Facebook Misses The Point Regarding The Effects of Social Media on Democracy In Censoring Posts


Samidh Chakrabarti, Facebook Product Manager, Civic Engagement has a post up entitled Hard Questions: What Effect Does Social Media Have on Democracy? The post is part of a series on social media and democracy which Facebook has started.

In light of all the problems with Facebook censoring discussion I entered this comment:

Democracy thrives with open discussion, but instead Facebook had been censoring political discussion, using algorithms which incorrectly label comments as spam, or perhaps due to falling for partisans who file false complaints because they disagree with a post.

Democracy thrives with the free spread of information, but instead Facebook also frequently blocks posts with links, falsely calling them spam, or perhaps seeing them as fake news. Labels of fake news have far too often been used as an excuse for censorship.

Rather than finding ways to restrict discussion, if you believe in democracy you should be getting out of way and allow us to freely discuss the issues and share information.

I subsequently saw another post discussing this from Cass Sunstein and added a similar response.

SciFi Weekend: Star Trek Discovery; Counterpart; The Gifted; The Magicians

I like how Star Trek: Discovery is rapidly providing payoff to the mysteries of this season rather than dragging them out too long. The Wolf Inside provided answers to two big questions, while showing more of the Mirror universe.

The big event of the episode centered around  the rebel camp where Firewolf, the rebel leader, had been hiding. (This briefly sounds more like Star Wars than Star Trek). Burnham’s logic for going to the planet didn’t make all that much sense but I’ll forgive it as 1) we’ve often seen that Burnham does not make the greatest decisions, even if she means well, and 2) it did a lot to propel the story. This led to a great scene for fans, seeing other Star Trek aliens, including Voq as Firewolf and seeing Sarek with the obligatory Vulcan goatee. I loved seeing the goatee enough to overlook the problem that this conflicts with the idea of a goatee representing an evil Mirror version.

This leaves open a lot for a possible novelization regarding Sarek as there are questions which I suspect are beyond the narrative on Discovery. Sarek must have learned a lot of interesting things about the two universes which he kept quiet about. I also wonder about the family dynamics. When we first learned in Despite Yourself of how xenophobic the Empire is, I questioned Spock’s position as seen on Mirror, Mirror. I rationalized that as being a rare exception, with Spock being half-human. I also suspect they are emphasizing the xenophobia more in the current incarnation of the Mirror universe as a reflection of our current politics. Spock’s position becomes even more complicated with Sarek and Spock being on opposite sides–not that the two were all that close in our universe. Presumably there was not a relationship between Sarek and Burnham in the Mirror universe, unless this is something being left unmentioned until a later date.

Meeting mirror Voq provided the trigger to finally reactive Voq in Tyler’s body, answering the question of how long until he was exposed now that Discovery finally revealed his identity. It turns out that the Tribble on Lorca’s desk did not play a part as many had predicted.

This also set up the solution to another dilemma. Somehow Burnham and Saru were able to easily communicate with holograms but she could not transmit the data she found back to the Discovery. While the problem is therefore questionable, it was a great solution to place the data on Tyler’s body before beaming it into space. Having Tyler/Voq in custody also raises questions should Tyler’s identity resurface as that part of the duo is innocent.

There were other good moments in the episode, such as Burnham’s interaction with Mirror Saru and Stamets meeting Stamets. Of course I did not believe that Stamets was dead for even a moment.

Ultimately the episode concluded with the answer to another question, confirming as I predicted that the Emperor would turn out to be Georgio. I still hope that, considering how Discovery frequently throws in references to past Star Trek shows, that them also mention a previous Empress Sato.

The huge question remaining is what Lorca is up to, including whether he is the Mirror version and intentionally brought the Discovery to the Mirror universe as part of a bigger plan following his attempt to assassinate Mirror Georgio. With the show appearing to be moving in this direction, Lorca’s decision to get Burnham on board Discovery does seem to fit into the dynamics of the Mirror universe power struggle.

Syfy Wire interviewed Shazad Latif about playing both Ash Tyler and Voq. Here is a portion:

This has been a huge few episodes for you. What is it like to play a character who’s so conflicted?

It’s one of the greatest gifts, and scariest gifts at the same time, that you can get as an actor. Just so much going on, double the amount of things that would normally go on with just one person. Getting to explore that, doubly, at the end of the day is stressful and scary, but very beautiful and very rewarding, as someone who likes to express themselves. It’s just crazy.

Ash has been through a lot, but I loved the decision to portray a character who believed he was experiencing, and was experiencing in many ways, PTSD.

It was always there. You think it’s because he’s been through this war stuff or this torture, and it’s not. He’s been in this crazy war zone, it’s just this trauma that you’ve never seen before. It’s this crazy alien operation.

Me and Sonequa, we always wanted to push it. Because you meet Tyler and he’s this guy who’s going through this trauma and we’ve seen that story many times. It’s amazing to explore, but we wanted to see him … With him and Michael Burnham, she’s always very strong. She’s the strong one and she’s the one looking after him, and he’s weak around her and he’s vulnerable around her, in the bedroom, in the hallway.

I wanted to make sure that that was clear because, to show a man’s vulnerability and weakness and show that you can still be a man and vice versa, that Sonequa is a very strong female character — it was very important to us in the scenes that we played that and we showed that. It’s nice to play the inner turmoil and suffering and weakness of the man as well, rather than being this classic sort of rogue action hero. There’s more to it than that.

Because when you first see him, he is playing that, we’re playing that sort of archetype. He’s this guy coming from the ship, he’s getting his job and “Aha! He’s a classic American hero,” but really he’s crumbling, and it’s very beautiful to watch.

There was a lot of fan speculation about Ash’s true identity. Was that hard to keep quiet about? You were doing publicity with so much of the cast towards the beginning of the show. People were like, “Wait til you see him,” but we had seen you but we didn’t know it yet.

It was my idea. I’ve been keeping it for a year now. It’s harder than any acting … That’s the hardest acting I’ve ever done; I did it terribly. I actually chose the pseudonym for the actor who played Voq in the beginning.

On the credits, it’s Javid Iqbal who played Voq, and we created a fake IMDb page, but that was my father’s name, who passed away about six years ago. I was asked to choose a pseudonym, so it was a shout out to him. He was a big movie lover, changed the film reels in the cinema when he was young. I just wanted to shout out to him. We kept that a secret for a long time.

It’s nice to have the buzz, still keeping a secret. You know people are going to find out, whether they find out in the first episode or the last episode.

The characters always find out secrets about the show and stuff like that, but it’s more about how you tell the story and execute. How it’s executed is more interesting. Even if you have figured it out, you still tune in to go, “Am I right or am I wrong? Or how have they done it?” Really, just to see the acting, to see the way they’ve cut the story…

Can you tell us anything about what’s coming for Ash/Voq?

It’s all coming to a head. This four-way love triangle in three bodies, basically. It’s L’Rell and Sonequa and Tyler. That’s gotta come to a head. The solving of the Culber case, all this kinda stuff. Some people don’t know, how are people gonna react to it? It’s a culmination of everything, and it’s going to be very exciting to watch.

One theme of the Mirror episodes of Star Trek: Discovery is to see how different versions of the same person turned out in a vastly different environment. There is another show starting with a similar theme. Counterpart (trailer above) is sort of a combination of a John le Carré novel and Fringe’s alternate universe stories. The Starz series premieres this month, but they have been offering the pilot for free since December. J.K. Simmons stars as a low level employee of some sort of spy agency, but we learn in the pilot that he has a double in the other universe who is far more important. From reviews coming from those who have seen episodes beyond the pilot, there are many characters whose lives were dramatically different due to a single change after the two universes diverged due to a Cold War experiment which went wrong.

The Gifted concluded its first season. While certainly not ground breaking like Legion, it was an entertaining X-Men spin-off. Unlike Inhumans, the show did have some success and will be back for a second season. The show did a good job of progressing over the season, initially centering around one family, and growing to develop a far more complex world. The Frost triplets made matters much more complicated with next season likely to feature a three-way conflict with different mutant camps and humans. The conflict between The Frost triplets and the original Mutant Underground somewhat parallels that of Charles Xavier and Magneto. It is made more complicated with members of the Mutant Underground joining the Frost triplets, including one member of the original family, creating divided loyalties.

The Magicians has started the second season with two strong episodes. I especially liked all the genre references–and how they were used to overcome surveillance. I didn’t notice in the first episode, but they stopped editing out the f-bombs in the second episode for the first run of the show as they had done previously.

Vox spoke with Lev Grossman, who wrote the novels the series is based upon, about seeing his stories being remixed:

Constance Grady

You’re someone who does a lot of remixing in your storytelling and is now watching your own stories get remixed. What’s it like having been on both sides of the process?

Lev Grossman

Well, the kind of remixing I did, The Magicians, and the kind of remixing it’s undergone on TV are not exactly the same kind of remixing. They’re not perfectly analogous.

I would say that I do very much think of The Magicians as a remixing kind of book. I was very conscious of that when I was writing it. In fact, I found it really energizing to imagine myself taking other people’s work, C.S. Lewis’s or J.K. Rowling’s, and — I don’t know if remix is actually the word I’d use, but recasting it, retelling it, in a way that was both an homage and a kind of critique at the same time.

I was conscious that I was doing something that gets done a lot in fanfiction. And then there’s a longer tradition of it; I also had in mind Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard, or Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, high-culture works that take another story and remix it, retell it, reimagine it. I was very aware of all that stuff.

I was aware I was doing something that legally was kind of a gray area right now in the culture that we write in, which was interesting. But I found it just incredibly energizing.

There’s a book called The Anxiety of Influence by Harold Bloom. He has this theory that the way in which artists and creators come into their own is through this act of remixing, which he sees as quite an aggressive act. I think he describes it almost in terms of an Oedipal struggle.

 I thought that was very true. I realized that through this kind of imaginary exchange, which was both aggressive and loving at the same time, that was how I was figuring out who I was as a writer. Which is paradoxical! Because we often think of working with someone else’s material as unoriginal and derivative, but at the same it was through taking control of someone else’s work that I came to understand what my own voice was.

Since then, I’ve seen The Magicians remixed in different ways. I’ve seen it be an influence on other books, I’ve seen fanfiction based on it, and of course there’s the TV show based on it. I’d love to able to say it was a completely joyful and unproblematic process watching The Magicians be adapted — and it was joyful and exciting and thrilling. But it definitely took some getting used to.

I realized that when you write novels, you have a lot of control over what’s going on. It’s not a collaborative art form. It’s one of those art forms where you get to do it all. You write all the dialogue; you point the camera where you want to; you dress the set; you do the costumes. So really, it’s a one-person act.

And when it came to collaborating, to passing this story that I’d written on to other creators, it was definitely unnerving. It provoked a lot of feelings. It was exciting and thrilling and stimulating, but it was also a real gut-check feeling where I had to tell myself, “It’s time to let go, and to let other people find different kinds of meanings in this story, which you’re used to thinking of as your own.”

More on last week’s episode below:

Trump’s First Year Was Terrible, But Things Could Have Been Worse

It is fitting that Donald Trump, who claimed that “I alone can fix it,” couldn’t make it through his entire first year without breaking the government. Donald Trump has been among the worst presidents ever. However, while the past year under Trump might have been the worst of times, it was not the worst of all possible times. Trump’s first year has been terrible, but we must also be appreciative all those spared from dying in Hillary’s wars over the past year.

Donald Trump and the Republicans have been terrible on many issues, including health care, race, and immigration. As I had previously predicted, Trump has been totally incoherent on foreign policy. He has escalated a potential nuclear crisis in North Korea, but we also must not forget that Hillary Clinton was largely responsible for the situation and peace would have probably have been impossible if she was in the White House. Clinton’s push to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi based upon lies after he surrendered his nuclear weapons, along with her joining with her neocon allies in lying us into the  Iraq war, have been cited by both Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin as reasons for their nuclear buildup and other foreign policy actions.

Donald Trump’s relations with Russia have been mixed, and evidence has grown of both a history of financial crimes and an attempt at a cover-up over the past year. At least Trump’s financial crimes are under investigation, while Democrats regularly make excuses for the influence peddling of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The irony is that, after the risk of deterioration of relations with Russia and a return to a Cold War atmosphere was feared by many should Clinton become president, Clinton has managed to create hysteria over Russia without even being elected. While Trump is probably guilty of money laundering and a obstruction of justice, the evidence to date has contradicted conspiracy theories which appear to have been fabricated Clinton and the DNC to blame Clinton’s loss on Russia. With Clinton continuing to promote belligerence towards Russia even out of office, using conspiracy theories to get Democrats to embrace her neoconservative interventionism, it is of considerable concern as to how much greater harm Clinton could be doing in the White House.

Donald Trump has been terrible for civil liberties as president, including his attacks on the press. It must not be forgotten that even before the election Clinton had far right wing views on civil liberties which were not all that different from Trump’s.  Donald Trump has ignored the norms of a democratic society, but since the election Clinton has also continued her attack on civil liberties and has attacked the fundamental principles of democracy, including the legitimacy of election results. Both Clinton and Trump have cited fake news, which often means information critical of them, as justification to call for censorship.

While many Republicans have little respect for civil liberties, in the past year we have seen Democrats engage in McCarthyism as part of their anti-Russia hysteria.  The Democratic Party as a whole turned out to be worthless when faced with a vote to renew and expand warrantless surveillance as many joined with Republicans. If many Democrats were unwilling to stand up to Donald Trump on a fundamental civil liberties issue, I would expect even fewer to resist calls for increased powers by an authoritarian like Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump has been a terrible president, but at least his faults are widely recognized, and his falsehoods are regularly exposed. Donald Trump might have authoritarian tendencies, but if so he is a very weak authoritarian. He has brought about serious damage to the entire Republican and conservative brands, likely doing far less damage than Hillary Clinton would have been capable of.

Donald Trump On Women Working For Him, Foreign Policy, and Medicare For All

At the moment we are waiting in limbo for a couple of big stories to break. We don’t know yet if there will be a government shutdown. (If there is a shutdown, will drone attacks and NSA surveillance be halted? Unfortunately no.) One way to avert a government shutdown would be to tell Trump that McDonald’s will shut down if the government does.

The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee meets tomorrow to vote on the recommendations of the Unity Reform Commission–which are very limited and do not do enough. If the DNC rejects these recommendations the Democratic Party will be demonstrating a contempt for democracy which would make Thomas Jefferson, along with FDR, roll over in their graves. It could also be said that they already demonstrated this in 2016.

While waiting for the answers, I decided to go back and quote interesting passages from Michael Wolff’s recent book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. I previously noted some selections from the book here. There were further quotations regarding Wolff’s view that the Russia scandal is about money laundering, and not about collusion to affect the election 2016 election results, here. The question of Trump’s state of mind was reviewed here. Here are some additional items of interest.

It isn’t as crude as grabbing them by the pussy, but this aspect of Trump’s views is  rather demeaning to the women working for him:

While Trump was in most ways a conventional misogynist, in the workplace he was much closer to women than to men. The former he confided in, the latter he held at arm’s length. He liked and needed his office wives, and he trusted them with his most important personal issues. Women, according to Trump, were simply more loyal and trustworthy than men. Men might be more forceful and competent, but they were also more likely to have their own agendas. Women, by their nature, or Trump’s version of their nature, were more likely to focus their purpose on a man. A man like Trump.

Prior to the election I often compared the foreign policy views of Clinton and Trump. I noted that while Trump was not interested in neocon foreign interventionism like Clinton, his views on foreign policy were too incoherent to provide a better alternative. Wolff’s description of Trump’s foreign policy views goes along with my characterization of them as incoherent:

If the Trump White House was as unsettling as any in American history, the president’s views of foreign policy and the world at large were among its most random, uninformed, and seemingly capricious aspects. His advisers didn’t know whether he was an isolationist or a militarist, or whether he could distinguish between the two. He was enamored with generals and determined that people with military command experience take the lead in foreign policy, but he hated to be told what to do. He was against nation building, but he believed there were few situations that he couldn’t personally make better. He had little to no experience in foreign policy, but he had no respect for the experts, either.

While Hillary Clinton campaigned against Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal, there was a surprising supporter of the plan in Washington–Donald Trump:

All things considered, he probably preferred the notion of more people having health insurance than fewer people having it. He was even, when push came to shove, rather more for Obamacare than for repealing Obamacare. As well, he had made a set of rash Obama-like promises, going so far as to say that under a forthcoming Trumpcare plan (he had to be strongly discouraged from using this kind of rebranding — political wise men told him that this was one instance where he might not want to claim ownership with his name), no one would lose their health insurance, and that preexisting conditions would continue to be covered. In fact, he probably favored government-funded health care more than any other Republican. “Why can’t Medicare simply cover everybody?” he had impatiently wondered aloud during one discussion with aides, all of whom were careful not to react to this heresy.

Of course this has no practical value, with Trump having no understanding of the details of health care legislation and no interest in really doing the work to promote a plan, allowing Congressional Republicans to push their agenda.

Donald Trump Attacks Free Press With Fake News Awards

Donald Trump has issued his fake news awards. Besides being seen as an attack on the First Amendment, it is rather absurd for Trump to be criticizing anyone for fake news (even in the cases where the media did get it wrong) considering the vast amount of misinformation put out in his speeches and tweets. This is, after all, the administration, which from the start was plagued by alternative facts.

Trump’s first choice was a rather strange one: “The New York Times’ Paul Krugman claimed on the day of President Trump’s historic, landslide victory that the economy would never recover.” Yes, Trump is right in saying that the Dow has hit a record high, but the credit for much of the economic growth in the past year is due to inheriting a healthy economy. Regardless, even if Paul Krugman was wrong in a prediction in an opinion piece, this is not the same as the media getting the facts wrong in news reporting. Krugman even retracted his own prediction three days later, saying that the problems he predicted would not be immediate.

To be fair to Trump, he is correct about some of the other items he listed. As I (and others) have pointed out, the media has made huge mistakes in its coverage of Russia, and has retracted multiple false reports. Fairness And Accuracy in Reporting has criticized the Russia hysteria at MSNBC more than once (although CNN received the brunt of Trump’s attacks).  I suspect that many journalists who predicted that Clinton would win easily fell for the Russian conspiracy theories spread by Clinton and the DNC, blaming Russia for the loss to rationalize their own erroneous predictions.

There were also errors by the media on other matters, including some which were quickly retracted. How many of Trump’s errors have been retracted? Vox went through the awards and pointed out where the media made mistakes in the Russia coverage and elsewhere.

The more serious problem is the attack on the press and First Amendment rights. As I noted in December, the number of journalists in prison around the world is at a historical high. The Committee To Protect Journalists has attributed the increase to Donald Trump’s attacks on the free press.

Two Republican Senators criticized Trump for his attacks on the press. Jeff Flake gave a Senate floor speech comparing Trump to Stalin with his attacks on the press as being enemies of the people:

It was a year in which a daily assault on the constitutionally protected free speech was launched by the same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. The enemy of the people was how the president of the United States called the free press in 2017. Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase “enemy of the people,” that even [Soviet leader] Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of “annihilating such individuals” who disagreed with the supreme leader. This alone should be the source of great shame for us in this body.

Especially for those of us in the president’s party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements and of course the president has it precisely backward. Despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy.

When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him fake news, it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press. I dare say that anyone who has had the privilege and awesome responsibility to serve in this chamber knows that these reflexive slurs of “fake news” are dubious at best. Those of us who travel overseas, especially to war zones and other troubled areas all around the globe encounter members of US-based media who risk their lives and sometimes lose their lives reporting on the truth. To dismiss their work as fake news is an affront to their commitment and their sacrifice.

John McCain had an op-ed in The Washington Post entitled Mr. President, stop attacking the press:

…While administration officials often condemn violence against reporters abroad, Trump continues his unrelenting attacks on the integrity of American journalists and news outlets. This has provided cover for repressive regimes to follow suit. The phrase “fake news” — granted legitimacy by an American president — is being used by autocrats to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens. CPJ documented 21 cases in 2017 in which journalists were jailed on “fake news” charges.

Trump’s attempts to undermine the free press also make it more difficult to hold repressive governments accountable. For decades, dissidents and human rights advocates have relied on independent investigations into government corruption to further their fight for freedom. But constant cries of “fake news” undercut this type of reporting and strip activists of one of their most powerful tools of dissent.

We cannot afford to abdicate America’s long-standing role as the defender of human rights and democratic principles throughout the world. Without strong leadership in the White House, Congress must commit to protecting independent journalism, preserving an open and free media environment, and defending the fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression…

Ultimately, freedom of information is critical for a democracy to succeed. We become better, stronger and more effective societies by having an informed and engaged public that pushes policymakers to best represent not only our interests but also our values. Journalists play a major role in the promotion and protection of democracy and our unalienable rights, and they must be able to do their jobs freely. Only truth and transparency can guarantee freedom.

Collaborators, Not Resistance: Eighteen Senate Democrats Vote To Support Restrictions On Civil Liberties

After the House, with the support of fifty-five Democrats including Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, blocked attempts to reform the FISA Act, Rand Paul and Ron Wyden attempted to filibuster FISA renewal in the Senate. They wrote this letter describing the civil liberties violations in the bill to renew and expand the FISA act for six years. The vote was close, with sixty votes required for the cloture vote. Cloture passed on a vote of 60 to 38, with  Democrat Claire McCaskill casting the deciding vote. Once again several Democrats voted to betray the Constitution and vote against civil liberties.

Eighteen Democratic Senators, along with independent Angus King of Maine, vote for cloture. The Democrats voting for cloture were: Tom Carper (Del.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Doug Jones (Ala.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Joe Manchin (W.V.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Mark Warner (Va.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.).

The following Republican Senators voted to support the filibuster, which would have provided an opportunity to debate and offer amendments to reform the law: Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Steve Daines, Cory Gardner, Dean Heller, Jerry Moran, and Lisa Murkowski. Yes, Ted Cruz was on the right side of this while eighteen Democrats were not.

The American Civil Liberties Union Tweeted this response: “Members of both parties who voted in favor of this legislation should be sharply rebuked for supporting a bill that is in flagrant violation of the rights enshrined in the Constitution.”

The final bill is expected to pass the Senate this week.

Reason described how the bill expands violations of civil liberties in the FISA Act:

This bill doesn’t just renew Section 702 for six years; it also codifies permission for the FBI to access and use data secretly collected from Americans for a host of domestic federal crimes that have nothing to do with protecting America from foreign threats. It has added some unusually worded warrant requirements that will protect some people—but only when they’re actually suspected and are being investigated for criminal activities.

Furthermore the bill will give the NSA permission to attempt to restart what are known as “about” searches, access to communications that merely reference a foreign target, not just communications to and from that target. The NSA voluntarily ended these types of searches once it became clear they were gaining access communications that they had no authority to be viewing. This bill will allow them to attempt to restart it unless Congress acts separately to stop it.

Once again many Democrats have acted as collaborators rather than as the resistance. Democrats who claim that Trump is a tyrant in cahoots with Putin have not been able to unite to oppose giving him increased powers to spy on Americans. Although they are a minority in both Houses of Congress, the presence of some Republicans supporting privacy rights, along with the requirement for sixty votes in the Senate, provided Democrats with the power to force changes.  A swing of one vote in the Senate or twenty-six Democrats in the House could have forced reforms to the law which allows warrantless surveillance of Americans as well as foreigners.

Does Donald Trump Have Dementia Or Psychiatric Problems?

I have been wondering for quite a while whether Donald Trump’s primary problem is dementia or psychiatric. He has shown some signs of possible dementia, but they were hardly definitive. Psychiatrists have also been questioning Trump’s mental health. We probably now have an answer to the question of whether Trump’s problem is dementia versus psychiatric. Reportedly Donald Trump scored a 30 out of 30 on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment. The test is a pretty reliable indicator of dementia and with a score of 30 and, assuming the report of Trump’s score is factual, it is now doubtful that he has dementia.

With dementia ruled out, Trump should have thorough psychiatric testing, but it is unlikely that he will ever consent to this. The only way to force him to would by trying to remove him from office under the provisions of the 25th Amendment, and this is unlikely to happen unless there is a very clear deterioration .

Study Shows That Legalizing Medical Marijuana Decreases Violent Crime

The Guardian reports on another study showing a decrease in crime with legalization of marijuana:

The introduction of medical marijuana laws has led to a sharp reduction in violent crime in US states that border Mexico, according to new research.

According to the study, Is Legal Pot Crippling Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations? The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on US Crime, when a state on the Mexican border legalised medical use of the drug, violent crime fell by 13% on average. Most of the marijuana consumed in the US originates in Mexico, where seven major cartels control the illicit drug trade.

“These laws allow local farmers to grow marijuana that can then be sold to dispensaries where it is sold legally,” said the economist Evelina Gavrilova, one of the study’s authors. “These growers are in direct competition with Mexican drug cartels that are smuggling the marijuana into the US. As a result, the cartels get much less business.”

The knock-on effect is a reduction in levels of drug-related violence. “The cartels are in competition with one another,” Gavrilova explained. “They compete for territory, but it’s also easy to steal product from the other cartels and sell it themselves, so they fight for the product. They also have to defend their territory and ensure there are no bystanders, no witnesses to the activities of the cartel.

“Whenever there is a medical marijuana law we observe that crime at the border decreases because suddenly there is a lot less smuggling and a lot less violence associated with that.”

In other words, the experience with marijuana prohibition is similar to what we experienced with alcohol prohibition.

This also shows a failure of our political system. Despite ending prohibition being both the sensible choice, and a choice favored by a large majority of Americans, there has been little pressure to change the system from either major political party. While the two parties find plenty to fight over, there is little difference over what they parties actually do on far too many issues.

SciFi Weekend: Star Trek Discovery Returns; The X-Files; Runaways Concludes First Season; The Handmaid’s Tale Season Two; Krypton

Star Trek: Discovery returned last week with Despite Yourself, directed by Jonathan Frakes. The episode immediately provided the answers to two points which were widely predicted: Ash Tyler is Voq and the Discovery is in the Mirror universe. Of course there were new twists to keep things interesting.

As I had been discussing late in the fall season, the only way to make sense of Ash Tyler’s actions was that if he was Voq he was a sleeper agent and did not realize it. This turned out to be true, but in addition something went wrong when L’Rell tried to restore his memories. This leaves Ash/Voq in a situation where we cannot predict what he will do in the future, and we have seen that at times either could dominate.

The procedure used for Voq was quite sophisticated, initially fooling medical exams. (The Tribble was back on Lorca’s desk so perhaps it can expose Voq–except both are off the Discovery.) Ultimately Culber did figure it out, and appears to have been killed to keep him quiet. This resulted in Discovery taking heat for providing another case of part of a same-sex couple getting killed, such as on The 100 a couple of years ago. This led to quick assurances that we will see Culber again. There are many possibilities including that he can still recover (with the help of future medicine) from having his neck snapped, Stamets using time travel or other aspects of the mycelial network to reverse what happened, or the replacement of Culber with a version from the Mirror universe or another universe. It is a bit strange that there was nobody else around either sickbay or the brig when Ash was letting L’Rell out of the brig or attacking Culber.

Finding that Ash Tyler is actually a sleeper Klingon has the potential for further ramifications now that he is one of only three from the Discovery crew on the ISS Shenzhou. This came about due to a poor decision from Burnham to keep quiet about him, but it was established early that Burnham is capable of making really bad decisions. Fortunately we saw that Burnham is very capable of defending herself.

It was also revealed very early in the episode that they were in the Mirror universe from Mirror, Mirror. The data recovered from a destroyed rebel ship quickly provided them with quite detailed information about not only the Empire but about the roles of the crew on their own ship. While somewhat unrealistic that they could have received this much information, it did allow them to quickly get into the story without wasting time searching out this information. This also provided a good way to bring viewers new to Star Trek up to date without boring long time viewers. Tying this into the events of an episode of Enterprise, In a Mirror, Darkly, was also rewarding for long time Star Trek fans, while new viewers could still follow what is going on. (A synopsis of In a Mirror, Darkly can be found here).

While Captain Lorca reviewed the information they retrieved, it also felt like this was for the benefit of others, and Lorca was already aware of what was going on, having appeared to have intentionally caused the Discovery to wind up in the Mirror universe. Having learned that the Lorca of the Mirror universe has disappeared raises suspicion that possibly the Lorca we know is actually the Mirror counterpart. This would explain much of his behavior, including sleeping with a weapon. If so, Lorca is more sophisticated than Mirror Kirk, who could not keep fit in and keep his identity secret when he crossed over to our universe in Mirror, Mirror. There is also the question of what is going on with the Mirror Discovery after it crossed over into our universe.

It was entertaining to see the USS Discovery quickly convert to the ISS Discovery. Seeing a replicator-like process for making Burnham’s uniform in a previous episode makes it more plausible that they could quickly make the needed uniforms (even if not entirely consistent with the original show). As on previous Mirror universe stories, the elevator was one of the preferred places for an assassination attempt (other than the bedroom), and we got the obligatory attempted murder scene. As was foreshadowed in Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum with Stamets calling Tilly “Captain,” Tilly (or Killy) is the Captain of the Mirror Discovery. I do like how this is truly a continuing, serialized series, with little events in one episode providing a payoff in future episodes. Having Lorca portray the Engineer with a Scottish accent was also an amusing homage to the original show.

While the recovered data provided far more information than was realistic, the one missing piece of information was the identity of the Emperor. As they made a point of this, it is very likely that this will be revealed in a future episode, and it will also provide a payoff to viewers. If this was fan fiction, I might guess that it was a very old Empress Sato. While that would be satisfying to fans who remember In A Mirror, Darkly, it would mean little to newer fans, so I doubt that this will be the case. My bet is that it will be Philippa Georgiou, especially after there was no sign of her on the Shenzhou. Burnham already had a fight to the death with the Mirror version of someone she knew from the Shenzhou, and I bet she will also have to confront the Mirror Georgiou. (A confrontation with Tyler/Voq is also very likely.)

While previous Mirror universe stories were one or two episodes, it appears that the entire second half of the season will be a longer Mirror story. As I quoted in an interview with the producers last week, Discovery is gradually moving towards showing the vision of the Federation we are accustomed to from the original series. Taking place in the Mirror universe does now allow Discovery to portray what is good about the Federation through contrast with the Empire, even if we did not see it at its greatest in the first half of the season.

The same interview mentioned second chances. Being in the Mirror universe has provided a second chance for Lorca, who appears to have wanted to go there with his future uncertain in our universe. Bringing the Discovery from our universe might also be part of a bigger plan if he is really the Mirror Lorca. Bernham might also be tempted to remain now that she is the Captain of her own ship in the Mirror universe, and faces a possible return to prison in our universe. Ultimately both will have big decisions about what is important to them. The xenophobia of the Mirror universe also resonates in our present with the presidency of Donald Trump, years after the idea was first shown on the original show. It is sad that we have not progressed more since the 1960’s.

TV Line interviewed the Discovery show runners about the episode:

TVLINE | The mirror universe is a huge part of Trek mythology, dating back to the original series. How early on in the writing process did you know you wanted to go there?
GRETCHEN J. BERG | I think pretty much from the beginning.

AARON HARBERTS | Yeah, the biggest thing, frankly, was when we were going to do it. Initially, plans had been hatched to go over there in Episode 5, and we realized as we were talking about it: The mirror universe only works when you can care about the characters enough in the prime universe, so you can uncover the discovery of who people are in the alternate universe. So we realized that the mirror universe really needed to play in the back half of the [season], that it really needed to anchor the last several episodes…

TVLINE | So the crew needs to find a way out of this mirror universe with the Terrans. Is that the overriding mission for the next few weeks? Does it run through the season finale?
HARBERTS
 | We will be in the mirror universe for a little while. Episode 10 is simply the introduction. We felt like we could tell quite a bit of story in this mirror universe — not only about the mirror universe, but about our characters. Things come out about our characters in the mirror universe that wouldn’t come out in the prime universe. So we really felt like it was a great crucible for storytelling.

TVLINE | Is it giving away too much to ask if we’ll see a mirror Georgiou?
BERG
 | I find your question very interesting, but that’s a “no comment.” [Laughs]

TVLINE | Making Tilly the captain was such an inspired stroke of storytelling. How much did Mary Wiseman enjoy that twist?
HARBERTS | [Laughs] The thing that was fun is, we always knew we were going to do it. The gift that we’ve been given from CBS All Access was to allow this to be so serialized. So Tilly says “I’m going to be a captain someday” the first time we meet her. So we knew: “Mary, guess what? In the mirror universe, you’re going to be a captain!” Mary is super-dry and super-sassy, so whenever she would cop a little ‘tude — and I mean that in the most playful of ways, because we have fun and just go at each other — it would just be like, “Yeah, that’s really mirror-universe Tilly. Save that for the mirror universe!” I think she had a ball. When she takes charge of that bridge, it’s just a testament to how great she is as an actor. She can go from comedic to downright scary to fighting both instincts. She’s just truly gifted.

TVLINE | We did witness Dr. Culber’s death as well, when Tyler’s alternate personality came out. What’s the fallout going to be from that when the crew returns to the ship? 
BERG | There are so many things that are set off or started in Episode 10… there are ramifications for every action. It is a huge thing. And it’s heartbreaking, and horrifying.

HARBERTS | One of the early bits of feedback about Discovery is that it’s very dark, and very bleak. And I don’t necessarily believe that that’s true, because we know where the show is going. But I do think that scenes of forgiveness and atonement and redemption are really important in Star Trek, and we’re going to have to take that journey. On our show, no one is ever truly a villain, and no one is ever truly a perfect person. And what’s beautiful about Shazad [Latif]’s performance is, you see just how shocked and horrified he is by his actions…

TVLINE | What else is coming up in the rest of this season? Is Tyler’s alternate personality kind of the ticking time bomb that could derail this entire mission?
BERG
 | It’s looming pretty large, and it’s a huge complication to what is going on, not only personally with Burnham and everybody else.

HARBERTS | If your psyche is hanging by a thread, maybe the last thing you want to do is go on an away mission to the Terran Empire. [Laughs] What you don’t need is more stress.

BERG | Where is the couch and afghan you can climb under? They don’t have one! I would say, also, as shocking as the death of Culber is that you just witnessed at the hands of Tyler, Culber and Stamets have been in a relationship that… sort of represents the epic love story of our series. And, you know, love overcomes all. I think you can count on that it won’t be the last we see Culber. You’ll see him again.

HARBERTS | This relationship between Stamets and Culber… this death is but the first chapter. The trope of “Bury Your Gays,” which is running rampant through our television landscape, that is not something that Star Trek has ever been interested in doing. I think we’ve shown by now that we’re not interested in tropes, and that we love our characters, and we love our actors. When you’re given the gift of Wilson Cruz and Anthony Rapp, and you’ve got several gay writers on staff, you don’t just throw that away. You will see Dr. Culber again. This is a love story that’s going to transcend death, and there is much more story to tell for those two. And the science that [the real-life mycologist] Paul Stamets has provided as a backdrop for our fictional Paul Stamets, and for our show… if the audience is concerned about what’s going to happen to Culber, dig deeper into the science of the mycelial network. There are so many clues in there.

This (as with last week’s episode) has me optimistic that we are in store for a much better season of The X-Files than the previous. While much of the story might not hold up if looked at too critically (which can be said of the original run of the show), it was very entertaining. It provided, as a revival should, both something of the past (Richard Langly of The Lone Gunmen) along with an updated twist. The idea of consciousness being uploaded after death is an idea which Steven Moffat has used several times, although this was handled much more like Black Mirror than Doctor Who.

The episode also played on modern paranoia and conspiracy theories, from the use of the Russians to this exchange:

Skinner: “The bureau is not in good standing to the White House these days.”

Mulder: ‘The FBI finally found out what it’s like to be looked upon a little spooky.”

While the alien threat was potentially eliminated last week, there is a new threat. We were warned that, “life on this earth, all human life, most animal life, is about to be crushed. Burnt to the ground.” They also had to enter something very close to a real life NSA facility.

Runaways concluded its first season last week, and was an excellent origin story setting up their situation. By the end of the first season, we have learned quit a bit about the characters and their situation. Nothing really got resolved in the finale, but fortunately Hulu has renewed the series for a second season. They also renewed Future Man. I have not seen this yet, but have heard good things about the series.

Hulu has turned into a major player in streaming with The Handmaid’s Tale, including with a Golden Globe win last week. It will be interesting to see what happens when it returns on April 25 now that they are beyond the book. Reportedly the second season will go beyond the events in Gilead and show the Colonies. The above trailer was recently released.

Syfy has released the first official trailer for Krypton, which premiers March 21.

With The Outcry Over Trump’s Racist Comment On Shithole Countries Don’t Forget Hillary Clinton’s Role In Creating Shitholes Around The World

Donald Trump verified what we already knew about him with his comment about immigration shithole countries. He showed once again that he is racist, xenophobic, and has a shithole for a brain. Having Hillary Clinton speak out against this remark also served as a reminder of how often the United States is responsible for turning other countries into shitholes.

The long history of destruction in other countries by the United States is obviously too broad a topic for a single blog post, so for today I will just look at a couple of countries which Hillary Clinton helped turn into shitholes–Haiti (as it was mentioned by Trump), and Libya.

Current Affairs had one look at what the Clintons did to Haiti in a 2016 article. This includes suppressing the minimum wage in Haiti, as Wikileaks first revealed, with more at the Columbia Journalism Review.

When Haiti had problems recovering from a 2010 earthquake, the Clinton Foundation was happy to provide assistance, especially if “Friends of Bill” could get a piece of “the lucrative recovery effort.” ABC News reported:

In a series of candid email exchanges with top Clinton Foundation officials during the hours after the massive 2010 Haiti earthquake, a senior aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeatedly gave special attention to those identified by the abbreviations “FOB” (friends of Bill Clinton) or “WJC VIPs” (William Jefferson Clinton VIPs).

“Need you to flag when people are friends of WJC,” wrote Caitlin Klevorick, then a senior State Department official who was juggling incoming offers of assistance being funneled to the State Department by the Clinton Foundation. “Most I can probably ID but not all.”

The Washington Post notes that, “the Clintons’ image in Haiti has slipped in recent months as Haitians increasingly complain that Clinton-backed projects have often helped the country’s elite and international business investors more than they have helped poor Haitians.” Among those helped was Hillary’s brother, Tony Rodham, thanks to connections he made at a meeting of at a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. The Washington Post describes the Clinton Global Initiative as “an offshoot of the Clinton Foundation that critics have long alleged invites a blurring of its charitable mission with the business interests of Bill and Hillary Clinton and their corporate donors.”

The country which was probably harmed the most by Hillary Clinton was Libya. Years after she voted for the war in Iraq, turning that country into a shithole, Clinton showed that the lesson she learned was how easy it is to lie the country into further wars. Clinton turned Libya into such a shithole that CNN found that Africans are being sold into slavery. Barack Obama has called the regime change in Libya, orchestrated by Hillary Clinton, the biggest mistake of his administration, and has called it a “shit show.” Last year Huffington Post had a story about how Hillary Clinton Turned a Stable, Developed Nation Into an ISIS Safe Haven:

As a brave crusader for all women – especially for women living in countries that she desperately wants to bomb – then-Secretary Clinton argued that the United States had a moral duty to intervene in Libya, stating that she was “deeply concerned” that Muammar Gaddafi’s troops were using rape as a weapon. (She was parroting a rumor started by Al-Jazeera which claimed that Gaddafi was handing out free Viagra to his soldiers so that they could rape 24/7.)

After Libya was flattened by NATO’s “no fly zone”, Amnesty International published a report which thoroughly debunked Hillary’s passionate plea for war:

Not only have we not met any [rape] victims, but we have not even met any persons who have met victims. As for the boxes of Viagra that Gaddafi is supposed to have had distributed, they were found intact near tanks that were completely burnt out.

The boxes of pristine Viagra found next to burnt-out tanks weren’t the only things planted in Libya. According to its report, Amnesty “failed to find evidence for these human rights violations [used to justify intervention] and in many cases has discredited or cast doubt on them. It also found indications that on several occasions the rebels in Benghazi appeared to have knowingly made false claims or manufactured evidence.”

The icing on the illegal war cake is that before Hillary started spreading rape rumors, Libya was considered a “high human development” country by the United Nations:

In 2010, Libya ranked 53rd in the UN’s Human Development Index among 163 countries. With life expectancy at birth at 74.5 years, an 88.4% adult literacy rate and a gross enrolment ratio of 94.1%, Libya was classified as a high human development country among the Middle East and North Africa region.

Libyans once enjoyed a higher standard of living than two-thirds of the planet. Now their country is terrorist stronghold ruled by competing warlords.

And as ISIS continues to lose territory in Syria and Iraq, Libya is increasingly seen as a fertile ground for jihadists. According to The Atlantic:

American intelligence officials estimate that the group’s ranks in Libya have grown to 6,500 fighters, more than doubling since the fall. ISIS first declared its intentions to establish a presence in Libya in 2014 and has been launching attacks ever since. The group is now thought to control 150 miles of Libyan coastline.

Hillary Clinton turned a stable, developed nation into an ISIS safe haven using tactics that would have made even William Randolph Hearst a bit queasy. To whip up support for the Spanish-American War (you’re probably too young to remember it), America’s favorite yellow journalist only managed to invent tame, PG -13 fairytales about Spanish soldiers fondling young Cuban damsels. If Hearst had reported that the Spaniards were having Havana Viagra parties, we could have marched all the way to Madrid. Hopefully President Clinton will remedy this missed opportunity. Pack your bags, ISIS. Next stop: Spain.

Forget Benghazi. Clinton is culpable in a far greater crime.

Besides turning Libya into a shithole country, Clinton’s decision to overthrow Qaddafi after he got rid of his nuclear weapons has been cited as a major reason for the current nuclear standoff with North Korea. If things go bad there, the entire planet could be turned into a shithole, with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to blame.