A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Sometime to Amuse You

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Here’s something to amuse you, an opinion article written by a Transportation Security Agency (TSA) schmuck who thinks ordering people to throw away bottles of water and touching children is a tough job.

Though we’re just enforcing the rules that keep the public safe, most people treat us as the jerks who take away their nail clippers.

That’s because you are jerks who take away nail clippers.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 16th, 2019 at 10:30 am

The Hypocrisy That Wasn’t

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Longtime readers know that my opinion of Rand Paul isn’t high but my opinion of intellectually dishonest people is even lower. The story that Rand Paul has decided to go to Canada to receive medical treatment has been spreading like wildfire in socialist circles. A proponent of capitalism is going to a country with socialized medicine in order to receive treatment seems like a great demonstration of hypocrisy after all. However, the socialists sharing this story have forgotten one major fact: although Canada is a land of socialized medicine, a handful of private facilities still exist. This minor detail is important because it turns out that Rand Paul is going to one of those private facilities:

Those who chuckled at this supposed irony missed a major detail, even though it was noted in the press coverage: Paul’s surgery will take place at the Shouldice Hernia Hospital in Thornhill, Ontario. The clinic is private, and run for profit; The Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale, who is from Thornhill, notes that it was “grandfathered in to Ontario’s socialized health system.”

Instead of demonstrating Rand Paul’s hypocrisy, this story demonstrates one of my pet peeves: biased nuance. When you criticize the actions of an individual those who consider themselves on the same side as that individual will analyze your criticism with a fine-tooth comb in the hopes of finding a detail that calls your criticism into doubt. That same level of concern isn’t take for criticisms made against perceived opponents.

If you see a criticism of somebody you perceive to be an opponent, do a little digging before you share that story with your ideological circlejerk. It’ll save you from looking like a fool when somebody on that individual’s “side” analyzes the criticism and finds details putting it into doubt.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 16th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Don’t Forget to Put Your Shoes on the Charger

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Nobody could credibly accuse me of being a Luddite but there are a lot of products that cause me to tilt my head and say what the fuck. Nike released a video of basketball players adjusting a pair of self-lacing shoes with a smartphone app. The shoes themselves are blurred out like genitals in a Japanese porno but the point is made clearly enough: Nike has self-lacing shoes that interface with smartphone.

My initial reaction was to assume that this product was the epitome of laziness. But then I thought about it and decided that digging out my smartphone, unlocking it, opening an app, and tapping a button actually requires more work than manually tying shoes. So I’m left to assume that these shoes are aimed at people who a) want to add the risk of being unable to lace up their shoes in the morning because they forgot to put them on the charger the night before and b) want the thrill of adding more hazardous materials to landfills when they toss out their battery equipped shoes.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 15th, 2019 at 10:30 am

The Police Are Minutes Away

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One of the worst arguments that gun control advocates make is that individuals should rely on “professionals” (by which they mean police) for protection. The reason this is one of the worst arguments is because it makes a lot of assumptions that don’t play out in reality. One of those assumptions is that the police can respond immediately. Jayme Closs’s case has been making headlines for a couple of days now in part because it had a happier outcome than most people were expecting. She was found alive after she escaped her capture. However, there was a 15 to 20 minute period where everybody was likely on pins and needles:

Douglas County sheriff’s deputies arrived roughly 15 to 20 minutes later.

15 to 20 minutes is a long time to wait when a kidnapper who has already murdered two people may be looking for his escaped victim. Unfortunately, 15 to 20 minute response times are pretty typical in rural areas due to the distances between places. Fortunately, the people who were protecting Jayme were armed:

“So, they got in the house, and I loaded a gun and got ready and was standing at the door waiting until the police showed up, because (Jayme) said she didn’t know when he was coming back. When she was sitting on my couch, I couldn’t believe it. I just said to her: ‘I am so happy to see you,’ because I thought she was dead.”

Had her kidnapper found her and had the people protecting her not been armed, there would have been very little that they could have done to stop him from taking his victim back. That kind of bureaucratically enforced helplessness is not a future I find appealing especially when the proponents of said future can’t offer a realistic alternative for personal protection.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 15th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Binary Thinking Is, on the Whole, Harmful

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A recent report released by the American Psychological Association (APA) has been making the rounds and stirring up outrage. Why? Because it more or less argues that traits commonly associated with the Western concept of masculinity are bad:

The main thrust of the subsequent research is that traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful.

My gripe with this claim is the same gripe I have with most claims made in controversial debates: everything is placed on a binary scale of good and evil.

It’s true that any one of these traits can be unproductive. For example, getting aggressive because you perceive that some guy across the bar is looking at your funny isn’t productive. However, us humans have these traits so they must serve some kind of purpose, right?

If you subscribe to the idea that humanity was created by a higher power, then you likely accept that we were given these traits for a reason. Likewise, if you subscribe to the idea that humanity is the product of millions of years of natural selection, then you’re probably open to the idea that these traits serve some evolutionary purpose. Either way you look at it, these traits obviously have some benefits.

I find that most of the people who criticize stoicism don’t actually understand stoicism (this can really be said about most critics of most things). Stoicism doesn’t teach that humans should be emotionless automatons. It teaches that humans shouldn’t be slaves to their emotions. Not making rash decisions based on the whims of your feelings is actually a pretty solid foundation upon which to build a personal philosophy in my opinion (another aspect of stoicism is to treat others fairly and that all individuals are equal, which are other points that I think make a good foundation for a personal philosophy).

Without competitiveness humans likely wouldn’t strive to achieve great things. Look at the Space Race. The United States put a man on the moon to show up the Soviets, who put the first artificial satellite and man into orbit to show up the United States. All of those satellites currently orbiting the Earth that enable satellite television, the Global Positioning System, and global communications are the byproduct of competitiveness.

You might not expect a self-proclaimed anarchist to say anything positive about dominance but even it can serve a valuable purpose. Consider the scenario where somebody gets shot. All too often this scenario can result it onlookers doing nothing other than recording the aftermath and uploading it to YouTube. When this happens, the person who was shot often dies. However, if a single person decides to dominate the situation, the outcome often changes. All it takes in those situations if for a single individual to point to a specific person and say in a commanding voice, “You, call 911,” to get medical personnel on site. Dominance is an important trait in crisis situations because if nobody takes charge, more often than not, no coordinated effort is made to deal with the aftermath in a productive way.

Aggression is also a valuable trait unless you enjoy being steamrolled constantly. If somebody tries to coerce you into doing something you’d rather not do, getting aggressive is often the best way to convince that person to strong arm somebody else. For example, if an individual is attempting to kidnap you, fighting back fiercely might convince them that you’re more trouble than you’re worth.

So all of these traits, on a whole, are not harmful. They can be harmful in excess but that is true of all human traits. But recognizing that requires breaking away from the binary thinking that dominates thinking here in the United States (and, really, most of the world).

Written by Christopher Burg

January 10th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Totally Not Socialism™

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her pals within the Democratic Party are touting their Green New Deal, which is their vision for a massive wealth redistribution scheme. Of course they’re not calling it a wealth redistribution scheme because that sounds like socialism and if there’s one thing Americans won’t stand for it’s anything that calls itself socialism. But Americans will stand (with their hand over their heart no less) for socialism so long as it’s wrapped up in Totally Not Socialism™ packaging. So to claim that their Green New Deal is Totally Not Socialism™ the advocates of this Green New Deal are calling it an economic stimulus package. One ritual required for wrapping a socialist program in Totally Not Socialism™ packaging is explaining how the programming will be funded by using traditional American methods (because, you see, America has always been anti-socialist so if something was done in the past it obviously can’t be socialist).

Ocasio-Cortez are performing this crucial ritual by pointing out that income tax rates between World War II and Regan’s presidency seldom dipped below 70 percent and even reached as high as 90 percent for the “wealthiest” Americans. So funding this stimulus package doesn’t require socialism, it merely requires going back to America’s (totally not socialist) halcyon days! Needless to say their supporters are lapping up their bullshit and eagerly asking for more because they’re ignorant about the difference between statutory and effective tax rates:

Yet this historical narrative is both simplistic and wrong. It relies upon a confusion between the statutory tax rate (i.e., the number that’s on the statute books) and the effective tax rate (i.e., the percentage of income that people actually pay once exemptions, deductions, and other tax-code incentives are accounted for).

Although statutory rates were extremely high between World War II and the Reagan-era tax cuts, practically nobody actually paid the taxman’s full sticker price on their earnings. Instead, a plethora of intentional tax exemptions, deductions, and legal income shelters ensured that wealthy individuals paid a much lower effective tax rate.

How much lower are we talking about exactly? Let’s take an example from 1963, the last year that top rates exceeded the 90 percent high water mark. A single filer in the $1 million bracket ($8.2 million today) faced a rate of 91 percent for every dollar earned over $200,000. While the statutory rate dropped for earnings below $200,000, it did not drop much. The 72 percent rate’s threshold kicked in at $44,000 (about $360,000 today). A 50 percent rate applied to single-filer earnings above $16,000 (about $130,000 today), with several other rate jumps as you attained higher income thresholds in between.

Finding a person who can obtain power without being corrupted is almost impossible. Finding a person who is willing to tell their benefactor to fuck off is even harder.

Those wealthy Americans that Ocasio-Cortez and her pals are claiming they’re going to soak? It turns out that they’re the ones who pay their biggest campaign contributions, the lobbyists who host their lavish dinners, and the human resource personnel who offer them absurd salaries to become lobbyists after they become bored with politics. So there’s no way that Ocasio-Cortez or almost any other politician is going to fuck them over.

The difference between the statutory and effective income tax rates is the key to how politicians keep their base supporters and benefactors happy. They promise their base supporters that they’ll soak the rich and redistribute the seized money to them. Since their gullible base supporters are ignorant of how taxes actually work for the wealthy, they fall for it hook, line, and sinker. Meanwhile, their benefactors are happy because the same politicians who passed the higher statutory income tax rate also created a large number of tax-incentives that allow anybody who falls into the new higher rate category to avoid paying the published rate.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 8th, 2019 at 10:30 am

Corporate Euphemisms

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Apple’s quest to make its products thinner at any cost is once again making some customers unhappy. There have been reports of iPad Pros arriving bent out of the box. I would be unhappy even if a $100 table arrived bent out of the box so it shouldn’t be surprising that I’d be unhappy if an $800+ tablet arrived bent out of the box. But now that Apple is positioning itself as a luxury products company, it’s striving to provide the same level of customer satisfaction as, say, Patek Philippe, right? After all, if you purchased a new Patek Philippe watch and it had any defect whatsoever, the company would likely bend over backwards to remedy the situation since it knows that, as a luxury products company, it lives an dies by its reputation for customer satisfaction. If you believed that, you would be incorrect.

Instead of addressing the issue of bent iPad Pros, Apple has taken the route of using corporate euphemisms to explain why bent iPad Pros are something with which customers will just have to live:

These precision manufacturing techniques and a rigorous inspection process ensure that these new iPad Pro models meet an even tighter specification for flatness than previous generations. This flatness specification allows for no more than 400 microns of deviation across the length of any side — less than the thickness of four sheets of paper. The new straight edges and the presence of the antenna splits may make subtle deviations in flatness more visible only from certain viewing angles that are imperceptible during normal use. These small variances do not affect the strength of the enclosure or the function of the product and will not change over time through normal use.

That’s a lot of words to say your brand new $800+ iPad Pro may arrive at your doorstep bent.

This issue reminds me a lot of the issue with the iPhone 4 where holding it in your left hand could cause cellular signal degradation (and thus drop your call). Instead of addressing the issue right away, Steve Jobs tried to argue that the solution was to hold the phone “correctly.” Eventually Apple opted for the half-assed solution of providing a free case, which was at least better than publishing an official page that used a lot of words to try to hand wave the problem away.

Between this and the high failure rate of the MacBook butterfly switch keyboards, Apple is having a rough start to its transition from a consumer electronics company into a luxury products company.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 8th, 2019 at 10:00 am

One Weird Trick to Avoid Not Receiving a Refund

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The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), in its quest to make the federal government “shutdown” as painful as possible, has announced that while it will continue to take your money, it won’t return your refund:

During a shutdown, the IRS typically doesn’t perform audits, pay refunds or offer assistance to taxpayers if they have questions, especially outside of the filing season. And while some of the lights may still be on in the building, the agency is currently operating with only 12.5 percent of its workforce, or fewer than 10,000 federal employees.

A lot of people are upset about this but I’ve got one weird trick to avoid not receiving your refund: don’t overpay. If you receive a refund on your taxes, it means you gave the government an interest free loan that it is returning to you. If you adjust your withholdings properly, you won’t overpay and therefore won’t need to worry about a refund.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 7th, 2019 at 10:30 am

Monday Metal: Carnival of Disgust by Falconer

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Written by Christopher Burg

January 7th, 2019 at 10:00 am

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Grammar Matters

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People are often surprised by what constituted a “classical” education. Education in ancient Rome was heavily focused on grammar. Why? Because the highest aspiration of an educated Roman was to make convincing arguments to get his (sorry ladies, the ancient Romans weren’t into gender equality) clients off the hook for whatever crimes they were accused of perpetrating (much like the decisions of the legal system here in the modern United States, the decisions of Rome’s legal system were more dependent on the ability of lawyers to spin a good yarn than what the evidence indicated).

A brief conversation with the average person will quickly prove that modern education isn’t terribly concerned with grammar. But I urge people to study grammar. While the highest aspiration of an educated person today may not be to impress a judge or jury with impeccable storytelling, the proper use of grammar can still pay dividends:

A pair of student drug dealers have been spared jail after a judge was impressed by the ‘spelling and grammar’ of the texts they sent advertising their product.

[…]

A court heard police examined their mobile phones to find text messages relating to their drug deals composed using perfect spelling and punctuation.

Judge David Hale said the ‘grammar and punctuation’ in the messages was of a much higher standard than normally seen from dealers and indicated a higher level of education.

The bar is set sufficiently low that the appropriate use of a single comma or period qualifies as a “much higher standard than normally seen.” But that’s good news for anybody who “don’t write so good.” They don’t have to study for long to become better than average.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 4th, 2019 at 10:30 am