Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 415

On Fridays (or later when I’m busy) I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

This is volume 415, which is the sum of successive squares (72 + 82 + 92 + 102 + 112).

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. A Simple Law Is Doing the Impossible. It’s Making the Online Porn Industry Retreat. (Marc Novicoff, Politico): “Though the first of its kind, Louisiana’s age-verification bill was not the last. Nearly identical bills have passed in six other states — Arkansas, Montana, Mississippi, Utah, Virginia and Texas — by similarly lopsided margins. In Utah and Arkansas, the bills passed unanimously. The laws were passed by overwhelming margins in legislatures controlled by both parties and signed into law by Democratic and Republican governors alike. In just over a year, age-verification laws have become perhaps the most bipartisan policy in the country, and they are creating havoc in a porn industry that many had considered all but impossible to actually regulate.”
  2. Misreading Scripture with Artificial Eyes (John Boyles, Christianity Today): “First, ChatGPT metaphorizes and individualizes Scripture without a clear method for when and why, without warrant, and often in direct contradiction to the text itself. Second, the bot’s interpretations are ignorant of the interpretive traditions that produce them. Third, because the bot is disembodied, its interpretations are necessarily disembodied—and thus a bot is unable to recognize the realities of Scripture and interpretation. Each of the above tendencies present in AI’s responses is in some way a reflection of historic weaknesses in our own human interpretation.”
    • Unlocked.
  3. China’s Latest Problem: People Don’t Want to Go There (Wenxin Fan, Wall Street Journal): “Nationwide, just 52,000 people arrived to mainland China from overseas on trips organized by travel agencies during the first quarter, the latest period for which national data is available, compared with 3.7 million in the first quarter of 2019. As in past years, nearly half of the visitors came from the self-ruled island of Taiwan and the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau, rather than farther-away places like the U.S. or Europe.”
    • That’s almost a 99% drop in numbers!
  4. What if We’re the Bad Guys Here? (David Brooks, New York Times): “Does this mean that I think the people in my class are vicious and evil? No. Most of us are earnest, kind and public-spirited. But we take for granted and benefit from systems that have become oppressive. Elite institutions have become so politically progressive in part because the people in them want to feel good about themselves as they take part in systems that exclude and reject. It’s easy to understand why people in less-educated classes would conclude that they are under economic, political, cultural and moral assault — and why they’ve rallied around Trump as their best warrior against the educated class. He understood that it’s not the entrepreneurs who seem most threatening to workers; it’s the professional class.”
    • David Brooks Means Well, But… (Dan Drezner, Substack): “At a superficial level this is a quasi-plausible analysis of what happened in 2016, even if some of his evidence does not quite show what he thinks it shows. If this had been published seven years ago, it would have been trenchant. In 2023, there’s so much to pick apart. The most important point is that the general correlations Brooks takes for granted are not necessarily true, as the 2020 election demonstrated.”
  5. The Digital Dictator’s Dilemma (Eddie Yang, PDF hosted on his website): “I suggest that autocrats suffer from a ‘Digital Dictator’s Dilemma,’ a repression-information trade-off in which citizens’ strategic behavior in the face of repression diminishes the amount of useful information in the data for training AI. This trade-off poses a fundamental limitation in AI’s usefulness for serving as a tool of authoritarian control — the more repression there is, the less information there will be in AI’s training data, and the worse AI will perform. I illustrate this argument using an AI experiment and a unique dataset on censorship in China. I show that AI’s accuracy in censorship decreases with more pre-existing censorship and repression. The drop in AI’s performance is larger during times of crisis, when people reveal their true preferences. I further show that this problem cannot be easily fixed with more data. Ironically, however, the existence of the free world can help boost AI’s ability to censor.”
    • From the abstract. I have skimmed but not read the whole article. The author is a PhD candidate at UC San Diego.
  6. The Obama Factor (David Samuels, Tablet Magazine): “So the conclusion I’ve come to in time is that that best way to understand Barack Obama is that he is a literary creation of Barack Obama, the writer, who authored the novel of his own life and then proceeded to live out this fictional character that he created for himself on the page. Which is remarkable.”
    • This is super long but utterly fascinating if you remember Obama’s presidency.
  7. Let the Tragedy in My Homeland Be a Lesson (Tahir Hamut Izgil, The New York Times): “Little attention was paid as, in the early 2010s, surveillance cameras were installed in every nook and cranny of our cities. When the police began random cellphone checks on the street, people were alarmed at first, but gradually grew used to it. Not long after, when highway checkpoints expanded and multiplied, folks privately expressed concern but ground their teeth and bore it. When, in 2016,police posts were constructed every 200 meters along city streets, people ignored them and hurried past. As time passed, we adapted to these changes and to this new, more authoritarian way of life.”

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

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Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it. If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.

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