About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

Odds and Ends Vol 34

Odds and Ends

I’m a bit scattered these days. Just when I was going to file for divorce, I was served with divorce papers from my wife. Good news, you might think. And in some ways, it is. But my wife is asking for $2,000 every other week in alimony. It’s ridiculous in the sense that, this is roughly what I make in a month before taxes. But also: we haven’t even seen each other in over a decade.

But the whole thing brought the phone calls and texts back. She’s screaming and threatening. So I blocked her number. Then she started emailing me. More threats. It’s very stressful. Anyway, on to the odds and ends.

Kathleen Parker

I saw a very annoying headline at The Washington Post last week, The GOP isn’t doomed. It’s dead. It was written by “moderate” conservative Kathleen Parker.

Every time the Republicans lose an election, establishment-types declare it dead or in need of reform. Instead, the party just moves further right and becomes more loony and they win control of Washington and a majority of states.

You would think that The Washington Post would hire political columnists who know at least a little political science. If they did, there wouldn’t be ridiculous articles like this. Because there are systemic qualities of the US (both planned and accidental) that allow Republicans to be far more conservative than the country itself.

But the reason I bring this up is because Parker wrote the following, “The party’s end was inevitable, foreshadowed in 2008 when little-boy Republican males, dazzled by the pretty, born-again, pro-life Alaska governor, thought Sarah Palin should be a heartbeat away from the presidency.” Oh, I see! This started all the way back in 2008!

Mitt Romney

Over the past four years, Mitt Romney has been allowed to rebrand himself as the sensible, truth-based, Republican. But that’s ridiculous! I was blogging full-time during the 2012 presidential election. I remember what a mendacious campaign he ran.

Michael Cohen (not that one) in The Guardian expressed it well:

Granted, presidential candidates are no strangers to disingenuous or overstated claims; it’s pretty much endemic to the business. But Romney is doing something very different and far more pernicious. Quite simply, the United States has never been witness to a presidential candidate, in modern American history, who lies as frequently, as flagrantly and as brazenly as Mitt Romney.

As you know, I don’t like PolitiFact. Like most fact-checkers, they work really hard to find “lies” from people on the left to balance out the abundance of actual lies on the right. But despite this, Romney has far more lies than Obama:

RatingRomneyObama
True14%20%
Mostly True16%27%
Half True28%26%
Mostly False16%11%
False15%11%
Pants on Fire9%1%

Happy Birthday, Ronald Reagan

And speaking of the mythical past, Ronald Reagan would be 110 years old today. Most things we’ve said about Trump over the last four years was said about Reagan. In particular, Reagan was a champion norm-buster. Like Trump, he didn’t know any better. And when he was told, he didn’t care.

In 1982, Rolling Stone noted, “Two years into [Reagan’s] presidency, federal regulations go unenforced, poor and middle-class incomes have decreased and social services were slashed.” The only thing that was different were the times. I don’t think Trump harmed the country any more than Reagan did. It was just that things were worse when Trump came in.

Some Leftists

But lest you think I am only going to be attacking conservatives today, there are some leftists who are really annoying me. Or maybe I should say “leftists,” because I’m not at all sure where these people are coming from.

There are a number of people in this small but vocal group, but I’m going to highlight Briahna Joy Gray. She has Opinions about the minimum wage!

There’s no doubt that the minimum wage should be higher. The Center for Economic and Policy Research calculated that if the minimum wage had been raised at the rate of productivity growth since 1968 (which is the rate it increased before then), it would now be $24.

But this is a political fight, not an economic analysis. If we can get a $15 minimum wage, that would be great. Then we can work on raising that. But Gray’s take is not helpful. It’s a way of telling the Democrats that they shouldn’t even work on winning over progressives because we will never be happy anyway.

Obamacare

I’ve seen this a lot with respect to Obamacare. People claim that it means nothing because millions still don’t have healthcare. Well, I’m one of the millions who do have it because of Obamacare. So it is something.

But this is relatively new. I don’t remember people on the left saying it was nothing at the time. What’s changed? Patreon, I think. There are a lot more people on the left who can make money online grandstanding like this. Clearly, Sam Seder and David Pakman fill the thoughtful niche. So people like Gray and Jimmy Dore are working the Howard Beale lane.

Rant On

And I get it. I feel like Beale a lot of the time too. But if you’ve watched the film, you know that Beale didn’t bring change. People just liked an excuse to get angry. And when Beale started preaching degeneration, people tuned out. People were only ever mad as hell. They were definitely going to continue to take it.

These leftists are not helping. They are actually harming the cause. It doesn’t look like we are going to get the $15 minimum wage after all. But with it or without it, Briahna Joy Gray’s position is the same: Democrats suck.

FOLE

Last weekend, I got a call to write an article (quickly) about what was going on with GameStop, Dogecoin, and other related stuff. You can check it out: GameStop, AMC & Dogecoin. The whole thing is just a pump-and-dump scheme. But I do think it matters who’s doing it. Millionaires sticking it to billionaires is good. My concern is that regular people get caught up in it.

I’ve felt rather good that the two things I said should go up early last year — silver and Ethereum — did. Of course, I didn’t invest in them. I’m not a speculator. “Fear of Missing Out” is also “Fear of Losing Everything.” Get it? “FOLE”? Pronounced “folly”? People should think more in terms of FOLE than FOMO.

It’s sad that we live in a society organized in this way. It isn’t a great way to allocate resources.

TTYL

I’ll talk to you later!

Treat the Flag Like Shit But Don’t Burn It!

American Flag

I find it curious that there are still people who think that burning the American flag is some terrible thing. A lot of people want to make it illegal. But could there be any form of speech that the First Amendment most clearly applies to?

If you think that the United States has betrayed its own ideals, what better way is there to say so than to burn the American flag?

When I was a kid, it was widely believed that if a flag fell on the ground, it had to be destroyed — by fire. Or maybe burying it. Certainly, you wouldn’t want to throw it in the trash. Regardless, this was the kind of thing that you supposedly did out of respect for the flag.

It turns out that most people say you do not have to destroy a flag that touches the ground. But it doesn’t matter. It shows that how one treats the flag is open to opinion. And it changes over time.

I know it’s shocking to many, but we all show our patriotism in our own ways. What I don’t like is people who get angry at others while they show a facile kind of patriotism themselves.

Flags in My Neighborhood

The neighborhood I walk each day features dozens of American flags flying outside houses. Almost all of these houses feature multiple trucks and badly managed lawns, so I know they are owned by conservatives. And not one of these flags is taken down at night or in bad weather. I know because I take walks in the early morning and at night.

I also know because many of these flags are badly worn. One is obviously fraying when viewed from across the street. And I’m sure that these people think themselves very patriotic. “Remember last year when I bought a flag and hung it up?!”

Facile Patriotism

This is very much like the yellow ribbons that I saw on cars during the George W Bush administration. It showed that you supported the troops! It’s set-it and forget-it patriotism.

This fetishization of the American flag is thus literal “virtue signaling.” It the kind of patriotism that signals that you are a Good Person as opposed to people like me who have a more nuanced but active patriotism.

And by and large, these flag-wavers are the people who are most offended by the burning of the American flag. In Shoe0nHead’s video, these free-speech champions were mostly all for laws against flag burning. The people who didn’t think it should be illegal were mostly military, who I would hope would also treat their flags well.[1]

I have little doubt that many of the insurgents on 6 January 2021 had well-worn flags outside their own houses. They don’t love America so much as “America.” Easily won patriotism is just as easily lost.

But I totally defend their right to treat their flags badly. I’m just not as accepting of the way they treat our country.


[1] It’s amazing how many people bring up the burning of the BLM flag without understanding the issue at all. It was stolen from a church and then burned. The issue was never that you can’t burn a BLM flag. Yet in their minds, there was some special law that protected BLM. It’s amazing! It’s like the old NRA bumper stickers, “I’m ignorant as fuck, and I vote!

Image via PxHear — it is in the public domain.

The Public Square Must Be Public

George Caleb Bingham - Stump Speaking

A lot of things people say are both true and wrong. A good example of this is the claim that the First Amendment only applies to government censorship. This is true. But are we also going to say that this is good? I don’t think so.

In a world where the commons is now owned by private companies, we need to expand upon the First Amendment. And we need to be broader when we talk about free speech.

None of this should be seen as a defense of Donald Trump or conservatives more generally. The major social media platforms have been doing nothing but helping the conservative movement. Just look at the top shared articles on Facebook in any given week. It’s always overwhelmingly conservative articles with a couple of mainstream news items and nothing leftist at all.

Just as with the War on Christmas, what conservatives think is fair is for there to be great limits on everyone else while they get special rights. But there are major (Real!) free speech issues with the private ownership of the public square that greatly harm leftists.

Who Controls Speech?

The biggest political story since Republicans stormed the Capitol is that Amazon kicked Parler off their servers. The power of Amazon in the web hosting business has been a huge problem for years. If you pulled the plug on AWS, the internet as we know it would be gone. They host everyone! This is the biggest problem with Amazon, not its retail sales.

Parler seems to be a toxic entity on the internet. I have no problem with them being shut down. In fact, I’m happy about it. However, I don’t think Amazon should be the one to make that decision.

Similarly, I don’t have a problem with Trump being kicked off Twitter. But this example is illustrative.

Had Trump been an ordinary person, he would have been banned from Twitter years ago. In fact, I think that had Trump been a Democratic politician with leftist ideas, he would have been banned from Twitter.

So the question is not, “Why was Trump banned?” It was, “Why did it take so long”? And I think we know the answer to that. It’s because Trump is good for the bottom line. Fuck any concerns about the public good.

The Obvious Solution

Some people think that the big social media companies should become utilities. But to my mind, utilities are just a bullshit way of allowing the private sector to make a profit on things that are effectively collectivized. I’ve certainly not seen it working well here in California with PG&E.

So I say we just collectivize all of these things. We democratize the process of algorithms instead of allowing our country to be destroyed just so Mark Zuckerberg can add a few dollars to his store of wealth.

Now some may wonder why I had to write an article about this. What I’m proposing is really simple after all. And that’s the thing. Nationalizing general social media companies is distinctly outside the Overton Window. And that’s bizarre because the status quo is to allow the public square to be completely controlled by a few very rich individuals who have very different incentives from what is best for the public.

The Public Square Must Be Public!

So it’s obvious that the public square should be public. Yet we don’t generally talk about this because we are so caught up in a paradigm of socialism vs capitalism. But the progression of capitalism over the years has been to make more and more public space private.

When people like Adam Smith and Thomas Paine were writing, the world was far more public than it is today. It was still possible to go and find farmable land that didn’t belong to anyone. Not so today. Try farming an unused piece of land somewhere near you and see how long it takes for the police to come and arrest you.[1]

This isn’t rocket science. It isn’t brain surgery. It’s something that a toddler could understand. The public square should be public.


[1] Note that so-called libertarians are in favor of everything being private property. It shows that libertarians don’t really care about liberty. They care about private property. This is why a world run by libertarians would be a dystopia.

Image cropped by Stump Speaking by George Caleb Bingham in the public domain.

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!

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.

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.