Wednesday, May 17, 2023

17: Ukraine

How Do You Get a High-Style House for $600,000? Build It Yourself. One Washington State couple worked side by side with their contractors, doing much of the heavy lifting: “We wanted to do something extraordinary.” ........ in 2018, a new ferry started making the trip from nearby Kingston to downtown Seattle in 39 minutes. Suddenly, the idea of living there full-time seemed feasible. ....... The glass doors can open much of the house to the forest. ........ “There were some times when it was raining and muddy, and we were setting form panels, and I was trying to get a plumb level to hit a spot where a grid line was supposed to be,” Mr. Gentry conceded. ........ Mr. Gentry added: “We were going to honor the land and your grandparents.” .

How Chris Messina Forced Matt Damon to Up His Game in ‘Air’ The “actor’s actor” ad-libbed so many funny threats that the movie star couldn’t keep a straight face and resorted to improvisation to keep up. ...... “Comedy is so hard,” he said in a recent video call from his home in Los Angeles, adding an expletive for emphasis. “It’s hard to land a joke. So I still struggle with that. I’m best when I either don’t know it’s a comedy or don’t play it as a comedy — then you might find me funny.” ........ Messina’s career started on the stage. A “tried and true New York theater actor” from Long Island, as he put it, he plied his trade “mostly Off Broadway, and Off Off Broadway, and sometimes Off Off Off Broadway, in the Bronx and in Queens and on the Lower East Side.” He speaks of those scrappy early days with a nostalgic air, reminiscing about plays “where the actors outnumbered the audience, or where, when it rained, it would leak on the stage,” he said. In short, he loved it. ......... and Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” ....... “I wanted to do ‘Dog Day Afternoon.’ I wanted to do ‘Midnight Cowboy,’” he said. Though he liked the role and Kaling, “I was afraid of it running forever.” And, of course, he was afraid of something else: the genre. “I was afraid of not being able to keep up with them comedically,” he said. “I am afraid of jokes.” .

My Country Has Been a Dictatorship Before. This Feels Worse. I remembered, with a smile, how my sister and I had to push his old Peugeot every morning to get it to start (and to get us to school on time). My father had dedicated his life — as a doctor, human rights activist and politician — to democracy, at great personal cost. And here he was, the first president of a democratic Tunisia. ......... Now we have a president ruling by decree, dismantling the judiciary, fueling hate against Black migrants and attacking opponents, all supported by a supine Parliament. The country’s prisons are filled with journalists, activists and political prisoners — detained unjustly and held in inhumane conditions — and many others have fled the country to avoid the same fate. In little more than a decade, Tunisia has gone from democracy to dictatorship, from hope to terror. ........ The current president, Kais Saied, came to power democratically. After a populist campaign in 2019 in which he presented himself as an outsider who stood for the people against the elite, he was elected with 72 percent of the vote. Systematically, Mr. Saied set about dismantling the country’s democracy. He dissolved Parliament, pushed through a new constitution that gave him enormous powers and repressed those who opposed him. ............ Yet from the outset, I found Mr. Saied’s project terrifying. As a scholar of religion, I paid particular attention to a lecture he gave in September 2018, when he was still a law professor, on the relationship between Islam and the state. His political vision wasn’t just antidemocratic. It was an anti-modern form of nativism, with everything subservient to the ruler. ............. In February, he invoked the great replacement conspiracy theory to accuse the country’s small sub-Saharan migrant population of plotting to remake Tunisia’s identity. His remarks set off a brutal wave of violence against Black people in the country, in which scores were injured, arrested and expelled from their homes. .............. He has methodically targeted the independence of the judiciary, for example, issuing decrees that give him the authority to dismiss judges. In another decree, he ordered the prosecution of dissenting voices that would harm “public security or national defense.” Civil liberties, political opposition and free speech are to be dispensed with, recast as menaces to society. ........ this time around, it feels even worse. The goal is not simply to crush dissent but also to dehumanize political prisoners and their families ............ So here we are, with no freedom, no water and not enough food. The economy is close to collapse, and unemployment is endemic. Rather than confront the crises afflicting the country, Mr. Saied prefers to rant about loyalty and conspiracy. For Tunisia, it is nothing less than a tragedy. .

As Ukrainian Attack Looms, Putin Faces Setbacks and Disunity in Russian Forces The problems that have hindered Russia’s 15-month war are still festering: stretched resources and disunity in the ranks. Still, Mr. Putin’s resolve augurs a willingness to prosecute a long war. ........ Drones have exploded over the Kremlin. Russian military aircraft are crashing before they even reach Ukrainian airspace. A Russian mercenary boss is releasing one profanity-laced tirade after another, claiming that corrupt Russian generals who “all reek of expensive perfume” are sending soldiers to their deaths. ......... the problems that have plagued his 15-month war since its beginning are only worsening: stretched resources, disorganized defenses and disunity in the ranks. .......... The spectacularly public feud between Mr. Prigozhin and the Defense Ministry — and Mr. Putin’s apparent inability or disinclination to stop it — has rekindled doubts about Moscow’s ability to succeed on the battlefield itself, where coordination between disparate units is of critical importance. ......... “One of the ways Putin maintains power is he likes having multiple factions, and he likes having factions compete with one another,” said Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “That might make sense in politics, but it’s very, very harmful in a military operation.” .......... Mr. Prigozhin was making the government look “absolutely ham-fisted and brainless and idiotic — and it increasingly appears that that’s how it really is.” .......

a war that could well last years

......... Prizing loyalty above all else, Mr. Putin appears prepared to stomach sniping among his war leaders as long as it doesn’t threaten him personally. Among Russia’s elite, business leaders appear to have grown accustomed to the idea of a yearslong war and have adapted supply chains — and their own consumption and travel patterns — to Western sanctions. ........ The Russian president remains convinced that he can outlast both Ukraine and the West ......... Patriot missile batteries supplied by the United States are offering better protection against Russian attacks in the Ukrainian capital, and long-range cruise missiles from Britain are enabling Ukrainian forces to strike farther behind Russian lines. ........ No development has drawn more attention in recent days than the inflammatory rhetoric of Mr. Prigozhin, who crossed new lines by appearing to take aim at Mr. Putin before backing off; at one point he suggested that the Russian people could take matters into their own hands if the country’s military leadership doesn’t change. ........ Part of the problem for Mr. Putin stems from disparate battlefield goals. ......... Mr. Prigozhin’s objective, which is to take Bakhmut above all else, differs from the priorities of the Russian Defense Ministry, which must ration its resources and take into consideration other places along the front that may come under pressure from a Ukrainian counteroffensive. ......... It is not clear that regular Russian military units would even come to Wagner’s aid, or vice versa, when facing a Ukrainian onslaught ........ He has trumpeted his private fighting outfit — consisting of mercenaries, veterans and convicts recruited from Russian prisons — as superior to a moribund Russian military hobbled by incompetent leadership. .......... The shock value of his recordings has attracted attention, such as when he raged against Russia’s generals in front of rows of his fighters’ bloodied corpses. So have his comments assailing the Russian military at a time when people across Russia are facing prosecution, fines and imprisonment for speaking negatively about the war or “discrediting” the Russian armed forces......... In one recent video, he said the problem posed by a Russian military led by people who demand nothing but blind fealty would need to be dealt with — “or one day the Russian people will solve it themselves.” ......... In another, he seemed to take aim at Mr. Putin. Echoing a nickname for the Russian leader used by his critics, he asked rhetorically what would become of Russia, if the “grandpa” who believed everything was going well on the battlefield turned out to be a “complete jackass.” He later suggested he was referring to a top Russian general, not Mr. Putin. ........... The Washington Post, citing leaked U.S. intelligence documents, reported on Sunday that the mercenary boss had offered to reveal Russian military positions on the front to Kyiv if Ukraine agreed to withdraw from the area around Bakhmut. Mr. Prigozhin denied the report as a “hoax,” suggesting that powerful people in Russia, jealous of his force’s battlefield achievements, could be spreading false information about him. ......... “They all look at Prigozhin, and they are all in shock,” she said. “For Putin, it’s not a problem.”

Gains Near Bakhmut Raise Ukraine’s Hopes of a Turning Tide The advances have been small, and Russians still hold most of the city, but Ukrainians say they see a meaningful shift in momentum. ....... While the dynamics around Bakhmut are somewhat specific to that battle, Ukrainian commanders say they hope to build on the lessons learned there when they try to attack in other places along the 600-mile front line......... “When you retreat it is very difficult to stop” ...... “When you want to advance, it is very difficult to start.” ......... “Wagner’s men have entered Bakhmut like rats into a mousetrap” ........ Russia was already sending reinforcements to the Bakhmut area, including tank units and fresh fighters, to try to halt Ukrainian advances. ........ there were 36 different “clashes” between the opposing armies around the city over the past two days and cautioned that it was a fluid and dynamic situation. ......... “If you enter Bakhmut, you must know you might not make it out,” said one soldier. Bone-tired and bleary-eyed, he did not offer his name, as he sat under a bus stop near the battered city. His comrade said, “It’s insane to be in Bakhmut now. The shelling never stops.”

Legalizing Marijuana Is a Big Mistake . Of all the ways to win a culture war, the smoothest is to just make the other side seem hopelessly uncool. So it’s been with the march of marijuana legalization: There have been moral arguments about the excesses of the drug war and medical arguments about the potential benefits of pot, but the vibe of the whole debate has pitted the chill against the uptight, the cool against the square, the relaxed future against the Principal Skinners of the past. ....... Marijuana legalization as we’ve done it so far has been a policy failure, a potential social disaster, a clear and evident mistake. ......... cops often use marijuana as a pretext to search someone they suspect of a more serious crime, and they simply substitute some other pretext when the law changes, leaving arrest rates basically unchanged. ............. “legal medical marijuana, particularly when available through retail dispensaries, is associated with higher opioid mortality.” ........... the link between heavy pot use and the onset of schizophrenia in young men. ..........

a form of personal degradation, of lost attention and performance and motivation, that isn’t mortally dangerous in the way of heroin but that can damage or derail an awful lot of human lives

......... around 1‌‌6 million Americans, out of ‌more than 50 million users, now suffering from what ‌‌is termed marijuana use disorder. .......... unlicensed weed can cost as much as 50 percent less than the licensed variety ......... eventually the culture will recognize that under the banner of personal choice, we’re running a general experiment in exploitation — addicting our more vulnerable neighbors to myriad pleasant-seeming vices, handing our children over to the social media dopamine machine and spreading degradation wherever casinos spring up and weed shops flourish.

How an Unconventional Approach to Religion Helped Shape a Divided Nation In “Lincoln’s God,” Joshua Zeitz examines the 16th president’s personal and idiosyncratic brand of Christianity. ......... Anyone who has enjoyed the privilege of examining the Lincoln Bible — on which three presidents to date have taken their oaths of office, including Abraham Lincoln — will know that the pages are immaculate, as if never opened and read. In fact, Lincoln borrowed the book from a Supreme Court clerk for his 1861 swearing-in at the last minute, and the detail is telling, in keeping with Lincoln’s considerable distance from organized religion. ........... As a young man, Lincoln was barely a Christian in the conventional sense. He was skeptical of the Bible’s miracles, read freethinkers like Thomas Paine and may even have been the author of a tract attacking religion. (We don’t exactly know, because if it did exist, a friend burned it.) Had it surfaced in 1860, when Lincoln was first running for president, we might be living in two nations. As it was, he lost the vote of one constituency — only three of Springfield’s 23 ministers voted for him. ............ If not a doctrinaire believer (he never joined a church), he clearly felt a deep connection to the Bible, which he read carefully. He spoke about God, and to God, and his greatest speeches and writings are enriched by a sense that we are listening in on a special conversation between a man and his maker. ........... a complex thinker who deftly merged religious language with political goals and underwent a “spiritual renewal” during the Civil War, especially after the death of his son Willie in 1862. ......... the ways in which soldiers experienced religion in the field; both sides held revival meetings. ......... The Confederacy claimed God’s support in its Constitution and motto (“Deo vindice”). Southern leaders denounced Northerners as “infidels,” a word that was sometimes applied to Lincoln, and claimed that the Bible justified slavery. .......... Lincoln, of course, disagreed with that selective reading, and as he moved decisively against slavery in the final years of the war, he often claimed a spiritual justification. His speeches drew heavily on Scripture, including, in 1858, the “house divided” (Matthew 12:25); then, at Gettysburg, “four score and seven years ago” (paraphrasing Psalm 90); the second Inaugural Address, with its readings from Matthew 18:7 (“woe unto the world because of offenses …”); and Psalm 19 (“the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether”). Frederick Douglass, who was present at the second inauguration, called it “more like a sermon than a state paper.” One scholar estimated that “266 of its 702 words were quoted verbatim from the word of God.” ............ Black Americans, who held views of their own that were often at odds with the tendency to see the United States as a promised land, or Canaan. Instead, they likened it to Egypt. ........... one of the reasons the Lincolns moved from Kentucky to Indiana, as Lincoln himself wrote, was that his father opposed slavery, along with his fellow members of the Little Mount Baptist Church. ............ one of Lincoln’s friends, Jesse Fell, wrote that Lincoln resembled the abolitionist Unitarian clergyman Theodore Parker in his thinking. (Parker wrote about democracy in ways that prefigured the Gettysburg Address.) ........... When he was once asked to define his religious beliefs, Lincoln quoted an old man he had heard say, “When I do good I feel good, when I do bad I feel bad, and that’s my religion.”

Pulitzer Prizes

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Misha's List: ChatGPT

16: Sam Altman

The C.E.O. of OpenAI Heads to Congress to Discuss Rules for A.I. Sam Altman, who leads ChatGPT’s parent company, is expected to call for some regulation of artificial intelligence as Washington weighs its next steps. ........ ChatGPT, his company’s most notable product, has captured the public’s imagination like no tech product has in years, inspiring hopes and fears about its transformative powers. ....... “The current worries that I have are that there are going to be disinformation problems or economic shocks, or something else at a level far beyond anything we’re prepared for.” He’s expected to say in his testimony that “the regulation of A.I. is essential.” ......... Mr. Armstrong, who with the venture capitalist Blake Byers founded NewLimit in 2021 with $100 million of their own money, is the latest tech mogul to be fascinated by longevity. Peter Thiel, OpenAI’s Sam Altman and Oracle’s Larry Ellison are among those who have poured millions into companies researching it. .

OpenAI chief set to call for greater regulation of artificial intelligence Sam Altman, co-founder of start-up behind ChatGPT, to make first appearance before Congress on Tuesday ...... Altman, whose company created AI chatbot ChatGPT, will say that “the regulation of AI is essential” as he testifies for the first time before Congress on Tuesday. ........ According to prepared remarks released before the hearing, Altman will tell the Senate judiciary subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law that he is “eager to help policymakers as they determine how to facilitate regulation that balances incentivising safety while ensuring that people are able to access the technology’s benefits”. ........ Altman’s testimony will recommend that AI companies adhere to an “appropriate set of safety requirements, including internal and external testing prior to release” and licensing or registration conditions for AI models........ safety requirements which “AI companies must meet [should] have a governance regime flexible enough to adapt to new technological developments”....... Earlier this month, AI pioneer Geoffrey Hinton quit Google after a decade at the tech giant in order to speak freely about the risks of the technology, which he warned would amplify societal divides and could be used by bad actors. ....... “Artificial intelligence will be transformative in ways we can’t even imagine, with implications for Americans’ elections, jobs, and security” ......... “Artificial intelligence urgently needs rules and safeguards to address its immense promise and pitfalls” .......... “This hearing begins our subcommittee’s work in overseeing and illuminating AI’s advanced algorithms and powerful technology . . . as we explore sensible standards and principles to help us navigate this uncharted territory,” .

AI pioneer Geoffrey Hinton warns about growing risks as he quits Google