Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Uncanny G-Men

"Lock'er up 'cause them emails..."
-pretty much
Say, remember when then FBI director James Comey oh so dutifully told Congress that the bureau was reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails two weeks before the election? And then two days before the election, he put out a statement saying: ' never mind, everything's cool' But it turns out everything wasn't cool because the damage was done and now Donald Trump, star of a Access Hollywood sexual assault blooper reel somehow pulled off an electoral win despite reason and polling and is now the President?

Sure, an unqualified buffoon that most of
us didn't vote for is running the country, but
at least this guy's conscience is clear, right? 
Remember all that? Comey said he did so because he believed that to do otherwise would be misleading to the public. Which...do you suppose he's actually met the public? Because 'public' and 'nuance' don't usually go together. We, as in the American people, are fairly headline oriented so when the director of the FBI says they're reopening an FBI investigation into a political candidate right before election day it's going to play as damning. Catastrophically so and no retraction two days out is going to fix that.

Pictured: Manafort, seen here with
a hand, possibly Russian, up his ass.
Ok, maybe Comey cost Clinton the election, maybe he didn't, I don't know. We may never know, but get this, the FBI was wiretapping Paul Manafort while he was running Donald Trump's campaign. It was part of an investigation into Manafort's connections to Russia, you know, the foreign power that totally wanted Trump to win and the one that all American intelligence agencies agreed interfered with our election? Manafort's apparently been under surveillance for years because of his companies connections with the Ukrainian Governement, but the investigation was renewed after intelligence suggested that Vladimir Putin had directly ordered his intelligence agencies to screw with our election.

Maybe the FBI should stick to what
they're good at? Like investigating
things like aliens and fluke men?
Ok so while the evidence isn't conclusive and being under suspicion isn't the same thing as being guilty of anything, is it me or is it weird that we're only hearing about this now? To be clear, the FBI spent the summer leading up to the election wiretapping the Trump's goddamn campaign manager-whom they'd long suspected of being a tool of Russian intelligence-and kept it under their hat. Meanwhile, emails from Hillary Clinton to Huma Abadin show up on her husband Anthony Weiner's computer while their investigating him for an unrelated sexting scandal, it's time to go to the press.

Look, I don't want to sound paranoid, but remember way back when Hillary Clinton referred to a vast, right-wing conspiracy and everyone laughed and called her a nut-job? Well...
"I don't want to say I told you so, but..."
-The person most of us voted for

Sunday, September 17, 2017

I hope you kept that nerd belt buckled...

Don't you face palm me, you...meme...
Before you roll your eyes at another post about Star Trek, keep in mind that the new series starts a week from today and we fans are both stoked and trepidatious about whether or not it's going to be good. Or should I say trekidatious? Huh? What's that? I should be ashamed of myself? Yes, that's fair. Where was I? Oh, right, new Star Trek show. Well get this, Jonathan Frakes, who directed an episode of Discovery for season one, just blurted out a spoiler and its...well, it's a thing.

Pictured: Commander Riker,
awkwardly mounting a chiar.
Since it's super difficult to discuss the spoiler without telling you what he said and in the process spoiling it, I'm going to go ahead and say 'spoiler' now, so you can stop reading if you want. You know, if you haven't done so already. So, 'spoiler.' Still there? Ok, so at a Star Trek convention in Chicago today, Jonathan 'Commander Riker' Frakes-who's a director now, revealed that Star Trek: Discovery will feature an episode involving the Mirror Universe. Don't know what that is? Great, you're in luck, nerds love to nerd'splain. 

The Mirror Universe is the fannon name given to the parallel universe visited by Kirk and the original series crew in the episode 'Mirror Mirror.' It's just like the regular Star Trek universe...but eeeevil. The Federation is The Empire, Spock's got a goatee, and Uhura wears a crop top...an evil crop top I guess? 
Above: regular universe Uhura distracting not-gay parallel universe Sulu
with feminine wiles. Because TV in the 60's was apparently bananas.
There's homage and then there's
alterna-Spock shouting Khaaaaaan!
One's ok, the other is pictured above.
The episode was as preposterous as it sounds, but it's a fan favorite and both DS9 and Enterprise would have their own 'Mirror' episodes because Trek writers love to make multiple trips to the same well. Which brings us to the 'uh-oh.' As another be-coloned Star Trek spin-off, Discovery is going to be derivative. And that's fine. It's a sequel/prequel to stories we've already seen before, so of course it's going to draw from the source material. But holy shit, that's a fine line and one that Star Trek has historically been really bad at walking. 

Above: turns out TV in the 80's
was pretty bananas too...
Aside from the basic premise of a starship flying around and doing Star Trek stuff, Discovery's already leaning a bit on elements that have been done. There're Klingons, and Harry Mudd and the main character was recently revealed to be Spock's here-to-fore unmentioned human foster sister. And that's all fine, but this Mirror Universe thing kind of sounds like a retread and it's only season one. Of course, TNG's writers did that too, remember? They ripped off the original series episode with the crazy space disease that makes everyone act drunk and make out? It wasn't their best work.

But TNG got better. In fact, it's objectively the best Star Trek (yes it is, that's what objectively means). So maybe we should all just calm down and look forward to the new show. And besides, it's entirely possible Jonathan Frakes just loves to fuck with the fans.
"Yup, Mirror Universe. And then in episode five, Commander Riker is going to travel back 
in time and have sex with everybody on Discovery. Everybody. Episode six: Tribbles."
-Jonathan Frakes, fucking with us

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Today in 'I really hope this doesn't suck...'

Ok, you know the drill, buckle your nerd belts. I have some, well let's say potentially not great news. If you didn't click, it's-huh? I know you didn't click, don't lie to me, I can tell. Anyway, CBS is not sending out screening copies of Star Trek: Discovery's pilot episode which premiers next week.
"Oh shit..."
-Data, Star Trek: Generations,
Act III, scene ii
"What? No, don't even worry, about
 it. It's gonna be great, trust me..."
-Producer Alex Kurtzman
...who wrote Transformers 2
It may be nothing, garbled communications, but it seems like a bad sign that the producers of the series don't want anyone to see it ahead of time. What's more is that even people who see it at the premier screenings won't be allowed to talk about it until after it's released. Sure, this could be because CBS wants to avoid screening audiences giving away some big plot twist or spoiler or something. It could be that. But it could also be that they don't have a lot of confidence in the show's quality and are worried that bad word of mouth might drive down viewership and subscriptions to their stupid CBS All Access service.

I'd rather pay to not have access to The
Big Bang Theory, thank you very much.
You heard me. Yeah, if you live in the U.S. you can't just watch Star Trek: Discovery on Netflix or whatever like a civilized person. Instead you have to sign up for CBS's special streaming service. Yes, another subscription but one that offers all the inconvenience of watching broadcast television like commercials and the privilege of paying for a bunch of tv shows you don't want. It's sort of like what HBO does with Game of Thrones, except now, thanks to non-disclosure agreements and review embargoes, the concern is that Discovery might be terrible.

Oh don't look at me like that,
I mean did you even watch the one
where Trip gets pregnant? 
Ok, cards on the table, I still have high hopes that Discovery will be awesome. And as an obsessed fan, I'll watch anything, pay anything, literally anything Star Trek. Even if it is crap. I stuck with Star Trek through some objective crap during TNG's first couple seasons. I dutifully sat through Insurrection in the theatre not once, but twice, just in case I missed some reason it wasn't terrible. I even watched all four seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise. Four seasons. I fast forwarded thought the theme song, but still, I did it and I'm prepared to do it again although I resent having to sign-up for All Access to do it.

But that's why they call us fans instead of, you know, normal people. Anyway, I want this to be good. I need this to be good. It's just that the pre-release secrecy is troublesome.
It's ok, I can say that. These are my people.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Speaking of fireable offenses...

Wait-wait-wait, hang on. Let's just be absolutely clear about this. Sarah Sanders, the White House Press Secretary, today called for Jemele Hill to be fired for being mean to the President on Twitter.
Pictured: The White House Press Secretary standing at the Press Secretary's podium
in front of the seal of the White House calling for the firing of a private citizen for
criticizing the President on Twitter. Not pictured: the slightest hint of irony.
"The most outrageous comment anyone
could make? Challenge: accepted."

-The technical winner
of last year's election
Sanders was asked to respond to some tweets made by Hill, an ESPN host who called the President a white supremacist and someone who surrounds himself with white supremacists.

"...I think that's one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make, and certainly something that I think is a fireable offense by ESPN."

-Presss Secretary Sanders on-wait,
has she even met the President?

Pictured: Trump and Bush walking arm in
arm with a woman they were moments
before talking about sexually assaulting.
I mean is she unaware of of everything that's spewed forth from her boss's twitter hole over the nine months of his Presidency or the years leading up to it? There was that time back in 2015 when he suggested that Megyn Kelly was menstruating because she had the temerity to press him in a debate. And that time he and Billy Bush weighted the pros and pros of sexual assault. Oh, and remember when he blamed the Orlando nightclub massacre on immigration even though the man who committed it was born in Long Island?

Above: some of the Nazis the
President recently defended.
Because these were all pretty outrageous comments. We know because we're all still pretty outraged by them. Sanders also seems to be forgetting about that time he leapt to the defense of White Supremacists? Literal goddamn Nazis were marching in the street and he defended them. It was way back in August, so maybe it just slipped her mind, but it seems super-relevant because she's calling Hill's comments about white supremacy outrageous. And look, I don't know if Donald Trump is really a white supremacist, but I also don't think Jemele's read is wrong.

Working at the OGE has got to be like
working at Blockbuster. But somehow
sadder and without the pop rocks.
Speaking of Nazis, did no one in the White House have a problem with the fascistic implications of the Press Secretary calling for a private citizen to lose her job? Walter Shaub, the former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics even pointed out that there's a law against government officials using their position to influence private employment decisions. While he doesn't believe Sanders remarks are prosecutable, he did tweet that they were inappropriate and called them "[a]nother important norm down the drain." On a side note, does anyone else feel bad for the OGE?

"I mean, literal goddamn Nazis.."
-Jemele Hill, not being wrong
Well, there's nothing we can do about it. ESPN has distanced themselves from Hill and has refereed to 'disciplinary action' but hasn't said what that is yet. And even if they do fire her, we'll never really be sure if it was because of Sander's call for her dismissal or just corporate cowardice on the part of ESPN. What will be for certain is that she'll have lost her job because she criticized the President. Criticized him for something that's kinda true. That's kind of fucked up, no?

Yes. But what's even more fucked up is that Sanders job is almost certainly secure, despite using her position to try and get Hill fired for voicing her opinion. What Sanders did might not technically be illegal but-wow, is it me, or is this entire administration coasting on the phrase 'it's not technically illegal but...'
As long as she doesn't lead an FBI investigation
into Trump's Russia ties, she'll be fine.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Merry Product Announcement Day!

Not out of journalistic integrity, but
because people love disaster footage.
Yup, today's that special time of the year when the media, as a whole, pretends that Apple's announcement of new iPhones is an event worthy of news coverage and fawns over every new brushed aluminum slab of cutting edge technology we'll be trading in a year from now. Although in a stunning break with tradition, the announcement this year wasn't the top story, but was instead upstaged by continuing coverage of Hurricane Irma. Although it was a close second. Because priorities.

Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage at the Steve Jobs Auditorium to-huh? Yes, the Steve Jobs Auditorium (branding!) in Apple's newly built Apple Park in Cupertino; a vast, donut shaped corporate city state so future that the toilets are somehow newsworthy.
In what can only be described as an act of courage, Apple's
designers have removed the traditional headphone jack from their
new restrooms. But don't worry, you can buy an adaptor dongle.
"Introducing iPhone 8...I mean, if you
really don't want the best new iPhone."

-Apple's new slogan
Anyway, Cook took the stage to announce a new Apple Watch, the iterative iPhone 8 and confusingly the iPhone X. As in the Roman numeral for ten, it's not like x-treme. Wai-wah? Yes, if dropping $700 to $900 on a slightly improved version of the phone you already own isn't extravagant enough for you, you can skip right over iPhone 9 and give Apple a $1,000-that's one thousand dollars for a X. Of money. Or another $150 if you want the 256 GB version. I mean, what are you, a sucker? You've got to future proof that thing.

Above: like half of America's iPhones.
So what does a grand get you? I mean other than the dubious distinction of spending way too much on your new phone while people are literally starving? Why, less somehow. If you recall, last year's update removed the ubiquitous headphone jack in an effort to make everyone's life slightly more of a pain in the ass, but this year Apple's designers are going all in by removing the home button and shrinking the bezel (the non-glass part of the face) to just a thin frame meaning more glass. You know, that part that constantly shatters into a spiderweb of finger-shredding horror?

Oh, and you unlock it with your face. Lacking a home button thumbscanner, the iPhone X will use forward facing cameras and sophisticated facial recognition software which Apple says offers better security. Yeah...facial recognition software. Seems to be a running theme.
Better security and, one assumes, the
ability to detect how gay you are.
"Eh...close enough for us."
-The criminal justice system
Apparently one in 50,000 people will have a thumbprint similar enough to your own to unlock your phone which...let that sink in. Another person's thumbprint can be close enough to unlock a phone. I find that...alarming. Look, while I agree that it's like, super-important that no one get ahold of my texts or my browser history, I've always felt reasonably confident in my thumbprint, but now we're saying that's not enough? And haven't we been like, convicting people of crimes based on fingerprint evidence for like a century and a half?

Oh well, rapidly deteriorating confidence in the judicial system aside, I suppose we should all take this opportunity to thank the tireless journalists who took time away from the catastrophic hurricanes, toxic politics and increasing threat of nuclear war to bring us important news about the fine products we'll soon be buying from Apple. Merry Product Announcement Day, every one!
Above: Tim Cook cleverly convincing the media that
this is anything but free publicity. He's a wizard, that one.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Algayrithm!

"What?Pfft...no, Diane, I didn't write the
algorithm because you wouldn't go out with
me... Although this does say you are gay."

-Some creepy researcher
Say, did you see this thing about a Stanford study saying that a new computer algorithm can detect gayface? Scienceticians on the very cutting edge of ridiculous and potentially offensive new uses for technology fed a bunch of photos from dating sites into their fancy new thinking machine and found that after it knew what to look for it could correctly identify gays 81% of the time and lesbians 74% of the time. It's called a deep neural network and it really is super-sophisticated and seems like it could have countless real world applications. Playing spot the gay doesn't seem like one of them.

I mean, for one thing, these are dating sites, so you'd think you wouldn't need an algorithm to work out who's gay and who's not, but here we are.
See? Gay. If the pic is on Grindr and mostly abs:
Gay. Don't even need the stupid algorithm.
Although being an angry, vitriol-spewing,
homophobic hate-monger is totally a choice..
But whatever, the software exists so a logical question is how the shit does it do it? With science it turns out. The computer is just analyzing faces and correlating data, but with enough photos and data about the people in them, patterns emerge and apparently there are certain subtle physical traits associated with sexuality. The authors of the study theorize that certain hormones affect a person's development in utero and the results can be detected visually in adulthood. So on the one hand it's another reason that people who think being gay is a choice should shut the hell up. 

"Homosexuals detected, cease all
cake baking activity immediately!"
But on the other hand, is there a single use for the technology that isn't terrifying? Sure, the America of 2017 is in many ways more progressive than say the America of 1950-wait, sorry, let me rephrase, the America of 2016 was more progressive, the America of 2017 is bananas foster. Remember as recently as Friday when we were talking about that idiot baker refusing to make wedding cakes for gay couples and getting support from the Department of Justice? I'm not saying the Trump administration is going to start building Sentinels anytime soon, but there are literal Nazis marching in the streets so I don't think it's unreasonable to be concerned.

Really? 28? Well, I'm sure we're
making progress in the courts and-huh?
Oh, right, everything is terrible now...
So what's the deal? Why would Michal Kosinski and Yilun Wang, the co-authors of the study, put this out there? The technology already exists, so is it that all someone has to do to recreate their work is start plugging in OKCupid profiles? Eh, it's apparently more complicated than that, and they're not saying which sites they used or how they did it, but still, this technology sounds like a kinda serious threat to privacy. Did you know that it's still legal to fire someone for being LGBTQ in 28 States?

"You'll thank me someday...you know,
after you get over the flu I just gave you."
-Some hypothetical jerk
Yeah, 28 States. Can you believe it? Anyway, the authors insist that publishing the study was a way to point out the potential dangers inherent in a technology that profiles people in the way that this does. Ok, it's cool that they're watching out for the public, that's great and all, but as well intended as they might be, and was difficult as it may be to imitate their research, it's not impossible. So publishing this study as a cautionary tale still sounds a little like someone with the flu coughing all over people in the subway and then explaining that the flu already exists and it's like, super dangerous so they're just spreading it around to raise awareness of the importance of flu prevention.

It just seems like maybe not telling everybody that it's possible to detect sexual orientation using facial recognition software would be a more effective way to not inspire people to detect sexuality with facial recognition software. But what do I know? I'm not a scientist and can't possibly know what it's like to find oneself with a dilemma like the one Kosinski and Wang faced. You know, to publish and risk a potentially dangerous technology falling into the wrong hands or don't publish and not get interviewed by The Economist. Tough choice.
On the up side, a decent portion of the readership is old people waiting for work
on their car to be finished, so unless any of them have advanced degrees in computer
 science and access to a neural network, the world should be reasonably safe...for now.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Today in tragic victims of cake-blocking...

Above: America under the Obama
administration. What? Naive? Maybe...
Hey, remember how over the past eight years or so we, as a country, made some much needed social progress? It was slow and sometimes looked rather hopeless, but on balance we were really heading in the right direction. LGBTQ issues came to the forefront of national discourse, marriage equality became a reality and sexual orientation and gender identity started getting written into anti-discrimination policies. It was almost like America was finally coming around. Things, it seemed were changing for the better. Neat, right?

...but now literal Nazis are marching
in our streets. So by comparison,
magic unicorns seem pretty apt.
Yes. Not so neat was last year's electoral clusterfuck when a ridiculous combination of a divided Democratic party, Russian election interference and white people feeling under appreciated left us with an unqualified gameshow host of a President who, despite not actually winning the majority of votes, took his questionable electoral victory and widespread unpopularity and decided he had some kind of mandate to unravel whatever forward progress the previous administration made. You know, out of spite.

Which brings us to this. The goddamn cake thing. As you may recall, over the last few years a number of bakeries have run afoul of America's oppressive anti-discrimination laws which demand that god-fearing Christian bakers renounce their god and risk eternal damnation by making wedding cakes for sodomites.
Pictured: the fires of hell that await Christian
business owners who serve gay clients. 
You can taste the moral indignation in
every bite. Unless you're gay of course.
One such baker, Jack Phillips, was asked to do that back in 2012 and despite lower-court rulings that he simply grow up and not discriminate against his customers, has been insisting that in having to serve same-sex couples like they were real people violates his religious liberty. Well now his case has made it to the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice, now under the direction of the former host of The Apprentice, has filed a friend of the court brief-yes that's what they call it when the administration wants to gently suggest to the Court how they should do their job. I think it's sort of the legal equivalent of back seat driving with overtones of 'let's violate the separation of powers.'

Pictured: a sad, mournful dirge 
being playing at a comically high pitch.
Anyway, the Trump administration's Department of Justice filed one of these briefs on Phillips' behalf saying in part:

"Forcing Phillips to create expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs invades his First Amendment Rights..." 

-Acting Solicitor General
Jeffery B. Wall, presumably while
the world's smallest violin plays

I'm sorry, that was going too far. It was
wrong of me to assume Phillips is unfamiliar
with internet porn and for that I apologize.
So first of all, horseshit. As we've discussed many, many times over the last few years of listening to homophobes whine about how intolerant of their intolerance the country is getting, shouting 'cause Jesus' does not give anyone carte blanche to discriminate. Second of all, he's just a goddamn baker. Phillips isn't participating in the ceremony anymore than the cashier at the creepy roadside adult store where he buys his porn is participating in his Friday night plans.

What's that? You can't find anything
about that? Huh, interesting.
But most importantly, nobody's forcing anyone to do anything. You can either be some guy who bakes cakes only for people whose marriages you approve of based on whatever cherry picked Bible quotes you like, or you can run a business and that means you have to be a person. Pick one. After all, God was probably kidding when he said 'thou shalt not bake a wedding cake for gay dudes, because it is an abomination.' I mean, that's in there, right? Maybe somewhere in the back?

But whatever, Phillips is going to be a dick and that's his right. Because America. And hopefully the Court will give the administration's helpful suggestion the due consideration it deserves. Which is to say, not much.
Pictured: the consideration it deserves.