Many terrible things have happened this year. So much of this year has been so awful and at such a scale that our sense of outrage can be distorted by the volume of it. Arguably the mendacious behaviour of the Disney corporation is a very minor entry in the log of shitty things people have done to other people (or stood by and let happen) this year. That doesn’t stop it being fundamentally awful though.

If you aren’t already aware, in the various acquisitions of media companies Disney has made over the past few years, they have acquired the rights to many books such as novelizations of notable films. Many of these are books written by veteran sci-fi writer Alan Dean Foster. For many people, his novel versions of sci-fi films where the only way to engage or re-engage with beloved films prior to the era of internet streaming services.

Disney have not only been refusing to pay royalties on these works but have advanced an extraordinary claim regarding copyright. Essentially that as the licence for these works had been sold to them, that they no longer have to compensate the author (who did not gain anything from the sale).

The SFWA has taken up the case and has coverage here https://www.sfwa.org/2020/11/18/disney-must-pay/ There is also coverage at File 770 here http://file770.com/the-disneymustpay-alan-dean-foster-and-sfwa-joint-press-conference/

Disney has been both infamously litigious around protecting it’s own IP and also has aggressively lobbied for changes in copyright law to try and maintain control over material that should have passed into the public domain.

As I said in the opening paragraph, there are certainly worse things people are doing to other people but there is a petty and mendacious quality to Disney’s behaviour here that epitomises the disdain for others that characterises the bully as a character.

Straw Puppy’s POTUS Polls: The Aftermath 2

Those drapes really bring the room together.

Well it has been two weeks since the election and while we know who won, a section of the US STILL hasn’t come to terms with it.

The Keystone Cop Coup is making little progress in court after multiple legal challenges being effectively laughed out of court. As with so much of the Trump era, the farcical aspect is paired with real damage to the USA with delays to the transition of power and deep resentment among the right.

We can sort the dodgy claims into a number of groups:

  • Election night oddities: graphs or vote totals that went up or down in weird ways. These are largely ‘real’ in the sense of being documented things that happened but not inherently unusual with live data (typos etc). There’s a selection bias here which we’ll talk more about later but also if one of these events happened and Biden’s vote went up and was then corrected down, that is taken as evidence by the Keystone-Coupers that lots of other times Biden’s vote went up incorrectly and wasn’t corrected. Conversely if the opposite happened then that is taken as evidence of ‘corrections’ suspiciously favouring Biden. Heads it’s fraud for Biden and tails it’s fraud against Trump.
  • The timing of postal ballot counting. This forms the bulk of the disbelief even though it was widely anticipated that many votes for Biden would be counted later in the process due to many states counting postal ballots after counting in-person on the day ballots. That Trump appeared to be winning and then wasn’t was just very upsetting (understandable I guess) but it shouldn’t have been surprising.
  • Tall stories. Numerous claims have been breathlessly reported of mundane happenings. They often involve vans mysteriously arriving at polling booths and the witness didn’t know what the van was and so maybe it was a van of fake ballots rather than just a van…The most infamous of these is a video from serial fraudsters Project Veritas showing a postal worker making claims of voting irregularities…claims which the worker then retracted https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/postal-worker-fabricated-ballot-pennsylvania/2020/11/10/99269a7c-2364-11eb-8599-406466ad1b8e_story.html
  • Down ballot blanks. Biden did much better than down ballot Democrats. You would think that is actually counter-evidence to claims of fraud by the Democratic Party but because it’s unusual it gets thrown on the pile. The reality is that Biden genuinely isn’t such a great candidate but there was a massive anti-Trump vote. Again, not a surprise not a mystery.
  • “Statistical” non-oddities. I’ve been referred to so many right wing pieces claiming statistical evidence of electoral fraud that AREN’T Benford’s Law claims (which I’ll get to). In each case there are statistics (the post has numbers in them) but no statistical argument. They all follow a template of ‘look at these numbers’ [some details of voting numbers] and ways in which they are different from past elections and an expression of disbelief that Biden would get these votes. That Trump is uniquely disliked by the people who dislike him is never considered even though the right have been moaning about “Orangeman Bad” for ever so long.
  • Name searches. Apparently we are dealing with people who believe firstname-surname combinations are unique identifiers. By searching for the names of dead people or names of people who live in other states or maiden names of married women who changed their surname, numerous examples of people with the SAME NAMES have been found to have voted! Gasp! It’s almost like multiple people have the same names! Utter bunk.
  • Benford’s Law. This really seems to be dying off in popularity after hosts of debunkings. Watching it in real time propogate out from the far, far right and into the main Republican discourse was interesting in a horrific way. It’s bunk though.
  • The big meta argument. Now this is the current favourite and it works by combining the effect of all of the above. As I haven’t mentioned any Sad Puppies yet, I’ll invoke blog tradition and let Dave Freer introduce it:

“For there to be no red flags two conditions need to exist: 1) approximately the same number of reported (correct or not) issues favoring each side.”


Sure, sure, goes the argument, maybe that postal worker was lying and maybe that graph was a glitch but look at all of these things and look how they all favour Biden, that’s just too big a coincidence! Sometimes they even work out probabilities!

Yeah but nah.

There are five elements as to why this is utter bunk. The broad answer is that this isn’t random but let me count the ways:

  1. Biden’s mail in ballot advantage was a known thing in advance. The Biden campaign overtly encouraged people to vote that way and the Trump campaign overtly discouraged people from voting that way. There is zero mystery there and it accounts for much of the real differences in profile between Biden votes and Trump votes.
  2. Demographic differences between Biden and Trump votes mean that yes, Biden often won city precincts by large numbers and those numbers were often much larger because lots of people really, really hate Trump.
  3. Selection bias. “All’ of these “examples” aren’t a random selection of election weirdness. They are specifically the examples chosen by people who wanted Trump to win and/or who assume Democratic Party fraud. We saw this specifically with the Benford’s law claims in which there no examples of Trump votes not following Benford’s law because the people who had drawn the graphs had only picked examples where Biden’s didn’t and Trump’s did (sort of – probably these examples are Trump’s following a normalish distribution with a mean whose first digit was 1).
  4. Selective interpretation aka: heads it’s fraud for Biden and tails it’s fraud against Trump. For example the dubious name search evidence (see above) even if taken on face value does not demonstrate who the duplicate person voted for. However, any evidence of dodigness, no matter how unsubstantiated and lacking in details, is always taken as evidence of fraud by Democrats, despite the reality of ACTUAL genuine, corroborated examples of fraud in actual reality, while rare overall, is often conducted by Republicans.
  5. Outright lying…or, if we are being charitable, a disdain for truth telling that is morally the same as lying.

It is dispiriting but not surprising to watch people put so much effort into fooling themselves so as to support malicious beliefs about others. One election was never going to cure this degree of self-deceit. We should hardly be surprised that people who have been actively fooling themselves about a global pandemic and a decades long global warming crisis can fool themselves about an election, nor that they would be so easily influenced by people further to their right who lie about the holocaust or (as we’ve seen) about the shape of the Earth.

We can watch the growth of conspiracy ideation in real time here. How do people get so sucked in? Take our old pal Larry Corriea. He has some strange idea but he’s not a flat Earther or a Qanon-nut. His first comments about the election were framed in terms of just asking questions and citing “red lags” rather than bold assertions of fraud but as days progressed his assertions grew stronger even though the evidence got thinner. What makes this a ratchet of increasingly conspiratorial thinking is two-fold 1. more concrete evidence does not eventuate and 2. he stakes his personal reputation on his claims. Then what happens? Court cases flop, senior Republicans don’t back the claims of fraud, Fox News acts like Biden won. All of these run counter to the claim to his view of reality:

“I am more offended by how ham fisted, clumsy, and audacious the fraud to elect him is than the idea of Joe Biden being president.”


If the fraud is not just audacious but also clumsy and ham fisted then how come everybody in positions of power at the GoP aren’t doing something? How come Trump’s legal team aren’t making more legal process? How come nobody has found any substantial concrete examples (aside from examples of Republicans misbehaving). The are two choices: reconsider your original claims (maybe there was still fraud but maybe it was more subtle and less provable) or start claiming that all these other people from senior Republicans to right wing news outlets are in on the fraud as well. However, the first means conceding that maybe his ability to discern how the extent of the fraud was not as good as he claimed and that is something that a fragile ego can’t cope with. It’s not even a matter of maybe thinking there wasn’t fraud but even the idea that maybe there was fraud but that it was subtle or clever is too much a personal affront. The only direction is down the conspiracy spiral which inevitably reaches a point where a nameless ‘them’ are calling the shots and nothing, not even the curvature of the Earth, can be trusted.

Timothy’s Hot Take on Science Fiction

Hello, good evening and welcome. It is I, Timothy the Talking Cat. For years I have brought to you searing insights into the world of the imagination. Insights so controversial that they have shaken people from their slumber and sent them groggily blinking into the light, stumbling around and saying “it’s two am in the morning, why the hell are you waking me up at two am in the morning?”

But despite repeated pleadings from my fans and detractors, I have always kept my hottest, most searing take on science fiction to myself. It is an opinion SO startling, so mind bending, so subversive of existing social norms that even I, the world’s greatest iconoclast, have looked upon on it and said “no, actually that’s a bit too much even for me.”

All fandom have speculated upon this. When will I publish this? How will I publish? What does it even mean to publish this? Some said that I would promulgate this hot take as the Guest of Honour at ControversialCon’78. Others claimed that I had established my award winning publishing house just for the purpose of creating a collectors edition leather bound box set of my controversial takes that would climax in a final slim volume with just this single, most hottest take. Others claim that I created a time machine to hurl myself back to the Great Exhibition of 1851 and announce it there to create the maximum scandal by alarming Prince Albert but then I set my time machine wrong and crashed into the Crystal Palace in 1936 causing it to catch fire while I ran around shouting “these dinosaurs are rubbish!”

However, now is the time.

I calculated some years ago that cosmic forces will combine to make November 2020 the slowest news month for fifty years. According to my predictions, almost nothing newsworthy will be going on and hence my hot, hot, SciFi take will reach it’s maximum mind-blowing impact right now.

Here it is people. My dangerous visors. Hold on to your bony brain carapace because it WILL be shocking.

OK, you know how in space movies, space ships always fly side to side sort of horizontally like they are planes or ships right? I mean that’s like in every space TV show or movie unless they are taking off from a planet or doing aerobatics (spaceobatics? vacuumobatics?), right, right? OK, well they shouldn’t do that.

Instead, space ships should go up and down right? I mean, it’s space. Vertical is just the direction you are going right? You are either flying FROM a planet (up) or flying to a planet (down). There’s no side to side malarkey in space. Everything is like UP or it is DOWN.

Woah! OK, I’ll let you all just that digest that for a bit and maybe you should lie down and let your heart rate return to normal.

[Camestros] Actually, that’s a smart point Timothy.
[Timothy] We aren’t doing a dialogue bit!
[Camestros] OK, ok. I’m not trying to ruin your big moment. I just wanted to say that for once, you actually have a point.
[Timothy] Shoo, shoo, bad human-whatever-you-are-thing.

Now that I have changed the landscape of science fiction forever, I can retire gracefully safe in the knowledge that I have reshaped a genre.

Covid in mid-November

I’ll confess to a degree of superstition in not posting any graphs of cases recently. Currently things in Australia are looking optimistic after a scary period in Victoria. Ironically that’s made me more anxious as things here are beginning to feel a bit ‘post-covid’ but when I look at the Northern Hemisphere winter the reality is anything but.

The countries shown this time are just the default offered by the website with the addition of the Philippines and Africa as a whole. If we want a good news story about Covid-19 it really does look like Africa as a continent has managed to escape the worst of things. The ‘why’ of that has had several months of speculation and I think we won’t know really for some time.

I added the Philippines because of the horrific impact currently of typhoon Vamco on the country.

“The death toll from the deadliest cyclone to hit the Philippines this year has climbed to 67, with 12 people still missing, the national disaster management agency has said.”


What the impact of a major natural disaster will be in the time of a pandemic is an open question. In addition with a news cycle crowded with political tantrums, attention and donations from wealthy countries is impacted. https://secure.oxfam.org.au/donate/international-crisis-fund

The USA was already on a steep trajectory of cases and that somehow has got steeper. Just in time not just for winter but also for maximum dysfunction in federal government.

The good news is that overall case fatality rates have fallen substantially. Some of this may be purely statistical (more testing of people who get mild cases) and some of it is improved treatment.

This graph shows excess mortality in the USA over several years for comparison.

It’s deadly but these figures do suggest that improved treatment and protecting more vunerable groups may reduce deaths. However, to temper that good news the long term impacts of the disease on people who survive is becoming clearer:

“Young and previously healthy people with ongoing symptoms of Covid-19 are showing signs of damage to multiple organs four months after the initial infection, a study suggests.”


As I said at the start, things down-under are increasingly normal – worryingly so perhaps. Trains are getting busy again and generally people are acting a lot more relaxed about things. As we’ve seen elsewhere, covid-19 can spread slowly and asymptomatically in a population for awhile before a few events lead to more sudden and rapid growth.

A vaccine is looking hopeful though:

The impact of a new Covid vaccine will kick in significantly over summer and life should be back to normal by next winter, one of its creators has said.
Prof Ugur Sahin, BioNTech co-founder, also raised hopes the jab could halve transmission of the virus, resulting in a “dramatic reduction in cases”.
Last week, BioNTech and co-developers Pfizer said preliminary analysis showed their vaccine could prevent more than 90% of people from getting Covid-19.
About 43,000 people took part in tests.”


Let’s hope so.

Susan’s Salon: 2020 November 15/16

Susan explaining how the normal distribution doesn’t follow Benford’s Law

November, Yesvember, Maybevember

Please use the comment section to just chat about whatever you want. Susan’s Salon is posted early Monday (Sydney time which is still Sunday in most countries) . It’s fine to be sad, worried, angry or happy (or all of those things at once).

Please feel free to post what you like (either troubling news or pleasant distractions) in the comments for this open thread. [However, no cranky conflicts between each other in the comments.] Links, videos, cat pictures 🐈 etc are fine! Whatever you like and be nice to one another 😇

Review: Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

The past few years have been trying times and it is hard to say positive things about 2020 that don’t pale against it’s immediate horrors. One thing we do have is a host of high profile fantastical horror from Black American creators. Lovecraft Country is a major TV show, Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Us were popular and critically acclaimed films, N.K.Jemisin’s The City We Became has gained mainstream press attention. A common theme is the subversion of horror tropes (particularly but not exclusively Lovecraftian ones) to reflect social issues and in particular systemic and overt anti-Black racism.

To that extent, Ring Shout will feel like familiar territory. In post World War 1 America a group of heroes must fight a resurgent KKK that is also a front for cosmic monster from some other dimension. Klan members vary from being humans under the sway of hate-consuming creatures to actual unearthly monsters (nicknamed Ku Kluxes for obvious reasons). Clark has stated the multiple influences he has thrown into this rich brew of history and fantasy, including Buffy The Vampire Slayer and the books of Toni Morrison.

Like a lot of novellas, I really wanted this to be longer. There are some intriguing characters, particularly in the core group but I feel like we barely got to know them within the space of this story. The same is true of some of the supernatural beings as well. We do learn a lot about the central character of Maryse but the story is crowded with history as well as both action and supernatural sequences that some of the interpersonal dynamics that we get sparkling glimpses of doesn’t get the room to breathe. So many rich ideas here that I wanted to linger but it was all over when I was most invested in the scope of it.

Hopefully it will spawn a sequel.

Lawfare Developments

No, no, not Trump’s bizarre legal cases. I’m talking about a different right winger with a distorted view of reality. Yes, we are back on the Patreon versus Fans of Owen ‘Flat Earth’ Benjamin. For previous episodes of this saga please see:

So the next episode in this Quixotic tale was scheduled for December when a case management conference was due. However, there has been a further development.

Back in June Patreon filed that the case should be designated as complex litigation [1]. That motion has now been agreed[2] and that means a new court and a new judge and I guess all sorts of things I don’t understand.

Bad news or good news for Benajmin and Vox Day? Probably bad news. This was what Patreon asked for and Day isn’t boasting about it. The case management conference has moved to January 5.


[2] https://webapps.sftc.org/ci/CaseInfo.dll?SessionID=D5B9811257FDC357307B9DA30DF4EFC50BA266F1&URL=https%3A%2F%2Fimgquery.sftc.org%2FSha1_newApp%2Fmainpage.aspx%3FWeb_Server%3Dimgquery.sftc.org%26MINDS_Server%3Dhoj-imx-01%26Category%3DC%26DocID%3D07437293%26Timestamp%3D20201114001753%3Dbc86955a0f06a22fef469e5d59bd00a573392cc1

Star Trek Discovery: Die Trying (S3E5)

I think this is the most self-confident episode of Discovery we have had. Ironically given that the plot involves the crew of the ship having to prove themselves to the remaining rump of Star Fleet, this is an episode that acts like it has nothing to prove. Stronger than last week’s episode but it shares that quality of not being a stand-out episode of Trek in general while being clever, engaging, entertaining and visually brilliant. Where it has the advantage over past episodes is that it uses small moments to make use of a large cast.

Discovery has finally found the hidden remains of Star Fleet and the Federation. Do you want starship porn? Well we get a big glowy show of ships (including a version of Voyager) that makes the secret Star Fleet base feel more like Iain Bank’s Culture than earlier versions. There’s even a USS Nog for DS9 fans. Here the Discovery runs into an excellent threat: a reasonable, measured and quite rightly suspicious Star Fleet whose last records of a “USS Discovery” is a ship that was destroyed centuries ago and which also has very strict laws against time travel (a nod to Enterprise). Hey! Lots of inter-show continuity going on here but all done in nods and without interrupting the plot.

The threat to the ship comes in the form of military bureaucracy and I really like this. Star Fleet has gained a new ship and traumatised crew and so (arguably sensibly) wants to split up the crew and repurpose the ship. Saru and Burnham have other ideas (arguably sensible ones) and we voila! We have a dramatic conflict in which reasonable people are in conflict for reasonable reasons! No secret conspiracies or mirror universe doppelgängers , just two sets of people with different agendas.

OK, I mean we DO have a mirror universe doppelgänger in the form of Emperor Georgiou who gets her own time to shine in a debrief interrogation scene with Michael from the Good Place. No, no not actually a Ted Danson cameo but a flippin’ David Cronenberg cameo, as the future-Federation’s resident mirror universe specialist. If that and the rest of the crew’s debrief scenes (some very funny plot summaries of seasons 1 & 2) aren’t enough, we also have a mysteriously-abandoned-ship/base story.

The episode crams a lot in! Yet, it keeps things together and sticks to a good pace. The weakest part is centring security officer Nahn and her people’s culture. Yet even here the sense of unearned emotions arise from flaws in previous episodes. Nahn has been a character in 13 episodes of Discovery but prior to this episode, I would have struggled to remember her name or how she joined the crew. So we get a bit of a “Hello, I’m Commander Nahn. Here is a quick backstory about my people who are very unique because we breathe funny air but our culture has a thing about death, no time to explain what it is and I was very attached to the nice robot lady who died. Goodbye!”

Security Officer of Discovery is a position with a bit of a curse attached to it.

Five episodes in and so far I haven’t felt disappointed by a single one of them! Aside from Nahn, the only annoying thing was Saru’s version of the Dark Ages versus the Renaissance and given the time period is forgivable. Future Alien guy has a very potted & distorted take on human history? Technically that’s realism.

Anyway, David Cronenberg.

Cora’s review is here http://corabuhlert.com/2020/11/14/star-trek-discovery-is-determined-to-fulfill-its-mission-or-die-trying/

Food and nations

As is the way with American elections, disappointed factions begin dreaming of various states leaving the USA and striking out on their own. These fantasies run in both directions: imagining states the faction likes separating or imagining states they don’t like going off on their own. The outcome either way is similar and distinction rests on who gets to call themselves “the USA” afterwards. The scenarios aren’t plausible and two main candidates (California and Texas) do not appear to have any interest in setting up as independent nations despite their size and resources.

More vaguely is the sense of two Americas. The division is fluid, coast v inland, north v south, red state v blue state much of it which arises from arbitrary divisions that hide the messier quality of the divisions. Even so, there is a general recognition of a more consistent urban v rural split. So the right wing version of this fantasy involves (in various degrees or combinations) more rural parts of the USA dividing from more urban parts. This, you would think, would be very bad idea for supporters of capitalism in those rural states given how so much of the capital part of capitalism happens in cities. Aha! But, say the fantasists, we will control all the food! That same idea bubbles up in the related right wing fantasy of a second civil war, in which control of the food is seen as a massive strategic advantage — after all people have to eat!

I think only Americans could believe this. It’s an idea that runs so obviously counter to history and the state of the world that I would have thought there wouldn’t be an ideological bent to this misunderstanding. It is true that food is a strategic resource (obviously) but the idea of a nation being powerful based primarily on its agricultural output is very odd, given how political power has actually fallen out in capitalist and non-capitalist countries and eras.

Here’s an example from a usual quarter:

“Even the soft socialism of Europe and their less drastic version of the Green Nude Heel which the softer (headed) socialists in the US view as their beau ideal survives ONLY because the US subsidizes them MASSIVELY. And not just in defending their heads-up-butts polities. Oh, no. We subsidize them by the simple fact that we produce SO MUCH food that they can buy the surplus, again at nominal amounts.”


The idea is that the US is the bread basket of the world and only this largesse allows the “soft socialism” of Europe (i.e. capitalism with a few significant social democratic compromises and institutions) to survive. The idea runs counter to common sense and facts but it also illustrates how the right imagines the dynamic to work within the USA.

On the factual side, it is true that the EU (to pick a subset of Europe) imports a lot of food from the USA. In fact in 2016 it imported €7 billion worth of food from the US. That’s a lot! However, to put that number in perspective, it is only a little bit more than the amount imported from Norway (€6.8 billion) and less than imported from Brazil (€9 billion). It is also less than the amount of food exported by the EU to the US (€8 billion). https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/products-eurostat-news/-/EDN-20171016-1?inheritRedirect=true Maybe if we calculated the food in terms of weight or calories, the proportion could look quite different (e.g. wine versus grain) but Europe itself is not dependent on US food. Of course, if the US stopped exporting food in general that certainly would have medium term impacts on the world economy and food supplies but that’s a different argument.

It may seem odd that people who regard free market economics as a deep ideology have such a poor understanding of trade. Yet people who elevate a set of ideas into extreme dogmatism often have a poor understanding of the ideas they have elevated. The more dogmatic followers of a religion often have a poor grasp of theology, Ayn Rand following Objectivists always have a very poor understanding of logic (even at an elementary level).

Money matters and political power matters. A nation with both can get food from somewhere. A nation with neither but which has lots of food is prone to exploitation and colonialism (in the past overtly and in more recent decades less overtly). Nation with all three may have fewer worries than most but it’s not the norm. Notably, states as entities started in cities.

But city states are surely a relic of ancient times? Hardly, when we have an obvious example that only became an independent nation in the 1960s: Singapore. Politically and constitutionally distinct from Malaysia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singapore) the city nation is never going to be famous for its agricultural output (famous for its food, yes but that’s a very different sense). It’s also a very capitalist city in multiple senses of the word.

This set of ideas that are swirling around on the right are not ideas based in free-market classical liberalism but rather just a species of autarky (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autarky ). It arises from a mindset that sees itself besieged and under attack and where war or the expectation of war is the norm. That is not a healthy place to be ideologically given the other ideologies that have embraced the idea.