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Morning news brief

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

It's been more than eight months of Israel's war in Gaza after the surprise Hamas attack on October 7.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

But Israel has also been fighting on another front - exchanging frequent fire across the Lebanese border with Hezbollah. Now, that low-level conflict is becoming more intense, and many Israelis are eyeing the possibility of a full-on war against the Iranian-backed group.

SCHMITZ: NPR's Kat Lonsdorf was out near the border yesterday and joins us now from Haifa. Good morning, Kat.

KAT LONSDORF, BYLINE: Hey, Rob.

SCHMITZ: So Kat, what did you see near the border?

LONSDORF: Yeah, so my team and I started in a town called Kiryat Shmona. It's mostly a ghost town right now. You know, all the shops are closed. There's no cars on the road. Apartment buildings are empty. It's a town that's gotten many direct hits from Hezbollah in the past few months, but there are still some people living there. You know, yesterday, we had just arrived, and a man walked up to us and started talking to us. And suddenly, there was a big explosion. And just to warn listeners, we're going to play a sound of that here.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

LONSDORF: And, you know, you can hear - the man...

SCHMITZ: Wow.

LONSDORF: ...He just keeps talking. He was just like, yeah, that happens all the time now. We're used to it.

You know, we also went down to a town on the Mediterranean - a town called Nahariya. It hasn't been evacuated yet. But just yesterday, several rockets or drones were fired towards it. And as far as we know, most of those were intercepted. You know, Israel shoots down about 90% of those up here. And Israel fires back, causing a lot of destruction on the Lebanese side, too. And I'll also just add, Rob, just a while ago this morning, a siren went off here in Haifa, and I watched a rocket get shot down outside my hotel room window. You know, that's unusual...

SCHMITZ: Wow.

LONSDORF: ...For something to be fired this far south. Yeah. I'm more than 80 miles from the border right now.

SCHMITZ: Well, I mean, it certainly sounds like the situation there is becoming much more intense. What are Israelis saying needs to be done about this situation?

LONSDORF: Well, people here are anxious for the military to do more. There have been tens of thousands of people displaced for months now, and they're eager to go back home. You know, everyone - every single person I talked to yesterday - said they thought a war with Hezbollah was the only option to alleviate the tensions, even though there's already a war going on in Gaza, like you mentioned. Here's 58-year-old Sara Benhalmo (ph). She was back visiting Kiryat Shmona yesterday.

SARA BENHALMO: (Non-English language spoken).

LONSDORF: You know, she told us that she thinks war, not diplomacy, is the only way people in the town will feel safe to come back. I know that sounds a little counterintuitive, but a lot of people here remember the 2006 war against Hezbollah. It was a horrible war, but there was relative calm afterwards, and that's what many here think would be the outcome if another war were to start.

You know, meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several military officials have made it clear that they are preparing for a war in the north - that they're ready. And the government recently raised the number of reservists the military can call up specifically for that purpose.

SCHMITZ: So Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in your region today trying to bring an end to the eight-month conflict in Gaza. Are there signs that he's having any success there?

LONSDORF: Well, you know, there are some, but, you know, a lot remains to be seen. You know, talks about possible peace talks have been dragging on for weeks. Yesterday, Blinken met with Netanyahu and reiterated afterwards that the U.S. and other countries are behind President Biden's three-step plan to end the war in Gaza. You know, this is the plan that Biden announced a few weeks ago and referred to as the, quote, "Israeli plan," although I should note Israel has not agreed to it, and neither has Hamas.

You know, meanwhile, yesterday, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution backing the deal. And the feeling here is that a breakthrough in a cease-fire of some kind in the Gaza War would almost certainly ease the tensions up here. Hezbollah started firing at Israel when the Gaza War began, in what they said was solidarity with Hamas.

SCHMITZ: That's NPR's Kat Lonsdorf reporting from Haifa, in northern Israel. Thanks, Kat, and stay safe.

LONSDORF: Thanks so much, Rob.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCHMITZ: The largest Protestant group in the U.S. starts its annual convention today, and it's expected to affirm its ban on women clergy.

MARTIN: We're talking about the Southern Baptists. They're meeting in Indianapolis this week. Other items on the agenda include a resolution opposing in vitro fertilization and revisiting how the group deals with clergy sex abuse.

SCHMITZ: Joining us to preview the meeting is NPR religion correspondent Jason DeRose. Hey, Jason.

JASON DEROSE, BYLINE: Good morning.

SCHMITZ: So let's start with women clergy. Didn't they already vote to ban female pastors?

DEROSE: They did. They passed that ban last year, but it has to pass two years in a row to become policy.

SCHMITZ: Ah.

DEROSE: Albert Mohler is the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He says this vote is about clarity since a few congregations still give the title pastor to women.

ALBERT MOHLER: Some churches are, quite honestly, straightforwardly telling us that they are basically out of sync with the Southern Baptist Convention on the issue of women preaching and women holding a pastoral office.

DEROSE: Mohler argues the Bible prohibits women clergy. The measure is expected to pass again and therefore go into effect, so then they'll need to figure out how to enforce it.

SCHMITZ: They're also taking up in vitro fertilization. What does that resolution say?

DEROSE: It calls on church members to advocate for human life, which, quote, "necessarily includes frozen embryonic human beings." Now, you remember, earlier this year, the Alabama Supreme Court used similar language. IVF usually involves creating more embryos than needed or wanted, so they're either kept frozen or destroyed or used in medical research, and that's the ethical problem for people who view embryos as life. This resolution also encourages Southern Baptists to, quote, "consider adopting" frozen embryos in order to rescue them.

I spoke with Erin Dufault-Hunter, who teaches Christian ethics at Fuller Seminary, an evangelical school in Pasadena. She worries moves like this actually scuttle moral deliberation over IVF.

ERIN DUFAULT-HUNTER: One of the things that this kind of resolution can do is shut down any kind of creative kind of imagining of what it might mean to invite people into a new way of understanding, say, infertility.

DEROSE: For instance, Dufault-Hunter would like to see more compassionate pastoral care for infertile couples.

SCHMITZ: So the Southern Baptist Convention has faced numerous allegations of clergy sex abuse in recent years. How has the church responded?

DEROSE: Well, they're actually having trouble responding. The task force charged with creating a database of abusive clergy has issued a report saying it hasn't published the name of even one abusive pastor. The task force says its efforts have been hampered by a lack of funding, worries over legal liability and a lack of will among church leaders. Now, remember, in 2022, a third-party investigation detailed numerous instances of Southern Baptist leaders mishandling clergy sex abuse allegations. And that report, in fact, sparked a federal investigation.

SCHMITZ: I mean, the church is dealing with all these difficult issues. So why are these votes important to people outside the Southern Baptist Convention?

DEROSE: This church holds a lot of political sway. House Speaker Mike Johnson is Southern Baptist. It's a conservative church that influences Republican policy. You know, there are nearly 13 million Southern Baptists in the U.S. who attend about 50,000 congregations. And what's happening also illustrates the reality of polarization in the country. I was recently covering the United Methodist Church. Now, that group dramatically liberalized rules around LGBTQ clergy and same-sex weddings. These two churches - Southern Baptists and United Methodists - are the first- and second-largest Protestant groups in the U.S., and they're examples of deep divides in American public life, including in religious life.

SCHMITZ: That's NPR religion correspondent Jason DeRose. Thank you, Jason.

DEROSE: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCHMITZ: Apple's digital assistant, Siri, may soon have a lot more to say.

MARTIN: Yes, Siri is now getting revamped with ChatGPT, part of a major deal the company announced yesterday.

SCHMITZ: NPR's tech correspondent Dara Kerr has been following the news and is here to talk about it. Good morning, Dara.

DARA KERR, BYLINE: Good morning.

SCHMITZ: So Dara, tell us about what Apple has announced.

KERR: So every year, Apple has this big developer conference. And mostly it's for tech insiders, but a lot of people were watching yesterday. And that's because it was rumored that Apple was going to announce a partnership with OpenAI, the company that makes ChatGPT. And at the very end of its nearly two-hour-long keynote, that announcement came.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CRAIG FEDERIGHI: And we're starting out with the best of these, the pioneer and market leader, ChatGPT.

SCHMITZ: And I think people know why that's significant, but I'd like you to tell us - why is that significant? What difference will this make for, say, the average, you know, iPhone user?

KERR: Yeah. So with Siri now, you can ask it questions, and it'll point you where to find answers on the web. But when it gets integrated with ChatGPT, it will have OpenAI's technology and be able to scrape the web and form its own answers. So if you ask it something like how to make a Philly cheesesteak, it will search recipes all over the web and come back with its own ingredient list and cooking instructions. And like ChatGPT, Siri will also be able to compose essays or stories. Here's how Apple software Chief Craig Federighi explains it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FEDERIGHI: Suppose you want to create a custom bedtime story for your 6-year-old, who loves butterflies and solving riddles. Put in your initial idea and send it to ChatGPT to get something back she'll love.

SCHMITZ: Hmm. I think the jury's out on how many 6-year-olds would love a ChatGPT-inspired story, but...

KERR: (Laughter) Yeah.

SCHMITZ: ...I mean, it seems like we are hearing about the evolution of AI every day. Has Apple been under the gun to compete?

KERR: Yeah. Apple definitely has been feeling the pressure. Other major tech companies, like Google, Facebook and Microsoft, have already rolled out AI tools. But, I should say, it hasn't necessarily been smooth sailing for all of these companies. For instance, just last week, Google announced it was pulling back on its new AI-assisted search tool. And that's because, within hours of its debut, the tool is giving people all sorts of wacky and possibly dangerous answers. Like, it told people adding glue to pizza would keep the cheese from sliding off and that eating a small rock every day was healthy.

SCHMITZ: A small rock?

KERR: Yes. Very healthy. And, you know, ChatGPT itself has also been accused of all sorts of things, including plagiarism, copyright infringement. It's made things up and has given incorrect and biased answers. So once Siri gets ChatGPT and if it starts to do that, it could be really risky for Apple.

SCHMITZ: Yeah, it sounds like it. I mean, so is Apple basically outsourcing its AI development to this company?

KERR: No, not completely. It also announced its own batch of AI-centric tools yesterday. It's grouping all of this in what the company calls Apple Intelligence. But these are tools that will be familiar to us because we've seen them in other companies' products. There's things like writing tools that can draft emails and letters or essays to your 6-year-old. There's also an image tool that lets people create things like animated avatars and emojis.

So basically, what we're seeing is nothing really new, but it's the first time we've seen Apple really take a hold of AI. And why this is significant is that millions of people own Apple's iPhone and its other products. So essentially, the company will be bringing ChatGPT and its other AI tools to a huge new group of people.

SCHMITZ: Trying to turn artificial intelligence into Apple Intelligence - NPR tech correspondent Dara Kerr, thank you.

KERR: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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