Category : * Economics, Politics

(1st Things) Richard John Neuhaus: Remembering, and Misremembering, Martin Luther King Jr.

As Abernathy tells it—and I believe he is right—he and King were first of all Christians, then Southerners, and then blacks living under an oppressive segregationist regime. King of course came from the black bourgeoisie of Atlanta in which his father, “Daddy King,” had succeeded in establishing himself as a king. Abernathy came from much more modest circumstances, but he was proud of his heritage and, as he writes, wanted nothing more than that whites would address his father as Mr. Abernathy. He and Martin loved the South, and envisioned its coming into its own once the sin of segregation had been expunged.

“Years later,” Abernathy writes that, “after the civil rights movement had peaked and I had taken over [after Martin’s death] as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,” he met with Governor George Wallace. “Governor Wallace, by then restricted to a wheel chair after having been paralyzed by a would-be assassin’s bullet, shook hands with me and welcomed me to the State of Alabama. I smiled, realizing that he had forgotten all about Montgomery and Birmingham, and particularly Selma. ‘This is not my first visit,’ I said. ‘I was born in Alabama—in Marengo County.’ ‘Good,’ said Governor Wallace, ‘then welcome back.’ I really believe he meant it. In his later years he had become one of the greatest friends the blacks had ever had in Montgomery. Where once he had stood in the doorway and barred federal marshals from entering, he now made certain that our people were first in line for jobs, new schools, and other benefits of state government.” Abernathy concludes, “It was a time for reconciliations.”

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Politics in General, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture

(Economist) As violent crime leaps, liberal cities rethink cutting police budgets

In the days after George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020, protesters took to the streets across America. They urged cities to “defund the police”, and politicians listened. Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, called for his department’s budget to be cut by up to $150m. London Breed, San Francisco’s mayor, announced that she would “redirect funding from the sfpd to support the African-American community”. City councils in Oakland and Portland, Oregon, among other cities across America, approved budgets that cut police funding.

That trend has reversed. Portland and Oakland increased police funding to hire more officers. The Los Angeles Police Department’s budget will get a 12% boost. Last month Ms Breed vowed to “take steps to be more aggressive with law enforcement” and “less tolerant of all the bullshit that has destroyed our city”. Why such a stark reversal, and what does it mean for the future of criminal-justice reform?

The first question is easy to answer. Though crime overall did not rise during the pandemic, the type people fear most—murders and shootings—did, and the surge has not abated. Over three decades from 1990, America’s homicide rate fell steeply (see chart). From 2019 to 2020, however, the rate had its highest-ever year-on-year rise, of nearly 30%, followed by a further rise in 2021. More than three-quarters of the murders were committed with guns. In Oakland, 133 people were murdered in 2021, more than in any year since 2006, and almost 600 more were shot but not killed. Portland was one of at least 16 American cities that set all-time homicide records last year.

Read it all (registration).

Posted in America/U.S.A., City Government, Law & Legal Issues, Police/Fire, Politics in General, Urban/City Life and Issues, Violence

([London] Times) Microsoft Word introduces new ‘woke’ feature to suggest PC alternatives

The line Neil Armstrong uttered when he stepped on the Moon — “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” — is deemed problematic by the software, which suggests changing “mankind” to “humankind” or “humanity”.

The children’s cartoon Postman Pat also fails the inclusivity test, with the software preferring “mail carrier” Pat or “postal worker” Pat.

The software also offers to tweak Billy Paul’s 1970s hit Me and Mrs Jones to a more modern Me and Ms Jones, while Barry Manilow’s infamous Lola in the song Copacabana might more appropriately be referred to as a performing artist rather than a showgirl.

Other words to change include “headmaster” (Word suggests “principal”), “master” (“expert”), “manpower” (“workforce”) and “heroine” (“hero”).

Read it all (subscription required).

Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Language, Politics in General, Science & Technology

(Telegraph) Children risk being targeted by ‘aggressive gambling adverts on social media’

The Church of England has warned that a social media advertising “loophole” could leave children exposed to “aggressive” gambling adverts.

Rt Revd Alan Smith, the Bishop of St Albans, said a ruling this week by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), set a concerning “precedent” for promotions on social media.

The watchdog’s ruling dismissed complaints about poker adverts on a popular YouTube channel, as the owner supplied analytics from the site showing that most of his audience were over 18.

However, the Bishop warned that the analytics were an “incredibly dubious metric” as YouTube, which has a minimum age of 13, does not have any age verification and many viewers watch it without signing into an account.’

Read it all.

Posted in Children, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Gambling, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s New Year Message 2022

When it comes to climate change, it is tempting to despair, but there are real reasons to hope.

Last year, faith leaders representing three-quarters of the world’s population stood together at the Vatican and called for definitive action on climate change.

People of every background are campaigning and working for justice.

Important steps were taken at the COP26 summit. World leaders recognise the problem. Now they must agree and implement a fair solution for everyone.

When we plant a seed, we don’t see the fruit immediately. But under the surface, God is working with what we have planted.

In the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I see that God turns all endings into new beginnings, and death into life. God invites us to be part of this story – to be people who bring hope, healing and renewal to our world.

This year, let’s keep planting those seeds – let’s keep moving forward in hope.

Read it all.

Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England (CoE), Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Globalization, Science & Technology

George Washington’s January 1 1795 Proclamation

Deeply penetrated with this sentiment I George Washington President of the United States do recommend to all Religious Societies and Denominations and to all persons whomsoever within the United States to set apart and observe thursday the nineteenth day of February next as a day of public Thanksgiving and prayer; and on that day to meet together and render their sincere and hearty thanks to the great ruler of Nations for the manifold and signal mercies, which distinguish our lot as a Nation; particularly for the possession of Constitutions of Government which unite and by their union establish liberty with order, for the preservation of our peace foreign and domestic, for the seasonable controul which has been given to a spirit of disorder in the suppression of the late insurrection, and generally for the prosperous course of our affairs public and private…

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Office of the President

The Queen’s Christmas message for 2021

And for me and my family, even with one familiar laugh missing this year, there will be joy in Christmas, as we have the chance to reminisce, and see anew the wonder of the festive season through the eyes of our young children, of whom we were delighted to welcome four more this year.

They teach us all a lesson – just as the Christmas story does – that in the birth of a child, there is a new dawn with endless potential.

It is this simplicity of the Christmas story that makes it so universally appealing: simple happenings that formed the starting point of the life of Jesus — a man whose teachings have been handed down from generation to generation, and have been the bedrock of my faith. His birth marked a new beginning. As the carol says, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight”.

I wish you all a very happy Christmas.

Read it all.

Posted in Christmas, Death / Burial / Funerals, England / UK, Marriage & Family, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(Council on Foreign Relations) The Ten Most Significant World Events in 2021

2. COVID-19 Vaccines Arrive as the Virus Mutates. The vaccines created to address the novel coronavirus may join the smallpox, polio, and measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines as major advances in saving lives and diminishing morbidity. The speed at which COVID-19 vaccines were developed was stunning. Vaccines historically took ten to fifteen years to develop. The quickest any vaccine had been developed previously was the four years it took to create the mumps vaccine. COVID-19 vaccines were created in less than a year. Just as important, the leading COVID-19 vaccines worked stunningly well; the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both more than 90 percent effective against early COVID-19 variants. More than 7.4 billion vaccine doses were administered in 184 countries in the first eleven months of 2021, with seventy countries making donations. Unfortunately, too many people who could have been vaccinated chose not to, and too many people who wanted to get vaccinated couldn’t. That was deadly because COVID-19 is incredibly adaptive. The Delta variant, first identified in December 2020 in India, was more infectious than its predecessors and soon became the dominant strain around the world. In November 2021, South African scientists identified the emergence of the Omicron variant. Within weeks it had been found around the world. As 2021 ended, it was unclear whether Omicron presented a greater health threat or would send the global economy into another tailspin. What was clear is that more than 5 million people globally and 800,000 Americans had died from COVID-19.

1. Countries Fail the Climate Change Challenge—Again. “A code red for humanity.” That’s how UN Secretary General António Guterres’ described the UN report released in August that concluded that humanity faces catastrophic climate change unless the emission of heat-trapping gases is slashed. But one didn’t need to read the 4,000-page report to know that. Extreme weather dominated the news in 2021, as it has for much of the past decade. Record drought wracked the American southwest. Record flooding devastated Belgium and western Germany. Epic wildfires tore through Greece. Late season monsoons ravaged India and Nepal. Climate optimists could find some developments to cheer in 2021. President Biden committed the United States to rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement on his first day in office. China agreed in September to discontinue financing coal-fired power plants overseas, and Iceland opened a facility to take carbon dioxide out of the air. At the COP-26 meeting in Glasgow in November countries pledged to take steps to address climate change, including by cutting methane emissions. But pledges aren’t accomplishments. Carbon emissions jumped in 2021 as the global economy roared back to life. Even as President Biden pushed Congress to address climate change in a major infrastructure bill, he asked OPEC to increase oil production in a bid to lower gasoline prices. He was hardly the only world leader hoping to have his cake and eat it too. The transition away from fossil fuels poses difficult choices. Mother Nature, however, doesn’t give credit for degree of difficulty.

Read it all and see what you make of their choices.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Economy, Globalization, Health & Medicine, History, Politics in General, Science & Technology

(Nikkei Asia) China hoards over half the world’s grain, pushing up global prices

Less than 20% of the world’s population has managed to stockpile more than half of the globe’s maize and other grains, leading to steep price increases across the planet and dropping more countries into famine.

Read it all.

Posted in China, Dieting/Food/Nutrition, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Politics in General

(BBC) Pillar of Shame: Hong Kong’s Tiananmen Square statue removed

A famous statue at the University of Hong Kong marking the Tiananmen Square massacre was removed late on Wednesday.

The statue showed piled-up corpses to commemorate the hundreds – possibly thousands – of pro-democracy protesters killed by Chinese authorities in 1989.

It was one of the few remaining public memorials in Hong Kong commemorating the incident.

Its removal comes as Beijing has increasingly been cracking down on political dissent in Hong Kong.

The city used to be one of few places in China that allowed public commemoration of the Tiananmen Square protests – a highly sensitive topic in the country.

Read it all.

Posted in Art, China, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, History, Hong Kong, Politics in General

(ITV) Archbishop of Canterbury talks of disappointment and sadness at Downing Street garden image

So what about the vaccines then? He tweeted recently that getting the booster is how you love your neighbour. Is being vaccinated a moral issue?

“I’m going to step out on thin ice here and say yes, I think it is. A lot of people won’t like that – but I think it is because it’s not about me and my rights.

“Obviously there are some who for health reasons can’t be vaccinated – but it’s not about me and my rights to choose.

“Reducing my chances of getting ill reduces my chances of infecting others. It’s very simple.”
So is it a sin – is it immoral – not to get vaccinated if you can?
“I’m not going to get lured into this because I can see this going back at me for years to come. But I would say – go and get boosted – get vaccinated. It’s how we love our neighbour”

Read it all.

Posted in --Justin Welby, Anthropology, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Movies & Television, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology

(WSJ) American Workers Are Burned Out, and Bosses Are Struggling to Respond

In the first 10 months of this year, America’s workers handed in nearly 39 million resignations, the highest number since tracking began in 2000.

Some want better jobs. Others, a better work-life balance. Still others want a complete break from the corporate grind. Almost two years into the pandemic that left millions doing their jobs from home, many Americans are rethinking their relationship with work.

Companies are struggling to stop employees from leaving and to boost morale. Some are trying mandatory companywide vacation days and blackout hours when meetings are banned. Executives are experimenting with new ways of working, including four-day workweeks and asynchronous schedules that allow people to set their own hours.

Employers say burnout, long an issue for American workers and exacerbated by the pandemic, is a prime cause. A September survey by think tank the Conference Board found that more than three-quarters of 1,800 U.S. workers cited concerns such as stress and burnout as big challenges to well-being at work, up from 55% six months earlier. Half said workload-related pressure was harming their mental health.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Health & Medicine, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Psychology, Stress

(Reuters) Deepfake anyone: AI synthetic media tech enters perilous phase

“Do you want to see yourself acting in a movie or on TV?” said the description for one app on online stores, offering users the chance to create AI-generated synthetic media, also known as deepfakes.

“Do you want to see your best friend, colleague, or boss dancing?” it added. “Have you ever wondered how would you look if your face swapped with your friend’s or a celebrity’s?”

The same app was advertised differently on dozens of adult sites: “Make deepfake porn in a sec,” the ads said. “Deepfake anyone.”

How increasingly sophisticated technology is applied is one of the complexities facing synthetic media software, where machine learning is used to digitally model faces from images and then swap them into films as seamlessly as possible.

The technology, barely four years old, may be at a pivotal point, according to interviews with companies, researchers, policymakers and campaigners.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Photos/Photography, Pornography, Science & Technology

(NYT) Gabriel Boric, a Former Student Activist, Is Elected Chile’s Youngest President

Chileans on Sunday elected Gabriel Boric as their next president, entrusting the young leftist lawmaker with helping to shape the future of a nation that has been roiled by protests and is now drafting a new Constitution.

At 35, Mr. Boric will be the nation’s youngest leader and by far its most liberal since President Salvador Allende, who died by suicide during the 1973 military coup that ushered in a brutal 17-year dictatorship.

He will assume office at the final stage of a yearslong initiative to draft a new Constitution, an effort that is likely to bring about profound legal and political changes on issues including gender equality, Indigenous rights and environmental protections.

Capitalizing on widespread discontent with the political factions that have traded power in recent decades, Mr. Boric attracted voters by pledging to reduce inequality and promising to raise taxes on the rich to fund a substantial expansion of the social safety net, more generous pensions and a greener economy.

Read it all.

Posted in Chile, Politics in General

(Economist Leader) The new normal is already here. Get used to it

Big technological shifts are nothing new. But instead of taking centuries or decades to spread around the world, as did the printing press and telegraph, new technologies become routine in a matter of years. Just 15 years ago, modern smartphones did not exist. Today more than half of the people on the planet carry one. Any boss who thinks their industry is immune to such wild dynamism is unlikely to last long.

The pandemic may also have ended the era of low global inflation that began in the 1990s and was ingrained by economic weakness after the financial crisis of 2007-09. Having failed to achieve a quick recovery then, governments spent nearly $11trn trying to ensure that the harm caused by the virus was transient.

They broadly succeeded, but fiscal stimulus and bunged-up supply chains have raised global inflation above 5%. The apparent potency of deficit spending will change how recessions are fought. As they raise interest rates to deal with inflation, central banks may find themselves in conflict with indebted governments. Amid a burst of innovation around cryptocoins, central-bank digital currencies and fintech, many outcomes are possible. A return to the comfortable macroeconomic orthodoxies of the 1990s is one of the least likely.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Economy, Globalization, Health & Medicine, Politics in General, Psychology

(WSJ) Central Banks Worry Omicron Could Sustain Inflation

The Omicron variant is circling the globe, closing borders and sparking new restrictions on economic activity. Yet central banks, instead of loosening monetary policy to prop up their economies as they did at the start of the pandemic, are moving to unwind stimulus and raise interest rates.

The moves reflect a new thinking among policy makers about the pandemic’s economic effects: Central-bank officials worry that rather than simply threatening to curtail economic growth, a surge in Covid-19 cases could also prolong high inflation.

In the past week, the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England and the European Central Bank all moved to tighten monetary policy in response to inflation concerns.

When the pandemic first became widespread, in early 2020, governments locked down their economies. Consumer spending fell sharply, employers shed workers and prices fell. Within a few months, the rise of e-commerce and remote working allowed the economy in many developed countries to recover rapidly. With mass vaccinations, that recovery has continued this year.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Federal Reserve, Health & Medicine

(NYT) Doctors and Nurses Are ‘Living in a Constant Crisis’ as Covid Fills Hospitals and Omicron Looms

On the top floor of the hospital, in the unit that houses the sickest Covid-19 patients, 13 of the 14 beds were occupied. In the one empty room, a person had just died.

Through surge after surge, caregivers in the unit at Covenant HealthCare in Saginaw, Mich., have helped ailing patients say goodbye to their relatives on video calls. The medical workers have cried in the dimly lit hallways. They have seen caseloads wane, only to watch beds fill up again. Mostly, they have learned to fear the worst.

“You come back to work and you ask who died,” said Bridget Klingenberg, an intensive care nurse at Covenant, where staff levels are so strained that the Defense Department recently sent reinforcements. “I don’t think people understand the toll that that takes unless you’ve actually done it.”

Read it all.

Posted in Health & Medicine, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market

(BBC Newscast) Disappointing the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

The Archbishop of Canterbury tells Adam, Laura and Chris that he was disappointed to see a photo of Conservative activists having what looked like a party at Tory headquarters last Christmas.

Justin Welby also says leaders need to be honest, admit mistakes and stick to the rules.

And he reveals what it was like to do a jigsaw with the Queen at Sandringham.

Read it all (a little over 38 minutes).

Posted in --Justin Welby, Anthropology, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England (CoE), Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Politics in General

(C of E) ‘It is wonderful to welcome a new generation’ – how a diocese is supporting arrivals from Hong Kong

More than 70 new arrivals from Hong Kong have been warmly welcomed to the Diocese of Leeds at a special church event.

Families and individuals who have settled in Leeds attended St Barnabas Church in Alwoodley, Leeds, despite freezing temperatures and high winds.

This was the first welcome event for people from Hong Kong held in the Diocese of Leeds since the announcement of the British National Overseas passport scheme to allow Hong Kong citizens to come and reside in the UK.

Chinese and English food was shared together, there were games for families, and the opportunity for newcomers to meet parishioners. Guest speakers also gave advice, including representatives from schools and GP surgeries.

Read it all.

Posted in England / UK, Hong Kong, Immigration, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

(Washington Post) ‘Last on the rung’: Africa deals with fallout from a ‘Made in the USA’ supply chain crisis

With U.S. retailers willing to pay almost any price to get their goods to American shores in time for the holidays, ocean carriers have redeployed container ships from the developing world to the more lucrative Asia-to-United States trade lanes, where rates for some shipments this fall were 15 times pre-pandemic levels, according to the Freightos index.

That’s helped fill American store shelves — and carriers’ coffers — but it has battered many African shippers, according to interviews with more than 30 maritime analysts, shippers, freight forwarders and cargo carriers in the United States, Africa and elsewhere.

Already lagging in coronavirus vaccinations, Africa risks becoming collateral damage in the supply wars. The International Monetary Fund says the 45 nations of sub-Saharan Africa are mired in the slowest economic recovery of any region, with supply chain disruptions helping fuel inflation at roughly twice its pre-pandemic level.

“Africa, sadly, I can’t think of any other continent that is last on the rung. Africa will be the last to come out of this,” [Aditya] Awtani said.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Africa, America/U.S.A., Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Kenya

Dorothy Sayers on her Feast Day–Why Work?

I have already, on a previous occasion, spoken at some length on the subject of Work and Vocation. What I urged then was a thoroughgoing revolution in our whole attitude to work. I asked that it should be looked upon, not as a necessary drudgery to be undergone for the purpose of making money, but as a way of life in which the nature of man should find its proper exercise and delight and so fulfill itself to the glory of God. That it should, in fact, be thought of as a creative activity undertaken for the love of the work itself; and that man, made in God’s image, should make things, as God makes them, for the sake of doing well a thing that is well worth doing.

It may well seem to you – as it does to some of my acquaintances – that I have a sort of obsession about this business of the right attitude to work. But I do insist upon it, because it seems to me that what becomes of civilization after this war is going to depend enormously on our being able to effect this revolution in our ideas about work. Unless we do change our whole way of thought about work, I do not think we shall ever escape from the appalling squirrel cage of economic confusion in which we have been madly turning for the last three centuries or so, the cage in which we landed ourselves by acquiescing in a social system based upon Envy and Avarice.

A society in which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded on trash and waste, and such a society is a house built upon sand….

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Church History, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market

(C of E) Supporting parishes resettling refugees

The Church of England is setting up a new group to support local churches resettling refugees in partnership with the Home Office.
Gareth Jones and Domenica Pecoraro are shown in two different photos put together next to one another. Gareth is smiling with glasses and Domenica is also smiling on the right hand side.
Domenica Pecoraro and Canon Gareth Jones have been appointed as the Church’s first National Representatives for Community Sponsorship.

They will work with a steering group chaired by the Bishop of Bradwell, Dr John Perumbalath, who also chairs the inter-denominational Churches’ Refugee Network, and supported by staff from Church of England’s national Mission and Public Affairs team.

This initiative will build on the positive work since the 2015 General Synod which agreed a motion urging “parishes and dioceses to work closely with local authorities and other community partners, to provide practical and sustainable resources and structures for the resettlement of vulnerable refugees and to pray for all those seeking to address the causes as well as the symptoms of this crisis”.

Since then dozens of parishes have taken part in community sponsorship and welcoming families from Syria with at least 20 serving as lead sponsor.

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Immigration, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

(Science) The Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the world

It’s almost a mantra in climate science: The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. But that figure, found in scientific studies, advocacy reports, the popular press, and even the 2021 U.N. climate assessment, is incorrect, obscuring the true toll of global warming on the north, a team of climate scientists reports this week. In fact, the researchers say, the Arctic is warming four times faster than the global average.

“Everybody knows [the Arctic] is a canary when it comes to climate change,” says Peter Jacobs, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, who presented the work on 13 December at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union. “Yet we’re misreporting it by a factor of two. Which is just bananas.”

Researchers have long known the world warms faster in the far north, because of a phenomenon known as Arctic amplification. The drivers of amplification include increased solar heating, as dark ocean water replaces reflective sea ice, along with occasional intrusions of tropical heat, carried to the Arctic by “atmospheric rivers,” narrow parades of dense clouds that drag water vapor northward.

Read it all.

Posted in Climate Change, Weather, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Science & Technology

A Fantastic London Times Profile Piece on Congolese Doctor and Pentecostal Pastor Denis Mukwege

In the past seven years tens of thousands of Yazidis kept as sex slaves by Isis fighters, girls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria, and Rohingya women dragged from their huts and gang-raped by Burmese soldiers, have courageously come forward and told their stories, yet there has only been a single prosecution.

No one is better qualified to write about the situation than this astonishingly brave Congolese gynaecological surgeon. His Panzi hospital in eastern Congo has treated more than 60,000 raped women and girls over the past 20 years. Some arrive so damaged that he has carried out multiple operations to try to reconstruct them.

One of the most heroic men I have ever met, Mukwege literally risks his life to save women. After a series of threats and assassination attempts, he lives almost as a prisoner on the hospital site, guarded by UN peacekeepers.

Far from being supported by the Congolese state, he does all of this in the face of a government so craven it tried to fine him $20,000 for collecting rainwater on the hospital roof, insisting that rain belongs to the state.

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in Africa, Books, Health & Medicine, Republic of Congo, Sexuality, Terrorism, Violence, Women

(FA) Sue Gordon and Eric Rosenbach–America’s Cyber-Reckoning: How to Fix a Failing Strategy

A decade ago, the conventional wisdom held that the world was on the cusp of a new era of cyberconflict in which catastrophic computer-based attacks would wreak havoc on the physical world. News media warned of doomsday scenarios; officials in Washington publicly fretted about a “cyber–Pearl Harbor” that would take lives and destroy critical infrastructure. The most dire predictions, however, did not come to pass. The United States has not been struck by devastating cyberattacks with physical effects; it seems that even if U.S. adversaries wanted to carry out such assaults, traditional forms of deterrence would prevent them from acting.

Behind those mistaken warnings lay an assumption that the only alternative to cyberpeace must be cyberwar. But in the years since, it has become clear that like all realms of conflict, the domain of cyberspace is shaped not by a binary between war and peace but by a spectrum between those two poles—and most cyberattacks fall somewhere in that murky space. The obvious upside of this outcome is that the worst fears of death and destruction have not been realized. There is a downside, however: the complex nature of cyberconflict has made it more difficult for the United States to craft an effective cyberstrategy. And even if lives have not been lost and infrastructure has mostly been spared, it is hardly the case that cyberattacks have been harmless. U.S. adversaries have honed their cyber-skills to inflict damage on U.S. national security, the American economy, and, most worrisome of all, American democracy. Meanwhile, Washington has struggled to move past its initial perception of the problem, clinging to outmoded ideas that have limited its responses. The United States has also demonstrated an unwillingness to consistently confront its adversaries in the cyber-realm and has suffered from serious self-inflicted wounds that have left it in a poor position to advance its national interests in cyberspace.

To do better, the United States must focus on the most pernicious threats of all: cyberattacks aimed at weakening societal trust, the underpinnings of democracy, and the functioning of a globalized economy. The Biden administration seems to recognize the need for a new approach. But to make significant progress, it will need to reform the country’s cyberstrategy, starting with its most fundamental aspect: the way Washington understands the problem.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Blogging & the Internet, Defense, National Security, Military, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Science & Technology, The U.S. Government

(NYT front page) An Exhausted World Wonders: Will the Covid19 Era Ever End?

“I’m so tired of all these routines,” Chen Jun, 29, a tech company worker in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, said the other day. He was forced to take three Covid-19 tests in June following an outbreak in the city, and then had to quarantine for 14 days. Thumbtacks he used to pin on a world map to trace his travels have stopped multiplying. “I’m starting to think we’ll never see an end to the pandemic.”

This sense of endlessness, accompanied by growing psychological distress leading to depression, was a recurrent theme in two dozen interviews conducted in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas. After two years of zigzagging policy and roller coaster emotions, terrible loss and tantalizing false dawns, closing borders and intermittently shuttered schools, people’s resilience has dwindled.

That is sure to pose new challenges for leaders trying to protect their people and their economies. Will the weary obey new restrictions, or risk seeing family and friends after months of forced separation? The question of just how draconian leaders can be when people’s mental health has become so fragile appears to be a core dilemma as the pandemic enters its third year.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Health & Medicine, Politics in General, Psychology, Stress

(TLS) Niall Ferguson reviews ‘The Age of AI: And Our Human Future’ by by Henry A Kissinger, Eric Schmidt and Daniel Huttenlocher

It had never occurred to me until I read The Age of AI that what differentiates AI from HI – human intelligence – is that even the most brilliant human chess player rules out ex ante certain moves that involve very high sacrifice. But AlphaZero plays chess “without reflection or volition, with strict adherence to the rules”. It is unbeatable partly because it has inferred from the rules certain tactics – and hence, cumulatively, a strategy – that HI would never consider.

The other obvious difference is that AI is much, much faster than HI. As the authors note, “An AI … scanning for targets follows its own logic, which may be inscrutable to an adversary and unsusceptible to traditional signals and feints – and which will, in most cases, proceed faster than the speed of human thought”. The idea of an AI program waging war, rather than playing chess, with the same ruthlessness and speed is deeply frightening. No doubt DeepMind is already working on AlphaHero. One imagines with a shudder the programme sacrificing entire armies or armadas as readily as its chess-playing predecessor sacrificed its queen. No doubt the reader should feel reassured that the United States has committed itself to develop only “AI-enabled weapons”, as opposed to “AI weapons … that make lethal decisions autonomously from human operators”. “Created by humans, AI should be overseen by humans”, the authors declare. But why should America’s undemocratic adversaries exercise the same restraint? Inhuman intelligence sounds like the natural ally of regimes that are openly contemptuous of human rights.

If the foe of the future is literally inhuman as well as inhumane, how shall we be able to defend ourselves? The varieties of deterrence that evolved during the first Cold War, up to and including Mutually Assured Destruction, seem unlikely to apply to AI war. Because, unlike nuclear weapons, AI will be widely used in multiple ways and at multiple scales, “the achievement of mutual strategic restraint … will be more difficult than before”. That seems an understatement. I have thought for some time that there may simply be no deterrence in the areas of cyberwar and information warfare.

We are left with only two possibilities. “For nations”, the authors note, “disconnection could become the ultimate form of defense.” This makes sense. The past five years have vividly revealed the dangers of a hyperconnected world. Without effective circuit-breakers that sever network links at the first indication of hazardous contagion, we are as vulnerable to cyberattack as we were to fake news in 2016 or a novel pathogen in 2020.

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Posted in Books, Defense, National Security, Military, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Military / Armed Forces, Science & Technology

(NYT) The End of a Return-to-Office Date

The executives had a good feeling about Jan. 10, 2022 — the date when DocuSign’s 7,000 employees worldwide would finally come back to work.

This deadline wouldn’t be like that earlier one in May 2020, which was always a fantasy, or August 2020, which was a bit ambitious, or October 2021, a plan derailed by the Delta variant. Fourth time’s the charm.

“Every time we delay this we’re pushing off the inevitable,” said Joan Burke, the chief people officer, in a late November interview. “At some point in time DocuSign is going to be open.”

That some point in time is no longer in January. The Omicron variant interjected. Just as companies from Ford Motor to Lyft have done in the past week, DocuSign postponed again. In place of a new date came the company’s promise to “reassess our plans as 2022 unfolds.”

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Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Science & Technology

Elon Musk Named Times person of the year for 2021

Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecology, Economy, History, Science & Technology

(Economist Leader) What would America fight for?

Unfortunately, America is tiring of its role as guarantor of the liberal order. The giant has not exactly fallen asleep again, but its resolve is faltering and its enemies are testing it. Vladimir Putin is massing troops on the border with Ukraine and could soon invade. China is buzzing Taiwan’s airspace with fighter jets, using mock-ups of American aircraft-carriers for target practice and trying out hypersonic weapons. Iran has taken such a maximalist stance at nuclear talks that many observers expect them to collapse. Thus, two autocratic powers threaten to seize land currently under democratic control, and a third threatens to violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty by building a nuclear bomb. How far would America go to prevent such reckless acts?

Joe Biden can sound forceful, at times. On December 7th he warned Mr Putin of severe consequences if Russia were to launch another attack on Ukraine. He has maintained sanctions on Iran. And in October he said that America had a “commitment” to defend Taiwan, though aides insisted policy has not changed. (America has long refused to say whether it would send forces to repel a Chinese invasion, so as not to encourage any Taiwanese action that might provoke one.) China was left wondering whether Mr Biden misspoke or was craftily hinting at a more robust stance. On December 7th America’s House of Representatives passed a big boost to the defence budget. Also this week Mr Biden was to hold a “Summit for Democracy”, to encourage countries that respect the rules to club together.

And yet, as our Briefing explains, America has become reluctant to use hard power across much of the world.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Defense, National Security, Military, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Globalization, History, Politics in General