Who Really Believes In Permissionless Innovation?

Online, there’s a lot of freedom to innovate and experiment, because a lot of what is being done there is new and thus not specifically regulated already. We need more of that freedom in the physical world. Instead of the “precautionary principle”, based on worst-case scenarios, we need the opposite — regulating products as narrowly as possible based on their actual use by average users (4,890 words)

Freedom To Offend Everyone

Brandeis University decides not to honour Ayaan Hirsi Ali for fear of offending Muslims. Liberals protest. But: “Had Ms Hirsi Ali been a homophobe, or white supremacist, would free speech supporters have rushed so readily to their lecterns to defend her? Probably not, which is why the right to offend should be extended to all. Otherwise, our personal preferences will always dictate that there be exceptions” (1,150 words)

The Missing Borges

Convoluted tale about the theft of a rare Borges first edition from the National Library of Argentina, which gets confused with a facsimile copy made from the very same book, and then with another (apparently) authentic Borges first edition. One of these is subsequently returned to the library, but nobody seems sure whether it is the same one that was stolen. The Neapolitan fabulist Massimo De Caro is also involved (3,090 words)

Mug Shots: Small Town Noir Pick of the day

A journey through the underside of life in a Pennsylvania town, with old mug-shots bought on eBay as a guide. “Each batch brought to light wonderful characters: a quarry worker who was arrested after losing his false teeth at a crime scene; a prohibition agent whose house was dynamited by bootleggers; an upstanding poultry fancier who turned bank robber; immigrant families; civil war veterans; and a lot of drunks” (3,000 words)

It Is Not Possible To Regulate Robots

Robots are tools driven by computers. The problems of regulating robots are a sub-set of the problems of regulating computers. Computers run whatever code they are given to run. They are intrinsically general-purpose machines. Attempts to restrict the programmes that computers can run — as Apple does with its iPhones, for example — will inconvenience obedient users without constraining disobedient ones (2,300 words)

What I Learned About Stop-And-Frisk

White father chews over the injustice of stop-and-frisk policing, a relatively common experience for African-Americans in New York, a population including the writer’s son. His suggested corrective: A wider cross-section of New Yorkers should share the experience. Police officers should be required to stop and frisk whites and other ethnic groups in strict proportion to blacks. Then we can have an informed discussion (1,860 words)

The Dead Zoo Gang Pick of the day

Big, gripping read. The global black market in Rhinoceros horn is controlled largely by Irish Traveller families from the village of Rathkeale, near Limerick. They buy and steal the horns from museums, zoos and private collections across Europe and America; ship them to China and Vietnam, where prices have soared in the past decade. “A remarkable case study in entrepreneurship, legal or otherwise” (19,000 words)

Religious Exemptions: A Guide For The Confused

When can a religious objector go to court in America to get exemption from a generally applicable law? It’s complicated, but to a first approximation: If the law requires you to violate sincerely held religious beliefs, whatever those beliefs may be, you can seek an exemption, which the court may grant unless it finds that a “compelling interest” of government — such as tax collection — is also at stake (2,470 words)

The Murders At The Lake

Gripping true-crime read. First part of a blockbuster series re-investigating the brutal murders of three teenagers in Waco, Texas, during the “violent summer” of 1982. Four men were brought to trial and convicted. But doubts persisted about what really happened on that night of “beer, weed, and bloodshed”; leading to “one of the strangest, most serpentine cases of criminal justice in modern Texas history” (7,800 words)

The Devil And The Art Dealer

How an elderly German called Cornelius Gurlitt came to have paintings worth a billion dollars in his Munich apartment. His father, though partly Jewish, had worked for the Nazis collecting looted masterpieces, selling “degenerate” art abroad, and keeping the best for himself. The art-world theft of the century? Perhaps; except that no crime seems to have been committed by Gurlitt or his father, at least under German law (6,000 words)

Hell On Earth

Life-extension technologies could keep bad people alive as well as good ones, allowing prolonged punishment for unusually wicked criminals — an idea with many moral complications: “If you put someone in prison for a crime they committed at 40, they might, strictly speaking, be an entirely different person at 940. And that means you are effectively punishing one person for a crime committed by someone else” (2,800 words)

Sandy Hook: The Reckoning

A voyage into the life of Adam Lanza, who killed his mother, himself, and twenty-six others in December 2012. Includes conversations with Peter Lanza, Adam’s estranged father. “Most people would like to have things that belong to others; many people have felt murderous rage. But the reason that almost no one shoots twenty random children isn’t self-restraint; it’s that there is no level at which the idea is attractive” (7,560 words)

Mastering Rage In Prisoners

Writer with history of extreme anger finds new vocation, teaching self-control to violent prisoners. “I communicate by sitting with my shoulders open and directly facing him, which shows I’m giving him my full attention and taking the risk he poses very seriously, while also showing the rest of the group I have the confidence to manage his risk. Every nuance of my body language is critical right now” (2,760 words)

Twilight In A Box

Conditions for American prisoners in solitary confinement “hover on the edge of what is humanly tolerable for those with normal resilience”. Many inmates fall over the edge into mental illness. The stress of isolation can unbalance the mind and permanently damage the brain. Prisoners emerge with “their minds altered by an experience so fraught with risk that scientists require special dispensation to do it to animals” (8,500 words)

Kingpin At Rest

The arrest of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, head of Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, was so easy that it feels as though he must have arranged it himself — “tired of the hard life of transporting thousands of tons of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, in addition to the daily agony of deciding whom to kill, whom to trust”. But his capture will not diminish the drug trade; it will merely create a vacancy for somebody else to fill (2,100 words)

Jurisdiction: The Anna Nicole Smith Biopic

A legal classic. Worthy of A.P. Herbert. A history of lawsuits concerning Anna Nicole Smith and her alleged inheritance, in conflicting jurisdictions, elucidated for the lay reader. When the contest reached the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts compared it to Bleak House — “So complicated that no two lawyers can talk about it for five minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises” (4,140 words)

Dear America, I Saw You Naked

Confessions of an ex-TSA employee. Comes in some way beneath the low end of your expectations. “Just as the long-suffering American public waiting on those security lines suspected, jokes about the passengers ran rampant among my TSA colleagues. Many of the images we gawked at were of overweight people. All the old, crass stereotypes about race and genitalia size thrived on our secure government radio channels” (5,700 words)

Lessons From Bar-Fight Litigation

A lawyer writes: “In a previous phase of my career I got to defend rather a lot of cases arising from bar fights. You might think a bar fight is most commonly started between two guys fighting over a woman. That’s not so. Ejection seems to be a more precipitating event. More than half the bar fights I had to sort out started when a too-drunk patron was asked to leave and refused to do so” (3,096 words)

Race And Democracy In America

John Dewey hazarded that “the best way to judge a culture is to see what kind of people are in the jails.” When you look in American jails — well, you may have some notion of the answer, but even so, the figures are shocking. One-third of black Americans have been convicted of felony. Almost 10% of the world’s prison population is black American. Is the law colour-blind? The results argue not (Metered paywall) (2,170 words)

How’s My Driving?

The case for more surveillance. Ford builds GPS technology into its cars. Should it be required to use the data to spot speeding or dangerous drivers? “Ford is putting extremely dangerous devices on the road. It’s clearly foreseeable that those devices will be misused. Car accidents cause tens of thousands of deaths each year. And Ford has a means of making those dangerous devices that it distributes less dangerous” (2,460 words)

Back Doors: A Technical Primer

“This is a technical primer that explains what a backdoor is, and how easy it can be to create your own. A backdoor is an intentional flaw in a cryptographic algorithm or implementation that allows an individual to bypass the security mechanisms the system was designed to enforce. If you design a random number generator that allows you to predict the output and convince someone to use it, you can break their system” (2,670 words)

The Great Marijuana Experiment

On the economics and social-policy dimensions of marijuana liberalisation in America. Colorado opened its first legal pot shops this week. Washington State will follow soon. Legal pot sales will probably top $2.4bn this year — but watch where you shop. “If you drop a gram of Sour Diesel on the sidewalk in Seattle, a police officer may help you sweep it up. Do that in New Orleans and you could face 20 years hard labor” (4,500 words)

Santa’s Privacy Policy

“Sharing is one of the joys of Christmas. For this reason, we share your personal information with our affiliates, non-affiliated third parties, and anyone else who has a legitimate financial stake in a successful holiday season” (980 words)

Lynda Taylor, Welfare Queen & American Villain

Amazing tale. The woman that Ronald Reagan denounced in 1976 as a “welfare queen” wasn’t a propaganda creation. She was real, and welfare fraud was the least of it. “In the 1970s alone, Taylor was investigated for homicide, kidnapping, and baby trafficking. The detective who tried desperately to put her away believes she’s responsible for one of Chicago’s most legendary crimes, one that remains unsolved to this day” (17,000 words)

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