Open Thread for Monday, January 4, 2021

This person does not exist.

This person does not exist.

Just a few little somethings to kick-start the year. Another fairly random list, mainly consisting of things that have grabbed my attention in recent days:

  1. Designed to Deceive: Do These People Look Real to You? — I’m deliberately starting with something other than politics. Y’all have got to follow the link and check this out. Over the last 25 or 30 years we’ve all seen some remarkable things done with digital images, but this is truly freaky. Now that I’m in the marketing game, I’m regularly exposed to the “fake people” that various clips services provide for websites and such. But those are real people, models, trying to look like real people and failing at it. These images are completely fake, but they all look like real people you might meet on the street — until the writer of the piece explains what to look at to see the flaws. This is amazing, and ominous…
  2. Soon, we can finally ignore Georgia — Of course, our priority is getting to where we can ignore You Know Who, who is still doing everything he can to make sure we can’t. His latest spectacular instance of impeachable thuggishness was over the weekend, and it of course involved… Georgia. (Which makes you wonder how many other state secretaries of state he’s harassing without The Washington Post knowing about it — managing to steal Georgia would do him little good without stealing the votes of several other states). But after the runoff Tuesday, and the insanely pointless demonstration by Joe Wilson and others that we expect on Wednesday, this should all start fading away. And I can’t wait.
  3. Joe Wilson must go — Of course, there is another dozen or so whose names will be forever blackened on Wednesday when they express their contemptible wish to overthrow our democracy. But Joe Wilson is my congressman, so I’m focused on him. I mean, I voted against him in November and all, but his latest step goes so far beyond the pale of civilized behavior that he must be ostracized by decent people in all he says and does from now on.
  4. Zorro at 100 — An interesting piece, marking the century that has passed since the release of “The Mark of Zorro,” starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr. El Zorro looms large in my personal legend — while other kids went with Mickey Mouse, my first watch was a Zorro watch (also licensed by Disney of course, based on the Guy Williams version). I also had a Zorro sword — a plastic foil or epee or whatever, with a piece of chalk on the end, so I could practice making the “Z.” What I like about this piece is the way it charts how Zorro was the progenitor of the whole superhero thing in American culture, what with his secret identity and all (although it gives proper credit to the Scarlet Pimpernel, which came some years before).
  5. Linda Greenhouse’s Joe Biden Story — There’s nothing remarkable about it. Just an experienced journalist remembering encounters she has had with Joe over the years. We’ve all got stories like that, especially those who, like Ms. Greenhouse, have spent our careers in Washington. But it’s something that illustrates why Joe was the One for 2020 — the one person who had everything it took to bring rationality and decency back to our national government, when we needed it most.
  6. My perfect year — I’ve remembered to take those two pills they put me on after the stroke — the platelet-suppressor and the statin — four days in a row now. Which is a significant improvement. Perfect record all year! Anyway, I thought I’d share some real news…
The Zorro I remember best -- Guy Williams, the Disney version...

The Zorro I remember best — Guy Williams, the Disney version…

26 thoughts on “Open Thread for Monday, January 4, 2021

  1. Bryan Caskey

    The fake people thing reminded me of something I just read in a book I just finished about British espionage early in WWII when the Brits were sending spies into occupied France to aid the nascent French Resistance.

    The Germans controlled France and made everyone have all sorts of papers to identify everyone, which made it difficult for British agents…but that was the point of the German paperwork. Anyway, the Brits had three levels of fake documents for their agents:

    1. Fake Fake Papers: These were documents generated in London the agent took with him (or her) that were a fake of the German papers. They were the worst, as they didn’t have up-to-date information on what papers the Germans were using, and the Germans routinely altered the requirements.

    2. Fake True Papers: These were documents generated by forgers within France who were using legitimate documents as templates. These were still fake documents, but were based on the most actual papers.

    3. True Fake Papers: These were official documents issued by friendly French authorities which were actual, legitimate papers, but for entirely fictional people who were the agent’s cover story.

    Sort of interesting in the levels of forgeries. Also, one of the big jobs of the folks in the French Resistance was just keeping up with the ever-changing paper requirements. The Germans loved to stop people and say: “Ihre Papiere bitte!”

    Having your papers in order meant the difference between life and death in occupied France.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’m glad something I posted made you think about the glory days of MI6 (and the SOE).

      As Connie said to Smiley in Tinker, Tailor, “Englishmen could be proud then, George…”

  2. Ken

    Here’s what another SC congressman, Jeff Duncan — who likewise needs to be ostracized but very likely won’t be — wrote last week in a constituent newsletter:

    “Electoral College

    I swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States as a Member of Congress, and with that oath comes the vital role of ensuring the legality and integrity of our free and fair election system. The 2020 election saw unprecedented institutional issues like states changing their voting systems in violation of their state constitutions, unelected bureaucrats changing election law instead of lawmakers themselves, poll watchers prohibited from doing their jobs, failure to properly scrutinize the validity of mail-in voting, and the list goes on. We need to shed light on the issues that took place during the 2020 election to preserve our electoral system for generations to come. Our mission is simple: Count every legal vote, throw out every illegal vote, and investigate every irregularity and allegation. All Americans should be on board with this mission.

    On January 6, 2021, I plan to object to the Electoral College certification from the states that experienced these unprecedented issues: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. I plan to object for the people of the Third District of South Carolina and the millions of Americans who are demanding transparency into the 2020 election.

    I’ve been leading the fight for election integrity…

    DOJ Needs to Investigate

    I have made repeated calls to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to ensure the integrity of the election including a thorough investigation of the substantial allegations of fraud and abuse, and for the Attorney General to release ALL details to the public (the House Freedom Caucus held a press conference urging for this as well in solidarity). These calls have included the specific issue of voting hardware and software, like Dominion, which may be linked to the irregularities we saw in various states’ election results. Attorney General Barr authorized federal prosecutors to probe the allegations of voter fraud weeks ago, but the lack of action that has since come from the DOJ is not only disappointing, but completely unacceptable. My demands will continue.”

    He goes on in the same vein.

    Some of these folks are just cynical; they don’t believe what they’re alleging. But Duncan appears to actually believe what he’s hawking.

    1. bud

      It’s tempting to call people like Jeff Duncan or Ted Cruz “idiots”. But that would be inaccurate. These are intelligent, educated, articulate men. What are claiming is nonsense of course yet they may actually believe it. But why? I noticed a similar phenomenon years ago with the utterly nonsensical young earth creationism movement. Very intelligent people believe the universe is only 6000 years old! That’s preposterous and untenable based on evidence yet this belief persists. Now we have the same type of people pushing these fraudulent election charges. It bunk yet the charges persist. Why is there such a strident effort to defend this atrocious excuse for a human being? Let’s be very clear. This is not about Trump. This is about the vile nature of today’s Republican Party. And this goes back decades. Until it’s generally recognized that the 2 parties are not equivalent we are forever condemned to this corruption.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        You bring up the question that has bugged me over and over for the past four years: Is Trump stupid, or just evil? And the same can and should be asked about all who follow him, although then it gets more complicated: Some are just stupid. (In America, populism has traditionally been closely tied to anti-intellectualism, which is one of the main reasons I’ve always found it so objectionable.) Plenty of others are just evil. But most are some kind of combination.

        I’ve meant to write a post about it, especially in the past year. But then whenever I start to, I have trouble deciding how to lay it out. There is such an interplay of factors. And there are different ways to state the question. For instance, the headline could instead be, “Is Trump lying, or does he really believe that stuff?”

        Then there’s another lens: Is he (and are they) crazy? If you put it that way, you get into the trap of what “mental illness” actually is. It’s not like being infected with the coronavirus, especially when people aren’t hallucinating all day (which seems more likely to have a physical cause). We’ve just decided to call certain patterns of human behavior mental illnesses — such as the one Trump exemplifies most clearly, narcissism. It’s not like having a fever or an infection or something.

        I still might post it. In fact, I’ve got a good start on it here. But will it be worth it? He and his followers keep engaging in astoundingly unacceptable behavior, violating all sorts of standards — social, cultural, constitutional, traditional. Does it really matter why? Sometimes I say no: We just need to weed this behavior out of our system.

        Other times, I think “yes.” Because Trumpism struck a chord. There should never have been a situation in which the idiot — whom I thought everyone had regarded as a complete buffoon since the ’80s — could get elected to anything.

        But if he’s crazy, there’s a mass mania in the electorate that responds to his madness. Or to his evil. Or to his stupidity — whatever you want to call it.

        And when I think about that, I think yes, we need to get to the bottom of it — even though it is a particularly slimy and unpleasant bottom…

        1. Barry

          Trump is a mental disease

          And Trumpers are a mental disease

          Yes, all 70+ million of them.

          Anyone that wants to throw out the election results because they “just want to see Trump stay in office“ is a danger to society

        2. Bob Amundson

          I am not a psychiatrist, so the “Goldwater Rule” does not apply. ADHD treated with Phentermine, Ritalin or Adderall. Some believe he snorts one of these substances because he often sniffles and has dilated pupils.

        3. Norm Ivey

          Is being amoral the same as being evil? It seems to me that he believes that this is the way things are done. He’s incapable of being evil because he can’t differentiate between good and evil.

          He’s not stupid. Ignorant of societal norms, history, and American values, but not stupid.

          1. Ken

            I generally don’t think debating whether a person is “evil” or not is very productive. There have been plenty of evil acts committed by “normal” people. A person does not have to be inherently evil to perpetrate evil deeds. Otherwise normal people have done evil things along our own southern border, for example. Same with the guy still holed up in the White House. Whether he’s a “racist” or a “fascist” or an “evil” person doesn’t interest me much. He is clearly an evil (i.e. malevolent) force in our national life.

            1. Barry

              I was reading this morning about the “protests” tomorrow by Trump supporters in Washington. It seems a huge number of Qanon supporters are making this a pilgrimage of sorts to be in Washington.

              Qanon supporters are drawn to Trump. Monday night Trump mentioned them from the stage and said they just “love good government.” Trump has tried to normalize them. (When he’s been asked about them directly he oddly doesn’t seem to know anything about them but he has retweeted some of their followers and some of their crazy theories numerous times.)

              Qanon supporters, this week, have repeated that the Louisiana congressman that died of COVID was actually a “hit job” by Democrats. Very dangerous allegations and language. That’s language designed to provoke someone to hurt other people.

              Qanon continues to promote the idea that HIllary Clinton and Democrats are working to rape children. We now have a Republican member of Congress that is a Qanon supporter in Marjorie Greene. Trump called her to the podium Monday night to speak. Just a small few Republicans House members have been willing to call her out so far.

              This is evil, and it’s dangerous. Eventually this is going to cost people lives.

              We have a president that is promoting this stuff while pretending he’s clueless about them. Very convenient.. Yes, it’s evil when someone uses this type of thing to their perceived political advantage when it’s actually so destructive.

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            “He’s incapable of being evil because he can’t differentiate between good and evil.”

            Norm, that’s the great puzzle with Trump. You can say the same about his constant, persistent, repetitive lying. Is it a lie if the person saying it has no idea what the truth is?

            1. Barry

              I’ve heard what Trump did regarding the phone call wasn’t illegal because Trump really believes he was robbed of the election.

              I wonder if it would be ok if someone fraudulently took money from a business if they really believed that business had robbed from them. Something tells me that line of reasoning only works for Trump, not anyone else.

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, if you’re jealous of the Zorro sword I had as a kid — the one with the chalk tip for practicing your Zs — apparently you can still buy one, if you have $200 sitting around.

    Hey, I enjoyed it, but not that much.

    Also, be forewarned: Writing Zs on things, and having them look good, is harder than you might think…

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    Was I the only one freaked out by the fake-people pictures?

    I can’t find the reference, but I recall Frank Rossitano referring to something about video games, that the more realistic human images in games got, the creepier it got, because there was still SOMETHING that we could tell wasn’t real, and it was particularly obvious when they got close. He called it something like the “reality gap” or something. [Note that as I say in a subsequent comment, I found the reference: Frank was talking about the “uncanny valley.”]

    Anyway, that’s gone.

    Another thing that connects to this in my mind… Yesterday, I heard a podcast from Kara Swisher in which she was interviewing a woman with Netflix who was talking about all the data they have and use to try to predict whether a new show will be a success. But at a certain point, she said, you have to have a human judgment to really recognize whether something will work with audiences.

    And I wondered as I heard her say it, Is that still true? If AI can create people images like this, can’t data predict whether a stupid reality show is going to draw an audience? Especially if drawing an audience is all you care about… That seems easier than creating human faces that will fool a human eye…

    1. Bob Amundson

      Nah, this is just further proof of the simulation hypothesis: reality, including the Earth and the rest of the universe, is an artificial simulation. Elon Musk said “If you assume any rate of improvement at all, games will eventually be indistinguishable from reality“ before concluding “that its most likely we’re in a simulation.”

      Another high-profile proponent to the hypothesis is astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson, who said in an NBC news interview that the hypothesis is correct giving “better than 50-50 odds” and adding: “I wish I could summon a strong argument against it, but I can find none.”


      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Speaking of which, it bugs me that I can’t remember the exact phrase Frank Rossitano used — “uncanny gap,” “credulity gap,” something, so I can search for it more effectively.

        Because until I find it, how will I know the robot overlords are manipulating Google search to PREVENT me from finding it?

        And if I do find it, how will I know they didn’t change what he said so that it’s not creepy?…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Got it! It was the “uncanny valley,” and here’s a Wikipedia page about it — no doubt hurriedly whipped together by our robot overlords. It says “the uncanny valley is a hypothesized relationship between the degree of an object’s resemblance to a human being and the emotional response to such an object. The concept suggests that humanoid objects which imperfectly resemble actual human beings provoke uncanny or strangely familiar feelings of eeriness and revulsion in observers.”

          Uh-oh. I’ve now typed “robot overlords” into the Web four times — no, FIVE times — so that’s going to activate the algorithm. I’ve got to ditch my iPhone and run off into the woods…

          1. Bob Amundson

            Now you’ve done it! Everyone participating on this blog is exposed. I expected you, of all people, to recognize “humanoid objects which (sic) imperfectly resemble actual human beings provoke uncanny or strangely familiar feelings of eeriness and revulsion in observers.” I was absolutely convinced that your relationship with “Joe” would preclude you from making this rookie mistake.


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