URLs du Jour

2022-04-12

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  • Living free and not dying. The WSJ editorialists bring one of those state-comparison studies that we love so dearly to our attention: States of Covid Performance.

    More than two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s time to draw some conclusions about government policy and results. The most comprehensive comparative study we’ve seen to date was published last week as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), and it deserves wide attention.

    The authors are University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan and Stephen Moore and Phil Kerpen of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity. They compare Covid outcomes in the 50 states and District of Columbia based on three variables: the economy, education and mortality. It’s a revealing study that belies much of the conventional medical and media wisdom during the pandemic, especially in its first year when severe lockdowns were described as the best, and the only moral, policy.

    And guess what, Granite Staters? Out of the 50 states (plus D.C.) New Hampshire was seventh-best overall. (Behind Utah, Nebraska, the Peoples' Republic of Vermont, Montana, South Dakota, and Florida.) Not too shabby.

    Note that the overall score depends on somewhat arbitrary mathematical weighting of disparate variables ("the economy, education, and mortality"). So it's easy to quibble.


  • And, more important, does Betteridge's Law of Headlines apply? Peter Spiliakos asks one of those headline questions: Can Ron DeSantis Avoid the Scott Walker Fate? Or (Spilakos adds) the Rick Perry fate? Both were (arguably) successful governors whose presidential candidacies fizzled. And Mitt Romney… well, we know how that turned out. Bottom paragraph:

    The challenge that DeSantis faces — which Perry and Walker also faced but failed at — is to articulate how his statewide record applies to federal politics. Unlike Perry and Walker, whose entire elected careers were in state politics, DeSantis has some experience in Washington. But the most important thing for him to keep in mind is that state and federal politics work differently. One can master both, but doing so involves putting in the work.

    I usually vote Libertarian, but they seem to have gotten even crazier than usual lately. So my vote is up for grabs, Republicans! All you have to do to get my vote is to articulate a vision of individual liberty, fiscal sanity, getting immigration under control, … How hard could that be?


  • AI: Threat or Menace? Alex Tabarrok has a provocative question: When Can/Should We Pull the Plug? At my age, I'm sensitive to what that question usually refers to, but (no) it's about those computers that just keep getting smarter. Alex links to a blog post by "Not Relevant", [RETRACTED] It's time for EA leadership to pull the short-timelines fire alarm..

    So, the post has been retracted, but it's still interesting. (I think "EA" stands for "Effective Altruism".)

    For those who haven't grappled with what actual advanced AI would mean, especially if many different organizations can achieve it:

    • No one knows how to build an AI system that accomplishes goals, that also isn't going to prevent you from turning it off. It's an unsolved research problem. Researchers have been trying for decades, but none of them think they've succeeded yet.
    • Unfortunately, for most conceivable goals you could give an AI system, the best way to achieve that goal (taken literally, which is the only thing computers know how to do) is to make sure it can't be turned off. Otherwise, it might be turned off, and then (its version of) the goal is much less likely to happen.

    I don't know what to make of it, honestly. Remember, it's been retracted, but that doesn't necessarily make it wrong. Or even less wrong.


  • Even worse in reruns. Oh, yeah: there was big gun news yesterday, covered (surprisingly) pretty well by our local TV news station. At least they gave some time to dissenting voices. I wish they had given David Harsanyi some time, but here he is at NR with the announcement: Biden’s Tired Gun Act Is Back.

    Crime is rising, so it’s time for Democrats to take aim at law-abiding gun owners. In a press conference today, President Joe Biden promised swift action, announcing a series of unilateral moves that will have virtually no effect on rising criminality. Among them is regulating so-called “ghost guns,” which Biden claims “are the weapons of choice for many criminals.” And by “many,” he means “incredibly few.” Biden also promised to fight for “universal” background checks and “assault-weapons” bans, two other policies that would do almost nothing to lower the crime rate and everything to do with making life more difficult for peaceful gun owners.

    “By the way — it’s going to sound bizarre — I support the Second Amendment,” the president noted. Indeed, it does. Biden went on to argue that people on “the terrorist list,” despite any due process, should lose their right to buy a gun (no), once again claimed that Americans couldn’t buy a cannon during Founding era (they could), and made a dumb joke about deer in Kevlar for what has to be thousandth time. Biden, again, maintained that gun manufacturers “have more immunity than any other American industry” (they do not). Biden then announced that he would nominate another anti-gun zealot, Steve Dettelbach, a former U.S. attorney in Ohio, to head up the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Less hyperbolic and prone to fabulism than failed nominee David Chipman, Dettelbach, who Biden claimed was a “noncontroversial candidate,” holds virtually indistinguishable policy positions on the Second Amendment from the last nominee. There is no reason why he should be confirmed, either.

    About the "deer in Kevlar" bit, KDW points out that hunting rifles are generally more powerful than those scary "ghost" (Boo!) AR-style rifles, and are able to get through Kevlar.


  • But at least the new gun rules are clear, right? Uh, no. J.D. Tuccille says ATF’s New ‘Ghost Gun’ Rules Are as Clear as Mud.

    The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' (ATF) finalized "ghost gun" rule surprised Cody Wilson, the head of Ghost Gunner. His company manufactures CNC mills that turn unfinished firearm receivers into products that can be included in completed firearms that have no serial numbers and are, hence, called "ghosts." He'd anticipated a more-or-less explicit ban on so-called "80 percent receivers" which would leave his Ghost Gunner 3 that can turn a raw block of metal into an AR-15 receiver as the simplest remaining solution. Instead, by his reading, the new rules consumed a lot of pages to go after the most basic end of the DIY market.

    Well, maybe. Other industry experts aren't sure what the rules mean. That uncertainty poses huge challenges for manufacturers, vendors, and anybody trying to establish what is and isn't legal.

    One thing that is clear: criminals don't obey "rules". Even if (maybe especially if) they're promulgated by the ATF.