• Nic Cage's next blockbuster "Pig" is TAKEN with bacon

    I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter truffle-hunting pig go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.

    Pig hits theatres on July 16, 2021.

  • "Stranger Things" is joining the Magic: The Gathering Universe

    Gaming company Wizards of the Coast has been expanding the universe of Magic: The Gathering with special "Secret Lair" drops — limited edition expansion packs that transform non-Magic IP into playable cards. They've done Bob Ross, they've one The Walking Dead, and now, they're going fall 80s-style with Stranger Things.

    There's no official release date yet, other than "soon." But presumably the Upside Down will have some effect on your land mana.

  • Russia announces new plans to use forced prison labor, promises it "won't be a gulag"

    From Bloomberg:

    After Russian officials bemoaned the collapse of migrant labor in the coronavirus pandemic, the head of the country's prison service offered a solution: reviving the Soviet-era practice of putting convicts to work. Just don't call it a Gulag.

    An association with one of the darkest chapters of the Communist past hasn't deterred top bureaucrats, who've taken up the idea with enthusiasm. Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin recalled he once worked with prisoners at a brickmaking factory as he told an RBC news interviewer Friday that he's in talks on using convicts at construction sites, a plan also endorsed by Industry Minister Denis Manturov.

    The head of Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service, Alexander Kalashnikov — yes, like the famous arms dealer family who invented the AK-47 — reportedly broke the news to human rights officials last month. "This won't be a Gulag," Kalashnikov said. "It will be completely new and decent conditions." The program will be used to aid in the construction of a $10 billion dollar railroad modernization project intended to ramp up coal exports to Asia.

    The population of Russia is about 144 million people; around 483,000, or 0.0035%, are currently incarcerated, and slightly less than half of those people in incarceration will be "eligible" for this forced labor program. That's shameful, and inhumane, and still only half the rate of US incarceration.

    It's Not a Gulag, Russia Says of Plan to Put Prisoners to Work [Aine Quinn / Bloomberg]

    Image: Public Domain via NeedPix

  • Batman officially does not go down on women because "Heroes don't do that"

    In a recent Variety article about recent TV subversions of superhero storytelling, journalist Joe Otterson exposed a curious detail about Batman's cunnilingus habits — or rather, lack thereof (emphasis added):

    "Harley Quinn" is also unique among the current crop of comic content in that its main character and all of her closest allies are villains rather than heroes in the DC canon. That allows the show to do different things with the characters that heroes simply cannot do — at least according to DC.

    "It's incredibly gratifying and free to be using characters that are considered villains because you just have so much more leeway," says [Justin] Halpern, [co-creator and executive producer of Harley Quinn on HBO Max]. "A perfect example of that is in this third season of 'Harley' [when] we had a moment where Batman was going down on Catwoman. And DC was like, 'You can't do that. You absolutely cannot do that.' They're like, 'Heroes don't do that.' So, we said, 'Are you saying heroes are just selfish lovers?' They were like, 'No, it's that we sell consumer toys for heroes. It's hard to sell a toy if Batman is also going down on someone.'"

    "Heroes don't do that." That being reciprocate oral sex on women. "It's hard to sell a toy if Batman is also going down on someone." Nevermind that Batman was engaged to Catwoman. Kids don't want action figures that perform oral sex on women!

    This is certainly not the first time that fictional billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne's sex life has caused a stir here on Earth-Prime. In the original printing of 2018's Batman: Damned, artist Lee Bermejo added a lightly shadowed but highly detailed shot of Master Wayne's Bat-cock. The 2016 animated adaptation of The Killing Joke — the classic and classically controversial Alan Moore-penned story in which the Joker takes lewd photographs of Batgirl after shooting her in a spine and putting her in a wheelchair for several decades — also added a completely superfluous prologue in which Batman has sex with a young Batgirl aka Barbara Gordon aka the daughter of his pal Commissioner Gordon, and then proceeds to totally ghost her, thereby making the Joker's later assault even more insulting. Batman similarly enjoyed an impulsive tryst with Talia al Ghul, which resulted in a child born out of wedlock. Rather than allow the Caped Crusader to reckon with a reputation as a deadbeat dad, DC later retconned this story by insisting that oh, actually, Talia had just non-consensually stolen Batman's sperm in order to produce young Damian Wayne (which somehow makes it better, I guess? Cuz she's a villain?).

    To be fair, this is also a game of telephone in which someone is relaying a story in summarized hyperbolic dialogue. Will we ever find out the truth about DC's official internal policy on Bat-cunnilingus? The world may never know.

    How 'WandaVision,' 'The Umbrella Academy,' 'Harley Quinn' Subvert the Superhero Genre [Joe Otterson / Variety]

  • Adorable animations visualize the "Invisible Roommates" that share your WiFi

    I'm a big fan of Nicole He's creative technology work, which often uses whimsy to illuminate our relationships with technology and privacy. Her latest project, Invisible Roommates, is no exception. Created in collaboration with Eran Hilleli as part of the Everyday Experiments initiative sponsored by SPACE10 and IKEA, Invisible Roommates reveals all of the internet-connected devices that surround us in our homes by turning them into adorable animations:

    Invisible Roommates is an augmented reality (AR) application that would make visible how the devices in your home interact with one another. The application would make use of existing technology to portray the different devices connected to your network as little living characters, playfully illustrating how these pieces of technology communicate while making it easier for you to understand what is happening in your home.

    The application would first detect all of the different devices connected to your network; this would include the more obvious ones like computers or phones, as well as other things, like TVs, speakers, game consoles, vacuums or washing machines. It would then locate their manufacturing data and use it to recast your devices as charming characters, spawning on nearby surfaces in augmented reality. Each character's design would hint at the device it represents while remaining playful and open to interpretation (e.g. a character that resembles a TV portraying your TV).

    Right now, Invisible Roommates is just a visual prototype, and not a functional app you can download. But He goes more in-depth into the design process in her newsletter, in which she explains how she examined packets on her local network and and assigned names to each little character based on their MAC address. Overall, it's a pretty neat look at the digital conversations happening around us!

    Everyday Experiments: Invisible Roommates [Nicole He and Eran Hilleli / SPACE10 and IKEA]

  • New fan edit of the 90s SUPER MARIO BROS movie restores 20 minutes of lost footage

    There aren't many great movies inspired by video games. But even among of the worst of them, none stand out for their wild ambition quite like 1993's Super Mario Bros., a bizarrely surrealist cyberpunk nightmare with dinosaurs starring Bob Hoskins, Dennis Hopper, and John Leguizamo.

    So it only makes sense that, nearly 3 decades after the film's release, someone would go back to the original footage and restore, re-master, and re-edit that glorious disaster into something slightly more glorious and slightly less disastrous. Enter: The Moron-Jankel Cut, now available to watch on the Internet Archive — with 20 minutes of additional footage! As GameSpot explains:

    This version of the film–dubbed "The Morton Jankel Cut" after co-directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel–has been released by The Super Mario Brothers Archive, a group of fans who celebrate the movie and have been involved in the special features on previous home releases of the film. They've teamed with film restorationist and filmmaker Garrett Gilchrist to present a version of the movie that has never been seen by anyone outside of the production team. Their hope is that this cut will resonate more with fans than the theatrical cut of the film, which was panned critically and flopped at the box office.

    Slate does a wonderful interview with creators behind these ambitious fan-edit that goes into some great detail about how they got the footage, and what they learned from the directors about the behind-the-scenes struggle of making a grimdark cyberpunk movie adaptation of a video game about Italian plumbers fighting dinosaurs and evil mushrooms, all of which had to be aimed at children. There's also some interesting insight into the lack of recognizable Mario Bros music and sound effects in the original film, and the the fan-editors' insistence on inserting those elements back in where they should have been all along.

    Also: Koopa's kids have a rap scene that was bafflingly deleted from the theatrical cut.

    Super Mario Bros: The Morton Jankel Cut (VHS Extended Rough Cut 1.0) Movie 1993 [Super Mario Bros Archive]

    An Extended Super Mario Bros. Movie Cut Has Been Unearthed, 28 Years After Release [Chris E. Hayner / GameSpot]

    An Interview With the Man Who Spent Countless Hours Restoring the Super Mario Bros. Movie [Karen Han / Slate]

  • The new FAST & FURIOUS board game looks like a more complicated version of LIFE

    Here's the official setup for Fast & Furious: Highway Heist, a new board game from Funko based on the confoundingly successful movie franchise:

    Get ready for an exciting new mission based on the blockbuster movie series, playing as Dom, Brian, Letty, Roman, and the rest of Team Toretto on a harrowing high-speed heist! Go up against heavily-armed enemies with your hot cars, daring driving, and jaw-dropping vehicle-to-vehicle leaps of faith. Whether you are taking down a swerving semi filled with valuable cargo, stopping a rampaging tank in its tracks, or bringing down a high-tech helicopter as it rains fire from the skies, you'll have to work together to take advantage of every team member's strengths.

    Each of the three scenarios is different and impacts how you and your high-stakes seeking team will strategize to win!

    On players' turns, they will move, leap from vehicle to vehicle, fight back enemies, and pull off crazy stunts (that also act as the timer for the game – run out of stunts to do and you lose the scenario). You'll accomplish this by passing dice skill checks which your variable player powers and vehicles' stats will impact. Each scenario has a different objective you must complete to win, so get ready to work with your own Fast Family — it's up to you to pull off the job no other crew can do!

    None of that explains why the cars each get little pegs like the family members in The Game of LIFE — except, I suppose, that the Fast & Furious films are really about family when you get to the heart of it. Except instead of pink and blue pegs denoting children, these pegs are more stand-ins for badass stunts. As a Polygon review for the game describes them:

    Using tiny Cribbage pegs — not unlike the classic spouse and children markers found in The Game of Life — players can skip along vehicle roofs, bopping baddies along the way. If their own cars get wrecked, they can just hijack one of the many enemy SUVs on the road and keep on trucking.

    I haven't actually played Fast & Furious: Highway Heist yet, but as of this writing, it has a 69% positive rating on Amazon, which is clearly a good omen. That being said, I am mildly disappointed that the title isn't more number-punny.

  • Management hires hitmen to murder workers before they can unionize

    From Radio Luxembourg (via Google Translate):

    Muriel M., at the head for nearly 30 years of a plastics processing company located near Oyonnax, has indeed sponsored a contract on the head of a " troublesome" employee , a member of the CGT. In any case, this is what she ended up acknowledging in the face of investigators from the criminal brigade of the Paris judicial police on May 6, on the third day of her custody, according to the investigations which RTL was able to take. knowledge.

    "Mr. V. actually offered me during a meal to make him [the trade unionist] disappear," spontaneously declares Muriel M. to the police officers at the resumption of his hearing, "which I was reluctant to do. Fifteen days later he recalled (…) he put pressure on me and I said yes. I don't know why but I said yes."

    France 3 offers more details, such as the fact that the management found the contract killers through the local Freemasons lodge; that one of them failed in his assassination attempt after contracting COVID; and that another 2 were caught in the act of tailing one of the "troublesome" laborers organizing for the union drive.

    Too bad they didn't think to hire the Pinkertons to violently bust their union for them.

    Ain: a business manager admits to having put a contract on the head of a trade unionist [RTL]

    AIN: hit men in connection with the information needed to kill a trade unionist, a corporate Head écrouée [France 3]

    Image: Public Domain via NeedPix

  • Woman arrested at US border for smuggling 18 crocodile skulls and a single sloth

    According to the Bangor Daily News, a Montreal woman was arrested at the US-Canada border in Highgate Springs, Vermont, after trying to smuggle the following items into the country:

    • 1 three-toed sloth
    • 18 crocodile skulls and heads
    • 7 crocodile feet
    • 2 horseshoe crabs
    • 30 sea stars
    • 23 raccoon feet
    • 8 African antelope horns
    • 1 human skull "with mounted butterflies"
    • 4 puffer fish
    • 6 six shark jaws

    The woman, Vanessa Rondeau, owns a retail store in Montreal called Old Cavern Boutique, which "offers for sale a variety of unique curiosity and oddity items, many composed in whole or in part from wildlife." As the Bennington Banner explains:

    Between November 2018 and September 2019, Rondeau sent approximately 30 mail parcels into the United States, declared in a variety of ways, such as "cadre," "art decoration," "big toy," "collectable," "art statue," and "tapis," wrote Bessey.

    About the same time, Rondeau entered the United States 18 times, 12 of them between midnight and 2 a.m., wrote Bessey.

    […]

    Rondeau has been cited with violating the Lacey Act, which prohibits the trafficking of items that come from endangered species.

    Under the Endangered Species Act, all wildlife must be declared to the Fish and Wildlife Service upon import into the United States and prior to its export from the United States.

    Rondeau was caught following what was essentially a sting operation orchestrated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service involving the sale of polar bear skulls, which will apparently cost you in the range of $700.

    Canadian woman arrested at border with 3-toed sloth, crocodile skulls [Bob Audette / Bennington Banner]

    Montreal woman arrested at U.S. border trying to transport sloth, crocodile skulls [CBC]

    Image: Public Domain via Wallpaper Flare

  • Scientists consider the lobster when it's high on cannabis

    Charlotte's Legendary Lobster Pound in Southwest Harbor, Maine took the idea of "lobster pot" to its not logical conclusion:

    As the Mount Desert Islander reports:

    A lobster named Roscoe was the first to experience a technique lobster pound owner Charlotte Gill is hoping will be more humane way of executing lobsters.

    In an experiment to test the affect of cannabis on lobsters, Roscoe the lobster was placed for a few minutes in a covered box with about two inches of water at the bottom. Marijuana smoke was then blown into the water at the bottom of the box.

    […]

    Throughout the 2018 season, Gill has been doing business as usual by boiling or steaming lobsters while still alive. She has recently set up separate station at the restaurant where lobsters can be sedated with cannabis before being steamed to eat, at the customer's request.

    Next season, Gill hopes all lobsters will be sedated before being steamed. Customers will still be able to have their lobster cooked more traditionally, but Gill is said she is confident that the method does not infuse the lobster meat with THC.

    Before you personally get high and consider the lobster, know that scientists have actually studied Gill's lobster pot method, and have backed up her conclusions. From a new paper in the biology journal bioRxiv:

    The primary goal was to determine tissue THC levels in the lobster after exposure to THC vapor. Secondary goals were to determine if THC vapor altered locomotor behavior or nociception.

    Tissue samples were collected from muscle, brain and hemolymph of Homarus americanus (N=3 per group) following 30 or 60 minutes of exposure to vapor generated by an e-cigarette device using THC (100 mg/mL in a propylene glycol vehicle). Separate experiments assessed locomotor behavior and hot water nociceptive responses following THC vapor exposure.

    THC vapor produced duration-related THC levels in all tissues examined. Locomotor activity was decreased (distance, speed, time-mobile) by 30 min inhalation of THC. Lobsters exhibit a temperature-dependent withdrawal response to immersion of tail, antennae or claws in warm water; this is novel evidence of thermal nociception for this species. THC exposure for 60 minutes had only marginal effect on nociception under the conditions assessed.

    In other words: if you feel bad about boiling your lobsters alive, just hot box 'em, man, and it's all good.

    Effects of vapor exposure to Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the Maine Lobster (Homarus americanus) [Arnold Gutierrez, Kevin M. Creehan, Mitchell Turner, Rachel Tran, Tony M. Kerr, Jacques D. Nguyen, Michael A. Taffe / bioRxiv]

    Science supports smoking a blunt with your lobster before eating it [Allison Robicelli / The Takeout]

    Image: Public Domain via Pixabay

  • "The Last Jedi" and "The Rise of Skywalker" declared mediocre in court ruling

    In the recent 9th Circuit US Court case involving ConAgra Foods Inc. and a class action settlement about the marketing of Wesson Oils, a brand formerly owned by ConAgra, as being "100% natural," the presiding Judge Kenneth K. Lee made an extraordinary legal decree about Star Wars.

    A quick summary of the case: ConAgra got into some legal trouble for deceptively marketing their Wesson Oil brand as "natural." But they sold the brand while the class action suit was still ongoing, making a profit on the sale at the same time that they agreed to some settlement payments. The plaintiffs in this new case — the Center for Class Action Fairness (CCAF), representing Prof. Todd Henderson — were mad because:

    [The settlements provided to] all class members put together less than one seventh of the $6.85 million attorneys' fee request. The settling parties claim that the settlement is worth over $27 million because Conagra agreed to an injunction that it will not market Wesson Oil as "natural"—but Conagra sold off Wesson earlier this year! The injunction does nothing unless Conagra reacquires a business it strategically sold. The objection contends that the stipulated $27 million valuation is a ruse plaintiffs' attorneys bargained for to justify taking over 85% of the settlement value.

    But the details here aren't really important or exciting. What's important is page 26 of Judge Lee's opinion, in which he employs some expertly wonderful pop culture similes in explaining the absurdity of ConAgra's settlement. It begins as such:

    Under the settlement, ConAgra agreed to refrain from marketing Wesson Oil as "100% Natural." That sounds great, except that ConAgra already abandoned that strategy in 2017 — two years before the parties hammered out their agreement — for reasons it claims were unrelated to this or any other litigation. Even worse, ConAgra's promise not to use the phrase "100% Natural" on Wesson Oil appears meaningless because ConAgra no longer owns Wesson Oil. In reality, this promise is about as meaningful and enduring as a proposal in the Final Rose ceremony on the Bachelor.

    Okay, that's cute. But then Judge Lee really digs in:

    Simply put, Richardson — the new owner of Wesson Oil — can resume using the "100% Natural" label at any time it wishes, thereby depriving the class of any value theoretically afforded by the injunction. ConAgra thus essentially agreed not to do something over which it lacks the power to do. That is like George Lucas promising no more mediocre and schlocky Star Wars sequels shortly after selling the franchise to Disney. Such a promise would be illusory.

    It is this section that contains the footnote (accompanying the word "illusory") which leads to this very important legal detail:

    As evident by Disney's production of The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker.

    While I might personally disagree with Judge Lee (The Last Jedi is fantastic, anyway), I appreciate that there is now a US legal precedent on the 9th Circuit for crapping on the Star Wars sequel trilogy.

    Star Wars: The Last Jedi & Rise of Skywalker Declared Mediocre by Judge [Adam Bentz / Screen Rant]

  • Watch this Rashomon-style supercut of all the Order 66 scenes from STAR WARS

    Someone cut together every Star Wars scene involving Order 66 — Palpatine's failsafe code within the clone army to turn and kill the Jedi — into a single, simultaneous, time-synched video. I saved that to share here, but it turned out to be kind of annoying and difficult to watch. So here's a better compilation, a bit more Rashomon-style, showing the tide-turning moment from every different perspective it's been portrayed (so far).

  • A new investigation from the Trace shows that the ATF rarely enforces the law

    A few years ago, an investigation from The New York Times revealed how the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had a basically unrestricted checkbook, which was fragrantly abused by the bureau at large. ATF agents freely mingled federal funds with private businesses and even their own private lives, mostly under the guise of "undercover work," from which some of them even made personal profits as they orchestrated their own variations on the same black market deals they were supposed to be investigating:

    Thousands of pages of newly unsealed records reveal a widespread scheme — a highly unorthodox merger of an undercover law enforcement operation and a legitimate business. What began as a way to catch black-market cigarette dealers quickly transformed into a nearly untraceable A.T.F. slush fund that agents from around the country could tap.

    The spending was not limited to investigative expenses. Two informants made $6 million each. One agent steered hundreds of thousands of dollars in real estate, electronics and money to his church and his children's sports teams, records show.

    Despite these revelations, one might still try to insist that the ATF is largely a force for good. Maybe these kinds of labyrinthine undercover investigations occasionally go awry; maybe they drop the ball on the "tobacco" part of their name sometimes. But they must be making some valuable contribution to the regulation of alcohol and/or firearms, right?

    According to a massive new investigation from The Trace and USA Today, the ATF does occasionally investigate the illegal trade of firearms. But in most situations, when they find evidence of illicit activity, they … just kind of leave it behind with a slap on the wrist:

    Reporters spent more than a year analyzing documents from nearly 2,000 gun dealer inspections that uncovered violations from 2015 to 2017. The reports showed some dealers outright flouting the rules, selling weapons to convicted felons and domestic abusers, lying to investigators and fudging records to mask their unlawful conduct. In many cases when the ATF caught dealers breaking the law, the agency issued warnings, sometimes repeatedly, and allowed the stores to operate for months or years. Others are still selling guns to this day. 

    More than half of all stores with violations transferred guns without running a background check correctly, waiting for the check to finish or properly recording the results. More than 200 dealers were cited for selling guns to people who indicated on background check paperwork that they were prohibited from owning them. Dozens made false statements in official records, a violation that includes facilitating illegal straw purchases. 

    It's worth reading both articles in full just to grasp the full scope of the harrowing ineptitude at play. There are gun shops that were investigated multiple times for illegal trafficking, with upwards of 600 firearms unaccounted for — and each time, the agency just gave them a warning. When they finally caught the owner of the shop in the act of "aiding and abetting a false statement relating to purchases," he was sentenced to 10 months in prison, and that was the end of it.

    The Trace report comes amidst the confirmation hearings for David Chipman, President Biden's pick to be the new director of ATF. If the Senate confirms his appointment, he would be the first permanent director of the agency since 2015, and only the second to ever receive Senate approval. But even that's a big if.

    After repeated ATF warnings, gun dealers can count on the agency to back off; sometimes firearms flow to criminals [Brian Freskos, Daniel Nass and Alain Stephens for The Trace; Nick Penzenstadler for USA Today]

    'I Smell Cash': How the A.T.F. Spent Millions Unchecked [Matt Apuzzo / The New York Times]

    Image: Public Domain via US Department of State

    Full Disclosure: I also write for Wirecutter, which is part of the New York Times Company, which publishes The New York Times; Matt Apuzzo, who wrote the aforementioned Times article, was a mentor of mine through the Times Company.

  • "In" is a gorgeous graphic novel about trying to find genuine human connections

    I miss people.

    I like being around people, but I'm not always great at actually socializing with them. I hover around the edges of the room, unsure of what to do, heart racing with every missed opportunity for a conversational entrance. But when I finally take that entrance? I nail it. I can be almost overwhelmingly effusive. Once I find that thing to talk about or relate to, I can charm or annoy the hell out of you. Getting to that point, however, could be difficult. Because people also tend to fill me with anxiety (even before the knowledge that our shared indoor breathing could kill us both).

    This is not so different from the struggle portrayed in In, a new graphic novel from acclaimed New Yorker cartoonist Will McPhail. Even if you didn't vacillate between the extremes of awkward small talk and gushing confessional verbosity in The Before Times, the journey depicted in these gorgeously illustrated pages will resonate with you as you start to spend more time around people again, after 16 months of (probably) deliberately avoiding strangers and minimizing every potential human encounter. Here's the official synopsis:

    A poignant and witty graphic novel by a leading New Yorker cartoonist, following a millennial's journey from performing his life to truly connecting with people.

    Nick, a young illustrator, can't shake the feeling that there is some hidden realm of human interaction beyond his reach. He haunts lookalike fussy, silly, coffee shops, listens to old Joni Mitchell albums too loudly, and stares at his navel in the hope that he will find it in there. But it isn't until he learns to speak from the heart that he begins to find authentic human connections and is let in—to the worlds of the people he meets. Nick's journey occurs alongside the beginnings of a relationship with Wren, a wry, spirited oncologist at a nearby hospital, whose work and life becomes painfully tangled with Nick's.

    Illustrated in both color and black-and-white in McPhail's instantly recognizable style, In elevates the graphic novel genre; it captures his trademark humor and compassion with a semi-autobiographical tale that is equal parts hilarious and heart-wrenching—uncannily appropriate for our isolated times.

    In excels at depicting the small, quiet moments of every day life, but it really shines when it centers on the anticipation, and elation, of genuine human connections. The bulk of the graphic novel consists of simple black-and-white line art — in a very meta-moment, you realize that McPhail's artwork is a cleaned up version of the sketches that the protagonist Nick makes while he rides the subway or sits alone at a bar waiting for someone to interact with him (as someone who spent a lot of time writing alone at bars in the Before Times, I found this painfully relatable).

    But the art changes dramatically each time Nick breaks through and shares a moment with another person. The pages explode in luscious watercolors full of divine tapestries and heavenly landscapes that bloom from the characters' hearts. To call these pages "abstract" would be an injustice; they're more like poetry, using imagery to convey the splendor of a human experience that otherwise evades a literal description.

    Of course, some of these beautifully rendered moments can also be terrifying — because sometimes, when you break through someone else's armor, you find something that you're not ready to handle. For Nick, this can be the monsters in his nephew's dreams, or a powerfully personal moment in a hospital. Plot-wise, the story deals largely with a one-night stand, and Nick's struggle to see his mother as a fully-fleshed out person, who exists beyond her function to him as a mother (yes, the sex-and-mom plots weave together, though not at all the way you'd expect). The dialogue, though sparse, is realistic and powerful — a resonant reminder of just how simple and awkward so many of our social interactions tend to be.

    That being said, Nick's internal observations of modern urban living can be delightfully hilarious.

    On multiple occasions, In both moved me to tears, and made me literally laugh-out-loud awkwardly enough that I had to then struggle to explain to my wife why it's funny that there's a guy drawing a dick in this comic book I'm reading. Perhaps what's most remarkable about the graphic novel, though, is how much Nick's anxious struggles made me appreciate, and long for, the not-too-distant future where I might also have those awkward moments with strangers at a bar, terrified yet hoping that our small talk might yet explode into a luscious water cooler abstraction of genuine connection.

    That alone made the whole book worth it.

    In: A Graphic Novel [Will McPhail]

  • If your favorite evil sci-fi corporations had new rainbow logos for Pride month

    Changing your corporate logo to a rainbow flag is easy. Building genocidal robots, or tricking your workers into harvesting xenomorph bioweapon larvae for you? That takes hard work.

    Clockwise from the top left, that's Aliens, Robocop, Blade Runner, and Terminator.

    But plenty of people chimed in with their own examples, too! This one's from Starship Troopers:

    Palpatine's Galactic Empire from Star Wars, a classic:

    Minority Report also cares about neurodiversity rights! Sort of.

    The definitely-not-Enron company from Mr. Robot:

    And of course, the best evil sci-fi corporate horrors:

    Image: Tony Webster / Wikimedia Commons [CC-BY-SA 4.0]

  • The true history of a small mistake that made scientists screw up COVID aerosols

    Before this COVID-19 pandemic began, most people weren't concerned about the differences between "aerosols" and "droplets." Through those first few months (even before things got bad), we were told to wash our hands a lot, passing around plentiful memes of songs to sing to fill the 20 second recommended washing time. That was when it was largely believed that COVID spread through droplets which only tend to travel up to six feet before falling to the ground. Aerosols on the other hand, can linger in the air — which means handwashing won't help, and they stay around longer, though they be dispersed with the right ventilation.

    This eventually turned out to be a life-or-death distinction, as well as a hugely embarrassing scientific SNAFU. Over at Wired, Megan Molteni has the fantastically reported story of how, exactly, so many scientists got this wrong, and what it took to change their minds. It has nothing to do with conspiracies, or corruption, or frankly, even scientists being bad at their jobs. It all goes back to a small, simple human error: learning things in school, and taking them for granted.

    In this case, it all went back to some 1940s research into the spread of tuberculosis, and an early experiment that mistakenly drew the line between aerosols and droplets at 5 microns. By the 80s, the same person who had proposed this measurement had recognized that further research had proved him wrong, and that the threshold was probably more like 100 microns. But by that point, it was too late: somehow, the "5-micron myth" had taken hold in the minds of certain people, mostly in the field of public health, who had accepted it as a given fact and used it as a guiding principle for years.

    And no one ever stopped to take a second look at the source of this factoid until the COVID-19 pandemic was already underway.

    My summary doesn't do the whole story justice. It's worth reading it for yourself, to see just how deadly one small, sloppy human assumption can be.

    The 60-Year-Old Scientific Screwup That Helped Covid Kill [Megan Molteni / Wired]

    Image: Song Tang / Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 4.0)

  • Dwayne Johnson accounts for 1/3 of Asian and Pacific Islander lead roles in top films

    A recent study from USC Annenberg's Inclusion Initiative (with support from Amazon Studios) examined Asian and Pacific Islander representation in the top grossing films since 2007. Of the 1,300 movies they examined, only 44 had a lead or co-lead of Asian or Pacific Islander descent.

    And of those 0.03% of top-grossing films with leads or co-leads of Asian or Pacific Islander descent, that lead or co-lead was Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson nearly 1/3 of the time.

    To be fair, Mr. Johnson is a god damn national treasure, whose impressively natural acting chops have been apparent since his on-screen debut in the American classic Southland Tales. But if a significant chunk of movies with Asian or Pacific Islander leads can only make that claim because they star The Rock, a Black Samoan actor from a family of successful wrestlers who had already risen to fame as a wrestler, then that's a pretty harrowing indictment on Asian and Pacific Islander representation in the film industry.

    The report has more depressing statistics to back this up, of course. While 7.1% of the US population are of API descent, for example, only 5.9% of those top-grossing films across 13 years featured an API actor in a speaking role. A quarter of those characters were violently killed off before the end of the film, and nearly half of them experienced some sort of on-screen disparagement, including racist or sexist slurs.

    So, to recap: the Rock is dope. API representation in the film industry is horrible.

    The Prevalence and Portrayal of Asian and Pacific Islanders across 1,300 Popular Films [Dr. Nancy Wang Yuen, Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Dr. Katherine Pieper, Marc Choueiti, Kevin Yao & Dana Dinh / USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative]

    Image: 惡龍~Stewart / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)