The Forest for the Trees

President Trump and his ardent supporters are unable to see any other reason that he possibly could have lost the election than widespread voter fraud, which of course is being repeatedly shown in courts to have no basis in fact. Meanwhile, something that’s both widespread and replete with basis in fact – COVID-19 – is almost certainly the main reason Trump lost the election.

Elections in the United States are often quite predictable. It is extremely difficult for an incumbent to lose, and equally difficult for a party to hang on for more than eight years. The elder George Bush bucked the latter trend but couldn’t secure a second term. Since then, we bounced back and forth between three eight-year stints – the Democrat Clinton, the Republican Bush, and the Democrat Obama. That alone made it likely that whoever the Republicans ran in 2016 – including a ham sandwich – would win. And the data suggest that the ham sandwich should have won a second term as well.

Trump has a troublingly extensive “base”. And beyond that, partisans invariably vote by and large for their party. So going into 2020, Trump was the favorite to win a second term. The economy, myopically defined by the size of tax refunds and various stock indices, was doing well enough that any crusade to bring more compassion and reason back into the White House was likely to fail in favor of personal interests – per usual in American politics. And then came COVID-19.

To be fair, COVID-19 has proven a formidable enemy to the entire world. Nobody was going to combat it without experiencing some level of failure. But the degree to which our nation has failed is staggering. I don’t need to go into numbers here – common sense makes the series of missteps by the current administration abundantly clear. Dismantling an office that was dedicated to this very type of crisis before it ever hit. Failure to establish firewalls on international travel for months after the first stage of the outbreak in Wuhan. Failure to invoke the right measures to make testing and PPE widely available early in the spread, which derailed any hopes of successful contact tracing and containment. And politicization of simple things like masks and social distancing.

These failures allowed the outbreak to get sufficiently out of control that the economy began to suffer – and THAT is why Trump lost the 2020 election. It’s the economy, stupid – a cliche for sure, but cliches rarely become cliches unless they’re true. If Trump had handled the COVID-19 crisis even marginally adequately, the electoral map in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Wisconsin, and maybe even Michigan would have looked a lot more like 2016. It might have been nothing more complicated than delivering the consistent message to wear a mask. Trump Nation would have responded, lives would have been saved, fewer businesses would have gone under, and vote margins might have shifted just a few hundred thousand votes.

At this very moment, we are again nearing a terrifying hospitalization crisis I wrote about months ago. Despite the good news about the vaccines, their widespread availability is still months away. Meanwhile, Trump is spending all of his time bouncing between Twitter and whichever attorneys are being asked on this particular day to make fools of themselves in court. And his devoted supporters are gearing up for big Thanksgiving get-togethers, where they can commiserate and spray saliva over multiple bottles of cheap wine about how the election was rigged and COVID-19 is no worse than the flu. All the while ignoring that their completely and continually wrong response to COVID-19 is the singular reason they won’t be celebrating a second Trump term.

Over the river and through the wood, to Grandmother’s house we go…

The New Green New Deal

As the responses of President Trump and his enablers have become more comical each day, I began to daydream…

One of the more chuckle-inducing claims that made its way ’round the World Wide Web of Deceit is that over ten thousand dead people voted in Michigan. This claim has, of course, been debunked many times over. Not that it should even need debunking – wouldn’t that be a pretty easy thing to discover, and therefore a pretty dumb way to try and steal an election?

Then it occurred to me – people that believe this will believe anything. So then it further occurred to me – what if somebody planted a new idea in the hive mind?…

Attention Trump Nation! Our fearless leader has finally completed his own personal purchase of Greenland! But – and this is CRITICAL – he has commanded all of us to immediately begin colonization, so that we can build a new wall of ice (better than the crappy one in Game of Thrones) and establish a new utopia free of all liberal socialist commie godless bleeding heart Jedi scum. Fire up the RVs! It’s time for a road trip to the biggest island on Earth! I mean, just look at it on a map – it’s huge! Biggest island ever! And it’s ours! All ours! MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA….

Probably would need some word-smithing, but stay with me on this. If we plant this message, I guarantee more than zero people will start their mouses a’clickin’. If it truly catches fire, we could kill a whole lotta birds with one stone. People that don’t believe tens of thousands of dead people vote would be happier, and so would the new residents of Greenland. Eventually, Trump would realize all his friends have left, so he’d concede the election and move there too. And then he’d be UNEMPLOYED. In GREEN-LAND.

Meanwhile, back in Murica, we’d formally rename ourselves back to America, and the Biden administration would be able to move ahead full steam with transition planning while our still completely stupid Electoral College process plays itself out. Republicans in Congress would finally be able to stop saying things like “well the President has a point about all these dead people voting”, and the two sides of the aisle might even eventually start working out the occasional deal here and there like old times. Approval and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine would be governed by adults, and we might start to find some form of normalcy by mid to late 2021.

Mean-meanwhile, the new citizens of Greenland would eventually discover through the melting of their beautiful new glaciers that climate change is real, and then they’d realize maybe they went a little overboard the past few years. They would send Trump to the Greenland Penitentiary for income tax evasion and move back home like so many millions of prodigal sons and daughters, where they would happily discover that for the fifteenth time in the past fifteen Democratic Presidencies, we did not turn into a communist regime. And America would live happily ever after, especially the dead people, who would never again have to show up in court to testify that they didn’t vote.

The End

(cue patriotic exit music)

Extraordinary Claims

If you’ve read a fair number of outputs from the Machine, you know Carl Sagan is a personal hero of sorts. One of the topics on which he was most outspoken was the question of whether aliens had as yet visited Earth. He never categorically dismissed the notion, but he stated “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. That phrase actually dates back in another form to the French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace, who said “the weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness”.

“Strangeness” is indeed a word that could be applied with reckless abandon to the way the Trump campaign has approached this election. And one of the extraordinary claims made by the campaign is that the whole thing is corrupt, with Philadelphia as the epicenter. In particular, the campaign has spoken of Philadelphia’s “reputation”. These claims are extraordinary, because there has never been anywhere near enough widespread fraud in a U.S. Presidential election to flip the final outcome. Thus far, no real evidence has been produced to support the claims. But if something uniquely Philadelphian were going on here, one would think the raw numbers would support that. So I took at look at the percentages for a dozen established left-leaning counties, Philly included, to see if the City of Brotherly Love jumps out. Here is what I found:

County (City)BidenTrump
Boston (Boston)82.5%15.6
Cook (Chicago)72.6%25.8%
Dane (Madison)75.5%22.8%
District of Columbia (Washington)92.6%5.2%
Denver (Denver)81.5%16.6%
Fulton (Atlanta)72.6%26.2%
King (Seattle)75.7%22.2%
Los Angeles (Los Angeles)71.4%26.8%
Manhattan (New York City)84.5%14.5%
Philadelphia (Philadelphia)80.5%18.6%
San Francisco (San Francisco)85.6%12.2%
Wayne (Detroit)68.1%30.6%
Current percentages in votes for Biden and Trump across a dozen left-leaning metropolitan counties.

Some thoughts here. First, Philly ranks 6th out of 12 on this list. So that doesn’t jump out much. Sure, I cherry-picked the more liberal cities in the U.S., but Philly has always been known to be one of those, so the question is whether it jumps out as an anomaly against that backdrop. Its ranking here doesn’t support that notion. Second, Detroit, also a target of Trump campaign accusations, is actually last in this list. Third, Denver. Not exactly a city people think of when they think of corruption – yet the Biden ratio is even higher there.

The bottom line is that based on the above table, if Philadelphia is corrupt, then it would appear all left-leaning cities are corrupt, and of course a lot of Trump supporters will believe exactly that. But when you start taking these accusations to a national/conspiratorial level, you start to sound more and more like the crazy uncle. Bipartisan observers have been dispatched to all of these cities to ensure the integrity of the process, and bipartisan volunteers have been working insane hours under intense scrutiny to do the actual counting. The likelihood that all of these people are in on some sort of con game is about the same as the likelihood that President Trump will ever admit that he could actually lose a fair game.

Zero

Welcome to the post-25-word-limitation era of the Parallax Machine. As I write this, the American election is still (not surprisingly) in limbo. So let’s divert ourselves for at least a couple of minutes by completing the countdown, with a post dedicated to the number zero. Back at the turn of the year, which seems like ten years ago, I talked about how we count decades, centuries, and millennia. As part of that discussion, I noted that the Romans had no designation for the number zero, and I threatened to eventually talk more about the number. Let this be proof that my threats are not idle.

We have evidence that the concept of zero dates back to the Sumerians around five thousand years ago. It was not dealt with on its own, but rather to help build up other numbers – for example, the number 504 indicates four ones, zero tens, and five hundreds. So zero’s introduction into the world was strictly a practical matter, and was only dabbled with toward that end for quite some time. The symbol for zero as a placeholder in other numbers was crystallized by the Babylonians around 300 BC. The Mayans did something similar around the same time.

As we approached the BC/AD transition, the Greeks, philosophical nuts as they were, began to debate amongst themselves about how to treat zero. Should it be a number? How can nothing be something? This got tied up with philosophical discussions about the analogous thing in nature: a vacuum – and also with even deeper conversations about how the universe itself came about. If everything had a beginning, then it was preceded by nothing. How can nothing have turned into something? If the answer is God, then there wasn’t a nothing, there was God. But how did God begin? Excuse me for a moment, I need a drink.

Zero has had a lot of different symbols over the ages, but our modern beloved donut originated primarily from the Chinese. The concept of zero as a number, however, we owe to the Indians, somewhere in the middle of the first millennium AD. Europe didn’t get on the zero train until the 12th century AD, but it played a crucial role in the mathematical advances that took place a few centuries later by Isaac Newton and others. Once we devoted a lot of attention to math, and particularly in how to use it to represent the real world (like with Newton’s laws of motion or Kepler’s laws of planetary motion), zero became crucial.

Mathematically, zero is a weird animal indeed. For example, it is the only number that can’t be in the denominator of a fraction. Although if you divide the number one by smaller and smaller numbers, you’ll get a larger and larger number as a result – which makes it look like you would eventually end up with infinity if you actually divided by zero. But infinity isn’t a number, it’s a concept. Yet it too plays a crucial role in mathematics – lots of things end up “approaching infinity” as a means of describing the behavior of the world around us. Calculus (invented independently by Newton and Gottfried Liebniz) doesn’t work without this kind of seemingly nonsensical thinking, yet calculus helped put us on the Moon. Excuse me while I take another swig.

Zero also defines the dividing line between positive and negative numbers. Profit and debt mean nothing without the definition of zero as the break-even point. Zero multiplied by any other number equals zero – no other number can do that. Zero added to or subtracted from any other number equals that number – no other number can do that either. Absolute zero is the coldest that any object in the universe can become – although it’s a little like infinity in that it requires the complete drainage of all energy and motion down to the tiniest of scales, which is practically unachievable. And, perhaps most importantly, zero is usually the number you hit when you want to be transferred to a real live human being at your bank or internet service provider.

I believe I now have zero left to say in this post.

Time is up.

One

One candidate cares about one person. One candidate cares about one nation. One will win. Every vote will help determine which one. One last chance.

Two

Whatever happens this week, our two party system is more broken than ever. We must come together, or Rome will fall again. Oh, and vote.

Four

FDR spoke of four fundamental freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear.[Some Presidents are gooder speakers than others.

Five

In “The Fifth Element”, the fifth element turned out to be love. The election results will reveal whether love still has any power in America.

Six

In six of the last seven elections, the Democratic candidate for President has won the popular vote. The people have spoken regarding the Electoral College.