News 23.09.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 23.09.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 23.09.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 23.09.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The R32 trains, nicknamed the Brightliners for their shiny unpainted exteriors, were built to last 35 years. (Imagine that: Your lifespan stamped into metal, your death prefigured.) When they were finally retired from service in January, they had been riding the rails of New York City for no less than 58 years and were, by most accounts, the oldest operating subway cars in the world. That’s 23 unplanned years of hauling people across New York. A whole generation got to see those stainless-steel beauties creaking down the tunnel to the platform, with their crinkle-ridged exteriors and back-lit advertisements.

In a way, it was a small miracle that they lasted so long, an “anomaly,” as one mechanic told me. Except it wasn’t really. It took a lot of work from a lot of people, day after day, year after year.

I recently went to talk to some of those responsible for that work at the MTA maintenance facility in Corona, Queens. There are 13 of these massive workshops across the city, scattered from Coney Island to the banks of Westchester Creek in the Bronx. This one is in a remote pocket of the city, an area given over mostly to massive buildings and spaces: Citi Field, Flushing Meadows Park, the sprawling train yard. It’s like a hospital but an industrial one, scaled up to care for its multi-ton patients.

Standing around the break room with their arms crossed and ID badges dangling, heads full of train-talk, several maintenance workers took turns explaining the process: Railcars roll off the main tracks into a long rectangular building. The cars are lifted to eye level, inspected and repaired if needed. Most of them get to leave that day — back to work, like the rest of us. But some are moved over to a special track for trickier jobs.

Read the rest of this article at: Noema

News 23.09.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 23.09.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In 2017, as summer ends, when news anchors first mention the oncoming Hurricane Irma, the people go to the big-box store or the Econo supermarket just a few minutes from home. They try to stock up, but by the time they arrive, the lines are long and most of the shops are running low. They get what they can: some food, a few gallons of water, a portable gas-powered hot plate in case they lose power. They refill their prescriptions and then fill the gas tank after waiting in an hours-long line at the Puma station.

When Irma moves north of Puerto Rico and across the Caribbean, it brings heavy rains, flooding, power outages. And then, two weeks later, Hurricane María approaches the archipelago. On September 20, the storm makes landfall, knocking out the electrical grid and leaving the entire population in the dark. It passes through Yabucoa and Humacao and Comerío, and the water levels in Río de la Plata begin to rise. Flash floods destroy many of the houses. Roads and bridges collapse.

The days following María bring only more misery, and there is a general understanding that everyone is up against something bigger than a storm. People lose family members. They desperately hunt for drinking water, collecting it from wells and natural springs and any other source they can find. They endure President Donald Trump, who spends the weekend after the storm at a golf tournament, tweeting that his critics in Puerto Rico are “politically motivated ingrates.” They watch him toss paper towels at hurricane survivors when he finally does visit, in early October—a performance before the world, meant as a humiliation. Eventually he will propose trading Puerto Rico for Greenland.

As the days become weeks, there is more rain; there are more floods. People live without power for months. They watch that same president deny that many people have died, even as thousands never come home. The people work with their neighbors to secure blue tarps onto roofs. Every day, more tarps go up, house after house. When people stand on a terrace watching the town below, they see an ocean of blue-covered houses. They clear debris from the road. They shovel mud out of their living rooms, their kitchens, their bedrooms, their bathrooms. They try to salvage family pictures, wedding albums, birth certificates. The storm carried so much away, dropped other people’s things inside their homes. In a bedroom is someone else’s desk lamp, a neighbor’s charcoal grill. All over the sloped back garden: children’s clothing, toys, shingles from a nearby roof. People clear fallen trees, bamboo, garbage. They clean and clean, but the job never stops. They wait for FEMA. They wait for FEMA.

For months, they live in survival mode, dealing with an archipelago-­wide mental-health crisis, a shortage of drinking water, delayed or unavailable medical services. They endure obstacles created by the U.S. government. The military arrives, the National Guard mobilizes, but the Trump administration blocks access to more than $20 billion in hurricane-relief aid and recovery funding. María, the people learn, is the deadliest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico since 1899, but nobody can agree on the true death toll. The official count, announced in December, is 64, but a study the following year by The New England Journal of Medicine finds a fair estimate to be more than 5,000.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

Artificial-intelligence experts are excited about the progress of the past few years. You can tell! They’ve been telling reporters things like “Everything’s in bloom,” “Billions of lives will be affected,” and “I know a person when I talk to it — it doesn’t matter whether they have a brain made of meat in their head.”

We don’t have to take their word for it, though. Recently, AI-powered tools have been making themselves known directly to the public, flooding our social feeds with bizarre and shocking and often very funny machine-generated content. OpenAI’s GPT-3 took simple text prompts — to write a news article about AI or to imagine a rose ceremony from The Bachelor in Middle English — and produced convincing results.

Deepfakes graduated from a looming threat to something an enterprising teenager can put together for a TikTok, and chatbots are occasionally sending their creators into crisis.

More widespread, and probably most evocative of a creative artificial intelligence, is the new crop of image-creation tools, including DALL-E, Imagen, Craiyon, and Midjourney, which all do versions of the same thing. You ask them to render something. Then, with models trained on vast sets of images gathered from around the web and elsewhere, they try — “Bart Simpson in the style of Soviet statuary”; “goldendoodle megafauna in the streets of Chelsea”; “a spaghetti dinner in hell”; “a logo for a carpet-cleaning company, blue and red, round”; “the meaning of life.”

Through a million posts and memes, these tools have become the new face of AI.

Read the rest of this article at: New York Magazine

News 23.09.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 23.09.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

I’ve never wanted to be pregnant, and I’ve been pregnant three times. Each time I learned the news, my commitment to what I’d already known was confirmed viscerally and instantaneously—with the unshakable certainty of no. I say “no” often. I think “no” frequently. I am no stranger to “no.” But this refusal lived at a different depth. It saturated me. It constituted me like my lungs and my limbs and my mind. No, I do not want to be pregnant, I do not want to give birth, I do not want to have children. I wasn’t choosing because there was no choice. I didn’t want to be pregnant. No.

My experiences were too common to be remarkable. Nearly half of the world’s pregnancies are unintended—more than 120 million inadvertent conceptions per year, almost three per second. The ability to conceive is an inherited state of being and is not synonymous with the desire to do so. There has never been a time when this wasn’t true, and there probably never will be. But people capable of pregnancy have options to manage and react to their bodies’ potential. Biology need not be destiny.

There is no process equivalent to pregnancy. Its ubiquity as a mammalian fact, its inexorable repetition across species, places it among other involuntary courses of the body, such as respiration, digestion, and cellular deterioration, but it is unlike anything else. Over the years, I’ve heard pro-choice advocates suggest that abortion restrictions are akin to laws that would force people to donate their spare kidneys, or host parasites, or, farther afield, save strangers from drowning—to in some way use and risk their bodies in service of another. But these theoretical burdens do not come close to approximating pregnancy’s protracted invasion, debilitation, and deadly hazard.

Neither do they capture the extent to which that hazard is constructed by one’s own body. Anti-abortion agitators often use sonogram images to push the fiction that women are merely incubators for a self-sufficient process—that pregnancies happen in women and are connected to them by only temporary, inconvenient placement; that a zygote, then embryo, then fetus, is in some sense independent, complete from the moment sperm meets egg, or built by God alone. Each of my pregnancies was confirmed early, before I had recognizable symptoms; one was discovered so close to conception that a vaginal ultrasound turned up no visual evidence. I received knowledge about my body from the outside, which made what was set in motion abstract but still too real: the me of myself slammed into my body, as if my consciousness were a nail hammered into place, my fate pinned to a process that would colonize me if left unchecked. My pregnancies were not separate from me—they were not in me but of me. My physical form marked where the phenomenon began and ended. The growth would be impossible without my organic matter; nothing about it occurred without incorporating the material of me. That reality left no doubt that the predicament was exclusively mine. Regardless of any government document, religious stricture, or rarefied morality, the knowledge that I was pregnant came with the understanding that I had the right not to be.

Read the rest of this article at: Harper’s Magazine

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News 23.09.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

RACHEAL BOWMAN, A single mother from Aberdeen, Maryland, was finishing up her shift as a postal worker the afternoon of June 11, 2021, when she got a worrisome call from her son’s girlfriend. Her son, Matthew Disney, a 20-year-old soldier stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, wasn’t answering his phone. Neither his girlfriend nor his mom nor his little sisters could reach him. “It was very unlike him,” Bowman says. “Matthew’s sister has been incredibly ill her whole life” with a rare intestinal disorder. “When she calls, he answers.”

Her son was the child she never had to worry about, Bowman tells Rolling Stone. As a boy, he was well-behaved and supportive of his mom, who had been through a nasty divorce and struggled financially. He was “upbeat and passionate” about baseball, football, and video games. And for as long as she could remember, he’d had it in his head to join the military. “He had the very strong belief that if you were able-bodied, you should serve your country,” Bowman says. “Whether you like your president or not. He could tell you all about other countries where it was mandatory.”

Disney considered all the service branches, and decided on the U.S. Army. He enlisted after high school, trained as a radar operator and, in March 2020, was assigned to an airborne artillery regiment at Fort Bragg. He had done nine parachute jumps, and the last time he spoke to his mom, he was excited to do his 10th. But that Friday in June, he had the day off. “Hours were going by and he was not responding to any of us,” Bowman says. “This was extremely out of character.”

Bowman and her daughters called up some of Disney’s friends, fellow soldiers at Fort Bragg, and they alerted the fire guard on duty, she says, who located surveillance footage of Disney and another radarman, Spc. Joshua Diamond, entering the barracks at 11 the night before. But when they knocked on Diamond’s locked door, no one answered. Neither the fire guard nor the military police would open Diamond’s door by force, because 24 hours hadn’t elapsed, meaning he and Disney couldn’t be considered missing persons. “Even though there were family members saying something is wrong,” Bowman says, “they would not open the locked door.”

Bowman was frantic. She contacted a family friend in Maryland, a colonel in the Army, and he made some calls that evidently spurred the military police into action. They called Bowman and asked her permission to track her son’s phone. “And then it was crickets,” she says. “Everything went silent. The second I gave my permission to ping his phone, the MPs wouldn’t talk to us.”

The Army follows a strict procedure for notifying the next of kin of casualties, and always sends a uniformed officer to deliver the bad news in person. But around midnight, Disney’s sister received an anonymous call. Bowman was standing on the front porch. “I just heard her scream,” she says. “And I went inside, and she was on the kitchen floor with Matt’s girlfriend, screaming ‘This isn’t fucking funny. Who the fuck are you? What kind of sick joke is this?’”

The caller would only tell them that Disney was “no longer alive.” Bowman placed phone call after desperate phone call and, at two in the morning, got through to her son’s battalion commander. He confirmed that Disney had been found in Diamond’s room, lifeless. “I’m so sorry,” she remembers him saying. “He was a good kid.” But he wouldn’t tell her what had happened, only that Disney “didn’t do anything to hurt himself.”

On top of the shock and grief of learning that her only son was dead, Bowman was confused. If it wasn’t suicide, then what had happened to Matthew? All she could think was that the other soldier, Diamond, must have done something to harm him.

That was not the case. In fact, Diamond was dead, too. His body had been found slumped over Disney’s on the floor, almost as if in an embrace. And many Fort Bragg soldiers have died recently under similar circumstances — quietly, in their barracks, in their bunks, in a parked car, or somewhere off-post, from no outwardly apparent cause. According to a set of casualty reports obtained by Rolling Stone through the Freedom of Information Act, at least 14 — and as many as 30 — Fort Bragg soldiers have died in this way since the start of 2020. Yet there has been no acknowledgment from the Army or reporting in the national press on any aspect of this phenomenon, nor word one from any member of Congress. Only the families of the victims have been informed — discreetly, and in private.

Disney’s memorial service was in July. “We were getting ready to go into the chapel,” Bowman says, and Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, came into the room and personally informed her that the results of a toxicology report were in. The cause of death was acute fentanyl intoxication.

Donahue, who has since been promoted to lieutenant general, did not respond to a request for comment sent to Fort Bragg. But Rolling Stone obtained Disney’s Defense Department Form 1300, a “report of casualty,” which essentially functions as a military death certificate. It confirms that he died accidentally from an overdose of fentanyl.

That only compounded Bowman’s confusion. “My son was not a drug user,” she insists. Under no circumstances would he have wittingly ingested fentanyl. Addiction ran in the fa mily, and  Disney’s little sister had endured dozens of surgeries, and periodically relied on or had to withdraw from opioids, so he was well aware of the risks they entailed. “Fentanyl, ketamine, Narcan, laudanum, Percocet, morphine,” Bowman says. “These are drugs that we talked about on a very regular basis.”

Read the rest of this article at: RollingStone

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