I Was a Porn Star During the Golden Age of Adult Entertainment

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 01/17/2023 - 08:13

Before the internet illuminated the “open 24/7” sign on literally any desire you could hope to satisfy, there was the Golden Age of Porn. In the years between the rise of sexploitation films in the 60s and the mass distribution of hardcore home videos in the 90s, the porn industry had all the glamour and prosperity of Hollywood with none of the legality. 

The “porno chic” era of the 70s established a critical and commercial appetite for erotica with the release of films like Deep Throat and Last Tango In Paris, enabling adult actresses like Annette Haven and Vanessa Del Rio to cross over into the mainstream. In the 80s the industry shifted into turbo mode, transcending the “tasteful” cover of indie cinemas to become a booming market of its own.

Big budget productions, lucrative talent agencies like Jim South’s World Modeling and a flashy, live-fast lifestyle attracted young men and women alike, and by the mid-80s, adult entertainment had become as extravagant and in-your-face as everything else in pop culture. Mammoth studios like Vivid Entertainment became household names while newly minted ceremonies like the AVN Awards gave it a red carpet ritz, putting the sex into the “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” mantra of 80s excess. 

Despite the champagne-and-cocaine veneer, many adult performers from that time describe the industry as having a family feel. Before the 90s made porn freely available online, flooding the market and slashing production budgets, the talent pool was small and sets were tight-knit. Though Vivid had a billboard of poster-girls on Sunset Boulevard and stars like Christy Canyon and Ginger Lynn were crossing over into the mainstream, there was an outlaw mentality and sense of camaraderie among casts and crew. All plastic-wrapped magazines and three-for-$50 Polaroids at meet and greets, it’s a far cry from today’s era of BJ gifs and Chaturbate tips – though certainly not without its controversies.

To reveal more about the highs and lows of the porn business in the 80s, veteran performer Ginger Lynn spoke to us about her life and career. This “as told to” essay has been condensed and shortened from an interview given to the producers of Sex Before the Internet, a new documentary from VICE.

I grew up in Rockford, Illinois, and this was a little porn theatre on the outskirts of town. I was 19 and my boyfriend and I went to see this movie. I remember sitting in the seats and Vanessa del Rio came on the screen and I got goosebumps. I've always been a sexual person, but watching someone else on film fucking was just amazing to me. I thought, ‘This is the coolest thing I have ever seen.’

I never thought I would get into the adult film industry, though. I grew up putting on plays in my garage and singing and dancing. My neighbours were the backup singers and we would charge a nickel to come see our shows. I always wanted to be in front of the camera. I wanted to live in California and I wanted to be a star, but when I saw Vanessa on film, I didn't think I wanted to be like her. I just got turned on by it.

I got into the industry when I was just about to turn 20. I was working 70 hours a week for way too little money. I worked at an aviation company in the mornings from like six till ten, and then from 11 till six I was assistant manager of a Musicland record store, and at night I worked in a bar. I was thinking: ‘I’m cute, I’m in California, I can do something. I can make more money.’ I got out the Orange County Register and there was an ad for figure modelling that paid $500 to $5,000 per day. I called up and a man by the name of Jim South answered, called me “darlin”, and told me to come on in the next day.

Jim South was the owner of World Modeling – he reminded me of a really bad Elvis impersonator, with the big sideburns and the pompadour hairdo. I walked into his office and he asked for my IDs. It was September of 1983. He said, “We need to take some Polaroids” and took me into the side room with the fake panel, wood walls and the shag carpet and this big wicker chair. He asked me to take my clothes off. I had no trouble doing that whatsoever. I was never ashamed or embarrassed. I was always comfortable with my body.

Jim took three or four Polaroids and we went back to his office and he put them in this big three-ring binder, full of pictures of all of these girls in alphabetical order. There were photographs of these beautiful women all around the office on the walls: Marilyn Chambers, Hyapatia Lee… though I didn’t know who they were at the time. Jim looked up and said, “Those are the wall girls” and I’m like, “I want to be a wall girl”. Those were the famous girls, and I wanted so badly to be famous.

One day I’m in Jim’s office and there was a woman sitting there in this long white flowing gown, kind of a Little House on the Prairie dress. She had a cigarette in a holder and a script on her lap, and she's licking her fingers and turning the pages and reading dialog out loud. I'm thinking, ‘This is the most beautiful, glamorous, intelligent, articulate woman I have ever seen’. I asked her if she did porn, and she said yes. I’m like okay, this isn’t anything like what I expected a porn star to be.

We went to lunch and I asked her every question: what's it like, what do you do, what don't you do, how much do you charge? She said: “I get $1,000 a day. I get script approval. I get cast approval. I only do girl/girl and boy/girl regular sex. If it's anything more, I charge more. I charge $5,000 for anal, if I’m not comfortable I’m not doing it.” I'm like, you know what? I can do this.

Ginger Lynn in a photo shoot by Suze RandallPhoto: Suze Randall

So I go back to Jim South and ask for all those things… and Jim is on the floor. He's laughing his ass off. He said, “Honey, no! You can't start there. Nobody starts there. This is one of the biggest porn stars in the industry.” And I'm like fine, then I won't do it. 

Two weeks later, a couple – [adult filmmakers] David and Svetlana Marsh – were in Jim's office and they were making two feature films on the island of Kauai with a $250,000 budget. They wanted me to play one of the female leads and I'm like, I'm in. They agreed to all my rules. I wasn't bitchy or snobby, I just had my comfort zone, and as long as I stayed there I knew I would be okay.

One of my favourite moments was before I made that first feature film. We were all on the plane and there were probably 30 of us, cast and crew. It was a big production and I remember looking around the plane and thinking, ‘I'm going to fuck that person, I'm going to fuck this person, I get to suck his dick, I get to eat her pussy’. And it was just this moment of freedom – to know that, sexually, I was going to be able to do anything that I wanted and it was okay.

The industry definitely felt like a family back then. There were 50 people in the entire industry and that included the cast and the crew. It was a wonderful relationship that developed between the cast members, the crew members, everybody. We were like outlaws at the time, because it was illegal to shoot. I remember being on a very minimal set having an orgy scene and there was a knock on the door. The police came in [but] they didn't shut us down. I just remember all 20 of us hiding behind this one little plant naked.

Charlie Sheen and Ginger Lynn at Saugus Speedway, 1990.Ginger Lynn with Charlie Sheen in 1990. Photo: Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

I was in the industry from September of 1983 until February 1986. I had always anticipated my scenes, my films, my partners, what I was going to do, my dialogue. I looked forward to everything; I woke up one day and I had bought my first house. It was in Beverly Hills: Madonna, Kelly Preston and Dolly Parton were my neighbours. I'm thinking: ‘I am the shit. This is amazing’. But I woke up one morning in this beautiful home that I bought up in the hills, and rather than going ‘yes! I'm going to suck dick today’, I woke up and went, ‘I don't want to do this anymore. I'm done.’ I remembered that girl in Jim South's office telling me never do anything you're not comfortable with, and I got the oogies.

I made a comeback in 1999 and the only insecurity I had wasn’t competition against girls that were much younger than me – it was competition with myself. How am I going to live up to what I was 13 years ago? 

One of my biggest fears when I came back to the industry was that it wasn't going to be as glamorous or as wonderful, because all this time had passed. Girls didn't make films anymore, they did scenes. I've done 483 scenes and there was a difference between the old school and the new school, but I still got the glamour. I had my own trailer, I was treated like Ginger Lynn was at big awards ceremonies back in the day, and everybody was wonderful. The passion was there, but the family element was missing.

The 80s were the golden age of porn. Everybody was treated so well and we were all so close, it was just beautiful. I’ve made 76 films and over 40 of them were shot on 35mm. They were these huge productions with big budgets and real cameras.

The internet took away the joy of watching porn for the first time; taking that VHS or DVD home and putting it in the player. All of a sudden you could watch anything you wanted, anywhere, any time. It became a business – and in the early parts of my career it was a business, but it was more fun than work, and [in the end] it became more work than fun.

Sex Before the Internet premieres today at 10PM on VICE TV.

Categories: Tech News

Twitter 2.0 is signal boosting Taliban 2.0 through Blue subscriptions

The Register - Tue, 01/17/2023 - 08:00
Well well well, if it isn't the consequences of your actions

Comment  Like whack-a-mole, it seems that for every issue Elon Musk believes he has fixed in his pursuit of Twitter 2.0 paradise, another one pops its head up. In this case, the unintended consequences of Musk's actions are that Taliban 2.0 has bought Twitter Blue subscriptions.…

Categories: Tech News

Lauren Boebert and MTG Had a Huge Fight in the Bathroom: ‘Don’t Be Ugly’

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 01/17/2023 - 07:52

So, it seems that Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene do, in fact, hate each other.

The second-term House GOP agitators spent much of their first two years in the House on the same far-right flank of the Republican caucus, though there were rumors about their personal dislike for each other. But the pair found themselves on opposing sides of the House speakership battle, which went fifteen rounds earlier this month—before Boebert and her allies finally allowed Republican leader Kevin McCarthy to win the gavel.

And during the speakership election, Greene and Boebert had a verbal dust-up in a Congressional bathroom, according to The Daily Beast.

The argument reportedly happened on the first day of the session, Jan. 3. Greene—who bucked allies like Rep. Matt Gaetz by forcefully supporting McCarthy—reportedly told Boebert: “You were OK taking millions of dollars from McCarthy but you refuse to vote for him for Speaker, Lauren?”

It’s unclear what Greene was referring to. Though political action committees aligned or affiliated with McCarthy spent more than $1 million on Republicans who at least temporarily opposed his bid for speaker earlier this month, as Politico reported, Boebert has not been among the beneficiaries. The Colorado Republican also almost lost her seat in a near-upset to Democrat Adam Frisch in November, winning by fewer than 600 votes out of more than 325,000 cast.

Boebert reportedly told Greene, “don’t be ugly,” before storming out of the bathroom, according to The Daily Beast.

After voting against McCarthy for speaker fourteen times, Boebert and five other colleagues voted “present” in the 15th and final round, allowing him to achieve the thinnest majority possible of the votes actually cast.

In exchange, McCarthy granted the holdouts’ wishlist of conservative priorities, including the ability for just one member to call for a vote to “vacate the chair”—effectively a vote of no-confidence in the speaker. McCarthy’s giveaways make a fight with the Biden administration and Democratic-controlled Senate over the debt ceiling, and potential government shutdown, more likely.

While Greene and Boebert’s feud has now become fully public, no one was apparently willing to talk about the bathroom incident on the record — including Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat.

“What happens in the ladies room stays in the ladies room,” Dingell told The Daily Beast.

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.

Categories: Tech News

New M2-powered MacBook Pros and minis have 8K video, Wi-Fi 6E, dozens of cores

ARS Technica - Tue, 01/17/2023 - 07:41
M2 MacBook Pro models, side by side, slightly open

Enlarge / Apple's M2-powered MacBook Pros. You could—theoretically, according to Apple, running certain apps, etc.—sit in front of one of these devices for up to 22 consecutive hours. Bring coffee. (credit: Apple)

Apple has unveiled new systems based on its M2 Pro and M2 Max chips, giving the MacBook Pro and Mac mini line 8K video output, Wi-Fi 6E, up to 96 GB of unified memory on the highest-spec machine, and what Apple claims is the longest-ever Mac battery life.

The latest M2 systems on a chip (SoC) that power the systems are the biggest change since those in the last set of Pros and minis; the hardware for both looks broadly similar to their prior releases. You can buy an M2 Pro with up to 12 CPU and 19 GPU cores and 32GB of memory. The M2 Max is something else: You get an upper limit of 38 GPU cores, double the memory bandwidth of the Pro (from 200 to 400GB/s), and up to 96GB of unified memory.

Apple clocks the M2 Pro in a new 16-inch MacBook Pro at up to 40 percent faster than its own M1 Pro MacBook Pro at the broadly defined "image processing in Photoshop" metric and 80 percent faster than an Intel-based Core i9 MacBook Pro. For Xcode compiling, Apple cites a 25 percent gain over the M1 Pro and a 250 percent leap over the Core i9.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Categories: Tech News

GOP Candidate Accused of ‘Masterminding’ Plot to Shoot Up Democrats’ Homes

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 01/17/2023 - 07:20

A former GOP candidate who embraced “stolen election” conspiracy theories after losing his race in a landslide is accused of “masterminding” a series of shootings at the homes of four Democratic lawmakers.

Solomon Peña, who lost his race for the New Mexico state legislature in 2022, was arrested after a SWAT team operation at his home in Albuquerque on Monday evening, Albuquerque Police chief Harold Medina said during a press conference on Monday night

“Peña is accused of conspiring with, and paying four other men to shoot at the homes of 2 county commissioners and 2 state legislators,” Medina said.

Peña paid four other men to conduct the drive-by shootings at or near the homes of the four lawmakers in December and early January, and investigators believe he was present during at least one of the shootings, Medina said.

A VICE News review of Peña’s Twitter history has uncovered his habit of posting the “stolen election” lies pushed by former President Donald Trump, as well as QAnon-related conspiracy theories, anti-vax messages, and misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic statements.

On Nov. 16, just weeks before the shootings began, Peña responded to the news that  Trump was going to run for president again in 2024 by posting a picture of himself posing with Trump flags and wearing a MAGA hoodie.

“Trump just announced for 2024,” Peña tweeted. “I stand with him. I never conceded my HD 14 race. Now researching my options.”

Screenshot 2023-01-17 at 14.09.58.png

The first shooting was on Dec. 4, when Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa’s home was hit by eight bullets. Then, on Dec. 8, state Rep. Javier Martínez heard gunshots outside his home and subsequently found bullet holes in his walls. On Dec. 11, more than a dozen bullets hit the home of County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley in North Valley.

The final shooting took place on Jan. 3, when shots were fired at state Rep. Linda Lopez’s home. Three bullets that went through a bedroom where her 10-year-old daughter was sleeping.

Peña lost a race in House District 14 in November to longtime incumbent state Rep. Miguel Garcia, a Democrat. The race was not close: Garcia won by 48 points, or around 3,600 votes.

Despite his landslide loss, Peña visited three of the targeted officials’ homes without warning in the weeks after the election, complaining about election fraud and demanding the vote not be certified, the Albuquerque Journal reported—and then the shootings began.

“The Albuquerque Police Department essentially discovered what we had all feared and what we had suspected—that these shootings were indeed politically motivated,” Mayor Tim Keller said at the news conference. “They were dangerous attacks not only to these individuals… but, fundamentally, also to democracy.” He called Peña a “right wing radical” and an “election denier.”

Long before voting began, Peña was posting baseless claims that the Democrats were going to rig the 2022 elections, and repeated widely debunked allegations that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump.

But after he lost his race, his social media actively became more frequent—and more extreme.

In posts and replies after the November election, he pushed the election conspiracy theories, including those promoted by David Clements, the former New Mexico State University professor who’s become a superstar in the election denier community in recent years.

He also cited the work of Jeff O’Donnell, the Florida businessman who has dedicated himself to promoting unproven “rigged election” theories under the name “The Lone Raccoon.”

“I am the MAGA king,” Peña wrote in a tweet on Nov. 10, two days after losing the election. Along with repeatedly calling the vote “rigged” he also attacked his opponents, calling one “a demon possessed liar.”

Screenshot 2023-01-17 at 13.15.38.png

Alongside election fraud conspiracy theories, Peña shared QAnon-linked conspiracies by repeatedly blaming the “deep state” for his loss, and warning that all his enemies would be arrested and brought to Guantanamo Bay, a frequent prediction among QAnon followers.

Screenshot 2023-01-17 at 13.13.22.png

Peña also repeatedly attacked women who called him out on Twitter, labelling one “an effing bitch” and another “a fatass.” In another comment, a response to a woman who’d posted a photo wishing her followers Merry Christmas, he wrote: “Drop 20 pounds.”

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here. 

Categories: Tech News

‘Fire Emblem Engage’ Is a Tactically Brilliant Saturday Morning Cartoon

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 01/17/2023 - 07:15

Fire Emblem Engage is not the game I wanted, but it is, in moments, excellent. 

Fire Emblem Engage emerges in the wake of the series biggest success yet, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, which arguably moved the series from niche Nintendo mainstay with a growing, modern fanbase, to a tactics genre powerhouse. This was an especially impressive feat given that Three Houses was, in all honesty, a pretty mediocre tactics game. Instead, it managed to draw players in through a complex web of social relationships, meditations on systems and power, and a military academy setting that chummed the water for the series’ new, younger fanbase. Fire Emblem Engage is bad at almost everything Three Houses succeeds at, but somehow manages to make up for this through tactical excellence.

The game takes place in Elyos, a world that exists at the point of intersection between every other universe in the series, which is why previous game’s protagonists can manifest as ghostly “Emblems”. You play as the Divine Dragon, the child of the world’s primary deity, Lumera. The world is composed of four nations: the peaceful Firene, the honor and combat obsessed Brodia, the “free” Queendom of Sol, and the relentlessly goth Elusia. These descriptions feel reductive, because that is what the game reduces them to. They are sketches of nations, populated only with royalty, their retainers, and a handful of other characters who feel little for their countries other than blind loyalty.

Herein lies the first, major divergence from Three Houses—characters exist free of any real ideology or perspective. In Three Houses, the Blue Lions run requires Byleth, the game’s own divine protagonist, to navigate the messy racial hierarchy of a monarchy which only recently halted its colonial advances. The Golden Deer asks you to consider if political neutrality and human kindness can coexist in the face of empire. The Black Eagles route attempts to present a revolutionary future, but one that is enforced through conquest. Three Houses, for all of its failures, is a game that asks questions about the world, and how the player feels about it.

Fire Emblem Engage does not even bother to ask questions like this. Its characters are utterly two dimensional—they are collections of traits and personality quirks, which never change or come into real conflict with one another. Everyone from Firene is peace loving. The prince, and both of his retainers, are obsessed with working out. Alfred is defined by his inability to fit into noble customs, Etie by being both strong and cute, and Boucheron by being a gentle giant. This basic approach to characters, in which each group of nobles and retainers share a central theme or character trait, defines almost every group of characters you meet. 

It feels like a Saturday morning cartoon, right down to its extremely entertaining opening song, one in which everything goes back to normal by the end of the next episode. Upon being introduced in a classic transformation scene, Marth says to the camera, “I am Marth. Emblem Marth…to be clear.” And then it holds on his face, as if it expects the audience to laugh along with how absurd that line is. And in its best moments, I did laugh along.

Many of the support conversations between your allies are interesting in theory, some even manage to be funny. An extended dialogue between two former assassins. A soon-to-be regent meeting her god, and having to reckon with her previous actions. An order of religious paladins, trying to figure out what to do with the fact it has two heirs. Fire Emblem Engage succeeded in creating the outline of interesting relationships, but instead of populating that web of connection with characters, it did so with cardboard cutouts who cannot resist the constant urge to tell the protagonist how cool they are.

Engage goes as far as removing the romances which helped to popularize Awakening, Fates, and Three Houses. People don’t get married at the end of Power Rangers episodes. The characters and their dynamics are too simple to have made what romance could’ve been there feel genuine or interesting. 

In spite of all of this, Fire Emblem Engage represents the peak of the series’ tactics. 

Fire Emblem has, for the last few decades, been defined by the weapon triangle—a mechanic through which different classes of weapon are given additional chances to hit against one another. Swords beat axes, axes beat spears, spears beat swords. This mechanic has been the core of Fire Emblem’s tactics for a long time, but it hasn’t ever felt truly meaningful outside of the early-game and the highest difficulties. Fire Emblem Engage fixes this.

A screenshot of an early Fire Emblem Engage mission, depicting eight heroes and two enemies. The protagonist is charging to the edge of their movement range to attack one of the enemies.Screenshot by Intelligent Systems.

Engage introduces the break mechanic, which disables counterattacks when hitting your enemy with an advantageous weapon in the weapon triangle. This allows your units to deal uncontested damage against your enemies, while setting their allies up for success. In previous games, if you sent a weaker sword user to fight an Axe Armour, you would do virtually no damage and risk having your swordsman killed by a bad dice roll. Instead, the only answer to an Axe Armour was to send in a mage, or a powerful melee unit with an armor piercing weapon.

Engage provides significantly more solutions to that particular combat problem. The game also adds “Great” weapons, which are extremely slow but deal a lot of damage and knock enemies back on the map. Great weapons are so slow, in fact, that using them against an enemy allows them to counterattack before you can complete your own attack. This is a massive risk, bordering on a death sentence. However, if the enemy can’t counterattack because they’re broken, great weapons suddenly become powerful burst damage options that can overcome the tremendous defense of armored units if you don’t have a mage on hand.

Your enemies follow all the same rules, meaning that poor positioning is even more heavily punished than before. If you send a high level sword unit against a squad of lower-leveled lance units, the sword unit will likely be killed. In previous games, a unit with a strong enough weapon could kill an enemy with a counterattack before they have the chance to do their second attack, allowing them to handle large groups of enemies much more effectively—the break system prevents this and, in doing so, stops you from relying on overleveling your characters.

In addition to the new break system, Fire Emblem Engage also adds Emblem rings, which allow characters to use the skills of previous series stars like Marth, Ike, and Lucina, here called Emblems. This means that every one of your characters has a signature skill, a class skill, two empty skill slots that they can fill with the abilities of Emblems, the skills of their equipped Emblem, and a handful of extremely powerful skills and supermoves provided by Emblems when activating the limited-use “Engage” ability (which includes a short transformation sequence as your characters fuse with their Emblems). In total, end-game characters can have 8 skills at once, ranging from stat boosts, to skills that remove the ability to dodge attacks in exchange for a flat 50% damage reduction. 

A screenshot of Fire Emblem Engage's menu, in which a player is selecting Marth's Emblem Ring for Alear. Stats and skills are on the left and center of the image respectively.Screenshot by IntelligentSystems.

And Engage manages to teach you how to use all of its tools better than any other game in the series. Setting aside your standard tutorial messages, Engage builds combat encounters that test specific skills, and teach specific lessons which the game will continue to play with throughout its duration. To make your Emblems stronger, you have to pass their trials which are unique late-game encounters. These encounters are excellently designed, and do a lot to express the personalities and fighting styles of the Emblems you’re fighting against.

There are twelve of these trials, and each of them does a great job of teaching you how to use the Emblems effectively in the latter half of the game, something you will doubtlessly need to do because Engage manages to find difficulty in spite of the incredible tools at your disposal by taking clever advantage of terrain, enemy composition, and overwhelming numbers of enemy troops. If you want to survive, you have to fight cleverly.

All of this comes together to create engaging build crafting that allows every character to find a role in your army, even if the random stat increases from leveling up are particularly unkind to them—culminating in a late game that I can only describe as Power Ranger’s-esque, transformation sequences and all.

I played the game on Hard difficulty, and it has without fail managed to push me into awkward situations, and great fights. This is the first Fire Emblem game I’ve played without permadeath enabled, because, in Engage, the fights are genuinely challenging. Beating chapters without losing a unit, as I had in previous games, was significantly more complicated, and I didn’t feel like I had a strong enough grasp of Engage’s tactics to do so my first time around. Instead, I forewent the tension of Classic mode, and embraced the joyous experimentation of a combat system worth experimenting with. In Engage, I take big, messy swings to see what happens—and what happens is usually an incredibly memorable fight, something the series had, for me, always struggled with before.

Fire Emblem Engage is obsessed with the series’ past. It builds itself around the protagonists of previous games, re-uses those game’s most memorable maps, and builds its narrative around referencing the beats of older, better told stories. If the next Fire Emblem game is like this, it will be a disappointment. Engage’s tactics, however, set a new standard for the series. IntelligentSystems managed to perfectly meld mechanics and tone, but the tone they picked was fun, but ultimately empty. If they could manage to apply these same principles to more interesting narrative ends, the next Fire Emblem game would be the series’ best.

Categories: Tech News

JEDEC reportedly set to formalize Dell laptop memory standard

The Register - Tue, 01/17/2023 - 07:03
So long, SODIMM – or that's the idea, anyway

The JEDEC standards body is set to adopt the CAMM module format as the next memory standard to supersede the long-standing SODIMM for laptop memory, according to reports.…

Categories: Tech News

Ron Jeremy To Be Declared Unfit for Sexual Assault Trial Because of Dementia

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 01/17/2023 - 06:54

Former adult film star Ron Jeremy, indicted on more than 30 counts of sexual assault, is expected to be declared unfit for trial on Tuesday because he is suffering from “severe dementia.”  

The Los Angeles Times broke the story earlier this month ahead of the official decision.

“My first reaction, I was kind of numb,” Lianne Young, one of the former film stars who accused Jeremy of assaulting her, told the Times. “It’s going to come down to public opinion now, and public opinion has looked at Ron like a god.”

Others point to the fact that several women had to come forward publicly with harrowing allegations for a trial that’s now on hold. But adult industry professionals told VICE News that the case will nonetheless mainstream important conversations about consent within the industry and beyond. 

“I don’t think (Jeremy) being declared mentally incompetent is going to embolden anyone except for the men who are already looking for an excuse for their own behavior,” performer Ginger Banks told VICE News. “You would have to be intentionally obtuse to think he’s innocent.”

In 2020, Jeremy, whose legal name is Ronald Jeremy Hyatt, was charged with multiple counts, including forcible rape, forcible penetration with a foreign object, sexual battery, and forcible oral copulation, after four women came forward with rape allegations. In the months that followed, dozens more women came forward with allegations that Jeremy abused them at parties, on film sets, and at adult industry conventions. 

Jeremy, 69, was ultimately indicted on more than 30 count of sexual assault—including 12 counts of rape—spanning more than twenty years and involving 21 women and girls between the ages of 15 and 51. Jeremy pleaded not guilty to all allegations in Los Angeles in 2021.

The news about Ron Jeremy’s trial feels like a lose-lose to me

The trial was set to begin last year, but Jeremy’s defence lawyer reportedly walked into a courtroom last year and Jeremy didn’t recognize him. Mental health experts employed by both sides of the case determined Jeremy has severe dementia and would not be fit for a fair trial. 

“To very much a degree he and his legacy have already been in essence tarnished, even without the conviction,” said Corey Silverstein, a lawyer who specialises in the adult industry. “This guy, before all these allegations came out, was (revered) as one of the most popular male adult performers of the generation, and that's not the case anymore.” 

It’s nonetheless a difficult outcome for those who came forward, Silverstein said. 

“It is extremely hard for someone in the adult entertainment industry to come forward to begin with,” Silverstein added. “For a lot of these victims, this is now the trauma: You had the trauma of going through what he allegedly did, and now you have the trauma because he will never actually be tried.”

Industry professionals told VICE News that even though they’re disappointed with the outcome, they believe the criminal justice system is acting appropriately, and the case nonetheless shines a light on sexual assault within a broader #MeToo context.

“The news about Ron Jeremy’s trial feels like a lose-lose to me. I don’t think it was the outcome that anybody was hoping to see,” performer Siri Dahl told VICE News. “Even it’s not fair to survivors, if it’s legally the right thing to do, then I guess that’s what will have to happen.” 

Banks first called out Jeremy about five years ago by exposing companies that were still working with him. She’s since spoken out against the sexual assaults Jeremy allegedly committed, and published a video on YouTube compiling all the allegations against him. 

For Banks, the public allegations against Jeremy have mainstreamed conversations about consensual sex in the adult industry—and debunk harmful stereotypes that sex workers can’t be victims of sexual assault. “Being in a sexually charged environment does not give you automatic consent. There is no justification for rape,” Banks said. 

In fact, Banks said her experience with law enforcement has been largely positive, with officers explicitly telling her that “It doesn’t matter what your job is. You deserve consent and bodily autonomy.” 

“The more we educate people, the more things will change. I have hope for the future because with every bad thing that happens, something good comes out of it,” Banks said. “I know this will get people talking.”

Banks said good things have already come out of similar conversations, and pointed to the fact that the last few years have seen major improvements when it comes to consent on film sets. Some companies even have “performer advocates” that make sure performers have everything they need, and, for example, that performers are only choked for a safe amount of time, she said. Consent forms are also trending. 

“That didn't happen 10 years ago,” Banks said. “People didn't talk about consent ten years ago, and those conversations have spilled into porn industry.”

There’s a chance Jeremy could face trial one day, but it’s unlikely. When people are deemed unfit for trial they can sometimes return to court later if and when their condition improves. But dementia is an incurable, degenerative disease.

“As long as he's in this condition, a criminal case against him cannot proceed because he's unable to participate,” said Silverstein. “It doesn't sound like he's going to get any better.”

He will now likely be placed in a state-run institution, which, according to Silverstein, is punishment in and of itself. “This is going to be a mixture of him in a jail cell and a medical institution. He was basically taken off the streets for the rest of his life,” Silverstein said.

Categories: Tech News

Looming Twitter interest payment leaves Elon Musk with unpalatable options

ARS Technica - Tue, 01/17/2023 - 06:11
picture of elon musk, twitter logo, and money

Enlarge / Elon Musk’s personal equity investment in Twitter of about $26bn would be effectively wiped out in the event of a bankruptcy. (credit: FT Montage/Bloomberg)

The bill for Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter is coming due, with the billionaire facing unpalatable options on the company’s enormous debt pile, ranging from bankruptcy proceedings to another costly sale of Tesla shares.

Three people close to the entrepreneur’s buyout of Twitter said the first installment of interest payments related to $13 billion of debt he used to fund the takeover could be due as soon as the end of January. That debt means the company must pay about $1.5 billion in annual interest payments.

The Tesla and SpaceX chief financed his $44 billion deal to take Twitter private in October by securing the huge debt from a syndicate of banks led by Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Barclays and Mitsubishi. The $13 billion debt is held by Twitter at a corporate level, with no personal guarantee by Musk.

Read 27 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Categories: Tech News

The Chevrolet Corvette gets all-wheel drive hybrid power for 2024

ARS Technica - Tue, 01/17/2023 - 06:00
A blue Corvette E-Ray in a studio

Enlarge / The 2024 Corvette E-Ray adds all-wheel drive and hybrid power to the storied sportscar. (credit: Jonathan)

Chevrolet provided a train ticket from DC to New York City and back so we could take a ride in and be briefed about the 2024 Corvette E-Ray. Ars does not accept paid editorial content.

NEW YORK—Seventy years ago today, Chevrolet unveiled its first Corvette sports car in New York at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Fast forward seven decades and January 17 sees another Corvette debut, this time the 2024 Corvette E-Ray. A new variant of the mid-engined eighth-generation (or C8) Corvette, the E-Ray brings a couple of new tricks to the party: namely, all-wheel drive and a hybrid system.

The hybrid Corvette has been some time coming. For starters, way back in 2015 we discovered that General Motors had filed a trademark on the E-Ray name. And when we got our first look at the new C8 in 2020, the central tunnel running the length of the cabin seemed superfluous for a mid-engined, rear-wheel drive car but did look like a good spot to stick a bunch of batteries.

"You were one of the people that may have figured that out early on that this car was always in the plan of record. And this structural transom, although it also has structure benefits for stiffness, makes a great place to put a lithium-ion 1.9 kWh battery pack," explained Cody Bulkley, a Corvette performance engineer at Chevrolet, as he drove me around Manhattan's West Side Highway in a bright-red E-Ray prototype.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Categories: Tech News

Writing tool from AI21 Labs won't do all the hard work for you

The Register - Tue, 01/17/2023 - 06:00
Wordtune Spices is more like an AI-powered Grammarly

Language model startup AI21 Labs launched Wordtune Spices on Tuesday – a generative AI tool that aims to enhance human writing rather than replace it with machine-churned text.…

Categories: Tech News

Conservatives Are Panicking About AI Bias, Think ChatGPT Has Gone 'Woke'

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 01/17/2023 - 06:00

Conservative media recently discovered what AI experts have been warning about for years: systems built on machine learning like ChatGPT and facial recognition software are biased. But in typical fashion for the right-wing, it’s not the well-documented bias against minorities embedded in machine learning systems which has given rise to the field of AI safety that they’re upset about, no—they think AI has actually gone woke.

Accusations that ChatGPT was woke began circulating online after the National Review published a piece accusing the machine learning system of left-leaning bias because it won’t, for example, explain why drag queen story hour is bad.

National Review staff writer Nate Hochman wrote the piece after attempting to get OpenAI’s chatbot to tell him stories about Biden’s corruption or the horrors of drag queens. Conservatives on Twitter then attempted various inputs into ChatGPT to prove just how “woke” the chatbot is. According to these users, ChatGPT would tell people a joke about a man but not a woman, flagged content related to gender, and refused to answer questions about Mohammed. To them, this was proof that AI has gone “woke,” and is biased against right-wingers.

Rather, this is all the end result of years of research trying to mitigate bias against minority groups that’s already baked into machine learning systems that are trained on, largely, people’s conversations online.

ChatGPT is an AI system trained on inputs. Like all AI systems, it will carry the biases of the inputs it’s trained on. Part of the work of ethical AI researchers is to ensure that their systems don’t perpetuate harm against a large number of people; that means blocking some outputs.

“The developers of ChatGPT set themselves the task of designing a universal system: one that (broadly) works everywhere for everyone. And what they're discovering, along with every other AI developer, is that this is impossible,” Os Keyes, a PhD Candidate at the University of Washington's Department of Human Centred Design & Engineering told Motherboard.

“Developing anything, software or not, requires compromise and making choices—political choices—about who a system will work for and whose values it will represent,” Keyes said. “In this case the answer is apparently ‘not the far-right.’ Obviously I don't know if this sort of thing is the ‘raw’ ChatGPT output, or the result of developers getting involved to try to head off a Tay situation, but either way—decisions have to be made, and as the complaints make clear, these decisions have political values wrapped up in them, which is both unavoidable and necessary.”

Tay was a Microsoft-designed chatbot released on Twitter in 2016. Users quickly corrupted it and it was suspended from the platform after posting racist and homophobic tweets. It’s a prime example of why experts like Keyes and Arthur Holland Michel, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs, have been sounding the alarm over the biases of AI systems for years. Facial recognition systems are famously biased. The U.S. government, which has repeatedly pushed for such systems in places like airports and the southern border, even admitted to the inherent racial bias of facial recognition technology in 2019.

Michel said that discussions around anti-conservative political bias in a chatbot might distract from other, and more pressing, discussions about bias in extant AI systems. Facial recognition bias—largely affecting Black people—has real-world consequences. The systems help police identify subjects and decide who to arrest and charge with crimes, and there have been multiple examples of innocent Black men being flagged by facial recognition. A panic over not being able to get ChatGPT to repeat lies and propaganda about Trump winning the 2020 election could set the discussion around AI bias back.

“I don't think this is necessarily good news for the discourse around bias of these systems,” Michel said. “I think that could distract from the real questions around this system which might have a propensity to systematically harm certain groups, especially groups that are historically disadvantaged. Anything that distracts from that, to me, is problematic.”

Both Keyes and Michel also highlighted that discussions around a supposedly “woke” ChatGPT assigned more agency to the bot than actually exists. “It’s very difficult to maintain a level headed discourse when you’re talking about something that has all these emotional and psychological associations as AI inevitably does,” Michel said. “It’s easy to anthropomorphize the system and say, ‘Well the AI has a political bias.’”

“Mostly what it tells us is that people don't understand how [machine learning] works…or how politics works,” Keyes said.

More interesting for Keyes is the implication that it’s possible for systems such as ChatGPT to be value-neutral. “What's more interesting is this accusation that the software (or its developers) are being political, as if the world isn't political; as if technology could be ‘value-free,’” they said. “What it suggests to me is that people still don't understand that politics is fundamental to building anything—you can't avoid it. And in this case it feels like a purposeful, deliberate form of ignorance: believing that technology can be apolitical is super convenient for people in positions of power, because it allows them to believe that systems they do agree with function the way they do simply because ‘that's how the world is.’”

This is not the first moral panic around ChatGPT, and it won’t be the last. People have worried that it might signal the death of the college essay or usher in a new era of academic cheating. The truth is that it’s dumber than you think. And like all machines, it’s a reflection of its inputs, both from the people who created it and the people prodding it into spouting what they see as woke talking points.

“Simply put, this is anecdotal,” Michel said. “Because the systems also open ended, you can pick and choose anecdotally, cases where, instances where the system doesn't operate according to what you would want it to. You can get it to operate in ways that sort of confirm what you believe may be true about the system.”

Categories: Tech News

Ukraine Wants Access to ChatGPT

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 01/17/2023 - 06:00

The vice prime minister of Ukraine wants access to ChatGPT, the machine learning-powered chatbot from OpenAI that can generate advanced writing based on different prompts that a user enters, from fairytales to speeches. 

On Friday, Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted, “Would like to appeal to ChatGPT team, @OpenAI to open your software for Ukraine. We are excited how develops AI tools. Ukrainians are tech-savy, cool & ready to test innovations now. Personally me will use your tool to make my twitter account great again. Sounds like a deal?”

In addition to Ukraine, ChatGPT is currently unavailable in China, Russia, Afghanistan, Belarus, Venezuela, and Iran, according to a Ukrainian blog called Mezha Media. On OpenAI’s list of supported countries, none of the aforementioned countries are mentioned. Though OpenAI has never explicitly stated its reasoning behind these bans, it is likely a response to regions currently in conflict or under sanctions.

“While we would like to make our technology available everywhere, conditions in certain countries make it difficult or impossible for us to do so in a way that is consistent with our mission. We are currently working to increase the number of locations where we can provide safe and beneficial access to our tools,” a spokesperson from OpenAI told Motherboard.

People online have been trying to get a response from OpenAI in regard to this geo-block. A user on OpenAI’s forum using the username “boldfrontiers” said that the keyword “Ukraine” was also banned last August on the platform’s text-to-image tool, DALL-E: “I got a warning recently after using the word Ukraine in a text prompt. Kind of understand why as the country is associated with war these days, but my intention was to render a portrait of a Ukrainian person which has nothing to do with the war. This after using country names like America / United States, Canada, France, England, Wales, Italy, etc. with absolutely no issues.” 

The ban on Ukraine-related prompts was eventually lifted. The same user later said they received an email from a Ukrainian person, who asked them to raise awareness of the fact that Ukrainian users can't access the platform altogether. Boldfrontiers pointed out that blocking Ukraine from Dall-E access contradicts OpenAI investor Microsoft’s support for Ukraine, as it announced in November that it would extend all technology support free of charge for Ukraine throughout 2023.

After ChatGPT launched its chatbot using the GPT-3 model in December, it quickly grew in popularity, with Open AI founder Sam Altman tweeting, “there is a lot more demand for ChatGPT than we expected; we are working to add more capacity.” The chatbot has since been used for a number of purposes, from negotiating down internet bills to being integrated as part of Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

Despite Altman’s warning that ChatGPT is limited and cannot be relied on for anything important, many people are nevertheless excited about the bot’s potential, leading OpenAI to develop a monetized version that began piloting this week. 

Many Ukrainian citizens have echoed Fedorov’s appeal to OpenAI to gain access to ChatGPT. The Editor-in-Chief of Mezha Media wrote, “Unfortunately, users and developers from Ukraine cannot test the possibilities of ChatGPT because, for unknown reasons, OpenAI closed Ukrainians’ access to the GPT-3 API, on which the new chatbot works. The organization placed Ukraine on the same list as terrorist countries such as russia and Iran. We hope that this will gain wide publicity and OpenAI will change its position regarding users from Ukraine.”

Categories: Tech News

Michigan is Banning Inmates From Reading Totally Normal Books

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 01/17/2023 - 06:00

Books can offer a huge range of benefits to incarcerated people, giving them access to education, comfort, and skills that can help them re-enter society. But U.S. prisons are known for restricting access to thousands of books, often for reasons that seem arbitrary or nonsensical.

In Michigan, documents obtained through a public records request and reviewed by Motherboard show that from 1998 to April 2022, the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) has restricted inmate access to roughly 1,000 books. The banned titles range from classic literature and contemporary fiction to commercial drivers license manuals, foreign language learning guides, and books about coding. Even Dungeons & Dragons rule books made it onto the list of prohibited reading material.

While the reasons for the book bans varied, nearly half of the texts were restricted after being loosely described by the DOC as a “Threat to the order and security of the institution.” In 2021 alone, the Michigan DOC added more books to this list of restricted publications than it had in one year in the previous decade.

“People in prisons have First Amendment rights, and there needs to be some scrutiny of the limitations that prison officials put on the materials that incarcerated people have access to,” Adam Steinbaugh, an attorney at the free speech and education group FIRE who originally filed the request, told Motherboard. “If they can just categorize anything and everything as a threat to order and security, they can pretty much limit anything they want to.”

Some of the titles on the list include Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, and informational books with titles like Grant Writing For Dummies, How Computers Work, How To Start A Trucking Company, and German in 32 Lessons.

Steinbaugh says the catchall terminology has a deleterious effect on expressive rights.

“To people who are often in cages or in facilities that are among the most secure in the world, it sends the message that words and ideas are a threat to that security, and as a free speech advocate that’s pretty hard to square because ideas can be powerful but they are not that immediately a threat to security and order,” he added.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) regulations state that publications can only be rejected if they are found to be “detrimental to the security, good order, or discipline of the institution or if it might facilitate criminal activity,” according to the National Institute of Corrections. But Andy Chan, a volunteer with the Seattle-based nonprofit Books To Prisoners, which fulfills inmate requests for books, explains that each state adheres to its own sets of policies for restricting access to books

“There’s different layers [of decision making], from the Department of Corrections down to the individual superintendents of the prison down to the mailroom sergeants and whoever happens to be working in the mailroom whenever a package comes in,” Chan told Motherboard. “I mean, if they see something with what they have determined at whichever level is a threat to the good old order of the community, they can typically reject it.”

In other words, much like when books are removed from schools and public libraries without clear acquisition policies, the process is totally subjective. In Michigan, prison wardens get the final say on what books end up on restricted publications list, taking recommendations from deputy directors that hold hearings to determine whether a “representative sampling” of the written content violates its policy.

Once a book in Michigan ends up on the restricted publications list at one of the thirty-one prisons in the state, it becomes a banned book for every prison in the system. Chris Gautz, public information officer for Michigan DOC, told Motherboard in an email that the DOC is in the midst of updating its policy, but didn’t elaborate on whether this would include reviewing or removing books from the state’s list of banned titles.

Michigan is a difficult state to work with, Chen says, because their DOC requires that books come from a small list of hand-picked online vendors—and nonprofit book distributors that work with inmates are not one of them. While inmates may receive a written notice that they won’t be receiving their mail, nonprofits like Books To Prisoners often don’t receive any sort of confirmation if an inmate’s book was tossed out.

“We have had an understanding since at least 2002, and possibly before then, that we cannot send books to most incarcerated people in Michigan,” he said.

Prison book bans like those in Michigan are troubling to librarians and other information access advocates, who draw parallels with recent efforts by right-wing groups to remove titles from schools and public libraries—particularly those written by queer and marginalized authors.

Keri Blakinger, an investigative reporter who worked on a database that tracks which books prisons don’t want incarcerated people to read for nonprofit criminal justice-focused newsroom The Marshall Project, says books can act as a kind of pressure release valve for incarcerated people. Therefore, restricting access to books can stoke tensions, making the stressful environments where they live and work even more dangerous.

“That can mean not having air conditioning and then tensions run high in the heat,” Blakinger told Motherboard. “That can mean creating this sort of manufactured scarcity by not having enough food or enough hygiene items or locking people in their cells and not letting them out. All of these things create a less safe environment because you’re taking people who are confined and stressed and struggling with mental health and addiction issues, and you’re adding all of these unnecessary stressors and as a result making these institutions less safe.”

Categories: Tech News

China’s Population Drops for the First Time in 60 Years

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 01/17/2023 - 05:12

China’s population declined for the first time in sixty years, a turning point that came sooner than some expected amid a demographic crisis that could change the trajectory of the world’s second-largest economy.

The country’s population stood at 1.41 billion at the end of 2022, a decrease of 850,000 compared to 2021, according to data released by China’s bureau of statistics on Tuesday. The last time deaths outnumbered births in China was during Mao Zedong’s disastrous Great Leap Forward campaign, which caused widespread famine and an estimated 30 million deaths between 1958 and 1961.

The historic turn came at least eight years earlier than most had predicted, said Xiujian Peng, a senior research fellow at the Centre of Policy Studies at Australia’s University of Victoria. “It has alarmed a lot of people because the Chinese government did not prepare for this to happen so soon,” Peng told VICE World News.

Peng blamed China’s disruptive “zero COVID” policy for contributing to the rapid decline in birth rates during the pandemic. Would-be parents were deterred also by economic uncertainty and the loss of access to medical services, as seen in other parts of the world in the early days of the pandemic, Peng said.

This is bad news for China. A double whammy of a shrinking labor force and an aging population has slowed its economy, which in 2022 recorded its weakest growth since the 1970s.

The contraction did not come as a complete surprise, with China’s birth rates falling for years. And its fertility rate, estimated at 1.15 children per woman in 2021, was already far below the replacement rate of 2.1 required to ensure a stable population and lower than that of Japan, which has the world’s oldest society. Even before the decline in 2022, China was projected to cede its title as the world’s most populous country to India this year.

In 2022, the United Nations revised its predictions and suggested China’s population could shrink to below 800 million people by the end of the century, bleaker than its previous forecast of 1.06 billion in 2019.

Bert Hofman, director of the East Asian Institute at National University of Singapore, said the projected further decline could cost China as much as 1 percent point growth per year.

Coupled with a rapidly expanding elderly population, China’s declining workforce could put pressure on its pension and healthcare system and strain public finances. Studies have shown that the main state pension fund could run dry by 2035.

China has sought to address these demographic challenges. In a major reversal of its “one-child policy” in 2021, the Chinese government allowed couples to have up to three children. It has also been considering raising the retirement age gradually.

In August, the National Health Commission unveiled a slew of perks to encourage families to give birth.

Local authorities across the country have also come up with their own initiatives. The southern manufacturing hub of Shenzhen, for example, offers a cash payment to parents of up to 19,000 yuan ($2,825) for newborns, while other cities have extended parental leaves and doled out tax subsidies for parents.

China’s leading demographers, including Cai Fang, former deputy director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a government advisor, have suggested further urbanization to replenish the labor pool and boost consumption.

But it remains to be seen how effective these measures are, given the complex nature of demographic changes.

“The society will not immediately feel the consequences,” Peng said. “But from the experience of European countries, as well as Asian countries like Japan, Singapore, and South Korea, it is not an easy task to bring back the fertility rate.”

Follow Rachel Cheung on Twitter and Instagram.

Categories: Tech News

I was reasonable to ask to WFH in early days of COVID, says fired engineer

The Register - Tue, 01/17/2023 - 05:06
Infrastructure company retorts that it is an 'essential' business and cites lack of medical records

His former employer cannot "seriously" claim that he was unable to perform his job remotely when it fired him for refusing to work in person during the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, an engineer told a judge last week.…

Categories: Tech News

A history of ARM, part 3: Coming full circle

ARS Technica - Tue, 01/17/2023 - 04:30
A history of ARM, part 3: Coming full circle

Enlarge (credit: Jeremy Reimer/Waldemar Brandt/NASA)

The story so far: As the 20th century came to a close, ARM was on the precipice of massive change. Under its first CEO, Robin Saxby, the company had grown from 12 engineers in a barn to hundreds of employees and was the preferred choice in RISC chips for the rapidly expanding mobile market. But the mobile and computer worlds were starting to merge, and the titans of the latter industry were not planning to surrender to the upstarts of the former. (This is the final article in a three-part series. Read part 1 and part 2.)

It started, as did many things in the ARM story, with Apple.

Steve Jobs had returned, triumphantly, to the company he had co-founded. The release of the colorful gumdrop iMacs in 1998, an agreement with Microsoft, and the sale of Apple’s ARM stock had brought the company from near-bankruptcy to a solid financial footing. But Apple’s “iCEO” was still searching for the next big thing.

Read 44 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Categories: Tech News

Boffins say their protective satellite paint job could harvest power from the Sun

The Register - Tue, 01/17/2023 - 04:02
How does Multifunctional Nanobarrier Structure sound for the bathroom wall?

Researchers say they have developed a coating that can protect spacecraft and satellites from solar radiation while also allowing possible harvesting of heat energy from sunlight.…

Categories: Tech News

‘I Don’t Fly Here’: Nepal’s Plane Crash Highlights a Troubling Trend of Airline Disasters

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 01/17/2023 - 03:48

The plane seemed to be flying low—that was why Diwas Bohora pulled out his phone and started filming. Seconds after he hit record, it nosedived. 

The 33-year-old, who lives under the flight path of Nepal’s Pokhara International Airport, regularly shoots aircraft videos as a hobby. He had no idea he was about to capture footage that would send shockwaves across the world, igniting new debate around alleged safety gaps in Nepal’s aviation industry.

This, after all, was just another one of the 10- to 20-odd planes he watched from his balcony every day. Only later would he realise he was actually witnessing the final moments of at least 70 peoples’ lives, and one of the most devastating aviation disasters in Nepal’s history.

“I was just sitting in the sun after my lunch, [when] I saw a plane very near to me, and I thought 'I can make a good video of this plane and it will be content for my YouTube [channel],’” he told VICE World News. “But then suddenly the plane tilted.”

Filmed on the afternoon of Sunday, Jan. 15th, Bohora’s video has been viewed by tens of millions of people. The twin-engine ATR-72 aircraft, operated by Nepalese carrier Yeti Airlines, was completing a half-hour domestic flight from Kathmandu and descending towards Pokhara’s newly inaugurated international airport when, for reasons still unknown, it suddenly banked hard to the left, plunging into the gorge of the Seti River. 

Bohora, who lives less than 50 metres from the crash site, recalled a “huge blast, and a red flame, and feeling like there was an earthquake in my house.” The plane had shattered on impact. Seventy-two people were on board the flight; at the time of writing, at least 70 are confirmed dead.

The tragedy is the deadliest airline disaster Nepal has seen in more than 30 years, and the latest in a string of incidents that have hit the nation in the past several decades. Since 2000 there have been at least 21 fatal aviation accidents in Nepal, collectively claiming the lives of more than 350 people. Yeti Airlines and its subsidiary, Tara Air, have been involved in seven fatal crashes since 2004.

Rarely do the fatalities of the country’s airline disasters number as high as those of the Pokhara crash, though, and rarely are there so many victims from different corners of the world. This tragedy, which has taken the lives of 53 Nepalese as well as international travellers from Australia, Argentina, France, India, Ireland, South Korea, and Russia, is now shining a global spotlight on Nepal's alarming airline safety record.

That safety record is so poor that the European Union has banned all Nepali airlines from operating in the bloc’s airspace since 2013, after the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) declared that they failed to comply with a number of critical protocols. And while the Himalayan nation suffers a uniquely challenging topography when it comes to flight safety, experts suggest that the problem is exacerbated by a lack of resources and a reluctance, maybe even unwillingness, to treat the clear and present dangers of air travel with the seriousness they deserve.

According to Geoffrey Thomas, aviation expert and editor-in-chief of Airlineratings.com, Nepal is “probably one of the least safe places in the world to fly, given the number of crashes versus the amount of traffic.”

“I believe that aviation [in Nepal] does not have as high a priority as it should,” Thomas told VICE World News, adding that the issues are numerous. “They have to put more resources into pilot training, they have to put more resources into upgrading the aircraft, they have to improve their airports, they have to improve the oversight of their aviation industry… But like many countries who are not that wealthy, it's very difficult to do because aviation's an expensive business.”

“A number of the airlines,” he added, “are more interested in suing you than they are in improving their safety record.”

Thomas speaks from experience. In previous years, multiple Nepalese airlines have threatened to sue his website, which offers expert safety reviews of hundreds of airlines around the world, for rating them poorly and “damaging tourism.” While he refused to cite the carriers by name, he suggested that such backlash is symptomatic of a disturbing reality: namely, that airlines might be willing to prioritise branding and reputation over the safety of those who fly. 

“I, for one, would never fly in Nepal,” he said. “Not with what I know… through my contacts in pilot training and things like that. I have some significant reservations about some of the standards at some of the airlines.”

“We're always expecting a tragedy in Nepal.”

nepal crashRelatives of plane crash victims weep outside a hospital in Pokhara on January 16, 2023. Photo by PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP via Getty Images.

Apurva Chaudhary is 26 years old, but he’s only been on a plane once, when he was a child. Like many other Nepalese, he too has learned to be leery of air travel.

“I don't fly here in Nepal, because all you hear is tragic stories about planes crashing and no survivors,” he told VICE World News. “Nobody feels safe to travel by air here.”

In the days since the Pokhara crash, Chaudhary has tried to avoid scrolling through social media. Part of the reason is Bohora’s video, which he sees almost every time he opens his Snapchat, Facebook, or TikTok. But even more distressing is another clip that’s gone viral in the wake of the event: a livestream, filmed inside the plane cabin, that shows the calm and oblivious faces of the passengers in the moments before the aircraft rolls.

He is “worried sick” that he might see the face of his best friend, Nishant Acharya, who perished in the crash. 

Chaudhary recalls the moment he heard the news. He was at home with a group of friends, socialising, relaxing, when another close friend called him. This friend had planned to fly to Pokhara with Acharya, but didn’t end up boarding the flight. Now that plane had crashed, he told Chaudhary, and Acharya wasn’t answering his phone.

“I panicked and started calling everyone,” Chaudhary said. “When I got a text that his body was identified by his dad I just couldn't control my emotions. I burst out into tears. I was shaking, shivering, wishing this wasn't true at all. I just wanted this to be a bad dream.”

Acharya had been flying to Pokhara, his hometown, to visit his family—a flight he took often. He was 27 years old.

Now, as many grapple with the pain of losing loved ones, they can't help but feel this could have been avoided. Two days after the tragedy, Chaudhary told VICE World News he was still in shock. Despite his best efforts to take his mind off the crash, he couldn’t stop hearing his best friend’s voice, his laugh, “everything.” 

“He was such a jolly person… He didn't deserve this,” Chaudhary said. “When I hear this kind of news I get so sad, because the government is doing nothing for these kinds of things. It's really shocking… I want the government to take this incident as a lesson and do something about it.”

Others want the same. Around 100 people gathered in Kathmandu on Monday night to light candles in memory of the Pokhara crash victims, while calling on the Nepalese government to ensure proper safety standards in its aviation sector.

Keith Tonkin, managing director at Australian aviation consultancy company Aviation Projects, noted that while hostile environmental factors and unsafe infrastructure pose unique challenges for the country, issues of governance are also slowing things down.

“One of the problems is that because Nepal has a lot of mountainous terrain and runways… it's more difficult to implement both the standards and recommended practices that others have adopted,” he told VICE World News. “So there are practicalities, but there is also the governance and oversight situation that is not ideal there.” 

In the 10 years since Nepal’s aviation sector was blacklisted by ICAO and then the EU, the rate of fatal airline accidents per year has remained more or less constant, resulting in the deaths of at least 189 people. 

Thomas believes the Pokhara crash may finally force the government’s hand. Of the dozens of plane crashes to have taken place in Nepal over the past several decades, there is perhaps none, he suggested, that have been more likely to wedge authorities into meaningful action—primarily due to the amount of global attention, and scrutiny, now being levelled at Nepal.

This, he says, is partly a result of the historically high death count, as well as videos like Bohora’s that broadcast the shocking event on an international scale. But as both Thomas  and Chaudhary pointed out, there may be another reason why the ripple effects of the Pokhara crash have extended beyond the borders of Nepal and garnered such worldwide attention.

As Chaudhury put it: “There were foreign people in the plane.”

“When you've got a crash that just involves the Nepalese, the publicity is not nearly as great,” said Thomas. “Sometimes it takes a terrible tragedy for things to get rectified… This crash involving international folks, and the number of people on board, and the accessibility, means that there's going to be a huge light shone on Nepalese aviation, and it'll be a major detriment to tourism.” 

“Hopefully it's a watershed for them to say we have to get really serious about aviation… we need international help, international expertise, and international funding.”

If nothing else, both Thomas and Chaudhury hope that the lives of the 72 people onboard the Kathmandu to Pokhara aren’t lost in vain—that they don’t simply become statistics in Nepal’s airline disaster death count, but inspire real and lasting change in the country. 

“There have been many incidents like this before that have been forgotten in a glimpse, but I really hope that the government will put emphasis on this issue and try to do something to resolve it,” Chaudhury said. “I hope that many more people don't have to lose their loved ones.”

Additional reporting by Koh Ewe.

Follow Gavin Butler on Twitter.

Categories: Tech News

Unix is dead. Long live Unix!

The Register - Tue, 01/17/2023 - 02:30
Don't expect to see any more big AIX news. This means the last Unix left is… Linux

It's the end of an era. As The Reg covered last week, IBM has transferred development of AIX to India. Why should IBM pay for an expensive US-based team to maintain its own proprietary flavor of official Unix when it paid 34 billion bucks for its own FOSS flavor in Red Hat?…

Categories: Tech News