Taylor Swift, revenge porn, and deepfakes

If there were ever a title to a post that could be considered pure clickbait, my title would fit the bill, since it blends three of the biggest news items currently going: Taylor Swift, porn, and AI. The media attention that Swift is getting both for her music and her relationship with a football player is astounding. I have not heard her music nor do I follow football but thanks to the ubiquity of the coverage of her in the news, I know that she is in a relationship with someone playing for the Kansas City Chiefs. Why this receives such massive coverage from even mainstream news outlets mystifies me.

But my post is really using those three things to argue that the current ability of anyone to so easily produce deepfakes using AI may well herald the demise of some truly ugly practices.

It turns out that someone had used Swift’s image to create a pornographic video that appeared on Twitter/X. The site took down the video and blocked searches on the singer’s name but not before the video had amassed a huge number of views.
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Nancy Pelosi makes baseless charges against those calling for ceasefire in Gaza

The Democratic former speaker of the House is one of those who gives unquestioned support to Israel whatever it does. Norman Solomon says that her latest statement shows how out of touch she is with popular sentiment on what is happening in Gaza.

“The former House speaker said, without offering evidence, that she believed some protesters are connected to Russian President Vladimir Putin,” NPR reported.

“For them to call for a ceasefire is Mr. Putin’s message,” Pelosi said. “Make no mistake, this is directly connected to what he would like to see. Same thing with Ukraine. It’s about Putin’s message. I think some of these protesters are spontaneous and organic and sincere. Some, I think, are connected to Russia. And I say that having looked at this for a long time now.”

Like Congress as a whole, Pelosi refuses to acknowledge that so many Americans are protesting because the Israeli armed forces have been engaged in mass murder in Gaza for more than three and a half months. And an inconvenient truth is that polling shows a large majority of people in the United States favor a ceasefire, including over 70 percent of young voters who say they disapprove of President Joe Biden’s handling of the war in Gaza. 

Pelosi is hardly unusual on Capitol Hill. Bipartisan loyalty to Israel has been the political reflex, with few exceptions. But Pelosi is notably servile to Israel.

But there’s also another key aspect of Pelosi’s nonsensical yet calculated smear effort. Biden’s poll numbers have kept dropping, most recently while so many Americans – especially those whose votes he’ll need this fall – find his support for the Gaza slaughter repugnant. Grasping at straws, Pelosi evidently hopes for some political benefit by casting blame on Russia for how Biden’s deference to Israel has met with strong public opposition and erosion of support for re-election.

Like President Biden and so many others in the political establishment, Nancy Pelosi cannot imagine breaking with the murderous Israeli government and pursuing a foreign policy of peace instead of nonstop U.S. efforts to dominate as much of the world as possible.

The tragedy of Gaza keeps growing

What is happening in Gaza is tragic on a scale that is hard to wrap one’s mind around. Israel is pursuing a ruthless and vindictive policy of making life hell for everyone in Gaza. Its proclamations that it is only targeting Hamas fighters ring blatantly hollow as its troops attacks hospitals, schools, refugee camps, and homes, leaving almost the entire population homeless and suffering from lack of food, water, medicines, and power. We are seeing before our eyes an utterly cruel policy of vengeance by Israel against the people of Gaza in which the US is complicit. Currently over 27,000 people are dead, about 70% of them women and children.

Much of the world is watching in horror, helpless to do anything as long as the US shields Israel and continues to provide it with the resources to continue its inhumane policies. The International Court of Justice has largely sided with South Africa in the case they brought before it that accused Israel of genocide.
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Money talks but it can also shut people up

It has been three days since the jury awarded E. Jean Carroll $83.3 million in the defamation suit brought by her against serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT) and you may have noticed something strange. It is silence from SSAT. He has not mentioned her by name since the verdict. SSAT’s typical reaction to anything adverse is to fire off a series of angry posts on his social media site at everyone and everything he perceives is against him, and use those attacks to raise money. But not this time. Even many of his most his vociferous allies have gone quiet.

Some of Trump’s critics said they weren’t surprised that many of his defenders chose to keep an arm’s length from the fallout. This wasn’t a case about classified documents, or an effort to keep him off the ballot. The jury’s award came for remarks Trump made about Carroll in response to her rape accusation.

“It’s his one legal case that no Republican gives a damn about because it doesn’t fit with their narrative that the Democrats are using the justice system to prevent him from running for office,” said former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh — who unsuccessfully challenged Trump for the Republican presidential nomination in 2020. “Which is bullshit. But this one is just about Trump’s personal behavior. It’s separate.”

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The obsession in the US with executing people

Two days ago, the state of Alabama used nitrogen gas to execute Kenneth Smith by essentially asphyxiating him.

Alabama faced widespread condemnation after the state executed Kenneth Eugene Smith on Thursday evening using nitrogen gas, the first time the method has been used in the United States to kill someone.

Smith’s execution by “nitrogen hypoxia” took around 22 minutes, according to media witnesses, who were led into a viewing room at the William C Holman correctional facility in Atmore shortly before 8pm local time.

Smith was fitted with a face mask. He used sign language to say “I love you” to witnesses in the viewing room, and in his final statement he said: “Tonight, Alabama caused humanity to take a step backward.”

After the nitrogen gas began flowing, Smith convulsed on the gurney for several minutes. The state had previously said the nitrogen gas would cause Smith to lose consciousness in seconds and die within minutes, according to the Associated Press.

“I’ve been to four previous executions and I’ve never seen a condemned inmate thrash in the way that Kenneth Smith reacted to the nitrogen gas,” Lee Hedgepeth, a journalist who witnessed the execution, told the BBC’s Newsday programme.

Jeff Hood, Smith’s spiritual adviser, was in the death chamber when Smith was killed. In a tearful television interview with CNN, he said Smith “popped up on the gurney over and over and over again. He shook the whole gurney.”

“I have never, ever seen anything like that,” he said. “That was torture.”

“I could see the corrections officers that were in there,” he added. “I think they were very surprised that this didn’t go smoother.”

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Trump’s rage and thin skin may hurt him

Serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT) has won the first two primary events in the Republican calendar and there is only one person still in the race for the Republican nomination. It is true that his margin of victory over Nikki Haley was only 11% but it is clear that her chances of defeating him are almost zero. So a sensible strategy would be for him to woo the people, both Republicans and independents who voted for her and supported her with donations, so that even though they expressed a preference for her, they would come back into the fold and vote for him in the general election once he gets the nomination.

That is what a sane, sensible candidate would do. But SSAT is a rage-filled narcissist who launches attacks on anyone who does not support him at the present moment. He will attack you until you grovel before him and only then will he be nice to you. The idea of trying to win over potential supporters slowly in the future by being nice to them now just does not seem to register in what passes for his brain. So he has taken to harshly attacking Haley, even calling her a ‘birdbrain’, even if that might turn off some Haley supporters who might very well have supported him once she dropped out.
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Trump ordered to pay Carroll $83 million

The jury in the trial took only about two hours to come back with a verdict that said that serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT) has to pay her $83 million. It consists of $7.3m in compensatory damages, $11m to repair her reputation, and $65m in punitive damages. He has, of course, said that he will appeal.

The punitive damages are to make SSAT shut up.

Even on Fox News, a rightwing network generally supportive of the former president, John Yoo, a former deputy assistant attorney general, saw nothing but bad news.

“The whole point of these unprecedented damages is to tell Donald Trump to shut up,” Yoo said.“You could think of it this way: every time Donald Trump wants to insult [E] Jean Carroll, he’s gonna have to write a $40m check for each sentence. That’s how bad this is.

“I can’t believe his lawyers haven’t succeeded in just telling him, ‘Campaign for president, run for president, make your accusations about a two-tiered justice system. But leave this alone.’”

It looks like the antics of SSAT inside and outside the courtroom that so irritated the judge did not endear him to the jury either. Neither did the obnoxious behavior of his lawyer Alina Habba who seemed to think that her audience was the MAGA cult instead of the nine people in the jury box.

In a recent interview with some MAGA-friendly person, Habba was asked whether she would like to be pretty or smart. She instantly replied that she would like to be pretty because you can fake being smart. Well, maybe some people can fake being smart, but she is clearly not one of them. For example, on Monday, she told the judge that she was feeling unwell and had been exposed to people with Covid and asked that the proceedings for the next day be canceled. It was duly done. But then on Tuesday evening, she was seen at a victory party in New Hampshire following the primary election. Judges do not like lawyers lying to them and she is lucky that he did not reprimand her for that.

Observers were astounded at the level of her incompetence, down to basic knowledge of courtroom proceedings.

After the verdict, Habba sounded off to the media. She is mad because the judge did not allow her to re-litigate the issue of assault that the first jury had already decided.

Carroll’s lawyer nails her description of Trump

In her closing arguments to the jury yesterday, E. Jean Carroll’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan pretty much nailed it in her description of serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT) and why the jury should award her hefty damages.

At the end of her closing, Roberta Kaplan urged jurors to hold Trump accountable – and that the only way to make him follow the law and stop defaming Carroll would be a hefty penalty.

“At the first trial between Ms Carroll and Mr Trump … Donald Trump didn’t even bother to show up,” Kaplan said. But at this trial, where the issue is money, Trump decided to attend, she noted.

“What does that mean? It means that the one thing Donald Trump cares about is money,” she said. “While Donald Trump may not care about the law, while he certainly does not care about the truth, he does care about money.

“The question for you as a jury is this: given Donald Trump’s insistence on continuing to defame Ms Carroll and considering his immense wealth, how much will it take to make him stop?

“He thinks the rules that govern everyone else don’t apply to him,” Kaplan added.

“You actually have the opportunity, maybe even the responsibility, to put an end to this right now with this verdict by requiring Donald Trump to pay an amount of money large enough for him – and I repeat, large enough for him – that it will finally make him stop.

“Now is the time to make him pay for it and now is the time to make him pay for it dearly.”

SSAT views money as a measure of a person’s worth which is why he consistently inflates the amount of his own wealth, as was seen in his other trial for fraud that was brought by New York’s attorney general Letitia James. Taking SSAT’s dubious claims of his own ‘immense wealth’ at face value in order to suggest that a large penalty was necessary to deter him in future was a nice touch by Kaplan.

Book review: Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire by Caroline Elkins (2022)

It used to be said that the sun never set on the British empire, so widespread was its extent over the globe. This book takes a sweeping look at the practices of that empire and recounts the widespread brutality with which the British ruled its colonies, with massacres, torture, large internment camps, population displacement, starvation, solitary confinement, and other forms of oppression, to subdue the native populations in their many colonies in the Americas, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and also Ireland.

While the goal of such conquests was rapacious exploitation of the resources and people of the colonies to enrich the British back home, especially the elites, in order to gain public support it was dressed up in the soothing language of ‘liberal imperialism’, that the British were bringing civilization to the benighted people over whom they ruled. This led to the infamous idea of the ‘white mans’s burden’, promulgated by noted English writers and poets, that the British were actually paying a price in order to improve the lot of the people in the countries they ruled. The policy was riddled through and through with racist attitudes towards the colonial peoples, treating them as ‘savages’ who needed the ‘civilizing influence’ of the British to ‘bring them up’ to acceptable standards. These racist attitudes were not just based on color. For example, the people of Ireland were victims as well, violently put down when they tried to gain their independence.
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Who has the time?

The trial in the defamation case brought by E. Jena Carroll against serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT) resumed today after a two day break because one of the jurors had worried that they had Covid. SSAT is in the courtroom.

I read that last night SSAT had posted 35 times about the trial on his social media site and it made me wonder how he finds the time to do all that. True, a social media post is not that long but his are pretty long. The ones I’ve read sound like stream-of-consciousness ramblings (who knew that SSAT was an aficionado of James Joyce?) that seem to lack any careful thought or even proofreading, so that reduces the time. But still it must have taken several hours.

More interestingly, who reads all of them? Journalists presumably who have drawn the short straw of having to monitor his every utterance. But apart from them, even the most ardent MAGA supporter must get weary of their phones dinging continuously with alerts about his repetitive posts. Do they read all of them?

It appears that SSAT took the stand and his testimony lasted just a few minutes, with Carroll’s attorney asking just two simple questions that elicited ‘Yes’ answers. It may be that she did not want to give SSAT the opportunity to make a speech.