US Election Results

So as of this writing, it looks like Biden has won out over Trump to take over as President of the United States in January. Overall, I think this is a bad result for the United States as a whole, but that’s not why I wanted to write this. I have a few points I want to make here which don’t form any sort of narrative or support either side of the race.

  • The pollsters were wrong about the results. Yes, most of them correctly (as of this writing) identified Biden as the winner. However, they were predicting a substantially wider margin. Substantially. This suggests some underlying bias in methodology or other flaws in the polling. Perhaps Trump voters didn’t want to admit to anyone who they supported for fear of violent reprisals or worse. Or perhaps the polls had leading questions. Or failed to achieve a proper representative sample. Still, they were wrong about the magnitude of the win and that’s important when analyzing polls.
  • There are allegations of election tampering from various states won by the Democrats. Some of these allegations include Republican voters being given pre-spoiled ballots or given the wrong implements to mark them, thus guaranteeing them to be counted as spoiled. There are also allegations that more votes were cast than there are eligible voters in one state with a very narrow margin. There are additional allegations that Republican observers were not permitted to observe from a location where they could actually observe anything. Regardless how credible you think these allegations are, because of how close the electoral college is, and which states have these allegations in play, it is important that they are investigated thoroughly and quickly. It could potentially, lead to the results flipping in Trump’s favour depending on the outcome.
  • It’s not likely that either Trump or Biden had anything to do with any shenanigans related to the individual state elections. If either “side” is guilty of anything, it will be local officials or citizens who undertook whatever shenanigans occurred.
  • The election isn’t actually complete until the electoral college meets and does its job in December. It’s still possible, though extremely unlikely, that electors may disregard their state’s vote and vote for Trump (or vice versa). Faithless electors (as they are called) have occurred in the past and they are not strictly forbidden, either. No, I don’t think the result of the election will change based on faithless electors, but it’s not impossible.
  • Lest anyone think any legal chaos or challenges will lead to having no legitimate president come inauguration in January, there actually is a failsafe built into the procedure: if the election results fail to be certified appropriately, Congress makes a final decision. That could still lead a deadlock since it isn’t a simple majority vote, but in the event that there is too much uncertainty, Congress gets to choose a winner.
  • The United States could stand some electoral reform with respect to the process of actual voting. I am specifically not referring to the electoral college because that is actualy working as designed regardless what people actually think. No, I’m referring to how voting itself is handled. There needs to be a consistent set of election rules across the entire nation and the processes need to be as immune to tampering as possible. In my not so humble opinion, that means paper ballots with a clear marking on them placed in boxes with paper based controls against duplicate votes. Identification requirements are probably reasonable. Counting needs to be done with scrutineers representing all candicates allowed to be present and those scrutineers need to be able to examine all the ballots being counted. No fancy voting machines with punch cards or the like. Absolutely no electronic voting machines. Do it the old fashioned manual way. It’s about as immune to tampering as it’s possible to get.

That’s about all I have to say at the moment. Just some random thoughts related to the US Presidential election.

Is COVID-19 Worse Than Influenza?

Ever since COVID-19 appeared, the doomsayers and their ilk have been banging on about how this is the worst health crisis in the history of humanity. Well, maybe most haven’t been going quite that far, but there’s definitely a cadre who do. But is it really worse than other endemic respiratory infections such as influenza? I’ll be honest: I don’t actually know. And neither do you. Here’s why.

Since COVID-19 appeared, we’ve been doing crazy levels of surveillance for it. And, in many cases, erring in the direction of assuming COVID-19 even without positive tests to back up the assertion. Some jurisdictions have done better with their reporting than others. Alberta, for instance, seems to have a somewhat better approach than much of the United States, for instance, by virtue of having ramped up testing far faster and sooner than most. Naturally, with the heightened level of surveillance, we find a lot of infections that would otherwise not be known due to people having very mild symptoms or even none at all.

So how does this compare with influenza? Well, we don’t actually know. We don’t do anywhere near the same level of surveillance for influenza as we currently do for COVID-19. We also don’t panic and institute massive lockdowns and quarrantine periods when a case of influenza is discovered. Nor do we obsess and panic over elderly patients dying from complications from influenza. Nobody reports the statistics for the number of cases of influenza nor the deaths from those cases. Maybe the health authorities do have that information, or have information that is somewhat comparable, but I doubt it. Without a similar testing regime for influenza, we can’t know what the actual case counts for it are. Without the same level of testing, we won’t know how many “colds” were actually influenza. We won’t know how many people had a strain of influenza without getting sick at all.

Of course, that comparison isn’t quite fair. “Influenza” is a class of virus, much like “coronavirus” is a class of virus. It would be far more fair to compare individual strains of influenza against COVID-19. But we aren’t doing that sort of testing so we don’t have the numbers. At least not publicly. But we also need to remember that there are other coronaviruses that don’t do much more than cause the common cold. (Colds are caused by other viruses than coronavirus, too. Like rhinovirus and RSV.)

Also it’s important to note that COVID-19 is problematic because it’s new and, thus, nobody had any immunity to it prior to this pandemic. At least ostensibly. I’m not personally convinced by that. It is at least theoretically possible to have some level of resistance due to having a variation of coronavirus that is somewhat similar to COVID-19. It’s also possible that COVID-19 was moving through the population for some time before flaring up like it did and it was simply not noticed. Even so, it’s clear that there has been a large scale increase in infections.

What is not clear, due to lack of reliable information about other endemic respiratory diseases, is whether the fraction of servere outcomes for COVID-19 is particularly high compared to, say, “ordinary” pandemic influenza. Clearly, given the lack of panic over other endemic respiratory diseases, we do not generally find the incidence of severe outcomes from them worrying. So it follows that if the rate of such outcomes with COVID-19 isn’t actually significantly different, then we probably shouldn’t be panicking about COVID-19, either.

Basically, the point of this is that health officials need to start releasing comparable statistics for all extant respiratory diseases. And, to get those comparable statistics, we need to be doing the same level of testing and analysis for those diseases as we currently do for COVID-19. Maybe we are doing that level of surveillance and the information isn’t shared, but I somehow doubt it. Regardless, without that information, it’s impossible to make a properly informed choice about what to do about COVID-19 and it allows COVID-19 to be used as a convenient issue to push whatever agenda any particular person or group has. So let’s call on health officials to drown us in accurate numbers for everything. Not just COVID-19. Seems to me that if they do that, at the very least COVID-19 won’t seem quite so bad as it does when its statistics are reported in isolation.

Impending Demographic Correction?

Everyone reading this is probably aware of the global pandemic thing that’s been going on. As it drags on, containment measures have become more and more extreme. While these measures can only really hope to flatten the curve of demand on health care resources, they are, nevertheless, almost certainly necessary for just that reason. But that’s not the point of this post. Instead, it’s the consequences of the containment measures which have moved all the way to locking down entire countries.

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Was Andy Dufresne Guilty?

I’ve just watched the latter half of Shawshank Redemptionfor the third time in about two weeks. If you haven’t seen it, you should watch it. I expect film school, drama, and even classics students to be studying it far into the future. But that’s not my point. Rather, this time I got to thinking about why I like the movie so much. I’m going to go into that here, so spoiler alert. You have been warned.

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MasterCard Enables Fraud

Yes, the headline is clickbait. However, it is also accurate.

So I had some fraudulent charges on my MasterCard back in June. That did not unduly alarm me. I knew I needed to call my card issuer and disput the charges. I did so and they reversed them, cancelled the card, and issued a new one. All was well with the world. This is what should happen, after all. Alas….

TL;DR: Cancelling a card and getting a replacement after a fraudulent doesn’t necessarily stop the fraudulent charges due to some fuckwit at MasterCard thinking that “force billing” (allowing a merchant to obtain the new card number) is a good idea. My conclusion: “force billing” should be illegal.

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Libraries are always good, right?

There is a pervasive belief in the software world that you should never re-invent the wheel and that an existing library is always the best solution. While there is some merit to the sentiment that re-inventing the wheel is often pointless or dangerous, I have recently come to the conclusion that this is not always the case.

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The Greek Crisis, Money, and, Bitcoin

Over the past week or two, there has been a nontrivial amount of commentary on Bitcoin and Greece. Many commenters seem to think it is a prime opportunity for Bitcoin to go mainstream, or even go as far as being adopted as an official Greek currency. Others are much more skeptical, or downright derisive of the idea. I’ve discussed Bitcoin before (here, here, and here for instance). If you’ve read those posts, you’ll have a fair idea where I’m going to fall on this particular issue. Continue reading “The Greek Crisis, Money, and, Bitcoin”