Scratch Wallace State off your list of prospective colleges, everyone!

Earlier, I expressed my concern that a quarter of college grads are creationists, and was worried about the students at my university. Maybe it’s not so bad. My excuse is that maybe those other colleges, like Wallace State, are bringing the average down.

The Wallace State Alumni Association is planning a group trip to…the Ark Park and Creation “museum”. Their chipper coordinator happily chirped out a few words of praise.

“This should be a great trip,” said LaDonna Allen, WSCC Alumni Coordinator. “The Ark Encounter opened in July 2016 and is a sister attraction of the Creation Museum located about 40 miles apart. We’ve heard lots of good things about both.”

Hmmm. Maybe Wallace State doesn’t want to be taken seriously by educated people, which is an awfully peculiar attitude for a college to take. They are sending out a crystal clear message that it’s a place for religious loons with no respect for science.

How did this guy become a darling of the conservative skeptic/atheist movement?

Jordan Peterson is mystifying. He’s a boring, tendentious, unoriginal authoritarian who gets most everything wrong. He’s not an atheist, as the following clips show, so why do atheists pay attention to him?

He has written a book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (of course a conservative book is all about arbitrary rules), which gets savagely reviewed.

Peterson, who has become one of the most prominent critics of anything that can be labelled as “political correctness”, is especially conservative on gender and family roles. “Female lobsters . . . identify the top guy quickly, and become irresistibly attracted to him,” he writes. Generalising from the crustacean to the human he adds, “This is brilliant strategy, in my estimation.”

Apparently, the secret to success is to appeal to the vast audience of male lobsters.

Oh, look. David Brooks gives Peterson a thumbs up. Now we know what kind of person favors our Canadian authoritarian.

And that’s the good news?

A new poll shows that the number of creationists has declined to a new low. Hooray! Party time!

Except that the new low is 38% of the American population.

Oh, sure, it’s better, and the trend is going in the right direction, for now, but that’s the kind of percentage that can get a bad president elected. It’s not a majority, but it’s not a fringe group, either. It’s shocking that our citizens can reach adulthood and still be that ignorant.

We’re also supposed to be consoled by the fact that a university education helps some. “Only” a quarter of college graduates are creationists! You go through 4 years of solid advanced education in a first world technological nation, and still a fourth of them come out thinking there might be some merit to the idea that the Earth winked into existence sometime at the start of the Naqada culture in Egypt, or the Uruk era in Mesopotamia. Oh, and hey, the Assyrians must have been shocked that everyone went extinct (except for 8 people) right at the start of their empire. Must have been a small empire.

I don’t know if I want to know how many of our UMM seniors believe in this bullshit. I especially don’t want to know how many of our science majors leave here confident that they didn’t come from no monkey. It can only break my heart.

It’s always even worse than you can imagine

Jen Gunter attended a Goop conference in New York. She didn’t make a big deal of it, just paid the conference fee, sidled on in under her own name, and listened. I think she expected the wacky wellness woo, but maybe was a little surprised at the psychic mediums, the death cult vibe, and the boring tedium.

This fascination with death was 50% of the day and not in a productive “lets talk about how we die in America” kind of way, but in death is trip reserved for the privileged, like a cross between the movie Flatliners and cultures that believed in human sacrifice where the class born to be sacrificed were brought up to believe death is a goal and an honor. Monetizing death in this way is clearly profitable. The message seems to be I know you are afraid of dying so read my book or cross my palm with cash and I will share with you secrets about death that no one else can.

This is the way of it. Every time I’ve gone to a creationist or paranormal conference, I know I’m going to get a load of anti-science drivel, but I’m always disappointed by how bad they are, and how once the speakers are in the midst of the believers, how far they’ll scurry towards even greater lunacy. There’s no reward for moderation, so they’ll make the most outrageous, irrelevant claims, and the audience will eat it up. Sure, that guy over there was just in a coma, and claims to have visited heaven, but he had a heartbeat the whole time. I died, and I had turned into a giant tumor, and I was rotting, and bits were falling off me, and I came back from the dead by force of will, so you should believe me more!

I’d recommend that everyone should attend one of these kinds of events at least once, just to see how nutty they are, but I’m afraid some people might be persuaded by the fervency of the believers, and the visit would just add more lost souls to their ranks.

There is no culture of violence, Elon Musk is just selling flamethrowers for fun

You can buy a flamethrower from Elon Musk for the low, low price of $500. Why? I don’t know.

Soon, orders of flamethrowers potentially capable of shooting a flame up to 10 feet will be shipped out to 20,000 people via a billionaire’s mining company, of which the greatest accomplishment leading up to the sale of flamethrowers has been the sale of hats and alleged workplace violations, in a claimed effort to battle an impending zombie apocalypse, which is almost certainly scientifically impossible. The NRA will likely respond by suggesting you purchase your own flamethrower for protection.

This is some kind of twisted promotion for his company, which wants to drill holes through cities to make it easier for cars to drive through them. I don’t get that either. I’m more used to bumper stickers and buttons being given away as promotions, this new-fangled business of selling your fans $500 weapons doesn’t thrill me.

So if I criticize the NRA, I get shot, but criticizing Elon Musk will just get you third-degree burns? None of this is appealing.

Those old reliable scapegoats

There’s been another school shooting — heck, we get them about every other day now, so there may be another one tomorrow — and once again, the rationalizations begin to flow, but nothing is done. The Republican governor of Kentucky, Matt Bevins, trots out the usual litany of excuses. He says it is a “cultural problem”, and that’s the end of where I agree with him.

“We have become desensitized to death, we have become desensitized to killing, we have become desensitized to empathy for our fellow man and it’s coming at an extraordinary price and we have got to look at the root causes of this,” Bevin told The Associated Press.

“We can’t celebrate death in video games, celebrate death in TV shows, celebrate death in movies, celebrate death in musical lyrics and remove any sense of morality and sense of higher authority and then expect that things like this are not going to happen,” he added.

Uh, you know — American video games, TV, movies, and music are international now. We sell that stuff everywhere. American entertainment is popular world-wide, and other countries are also producing similar cultural phenomena, yet they are not experiencing these spasms of internal violence. Other countries in Europe and Asia have lower belief in a “higher authority” — America is weirdly religious — and their kids aren’t murdering each other to the same extent. Have you ever considered looking at the empirical evidence rather than worshiping your own freaky biases?

What is unusual in America is the Cult of the Gun, as promoted by the NRA. We also have these strange far right super-“patriots” — in quotes because their patriotism seems to consist of regarding their personal, selfish greed as their highest authority, and believe their duty is to arm themselves to the gills in order to destroy the American government. We’ve militarized our police to the point that “peacekeeping” is an exercise in firepower. I’d also point out that we’re told it is our moral duty to use armed force to murder citizens of other nations to force them to comply, which creates a disturbing conflict in our citizenry about the value of human life.

Of course, Matt Bevins knows that if he criticized the NRA or right-wing militias, he’d probably get shot.

All my life, the Republicans have been evil stooges

George W. Bush’s popularity ratings are climbing. This should not be — he was a bad president, and we don’t want another one like him. At least Saturday Night Live is explicit about this worrying trend.

If only they hadn’t made him seem sweet; a bumbling nice guy who just dragged us into pointless wars that killed hundreds of thousands of people, and that are still spinning on.

The same thing happened to Ronald Reagan. Remember Reagan? Avuncular old Ronnie, barely aware of what was going on, yet still corrupt as fuck and seeding the corruption — “supply side economics”, pandering to the religious right, secret wars, dismissing broad swathes of the American public as expendable and better off dead (neglect of the AIDS crisis is just one of his legacies) — that still poisons the Republican party. He got mocked on SNL, too, but even now he’s revered as a Republican saint.

We seem to be trapped in a process of normalization, where instead of aspiring to be better, we dust off hideous relics from the past and pretend they weren’t so bad. Next election, the GOP will nominate some shabby antiquated Reagan impersonator and try to sell us on flawed old memories of past ‘glories’, sweeping the ignominies of the last buffoon under the rug, and trying to sell us on the claim that the current crop of abominations aren’t the product of official Republican policies — but that their new candidate, who will be some greasy selfish flack, is a return to tried and true standard conservatism. They’ll fail. They’ll be worse than the last one.

Meanwhile, the Democrats will look incredulously on the idiot the Republicans nominate, and think all they need to do is prop up someone marginally better to win.

The first Republican president I remember is Nixon. Every single one since has been wretched. Yet they keep getting elected. We’ll never learn.

Never gonna believe anything ever again

Seeing is not believing, since the porn peddlers are busy adapting software to insert your face in any ol’ smutty scenario they want.

Like the Adobe tool that can make people say anything, and the Face2Face algorithm that can swap a recorded video with real-time face tracking, this new type of fake porn shows that we’re on the verge of living in a world where it’s trivially easy to fabricate believable videos of people doing and saying things they never did. Even having sex.

But of course these tools are being refined to appropriate women’s images — it’s what this culture does. I’m sure the gay porn will be following along shortly.

It’s interesting that they’re reporting on the work of a single guy, “deepfakes”, who’s basically a script kiddie churning through existing software to slap celebrity faces on pornographic movies, as if that is some grand achievement. No one is questioning his motives, in part because he’s got enough shame left in him that he doesn’t let his identity out.

According to deepfakes—who declined to give his identity to me to avoid public scrutiny—the software is based on multiple open-source libraries, like Keras with TensorFlow backend. To compile the celebrities’ faces, deepfakes said he used Google image search, stock photos, and YouTube videos. Deep learning consists of networks of interconnected nodes that autonomously run computations on input data. In this case, he trained the algorithm on porn videos and Gal Gadot’s face. After enough of this “training,” the nodes arrange themselves to complete a particular task, like convincingly manipulating video on the fly.

Artificial intelligence researcher Alex Champandard told me in an email that a decent, consumer-grade graphics card could process this effect in hours, but a CPU would work just as well, only more slowly, over days.

“This is no longer rocket science,” Champandard said.

I’ve seen several articles on this subject recently. Oddly, no one seems to be asking deepfakes why he’s doing this, which also says something about the culture. I guess it’s taken for granted that guys with expensive computers will sink hours of time into this strange hobby of making obsessive masturbation aids.

It mainly seems to be women and sex workers who are questioning the ethics of their behavior.

Porn performer Grace Evangeline told me over Twitter direct messages that porn stars are used to having their work spread around free to tube sites like SendVid, where the Gal Gadot fake is uploaded, without their permission. But she said that this was different. She’d never seen anything like this.

“One important thing that always needs to happen is consent,” Evangeline said. “Consent in private life as well as consent on film. Creating fake sex scenes of celebrities takes away their consent. It’s wrong.”

Even for people whose livelihoods involve getting in front of a camera, the violation of personal boundaries is troubling. I showed Alia Janine, a retired porn performer who was in the sex industry for 15 years, the video of Gadot. “It’s really disturbing,” she told me over the phone. “It kind of shows how some men basically only see women as objects that they can manipulate and be forced to do anything they want… It just shows a complete lack of respect for the porn performers in the movie, and also the female actresses.”

It’s a collision of pedestrian realities, that some men will go to great lengths to make simulated sex that won’t involve interacting with icky women, and that they feel no obligation to respect other human beings.