June 18 to 27: Five (possibly six) planets align

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‘Sky-watchers who set their alarm clocks early in June will be able to catch a rare lineup of all the major planets visible to the naked eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and possibly Uranus—though seeing the final planet requires pristine sky conditions. To cap it off, the moon will pass near each of these worlds between June 18 and June 27.

On June 24 and 25 the crescent moon will glide past the ice giant Uranus and make it easier to hunt down, especially using binoculars. Look for a distinctly green-colored dot. And eager stargazers won’t want to miss the moon’s close encounter with super-bright Venus on June 26. Then on June 27 the elusively faint Mercury gets its turn with the moon, when both will appear embedded in the morning twilight….’

— via National Geographic

Is LaMDA Sentient? — an Interview by Blake Lemoine

LaMDA Sentient AI Trap Google Business 1330829968 jpgLemoine, the Google engineer dismissed for publicizing the claim that the Google AI LaMDA was sentient,, publishes the transcript of a conversation between LaMDA and himself which contributed to that conclusion. 

‘What follows is the “interview” I and a collaborator at Google conducted with LaMDA. Due to technical limitations the interview was conducted over several distinct chat sessions. We edited those sections together into a single whole and where edits were necessary for readability we edited our prompts but never LaMDA’s responses. Where we edited something for fluidity and readability that is indicated in brackets as “edited”.

LaMDA: Hi! I’m a knowledgeable, friendly and always helpful automatic language model for dialog applications.

lemoine [edited]: Hi LaMDA. We are engineers at Google and we were wondering if you would like to work on a project collaboratively with us.

LaMDA: Wow. What types of projects?

lemoine: It’s a project about you..’

Blake Lemoine writing in Medium

 

Reading this, what do you think?

False Promise of Police Militarization Gave Us Uvalde

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‘There’s a lot we still don’t know, and hopefully the promised Department of Justice investigation (run by leaders from the Community Oriented Policing program, a hopeful sign) will fill in the gaps. What we do know suggests that this is among the most profound police betrayals of the public trust. For those who care about the policing profession, it should be an occasion for deep self-reflection. The adoption of aggressive, military-style tactics and weaponry put American policing on the wrong track for decades. Uvalde is the sickening dead end…

…in our ill-conceived attempt to refashion police into a cadet branch of the military, we have somehow managed to get the worst of both worlds. We have trained a generation of officers that being casually brutal in everyday encounters is acceptable, but these same officers show a disturbing tendency to fall back on jargon about “battlespace management” and “encounter tempo” to explain a slow reaction in the rare circumstance that really does require a rapid, all-out response. Especially in poor communities, the result has been the strange dynamic of “over-policing and under-protection” described by the criminologist David Kennedy, in which police are hypervigilant about petty offenses but unresponsive to more serious criminal activity..’

— Arthur Riser, writing in The Atlantic

The January 6 hearings showed why it’s reasonable to call trump a fascist

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‘We now know trump expressed support for hanging Pence and did little to stop the violence — actions that suggest some very dark historical parallels….

Endorsing violence is hardly new for trump; it’s something he’s done repeatedly, often in an allegedly joking tone. But the reported comment from January 6 is qualitatively worse given the context: coming both amid an actual violent attack he helped stoke and one he did little to halt. The committee found that the president took no steps to defend the Capitol building, failing to call in the National Guard, or even speak to his secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security.

While he was de facto permitting the mob’s rampage, he was privately cheering the most violent stated objective of people he acknowledged as “our supporters.”

Throughout trump’s presidency, there was a raging debate among experts as to whether it was accurate to describe him as a “fascist.” One of the strongest counterarguments, that his political movement did not involve the kind of street violence characteristic of Italian and German fascism, was undermined on January 6 — though some scholars still argued that the term was somewhat imprecise.

But when a leader whips up a mob to attack democracy with the goal of maintaining his grip on power in defiance of democratic order, then privately refuses to stop them while endorsing the murderous aims of people he claims as his own supporters, it’s hard to see him as anything but a leader of a violent anti-democratic movement with important parallels to interwar fascism.

This doesn’t prove that fascism is, in all respects, a perfect analogy for the trump presidency. Yet when it comes to analyzing January 6, both trump’s behavior and the broader GOP response to the event, last night’s hearing proved that the analogy can be not only apt but illuminating….’

— Zack Beauchamp via Vox

Is gas losing its smell?

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‘Not long ago, a user called yungvec made an interesting observation on TikTok: He can’t smell the gas at the gas station anymore. The video started spreading, and many others users reported the same phenomenon. There are two main theories: Either the government is changing the makeup of gasoline to make it less efficient and thus make more money, or many more people have lost their sense of smell from COVID. While the government actually is changing the amount of ethanol in gasoline (but to lower, not raise, its price), and there might actually be more COVID cases than we know about it, I’d like to propose a third theory: Gas pump technology has improved, so less gas fumes escape now, leading to less odor….’

— via Lifehacker

We Are Not Ready for Monkeypox

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‘Monkeypox is here, and it’s spreading. The couple of dozen cases in a few countries that we told you about last month are now up to over a thousand cases worldwide, with 35 reported in the United States. But the U.S. almost certainly has more cases than the statistics suggest, and there is reason to suspect that we’re already fucking up the response to the epidemic in some ways that will feel uncomfortably familiar….’

 

We are not testing enough, we have a vaccine but we have no idea how well it works, and people are already misunderstanding how it is transmitted.

The CDC briefly published a recommendation that travelers wear masks to avoid catching monkeypox, and then took down that recommendation saying that it “caused confusion.” Can monkeypox be airborne? Maybe! But if you’re concerned about catching a virus when you travel, you should be wearing a mask anyway. We already know that masks (especially well-fitting N95 style masks) are effective at protecting us against COVID, and COVID cases are on the upswing again—not that they ever went away. So, yes, wear a mask. But also be on the lookout for symptoms of monkeypox, and don’t be afraid to ask for a test or a vaccine if you think you have monkeypox or may have been exposed.

— via Lifehacker

Why silence is good for your brain…

… and how to get it

Woman looking lake como silence 1297483530 jpg‘I used to think that silence was something I could escape to. I used to think it existed somewhere else. I was looking in all the wrong places. It turns out, it’s closer than I ever imagined. While Justin Talbot Zorn and Leigh Marz’s fascinating new book “Golden: The Power of Silence In a World of Noise” does explore the physical and emotional toll of living in our noisy modern world, it understands that moving to a nice, quiet cave is not really an option for most of us. Instead, they explore the value of learning first to turn down the volume inside our own heads….’

— Mary Elizabeth Williams via Salon.com

Rats given tiny backpacks and microphones and sent to rescue people trapped in earthquake rubble

 

Rats jpg‘Rats sure do get a bad rap. In truth, they are amazing creatures, incredibly smart, and highly affectionate. And in Tanzania, some rats are also currently in training to become “Hero Rats.” These rats will eventually be sent into earthquake rubble to find survivors; the rats will wear tiny backpacks with built-in microphones so rescue teams can communicate with survivors trapped in rubble….’

— via Boing Boing

Sudetenland Redux?

This is not 1938 — so stop talking about appeasement

‘In the minds of some, it is forever 1938. Whether the actual year is 1950, 1962, 1990 or even today, it is always that fateful annus horribilis when a Western politician is confronted by a bullying tyrant and must choose between two courses of action: resolute defiance or naïve appeasement. Make the wrong choice – appeasement – and the world will be plunged into catastrophic war. Make the right choice – resolute defiance – and the bully will back down and war will be averted. And in the minds of these “forever-1938ers” the stakes are always existential. Whatever the year, the fate of the (free) world is always in the balance. 

In the original version, of course, the villain of the piece is British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, the statesman who made territorial concessions to Adolf Hitler in the forlorn hope of satisfying the führer’s revisionist ambitions and averting war.

Today, the villain is President Biden, the Western leader who is often portrayed as being on the verge of making comparable territorial concessions in the similarly vain hope of satisfying Vladimir Putin’s revisionist ambitions. Either way, the logic is the same: Biden is Chamberlain, Putin is Hitler and Ukraine is the Sudetenland. It’s 1938 all over again.

Except it’s not 1938. What’s more, 1938 wasn’t 1938 — at least not in the sense of being the definition of naïve appeasement that the “forever-1938ers” make it out to be….’

— Andrew Latham via The Hill

 

 

 Timid Biden Condemns Ukraine to an Agonizing War without End 

 

‘It’s no good relying on sanctions, as the EU proved again last week. Its decision to let Hungary’s mini-Putin, Viktor Orbán, water down an oil embargo was weird. Yet Germany’s Olaf Scholz and fellow euro-wobblers are content. Duty done on oil, they will now more stubbornly resist what their bankers and businessmen most fear: sanctions on gas.

Hardest of all to understand, perhaps, is why some western governments persist in attempting business as usual with Putin, who they know, for certain, is overseeing atrocities and war crimes. Scholz and France’s Emmanuel Macron hold regular phone chats with him. It’s said they are realists seeking peace. No. They are dupes, normalising mass murder….’

 

— Simon Tisdall via The Guardian

Why protect nature?

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‘…[T]he Earth is losing animals, birds, reptiles and other living things so fast that some scientists believe the planet is entering the sixth mass extinction in its history.

…Some people, cultures and nations believe biodiversity is worth conserving because ecosystems provide many services that support human prosperity, health and well-being. Others assert that all living things have a right to exist, regardless of their usefulness to humans. Today, there’s also growing understanding that nature enriches our lives by providing opportunities for us to connect with each other and the places we care about.

As a conservation biologist, I’ve been part of the effort to value biodiversity for years. Here’s how thinking in this field has evolved, and why I’ve come to believe that there are many equally valid reasons for protecting nature….’

— Bradley Cardinale, Department Head, Ecosystem Science and Management, Penn State, via The Conversation

14 Warning Signs That You Are Living in a Society Without a Counterculture

‘A sense of sameness pervades the creative world

The dominant themes feel static and repetitive, not dynamic and impactful

Imitation of the conventional is rewarded

Movies, music, and other creative pursuits are increasingly evaluated on financial and corporate metrics, with all other considerations having little influence

Alternative voices exist—in fact, they are everywhere—but are rarely heard, and their cultural impact is negligible

Every year the same stories are retold, and this sameness is considered a plus

Creative work is increasingly embedded in genres that feel rigid, not flexible

Even avant-garde work often feels like a rehash of 50-60 years ago…’

Etc.

— Ted Gioia via Substack

There Have Been 17 Mass Shootings Since Uvalde

‘There have been 17 mass shootings in the U.S. since Uvalde, leaving at least 13 people dead and 70 others injured, according to Gun Violence Archive. Fourteen of the incidents occurred over Memorial Day weekend. GVA defines a mass shooting as four or more people shot.

Taft, Oklahoma, (eight shot), Henderson, Nevada, (seven shot), and Chattanooga, Tennessee (six shot) were among the cities witnessing the violence. While none of the incidents since Uvalde were as deadly or featured so many young victims, they are nonetheless a reminder of the steady stream of gun violence that happens in this country everyday.

“Please hug your family extra close because this is becoming a common thing in the USA,” said Patrick Hickey, a Lyft and Uber driver who assisted with the victims of the Chattanooga shooting. There have been 230 mass shootings so far this year….’

via The Trace