What happens when you feed Trump’s “I WANT NOTHING” note to a Neural Network?

Donald Trump’s desperate PR attempt “speech” from this morning read kind of like the lyric sheet from some obscure Radiohead-wannabe art-rock band.

So naturally, comedian Emily Heller took it to the next level by feeding it into OpenAI’s “Talk To Transformer” Neural Network.

I assumed this was real, but I still wanted to try it out for myself. And wow, the results were not disappointing.

First up: the opening scene to a noir novel. Not quite “shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not losing any supporters”-level, but it’s close.

So I tried again. And this time, the Neural Network came out with a straight-up Ramones song.

On my third try, the Artificial Intelligence showed a greater capacity for aspiring towards human emotions than Trump himself ever has.

And this one basically just sounds like Trump talking in his sleep during a wet dream.

As we can see from below, even the Neural Network knows that dozens of women have credibly accused the President of sexual assault.

And finally, this one that … actually just sounds like the way Trump talks on a good day.

You can try to fill-in-the-blanks on your own with OpenAI’s Talk To Transformer neural network. Whatever it is the machine spews out will still probably be more coherent and articulate than anything Trump himself has ever come up with. Read the rest

Review: "Liebestrasse" is a frighteningly relevant LGBTQ graphic novel set in the Weimar Republic

Liebestrasse is a new original digital graphic novel from Comixology, but it follows more in the European tradition of small, character-focused slice-of-life stories than the bombastic speculative fiction that's made the American graphic novel field so popular. In less than 100 pages, it tells the story of an American businessman named Sam who takes a job in Berlin during the Weimar Republic, where he meets and falls in love with an art dealer named Phillip.

Of course, the dramatic irony abounds. As readers, we know what Germany's immediate future holds—and soon enough, that other shoe does indeed drop. But also as readers, it's easy to get wrapped in the simple tenderness of burgeoning romance and ignore the warning signs that lurk in the shadows—just like Sam and Phillip.

The rapport between the two lovers is charming and realistic, with Phillip's witty flamboyance playing perfectly off of Sam's strong silent Americanisms. Artist Tim Fish does tremendous work with the subtleties of facial expressions; though the style is slightly more cartoonish than what most American readers might expect, I found myself consciously commenting on the acting as I read through the pages, as if these were actual people rather than drawings. I read a lot of comics, and that's something rare and unique, at least in the American market. The color palette by Hector Barros also gives the story a very classical comic vibe that fits the time period. Though the pigments are digital, the simple, solid color patterns evoke a more innocent era. Read the rest

A Canadian podcast reveals everything wrong with the Trump administration's migrant baby adoption policy

The US government detained more than 69,000 migrant children last year in the course of its brutal family separation policy. There's no guarantee these kids will ever be reunited with their parents; in fact, some of them have already been put up for "adoption" (read: legalized kidnapping) after their parents were deported. Many of these adoption agencies are of course Christian organizations, who genuinely believe themselves to be acting from a compassionate, altruistic pro-life perspective.

This is not breaking news; nor is it necessarily unique to the Trump administration. But I was reminded of it as I scrolled through Twitter over the weekend:

And for whatever reason, this reminder flagged another connection in the mind: the second season of the "Missing and Murdered" podcast, produced by CBC, the Canadian public broadcasting service.

Also known as "Finding Cleo," the 10-episode second season follows host Connie Walker as she tries to track down the truth about a deceased Cree girl named Cleo. According to Cleo's sister, Christine, all of the siblings in their family were forcefully taken from their First Nations home by Canadian child protective services. Somehow, Cleo ended up being adopted by a white Christian family in the United States until she was allegedly raped and murdered. Read the rest

That time I blew up a power strip with a Marshall amp and a space heater

Over at Wirecutter, I have some handy advice for how to live safely with a space heater. Which is to say, don't do what I did:

It was the winter of 2019, and I was down in my unfinished basement putting the finishing touches on my band’s next album. I had to get through only a few more guitar overdubs, but my fingers were too cold to play the parts quite right. So I grabbed a space heater I was long-term testing for Wirecutter. I placed it down on top of the wooden workbench where my digital audio workstation was set up and plugged it into the nearest power strip, which just so happened to be the same one through which I ran my half-stack Marshall amplifier.

I turned the heater on. Five seconds later, the power strip blew up.

This might not have been the single dumbest thing I’d ever done in my life. But as I watched the sparks fade from the smoldering lump of freshly burnt plastic before me, I knew it was up there on the list.

There was one commenter who very much did not enjoy this self-deprecating anecdote. But there is more to the article than that, including some (hopefully) useful and relatable tips for keeping warm in the winter without risking your life and/or destroying everything you own. This is especially helpful if you, like me, live in the Northeast of the United States, which has been suffering through a nasty cold front lately. Read the rest

Objectivity is a myth, and a single tweet explains why

People like to think they're objective. I get it; it's a good thing to strive to be. As a white dude, I know firsthand that it's easy to assume that you're coming from the "default" perspective, and thus, are more capable of being rationally objective than other, non-white dudes.

But that's wrong. Because if you're brainwashed into seeing your popular mainstream status quo assumptions as "default," then you're actually not objectively considering every possible factor. And this tweet might be the best, most succinct example to explain this:

In other words: we assume that someone can't be objective about prison reform if their own parent has been incarcerated. But what about the other way around? How can you be objective about prison reform if you don't have a parent that's been incarcerated? How can you rationally examine all of the evidence to form a conclusion, if you don't actually have firsthand knowledge of the social, financial, and emotional toll of incarceration? What biases might you be missing that you never even thought to consider because you assumed that your "default" position was automatically normal or correct?

In both situations, your objectivity will be tainted by your emotional response; the difference is that, as a society, we've arbitrarily decided that certain emotions are either proper or negligible when it comes to attaining our idealist objectivity. Read the rest

How cities can serve as a model for social media platforms to build better community spaces

Eli Pariser is the author of The Filter Bubble, a book which lent its name to a recent Congressional bill about social media transparency. He’s also one of the co-founders of Upworthy (and, full disclosure, my former boss).

In other words, Pariser has spent most of his professional life obsessing over how to harness the power of the internet for good, particularly when it comes to positive community building. In a new TED Talk (below), he takes an almost anthropological approach to solving the many, many issues faced by major social media companies right now. It’s a useful and insightful perspective, particularly for a time when Facebook is cowering under the pressure of conservative conspiracy theorists, while Twitter took the approach and ended up empowering oil companies by throttling climate activists.

I think there’s something to be said about building online communities in the same way we build urban ones. As much as people might long for the peace and quiet of a nice home in the suburbs, it also changes your relationship to the people around you. Look at cars, for example—they’re a necessity in most places, and undeniably convenient, but they also isolate us in our commuter bubbles. By contrast, public transportation forces you to interact with other kinds of people who you might otherwise not cross paths with. That can help create empathic bonds (even if that bond is built upon complaints about public transportation). This is not to say that one is necessarily better than the other; in his speech, Pariser also cites the community meetings he attended growing up in a small town in Maine as one model for building mutual respect, even when people are being obnoxious. Read the rest

Student body president at University of Florida is facing impeachment proceedings over payments to Donald Trump Jr

Because fiction, satire, and reality are all one big intertwined clusterfuck these days, the New York Times has reported the following:

Student representatives at the University of Florida introduced a bill on Tuesday to impeach Michael Murphy, the student body president, accusing him of improperly using student fees to pay one of President Trump’s sons to speak on campus.

It all began when Mr. Murphy, a senior, invited Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former Fox News host and adviser to the president’s campaign, to speak on campus and paid them $50,000 with university funds. Some students say the payment was a violation of the Student Senate code — and possibly the law.

So the president (of the student body at a college) is facing impeachment because he took money from other people against their will to enrich the Trump family. What do you a call an SEO wet dream when it's actually a nightmare?

This is a pretty major upgrade in the ongoing right-wing crusade to de-legitimize higher education across the country. But I do have to admit: stealing $50,000 from your fellow students and using it to get yourself in good graces with the Trumps is exactly the kind of slimey move a Trump would pull. So in that case, good on you, Mr. Murphy, for really putting in the work to achieve your lifelong dreams of corrupt scumbaghood. I salute you with this one finger.

He Invited Donald Trump Jr. to Campus. Now He’s Facing Impeachment [Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Hannah Phillips / The New York times]

Image by Max Goldberg/Flickr

  Read the rest

A small city mayor explains why safe drug injection sites are so effective

In my experience, people either immediately recognize the name of Harris Wittels, or they don’t at all. And that’s precisely what makes the comedian and former Parks & Rec writer’s death from addiction in 2015 that much more tragic.

4 years later, Wittels’ sister, Stephanie Wittels Wachs, has launched a new podcast series called “The Last Day” that explores the ongoing opioid epidemic in-depth and with astounding empathy. While many people have been affected by this problem, the solutions aren’t so readily apparent. Or, if they are, there are still stigmas around them that make it difficult to enact them on a larger enough scale.

In the 7th episode of the podcast, Wittels Wachs speaks with Svante Myrick, the 32-year-old politician who just won his third term as mayor of Ithaca, New York. Myrick speaks passionately and candidly about his own family’s history with addiction, and also about the potential benefits of safe injection sites—supervised spaces where people can go and freely use the drugs to which they are addicted. The idea is understandably controversial, particularly if you subscribe to the negative stereotypical assumptions about drug users. But, as Myrick explains, these safe injection sites have been shown to reduce deaths as well as crime.

If this sounds contradictory to you, well, then, I would suggest you listen to the podcast episode:

7: 20,000 Fewer Funerals

I’ll be honest: I’m not being completely objective here. My friend Matt overdosed and died in 2016. My wife also runs a professional theatre company in Ithaca, where Svante is mayor—and in 2018, I wrote a play about opioid recovery that was devised in collaboration with people in the Ithaca area who were transitioning out of prison and rehabilitation programs. Read the rest

Hundreds of journalists are sharing their salary information in a spreadsheet

I'm in a private Slack with some other media/journalist people, and someone brought up the idea of pay transparency. After all: if you don't know what your colleagues are being paid, it's hard to negotiate for a fair rate. We're all conditioned to believe that our financials should be private, but as far as salaries are concerned, that secrecy only ever tends to work in favor of your employer.

So this particular someone made a Google Form and a corresponding spreadsheet where journalists and other media professionals could anonymously add their salary information. And in barely 24 hours, it's spread to CJR and Bloomberg and even inspired Mike Cernovich to go off on some completely unsubstantiated rant to set off his army of loyal trolls because apparently all journalists are scum and also trustfund babies even though there isn't any proof of that (and I can personally assure you that my personal information is on that list and that my public school teacher mom and print salesman dad are not rolling in the dough).

As of this writing, more than 200 people have responded. On one hand, it is admittedly difficult to verify the claims contained within the data. On the other hand, there's still lots of eye-opening information to glean. Unsurprisingly, there are pay disparities across race and gender; but the same thing happens across geographic location, and work experience. Perhaps the most shocking revelation so far is just the absurd range of income of people working in news media. Read the rest

Northwestern journalism students wrote something dumb. The freakout around it is even dumber.

In a story that will surely captivate Fox News pundits for at least the next week, the student newspaper at Northwestern released a statement about their own reporting, following a visit to campus by Jeff Sessions.

It's…not great.

Essentially, the newspaper is apologizing for the way it covered the protest resulting from Sessions' presence. According to their statement, some students were upset that they were photographed, or contacted via the school directory, or texted for comments on the protest, mostly out of fear of retaliation by either the school administration, or the media at large, or really wrathful authority figures of any kind.

This, of course, comes on the heels of the recent debacle at Harvard, where reporters at the Harvard Crimson reached out to ICE for a comment after another protest, which is also a…fairly standard journalistic practice. While the concerns of these individual students might be valid, the entire field of news reporting should not be expected to compromise itself and over-cautiously cater to needs of every possible individual. This doesn't mean that journalists—student, or professional—should not try to approach situations with empathy and sensitivity, particularly when dealing with subjects who might be placed at risk by their reporting. In the case of the Daily Northwestern, the paper's backpedaling response may be a prime example of over-correcting for such sensitivities. Read the rest

This "Christmas Shirt For Dog Lovers" is definitely a penis

Do you love Christmas? Do you love dogs? How about dongs? Well then I have just the shirt for you!

I mean I guess I can see how that's supposed to be a dog with the — wait, nope, that's definitely a dick.

It's also available in a holly pattern, if you're so interested. Read the rest

There's 22 million gallons of nuclear waste under a concrete dome on a Pacific Island, and it's sinking

The Los Angeles Times has a harrowing new story about Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Japanese forces invaded the small Pacific nation and its residents during World War I, and the United States did the same during World War II under that classic guise of "liberation." But the US was hardly acting altruistically, at the time nor since then. The islands' location made it a prime strategic military base in the Pacific. It was also isolated enough to make it a convenient nuclear testing site—if you disregarded the 72,000 people who lived there, of course.

Between 1946 and 1962, US military experiments produced 108 megatons of nuclear yield in the Marshall Islands— about 80% of the country's total radioactive waste output from nuclear testing. That's the equivalent 1.6 atomic bombs dropped every day for 12 years. And after the US decided to gradually cede control of the land back to the Marshallese people, we just kind of … left it all behind.  We were kind enough to pour a bunch of concrete on top of the 22 million gallons of nuclear waste left behind on one specific island, creating the Runit Dome.

But that dome is still there. And the concrete is starting to crack. And sea levels are rising rapidly, particularly in the Pacific, further accelerating that erosion process. Now the Dome—affectionately and appropriately called "The Tomb" by the locals—is threatening to leach all of that nuclear waste into the land and the ocean.

I realize that an island-sized nuclear waste dump called "The Tomb" in the middle of the Pacific Ocean sounds like some straight-up Godzilla sci-fi shit. Read the rest

This $3.5 million mansion includes a replica of Bruce Wayne's study and so much more

Former Pittsburgh radio personality T.J. Lubinsky is selling his home, about a half-hour outside the city in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania.

I'll be honest, I've never heard of this guy. But apparently he has quite a resume. Which I guess is how he and his wife Wenday were able to build this absurdly palatial estate with 14 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, a "waterfall poolside oasis" with a custom Lilliput playhouse for the kids, and—oh yeah, a two-story replica of the Heinz Chapel as well as a replica of the private study from the 1966 "Batman" show, complete with sliding bookcases, a red phone, and Batpoles.

It also contains replica rooms based on "the Queen’s residence next to the Ritz London" and "the Hotel Del Coronado in California." Did I mention that the whole design is based on Newport's Seaview Terrace/Carey Mansion, which was used as the exterior shots for Collinwood Manor in the classic vampire soap opera "Dark Shadows?"

While I personally couldn't afford the $3.5 million it would cost to buy this place, but all things considered, I think that's actually a pretty reasonable price for it.

724 Bristlecone Drive, Gibsonia, Pennsylvania 15044, via Berkshire Hathaway Real Estate

Image via Batman '66, duh Read the rest

“The Mandalorian” as a Wernor Herzog documentary

The Mandalorian is the new Star Wars TV show premiering on Disney Plus+. Werner Herzog is the famous filmmaker who will also be appearing as an actor on the show.

It was only a matter of time before someone mashed-up The Mandalorian’s trailer footage with Herzog’s iconic documentarian voiceover. It’s not Grizzly Man, but it’s close.

Read the rest

Just in time for Veterans Day, Donald Trump Jr compares himself to dead soldiers in his new book

I know the Trumps and their cronies are all a bunch of asshole con artists. I know they get off on saying egregious things for the lulz, as long as they can still turn a profit. I know that they have mastered the art of playing the victim card in order to turn said profits, deliberately framing the world in a hyper-partisan "Us-vs-the-Other" way that is nauseating and divisive and god dammit, still actually working for them.

But even in that context, this excerpt from Donald Trump Jr's new book "Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us," is particularly maddening. As reported by Business Insider:

Writing about a visit to Arlington National Cemetery the day before his father's inauguration, Trump said: "I rarely get emotional, if ever. I guess you'd call me hyper-rational, stoic. Yet as we drove past the rows of white grave markers, in the gravity of the moment, I had a deep sense of the importance of the presidency and a love of our country ... In that moment, I also thought of all the attacks we'd already suffered as a family, and about all the sacrifices we'd have to make to help my father succeed — voluntarily giving up a huge chunk of our business and all international deals to avoid the appearance that we were 'profiting off of the office.'"

He goes on to say: "Frankly, it was a big sacrifice, costing us millions and millions of dollars annually ...

Read the rest

Amazon PR accidentally confirms the existence of a fictional dystopian Amazon technology

The New York Times has been publishing a series of "Op-Eds From The Future," giving fiction writers a chance to imagine our hellish circumstances to come. Read the rest

The White House declared the first "National American History and Founders Month" — and forgot about Native Americans

It's not uncommon for the White House (under any administration) to make multiple overlapping "proclamations" for any given month. Many of these celebrations date back years, like Black History Month and Women's History Month. But this year, the Trump administration has continued in its proud tradition of surreptitiously erasing non-white-dudes from the narrative in favor of some revisionist history of American Exceptionalism that prides itself on the many glorious accomplishments of violent Christian colonialism.

That's why November has now been proclaimed as the inaugural "National American History and Founders Month," with a press release full of the most painfully generic platitudes of 1st graders naive vision of American history. It focuses largely on those classic conservatives go-to's of revering the Founding Fathers and the Constitution, and even quotes from every Republican's favorite Founding Father: Ronald Reagan.

Yes, I'm serious.

But the anachronistic Reagan quote is hardly the most egregious offense here. No, that would be the fact the White House neglected to proclaim November as National Native American Heritage Month, which it has done every year since 1990. It ignored the original inhabitants of our country—who helped colonists settle here, perhaps against their wills—in lieu of celebrating the men who immortalized them as "merciless savages" in the Declaration of Independence.

If you check the White House archives of Presidential Actions right now, you will see that National Native American Heritage Month is there, with a date of October 31, 2019—as if it was proclaimed on the same day as National American History and Founders Month. Read the rest

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