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News 20.06.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 20.06.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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Britain today is a poor and divided country. Parts of London and the southeast of England might be among the wealthiest places on the planet, but swaths of northern England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are among Western Europe’s poorest. Barely a decade ago, the average Brit was as wealthy as the average German. Now they are about 15 percent poorer—and 30 percent worse off than the typical American.

The great project of Boris Johnson’s government is to “unite and level up” the country, bringing the rest of Britain into line with the southeast. This is a mission explicitly tied to Brexit and the threat of Scottish secession, the two great revolutionary challenges facing the British state.

Johnson is not alone in believing that the division between the south and the rest is so big that it threatens the very integrity of the United Kingdom. Yet for him, Brexit was both an expression of Britain’s great divide—a vote against the status quo—and an opportunity to fix it, by giving the government new “freedoms” that it did not have within the European Union.

In the 2016 Brexit referendum and then in the 2019 general election, Johnson offered voters the chance to “take back control” of their destiny, to rebalance the country and to pull it together again. On both occasions, he won.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

News 20.06.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 20.06.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Dr. Genevieve Guenther is the founding director of End Climate Silence and affiliate faculty at The New School, where she sits on the board of the Tishman Environment and Design Center. Her next book, “The Language of Climate Politics,” will be published in 2024 by Oxford University Press.

What can you do, as a single individual, to help halt global heating? Social science research suggests that one of the most powerful things you can do is talk about the climate crisis in your networks. But according to many climate activists, the one thing you should not do is discuss people’s personal carbon footprints.

Talking about individual carbon footprints, these activists argue, is, at best, a distraction from the essential work of raising a climate movement and, at worst, a naive and counterproductive embrace of propaganda developed by oil and gas companies to dishearten people and divert them from building a movement for collective action. But this view of climate communication and carbon footprints rests on the mistaken idea that there is a universal individual whose personal carbon footprint is always an irrelevant distraction. The truth is we need to talk about curbing the individual carbon footprints of the rich in order to halt global heating.

First, let’s look at the argument that it’s bad to talk about personal carbon footprints. In the early 2000s, the major oil company BP weaponized the scientific concept of the carbon footprint, placing it at the center of a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign that made resolving the climate crisis a matter of individuals reducing their consumption. The effect of their strategy was and is to make people feel personally responsible not only for causing the climate crisis by simply living their lives, but also for solving it by no longer driving or flying or eating beef or using plastic straws or whatever the case may be.

Read the rest of this article at: Noema 

A LEADING ANXIETY in both the technology and foreign policy worlds today is China’s purported edge in the artificial intelligence race. The usual narrative goes like this: Without the constraints on data collection that liberal democracies impose and with the capacity to centrally direct greater resource allocation, the Chinese will outstrip the West. AI is hungry for more and more data, but the West insists on privacy. This is a luxury we cannot afford, it is said, as whichever world power achieves superhuman intelligence via AI first is likely to become dominant.

If you accept this narrative, the logic of the Chinese advantage is powerful. What if it’s wrong? Perhaps the West’s vulnerability stems not from our ideas about privacy, but from the idea of AI itself.

After all, the term “artificial intelligence” doesn’t delineate specific technological advances. A term like “nanotechnology” classifies technologies by referencing an objective measure of scale, while AI only references a subjective measure of tasks that we classify as intelligent. For instance, the adornment and “deepfake” transformation of the human face, now common on social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram, was introduced in a startup sold to Google by one of the authors; such capabilities were called image processing 15 years ago, but are routinely termed AI today. The reason is, in part, marketing. Software benefits from an air of magic, lately, when it is called AI. If “AI” is more than marketing, then it might be best understood as one of a number of competing philosophies that can direct our thinking about the nature and use of computation.

A clear alternative to “AI” is to focus on the people present in the system. If a program is able to distinguish cats from dogs, don’t talk about how a machine is learning to see. Instead talk about how people contributed examples in order to define the visual qualities distinguishing “cats” from “dogs” in a rigorous way for the first time. There’s always a second way to conceive of any situation in which AI is purported. This matters, because the AI way of thinking can distract from the responsibility of humans.

AI might be achieving unprecedented results in diverse fields, including medicine, robotic control, and language/image processing, or a certain way of talking about software might be in play as a way to not fully celebrate the people working together through improving information systems who are achieving those results. “AI” might be a threat to the human future, as is often imagined in science fiction, or it might be a way of thinking about technology that makes it harder to design technology so it can be used effectively and responsibly. The very idea of AI might create a diversion that makes it easier for a small group of technologists and investors to claim all rewards from a widely distributed effort. Computation is an essential technology, but the AI way of thinking about it can be murky and dysfunctional.

Read the rest of this article at: Wired

News 20.06.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 20.06.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Last summer, shortly after a date to Six Flags Over Texas, a thirteen-year-old girl in Dallas was falling in love for the first time. Her father could see it in the pencil drawings she made before bed. Instead of the usual, precise studies of koi fish and wildflowers, she’d sketched herself holding the hand of a boy in a Yankees cap, and enclosed the image in a pink-and-red heart. In the fall, the girl’s father permitted her to meet the boy, a tenth grader, after school one day a week. This spring, when he learned that his daughter was pregnant, he concluded that one day a week had been too many.

Within a day, his daughter, whom I’ll call Laura, came around to the idea that getting an abortion, soon, might be the best option. This required scheduling an appointment with a doctor who could prescribe her one pill to block progesterone and stop the growth of the fetus, and four other pills to prompt contractions. Her father, who worked in a factory painting locomotives on a 4 A.M.-to-2:30 P.M. shift, decided to use his next day off to take her to a doctor to get the medication. The question was: where? Last September, Senate Bill 8—also known as S.B. 8, or the Texas Heartbeat Act—went into effect across the state and sped up the timeline for enacting such a choice. The new law makes it illegal for women to obtain an abortion past the sixth week of gestation, or even before the sixth week, should electrical activity in fetal cells be detected by ultrasound. No exceptions are made for pregnancies that result from rape or incest, or for those of very young teen-agers.

The father’s girlfriend, who is close to Laura and controlled the household supply of sanitary pads, deduced that the girl had missed only one period. That meant Laura might just beat the six-week cutoff, so the girlfriend hastened to call local clinics. A few hours later, though, she and the father were confronting a fact faced by many other Texas families since the passage of S.B. 8. “Everything is booked out for a month’s time, if you can even get someone on the phone,” the girlfriend said. In the nine months since the law was implemented, the number of abortions performed in Texas has fallen by half, according to the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, at the University of Texas. Meanwhile, thousands of women and girls who want to end their pregnancies have been compelled to seek care in other states.

For Laura’s family, the nearest option was Oklahoma, but none of the clinics that the girlfriend called had appointments available. In Arkansas, the wait to see a doctor would be weeks—a delay that the father thought would be hard on Laura, an eighth grader who sometimes spoke of feeling isolated and depressed. “I’m not putting her through that,” the father told his girlfriend. Finally, seven calls later, the girlfriend reached a clinic in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, whose doctor could see Laura that weekend. It was a decent place, the girlfriend could report with confidence; she’d taken a pregnant relative there the month before. There were two catches, though. The clinic was seven hundred miles away, and the cost was, for the family, exorbitant.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

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ON THE AFTERNOON of March 6, 2002, Lt. Cmdr. Vic Hyder and more than two dozen operators from SEAL Team 6 boarded two Chinook helicopters en route to eastern Afghanistan hoping that within hours, they would kill or capture Osama bin Laden.

Earlier that evening, general officers from the Joint Special Operations Command had scrambled the SEALs after watching a Predator drone video feed of a man they suspected was bin Laden set off in a convoy of three or four vehicles in the Shah-i-Kot Valley, where al Qaeda forces had fortified themselves. Although the video had revealed no weapons, and the generals had only tenuous intelligence that the convoy was al Qaeda — just suspicions based on the color of the man’s flowing white garb and the deference others showed him — they were nervous that bin Laden might get away again, as he had a few months earlier after the bombing of the Tora Bora mountains in December 2001. This was a crucial moment: Kill bin Laden now and the war could be over after only six months. The vehicles were headed east toward the Pakistani border, as if they were trying to escape. The mission was code-named Objective Bull.

Afghanistan’s Paktia province is about the size of New Hampshire, with 10,000-foot ridgelines and arid valleys with dried riverbeds below, nestled along the border with Pakistan’s tribal areas. The prominent mountain range often served as the last geographic refuge for retreating forces entering Pakistan. As the special operations helicopters approached the convoy from the north and west, Air Force jets dropped two bombs, halting the vehicles and killing several people instantly.

That was not how the SEALs wanted the mission to develop. Inside the helicopters, some of the operators had pushed to hold off any air attack, arguing that they had plenty of time to intercept the convoy before it reached the Pakistani border. “The reason SEAL Team 6 exists is to avoid bombs and collateral damage,” said a retired SEAL Team 6 member who was on the mission. “We said, ‘Let us set down and take a look at the convoy to determine if it’s al Qaeda.’ Instead, they dropped several bombs.”

The bombing stopped the convoy along a dry wadi, or ravine, with two of the trucks approximately a kilometer apart. Survivors began to flee the wreckage, and over the radio, Hyder and his team heard the order that the convoy was now in a “free fire zone,” allowing the Chinooks’ gunners to fire at anyone deemed a threat, regardless of whether they were armed. The SEALs had no authority over the helicopter gunners.

The two Chinooks landed separately, one near each end of the convoy. Both teams exited the helicopters to find a grim scene. The SEALs with Hyder came out and separated into two groups. One, led by an enlisted operator, took in the damage to one of the vehicles. Men, women, and a small girl, motionless and in the fetal position, appeared dead. Inside the vehicle were one or two rifles, as is customary in Afghanistan, but none of the men wore military clothing or had any extra ammunition. “These were family weapons,” said the retired SEAL.

The SEALs from the other helicopter immediately headed up a steep hill after landing to locate an armed man who had been shot from the helicopter. When they reached the hilltop, the operators looked down in disbelief at women and children, along with the man — all were dead or mortally wounded from the spray of gunfire from the Chinook’s gunners, who had unloaded after the free fire zone had been declared. They realized the man had been trying to protect the women and children.

Other SEALs on the ground proceeded as though the survivors were combatants. Hyder and an enlisted operator named Monty Heath had gone in a different direction and saw a survivor flee the bombed vehicle toward a nearby berm. Heath fired once, hitting the man, sending him tumbling down the back side of the small rise.

At that point, Hyder began assessing the damage and surveying the dead. “I was going around to the different KIAs with my camera to take photos,” Hyder told me in an interview, using the military term for enemies killed in action. “It was a mess.”

Hyder said that he and a few other SEALs began to bury the casualties near a ravine by piling rocks over them. As he did so, he approached the man Heath had shot. “He was partially alive, faced down, his back to me, and he rolled over. I shot him, finished him. He was dying, but he rolled over and I didn’t know whether he was armed or not. That was the end of that.” Hyder said that his single shot had blasted open the man’s head.

According to Hyder, the encounter ended there. But the retired SEAL who was on the mission tells a different story. According to this source, after shooting the man, who turned out to be unarmed, Hyder proceeded to mutilate his body by stomping in his already damaged skull. When Heath, who witnessed Hyder’s actions, reported them to his team leader in the presence of other members of the team, “several of the guys turned and walked away,” said the retired SEAL. “They were disgusted.” He quoted Heath as saying, “I’m morally flexible but I can’t handle that.” Heath refused to comment for this article.

The retired SEAL, who spent the better part of two decades at the command, said he never asked Hyder why he mutilated the corpse. It wasn’t necessary. He assumed it was a twisted act of misplaced revenge over the previous days’ events — specifically, the gruesome death of Hyder’s teammate Neil Roberts.

Read the rest of this article at: The Intercept

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.