Showing posts with label China. Show all posts
Showing posts with label China. Show all posts

Thursday, March 23, 2023

23: China

मन्त्रिपरिषद् पुनर्गठनको तयारीमा प्रचण्ड, बालुवाटारमा गठबन्धनको बैठक सुरु
मन्त्रिपरिषद् पुनर्गठन : कांग्रेसको १० मन्त्रालयमा दाबी, एक सिटेलाई ‘नो–इन्ट्री’
प्रधानमन्त्री प्रचण्डलाई १० दलको ‘व्यवस्थापन’मा कति छ चुनौती ?

Xi and Putin pledge to shape a new world order as the Chinese leader leaves Russia with no peace in sight for Ukraine The White House said China’s position was not impartial and urged Beijing to pressure Russia to withdraw from Ukraine. ....... as Xi departed he told Putin: “Now there are changes that haven’t happened in 100 years. When we are together, we drive these changes.” ...... “I agree,” Putin said, to which Xi responded: “Take care of yourself dear friend, please.” ...... Kishida’s surprise visit to the Ukrainian capital stole some of the attention from Xi’s trip.

प्रचण्डले पाए दोस्रो पटक विश्वासको मत, १७२ सांसदको समर्थन

Saturday, March 11, 2023

11: China

उपराष्ट्रपतिमा उम्मेदवारी दर्ता : मधेसी दलमा देखिएन एकता
महन्थ, सिके र रेशमको पार्टीबीच कार्यगत एकताको घोषणा
जनमत पार्टीको बटमलाइन : सहमति नभए मित्रवत् प्रतिस्पर्धा !
जसपाबाट उपराष्ट्रपतिमा प्रमिला यादवकाे पनि उम्मेदवारी दर्ता

Iran-Saudi ties: China-brokered ‘win-win’ deal could bring Yemen war to a close, analysts say Tehran and Riyadh have agreed to restore diplomatic relations following the Beijing-led talks that experts dubbed as ‘a major development in the Middle Eastern diplomacy’....... Analysts say the easing of tensions between the rivals could also prompt Saudi and Iran to end hostilities in Yemen by agreeing to a ‘face-saving’ resolution .......... The Chinese-mediated agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia to resume diplomatic relations after a seven-year hiatus is widely expected to de-escalate conflicts across the Middle East. Although details of the deal reached during five days of talks in Beijing have not been made public, many analysts believe they include an understanding on bringing the eight-year war in Yemen to a negotiated close. .

जनकपुरधाम आइपुग्यो माध्यमिकी परिक्रमा, भोलि अन्तगृह परिक्रमा (फोटोफिचर) .
Ruling coalition to field 3 candidates for vice-president
बालुवाटारमा आठ दलको बैठक जारी
उपराष्ट्रपतिका लागि जनमत र जसपाको आ-आफ्नै दाबी
ममता झाले उपराष्ट्रपति पदमा उम्मेदवारी दर्ता गर्दै
१० दलमा उपराष्ट्रपतिको उम्मेदवारबारे सहमति जुटेन
उमेरका कारण रञ्जिता श्रेष्ठ उपराष्ट्रपतिको उम्मेदवार हुन नसक्ने

जसपाको उम्मेदवार यादव नै हो, आयोगले आफुखुसी गर्न पाउदैन : उपेन्द्र यादव
उपराष्ट्रपतिमा जनमतको पनि उम्मेदवार, सप्तरीकी ममता झालाई उठाउने सदभावना पार्टीबाट राजनीति सुरु गरेकी ५३ वर्षीय झा जनमत पार्टीकी सप्तरी जिल्ला इञ्जार्ज छिन् । उनी स्थानीय तह चुनावमा राजविराज नगरपालिकाको मेयरमा उम्मेदवार थिइन् ।
रास्वपाको धनुषा संयोजकमा महतो, महोतरीमा यादव

काठमाडौंबासीलाई गिज्याइरहेको बागमती (फोटोफिचर)
जनमत पार्टीबाट ममता झा उपराष्ट्रपतिको उम्मेदवार
विद्यार्थी नेता हुँदाका रामचन्द्र

Monday, February 27, 2023

Artificial Intelligence

A Gold Mine of Clean Energy May Be Hiding Under Our Feet “We can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness” ....... to have a friend takes time ......... Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe. ...... its only combustion product is water. .......

hydrogen gas does exist in large quantities in Earth’s crust

........ Just think how much cheaper and easier would it be if we could drill for hydrogen the same way we drill for oil and natural gas, and thus put to good use society’s enormous investment in equipment built for the exploration, production and transportation of fossil fuels. ......... hundreds of millions of megatons of hydrogen in Earth’s crust, and even if only 10 percent of it is accessible, that would last thousands of years at the current rate of consumption ......... natural hydrogen from the ground should be producible for less than $1 per kilogram, versus around $5 per kilogram for “green” hydrogen that’s derived from water by electrolysis ......... History is replete with examples of ignored discoveries. Take the observation that sailors could prevent scurvy by eating citrus fruits. ......... the explorer Sir Richard Hawkins recorded in 1622 that “sower lemons and oranges” were “most fruitful” in preventing scurvy. He added, “I wish that some learned man would write of it.” But it took until 1753 for a Dr. James Lind to publish research proving Hawkins right. ........... “it was not until 42 years later that the Admiralty first issued an order for the distribution of lemon juice to sailors.” ......... Hydrogen gas isn’t typically found near hydrocarbons. ........ Geologists now believe that hydrogen is being constantly produced from a reaction between water and iron-rich rocks. It’s essentially rusting: The rocks capture the oxygen and release hydrogen. ....... But if hydrogen is available in gaseous form in the ground, the economics suddenly work ......... One idea for making it easier to transport is to mix it with natural gas or use nitrogen to make it into ammonia. ......... “By leveraging existing know-how from the oil and gas industry, extraction of hydrocarbons from shale formations went from essentially zero in 2008 to around $150 billion by 2019 and reinvented energy geopolitics along the way.” ......... It’s just a pair of atoms, colorless, tasteless and lighter than air.

A ‘$10 Quintillion’ Asteroid if that much metal really could be brought to Earth, there would be far more than anyone needs, and its value would crash. ........ “It’s fundamental science. We’ve never visited an asteroid with a metal surface. It’s a whole new kind of object in our solar system.” ........ Earth has way more minerals than Psyche, but we don’t go around bragging about the sextillions of dollars’ worth of minerals that lie (inaccessibly) beneath our feet.......... Psyche would cost much more to corral than that palmful considering that it’s about as wide across as the distance from Los Angeles to Tijuana, Mexico. ........ What makes diamonds expensive and water cheap, considering that diamonds aren’t necessary and water is? Because diamonds are scarce and water isn’t. Ordinarily, anyway. If you were dying of thirst in the desert you would gladly give all your diamonds for one glass of water. ........... In the beginning of the solar system, she said, dust and gas formed into planetesimals. Some planetesimals coalesced into planets, others were flung into the sun, and yet others were stranded in the asteroid belt .

The Imminent Danger of A.I. Is One We’re Not Talking About “I tend to think that most fears about A.I. are best understood as fears about capitalism,” Chiang told me. “And I think that this is actually true of most fears of technology, too. Most of our fears or anxieties about technology are best understood as fears or anxiety about how capitalism will use technology against us. And technology and capitalism have been so closely intertwined that it’s hard to distinguish the two.” .......... We are so stuck on asking what the technology can do that we are missing the more important questions: How will it be used? And who will decide? ......... “Sydney” is a predictive text system built to respond to human requests. Roose wanted Sydney to get weird — “what is your shadow self like?” he asked — and Sydney knew what weird territory for an A.I. system sounds like, because human beings have written countless stories imagining it. At some point the system predicted that what Roose wanted was basically a “Black Mirror” episode, and that, it seems, is what it gave him. ........... You tell a powerful A.I. system to make more paper clips and it starts destroying the world in its effort to turn everything into a paper clip. You try to turn it off but it replicates itself on every computer system it can find because being turned off would interfere with its objective: to make more paper clips. ..........

We are talking so much about the technology of A.I. that we are largely ignoring the business models that will power it.

........ “They’re not trained to predict facts,” she told me. “They’re essentially trained to make up things that look like facts.” ........ just shoehorning the technology into what tech companies make the most money from: ads.” ......... “very persuasive and borderline manipulative.” It was a striking comment. What is advertising, at its core? It’s persuasion and manipulation. ..........

the dark secret of the digital advertising industry is that the ads mostly don’t work.

......... a Bing that has access to reams of my personal data and is coolly trying to manipulate me on behalf of whichever advertiser has paid the parent company the most money. .......... “I think we wind up very fast in a world where we just don’t know what to trust anymore” ....... Large language models, as they’re called, are built to persuade. They have been trained to convince humans that they are something close to human. They have been programmed to hold conversations ......... They are being turned into friends for the lonely and assistants for the harried. They are being pitched as capable of replacing the work of scores of writers and graphic designers and form-fillers — industries that long thought themselves immune to the ferocious automation that came for farmers and manufacturing workers. ......... the advertising-based models could gather so much more data to train the systems that they’d have an innate advantage over the subscription models, no matter how much worse their societal consequences were. ......... Much of the work of the modern state is applying the values of society to the workings of markets, so that the latter serve, to some rough extent, the former. We have done this extremely well in some markets — think of how few airplanes crash, and how free of contamination most food is — and catastrophically poorly in others. ........... wait long enough and the winners of the A.I. gold rush will have the capital and user base to resist any real attempt at regulation. ........ Most fears about capitalism are best understood as fears about our inability to regulate capitalism.

A War With China Would Be Unlike Anything Americans Faced Before would probably cut off U.S. access to world-leading semiconductors and other critical components manufactured in Taiwan. ........ U.S. citizens have grown accustomed to sending their military off to fight far from home. But China is a different kind of foe — a military, economic and technological power capable of making a war felt in the American homeland.......... the challenges facing the United States are serious, and its citizens need to become better aware of them. ............

China would probably launch a lightning air, sea and cyber assault to seize control of key strategic targets on Taiwan within hours, before the United States and its allies could intervene. Taiwan is slightly bigger than the state of Maryland; if you recall how quickly Afghanistan and Kabul fell to the Taliban in 2021, you start to realize that the takeover of Taiwan could happen relatively quickly. China also has more than 1,350 ballistic and cruise missiles poised to strike U.S. and allied forces in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and American-held territories in the Western Pacific. Then there’s the sheer difficulty the United States would face waging war thousands of miles across the Pacific against an adversary that has the world’s largest navy and Asia’s biggest air force.

........... the Chinese are prepared to wage a much broader type of warfare that would reach deep into American society. ......... a multipronged campaign to divide Americans and undermine and exhaust their will to engage in a prolonged conflict — what China’s military calls enemy disintegration. ........ China has built a formidable cyberwarfare capability designed to penetrate, manipulate and disrupt the United States and allied governments, media organizations, businesses and civil society. If war were to break out, China can be expected to use this to disrupt communications and spread fake news and other disinformation. The aim would be to foster confusion, division and distrust and hinder decision making. ......... China could also weaponize its dominance of supply chains and shipping. The impact on Americans would be profound. ......... American consumers rely on moderately priced Chinese-made imports for everything from electronics to furniture to shoes ........ U.S. supplies of many products could soon run low, paralyzing a vast range of businesses. ......... China is now the dominant global industrial power by many measures. In 2004 U.S. manufacturing output was more than twice China’s; in 2021, China’s output was double that of the United States. China produces more ships, steel and smartphones than any other country and is a world leader in the production of chemicals, metals, heavy industrial equipment and electronics — the basic building blocks of a military-industrial economy. ............

it is important for Washington to avoid provocations and maintain a civil discourse with Beijing.


China Is Running Covert Operations That Could Seriously Overwhelm Us China has acquired global economic and diplomatic influence, enabling covert operations that extend well beyond traditional intelligence gathering, are growing in scale and threaten to overwhelm Western security agencies. ...... a “breathtaking” Chinese effort to steal technology and economic intelligence and to influence foreign politics in Beijing’s favor. The pace was quickening ............

China can best be described as an intelligence state.

The party views the business of acquiring and protecting secrets as an all-of-nation undertaking ........... and ensure that engagement with Beijing is tempered by a hardheaded sense of reality. .......... Barely visible on the world stage 30 years ago, China’s intelligence agencies are now powerful and well resourced. They are adept at exploiting the vulnerabilities of open societies and growing dependence on China’s economy to collect vast volumes of intelligence and data. Much of this takes place in the cyber domain ........... China’s consulate in Houston was closed by the Trump administration in 2020 after it served as a national hub for collecting high-tech intelligence. ......... China’s Intelligence Law, which was enacted in 2017, required its citizens to assist intelligence agencies. .......... the United Front Work Department, a party organization that seeks to co-opt well-placed members of Chinese diaspora communities ............ a British politician whose office received substantial funding from an ethnic Chinese lawyer who thereby gained access to the British political establishment. ......... One Chinese approach is to patiently cultivate relationships with politicians at the city or community level who show potential to rise to even higher office. Another is known as elite capture, in which influential Western corporate or government figures are offered lucrative sinecures or business opportunities in return for advocating policies that jibe with Chinese interests. ........... Mr. Xi has stressed the need to adopt “asymmetrical” means to catch up to the West technologically. ......... The Soviet Union lost the Cold War not because of its intelligence operations — which were good — but because of the failure of its governing ideals. ........ must ensure that strategies they employ honor the ideals of freedom, openness and lawfulness that pose the greatest threat to the Chinese party-state.

TikTok May Be More Dangerous Than It Looks TikTok, as we know it today, is only a few years old. But its growth is like nothing we’ve seen before. In 2021, it had more active users than Twitter, more U.S. watch minutes than YouTube, more app downloads than Facebook, more site visits than Google. ........ and asked some of the students where they liked to get their news. Almost every one said TikTok. ......... Chief executives will act in accordance with party wishes or see their lives upended and their companies dismembered.......... Apps like TikTok collect data from users. That data could be valuable to foreign governments. That’s why the Army and Navy banned TikTok from soldiers’ work phones........

TikTok has been thick with videos backing the Russian narrative on the war in Ukraine.

............ 186 Russian TikTok influencers who normally post beauty tips, prank videos and fluff. ........ They’ve banned Facebook and Google and Twitter and, yes, TikTok. ByteDance has had to manage a different version of the app, known as Douyin, for Chinese audiences, one that abides by the rules of Chinese censors. ........ TikTok’s billion users don’t think they’re looking at a Chinese government propaganda operation because, for the most part, they’re not. They’re watching makeup tutorials and recipes and lip sync videos and funny dances. But that would make it all the more powerful a propaganda outlet, if deployed. And because each TikTok feed is different, we have no real way of knowing what people are seeing. It would be trivially easy to use it to shape or distort public opinion, and to do so quietly, perhaps untraceably.

President Biden’s Succession Problem This month his doctor reported that Mr. Biden is “healthy,” “vigorous” and “fit” to carry out the duties of president. ........ what Franklin D. Roosevelt did in 1944: He expressed a preference for certain candidates but turned the choice of his running mate over to the delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. ....... People remember him when he didn’t whisper or mumble, when his gait was not that of someone concerned about tripping or falling. ........ in the last week of March 1944, “Roosevelt’s health was deteriorating so steadily that he canceled all appointments and confined himself to his bedroom.” His daughter, Anna, arranged for a checkup at Bethesda Naval Hospital, where a young cardiologist, Dr. Howard Bruenn, examined him. The doctor concluded that, if his congestive heart failure was left untreated, the president was unlikely to survive for more than a year. .........

A charismatic candidate like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez might inspire the base and sweep the field.


Indian Americans Rapidly Climbing Political Ranks The 2024 cycle reflects huge strides in representation: A decade ago, “it was inconceivable that someone named Raj Goyle — let alone Rajeev Goyle — would run for office in Wichita,” said Mr. Goyle, a former Kansas lawmaker......... In 2013, the House of Representatives had a single Indian American member. Fewer than 10 Indian Americans were serving in state legislatures. None had been elected to the Senate. None had run for president. ........... Ten years later, the Congress sworn in last month includes five Indian Americans. Nearly 50 are in state legislatures. The vice president is Indian American. Nikki Haley’s campaign announcement this month makes 2024 the third consecutive cycle in which an Indian American has run for president, and Vivek Ramaswamy’s newly announced candidacy makes it the first cycle with two........... Indian Americans, whose populations in states including Georgia, Pennsylvania and Texas are large enough to help sway local, state and federal races. ............ “There’s a natural trend, society is more accepting, and there is deliberate political strategy to make it happen.” ............ When Mr. Goyle ran for the Kansas House in 2006 as a Democrat against a Republican incumbent, he was told that the incumbent’s reaction to learning she had a challenger had been, “Who is Rod Doyle?” ........ the watershed appears to have been 2016, just after then-Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana became the first Indian American to run for president. .......... the year Representatives Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Ro Khanna of California and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois were elected, bringing the number of Indian Americans in the House from one — Representative Ami Bera of California, elected in 2012 — to four. It was also the year Kamala Harris became the first Indian American elected to the Senate. ...........

the four House members — who call themselves the Samosa Caucus

......... Notably, the increase in Indian American representation is not centered on districts where Indian Americans are a majority. Ms. Jayapal represents a Seattle-based district that is mostly white. Mr. Thanedar represents a district in and around Detroit, a majority-Black city, and defeated eight Black candidates in a Democratic primary last year......... Immigrants from India are often highly educated and, because of the legacy of British colonization, often speak English .......... Indian Americans are more likely to engage in the American democratic system than immigrants from autocratic countries. .......... All five Indian Americans in Congress, and almost all state legislators, are Democrats. ........... “I ran as an immigrant, South Asian American woman,” Ms. Jayapal said of her first campaign. “I really ran on my story, I ran on my experience, and even though I represent a district that is largely white, I think that that story is a big part of the reason that people elected me.” ........... In general elections, it makes it harder for Republicans to tap into a base excited to promote its own representation.

‘Saturday Night Live’ Mocks Trump’s Trip to Ohio Woody Harrelson was the host this week of an episode, which featured Jack White as musical guest........ “It’s wonderful to be here in the town of East Palestine,” Johnson said. “Not a great name. But I had to come here and see these wonderful people who have been abandoned by Biden. He’s on spring break in Ukraine with his friend Zelensky in the T-shirt, very disrespectful. Zelensky thinks he’s rocking that ringer tee like Scott Pilgrim. But I’m here and I brought hats. Cameras and hats.” .......... “Earlier today a farmer came up to me, big fella, and he said, ‘Sir, we have nothing to eat because our dirt is poisoned.’ And I said, well, what are you doing eating the dirt? Don’t eat the dirt, folks. Don’t eat the dirt. You should be eating the cold McDonald’s I brought you. And the bottled water, Trump Ice. I’ll be honest, I just put my sticker on some Dasani.” .......... “But your train exploded and who do we blame? We blame Buttigieg. Pete Buttigieg. This was his responsibility. Unfortunately he was too busy being a nerd and being gay.” .

How the $500 Billion Attention Industry Really Works Your attention is constantly being bought, packaged and sold. Tim Hwang explains how. ........ Attention is, in total, the depth of thought and consideration a society can bring to bear on itself, its problems, its opportunities — everything from how to find economic prosperity, to solving climate change, to strengthening our democracy, or for that matter, doing the reverse of any of those things. All of it depends on our capacity to pay attention, on the quality of the attention we pay, and on the condition we’re in when we pay attention. ........... Tim Hwang was director of Harvard M.I.T. Ethics and Governance of AI Initiative. He was a global public policy lead for A.I. at Google. ......... We see the banner ads. We know we’re tracked across the internet....... “Subprime Attention Crisis,” which is a really good explanation of the business model responsible for our collective attention today..........

our attention here isn’t just being bought and sold. It’s being used and changed.

.......... a very particular kind of advertising, which is known as programmatic advertising, which is the use of algorithms to buy and sell attention online. ......... The very fact that you get to use a lot of services for free on the internet is really powered by the fact that they are funded through advertising........ for both Google and Facebook, to take two examples, we’re talking about companies that have over 80 percent of their revenue coming from these advertising sources. .......... continues to shape why things are designed on the internet the way they are. ....... If you’re able to aggregate a lot of attention online, we just have this almost religious faith that there’s just some way that you’ve got to be able to turn this into money. You will become a Google. You will become a Facebook. ......... if you come to a V.C. and you say, I want to do a subscription business model, they’ll say, well, I don’t know — we don’t have a whole lot of examples of that really blowing up, so why don’t you just do advertising? .......... they were basically like, we’ll have advertising, but it’ll constitute 10 percent, 20 percent — maybe 15 percent of our revenue. Most of it’s going to come from licensing our search algorithm, which is obviously not the case. .......... newspapers, which are heavily advertising supported — not only, but heavily — magazines — heavily advertising supported............ television news, including cable news, that is heavily advertising supported. Radio is heavily advertising supported. Then you go online and you have search — advertising supported. You have social media — advertising supported. ........

the only major one that always comes to mind that is not built on advertising is books.

........ there is a norm to say, yes, a book is a thing that I will buy. And even if it’s basically just a text file, I’d be willing to pay X amount of money for it ......... It makes it really difficult for you to convince someone to pay for content because the psychological cost of content is just zero. ........ about online advertising as a different kind of phenomena.......... the system — programmatic advertising — which, in my book — and the book kind of refers to it — looks a lot more like the capital markets, like high frequency trading ......... hey, we’ve got Tim — male, 25 to 35 — on the East Coast who’s looking at this website. Who wants to advertise to him? ........... advertising as a science — that we could measure, quantify, and deliver ads in a way that would truly finally get rid of the touchy-feely aspects of the industry, and that’s the dream ......... it’s been responsible for a lot of ad dollars moving out of old media to the web, because of this promise of measurability and scalability and data. ......... I think of attention as the most important, often worst theorized, least explored thing in life. It’s everything, and then it’s very hard to get your hands around what exactly it is. ............. “The amorphous, shapeless concept of attention has been transformed into discrete comparable pieces that can be captured, priced and sold. Buyers and sellers can quickly evaluate opportunities and transact in attention at massive scale without individually evaluating each opportunity.” ..........

an absurd exercise, which is, how do we turn this thing — attention — which is just me looking at something into something that can be bought or sold.

............ We’re talking about global servers talking to one another rather than anyone having to pick up the phone or call anyone to facilitate the delivery of ads. ......... one of the premier engineering achievements of the 20th century ....... I think you say, what did Google do? People say, oh, my god, they figured out search......... And that’s half of the story of what Google did. But they also figured out the business model of online advertising to a very large degree. ........... a marketplace on a keyword-by-keyword basis — a product called AdWords. And this was the system that they set up was essentially an auction infrastructure. ......... created this waterfall of money that’s kind of supported the company to this day. ........ no search engine in their right mind should adopt advertising because once you have a third party that is paying to access eyeballs in your search engine, you have lots and lots of incentives to shape your experience to cater to the people who are really paying your bills. .......... you’ll hear the head of Netflix say, our big competitor is sleep, and Netflix has autoplay, and they are obsessed with how long you use Netflix for a month. ............

the internet is kind of like to blame for a lot of the content ills that we see on the internet.

......... I think it’s very wrong to believe that, at the core of this, ads are to blame for the outrage culture, if you will, of online discourse. ........ You have a website on the internet you can just plug into this ecosystem and start making money. You have ad dollars you want to spend — just put your coin in the slot and you go. .......... what’s the collection of texts that you encounter online and how is it connected to one another is very much shaped by ads. .......... The dream has been this sort of like laissez-faire vision of online ads. That these ad exchanges would connect ad buyers and ad sellers, and we would have a kind of transparent marketplace where finally, finally, finally, we’d be able to overcome what’s known as Wanamaker’s law. ........... Wanamaker’s law is 50 percent of the money that I spend on advertising is wasted — I just don’t know which. ........... subprime attention crisis is a bubble in the making. ........... the reality is actually like things are getting more and more dysfunctional with time, and that the central promise of this market, which is I can reach a consumer and get them to buy my product, is not really ultimately playing out. ......... 56 percent of display advertising — so the kind of ads that you see on places like Facebook — may actually never see a real person, that it’s lost to fraud. ............. $1 out of every $3 is lost to fraud online. ........ 41 percent of ad campaigns don’t actually reach the person because the ad data is all inaccurate. So you think you’re reaching male, 25 to 35. Turns out, it’s female 75 to 95 that’s living somewhere completely different from where you thought. ......... even if the ad is delivered, 56 percent of ads are just never seen ........... They’re below the fold, they’re in some weird corner of the site. You’re just not looking at it because you’re reading the article. .......... this ecosystem funds almost everything that we know about — the web. ........ It subsidizes the fact that we can access a lot of services for free online. It funds journalism and media. .......... if you think about the entire wave of advancements in A.I., those are being done by companies that can only subsidize those at a huge, huge loss because they make money through advertising. So there’s also this relationship between the health of this ecosystem and the advancement in science and technology. ............... well, if it turns out the advertising isn’t working, then a lot of the economic underpinning of the web all of a sudden blows up. ............ there’s an old Keynesian insight about financial crises, which is that what is weird about them and the damage they inflict is that nothing has happened to the factories, nothing has gone wrong with the people, nothing has been lost in our knowledge of how to do work. ................ Unlike in the subprime mortgage crisis where all the houses were basically fine — you could inhabit them — I worry that our collective attention is being degraded by the way the web has evolved. And every individual player has an individual incentive to grab more and more attention. It’s highly competitive. They’re all competing with each other for our attention. .............. this tragedy of the commons dynamic, where everybody is basically exhausting our attention, making us irritable and angry at each other and unable to focus. ................ the first banner advertisement that ended up on the web.... It was this AT&T campaign that was running on, I think,’s website. And the clickthrough rates there in 1994 were 44 percent, which is wild ............... the stats that we have today from banner advertising, it’s more like 0.1 percent. You’re thrilled if you get anywhere near 1 percent clickthrough. ........... how much are people actually paying attention to the ad, is declining, declining, declining .......... the core underlying asset, which is attention, has become so degraded with time that this channel is becoming useless. .......... the internet is just going through the same thing that all other media channels have had, which is that it fills with terrible advertising, and then people are attracted to the high value attention channel, and they move on. And maybe that’s happening with the internet as a whole. ............ People don’t like the way the modern internet feels, they don’t like the ads on it. To some degree, they just don’t even like what they’re doing on it.........

8 percent of the population is responsible for 85 percent of the clicks online.

.......... We’re not going to see a Twitter competitor just because people just don’t want that experience anymore. .......... a shift to more mixed business models. ......... a lot more experimentation with subscription. ........... You think of Netflix, or Disney+, or H.B.O. Max — those are not advertising-based businesses. ......... The New York Times itself, which has built a huge subscription business online — .......... OpenAI has a lot of investment from Microsoft, which obviously sells a lot of software. ........... what the kind of A.I. we’re creating is good at is just creating endless quantities of personalized manipulated content and figuring out what people want from that content. ......... One thing that worries me is actually a world in which A.I. is used to make online advertising much, much, much more effective, and personalized, and omnipresent, and creepy ......... rather than putting your search query into a box and getting 10 links, what you now have is a single voice that synthesizes the information and then offers an opinion ........... the quality is getting to the point where, do you need these creative agencies, do you need the whole kind of, again, infrastructure of marketing to produce ads that have that vibe that we spent a lot of money on it and it’s brand advertising? And I think that is something that will definitely change in the next few years......... a lot of what I get now is unintentionally hilarious. Like, I go, I buy a bicycle, and then for two months, everybody is like, you want to buy a bicycle? How do you feel about bicycles? ....... what they are able to do now, I think, is quite amazing, and it’ll be better in a year, and that much better in two years, and that much better in five years. .......... this company Bechtel, which is one of the big companies that helped build the Hoover Dam, and basically became the mega infrastructure builders of the 20th century. It’s completely fascinating — explains much of the west, explains nuclear power. The company is in everything, and so it’s a totally fascinating story.


Sam Altman on the A.I. Revolution, Trillionaires and the Future of Political Power Will A.I. give us the lives of leisure we long for — or usher in a feudal dystopia? It depends. ........ “Moore’s Law for Everything,” is Altman’s effort to try and imagine the political consequences of true artificial intelligence and the policies that could decide whether it ushers in utopia or dystopia. .......... computer power has been growing exponentially for decades now. But prices have actually been falling .........

true A.I. could get us closer to Moore’s law for everything. It can make everything better, even as it makes everything cheaper.

........... A.I. will create phenomenal wealth, but it will do so by driving the price of a lot of labor to basically zero. That is how everything gets cheaper. It’s also how a lot of people lose their jobs. ........... A.I., it’s not just going to redistribute wealth and jobs, it’s going to redistribute power.

Moore's Law for Everything My work at OpenAI reminds me every day about the magnitude of the socioeconomic change that is coming sooner than most people believe. Software that can think and learn will do more and more of the work that people now do. Even more power will shift from labor to capital. If public policy doesn’t adapt accordingly, most people will end up worse off than they are today. ........... We need to design a system that embraces this technological future and taxes the assets that will make up most of the value in that world–companies and land–in order to fairly distribute some of the coming wealth. Doing so can make the society of the future much less divisive and enable everyone to participate in its gains. .......... In the next five years, computer programs that can think will read legal documents and give medical advice. ........... This revolution will create phenomenal wealth. .......... The world will change so rapidly and drastically that an equally drastic change in policy will be needed to distribute this wealth and enable more people to pursue the life they want. ......... If we get both of these right, we can improve the standard of living for people more than we ever have before. .......... it must be designed for the radically different society of the near future. Policy plans that don’t account for this imminent transformation will fail for the same reason that the organizing principles of pre-agrarian or feudal societies would fail today. ......... Compare how the world looked 15 years ago (no smartphones, really), 150 years ago (no combustion engine, no home electricity), 1,500 years ago (no industrial machines), and 15,000 years ago (no agriculture). ......... To the three great technological revolutions–the agricultural, the industrial, and the computational–we will add a fourth: the AI revolution. This revolution will generate enough wealth for everyone to have what they need, if we as a society manage it responsibly............ The technological progress we make in the next 100 years will be far larger than all we’ve made since we first controlled fire and invented the wheel. ........ there are two paths to affording a good life: an individual acquires more money (which makes that person wealthier), or prices fall (which makes everyone wealthier). .......... The best way to increase societal wealth is to decrease the cost of goods, from food to video games. ........ In the last couple of decades, costs in the US for TVs, computers, and entertainment have dropped. But other costs have risen significantly, most notably those for housing, healthcare, and higher education. Redistribution of wealth alone won’t work if these costs continue to soar. ............ AI will lower the cost of goods and services, because labor is the driving cost at many levels of the supply chain. If robots can build a house on land you already own from natural resources mined and refined onsite, using solar power, the cost of building that house is close to the cost to rent the robots. And if those robots are made by other robots, the cost to rent them will be much less than it was when humans made them. ............. AI doctors that can diagnose health problems better than any human, and AI teachers that can diagnose and explain exactly what a student doesn’t understand............

Imagine a world where, for decades, everything–housing, education, food, clothing, etc.–became half as expensive every two years.

. ......... Economic inclusivity matters because it’s fair, produces a stable society, and can create the largest slices of pie for the most people. As a side benefit, it produces more growth. ......... the price of progress in capitalism is inequality........... a society that does not offer sufficient equality of opportunity for everyone to advance is not a society that will last. ........... As AI produces most of the world’s basic goods and services, people will be freed up to spend more time with people they care about, care for people, appreciate art and nature, or work toward social good. ......... We should therefore focus on taxing capital rather than labor, and we should use these taxes as an opportunity to directly distribute ownership and wealth to citizens. In other words, the best way to improve capitalism is to enable everyone to benefit from it directly as an equity owner. .......... the American Equity Fund. The American Equity Fund would be capitalized by taxing companies above a certain valuation 2.5% of their market value each year, payable in shares transferred to the fund, and by taxing 2.5% of the value of all privately-held land, payable in dollars. ............. The value of land appreciates because of the work society does around it: the network effects of the companies operating around a piece of land, the public transportation that makes it accessible, and the nearby restaurants, coffeeshops, and access to nature that makes it desirable. Because the landowner didn’t do all that work, it’s fair for that value to be shared with the larger society that did. ................. There is about $50 trillion worth of value, as measured by market capitalization, in US companies alone. Assume that, as it has on average over the past century, this will at least double over the next decade. ........... There is also about $30 trillion worth of privately-held land in the US .......... a decade from now each of the 250 million adults in America would get about $13,500 every year. That dividend could be much higher if AI accelerates growth, but even if it’s not, $13,500 will have much greater purchasing power than it does now because technology will have greatly reduced the cost of goods and services. And that effective purchasing power will go up dramatically every year. .............. we need technology to create more wealth, and policy to fairly distribute it. .......... In the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt was able to enact a huge social safety net that no one would have thought possible five years earlier. We are in a similar moment now. So a movement that is both pro-business and pro-people will unite a remarkably broad constituency. ........... Achieving 50% GDP growth sounds like it would take a long time (it took 13 years for the economy to grow 50% to its 2019 level). But once AI starts to arrive, growth will be extremely rapid. ..........

The future can be almost unimaginably great.


Sam Altman on the A.I. Revolution, Trillionaires and the Future of Political Power Will A.I. give us the lives of leisure we long for — or usher in a feudal dystopia? It depends. .

Sam Altman: AI Will Not Only Replace Experts But Create New Knowledge Sam Altman: I want AI to Do Things humans Can’t Do

Silicon Valley leaders think A.I. will one day fund free cash handouts. But experts aren’t convinced

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

11: China

How Montana Took a Hard Right Turn Toward Christian Nationalism What happened to a state known for its political independence? ........ In the last three years, Montana has become the second-fastest-growing state in the nation, largely because of the arrival of wealthy transplants. ....... During the convention, a group of delegates led an ultimately unsuccessful push to declare the 2020 presidential election fraudulent. (In Montana, such efforts occupy a curious logical space: Citizen groups sympathetic to Donald Trump have repeatedly demanded recounts of districts he won handily.) ......... For much of the 20th century, Montana reliably sent both Democrats and Republicans to Washington. Candidates across the political spectrum respected Montanans’ libertarian streak, which was born out of a deep suspicion of corporate power. ....... Montana has the smallest percentage of Black residents in the country, and the largest minority group in the state, Native Americans, have faced entrenched disenfranchisement since securing the right to vote in 1924. ........ it remains common for tribal citizens to have to drive vast distances to vote in statewide and national races. ........ “Both parties have a really lackluster track record in sustained connection and relationship-building in Indian Country” ......... In 2011, the Montana Supreme Court upheld the law, but the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ruling the following year, and corporate money poured into Montana. State law still restricts direct corporate spending on local elections, but political-action committees and dark-money groups have injected money into divisive contests and, as in much of the country, there’s no limit on candidates’ donations to their own campaigns. ......... a state in which all navigable streams are public and equal access to wilderness is sacrosanct. ........ Not only did Trump win the state by 20 points, but he also seemed to obliterate Montanans’ resistance to single-party rule. .......... Gianforte pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and was sentenced to 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger-management classes. ......... At a 2018 rally, Trump said he thought the attack had helped Gianforte at the polls, adding, “He’s my guy.” ....... Bullock himself ran for Senate, losing to Steve Daines — a former employee of Gianforte’s at RightNow Technologies — in a race that drew more than $100 million in outside spending. In the Legislature, Republicans gained another 10 seats, and Gianforte, after spending more than $7 million on his own campaign, finally emerged victorious in his quest to be governor. ........... the Montana Nurses Association accused the state of pushing “junk science.” .......... Infighting at school-board meetings became commonplace. In Montana, as in much of the country, the arguments centered on masks and the teaching of what critics called “critical race theory.” ........ Knudsen, the attorney general, issued an opinion that described certain antiracist programming as “racial harassment,” and Gianforte would later oppose the addition of the word “equity” to a teachers’ code of ethics. ........... There were also bills banning same-day voter registration and paid ballot collection — measures that are considered essential for tribal communities because of the great distances between many reservations and polling places. After Gianforte signed the voting restrictions into law, Keaton Sunchild, a member of the Rocky Boy’s Chippewa-Cree Tribe and at the time the political director for Western Native Voice, called the laws “a coordinated, pretty overt way of trying to tamp down the enthusiasm and power of the Native vote.” Western Native Voice, along with other advocacy groups, filed suit, and a judge has since blocked the laws as unconstitutional. ........ “Government doesn’t create opportunity,” he told the delegates in Billings. “Let’s just get out of the way.” ......... conservatives were seeking shelter in Montana ....... In 2021, Flathead County, which is deeply conservative, surpassed the majority Democratic Gallatin County, home to the tech hub of Bozeman, in its rate of population growth. ........ Over the course of the three-day platform convention in Billings this summer, numerous speakers appeared to be trying to outdo one another in their performative anger, and it was apparent that the enemies were not limited to the left. ............. “Derek Skees was always a hard-right guy,” said one state Republican official, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal. “But now he’s being called a RINO!” .......... The fieriest debate surrounded the abortion plank, which contained no exceptions for incest or rape. “We support the preservation of innocent human life at every stage of life, in all circumstances, beginning at conception through natural death,” it read. ........... “If you want to live here,” Karla Johnson, a chapter president of the Montana Federation of Republican Women, said, “be a Christian.” Keith Regier, an influential state senator, said all laws should be based on Judeo-Christian principles. “The Ten Commandments were a good foundation for any country to live by,” he told me. He was upset by what he perceived to be a censorious cultural moment — especially when it came to people speaking out against gay and transgender rights. “There is an open war on Christianity in this country.” ................ what can he get away with? Whatever he can get away with, he’ll get away with in shaping a Christian society. Because he believes that’s a true society.” ............. in 2021, a weekly men’s group read a polemic against Black Lives Matter, antiracism and the media titled “Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe,” by Voddie Baucham Jr., a Black former pastor. ............ Gianforte greeted Hughes and a handful of the other parishioners before sitting down next to his wife and near two notable visitors: the Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts and Trump’s former press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who were in Montana for a gathering of the Republican Governors Association. (Huckabee Sanders would be elected governor of Arkansas in November.) .......... I hear people saying now, ‘My America, I don’t even feel comfortable in my America.’ ......... On Election Day, Republicans won 86 out of 127 legislative races, achieving their supermajority. Montana Democrats did not field candidates in 35 of those contests, and turnout was low in majority-Indigenous counties. ............ In Cascade County, a onetime Democratic stronghold, Republicans swept all 15 state legislative races, two of which were uncontested. ............ “One of the Montana values is, if you’re neighbor’s not hurting you, you leave them alone,” he said. “Well, what I see is less of that and more of, ‘You’re just going to do it my way.’” .

Benedict’s Burial Leaves Francis Alone, and Unbound Liberal supporters of Francis, a pope never shy about exercising power, now anticipate a late-breaking season of change. .......... Since the first day of his papacy nearly a decade ago, Pope Francis has had to navigate an unprecedented complication in the Roman Catholic Church: coexisting with his retired predecessor in the same Vatican gardens. ........ conservative acolytes of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI sought to wrap their fervent opposition in their leader’s white robes. ........ “Now, I’m sure he’ll take it over,” said Oswald Gracias, the archbishop of Mumbai, as he walked around St. Peter’s Square before Benedict’s funeral Mass. .......... Francis has a very clear agenda. ......... He said there was talk about a new document on morality, sexuality and contraception. He also predicted the revisiting of major issues. .......... Francis has already allowed debate on key, and previously taboo, topics like being more inclusive to gay people and giving women larger roles in the church. ......... In 2020, he seemed poised to allow married men in far-flung areas like the Amazon to become priests. ........... Already absolute, Francis’ leadership in the church is increasingly fortified by a hierarchy in his image. By the end of the year, Francis will almost certainly pack the College of Cardinals with handpicked appointees. His chosen prelates will most likely then make up two-thirds of the body, the threshold necessary for electing the next pope. .......... That number could click even higher if he remains in power through the end of 2024, when the second of two major meetings of the world’s bishops he has convened will end. ......... Francis said during the Mass, “Let us worship God, not ourselves; let us worship God and not the false idols that seduce by the allure of prestige or power, or the allure of false news.” ......... and Francis, of whom he said Benedict was a “big supporter.” ......... Benedict had withdrawn in his monastery, and so “there was only one pope, Francis.” ......... the major difference for Francis after Benedict’s death was “now he can resign.” ....... with Francis having already brought down the hammer on their beloved Old Latin Masses, some predict they will wage an even more open war against Francis............ in the Vatican, two years is plenty of time for something to go wrong and slow Francis down. ......... To the chagrin of his critics, Francis has demonstrated a political agility, media savvy and seeming imperviousness to the scandals and crises that so hobbled Benedict during his eight-year papacy. ............ Benedict frequently stumbled with political missteps. He openly acknowledged he was no administrator and seemed to prefer the books of a theologian to the platform of the globe’s most powerful pastor. He surrounded himself with intrigue-prone Italians in the Curia, the Roman bureaucracy that governs the church, and ultimately resigned amid tawdry Vatican scandals, including the theft of his documents by a butler. ............... When an embarrassing scandal erupted in 2020 about the possible misuse of funds to buy an apartment building in London, Francis publicly humiliated one of his top cardinals and stripped him of his privileges, including voting in the conclave. ............. And on a more substantive crisis, when Francis wrongly sided with his bishops in Chile over sex abuse victims, whom he accused of “calumny,” he reversed himself, ordered an investigation and “wound up firing basically half” of the bishops in Chile ............ “He’s shown an incredible ability to change his mind and to adapt to learning that he was wrong” .......... Francis and his team “can see a train wreck coming and try to get out ahead of it in a way that Benedict and his team was never able to do.” .

With Benedict’s Death, an Unprecedented Moment for the Modern Church Benedict stunned the Roman Catholic world by becoming the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign. Now his death leaves a living pope presiding over the funeral of his predecessor. ......... Two popes, past and present, traditionalist and reformist, both cloaked in white robes and invested with moral authority, coexisted on the same minuscule grounds. ......... On Sunday, Mr. Bruni confirmed that immediately after Benedict died, his closest and most loyal aide, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, called Pope Francis, who went directly across the gardens to bid adieu to his predecessor. .......... When Celestine V resigned in 1294 to live like a monk, his successor, Pope Boniface VIII, in part fearing a rival claim, threw him in jail and deprived him a pope’s funeral when he died in 1296. When Gregory XII stepped down from the throne in 1415, the last pope to resign before Benedict, he reverted to being a cardinal, and he received the funeral rites reserved for a cardinal when he died two years later. .......... he took the title of Pope Emeritus, keeping his white robes and a following of ideological conservatives who tried to make him into an alternative power center. .......... Benedict had himself intended to become “Brother Benedict” and live as a monk, but his partisans persuaded him to take the title of emeritus, which is more common in the Eastern churches. ........ In a 2019 essay, he — or the aides writing in his name — asserted that sex abuse was a symptom of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, secularization and an erosion of morality that he pinned on liberal theology. That undercut Francis’ view that it resulted from an unhealthy abuse of power by clerics who held themselves above their flock. ........... As Francis has faced his own health setbacks, some wondered whether the emeritus pope would survive the acting one. If Francis suddenly retired, would there be three popes in the Vatican? ......... For his part, Francis, who as pope also serves as the bishop of Rome, has repeatedly left the option of retirement on the table. But he has suggested he would avoid confusion by taking the title of emeritus bishop of Rome “rather than pope emeritus” and spend his last days hearing confessions and visiting the sick. ........ Ultimately, Benedict’s legacy was his stunning resignation, in a seemingly offhand remark made while speaking Latin at a regular meeting with cardinals. It broke with his beloved church tradition, palpable in the lace of his clothes and the Latin of his liturgy, and set a modern precedent. .

‘What madness looks like’: Russia intensifies Bakhmut attack
A long march offers a glimpse of a post-Modi India Rahul Gandhi’s 3,500km march has a simple message — religious harmony and prosperity for all. It might just work. .
Rental Housing Is Suddenly Headed Toward a Hard Landing While investors were focused on fears of a collapse in the homebuying industry, a crash in the apartment market has been taking shape. ....... At that pace the vacancy rate would be at its pre-pandemic level by April. ..... All this is happening while there are more apartment units under construction than there have been in more than 50 years, which will dump even more supply onto the market. Even before accounting for the possibility of job losses and a recession in 2023, this increased supply will create more vacancies. .

को हुन मधेश प्रदेशका नयाँ मुख्यमन्त्री सरोज कुमार यादव ? स्व. गजेन्द्र नारायण सिंहको प्रेरणाले राजनितिमा सफल विरासत
प्रभु साह र अमरेश सिंहले भने, ‘यो तन्त्र जनता होइन कार्यक्रता पाल्ने तन्त्र हो’
संसदमा डा. राउतको पहिलो सम्वोधन, ‘मधेशमा ईशा पुर्व छैठौं शताब्दीमै गणतन्त्र थियो’

डिल्लीबजार जेलमा रहेका रेशम चौधरीलाई ओलीको दोस्रो फोन : माघ महिनाभित्र रिहा
राप्रपाको जलपान : अचानक कमल थापा लिङ्देनलाई भेट्न मञ्चमा पुगेपछि...(तस्बिरसहित)
सिके राउत र अमेरिकी राजदूतबीच भेटघाट

मधेस प्रदेशको नयां मुख्यमन्त्री बन्दै जसपा नेता सरोज यादव
संसदमा न्याय माग्दै रञ्जिता– टिकापुर घटना बन्द कोठामा भएको होइन, देख्ने हजारौं आँखा छन्
Janamat + Unmukti
जनमत र नागरिक उन्मुक्ति पार्टीबीच कार्यगत एकताको घोषणा
सीके र रञ्जिताबीच १२ बुँदे सहमति : रेशमको रिहाइ पहलदेखि नागरिकता विधेयकमा दबाबसम्म (पूर्णपाठ)

This Is What Shanghai’s Covid Outbreak Looks Like up to 70 percent of the city’s 26 million residents had been infected ..... .

Ukraine Battles for Eastern Town as Russia Advances
Meet the Republicans Who Are Facing Down the Hard Right
I Am the Last Barrier Between My Sister and New York City The city has a shortage of psychiatric emergency rooms, an inadequate number of inpatient beds in hospital psych units and interminable waiting lists for outpatient treatment programs and affordable housing. .......... Before she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2004, my sister was an art director at a leading advertising agency in New York. She owned a co-op in Manhattan, vacationed in the Hamptons and was a die-hard Mets fan. Since her diagnosis, she has cycled in and out of New York hospitals even as her mental health deteriorated. She has been involuntarily hospitalized two other times, seen by a mobile crisis unit, treated and discharged by the same hospital where she was taken for inpatient care in November, and been noncompliant on all outpatient treatment. .......... In 2009, her condition had worsened and she was given a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. She lost the apartment she had owned for 20 years when, unbeknownst to our family, she fell behind on the mortgage and monthly maintenance fees. The co-op board approved the sale of her shares to a real estate speculator, who then evicted her. ......... Because of her illness, my sister lacks all insight into her condition. She does not understand that the loss of her career, her co-op, her life in New York as she once knew it is due to her illness. She does not accept that I am her guardian, that she can no longer live unsupervised and that the stray animals and injured birds she adopts have caused thousands of dollars in damage to the apartments I was able to sublet for her. She does not understand that she has become a danger to herself and others and needs medical treatment to safely live within the community. ........... The social worker tells me that housing my sister is my responsibility — if I am unable to provide it, the hospital will send her to a homeless shelter. ......... My sister and I shared a bedroom as children, but it takes me a minute to recognize the thin, disheveled gray-haired woman I see through the window. Then I see her wary, puzzled expression, and I realize that she no longer recognizes me. She is less than 10 feet away and I cannot reach across the decades and find the little sister I knew, the beautiful, hilarious and talented person she once was. The nurse standing beside her hurries out from the ward; he tells me that my crying is “not helping,” that I am confusing and alarming my sister. I move away from the window so she can’t see me anymore. ............ If my sister had cancer, or Parkinson’s or diabetes, she could get treatment. But because she is mentally ill, she is trapped in a reality distortion field from which she cannot escape without the medication she perversely refuses. ........... It is no longer a mystery to me why the streets of New York and Los Angeles and too many other cities in America are home to thousands of unhoused mentally ill people. They have nowhere else go. .......... Housing the mentally ill will not be solved by the kindness of strangers, not when there are millions of people like my sister. ........ “I live in the city!” she texted me, again and again like a mantra. It is how she remembers who she is. ........... As she texted me from the garden, from the depths of he

Is That All There Is? A Secular Seeker Visits Holy Sites. In “The Half Known Life,” Pico Iyer journeys around the globe to study conceptions of the world beyond. ......... Skittering from the gardens of Iran’s holiest mosques to the car-free streets of North Korea’s capital, from the avenues of East Belfast to war-torn Kashmir’s Dal Lake houseboats, from the outback of aboriginal Australia to the Ethiopian chapels of Jerusalem, from the empty moonscape of Ladakh to the massive stone Buddhas of Sri Lanka, from the graveyards of Japan’s mountain temples to the burning ghats of Varanasi, this elliptical odyssey, graced with occasional notes of light, finds itself by dwelling in the shadows. The places we avoid, Iyer says, are “so often closer to us than the ones we eagerly seek out.” .......... Iyer is not a Buddhist, but he has a Buddhist sensibility. Born in Oxford and educated in elite English boarding schools, he is a secular writer with an eye for the spiritual. His book has the soft ring of a classic Buddhist meditation strategy: In order to understand the emptiness of the ego, one must first find the self as it appears. ......... “The fact that nothing lasts is the reason why everything matters,” he realizes while in the Japanese monastery of Koyasan. But it is in Varanasi that he brings it all together. As an Englishman with relatives in India, he had always avoided Varanasi. “Too dirty,” they had warned him. But it is there that he makes a critical connection. “Death is not the opposite of life,” he writes, quoting the Varanasi scholar Diana Eck.

It is, rather, “the opposite of birth.”