This week on Acton Unwind, guest host Dan Hugger is joined by Dylan Pahman and Noah Gould. They begin the podcast by discussing two recent essays that call into question Hillsdale College’s “Christian College” bona fides. What makes a college Christian, and does Hillsdale fit the bill? Next, Google’s Gemini generative AI chatbot’s political biases are explored. What does AI bias look like? Why is it important, and what can be done to mitigate it? Is it inadvertent performance art?

Finally, the group unpacks the recent scandal that has engulfed science fiction and fantasy’s most prestigious award, the Hugo. Is it prudent to host such awards in China? Is the Hugo scandal an indictment of democracy? How does this scandal effect the award’s credibility going forward?

This week guest host Dan Hugger is joined by Dan Churchwell and Emily Zanotti.

The panel begins by discussing the recent death of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny in prison. How should the international community respond? Will this tragedy cause Americans on the extreme left and right develop a more critical attitude toward Vladimir Putin? Next, recent discoveries of rare-earth minerals in Wyoming promise to give the U.S. a geopolitical and economic edge, but what tradeoffs are involved in the extraction of natural resources? Then—what does OpenAI’s plans for investment in chip production mean for our world and our home?

This week, Eric, Anthony, and Dylan are joined by John G. Grove, managing editor of Law & Liberty, to discuss his essay in the Winter edition of Religion & Liberty, “The Gods of the City.” Is Christian nationalism a real thing? What is the proper interplay between faith and government? Then Emily joins the show to discuss the way-too-online theory that the Taylor Swift/Travis Kelce relationship, and even possibly the Super Bowl, is actually a psyop or deep-state conspiracy. But setting aside that silliness, shouldn’t conservatives be holding up Swift and Kelce as an example of a courtship done right? And finally, social media CEOs were on Capitol Hill for their annual congressional hearing/public beating. Is there a role for the government in helping parents handle kids and social media? Or do we just need better parenting?

Subscribe to our podcasts

This week, Eric, Dan, and Emily discuss the Supreme Court’s ruling lifting an injunction that prevented the federal government from removing razor wire installed by the state of Texas at the southern border. What did SCOTUS actually do here? What are we supposed to do in this bizarre situation where the federal government will not enforce federal law but doesn’t want states to enforce it either? Will political incentives prevent any definitive action? Next, Alabama executed a death row inmate using nitrogen hypoxia, after previous attempts using more common methods had failed. How should people of faith think about the death penalty? Are our attempts to avoid supposedly cruel and usual methods like firing squads and the electric chair leading to less certain and possibly more inhumane methods? And finally, what does the Ayodhya Ram temple’s inauguration by Indian prime minister Modi tell us about the place of religion in Indian public life?

Subscribe to our podcasts

This week, Eric, Dan, and Noah discuss Javier Milei’s speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos. Did the Davos set know what they were getting into when they invited him? How important and refreshing was it to hear a voice opposed to the elite consensus at Davos? Will anyone listen to him? Next, Donald Trump claims that a president can’t be the president without also being guaranteed full and complete immunity from prosecution. Is there any legal basis for this? What will be the consequences of the continual degradation of norms in our society? And finally, South Africa brings a case against Israel for genocide at the International Court of Justice at The Hague. Does the case have any merit? And does international law even really exist?

Subscribe to our podcasts

This week, to start the show, Eric is joined by Fr. Robert Sirico, Acton’s co-founder and president emeritus, who just returned from a quasi-secret trip to Hong Kong, where he attended a day of Jimmy Lai’s National Security Law trial. What did he see in Hong Kong and at the trial? How has the “feel” of Hong Kong changed since he last visited? Then Eric is joined by Dan Hugger and Dylan Pahman for a discussion of how universities are reappraising standardized tests like the SAT and ACT. What have we learned since some schools dropped these tests as admissions criteria during COVID and after years of a campaign to reduce their use because of their “inherent bias”? Next, SCOTUS will decide the constitutionality of the right of cities to ban homeless encampments. Aside from the legal questions, is allowing homeless camps advisable in regard to public health and safety? How should we approach the issue of homelessness? And finally, President Joe Biden spoke in the pulpit of South Carolina’s Mother Emanuel AME Church in what was widely regarded as a campaign speech. How should we think about politics from the pulpit?

Subscribe to our podcasts

This week, Eric, Anthony Bradley (making his maiden voyage on the podcast), and Emily discuss the resignation of Harvard University president Claudine Gay. How significant a story is this? Does it matter only for elites, or do the downstream effects impact more of America? Does it matter that the people who uncovered her plagiarism had their own political motivations? Did race play any role in this story, with Gay having been the first black woman president of Harvard? Next, the panel reflects on the passing of Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor in early December. Beyond being the first woman on the Court, what will she be remembered for? And finally, what are Eric, Anthony, and Emily hopeful for in 2024?

Harvard President Resigns After Mounting Plagiarism Accusations | New York Times

This week, Eric, Anthony Bradley (making his maiden voyage on the podcast), and Emily discuss the resignation of Harvard University president Claudine Gay. How significant a story is this? Does it matter only for elites, or do the downstream effects impact more of America? Does it matter that the people who uncovered her plagiarism had their own political motivations? Did race play any role in this story, with Gay having been the first black woman president of Harvard? Next, the panel reflects on the passing of Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor in early December. Beyond being the first woman on the Court, what will she be remembered for? And finally, what are Eric, Anthony, and Emily hopeful for in 2024?

Harvard President Resigns After Mounting Plagiarism Accusations | New York Times

This week, Eric is joined first by Mark Clifford, the president of the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong, as they discuss the National Security Law trial of Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong. After numerous delays, the trial has finally started. What charges is Jimmy facing, of which he will certainly be convicted? What comes after those convictions, both in regard to the cause of freeing Jimmy Lai and the cause of freedom in Hong Kong? What significance do the calls from the U.K. and American governments for Lai to be released hold? Then Eric is joined by Noah Gould and Emily Zanotti to discuss the Satanic Temple’s statue of the pagan idol Baphomet in the Iowa State House. Should such displays be prohibited? If so, on what grounds? What does the legal jurisprudence say on matters like this? Does the First Amendment require indulging efforts to troll people of faith? And finally, Sam Bankman-Fried was indicted and convicted on multiple federal charges related to fraud perpetrated at his cryptocurrency exchange FTX. His adopted philosophy of effective altruism has also come in for criticism in the wake of the conviction. The group discusses Noah’s piece in Fusion magazine on the topic.

The Hong Konger: Jimmy Lai’s Extraordinary Struggle for Freedom | Full Film

This week, Eric, Dan, and Dylan discuss the passing of Henry Kissinger at the age of 100. How should Kissinger be remembered? Is there any merit to the claims he was a war criminal? What will be his enduring legacy? Next, Venezuela might be preparing to annex some of the territory of neighboring Guyana after the discovery of large oil reserves in that nation. How concerned should we be? How much does this underscore the disaster that the socialist governments of Chávez and Maduro have been for Venezuela? And finally, the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and Penn appeared before Congress to testify on anti-Semitism on their campuses—and it didn’t go very well. How should we think about free speech on college campuses?

Pax Kissinger | The Morning Dispatch

Today, Eric and Dan talk with Acton’s Michael Matheson Miller about his essay “The Poverty Pyramid Scheme,” and AIER’s Samuel Gregg about his review “Mistaken About Poverty,” both of which appear in the Fall 2023 issue of our magazine RELIGION & LIBERTY, which is focused on the issue of poverty. How should we think about poverty in the developing world and in places like the United States? What conditions are necessary for people to rise out of poverty? What do social engineers get wrong about how we should address issues that contribute to poverty? And what is Acton’s new Center for Social Flourishing doing to advance the discussion on poverty?

Subscribe to RELIGION & LIBERTY

This week, Eric, Dylan, and Noah are joined by Acton Managing Director, International, Alex Chaufen to discuss Argentinian president-elect Javier Milei. Who is Milei? Is there anything to the comparisons American media are making to Donald Trump? Can he pull off changing Argentinian currency from the peso to the dollar?

They also dive in to the temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and the deal made to release hostages from the terrorist organization in exchange for Palestinian prisoners currently held in Israel. Will this be good for the war, and will this incentivize more hostage taking in the future?

This week, Eric and Dan are joined by Philip Booth, professor of finance, public policy, and ethics at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham, England, to discuss his essay in the Fall 2023 issue of RELIGION & LIBERTY, “Creating an Economy of Inclusion.”

Catholic Social Teaching has, for decades, provided both guidelines and cautions for market economies that exclude marginalized populations. The question is, however, are those populations excluded by markets or from markets? Eric and Dan then discuss the alleged surge in popularity for Osama bin Laden’s “Letter to America” on TikTok. Is this justification for the 9/11 attacks really as pronounced of a phenomenon as it was made out to be? Or were the people expressing horror and outrage about the trend helping to boost it into a bigger problem than it originally was?Is there a case to be made to ban the TikTok app? And finally, a number of American CEOs gathered in San Francisco to celebrate Chinese president Xi Jinping. How should we think about the interplay — and the apparent inextricable link — between the American and Chinese economies?

This week, Eric, Dan, and Noah discuss the philanthropic efforts of MrBeast, the YouTube star with more than 200 million followers, in building wells in Kenya, which has come in for some criticism. Are MrBeast’s efforts making a positive impact, or are they worthy of the criticism they’re receiving? Or both? And what could he and other people with high profiles who seek to do good do differently? Next, the panel discusses the report from the pro-Israel outfit Honest Reporting about freelance photojournalists working for the Associated Press, Reuters, the New York Times, and others being embedded with Hamas on October 7. What questions about ethics in journalism does this raise? And finally, the University of Austin is open for business. But how successful will it be at attracting students and building a different way of providing higher education?

MrBeast builds 100 wells in Africa, attracting praise – and some criticism | CNN

This week, Eric, Dylan, and Emily work over the news that WeWork, a company that provides flexible office workspace, will file for bankruptcy this week. Was it a victim of the pandemic? A creature of a low-interest-rate economy and a venture-capital mentality that said they’d figure out how to be profitable at some point that never arrived? Both? Next, legendary and controversial college basketball coach Bobby Knight passed away last week at the age of 83. What does Knight’s ends-justify-the-means success tell us about civic, economic, and church life? And finally, nearly 3,000 former Morehouse College students had their student debt erased without any government action. Is it true that debt relief is yours if you want it, whether or not Washington intervenes?

Subscribe to our podcasts

This week, Eric, Dan, and Emily discuss the decision to melt down the statue of Robert E. Lee that was at the center of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Is removing statues of Confederate generals erasing history? What is the proper way to memorialize the Confederacy, if there is one? And how should we think about and remember Robert E. Lee? Then the panel turns its attention to engagement farming on X (formerly known as Twitter) and Elon Musk’s announcement that posts with community notes correcting factual inaccuracies would no longer be eligible for the platform’s ad-revenue-sharing program. Is this a good way to fight misinformation online? Or will it just be gamed the same way ad revenue sharing is? And finally, was the Catholic Church’s Synod on Synodality really, after all, just the friends we made along the way? How are we to interpret the 21,000-word report from the Synod? And what are we to make of its release coinciding with the news that a (briefly) excommunicated Jesuit priest accused of abuse has been returned to ministry?

Charlottesville’s Lee statue meets its end, in a 2,250-degree furnace | Washington Post

This week, Eric, Dan, and Emily discuss the decision to melt down the statue of Robert E. Lee that was at the center of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Is removing statues of Confederate generals erasing history? What is the proper way to memorialize the Confederacy, if there is one? And how should we think about and remember Robert E. Lee? Then the panel turns its attention to engagement farming on X (formerly known as Twitter) and Elon Musk’s announcement that posts with community notes correcting factual inaccuracies would no longer be eligible for the platform’s ad-revenue-sharing program. Is this a good way to fight misinformation online? Or will it just be gamed the same way ad revenue sharing is? And finally, was the Catholic Church’s Synod on Synodality really, after all, just the friends we made along the way? How are we to interpret the 21,000-word report from the Synod? And what are we to make of its release coinciding with the news that a (briefly) excommunicated Jesuit priest accused of abuse has been returned to ministry?

Charlottesville’s Lee statue meets its end, in a 2,250-degree furnace | Washington Post

This week, Eric, Dan, and Dylan discuss the Speaker of the House of Representatives, or more specifically, the lack of one. What does this situation say about how well-functioning, or not, our system of government is right now? What does it say about a possible decline in civic virtue in the United States? Then the guys turn their attention to the Israel-Hamas war and the Israeli airstrike on a hospital in Gaza that killed 500 people that turned out to not be an Israeli airstrike, that didn’t hit a hospital but its parking lot, and that didn’t kill hundreds of people. What does the way this story evolved reveal about modern media—and the prominence of social media in the news-gathering ecosystem? And finally, Ozempic is a drug that was developed for treating diabetes but is frequently used off-label for weight loss. Is it a miracle? Or should we be more skeptical about something that delivers incredible results without much work on the part of the person taking it?

House GOP speaker race balloons to nine candidates | Axios

This week, Eric, Dan, and Dylan are joined by Rachel Ferguson—director of the Center for Free Enterprise and assistant dean and professor of business ethics at Concordia University Chicago and an affiliate scholar at the Acton Institute—to discuss her essay in the most recent issue of RELIGION & LIBERTY, “Saving St. Louis One Block at a Time.” How did St. Louis end up in the state it’s in? How does neighborhood stabilization work? How is investing in single city blocks more effective than a panoply of government-initiated anti-poverty programs? How important is trust between citizens and law enforcement to these ends? Then the guys discuss the terrorist attacks by Hamas in Israel over the weekend. What will come next? What does this mean for efforts at peace accords between Israel and countries like Saudi Arabia? What should we make of the people pouring into the streets of American cities in support of the Palestinian cause, if not the actions of Hamas?

Subscribe to RELIGION & LIBERTY

This week, Eric, Emily, and Dylan tackle the Catholic Church Synod on Synodality taking place starting this week at the Vatican. What is the Synod on Synodality all about? What issues facing the Church—the ordination of women, the blessing of same-sex couples, married priests, and more—are on the table? What power does the Synod actually have? And could this Synod have just been an email? Next, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, is up for renewal, and there are some conservative lawmakers who don’t want to renew it because of concerns over potential funding of abortion. Are those concerns valid? And if so, are they valid enough to scuttle what is largely agreed to be one of the most successfully public health programs in recent memory? And finally, California has raised the minimum wage for fast food workers to $20 an hour. What could go wrong? Quite a few things, actually. Say hello to your friendly new robot burger chef!

Vatican Assembly Puts the Church’s Most Sensitive Issues on the Table | New York Times