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.

Beware the Trade: Absentia and Loss

[I love this film and think everyone should see it. But Andrea’s overview is very interesting. Note that it contains a bunch of spoilers! -FM]

Absentia (2011)

Absentia is about loss and torment, elements that form a solid foundation for any horror film. Unfortunately, even with all the missing people, missing pets, and misplaced watches, Absentia is filled more with suspense than scares so if you’re looking for terror and gore, keep moving. However, if you enjoy more cerebral, psychological horror films, this could be your thing.

The opening sequence shows us Trish, a very pregnant young woman as she is replacing the weathered “Have You Seen Me?” flyers that she’d put up some time ago. You might be thinking, as I did, “Oh! That’s sad. She’s expecting a baby and its father is missing. This is going to get dark. Cool!” However, as with all horror/suspense films (good and bad) things are rarely as simple as they first appear.

We soon find out that Trish’s husband, Daniel, has actually been missing for more than just a few weeks. In fact, Trish has endured his loss to an unknown fate for seven years. She has but one small, agonizing step left between her and closure: filing for a certificate of “Death in Absentia.”

The Helpful but Unstable Sister

Fortunately for Trish, she has the support of her younger sister, Callie, who comes to stay after a long absence of her own, one that included a few stints in rehab. Hoping to be a good sister and aunt, Callie hands Trish a little Three Billy Goats Gruff storybook. An absolutely useless trifle to give an expectant mother, but does offer a bit of foreshadowing to the story.

As the sisters get reacquainted Trish talks about how, through the long years of waiting, wondering, and hoping, she has conjured up a multitude of possibilities to explain his disappearance; everything from amnesia to alien abduction. The most comforting of her imaginings is the “amnesiac scenario” in which Daniel was bonked on the head or some such thing, but is alive and well and happy somewhere, just not with her.

She coyly avoids spilling the identity of her mystery sperm donor. But why? Because, that’s why.

The Boyfriend

The detective assigned to Daniel’s missing person case, Ryan Mallory, stops over to check on Trish and it isn’t awkward at all. He is introduced to Callie, heartily agreeing with her that Trish should move to a safer neighborhood, something he’s been encouraging her to do for years.

Being pregnant and inexplicably alone adds leverage to Mallory’s professional concern for her well-being. By now you’ve had time to do the math and know that it is impossible for the little stranger Trish is incubating to belong to her presumably dead husband.

People! Hold back the judgment. She obviously waited at least five years before allowing herself the unprotected comfort of another man. Despite Trish’s adroit avoidance, Callie can clearly see the gun-carrying elephant in the room. Mystery date spotted and no fucks given.

Unfortunately, the closer Trish gets to closure, the weirder things get. Suddenly her dead and very angry husband starts popping up willy-nilly to abuse the shit out of her. Is he truly a vindictive ghost or merely the manifestation of her guilt for even thinking of moving on?

The Man in the Tunnel

Unaware of her sister’s silent suffering, Callie is having a little adventure of her own. During her daily jogs to a local park, she takes a shortcut through a nearby tunnel.

One morning she sees an unconscious man and his stylish pocket watch propped against the wall. Mistaking him for a fellow addict, she dismisses his request for a trade and pleading for her to get a message to his son, Jaime.

Not being a monster, Callie later returns with food for the emaciated man, but he’s moved on. Back at the apartment, she finds bits of old, rusty watches and whatnot on the doorstep of the apartment.

She concludes, as anyone would, that the deranged man had left her a gift in exchange for the meal. Callie heads back to the tunnel, intending to return his magpie treasure, but the man isn’t there.

As she’s leaving the little pile on the ground, a young man walks up with a garbage bag in his hand. He cryptically remarks, “Don’t leave that there” before leaving something there himself. Least helpful Good Samaritan ever.

Calling the Cops

Later, when Callie finds another, more generous stash of found objects under the covers of her perfectly made bed, she contacts the police because she didn’t have the number for the Ghostbusters.

The cops are not amused by being asked to check things out. In their umbrage, the baby-daddy detective and his loathsome, gum-chomping partner, Det Lonergan, accuse Callie of leaving the door unlocked, putting her pregnant sister at risk. How careless to provide a perfect opportunity for someone to enter and not steal anything!

The police remove the evidence, taking note and offense at her dilated pupils. Calling the cops while impaired is never a good idea.

Daniel Returns

Trish is finally ready to move on, willfully ignoring her maybe-ghost-husband who continues to bully her. The “Death in Absentia” certificate and wedding rings go in the drawer with the photo of her and Daniel.

Done and done. But not really.

Daniel suddenly reappears, literally out of nowhere, assaulted, abused, and severely traumatized. After a quick visit to the ER, the doctors discover, somehow, that his stomach is filled with small animal bones. He’s sent home to recover there. Nevermind the fact that he clearly needs a lengthy hospital stay, intense psychiatric treatment, and heavy pain meds. (Trish’s walk-it-off health plan is absolute shit so it’s a good thing he heals quickly.)

There’s no easy explanation for his disappearance or return. The “content amnesiac” hypothesis is out and even the alien-abduction theory is untenable since it’s well known that visitors from space are gentle probers and not given to beating the living hell out of their guests. Maybe when Daniel can speak again the matter will be cleared up.

In the meantime, rather than waiting for Daniel to heal well enough to call his parents, Trish decides she’ll give them the news that their son is alive, sparing them the “just barely” part. While his parents excitedly purchase plane tickets, Trish and Daniel try to reconnect. Not an easy thing to do after seven years, a boyfriend, and an impending birth. But the catharsis of slapping Daniel about the head and neck for putting her through that shit helped a lot.

Say Goodbye to Daniel

Callie is a well-meaning and kind sister-in-law, tending to Daniel while Trish is at work — and out in the garage making out with her cop boyfriend. Just as everyone starts calming the fuck down, Callie’s inadvertent trade deal escalates when the demon monster roach decides that, yes, in fact, take backs are allowed, and resnatches Daniel.

She hysterically explains that to Trish that it was a demon monster roach’s fault, not hers. This is where her one drug-induced hallucination about bugs under her skin comes back to haunt her. To make things worse, her relapse doesn’t go unnoticed and the gum-gnawing dick of a cop notices her dilated pupils. Again.

Daniel hasn’t come home and Trish is asked to file a second missing person report. She considers calling Daniel’s parents, but has no idea how to tell them their son is missing. Again. No. She decides to break the news in person, that way they might not notice the whole pregnancy thing because she can’t even right now.

When a pretzel of a dead man is found at the at the tunnel, conveniently within trotting distance for a pregnant woman, Trish and Callie rush to see if the corpse belongs to anyone they know. Trish is relieved it isn’t Daniel and Callie tells the police that she’d the mangled guy alive just the other day. Well, he’s dead now.

The police identify him as someone who’s been missing since 1995 and that he had a son named Jaime. The police promptly arrest Jaime, now a grown man, after he’s caught leaving an adorable puppy in one of his regular garbage bag deliveries at the tunnel. Missing pets explained, future serial killer pegged.

Callie the Sluth

Frustrated by the relentless incredulity of everyone involved, Callie turns sleuth. According to her thorough movie-Google search, every civilization has stories of unseen terrors, sneaky and quick like trapdoor spiders, pouncing from caves and holes to whisk away their oblivious prey.

These creatures from “underneath” are invisible when they aren’t visible, can pass through solid matter, and make a tidy bed when so inclined. Callie decides that one of these evil, and rather unctuous, demon monster roaches has been lurking underneath the concrete passthrough under the highway since the time it was a mere footpath.

But this particular entity is also quite clever, having adapted from snatching the occasional passerby to a renewable source of victims. Beware the trade! If only the Good Samaritan had said something sooner.

Bye Bye Trish

Daniel’s blissfully relieved parents arrive looking for their son. Trish tell them they’d just missed him and they leave. I suspect they never liked Trish anyway. They may have felt some comfort if they had known that Trish and her unborn baby would be dragged away by the demon monster roach later that night.

Callie had warned her, but once a victim of a mental health crisis always a liar. Distraught, Callie comes up with a plan to get her sister back. She prints out the results of her extensive online research, placing it in an envelope to be found by the boyfriend detective.

Trade!

In a final expression of sisterly love, Callie faces the tunnel and offers herself as a trade. Why she anticipates her sister and not a handful of buttons, there’s no telling. But the sound of previous victims screaming, “Pick me! Pick me!” assures her that nothing could go wrong and her sacrifice will totally be worth it.

Breathlessly waiting for the fulfillment of the exchange, Callie is horrified to find that she hadn’t made her expectation of would be tossed back from underneath. It seems that demon monster roaches are devious fuckers. Rather than returning Trish, the demon monster roach bastard spits out her unborn child.

This is by far the best moment in the movie and not nearly enough time or effort was spent on it. It took a moment to even realize it was supposed to be a fetus and not a spleen. A truly impressive concept poorly executed.

The end of the movie brings us back to where we started, except now it’s the mourning detective who is stapling up flyers, asking anyone to call with information about Trish and Callie. When he sees a broken Callie standing in the entrance of the tunnel, his cop instincts kick in. No point in getting close enough to see her dilated pupils, so he walks away.


Absentia poster taken under Fair use.

Odds and Ends Vol 32: Psychotronic Review Edition

Odds and Ends

I’m on vacation and I feel like I’ve already done my civic duty by watching the final presidential debate. And that was some major pain!

The more I see of Biden, the more that I like him. Just the same, it is very clear what the argument for him is: normalcy.

A lot of people are applauding moderator Kristen Welker. I didn’t think she did a good job. But really: no one could do a good job. With someone who is willing to break all norms and lie constantly, pretty much every part of society breaks down.

The fact that 40 percent of the nation still likes Trump shows that 40 percent of the nation is made up of authoritarian followers. I admit: Trump comes off in these debates as more dominant in the way that one dog might dominate another. But does that matter when it comes to being the president?

He plays second-fiddle to most world leaders — as he does to Mitch McConnell at home. It’s all fake. In his bluster we see all of his insecurities. And people with even a modest amount of cunning use it against him.

So let’s forget all that and talk about all the cool stuff that’s been happening at Psychotronic Review!

Christopher R Mihm

There’s a writer-director of direct-to-video films made primarily in the style of 1950s science fiction and horror. They are often amusing but that isn’t so much the point of them. They are more loving tributes of these earlier films — generally better than the originals.

Mihm is a prolific guy. He’s made one film each year since 2016. (The film for this year has been delayed due to the pandemic.) And I watched them all and wrote a 4,000-word discussion of each with stuff about his work in general and specific actors (he has something of a stable).

At this time, all but two of his films are available on Amazon Prime for free. I recommend checking them out!

Diani & Devine

About a year ago, Elizabeth and I began looking for ways to watch films together. Eventually, we settled on a great service, Watch2gether. Lots of services allow you to watch and text. But W2G allows you to talk. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work with things like Amazon Prime. So now we combine services when necessary: using W2G for voice and Amazon with its Watch Party.

This has also allowed me to watch films with Andrea, which we haven’t been able to do much in recent years. And since our relationship is heavily film-oriented, this is great. She suggested that we watch a 2011 horror-comedy, The Selling.

It introduced us to a really good comedy team, Diani & Devine. They remind me a bit of Nichols and May with Etta Devine getting the more outrageous parts and Gabriel Diani usually playing the reasonably normal man in an insane world.

Check out my article, Diani & Devine, How Hollywood Sucks, and One Reason to Be Hopeful. They’ve made two excellent films and they are both on Amazon Prime for free!

John Carpenter’s Vampires

I saw John Carpenter’s Vampires in the theater. And I liked it. I noticed that it didn’t do well and that a lot of critics didn’t much like it so I bought the Blu-ray and created a complete review of it. (One thing that annoys me is when people review a DVD or Blu-ray as a straight film review. Read my review and you will see the difference.) It also includes overviews of all the other releases of this film (there are a lot).

I could have written about Vampires on Frankly Curious. Although I admire the film in most ways, it is filled with toxic masculinity. The main character Jack (played by James Woods) is just awful. It wouldn’t be hard to say the same thing about Snake Plissken. But he abuses bad guys. Jack treats everyone badly.

Now I understand: apologists would say, “He’s just kidding!” But if you’ve spent any time around bullies, you know that “just kidding around” is one of the most common claims made by bullies. “Why are you hitting yourself?” is supposed to be a joke.

The Gates of Hell Trilogy

Lucio Fulci was one of the greatest Italian horror directors. From 1980 through 1981, he released three Lovecraft-style horror films known as The Gates of Hell trilogy.

It’s interesting what my love of these films shows about my evolving tastes. I suspect that 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have cared that much for them. But over time, I have come to appreciate what I would call “pure horror.” It doesn’t matter to me if things make sense. In fact, it is often the attempt to explain that ruins films.

This was seen a lot in 1950s science fiction films where the writers went out of their way to provide preposterous explanations for what was going on. It’s so common that I rather like it the way you might come to appreciate a horrible scar on a lover. I’m happy every time I learn that Glenn Manning is going to die because his heart is only increasing in size at half the rate of the rest of his body.

The Gates of Hell films aren’t like that. But they also don’t exactly explain anything. For example, in City of the Living Dead, the four main characters are discussing what to do next. Suddenly, the doors fly open and a wind of thousands of maggots are blown all over them. Why? I don’t know! But it’s creepy, disgusting, and effective!

I Survived a Zombie Holocaust

Let me leave you with another nice discovering: I Survived a Zombie Holocaust. It’s a New Zealand film about people making a zombie film when there is a zombie outbreak and they are attacked. It’s not as good as The Selling, but it’s a lot of fun and very funny throughout the first hour.

I Survived a Zombie Holocaust is playing over at Psychotronic Review. Watch it now!

Until Next Time

This is my last day of vacation. I may be really busy when I get back. Then again, I may be looking for anything to avoid paying work. So maybe I’ll do something here.