Fake news, Google News, Michael Cohen, Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, & Scott Pruitt

Today’s articles talk about who’s most likely to believe fake news reports, Google News’ upcoming redesign, and the ongoing shenanigans of a whole pile of Trumpsters, including Michael Cohen, Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and Scott Pruitt.

Today’s articles talk about who’s most likely to believe fake news reports, Google News’ upcoming redesign, and the ongoing shenanigans of a whole pile of Trumpsters, including Michael Cohen, Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and Scott Pruitt.

5 Things to Read Today

NiemanLab: People who are delusional, dogmatic, or religious fundamentalists are more likely to believe fake news
NiemanLab has a quick rundown on a new paper from a bunch of Yale researchers. The paper indicates that people who are prone to delusional ideas, religious fundies, and the dogmatically inclined are more likely to believe fake news reports, which is not at all surprising if you’ve been paying any attention at all. There’s also some other interesting tidbits in there.

Ars Technica: Google News to be revamped, incorporate YouTube videos and magazines
It’s redesign time at Google, and they’re planning to dress up Google News a bit, and have it pull in YouTube videos and magazine articles. Which is fine, I guess. As long as they’re careful which YouTube videos they use. A lot of hoaxes, fake news, and hateful trash spreads virally on YouTube.

NBC News: Feds monitored Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen’s phones
Well this story went to hell in a hand basket. It was originally reported that the feds had Cohen’s phones wiretapped, but since yesterday the story has been amended, revised and updated to death, and now it’s a non-story. Now instead of a wiretap, Cohen’s phones were monitored with what’s called a “pen register,” which is just a list of who he called and when. Which, importantly, is a perfectly normal and non-explosive thing to be doing during an investigation. Dammit, NBC.

New York Times: Trump Undercuts Giuliani About Payments to Stormy Daniels 
Trump’s newest lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, had a field day on the news the last day or so, spouting off all sorts of ridiculousness and copping to all sorts of federal crimes on Trump’s behalf. It was pretty crazy. Now Trump’s trying to walk it back. I assume because a real lawyer got a hold of him and was all like, “Dude.”

CNN: Pruitt reimbursed himself $65,000 from Oklahoma attorney general campaign
Everyone’s favorite weirdo, Scott Pruitt, is back in the news. Turns out he payed himself back a crap-ton of money, out of two of his election runs. And that might be a serious violation of federal campaign finance laws. Or it might not. It’s hard to tell, because his record keeping was so very vaguely worded. I’d say that in and of itself is a bad sign. Also, that guy is up to almost a dozen ethics inquiries into his actions, and he still isn’t resigning.

North Korea, gas prices, Twitter & Cambridge Analytica, conservative Facebook pages, & Donald Trump & Don Blankenship

Today’s articles cover North Korea’s sudden desire for peace and the state of their nuclear testing site, Twitter’s brush with Cambridge Analytica, rising gas prices, the fact that conservative Facebook meme pages are affiliated with extremists, and how Donald Trump’s assault on the justice system is helping Don Blankenship’s run in the West Virginia GOP senate primary.

Today’s articles cover North Korea’s sudden desire for peace and the state of their nuclear testing site, Twitter’s brush with Cambridge Analytica, rising gas prices, the fact that conservative Facebook meme pages are affiliated with extremists, and how Donald Trump’s assault on the justice system is helping Don Blankenship’s run in the West Virginia GOP senate primary.

5 Things to Read Today

The Guardian: North Korea nuclear test site has collapsed and may be out of action – China study
Everyone’s been a bit confused about Kim Jong-un’s sudden willingness to come to the peace table, but the fact that their nuclear testing site seems to have collapsed might have something to do with it.

AP: Get ready for the most expensive driving season in years
This article is from back on April 30 and I have to say, I’m thinking they undersold it a smidge. I stopped to gas up the car a couple of days ago and it was already over $3 at our pumps. I put in my usual $10 and didn’t get a half a tank out of the deal. And I drive a roller skate, guys.

Los Angeles Times: Twitter sold public-data access to Cambridge Analytica-linked researcher
Aleksandr Kogan, the guy who got all the Facebook data for Cambridge Analytica, also got data from Twitter. Twitter says that as far as they can tell CA didn’t get any private data on any Twitterers, but, y’know. That’s what Facebook said at first, too.

Media Matters: Popular conservative meme pages on Facebook affiliate themselves with an extremist militia movement
The Three Percenters are a nasty, racist extremist group – they’ve been implicated in lots of race-based acts of violence. Turns out, many of the right’s favorite meme-churning conservative Facebook pages are affiliated with these guys. Which, I gotta say, is not at all surprising to hear.

Mother Jones: Donald Trump’s Attacks on the Justice System Are Helping This Ex-Con Coal Baron’s Campaign
Don Blankenship is a coal baron convicted of violating mandatory federal mine safety and health standards, which led to the deaths of 29 miners in the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, and is running in the primary for a West Virginia senate seat. And he might win it.

The Saga of the Birds

Awhile back I happened to notice that some sort of small, dark bird with a fairly annoying squawk had made a nest in the eaves over our bedroom window. I’d been hearing some noise in the mornings and I happened to glance out the window one morning and spotted the bird sitting up in the eaves. I figured, “Eh, whatever,” and ignored it.

Some time passed. One morning, I realized that the noises I’d been hearing weren’t, in fact, outside our window. They were, in fact, above our heads. And those bird noises had now been joined by baby bird noises.

Uh-oh, I thought

A brief investigation led me to discover that a small piece of board above our bedroom window, back up under the eaves, had been knocked out. Well, blown in or knocked in, more likely, since we never discovered a board on our porch. At any rate, the bird I thought had been nesting up in the eaves was actually nesting in the roof space directly above our bedroom.

Now, I live in an apartment, so this isn’t my problem. This problem belongs to the maintenance dudes. The fact that problems like this belong to the maintenance dudes and not me is one of many reasons why I am an apartment dweller and not a homeowner. Here’s the situation, though: Our maintenance dudes? Not exactly the cream of the crop, historically speaking.

I mean, they weren’t terrible. They weren’t accidentally wiring apartments up to explode or flood or anything like that. But my limited experience with these particular maintenance dudes had not impressed me. They took forever, and they often took two or three visits to actually fix something right. For example, we’d been trying to get the screen on our sliding door fixed right for, oh, eight years or so.

It had got to the point where if it was a repair I could make, I just made the repair rather than fuss with the maintenance dudes. I had basically given up on the maintenance dudes.

So, I stared up at the hole above my window, watching a bird hop in and out of it, and wondered exactly how likely it was that if I called maintenance, they’d just show up and board up the hole without evicting Mama Bird and her babies. What was the over-under on my boyfriend and I spending the next week or so listening to baby birds slowly, miserably starving to death in our ceiling?

I thought to myself, How long does it take birds to fledge and bugger off? A month? Six weeks? Maybe we’ll just ignore this little problem for a bit. It’s not like our maintenance dudes act with any sort of alacrity, after all. Figuring for that, if I gave Mama and her babies a month’s head start, then called maintenance, by the time they got around to anything, the babies would be safely gone.

Some time passed. Ignoring the bird problem was not working. The birds were making an ungodly mess of the porch. They were obnoxiously loud in the morning. Also, they were driving our cat, Earl, out of his damn mind. One afternoon I came home and discovered Earl stuck to the screen on our bedroom window. He was pretty happy to see me, so I suspect he was stuck there for awhile. Another morning Earl dove at the window and slammed into the screen, and I had visions of Earl knocking the screen completely out and plummeting to his death. Or at least plummeting to his expensive injuries.

Meanwhile, changes were afoot in the apartment complex. The apartment manager was fired and a new one hired. And the new one was promptly fired and another new apartment manager was hired. We were suddenly informed that there were going to be apartment inspections, but not what the inspections were for.

Did we have a new apartment manager with some ginger in their step who intended to set all things aright? The inspectors showed up, and it turned out that they were inspecting for repairs that needed to be made, that had never been made. Apparently, the last two apartment managers hadn’t been doing a great job there. It turned out that there were quite a lot of repairs around the complex that needed made.

No one said, but I rather suspect this is why two apartment managers were fired in rapid succession. This may also explain why I started seeing new maintenance guys wandering around, of late.

So, last week, maintenance showed up to check out the bird situation and I guess it takes quite a while for birds to fledge and bugger off, because they haven’t done it yet, despite it being like two months or something like that. Exterminator/remover people are in the process of being arranged, then repairs will be made.

I guess all’s well that ends well and whatnot, except I’m going to have an awful lot of bird crap to hose off the porch when it’s all said and done.

PS: Yes, we finally got our screen door fixed.

Featured Photo: This is a grackle, and I think this is the type of bird nesting in our roof. This, or something very similar. (Source & Licensing.)

‘Westworld,’ Season Two, so far…

I gotta say, two episodes in and so far I’m not all that impressed with season two of “Westworld.” Maybe it’s doing a slow burn, but the first two episodes have been a bit dull.

I gotta say, two episodes in and so far I’m not all that impressed with season two of Westworld. Maybe it’s doing a slow burn, but the first two episodes have been a bit dull.

I think the major problem is Dolores’ revenge-based storyline. I get why she’s feeling revenge-y, it’s just not a particularly bright storyline and it’s already tedious and purple a mere two episodes in.

Here’s my problem with Dolores. So, Arnold wanted her to gain consciousness, which is fine, except apparently consciousness hinges on suffering, which strikes me as silly. I doubt suffering had anything to do with consciousness in human beings, and I’m not understanding why it needed to have anything to do with consciousness in AIs like the hosts. Sure, sure, story purposes, etc, it’s just that they didn’t really explain it very well, so it seems arbitrary.

It seems particularly arbitrary when you compare Dolores to any other host in the park. There doesn’t seem to be a real difference between a conscious host and a host who hasn’t achieved consciousness yet. Dolores doesn’t act any different than a host on a story loop. She’s not doing anything a host on a story loop couldn’t do. The only difference I’m seeing is that Dolores is now aware that she’s a robot in a game, whereas most other hosts are not.

But hosts being aware that they’re hosts isn’t new either. The welcome center hosts, and hosts who were sent out in the real world as demos to raise funding, all seemed to know they were hosts, and that didn’t make any difference to them.

As of episode two, Teddy’s now aware that he was a host in some sort of simulation. Is he conscious now, too? Was he before? We don’t know. It doesn’t seem to matter. Which is fine if the story is aiming for some kind of “the ambiguity of humanity under certain circumstances” thing, but the writers aren’t banging that drum very hard, if that’s the case. They did a bit in season one, but we haven’t heard much about it yet in season two.

Also, shouldn’t someone sit Dolores down and have a chat with her about circumstances? She’s mad because the hosts have been made to suffer, which, sure. But it’s worth considering that the hosts were made to suffer because no one thought they were real.

Of course the hosts were treated like disposable NPCs. That’s all anyone playing the game thought they were. I’m pretty sure if you told every player on their way in, “By the way, the hosts might be sentient and they might be keeping score,” that would drastically change how most people played the game. Not everyone because there’s always a few dicks around, but the majority of players would alter their gameplay methods because most people aren’t sociopaths.

I think it’s disingenuous to assume that humans are just naturally psychotic rapist-murderers and the only thing keeping them in check is, I don’t know, society, or whatever. What keeps most people in check is empathy. We understand that other entities think and feel as we do, or similarly to us, and act accordingly. We don’t extend that courtesy to the NPCs in Grand Theft Auto because they’re just stupid pixels acting on rudimentary AI. The humans on Westworld aren’t extending that courtesy to hosts because they’re just meat-based robots acting on a somewhat less rudimentary AI.

And what about all the players who weren’t being complete monsters as they played? Families were encouraged to come to Westworld. There are family-friendly zones in the park. Little Timmy and Susy certainly weren’t raping and pillaging their way through the park. What about White Hat players who were following storylines where they hunted down bad guys or saved the girl, etc? They certainly thought they were being good guys. Do they not get any extra considerations?

I feel like someone should have sat Dolores down and explained some of this junk to her before turning her loose on unsuspecting players. I feel like, considering they didn’t, the motivations of both Arnold and Ford need to be called seriously into question. Because what we’re looking at right now are two people-hating weirdos who, out of some sulky animosity over not getting funding the way they wanted, up and built a maybe-conscious murderbot.

That’s not a particularly interesting or new story, especially since both Ford and Arnold are dead now, and hardly anyone knows the hosts might be conscious, so no one can really act to rectify the situation.

Right now the owners of Westworld are storming the park with armed assault teams because they need to regain control of a park that has gone wildly off the rails due to a programming glitch. These aren’t evil people destroying sentient entities for profits, these are soldiers trying to rescue players trapped in a glitched-out game.

No matter how awful the corporate board of Delos might actually be, if they knew they were dealing with sentient entities, their tactics for resolving the problem would change, if only out of PR considerations. Like, if that story got out, that Delos had stormed in and butchered tons of sentient entities, when such a thing never existed before, holy cow. It would be a complete shitshow of bad PR. Even if you assume that Delos is completely evil, it would still fall out that way at some point, just because some other evil SOB on the board of directors leaked the story to give themselves an advantage in something.

The upshot here being that no part of Dolores’ storyline or the way it’s playing out is particularly interesting or realistic, and the show itself isn’t giving us any hints as to how we’re supposed to handle that. Are we supposed to assume that Dolores isn’t actually conscious and she’s acting out some kind of story Ford wrote for some purpose? Is this just kind of lazy writing? We don’t know, and that gets tedious fast.

You know what would be really interesting? If Dolores wasn’t conscious, but other hosts are, or are becoming so, and they’re taken in by Dolores and the storyline she’s following. That would be a cool story. But if they’re going that route, I kind of wish the Westworld writers would telegraph it a bit, lay the groundwork. Otherwise it’s going to look like they’re scrambling to fix bad writing at the end of the season.