Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Self Publishing: Lessons One Month In

 It's a little over a months since Unstable Felicity became available, and as of now the novel is at last available in audiobook as well as ebook and paperback.  (If you're interested in getting a copy search "Unstable Felicity" on the iTunes store, or check out one of these sites: GooglePlay, Chirp,   Some services, notably Amazon's partner site Audible are still taking their time.)  So it seems like a good time to return to the self publishing topic and talk a bit about what we've learned.  

Going into this, I described how I had a business plan for our Christmas book venture, but also that I didn't know how well that plan would go.  No plan, as they say, survives contact with the enemy -- or in this case simply with reality.  A key aspect of that business plan was that I'd use advertising (primarily on Facebook and Amazon) to find readers who we did not know personally and build momentum for the book.  In my rough estimation, I planned to spend $6,000 on advertising over the sixty days of November and December and in the process sell 3,400 copies.

Well, I'll be honest: as of this moment I am spending $0 per day on advertising and we've sold a total of 274 copies so far.  What happened?

Advertising profitably depends on a ratio: the cost of acquiring each reader via advertising must be lower than the amount of revenue you get from that reader.  After some initial testing to figure out what kind of advertising got potential readers to click through at the best rates, out cost of acquiring a reader was averaging just over $4.  The problem was, our revenue per reader was a little under $2 (once you averaged across paperbacks, ebooks, and KindleUnlimited readers.)  If increased my advertising spend, this ratio tended to get a little worse, because my cost per click for advertising and the conversation rate of potential customers reaching the Amazon page got a bit worse.  What I'd take this to mean is that at a low rate of spending, Facebook and Amazon were putting our ads in front of the potential customers most likely to respond to the ads.  As we increased our budget, they ran out of those best prospects and started putting the ads in front of less likely prospects.  

After trying to increase the click through on the ads or increase the conversation rate of potential customers reaching the Amazon page, I did the only rational thing which was to turn off the ads about ten days ago.

This hasn't meant going to zero sales.  We were averaging 3.5 copies per day before I shut off advertising, and now we're averaging 1.5 copies per day.  Some of this, I think, is continued sell through from our social network.  Some is probably referrals as people who already read and liked the book tell others about it.

So where do we go from here?  We've sold 274 copies so far and had over 15,000 page-reads on KindleUnlimited (KindleUnlimited measures the book as 200 pages long so that's the equivalent of another 75 copies.)  That's not nothing, but it's also pretty small for a book.

In the short term, we have two more things to try.  On December 8th we'll start a Kindle Countdown Deal, which is a temporary price reduction on the ebook to $0.99 for one week.  While we're running that price promotion, I've scheduled for us to be featured on eight discount newsletters, each of which goes out to a couple hundred thousand subscribers.  I'm hoping that will not only move a number of copies, but also move the book up the Amazon rankings to the point where the Amazon algorithms start recommending it to likely readers.  

Also, there's the possibility that here in the post-Thanksgiving period more people are interesting in Christmas themed books than in early November when I was last running advertising, so I'm going to run some advertising again at the same time and see if our click through and conversion rates are better.  Perhaps it will even be profitable to keep advertising running for a while after the discount is over.

In the longer term, a solution to this is to improve the revenue per customer side of the equation.  Right now we have only one book that is out, which means that even if a reader really likes the novel (and reader reviews have indeed been quite positive) we don't have another one for them to buy.  One of the things that I've read is key to a lot of self-published authors making a profit is having a large backlist, so that if a reader likes one of their books that reader can go on to read a number of other books. Obviously, not every reader does this, but having the potential for sell-through to other books increases the average revenue-per-reader and thus could make it profitable to advertise.

We'll know how these short term solutions work out in a few weeks, and I'll report back that that time.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

SCOTUS Ruling on COVID Worship Restrictions

 A quick note on yesterday's Supreme Court ruling on COVID restrictions on religious worship, as there's a lot of hyperbole flying around.

The court granted a stay to enforcement of Cuomo's executive orders which limited religious worship in "red" zones to 10 people or less and in "orange" zones to 25 people or less.  In both cases, those limits did not vary based on the capacity of the building, so a cathedral with a capacity of 2,000 in a red zone would be limited to 10 people.

The contention of the cases (brought by the Catholic diocese of Brooklyn and by several Jewish congregations) was that houses of worship were singled out by the execute order in a way that other forms of business were not.  Additionally, the case from the Jewish congregations held that Governor Cuomo had made remarks suggesting he would single out Jewish congregations for enforcement and had gerrymandered the borders of declared "red" zones specifically to include Jewish congregations.

The court found:  "Both the Diocese and Agudath Israel maintain that the regulations treat houses of worship much more harshly than comparable secular facilities. And they tell us without contradiction that they have complied with all public health guidance, have implemented additional precautionary measures, and have operated at 25% or 33% capacity for months without a single outbreak....The applicants have made a strong showing that the challenged restrictions violate “the minimum requirement of neutrality” to religion."

This does not mean that there can be no restrictions on houses of worship due to Covid, nor does it throw out such restrictions all over the country.  It does not mean that regulations requiring social distancing, masks, etc. to avoid spread do not apply to houses of worship.  It grants relief to the New York litigants while they pursue their case and it establishes the principle that houses of worship must not be subject to harsher capacity limits than "essential" businesses.

A key point of difference between the five justice majority and the four justice dissent was whether houses of worship should be compared with "essential" businesses or whether houses of worship were being treated fairly so long as they were not being treated worse than "similar" establishments such as theaters or concerts.  

The majority held that the executive order failed to meet the standard of strict scrutiny because it singled out houses of worship, because it was too broad in not taking into account building capacity, and because the state did not show any evidence that houses of worship which observed social distancing and reduced capacity limitations similar to "essential" businesses were in fact spreaders of the virus.  

You can read the full opinion here.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

What To Make of the Dominion Hacking Claims

 I said I'd write one more post on the various claims about how the election was "stolen" from Donald Trump and address the various claims that center around Dominion Voting Systems, a manufacturer of voting hardware and software which the Trump legal team, particularly lawyer Sidney Powell, have singled out as a suspicious actor in the election.

In the end, it's a bit hard to address, because the claims are many and sometimes vague and thus it's hard to refute them.  In their press conference, Giuliani pitched Powell's claims as showing that many of our ballots are counted outside the country, indeed in Venezuela.  They never provide any evidence to back this up, and indeed I think maybe Giuliani mis-spoke, since Powell never claimed that ballots were transported outside the country for counting.  (In point of fact, ballots are almost invariably counted at the election board of each county.  With just over three thousand counties in the US, this means that the counting operation is incredibly distributed, though obviously a handful of really large counties have a particularly big effect on the outcome of each state.

What Powell did spend a lot of time in her part of the press conference is trying to tie Dominion Voting Systems to another company called Smartmatic.  Smartmatic was founded in Florida, but some of its founders are from Venezuala, and it provided voting systems to Venezuala in 2004 for the referendum on whether or not to recall Hugo Chavez.  How fair that election (which kept Chavez in power) was remains in question.  

However, Smartmatic's only US customer at this point is Los Angeles, which is not one of the ones which Donald Trump is alleged to have come close to winning. The connection to Dominion is that back in the early 2000s Smartmatic briefly owned another voting technology company called Sequoia.  Sequoia was sold to a group of investors in 2007.  In 2010 Dominion (which was founded in Canada back in 2002) bought some of Sequoia's assets before Sequoia finally went bankrupt in 2014.  (You can read this piece from The Dispatch for more detail.)  So the claim is that somehow Venezuelan hacking technology designed for Hugo Chavez was introduced into Sequoia products by Smartmatics and that Dominion then moved that hacked technology into their products, and that now Venezuela and the Democrats are in cahoots to use Dominion to hack the election.

How all this is happening is not very clear from Powell's explanation.  She says in her press conference that it's so easy anyone can hack one of these systems and set it to count the votes according to some ratio. She suggests that they may have been programmed to count every Biden vote as 1.25 while counting every Trump vote as only .75.  However, she says that we might never have known about all this except that the support for Trump was so overwhelming that the vote counting had to be stopped in key states in the middle of the night and the cheating adjusted.  From her comments, it sounds like she believes this both involved introducing fake ballots and also tweaking these ratios by which the vote counters were allegedly mis-counting votes.

Part of the problem is that there are a lot of allegations, but few of them are very specific, and so it's hard to disprove them.  Yes, some minor details are clearly wrong.  For instance, Powell seems to claim that Smartmatic, Sequoia, and Dominion are in fact all one company but they keep changing their name.  This is factually untrue.  But the history of these companies isn't something that people are interested in.  What people are interested in is the vote.

In regards to how the vote was allegedly hacked, Powell provides multiple possible ways and doesn't commit herself to how many votes in which specific jurisdictions she thinks are fake, so without hard claims it's hard to try to refute anything.

One element that did occur to me, however, is that it might be interested to look at examples of counties that were counted by Dominion machines versus other machines.  It so happens that here in Ohio we have just such a situation.  Dominion is one of the approved providers of voting machines, and some counties use them, but other counties don't.  

Powell alleges that Dominion system were probably set on a national basis to overcount Biden votes and undercount Trump votes.  So it stand to reason that if we compared a county using Dominion systems with similar nearby counties that didn't, we'd see a "Biden shift" in the Dominion counties.

First off, in the northwest quarter of the state, let's compare Hancock and Hardin counties which used Dominion technology with Henry, Putnam, and Allen, which used two different types of systems from Election Systems & Software of Omaha, Nebraska.  (If Nebraska isn't enough of a red state bona fide, note that ES&S's address is on John Galt Blvd.)  All five counties are solidly GOP counties.  Hardin voted 76% for Trump in 2020 and 75% for Trump in 2016.  Hancock voted 69% for Trump in 2020 and 72% for Trump in 2016.  Both of those used Dominion machines.  Now to look at neighboring counties using ES&S machines, Henry went 72% for Trump in 2020 and 71% for Trump in 2016.  Putnam went 84% for Trump in both years.  Allen was 70% for Trump both times.

Now let's look in the southeast part of the state where a different set of Dominion voting hardware is used.  We'll look at Harrison and Guemsey which use Dominion and compare them with Tuscarawas which uses ES&S and Carroll which uses technology from Clear Ballot Group, Inc of Boston, MA.  Results?

Harrison (Dominion): 77% Trump 2020, 75% Trump 2016
Guernsey (Dominion): 74% Trump 2020, 72% Trump 2016
Tuscarawas (ES&S): 70% Trump 2020, 69% Trump 2016
Carroll (Clear Ballot): Carroll 77% Trump 2020, 74% Trump 2016

It does not look to me like there is any discernable difference in how Trump did in the counties using Dominion vote counting technology versus those using other companies.  This would seem to be at least some evidence that Dominion machines are not nationally pre-programmed to give Biden an extra advantage, nor hacked to deliver an advantage partway through.  Of course, this doesn't show that such a thing wasn't done elsewhere.  But at least it would seem like some kind of evidence against the claim that this was done nationally.

Friday, November 20, 2020

No, Big City Corruption Didn't Provide Biden's Victory

 One of the most common claims flying around as people try to dispute the election results is that Trump would have won except for corrupt election officials creating huge numbers of extra Biden votes in a four key, heavily Democratic cities.  This piece from the site American Greatness makes the standard version of the claim:

"He won the election. But when that fact was becoming clear on Election Night as results started coming in from the bellwethers, Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Atlanta stopped counting votes. Then around 4 a.m., they started counting votes again. And wouldn’t you know it, it turns out that those cities all happened to have turned out for Biden in exactly the numbers he needed to win those key states—turnout far greater than for Obama in 2008 and 2012."

It's not actually particularly hard to see that this is not the case.  For starters, Biden's vote share was not significantly more in these four big cities than Clinton's was in 2016.  (This website is really handy for checking count level vote comparisons.)

As you can see, although the number of votes increased significantly in all four cities, and Biden won each one by a large margin, Trump actually increased his share of the vote in Detroit and Philadelphia.

Even so, because the vote is so tilted in Biden's favor, if the number of votes in those four big cities had increased much more than the rest of the states, it would have had the effect of increasing the Democratic share of the vote in the state as a whole.  

Only in Georgia did the big city vote increase by a larger percentage than the state vote as a whole.  This hardly seems like an indication of manufactured votes in the big cities swamping the votes of the rest of the state.

Let's also look at the increase in the absolute vote margin in the big cities versus the margin by which Biden won each state.

Only in Georgia is the increase in the big city absolute vote margin greater than the margin by which Biden won the state in 2020.  In Wisconsin it's close.  And in Philadelphia, about which we've heard the most allegations from Trump's legal team about to big city shenanigans, Biden's absolute vote margin was actually lower than Clinton's absolute vote margin.  This hardly seems like evidence that it was tens or hundreds of thousands of fake ballots in big cities that swung the election.  

And remember, to reverse the election results, Trump would need to flip three of the four states.  

Does this prove that no "funny business" went on?  No.  Someone playing with numbers online cannot prove such a thing one way or the other.  But the claim which has been circulating that the big city vote counts obviously show signs of tampering is clearly not persuasive.  The big city vote ratios changed very little from 2016 to 2020, with Trump doing better in two and worse in two.  And the big city turnout did not grow in massive disproportion to the vote count as a whole.  This was a high turnout election in which many Americans went to the polls, but the numbers in the cities are not suspiciously high.

I'll do one more election post, hopefully over the weekend, dealing with another claim that's getting a lot of play: that somehow vote counting machines in many counties all over the country were hacked and used to swing the election results in Biden's favor.  

Why I Stick With The GOP

It's a crazy time in politics, and it's depressing to see Trump allies throwing up all sorts of conspiracy theories in support of the idea that the election was "stolen".  A few principled Republicans with very safe seats (Sasse, Romney, etc.) are not going along with this, but many in the party are taking the approach of not arguing publicly with a set of claims which is appealing to a base feeling the strong pangs of disappointment after an election night when on the surface it looked like Trump might have pulled off another upset win.  We've actually seen this kind of hesitance to condemn bad behavior before.  Last fall I read Nixonland and The Invisible Bridge: the Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, both by Rick Perlstein.  They're far from perfect books.  Perlstein basically seems to read a ton of newspapers from the period and write his books as a synthesis of everything that was in the news at the time.  It's a good way to be reminded of just how crazy some of the recent history of our country is, but he's not digging into primary sources and interviews the way that Robert Caro did with his magisterial biographies of LBJ.  And Perlstein is clearly a solid man of left who dislikes Reagan at least as much as he dislikes Nixon.  Still, one of the things that really struck me is that in general the GOP voters mostly stuck by Nixon throughout his fall.  And because they didn't want to upset GOP voters, GOP politicians stuck with him too.  Indeed, Reagan was one of the more persistent defenders of Nixon even after Nixon resigned.


I think at root, voters really hate to hear that someone they supported is not a good politician or is not a good person.  This happens on both sides.  Look at how the Democrats sheltered people like Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy years and years after it was clear what terrible people they were.  And Reagan was someone who had a very good instinct for what voters wanted.  They didn't want a repeat of the Nixon years, with their cheating and negativity, but they also didn't want to be told that they'd picked someone who was bad.  So Reagan studiously avoided rubbing their noses in having picked Nixon, he even defended Nixon (and thus their choice as voters.)  And yet he also gave them a very different kind of politics.

Still, it's depressing to see a party lining up to protect a politician who at this point is pretty clearly trying to cast doubt on an election that he simply lost, however narrowly.  And given that, I've been asked at times why it is that I still talk about being a Republican.  If Trump hasn't driven me out already, what would it take to have me stop identifying with the GOP?  Here's my answer.

At the end of the day: We currently have two viable parties in this country. There is no path to the Democrats ever being a party that I would identify with. Their core platform is one I disagree with on nearly every point, and some of their most passionately held beliefs are ones I consider deeply evil. The intellectual core of the party at this point seems to be rootless urban millennials who think socialism would be a good thing to try. Perhaps the only thing I agree with the Dems on much at all is immigration, and even there they seem more interested in having a tame voting block than actually helping people legally and culturally integrate into our country. So what's clear to me is that wherever I'm going to cast my lot, I'll never be a Democrat. I respect that there are people who are deeply devoted to a much more expansive state while still having Christian moral beliefs, and that some of those people choose to devote themselves to efforts like Democrats For Life, but I don't share their political beliefs that keep them attached to that party, so there's zero reason for me to attempt a similar compromise. I've voted for Democrats on occasion, but only as a strategic choice to try to eliminate a particular lower level GOP office holder and see a better one get run by the GOP next time. I don't ever see that changing.

So that leaves me with either being fiercely non-aligned or sticking it out with the GOP. As it happens, I do agree with most of what the GOP stood for during the period from 5-30 years ago. There are current GOP senators and governors that I'd very much like to see president. There is conscious willingness within the GOP to give space to and even support moral beliefs that I hold to be true and foundational to society.

Further, most of the conservative/GOP writers that I respected before the Trump era have hung tough against Trump. I find nothing to wince at in reading a Ramesh Ponnuru or Jonah Goldberg or Kevin Williamson or David French column. Whereas I didn't like Fox News in the first place, so I'm hardly surprised to see their low rent demagoguery which was bad in 2012 and 2008 and 2004 and 2000 remain bad in 2016 and 2020. On the positive side, we've even seen some great new venues get started as a result of the fall of the mainstream right. The Dispatch is an absolutely outstanding venue and group of writers/editors and has jumped to be one of the biggest substack venues in just a year.

For someone as naturally partisan as myself, being semi-attached to a party and voting in its primaries is far more attractive than being non-aligned. And the simple fact is, for all the problems which Trump has made clear (and it's no surprise that there are a lot of gullible, stupid, and even wicked people in any coalition which makes up roughly half the country) there are half a dozen prominent Republicans I would be happy to see in the White House and there is not a single Democrat I would be entirely happy to see there, though there are perhaps one or two (John Bel Edwards, perhaps?) I could reconcile to with relative equanimity.

So my question is not so much "Why would I remain aligned with the GOP?" but rather "Why would I not?"

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Do the Election Results "Smell Funny"?

I've had people ask me in messages about the election numbers, and I see various posts getting shared about how the election results "smell wrong".  The example that I share here is just one that I happened to take a few minutes to argue against today, but I've seen many similar claims.

The problem with all of the analyses that I've seen has been that they're selective in the numbers they show and the context in order to make them sound bad when full context removes any "wrong smell".

In that linked article I think that Horowitz intentionally selects which of his numbers to talk about in such a way as to make his case sound more probable when it just isn't. For instance, he says:

"We see that Trump's share of the vote grew modestly, as we would expect with him generally performing better among black voters than four years ago. But Biden's growth is unfathomable. The entire county grew by roughly 50,000 people (4.8%), but Biden managed to expand the Democrat vote share by 98,000 (35%)."

The statistic he fails to quote is that Trump's number of votes increased by 24% or 26,000 votes from 2016 to 2020. If the Atlanta vote was being controlled by Democratic-run fraud, does it make any sense that they would manufacture a 24% increase in Donald Trump's votes in an urban area where he's generally unpopular?

He also says:

"It just seems that Biden achieved nearly impossible turnout levels just in the areas of the four or so states that he needed to do so. It's very hard to see how just in these places, he crushed Obama's turnout numbers that seem nearly impossible as a share of the population"

Well, in Fulton County which he's talking about, in 2008 44% of the county voted. In 2020 49% of the county voted. Is it really shocking? Yes, in 2016 and 2012 it was 40%, but 49% is hardly a crazy number.

But Horowitz says it's totally unbelievable that the number of votes cast in Fulton county increased 28% from 2016 to 2020. I went and looked up the increase in total votes cast for the top three deep red counties in Georgia:

Cherokee 31% increase

Forsyth 33% increase

Hall 29% increase

So I really don't think we can say that the 28% increase in Fulton is impossible.

Further, when I go look up the populations of those three Trump counties, I find that in Cherokee 56% of the population cast votes, in Forsyth 58% cast votes, and in Hall 44% cast votes. That seems to suggest that the 49% voting rate of Fulton is by no means impossible.

(A good tool for looking at county level results and comparing to 2020 votes to 2016 votes is the map-based visualization here.  I also did a bunch of googling for county populations and such.)

Remember, the Dems and elite establishment went into this election thinking that Trump (whose approval ratings have always been below 50%) would be routed at a historic level.  Trump did significantly better than expected.  Down ballot Republicans did even better.  If there was rampant fraud across multiple states manipulating vote totals, does it make any sense that the fraudsters would have not bothered to win some more close Senate races and would have given Trump an increase in Black and Hispanic support which no one expected?

This was a historically high turnout election.  The Democrats worked very hard to get people to vote, yet at the same time ended up inspiring almost as many people to vote against them.  Trump lost by small but not tiny margins in multiple key states.  The votes have been counted.  The election is over.  Trump lost.  

Now people need to stop wasting energy on wishing that it hadn't gone that way and forwarding around pieces which (though shared in good faith) are often being created by people who are knowing lying.  We have elections in Georgia to win to keep the Senate.  We have a post-Trump strategy to figure out for the GOP.  But people should stop it with the "wait till the votes are counted" line.  They've been counted.  They're not fraudulent.  There are not huge, unbelievable increases in Biden support that suggest tens of thousands of fake ballots swung the election.  In big cities which are Democratic strongholds Biden did within a couple percent of how he did last time, sometimes a bit better, sometimes a bit worse, but there just aren't crazy outlier numbers. 

Biden won.

Conservative media need to stop feeding this stupidity.  It's easy to cherry pick some numbers and present them in a way that makes people feel like they sound off.  But this has progressed to the point where it's lies and wishful thinking.  Conservative writers must stop writing this stuff.  (The president must stop as well -- but it's been clear for years that no one can get Trump to stop anything.)  It's not doing anyone any good at this point, and it's needlessly hurting people's faith in our republic which, for all its faults, does in fact hold elections which are free and fair.

Fisking Giuliani's Election Fraud Claims

 A friend that I respect challenged me to watch Rudy Giuliani's press conference attempting to lay out evidence in support of the claim that the election was stolen, and since I'm somehow in a fighting mood tonight I went ahead and watch all 37 minutes while documenting my rebuttals.  I provide it for your enjoyment or what you will.  Here's the video:

His first claim is that on the evening of election day, Trump was way ahead in Pennsylvania, and yet he lost the state in the end. He says he has statisticians who will testify this is almost impossible. This chestnut is already old. Trump was ahead on election night because Pennsylvania had not passed legislation allowing mail-in ballots to be opened and prepared for counting ahead of time. This meant that they counted the in-person ballots first and then started counting the mail in ballots. Since Trump had told his supporters not to trust mail in ballots, while the Dems had pushed hard for their supporters to use mail in ballots, it makes total sense that the day of ballots would be heavily GOP while the mail in ballots would be heavily Dem. In neighboring Ohio, where the mail in ballots were prepped and run through the counters on the morning of election day, Biden started out ahead but as the day-of votes came in the state swiftly swung toward Trump. If PA had counted mail in ballots first, it would have been much more clear and orderly.

He then says this pattern repeated in a number of states. That's true: it repeated in states that counted day of votes first and mail in votes second.

He says this is big city focused and specifically cites Philly. That's a funny kind of fraud, because in Philadelphia County Biden only did 7,000 votes better than Clinton did in 2016, whereas Trump did 22,000 votes better in 2020 than he did in 2016. If Democrats had committed that kind of voter fraud everywhere, Trump would have won.

(One great resource is this interactive map which allows you to compare vote tallies for 2016 and 2020 by county.)

He's right that inspectors should be allowed to be close enough to see, but in fact the envelopes are kept from the mail in ballots. So if the Trump campaign is actually sure that a huge percentage of them were filled out wrong, not signed, or whatever, they could file to have the envelopes inspected. We would not know which votes were from the bad envelopes, but if a large percentage of them were not from real voters, signed, etc. then the election result could be questioned at that time. The fact that they're not doing that suggests that they don't actually think that ballots were bad. The Trump team is claiming the votes should be thrown out due to the process of not getting access but is not citing any evidence that the votes were actually bad. Indeed, when pressed by the judge in court Giuliani admitted "This is not a fraud case."

Utterly weird claim: There were only two counties where he believes Republicans were not allowed sufficient access to inspect the opening of mail in ballots. But because in some parts of the state Republican observers didn't have enough access to watch, while in the vast majority Republican observers did have enough access, that represents a lack of "equal protection" (different parts of the state were treated differently) and therefore ALL of the mail in ballots should be thrown out.


The requested remedy here bears no relation to the claimed problem to be addressed.

Next claim: In some parts of the state voters who made mistakes on their mail-in ballots were given a chance to come in and "cure" their ballots before the election day, while other areas didn't offer this chance.

It's worth noting along the way that all areas were told to allow voters to cure ballot mistakes, it was only a few GOP leaning counties which refused to follow those instructions because they believed they violated election law.

Arguably, it is unfair there was this disparity. However the remedy he wants is again irrational. Instead of throwing out the "cured" ballots (which are only a few thousand ballots and must certainly include at least some for Trump) he want all the mail in ballots thrown out instead on an equal protection claim. This is nonesense.

Next, he tries what he himself calls circumstantial evidence: many people showed up on election day in Pittsburg and were told they had "already voted" via an absentee ballot and thus had to cast a provisional ballot.

Okay, number one, they're not told that they've already voted. The mail in ballots have not yet been counted, so it's not known on election day if they voted or not. What they're told is that they've received an absentee ballot and that they thus need to cast a provisional ballot which will only be counted if they didn't already vote.

Working all day in Ohio as a poll worker, I can tell you that a number of people who came in to vote had received an absentee ballot and thus had to vote provisionally. The vast majority admitted they'd asked for an absentee ballot, but said they hadn't sent it in. A few didn't recall.

But also, he makes this sound more dire than it is by quoting raw numbers. Fifteen thousand people had this happen. Heavens to Betsy! That's a lot! Does it mean, as he alleges, that the Democratic machine had been filling out absentee ballots willy nilly and this was the cause?


But further, compare it to the scale of the vote in Pittsburgh: 722k people voted. That means on 0.2% of people who came to vote were told they'd already requested an absentee ballot and thus had to vote provisionally. 0.2% Trump lost PA by 1.2% or 6x that figure.

No Democrat has ever been made to swear to tell the truth under penalty of perjury? What is he thinking. We know one Democrat who definitely was made to swear to tell the truth under penalty of perjury because Bill Clinton straight up committed perjury and was disbarred for it. Sheesh, why throw in extra lies for no reason.

He tries to make all sorts of hay out of the couple counties the the mail in ballot opening (not even enough to swing the election) was not inspected from close up enough by the Republican observers, but the numbers simply do not add up. This did not apply to enough ballots to have provided the margin of victory.

He now moves to Michigan, where he is going to try to argue that fraud somehow resulted in Trumps 160,000 vote loss.

His basis for this is an affidavit claiming that some election officials were teaching election workers to back date absentee ballots and that some Detroit election workers coached voters.

Well, if there was fraud in Detroit it wasn't very effective, because Trump actually improved on his percent of the vote there versus 2016. Trump went from 30.7% in 2016 to 31.0% in 2020. Whatever swung the state for Biden, it does not appear to be that.

Then he says that we know that in Philly people come over to vote all the time. Well, maybe so, but if so it was the wrong people, because as we already discussed Trump did 2.5% better in 2020 than he did in 2016. Is Giuliani trying to say that Trump voters were from across the river?

Oh, but it was allowed to happen because it is "a Democrat, corrupt city and has been for years". Because Philly is corrupt, the machine faked a vote which was better for Trump than in 2016. Yes, that is what our brilliant lawyer just told us.

Now he's back with the lady in Michigan. She now claims in her affidavit that she saw a lot of people voting twice -- voting again when they had already received and voted an absentee ballot. Now, she was just a precinct election official like me, so it can be understood if she doesn't understand everything, but what she's saying is something shouldn't possibly have known. She can have known that they received an absentee ballot. I knew this myself in many cases and sent those people over to the table to vote provisionally. But she can't have known that they actually voted those absentee ballots because the Michigan absentee ballots hadn't even been counted yet on election day. That was another state that did not start opening absentee ballots early.

He is right that the behavior of the Lincoln project (he doesn't name them, but I will) in doxxing lawyers working on the election cases in reprehensible. But it's about the only right thing he's said in the first 20 minutes of the video.

He claims that there were 60,000 to 100,000 ballots, all for Biden, with no down ballot votes, which were delivered in the middle of the night to swing the vote for Biden in Detroit.

That can't possibly be because if we look at the statewide vote for senator, there were 863k votes cast in Wayne County MI, only 11k less than the 874k cast for president. Democrat Gary Peters running for Senate got 582k votes to Biden's 597k, 15k less.

And, as noted earlier, Trump actually did slightly better in Wayne County in 2020 than he did in 2016.

He now claims that there were about 300,000 illegitimate ballots cast in Michigan and that they were "mostly in Detroit".

This means that he thinks that the total number of votes cast in Detroit fell by 200k versus 2016 and that after losing the county 69 to 31 in 2016 Trump got basically 50% of the vote in 2020?

Talk about election numbers that would smell funny...

Next he goes to Wisconsin, where he claims that 60,000 votes in Milwaukee Counter were absentee ballots that were never really applied for. Milwaukee County had exactly the same vote split in 2020 as 2016: 70% Dem, 30% GOP. Both side got out more votes, with 36,000 more votes being cast, but the split shifted only by a few basis points, a rounding error in the vote percent.

How does it make any sense that Democrats faked 13% of the total vote cast, and yet all that work for which people could spend years in federal prison was done... in order to get exactly the same percent of votes as last time? If they were so good at faking votes, wouldn't they at least have increased their percent of the vote?

I suppose one could theorize that there was a sudden, huge swing to Trump's favor in a historically 70% Dem city, and that this was only counteracted by massive and sophisticated Democratic machine fraud which somehow produced the appearance of a higher turnout election with exactly the same vote split as before... But it seems to me like if the Dems had manufactured a ton of votes, the result would have been that they'd have a higher share of votes than before.

Moreover, if the fraud did not clearly and materially change the election result, then there's no reason for the courts to prevent certification of the election and so his loss is certified.

Next he claims that in multiple precincts 200% to 300% of the people who are registered to vote, voted.

Well, you can view the turnout by ward here.

I downloaded the data. One ward had higher than 100% turnout. It's supposed to have four registered voters and five people voted. I'll concede the point to Trump and sing up for throwing out five votes.

He finishes with a roundup of all his wild claims. It's impressive in a way:

I feel like I should have something more than this, but the thing that has me wanting to put holes in drywall is that there's really not much sophistication to this. He throws out lots of claims, but it only take a couple minutes of googling to see why each one doesn't make sense. The idea that there was some massive, organized, multi-state conspiracy to steal the election, centrally organized by Biden and the Democratic Party, and yet the result was this squeaker of an election in which the Dems didn't get the Senate and lost most of their House majority -- the claim just doesn't make sense. We know the Democrats. They're not competent enough to organize a leak proof conspiracy. And the things which are supposed to be suspicious about this election don't really look that odd once you look into them for a few minutes.

The problem is that the incompetent election administration in key states (with all the in-person votes being counted first and then all the mail in ballots) gave people a set of false expectations with Trump's early leads that appeared on election night, and now in the vacuum abhorring world of social media people are dredging up theories to explain away the election. And, of course, stories that explain people's priors spread way faster than ones which point out what really happened.

I only hope that all this irresponsible behavior on the part of the president and his acolytes doesn't get rank and file Republican so discouraged about our elections that they don't turn out in January and we proceed to lose the Senate run-offs in Georgia. That would be a very Trump-ish legacy for the GOP but I don't hate us enough to wish it upon the country.

Edgar Allen Poe's Murder Mystery Dinner Party

 It's been a week of ups and downs and sore disappointments, but our college girl is coming home for the semester on Tuesday. (Classes and finals will be online, and campus is shutting down, for the most part.) As the kids have been eating boxed take-out meals from the cafeteria, which they can consume either outside in a tent or alone in their rooms, the sadness of losing the last week with friends is lessened by the prospect of eating hot, homemade food indoors.

Still, it's been a rollercoaster as the situation has evolved day by day. We had been looking forward to hosting some college friends for Thanksgiving (insert here the obligatory caveat about our family being fairly isolated these days, alas, and the college kids being in a fairly healthy bubble). But now of course everyone is going home, and we're bummed not to meet the pals.

So let's have a virtual dinner party, what? Allow me to invite you to Edgar Allen Poe's Murder Mystery Dinner Party/Gala for Friends Potluck.

If you need to see Edgar Allen Poe, the bored Valley Girl ghost of Lenore, Oscar Wilde, Charlotte Bronte, Ernest Hemingway, George Eliot, H.G. Wells, and host of other famous authors snark at each other as they hunt for the murderer in their midst, this is the web series to cheer you as you mourn your canceled Thanksgiving. All told, it's about two hours of anachronistic literary absurdity.

Friday, November 13, 2020

McCarrick Dump

Ten days without a post, and for no significant reason. Darwin is enmeshed in a tedious work project that needs to be done by Monday. I have been more or less staying off social media, for the timeless reason that everyone annoys me. We have followed the election returns, of course, but for all the hysteria, the results make no actual difference to anyone right now*, unless you let your elation or horror spill over into how you treat the humans you interact with at this moment.

*Unless you are a lawyer dealing with recount lawsuits or someone on Biden transition team.

Something I did do this week: read the McCarrick report, all 448 pages of it. I wrote up a number of thoughts in comments on Facebook, and though I didn't think they were developed enough to make a blog post, I'll share them below. Another reason, however, that I didn't sit down and write up a clear, coherent response was an existential and spiritual weariness brought on by the sheer tedious mediocre corruption of the Catholic bureaucracy. A friend commented that the McCarrick report read more like a J.F. Powers novel (minus the humor) than any kind of account of monumental Medieval or Renaissance intrigue. There's nothing edifying about corruption in any age, and nothing entertaining about lives destroyed by sin, but the pettiness of the layers of incompetence and ineffectuality on display in McCarrick's unwholesome rise to power leave one drained. Lord, to whom shall we go?

Larry Chapp has a succinct analysis which cuts more deeply than my initial musings on the procedural nature of the report:

And so as I read the summaries of the McCarrick report and skim through its many pages my overall reaction is a mixture of anger (as I said at the beginning, everyone knew.  EVERYONE), sadness (for McCarrick’s victims, some of whom were my friends, and for the Church) and disappointment that the deeper issue that what really afflicts the Church is a deep, deep loss of faith was never addressed.  I get that the report was not meant to delve into such deeper issues, and yet … damn it, it should have since without it the entire report just becomes a cataloging of failures without a point.  This is, after all, a document of the Church and not the cold analysis of a corporation inquiring after why its market share has gone down.

And don’t tell me that the reason why it ignores deeper spiritual causes is that it is just trying to ascertain facts in order to better develop policies to avoid such things in the future.  Because that is the whole dadgum point I am making:  we will most definitely not avoid such things in the future if our focus is purely forensic, mechanical, and clinical.  There is no “policy” change that will make the sins caused by unbelief go away.  Personnel is policy and in this case we are talking about sins committed by faithless men, who were aided and protected by other faithless men, in a Church (in this case the American Catholic Church) grown cold in the faith owing to its flaccid bargain with bourgeois modernity.

Furthermore, even on the level of a purely forensic analysis of the facts, the report is open to the charge that it is trying to paint the problem as something that was done in the past, with Pope Francis exonerated of any wrong doing, and so we should just all move along now since “there is nothing to see here.”  It is like an automobile accident that has been cleared from the street, with the cops telling us we can stop our rubbernecking now as we slow down to stare at the bits of glass remaining on the road.  I just find it interesting that the main culprits identified in this report are either dead or very old. The report contains a wealth of detail and does shed light on how this all came about. Nevertheless, it really does read like an attempt to just move us along and to put the matter behind us. There just doesn’t seem to be any seriousness in the report on the level of a real theological and spiritual analysis of how the powers that be in the Church came to enable child rapists. And the very lack of such an analysis screams out that the Church still doesn’t get it and is further evidence of my thesis.  Because only a Church that doesn’t really believe anything anymore would treat the spiritual causes of the crisis as a triviality not worth discussing and as something that would be “distracting” from our “real, empirical analysis of causes.”

Crisis also has a sharp summary and analysis which spares no one.

Here are my own disjointed thoughts:

tl;dr: people kept passing unsubstantiated reports to other people and figured they'd done their job; people trying to investigate couldn't get anyone to go on record with hard evidence; people with hard evidence had impaired credibility for other reasons; law enforcement dismissed one allegation pretty firmly, and a lot of people took that to mean that the rumors were baseless and let it drop.

1. Archbishop Hughes, who received direct, first-person, contemporary reports of McCarrick's behavior, was simply ineffective, and bears much responsibility for not outing McCarrick years ago.

2. In the pre-internet days, gathering evidence scattered across dioceses, courts, and from the rumor mill required a lot of work, and there was no centralized authority to play detective -- except, perhaps, Vigano, who dropped the ball.

3. As John Allen indicated, rumors are one thing, and getting witnesses on record, with details, is another. The anonymous letters sent in were either light on details, or so tin-foil-hat (all caps, no specifics, wild threats of exposure with no names or evidence) that they could be credibly dismissed.

4. McCarrick's self-aggrandizing personality comes more and more to the fore through the course of the report. The extent of his travel boggles the mind. No allegations of financial impropriety have ever been made against him, and he has always been reported as a master fundraiser, so people were dropping all kinds of money to send him all over the world. And he put himself forward time and again. His worming out of the strong suggestion that he live a life of retirement, and his need to be relevant, is very unsavory.

5. John Paul II's dismissal of unsubstantiated rumors is unsurprising given his personal experience of Communist smear campaigns. This is an unhappy historic conjunction of events, but JPII does not come off as someone who blindly overlooked clear and compelling evidence of McCarrick's wrongdoing. (EDITED TO ADD: the more I think about this, the more I believe I'm wrong here. He did overlook evidence. His history with Communists is an explanation, but not an excuse.)

6. Vigano had a chance to bring many things to light when Ouellet tasked him with investigating rumors about McCarrick, and... he didn't. He just didn't. Vigano's 2018 tell-all looks more and more like CYA before other reports came out. He could have busted the story wide open years ago -- and had a direct charge from Ouellet to investigate rumors and find some hard evidence -- and he let it sit, for years, until he was no longer in a position to do anything useful or credible.

7. Something that does complicate the narratives, though, is the number of people -- officials! -- who started looking into allegations, and could not get any concrete evidence to build a case on. One can't and won't blame victims who were worn out/trying to rebuild lives/disillusioned, but it's not that these rumors were outright ignored for years. It's that people trying to bring them to clear and legal light couldn't get any traction, and people with some kind of evidence chose to post it on the internet rather that work with the authorities (and I don't mean church authorities, but the law).

8. Also: the anonymous reports were turned over to law enforcement, by McCarrick! And they weren't taken seriously because they read more like harassment of McCarrick than credible allegations of wrongdoing. The Wanderer was reporting allegations of sexual misconduct in the hierarchy back in the 90s, but their witness, like that of the anonymous reports, was damaged by their unreliability and general crankitude in other areas.

If one is truly committed to bringing hidden sins to light, it's necessary to have a balance of virtues, lest your witness be damaged through your own imprudence.

9. A changing culture of firm boundaries and oversight is a very positive change in the Church (and in secular culture too, lest we forget the #metoo moment a year or so back). McCarrick sent up red flags for years, and people AT EVERY LEVEL brushed them aside. It's not touched on in the report, but he came up under Cardinal Spellman, who was notorious for his behavior with men, but he was powerful and effective and made the Church look powerful and effective.

10. if I sound distanced or too analytical, it's because I'm sad and tired. I find this horrific, and I grieve for the victims. But I believe that honesty and nuance are more truthful, and will, in the end, drive more real reform, than Twitter-style outrage.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

My Day At The Polls


It's election day, and I just finished putting in fifteen hours working at the polls.  Quite honestly, it was perhaps the best and most peaceful way to spend election day that I can recall.

I haven't been following the news much yet today, but if things have continued the way that they did the last few weeks, I assume there were anecdotes and news stories going around about long lines, SNAFUs, claims of voter intimidation, etc.  I can't speak to the average experience across this massive country, but I can say that in my one polling place, we had no one try to electioneer, we had no attempts at irregularities or intimidation or unlicensed poll watching.  I did not see a single voter behave rudely to a single poll worker, even as we sorted through people whose names had changed, addresses that didn't match, and voters who had requested absentee ballots but then lost them.  Honestly, people were far better behaved towards one another than at the supermarket.

We helped people in their 90s vote on handicap accessible machines, and we helped young people vote for the first time.  

Ohio state and Delaware County regulations require that a lot of things be done by bi-partisan pairs of election workers, so we spent much of the day paired up with someone from the opposite party, and since politics were off limits we spent the day talking about our families and town history and past experiences (if any) working at elections.  And it was really pleasant.

A couple of the young student election workers told me about their classes.  A black single mom and I talked about our kids and parenting during lockdown and showed each other family pictures on our phones for several hours of the afternoon when not many voters were coming through.  An elderly woman had us all in stitches with a story about how she was sent from one school authority to another and then to her parents in second grade back in 1960 over a picture she had drawn of Santa wearing a hat that no one wanted to hang up -- and which no one explained to her till long afterwards looked suspiciously like a drawing of a penis.  An older black woman told me about how she'd first started working the polls in 1974 because she wanted to see that the people she was helping to register to vote were being treated well at the polls.

And at the end of a day which we'd all started at 5:30AM, we packed up the equipment together after the last voter had left, stacked and rubber-banded the ballots as bi-partisan pairs, and hauled all the equipment out to be driven down to the board of elections.

If something could give you a bit of faith in America and community and civic function in a year which has not always been cheerful, this has been it.

So I'll tune in soon enough to hear how this contest is going, but I'm really glad I spent the day in the peaceful eye of this storm.

Monday, November 02, 2020

MacIntyre: The Only Vote Worth Casting In November

 There seems to be only one place on the internet that Alasdair MacIntyre's essay "The Only Vote Worth Casting In November" is preserved, and since it's not the original source, I'm taking the liberty of posting the entire piece. I believe that this was first published as an op-ed for the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at Notre Dame (of which MacIntyre was then director) in reference to the 2004 presidential election.

* * *

The Only Vote Worth Casting in November

Alasdair MacIntyre, University of Notre Dame

When offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose neither. And when that choice is presented in rival arguments and debates that exclude from public consideration any other set of possibilities, it becomes a duty to withdraw from those arguments and debates, so as to resist the imposition of this false choice by those who have arrogated to themselves the power of framing the alternatives. These are propositions which in the abstract may seem to invite easy agreement. But, when they find application to the coming presidential election, they are likely to be rejected out of hand. For it has become an ingrained piece of received wisdom that voting is one mark of a good citizen, not voting a sign of irresponsibility. But the only vote worth casting in November is a vote that no one will be able to cast, a vote against a system that presents one with a choice between Bush's conservatism and Kerry's liberalism, those two partners in ideological debate, both of whom need the other as a target.

Why should we reject both? Not primarily because they give us wrong answers, but because they answer the wrong questions. What then are the right political questions? One of them is: What do we owe our children? And the answer is that we owe them the best chance that we can give them of protection and fostering from the moment of conception onwards. And we can only achieve that if we give them the best chance that we can both of a flourishing family life, in which the work of their parents is fairly and adequately rewarded, and of an education which will enable them to flourish. These two sentences, if fully spelled out, amount to a politics. It is a politics that requires us to be pro-life, not only in doing whatever is most effective in reducing the number of abortions, but also in providing healthcare for expectant mothers, in facilitating adoptions, in providing aid for single-parent families and for grandparents who have taken parental responsibility for their grandchildren. And it is a politics that requires us to make as a minimal economic demand the provision of meaningful work that provides a fair and adequate wage for every working parent, a wage sufficient to keep a family well above the poverty line.

The basic economic injustice of our society is that the costs of economic growth are generally borne by those least able to afford them and that the majority of the benefits of economic growth go to those who need them least. Compare the rise in wages of ordinary working people over the last thirty years to the rise in the incomes and wealth of the top twenty percent. Compare the value of minimum wage now to its value then and next compare the value of the remuneration of CEOs to its value then. What is needed to secure family life is a sufficient minimum income for every family and that can perhaps best be secured by some version of the negative income tax, proposed long ago by Milton Friedman, a tax that could be used to secure a large and just redistribution of income and so of property.

We note at this point that we have already broken with both parties and both candidates. Try to promote the pro-life case that we have described within the Democratic Party and you will at best go unheard and at worst be shouted down. Try to advance the case for economic justice as we have described it within the Republican Party and you will be laughed out of court. Above all, insist, as we are doing, that these two cases are inseparable, that each requires the other as its complement, and you will be met with blank incomprehension. For the recognition of this is precluded by the ideological assumptions in terms of which the political alternatives are framed. Yet at the same time neither party is wholeheartedly committed to the cause of which it is the ostensible defender. Republicans happily endorse pro-choice candidates, when it is to their advantage to do so. Democrats draw back from the demands of economic justice with alacrity, when it is to their advantage to do so. And in both cases rhetorical exaggeration disguises what is lacking in political commitment.

In this situation a vote cast is not only a vote for a particular candidate, it is also a vote cast for a system that presents us only with unacceptable alternatives. The way to vote against the system is not to vote.