The AI revolution is already here: The U.S. military must grapple with real dilemmas that until recently seemed hypothetical. (PETER W. SINGER, APRIL 14, 2024, Defense One)

In just the last few months, the battlefield has undergone a transformation like never before, with visions from science fiction finally coming true. Robotic systems have been set free, authorized to destroy targets on their own. Artificial intelligence systems are determining which individual humans are to be killed in war, and even how many civilians are to die along with them. And making all this the more challenging, this frontier has been crossed by America’s allies.

Ukraine’s front lines have become saturated with thousands of drones, including Kyiv’s new Saker Scout quadcopters that “can find, identify and attack 64 types of Russian ‘military objects’ on their own.” They are designed to operate without human oversight, unleashed to hunt in areas where Russian jamming prevents other drones from working.

Meanwhile, Israel has unleashed another side of algorithmic warfare as it seeks vengeance for the Hamas attacks of October 7. As revealed by IDF members to 972 Magazine, “The Gospel” is an AI system that considers millions of items of data, from drone footage to seismic readings, and marks buildings in Gaza for destruction by air strikes and artillery. Another system, named Lavender, does the same for people, ingesting everything from cellphone use to WhatsApp group membership to set a ranking between 1 and 100 of likely Hamas membership. The top-ranked individuals are tracked by a system called “Where’s Daddy?”, which sends a signal when they return to their homes, where they can be bombed.

Such systems are just the start. The cottage industry of activists and diplomats who tried to preemptively ban “killer robots” failed for the very same reason that the showy open letters to ban on AI research did too: The tech is just too darn useful. Every major military is at work on their equivalents or better, including us.


Britain Is Leaving the U.S. Gender-Medicine Debate Behind: The Cass report challenges the scientific basis of medical transition for minors. (Helen Lewis, 4/14/24, The Atlantic)

The report drew on extensive interviews with doctors, parents, and young people, as well as on a series of new, systematic literature reviews. Its publication marks a decisive turn away from the affirmative model of treatment, in line with similar moves in other European countries. What Cass’s final document finds, largely, is an absence. “The reality is that we have no good evidence on the long-term outcomes of interventions to manage gender-related distress,” Cass writes. We also don’t have strong evidence that social transitioning, such as changing names or pronouns, affects adolescents’ mental-health outcomes (either positively or negatively). We don’t have strong evidence that puberty blockers are merely a pause button, or that their benefits outweigh their downsides, or that they are lifesaving care in the sense that they prevent suicides. We don’t know why the number of children turning up at gender clinics rose so dramatically during the 2010s, or why the demographics of those children changed from a majority of biological males to a majority of biological females. Neither “born that way” nor “it’s all social contagion” captures the complexity of the picture, Cass writes.

What Cass does feel confident in saying is this: When it comes to alleviating gender-related distress, “for the majority of young people, a medical pathway may not be the best way to achieve this.”

60-40 NATION:

Behind the Curtain: America’s reality distortion machine (Jim VandeHei & Mike Allen, 4/13/24, Axios)

[O]n almost every topic of monthly outrage, it’s a fringe view — or example — amplified by the loudest voices on social media and politicians driving it.

No, most Christians aren’t white Christian nationalists who see Donald Trump as a God-like figure. Most are ignoring politics and wrestling with their faith.

No, most college professors aren’t trying to silence conservatives or turn kids into liberal activists. Most are teaching math, or physics, or biology.

No, most kids don’t hate Israel and run around chanting, “From the river to the sea.” On most campuses, most of the time, students are doing what students have always done.

No, most Republicans don’t want to ban all abortions starting at conception. No, most Democrats don’t want to allow them until birth.

No, immigrants who are here illegally aren’t rushing to vote and commit crimes. Actual data show both rarely happen — even amid a genuine crisis at the border.

No, most people aren’t fighting on X. Turns out, the vast majority of Americans never tweet at all.

No, most people aren’t cheering insults on Fox News and MSNBC in the evening. Turns out, less than 2 percent of Americans are even watching.


Harry Burleigh’s “Deep River” of Common Humanity on NPR (Joe Horowitz, 4/13/24, Unanswered Questions)

If you’ve ever heard Marian Anderson sing “Deep River,” you’ve heard an immortal concert spiritual by Harry Burleigh. His name won’t appear on the youtube captions – and yet Burleigh’s “Deep River” isn’t a mere arrangement.

I unpack the genesis of “Deep River” – its surprising origins as an obscure “church militant” spiritual, its indebtedness to Antonin Dvorak, its subsidiary theme composed by Burleigh himself – on the most recent “More than Music” feature on NPR: “’Deep River’: The Art of Harry Burleigh.” The performances (other than Marian Anderson’s) were recorded in concert by the exceptional African-American baritone Sidney Outlaw. It was my pleasure to be the pianist.

The show argues that Burleigh was a major creative force – more than the pivotal transcriber of spirituals as concert songs. In particular, we present his final art song – “Lovely, Dark, and Lonely One”(1935) – as his valedictory: not merely one of the supreme concert songs by an American, but an encapsulation of Burleigh’s life philosophy. It takes an eloquently impatient Langston Hughes poem, and turns it into an expression of hope and faith. “Burleigh consistently refused to participate in movements he considered separatist or chauvinistic,” writes Jean Snyder in her Burleigh biography. He believed that artists, not politicians, would most effect progressive change. “They are the true physicians who heal the ills of mankind,” he wrote. “They are the trailblazers. They find new worlds.” Our performance of this song, at Princeton University last year, is a little slower than other versions; its interior life (the climax is a pregnant silence) felt deep and true.

Burleigh’s own life story is a parable of faith: his patience was rewarded.


Why are we ignoring the slaughter in Sudan?: There is no excuse for indifference when we pay such close attention to other wars (William Fear, 13 April, 2024, The Critic)

Since the war kicked off in April of last year, the RSF’s conduct in Sudan has been nothing short of horrifying. They have subjected the civilian population to countless massacres, rapes and pillages. In one sense, the RSF is fighting a military conflict against the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), but in another, they are enacting a fanatical ethnic cleansing campaign against the Masalit people of Sudan. A UN report estimated that last year in the city of El Geneina alone, between 10,000 and 15,000 people were killed by the RSF, and that the RSF appeared to be specifically targeting people of Masalit ethnicity. According to a report from Conflict Observatory, there is evidence the RSF forced Red Crescent aid workers to dispose of the dead. The piles of bodies are visible from orbit.

To make matters worse, the RSF appears to be on the front foot. Heavy fighting is going on in Khartoum between the RSF and the SAF. Although the capital isn’t yet under full RSF control, the government has evacuated to Port Sudan, on the Red Sea. The British Embassy in Khartoum has long since closed. The RSF has gained a foothold in the south-west of Sudan, and has a particularly strong presence in Darfur.

Of course, the SAF is by no means a morally superior force to the RSF. The SAF are also indicted for war crimes and have been jointly responsible for massacres with the RSF before the conflict began. The key difference, of course, is that the only one side in this conflict is actively and currently enacting an ethnic cleansing campaign in Darfur — and it’s the RSF.

The RSF’s progress on the battlefield has been in part due to their use of imported materiel, such as MANPADS (Man-portable air defence systems) to interrupt the SAF’s air superiority. With ground-to-air attack capability, the RSF can manoeuvre more easily and safely, with diminished fear of attack by air. Last year, the RSF successfully downed a highly prized SAF MIG-29 jet over Khartoum using a MANPADS. It isn’t entirely clear how the RSF is sourcing these weapons, but the US Treasury has issued a statement claiming Wagner Group acted as the supplier. Of course, such weapons may be being procured by multiple routes. Given the credible reports of materiel being provided courtesy of the UAE, it’s possible some of the alleged weaponry being offloaded at Amdjarass are MANPADS.

What does the UAE get in return from the RSF? Here, it’s important to remember the RSF has control of many of Sudan’s gold mines. In exchange for the arms it receives from the UAE, the RSF channels the spoils of its gold mines through the UAE, using various holding companies. […]

Aside from expressions of diplomatic “concern”, the United States’ response to the reports of the UAE funding the RSF — given the RSF’s ethnic cleansing campaign — has been decidedly limp. The reason why is geopolitical. The US maintains a strong relationship with the UAE, which is valued by both parties. The two nations have common regional interests, and cooperate for military and intelligence purposes. The prospect of losing such a strong foreign-policy partner in the Middle East would be a disaster in the eyes of the United States. The fact that a close ally is in league with a genocidal paramilitary group in Sudan is simply an inconvenient fact to the United States. The dead Masalit piled high in El Geneina, it seems, are an unfortunate casualty of diplomacy.


How a cult captured the NHS Society fails when it treats children like adults (Kathleen Stock, APRIL 12, 2024, UnHerd)

Pity poor Dr Hilary Cass, the eminent paediatrician charged with managing an independent review of NHS gender services for young people, whose final report was published this week. Given the hair-trigger sensibilities of interested parties, she seems to have been unable to state unambiguously that now-popular treatments for young people confused or distressed by their sexed bodies are blatant quackery: keeping pre-pubescent kids in suspended chemical animation on the basis of a single, discredited study; dosing teenagers liberally with opposite-sex hormones; or — when a child reaches the tender age of 18, though even earlier in other countries — empowering her to have major body parts cut off.

Instead, time and again in Cass’s report she is forced back into the conceit that the most pressing problem for contemporary gender medicine is the lack of good evidence for such interventions either way. It is as if a modern-day medic had been tasked with reviewing the efficacy of trepanning, and then ordered to defend her findings in front of fanatical fifth-century devotees. “It’s not that drilling a hole in a child’s skull to release demons is necessarily harmful, you understand — indeed, it may be the best outcome in some cases. The main issue is the lack of long-term follow up.”

Alongside Cass’s cumulatively devastating account of reckless decision-making, poor evidential standards, and patchy record-keeping at Gids and elsewhere, a whole section of the report gently attempts to educate its readership about “the components of evidence-based medicine” — complete with basic explainers about randomised controlled trials, blinding processes, and the possibility of bias. She might as well be addressing an archaic people who have just emerged blinking from a time capsule, still convinced that disease is God’s punishment for insufficient acts of propitiation.

In a sense, though, this is indeed very like one group to whom the report is addressed: those clinicians, parents and patients immersed in bubbles of identity affirmation, and cognitively isolated from any reasoning or evidence that would confound their worldview. Perhaps unusually for a medical review, it is clear from Cass’s overtly respectful tone and at times still-euphemistic language that her aim is not just to inform these readers but also to deprogram them.


The Origins of Conservatism’s ‘Gnostic’ Meme (Joshua Tait, 4/12/24, The Bulwark)

His moment came in 1951, when Voegelin was invited to the University of Chicago to give a set of lectures under the auspices of a conservative program that had produced influential books by Leo Strauss, George F. Kennan, Daniel J. Boorstin and others. Voegelin’s lectures were gathered into a book, The New Science of Politics. It was through this book that American conservatives were introduced to the concept of Gnosticism in its political and ideological application.

VOEGELIN’S GRAND HISTORY begins with the priestly kings of antiquity who united the secular and spiritual order under their rule. Over time, the unity of their authority developed cracks, many of which resulted from the growth of Christian belief in an omnipotent God who is ontologically separate from His Creation. Society became more secular as the created world was de-divinized, but the spiritual energies were not scoured from the Western imagination—they were merely sublimated. This is where Gnosticism comes into play: For Voegelin, it names the true motivation of anyone who advocates any substantive change to the political order. It is the attempt to bring “our knowledge of transcendence”—our inchoate sense of the Kingdom of Heaven, the eschaton, the endpoint of history—into secular reality through politics.

Voegelin experienced the rise of both Nazism and Bolshevism, and he came to see Gnosticism at the motive core of both movements. “The totalitarianism of our time,” he wrote, “must be understood as journey’s end of the Gnostic search for a civil theology.” But Voegelin was interested in more than endpoints. He saw Gnosticism in a variety of dynamic and emerging ideologies including liberalism, progressivism, positivism, scientism, and still other outlooks and systems. Few could escape his novel, encompassing metaphysical critique.

If Gnosticism involves self-deception—no advocates of the ideological systems Voegelin targeted would accept it as a characterization of their true political motives—it also runs afoul of a self-defeating contradiction, Voegelin argued: Its gnosis, the special knowledge upon which these movements are based, is ultimately false. In his view, Gnostics see their program as an end state that they insist upon in defiance of reality. When Gnostics triumph politically, they only manage to build a dreamworld— fundamentally flawed social arrangements that create a “very complex pneumopathological state of mind”—which he elsewhere defines as the “condition of a thinker who, in his revolt against the world as it has been created by God, arbitrarily omits an element of reality in order to create the fantasy of a new world—among anyone unfortunate enough to live under them, including the Gnostics themselves.

The Summers of Theory (Peter E. Gordon, 4/09/24, Boston Review)

On the one hand, “theory” carried a hint of privilege, the cultivation of exquisite skills in reading and interpretation that were accessible only to an elite. On the other hand, it implied the hopeful idea of an emancipatory practice, since presumably anyone who wished to “do theory” did so because it promised, someday and somehow, to link up with the moral and political business of transforming the world.


The Big Bang’s mysteries and unsolvable “first cause” problem: The “first cause” problem may forever remain unsolved, as it doesn’t fit with the way we do science. (Marcelo Gleiser, 4/06/24, Big Think)

The origin of the Universe pushes the boundaries of what we can understand. Simply put, most of science is based on two things: objectivity and causality. Objectivity asks for a clear separation between the observer and what is being observed. Causality assumes an ordering in time whereby an effect is preceded by a cause. As I pointed out in a recent book with my colleagues Adam Frank and Evan Thompson, the origin of the Universe brings both causality and objectivity to a halt. And it does so in a very different way from quantum physics, where both principles are also challenged. Quantum mechanics blurs the separation between observer and observed and substitutes deterministic evolution by probabilistic inference. It is, however, still a causal theory since an electron will respond to, say, an electromagnetic force in ways dictated by well-known dynamical causes (with, for a technical example, a Coulomb potential in Schrödinger’s equation). There are known forces at play that will induce specific dynamical behaviors.

But when it comes to the origin of the Universe, we don’t know what forces are at play. We actually can’t know, since to know such force (or better, such fields and their interactions) would necessitate knowledge of the initial state of the Universe. And how could we possibly glean information from such a state in some uncontroversial way? In more prosaic terms, it would mean that we could know what the Universe was like as it came into existence. This would require a god’s eye view of the initial state of the Universe, a kind of objective separation between us and the proto-Universe that is about to become the Universe we live in. It would mean we had a complete knowledge of all the physical forces in the Universe, a final theory of everything. But how could we ever know if what we call the theory of everything is a complete description of all that exists? We couldn’t, as this would assume we know all of physical reality, which is an impossibility. There could always be another force of nature, lurking in the shadows of our ignorance.

At the origin of the Universe, the very notion of cause and objectivity get entangled into a single unknowable, since we can’t possibly know the initial state of the Universe. We can, of course, construct models and test them against what we can measure of the Universe. But concordance is not a criterion for certainty. Different models may lead to the same concordance — the Universe we see — but we wouldn’t be able to distinguish between them since they come from an unknowable initial state. The first cause — the cause that must be uncaused and that unleashed all other causes — lies beyond the reach of scientific methodology as we know it.


What Cass review says about surge in children seeking gender services (Andrew Gregory, Tobi Thomas and Amelia Gentleman, 10 Apr 2024, The Guardian)

A systematic review highlighted by the Cass report found that use of social media was associated with body image concerns. Numerous other studies cited by the report implicate smartphone and social media use in mental distress and suicidality among young people, particularly girls.

All showed a clear dose-response relationship: the more hours spent online, the greater the effect.

The report suggests that although the impact of societal influences on a child’s gender expression remains unclear, it’s clear that the influences of a child’s peers are “very powerful during adolescence”.

Although the report does not specifically state that girls are affected by social and cultural influences, such as peer pressure, more than boys, and so too their gender expression, other evidence has suggested this is the case.

Several studies have implied that girls are more affected by peer pressure than boys, and are more likely to develop a negative body image during adolescence.

Another societal influence that the report references as possibly having an impact on a young person’s gender expression includes information on gender dysmorphia and gender expression found online.

More specifically, a focus group of gender-questioning young people and their parents who spoke to the review said that they often found online information “that describes normal adolescent discomfort as a possible sign of being trans and that particular influencers have had a substantial impact on their child’s beliefs and understanding of their gender”.

One gender-questioning young person is quoted in the report affirming this view, saying a “lot of trans people make YouTube videos, which I think is a major informational source for a lot of people, and that’s mainly where I get my information from, not so much professional services”.

We don’t pretend that their anorexia is merely a lifestyle choice.

NHS pauses transgender clinic appointments for minors after review: ‘Extreme caution’ (Ryan Foley 11 April 2024, Christianity Today)

Chaired by Dr. Hilary Cass, the retired former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the report lays out the recommendations from the NHS England Policy Working Group as to practices medical professionals should follow when ministering to youth with gender dysphoria in the future.

Participants in the NHS England Policy Working Group include endocrinologists, psychologists, individuals who have experienced gender dysphoria, a child psychiatrist, an academic ethicist as well as several NHS employees.

The review was commissioned following the exponential increase in the number of youth seeking treatment for gender dysphoria over the past decade-plus, as well as concerns about the long-term impacts of prescribing puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones on trans-identified children.

“The reality is that we have no good evidence on the long-term outcomes of interventions to manage gender-related distress,” Cass wrote in an introduction to the report.

Better late than never.


Hamas’s dark calculus: Pressure is mounting among Israel’s allies for a long-term settlement (HAMISH MCDONALD 10 APRIL 2024, Inside Story)

It took Israeli authorities some time realise that the death tallies and horrific video images made up the narrative mostly being seen by the outside world. Israel’s own media, with a few exceptions like the liberal newspaper Haaretz, concentrated on the violence against Israelis in the October attack, showing little of the carnage inside Gaza. After some weeks, Israeli embassies and lobby groups abroad began showing video and other evidence, emphasising child murder and sexual assault, to counter sympathy for the Gazans.

The high death toll and the destruction of more than two-thirds of dwellings in Gaza was meanwhile achieving the objectives stated explicitly by Mashal and other Hamas figures. They had seen the Palestinian cause slipping away, the West Bank being steadily annexed by Jewish settlements with little effective protest by Western powers pledged since 1993 to a two-state solution.

Under Donald Trump, the US embassy had been moved from Tel Aviv to contested Jerusalem: he was not holding out for a two-state settlement. Trump had also brokered the Abraham accords, which brought Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states closer to Israel: support for Palestinians seemed to be weakening among these Sunni powers.

Hamas set out to shatter this trend.

The Abraham Accords are nothing more than an attempt to normalize the suppression of Muslim self-determination.