The Rise of The Machines: Etchemendy & Li on Our AI Future


John Etchemendy and Fei-Fei Li are the codirectors of Stanford’s Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI), founded in 2019 to “advance AI research, education, policy and practice to improve the human condition.” In this interview,  they delve into the origins of the technology, its promise, and its potential threats. They also discuss what AI should be used for, where it should not be deployed, and why we as a society should—cautiously—embrace it.

Fallout from the Marion, Kansas Newspaper Raid


In August 2023, local police raided the office of the Marion County Record newspaper and the homes of the reporters, supposedly in search of evidence that reporters had illegally accessed a state database looking for DUI records of a local coffee shop owner. @kedavis asked me for an update in a comment, but I decided to do a longer post instead.

The editor/owner of the newspaper, Eric Meyer, grew up in Marion, and his family has run the Record for decades. Before returning home to run the local paper, he had been editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and taught journalism at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, so he has national connections. Thus, the story went viral within hours.

Proximate Cause. A local restaurateur had been driving without a license for years due to DUI convictions, with the acquiescence of the local police department. She applied for a liquor license for her restaurant but was denied because of her DUIs. The newspaper investigated and learned (from her ex-husband) that the police had been letting her drive illegally. She was buddies with the new police chief, so she went to the chief and told him that the newspaper had illegally hacked into the state database to get her DUI records. The newspaper says that the database is public and that they didn’t hack anything. (Yes, it really is that petty.)

Review of the Three Body Problem on Netflix: Get rid of the feelings and give me the science


I notice that most males will forgive a pretty dumb plot in a movie if the action scenes are compelling. Likewise, many females are obsessed with bad Hallmark movies (particularly during Christmas time) because such movies appeal to feminine feelings even when the movie is utterly dull.

There are similar patterns of bias when it comes to science fiction. The genre is notoriously divisive as it tends to minimize character development to instead focus on how science effect society. This is especially the case with harder science fiction. In fact, science fiction fans often complain that mainstream critics just don’t appreciate science fiction.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts University of Arkansas Prof. Albert Cheng and Charlie Chieppo interview Johns Hopkins’ Institute for Education Policy director, Dr. Ashley Berner. She discusses educational pluralism’s role in improving K-12 performance, exploring European models and the impact of U.S. school choice programs. Dr. Berner analyzes universal ESAs and vocational-technical schooling, addressing persistent academic struggles and civic knowledge gaps. She shares how the potential of liberal arts education could unify a divided society. In closing Dr. Berner reads from her new book, Educational Pluralism and Democracy: How to Handle Indoctrination, Promote Exposure, and Rebuild America’s Schools.

Arguing (with Humility & Charity)


Ralph Hedley An argument from opposite premises (Wikimedia Commons)

“All I wanted to do was argue.” So said a student in the first session of my public university course, “Argumentative Writing.” He was however surprised – in his words, “caught off guard” – by the first two sessions I taught on “Humility” and “Charity.” For instance, about humility, I said our arguments should be gracious, considerate, careful to represent other ideas with accuracy. And I said about charity that communication is a community-based, convivial, invitational work of intellectual hospitality. Turns out, students had only thought about a course on argumentation as a knock-down-drag-out verbal brawl. My teaching was based on listening, care for others, and broadmindedness – concepts these students were not accustomed to. You can view the two videos where I introduce these concepts via links at the end of this Truth in Two.

Hard work is not the key to success


I live on a golf course in Hilton Head, in a wealthy gated community.  So I’m surrounded by lots of extremely intelligent people who worked extremely hard at something for an extremely long time, so they could make enough money to retire when they’re 60 and play golf on private golf courses for the rest of their lives.  Many have something else in common, as well:  They tend to have adult children who are very intelligent like their parents, with lots of potential, but they tend to be underachievers.  Which tends to bother their hard-working parents.

I was at a community party this weekend, sitting there drinking bourbon (surprise!), minding my own business, when this topic of conversation came up.  The mothers sitting at our table started complaining about their kids, who all seemed to lack drive and focus.  One said that her daughter didn’t like her job, so she quit.  She didn’t have anything else lined up – she just quit.  So now she’s living at home at the age of 26, with her extremely expensive elite college diploma on the wall, eating their food and watching their TV.  Mom and Dad are frustrated.  The other Moms all had similar stories, each sounding more outlandish than the first to my blissfully sheltered ears.

The Moms all agreed that they had sheltered their kids too much, and left them unprepared for the difficulties of real life.  One of the Moms pointed at me and said something like, “His kids are doing great.  His wife told me how hard he worked those girls, and now they know how to work.”  I responded that I didn’t think that was right.  She asked what I meant.

Iran: It’s Worse Than You Think


Last night I had the opportunity to watch a discussion by two leading experts on the Middle East—Ray Takeyh and Elliott Abrams—joined for a short period by Senator Tom Cotton, and hosted by the Tikvah Foundation’s Jonathan Silver. To say the least, I was stunned and alarmed by their views, and realized that if the world doesn’t respond skillfully and soon to the machinations of Iran, the results could be deadly. I’d like to summarize the key points I learned and share my thoughts on how the road ahead could be dangerous, but it could also transform the Middle East.

One of the most alarming points that the world needs to note is the nature of Iran leadership. According to Abrams, the country is being led by a new, small elite which is even more ideological, vicious and dangerous than the mullahs we’ve known. He described the Iranian attack this past weekend as reckless and evil. Both Takeyh and Abrams believe that Iran’s intention was to kill as many Israelis as they could; the leadership were not interested in grandstanding.

Falls, Medical Liability, and My Mom


My 90-year-old mom had another fall on Sunday afternoon. She has had A-fib and heart failure for more than a decade, and her cardiologist struggles to control that without causing her dizziness and low blood pressure. Which results in falls. After enjoying a warm spring afternoon on the patio, she lost her footing on the porch steps and fell backward onto the car and hit her head. Fortunately, she had her cordless phone with her, so she called me to come over and help her up. Her neck hurt badly, so I helped her gently into the car and took her to the ER. And there fear of lawsuits started driving medical decisions.

When we arrived at the excellent rural ER in Marion, Kansas, the nurses immediately immobilized her neck in the car and put her on a stretcher. I think they already suspected the problem. They called their radiology tech in from her Sunday afternoon, and she did a CT scan. As I later learned, the radiology tech immediately spotted a dangerous, potentially fatal, fracture in the C2 vertebra in her neck and pointed it out to the PA in charge of the ER. I could tell they were more concerned than usual about my mom, but I didn’t know why. Following procedure, the PA e-mailed the scan to some M.D. somewhere to interpret it. An hour later the interpretation came back, “All OK.” At that point the PA told me what was going  on. She made a very polite call to the faraway M.D. and asked if he had seen the fracture. He was appalled at what he had missed and sheepishly corrected the interpretation.

Quote of the Day: April 16, 2024


“On the topic of human rights, even though nobody disputes that prisoners have human rights, I believe… they haven’t defended the human rights of our honest citizens. In general, they defend — and the whole international approach to human rights, and even the NGOs — are focused on the rights of criminals.

For 30 years in this country we were shot at, killed, shaken down, raped, extorted, threatened, living in fear, and nobody said a word. But if the killers, extortionists, and rapists are arrested, all of a sudden, their human rights are important. Of course they have human rights, but the human rights of our honest people are more important.”

Tell the Story!


Humanity is really very good at putting the past behind us. “Sure, you saved my life last week. But what have you done for me lately?!”

It is amazing how many blessings a person receives, but forgets. This is sometimes given as the reason “Thanksgiving Offerings” must be eaten within a day, because we forget the things we should be thankful for. I suspect this is a reason that G-d gives people so much suffering: bad events stick better than blessings do. For example, we take good health for granted – until we get sick. Being healthy is like running water: entirely unmemorable, until you don’t have it.

NPR Suspends Uri Berliner for Five Days Without Pay


This is the 25-year NPR veteran who wrote a piece on The Free Press about NPR’s monolithic point of view, and its stunning lack of newsroom diversity (something like 86 Democrats/0 Republicans at its HQ) as well as citing specific examples of its failure to cover major news stories fairly over the past fifteen or so years.

I guess they are really mad at him.  The Chief News Executive of NPR stated, in their response, that

Fearful in polished marble


I just finished another book written by someone I’m proud to call a friend – Bing West.  He wrote “The Village” about his experiences in Vietnam.  He was in charge of 12 US Marines tasked with protecting a village of 6,000 people from the Viet Cong, and preventing the VC from using the surrounding area to transport supplies and equipment.  His Marines patrolled every night, taking fire nearly every night, for 435 days.  Half of the Marines died.

Bing’s book describes the relationships between his Marines, the local villagers, the Viet Cong, the local law enforcement, and the US military at large.  The 12 Marines did a masterful job building relationships with the locals, figuring out local politics, and introducing sufficient stability and relative safety so the locals could continue to work their farms during the days so they didn’t starve.  Today, “The Village” is required reading in The Marine Corps Officer Candidate School.

Bing returned to the village in 2002 – thirty years after the Marines had left.  He was welcomed as a celebrity.  He found the remains of the fort they had used – just traces of a foundation now.  The floods had mostly filled in the moat he and his friends had dug in the late 1960’s.  When they left the fort in the 1970’s, there was a small stone monument in the ground, with a small bronze plaque, honoring the Marines who had died there.  When he returned in 2002, it was gone.  A local woman told him that someone had beat the bronze into the shape of a trowel and used it for farming.  She regretted that she could not return it to Bing, but the farmer had thrown it away some years ago.

Show links:

Republicans: Please remember when the “Tea Party” gave us Dem majorities and ObamaCare with candidates like Christine O’Donnell, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.

The Brief Sum of Life–In Praise of the Liberal Arts


So sue me.  I’ve never really pretended to a deep acquaintance with, nor understanding of, mid twentieth-century American playwrights and screenwriters.  And so we have Days of Wine and Roses, a 1958 teleplay by JP Miller with Cliff Robertson and Piper Laurie , which I’ve always gotten spectacularly mixed up with Splendor in the Grass, which began life as a 1961 Hollywood movie starring Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood.  Neither of them has anything to do with Tennessee Williams (although, thematically, perhaps they should have), and maybe this salient fact has exacerbated my confusion over the years.

One thing I’m not at all addled about, though, is the origins of the titles:

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass,
of glory in the flower,
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind–William Wordsworth, Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Reflections of Early Childhood

Joe Selvaggi discusses industrial policy, its aspirations and limitations, with CATO Institute Associate Director Colin Grabow, in response to Senator Rubio’s thought piece advocating for a more active role for government in the economy.

Christians and Conservatives Harassed by Employee Harassment Training


Today at work I completed an hour-long employee harassment training advertised as requiring 30 minutes. Now I’d like to know who to report the harassment of my harassment training to.

I work for a small company with fewer than 50 employees, but we were purchased by an aggregator a couple of years ago (based in another state) and now we’re getting the treatment you expect from a large company. Our little team has some long-timers who have moved around together and reformed after the big company purchasers started imposing Big Stupid. We’re highly specialized and use materials not easily relocated, which makes the breakaway possible. I suspected our small group would not bend to this nonsense — at least we’d take our time about it, since we know each other well and are respectful without needing a periodic struggle session.

What Would be a Productive Israeli Response?


I’m generally pretty hawkish about Israel responding to its enemies — about responding to militant Islamic theocracies and genocidal maniacs (but I repeat myself) in general, in fact. But Israel has choices, and I wonder if, in this case, the best choice might be to continue with the current effort of destroying Hamas, and t0 leave the response, or at least the visible response, to Iran for another day.

I think Iran has demonstrated its current lack of ability to seriously harm Israel. Let that message sink in, and let Iran’s dependents live with the realization that Iran has invited eventual Israeli retaliation through an unprecedented yet embarrassingly ineffectual act.

What is going on with Republicans and abortion?


Republicans are like the dog that caught the car when it comes to abortion. Kari Lake backtracks on her support of the 150 year old Arizona abortion law, which embodies the goals of much of the pro-life movement. Trump tries to avoid the issue by saying that it has been returned to the states, thereby avoiding a commitment to a federal ban. In fact, as I understand it, the Dobbs decision merely said that there is no right to abortion and that nothing prohibits states from restricting it. That alone doesn’t preclude a federal ban.

Even if you think the Arizona law goes too far, there just doesn’t seem to be any inspired leadership here. How hard would it be for Trump or some other Republican leader to call on Biden or Harris to compromise on the issue? “Republicans believe in exceptions to their position. Will you agree to exceptions to yours? Will you agree to reduce your 39-week protection for abortion rights to 24, unless it is necessary to save the mother’s life?” I’d love to see them choke on that one.  Put them on the spot for once. They will never agree to any exceptions to their commitment to abortion on demand for any reason until the moment of birth. This should make it very easy for any Republican politician to paint them as extremists. And yet, it just doesn’t happen.

Spirit Whales and the Administrative State


An Australian judge ordered a halt to the construction of an offshore natural gas project because the company running the project neglected to perform all the consultations with interested parties required to meet environmental requirements.  If you read the entire dry, boring, citation-heavy opinion you would never know what the missing consultation was all about. The developers neglected to consult with the Custodian of Whale Dreaming who asserts that Spirit Whales will be injured by the project. See, this summary of this article.

I think it is right and good that administrative law requires considerations of actual, substantive environmental harms and injury to substantive community interests.  For example, I would oppose paving over the Alamo or Yorktown or digging up an established Native American burial ground to build a theme park centered on sex, guns, and whiskey or a toxic smokestack plant (well, the toxic plant is out for sure).  But deference to the sensibilities of Spirit Whales who, according to native Australian fables, tell the fish of the sea what to eat, when to mate, and where to migrate strikes me as rather problematic.

Denying Open, In-Your-Face Miracles


I have long understood that people only see what they want to see. Open miracles are not what people want to see – and so they ignore them.

Iran attacked with a range of weapons, all meant to overwhelm Israeli defenses. 120 long range ballistic missiles. These suckers leave the atmosphere, and drop straight down with incredible speed and lethal force. In the history of the world, nobody has ever intercepted such an attack.  Iran had every reason to think their missiles would succeed. And these missiles, carrying dozens of tons of explosive warheads, were absolutely designed to destroy their targets.

Civil War, A Review


So, we went and saw Civil War Saturday. A ton of hype about this film and I was cautiously optimistic that it would be an interesting story with dramatic elements and a message that, hopefully, wasn’t wokist claptrap.

To say that I was disappointed is an understatement. I won’t spoil the movie, because what you’ve seen in the previews is pretty much the entire movie. There is no explanation for the conflict, no reason why the states are still acting as units, nor why California and Texas are allies while Oklahoma and Oregon as on the same side. In a way that isn’t important. Trying to come up with a semi-logical story around the reason for a conflict isn’t as important as what the story could be…assuming it’s a good story. I mean, I rather enjoy The Purge series of movies. They don’t make any sense, but are fun movies that have interesting characters such that you care what happens to them.

Shouldn’t Jews Know Better?


I can understand how a genuine pacifist could so strongly deplore the inherent tragedy of war that the reasons for its prosecution are deemed unworthy and a generic sympathy for civilians caught in the middle is natural for all.  What is harder to understand is how people purportedly motivated by such sentiments readily dismiss culpability for the horrific, inhumane acts of Oct 7 in which brutal civilian casualties were not incidental to a military objective but entirely intentional.

The woke moral framework is a strange beast.

The calm before the storm


From IBM

That enormous piece of equipment is a 5MB hard drive in 1956.  Produced by IBM, it was a technological marvel of its day.  That chip in my hand below is a 1TB SSD card for my computer.  For those keeping score at home, my SSD card holds not twice as much data, and not three times as much data – no, it holds 209,715 times as much data, and I can lift it with my fingers rather than a forklift.  And my SSD card uses A LOT less electricity, as well.  And is much faster and much more reliable.  If you were to stack 209,715 of those IBM hard drives to store the same amount of data as my chip, that stack would be nearly 300 miles tall.  My chip is more convenient.

Does Iran Know What It’s Doing?


I wonder who’s running the show in Iran? Who’s running the show in the U.S.? Iran’s attack on Israel is the oddest combination of actions and comments that I think I’ve ever seen.

First, they alerted their neighbors that they were going to attack Israel. But some of those countries were probably delighted to have advance warning, such as Jordan, who fought against the Iranians when they sent their drones and missiles.