A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Misplaced Children

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The United States government has a difficult time keeping tracking of things. The Pentagon misplaces trillions of dollars; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives misplaces a lot of guns; and the Department of Health and Human Services misplaces over a thousand children:

Federal officials lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children last year after a government agency placed the minors in the homes of adult sponsors in communities across the country, according to testimony before a Senate subcommittee Thursday.

The Health and Human Services Department has a limited budget to track the welfare of vulnerable unaccompanied minors, and realized that 1,475 children could not be found after making follow-up calls to check on their safety, an agency official said.

Are these kids living happily with their sponsors? Have they been sold to human traffickers? Nobody knows, especially not the government agency tasked with knowing exactly this. Of course, as always, the failure is being blamed on a lack of funding. Government agencies are the only entities that I’m aware of that expect or outright demand a pay raise when they perform poorly.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 18th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Milking All of the Tax Cattle

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While I still stand by my ruling that Atlas Shrugged was a poorly written book with dull two-dimensional characters, I will admit that it was also prescient. The United States appears to be entering the part in of the book where the infrastructure is in a constant state of deterioration. Even the parking ramps are falling apart. And you know what that means! Soak the tax payers a little more:

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter ordered the shutdown of a major downtown parking ramp Thursday, the day after a chunk of concrete fell on a parked car and two days after he and other local leaders launched a public campaign for $58 million in state money to replace the aging structure.

Strange, I didn’t realize that a parking ramp in St. Paul served the entirety of Minnesota. But it must otherwise Carter wouldn’t be asking the entire state to pay for his city’s shitty infrastructure, right?

Unfortunately, when infrastructure fails, it serves as an excuse by the political class to steal more wealth from those they rule. To compound this problem, even though the political class is stealing more wealth, the infrastructure never improves. So a vicious cycle of failing infrastructure leading to more stolen wealth followed by more failing infrastructure persists.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 18th, 2018 at 10:30 am

The World’s Most Expensive Homeless Shelters

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Government choo-choos are all the rage these days in the Twin Cities. While they’re stupidly expensive, advocates for government choo-choos claim that they enable the poor, which is true. However, when those advocates claim that the choo-choos will help the poor, they mean that they will help the poor find jobs in wealthier neighborhoods. It turns out that the choo-choos are really mobile homeless shelters:

Grassrope is part of a chronic homeless population living on the Twin Cities light rail system. Authorities estimate some 200 people are using the system for shelter each night and the number is rising at an alarming rate.

Hey, at least somebody is riding it!

But this raises another question, is $2 billion a bit steep just to build another homeless shelter?

If the line from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie is built, Hennepin County will bear the brunt of the local cost. With the overall tab now projected to be just over $2 billion, commissioner Jeff Johnson, a Republican candidate for governor, said it’s time to stop approving cost increases.

Obviously I’m being a bit tongue in cheek here. I know that the new line won’t serve as a homeless shelter. Now that government officials are aware that homeless individuals are using the choo-choos to shield themselves from the elements, the fares will be raised. If there’s one thing government officials hate, it’s homeless individuals having an ounce of additional comfort. But $2 billion is a lot of money. While advocates for government choo-choos claim that they more than pay for themselves, I have a difficult time believing that more public transport (a bus system already exists) between Eden Prairie and Minneapolis is going to bring $2 billion of additional economic activity anytime soon.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 18th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Tracking Your Pieces of Flair

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Some people mistakenly believe that if they don’t carry a cell phone, government agents can’t track them. While cell phones are convenient tracking devices, they aren’t the only tool in the State’s toolbox. Law enforcers have been using license plate scanners for years now. Such scanners can track the whereabouts of every vehicle in the department’s territory. And since license plate scanners are technological devices, they are improving in capabilities:

On Tuesday, one of the largest LPR manufacturers, ELSAG, announced a major upgrade to “allow investigators to search by color, seven body types, 34 makes, and nine visual descriptors in addition to the standard plate number, location, and time.”

Plus, the company says, the software is now able to visually identity things like a “roof rack, spare tire, bumper sticker, or a ride-sharing company decal.”

Even obscuring or changing your license plate won’t work if you have, like so many Americans, covered your car in unique pieces of flair.

I’m sure some people, thinking that they’re very clever, have already come up with the strategy of not driving their vehicle. After all, if you don’t have a cell phone or a personal vehicle, the government can’t track you, right? Wrong again.

Missed Opportunities

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Toys ‘R’ Us is one of many victims of the recent retail apocalypse. Now that its assets are being liquidated, we’re learning that the company missed some potentially significant opportunities:

Among the URLs purchased by Toys ‘R’ Us and now up for sale are sex-toys-r-us.com, kinkytoysrus.com, and aforementioned adult-toys-r-us.com. There are also more benign domain names, like toysrussucks.com, burgers-r-us.com, and cigars-r-us.com.

If Toys ‘R’ Us had associated businesses for those URLs, it probably wouldn’t be in its current financial situation.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 17th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Find a Career in Letting Children Get Gunned Down

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Are you looking for a career that will allow you to live comfortably in your old age? Try a career in standing by while the children you’re tasked with protecting get gunned down:

Scott Peterson, the Broward County sheriff’s deputy who failed to engage the Parkland high school shooter, is eligible to receive an annual pension in excess of six figures.

The Sun Sentinel obtained records from the Florida Department of Management Services showing that Peterson, who retired in the weeks after the March shooting, is due to collect $8,700 per month. That works out to slightly more than $104,000 a year. Peterson, who is 55 years old, will be able to receive that pension for the rest of his life, and Broward County taxpayers will cover 50 percent of his health insurance premiums.

I guess the only solace here is that half of his health insurance premiums will quickly gobble up $104,000 per year at the rate it’s increasing.

My criticism here isn’t so much against Peterson (I’ve already criticized him) but against the department that employed him. Peterson failed to do his job and that failure likely lead to unnecessary deaths (shooters tend to off themselves upon meeting armed resistance so Peterson’s mere presence with a firearm would have stood a very high chance of immediately resolving the situation). He should have been terminated from the department for that. Instead the department let him retire and collect his absurd pension.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 17th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Shame Only Works on Those Who Feel Shame

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It seems like every time I turn around it’s election season again. Primary seasons has just come and gone for some states, which means a bunch of statists just finished up trying to make people feel guilty for not suffering the same bullshit they just suffered:

Some Pennsylvania voters have received letters publicising whether they had voted in previous elections before they head to the polls on Tuesday.

The letters appeared to be intended to “embarrass” people into voting by revealing their voting record compared to that of friends and neighbours.

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The information used in the letters comes from a public registry that costs $20 (£15) to access. This data is typically used by political parties for voter outreach.

“What if your friends, your neighbours, and your community knew whether you vote?” the letter asks.

What if my friends, neighbors, and community members knew whether I voted? They already do because I’m quite loud about the fact that I don’t vote.

Blackmail, which is what these letters are threatening, only works if the person being threatened wants a secret kept secret. As soon as the person being threatened ceases to care about whatever secret somebody is threatening to reveal, blackmail no longer works. If, for example, somebody is threatening to reveal that you didn’t vote in the last election, the best thing you can do to take their power away is publicly advertise the fact that you didn’t vote in the last election.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 16th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Government Goons Declare Anarchy Symbol a Hate Symbol

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The City of Hamilton’s bureaucrats have declared that the anarchy symbol is a hate symbol in the same league as the Nazi swastika:

The City of Hamilton has forced a local anarchist group to remove the circle A anarchy symbol from its headquarters, saying it is “hate material” similar to the swastika.

City officials say they’re taking direction from Hamilton police on the issue, but police say that’s not the case.

Since anarchists want to abolish government, I understand why a bunch of government parasites would find the anarchy symbol hateful.

When people bring up the topic of hate speech, I like to point out that hate is a subjective idea. This rankles a lot of people because the topic of hate is often emotionally charged and most individuals seem to believe that hate is an objectively provable thing. They also seem to believe that hate is objectively whatever they believe hate to be.

I don’t consider the anarchy symbol to be a symbol of hate. In fact, I consider symbols of government to be symbols of hate. Am I right? That depends on whom you ask.

What I really want to know now is whether or not I as an anarchist qualify as an oppressed person in Hamilton.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 16th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Tipper Gore Would Be Proud

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Fighting “hate” is all the rage these days. Facebook, Twitter, and now Spotify have all made pledges to fight “hate” on their platforms. But how does one define hate? Spotify decided that it didn’t want to tackle that difficult philosophical question itself so it outsourced the exercise to a few organizations including the Southern Poverty Laws Center (SPLC):

According to the policy, any tracks or artists identified as “hate content”—defined as music that “principally promotes, advocates, or incites hatred or violence against a group or individual based on characteristics, including, race, religion, gender identity, sex, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, veteran status, or disability”—will be either removed from Spotify altogether or suppressed in promotions and stripped out of any platform-generated playlists.

The “hateful conduct” part of the policy will take aim at musicians’ off-the-clock behavior. “When an artist or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful,” the company explains, that will affect the company’s dealings with them. R. Kelly, who has been accused of sexually abusing underage girls, appears to be the first casualty of this policy: The singer’s music will still stream at Spotify but will no longer be promoted there.

Several advocacy groups will help Spotify identify “hate content.” Among them: the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League, and GLAAD.

Since the SPLC is involved, anything that isn’t left of communism will probably get purged.

What will the aftermath of this policy announcement look like? If other streaming services decide to follow along, we will likely see an increase in music piracy again. People aren’t going to suddenly not want to listen to music by an artist simply because the SPLC decided it was hateful. If Spotify or Apple Music won’t stream the music people want, they will stop paying for those services and find their music elsewhere. This is how things have always worked.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 16th, 2018 at 10:00 am

EFAIL

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A vulnerability was announced yesterday that affects both OpenPGP and S/MIME encrypted e-mails. While this was initially being passed off as an apocalyptic discovery, I don’t think that it’s scope is quite as bad as many are claiming. First, like all good modern vulnerabilities, it has a name, EFAIL, and a dedicated website:

The EFAIL attacks exploit vulnerabilities in the OpenPGP and S/MIME standards to reveal the plaintext of encrypted emails. In a nutshell, EFAIL abuses active content of HTML emails, for example externally loaded images or styles, to exfiltrate plaintext through requested URLs. To create these exfiltration channels, the attacker first needs access to the encrypted emails, for example, by eavesdropping on network traffic, compromising email accounts, email servers, backup systems or client computers. The emails could even have been collected years ago.

The attacker changes an encrypted email in a particular way and sends this changed encrypted email to the victim. The victim’s email client decrypts the email and loads any external content, thus exfiltrating the plaintext to the attacker.

The weakness isn’t in the OpenPGP or S/MIME encryption algorithms themselves but in how mail clients interact with encrypted e-mails. If your e-mail client is configured to automatically decrypt encrypted e-mails and allows HTML content to be displayed, the encrypted potion of your e-mail could be exfiltrated by a malicious attacker.

I generally recommend against using e-mail for secure communications in any capacity. OpenPGP and S/MIME are bandages applied to an insecure protocol. Due to their nature as a bolted on feature added after the fact, they are unable to encrypt a lot of data in your e-mail (the only thing they can encrypt is the body). However, if you are going to use it, I generally recommend against allowing your client to automatically decrypt your encrypted e-mails. Instead at least require that your enter a password to decrypt your private key (this wouldn’t defend against this attack if your client is configured to display HTML e-mail content but it would prevent malicious e-mails from automatically exfiltrating encrypted content). Better yet, have your system setup in such a manner where you actually copy the encrypted contents of an e-mail into a separate decryption program, such as the OpenPGP command line tools, to view the secure contents. Finally, I would recommend disabling the ability to display HTML e-mails in your client if you are at all concerned about security.

If you perform the above practices, you can mitigate this attack… on your system. The real problem is, as always, other people’s systems. While you may perform the above practices, you can’t guarantee that everybody with whom you communicate will as well. If an attacker can exploit one party, they will generally get the e-mails sent by all parties. This is why I’d recommend using a communication tool that was designed to be secure from the beginning, such as Signal, over e-mail with OpenPGP or S/MIME. While tools like Signal aren’t bulletproof, they are designed to be secure by default, which makes them less susceptible to vulnerabilities created by an improper configuration.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 15th, 2018 at 11:00 am