Ninja FUD in Arizona

Cast your mind back to the closing weeks of 2020 and in the US the right was all aflutter about electoral fraud i.e. not at all coping with losing. I’ve covered the extent to which US elections are impacted by fraud before and the answer is lots-and-lots-and-none-at-all. The lots are overt and technically legal and come in the form of gerrymandering and voter suppression. It’s fraud because it is a systematic effort to distort the results of elections so that people who do not have the support of most eligible voters win elections. All election systems have flaws but if you put your effort into making those flaws worse for your own advantage then I have no issue calling that fraudulent, at least morally if not legally.

Putting that aside, the issue of in-person voter fraud and similar shenanigans is rare in the US, largely focused on local elections and (usually) has little impact. Past coverage of the issue prior to 2020 can be read here:

Of course, November 2020 brought fresh claims of voter fraud when Donald Trump was beaten by Joe Biden in the Presidential election. Those claims got quite wild, with all sorts of nonsense from misapplication of Benford’s Law to absurd claims about voting machines, a supposed military “raid” in Germany (wholly made up it seems) and at least one Kraken. What was missing at that point was ninjas.

Amid these attempts to deny reality, those states that swung the electoral college numbers in Biden’s favour received the most attention. Arizona was one of those states, and within Arizona, the populous Maricopa County was of particular interest because it sits electorally and demographically as a place shifting from Republican to Democratic https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maricopa_County,_Arizona

As a consequence of the desire to change reality, Arizona Senate Republicans hired private contractors to conduct an audit of Maricopa County https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_Maricopa_County_presidential_ballot_audit and things only got stranger from there. The company, calling itself “CyberNinjas” at least added a cyberpunk theme to the process but aside from that, approached the process in a manner that generously could be called “sloppy” https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/nation-politics/observers-of-arizonas-gop-led-election-audit-document-security-breaches-prohibited-items-on-counting-floor/

The audit itself was a bit of a circus but apparently, it was sufficient to convince Donald Trump that it would lead to him being re-instated as US President by August 2021 https://www.nationalreview.com/2021/06/maggie-haberman-is-right/ (Observant readers will have noticed that Donald Trump was not re-instated as US President last month)

Fast forward to this week. The CyberNinjas report was leaked ahead of its public reveal and surprise, surprise Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in Maricopa County…which, of course, we all already knew. https://www.azfamily.com/full-report-cyber-ninjas-results-on-election-audit/pdf_e1967608-1d99-11ec-9f0f-c394f7c3dc5f.html In fact, in the CyberNinja’s recount Biden had more votes but…let’s face it that’s likely an error on their part in some way. This was not a group that inspired confidence.

Of course, the point of the audit was not intended to come up if with a different value than the previous recounts but to either find a ‘smoking gun’ of electoral shenanigans and failing that just generally cast doubt on the results. That Biden won (again) carries some amusement value but the substantial effort by the GOP was to use the audit report to claim that the results were in some vague way not wholly legitimate. Which, is what they were doing beforehand anyway but now they have spent a lot of money and can do it again.

The GOP spin on the report is a claim that 40 thousand votes, far more than Biden’s margin in the county, are somehow dubious. Interestingly, the CyberNinja’s report is more equivocal. They do list a whole pile of things but looking at the points in detail reveal a whole pile of vague hand waving. You can read the report here https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/azfamily.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/e/19/e1967608-1d99-11ec-9f0f-c394f7c3dc5f/614e7177ca92c.pdf.pdf (and archive version here)

So what’s this 40K+ that the right is touting? The report breaks down 22 issues and the number of ballots impacted by those issues. The issues are presented with titles and a rating from “Critical” to “Low”. The emphasis from the right is on the names of the issues rather than a. the actual numbers and b. what those numbers actually indicate or c. whether those numbers are in any way correct and d. whether they changed the result. The idea is really just to get a figure big enough that Biden’s margin in this one county can be called doubtful in some sense, which helps fuel further voter suppression policies.

The single biggest issue highlighted by the report is the ominous-sounding “5.3.1 Mail-in ballots voted from prior address” which is the only issue rated as “Critical” in the report. According to the CyberNinjas, this numbers 23,344 ballots i.e. about half of the supposed 40K. Digging into the details, the issue is primarily people who moved house WITHIN Maricopa County between receiving a mail-in ballot and posting it. Hmmm. OK, sure, not even remotely something indicating mass electoral fraud but possibly in breach of the actual rules…except…it isn’t really 23,344 ballots WERE THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED, it’s just 23,344 were maybe that’s what happened.

“Mail-in ballots were cast under voter registration IDs for people that may not have received their ballots by mail because they had moved, and no one with the same last name remained at the address. Through extensive data analysis we have discovered approximately 23,344 votes that may have met this condition.”

The ‘extensive data analysis was a comparison with a third-party address validation tool of the kind used by companies to validate their direct marketing tools etc. So some proportion of those would be false positives in terms of an actual change of address, even more, would be false positives of a change of address within the window where it would have been a problem. The ‘audit’ did not actually confirm a single one of these ballots as actually being a problem. Nor did the report in any way connect this issue with any indication of systematic fraud, indeed taking the claim at face value it was eligible voters voting but with not wholly up-to-date details.

In short, it is largely smoke but this one issue bulks up the numbers.

The next highest issue is “5.4.1 More Ballots Returned By Voter Than Received” with 9,041 ballots ‘impacted’. Again, the title doesn’t describe the actual thing found but the potential inference that could be made from the discrepancy. The idea being with these titles, that either intentional or through sloppy reporting the whole “maybe” aspect of the report gets skipped over.

The actual substance of the figure is where there are discrepancies between the number of ballots sent to a person and the number returned e.g. somebody was sent one mail-in ballot but two were received. Note also “received” not “counted” and the report assumes only one ballot was counted. In addition, the report isn’t entirely sure what the figures they have actually indicate, noting:

“NOTE: We’ve been informed shortly before the release of this report that some of the discrepancies outlined could be due to the protected voter list. This has not been able to be validated at this time, but we thought it was important to disclose this information for accuracy.”

But…OK, follow the chains of maybes down the line and there’s at least a possibility of some fraction of that 9,041 being people who voted twice (although probably only counted once). Might that impact the results? The report provides a table that breaks down the nine thousand approximately by party registration.

  • Democrat [sic] Party 34.4%
  • Republican Party 30.4%
  • Prefer not to declare 30.1%
  • Independent 3.7%
  • Libertarian Party 1.3%

So we are well into fractions or fractions of maybes.

I won’t cover every point but the next highest was “5.4.2 VOTERS THAT POTENTIALLY VOTED IN MULTIPLE COUNTIES” with 5,295 votes and this is more of a classic. The CyberNinjas matched first, middle and last names AND year of birth across voter records to find duplicates. They found 10,342 votes out of 2,076,086 votes actually counted in the election.

“Comparing the Maricopa County VMSS Final Voted File to the equivalent files of the other fourteen Arizona counties resulted in 5,047 voters with the same first, middle, last name and birth year, representing 10,342 votes among all the counties. While it is possible for multiple individuals to share all these details, it is not common although the incidence
here (roughly one-third of one percent) may be the rate of commonalities in identifying information between legitimate, separate individual voters especially with common last names.”

Yes, it may well be the actual rate of commonalities and if I was paying for this report that ACTUAL rate (or a research-based estimate) is something I’d expect to see in that paragraph. It’s unlikely that two people would share all those identifying features in common but also the proportion they found was very small…which is what you would expect. This extensive data analysis discovered that a rare thing was rare.

These three issues by themselves (those rated “High” or “Critical”) account for 37,680 of the ballots that the propaganda spin is claiming are in some way evidence of fraud or potential fraud. The report itself makes more moderate claims about those figures and yet even those more moderate claims are poorly substantiated.

The issues with smaller figures have much the same issues. Name matching (e.g. of 282 possibly deceased people) that may or may not be accurate, a lack of clarity on what the figure might indicate and no obvious connection with any kind of systematic fraud.

Even taking the dubious report at face value, the broader narrative of some kind of extensive fraud by the Democratic Party (or the Deep State or satanic cultists or whoever is supposed to be conspiring today) is more disproven by the report than it is supported. A proportion of Arizona residents moving house with a plot to steal an election makes no sense but then none of the conspiratorial plots mooted in the wake of Trump’s defeat made any sense.

The details of the report won’t matter though. You’ll be getting sound bites of 40 thousand bad ballots in Arizona for literally years after this even though the actual report, dodgy as it is, doesn’t even support that figure.


Oh, and a little twist in the story. Do you remember Benford’s Law? Well if you check the leading digits of the figures in the CyberNinja report (page 5), the most common leading digit is 2 not 1. Of course, given the data there’s no reason why you should expect it to follow Benford’s law but for all those people who were claiming that any departure from the rule is sure evidence of fraud…well…OK those people don’t believe in logical consistency anyway so.

Larry C is stepping up the boogaloo rhetoric

Larry Correia isn’t famed for subtlety or nuance in his political analysis but unlike many in his wider circle, he has usually side-stepped some of the more extreme violent rhetoric of the overly-armed right. Things are getting a little too much for him now though and the kind of Civil-War-2 style rhetoric that has been bubbling away on the right (and in his comment section) for years has become a lot more overt.

Now note, as per his former Sad Puppy ally Sarah Hoyt, these kinds of comments are framed not in terms that his followers or the broader American right SHOULD take to arms because they can’t cope with a Democrat in office, but rather that the current administration is in some way so provocative that it is driving them over some sort of mental edge that makes violence inevitable. Somehow the free-will rugged individualists have a sudden and dangerous loss of agency in the presence of things like public-health measures.

So Correia’s specific advice is more bunker-down than take-to-the-streets.

“And then some of you will ask, but Correia, what’s your solution? Lol. What solution? Shit’s probably going to get weirder. My solution? Buy ammo and food storage. Make friends with your neighbors and be useful to your community. Don’t live anywhere run by democrats.”

https://monsterhunternation.com/2021/09/10/this-week-in-politics-its-all-bullshit-and-were-fucked/ and archive link https://web.archive.org/web/20210910171417/https://monsterhunternation.com/2021/09/10/this-week-in-politics-its-all-bullshit-and-were-fucked/

And later in the comments he clarifies that he is not advocating for a civil war…sort of:

“If you think I’m “advocating” for a civil war, you’re one dumb motherfucker. I’m warning morons like you what is inevitably coming if you don’t apply the brakes.
I don’t want a civil war. Sadly dumbfucks like you get a vote too.”

https://monsterhunternation.com/2021/09/10/this-week-in-politics-its-all-bullshit-and-were-fucked/#comment-105482

He’s not advocating for civil war but… Well, the guy is a writer I guess. The body of the post is more ranty and stream of consciousness than usual, mixing in a big list of grievances from the masks, vaccine mandates, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the January 6 insurrection and a truly wild idea that nobody faced any legal consequences from any of the violence in US cities surrounding Black Lives Matter protests.

“As our elected leaders continue to suck and fail, I expect to see a lot more civil disobedience happen. This isn’t a shocker. The left has already made it very clear that the rules don’t apply to them. The left burns, loots, murders, whatever. It all gets a pass. The right gets slightly uppity and it’s a world ending crisis that requires the full might of the federal government to come crashing down on their heads and 24/7 news coverage for months and special commissions and anybody who tangentially agrees with those uppity types needs to be driven from society for their extremist ways.”

Correia concludes his post with:

“And for the fools cheering this madness on, we have this system for a reason. We have laws for a reason. We create laws the way we do for a reason. The founding fathers weren’t stupid. They were smarter than you idiots. Quit trying to gut or destroy every protection they put in place. That shit is there to protect you. But these stupid motherfuckers are not going to quit pushing until a critical mass of Americans just says fuck it and go full on Rwandan machete party.”

The shift in government this year has heightened this kind of rhetoric on the right and obviously, we’ve seen the reversal of support for Trump saying he was ending US troop deployment in Afghanistan to Biden actually ending US troop deployment in Afghanistan. However, during the Trump years, this kind of sense of an encroaching tipping point/psychological-political crisis on the right only increased. Correia’s claim here that it is the left (as he sees it) being in government that is somehow pushing (right-wing) Americans into a blind range is undermined by the fact that the intensity of these kinds of comments increased on the right during the Trump years. It would coalesce on different topics obviously, for example here’s the relatively mild-mannered Brad Torgersen in 2019 after the death of Jeffery Epstein:

“When the dam bursts, I expect lampposts to be decorated from one end of America to the other. Money can’t protect you when the proles no longer fear jail, nor the cops, nor repercussions. When all there is, is rage at the latest, greatest double-standard and abuse of power.”

https://www.facebook.com/brad.torgersen/posts/3786463118046560?comment_id=3786505944708944&reply_comment_id=3786517568041115

One of the dangers of focusing on the kookiest aspects of phenomena like Qanon among these communities is missing how the framing and themes seep into the wider discourse. Neither, Larry C. nor Brad T. ever directly fell down either the Qanon or Pizzagate rabbit holes but through the Trump years, the idea that a nebulous Democratic Party/leftwing/big tech “establishment” was really in power and Trump was struggling against them, was an unspoken premise. For example, above Correia refers to the violence in American cities during 2020 as “The left burns, loots, murders, whatever. It all gets a pass.” Gets a pass from whom? And how? There’s not an answer there because if he were to try to unpack the idea then he would either find he was wrong or he would need to construct an elaborate conspiracy theory (or adopt an existing one).

The Qanon-lite framing bubbles up elsewhere in Correia’s rant as well:

“Best case scenario is the opposition party finds its spine and actually fights for something. That might stall the doomsday clock a bit. Realistically? They’ll screw it up. Or win (depending on how “fortified” the mid-term election is) and squander it as usual. Note however, I’m not saying the two parties are morally equivalent. That’s for cowards. Republicans suck, but the DNC as currently constituted is pure Satanic evil incarnate.”

That’s hyperbole but it’s a specific choice of words also.

I don’t think Larry Correia is going to take to the barricades any time soon but he will continue to push this idea that political violence against the Democratic party or against the left is something that they have brought upon themselves. The dangers of such rhetoric are obvious.

Narrative reversal

It has never been hard to reconcile this blog covering both science-fiction stories and the toxic weirdness of far-right extremists because both involve counter-factual storytelling. The difference is like the difference between a stage magician whose act involves an agreement between performer and audience to suspend belief and a con artist who uses misdirection and spectacle to deceive. Both the stage magician and the SFF author are also held to higher standards of consistency and elegance in maintaining the audience’s illusions.

Inevitably, I’ll be circling back to the January 6 2021 US Capitol Riot, in which Trump supporters stormed the US legislature to prevent the certification of the 2020 Presidential Election. The riot successfully delayed the vote but only for a time and did not usher in a Trump second term as predicted by QANON supporters.

At the time, there were three kinds of reactions I was seeing on the right:

  • Muted condemnation from some people
  • Praise and excitement
  • Claims that riot was being orchestrated by ANTIFA or the “Deep Sate” to some degree

The last dot point had actually been a common position the day before the protest. There was an expectation that there might be violence or police confrontations and commenters were claiming in advance that if there was any trouble it would be caused by left-wing agent provocateurs.

On the day itself, there was a duel between the bottom two narratives as people tried to sort out which of the two stories was the right one. Was the weirdly costumed “Q-Shaman” (the shirtless man with the tattoos and the horned furry helmet) an obvious infiltrator or a heroic symbol of the Q movement? [Spoilers: he was definitely part of the Q contingent].

Both Sarah Hoyt and Vox Day settled on the second dot point at the time. In particular, Day had been calling for Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act as a means to seize power and saw the use of force as a legitimate response. He was also widely predicting that, despite everything, Trump would be inaugurated president before the end of January.

You can read contemporary reactions from Day here: https://archive.is/ZR2Oi and here: https://archive.is/4N7V7

Quotes include:

  • “The President orders his troops to stand down… presumably because their job is done. The certification was stopped and the Congress has been rounded up and secured.”
  • “President Trump’s silence so far suggests a major announcement is coming tonight. And I have to admit, this is already the greatest thing I have seen or heard since the Miracle on Ice in 1980.”
  • “Listening to Anderson Cooper’s voice shake as he tries to explain why it was right for blacks and gays to protest but wrong for the DC protestors to take over the Capital building is hysterical. You can hear the fear in the voices of the CNN commentators. They are TERRIFIED that Trump is crossing the Rubicon.”

Fast forward to June 17 2021 and I am sure you will all be shocked to learn that Day is now firmly in the “false flag” camp. Promoting a story from RT.com (aka “Russia Today”) which itself links to Tucker Carlson/Fox News, as well as an even more obscure right-wing news outlet, Day is advancing the theory that the whole riot was engineered by the FBI. The speculation arose from court documents which (according to the articles) show a number of unnamed and unindicted co-conspirators in the cases laid against protestors who have been prosecuted. The assumption being that these unnamed people are FBI agents who had infiltrated far-right groups such as The Proud Boys. It’s speculation and of course, it’s not impossible but from thin facts to speculation to the conclusion that the FBI organised the riot to discredit the right requires several unsupported leaps. https://archive.ph/3k3y3

The particular theory is not my focus though. What is interesting is the shift. In January 2021 (at least prior to Joe Biden’s inauguration and the complete absence of Trump staging a military coup) Day regarded the Capitol riot as a blow against the Deep State/Democrats/”elites”/SJWs/writers who put romance elements in science fiction novels/sundry other enemies. Now, he’s pushing the claim that the whole thing, even down to booking hotel rooms and flights, was a cunning Deep State plan.

“The false flags are getting a little more sophisticated. This is why Boomer-style mass demonstrations are such a bad idea. Whether the organization is suborned like the Tea Party or false-flagged like the Capital Hill fake riot, the probabilities lie with the situation being very different than the participants imagine.”

https://archive.ph/3k3y3

Anyway, Day has a message for everybody:

“Never take an Internet tough guy at face value, especially not when he’s publicly preaching violence against the government.”

Hey! For once I agree!

Gamestop etc and the Alt-Right

The term “Alt-Right” has gone out of fashion largely because there is increasingly little differentiation between the US right in general and the section that promotes extreme & far-fetched ideas via internet communities and social media. I still find it a handy term though, partly because for everybody else when we think of “conservative” we think “pro-business and pro-capitalism”. Whereas, the modern right’s relationship with those ideas are more akin to the stance of some right wing political movements in the first half of the twentieth century i.e. often critical of established interest while being overtly hostile to left-wing movements and reform of capitalism. The question as to why the modern right’s stance on capitalism resembles that of, say, 1930s fascist movements is an exercise I’ll leave to the reader*.

Meanwhile, people of all kinds of politics have been paying attention to the Reddit-led antics on the stockmarket, where a kind of internet-rebellion has done some severe damage to dodgy hedge funds. There are numerous explainers out there but will go with Cory Doctorow’s:

Although the morals and motivations of both parties may be complex, it really isn’t hard to pick sides here. People (rightly) are cheering on the Reddit-rebels and enjoying the misfortune of the hedge funds.

When the app that many of the people where using to trade the stock clamped down on the sale of Gamestop stock, there was a political pushback from both major political parties.

Ted Cruz in turn said he supported AOC’s tweet, which led to a different back-and-forth when she pointed out his complicity in the death threats against her.

More widely on the internet, the right wing voices I keep an eye on generally take the same position of cheering on the Reddit-led stock-trading rebels. This isn’t surprising because events share some (but not all) of the features of the kind of internet based actions that the alt-right have either fostered, attached themselves to or taken over in the past:

  • It features individual action coordinated within internet communities
  • It exploits vulnerabilities in existing systems that assume that individuals (rather than institutions) will only participate as discrete individuals (i.e. not act in a coordinated way for other motives)
  • It can be cast in terms of ordinary people versus shadowy elites
  • It doesn’t and cannot lead to any kind of positive systemic reform
  • It does not seek to aid or improve the lot of marginalised people

It is those latter points that prevent the conflict from being to inherently left-wing in a way that would lead right-wing voices to flip the other way and start denouncing the Redditors as terrorists or cultural Marxists etc. Similarly, the final dot-point is what distinguishes this from an ACTUAL right wing internet insurgency. While Gamergate and the Puppy campaigns share many of the points above, those campaigns actively sought to make the lives of marginalised people worse and were overtly anti-left in nature (although they attempted to portray themselves as having a more neutral agenda e.g. “ethics in journalism”.)

Put another way, the r/wallstreetbets actions are NOT “Gamergate but with stocks” but do share enough similarities that the Gamergate-right are not just supportive of it but positively excited about it and regard it as a thing which is “theirs”. Like watching a necker-cube, a small shift of perspective allows us to see the same events as something that people on the left can support. There’s not a paradox there nor is it a case of left and alt-right finding common ground or the beginning of a kind of red-brown alliance. Left and right are looking at different things here.

What’s the difference? For the left the premise that “Wall Street sucks” is not news. The stock market is just one of the more obvious ways in which we live in a system with entrenched power for the wealthy and laws that help support that. The means with how that has come about are known and people have been documenting them for a couple of hundred years at least. It is a systemic problem and hence the system needs either mild-reform (liberalism), substantial reform (social-democracy) or needs to be torn down and utterly replaced (revolutionary communism). It’s not a conspiracy, it’s not a surprise, and nor is it even the worst part of the current economic status-quo.

For the alt-right none of the above is viewed as correct. They see the initial events as capitalism working as it should and then the “elites” stepping in and rigging the game. The literal term “elites” has wide currency and is a free floating concept. For the more openly neo-Nazi groups they equate the term with Jewish people. For the overlapping Qanon cultists, it is the shadowy groups trafficking children and engaging in cannibalistic anti-ageing rituals. Across the board on the right, the “elites” are blamed for all social change that the right reacts against. So everything from science fiction books not having enough rockets on the cover, to Star Wars having to many women in it, to trans-rights, Black Lives Matter or fossil-fuel reduction targets. So, when the government takes action to stop the stock market tanking, then for the right that is the same “elites” (as in they think it is quite literally the same people) who are rolling out Covid vaccines or are using “they/them” pronouns on their Twitter profiles.

For an example, here is Brian “Dragon Award Winner” Niemeier:

“Taken together, those breadcrumbs form a trail leading to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The GameStop squeeze threatens big donors and the Treasury Secretary, so Biden Intervened.”

https://www.brianniemeier.com/2021/01/biden-intervened.html

(Also, note the grift element at the end!)

Again, note – yes, the Biden administration almost certainly is intervening or is going to intervene but again, the core reason being that the stockmarket is systemically bad. A government can’t not intervene because wobbling the table can’t be allowed when the whole economy depends on a very expensive house of cards. The Trump administration would have intervened as well — the difference is that the alt-right would have characterised that as the “swamp” or the “deep state” acting against Trump’s wishes. The characters would have shifted but the narrative would have been the same.

The right-hand side of politics can’t adopt the answer of “systemic inequalities lead to dysfunctional societies” and hence when things aren’t working out the answer becomes “evil people are making the good system work badly”. They take as axiomatic that there must be hierarchy with better people at the top who are rightly rich and powerful, so when facts show the people at the top are just flawed people muddling through and acting in petty or short-sighted ways, they conclude that their must be a conspiracy. For a given individual, the “conspiracy” may not start as an anti-Semitic one but they trend that way. In short Nazis will be looking to exploit these events to recruit.

“Hey”, I hear you say, “You haven’t mentioned Vox Day yet.” Good point. He’s obviously saying much of what I summarised above i.e. a right-wing extremist trying to put a Gamergate spin on it. However, for readers who have been trying to follow the confusing Patreon litigation, he has also been pointing to the Robinhood app’s arbitration clause. The “swamp a company with arbitration claims” tactic is another aspect that is something that has been used for progressive causes but which is also being adopted as a right wing tactic. The lawyer involed in the Patreon case (Marc Randazza see this earlier post https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2020/07/14/meanwhile-in-law-virulent-nationalism/ ) is promoting the idea:

Note that losing these kinds of mass actions is not necessarily a failure for the wider objective of the right. As was seen with Gamergate, some people get dragged into the initial enthusiasm and then drop out when everything fizzles out. For others, losing helps feed the radicalism. It’s the same coping mechanism we all watched with the recent election. A person takes in all the propaganda of inevitable victory to the point that they are absolutely certain of the outcome. The outcome then doesn’t happen. Response? Somebody must have cheated! Reality intruding into the confabulated ideas leads to some people holding onto those ideas more strongly. This is particularly true when those ideas already contain a narrative of shadowy nefarious people working against the individual personally.

TL:DR The Gamestop story is not “Gamergate but with stocks” but the far right will attempt to exploit it to recruit and radicalise.


*Hint: it’s because they are just an updated version of those same movements.

Further Annals of Libertarians Discovering Capitalism Sucks

I alluded to Larry Correia’s feelings being hurt by the action of Apple, Google and Amazon against conservative social media service Parler. As a reminder, Parler as well a being a privacy-data nightmare had such weak moderation processes that it was beset with issues with threats of violence.

Larry, who has been tirelessly pushing electoral fraud conspiracy theories since last November is rushing to the defence of Parler.

“Now comes the part where leftists suddenly love free enterprise and companies being able to do whatever they want… Okay, can all the small businesses open? Nope. Only companies that benefit leftist orthodoxy get to do what they want, and if you disagree with this double standard, obviously you hate–the leftist has to look at the printed word and try to sound it out–cap e tall ism?”

https://monsterhunternation.com/2021/01/11/bow-before-appgooglezon/

The “leftist orthodoxy” in question being “don’t murder Mike Pence” which…well I know I agree with that principle but I would not want to be too bold in claiming everybody I know on the left agrees with that on principle. I know for a fact that “let’s not overthrow the government” isn’t exactly against leftist orthodoxy. The principle on the left is more “we know that there are legal consequences for asking for people to break the law because we have a basic understanding of the nature of law, politics and common sense”

Larry goes on to explain:

“In principle I’m usually in favor of letting businesses do whatever they want. You know what else I’m usually against in principle? Bombing Japan. Yet strangely, after Pearl Harbor, circumstances changed, and things which were previously disagreeable become necessary. Go figure.”

ibid

True, all out war is a circumstance in which normal rules of interaction between nations are suspended. Which…well…isn’t that an argument in favour of big tech clamping down hard on a platform being used to encourage the over throw of your country’s constitution? To be fair, you don’t visit Larry’s Facebook page for clear thinking.

“So basically, if Home Depot and a cabal of every building supply store in the country wants to ban an entire class of citizens, that’s fine, just grow your own trees, cut them down, and shape them into lumber yourself. Oh… except once you’ve put in the labor and grown the trees, then the saw companies say no chainsaws for you either. I guess you should just build your own chainsaws from scratch.”

ibid

Their should be a word for this — “suspended epiphany”. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen people online walk up to an idea and get close enough to see the generalisation and realise that their core beliefs are just fundamentally misguided and then…well, just not take that step.

“Like I skimmed the comments to this post yesterday, and it was as expected. HUR DUR YOU SAID NO BAKE CAKE! Oh yeah… That’s totally the same thing. Because remember that time the entire baking industry colluded to deny bread to all gay people, and when the free market responded and somebody opened an LGBT bakery the powerful oven industry stepped in to shut them down… You fucking dopes.”

ibid

He is correct that it is not the same thing. The difference is that women, people of colour in the USA, gay men, lesbians, trans people, disabled people and a whole host of other people who have faced systemic and overt prejudice for years and years genuinely HAVE faced the situation where the individual “freedom” for business to discriminate that conservatives & libertarians have championed, has been so widespread that it the outcome was the same as massive collusion by business to exclude, discriminate and denigrate them. It’s exactly what people have been trying to explain to you for years and what you have so tirelessly scoffed and scorned them about.

Ownership of commerce is political power. That is either true or it isn’t. If it isn’t then Larry has no complaint. If it is then…well the question is one of whether these big corporations are using that power for good or ill and for that we can’t ignore WHAT was going on with Parler.

Hey Larry! Don’t you know that the “evil corporation” is a boring cliche of SJW message fiction? You should because you literally told us:

“The hoighty-toighty literati snobs prefer heavy handed, ham fisted, message fiction. (show picture of sci-fi readers giving up in frustration as they read yet another award winning book where evil corporations, right wing religious fanatics, and a thinly veiled Dick Cheney have raped the Earth until all the polar bears have died and the plot consists entirely of academic hipster douchebags sitting around and talking about their feelings)  

https://monsterhunternation.com/2013/01/16/how-to-get-correia-nominated-for-a-hugo-part-2-a-very-special-message/

You also were opposed to any limits on big tech in 2014

– “We believe that the Internet shouldn’t be rigged to benefit big corporations, and that means real net neutrality.”
Wrap your brain around that hypocritical bullshit. We must protect the internet from evil corporations? What about the NSA reading all our stuff? What about the government deciding what can and can’t be said, and Progressive senators trying to pass “Kill Switches”? I’m not a fan of Google, but Google can’t send a SWAT team to my house to kill me.”

https://monsterhunternation.com/2014/07/21/elizabeth-warrens-11-commandments/

It is a bit late in the day for Larry to discover that Elizabeth Warren had a point but it is noticeable that the step big tech took that tipped Larry over the edge was them clamping down on speech aimed at inciting violence to over throw an election.

A novel repercussion

The right-leaning social network Parler is facing an uncertain future after being removed first from the Apple app store and then from Google and finally by being denied cloud services by Amazon. The stated reason is the poor level of comment moderation which has led to large numbers of violent threats and incitement on the service, particularly in relation to the January 6 violent attack on US constitutional processes. However, even before recent events, the weak moderation problems were causing issues for the platform:

“The surge of #sexytrumpgirl posts highlighted a broader dilemma for Parler: The site’s lax moderation policies, in keeping with its claims to being a bastion of free speech, could make it a magnet for pornographers, escort services and online sex merchants using hashtags targeting conservatives, such as #keepamericasexy and #milfsfortrump2020.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/12/02/parler-pornography-problem/

However, the action against Parler is being framed by the many on the right as part of an active suppression of conservative views. Former Sad Puppy leaders, Larry Correia and Brad R Torgersen have waded in. Brad making yet another bold attempt to unwittingly murder irony:

“Larry Correia’s excellent take (this morning) on Big Prog Tech’s attack on Parler got me to thinking about how so much of what’s transpiring in America right now, is the result of lies. Or rather, people unmooring themselves from the idea that there is an objective truth.”

https://www.facebook.com/brad.torgersen/posts/5585072674852253

The calls are coming for conservatives to boycott companies that they regard as being anti-conservative. Sad Puppy Sarah Hoyt has been promoting this ideas using the slogan “Not One Red Cent” for some time.

Ah, yeah but about that plan…What’s one of those companies listed above? Amazon? Oh…oops…

“However, since last night, this has TRULY become an emergency, not because of what Amazon will do or won’t do to ebook fiction (more on that) but because a core of my readers will now refuse to buy from Amazon under any circumstances, which means that I’m going to lose a lot of my income (and Amazon won’t give a flying fig. But I get your outrage, I understand, and yet you’ll only hurt the writers, UNTIL WE HAVE AN ALTERNATIVE.)”

https://accordingtohoyt.com/2021/01/10/vignettes-by-luke-mary-catelli-and-nother-mike-and-book-promo-and-some-blather-by-sarah/

Ouch! Capitalism sucks apparently! It’s almost like there is an issue with the guy who owns the means of production being an unaccountable man with enough money to ski down huge piles of coins like Scrooge McDuck (details here).

“Otherwise I’m going to ask you NOT to carry on this boycott. We right-leaning-indies are going to lose half our sales. That’ll hurt Amazon, sure. Kind of. PROBABLY honestly at the rounding error level. But it will KILL us indie writers who have a contingent of conservative fans.”

https://accordingtohoyt.com/2021/01/10/vignettes-by-luke-mary-catelli-and-nother-mike-and-book-promo-and-some-blather-by-sarah/

So there you go, not one red cent apart from any red cents where a proportion of the red cent might go to Sarah Hoyt.

Starting February: Debarkle

I’ve been mulling over for some time (years tbh) writing a history of the Sad Puppy/Rabid Puppy attempt to hijack the Hugo Awards. A few things have put me off doing so. Two of the obstacles is any account needs at least some treatment of RaceFail and of the Requires Hate story and they are rabbit holes of controversy (but there are ways through that I think). However, one issue is an end point. In terms of Larry Correia’s frustration at not getting an award, the 2016 Dragon Award ceremony, which also saw Vox Day’s Castalia House getting its participation trophies, is an obvious place to stop. You can finish a story there and say “and the puppies went away and had their own awards”. It is unsatisfying and misleading though.

The appeal with finishing the story there is the main action of the Puppy Debarkle ends there with things petering out with the collapse of Sad Puppies 5 and the process reforms blunting the impact of Rabid Puppies 3 the following year. However, the point of writing about the Debarkle is the wider context. Fandom has had its fair share of squabbles, kerfuffles and scandals but what makes the Debarkle interesting in particular is the connection with wider events. The Sad Puppies presented their unexpected fannish-insurrection as primarily a question of aesthetics, as Larry Correia stated in his first attempt to hijack the Hugo Awards, this was an attempt to frustrate the “literati”. Contrariwise, the opposition to the Puppies contended that they were a politically reactionary movement.

It is this second issue that frames any discussion. It’s not a difficult proposition to demonstrate, that the Puppies were a politically reactionary movement motivated by a dislike of the left in general and the advocacy for women and people of colour and LGBQTI people more specifically. By late 2016 the Puppies of all stripes were barely pretending otherwise and, of course, Vox Day’s Rabid Puppies never pretended otherwise. But a more open question is whether the process of the Debarkle radicalised the Puppies or whether a growing social rift in America (and beyond) was radicalising them regardless?

I don’t know the answer to that question but it is the kind of question I could get a better answer to if I attempt this. Of course, placing the Puppies in the context of the politics also gives a point in time to look back from and say “how did we get here?” That point looks very much like January 6 2021.

Take, for example, this artefact of current right wing discourse in the wake of the attempted putsch in America’s capitol:

“Apparently Sarah Hoyt is the only non-cuck at Instapundit.”

http://voxday.blogspot.com/2021/01/give-girl-her-props.html

Or, looking in a different direction, imagine being a future historian and trying to explain all the context to this tweet:

Neither GamerGate nor the Debarkle by themselves explain events and both were shaped by social forces that were hard to see. Yet, rather like the tracks made by invisible particles in a bubble chamber, the revealed shifts in attitudes and changing political coalitions that were also leading up to changes on a bigger scale. Within a short time, political upsets in the US and UK (Trump becoming the Republican Party POTUS nominee and the Brexit referendum) saw right-wing, populist, anti-rational positions taking hold of national policy. Where they motivated by the same thing as the Puppy movements? We can debate that but the Puppies generally thought so (Brexit more than Trump oddly).

Five years after peak-Puppy, in the hell year that was 2020 notable figures in the Debarkle were pushing firstly covid-19 conspiracies, followed by attempts to mobilise anti-lockdown protests, followed by anti-mask wearing propaganda, followed by anti-vaccine propaganda. In the wake of Donald Trump’s election defeat, chief Sad Puppy Larry Correia was a notable booster of “steal” conspiracy theories and his posts on the topic were widely shared in conservative circles. Meanwhile, since late 2017, Vox Day was an early adopter and promoter of “QANON” the free-floating anti-rational meta-conspiracy theory and also an early advocate in 2020 of the need for Trump to seize power by force to ensure a second term.

The Debarkle (in particular peak Debarkle in 2015) presaged events in a microcosm but also later events clarify questions. At the time, it was an open question as to how politically extreme many of the Sad Puppy leaders where, there even people who attempted apparently good-faith arguments that Vox Day somehow wasn’t that extreme. Supporters of the Sad Puppies would often point to Sarah Hoyt (a woman and an immigrant to the US from a non-anglophone country) as clear evidence that the Sad Puppies were neither sexist or racist. I believe that even at the time the evidence demonstrated that their argument was flawed but with 2020 hindsight, the manner in which Hoyt refers to the VP-elect of the USA Kamala Harris is a much simpler refutation of the idea that she somehow is immune to sexism and racism.

Nor would it be sensible to write about the 2015 side-plot of the infamous Tor Boycott without pointing to Mad Genius blogger and one-time Castalia House author Peter Grant stating in the wake of yesterday’s attempt to overthrow the US constitution that: “If I were in D.C. today, I’d be in the Capitol along with the protesters.” If you’ve overtly placed yourself to the right of the leaders of the Republican Party (and for that matter the very right wing current Vice President of the US) and are contemplating civil war because you’ve fully bought into a stab-in-the-back mythology of stolen victory…well…”“extreme right wing to neo-nazi, respectively” was always a very apt description. How much time did we spend dissecting the various political positions that notable Puppies might have in an attempt to tease out the nuance of their politics? It’s a lot easier to sum up as “I’m not sure what they thought in 2015 but within five years they’ll be demanding the violent overthrow of the government in a far-right putsch.”

I’ll post more about the structure and the schedule of Debarkle as a blog series. Obviously, and as always, comments and corrections will be more than welcome, indeed expected — particularly as most of you were there at the time and many of you were actively involved in countering the Puppies for years before I stuck my oar in.

People may enjoy the figurative aspects of this

I haven’t linked to former Sad Puppy outlet Mad Genius Club in a long while and nor have I discussed my compatriot Dave Freer’s unusual anecdotes for some time. I am a man of some restraint but when Dave literally loses his shit how can I not link to it?

The background is that he has hinted for some time about a bureaucratic dispute he is having with the local government of Flinders Island, where he lives (off the coast of Tasmania). In today’s column he provides the context and well, the punchlines write themselves that I will leave it to readers to pick their preferred ones.

“One of my current one is where the local council with the power vested in them by the state, are protecting my neighbor from our (two people’s worth) sewage treatment wastewater. I live on a farm, a long, long way from a neighbor and we are both well above the wastewater outlet. The chance of my wastewater getting to a neighbor… would take a Biblical flood. And beside the fact that the poor fellow would be far too busy building an ark to care – the dilution would be hundreds of billions to one. But that doesn’t stop the council extracting hundreds of dollars for doing nothing of any value, and forcing me to spend thousands of dollars to achieve absolutely nothing that I couldn’t for five hundred, and harassing the hell out of me. The designer, plumber, the seller of the specialized bits the designer mandated did give some degree of ‘value’ for their rent (back of an envelope – about the same as trad publishing – where the writer earns around 6-8% on that paperback, and 93-94% go to these other fellows). Of course I don’t actually need any of those, and could achieve the same without them, but their services and goods are worth something, just nothing like what I have to pay — because the government mandates I use them, and pure rent-seekers make sure I do.”

https://madgeniusclub.com/2021/01/04/besides-wood-chippers/

Yes, poor persecuted Dave is being oppressed by the government who are making the unreasonable demand that he (checks notes) deals with his own faecal matter properly. I…no, no, there are just too many metaphors here to choose.

Bonus Straw Pup Poll: More crimes against statistics

I haven’t mentioned Larry “former accountant” Correia in my last post. You’ll be unsurprised to learn that he is still pushing claims of statistical anomalies that don’t amount to anything. I think he’d put a lot of faith in the Texas bid to sue everybody in the Supreme Court but that came to nothing.

The latest claim he is pushing is from here https://web.archive.org/web/20201216091355/https://www.revolver.news/2020/12/statistical-model-indicates-trump-won-landslide/

“The model provides substantial support for the allegation that the outcome of the election was affected by fraud in multiple states.  Specifically, the model’s predictions match the reported results in all other states, i.e. states where no fraud has been alleged, but predicts Trump won majorities in five disputed states (AZ, GA, NV, PA and WI) and 49.68% of the vote in the sixth (MI).   In other words, the reported Biden margin of victory in at least five of the six contested states cannot be explained by any patterns in voter preference consistent with national demographic trends. 

Oh my golly gosh! Well that’s it, we should all just pack up and go home! Case closed!

Ah…no. I’ll grant there is both some subtlety and brazenness here but the statistical sleight of hand is very basic. It’s just a variant on the similar fallacy we’ve seen elsewhere.

When I saw ‘model’, I assumed it was going to be one of those wacky predictive models that get rolled out before election day. However (and this is the subtle bit) there is at least the appearance of an attempt at a serious attempt to model state-based voter behaviour using demographic data. That’s interesting but I didn’t dig very deep into it because their conclusion (above) has almost nothing to do with how good or bad their model is. To see that we need to backtrack a bit.

At issue are six “disputed” states:Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. These states each had very close elections where Donald Trump lost by a very small margin or at least small enough that they were his best hope of disputing the votes and changing the outcome. The article characterises them as states where fraud has been alleged but in fact Republicans have claimed fraud in many states. These states are special not because of claims of fraud but because the vote is close. That’s not even necessarily a cynical move by Trump’s legal team — obviously they’d focus on the places were they have the best chance of changing the outcome.

The article goes into great depth about the model and the data. In the end it boils down to two sets of figures for each state (except for Hawaii and Arkansas – for reasons not stated). Every state has an actual share of the vote from Trump and a predicted share of the vote for Trump. The actual and predicted values are close and highly correlated. The article doesn’t show it as a scattergram but I’ve drawn one for you all because what better way is there to look for STATISTICAL ANOMALIES [sound effect of thunder].

The dot in the bottom left is DC and while it is in a sense a statistical anomaly, it’s not a surprise and it’s also not something the writers of the article care about. In fact they don’t care about any of the states that are a bit further away from that very tidy line of best fit. Why not? Because the model is almost irrelevant to their argument.

On the whole the model predicts a slightly higher share of the vote for Trump overall than actually happened. Calculating the difference [actual – predicted] the average is -1.11%-points. Four of the ‘disputed’ states are all close to this average. Two (Georgia and Arizona) are less close but the most extreme of them (Arizona) is still closer to the mean than Utah (for example).

Statepredictedactualdifference
MI49.70%48.60%-1.10%
PA50.00%49.50%-0.50%
NV50.30%48.80%-1.50%
WI50.70%49.70%-1.00%
GA53.20%49.90%-3.30%
AZ54.80%49.80%-5.00%

In fact, the data AS PRESENTED IN THE ARTICLE is largely unremarkable for the ‘disputed’ states. Only 11 of the states listed had differences where Trump did better than the model, so it’s safe to say that these states (or at least four of them) aren’t anomalous at all when judged by the mystery model.

So what’s anomaly claimed in the article? Ah! In five of these states the difference in vote share would have been enough to allow Trump to win! WHAT’S THE CHANCE OF THAT!

Yup, it’s a statistical version of begging the question.

The model predicted overall (and in most states), a higher vote share for Trump than what he got. However, in most states this did not change the outcome. Which states did it change the outcome? Why, the ones with close votes of course! The “statistical anomaly” is that the chance that states that Trump is disputing with claims of fraud are also those states that in the model he had some chance of losing and then did actually lose. I guess they could argue that Arizona was unlikely given their model (which we have no reason to believe is correct) but even their, it’s difference from the model is less than New York, Utah and DC (the two Biden wins had MORE Trump votes than the model predicted!). Unless the writers of the article want to claim Utah was a hotbed of Biden cheating (which makes no sense on any level) then even the most extreme example of the ‘disputed’ states was well within the degree to which the model failed to predict.

The argument can be paraphrased as “If Trump had had a slightly higher share of the vote overall then he would have won five more swing states.” That’s true! Trump would have won more states if more people had voted for him but they didn’t and he lost.The states he lost were states in that broad zone of swing states.

Here are fourteen states in terms of the actual share of the Trump vote. The “disputed” states are the ones, unsurprisingly on that cusp from 48.5% to 49.9% were Trump might have won if he’d got 1.11%-points more of the share of the vote. That’s not a statistical anomaly, it’s just arithmetic (again).

StatePredictedActualDifference
VA46.40%44.90%-1.50%
ME47.80%44.90%-2.90%
MN47.30%46.30%-1.00%
NH48.50%46.30%-2.20%
MI49.70%48.60%-1.10%y
NV50.30%48.80%-1.50%y
PA50.00%49.50%-0.50%y
WI50.70%49.70%-1.00%y
AZ54.80%49.80%-5.00%y
GA53.20%49.90%-3.30%y
NC51.60%50.70%-0.90%
FL51.60%51.70%0.10%
TX56.40%52.90%-3.50%
OH54.00%54.10%0.10%

The GoP War on the word “statistically”

Some times you just want to put your hand on somebody’s shoulder and say in a sad and weary voice: “Just stop, you are embarrassing yourself”.

Surrounding the current state of affairs in the US Presidential election are various Trump supporters (including some Trump supporters who claim they aren’t Trump supporters) crying “fraud”. The evidence they have produced is so thin that they are often retracting bits of it themselves but claiming that the shear volume of BS that they have produced demonstrates that the claims must be true.

Amid that is the word “statistically”. Here is an example. An article by “Scott Hounsell” in RedState. It has fewer of the more blatant attempts at fake fraud claims but instead attempts to throw a cloud of suspicion over the election. Note the use of the word “statistically”:

“Additionally, turnout in 2016, as a percentage of registered voters, was just 79.80%. This year, the state jumped to a statistically impossible 92.26%, a 12.46% increase over their 2016 numbers. In a state when Democrats statistically lost more voters than Republicans, we are supposed to believe that a 12% increase (largest ever) swung majority to Dems, by a factor that not only overcame the margin by which Trump won the state in 2016 but also erased any gains Republicans had in registration (by losing less) and gave Biden a 20,000 vote lead?”

https://redstate.com/scotthounsell/2020/11/05/excuse-me-while-i-call-bs-n275572

Fair enough, that paragraph does have statistics in it but quite what the writer thinks the word “statistically” is supposed to add (other than BS) is unclear. And “statistically impossible”? What on Earth is “statistically impossible” supposed to mean? I was already getting annoyed with seeing “statistically improbable” being thrown around on dodgy Facebook pages but at least those words made some sense.

A figure by itself is just a figure. If we are talking about the probability of an actual piece of data then “statistically” i.e. within the methodology of the discipline of statistics, we are comparing that figure with some model of the figures — for example an existing distribution derived from a theoretical understanding of the figures and/or past experience. The US election figures are boringly unremarkable. Turn out is up but outcomes aren’t very different from 2016. That’s the context and that doesn’t point towards data being “statistically impossible” but if you are going to invoke the djinn of statistics then you invoke what comes with it. To claim a figure is “statistically improbable” then you need to show that STATISTICALLY i.e. show that when compared to some valid model that the figure would only very rarely appear UNLESS some key assumption about the model was violated (eg massive fraud). Simply saying “statistically” a lot doesn’t make a number dubious, that’s just magical thinking.