No, don’t eat that: thanksgiving edition

It is (or is close to being) Thanksgiving in America — a holiday non-Americans are aware of through popular culture but our understanding of it is maybe sort of like it’s a way of doing Christmas twice?

This year Americans have a lot to celebrate, much of America is celebrating Joe Biden’s election and the rest have a wacky new conspiracy theory to relish in. To join in, I visited a local sweet shop and bought the most American thing I could fine, which was a tough competition in a building full of refined sugar. Surprisingly there was a clear winner, although this seems more like a parody of what Americans might eat than an actual product.

“Rocky Road S’Mores” is what is advertised along with ‘homemade’ chocolate, marshmallow, graham crackers and (I’m not sure why) cashews.

The chocolate tasted ‘homemade’ in the sticky not-tempered-properly sense. If I took a bit I could see the nominal graham cracker layer (I’m familiar with the name but I don’t actually know what they are) but there was notable change in taste or texture for that layer. If there were cashews involved they had disguised their presence well.

‘New recipe’, I wonder what the old recipe was?

Straw Puppy’s POTUS Polls: The Horror-Farce Edition

Those drapes really bring the room together.

It has been three weeks since the election and while we know who won, a section of the US still hasn’t come to terms with it. The good news is that section is getting smaller and the bad news is that section is getting more entrenched and more divorced from reality. The variety of fantasy ranges from denial to paranoia [archive links].

I said last week: “The Keystone Cop Coup is making little progress in court after multiple legal challenges being effectively laughed out of court”. They have doubled down into absurdity since then with even more outlandish claims in press conferences, which contrast with the court cases that focus on procedural issues with vague hand waving at notions of fraud. While that might sound like the lawyers are being more sensible in court than they are in front of the TV camera, it is more a case of different styles of incompetence in different arenas.


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 There is also coverage at File 770 here

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
  • 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.

Straw Puppy’s POTUS Polls: The Aftermath

Those drapes really bring the room together.

Well it has been a week since the election and while we know who won, a section of the US hasn’t come to terms with it. As is traditional among the mainstream media, I went to visit a discontented voter to empathise with them and learn why everything is the fault of progressives. He said, “What we’re dealing with are statistical anomalies so implausible, there is literally no way for them to occur in nature.”

Yeah, I may have accidentally tripped on my keyboard and spoke to Brad. Anyway, he hasn’t got any better since I last spoke to him (2017 maybe?)

Here’s the thing. There’s a section of the Republican Party (let’s call it GOP Classic) that trying to move on to the next thing. That section is still appallingly awful but they are dubious of the fraud claims from Trump or downplaying. On the other hand we have a different set of people going full poo-flinging brain worms stuff over this. Some are GOP Trump supporters, some are cynical white nationalists (Fuentes etc), some are Qanon (in so far as that’s different) and some even claim to vote for third-parties like Brad Torgerson. It’s the Coalition of the Gullible, the Axis of Anxiety, the Confederacy of Conspiracy Theorists — almost non-ideological and yet with a dogmatic faith in a fog of nonsense.

More far-right deception about Benford’s law

I discussed Benford’s Law and its misleading use in election data yesterday. What I didn’t mention is that the far-right vanity version of Wikipedia, known as Voxopedia aka “Infogalactic” is actively censoring information about it.

Like many articles on the out-of-date semi-vandalised wiki, the Benford’s Law article [archive version] started as a clone of the authoritative Wikipedia version in 2016. It remained unedited until 7 November, when it was hastily edited.

What was the edit? This part was removed:

“However, other experts consider Benford’s Law essentially useless as a statistical indicator of election fraud in general.Joseph Deckert, Mikhail Myagkov and Peter C. Ordeshook, (2010) ”[ The Irrelevance of Benford’s Law for Detecting Fraud in Elections]”, Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project Working Paper No. 9
Charles R. Tolle, Joanne L. Budzien, and Randall A. LaViolette (2000) ”[[:doi:10.1063/1.166498|Do dynamical systems follow Benford?s Law?]]”, Chaos 10, 2, pp.331–336 (2000); {{doi|10.1063/1.166498}}”

Edit to Voxopedia by “Renegade” 12:49 7 November

Here is an image of the change. Note this is the ONLY edit that has ever occurred to the page on Voxopedia.

Over at the real Wikipedia, the same page has been subject to deceptive editing also. References to the failure of Benford’s Law to detect fraud in elections have been removed and then re-instated. Note, that prior to the US 2020 election, these references were present. The attempt to remove them occurred AFTER the far-right claims that Benford’s Law could prove fraud (e.g. from Larry Correia and Vox Day) started circulating.

The paper that extremists on the right are trying to hide from people is this one [archive pdf]. The Abstract states:

“With increasing frequency websites appear to argue that the application of Benford’s Law – a prediction as to the observed frequency of numbers in the first and second digits of official election returns — establishes fraud in this or that election. However, looking at data from Ohio, Massachusetts and Ukraine, as well as data artificially generated by a series of simulations, we argue here that Benford’s Law is essentially useless as a forensic indicator of fraud. Deviations from either the first or second digit version of that law can arise regardless of whether an election is free and fair. In fact, fraud can move data in the direction of satisfying that law and thereby occasion wholly erroneous conclusions.”

The Irrelevance of Benford’s Law for Detecting Fraud in ElectionsJoseph Deckert, Mikhail Myagkov and Peter C. OrdeshookUniversity of Oregon and California Institute of Technology

The paper discusses examples and shows (as we discussed yesterday) how election data can show both Benford-like and normal-like distribution of digits.

It can be difficult to tell the extent to which the far-right is knowingly lying versus simply not caring about the truth versus active self-deception. All three forms of subverting the truth can be in play when we look at past examples. However, we have here an unambiguous example of active lying. Day and at least one of his minions was already aware that Benford’s Law is a poor tool to use to detect fraud in elections and have been actively trying to hide that information from his followers.

Straw Puppy’s POTUS Polls: Election Day

Those drapes really bring the room together.

More sensibly the current FiveThirtyEight aggregate of polls is here

FiveThirtyEight live coverage is here

Guardian live coverage is here and their guide to when to expect results is here

If you want to read something, well, different then Sarah Hoyt has an open thread for the election here

ETA 7:20 pm here in Sydney and things are looking…mixed. Biden has not performed as well as hoped but has made gains compared to 2016. Trump is still in the race with several key states looking pink. Trump has to win most of those undecided states to win, Biden has to win less…so odds favour Biden…maybe…because those states are likely to be somewhat correlated…so, nobody knows. Indeed, Biden could romp home in terms of EC votes or Trump could win. It’s like a whole lot has happened and yet we are no closer.

That does mean one outcome has already been lost: a demonstrable easy victory for Biden. That’s a problem because only an overwhelming win would result in a clear defeat of Trumpism for the GOP. The current situation means we can expect at least months of f-cked-up f-ckery from Trump and minions.

ETA: 3:50 am Thursday here. Woken up by an ungodly racket in the garden that was maybe two possums fighting. So now I’m awake. The EC vote tally for Biden & Trump hasn’t changed while I slept but the map looks a bit bluer. Currently Biden has 238 in the bag and is ahead in Nevada, Wisconsin and Michigan which, if he can keep them, gives him 32 more votes and the magic 270. Meanwhile the GOP is disgusted at the very idea of carrying on counting votes in Pennsylvania while deeply committed to the need to carry on counting votes in Nevada.

ETA: 4:30 am Thursday. Biden’s hold on Wisconsin looking better. Pennsylvania is still pink and Nevada is still light blue but the percentage of votes counted in both is still less than 70%. As this is 2020 that means everything happens at a 2020 pace: urgently slowly.

The Electoral College rightly deserves a lot of criticism but it’s the presidency itself as an arm of government that is at the root of the issue. Plenty of nations have nail-biting elections and the shifts in the balance of power playing out in Congress is not unlike what you see in many countries. However, at this point anywhere else, we wouldn’t know the final outcome of the election but we’d know that which ever party was going to form government they would either be a minority government, a coalition or have a slim majority (and hence be vulnerable to by-elections or internal party coups). With the presidency, whoever scrapes in gets the whole thing and need only fear impeachment.

ETA 11:45 am Biden is now on a tantalising 264 EC votes

ETA: 8:30 pm here and things remain marginal.

ETA: 4:30 am Friday in Sydney. Good morning. I hope everybody is bright-eyed and bushy tailed this morning…which is probably still late on an improbably long Thursday. So good news, the mysterious THEM have not come to take Sarah Hoyt away yet (maybe the clock doesn’t start until the inauguration?) . Meanwhile Larry Correia has decided to go full-on voter-fraud-conspiracy nut. Larry mounts a convincing argument…that he made the right choice dumping accountancy as a career. Seriously though, it is the same grab-bag of “red flags” (this graph looked weird! There is a video of a MAN and he had a VAN!) However, it all proves election fraud because Larry used to be an accountant and do audits of things. Gosh! Well I’m convinced then…I mean aside from zero evidence of actual voting fraud and an absence of any actual solid evidence from GOP lawyers.

And this is where we can draw a line between legitimate suspicion and conspiracy theory . The fraud claims from the right have always had this gaping hole in them. If the level of fraud from the Democratic Party is so big and so obvious and so undeniable, why has the Republican Party not put a stop to it, either in states they control or through the courts with prosecutions of civil suits SHOWING all this undeniable fraud? The simple answer is, they haven’t because, as we’ve seen there isn’t much fraud going on aside from Republican voter suppression (which is blatant but largely legal).

ETA 7:40 am The gulf between what the right is saying on social media and the thin claims being made by GOP/Trump lawyers in filings is vast. As mentioned earlier, despite her dire warning Sarah Hoyt has not yet been kidnapped by the forces of Global Cultural Marxism and has another post up:

“Because at that point, America is DONE. It no longer exists. And none of the electorate, but those hooked to big brother’s boob tube 24/7 can believe that voting will make any difference.”

So while Larry’s prognosis was “potentially fatal”, Sarah has pronounced the patient already dead.

ETA 3:15 am Saturday. I woke up early again but this time due to drinking too much yesterday evening. I’ll go back to bed soon. In the meantime the EC vote total hasn’t changed but the electoral map is looking a lot more blue. Biden is now a squeaky thin margin ahead in Pennsylvania and Georgia. He remains ahead in Arizona (already called but edgy) and Nevada.

I don’t want to join in the pollster bashing yet because it is too early to tell how off they were. One of the things Nate Silver said just prior was the difference between a narrow Biden EC win and an EC landslide was small. Currently Biden might win on the narrowest of margins at 270 EC votes or he might win with over 300 and an EC draw or Trump narrowly winning aren’t impossible (looking unlikely). Not a landslide but part of the narrowness of victory here is an impression created by mail in ballots being counted later in some cases and some of it is genuine (for example Trump winning Florida).

I’ll check on the gibbering corners of the internet later.

ETA 4 am Sunday. With Pennsylvania over the line, Biden is declaring victory with at least 284 EC votes. Georgia and Nevada as probables also. Well done.