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Our Best Stuff From a Week Filled With Gratitude
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Our Best Stuff From a Week Filled With Gratitude

Israel’s war on Hamas, Sam Altman and artificial general intelligence, and more.

(Photo from Getty Images)

Hello! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, whether it was large or small, quiet or boisterous, contemplative or festive. Ours was a little smaller and perhaps a little quieter than usual, but we hit the sweet spot on contemplative and festive. And I’m feeling particularly grateful.

Some family members who usually come in for the holiday were unable to make it, but our oldest is home from college and he brought his girlfriend—something of a milestone. On Wednesday evening we decorated the Christmas tree (I’m entirely with Scott Lincicome on the dangers of Creepmas, but it had to be done sometime and the house is just a little cheerier now) and got a head start on the cooking for Thursday. 

It was fun watching the kids reach for their favorite ornaments and tease each other about which ones belonged in front of the tree and which should be hidden in the back. And now that they all tower over me, we were able to get the top third of the tree decorated without me having to get out the stepstool and rearrange the ornaments after they went to bed. 

But my favorite part might have been telling our son’s girlfriend cute/embarrassing stories from when he was younger. Not because I’m obnoxious and like to humiliate him, but because life can get so busy and the needs of the moment so pressing that the past gets crowded out. We’ve established a lot of traditions—particularly around the holidays—to create memories for our kids, but it’s important to pause and dwell on the memories of those moments. 

Also—it was great to have some extra hands in the kitchen. Our son’s girlfriend wanted to make an appetizer, and our middle son decided he wanted to do one too. The kids helped with the mashed potatoes and the banana pudding and we were all ready to go when the extended family arrived. 

And so what I’m grateful for this weekend, besides a giant pile of leftover turkey, is watching our kids mature before our eyes. There’s a meme I see on social media from time to time that I really relate to. It goes “Generation X: The only generation that became 30 at the age of 10 and is still 30 at the age of 50.” The first half of that might be a little overstated (though I do like to point out to the kids that I could clean the whole house by age 13 or 14 whenever they sigh about picking up their rooms), but the second half is definitely true. I never want to admit to myself, much less anyone else, that I’m 5051. I don’t feel like I’m old enough to have children on the cusp of adulthood, though I most definitely am. But there is real joy and pride in just being able to enjoy their company, and in looking back on all the good times while knowing that the future holds the promise of making even better memories. 

Have a wonderful and restful weekend.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell which Republicans have embraced Donald Trump for pragmatic or cynical reasons—they might not support him but they do want to get reelected—and which are true believers. (Which phenomenon is worse is a fun debate for another day.) In Boiling Frogs, Nick lays out the reasons he’s convinced that Sen. Mike Lee of Utah has sincerely gone all in. For starters, Lee doesn’t need to suck up to Trump—his home state of Utah is sufficiently red, but is also the least Trumpy of such states. In addition, “Only a true convert to crank populism would embarrass himself to the degree Lee routinely does nowadays. There’s a gratuitousness to some of his lapses of judgment that suggests he’s not faking them to impress the grassroots right’s worst elements, as is often the case with his buddy Ted Cruz. One simply can’t step on as many rakes as Mike Lee has lately without being genuinely blind.”

Did you keep up with all the twists and turns of the recent Sam Altman/OpenAI saga? The board of OpenAI—the company responsible for ChatGPT—fired Altman last Friday but calls began almost immediately for him to be restored. (He is indeed now back with the company and most of the board has stepped down.) But the story is not just another example of Silicon Valley intrigue. Klon Kitchen says the kerfuffle reflects a larger debate within the AI community over the speed at which artificial general intelligence (AGI)—a more sophisticated and powerful form of AI—is developed and how much emphasis there should be on safety and unintended consequences. “Imagine a world where AGI could tackle grand challenges that currently overwhelm human intellect and available resources,” Klon writes. “This could mean breakthroughs in medical research, solving complex biological puzzles leading to cures for Alzheimer’s disease or cancer. In environmental conservation, AGI could optimize energy consumption, reduce waste, and develop sustainable ecosystems. Economically, it could enhance decision-making, predict market trends, and innovate industries, potentially elevating our quality of life to unprecedented levels.” But the potential downfalls are also significant, and Kitchen argues for a balance between speed and safety.

Kevin is a little riled up about the backlash Israel is facing for its response to Hamas’ horrific attack on October 7. This war was not started by Israel but visited upon it, and its first responsibility is to its own people. “The great test for Israel is not restraint at all, but diligence in its national pursuit of the actual moral imperative in front of it, which is the annihilation of Hamas,” he writes in Wanderland (🔒). Kevin understands this, and he knows that Israel understands this, but he’s concerned that there is much Israel must do that it cannot get done without U.S. support—and that the Biden administration does not understand this. “There is very little evidence that the reality of the situation has sunk in in Washington,” he writes. “That offering the Palestinians land for peace was a well-intentioned folly; that there is not going to be a two-state solution, because the only state the Palestinians are interested in building is an Arab version of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the only solution they are interested in is Heinrich Himmler’s final one.”

And here’s the best of the rest:

  • Can we glean from a small survey of a handful of medieval London cemeteries that “women and minorities were hardest hit” by the Black Death of the 14th century? Jonah calls this particular study “bananas,” then goes down a rabbit hole of maritime banana-related conspiracy theories, and then brings everything full circle. It’s a classic G-File (🔒).
  • What does it say that Osama bin Laden’s “Letter to America” found a sizable sympathetic audience on TikTok recently? Megan Dent writes that “the view that morality depends entirely on context, grievance, class, race, and religion is alive and well.”
  • Can the U.S. support both Ukraine and Israel at the same time without putting too much of a dent in the “arsenal of democracy”? Aaron MacLean and Gabriel Scheinmann say yes—but only for now.
  • Hundreds of Palestinian Christians have sought refuge in the 1,600-year-old St. Porphyrios Orthodox Church. Maria Powell explains how the powerful pull of belonging and memories of ancestors help present-day Christians to endure despite their plight. 
  • The pods! Be thankful for the long holiday weekend, because we have some great interviews you shouldn’t miss. On The Dispatch Podcast, the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman tells Jamie Weinstein that Donald Trump could seriously consider making Tucker Carlson his running mate—unless the former president decides Carlson’s star shines brighter than his own. Jonah welcomes Ruy Teixeira, a political demographer and author of The Liberal Patriot Substack, to The Remnant to discuss what happened to the once-ascendant Democratic Party and how it lost the white working class. And on Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah discuss a couple of First Amendment cases, including one involving a burger joint and drag shows.

Rachael Larimore is managing editor of The Dispatch and is based in the Cincinnati area. Prior to joining the company in 2019, she served in similar roles at Slate, The Weekly Standard, and The Bulwark. She and her husband have three sons.