Do Self-Driving Cars Make Speed Limits Obsolete?

It’s a question without a definitive answer just
yet, but if the super-nerds at Google are to be trusted, we may
soon be better off without speed limits.

This week
Reuters
took a ride in one of the Internet giant’s hands-free
whips, and talked to some researchers:

There wasn’t any speeding even though, ironically, Google’s
engineers have determined that speeding actually is safer than
going the speed limit in some circumstances.

“Thousands and thousands of people are killed in car accidents
every year,” said Dmitri Dolgov, the project’s
boyish Russian-born lead software engineer, who now is a U.S.
citizen, describing his sense of mission. “This could change that.”

Google’s driverless car is programmed to stay within the speed
limit, mostly. Research shows that sticking to the speed limit when
other cars are going much faster actually can be dangerous, Dolgov
says, so its autonomous car can go up to 10 mph above the speed
limit when traffic conditions warrant.

So, when do we start uprooting those black-and-white signs and
let our hair fly free in the autonomous automobiles? That isn’t
certain yet, either. Although Google cars, according to the
BBC, “have travelled on more than 700,000 miles of open road,” and
the company unveiled a pedal-free, steering-wheel-free vehicle in
May, there is no release date yet.

Although speed limits seem like common sense, this eventual
proliferation of safe, self-driving cars could prove them to be
just another outdated regulation. Since technology changes and
improves at such a rapid pace, laws trying to regulate it are often
obsolete by the time the ink dries. Even if they were
well-intentioned, they end up acting like an anchor on further
improvements and can even become dangerous impediments.

Countless reports have documented that red light and speed
cameras are counterproductive, making roads more dangerous.
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The same goes for cellphone and texting
bans
, which have demonstrated themselves to be either
ineffective or outright counterproductive.

The less the better works on larger scales, too. In the last few
years, several towns in Germany,
the Netherlands, and the U.K. have done away with
just about everything
– traffic lights, bike lanes, stop signs,
sidewalks – and the results are good. Having in a sense deregulated
the roads, people have become more attentive, fatalities
declined
, and congestion has been
dramatically reduced

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Bergdahl Swap for Guantanamo Detainees Violated Law, Says GAO

Bowe BergdahlThere are a
lot of ways
to think about Bowe
Bergdahl
and the U.S. government’s exchange of five detainees
at Guantanamo for his release by the Taliban. The Government
Accountability Office’s (GAO) take on the swap is: illegal. That’s
the decision released today by the GAO in response to an inquiry by
members of the United States Senate. The Department of Defense’s
error came from making the exchange without giving Congress 30 days
notice, and  in using nonexistent funds to carry out the
transfer.

Says the GAO in a summary:

The Department of Defense (DOD) violated section 8111 of the
Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2014 when it transferred
five individuals detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the nation of
Qatar without providing at least 30 days notice to certain
congressional committees. Section 8111 prohibits DOD from using
appropriated funds to transfer any individuals detained at
Guantanamo Bay unless the Secretary of Defense notifies certain
congressional committees at least 30 days before the transfer. As a
consequence of using its appropriations in a manner specifically
prohibited by law, DOD also violated the Antideficiency Act.

Bergdahl’s name doesn’t actually appear in the document, which
merely notes, “On May 31, 2014, DOD transferred five individuals
from Guantanamo Bay to the nation of Qatar in exchange for the
Taliban’s release of an American soldier.” But the reference is
clear, and many lawmakers, especially in the GOP, were
unhappy over the deal
.

There’s no specific remedy—no detainee-back guarantee—to be
found in the GAO decision. Just advice that “DOD should report its
Antideficiency Act violation as required by law.”

H/T: Taylor Millard

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National Guard Leaving Ferguson, N.C. School Voucher Program Struck Down, Getting Pain Pills to Become Bigger Pain: P.M. Links

  • You are now free to express your First Amendment rights.Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has
    ordered the
    withdrawal of National Guard troops
    from Ferguson as protests
    have begun to subside.
  • Britain’s Ministry of Defense estimates there are
    more British Muslims
    fighting on behalf of the Islamic State
    (ISIL) in Syria and Iraq than serving in their own forces, though
    it’s difficult to determine exact numbers.
  • The whole “Fast and Furious” issue/scandal is not over, and
    we’re not just referring to the tragic, too-soon death of Paul
    Walker. A federal judge has
    ordered the Department of Justice to hand over some documents

    about the gunwalking scandal to Congress.
  • Colorado voters will decide in November whether to
    require labels on foods
    with genetically modified
    ingredients.
  • A judge has
    overturned North Carolina’s school voucher program
    as
    unconstitutional, forcing kids from poor families (but not rich
    ones, of course) to stay stuck in their terrible public
    schools.
  • Vicodin and similar types of pain medications will be shifted
    from Schedule III to Schedule II in mid-October, making them

    harder for people to get from doctors
    and probably driving up
    their black market value, increasing the possibility of criminal
    behavior for addicts to get their hands on them. Thanks, war on
    drugs!

Follow us on Facebook
and Twitter,
and don’t forget to
sign
up
 for Reason’s daily updates for more
content.

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Jim Epstein on Sexism, Racism, Violent Threats and Other Tales from the Education Policy Wars

"The Real Campbell Brown" |||Welcome to the bloodstained sandbox of education
policy, writes Jim Epstein, where distinguished professors wield
spiked bats, union thugs hurl violent threats, and how you look and
who you’re friends with matters more than what you say. Attacking
ideas without mercy is a noble sport, but the ed world is all about
character assassination. The tragedy is that worthwhile arguments
on both sides of the debate get lost in the mayhem.

View this article.

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Burning Man: It’s Still Great Even if People Richer Than You Are There (And Buy the 10th Anniversary Edition of My Book!)

It’s the season when people’s thought turn to BigThink about
Burning
Man
, the ever-growing (now over 60,000 people) festival of art
and excess and community that appears and disappears every year the
week before Labor Day in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.

I am quoted at some length today in both a
New York Times 
and
an ABC News story
focusing on a story so hot it’s been on the
burner (ha.) since at least 1996 when Wired did a cover
story on the event, and 1997 when Time called it “the
bonfire of the techies”: rich people from the tech industry go to
that event, and some of them even act rich there! Why do rich
techies like it? Because it’s awesome, and because it was born of
their Bay Area art and wild creativity scenes.

This bothers some Burning Man people, but not me. As I told
ABC News:

Brian Doherty, senior editor of Reason magazine and author of
the book, “This is Burning Man,” has been to the event for the last
20 years. In his tenth anniversary e-book reissue of his work, he
includes an afterward that discusses some of the class issues that
have arisen.

“As someone going to the event for now 20 years straight, I’m
not sure why people are bothered by the increasing presence of tech
industry folk and their money at the event,” he told ABC News.

Wealthy attendees can bring their resources where they go, and
that includes contributing to one of the centerpieces of Burning
Man: artistic expression.

“Some of the most amazing art you see out there–which I hope is
part of the reason people want to go there, to see staggering works
of art of a variety and scope you can’t find in the normal art
world–takes big money to make, and a lot of that money is tech
money,” he said…..

“And to me it seems based in just weird class anxiety–the idea
that other people are having an easier time of it than you because,
say, they can afford a really nice air conditioned trailer or even
essentially servants to feed them and take care of them. That does
happen,” he said.

Doherty acknowledges that it’s easy to poke fun at these
services, or to say that attendees are missing the point of Burning
Man.

“But to me, if you let the fact that someone else is
experiencing Burning Man differently than you choose to really bum
you out or ruin your good time, you are the one who is missing the
point,” he said. “If not for the big art they help fund, there is
no reason for the typical burner to even know that super-rich
techies are there, except reading about it in the paper.”

This is as good a time as any to hype that on its 10th
anniversary, I’ve produced a 10th anniversary ebook-only edition of
my first-and-best history of the event This is Burning Man,
selling for the ebook-appropriate price of $4.99, thanks Amazon!
And the edition is self-published, hint hint.

Bonus Burning Maniana: Elizabeth Limbach
discusses the culture of “gifting” and potlach
that animates an
event at which explicit cash for goods and services is officially
discouraged. Of course, our fun and art there is a result of the
excess spilled by modern capitalism such that 60,000 of us can
survive off of what we can afford to bring and consume, in often
very high style, from the world outside the desolate dry lake bed
we call home for a week during Burning Man.

From Limbach:

Burning Man is best known for its abundant art, including
large-scale installations that protrude from the monotone earth
like surreal trees in an unruly forest. The organization dishes out
art grants to nourish these expensive projects ($825,000 to 66
installations last year), but many builders also turn to crowd
funding.

“Crowdsourcing effectively removes the power from large money
groups to decide what gets made and what doesn’t,” says Matt
Schultz, the artist behind several behemoth Burning Man pieces, of
the crowd-funding phenomenon. “It enables the power of individuals
to decide. It allows us to find the resources we need to make
something amazing. It democratizes the act of production.”

Despite the cultural liberalism that animates many of its
attendees, it is indeed an example of the best of the
anarcho-capitalist vision: people gathering of their own will,
giving freely to the support of the civic structure and culture via
ticket sales and what they expend to make the scene colorful and
spectacular, and making something truly amazing and
unprecedented. 

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DoD Worries People Might Think They Endorse Dumping Ice Water on Self for Charity

The post below showed up on my Facebook wall yesterday
afternoon, courtesy of the
National Training Center at Fort Irwin
, an Army post out in the
California Mojave Desert I used to keep an eye on back in my
newspaper editor days:

Usually official military advisories contain many more acronyms.

If for some reason you can’t read or see the image, it’s a note
from the Office of General Counsel Standards of Conduct Office for
the Department of Defense that Defense employees, including
military members, may not participate in the now-omnipresent
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) “ice bucket challenge” while in
uniform. The military’s justification is the fear that a soldier,
sailor or Marine dumping ice cold water on him or herself could be
perceived as official military endorsement of the nonprofit ALS
Association.

Shameless attempt to get Drew to tweet link.The Facebook comments tend to fall under
the “Are you kidding me?” variety, complete with an amusing meme of
Reason Foundation board member Drew Carey and his famous Whose
Line Is it Anyway?
explanation of rules and points (made
up/don’t matter).

This doesn’t prevent people in the military from actually
participating in the ice bucket challenge. They just have to take
their uniform off first. Might I suggest stripping down on camera
as well, slowly, perhaps to some appropriate music?

The right way. Though pants are optional.

Previously: Ed Krayewski noted that the ice bucket challenge
could also be a good way to publicize the
value of medical marijuana
, which helps treat the symptoms and
slow the progression of ALS.

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Grenade Launchers, Helicopters, and…Popcorn Machines? Highlights of the Ridiculous Items Given to Police by the DOD

MRAPThe Department
of Defense’s 1033 program has allowed police departments across the
country, including in Ferguson, Missouri, to acquire excess
military equipment DOD is no longer using—including mine-resistant
vehicles, planes, helicopters, machine guns, body armor, etc. This
property is delivered to law enforcement agencies free of charge,
too. All they have to pay is the costs associated with
shipping and/or transportation
.

According to the Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO), the
facilitators of the 1033 program, each item given to local law
enforcement agencies “must have a justification and be approved by
both the State Coordinator and be approved by LESO Staff.”
Preference is given
to those agencies that request property to
be used for “counter-drug and counter-terrorism” operations.
 And,
according
to Pentagon press secretary Navy Rear Adm. John
Kirby, “there’s a lot of due diligence” involved in decisions made
about the type of equipment police forces receive through the 1033
program.

“I want to make sure that it’s clear that this isn’t some
program run amok here, or that there isn’t proper accountability,”
Kirby told the press this week. “There is. And it’s well
thought-out.”

However, according to
a document
that details every transfer made through the 1033
program to local law enforcement between 2006 and May 2014, some
county police forces have received tens of thousands of dollars
worth of items that one would expect to normally see at, say, a
kids’ birthday party—not in a police station. Here are some
highlights of the ridiculous items some local law enforcement
agencies have received through the 1033 program:

Musical Instruments

Since 2006, several counties have received tens of thousands of
dollars worth of musical instruments. Some counties received enough
instruments to start their own marching band, if they wanted to.

For example, Trumbull County, Ohio, was given a $2,300
euphonium, two $1,700 saxophones, a flugelhorn, a tenor trombone, a
$2,000 alto horn, a clarinet, and a piccolo. Ashtabula County,
Ohio, right next door to Trumbull, received two clarinets, four
trumpets, three tenor trombones, four snare drums, three French
horns, a bass violin, a bass drum, and 13 unnamed “musical
instruments” or “musical instrument parts and accessories.”

PopcornBouncy Castle

The citizens of Genesee County, Michigan, can feel safer knowing
their police are equipped with a $500 bouncy castle at its disposal
(for crime fighting purposes only, of course!). In February, they
were also given a French horn.

Ice Cream Makers & Icey Machines

Since 2006, three counties have received soft-serve ice cream
makers, valued anywhere from $5,200 to $16,500.  One county,
Worth County, GA, was given an icey machine (for making slushies,
etc.). They were also given a $3,200 vending machine, presumably to
make up for the lack of soft serve availability.

Meat Slicers

Between 2006 and May 2014, five counties received meat slicers
courtesy of the Department of Defense. Clark County, Indiana, was
even lucky enough to receive two. The value of the slicers ranged
from $880 to $4,780.

XboxXbox
Games

Yes, Xbox games. I’m guessing Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto
are being used for police training purposes in Allen County,
Ohio.

Popcorn & Hotdog Machines, Pizza Ovens

Since 2006, the Department of Defense has given Aiken County,
South Carolina, a $1,500 popcorn machine, Clark County, Indiana,
two $11,000 pizza ovens, and Maricopa County, Arizona, a hot dog
machine and a $3,500 popcorn machine.

This certainly doesn’t sound like a program that’s “run amok,”
now does it?

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Petty Law Enforcement and Its Effect on Ferguson

Walter Olson
writes at Cato’s blog
on an interesting angle on the background
that went into the people of Ferguson’s attitudes about police:

Reading through this Newsweek article on
the troubled relations between police and residents in Ferguson,
Mo. before this month’s blowup, this passage jumped out at
me: 

“Despite Ferguson’s relative poverty, fines and court
fees comprise the second largest source of revenue for the city, a
total of 2,635,400,” according to the ArchCity
Defenders report. And in 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court
issued 24,532 arrest warrants and 12,018 cases, “or about 3
warrants and 1.5 cases per household.”

The town gets nearly a quarter of its municipal revenue
from court fees – the figure in some neighboring towns
is 
even
higher
 – and according to the ArchCity Defenders
report quoted in Newsweek, Ferguson’s municipal court is among the
very worst in the way it adds its own hassle factor to the
collection of petty fines:

ArchCity Defenders, which has tracked ticketing of St.
Louis area residents for five years and focused primarily on
vehicle violations, started a court-watching program because so
many of its clients complained of traffic prosecution wreaking
havoc on their lives. Defendants routinely alleged that a
racially-motivated traffic stop led to their being jailed due to
inability to pay traffic fines, which in turn prompted people to
“los[e] jobs and housing as a result of the incarceration.”
… One resident quoted in the study said, “It’s ridiculous how
these small municipalities make their lifeline off the blood of the
people who drive through the area.”

Racial antagonism between residents and law enforcement is bad
no matter what, but it’s worse when residents wind up interacting
constantly with law enforcement because of a culture of petty
fines. (If you doubt that law enforcement in Ferguson has been
touched by a culture of petty fines, read this Daily
Beast
 account
 of how the town sought to charge a
jail inmate for property damage for bleeding
on its officers’ uniforms
 – even though the altercation
with jailers arose after the town had picked up the wrong guy on a
warrant issued on a common name.)

My colleague Scott Shackford says that in his examination of
Ferguson’s finances he thinks the figure about percentage of
revenue from court fees is more like 10 percent, not nearly a
quarter, but the larger point remains.

I written before in Reason on the ways petty law
enforcement mess with the lives of especially the poor,
here
and
here
.

If indeed more people’s usual interactions with police had
anything to do with “protecting and serving” and less with
violently messing up your life for reasons that can seem petty and
pointless, from people whose version of respect is “do
everything I say the way I’m comfortable with or you might
die
,” the atmosphere that fed into what happened in
Ferguson would likely be less toxic.

I remember a few years ago lecturing on libertarianism to a
group of community college kids in downtown Atlanta. They sniffed a
bit of anarchism around what I was discussing, though I wasn’t
explicit about it. How would society work without police, a student
asked me? I asked them this Zen question: contemplate for a moment
that, in any respect in which it helped rather than harmed your
life, there pretty much already are no police

No one argued much.

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Soviet War Monument in Bulgaria Gets a Splash of Color

Soviet communism remains very uncool in countries that formerly
lived under it, which might explain why some very creative and
patient graffiti artists have been
repeatedly defacing
a Soviet Army monument in
Bulgaria.Soviet kitsch

The latest unauthorized use of spray paint coincided with
the anniversary
of the founding
 of the Bulgarian Socialist
Party. The Russian Foreign Ministry is not amused,
lodging a note of protest with the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry and
issuing a
statement of
indignation
 over “the desecration of the grave of
Soviet liberator soldiers.” According to
The Moscow
Times
:

The Russian Embassy in Bulgaria has issued a note
demanding that its former Soviet-era ally clean up
the monument in Sofia’s Lozenets district, identify
and punish those responsible, and take “exhaustive
measures” to prevent similar attacks in the future.

Though the photo
here
depicts American pop culture figures like Superman
and Ronald McDonald, street artists have also painted the
monument blue
and yellow
 (in apparent support of Ukraine) and even
put colored
ski masks
 on the heads of statues representing Soviet
soldiers (a nod to the persecuted Russian art
collective Pussy
Riot
).

(Hat tip:
Liberty Viral
)

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The Virtues of Libertines

Cato’s Jason Kuznicki offers a valuable contribution to the
“libertarian morality” discussion that’s been meandering around the
Internet of late. In a post on his personal blog, Kuznicki says,
but
of course I’m a libertine
.”

Kuznicki is reacting to a strange strain of libertarianism he
spies lately, one that advocates fusing libertarianism and social
conservatism in a way we haven’t seen since the 1960s. As evidence
he points to Damon Linker’s recent “What
if your daughter was a porn star?
” piece (which
both Scott Shackford
and I
have
written about) and a piece in The Federalist by
Rachel Wu, which asserts that “if
millennials want liberty, they need virtue too
.” I would also
point you to
this post by Pamela Stubbart
, who left the libertarian group
Young Voices over its promotion of porn star Belle Knox’s writing,
and the bizarro
cult of Stefan Molyneaux

These folks differ from social conservatives in that they don’t
always advocate using the state to impose their morality
unilaterally. But “the sentiment remains the same,” Kuznicki
writes:

If you don’t share our morality, then you’re
doing freedom wrong, and bad things will happen. 

What makes all that a little hard to swallow is the fact that
almost nothing so-cons have wanted—obscenity laws, sodomy laws,
tough standards for divorce, stigma around birth control—has panned
out for them in the past 50 years. Meanwhile “libertines”—a term
Kuznicki uses with tongue firmly in cheek—have been getting exactly
what they want on matters of vice. How’s that working out for
American society?

Pretty well, I’d have to say. Let’s imagine some victory
conditions: How
about massively falling crime rates?
 Check. Also
falling abortion rates?
 Check. A whole lot
less teen pregnancy
? Check. Falling
divorce rate
? Yep, got that one too!

No traditionalist would ever have predicted the present moment.
On every single one of these matters, if the numbers had gone the
other way, the so-called libertines would be taking every bit of
the blame. Perhaps reasonably. But over here in the real world, we
have a paradox: It begins to look as if the way to get almost every
item on the social conservatives’ wish list is to give us
libertines what we wanted.

Sure, we may now be a nation of cohabiting, contraception-using,
homosexuality-supporting, pot smokers, but we’ve also become a
nation that’s infinitely less bigoted and misogynist. If the former
makes one a “libertine” (or a “cultural
libertarian
“), then most of us may be so, but “in another sense
none of us are libertines—if by that word we
mean
foregoing all moral judgement,” Kuznicki writes. 

Essentially nobody does ​​that​​. We give a very false
picture of developments since the 1960s if we suggest that it’s all
been a matter of things disappearing from our moral radar. We have
added many new norms as well, and we are clearly better off for
having them. Norms against drunk driving, smoking, racism, and
sexism are stronger than ever, and those are certainly better than
the norm that permits you to disown your son if you find him having
gay sex.

Leonard Steinhorn, a professor at American University,
makes similar points
in his writing on the baby boomer
generation. He thinks “boomers deserve far more credit than they’re
typically given” for what the ’60s hath wrought:

In surveys, 71 percent of Greatest Generation whites said that
blacks smell different, 36 percent said they wouldn’t try on
clothes a black had worn, and 94 percent disapproved of interracial
marriage. In 1954, only 12 percent said they would allow an atheist
to teach college, and in 1957, 80 percent said that an unmarried
woman had to be sick, neurotic or immoral. Boomers refused to
accept this America, and ever since the ’60s they have quietly
agitated for change. They did it by transforming society, by
changing attitudes, norms, institutions and families, and the
result is an America more inclusive, equal, tolerant and free than
any time in our history.

And here’s what I wrote
about libertarian morality
 at The Dish last
week: 

… libertarian-minded folks are plenty capable of placing blame
at the feet of people who deserve it. We have no problem expressing
moral disapproval of an administration that rains
death on innocent people
, or of the insane
militarization of our police force
 and the attendant
terror it’s causing
. We cast stones at those who let
their own
discomfort come before women’s safety
 and those who think
any abuse
by the state is warranted
 once someone has committed a
crime. These are absolutely moral judgements – you don’t have mere
differences of opinion on whether it’s okay to kill Pakistani
children and African-American teenagers.

I ventured into different moral arenas than Kuznicki, and that’s
the point here: morality can be conceived of in many, many
different ways. It’s easy to frame libertarians, or American
society as a whole, as decliningly moral when you define
the parameters of morality. But if we dig past purity in its many
manifestations, there’s a whole host of ways in which libertarian
libertines are making the world a much more safe, just, tolerant,
moral, and free place. 

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