Monday, March 27, 2023

27: Sri Lanka

27: China, US

27: China

27: Ukraine

Fatalism is not an option for addressing China-Russia relations his 40th face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. ......... Over the past year, China has expanded trade links with Russia and amplified Russian propaganda. ........ He is a cold-blooded calculator of his and his country’s interests above all else. ....... lock Russia in for the long term as China’s junior partner. ....... Xi flatters Putin in ways he does not any other world leader. ........ The two countries fought a border conflict in 1969, when Xi turned 16. During Xi’s formative years, the Soviet Union maintained a massive military presence along the Sino-Soviet border, deploying up to 36 divisions.......... For Xi, cementing Russia as China’s junior partner is fundamental to his vision of national rejuvenation. ............ Xi likely also sees the benefit of Russia distracting America’s strategic focus away from China. .......... Given China’s dependence on imports for food and fuel, Xi likely also values the secure and discounted supplies of these critical inputs that Russia provides........... China will remain committed to navigating Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a manner that keeps Russia as its junior partner. Seen through this lens, China’s amplification of Russian propaganda, its continuous diplomatic engagement, its ongoing military exercises, and its expanding trade with Russia all are supportive of its broader objective........... Russia’s strategic value to China requires that Moscow not objectively lose in Ukraine, though. Thus, China’s second objective is to guard against Russia failing and Putin falling.......... As Russia’s trade with the developed world has plummeted, China has stepped in to fill the gap. China-Russia trade exceeded a record-breaking $180 billion last year (roughly one-quarter of the volume of U.S.-China trade)......... China’s third objective is to try to de-link Ukraine from Taiwan. Chinese leaders grate at the suggestion that Ukraine today foreshadows Taiwan tomorrow. They want the world to accept that Ukraine is a sovereign state and Taiwan is not, and that the two should not be compared. ........... Faced with these Chinese objectives, many American, European, and Asian policymakers might reasonably conclude that there is no prospect for dissolving the Sino-Russian entente, so they should seek instead to frame China and Russia as two sides of the same coin. According to this logic, doing so could cause China to pay as high of a reputational price as possible for being an accomplice to Russia’s barbarism in Ukraine. ........ No Ukrainians’ lives will be improved by worsening public perceptions of China. ......... there are still meaningful things Russia is withholding from China that it conceivably could give if the relationship truly moves toward a “no-limits” partnership. These include Russian support for a greater Chinese role in the Arctic, Russian permission for Chinese forces to access its constellation of bases around the world, Russian support for China’s submarine and anti-submarine warfare programs, and deeper and more directed global intelligence cooperation. ......... at the urging of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and others, Xi exhorted against the threat or use of nuclear weapons. China has thus far refrained from proving lethal assistance to Russia. Beijing has not recognized the breakaway republics in Ukraine. ........... Beijing is not a credible fulcrum for any peace process, though it is conceivable that China could play a role as part of a signing/guaranteeing group for any eventual peace deal. ........... The Ukrainians are sober to the scale of the reconstruction bill that awaits them at the end of the fighting. They will both want and need Chinese contributions. .......... will China exercise its leverage to encourage off-ramps and oppose further escalation? Will China condemn attacks on civilians? Will China support future investigations to hold perpetrators of atrocities in Ukraine to account? Will China continue to oppose all threats or uses of nuclear weapons? Will China continue to refrain from recognizing breakaway republics? Will China contribute resources now to lessen the suffering of Ukrainian refugees? Will China commit to materially support Ukraine’s reconstruction? ......... Ultimately, Beijing will not disavow Moscow.

27: Taiwan

The Problem With How the West Is Supporting Ukraine Wars are won or lost well behind the front lines. Allies should arm Ukrainians accordingly...... For the past four months, people around the world have witnessed the macabre process of Russian forces making repeated assaults near the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut for only the tiniest of gains. ........ Russia has lost about five of its soldiers for every Ukrainian soldier lost—to say nothing of massive equipment losses. ........ Far more effective is to weaken your opponent’s forces before they get to the battlefield. ...... Though NATO countries have a variety of systems that can target Russian forces deep behind their lines, recent aid has been overwhelmingly geared toward preparing Ukraine to make direct assaults against the Russian army. The most widely discussed forms of equipment—such as Leopard 2 tanks, Bradley armored personnel carriers, and even Archer long-range artillery—are not the kinds of systems that can disrupt or degrade Russian forces far behind the front lines. ..........

Ukraine is being made to fight the war the hard way, not the smart way.

........ Unfortunately, NATO states, including the U.S., have been reluctant to provide the Ukrainians with missile systems with too long of a range, seemingly for fear of escalating tensions with Russia. Instead of allowing the Ukrainians to degrade Russian forces far from the front line, Ukraine is being prepared to attack that line. The Ukrainians’ fortitude and ingenuity up to this point suggest that they could indeed accomplish their task—but it’s been made much harder than it needs to be.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

25: Russia

The view from Moscow and Beijing: What peace in Ukraine and a post-conflict world look like to Xi and Putin The main topics of discussion were fittingly grandiose: How should hostilities in Ukraine end? And after the war is over, how should the international security system be reshaped? ........ U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned the world not to be “fooled by any tactical move by Russia, supported by China … to freeze the war on its own terms.” ........ Putin launched a brutal, unprovoked war in Ukraine. .......... Amid the heightened emotional environment of missile attacks on civilians, horrific atrocities against ordinary citizens and deportation of children from Ukraine, even a cool evaluation of ways to end the fighting, declare a cease-fire, and begin talks by the belligerents has led to accusations of appeasement. And the peace plan put forward by China on Feb. 24, 2023, and discussed with Putin during a March 20-22 meeting in Moscow has been criticized as overly vague and lacking concrete suggestions. .......... But as a historian, I ask, what does the world look like from the other side? How has the run-up to the war and the war itself been understood by Russia and China? And what do Xi and Putin envision a post-conflict world to look like? .......... The rulers of both Russia and China see the West-dominated “rules-based international order” – a system that has dominated geopolitics since the end of the Second World War – as designed to uphold the global hegemony of the United States. .......... The two men’s stated preference is for a multilateral system, one which would most probably result in a number of regional hegemons. ......... “The international community has recognized that no country is superior to others, no model of governance is universal, and no single country should dictate the international order. The common interest of all humankind is in a world that is united and peaceful, rather than divided and volatile.” ......... Reflecting his more street tough style, Putin was more blunt. Russia and China “have consistently advocated the shaping of a more just multipolar world order based on international law rather than certain ‘rules’ serving the needs of the ‘golden billion,’” he said, referencing a theory that holds that the billion people in the richest countries of the world consume the greatest portion of the world’s resources. ......... Putin said the “crisis in Ukraine” was an example of the West trying to “retain its international dominance and preserve the unipolar world order” while splitting “the common Eurasian space into a network of ‘exclusive clubs’ and military blocs that would serve to contain our countries’ development and harm their interests.” .........

Beijing appears intent to play the role of negotiator-in-chief in this transition to a multipolar world order.

......... the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe and the alliance’s promise to expand further by admitting Georgia and Ukraine. In Putin’s view, such NATO encroachment is an existential threat to Russia’s security interests. ........ But the Chinese plan also rejects Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling: “The threat or use of nuclear weapons should be opposed.” .......... the Chinese strongly insist on the need for an immediate cease-fire and the start of negotiations ........... In the short run, China may be benefiting from the war because it consumes attention and armaments from the West and diverts its gaze from East Asia. The U.S. “pivot to the east” – a planned refocusing from the Obama administration onward aimed at countering the perceived threat of China – has stalled. ........... Xi is most concerned with China’s renewal of economic development, which would rely on less confrontational relations with Europe and the United States. Stability, both domestically and internationally, works to China’s economic advantage as a major producer and exporter of industrial goods. And Beijing is mindful that a slump in foreign demand and investment is hitting the country’s economic prospects. ...........

Xi may be the only person on the globe able to persuade Putin to think seriously about a way out of war.

......... The United States’ long-held foreign policy aim of maintaining its “indispensable nation” status runs counter to Russia and China’s ambition to end American global dominance. ........ two, seemingly insurmountable, rival ambitions.

India’s ruling party just kicked a major rival out of Parliament — and sparked a new crisis Rahul Gandhi’s expulsion from the Lok Sabha is the latest sign of Indian democracy’s decline. ........ For years, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has attacked the foundations of his country’s democracy. His government has rewritten election rules in its favor, assailed the rights of the Muslim minority, jailed anti-government protesters, and reined in the free press. On Friday morning, it took another major step in an authoritarian direction: kicking Modi’s principal rival, Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, out of office and disqualifying him from competing in future elections. ........ Modi is extremely popular, and Gandhi is not known as an especially adept politician. ........ “Authorities have used security, defamation, sedition, and hate speech laws, as well as contempt-of-court charges, to quiet critical voices in the media,” Freedom House finds. “Activists, Muslims, and members of other marginalized communities are routinely charged with sedition for criticizing the government and its policies.” ........ the motion was filed by a Modi ally only a week after Gandhi launched a major attack against the prime minister’s ties to disgraced businessman Gautam Adani. ....... the case has serious legal flaws. In criminal allegations that a group is being defamed — like people named Modi — it needs to be shown that the group constitutes a distinct entity with collective interests and a group reputation that could be besmirched. ......... it is entirely possible that Gandhi’s conviction is overturned on appeal. ......... Gandhi’s conviction and removal from Parliament illustrate, more than anything else, the continuing deterioration of India’s democracy and Modi’s and his allies’ authoritarian bent. ........ India no longer met its minimal standards for qualifying as a democracy of any kind, downgrading it to an “electoral autocracy.” ....... attacking the leading figure in the opposition is unusually brazen ........ Like similar modern autocrats in places like Hungary and Israel, he still depends on support from a public that believes in the basic ideals of representative government. ........ “Rahul Gandhi can still command media and popular attention when he is not a member of Parliament” ......... the BJP’s increasingly tight control over the Indian political system and mass media. ....... “Even after his yatra, pundits said Bharat Jodo Yatra would be step 1 of a larger rehabilitation plan only if it was followed by additional steps to sharpen the opposition’s ideological positioning and build the Congress organization. We have not seen much headway on either of those fronts.” ...... Modi is a capable and canny authoritarian, and putting a real dent in his political armor will be a difficult challenge for India’s weakened opposition. .

The Ukraine conflict is a war of narratives – and Putin’s is crumbling It is as if both Russia and Ukraine are attempting to write the history – the whys and hows of the conflict – in real time. ........ Russian politicians and their media claim Russia is fighting Nazis in Ukraine who usurped power in a 2014 coup d’état and pushed the country toward an alliance with the West, posing a direct threat to Russia itself. ............. Russian boys are dying to protect their Ukrainian brethren, Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians from fascism ....... Ukrainians decided in the “revolution of dignity” in 2014 that they wanted to free themselves from Vladimir Putin’s suffocating pressure to give up their aspirations to join the West, fortify their democracy and be a fully sovereign, independent state. Inspired by that narrative – and the unprovoked invasion of their country by their powerful neighbor – Ukrainians have courageously and effectively resisted the Russian assault, and even triumphed significantly on the battlefield. ......... Ukraine was never a serious, immediate threat to Russia. ....... a preventive war. It is premised on anxieties about future dangers, yet clothed not in cold realist terms but rather in the hyperemotional narrative of the supposedly harmonious brotherhood of Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians. .......... Putin’s narrative is similarly existential. It is framed as a struggle against the “neo-colonialism” of the West, which he believes seeks to dismember Russia. In Putin’s narrative, the war with Ukraine challenges America’s claim to a global hegemony that reduces Russia to a humiliated regional power. ........ The lands he referred to as “New Russia,” or “Novrossiya,” were sanctified, he said, by victories of Russian heroes from the 18th century; this was a land where Catherine the Great founded cities.......... He then pivoted to the painful year 1991, when three representatives of the Communist party elite terminated the Soviet Union “without asking ordinary citizens what they wanted, and people suddenly found themselves cut off from their homeland.” Putin compared this illegitimate act with what Lenin and the Bolsheviks had done in creating Soviet republics on the basis of their nationality. In Putin’s narrative, the invasion of Ukraine is part of a process to rectify what he now sees as criminal acts at the dawn and twilight of the Soviet empire. He explicitly rejected the notion of restoring the USSR – “Russia no longer needs it today; this is not our ambition” – but believes he should aid those torn from their historic homeland. ............ In Putin’s narrative, Ukraine needs saving from the clutches of the West and Western culture and must return to the Russkii mir – the Russian world – and its unique culture. ........ Putin declared that in Russia there will not be “parent number one, parent number two and parent number three” instead of a “mother and father.” ......... “Do we want our schools to impose on our children … perversions that lead to degradation and extinction? Do we want to drum into their heads the ideas that certain other genders exist along with women and men and to offer them gender reassignment surgery? … This is all unacceptable to us. We have a different future of our own.” ............ broadening the imagined threat from the West to include culture as well as Russia’s survival and status as a great power .......... Domestic resistance to the war has erupted sporadically in large Russian cities, in non-Russian regions like Dagestan and even in Russian-occupied Crimea. Young men are fleeing to Finland, Georgia, Armenia and Central Asia to avoid the call-up issued by the military. Few want to fight and die for a war that makes no sense.

Poland dreams of building Europe’s largest army, against backdrop of Russia’s war against Ukraine

Friday, March 24, 2023

24: ChatGPT

Heralded by the Kremlin as a show of support from its most powerful friend, Xi’s visit to Moscow featured carefully staged pomp and ceremony, but the spectacle was also marked by plenty of demonstrative bonhomie between the two autocrats........ Xi and Putin referred to each other as dear friends, promised economic cooperation and described their countries’ relations as the best they have ever been. ....... Putin said on the Kremlin's website: "We are working in solidarity on the formation of a more just and democratic multipolar world order, which should be based on the central role of the U.N., its Security Council, international law, the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter." ....... but asserted the close partnership between China and Russia did not constitute a “military-political alliance.” .......

The West sees China’s peace plan as a ploy to buy Putin time to regroup his forces and solidify his grip on occupied land.

......... China’s 12-point plan has no specific details on how to end the bloody year-long war, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives and forced millions to flee. ...... As Xi and Putin ended their talks on Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund announced preliminary agreement with Kyiv on a four-year loan package of about $15.6 billion to the shattered country. ....... Separately, the United States intends to speed up delivery to Ukraine of 31 Abrams battle tanks to the autumn ......... Kyiv had clamored for tanks as well as other sophisticated Western military hardware as the conflict has slowed to a war of attrition with both sides suffering heavy losses.

China’s Xi tells Putin of ‘changes not seen for 100 years’ China’s President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin bid each other farewell following talks in Moscow. ....... with Xi acknowledging Beijing and Moscow had signed an agreement bringing their ties into a “new era” of cooperation. .

Can We Slow This All Down, Please? Regulators did nothing, even though Silicon Valley Bank’s woes had been widely noticed. Bank managers failed at the basic work of hedging against the risk of interest rates rising. Midsize banks, including Silicon Valley Bank itself, successfully lobbied Congress and the Trump administration to be exempted from the regulations attached to too-big-to-fail banks. Venture capitalists sparked a needless panic that annihilated an institution central to their own industry. The Federal Reserve ignored inflation for too long, and the whiplash of its response has become a risk factor all its own. ....... “The idea of persistent low rates has wormed its way into everything: investor thinking, market forecasts, inflation expectations, valuation models, leverage ratios, debt ratings, affordability metrics, housing prices and corporate behavior.” He went on to say that “by truncating downside volatility, forestalling business failures and postponing the day of reckoning, such policies have persuaded investors that risk has gone into hibernation or simply vanished.”.......... Silicon Valley specialized in providing banking to start-ups that had little or no revenue but were nevertheless flush with cash, much of it coming, indirectly, from the Fed’s huge increase in the money supply. Deposits at Silicon Valley Bank grew from $62 billion at the end of 2019 to $189 billion at the end of 2021. And the bank attempted to act conservatively. It squirreled that cash away in what was, in an era of low interest rates, understood as the safest, surest of investments: U.S. Treasuries and other long-term bonds. ........ “A disconnect between finance and the real world lies at the heart of all great bubbles.” .........

The financial economy we’re in was built atop low interest rates.

....... John Maynard Keynes didn’t have much patience for the myth of the rational market. Picking stocks, he wrote, was akin to a game “in which the competitors have to pick out the six prettiest faces from 100 photographs, the prize being awarded to the competitor whose choice most nearly corresponds to the average preferences of the competitors as a whole: so that each competitor has to pick, not those faces that he himself finds prettiest, but those that he thinks likeliest to catch the fancy of the other competitors, all of whom are looking at the problem from the same point of view.” .......... “One remarkable detail about the S.V.B. debacle is that, in a few hours last Thursday, about $42 billion (one-quarter of S.V.B.’s deposits) left the institution, mostly through digital means.” ........ the Fed’s 2022 stress tests didn’t include interest rate risks. It, too, was fighting the last war. ........... Banking is a critical form of public infrastructure that we pretend is a private act of risk management. .......... the lesson of the past 15 years is that there are no truly private banks

A.I. Is About to Get Much Weirder. Here’s What to Watch For. The Vox writer Kelsey Piper talks about the increasing pace of A.I. development, how it’s changing the world and what to do about it. ....... GPT-4 passes the bar exam in the 90th percentile ........ GPT-4 — it is extremely powerful. .......... since at least 2019, you had people saying this is going to overnight — not today, but in 10 years, overnight — transform our world. We are going to be able to automate any work that can be done remotely. ......... the most concrete version of this is that right now, all of the work done on improving A.I. systems is being done by humans. And it’s a pretty small number of humans. And of course, one of the jobs that they are trying to automate is their job, the job of making better A.I. systems. And when they succeed at that, if they succeed at that, then you can, instead of having hundreds of people working on building better A.I. systems, you can have thousands. ....... You can have a million because you can just make a copy of an A.I. system. That’s like its fundamental economic potential, is that you can make a copy of it. You can make an A.I. system that is as good at writing as you. And then you can have 1,000 of them writing about all different topics. You can make an A.I. system that’s a really good programmer and then you can have all of the programmers working with or possibly replaced by that thing............

at the point where we figure out how to make A.I. researchers out of A.I.‘s, then things will move real fast.

........... we live in a sci-fi world increasingly, but one of the things that I know is striking to a lot of people in this world was when GPT-3 really proved able to code, even though it hadn’t really been trained to do so. ........ then the idea that you would have an A.I. that codes A.I., that’s not a giant leap. That’s simply finishing the sentence in a slightly different way. ......... there is so much commercial incentive to make an A.I. system that can code. Programmers are really expensive. They’re scarce. It’s hard to hire them. ....... there are people right now trying to develop A.I. systems that can develop A.I. systems, because there’s people trying to develop A.I. systems that can do every human job. ........ And they did not, according to them, train GPT-4 specifically to pass any tests. But like GPT-3 and 3.5, it absorbs a lot of language from the internet. It begins to create statistical correlations, for lack of a more precise way of saying it, between terms. And out of that emerges a kind of thing that seems to act in the real world, like understanding. .......... when you try to give GPT-3.5 the bar exam, it is in the 10th percentile of people. When you give it to GPT-4, it’s in the 90th percentile. GPT-4 passes the LSAT at the 88th percentile. GPT-3.5 is at the 40th percentile. ............ it sort of calls into question what intelligence is, right? Like, what is going on in our brains when we think? .......... you can just feed something the entire internet and then make it really, really good at pattern recognition and then prompt it, and it does that. ........ We wouldn’t call a calculator intelligent, even though it gets the right answer if you try to multiply 37 by 25. And frankly, most human beings can’t do 37 by 25 in their mind. ......... these things don’t know why they’re saying what they’re saying.

Putin said a Chinese proposal to end the conflict could be used as the basis of a peace settlement, but the West and Kyiv were not yet ready. ....... The United States has been dismissive of China’s peace plan and said a ceasefire would lock in Russian territorial gains and give Putin’s army more time to regroup.

Netherlands and Japan Said to Join U.S. in Curbing Chip Technology Sent to China A new agreement is expected to expand the reach of U.S. technology restrictions on China issued last year.........

ChatGPT Gets Its “Wolfram Superpowers”! . .

ChatGPT as muse, not oracle What if we were to think of LLMs not as tools for answering questions, but as tools for asking us questions and inspiring our creativity? Could they serve as on-demand conversation partners for helping us to develop our best thoughts? As a creative muse? ....... how might LLMs work as a tool for asking questions and spurring human creativity? ....... ChatGPT asked me probing questions, suggested specific challenges, drew connections to related work, and inspired me to think about new corners of the problem. ....... I used some prompting tricks which include frequent cherry-picking among multiple options as the conversation progresses ......... I started out this conversation with a pretty vague idea, and you immediately asked me for a specific example. Next you might tell me about a related idea from your own background knowledge, or push back on my point, or ask a more incisive question. As we go, I’ll develop a clearer view of what I myself mean when I say to use LLMs for asking questions, not providing answers.

Is GPT-4 Worth the Subscription? Here’s What You Should Know the cap was set at 50 messages for four hours. When I returned on Monday morning, the site was glitchy and the cap was lowered to 25 messages for three hours.