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

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Great War, Vol 1: Chapter 7-2

2020 has been a rough year, but I'm not going to end it (or at least, not end my Christmas to New Years time off work) without completing Chapter 7 and starting some good habits for the new year.  

Terespol. July 16th, 1915. “Would you like a chance to get away from it all for a time?” Sister Gorka asked.

It had been a sorely trying day in the wards. Natalie had hoped that Doctor Kalyagin’s determination to put her under extra scrutiny would fall away after a few days. Despite their clash of wills over Lieutenant Ovechkin’s last days, she was not normally lax in her adherence to procedures. Surely after a few days he would tire of this extra oversight and things would return to normal.

But she had not accounted for the conjunction of the new doctor’s pride and his passion for his work. If anything, his determination not to trust her, and to make this lack of trust obvious to all, had grown over the following days, and as they had received a gradually increasing number of patients over the last few days this had resulted in Kalyagin demanding that she take him through the wards and show him the initials on every treatment protocol. He had even questioned the orderlies and the housekeeping sisters, demanding to know if they had seen anyone (here he looked significantly at Natalie) providing treatment that was contrary to the protocol.

It was with relief that Natalie and Sister Gorka had finished their twelve hour shift, leaving Sister Travkin to oversee the wards until morning.

“What did you have in mind?” Natalie asked, in response to Sister Gorka’s question.

“I’ve secured a motorcar in order to go into Brest-Litovsk and do a bit of shopping,” Sister Gorka explained. “But it’s a strange city. I’d like to have someone to come with me, aside from the driver. Would you come?”

“Shopping?” The word was from another time. Natalie had not had the opportunity to enter a shop since joining the field hospital back during the winter. And yet just across the river in Brest-Litovsk there was a bustling city with shops and tea houses and people out of uniform. Until this moment it had not occurred to her to visit, and yet now the idea became suddenly and desperately attractive to her.

“Lieutenant Serafin told me where there is a shop with photographic supplies,” Sister Gorka explained, in an apologetic tone as Natalie’s private thoughts raced. “I wanted to replenish my supply of chemicals. Who knows when I shall have another chance? And I’m sure there must be other good shops as well. I thought it might be a nice change. Please come.”

“Yes! Yes, I’d love to,” Natalie replied. “Of course I’ll come.”

The motorcar was one of two assigned to the regimental staff, a twenty-five horsepower Crossley touring machine, all gleaming brass and black enamel. The vehicle had begun its life in Britain, been imported to the Russian Empire by a Warsaw business magnate with a fancy for the newest products of industrial ingenuity, and then requisitioned by the army and sent to the regiment as the Germans approached Warsaw. Russia itself had produced, in total, less than a thousand cars before the war’s outbreak, and with the German navy slowing imports to a trickle it was essential that no precious imported technology be lost. But right now, while the regiment was settled into the fortifications around Terespol and Brest-Litovsk, the regimental vehicles could be lent out at times for the use of officers or those they chose to grant favors to. As the nurses settled onto the heavily padded leather back seat, Natalie wondered if the car, like the recommendation of the photography shop, was courtesy of Lieutenant Serafin. Was it, perhaps, a sign of admiration for Sister Gorka, or just a favor done by one hobbyist to another?

The driver wove between pedestrians and carts, working his horn frequently, over the mile of cobbled road and then the old bridge over the Bug River which led into the city gates of Brest and the old fort. While Terespol was a product of the age of artillery, a fort of embankments and trenches, designed to be as impregnable to explosions as the earth itself, the old fort and city wall were products of an earlier age: towers and crenelations of red brick. These would do little to stop modern high explosive shells, and the old fort was now merely a marker at the entrance to the city. Beyond it, they reached the close-packed buildings and milling crowds of the old city.

They pulled up in front of a two-story building in the shopping district with the name MAGID painted in large letters over the shop windows on the lower floor. Although the shops, or at least the building, were all apparently under the ownership of Magid, the windows each displayed different merchandise. The first shop contained stationary and books, the second cameras, telescopes, and binoculars, the third women’s clothing and other necessities. Sister Gorka immediately led the way into the shop with cameras, and after gazing longly for a moment at a gleaming wood and brass plate camera displayed on a tripod, she answered the question of the eldelry man behind the counter by listing off the chemicals she required. These apparently were not simple choices, and as Sister Gorka and the shopman settled into discussing powdered developing solutions and stop baths. 

Monday, December 28, 2020

Reader-Centric Book Marketing

 I subscribe to a novel marketing newsletter from Nicholas Erik and the newsletter this morning was titled "Marketing is Reader Centric, Not Author Centric" and in it he makes the case:

Most authors start with what they want.

I want to write this.

I want to make X amount of money.

I want to work X number of hours a day.

I don't want to create ads, write this trope, etc.

Obviously, you have to know your preferences. But realistically, if we're trying to write books with the aim of other people reading them consistently, it isn't really about us.

It's about what the reader wants.

This mostly comes down to knowing the genre, expectations, and tropes.

It is not about delivering the most beautiful prose.

Or the most split-tested ads.

But about delivering them the experience they're looking for.

As I process my first experience marketing a book myself, this strikes me as true in some important ways, but also not covering the full picture, so I want to expand on it a bit.   

As an author, you want people to read your book.  In order to get people to read your book, you need to do two things: First, you need to write a book that people want to read.  Second, you need to find the people who want to read it.

It's this second where marketing comes in.  Marketing is how you try to make people aware that you've written and published a book that they want to read.  If you've written a book that no one wants to read, marketing won't really help you much.  So step one is to have a book people enjoy.  But even if you have achieved step one, step two is hard.  

Let's say your book is great.  People will love it.  But those people are scattered all over this country of hundreds of millions of people.  How do you find the people who want to read your book and let them know that your book exists?

Think of marketing being an exercise in approaching a lot of individual readers and telling them, "Hey!  Here's a little about my book!  Do you want to buy it?"  Some say yes.  Some say no.

That sounds pretty non-threatening, except that many of us writers hate the idea of having to go up to strangers and say anything (which it why it's nice that marketing is often done in a more impersonal fashion) but here's the trick: Each of those contacts comes with a cost.  

Imagine, for the sake of argument, that contacting each customer to say, "Hey!  Here's a little about my book!  Do you want to buy it?" costs you $0.10.  Let's further imagine that you make $2.00 for each copy of your book that you sell.

As Mister Micawber says in David Copperfield: "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."  

In the case of the book marketing example above: If at least one out of every twenty people you pitch your book go ahead and buy it, you are making money.  If less than one out of every twenty is buying, you are losing.  

Maybe your book is just so amazing that among any random sample of readers, at least one out of every twenty wants to read it.  But honestly, that's unlikely.  Picture those readers that you're going to show marketing to as being the people who walk into your local public library.  Pitching to just everyone would mean standing in the door of the library and showing your book ad to everyone who came in the door.  Some of those people might want your book.  Others might be there to check their email or pick up a DVD or to look for a book of a totally different type.  So how to do you make your odds better?  How do you find a group of potential readers where at least one out of every twenty you approach wants to buy your book? One clear solution might be that instead of accosting everyone who comes in through the front door, you go to the section of the library where your book would be shelved and only show your ad to people who enter that section.  Or you make a list of books similar to yours, and you only show the ad to people who look at one of those books.  By filtering down the readers you show your pitch to, you're selecting a group of readers who are more likely to be interested in your book.

Now here's the trick: A given reader may like lots of different things.  A reader may also like new things, but it's probably new things within a certain range of options.  I read classics and historical novels and modern day novels and spy novels and a bit of science fiction and fantasy.  If someone has written what they think is a great romance novel, I'm probably not the right person to pitch.  If someone has written a murder mystery set in 1930s Oxford, I might be a good prospect because I like Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night, but still overall I read very few murder mysteries so you would probably stand a better chance if they tried someone who read a dozen British-setting murder mysteries a year.  

Whether you can profitably market your novel depend on the probability that each person in your marketing target pool will buy your novel.  The higher percentage of the people in your target pool who actually buy your novel, the more profitable your marketing.  This means that the best marketing target pool is a pool of people who want something very much like a book that lots of people already like.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with some friends a few weeks back over this ad:

Thus far, I've only read the opening of the first Dresden Files novel, but even I can tell that this ad is fairly derivative.  Yes, the book is apparently set in the 1930s in stead of modern day, but aside from that, this is an ad very precisely calibrated to suggest, "If you like the Harry Dresden novels, you will like this."

Now, I have a number of good friends who are Dresden Files fans, and their comment was that they didn't want to read Dresden Files clones, they want to read new and original novels just like Dresden Files seemed new and original to them when they first picked it up. I believe them!  I think that a lot of readers really do like a book which is novel (pun intended) rather than being a re-tread of the tropes that they are used to.  I don't think that most genre readers necessarily want to reach a book which is almost exactly like some book or series they've already read.  

But here's the thing...  Imagine I'm a small publisher, and I'm going to try marketing my five new launches to a group of 1000 readers about the one fact I know is that they have bought all the Dresden Files novels.  My five books are:

1) A non-fantasy novel about a wise-cracking female detective in Los Angeles solving crimes in the surfer community she knows well from her experience as a competitive surfer.
2) A fantasy / cold war spy thriller crossover about a restrained British spy trying to stop the Russians from stealing the dragon secrets which will allow them to build a pure fire alchemical bomb.
3) A Jane Austen / Science Fiction crossover about a spunky heiress who escapes the stifling manners of the marriage market to join a group of galactic mercenaries.
4) A historical / fantasy mystery novel about a tough as nails ex centurion solving crimes on the mean streets of Pompeii and comes to suspect that the gods are under attack from a powerful volcano-wielding mage.
5) An urban fantasy novel about a wise-cracking female wizard who is part of the NYPD special investigations unit dealing with time traveling fairies on the New York Subways.

(Every time I pitch novel concepts as a semi-joke, people say "I would read that!  Take my money!" so feel free...)

The first four might each attract anywhere from 5% to 20% of Dresden Files fans, but if #5 got 50% of Dresden Files fans to buy, it would be by far the most successful even if it a lot of Dresden fans thought it was kind of derivative.  

All that is a long way of saying: in a marketing world where the easiest way to capture readers is with a quick, "I see you liked X, maybe you'll like Y" pitch, it is by far the easiest to market books which are very similar to some other, already popular book, series, or author.  If you're writing to fit in with one of these markets, you'd be wise to be careful about defying key tenets.  

If you want to market to Dresden Files fans, you probably want a wise cracking first person narrator.  If you want to market to chick lit fans, you better talk about fashion and all the handbags or shoes the character buys.  If you want to market to romance fans, the guy and girl better get together at the end.  

Maybe 20% of Harry Dresden fans would also like an urban fantasy book told in the third person about a stoic and restrained female main character who's struggling to get over a deep personal hurt from her upbringing -- but we already know that 100% of Harry Dresden fans like a main character like Harry Dresden. So even though basically no Dresden Files fans may be sitting around thinking, "Wow, I really wish people would write derivative knock offs of the Dresden Files," for a writer who wants to play it safe and not see their marketing fail, doing something which is very similar to an already successful formula and then marketing to the fans of that successful formula is the safest path to success.

This, I think, is the key thing to understand about marketing. It's not that actual readers are personally deeply attached to the tropes.  The tropes are a formula for appealing to a collection of readers who already like some particular book or books.  And for a writer/publisher who wants to successfully market a book, they don't need to appeal just to individual readers, they need to appeal to a large percentage of an identifiable block of readers.

"There are 20,000 readers scattered around the country who would love this book, but it's going to be hard to find them," is a formula for losing money on a book.  "There are 20,000 fans of the Dresden Files who would love this book," is a formula for profitable marketing.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Why Start a Press

 This morning I finished reading So You Want To Publish a Book (a gift for which I am very thankful to a good friend.)  It's an interesting view into the small press world, based both on research and her own experience in starting Belt Press, a small press focused on non-fiction about the Rust Belt.

It's also a fascinating example of how people of different ideologies often live in seemingly different worlds.  The author talks a lot about how her presses mission is to publish books she believes in (and thus they're especially eager for left wing books) and she contrasts this the corporate culture of the Big 5 publishers, which she blames for being willing to publish books like Hillbilly Elegy (which she summarizes as being about how poor people are lazy.)  Whereas, one of the reasons that I'm interested in the idea of doing our own publishing is that it seems to me that the publishing industry as it exists right now is pretty hostile to the kind of thing that I'm interested in writing.  A number of novel agents whose profiles I've looked at specifically say "no religious themes".  One certainly can't imagine people in the industry announcing "no gay themes" or "no Black themes", but although a religion has played a significant part in the lives of many people in many times and places, it's something which I've heard a number of agents and editors simply don't want to see (at least, not unless it's a villain) in novels.  And then, of course, there's the awkwardness that a lot of agents and editors are very actively looking for "own stories" (novels written by and about sexual or racial minorities) and I'm writing about a bunch of Europeans in the Great War.  

So it's fascinating to me that the author feels that independent presses are important because she feels that corporate publishing isn't woke enough -- when I'm at the same time thinking that perhaps I need to think in terms of creating a small press because so many of the people in the publisher industrial complex are too woke to be interested in the kind of thing I'm interested in writing.

None of this, of course, is contradictory.  There's a wide world of readers out there who read a wide world of things.  It may well be that the publishing industry is not progressive enough for the books that Belt Press brings out, and yet they are able to find the 2,000 to 10,000 readers who want each of their editions in order to turn a profit on the 20% of their releases that are necessary to keep a publisher as a whole profitable.  And it can, at the same time, be the case that there are several thousand readers out there interested in reading a Shakespeare or Jane Austen adaptation, or a trilogy about the Great War.  Not everything has to be cut from the same cloth.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Poor Baby

 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." --Matthew 5:3

Last night my three-year-old spent some time in the middle of the night crying. I took him in bed with me and tried to figure out what was wrong. He was distressed, but too sleepy to tell me what was wrong or where it hurt. He wasn't feverish or clammy. He flopped as if he were in pain, but denied that his tummy or his bottom hurt. He wouldn't answer whether he'd had a bad dream. At one point he said he wanted to go downstairs, but then he came back and got in bed with me. I snuggled him and stroked his head and murmured, "Poor baby. Poor baby." And he fell asleep for the rest of the night, and in the morning was his usual dude self, tumbling all over the place, his midnight troubles forgotten. 

"Poor baby," I called him. Not because he was bereft of earthly goods or comfort. Not because he was starving. Not because he had nowhere to lay his head. Because he had all these things, and yet he was still in need. He didn't know what it was, and neither did I. But he knew he needed it.

We use the term poor all the time, and not as a curse or a slur. When my husband has had a hard day, I rub his head and call him "poor love". Not because we're literally poor, but because he is in need and I want to fill it. When my children are upset, hungry, weary, dismayed, I call them poor things, because they have a need that I do my best to fill. Sometimes the need is more than I can supply, except by offering love and the endearment of "poor thing". Sometimes I am the poor thing, and I need I know not what, something more than myself.

Jesus too became a poor thing, with needs that he could not fill on his own. The poverty of a baby is absolute, because it can do nothing for itself. It needs everything. The poverty of an adult is absolute as well, but we're better at disguising it, at convincing ourselves that we need less than others, that we have more than others. We can believe that we fill our own needs, whether through strength or through resources. We accumulate -- wealth, knowledge, connections, admirers, enemies -- to keep need at bay. And then we collapse, inevitably, and we crawl toward God humiliated and disgusted with ourselves, and He gathers us to himself and says, "Poor baby. Poor baby."

Simcha Fisher says: Hush, there's a baby nearby.

What if you remembered that you, yourself, were a little baby once, and even though you can feed and care for yourself now, you still deserve to be treated with gentleness, even if only by yourself? 

At all times of the year, but especially at Advent: It’s always about the person closes to us – or, if you like, it’s all about the baby nearby. And this is how we serve the Person who, liturgically speaking, is nearby, about to be born. We tell our kids that Christmas is Baby Jesus’ birthday, and the kind of presents he wants is for us to be good to each other — and yes, to ourselves. Sometimes the best kind of goodness we can offer is just a little gentleness, a soft touch, a decision not to make noise. A little hush, for the sake of the baby. This is a good way to make way for the Lord: With gentleness.

The baby is Jesus, the new Adam, containing within himself everyone that ever was or will be. And when we are poor in spirit, we discover within ourselves Jesus in his poverty: not something alien, someone to be "invited into our hearts" as if he had ever been something separate from us, but the one who took on our need from the inside. Poor, happy me. Poor, happy you. Poor baby. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

I'll Be Home For Christmas

 A few minutes ago, I finished the last of my work before the Christmas to New Years break.  I did so sitting here at the table in our library where I've been working for the last nine months and counting since all of us who aren't actually involved in manufacturing at work got told to work from home.  I did so with three kids playing and tussling in the background.

Now I'm on vacation, and so I'm sitting at the exact same table, at the exact same computer, with the same kids playing in the background.

All in all, we've had an easy pandemic of it.  With 8-9 people in the house (depending on whether the eldest is off at college) we're not lonely.  The kids get some playing in outside with friends on the street, and they spend other time socializing in the odd worlds of Roblox and MindCraft and AmongUs.  We had to upgrade our wireless router to handle up to three people on video calls at the same time.

But I'll admit, despite knowing that I have it quite good, the thing that I find pretty wearing at times is that it's always the same 8-9 people I see, and only one of them is an adult.

It's not as if I had much of a social schedule before.  Like a lot of middle-aged men, I only saw actual friends outside the family in person a few times a year even in the before time.  But I did see other adults, even if it was primarily people with whom I only had office work in common.  And while I knew it generally wasn't great for mental health to not have (or perhaps more accurately, not make) time to see other adult friends in person, I'm fortunate enough to be married to someone with whom I really can't spend enough time.  

But pandemic living has taken that not-great-but-there-it-is-maybe-there-will-be-time-when-I'm-fifty routine and pushed it just that much further.  That much less exercise.  That much less seeing other adults.  Everyone online (where I spend too much of my life) that much more crazy.

Eventually this is all going to be over.  The people whose normal life involves going out and socializing several times a week will go back to doing that.  And those of us in the long haul semi isolation of middle aged parenting will go back to trying to figure out how to find time to stay sane.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Friendship of Christ

In June, Amy Welborn quoted a passage from Robert Hugh Benson's The Friendship of Christ that was so compelling, I started reading the book through her link to the full text in the Notre Dame archives. The experience was both sublime and frustrating: sublime because Benson's text is a spiritual treasure, and frustrating because the particular version I was reading was a clearly a computer scan of the book, and so had odd typos and poor formatting.

And yet the text was wonderfully rich. Erin of Bearing Blog suggested to me that we might host a reading club to discuss the book, and I thought it a marvelous idea. So I went to Amazon and bought the recommended paperback copy, only $4.99. And that was my mistake, because it was the sort of book that gives print-on-demand a bad name -- ugly, cheap, and on top of that, it was nothing more than the same bad computer scan as the Notre Dame document.  Same typos, same quirks of formatting. No one had put any thought into editing the text, making it visually appealing, or providing a suitable cover. 

One thing to understand about Kindle Direct Print, Amazon's print-on-demand program, is that it requires no upfront costs. Amazon charges the cost of making the book, and the remaining profit is split 60/40 between you and Amazon. This makes it easy for anyone to create a new edition of an out-of-copyright work, with the result that if you search Pride and Prejudice you will be inundated with bad reprints with text crammed to the margins. It's hard to find a real book unless you search for an Everyman edition or a Penguin Classic. Unfortunately, The Friendship of Christ isn't available from those reputable publishers, or, as far as I could tell, from any of the established Catholic presses.

First I was mad, and then I was thoughtful. Monsignor Benson wrote this book in 1912. Clearly it was in the public domain. I had a spanking new layout program for self-publishing, and I was itching to put it through its paces. And the 1912 edition itself is available to consult at Google Books, meaning I could check Monsignor Benson's original punctuation, spelling, and scripture citations. Why, then, should I not try my hand at putting together a fitting edition of this book?


(Cover design courtesy of Darwin.)

From my foreword:

The text has been proofed against the original publication, preserving Monsignor Benson’s punctuation and anglicisms. The scripture citations of the original text have been checked for accuracy and modernized (e.g., “John xx: 17” has been altered to “John 20:17”). The titles of books of Scripture and the numbering of the Psalms from the Douai-Rheims Bible have also been updated. “Wash me yet more from my iniquity.—Ps. l. 4”, perfectly clear to Monsignor Benson’s contemporaries as “Psalm 50:4”, a quotation from David’s great penitential psalm, is given in this volume as “Ps. 51:4” according to the  numbering of the Psalms familiar to modern readers. (Some computer scans of The Friendship of Christ, not recognizing the lower-case italicized Roman numeral l, have rendered this verse as Ps. 1:4—Not so the wicked, not so!)

As we learn more about self publishing, a key lesson is, "Allow more time." My copy arrived today, and already I've found a few typos -- mostly en dashes in strange places that stubbornly evaded my searches and readings. However, the very nature of print on demand means that I can fix typos and upload a new manuscript almost instantly, so after one day the book is already in its second edition. 

Erin and I will be hosting a reading of The Friendship of Christ beginning in January, just six months after she first suggested it. I'm very sorry for the delay, but on the other hand the physical act of reading the book will no longer be penitential. You're all invited to join in and read -- and pray -- along with us.

As I said, Amazon is clogged with cheap reprints, but here are the links that will take you directly to our editions. (The Look Inside feature will not show you our book, but see above photos.)



Thursday, December 17, 2020

Have Yourself a Merry Little Bookplate


Merry Christmas to all our faithful readers! And to those faithful enough to buy my book (even if they were just being nice), I beg your acceptance of this elegant bookplate. Please send me your address at, and whether you'd like the plate addressed to you or the giftee of your choosing, and I'll drop it (suitably addressed and enveloped) in the mail. This will be the only Christmas card you (or anyone) receive from me, so you get double the cheer.

And of course, thank you, one and all.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Repost: Fifty Shades of False

As my novel is currently sharing Amazon shelf space with a quantity of holiday romance, here's a  repost from 2012.

With the Fifty Shades trilogy fogging up the screens of millions of e-readers, women's sexual fantasies have hit the mainstream, so much so that the publisher is planning a big new publicity campaign based around the slogan "Reading for pleasure has a whole new meaning." Women prefer the emotional build up and relationship aspects of novels instead of the more direct depersonalization of pornography, but the explicit and fantastic nature of the sexual content in these books have earned them the moniker of "mommy porn". Just as the images men view in porn burn into their mind, the scenes women read in romance novels -- the titillating emotional interchanges, the sensual phrases, the fantastic sex -- lodge in their memory and imagination.

"Porn" is an ugly word to be juxtaposed with "mommy", but in a sense it isn't surprising that married women are driving the sales of the burgeoning "romantica" genre. Younger women, hopped up on hormones and living in a near-permanent condition of quasi-arousal (men: you do not have the monopoly on this), live in an aspirational state in which it's perfectly conceivable that the perfect man and perfect relationship and perfect happily-ever-after is right around the corner. The transgressional naughtiness of stuff like the Fifty Shades books is designed for the woman who has settled into her walk in life, who is basically satisfied with her marriage and her spouse, but who wonders where the thrill has gone and how to reanimate a sexual drive that seems balky and unpredictable. 

The sexual fantasies fueled by romance novels seem like a ideal fix to this problem. It’s so easy for the reader. One can respond quickly and effortlessly to the ideal man on the page. There’s none of the inconveniences of reality -- the awkwardness of being out of sync with her spouse; the absurdity, especially for a woman, of having a body that’s not fully under her command, this “Sister Ass” which sometimes bucks and halts grows tired. These fantasies allow the reader to step beyond her established life and relationship and experience the thrill of the chase again. They're a quick hit of cheap arousal for the woman who, by the time bedtime rolls around, is tired, worn down by the concerns of the day, and finds that even though the spirit may be willing, the flesh is weak, sluggish, or capricious. And her husband never has to know that what pushes her through is not just him, but him in conjunction with memories of billionaire sadist Christian Grey (or Mr. Darcy or the tough-yet-tender cowboy or what have you). If both spouses are happy at the end, what harm could these fantasies possibly do, right?

Well, plenty, actually. Romance novels -- novels for which the raison d'etre is sexual fulfillment, whether they're the hard-core Fifty Shades stuff or "Christian" romance or historical-tragical-pastoral -- create an image of effortless sexual complementarity that can supplant the very real work it takes for a woman to meet her husband where he's at, each time. And they undercut that work because fantasies can become addictive. They work their way into a woman's mind and rob her of the ability to respond honestly to her husband, just as any physical skill not practiced becomes rusty over time. It takes so much less emotional and physical commitment to become mentally aroused by retreating to happy stories (especially if there has been a fight or some breach in the relationship that has damaged communication) that eventually a spouse can become no more than tool for achieving satisfaction, or a "bin for one's urges" (as a commenter recently put it). Fantasy breeds lust, not love.

A woman who develops a reliance on sexual fantasy is cultivating a taste for something other than reality. Fantasy, so infinitely malleable, creates puppets for the purpose of objectifying them, or conveniently allows for the emotional manipulation of real people in a way that stubborn real life seems to resist. It also dismisses the real ugliness of subversive sexual situations -- women who find themselves excited by the fictional S&M antics of Fifty Shades would feel horrified, humiliated, and dehumanized if their husbands were to subject them to the same emotional and sexual abuse. True brutality isn't glamorous or arousing -- it's sickening and damaging.

And fantasy is damaging as well, especially when it trespasses on the dignity and integrity of another person. A young friend who recently described her temptations to fantasize about a man of her acquaintance wrote, "The real possibility that I could end up married to this guy made it seem 20 times more a violation to interact with a shadow version of him in my head that I could control and speak for and manipulate for my gratification -- reducing him to a mental blow-up doll was sickening enough to accomplish what love for God and hatred for sin hadn't." Fantasies, rather than bringing her closer to her loved one, were in reality erecting barriers to true interaction with him. That he wasn't aware of her thoughts didn't mean that her relationship with him wasn't being subtly influenced by her mental images.

In marriage, since spouses are supposed to become one flesh through a total gift of self, subjecting the other to fantasy, or using the other to fulfill fantasies, becomes even more of a violation. In these heady days in which every lay Catholic is a sudden expert in Theology of the Body and sexual fulfillment in marriage is a hot topic, women may feel betrayed in the moments when their bodies, whether through age, weariness, or sheer biological perversity, refuse to cooperate with the most loving of inducements. Possibly a rocky marriage or an insensitive spouse may mean that satisfaction becomes more and more elusive. The antidote to these difficulties lies not in a woman filling her mind with an arsenal of one-dimensional fantasies, but in pouring out her mind and heart to spouse. Communication -- honest, intimate conversation in private; day-to-day openness and affection; the shared communication with God and spouse that is mutual prayer -- is the antidote to a trap of fantasy. Some desires that seem so erotic tucked in the deep recesses of the imagination are shown up as tawdry and unappealing when spoken and submitted to the clear light of reality. Others may be brought to a more satisfying and tender conclusion when shared with the one who can make them come true.

Necessary disclaimer: I have not and will not read the Fifty Shades books, nor am I a consumer of romance novels because not only do I want to fill my head with such images, but ugh, poor writing.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

La Guadalupana

Happy Mother's Day to us, fellow North and South Americans! I haven't truly celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe's feast day until I've seen this video.

Here are your mother's words to Juan Diego, and to you:

"My dear little son, I love you. I desire you to know who I am. I am the Ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains its existence. He created all things. He is in all places. He is Lord of Heaven and Earth. I desire a church in this place where your people may experience my compassion. All those who sincerely ask for my help in their work and in their sorrow will know my Mother's Heart in this place. For I am your merciful Mother, to you and to all mankind who love me and trust in me and invoke my help. Go now to the Bishop in Mexico City and say that the Virgin Mary sent you to make known to him her great desire I have that a shrine dedicated to me be built there. So run now and tell the Bishop all that you have seen and heard."

"My little son, there are many I could send. But you are the one I have chosen."

"My little son, am I not your Mother? Do not fear. The Bishop will have his sign. Come back to this place tomorrow. Only peace, my little son."

"Do not be distressed, my littlest son. Am I not here with you who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Your uncle will not die at this time. There is no reason for you to engage a priest, for his health is restored at this moment. He is quite well. Go to the top of the hill and cut the flowers that are growing there. Bring them to me."

My little son, this is the sign I am sending to the Bishop. Tell him that with this sign I request his greatest efforts to complete the church I desire in this place. Show these flowers to no one else bu the Bishop. You are my trusted ambassador. This time the Bishop will believe all you tell him."

Friday, December 11, 2020

Author of the Day

 Patient friends, it's possible that you're as weary of hearing about my book as I am of talking about it. (But consider: you could be getting another election post!) Publicity, I find, is not my forté, and Darwin has graciously done most of my marketing for me. However, today I'm the Author of the Day over at, and I've answered some nifty interview questions.

Readers say your story feels emotionally honest - how did you pull this off?

I take "emotionally honest" as a great compliment! I believe that the smallest, most personal choices have the greatest moral impact on the world, for good or ill, and resonate long after greater events are forgotten. When I write, I want every character, no matter how minor or comic, to be a full person, not a caricature who exists to serve the story. Even the tiniest interaction carries the potential for grace to break through our human limitations -- and every character has the dangerous gift of free will to be able to reject or ignore that grace, to hurt themselves and others.

Do I sound a little jaded up above? I don't mean to. As I type, Darwin tells me that I've cracked the top 100 in Holiday Fiction on Amazon. I'm so grateful that people are reading and enjoying my book, even if I wish I wasn't stuck in the Holiday Fiction ghetto, with a bunch of billionaires enemies-to-lovers small-town second-chance romance books. (You didn't know these subcategories were a thing? NEITHER DID I.) I suppose if you spoof a certain kind of story, that's the very shelf you're likely to be filed. 

But perhaps it also helps to love the thing you're spoofing, and I don't love Holiday Fiction. I don't love fluffy Hallmark movies. I hate them because they're plastic and false. Alas, I have been too subtle, perhaps, in my disdain. As a result I can't reach any like-minded readers beyond the borders of my blog and social media (and I know that they are out there), because literary venues are loath to review anything that looks like self-published Holiday Fiction, yea, even Holiday Fiction crossed with Shakespeare. My inbox is full of "This looks interesting, but I don't know what to do with it." And so the bulk of our sales (according to our sales and marketing data) have been to readers who really want the Holiday Fiction experience. Judging by the responses I've gotten, they've been pleasantly surprised. But it's because they were expecting a standard Holiday Fiction novel, not because they were looking for something deeper in the first place.

Which is why I'm so grateful for all my sympatico readers who have bought and shared Unstable Felicity, and to all the internet peoples who have been willing to take a chance on a small, unknown book (albeit a book with an awesome cover). I'm even grateful to the person who left a 2-star rating without writing a review, because at least the book stuck with them long enough to merit a response! And I do agree with the readers who've noted that the book is too short and a bit rushed. If we've learned anything about self-publishing, it's that four months is not really enough time to shepherd a book to print. (I mean, we kinda knew that, but now we really know it.) 

So: tolle, lege, and please recommend. And if you already have a copy and want a signed bookplate mailed to you, please drop us an email with your address and whether you want a personalized note or just a scrawled autograph. And if you want a signed copy as a Christmas gift, act soon before it's too late to mail! 

And if you want an audiobook, Unstable Felicity is finally, finally available through Audible.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Book Week!

It is book week here at the Darwin household.  Christmas is coming soon, the goose is getting fat, and all the best presents come in small, flat, rectangular packages.  

First of all, if you would like a signed copy of If You Can Get It  or Unstable Felicity to give as a gift (or keep for yourself) we have copies available to send!  They are fun, light reads and just the right size to slip into a Christmas stocking.

The price is the same as cover price, but includes free media mail shipping within the US.

Unstable Felicity $12
If You Can Get It $17
Both novels together $28

We can sign and dedicate them however you would like.  To buy your copies, send a PayPal or Venmo to and in the note let us know how you would like your copies inscribed and where to ship them.

We can ship until next Monday (December 14th) and feel confident we will get the package to you on time, so please order soon!

Second, this week is our pre-Christmas sale for the ebook of Unstable Felicity on Amazon.  Starting today, we have a Kindle Countdown Deal during which the ebook is only $0.99.  If you haven't had a chance to get the novel yet, this is the time to do so.  Or if you've already read it and know someone else you think would enjoy it, there's no cheaper time to send it as a gift.  If you have kind things to say about the novel, it would also be a great time to share a link to the novel on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter if you use such things.

This is, unsurprisingly, peak season for Christmas-themed novels, and during this week Unstable Felicity will be listed on a number of different discount ebook newsletters.  Our hope is to get onto the Amazon top 100 list for Christmas novels and thus to bring the novel before the eyes of a lot of new readers who might otherwise not have heard about it.

Last of all in this book news roundup, Unstable Felicity is now available on audiobook via a large number of venues, though frustratingly not yet on the Amazon partner  If you'd like to hear it read by our good friend, professional audiobook narrator Suzanne T. Fortin, you can get it from any of the following:
Google Play

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Weekend entertainment: Hollywood Squares!

Craving a vintage game show this weekend? Do you have your TV dinner and your ashtray to hand? How about catching an old-school Hollywood Squares episode from Delaware, OH's leading (and only) community theater, featuring yours truly as Minnie Pearl?

Note the green screen: everything was rehearsed and filmed on Zoom, as befitting these distanced times. 

Our family is going to watch on Friday night, but whether you tune in Friday, Saturday, or Sunday at 7:00 pm EST, you'll get classic zingers, mid-century hair, celebrity impersonations, and (I think) some old-fashioned ads. Sitting in the squares are Paul Lynde (in the center square, of course), Minnie Pearl, Rose Marie, Redd Foxx, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, Jimmy Stewart, Charley Weaver, George Gobel, and Karen Valentine.

The show will stream on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday on Facebook Live (no account needed). Tickets are 8.99 per screen, so gather the whole family round.

Lifting The Election Fog

 I didn't really want to write another post looking at the claims that the election was stolen, but the claims keep coming.  In particular, several people have pointed me towards this "Reasons why the 2020 presidential election is deeply puzzling" article.  Then someone even went to the length of looking up my non-blog email address (admittedly not actually hard to do) and emailing it to me.  So, I guess I'll take that as a challenge.  

The challenge in answering this is that it takes the approach, if I may use the crude phrase, of throwing a whole lot of shit at the wall to see what will stick.  Answering all of these fully would take some time, but I think I can answer almost all of them fully enough.  And while this form of argumentation is not proof, I will at least ask skeptical readers to consider that if the solid majority of the claims turn out to be erroneous, perhaps the author is not actually much in command of the facts in general.

Working from first to last, the author (one Patrick Basham) says:

First, consider some facts. President Trump received more votes than any previous incumbent seeking reelection. He got 11 million more votes than in 2016, the third largest rise in support ever for an incumbent. By way of comparison, President Obama was comfortably reelected in 2012 with 3.5 million fewer votes than he received in 2008.

This is a true fact, but it doesn't actually mean a whole lot.  There are two factors which determine the raw number of votes cast in American elections: the number of voters available and the percentage of eligable voters who actually register and vote.  (The vast majority of people who are registered do in fact vote, the issue is more that a lot of people don't actually register.  In 2016, 86.8% of registered voters voted, but that is only 55.7% of eligible voters.)   In 2020 an estimated total of 158 million votes were cast (CA and NY are, to my knowledge, still counting at tortoise pace) but that's still only about 66.5% of eligible voters.  Over the last 24 years turnout has been increasing from a low point in 1996.  Arguably, this is a product of our increasing political polarization.  The Democrats put huge efforts into registering and turning out voters in 2020, and doubtless they expected they would coast to victory against an unpopular President Trump as a result.  The reason why the election was in fact just as narrow as 2016 (though with a narrow Dem victory instead of a narrow GOP one) is that they failed to account for the fact that they are nearly as divisive as Trump himself.  Just knowing that the Democrats were working so hard to increase voter turnout got more Republican leaning voters to the polls as well.

Trump’s vote increased so much because, according to exit polls, he performed far better with many key demographic groups. Ninety-five percent of Republicans voted for him. He did extraordinarily well with rural male working-class whites.

Trump grew his support among black voters by 50 percent over 2016. Nationally, Joe Biden’s black support fell well below 90 percent, the level below which Democratic presidential candidates usually lose.

This conflates something that is true with something that isn't.  

It's true that Trump improved his performance with black voters, but even with that improvement Trump only got the support of 12% of black voters (19% of black men and 9% of black women).  It's also true that Trump won white working class voters by a large margin -- he beat Biden by 35% among white voters with no college degree.  But in a sign of trouble for Trump, that was a decline in his core constituency from 2016 when he beat Clinton by 37% among whites with no college degree.  Also a significant problem for Trump is that fact that while he won college educated white men by 14% in 2016 he only won that demographic by 3% in 2020, while Biden won among white college educated women by 9% which was actually an increase over Clinton's win among the demographic of 7%.  

So yes, Trump got lots of votes from working class whites, and he increased his support among blacks and Hispanics, but if we look at all the demographics we see a picture of Trump as a candidate who lost more support than he gained in terms of percentages of voters, even though partisanship drove record turnout numbers and thus a record number of ballots cast for both candidates.

Trump increased his share of the national Hispanic vote to 35 percent. With 60 percent or less of the national Hispanic vote, it is arithmetically impossible for a Democratic presidential candidate to win Florida, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico. 

 Interestingly, if you take the exit polls here and filter them by state to look at Florida, Arizona, and Nevada (New Mexico, unfortunately is not available) you'll see that Biden got 61% support from Latinos in Nevada (and won), 61% of Latinos in Arizona (and won) and 53% of Latinos in Florida (and lost.)  I don't know why the author thinks that the national Latino exit poll average has some magical mathematical certitude, but his formula actually holds at a state level.

Midwestern states Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin always swing in the same direction as Ohio and Iowa, their regional peers. Ohio likewise swings with Florida. Current tallies show that, outside of a few cities, the Rust Belt swung in Trump’s direction.


In 2004 IA and OH swung Republican while MI, WI, and PA went Democrat. In 2000 IA voted Democrat as well, leaving OH as the GOP hold out.  Can I gripe for a moment about how sloppy it is to suggest that something is "fishy" about MI, WI, and PA voting Democrat while OH and IA vote Republican because that never happens when you've failed to note that in two out of the previous five presidential elections those states did in fact split?  Does Mr. Basham even care if the stuff he's writing is accurate?  Is he trying?  There is nothing remotely interpretive about this.  It is a straight up fact which takes less time to look up than it's taking me to type this complaint.  Yet he got it wrong and thousands of people have shared his article.

Yet, Biden leads in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin because of an apparent avalanche of black votes in Detroit, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee. Biden’s ‘winning’ margin was derived almost entirely from such voters in these cities, as coincidentally his black vote spiked only in exactly the locations necessary to secure victory. He did not receive comparable levels of support among comparable demographic groups in comparable states, which is highly unusual for the presidential victor.

This is not true.  As I've written previously, Biden was not put over the top by an avalanche of votes from those four cities.  The percentage of votes he got in those cities was virtually unchanged from 2016.  Indeed, in Philadelphia County in particular Trump actually increased his share of the vote by 2.5% versus 2016.  And while Biden did do very well in those counties which are heavily urban counties with a large number of black voters, he did not do unusually well in those counties compared to other urban counties that historically vote strongly Democrat.  Biden got 82% of the vote Philadelphia County, 73% of the vote in Hudsen County NJ, 85% in New York County, NY, 83% on Bronx County, NY, 91% in Prince George's County, MD, etc.  These are typical urban county numbers and we see them in totally uncontested states like NY and NJ as well as the hotly contested PA.

Moving to the midwestern comparisons, Biden's 69% support in Detroit is not very different from his 67% in Cleveland, OH or 66% on Columbus, OH.  And note that Wayne County (Detroit) is 40% black while Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) is only 30% black and Franklin County (Columbus) is 21%.  

So, is there something fishy here?  No.  These cities voted much like they did in 2016 in terms of percent breakdown and they voted much like similar counties in states that were not battleground states.

We are told that Biden won more votes nationally than any presidential candidate in history. But he won a record low of 17 percent of counties; he only won 524 counties, as opposed to the 873 counties Obama won in 2008. Yet, Biden somehow outdid Obama in total votes.

Sigh...  "We are told", eh?  Well, it's actually not hard to explain.  Should Mr. Basham wish to take his intellectual curiosity over to the US Census website, he can consult the tables of US population by county and there discover that the 500 largest counties contain 76% of the total US population.  As he has already noted, Biden won solid victories in many urban counties.  He also significantly improved his performance in mid-density suburban counties.  

Let's go to a non-swing state to look at an example.  In Cook County, IL (Chicago) Biden for 76% of the vote versus Hillary's 78%.  However, when we look at the surrounding counties, Biden outperformed Hillary. (using this handy county vote data visualization)

Will County (Clinton 53%, Biden 54%)
DuPage County (Clinton 58%, Biden 59%)
Lake County (Clinton 61%, Biden 62)
McHenry County (Clinton 46%, Biden 49%)
Kendall County (Clinton 49%, Biden 53%)

If we roll back to 2004, every one of those suburb and exurb counties went for Bush.

Will County (Bush 52%)
DuPage County (Bush 54%)
Lake County (Bush 51%)
McHenry County (Bush 60%)
Kendall County (Bush 61%)

These are all counties with hundreds of thousands of people in them, and they've all shifted blue since the days of George W Bush.  The median US county has less than 30,000 people, and a huge number of those very low population, rural counties went for Trump.

Victorious presidential candidates, especially challengers, usually have down-ballot coattails; Biden did not. The Republicans held the Senate and enjoyed a ‘red wave’ in the House, where they gained a large number of seats while winning all 27 toss-up contests. Trump’s party did not lose a single state legislature and actually made gains at the state level.

Trump actually ran behind most Republicans in 2016 as well.  Despite his reputation for being a "winner", he's not as good a vote getter as a lot of other Republican in competitive states.  For instance in 2016 Trump won Georgia with 50.4% of the vote, but Republican Senator Johnny Isakson won his senate race with 54.8% of the vote. In Ohio, Trump won with 51.3% of the vote in 2016, but Rob Portman won his senate seat with 58% of the vote.  In Wisconsin Trump won with 47.2% of the vote, but Ron Johnson won the senate race with 50.2% of the vote.  

Further, the GOP was recovering from a particularly bad 2018 performance, when highly motivated Democrats turned out in a "blue wave" election which won the House back from the GOP, reducing the GOP seats from 241 to 197.  In 2020 we won back some, but not all, of those lost seats, still remaining in the minority.

And honestly, if the theory is that the Democrats "stole" the election, isn't it awfully strange that they only thought to steal the White House and let themselves get beaten down to a razor thin majority in the House while failing to take the Senate as so many polls had predicted?

Despite poor recent performances, media and academic polls have an impressive 80 percent record predicting the winner during the modern era. But, when the polls err, non-polling metrics do not; the latter have a 100 percent record. Every non-polling metric forecast Trump’s reelection. For Trump to lose this election, the mainstream polls needed to be correct, which they were not. Furthermore, for Trump to lose, not only did one or more of these metrics have to be wrong for the first time ever, but every single one had to be wrong, and at the very same time; not an impossible outcome, but extremely unlikely nonetheless.

 This is a rather silly, tea-leaf-reading kind of objection, not totally unlike the complain that certain counties always vote for the winner (until they don't) or that you can predict the presidential election via how some baseball team does.  This is referring to models that try to predict the outcome of a presidential election based on economic metrics (inflation, unemployment, etc.) rather than by looking at polls.  These models are usually based on the assumption that if the economy is good, the president will be elected.

Of course, the issue in 2020 is that this is such an extraordinary year.  We do not have a good model for how elections behave when the economy was strong but is now struggling under the pressure of a pandemic which the president is accused by the other party of having badly mishandled. 

Having provided all that background, this claim is really odd.  The author argues that for Trump to lose the election, that would mean that the polls would have to be correct, but that in years when the polls were not right in predicting the presidential election, the economic based models have always been right.  So let's break this claim into parts:

1) Were the polls wrong?  Well, Trump did do better than pre-election polling suggested.  Polls suggested he would lose Florida, that Ohio was a dead heat, and that the Democrats might have a chance of capturing Texas.  Trump won Florida and Ohio and won Texas by a solid margin (though much less than GOP candidates have in prior years.)  But on a national basis the final RCP polling average predicted the results would be 51% for Biden and 44% for Trump with the rest undecided or third party.  The final results were 51% Biden 47% Trump.  That's not massively off, though it is certainly true that it's worth noting that state and congressional polls were off in key ways.

2) Did econometric models predict Trump would win?  I'm sure some did, but when I googled for these, the very first result I came up with was on predicting the Democrats would win.  

3) So if the author's incorrect assertion that either the polls or the econometric models MUST be right, then if the polls were wrong that Trump would lose, we'd expect the econometric models to be right that Trump would lose.  But of course, if Trump did in fact lose, there's not even a problem here by the author's own incorrect set of claims about how one of these must be right. 

Then Basham goes on to list, "The following peculiarities also lack compelling explanations."  If you're already getting tired of this, and you're beginning to trust my analysis over his, I'll tell you that there are nine of these and that none of them are actually very compelling objections, but I'm going to shoot for completeness here without utterly exhausting my readers.

1. Late on election night, with Trump comfortably ahead, many swing states stopped counting ballots. In most cases, observers were removed from the counting facilities. Counting generally continued without the observers

The key issue here is that in several key states (which include PA, MI, and WI where GOP controlled legislatures had wrangled over how to process the expected avalanche of mail-in ballots during the pandemic and had ended up ruling that unlike in OH and FL, mail in ballots could not be pre-processed to make counting easier and faster on election day) there were big backlogs of mail in ballots that were still needing to be processed election night.  Because Trump had been telling his supporters that mail in voting could not be trusted and they should vote on election day, mail in ballots trended heavily Democratic while in-person ballots trended heavily Republican.  This meant that as this backlog of mail in ballots was processed, the vote would swing in Biden's direction.  

However, a whole mythology has built up in loosely sourced pieces like this one that "the vote counting was stopped" and then numbers started to appear that were strongly in Biden's favor.  I don't know why it's shocking that some counties might slow their counting efforts as the night got into the small hours of the morning.  Having myself had to report to the precinct I was working at as a Republican precinct election official in Delaware County, OH at 5:30am, I would definitely have been pretty tired as thing got past midnight if I'd been having to supervise counting as well.  

This piece at The Dispatch rounds up a number sources to rebut the claim that there was a broad stop in counting.  They say:

There was no “stopping the voting” on Election Day. Several states paused vote counting late at night, hardly an unusual move considering the human need for sleep, but there have been no credible reports of voters being turned away at the polls before they closed. And how did everybody decide to stop all at the same time? They didn’t. Several examples from battleground states: Butler County, Pennsylvania, stopped their count at 11 p.m. because of a scanner breakdown. Fulton County, Georgia, stopped scanning absentee ballots at 10:30 p.m. Ballot counting did not stop at all in Wisconsin—where state law mandates no interruption can occur—or in Philadelphia, where officials announced they would stop issuing results at 9:30 p.m. but continued counting ballots. North Carolina stopped counting votes on Election Night for a very simple reason: They ran out of ballots to count.

Basham's next claim:

 2. Statistically abnormal vote counts were the new normal when counting resumed. They were unusually large in size (hundreds of thousands) and had an unusually high (90 percent and above) Biden-to-Trump ratio

The WSJ had a piece which addressed the "big vote drops" claim pretty well just the other day:

“Ballot dumps”: It’s being painted as suspicious that big batches of votes were reported in the early hours of Nov. 4. To take Wisconsin: Mr. Trump complained in a tweet that Joe Biden got “a dump of 143,379 votes at 3:42AM.” But the explanation is prosaic: Contemporaneous reporting says this is when Milwaukee’s central counting location finished with roughly 170,000 mail ballots. They included votes for both candidates but broke heavily for Mr. Biden.

The timing is unfortunate, but Wisconsin law doesn’t let counties process absentee ballots until Election Day, unlike states that reported early, including Florida. Still, the margin in Milwaukee County doesn’t look crazy: Mr. Biden won 69% to 29%, compared with Hillary Clinton’s victory of 65% to 29%. As a share of Wisconsin’s vote total, Milwaukee County fell to 13.9%, from 14.8%. A recount finished last week increased Milwaukee’s tally by only 382 votes.

The same goes for Michigan, which reported a similar batch of ballots in the wee hours of Nov. 4. State law says mail votes can’t be processed until one day before the election. The overnight jump for Mr. Biden appears to have come from Wayne County, which includes Detroit. But again the margins aren’t wild: Mr. Biden won there 68% to 30%, compared with Mrs. Clinton’s 67% to 29%. As a share of Michigan overall, Wayne County fell to 15.8%, from 16.2%.

Next up: 

3. Late arriving ballots were counted. In Pennsylvania, 23,000 absentee ballots have impossible postal return dates and another 86,000 have such extraordinary return dates they raise serious questions

These "impossible dates" reflect claims that the date the state recorded it received back a mail-in ballot was the same day or the next day after it was mailed.  

Given that PA had drop boxes where a voter could drop off a mail-in ballot, I wouldn't say it's necessarily impossible for a voter living near a mailing center to receive a mail-in ballot the same day or the day after it was mailed and then go drop the completed ballot off at a drop box on the same day he received it.  Indeed, some eager to make sure he didn't forget might do exactly that.  

What this claim also misses is that the state may simply have been sloppy in recording the dates.  If so, that's bad, and it should be done better.  But the key thing is of course that these ballots needed to be processed on the merits: did they have a valid signature, was it a registered voter, etc.  Jumping straight to the assumption that these represent sloppy fraud which helpfully left clues for online sleuths rather than efficient voters or sloppy state record keeping of valid votes strikes me as unreasonable.

4. The failure to match signatures on mail-in ballots. The destruction of mail-in ballot envelopes, which must contain signatures

Basham doesn't even provide a specific objection here, but the claims I've seen about not matching signatures on mail in ballots have all related to claims that third party observers felt they didn't get enough of a chance to watch the signature matching work, not claims that the signatures didn't actually match on specific ballots.

Via a piece at The Dispatch, here's the Georgia signature verification process as described by the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

Before election officials counted absentee ballots in Georgia, they checked voter signatures to help make sure that ballots came from the voters who returned them. That verification process reviewed signatures on absentee ballot envelopes when they were received at county election offices. Then ballots are separated from envelopes to protect the secret ballot, leaving no way to link voters to the candidates they chose. The right to cast a ballot in secret is guaranteed by the state Constitution.


5. Historically low absentee ballot rejection rates despite the massive expansion of mail voting. Such is Biden’s narrow margin that, as political analyst Robert Barnes observes, ‘If the states simply imposed the same absentee ballot rejection rate as recent cycles, then Trump wins the election’

 This results from confusing the percent of ballots rejected for signature issues with the percent of ballots rejected for arriving after the deadline.  I'll let The Dispatch do the legwork on this one:

According to a press release from the Georgia secretary of state’s office, the rejection rate for absentee ballots in the November 2020 general election over signature issues was .15 percent, on par with the rate for Georgia’s 2018 election.

Out of 1,322,529 absentee ballots, there were 2,011 absentee ballots rejected in November 2020 because of signature issues. In the 2020 primary election, 3,266 ballots were rejected among a total of 1,151,371 absentee ballots, a rate of .28 percent.

“The lower rejection rate in the general election compared to the primary is likely the result of both parties attempting to help voters cure their absentee ballots pursuant to the process set forth in Georgia statute,” the secretary of state’s office said in a statement.

In a November 17 press conference, Gabriel Sterling, a voting system implementation manager in Georgia, said that the rejection rate for signature issues in the 2020 election was also consistent with the rejection percentage in the 2016 election.

This 4 percent rejection rate that Trump cites is misleading because it includes ballots that were rejected for arriving after the 7 p.m. Election Day deadline, and not because of signature issues.

“The biggest chunk of ballots are rejected or counted as rejected showed up after the 7:00 PM deadline,” Sterling said. “That is where the majority of rejections come from. But for signature matches always run around 0.15 to 0.2%. That is the normal thing we’ve seen in Georgia for years and we also have a new situation now where Republicans and Democrats alike get these lists of people who have absentee ballots to cure.”

Ari Schaffer, the press officer for the secretary of state responded to Trump’s tweet to clarify that “He's confusing signature issues with ballots rejected for coming in late.”


6. Missing votes. In Delaware County, Pennsylvania, 50,000 votes held on 47 USB cards are missing

This refers to a case in Delaware County, PA where a Republican poll watcher claims he saw people working on the voting machines and loading USB thumb drives to do something to them.  It's not clear why Basham thinks that 50,000 votes are missing.  There were 328,329  total votes cast in Delaware County PA, of which Biden got 63%.  This represents an 18% increase from 2016, which is actually somewhat above the PA average vote increase of 12%.  Does Basham think that there are 50,000 more votes in this county, which would mean its vote count increased by 32%?  That would be kind of a crazy number.  But really, all we have here is a "some guy saw something he thought might be wrong" kind of claim.  It was testified about in front of the PA legislature.  If there's something here, let the courts sort it out.

7. Non-resident voters. Matt Braynard’s Voter Integrity Project estimates that 20,312 people who no longer met residency requirements cast ballots in Georgia. Biden’s margin is 12,670 votes

This is based on analysis where someone compared names on the voter rolls to names on the post office's list of people who filed change of address forms to some destination out of state.  Of course, key things this approach misses would be members of the military who are from Georgia but are temporarily deployed to some other place, and students who are maintaining their Georgia residency while attending a university in another state.  (I myself was from 1997 to 2000 a California voter who had filed a change of address to have my bills forwarded to by college address in Ohio.)  Another far more prominent voter with a change of address is a Florida voter who is currently getting his mail at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  

Georgia is investigating claims that people have been registering non-residents, but does not believe it was a significant factor in the election.  

8. Serious ‘chain of custody’ breakdowns. Invalid residential addresses. Record numbers of dead people voting. Ballots in pristine condition without creases, that is, they had not been mailed in envelopes as required by law

This is too vague to address, but refers to a host of claims which people have been eager to make in tweets and press conferences but which the Trump team has actually been quite hesitant to make in court.  We have an innocent until proven guilty system.  If people want to make the claim that 2020 was the result of dead people voting, etc., they need to make the case and show it was significant.

 9. Statistical anomalies. In Georgia, Biden overtook Trump with 89 percent of the votes counted. For the next 53 batches of votes counted, Biden led Trump by the same exact 50.05 to 49.95 percent margin in every single batch. It is particularly perplexing that all statistical anomalies and tabulation abnormalities were in Biden’s favor. Whether the cause was simple human error or nefarious activity, or a combination, clearly something peculiar happened.

First off, it's important to note that this kind of thing results from people trying to read the entrails of the NY Times election updates:

That can be mildly interesting, but it's important to understand that it's fundamentally not how we legally count election results.  Elections are carried out at the county level.  County election boards count their votes in batches and report unofficial totals as they go to the Attorney General and to the media.  But the time series results of a vote count are simply the result of which votes from which places are counted and reported when.

So what's his complaint here?  That in a state in which Biden held a slight majority over Trump, the last 53 updates to the data set all showed Biden with a slight lead over Trump.  In other words, he's complaining that the final updates to the vote total were all broadly typical of the votes of the state as a whole.  

Isn't that kind of an odd complaint?  

Georgia, at this point, is one of our surest results.  The entire state has undergone a hand count which should have resolved any doubt that somehow the vote counting machines could have mis-counted the state.  That hand count found the results of some human error, but it did not differ significantly from the initial count.  

This has been a long post.  I have addressed this piece of "just asking questions" fog generation point by point and tried to present links to plenty of sources so that the curious reader can research further on his own.  I have also, I feel, demonstrated how much less time and work it takes to do one of these vague "there are a bunch of things that bother me" lists than it takes to go through and answer point by point.  And yet the piece from The Spectator was widely shared, providing just enough detail to make readers who wanted to feel like perhaps Trump actually won with a fission of satisfaction that they were continuing to doubt based on lots of facts.

Elections are massive and complicated things, but their results are not unknowable.  This is not the closest election we've had in recent years, and there is not, at this point, reasonable cause to doubt the result: Trump lost.

While I may like Trump less than the people who are still questioning the election results (disclosure: I did not vote for Trump or Biden) I very much share their trepidation over how bad the Biden administration will likely be.  

But if there was ever good reason to doubt the election results, there is not now.  It's not unworthy to let the Trump team make their case in the courts, but they've been doing that for weeks now and failing again and again.  Not only have they failed to successfully make their case, but in many cases their claims in court have been far short of their claims in press conferences. So let the cases play out, but also look at the results.  Don't just read the questions people throw out, read the answers to those question, because there are answers.  Don't intentionally lose yourself in a fog of carefully nurtured doubt.  Not only are people running the risk of losing themselves in permanent crankery and self delusion, but now we have pro-Trump attorneys responsible telling people not to vote in the Georgia senate runoff elections in January -- potentially ceding control of the Senate to the Democrats and giving Biden far more power.  This is not rational, it is not helpful, it is not "winning" or "fighting".  It's a tantrum of self destructive behavior which needs to stop before it damages our country.