those political white crystals directly from a C&H bag into our mouths.

But we need to find a way forward without polls. Because for whatever reason, they aren’t very good at predicting modern American election results.


Blue Wave 2020 image by AnnaliseArt under Pixabay License. C&H Factory by Cullen328 under CC BY-SA 3.0.

There Was an Election?

Boxing

Well, I guess we had an election? People keep telling me that anyway. I try to avoid thinking about it and so I’ve been watching even more horror films than usual. Of course, this is all a change.

The night of the election, I was very excited. I thought it would be a great night for the Democrats. When it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, I was depressed. But eventually, I adjusted my expectations and saw that a win for Biden was a win for America.

Or maybe it’s better to say that a win for Biden gives America a chance. But it’s not a great one.

Republican Senate

We seem to be stuck with a Republican Senate despite the fact that there were far more votes for Democrats. And that means that there will be no stimulus for the economy for at least 2 years.

And that’s sad. Because a small number of people think it is to their advantage electorally, millions of people are forced to suffer.

It’s also a short-term strategy. Destroying the economy will probably work for the Republicans in 2022. But by 2024, the economy (despite the best efforts of Republicans) will be recovering. And that will be good for Democrats.

Why We Can’t All Get Along

I am very much in a “Why can’t we all just get along?” mood. The problem is, I know why: the Republicans. The truth is that any political party will be as extreme as it can get away with.

Because of the construction of our electoral system, the Republicans can be very conservative — far more conservative than the voters are — and still have power.

For my friends on the left who like to complain that most people agree with the left on policy, there’s your answer. The government is set up such that it does not reflect the will of the people. It reflects the will of people a good deal more conservative.

What We Know

As I right this, Biden is on the verge of taking the lead in Pennsylvania and Georgia. At the same time, he’s almost 4 million votes ahead of Trump nationally. I’ve heard estimates that when all the votes are counted, he will win by 5 million.

Think about that. This election isn’t even close. Yet 3 days out we still don’t know. We have razor-thin margins in a number of states. This is not how a democracy should work. (Yes, for the idiot conservatives: “democratic republic” — every time I hear someone talk about this it is clear they know very little about political systems.)

We’ve all gotten to the point where we just accept it. And we shouldn’t.

I’ll leave you with that. I hope to write another article over the weekend about Paula White’s speech. I have a different take on it than many others. See you then!


Boxing image via Pixy in the public domain.