Saturday, July 26, 2014

Comedy Without Cause Featured on CBC's Punchline!

We're super excited to let you know that our sister site, Comedy Without Cause, has been featured on the CBC's new online comedy endeavour, Punchline.

Our sketch entitled "Psychic Lawyers" stars Mark Junop and yours truly in an advertisement for the ultimate legal dream team!

Punchline is CBC's (that's the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, not the Canadian Bagel Company) newly launched web portal featuring both original Canadian comedy and featuring stuff culled from across the inter-webs. Take a gander at "Psychic Lawyers" on CBC Punchline and let them know you like what you see!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Why We May Never Have the Answers to Flight MH-17

Anyone who has stayed up late watching marathons of disaster shows knows at least one thing about air crashes.  Whether the culprit is terrible weather as in Air France Flight 447, a catastrophic technical failure like American Airlines Flight 191, or a terrorist bomb as destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland, the scene of the crash is always secured by investigators as they determine first and foremost if they're dealing with a horrific accident or a crime scene.

As the pictures of the horrifying scene of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17 flooded news feeds and social media, the most disturbing have already confirmed a few vital clues.  We know from radar reports that there is virtually no doubt that a missile struck the plane carrying nearly 300 innocent people. The photos and videos across Live Leak for those who can stomach such horror, confirm that the airliner fell apart in the sky and the victims, men women and children littered among the debris, some with hardly a scratch on them - fell to earth.

Cor Pan made a tragically prophetic facebook post before boarding the
doomed MH-17: "If the plane disappears, this is what it looks like."

In the United States, The National Transportation Safety Board is responsible for securing and investigating these types of disasters.  Within hours, the NTSB dispatches emergency workers to begin the task of coordinating the recovery of bodies, preserving every tiny fragment of debris, and liaising with the FBI if there's reason to believe foul play.  Each step is crucial in making sense of what has happened and ensuring everything can be learned to prevent the same tragedy from reoccurring.  In this case, the Ukrainian government and the Malaysian Transport Minister are trying to gain access to the site for an internationally-led investigation.

Compounding the tragedy in the Ukraine is that MH-17 and the 298 people who lost their lives were not only innocent bystanders, their remains and all evidence of what exactly happened are at the mercy of warlords and militiamen collaborating with the Russian governmentInstead of securing the site, cellphone video and pictures of the scene show anyone from armed combatants to civilians in their summer clothes, pouring over the wreckage, looting passengers' belongings, absconding with pieces of debris as macabre souvenirs.

Their is no recovery of evidence, only a haphazardly, uncoordinated mess as bodies, after having been left in the field, are being taken to various small villages near the crash site. Meanwhile Russian Separatists are carting wreckage off to god knows where.  The Associated press has reported that despite pleas from the Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai, US President Barack Obama, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe that access to the site has been not only hampered, but critically mishandled before investigative efforts:

An international delegation visited the crash site Friday evening but was only allowed to view one small portion. While the delegation was leaving under orders from armed rebel overseers, two Ukrainian members lingered to look at a fragment of the plane, prompting a militiaman to fire a warning shot in the air with his Kalashnikov.

During past investigations by the NTSB, there have been monumental challenges to collecting evidence such as the crash of Value Jet Flight 592 which plunged into the Florida Everglades. In that case, the DC-9 was obliterated and completely obscured from site beneath a remote, alligator infested swamp.  The recovery of even the tiniest fragments, and of course the flight data and voice recorders, helped investigators piece together the jigsaw puzzle from which emerged a picture of flammable cargo improperly stowed in the cargo hold having ignited and doomed the jet. 

For Flight MH-17, whose flight data recorder has already possibly been absconded by people unknown, uncovering the full picture of what happened and who is ultimately culpable may not be possible from the now desecrated evidence.  Radar reports of a missile launched from specific longitude and latitude may still provide the smoking gun and from which a coordinated response from the international community will be paramount to ensure the passengers of MH-17 did not die in vain.  Tragically for now, those responsible have been doing their best to mitigate the search for truth while depriving the victim's families of any closure they could take from such senseless act of mass murder.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Science Illiterate Public? Science Illiterate News Media...

Last week a story about science and technology swept across mainstream media.  The headline signalled that a watershed moment in artificial intelligence had been reached: Turing Test Passed by Computer.  For those who may not be acquainted with Alan Turing's proposed "test," the mathematician and father of modern computing suggested that around the the new millennium, computers would be capable of conversing via text in a manner so human-like that "average interrogator will not have more than 70 per cent chance of making the right identification after five minutes of questioning."

The Turing Test.

Needless to say that on the day on which this milestone is reached, humanity will have ventured into a new unknown technological, and some would argue, moral frontier.  It's certainly a story one would think the media would have thoroughly verified before spreading across TV, print and the inter-webs. Or not. As it turned out, as anyone who read further than the byline, the truth of the matter was that a piece of software colloquially known as a chat-bot had merely been refined by a 13 year old to win a contest at The University of Reading.

The distinction is not a subtle one and speaks volumes about the level of reading comprehension present in the newspaper editing rooms across the globe. Even a cursory scan of the Wikipedia page for "The Turing Test" would have squashed this complete non-story from being pimped out by CBC, The Guardian, BBC others.

In the following days, many of the same news outlets back-pedalled with embarrassing op-eds and the usual grotesque displays of false-equivalence - with the Toronto Star going so far as to pit a lone dissenting Canadian professor against Kevin Warwick from the University of Reading: Warwick adds that critics questioning how good the test is should know that ‘we are all skeptical in the same way…but what we did was the Turing Test’.

Even the shittiest porn sites are filled with Chat-Bots trying to seduce you,Turing style.

There's a reason that news stories of a scientific nature are usually under-reported, buried deep in the news cycle, or just plane wrong.  Most of the blame rests on the journalistic premise of objectivity through the granting of equal coverage to "both sides."  The problem with representing scientific topics in this way is that for one, the "sides" are drawn along lines between those who share a consensus across disciplines, versus a few lone dissenting whack jobs.  In addition to that, there exists a confounding of common language; many words have usage in scientific discourse that differ slightly from their vernacular.

In my opinion, the solution to this problem is two fold.  First we need to have a course in critical thinking taught not as a college or university elective, but as a high school compulsory for graduation. Secondly, in a few years, a crop of journalist will spring up with sharper reading comprehension skills and the quality of the written word, field report, and talking-head pundit will be elevated from a sixth grade level.

(Of course, even when CNN manages to explain the Higgs Boson, the comments section takes you a on ride of academic discussion...)

Then we'll see coverage that presents scientific topics, if not in depth, then at least briefly summarized with a hint of accuracy that so eludes all coverage outside of actual scientific literature.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Comedy Without Cause Now on Funny or Die!

Comedy Without Cause has carved out a corner at Funny or! To celebrate the ever-expanding plethora of nonsense, we have new videos, images and even some vintage CWC on offer only at Funny or Die!

Check out our latest sketch below:

We also have some early sketches to take a gander at including our first web series Two Straight Guys.

Cantaloupe, because love has no bounds.

Be sure also to check out our new section for images where you'll happen upon such hidden Photoshop gems like these:

Keep your eyes on us at Funny or Die coz' this crazy train is just gettin a'rollin'!

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Truly Amazing Documentary...

An Honest Liar OFFICIAL TRAILER from Justin Weinstein on Vimeo.

Last night I attended a screening for An Honest Liar, one of the many films featured in this years Hot Docs Festival here in Toronto. For those unfamiliar, the festival is the largest of its kind in North America to feature documentaries of all variety with contributions from around the world.  This film, one helped greatly along through a grass roots Indiegogo campaign, chronicles the life and career of The Amazing Randi.

A Toronto native, James Randi began his career as a magician and escape artist and went on to become a world famous "debunker" of those who would employ the skills of illusionists under the guise of genuine psychic, telekinetic, or other paranormal ability.

My earliest memories of Randi came as a youngster watching Larry King stoke a confrontation between him and the infamous Sylvia Browne, self-professed psychic and a regular staple of the Montel Willam's Show.  I had seen Sylvia Browne on the Montel Show offer shoot-from-the-hip psychic readings of guests, often telling grieving mothers the spirit of their dead child was "standing right beside you, hon..."

Ironically, this was under my door when I got home.

Montel and those in the audience never challenged the veracity of what she said, and I remember thinking that there must be something to her because of her sheer conviction in what she told those people.  How, I thought, could anyone lie to the face of a a bereaved parent?

Well into my adulthood and with the explosion of internet video sites like Youtube, I watched Randi's exploits throughout the decades from appearances on Johnny Carson to take down bogus faith healer Peter Popoff, to demonstrate how so called psychic surgeons apply their trade, and his dogged attempts to expose the parlour tricks of spoon-bender Uri Geller.

In a world of sensationalized reality TV, info-tainment, and some misplaced faux-journalistic instinct to always present both sides even when it's a matter of verifiable reality against outlandish, unsubstantiated nonsense -- it is so heartening to have a strong beacon of critical thought, love of education, and enthusiasm for science in James Randi.  Heartening further is the long list of scientists, entertainers, and people from all walks of life who have been inspired by The Amazing Randi, from Penn & Teller, to Bill Nye and even Adam Savage (who affectionately refers to Randi in the film as the original Myth Buster).

So it was appropriate that a screening showcasing the work of a man with such charm, humour, wit, and spirited trickery, would include an appearance by the man himself who rose from his place in the TIFF Bell Lightbox cinema and joined the film-makers on stage for a Q&A....and of course, a couple magic tricks. A complete surprise to me that the 85 year old conjurer had made the trip for the screening in Toronto, you better believe I used the opportunity to meet one of my greatest heroes.  And, of course I got a picture to prove it:

Seizing the moment, I recalled one of the most striking demonstrations he presented in a TED Talk back in 2010.  To emphasize the hokum that is homoeopathic medicine, the man downed an entire bottle of sleeping pills...just as he has done in numerous presentations, and never suffered a single effect from the chemically inert product. Expressing my love for that always evocative demonstration, a gracious and beaming Randi winked, "gets 'em every time!" 


Check out the final screening of An Honest Liar at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the Hot Docs Festival, this Saturday May 3rd at 6:30pm.