A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for February, 2017

The Dumbest Thing You’ll Read All Day

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I don’t think there’s anything I can add to this to make it more ridiculous:

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday cautioned that a nuclear weapon could enter the U.S. under the cover of marijuana.

“We sometimes used to make the point that if someone wanted to smuggle a dangerous weapon into America, even a nuclear weapon, how would they do it?” he said on CNN. “The suggestion is, maybe we’ll hide it in a bale of marijuana. There are national security implications here for a porous border.

I guess smuggling nuclear warheads into the country on rockets was a bit expensive.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 24th, 2017 at 11:30 am

Be Careful In Legal Gray Areas

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There are a lot of vague laws. For example, if you own a computer numerical control (CNC) machine and use it to build a firearm you’re legally in the clear so long as you can legally possess the firearm where you live. However, if you let somebody else use the machine are you still in the clear? You can legally manufacturer your own firearm so long as you don’t transfer it but what constitutes manufacturing your own firearm? This is one of those legal gray areas that one should be careful about operating in:

According to investigators, Crowninshield, known online as “Dr. Death,” would sell unfinished AR-15 lower receivers, which customers would then pay for him to transform into fully machined lower receivers using a computer numerically controlled (CNC) mill. (In October 2014, Cody Wilson, of Austin, Texas, who has pioneered 3D-printed guns, began selling a CNC mill called “Ghost Gunner,” designed to work specifically on the AR-15 lower.)

“In order to create the pretext that the individual in such a scenario was building his or her own firearm, the skilled machinist would often have the individual press a button or put his or her hands on a piece of machinery so that the individual could claim that the individual, rather than the machinist, made the firearm,” the government claimed in its April 14 plea agreement.

CNC machines add a new twist to manufacturing. Instead of being required to learn how to use a series of tools a person can now download specifications, place a raw block of material in a machine, press a button, and grab a coffee while they wait for the machine to finish doing its thing. Crowninshield decided that if he had his customer press the button that started the milling process then they would legally be manufacturing the firearm. I agree with that interpretation but since he plead guilty we don’t know what the courts think of that interpretation.

The lesson this story teaches is that one needs to be careful when operating in legal gray areas. Although you’re at risk of being arrested and charged for anything you do, you’re at especially high risk when the law isn’t clear about whether your activity is legal or illegal.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 24th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Insurance. You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

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Some health insurance companies have started pilot programs where customers can receive a discount for wearing a fitness tracker and sharing the data with the company. This seems like a pretty straight forward idea. But according to Bloomberg it’s a sinister ploy:

Think about what that means for insurance. It’s meant to be a mechanism to pool risk — that is, to equalize the cost of protecting against unforeseen health problems. But once the big data departments of insurance companies have enough information — including about online purchases and habits — they can build a minute profile about each and every person’s current and future health. They can then steer “healthy” people to cheaper plans, while leaving people who have higher-risk profiles — often due to circumstances beyond their control — to pay increasingly unaffordable rates.

Whenever health insurance companies up I’m forced to explain what insurance is. I shouldn’t have to do this but nobody seems to know what it means.

Insurance is a way for multiple people to pool their resources for risk mitigation. Take home owner’s insurance for example. When you buy a home owner’s policy you’re donating some money to a common pool. Any paying customer can withdraw from the pool if they experience a situation, such as a house fire, that is covered by the insurance policy. Those with higher risks are more likely to withdraw from the pool so they pay a higher premium. Those with lower risks pay less.

Automobile insurance is the same way. Higher risk drivers; such as young males, people who have been found guilty of driving while intoxicated, people who have been found guilty of reckless driving, etc.; pay a higher premium because they’re more likely to withdraw from the community pool.

Most people accept that higher risk people should pay a higher premium for home owner’s or automobile insurance. But when they’re talking about health insurance they suddenly have a change of heart and think that higher risk people should pay the same as lower risk people. That makes no sense. Health insurance, like any other form of insurance, is pooled risk mitigation. If you live an unhealthy lifestyle you’re more likely to withdraw from the pool so you pay a higher premium. Oftentimes these risks are outside of your control, which sucks. However, if the pool empties, that is to say there are more withdrawals than deposits over a long enough period of time to completely drain the accounts, everybody loses their coverage. That being the case, higher risk people have to pay more to ensure the pool remains solvent even if the risks are outside of their control.

It’s not a sinister scheme, it’s exactly how insurance works.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 24th, 2017 at 10:30 am

If Everything Sucked as Much as Public Schools

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The Foundation for Economic Education posted an excellent article explaining how absurd it would be to run grocery stores like public schools. But the best piece of information in the article is this:

One often hears that education is too important to leave to the whims of the market. Yet food is even more important; it’s a prerequisite before education can be considered. In spite of this, the (relatively) free market in food seems to work quite well.

Consumers get a wide variety at a low cost. Even people that have niche dietary requirements like gluten-free or vegan have products suited to them. And while complaints about the quality of public education are rampant, one rarely hears objections about the quality of the grocery stores. In the latter case, people don’t have to complain; they just take their business to someone who will serve them better.

Education isn’t even possible if one doesn’t have enough food to survive. Yet public education is a sacred cow. If you criticize public education or, worse, advocate for its complete elimination you are going to hear a lot of people accusing you of hating children. However, if you don’t advocate for socializing grocery stores nobody cares. In fact, everybody seems to be fine with grocery stores remaining private.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that grocery stores in the United States are private. If they weren’t they’d operate like the grocery stores in the former Soviet Union or current ones in Venezuela. You’d have to wait in line for hours just to find out that the store doesn’t have anything you need in stock.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 24th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Without Government Who Would Protect the People

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When I discuss anarchism with statists they always have a litany of excuses to justify why they believe the violence of the State is necessary. Roads are a popular one but another popular excuse are the police. Statists always want to know who will provide protection in a stateless society. One characteristic of statists that always amuses me is their insistence that anarchists solve problems that their precious government haven’t managed to solve. So my usual response to the question of police is asking who provides protection now.

Let’s consider the security market. If the State’s police were doing an adequate job of providing protection one would expect that the security market would be pretty small. But the security market is booming. Homeowners have subscribed to security services such as alarm systems for decades now. Surveillance cameras have been around for decades as well. At first surveillance cameras were used in stores to deter and identify thieves but now the price of decent quality cameras is low enough that one can find them in homes. Other security products that are becoming popular are films that can be applied to windows to make breaking in by smashing through a windows very difficult. Door locks, padlocks, and other forms of access control have existed for ages. It’s not unusual for companies to hire private security guards. Some companies even hire armed security guards.

Even the personal defense market is booming. Self-defense classes are available in even modestly sized townships. The number of carry permits being issued has continued to increase because many people, such as myself, realize that the only effective form of self-defense is what you have on you. In addition to carry permits, handguns designed to be easy to carry have been selling very well because people realize that the State’s police will take minutes, if you’re lucky, to get to you.

The State hasn’t done an effective job of providing security, which is why the market has stepped in. In the absence of government the market will continue serving the exact same function it’s serving today.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 23rd, 2017 at 11:00 am

Without Government Who Would Punish the Victims

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Let’s say that you’re in an interracial marriage. Now let’s say a rather unpleasant individual spray painted a racial slur on your garage door. Under the circumstance you’d expect the government to step in to find the vandal and arrest them, right? What would you say if the government decided to fine you for the graffiti through?

The N-word was written on the couple’s garage door over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend, but so far, no one has been arrested for the crime.

Heather Lindsay, who is white, said they won’t scrub it off until authorities “do their job” and “not just cover it up and sweep it under the table as they have done in the past.”

The Stamford, Conn., officials have slapped the couple with a blight citation, which carries a $100 daily fine.

The first thing worth noting is the fact that Mrs. Lindsay feels the need to leave the graffiti up in order to motivate the police to do their supposed job. Unfortunately, police are generally disinterested in enforcing property crimes because the State doesn’t stand to rake in a ton of cash off of them. Second, what Mrs. Lindsay does with her own property should be her own business. If she wants to leave the graffiti up then she should be able to leave it up. Third, and this is the most important point in my opinion, Mrs. Lindsay shouldn’t be held responsible for removing the graffiti, the perpetrator should be.

Under any sane justice system the perpetrator is the only person required to right their wrong. Under statism the victim is just as likely to suffer as the perpetrator. This is especially true when the crime that was committed wasn’t one that is generally profitable to the State. I guess the State has to make its profit somewhere.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 23rd, 2017 at 10:30 am

Not All Anonymity is Created Equal

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Whenever I discuss secure communications I try to hammer home the difference between confidentiality and anonymity. Most popular secure communication services such as Signal and WhatsApp provide the former but not the latter. This means unauthorized users cannot read the communications but they can find out which parties are communicating.

Another thing I try to hammer home is that not all forms of anonymity are equal. Several services are claiming to offer anonymous communications. These services don’t claim to offer confidentiality, the posts are public, but they do claim to conceal your identity. However, they tend to use a loose definition of anonymity:

On Sunday, a North Carolina man named Garrett Grimsley made a public post on Whisper that sounded an awful lot like a threat. “Salam, some of you are alright,” the message read, “don’t go to [Raleigh suburb] Cary tomorrow.”

When one user asked for more information, Grimsley (who is white) responded with more Islamic terms. “For too long the the kuffar have spit in our faces and trampled our rights,” he wrote. “This cannot continue. I cannot speak of anything. Say your dua, sleep, and watch the news tomorrow.”

Within 24 hours, Grimsley was in jail. Tipped off by the user who responded, police ordered Whisper to hand over all IP addresses linked to the account. When the company complied, the IP address led them to Time Warner, Grimsley’s ISP, which then provided Grimsley’s address.

There’s a great deal of difference between anonymity as it pertains to other users and anonymity as it pertains to service providers. Whisper’s definition of anonymity is that users of the service can’t identify other users. Whisper itself can identify users. This is different than a Tor hidden service where the user can’t identify the service provider and the service provider can’t identify the user.

When you’re looking at communication services make sure you understand what is actually being offered before relying on it.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 23rd, 2017 at 10:00 am

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What Do You Own

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When you purchase a computer do you own it? What about your cell phone? Or your automobile? At one time the answer to these questions was an absolute yes. Today, not so much:

Cars, refrigerators, televisions, Barbie dolls. When people buy these everyday objects, they rarely give much thought to whether or not they own them. We pay for them, so we think of them as our property. And historically, with the exception of the occasional lease or rental, we owned our personal possessions. They were ours to use as we saw fit. They were free to be shared, resold, modified, or repaired. That expectation is a deeply held one. When manufacturers tried to leverage the DMCA to control how we used our printers and garage door openers, a big reason courts pushed back was that the effort was so unexpected, so out of step with our understanding of our relationship to the things we buy.

But in the decade or so that followed those first bumbling attempts, we’ve witnessed a subtler and more effective strategy for convincing people to cede control over everyday purchases. It relies less—or at least less obviously—on DRM and the threat of DMCA liability, and more on the appeal of new product features, and in particular those found in the smart devices that make up the so-called Internet of Things (IoT).

I’ve annoyed many electrons criticizing the concept of intellectual property. The idea that somebody has a government granted monopoly on something simply because they were the first to receive a patent is absurd in my opinion. But we live with much more absurd ideas today. Due to the way software copyright and patent laws work, if a company loads software onto a device they can effectively prevent anybody from owning it. At most a buyer can acquire a limited use license for those devices.

Combining software copyright and patent laws with the Internet of Things (IoT) just amplifies this. Now there are a bunch of devices on the market that rely on continuous Internet access to the manufacturers’ servers. If the manufacture decides to drop support for the product it stops working. This wouldn’t be as big of an issue if laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) didn’t make it illegal for you to hack the device and load your own software onto it that allowed it to continue working.

Right now we’re dealing with relatively cheap IoT devices. If your $99 Internet connected thermostat stops working it sucks but it’s not something that is so expensive that it can’t be replaced. But what happens when IoT comes to, say, automobiles? What happens when critical functions on an automobile cease to work because the manufacturer decides to drop support for one of the Internet connected components. Suddenly you’re not talking about throwing away a $99 device but a machine that cost you tens of thousands of dollars. Although this scenario might sound absurd to some I guarantee that it will happen at some point if software copyright and patent laws continue to be enforced as they have been.

The Only Solution is Prisons in Space

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What is a greater accomplishment, putting a man on the moon or building a prison? I would imagine that most of the people reading this would choose the former. In fact, I hope that most of the people reading this would consider the comparison absurd. But when you’re talking to a politician the two accomplishments are of equal importance:

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) pointed to one of man’s greatest scientific achievements as evidence that his state could build more prisons.

Noting that 2019 would mark the 50th anniversary of his state putting a man on the moon, Bentley argued that Alabama should be able to build more facilities.

“If Alabamians can put man on the moon, we can build new prisons,” Bentley said during his State of the State address on Tuesday. The Saturn V rocket, which propelled Apollo 11 to the moon in 1969, was built at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

When the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) put a man on the moon they first asked themselves what would be accomplished by doing so. Then they asked themselves whether a cheaper solution existed. Because NASA is a government agency the motivation was statist in nature, to show the world that American had a bigger dick than the Soviet Union. There wasn’t a cheaper option because putting a man on the moon was the only way to overcome the fact that the Soviet Union put the first satellite and man into space. No lesser endeavor would have done.

But Governor Bentley isn’t even smart enough to ask why more prisons are necessary or whether a cheaper solution exists. The reason more prisons are necessary is because politicians continue creating new laws that turn formerly law-abiding citizens into criminals. There are a lot of cheaper options for dealing with that problem. For example, the politicians could simply stop creating new crimes. Better yet, they could save the state some money by decriminalizing a bunch of currently criminal actions. Then they could commute the sentence of anybody currently rotting in a cage for committing one of those crimes. Instead the politicians continue creating new crimes so, of course, see the need to also create new prisons.

I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before Governor Bentley decides to combine the two ideas and demand that Alabama build prisons in space.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 22nd, 2017 at 10:30 am

The Future is Awesome

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People don’t appreciate how awesome the future we live in today really is. Compare the life you live with the life lived by some of history’s wealthiest people:

If you were a 1916 American billionaire you could, of course, afford prime real-estate. You could afford a home on 5th Avenue or one overlooking the Pacific Ocean or one on your own tropical island somewhere (or all three). But when you traveled from your Manhattan digs to your west-coast palace, it would take a few days, and if you made that trip during the summer months, you’d likely not have air-conditioning in your private railroad car.

And while you might have air-conditioning in your New York home, many of the friends’ homes that you visit — as well as restaurants and business offices that you frequent — were not air-conditioned. In the winter, many were also poorly heated by today’s standards.

To travel to Europe took you several days. To get to foreign lands beyond Europe took you even longer.

Might you want to deliver a package or letter overnight from New York City to someone in Los Angeles? Sorry. Impossible.
You could neither listen to radio (the first commercial radio broadcast occurred in 1920) nor watch television. You could, however, afford the state-of-the-art phonograph of the era. (It wasn’t stereo, though. And — I feel certain — even today’s vinylphiles would prefer listening to music played off of a modern compact disc to listening to music played off of a 1916 phonograph record.) Obviously, you could not download music.”

While I spend a lot of time complaining about horrors statism has wrought upon us, we do live better today than anybody did in any point of history thanks to the wonders of the market. And since technology is cumulative the rate of advancement is even more rapid, which means our lives are improving faster than the lives of people in the past. For example, in my fairly short lifetime home Internet access went from nonexistent to dial-up to fiber directly into the home. The computing power available in my phone wasn’t available to the consumer market for any price when I was young. Even simple toys, such as Nerf guns, improve a lot since my childhood. Kids today have electrically powered fully automatic Nerf guns, something young me could only dream of. Although various diseases such as cancer are still a scourge our chances of surviving it have increased significantly.

While there’s a lot of terrible things going on in this world don’t forget that our present is an overall great time to be alive.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 22nd, 2017 at 10:00 am