• Jared and Ivanka are mad about these billboard ads, so please don't share these photos of them

    Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are so angry about billboards mocking them in Times Square that they're threatening to sue the Lincoln Project, which put them there.

    Their lawyer, Marc E. Kasowitz, surely knows that mocking powerful, wealthy politicians is protected speech. But it's their money!

    "Of course, Mr. Kushner never made any such statement. Ms. Trump never made any such gesture, and the Lincoln Project's representation that they did are an outrageous and shameful libel," Mr. Kasowitz's letter read. "If these billboards are not immediately removed, we will sue you for what will doubtless be enormous compensatory and punitive damages."

    The Lincoln Project tweeted out the letter on Friday night, along with a statement that promised to leave the billboards in place.

    "Jared and Ivanka have always been entitled, out-of-touch bullies who have never given the slightest indication they have any regard for the American people," the statement read in part. "We plan on showing them the same level of respect."

    Photos courtesy of the Lincoln Project. As brilliant as their anti-Trump ads are, remember that they are all right-wing sorts and as soon as Trump is gone, all the money liberals are throwing at them will end up funding similar work aimed at Democratic candidates.

  • Why American public transport is so bad

    This video explainer from Vox looks into why most Americans have to drive everywhere to get anything done. It's a grim history, but a grimmer future as environmental catastrophe threatens.

    This sealed the country's fate as a car culture, and today we're seeing the results. In most cities, it's extremely difficult to get around without a car, in part due to public transit systems built to serve an outdated commute. And when our politics turn to infrastructure, the government often favors building new roads and highways instead of improving and expanding public transportation. The result is a system that forces more Americans to drive, at the expense of those who rely on public transit. It's also the biggest contributor to our country's carbon footprint. Fixing that over the long term will require a reimagining of American cities and towns. But there's also a way that, if we wanted to, we could improve American transit systems, and get more people riding them, in a matter of weeks.

  • Patreon bans conspiracy theorists

    Patreon was key to the rise of late-2010s right-wing personalities, facilitating a recurring income for stuff published elsewhere on the 'net. The place where bigots, grifters and harceleurs took money was no longer the place where they earned it, a form of jurisdictional arbitrage that allowed them to play by one set of rules for performing and a different set of rules for profiting. Likewise, Patreon didn't have to publish what it paid for, and services such as YouTube and Twitter didn't have to pay for what they platformed. Finally, at long last, Patreon has banned conspiracy theorists.

    Why are we taking this action?

    While Patreon does not propagate this content directly, there are a small number of creators on the platform who have supported the QAnon conspiracy theory with their work. Because of this, and the fact that we have seen a number of other online platforms become overrun with pages and groups actively focused around QAnon disinformation, we are taking action. In an effort to assess and combat this growing threat, Patreon's Policy and Trust & Safety teams have individually identified the creator accounts that have engaged in spreading QAnon-supporting disinformation.

    Barely a week before the election likely to bring an end to the Trump era in American politics, how about that.

  • Moog limited-edition theremin

    The theremin is 100 years old, and Moog's celebrating the anniversary with a limited-edition model that looks like a 20th-century conversation piece.

    Claravox Centennial is the most versatile Moog theremin in history. Switchable Traditional and Modern performance modes allow players to select between classic heterodyne analog oscillators and multimode DSP oscillators (sine, triangle, saw, wavetable) with assignable scales, quantization, and octave ranges. An analog wave-shaping circuit (derived from the legendary Etherwave Pro) imbues ethereal sonic character and empowers rich sound-sculpting possibilities, and the on-board analog BBD delay creates a wash of spiraling echoes and resounding warmth.

    You'll be needing a Methuselah trust to go with it if you want one: it's $1500!

  • Epstein "madam" Ghislaine Maxwell denies everything in unsealed deposition

    Ghislaine Maxwell fought long and hard to keep her 2016 deposition sealed, with her lawyers claiming it would violate her right against self-incrimination and make it impossible for her to receive a fair trial. But a judge ruled that the transcript be made public, and it was finally issued this morning. Reporters are scrambling to cover the nearly 500-page document.

    Early analysis suggests that she simply denies all knowledge of any abuse committed by her former boss and boyfriend, Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender who killed himself in 2019 while awaiting trial on new charges.

    However, it also shows that she made claims in the deposition that seem unlikely to be true, such as having never visited the private island where Epstein committed many of his offenses.

    In the transcripts, Ms Maxwell repeatedly denies hiring anyone under the age of 18 for Epstein.

    "I never saw any inappropriate underage activities with Jeffrey ever," she said. "All the time that I have been in the house I have never seen, heard, nor witnessed, nor have reported to me that any activities took place, that people were in distress, either reported to me by the staff or anyone else," she said.

    Ms Giuffre alleges that Ms Maxwell recruited her, and says Epstein kept her as a "sex slave" with Maxwell's assistance. Referring directly to Ms Giuffre, Ms Maxwell said: "I never ever at any single time at any point ever at all participated in anything with Virginia and Jeffrey. And for the record, she is an absolute total liar."

  • James Randi dead at 92

    James Randi, the magician and skeptic, is dead at 92. Randi was famous for televised debunkings of people claiming telekinetic and telepathic powers, and became synonymous with a million-dollar offer posed to those willing to submit to scientific tests. No-one ever took the money home.

    The James Randi Educational Foundation announced his death in a brief note on its website late Thurdsay. [via BBS]

    We are very sad to say that James Randi passed away yesterday, due to age-related causes.
     
    He had an Amazing life. We will miss him. 
     
    Please respect Deyvi Peña's privacy during this difficult time.

    Here's a classic televised confrontation, with claimed psychic James Hydrick:

    The New York Times published an extensive obituary today.

    At once elfin and Mephistophelian, with a bushy white beard and piercing eyes, Mr. Randi — known professionally as the Amazing Randi — was a father of the modern skeptical movement. Much as the biologist and author Thomas Henry Huxley had done in the late 19th century (though with markedly more pizazz), he made it his mission to bring the world of scientific rationalism to laypeople.

    What roiled his blood, and was the driving impetus of his existence, Mr. Randi often said, was pseudoscience, in all its immoral irrationality.

    "People who are stealing money from the public, cheating them and misinforming them — that's the kind of thing that I've been fighting all my life," he said in the 2014 documentary "An Honest Liar," directed by Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein. "Magicians are the most honest people in the world: They tell you they're going to fool you, and then they do it."

    (more…)
  • Armed men outside St. Petersburg polling place said Trump campaign hired them

    Men "dressed as armed security guards" who lurked outside a polling place in St. Peterburg, Florida, were not hired or directed by the Trump campaign, according to a spokesperson for it.

    WLFA 8 news reports that the men claimed otherwise when deputies spoked to them.

    "The Sheriff [Bob Gualtieri] told me the persons that were dressed in these security uniforms had indicated to sheriff's deputies that they belonged to a licensed security company and they indicated—and this has not been confirmed yet—that they were hired by the Trump campaign," said Marcus in a video interview with 8 On Your Side's Chip Osowski Wednesday night.

    ABC Action news posted a video report, but no footage of the men.

    Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Julie Marcus, a Republican, sounds angry: "The sheriff and I take this very seriously. Voter intimidation, deterring voters from voting, impeding a voter's ability to cast a ballot in this election is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in any way shape, or form."

    Whether they're hired by the Trump campaign or just LARP Team Six strikes me as secondary to the fact that the voter intimidation is occurring.

  • Quibi, short-form video thing that made no sense, shuts down

    After Quibi launched, I described it as "Hollywood's purest vision for how mobile entertainment should be consumed" for the brevity of its content and the total hostility it had toward viewers. It blocked screenshots, threatened its only significant fan podcast with a trademark lawsuit, and reportedly lost 92% of its viewers after their free trials. Having blown through its billions in funding in a few short months, it's shutting down.

    The closure is a stunning end to Katzenberg's hopes of creating a new category of video entertainment, short programs of a few minutes in length that could be watched on the go. Katzenberg, a former Disney executive who later helped start DreamWorks, raised nearly $2 billion to finance Quibi. Among the backers were most of the major Hollywood studios, Google, Alibaba and the Madrone Capital Partners.

  • Photoshop Neural Filters tweak facial expressions, lighting, age

    Photoshop's latest update adds "Neural" filters powered by Adobe's cloud AI, allowing the user to change a portrait's facial expressions, lighting conditions, hair thickness, and even the angle of their head.

    James Vincent at The Verge:

    These filters include a number of simple overlays and effects but also tools that allow for deeper edits, particularly to portraits. With neural filters, Photoshop can adjust a subject's age and facial expression, amplifying or reducing feelings like "joy," "surprise," or "anger" with simple sliders. You can remove someone's glasses or smooth out their spots. One of the weirder filters even lets you transfer makeup from one person to another. And it's all done in just a few clicks, with the output easily tweaked or reversed entirely.

    I gave it a whirl! Welcome to the nightmare world of Photoshop 2021. Here we have the "Happy" and "Angry" filters applied to my impassive passport photo.

    Next we have the president 1) Surprised, and 2) Happy with Thicker Hair, courtesy of Adobe's neural net.

    Here is Joe Biden, made even happier with a click. The AI gave him a few dozen extra teeth, too!

    Critics say AIs don't understand their own decisions, but I feel like this one understands Trump advisor Stephen Miller in a way humans never will.

    At the top of the post, United States Attorney General Bill Barr is enhanced with surprise, anger and happiness at the same time. I'm not sure it works out that well for him.

    Still, it's always nice to see FLOTUS happy.

  • Government sues Google for stifling competition

    The Department of Justice has launched its longexpected antitrust action against Google, centering its attack on the tech giant using its dominance in search and advertising to block competitors.

    The complaint targets a series of interlocking actions by Google that, as a whole, allegedly harmed competition and prevented rivals from gaining a meaningful audience. It alleges in part that Google pays billions of dollars a year to device manufacturers like Apple, LG, Motorola, and Samsung and browser developers like Mozilla and Opera to be their default search engine and in many cases to prohibit them from dealing with Google's competitors. As a result, "Google effectively owns or controls search distribution channels accounting for roughly 80 percent of the general search queries in the United States." Justice Department officials did not rule out a breakup of Google on a call with reporters Tuesday."Nothing is off the table," said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who warned that if DOJ did not file suit now, "we could lose the next wave of innovation" and that "Americans may never get to see the next Google."

  • PayPal to allow customers to buy and sell bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies

    You will soon be able to buy and sell bitcoin, ethereum and other cryptocurrencies on PayPal. Reuters reports that the company is far from alone in offering this service to normies, but its "vast reach' means it will be transformative.

    PayPal customers will also be able to use cryptocurrencies to shop at the 26 million merchants on its network starting in early 2021, the company said in a statement.

    PayPal hopes the service will encourage global use of virtual coins and prepare its network for new digital currencies that may be developed by central banks and corporations … U.S. account holders will be able to buy, sell and hold cryptocurrencies in their PayPal wallets over the coming weeks, the company said. It plans to expand to Venmo and some countries in the first half of 2021.

  • Trump storms out of 60 Minutes interview, complains on Twitter about host

    I'm hoping that the graphic designers at CBS are working quickly to create special titles for "45 Minutes" instead of the usual 60, because that's how long Trump lasted before fleeing interviewer Leslie Stahl.

    "Apparently there was some drama while President Trump was taping his 60 Minutes interview today", said White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins. "He abruptly ended his solo interview after around 45 minutes & did not return for a scheduled walk & talk he was supposed to tape with Pence."

    He took to Twitter to taunt Stahl — "Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes not wearing a mask in the White House after her interview with me" — and to say he was thinking of posting his own recording of the interview to pre-empt CBS's broadcast. As of Wednesday morning, he hasn't.

    Whatever happens in the election, it's been nice seeing Savannah Guthrie (and Leslie Stahl, presumably) crush Trump's ego simply by asking questions.

  • Armed, uniformed Miami cop prowls polling site in Trump 2020 mask

    A fully-armed and uniformed Miami police officer made no bones Tuesday about who he wanted voters to cast their ballots for: he wore a TRUMP 2020: NO MORE BULLSHIT mask while prowling the building.

    The Miami Herald reports that a photo circulating on social media was taken by Steve Simeonidis, a Democratic Party official at the polling site. The officer's badge and ID, visible in the photo, identified him as Daniel Ubeda.

    Simeonidis, an attorney who works downtown, said he was passing through Government Center when he spotted Ubeda "well within" the 150-foot barrier that police and non-voters are not permitted under state statute during an election. … Simeonidis said Ubeda "laughed it off' after he was questioned about the mask.

    One twitter user described it as "fascistic voter intimidation on proud display."

    "His mask telling voters who to vote for and "no more bullshit" is backed up by a uniform with a badge, a flag & a gun," Scott Linnen wrote.

    The Miami Police Department put out a statement saying it was taking immediate action.

    "We are aware of the photograph being circulated of a Miami Police officer wearing a political mask in uniform," the statement read. "This behavior is unacceptable, a violation of departmental policy, and is being addressed immediately."

    "Chief [Jorge] Colina and we agree that the officer's behavior is unacceptable," wrote Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, promising that disciplinary action would be taken.

    While Colina and Suarez said Ubeda's action were against "policy," Florida law also forbids electioneering within polling sites outright— let alone while armed and in police uniform.