Elections, ballot counting, and the truth

I have a bunch of pages stuck open in my aggregator that I haven’t posted yet because I didn’t feel right about them. They’re all about alleged or actual errors, improprieties, or other issues with the voting in this presidential election. Today Scott Rosenberg at Salon posted what I feel is the more balanced perspective on this: if there was vote fraud, we‘ll report it, but the people who continue to insist that the election was stolen are beginning to sound like the folks who think Iraq had WMDs and caused 9/11. With that perspective, I can comment on these links and then move on—unless, of course, the vote stealing allegations are proven.

A lot of the articles start out with statistical analyses of the variances between exit polls and actual reported results, such as Blue Lemur’s Odds of Bush gaining by 4 percent in all exit polling states 1 in 50,000; Evoting/paper variance not found to be significant. This article sums up a lot of the threads going around as follows: It seems like Bush got an average gain of 4.15% between exit polling and actual vote tallies across the 16 states where exit polls were taken. That seems pretty high, and you can make a probability assessment that it’s pretty unlikely, but the article is careful to point out that the differences between exit polls and vote counts were higher in some paper ballot states than in e-voting states.

The authors of the paper want the raw exit poll data. This strikes me as scary, since that data has to be weighted against the actual population before it’s any good and if you’re going to go into the raw data and start weighting it yourself, you can make it tell pretty much any story. The only thing this approach buys is the ability to recreate the weightings that the polling organizations actually used, then second guess their methodology. Nice, but what I would really want is the actual vote counts.

Unfortunately, for every careful but ultimately futile article like that at Blue Lemur, you get a dozen roundups of anecdote and speculation, such as the one at bellacio.org: Too many voting “irregularities” to be coincidence. To which I reply, How many voting irregularities would constitute coincidence? And what is the chance of a voting irregularity in 2004, when we’ve all been sensitized by the 2000 election, compared with earlier days when no one would dream to ask the question? Don’t get me wrong, some of the errors, like the 4,000 extra Bush voters in Franklin County, Ohio, are pretty egregious. But some of the other observations, like the one at Commondreams.org about the correlation between voting for Bush and the minimum wage hike, seem pretty thin.

The frustrating thing about the obsession with the election being stolen is that the general tinfoilhatdom is obscuring some real issues, like the ease of hacking e-voting systems and optical scan computers. That’s where we need to put our time and energy, not re-fighting November 2 for four years.

Thankfully, Fury adds another dollop of balance by exploring the use of tin-foil hat as signifier for conspiracy theorist, including a full survey of current usage. Thank God for the academy.

Review: The Frank Sinatra Show with Ella Fitzgerald

frank sinatra show with ella fitzgerald

In the late 1950s, at arguably the apogee of his cultural influence and artistic powers, the fates (in the form of Timex’s sponsorship) rewarded Frank Sinatra with a set of network television specials. The shows, classic variety shows of the old mode, featured Ol’ Blue Eyes and a variety of musical guests. In December 1959, Sinatra’s show played host to another jazz singer at the height of her career: Ella Fitzgerald.

Both singers had benefitted immeasurably from the skills of Nelson Riddle, who had spearheaded Sinatra’s return to popularity upon his transition to Capitol Records after a career slump and had arranged and conducted Sinatra’s famous “concept” albums In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning and Songs for Swingin’ Lovers, as well as dozens of singles. Riddle had also been the musical genius behind Ella’s series of explorations of American popular songs, the Songbooks. With Riddle in the orchestral pit, the show sounds like one of those Capitol recordings. This is as good as pop music got in the middle of the century.

The format of the show was simple: a little introductory song and dance—here in the form of complaints for the bad weather in Palm Springs, where the show was being shot—followed by dialog between Sinatra and Peter Lawford (who attempts to slip in a comment about his brother-in-law John F. Kennedy but is quickly cut off by Sinatra so that they don’t have to give equal time to Nixon!), a song from Sinatra, and then a commercial break. One of the genius points of this DVD is that it includes all the John Cameron Swayze Timex commercials!

After the break follow guest vocals from the a cappella quartet the Hi-Los, a comic interlude with Hermione Gingold, and finally the divine Ella. The rest of the show proceeds in much the same fashion, with additional appearances from Red Norvo, with whose quintet Sinatra frequently toured in the late 50s, and from Sinatra’s then-paramour Juliet Prowse.

It’s difficult to pick out high points in the material—it’s all pretty darned good—but to my ears Sinatra’s guest appearance with the Hi-Los on “I’ll Never Smile Again,” a reprise of his 1940 performance of the tune with the Pied Pipers and the Tommy Dorsey band, is up there. Low point? While the vocal performance of Cole Porter’s “It’s All Right With Me” is faultless, watching Sinatra sing it in “duet” with the mooning, silent Prowse is painful.

A word about the DVD itself. The image transfer is fuzzy, with lots of visual noise, with some ghosting and edge artifacts. There are also minor sound problems, particularly a level issue at the beginning and during Frank and Ella’s “Can’t We Be Friends.” The extras, including biographies and (where applicable) discographies of all the participants in the television broadcast, are comprehensive. In particular Ella’s discography is lengthy and annotated, though the formatting of the text seems to have disappeared. Similar quality problems plague the ads at the end of the disc for other material on the Quantum Leap imprint, including misspellings. In the end, the quality of the source material far outweighs these concerns.

This review was originally posted at BlogCritics.