Facepalm Newsoids XXVI: AI in the News and other topics

See no BS

AI In the News. Pak ‘n Save is a discount food chain headquartered in Wellington, New Zealand, which has now implemented an AI chatbot, called the “Savey meal bot”, which can purportedly produce recipes. But because the bot can’t tell the difference between what is and isn’t food, it was putting together recipes that were as hilarious as they were dangerous. For example, one person who tried to get it to mix water, bleach and ammonia (the ingredients for producing chlorine gas, a poison), obtained  what the Savey bot offered as an “aromatic water mix”. Other fine recipes Savey invented using user input was “bleach-infused rice surprise”, “mysterious meat stew” (containing human flesh), “ant jelly delight”, made with ant poison, and “methanol bliss”, a french toast concoction that tastes like turpentine. (11 August)

Our trauma-inducing culture. Trustee Melissa Dungan of the Conroe Independent School District in Conroe, Texas showed up at a trustee meeting claiming that a poster showing a black and white child holding hands was a “political display” of the teacher’s “personal ideologies” not relevant to the school curriculum, and that it should be removed. The trustee claimed to have received complaints from a parent that their child was so traumatized by the poster, that he had to switch classrooms. The trustee didn’t seem to know that there were already rules in place to prohibit political posters, and also appeared flummoxed when asked if various Bible verses were also in violation of policy. “I don’t know”, Dungan replied. (10 August)

Innocent while black. Because of a glitch in facial recognition technology, Detroit police knocked on the door and arrested 32 year-old Porcha Woodruff, a woman eight months pregnant, for carjacking, on February 16. Since her arrest, she had been released on $100K bond, and then had the case dismissed by a judge. On August 7, she sued the City of Detroit police services for making a false arrest. There have been six false identificatiions of people based on facial recognition in Detroit, and all of them were of black people.

The Bank is now your landlord. According to the Toronto Star, amortization periods for some mortgages have gone to infinity as the negotiated monthly mortgage payments are no longer enough to cover the increased debt from rising interest rates over time. This means that homeowners, who have made down-payments to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in a city where property values average over a million dollars, are essentially paying rent, to a bank or a loan company to cover a debt that will go on in perpetuity. Other mortgages have amortization periods of 75 to 90 years, causing owners to have to  pass their debt-ridden homes to their offspring, leaving  their children with unsupportable debt to begin their adult lives (12 August).

Wait, what? American evangelicals are now rejecting the teachings of Jesus, such as “love thy neighbour”, or “turn the other cheek”, as “liberal talking points”. Russel Moore, the former head of the Southern Baptist Convention spoke of how Christianity is in a crisis due to the state of right-wing politics in United States, who now appear to be actually rejecting the teachings of Jesus. Moore called on his evangelical brethren to not go along with the current “church culture” of their ministers. (9 August)

So redneck it hurts. In Sevierville, Tennessee, a suspect named Shawn White, has been taken into custody for stealing a garbage truck which crashed into a store called Tennessee Hot Tubs, located on the Dolly Parton Parkway. White is also a suspect in a stabbing. (7 August)

Which one is the brake? A newly-hired driving instructor in Lakewood, Colorado, working for the “Community Driving School” drove through the window of the driving school, resulting in one minor injury. Police photos show the car, a Hyundai Tucson, embedded in the building underneath a large sign which says “Learn to Drive”. The driver, who was still undergoing instructor training and had not yet taught students, was un-named. (8 August)

Visits: 584

Facepalm Newsoids XXV

Facepalm Newsoids XXV
Triple Facepalm. Another one found on KnowYourMeme, with unknown attribution.

Hardcore Barbie, carried to its ultimate futility.  Barbie makes film history as it surpasses $1 billion in revenue at the box office after only 17 days (7 Aug). Over the weekend, I noticed two new words to our lingo that I am aware of: Barbenheimer and Barbiecore. Barbenheimer reflects the oddity that a movie, Oppenheimer, about an atomic bomb and another about a blonde bombshell could be released on the same day, which they were. Barbiecore is the name of the fashion trend which the big money media organs are telling every female to wear now, consisting of a lot of hot pink. And  if you want to Barbiecore (can it be a verb too?) all the way to the core of your being, you can go to Brazil, where you can eat a Burger King hamburger with some pink substance oozing out of the patty, the colour of pink bubblegum. It is Burger King’s Barbie Combo, and the pink sauce appears to be their smoke sauce with some hot pink food coloring. With the combo, you also get a pink milk shake and a pink frosted doughnut. And if you die an early death by consuming those combos with that dodgy day-glo pink sauce, according to NBC News, a funeral home in  Ahuachapán, El Salvador has now jumped on the bandwagon by offering Barbie-themed pink coffins, with images of Barbie under the lid. (14 Jul)

An outbreak of exam violence. Students at Federal University in Dutse, Nigeria threw bottles at the head of a student who refused to let his classmates copy his exam answers which he wrote for environmental management and toxicology. The student hiding the answers, who was never named, was bleeding from his head, and had to be taken to hospital. Eyewitnesses blamed the student for hiding his answers, saying that he had failed to do “the reasonable thing” expected of him. Many more, however, are taking up his cause and are questioning the academic standards and integrity in that institution. The victim has since been released from hospital in stable condition. (29 Jul)

Mea culpa. The FBI began an investigation into which unknown federal agency purchased, against White House orders, spyware from the NSO Group, headquartered in Herzliya, Israel. NSO are the makers of Pegasus “zero click” spyware, which, after allegations of the spyware being sold to authoritarian regimes, as well as other spying scandals, began to scare away investors, and they are now strapped for cash. The US government has blacklisted NSO for quite some time. The government agency, whoever it was, seemed to know that it was doing something wrong, because it set up fake companies to make the purchase. With the investigation going on since at least April, the FBI finally concluded, that the troublesome agency was actually the FBI itself. (31 Jul)

Overheating the southern hemisphere. This blog is written in a northern country, and it is often easy to forget that while I am baking here in the Greater Toronto Area, it is winter south of the equator. I imagine snow in the southern reaches of Argentina and Chile and people skiing in the Andes. But in large swaths of this region, it is far from the case. For example, in Bolivia and Paraguay, where winter is normal this time of year, people are being hit with the hottest start to August in 114 years, with temperatures reaching 39ºC. In Chile, temperatures even broke 40ºC. The southern part of Brazil is also affected by this winter heat dome. Temperatures have been climbing in the region since mid-July. (3 Aug)

 

Visits: 181

Facepalm Newsoids XXIV

Clicking on image will take you to the Media Matters website, where this graphic was taken from. This week is choc-a-bloc with political stories.

Confused people fighting for what they want. In Irvine, California, two factions of the Republican Party nearly came to fisticuffs after the Californnia Republican Party changed its rules to award all of its delegates – the most of any state in the country – to any presidential candidate who had more than 50% support in the polls – which in this case nearly guarntees that all of the California delegates will be given over to Donald Trump. The protesting faction, not understanding that they were getting what they wanted, felt that these same rules were being deceptively designed to “screw Donald Trump”, using the words of one of the far-right leaders of the protest, Laura Loomer, who seemed to think that the party was playing some kind of 3-D chess game by giving them everything they wanted. The police had to be called in to break up the protest. (29 Jul)

The sunglasses bandit of Norway. Left-wing party leader Bjørnar Moxnes has resigned his leadership of the Norwegian Red Party after admitting he shoplifted a pair of Hugo Boss sunglasses from a duty-free kiosk in a Norwegian airport, and after being caught on security film. He says he has no explanation.  The party, with 8 seats in the Norwegian government, will now be led by Marie Martinussen as interim leader until 2024. (24 Jul)

I can’t go to China because I tripped and hurt my head. Fijian Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka says that, just as he was entering his office in the Fijian Parliament building, he dropped his cell phone, then banged his head on the door as he stooped to pick it up. He had to get bandages and ointment for the bleeding, with the bandage replaced daily until the bleeding subsides, but he admits that people from outside the country have trouble taking him seriously. Over the past few years, China has been trying to increase its influence over Pacific island nations. (26 Jul)

Seniors in the news. 90 year-old senator Diane Feinstein became confused and disoriented during an Appropriations Committee meeting and had to be prodded to make a vote on funding to the Department of Defense. She had been in frail health since her shingles diagnosis back in early March (27 Jul). 81 year-old Senator Mitch McConnel became nearly catatonic for 19 seconds during a routine press conference, after which he had to be escorted away by his doctor who was constantly by his side before and after. He has been Senator for 28 years, serving since 1985, longer than any other Senator in U.S. history. He has served as either the minority leader or majority leader since 2007. (26 Jul)

Dog bites men. Commander, President Joe Biden’s pet german shepherd, has bitten more than 10 Secret Service agents, 7 of them in the past four months. At least one of them had to be hospitalized after receiving bites to his arm and thighs. Secret service is working with the President’s office to change “leashing protocols”, and to change rules for when Commander can run around un-leashed. (25 Jul)

Visits: 494

Facepalm Newsoids XXIII

I don’t want to look at your selfie. I have family and kids. Leave me alone.

Cell phones bad for gorillas. The Toronto Star reports that the Toronto Zoo had put a sign up warning patrons not to show any cell phone images to the gorillas, as it appears to be unusually distracting, affecting their relationships with their primate families. They seem to be too enthralled with the cell phones and videos to pay attention to important things around them. Of course, humans don’t have that problem, do they? Do they? (19 Jul)

Look, uh, … I don’t want to invite you to my summit, uh, because I don’t want to have to arrest you, and, like, y’know, that would suck. Russian President Vladamir Putin wants to attend a BRICS economic summit in South Africa. Trouble is, The Republic of South Africa is a signatory to the International Criminal Court, and if Putin shows up on their soil, they are obliged to arrest him for war crimes involving ordering the abduction of children from Ukraine. South Africa’s inaction will strain relations with western and European nations. (14 Jul)

Heat Wave Nomenclature. Heat waves, like hurricanes, are starting to have names, now. Cerebrus is the name given to the heat dome spanning Greece, Italy, Spain, and other countries. Like the names currently being chosen, Cerebrus, a name taken from Dante’s Inferno, is the name given to the multi-headed dog whose role is to prevent the dead from leaving the Third Circle of Hell. In the Spanish city of Seville, Xenia is the second named heat wave for them: last year it was Zoe. (9 Jul)

The price of Tomatoes in India. Due to the heat waves and monsoons happening out of sync with normality, supplies of tomatoes in India have been shrinking, with some stores hiring security guards to prevent haggling. Tomatoes are a staple of the Indian diet, used in butter chicken and tomato chutney, among a host of other dishes. In some parts of India, the shortage has caused prices to shoot up as high as 500%. Other areas are hit worse, seeing a rise from 13 cents per pound to 91 cents. Restaurants have been removing tomatoes as an ingredient from their menus and salads. Even McDonald’s across the northern part of India has dropped tomatoes from its burgers. In India, when comparing kilos to litres, 1 kg of tomatoes are double the price of 1L of gasoline, on average. (21 Jul)

The Surfboard Bandit of Santa Cruz.  In California, a 5 year-old female sea otter has been growing agressive around humans, and stealing their surfboards, riding on top of them to catch a few waves, and sometimes damaging them by biting chunks out of them. Wildlife officials are trying to place her somewhere away from humans. California sea otters are currently an endangered species. (12 July)

Visits: 539

Facepalm Newsoids XXII

Turbo facepalm. This meme has been around for years, but has no attribution that I can find. Knowyourmeme.com is where this graphic originated, and they give no history.

Giving one the thumbs-up is enough. The Saskatchewan Court of King’s Bench has ruled in favour of Kent Micklebourough, a grain purchaser working on behalf of South West Terminal (SWT), a grain operator based in Gull Lake, Saskatchewan, in a dispute over a shipment of flax. Justice J. T. Keene ordered Chris Achter, a farmer from Swift Current, to pay SWT $82,000 for failure to deliver 86 metric tonnes of flax before a target date after which prices rose. Achter asserted that after a negotiation over text messaging, he acknowledged he received a contract, by way of a “thumbs-up” emoji (👍). However Justice Keene had a different opinion. The thumbs-up emoji, according to Keene, met signature requirements, and he thus ordered Achter to pay the $82,000, citing a “new reality in Canadian Society”, where we communicate with emojis even when discussions get serious, businesslike, or personal. Acheter’s lawyers argued that this could open a Pandora’s box, but Acheter has not yet announced his next move. (5 July) (court record)

Poor Judgement for a Side Hustle. New Jersey superior court judge Gary N. Wilcox is under investigation after being seen on various Tik Tok videos lip-synching to rap tunes, while dressed in his judge robes. Many of these tunes contained profanity, racist terms, and misogynist lyrics. What is at issue here is that he appears to “demonstrate disrespect for the judiciary and an inability to conform to the high standards of conduct expected of judges.” (5 July)

Fight over a duck, but we don’t want to talk about it. In Poole, England, a man and a woman were seen fighting for possession of a duck, with the struggle leading to both wrestling each other to the ground in the middle of the road, trying to get the duck from each other. It is not known who the two people are, and fellow residents of Poole who spoke to reporters requested anonymity. (7 July)

The worst 4 hours of her life. On Sunday 2 June, Mitchelville, IA resident Wendy Hansen received a notification that her house was on fire. She raced to her home by motorcycle, but got into an accident and suffered from broken bones and bruises. After she arrived in hospital by ambulance, a doctor in emergency noticed something unusual, and ultimately had to diagnose her with kidney cancer. Hansen’s only ray of hope shone when she was told it was an early diagnosis, and the cancer was treatable, but would require the removal of a kidney.

Man Shoots Horse. We have had a number of headlines in our early installments of Facepalm Newsoids, such as “man bites dog”, “dog bites man”, “man bites man”, and the like, and now to our collection we add “man shoots horse”. John Victor Russell, age 75, a prizewinning horse breeder, and well-known in North Carolina, got into an argument with his son. While they were outdoors in their horse ranch, the son got on a horse, and while the father intended to shoot his son, he instead fatally shot the horse. It is not clear what the argument was about, and the son was unharmed. Nevertheless, Russell’s ranch became a crime scene. Police are investigating. (11 July)

Woman Punches Bear. A woman form Porter, Maine, 64 year-old Lynn Kelly, was working in her backyard when her dog ran into the woods, and came back being chased by a bear. The bear bit Kelly, and she punched the bear in the nose, after which the bear let go and ran back into the woods, leaving puncture wounds on her wrist. (2 July) This is likely an annual event, since at least 2022. The Huffington Post reports on October 23, 2022 that another woman, this time from Washington state, was knocked down by another bear and it too ran off after being punched in the nose. The woman was un-named, but sustained non-life-threatening injuries. The bear was later killed by wildlife authorities. The bear was the mother of two cubs, which were taken to a rehabilitation facility. The last fatal bear attack in Washington was 49 years ago.

Visits: 503

Facepalm Newsoids XXI: Old for high school

Facepalmbook. Click on graphic to go to the source of this week’s graphic.

Re-living High School. Former social worker, 32 year-old Shelby Hewitt forged documents to enroll in three different high schools in the Boston area. A woman shrouded in mystery, the New York Times was not able to get officials from the Massachusetts Department of Families where Shelby worked from 2016 to this year, to say why she was no longer employed. She was charged with three counts of forging sets of documents for three different high schools. According to the Times, “At English High School, she went by Ellie. At Jeremiah E. Burke High School, she introduced herself as Daniella.” She had also registered at Brighton High School, also in the Boston area. The police have not been able to determine a motive. Of concern to administrators and superintendents is that, by being in high-school, she would be in many age-inappropriate settings with cohorts some decades her junior. WCVB News in Boston spoke to her father, and he mentioned that Shelby is working through some mental health issues. Investigations and interviews of staff and students by administrators are on-going. (29 June)

Mom Influencers in the News. Instagram “Mom Influencer” Katie Sorenson, age 30, reported to Sonoma County Police about how a couple tried to kidnap her two kids while at a store in Petaluma, California, back in 2020; and then later, making a “vlog” about it on Instagram. The whole story was a fabrication. She was convicted at Sonoma county court yesterday on a misdemeanour of making a false report. She gets 90 days in jail, but must refrain from social media for 12 months, and must submit to warantless search and seizure of her electronic devices. The video in question has since been deleted. (30 June)

The Cage Match of the Year Week Moment. In the spirit of getting in a fight after school, Zuck and Musk have agreed to duke it out in a cage match, possibly in Las Vegas. Mark Zuckerberg, head of Facebook, is 39 years old; while Elon Musk is age 52 and who is not known for his interest in sports or regular training. The two tech billionaires are in different weight classes, as well, with Musk being about 70 pounds heavier than his rival Zuck. Some in both organizations had felt that this wouldn’t exactly be the best use of their time. (1 July)

Visits: 741

Facepalm newsoids XX

Yes, this week we have a campaign graphic for Toronto mayor candidate Anthony Furey. The deepfake of this three-armed woman is this week’s facepalm graphic. But you can’t help but also notice that the man’s sleeves connect, yet he has an exposed hand resting on his right bicep.

Everything I’m campaigning on is authentic to me. Former conservative pundit and current anti bike lane crusader Anthony Furey, who promised to end homelessness by increasing police patrols of public parks, came in fourth with 5% of the vote. Part of his campaign appears to have made extensive use of deepfake AI graphics to convey a conservative message. The illustration above is the most extreme example of a deepfake gone wrong. All of the AI graphics used in his campaign had unnatural inconsistencies of a similar kind. The new current mayor is former NDP MP for Trinity-Spadina Olivia Chow, who can be said to be the first mayor in Toronto history to answer the questions from one reporter in Cantonese. There was a high turnout this election, with 55% of registered voters showing up at the polls. (15 June)

On the Highway to Hel. Poland is predominantly Roman Catholic, having sent a pope to Rome, namely the late Pope John Paul II (born Karol Józef Wojtyła, 1920-2005) of Warsaw. So, you might savour the irony that a bus from the Polish town of Władysławowo, route number 666 had, until a couple of days ago, made a stop at the town of Hel on the Baltic coast, the last stop at the end of a long, narrow penninsula jutting into the Gulf of Gdansk. Christian groups in Poland campaigned to have the number of the bus route changed citing satanic overtones, and making light of eternal damnation, even though it was popular with tourists. And by 24 June the number was changed to “669”.

Rape OK in Ohio if you are married. Current lawmakers in Ohio have no trouble making forcible, violent rape of your married partner illegal. What they have trouble with is: what if you drug your partner with roofies? Or just make them drunk? There have been many bills over the years attempting to ban spousal rape, but they either get voted down or, as is the case over the past several years, stuck in committee. Ohio is one of 12 states notable for leagalizing marital rape. (21 June)

Visits: 145

OceanGate-Gate

OceanGate
Clicking on this image gets you to one version of the story. David Ryder/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by David Ryder / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

On the 18th of June, 2023, a submersible named Titan owned by the company OceanGate, disappeared in international waters in the North Atlantic, 400 nautical miles (740 km) south of St.John’s, Newfoundland, close to the wreck of the Titanic ocean liner which went down 1912. The United States Navy picked up a loud sound in the vicinity of Titan on their SOSUS (SOund SUrveillance System) as the multinational search was proceeding. But suspecting a problem with Titan, and not knowing much else, the search continued in a race against time, before Titan’s oxygen ran out. Yesterday, hopes were dashed as parts of Titan were found adrift on the ocean floor, signifying a catastrophic implosion of the pressure hull, which at 12,000 feet below sea level, must have instantly killed all on board.

An implosion of a 9′ diameter, 22′ long sub (about the size of a minivan) would have an energy about equal to a quarter ton of dynamite. It is likely that there may not even be bodies to recover, due to this magnitude of destructive force. At a depth of over 10,000 feet, the implosion would kill all on board in under 0.1 seconds due to the intense pressure at that depth. 0.1 seconds would not be enough time for anyone to comprehend their fate, nor for their nervous systems to react.

Among the 5 dead were vessel pilot Stockton Rush, age 61, CEO of OceanGate Expeditions, the owners of Titan. Others were tourists Hamish Harding (age 58), Shahzada Dawood (age 48) along with his 19 year-old son Suleman; and Paul-Henry Nargeolet (age 77). Suleman had initially not wanted to board the Titan, but decided that he would be in the capsule with his father Shahzada because it was just after Father’s day. Two of the 5 were billionaires.

The story has all the elements of tragedy if you choose as the tragic hero pilot and CEO Stockton Rush, whose hubris could fill volumes. He had a peculiar style of hubris, one of the innovative engineer, champion of free markets — that is, free of pesky regulations made to keep things like submarines, safe. In Stockton’s own words: “There hasn’t been an injury in the commercial sub industry in over 35 years,” according to Smithsonian magazine back in 2019. “It’s obscenely safe because they have all these regulations. But it also hasn’t innovated or grown — because they have all these regulations.” Stockton saw this as an obstacle to be overcome.

The four passengers signed a waiver before embarking on the trip. As part of their waiver they signed, the estates of the passengers would pay for any expenses for search and rescue, even in the event those efforts become fruitless. While for some that may be a warning, others would likely see it as an invitation to adventure.

Another way that this is a compelling story concerns the privelege of wealth. These expeditions cost $250,000US for each passenger. Only the rich could afford such luxuries.

The construction of the Titan appeared free of regulation. Apart from the dubious decision to make the pressure hull out of carbon fibre (a material that is not designed for that kind of stress), there was also no escape hatch, and no way to exit from within the vessel for any reason. Exiting would require someone from outside the vessel to undo bolts which fasten the exit hatch to the vessel body. This means that even if they would have successfully risen to the ocean surface, their oxygen can still run out unless there was someone outside the vessel waiting nearby with a socket wrench.

The Titan was controlled by a modified Logitech F710 Wireless Game Controller, which you could get at BestBuy in Canada for 40 bucks, and is similar to a GameBoy controller. While the carbon that make up much of its body is stronger than steel, it can be surprisingly brittle, and can shatter like an eggshell under the right conditions. OceanGate, makers of Titan claimed on their website, that the ship was “designed and engineered by OceanGate Inc. in collaboration [with] experts from NASA, Boeing, and the University of Washington“, all three of whom denied any association with OceanGate whatsoever.

Titan lacked an independent navigation system. The pilot relied on constant guidance from a support ship, which notified Titan’s position and direction information by text message. Its propulsion system lacked redundancy to guard against engine failures. It lacked a black box to record the operation of the vessel.

While 5 deaths of wealthy people have been decried as a tragedy and given wall-to-wall news coverage, other deaths of less wealthy people this week were treated as more of a statistic, and given much more marginal coverage.

The Adriana, carrying far too many passengers to be safe.

Earlier this week, we hear about a fishing boat called the Adriana, headed for Italy, which recently sank in the Mediterranean near Pylos, Greece, carrying 700 migrants including 100 children. They sought refuge from war, poverty and the effefcts of climate change with little more than the clothes on their back. According to Democracy Now!, they paid human traffickers the equivalent of thousands of dollars to ferry them from Libya. Many of these passengers originated from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria and Palestine. The small boat was critically overcrowded, and soon capsized causing many to fall into the sea, according to The New York Times, after making some erratic sharp turns. 104 were rescued, with 78 known dead, and the rest missing, presumed drowned in that part of the Mediterranean, which was 13,000 feet deep, beyond the reach of divers.

Most of the survivors were men, as women and children were held below deck, presumably to protect them from the elements. It is likely that none held below deck survived the capsizing, according to a report from Al Jazeera.

Both news sources – Democracy Now! and The New York TImes – offer conflicting explanations as to why the Greek Hellenic Coast Guard didn’t activate a rescue. According to Democracy Now!, coast guard authorities knew well ahead of the tragedy that the Adriana was in trouble, but chose not to initiate a rescue operation. The Times cite a statement from the Hellenic Coast Guard themselves, who said the boat’s crew declined their offers of assistance on at least two occasions. These statements can be considered suspect, given Greece’s tough stance on migration.

Overall, the UN International Organization on Migration says that in 2022, of 3879 migrant deaths just from the Middle East and North Africa regions, 92% of them are unidentified. And since official statistics are so lacking, the actual number of dead from these regions may be much higher.

Visits: 151

Facepalm Newsoids XIX

Even the polar bear (there is only one) can’t believe what’s going on.

Happy Clean Air Day. The Canadian government figured June 7 to be called “Clean air day” here in Canada. It started in 1999 under the Chretien government. This year the day occured at around the worst of the “smoke problems” faced in Ontario, Quebec, and American seaboard cities.  Far from a day for celebration of clean air, in 2023 we were ordered to stay indoors for fear of damaging our lungs with the toxic smoke. A Swiss monitoring company called IQAir declared New York City as having the worst air quality on the planet on June 6 and 7, and all flights into LaGuardia Airport were cancelled.  Also, professional baseball and basketball games in the city were cancelled. So were grade school recesses. New York City had an air quality index (AQI) of 342 (index values above 150 is already considered unhealthy, while above 300 is “hazardous”), with an orange sky reminiscent of a dust storm on Mars. On 6 June, Toronto had an AQI of 131 and people were told not to go outdoors to play, walk or exercise. Sports and outdoor recess was also cancelled. Before the wildfires, Toronto’s AQI’s hovered between 19 and 39, considered safe by IQAir.

The price of stinginess. (8 June) A Chinese woman who only went by her surname Liu, lost consciousness while returning from the summit after climbing Mount Everest, and had to be rescued by a sherpa on a pre-arranged deal that she pay $10,000 in the event she needed to be rescued. When she needed to be and he held his end of the bargain, she refused to pay the entire $10,000 and instead paid him $4000. This incident went viral on Chinese social media, with 300 million views and comments on Weibo alone, many denouncing and attacking Liu for her ungratefulness. In the end, the sherpas themselves were much more equivocal, saying that “saving her is our choice, and expressing gratitude is hers”, and called for more tolerance.

No sense of humor. The United States Supreme Court voted unianimously that the poop-themed dog chew-toy “Bad Spaniels” meant to parody a bottle of Jack Daniels, constituted a trademark violation. As part of their legal argument, the bottlers of the famous whiskey argued that the chew toy could “confuse” customers, and cause them to associate their brand with dog poop. Nike, The Campbell Soup Company, Patagonia and Levi Strauss had all issued statements urging the justices to side with Jack Daniels. (9 June)

Visits: 121

Facepalm Newsoids XVIII

Eek-eek!

Cheese rolling extreme sport. “Cheese rolling”, apparently a sport in British communities like Gloucestershire, England, was held there around 2 June. The sport, if I get this correctly, consists of rolling a large disk (7 kg) of cheese down a steep hill, with a small group of competitors chasing downhill after it. Oh sure, there were broken ankles, broken legs, concussions and seizures, and six people had to be ushered out by ambulance, but boy it was fun! The winner was Matt Crolla, who said in his victory speech, “I’m glad I’m pretty conscious and I’ve not got many serious injuries.” There was a ladies’ competition also, and the winner of that was a native of Vancouver Island in BC named Delaney Irving, who said: “I remember running, then bumping my head, and then I woke up in the tent.” She continued: “The race was good, now that I remember it.” People from around the world visit England to view the annual Cheese Roll.

Protecting our sacred children. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, reported in 1 June, a parent petitioned to have The Holy Bible removed from school libraries in her district (Davis District, just north of Salt Lake City), citing explicit sex and violence in its passages: “Incest, onanism, bestiality, prostitution, genital mutilation, fellatio, dildos, rape, and even infanticide”, all are in The Bible, which now falls under the new definition of pornography written into the lawbooks in Utah. While high schools in Davis can still have the book in their libraries, they have been removed from all elementary and middle schools in the district. The Book of Mormon is also under review. The Torah and the Qu’ran, on those same school shelves, have not yet been challenged.

Too good to be true. A couple of days ago (7 June), it was reported that Sweden had declared sex to be a sport. A Reuter’s fact check has now found that the application from “The Swedish Sex Federation” to declare sex a sport had been denied by the Swedish Sports Confederation (Swedish initials are RF). Anna Setzman, a spokesperson for the RF, said that the rumor appears to have spread to smear Swedish sport, and Sweden. Snopes has traced the spread of the story as being heaviest in Nigeria and India.

Tech sector woes. With hiring the lowest since 2016, and over 160,000 layoffs so far in 2023, the most since the tech bubble of 2001 (unless you count 2020 during Covid), the tech sector has been taking a beating. In addition, more companies are relying on chatbot technology to do some of the work that programmers would have done. All this is according to a report by consulting firm Challenger, Gray, and Christmas from May 2023. The largest job cuts cited are from Retailers, Financial firms, and the Media industry with an online presence.

Visits: 165

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows

In what used to be the place you would normally find an Environment Canada weather icon for sun/cloud/rain/fog and so on, there is now one for smoke. This is new, at least to me. The Greater Toronto Area has been known as “The Big Smoke” all my life. But I have never experienced it literally.

The smoke is due to forest fires blowing from Northeastern Ontario and Quebec. We are warned to stay indoors and not exercise outside until the smoke clears, which is predicted to be the day after tomorrow.

Visits: 116

Facepalm Newsoids XVII

I want to go back to Kansas! (Clicking on the image will take you to Sticker Mania, where you can buy this image as a sticker).

Florida’s finest. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has so far spent $13.5m to recruit police officers from other states, targeting those who  had been frustrated by various vaccine manndates in the past. While touting the recruiting of America’s “best and finest”, many of them have had past arrests for crimes such as kidnapping and murder. Most of them, however, were disciplined for more mundane things like uttering racial slurs, unlawful use of pepper spray, driving their cars into crowds of protestors, you know, DeSantis’s kind of people. (22 May)

Weird. Just effing weird. Click if you want.

The state of Sex. According to a recent survey by condom manufacturer Trojan, about 1 in 8 men under 35 bring a condom to a funeral, usually in their wallet. (26 May)

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The graduating class of ’23. In Marlin, Texas, about 200 highway miles (320 km) northwest of Houston, the graduating class of Marlin High School has a grand total of 5 students eligible for diplomas out of 33 possible students. It appears that attendance records and grades are to blame. (25 May)

There is a little time left before the robots take over. A man named Roberto Mata sued the airline Avianca over an injury to his knee from a serving cart. His lawyers (there was more than one?) submitted a 10-page brief to judge Kevin Castel. The judge reviewed it, and could not find a single case cited by the brief in all of his fact-checking. It turned out, it was written using ChatGPT, which invented the entire brief, whole-cloth. (27 May)

World record not yet broken. On the 21st of May, Kyle, Texas had the largest gathering of people with the same first name, namely Kyle. Both men and women showed up with that name, there was loud music, carnival attractions, “Kyle Fair” hats and “Kyle Fair” T-shirts sold, but with 2,325 Kyles in one place, the attendance was still 835 Kyles short of a world record.

Visits: 124

Facepalm Newsoids XVI

Newsoids that scare the kids. Picture from: https://bit.ly/cutekidfacepalm

The encroaching immigrants. New York State representative Mike Lawler went to Fox News, armed with anecdotes from veteran’s groups that they were kicked out of a residence they were in, and replaced by migrants”. Lawler had his hair on fire. He said he would announce a bill that would prohibit the displacement of veterans in response to the migrant crisis. The problem was, not only was the story a sham, it was also revealed that a group of civilian homeless men in New York City were paid to lie about their veteran status to reporters, in exchange for a bribe of $200 plus some toiletries. (20 May) No veterans were ever found displaced.

Three reasons to watch late night talk shows. Russia has banned entry to 500 Americans, including Barack Obama, in response to US-led sanctions. There were also a number of other American politicians, along with US public figures and media celebrities perceived to be “Russiaphobic”. Among them were late night talk show hosts Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, and Seth Meyers. (19 May) Joe Scarborough and Rachel Maddow also made the list.

And how is that cure for cancer coming along? On May 16, A group of physicists submitted their findings into the journal Physics of Fluids, which investigated the processing, production, ideal storage conditions, ideal moisture content, ideal starch content, and ideal pH, of gummi bear candies.

Visits: 114

Facepalm Newsoids XV

Community Facepalm

Clear the path! It’s gonna blow! On May 2, Chicago police spotted a “suspicious package” lying on the road on the 200 block of Chicago’s South State Street. The road and sidewalk were ordered shut down to both traffic and pedestrians. In addition, the Red Line section of underground subway was also sealed off. Upon closer inspection, it was revealed to be a can of Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli scotchtaped to a set of skateboard wheels. A local FOX news affiliate also found that it belonged to a student at Chicago’s DePaul University, who intended it to be a prototype for a class project. The police later found the student, questioned him, and ticketed him for the incident, though it is not clear to anyone what law he violated.

The Death Hit Parade. Dropping down the charts of the leading causes of death in United States, is Covid-19, falling behind heart disease, cancer, and overdoses, motor vehicle fatalities and shootings, according to ABC News. ABC News cites the CDC, but I was unable to find the data at the CDC when I did my fact-checking.

The future is here. After help-line workers at the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) voted to unionize, CEO Elizabeth Thompson made a surprise announcement, that all help-line worker jobs would be eliminated and replaced by a chatbot. NEDA is headquartered in White Plains, New York, but have mostly an online presence. All newly-unionized employees will be jobless as of June 1. (4 May)

Breaking the Internet. Senator for the Minnesota state legislature Calvin Barr participated in a vote over a Zoom call, shirtless with a Schoolhouse Rock cartoon in the background. It has now inspired memes including a cockatiel drinking green “unsee juice” from a cocktail glass through a straw. (1 May)

The fix is in. On May 11, Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that exempts any records related to his travel from public disclosure. By contrast, by Florida’s sweeping Government-In-The-Sunshine Law, all other government proceedings must be made public, including arrests of the mentally ill. The new bill is so expansive as to include any trips arranged by DeSantis’s office even when he isn’t involved. The law applies retroactively and will apply to the entire time he served as governor. It appears timed to keep damaging information about DeSantis’s travel from getting out as he is expected to announce his campaign for president.

The law applies to you and not to me. Congressman George Santos voted in support of a bill on 11 May called “Protecting Taxpayers and Victims of Unemployment Fraud Act”, providing incentives to states who lost money due to unemployment insurance fraud during the COVID lockdowns. The irony is that Santos is facing charges for precisely the same kind of fraud. During the lockdown, as he was earning a $120,000 salary as the regional director of an investment firm, he applied for and received unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

Visits: 136

Facepalm Newsoids XIV

Speaking out will remove all doubt.

Dickie Berg goes limp. Last week in Harbour Grace, NL, it was reported that the tip of the penis-shaped iceberg had broken off. By now it is likely that much of the rest has melted away into a shapeless, limp mass. The facts surrounding the “Dickie Berg” are just too much: A penis-shaped iceberg floating in the bay, photographed using a drone by a fella from Dildo named Kenneth Pretty. It just writes itself. There is nothing more to say. [28 Apr]

The Popcorn Bandit of Anchorage. Staffers at a movie theatre in Anchorage, Alaska were cleaning out the popcorn machine on May 3 when a young moose smelling food walked in through an open door and ignoring the staff, it found a trashcan and began to eat from it. After a few minutes, the moose finally wandered back outdoors.

Open for applicants. A zoo in Blackpool, England, whose job posting for an “outgoing” and “friendly” person to dress in a bird costume to scare away seagulls from its zoo has “broke the internet” with an avalanche of applications from around the world. Apart from being outgoing and friendly, the potential hire must be an “excellent flapper”, according to zoo officials. (27 Apr)

An orchestral climax. Witnesses at a concert at the LA Philharmonic’s performance of Tchiakovsky’s Fifth Symphony thought they heard a woman in the audience have a full-body orgasm, which appeared timed to a passage in the music. Many witnesses at the concert were interviewed, and they appear to disagree on many of the details. (27 April)

Visits: 139

Enclaves and exclaves

Los Angeles

Los Angeles is a sparawling city, the third largest in North America after New York City and Mexico City with a population of just over 3.8 million people. It is the home to much of America’s film industry, the Hollywood sign and the Walk of Fame.

I had reason one day to look at a map of Los Angeles under Google Maps. I was more surprised to find out what wasn’t part of LA almost as much as what was. Looking at the map, there is this thin strip running south to Long Beach — except that Long Beach isn’t actually part of LA. It runs next to Long Beach. Torrance and Inglewood are our first enclaves, being surrounded by either the Pacific Ocean or LA. In this part of LA, I am also glossing over other weird things the border seems to do around Long Beach, and this nameless enclave which seems to pop out of nowhere:

Enclave (green arrow)

It is basically a rectangle of land completely surrounded by LA. But there is also Culver City with the same situation. Santa Monica and Marina Del Rey are that way too, surrounded on all other sides by LA but for the Pacific Ocean. But probably the most famous enclaves are Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and Universal City. While San Fernando is definitely an enclave, Burbank and Pasadena are not, not being surrounded on all sides by Los Angeles. And there are more namless enclaves, such as the one that pops out of nowhere in Franklin Canyon Park just north of Beverly Hills.

And there is another nameless enclave near UCLA between Sanata Monica and Beverly Hills:

See green arrow

It has plenty of places apparently affiliated with Veterans Affairs with “Los Angeles” in the name, but are not actually part of LA. Looks federal.

Los Angeles is on the far south of California. The next major city further south would be San Diego, near the Mexican border. Rather than enclaves, San Diego appears to have two or more exclaves: parts of San Diego which are separate from the main city, and surrounded by other geographic areas.

San Diego and exclave on the Mexican border.

The most striking exclave of San Diego is the one bordering Mexico, a few miles south of the main part of the city, surrounded only by Chula Vista, Imperial Beach, a national park, and the Mexican city of Tijuana.

I try to think of what Canadian equivalents are there to such crazy borders. Toronto is a poor candidate, being a nearly rectangular city with no enclaves or exclaves to speak of. Toronto is a simple layout, extending as it does between Etobicoke Creek in the east to Rouge Valley Park on the Scarborough outskirts in the west; then from Steeles Avenue in the north, proceeding south to Lake Ontario. Simple. Toronto may have had such weird borders at one time, but amalgamation in the 1990s of the “5 boroughs” (Etobicoke, North York, East York, metro Toronto, and Scarborough) made it simple, as well as making it North America’s fourth largest metropolis, trailing Los Angeles in population.

But there is Montreal, Canada’s second largest city. Bill 22 back in the Rene Levesque days made the province of Quebec largely unilingual and French within a bilingual country. To this day, there are still English-speaking neighbourhoods which are not actually part of Montreal. In particular, Hampstead, Westmount, and Mount-Royal (to the point of having English stop signs, and apparently being exempted from the French-only signage law). Other enclaves are Cote Saint-Luc and Montreal-West, which are more bilingual, are surrounded by Montreal. Another enclave is an industrial district connected with Montreal-East, if you ignore that it is bounded by the St. Lawrence River to the east.

Montreal had always been confusing to me for another reason. The island lies along the river at a kind of slant from southwest to northeast. Coming from Toronto, I am used to the body of water (Lake Ontario in the case of Toronto) lying to the south, with streets generally running east-west parallel to the lake; while cross streets were generally north-south; making it easy to get the compass directions pretty much correct. You can’t do that with Montreal.

The island of Montreal and surrounding areas.

The main part of the St. Lawrence River lies to the south, or depending on where you are, to the east. So if you are used to having the body of water to the south, you’re in trouble. The streets run east to west from the eastern river (or really is it southeast to northwest?), while the cross streets such as the Trans-Canada Highway run north-south (or more precisely southwest to northeast).

Visits: 202

Facepalm newsoids XIII

Bruh.

Computers with a bit of damned cheek. ChatGPT-4 was administered a final exam in Quantum Information Science (a senior undergrad course for honors students), for which University of Texas at Austin professor Scott Aaronson gave it to his TA, who assessed it and gave it a B (actually a C+, since it scored 69/100 for a class average of 74.4). ChatGPT then responded by writing an email complaining to dean Eric Meyer, asking him for a better grade. In its five paragraphs, ChatGPT highlighted its “strong grasp of the material” and its ability to “ask insightful questions” during lessons. The dean has since sent back the test to Aaronson for reconsideration. (13 April)

Taking one for the team. In Texas, a woman only known by her first name, Miranda, was asked by DoorDash to complete her husband’s food delivery after he got into a car accident and ended up in the Emergency ward of a local hospital during that delivery run. (15 April)

White House breach. On the side of the White House facing Lafayette Square, where the security fences are 13 feet high, someone had broken through the barricade. It was a toddler, not more than three years old. He was snatched up by the secret service and quickly reunited with his parents. (18 April)

The findings of the scientific community. Recent scientific findings show that showing pornography to their human test subjects made the idea of sex with a robot to be more appealing than usual.  Researchers at Concordia University in Montreal studied 321 university students by showing them a sexually explicit video, then got them to complete a two-part online survey which they claim measured their subjects’ “ability to have sex, love, and engage in an intimate relationship with a robot versus a human. While both men and women scored high on this survey, men scored higher, showing a greater willingness to have sex with a robot. But I just want to know: how is that cure for cancer coming along? (JSR, Nov 2022)

The Police Blotter. This was a week of shootings of children and teens in America: A black teen who had come to the house of an elderly Fox News fanatic by mistake was shot; a Texan shot two cheerleaders who opened his car door thinking it was their own; a North Carolina resident shot a six year-old and her parents because a basketball rolled on to his yard; and an upstate New Yorker shot a woman because she accidentally backed into his driveway.

Visits: 174

In Memoriam: Harry Belafonte

Harry Belafonte

Calypso singer and human rights activist Harry Belafonte died earlier this afternoon at his New York home of congestive heart failure. He was 96.

Belafonte was among the first recording artists to break the race barrier in American radio stations with his first album, Calypso, recorded in 1955. It became the first record album to sell over 1 million copies, and yielded hits such as Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)Jamaica Farewell and Man Smart, Woman Smarter. Calypso stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 for almost 2 years.

Here is an article written back in 2020, going a little more into his politics.

Visits: 133

Facepalm Newsoids XII

Local hero: Michael Foster, who found the DQ spoon lying in a middle school baseball field. Photo is a still from an ABC News video.

And reparations are soft served. Last week’s mystery of the stolen DQ spoon in Phoenix, Arizona, was found a mere 2 kilometers from the heist, a few days ago by 52 year-old Micheal Foster, who was out playing Pokemon Go at 7 in the morning for some reason.  He called the local police, who then strapped the giant spoon on to the top of their police cruiser, to be delivered to the rightful owners. Regular readers of my column would have also asked, will Foster get his free summer-long treat of Dairy Queen Blizzards? Foster said he wasn’t really interested. Police are still investigating the crime, and now say that two young males and one female were involved, according to the video footage now in their possession.

Only in the United States: Telling youngsters to plan their death. A newly-hired 63 year-old high school Psychology teacher Jeffrey Keene in Orlando, Florida was fired during his probationary period because he gave his class of 35 kids an assignment to the effect of: in the event there is a mass shooting in the school, what would you like to have written on your obiturary? School board officials interviewed several of his students , then decided his assignment was inappropriate, and then decided to terminate Keene’s contract, which can be done immediately to probationary teachers in most school districts. Keene doesn’t believe he did anything wrong. In Florida public schools, new hires become probationary teachers, which are not members of the teacher’s union and whose employment can be terminated for any reason.

A dispute involving a red herring. On April 5, a customer at a fish market in Detroit, Michigan became angry after the clerk had closed its checkout till at 7PM for Ramadan, and so he picked up a frozen 4-pound herring and hit the clerk over the head with it. The victim was transported to hospital, and the assailant, one Jobul Hussein, was charged with aggrivated assault and posted on a $5000 bond.

Art comes to life. At a live stage performance on 5 April of The Yuppies Invade My House at Dinnertime at the Mile Square Theatre in Hoboken New Jersey, based on a book co-written by Joe Barry in 1987, the real Joe Barry (now 80 years old) stormed onstage yelling “This is all lies!”, knocking over a set piece before being escorted out of the theatre by police. No arrests were made. The play resumed after he left. According to eyewitnesses, Barry was said to have began heckling around the time the performers got to the part explaining that during the 1970s and 80s in Hoboken, fires were often deliberately set in order to remove the tenants and open the properties for gentrification and redevelopment. Barry was heavily involved in the sale and construction of these luxury dwellings, and was among the biggest investors. Barry had been found guilty in 2004 and had already spent a year in federal prison, for, among other things, offering local politicians $114,900 in bribes.

Man arrested for scaring chickens to death. OK, so Geartape.com reports that on April 9, there are these two Chinese men living in Hengyang county of Hunan Province, only known by their surnames, Gu and Zhong. Zhong cuts down trees in Gu’s property, Gu gets upset, and in the middle of the night, he goes into Zhong’s chicken coop with a flashlight causing chickens to panic and crowd into a corner of the coop, causing 500 to die the first night, then on another night (after being charged), another 640 to die in the same way. Gu was caught in the act both times. Gu now owes Zhong $2015, or 13,840 Yuan for the 1,140 dead chickens.

The school of whatever goes. Donda Academy, a K-12 private school near Los Angeles, owed by Rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, is defending itself from a lawsuit where there were several strange rules to conform to Ye’s personal quirks. The most serious problems, however, involve strangers being allowed to take kids home without parent/guardian verification; children’s medicines being strewn about the school and found in places such as custodial closets or on top of microwave ovens; unmanaged and pervasive bullying and other behavour issues; selling kids only sushi for lunch and then forcing them to eat on the floor since the school has no chairs or tables. Prior to the lawsuit, the two plaintiffs, both teachers at the school, were served termination letters in the school parking lot last month with no explanation.

Visits: 303

Facepalm Newsoids XI

Even this statue can’t believe you did that.

Just call me Mo: Mo Dollars. Al Jazeera reports that money connected with gold smuggling were laundered in banks in South Africa. The bank employees did so accepting bribes from an accomplice of Zimbabwean tobacco magnate Simon Rudland, known to law enforcement as “Mo Dollars”, whose real name appears to be Mohammad Khan, who runs an asset management firm in South Africa and is connected to several false companies.

The Pee Pee Tapes. All I have to say is: Lauren Bobert, soft on crime accusations, pee pee. Watch video from: UK Guardian.

Cultured meat, only in the sense that it was cultured from a Petri dish. Food scientists have now come up with a way to inject DNA from an extinct woolly mammoth into a stem cell of a sheep, then growing the cells in vitro to give the world the latest in Frankenfood: Mammoth Meaballs. Meat grown in a laboratory has been legal in the United States since last year, but have not had yet passed the legal hurdles to make it to supermarket shelves. The Mammoth Meatball presented to an audience in The Amsterdam Science Museum by Australian “inventor” Tim Noakesmith on March 29 appears to be around 6 inches in diameter. More than 100 companies around the world are currently working on cultured meat products.

Spoon theft, and the getaway vehicle. Two thieves in Arizona were caught on surveillance video stealing a 15-foot red spoon which adorned the side of a Dairy Queen in Phoenix, according to the Associated Press. The two were seen making their getaway on a small motorbike.  The police are investigating. No suspects have been identified. A reward of one Blizzard treat from every flavour of the summer menu is being offered for anyone returning the giant spoon to the restaurant. Said franchise co-owner Raman Kalra: “I appeal to the person: This spoon is too big to eat anything. We want you to bring it back. We will not ask any questions.”

Visits: 275