A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Monday Metal: The Tower by Ancient Empire

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Written by Christopher Burg

July 16th, 2018 at 10:00 am

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It’s Good to Be the King

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It’s good to be the king. When you’re the king, you don’t have to put up with insults from your subjects:

When body-camera footage of an aggressive or abusive police officer goes viral, the response from law enforcement groups is often to caution that we shouldn’t judge the entire system based on actions of a few bad apples. That’s fair enough. But what does it say about the system when the cops gets away with their bad behavior? What if, despite video footage clearly showing that the cops are in the wrong, sheriffs and police chiefs cover for them, anyway? What if local prosecutors do, too? What if even mayors and city attorneys get into the act?

Adam Finley had such an interaction with a bad cop. He was roughed up, sworn at and handcuffed. When he tried to file a complaint, he was hit with criminal charges. The local police chief turned Finley’s wife against him, which (according to both Finley and her) eventually ended their marriage. The fact that video of the incident should have vindicated him didn’t seem to matter.

This is a really good story to read because it illustrates a lot of facts about modern law enforcement, the power of authority, and local government. Even though body camera footage clearly showed the officer was abusing his authority, Finley had his life ruined because the people tasked with overseeing the law enforcer covered for him. This shouldn’t be surprisingly since all of the people tasked with overseeing the law enforcer work for the same government as the law enforcer. But many people still make the mistake of believing that government oversight of law enforcement is an effective check against abuse when, in fact, government oversight of law enforcement is merely the government overseeing itself. Whenever you give an entity the power to oversee itself, it has a strong tendency to find that it did nothing wrong.

Mr. Musk’s Greater South Africa

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Elon Musk has two transportation programs, as space program, and now he’s working on a utilities program. At this point he has enough traditionally government programs to basically be a government:

For around four years now, the water supply to the city of Flint, Michigan, has been contaminated with lead. Now, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has promised to help. Replying to a request on Twitter, Musk pledged to fund remediation work to houses with contaminated water supplies.

Snowcrash’s future is actually one of the more pleasant ones and I don’t think that I’d mind being a citizen of Mr. Musk’s Greater South Africa. At least it’ll have a space presence, high-speed underground transportation, and clean drinking water.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 13th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Cody Wilson: 1, Department of Justice: 0

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When Cody Wilson demonstrated the futility of gun control once and for all but publishing specifications for a 3D printable handgun, the United States government was displeased. It didn’t like the idea that the language of the Second Amendment, namely the part that says “shall not be infringed,” might actually be enforceable by its subjects. In response to Wilson’s antics, the federal government tried to censor him. Wilson decided to sue on the argument that censoring 3D printer specifications was an infringement of his First Amendment rights. The Department of Justice (DoJ), the body of the government that tried to censor Wilson and got sued for its shenanigans, finally gave up:

Two months ago, the Department of Justice quietly offered Wilson a settlement to end a lawsuit he and a group of co-plaintiffs have pursued since 2015 against the United States government. Wilson and his team of lawyers focused their legal argument on a free speech claim: They pointed out that by forbidding Wilson from posting his 3-D-printable data, the State Department was not only violating his right to bear arms but his right to freely share information. By blurring the line between a gun and a digital file, Wilson had also successfully blurred the lines between the Second Amendment and the First.

“If code is speech, the constitutional contradictions are evident,” Wilson explained to WIRED when he first launched the lawsuit in 2015. “So what if this code is a gun?”

The Department of Justice’s surprising settlement, confirmed in court documents earlier this month, essentially surrenders to that argument. It promises to change the export control rules surrounding any firearm below .50 caliber—with a few exceptions like fully automatic weapons and rare gun designs that use caseless ammunition—and move their regulation to the Commerce Department, which won’t try to police technical data about the guns posted on the public internet. In the meantime, it gives Wilson a unique license to publish data about those weapons anywhere he chooses.

Realistically, the DoJ had no choice by to relent. As soon as it tried to censor Wilson’s 3D printer designs, the Streisand effect kicked and ensured that the files were obtained by so many people that censorship became impossible. Beyond Wilson’s case, the DoJ was also fighting a losing battle because even if it managed to censor his designs, anybody with an Internet connection could upload their own designs. The DoJ is one agency that only has authority here in the United States. The Internet is a global communication network. The odds of a single agency winning against a global network are pretty much zilch.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 12th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Federal Court Tells Slaves to Shut Up

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What recourse do you have when you’re assaulted by a Transportation Security Agency (TSA) goon? A federal appeals court has decided that you have no recourse:

In a 2-1 vote, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners were not “investigative or law enforcement officers,” and were therefore shielded from liability under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).

Badges, even when they’re not on the shirt of a law enforcer, are magical things. So long as your uniform has one, you enjoy significant privileges that allow you to get away with actions that would be considered criminal if performed by somebody without a badge.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 12th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Heads Up Fellow Minnesotans

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If you live in Minnesota, you’ll want to keep an even more careful eye out for road pirates because they’re having an annual fundraiser:

A statewide extra enforcement campaign cracking down on speeding and aggressive driving begins today and runs through July 22, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

More than 300 agencies are involved in the campaign, and while cost of tickets may vary across counties, drivers should expect fees around $110 for traveling 10 mph over the speed limit.

What can you do protect yourself? My favorite tool for defending myself against road pirates is Waze. There are many helpful Waze users (including me) who report any law enforcers that they see on the road. If you live in a major metropolitan area, Waze is usually pretty good about alerting you to lurking road pirates. However, since it relies on crowdsourced information, it tends to be less effective in rural areas. With that said, if you live in a rural area, you could always start an awareness campaign to get more people using it.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 12th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Body Cameras Are for the Benefit of Prosecutors, Not You

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For decades there has been an continuously increasing number of reports of law enforcers abusing their power. Unfortunately, many of these reports boiled down to he said, she said because of the lack of evidence. Moreover, when he said, she said reports involving law enforcers crop up, the courts that are tasked with overseeing them (but also happen to work for the same employer), tend to side with them. This tendency spurred a call by many for police body cameras. While there was some push back from the law enforcement community regarding body cameras, most departments seemed to roll over with comparatively little resistance, which should have been a red flag that they knew something that we didn’t.

Now that body cameras have been widely deployed for some time, we finally have enough evidence to establish a theory about why so many law enforcement departments rolled over so easily. They recognized that body cameras were valuable assets when prosecutors needed evidence and malfunctioning junk when law enforcers might be shown in a bad light:

Techdirt has the goods on a pretty crazy story out of Albuquerque. Five police officers were at the scene of a fatal shooting. All five were wearing body cameras. And miraculously, none of the five captured usable footage from the shooting on their body cameras.

A sergeant on the scene claimed to have turned his camera on, but the camera didn’t record. He’d later say his camera had never malfunctioned like that before. Ditto for another officer whose camera weirdly captured footage so pixelated that it was unusable — again, no one had ever seen that problem before. A third officer says his camera malfunctioned just before the shooting. Mysteriously, the camera has not had a problem since. A fourth said his camera mistakenly became unplugged. Analysis showed it had been turned on eight minutes before the shooting, then turned off just moments before the fatal encounter. A fifth officer’s camera captured 10 seconds of vague footage. It should have captured at least 30, given the camera’s buffer function. He had failed to turn it on.

Regular readers of The Watch may recall that this isn’t even the first time five police cameras all conveniently malfunctioned at a critical time.

Five officers experiencing body camera malfunctions during an incident involving a fatal shooting is pretty much unbelievable in of itself but if you read the rest of the story, you’ll learn that this sort of thing has happened on numerous occasions. Strangely enough I haven’t seen any reports where multiple body cameras have malfunctioned during incidents that reflect well on the officers involved. If the reports of malfunctioning body cameras are to be believed, then the malfunction must be caused by law enforcers performing questionable actions.

Realistically body cameras were never meant to be tools to hold law enforcers accountable. They were sold as such so community members would support their adoption but they were really meant to collect additional evidence to assist prosecutors. And this scam works because the body tasked with holding law enforcers accountable just happens to be the same body for which the law enforcers generate revenue. Did you really think that government bodies were interested in potentially hurting their revenue by pissing off their revenue generators?

Written by Christopher Burg

July 11th, 2018 at 11:00 am

It’s Like Bureaucrats Aren’t Medical Experts

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Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstacy), and psilocybin (magic mushrooms) are all categorized as Schedule I drugs, which means have no recognized medical use and dangerous to use even under medical supervision. However, as with cannabis, the scheduling of these drugs is being called into question because research is showing that they show a great deal of promise as medical treatments that are safe to use under medical supervision:

Psychedelic drugs like LSD and ecstasy ingredient MDMA have been shown to stimulate the growth of new branches and connections between brain cells which could help address conditions like depression and addiction.

Researchers in California have demonstrated these substances, banned as illicit drugs in many countries, are capable of rewiring parts of the brain in a way that lasts well beyond the drugs’ effects.

This means psychedelics could be the “next generation” of treatments for mental health disorders which could be more effective and safer than existing options, the study’s authors from the University of California.

It’s almost as if the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the departments tasked with deciding what drugs fall under what schedule, are composed primarily of bureaucrats who have little or no experience in experimental medicine.

Mind you, this groundbreaking research isn’t groundbreaking. Timothy Leary, a clinical psychologist, experimented with LSD and found that it had many promising medical uses. When he performed his initial experiments, LSD was legal. Experimentation, at least of the legal variety that can be published in journals, became a huge pain in the ass when the drug was listed as a Schedule I. Fortunately, scientists have become more willing to jump through the hoops required to experiment with Schedule I substances, which is why research is now rediscovering the potential medical benefits of LSD and other Schedule I substances. Unfortunately, just because medical scientists have demonstrated that a Schedule I substance actually has potential medical uses doesn’t mean that the bureaucrats in the DEA and HHS are going to change the substance’s scheduling. We know this because cannabis, which has been shown to have numerous medical uses and be perfectly safe to use, still remains a Schedule I substance.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 11th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Bad Analogies

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If there was an annual award for worst analogy, this article would win it hands down:

Venezuela’s inflation hits more than 40,000% as everyone dumps its currency ‘like a hot potato’

The last thing anybody in Venezuela is going to drop at the moment is a potato.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 11th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Public Schools Aren’t About Educating

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I take every opportunity that I can to point out that government indoctrination centers, often mistakenly called public schools, aren’t about education. However, no matter what evidence I provide to back up my argument people continue believing otherwise. But now even the government itself is admitting that its indoctrination centers aren’t about educating children:

A federal judge has concluded that the Constitution doesn’t require schools to promote students’ literacy.

This is something that you don’t see every day, a government goon being forthright and honest.

The core of this story involves a group of Detroit students suing the government because it failed to even teach them their ABCs:

The lawyers filing the suit—from the pro bono Los Angeles firm Public Counsel—contend that the students (who attend five of Detroit’s lowest-performing schools) are receiving an education so inferior and underfunded that it’s as if they’re not attending school at all. The 100-page-plus complaint alleges that the state of Michigan (which has overseen Detroit’s public schools for nearly two decades) is depriving these children—97 percent of whom are students of color—of their constitutional rights to liberty and nondiscrimination by denying them access to basic literacy.

I don’t see their case going well for the students. The deck is already stacked against them since they’re suing the government in the government’s own court system. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to sue the government without dealing with that conflict of interest. The other problem the students will likely run into is the Constitution itself. If you look at enough court decisions based on the language of the Constitution, you quickly learn that the Constitution more often than not means whatever is convenient for the government. Take the language in the Second Amendment as an example. The phrase, “Shall not be infringed,” seems pretty straight forward. The language itself seems to clearly state that the federal government cannot restrict firearm ownership in any way. But the federal government restricts firearm ownership in a multitude of ways and most of the time when those restrictions have been challenged in court judges have decide that “Shall not be infringed,” means that the federal government can infringe gun ownership in almost any manner it wants.

As far as I recall, the Constitution doesn’t mention education. Since it doesn’t mention education and it’s far more convenience for the government in this case if it has no responsibility to provide an education, you can feel safe betting money that judges will rule against the students.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 10th, 2018 at 11:00 am