Fake Truth Thursday


In an age of Photoshop, filters and social media, many of us are used to seeing manipulated pictures – subjects become slimmer and smoother or, in the case of Snapchat, transformed into puppies.

However, there’s a new breed of video and audio manipulation tools, made possible by advances in artificial intelligence and computer graphics, that will allow for the creation of realistic looking footage of public figures appearing to say, well, anything. Trump declaring his proclivity for water sports. Hillary Clinton describing the stolen children she keeps locked in her wine cellar. Tom Cruise finally admitting what we suspected all along … that he’s a Brony.

This is the future of fake news. We’ve long been told not to believe everything we read, but soon we’ll have to question everything we see and hear as well.

For now, there are several research teams working on capturing and synthesizing different visual and and audio elements of human behavior.

Software developed at Stanford University is able to manipulate video footage of public figures to allow a second person to put words in their mouth – in real time. Face2Face captures the second person’s facial expressions as they talk into a webcam and then morphs those movements directly onto the face of the person in the original video. The research team demonstrated their technology by puppeteering videos of George W Bush, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

@ TG

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Chompy the Squirrel Wednesday


Chompy the angry squirrel.

A squirrel has been terrorizing Prospect Park visitors and my mother since last Friday, and though it’s been a few days since the nefarious rodent showed its bite-y little face, a handful of people say they’ve been attacked and the city is on alert. There’s been some speculation (though no proof) that the squirrel is rabid, hence its remarkable thirst for human blood—but it’s also possible lil Squirricula is someone’s escaped pet, and she just wants a snack, dammit!
Such is the theory put forth by the NY Times, which spoke to several wildlife experts about the sharp-toothed menace’s strange behavior. Squirrels don’t usually attack humans (unless they’re MTA workers), and a rabies infection could certainly explain the Prospect Park squirrel’s predilection for violence. But no local squirrel has been found to have rabies in the 25 years since the city started testing them for it, and in fact, the disease is quite rare in squirrels overall.
Arina Hinzen, a state wildlife rehabilitator, told the paper there’s a chance a human took the squirrel home when it was a baby, fed it like a pet, and then released it into the park when, like any tween, it stopped being cute. “I get bitten by the ones I nursed and loved and cared for since they were teeny, tiny, little adorable ones,” Hinzen said. “Possibly somebody raised it at home and then found out the hard way that they do not make very good pets. Then they put it outside and now this poor, psycho squirrel is attacking everybody.”


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Torrents Tuesday


If humans go on burning fossil fuels, then California might, after all, remain the Golden State. It will get warmer. But, against all predictions, it might also get wetter.

A new study suggests that by the century’s end, Californians could see 12% more rain than they experienced in the last 20 years of the 20th century.

This is not the standard forecast. Almost all other climate models have warned that California – still recovering from a calamitous and sustained drought – could, like the whole of the US Southwest, become both hotter and drier and far more at risk of wildfire.

But that is not how two researchers see it. They report in the journal Nature Communications that although, under the notorious “business-as-usual” scenario, in which people go on filling cars with petrol and generating electricity by burning coal, the most southern tip of the state would indeed continue to parch, rain in northern California could increase by 14.1% and central California by 15.2%.

“The overall thought was California would become drier with continued climate change. We found the opposite, which is quite surprising”


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Holy Monday!


The Megachurch of the Almighty Zealot, The Lakewood Church, TX

Donald Trump’s ideological vacuum, the more he is isolated and attacked, is being filled by the Christian right. This Christianized fascism, with its network of megachurches, schools, universities and law schools and its vast radio and television empire, is a potent ally for a beleaguered White House. The Christian right has been organizing and preparing to take power for decades. If the nation suffers another economic collapse, which is probably inevitable, another catastrophic domestic terrorist attack or a new war, President Trump’s ability to force the Christian right’s agenda on the public and shut down dissent will be dramatically enhanced. In the presidential election, Trump had 81 percent of white evangelicals behind him.

Trump’s moves to restrict abortion, defund Planned Parenthood, permit discrimination against LGBT people in the name of “religious liberty” and allow churches to become active in politics by gutting the Johnson Amendment, along with his nominations of judges championed by the Federalist Society and his call for a ban on Muslim immigrants, have endeared him to the Christian right. He has rolled back civil rights legislation and business and environmental regulations. He has elevated several stalwarts of the Christian right into power—Mike Pence to the vice presidency, Jeff Sessions to the Justice Department, Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, Betsy DeVos to the Department of Education, Tom Price to Health and Human Services and Ben Carson to Housing and Urban Development. He embraces the white supremacy, bigotry, American chauvinism, greed, religious intolerance, anger and racism that define the Christian right.


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Sprite Sunday

SPRITES AND COSMIC RAYS: Last night, cameras in Czechia recorded a magnificent display of sprites leaping up from a thunderstorm in neighboring Austria. Photographer Martin Popek of Nýdek, Czechia, selected this specimen from many frames he recorded:


Red Sprites And Sprites Halo Taken by martin popek on July 21, 2017 @ Nýdek, Czech republic

“The storm was about 390km away,” says Popek, “and the sprite was huge. It stretched 50 km to 90 km above the ground below.”

Sometimes called “space lightning,” sprites are a true space weather phenomenon. They inhabit the upper atmosphere alongside auroras, meteors and noctilucent clouds. Some researchers believe they are linked to cosmic rays: subatomic particles from deep space striking the top of Earth’s atmosphere produce secondary electrons that, in turn, could provide the spark that triggers sprites.
The link to cosmic rays is particularly interesting at this time. Despite a brief reduction in cosmic rays last week caused by the sweeping action of a passing CME, cosmic rays are intensifying. For the past two years, space weather balloons have observed a steady increase in deep space radiation penetrating our atmosphere. This increase is largely due to the decline in the solar cycle. Flagging solar wind pressure and weakening sunspot magnetic fields allow more cosmic rays into the inner solar system–a trend which is expected to continue for years to come. These changes could add up to more sprites.

Although sprites have been seen for at least a century, most scientists did not believe they existed until after 1989 when sprites were photographed by cameras onboard the space shuttle. Now “sprite chasers” routinely photograph sprites from their own homes. “I used up a Watec 910HX security camera with UFOCapture software to catch my sprites,” says Popek.


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War is Stupid Saturday


Complete and utter devastation: The city of Jobar.

You remember. It was supposed to be twenty-first-century war, American-style: precise beyond imagining; smart bombs; drones capable of taking out a carefully identified and tracked human being just about anywhere on Earth; special operations raids so pinpoint-accurate that they would represent a triumph of modern military science. Everything “networked.” It was to be a glorious dream of limited destruction combined with unlimited power and success. In reality, it would prove to be a nightmare of the first order.

If you want a single word to summarize American war-making in this last decade and a half, I would suggest rubble. It’s been a painfully apt term since September 11, 2001. In addition, to catch the essence of such war in this century, two new words might be useful: rubblize and rubblization. Let me explain what I mean.

In recent weeks, another major city in Iraq has officially been “liberated” (almost) from the militants of the Islamic State. However, the results of the U.S.-backed Iraqi military campaign to retake Mosul, that country’s second largest city, don’t fit any ordinary definition of triumph or victory. It began in October 2016 and, at nine months and counting, has been longer than the World War II battle of Stalingrad. Week after week, in street to street fighting, with U.S. airstrikes repeatedly called in on neighborhoods still filled with terrified Mosulites, unknown but potentially staggering numbers of civilians have died. More than a million people — yes, you read that figure correctly — were uprooted from their homes and major portions of the Western half of the city they fled, including its ancient historic sections, have been turned into rubble.


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