In Britain, a leader of the National Health Service has called for reform of the country’s law against assisted suicide. Some Britons have gone to Switzerland, to be helped to their deaths there. The NHS’s Pauline Smith said, “If you can afford to go to Switzerland, that’s fine, but if you can’t, you are stuck.” An oncologist, Tim Maughan, answered her by saying, “I think the current law has got it right. There are principles behind it which are very sound.” For one thing, the sick elderly might feel obliged to submit to assisted suicide, to get out of the way. Moreover, “Doctors should not kill their patients. The vulnerable should be protected.” In The Spectator, Charles Moore wrote that British culture at large “increasingly sees ‘assisted’ dying as positively virtuous, and the contempt that this implies for the value of an old person’s life therefore spreads through the nursing profession.” He argues that the creation of the NHS was “a moral mistake.” Other countries — we might even have one in mind — should beware.
A custom-built computer named Watson (after IBM’s founder Thomas J. Watson Sr.) defeated two former champions on the general-knowledge TV quiz show Jeopardy and amassed over $77,000 in winnings, plus a $1 million “champions prize,” before losing to Rep. Rush Holt (D., N.J.) in a later round. Watson owed its success to software that can analyze written questions, seek possible answers from a vast database — 200 million pages — of stored facts, then apply 6 million logic rules to determine which answer is best. The software is not infallible. Asked to name a U.S. city whose largest airport was named for a World War II hero and its second largest for a World War II battle, Watson responded hesitantly: “What is Toronto?” The Jeopardy win was an impressive feat of engineering and programming nonetheless. Will the human brain then soon be redundant? Hardly. Watson is a gadget that can perform one particular, narrowly defined human function better than a human can — like a fork-lift truck.
A barrage of bullets shattered Anthony Maschek’s body on the outskirts of Kirkuk, Iraq, in February 2008. The staff sergeant’s bravery earned him two years of recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, permanent confinement to a wheelchair, and a Purple Heart. Yet it did not earn him the respect of spoiled rich kids. Last month, the 28-year-old veteran, now a freshman at Columbia University, spoke at a student debate on the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, which is currently banned on campus. “It doesn’t matter how you feel about fighting,” Maschek told the crowd littered with peaceniks and left-wingers. “There are bad men out there plotting to kill you.” The audience jeered; some even called him racist. Later, Maschek told Fox News: “The people that were heckling — they have the right of their opinion, and personally, I fought for that right and I support their right.” He could teach the students a thing or two about class, if only they would listen.