Mr. Kenney Followup

I talked about the United Conservative Party leadership review in Alberta in my previous post. It seems Mr. Kenney probably did a similar analysis to mine. Even though he technically won the review with 51.4% of the vote, he has decided to resign. It is almost certainly the right choice since there is no possible way the in-fighting within the party will end if he stays on. I do wonder if the approval number would have been higher if the whole pandemic thing hadn’t happened.

Now the real question is who ends up becoming the new leader. Hopefully, it will be someone who the party can unite behind, but also someone who will not be off-putting to the voters at large. On the balance, the province really cannot afford an NDP repeat performance. I also hope it won’t be any of the ring leaders of the dissent over the past couple of years since I don’t want them to be rewarded. In particular, I really hope it isn’t Brian Jean who has just been chucking a wobbly since he didn’t win the party’s inaugural leadership election.

Well, whatever happens will happen. At least there should be time for the party to get organized before the next provincial election, and for the new leader to have some experience in office (assuming the winner is an actual MLA, though technically the premier doesn’t strictly have to be an MLA).

Also, hopefully whoever wins continues the good stuff that Kenney’s regime has been doing.

What I do know for certain is that whoever wins is going to find out that whatever it is they wanted to do that Kenney wasn’t doing is going to be loads harder than they think it is, if it’s even possible.

How Democracy Falls

(A followup after the leadership review results is over here.

Some people reading this will be aware of the leadership review for Jason Kenney, currently premier of Alberta and leader of the United Convervative Party in the province. This situation underscores how our democratic institutions have been failing. Even with the result of the leadership review vote due to be announced within the next few hours, it’s clear that this will not be the end of the matter, no matter what the result is.

The problem as I see it is that what appears to be a fringe element of the party led by the person who lost the original leadership election to Mr. Kenney is hell bent on defeating their perceived enemy at all costs, no matter the consequences. Indeed, reports quote sources as saying that even if the result is a landslide in Mr. Kenney’s favour, they will not accept the results. Indeed, it seems from their statements that any result that does not match with their desired outcome is untrustworthy and not to be accepted. Yet they’ll happily accept that the same process is completely trustworthy if they get the result they want. (Does that sound familiar at all? Feels like a re-run of some big democratic event from a year or so ago, but I can’t quite put my finger on it….)

Anyway, they can’t have it both ways. Either the process is trustworthy and the results are to be trusted and accepted, or the process is untrustworthy and the results are not to be trusted or accepted. It’s the same process either way. You can’t cherry pick the votes that go your way as the only trustworthy ones. At least not if you want to claim that you truly believe in the democratic will of the people being honoured.

Here’s the thing, though. Mr. Kenney has said he will accept the result of the vote. The party constitution (or rules or whatever it’s called) requires 50% plus one to pass the review. He has said he will say on if he gets 50% plus one, as he is allowed to do. He has said he expects everyone to accept the results and stop the infighting no matter which way they go. His opponents, however, seem to only be using this process as a tool to stage a coup. They’ll crow about how they won if it goes their way, but if not, they’ll crow about how it was rigged. And, to make matters worse, the mainstream media will continue to amplify their message and largely ignore or deride Kenny’s as they have been doing all along. After all, confict makes for better news, doesn’t it?

So here’s how I see things going. There are exactly two possibilities.

Kenney wins. If Kenney wins, the infighting will continue. I don’t like meme images, but if I did, I would insert one that has a caption along the lines of “infighting intensifies”. Kenney will attempt to reconcile the party, which will fail. He will likely have to kick the more disruptive members out of caucus because there’s now way to govern otherwise. He will attempt to hold on until the next regularly scheduled election and put his actual track record up against the opposition parties in the general election. I give it no better than even odds that he isn’t forced out by some other means, likely extremely shady and probably involving a frame job, within months following the review.

Kenney loses. In this case, Kenney will step aside and there will be a party leadership election. He may stay on as leader until the results of the leadership election are known. You would think that would be acceptable for his opponents since they would be getting what they want, but if it chooses this path, they will scream about him being antidemocratic by staying on while the multi-month leadership election takes place. I doubt Kenney will stand for re-election, though as I understand it, he would have the right to do so. Then, regardless of the outcome of the leadership election, the rebellious element of the party will not be united. Currently, they’re united with the goal of getting Kenney out, but beyond that, they don’t have much in common at all. The party will continue to be anything but united, and will have a very high probability of losing the next election, or at least being knocked down to minority status. (There are allegations that a vast number of new memberships were purchased with the specific goal of achieving just this result, but those haven’t been proven. Even if true, those members are probably going to be continuing to destabilize from within rather than let things settle down.)

Anyway, I expect Kenney to win the leadership review by a relatively small margin, but enough that it’s unlikely a counting error. Then, his oponents will grouse and gripe in the media for a short time and demand his resignation on various grounds, including not having met the “threshold” for continuing (he only needs 50% plus one according to the rules remember so this will all be self-serving nonsense). Then, eventually, law suits will be filed. The courts will not be amused. Nor will anyone else. Odds are they will be dismissed with prejudice after a great deal of legal brangling. Regardless of all of that, Kenney will eventually be forced to resign if there is to be any chance at actually governing or winning the next election.

On the other hand, if he loses, he has said he will step aside and we can skip all the mess in the previous paragraph. However, I don’t think his opponents have as much real support as they think they do which is why I think he will eke out a win.

The subsequent leadership election is going to be unpleasant as candidates from three camps vie for leadership: the rebels, the status quo-ers, and various “time for a change” new guys.

All of this shows neatly how a democratic system can fall. It usually takes a run of this type of behaviour to cause a fall, but if it doesn’t fall apart completely on its own, eventually someone with the charisma and resources will come along and game the chaos to their own benefit. (See many cases in history, including Julius (and, due to existence failure of the former, Augustus) a couple thousand years ago

I should be clear that this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to keep our democratic systems functioning. Instead, we need to be wary of this sort of trap, which has become all too much easier to cause with the advent of algorithmic (anti)social media and such things as cancel culture.

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.

Continue reading “Impending Demographic Correction?”

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.

Continue reading “MasterCard Enables Fraud”

Leap Second on Dec 31. Sigh.

Yet again, we have a leap second being added to UTC to further complicate everyone’s lives. Well, that might be overstating it, but it sure complicates the lives of server and network administrators, among others. The notion is that leap seconds are required to keep UTC in sync with Earth’s rotation and to prevent our clocks eventually being so far out of sync that solar noon will be at midnight. That notion is wrongheaded in the extreme, though.We would simply use some adjustment to get from UTC to local time once it started getting far enough out of sync. Local time would still continue to be approximately related to mean solar time. Continue reading “Leap Second on Dec 31. Sigh.”

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”