Father Arne Panula breathed his last this past Wednesday, at the all-too-young age of 71. May the Good Lord protect him. Father Arne directed the Catholic Information Center in Washington. He was my spiritual advisor, and lots of much better people sought and benefitted from his counsel. (One day I showed up for my monthly consultation... and who should waltz out of Father Arne’s office, but one of my priests from St. Mary’s in Alexandria.) With no visible effort, he turned the CIC into a spiritual, intellectual, and social haven for a ton of folks, many of us in politics and…
The idea of the “marketplace of ideas” in which truth wins out through competition with error has a strong tradition in the U.S. Suggested in nascent form by Milton and Mill, US Supreme Court decisions appeal to it in free speech decisions, and it frequently appears in commentary and everyday conversations. It continues to hold axiomatic status in the U.S., at least outside of a set of college campuses.
Simone Veil, the French politician most responsible for the passage of the law to legalise medical termination of pregnancy in France, died recently at the age of 87 in what I would be tempted to call, if France were not so militantly secular a country, the odour of sanctity. She was incontestably a redoubtable woman, a survivor of the German camps to which she was deported at the age of 16; but the effects of the law that she so assiduously promoted soon escaped her control and went far beyond its original intentions, as so many reformist laws are inclined to do. Very few reformers, however, ever take this tendency into account, perhaps because, for many of them, reform is the whole purpose and meaning of their lives.
By the time the refugee crisis of 2015 came to dominate the European press, the unfolding catastrophe and its historical echoes could not be dissociated from two interrelated concerns felt across the Continent, to speak of which had long been tendentious: immigration and Islam. What might ordinarily have been an opportunity for Europe to reaffirm its liberal values and humanitarian instincts proved instead a stark indication that the facts had changed—and many minds had changed, too.
One argument often made against taking significant actions against terrorism is that the number of people killed or injured by terrorism is, by comparison with other causes, extremely small. So even 9/11, which resulted in the death of nearly 3000 people, was a mere fraction of the approximately 35,000 people who die every year from car accidents. The idea seems to be that we should be spending much less money on preventing terrorism, perhaps no more per life saved than we do for each life saved from car accidents. That we do not do this suggests a severe innumeracy of…
As it tends to do when not in political control in Washington, the Left has rediscovered the power of state sovereignty. That doctrine is being used to resist the new administration’s federal immigration policy in a way that’s identical, in formalistic terms, to the Right’s tactics during the early days of the Obama administration—albeit in service of an opposite outcome.
Elon Musk is a visionary entrepreneur but a bad social planner. Over the weekend he addressed the Governors’ Association and called on their members to sponsor regulatory bodies to direct the development of artificial intelligence. He argued that AI is the “biggest risk we face as a civilization.” But our AI policy should be the opposite of what Musk supports. Federal and state governments should not regulate AI, but should help accelerate it. That is essential to our national security and offers the best hope of stopping malevolent AI, not that I believe the risk is as great as Musk apparently does.
Musk’s central premise is correct: AI is now making huge progress. In 2011 IBM’s Watson beat the best players at Jeopardy, showing that AI can now play in the more fluid world of natural language, not just in games with very formal moves. Just this year, Google’s AlphaGo beat the world’s best Go player. This is startling development, occurring long before most predictions. Unlike chess, Go does not have clear strategies that can be programmed: even great players have a hard time explaining why they move as they do. Google did not program in strategic heuristics, but learned from 30 million Go games and simulations of games how to play better than champions. Thus, as Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsso note, the victorious program reflected Michael Polyani’s famous paradox about humans: We know more than we can tell. And this kind of data mining can give AI an intuitive, not a formally rule-based judgment in many other areas. Lawyers, beware: the machines are coming!
French citizens are not familiar with long electoral campaigns—the Fifth Republic’s first presidential contest, which was in 1965, lasted less than a month! This time, an entire year elapsed between the beginning of the primaries and the legislative elections, held in two stages a month after Emmanuel Macron won the presidency. The dominant feeling among the French people is weariness.
Antonio Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa’s article, “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism: A Surprising Ecumenism,” in La Civiltà Cattolica (described by Spadaro as a “peer-reviewed magazine” whose “articles are always read and approved by the [Vatican’s] Secretariat of State”) is a bungled opportunity. The stark Manichean colors with which they paint their subject, and the apocalyptic tones they sound, combined with a muddled understanding of different currents in American evangelicalism, obscures rather than illuminates their argument.