A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

The Devil Is in the Details

without comments

I, probably like most people who travel in libertarian circles likely, have friends on both sides of the abortion aisle. The last few days my friends who are against abortion have been celebrating this piece of news:

Michael Bowman, a 53-year-old self-employed computer software developer from Columbia City, Oregon, hasn’t paid his federal income taxes since 1999.

He says it’s because his Christian ideals don’t allow him to pay into a system that funds abortions. In a YouTube video explainer of his defense, he likened paying taxes that then go toward funding abortions to German citizens under Nazi rule who outed Jewish citizens, sending them to their deaths.

And according to The Associated Press, he beat the feds in court this week.

Unfortunately, many of my friends celebrating this piece of news apparently stopped reading at this point. If they had read further, they would have learned that Bowman didn’t win an argument saying that being forced to pay for something that are at odds with his religious beliefs is wrong. He won an argument saying that he didn’t commit felony tax evasion:

To be clear, Bowman won the battle, not the war he’s fighting with the IRS and the Oregon U.S. District Court, when federal Judge Michael W. Mosman dismissed a felony tax evasion charge against Bowman.

Mosman ruled that the government’s indictment failed to provide any evidence that Bowman tried to conceal money from or misled the IRS by cashing his paychecks instead of depositing them and keeping a low bank balance so tax collectors couldn’t garnish wages from it to pay what it says are back taxes owed.

From what I’ve been able to ascertain, Bowman hasn’t made any effort to conceal the fact that he’s not paying taxes. He’s not evading taxes, he’s outright refusing to pay them. However, this decision doesn’t mean that his battle is over and that people can now avoid paying taxes by declaring that they’re Christian and therefore unwilling to pay taxes due to their opposition to abortion. The charge was dismissed without prejudice, which means prosecutors can seek a new indictment. Moreover, Bowman is still facing misdemeanor charges for willfully refusing to pay taxes.

I believe that people shouldn’t be forced to pay for something they don’t want. If Bowman doesn’t want his money going towards supporting abortion, he shouldn’t be forced to pay money that goes towards supporting abortion. Unfortunately, the legal system in the United States doesn’t believe as I do, which means Bowman will likely be found guilty and be forced to pay the taxes he owes along with the penalty.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 20th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Government Granted Monopolies are Good for Business

without comments

Few markets in the United States are as ripe with corruption as the medical market:

A drug that treats a variety of white blood cell cancers typically costs about $148,000 a year, and doctors can customize and quickly adjust doses by adjusting how many small-dose pills of it patients should take each day—generally up to four pills. At least, that was the case until now.

Last year, doctors presented results from a small pilot trial hinting that smaller doses could work just as well as the larger dose—dropping patients down from three pills a day to just one. Taking just one pill a day could dramatically reduce costs to around $50,000 a year. And it could lessen unpleasant side-effects, such as diarrhea, muscle and bone pain, and tiredness. But just as doctors were gearing up for more trials on the lower dosages, the makers of the drug revealed plans that torpedoed the doctors’ efforts: they were tripling the price of the drug and changing pill dosages.

Before some socialist reads this and thinks that they’re going to be oh so clever by posting, “See? This is what happens under capitalism,” let me explain how this kind of behavior is enabled by government.

In a market unrestrained by government interference, news stories like this would result in competitors making cheaper alternatives to the drug in question. However, in this case the manufacturer has a patent, a government sanctioned monopoly, on the chemical makeup of the drug, which makes it illegal for other manufacturers, at least in countries that recognize the patent, to make a product using that same chemical makeup. If a drug manufacturer wants to triple the price of their patented products, there’s nothing to stop them because no competition exists.

If you look at drugs that are no longer patented, there are usually several generic alternatives to the name brand drug. These generics have the same chemical makeup and therefore do the same thing but they usually cost a fraction of the cost of the name brand version. Once a generic is on the market the original manufacturer can either keep their prices absurdly high and lose a bunch of business or bring their prices down to a more reasonable level in an attempt to compete.

Unfortunately, so long as manufacturers can patent chemistry, they can set their prices as high as they want.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 20th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Facebook Demonstrates the Irrelevancy of Laws

without comments

Laws are irrelevant so I became curious about how companies would get around the European Union’s new privacy laws. Facebook announced its plan and it will likely be the blueprint other companies will follow:

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – If a new European law restricting what companies can do with people’s online data went into effect tomorrow, almost 1.9 billion Facebook Inc users around the world would be protected by it. The online social network is making changes that ensure the number will be much smaller.

[…]

Facebook members outside the United States and Canada, whether they know it or not, are currently governed by terms of service agreed with the company’s international headquarters in Ireland.

Next month, Facebook is planning to make that the case for only European users, meaning 1.5 billion members in Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin America will not fall under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which takes effect on May 25.

This move will make the new European Union regulations only apply to users living in the European Union. And fear not! After a few court cases have been fought over this law, Facebook’s lawyers will have judges’ interpretations of the law to work with, which will give them the wiggle room they need to make the law irrelevant to people living in the European Union as well.

Once again, if you want to defend your privacy against Facebook, you have to take matters into your own hands. No amount of legislation is going to protect you.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 20th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Set a Strong Password on Your Phone

without comments

My girlfriend and I had to take our cat to the emergency vet last night so I didn’t have an opportunity to prepare much material for today. However, I will leave you with a security tip. You should set a strong password on your phone:

How long is your iPhone PIN? If you still use one that’s only made by six numbers (or worse, four!), you may want to change that.

Cops all over the United States are racing to buy a new and relatively cheap technology called GrayKey to unlock iPhones. GrayShift, the company that develops it, promises to crack any iPhone, regardless of the passcode that’s on it. GrayKey is able to unlock some iPhones in two hours, or three days for phones with six digit passcodes, according to an anonymous source who provided security firm Malwarebytes with pictures of the cracking device and some information about how it works.

The article goes on to explain that you should use a password with lowercase and upper case letters, numbers, and symbols. Frankly, I think such advice is antiquated and prefer the advice given in this XKCD comic. You can create more bits of entropy if you have a longer password that is easier to remember. Instead of having something like “Sup3r53cretP@5sw0rd” you could have “garish-bethel-perry-best-finale.” The second is easier to remember and is actually longer. Moreover, you can increase your security by tacking on additional words. If you want a randomly generated password, you can use a Diceware program such as this one (which I used to generate the latter of the two passwords.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 19th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Justice in the United States

with one comment

When I discuss the justice system in the United States, I use the word justice with a heavy dose of sarcasm. Justice, at least in my book, implies that a wronged party has been compensated for the damages they suffered by the party that wronged them. Here in the United States justice tends to imply that a governmental body has been compensated for the damages suffered by another party:

T-Mobile USA has agreed to pay a $40 million fine after admitting that it failed to complete phone calls in rural areas and used “false ring tones” that created the appearance that the calls were going through and no one was picking up.

“To settle this matter, T-Mobile admits that it violated the Commission’s prohibition against the insertion of false ring tones and that it did not correct problems with delivery of calls to certain rural areas,” states an order issued by the Federal Communications Commission today.

T-Mobile will pay the $40 million fine into the US Treasury. FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn criticized the commission for not getting refunds for customers.

According to the Fascist Communications Club (FCC), T-Mobile wronged rural customers by inserting false ring tones on their lines and failing to correct issues that resulted in calls not being delivered. To punish T-Mobile the FCC fined it $40 million. However, that entire post is going to the FCC. The wrong parties, the rural individuals who had to deal with false ring tones and calls not being delivered, won’t receive a penny. T-Mobile isn’t even required to issue refunds.

This isn’t uncommon. Government regulators often accuse companies of harming individuals. The result of such accusations tends to be fines that are payable to the accusing agency while the parties that the accuser claimed were the actual wronged parties go without compensation. That doesn’t qualify as justice in my book. It’s just a scam for government busybodies to line their pockets while pretending to represent “the people.”

Written by Christopher Burg

April 18th, 2018 at 11:00 am

North and South Korea May Bury the Hatchet

with one comment

Although the Korean War “ended,” North and South Korea never declared an end to the war, which means that the war has now been going for 68 years. Fortunately, there are signs, albeit minor ones, that that could soon change:

North and South Korean officials are discussing an end to the military conflict that has existed between the two nations for the last 68 years, Bloomberg News reports.

An unnamed South Korean official told a local newspaper that a direct line between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could be established by the end of the week and that the two leaders may release a joint statement officially ending the conflict at a summit next week.

I’m not sure how the United States government will react to one of its forward operating bases burying the hatchet with one of its boogeymen but for everybody else this would be great news. Ending the war could open the border between the two countries, which could bring a great deal of trade. South Korean goods could filter into North Korea while North Korean labor, which already trickles into South Korea, could flow into South Korea in greater quantities. Both sides would be enriched by the market activity, which could allow North Korea to overcome its economic woes (such as struggling to feed its people) and ease the iron grip its government has over its people (which is partially justified by the state of war that continues to exist between the two countries).

Written by Christopher Burg

April 18th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Posted in Politics

Tagged with

One in Ten

without comments

I’m a fan of Roman historical memes, especially ones that are somewhat clever:

Written by Christopher Burg

April 18th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Posted in Humor

Tagged with ,

Backing the Thin Blue Line

without comments

Backing the thin blue line, at least in Minnesota, is an expensive proposition:

Over the past 11 years, at least $60.8 million has been paid out statewide to people who have made misconduct allegations, according to data compiled by the Star Tribune.

From 2007 to 2017, jurisdictions in Minnesota have made at least 933 payouts to citizens for alleged misconduct. And they’re on the rise. The average has grown from about 50 payouts per year to around 100.

It’s just a few bad apples though!

If so much money is spent on police misconduct, why hasn’t the government made efforts to restrain its law enforcers? I think history can illustrate the core problem here. Let’s rewind to Ancient Rome. Ancient Rome, like pretty much every regime throughout history, declared that individuals within its territory owed it taxes. Unlike the modern United States though, Ancient Rome had no government tax collectors. Instead it contracted the job out to publicani. Tax collection contracts required collectors to raise a specified amount of money to send to Rome. What made these contracts lucrative was that the collectors were allowed to keep any additional money that they raise for themselves. If, for example, a contract required collectors to collect 1 million sestertii and the collectors collected 1.5 million sestertii, they were allowed to keep the extra half million. As you can imagine, this system was rife with corruption. Tax collectors squeeze every sestertius they could from the population. While the populations being bleed would often complain to Rome, Rome was reluctant to restrain its primary revenue generators so the abuses continued.

The same holds true for modern governments. Law enforcers are a major revenue generator for governments. While $60.8 million may sound like a lot of money even spread out over 10 years, it’s certainly a paltry sum compared to the amount of revenue generated by Minnesota law enforcers in the same span of time. Until the amount being paid out for misconduct allegations exceeds the amount being generated by law enforcers, that status quo will continue.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 17th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Winning Hearts and Minds

without comments

I swear that the airliners are competing to provide the worst customer experience possible. United is still ahead in the competition since it likes to beat passengers and kill pets but Sun Country is working to catch up:

We understand that winter weather can wreak havoc on an airline, especially a small airline like Sun Country. On Saturday, Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) received a foot of snow, which closed the airport for most of the day. This, of course, resulted in a slew of cancelled flights, including some of Sun Country’s last flights of the year on a couple seasonal routes, including flights from Mazatlan (MZT) & San Jose del Cabo (SJD). Rather than trying to work out a solution for passengers, Sun Country simply refunded passengers and told them on Facebook to find an alternative way home.

Passengers will be have to book expensive last minute flights home on another airline, and they will be required to pay for any additional lodging expenses on their own. Based on our calculations, Sun Country has abandoned two flights or around 250 of their Minneapolis-bound passengers in Mexico.

Most airliners will work with passengers when weather causes their flights to be delayed or cancelled. The impacted passengers may be put up in a hotel at the airliner’s expense, shuffled onto flights with open seats, or even transferred to a plane operated by another airliner if no other alternative is available. Sun Country takes the tough love approach by telling its passengers that life isn’t fair so you have to suck it up and deal with it.

I flew Sun Country once. While the airliner didn’t strand me in Mexico, my experience was dreadful enough that I swore to never use it again. I’m guessing these customers aren’t going to be repeat customers either.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 17th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Posted in Wall of Fame Assholes

Tagged with

Oftentimes Dumb is Better

without comments

The philosophy modern hardware manufacturers seem to predominantly follow is that any product can be improved by putting a chip in it. While it may be convenient to have speakers that can wirelessly connect to you phone and stream music from it, there is a significant downside to such a convenience, near future obsolesce:

But more important to me, the Nocs app — which you need to configure to use Wi-Fi networking and update firmware — hasn’t been updated since October 2014, meaning that the iOS app doesn’t work at all anymore, since Nocs never updated it with a 64-bit version. (There’s apparently an Android app, but reviews indicate that it seems to crash more often than not, so that probably isn’t a great solution, either.)

This would all be less of a problem if I had another way to use the speakers, but since I don’t have the Bluetooth model, I’m stuck with either Airplay or a 3.5mm cable (which isn’t super convenient to access, since they’re on a bookshelf). Plus, Airplay itself as a standard is on its way out, so even if the NS2 pair that I have work without any problems, they’ll be obsolete and incompatible with the new wave of speakers that will be out whenever Apple decides to finally release Airplay 2.

In this case the author has the fortune of being able to fallback to a standard 3.5mm headphone jack but many “smart” devices don’t include legacy support.

Dumb devices tend to have a longer shelf life than their smart brethren. This is because dumb device tend to operate on standards that have been around for decades. Speakers that attach to receivers using two copper cables have been around for decades and will likely be around for decades to come. What makes dumb speakers even better is that they’re modular. If a smart speaker becomes obsolete, you have to replace the whole speaker. If the receiver you plug your dumb speakers into becomes obsolete, you can replace the receiver while keeping your bitchin’ speakers.

There are a lot of legitimate reasons to add a chip to old products but there is also a trade off. In many cases, at least in my opinion, dumb devices enjoy enough advantages in shelf life that they remain superior to their smart brethren.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 17th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Posted in Technology

Tagged with