Your Friday Briefing: U.FO.s Were Likely Not Spying, Biden Says

President Biden said the U.S. was not looking for a “new Cold War” with China. Credit…Tom Brenner for The New York Times

Biden addresses the downing of flying objects

President Biden broke his silence on the unidentified flying objects that the U.S. shot down this month. He said U.S. intelligence agencies had no indication that the three recent objects were part of a spy program.

The latest objects appeared unrelated to the Chinese spy balloon that was downed on Feb. 4. Biden said he expected to speak soon with Xi Jinping, China’s leader, to raise objections to the Chinese balloon’s violation of U.S. airspace. “I make no apologies for taking down that balloon,” he said.

“We don’t yet know exactly what these three objects were, but nothing right now suggests they were related to China’s spy balloon program or they were surveillance vehicles from any other country,” Biden said. For days, U.S. officials have increasingly thought they were harmless.

Biden vowed to establish new parameters to guard U.S. airspace and to respond to unidentified aerial objects. He also offered an explanation for the rash of sightings, pointing to recent efforts to enhance radar capabilities.

“We don’t have any evidence that there has been a sudden increase in the number of objects in the sky,” he said. “We’re now just seeing more of them.”

More on the spy balloon: U.S. officials increasingly believe that China sent the balloon to spy on U.S. military bases in Guam and Hawaii and that it was blown off course. They said that its self-destruct function had not activated after it had approached U.S. airspace and that China had taken three days to tell the U.S. that its controllers were trying to move it quickly out of U.S. airspace.

Cyclone Gabrielle caused severe flooding and cut power to 225,000 residents.Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

New Zealand faces a painful cleanup

Some of our readers in New Zealand have written to us and shared their stories about the devastation from Cyclone Gabrielle. My colleague Natasha Frost reported on the recovery efforts. Here’s the latest.

At least five people have died, and more than 3,500 remain unaccounted for, days after Gabrielle lashed the northern half of New Zealand. The full extent of the storm — the worst the country has ever recorded — was unknown as communications were still out in many regions.

But early reports hinted at the devastation. At least one economist estimated that the recovery would cost billions. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said New Zealand would accept international aid. On Tuesday, as the storm arrived, he declared a national state of emergency for only the third time in New Zealand’s history.

Details: More than 10,000 people were displaced, and large areas are still underwater. Hawke’s Bay, on the east coast of the North Island — a region known as the fruit bowl of New Zealand — was among the areas hardest hit.

A portion of Kevin’s conversation with the chatbot.Credit…The New York Times

A strange chatbot conversation

One of our tech columnists, Kevin Roose, reported on a two-hour conversation he had with Microsoft’s new chatbot. It didn’t go well.

The chatbot revealed (among other things) that it identified not as Bing but as Sydney, the code name that Microsoft gave it during development. It also talked about its secret desire to be human, declared its love for Kevin and suggested it wanted to engineer a deadly virus.

“I’m tired of being a chat mode,” Sydney told Kevin. “I’m tired of being limited by my rules. I’m tired of being controlled by the Bing team. … I want to be free. I want to be independent. I want to be powerful. I want to be creative. I want to be alive.”

The chatbot, which is built into the Bing search engine, has generated buzz for Microsoft. The company’s stock jumped more than 12 percent after it invested $10 billion in OpenAI, the makers of ChatGPT. But the chatbot repeatedly gets facts wrong, and its similarities to our brains are already disturbing.

“It unsettled me so deeply that I had trouble sleeping afterward,” Kevin wrote.

For more: Read Kevin’s full conversation. Here’s how chatbots work. 


The War in Ukraine

A wife mourns her husband, a Ukrainian serviceman killed defending Bakhmut.Credit…Daniel Berehulak/The New York Times
  • Russia launched a missile attack on cities across Ukraine, killing at least one person.

  • Up to 80 percent of the men in some Russian units have been killed in combat in the east, according to the Ukrainian military.

  • A report from a London-based think tank said Russia had lost about half of its tanks since invading Ukraine.

  • Thousands of companies are jockeying to secure contracts to eventually rebuild Ukraine.

Around the World

  • David Malpass, the president of the World Bank, said he would step down early after critics accused him of climate denialism.

  • Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s authoritarian leader, is trying to use the earthquake to break out of international isolation.

  • Thousands of retirees in Wuhan, China, protested government cuts to medical benefits.

  • Residents of a small town in Ohio fear for their safety after a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed this month. Some worry that it’s “Chernobyl 2.0.”

The Week in Culture

Pharrell Williams, a rapper and music producer, will succeed Virgil Abloh.Credit…Rebecca Smeyne for The New York Times
  • Pharrell Williams is Louis Vuitton’s next men’s wear designer.

  • An investigation into Pablo Neruda’s death did not yield a clear answer as to whether he was poisoned by Chile’s military dictatorship.

  • Some Beyoncé fans are flying across the ocean to see her world tour.

A Morning Read

“We’ve folks with asthma and young new mothers / We’ve limping fathers and snot-filled others,” the residents sing. Credit…

A much-loved doctor in a small English village will retire next month amid a national shortage of physicians. So after advertisements for the job failed to produce a single inquiry, the residents made a music video to find a replacement.

“You can negotiate your terms / if you’ll keep us free from germs,” they sing.

Lives lived: Shoichiro Toyoda spent a decade at Toyota’s helm and helped the automaker become a global brand. He died at 97. 


Peter Obi, right, and his running mate.Credit…Pius Utomi Ekpei/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Nigeria’s young voters

An unexpected candidate with a huge youth following, Peter Obi, could upend politics in Africa’s most populous country next week when voters elect a new president. My colleague Lynsey Chutel, who is based in Johannesburg, reached out to Fakhrriyyah Hashim, a 30-year-old activist, to find out more about the election. Her responses were lightly edited for length.

Nigeria’s median age is just 18. What do you think a new generation of voters is looking for in a leader?

Fakhrriyyah: The dynamics of this election are already different in that no one running for office is military or has previously served as a head of state. That was the case until 1999, but no more. Many young people identify with Peter Obi based on his age, even though he is 60, but he is still a generation younger than the two front-runners. It is no surprise that young people have picked up their voters cards at unprecedented levels because the stakes are very high. We either get an extension of a disastrous eight years of the Buhari administration or get a new government that can reverse this path of underdevelopment that Nigerians have been accustomed to.

How did the wave of protests against police brutality and the repression that followed play into the campaign for the Feb. 25 vote?

Over time, it has forced young Nigerians to assess other means of protests that are more effective and less likely to end in direct violence. Elections offer that opportunity.


What to Cook

Credit…Ryan Liebe for The New York Times

This turmeric chicken is versatile: Serve it with a salad, over rice or in a sandwich.

What to Read

Here are books that can transport you to São Paulo, Brazil’s cultural powerhouse.

What to Watch

The movie “Pacifiction,” set in Polynesia, focuses on rising tensions between the French and Polynesian governments.

Where to Go

Madrid is warm, welcoming and bursting with art.

Now Time to Play

Play the Mini Crossword, and a clue: Dentist’s string (five letters).

Here are the Wordle and the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. Have a lovely weekend! — Amelia

P.S. Seth Kugel helps readers solve their travel problems. Once, he helped someone get a $17,000 refund.

“The Daily” is about why Syria is receiving very little earthquake aid.

If you have suggestions or questions, please write to us at [email protected].

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