Pop quiz: what city is this?

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The answer is here (image credit: TDE-AC).

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Survival in chessland

That is the title of this ten-page paper by Dr Tom Murphy VII (!), a computer scientist whose homepage is http://tom7.org/. The abstract of Dr Murphy’s beautiful paper consists of one word, and the paper is dated 1 April 2019, but it’s no April Fools’ prank, or is it? Below is the paper’s esoteric research question:

“… what if you are forced to be one of the chess pieces [in a life-or-death chess match]? That is, your little soul inhabits one of the 32 pieces or pawns and your soul is vanquished if that piece is eliminated. Now it doesn’t matter whether you’re good or bad at chess,because you don’t get to pick what happens in the game. What matters is that your piece lives to the end of the game, when all surviving pieces are set free. Which piece should you want to be?”

Hmmm … Where have we seen this before? Maybe here.

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Counting from infinity (preview)

More details about the subject of this fascinating documentary are available here (h/t: @pickover).

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Airports and the rule of law

Why do we have to show a photo ID to board a domestic flight? Air genius Gary Leff explains here and here why we are required to “show our papers” at our Soviet-style airport security checkpoints and why this requirement undermines the rule of law (edited by us for clarity):

Airlines used to ask for ID to make sure the person traveling was the one that bought the ticket, solely to restrict the resale market for airfare in order to support revenue management systems that increased the price of travel closer to departure …. Now the government does the airline’s work for them, ostensibly for security …. The ‘security purpose’ of ID checks is to try to force people to fly under their real names, so that those names can be checked against the government’s highly flawed watch and do not fly lists. Anyone on such a list, intent on committing a terrorist act, would simply choose not to fly under their own name.

Worse yet, these ineffectual and inefficient security-theater measures, especially the watch and no-fly lists, do not comply with the basic rudiments of due process. As Mr Leff goes on to explain: Continue reading

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Human rights hyperbole?

Are there too many human rights? If so, what is the “optimal level” of such basic rights? Specifically, aside from life, property, and due process of law, what other rights are so essential to human flourishing that they should be included in any list of inalienable or universal natural rights? Professor John Tasioulas, who teaches at King’s College London, identifies two forms of “human rights discourse overreach” in this thoughtful essay: “The first is substantive overreach. This relates to what we take to be human rights. There is a persistent tendency to present more and more political demands as human rights …. The second form of overreach relates not to what counts as a human right, but to who gets to decide what counts. Even if we accept that all humans have a given right, it’s too easy to conclude that this right ought to be enshrined in law and enforced by courts.” (Hat tip: Brian Leiter.)

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Image result for universal declaration of human rights

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Are guns a public nuisance?

You may have heard that a state judge in Oklahoma found Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries legally liable for their role in Oklahoma’s so-called “opioid crisis.” In brief, the case against Johnson & Johnson was brought by the Attorney General of the State of Oklahoma, Mike Hunter, who alleged that Johnson & Johnson had created a “public nuisance” by launching a misleading marketing campaign that overstated the benefits of their opioid products and understated the risk of addiction.

This theory of liability is thus based on tort law (but see Merrill, 2011)–specifically, the tort of public nuisance. According to the Restatement of Torts, for example, a public nuisance is an “unreasonable interference with a [legal] right common to the general public.” (See Restatement (Second) of Torts, §821B.)  In general, public nuisances are harms that threaten a community’s health, safety, or overall welfare. Common types of public nuisance include pollution, drug activity, explosives storage, and possession of dangerous animals. But here’s the legal rub: the number of people harmed by an activity doesn’t transform a private nuisance into a public one–rather, the public must be harmed in a manner specifically prohibited by state of federal law.

So, why hasn’t any state attorney general asked a court to declare guns a public nuisance? They have, but Congress enacted a controversial law in 2005 called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which is codified at 15 US Code §§7901-7903 and is available here for your reading pleasure. This little law is a textbook example of special-interest legislation, for it shields manufacturers and dealers of firearms from legal liability for any crimes committed with their products. (By the way, the supposedly “liberal” Bernie Sanders voted in favor of that law; see what happens when Hillary Clinton called him out on his hypocrisy in the video below.)

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To serve and collect

That is the title of this paper by Michael Makowsky, Thomas Stratmann, and Alex Tabarrok, who present a stinging critique of “revenue-driven law enforcement,” i.e. police departments acting as stealth tax collectors for local governments. Below is a listing of the worst municipal offenders as well as the abstract of their paper:

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