How Many of Your Ideas Are Your Ideas

How much of what you know is the product of rational thought and how much of what you know was programmed into you by others? This is a question that I have been tossing around for quite some time. There are many things that I have believed over the years that I eventually realized weren’t the product of rational thought but simply things somebody else told me.

This question is especially relevant when discussing political matters. Take the debate over government controlled healthcare for instance. Most people living in countries with state controlled healthcare believe that the only alternative is no healthcare whatsoever (unless you’re rich). Here in the United States the idea of government controlled healthcare is catching on more every day. But did most of the people arguing in favor of government controlled healthcare conclude that it was the best option after a great deal of research and thought or are they just parroting what they were programmed to parrot:

“The National Health Service is the closest thing the English have to a religion,” Margaret Thatcher’s Chancellor Nigel Lawson famously once observed. However, given the swivel-eyed fanaticism with which its supporters will defend it, even from the overwhelming evidence of its shortcomings, at this point it might be more accurate to describe the NHS as Britain’s national cult.

The utterly unparalleled degree of moral outrage which greets any criticism of the NHS bespeaks the decades of propaganda — in the state’s schools, from the state’s politicians, and on the state’s news and media outlets — which have taught the British people to believe that the only alternative to a state-controlled healthcare monopoly is for the poor to die in the streets. So pervasive has this myth become that the Labour party has been able to base its entire electoral strategy, for decades, on painting themselves as the only party that truly cares about ‘our NHS’, and a recent survey found that, when asked ‘What makes you proud to be British’, the NHS was the nation’s most common answer by a considerable margin. All this has led to a situation wherein the desperately needed reforms to Britain’s healthcare system cannot even be discussed, due to the irrational overflowing of blind rage and uncomprehending contempt that greets any criticism of Britain’s ultimate sacred cow.

More often than not, when I debate the topic of government controlled healthcare with a proponent their arguments don’t run very deep. They usually involve parroting the propaganda. If I bring up an angle that isn’t covered by the propaganda, the proponent usually falters because they don’t have a foundational understand of their belief. They haven’t really thought about it. They haven’t researched it. The knowledge was programmed into them by others and they mindlessly run with it.

I should note that I’m not making a criticism. Each and every one of us has a head full of programming. However, relying primarily on programming necessarily limits you. Case in point, the government controlled healthcare debate. A lot of data exists showing that government controlled healthcare isn’t the be all, end all that many of its supports claim it to be. If they’ve actually taken some time and put some thought into their belief then they might be able to rebut that data. Most supporters though are unable to provide a meaningful rebuttal because they don’t really understand the issue since they’ve given it little or no thought.

We see the same thing with a lot of religious individuals as well. Most people inherit their religious beliefs from their parents (i.e. their parents programmed that belief into them). How many Christians do you know who seem to know next to nothing about Christianity? I know quite a few. Hell, I was raised Catholic and can say that most of the people who attended the same church as I did knew next to nothing about Catholicism (even my Sunday school teachers, all of who were volunteer parents, knew very little). These people never gave their belief the same careful thought as Thomas Aquinas.

From the standpoint of individualism this question takes a more interesting turn. If you consider yourself an individualist, wouldn’t it make more sense for you to act on the knowledge you’ve acquired over rational though rather than the information programmed into you by others? One thing that I’ve become better at and am constantly working to improve is analyzing my beliefs to determine whether or not they are beliefs that I’ve actually come to due to rational thought or were programmed into me. The best way I’ve found to determine which of the two categories a belief belongs to is to analyze the opposite position in depth. If you understand the arguments against your belief and can make counterarguments that support your belief then you have necessarily given at least some rational thought to the belief. Maybe you decided that your belief was incorrect or maybe you were able to come up with counterarguments against the criticisms of your belief. Either way, you’ve at least given your belief some rational thought and can therefore say it is, at least in part, yours by your own volition.

I believe that an important part of becoming a self-actualized individual is constantly analyzing your beliefs and trying to learn about other beliefs. I won’t claim that rational thought will inevitably lead one to my conclusions. In fact, your conclusions will almost certainly differ from mine to some degree. However, by analyzing your beliefs and other beliefs you can say that you believe what you do because of your actions, not somebody else’s.

When Smart Guns Aren’t Very Smart

Many gun control advocates believe that access control technology should be mandatory on every firearm. The fact that reliable access control technology doesn’t exist is actually part of their strategy since it would act as a de facto gun prohibition. However, the technology does current exist in an unreliable form, which I would argue is as useless as not having access control technology at all:

At the Defcon hacker conference later this week, a hacker who goes by the pseudonym Plore plans to show off a series of critical vulnerabilities he found in the Armatix IP1, a smart gun whose German manufacturer Armatix has claimed its electronic security measures will “usher in a new era of gun safety.” Plore discovered, and demonstrated to WIRED at a remote Colorado firing range, that he could hack the gun with a disturbing variety of techniques, all captured in the video above.


But Plore showed that he can extend the range of the watch’s radio signal, allowing anyone to fire the gun when it’s more than ten feet away. He can jam the gun’s radio signals to prevent its owner from firing it—even when the watch is inches away and connected. And most disturbingly, he can mechanically disable the gun’s locking mechanism by placing some cheap magnets alongside its barrel, firing the gun at will even when the watch is completely absent.

What good is access control technology if it can be easily used to prevent authorized users from using it and fail to prevent unauthorized users from using it?

As I said above, supporters of mandatory firearm access control technology know that the technology currently doesn’t exist in a reliable form and likely won’t for a very long time. To them it’s just a way to prohibit gun ownership. But there is also legitimate interest in the technology and, unfortunately, it will likely go unfulfilled because of several factors.

The first factor is size. A firearm, especially a handgun, doesn’t offer a lot of room to add reliable access control mechanisms. The second factor is how a firearm operates. A firearm has to contain a small explosion to propel a piece of lead out of a barrel. On modern firearms the firearm then has to have a way to reliably remove the brass casing that held the explosive material and bullet. Reliably removing the brass casing on a semi-automatic firearm usually requires a pretty violent mechanism. So you have a device that is designed around contained explosions and often violent operating mechanisms. It’s not an environment that’s conducive to finicky and fragile parts, which mechanical access control technology, especially of the form that can fit into a firearm, generally involves. The third factor is legal. New Jersey, for example, has a law that will mandate access control technology on all firearms as soon as one firearm is released to market with it. Firearm manufacturers aren’t in a hurry to kick that requirement into play because it would upset their customer base (while access control technology may be desirable by some it’s not desirable by all).

I’m glad Plore demonstrated how ineffective the Armatix gun’s access control mechanism is. There are few things I hate more than unreliable or falsely advertised features on devices. If a gun advertises itself as having access control technology then I want it to work reliably. The Armatix solution obviously doesn’t work reliably and buyers should be aware of that so they can give their money to somebody else.

The Changing Gun Owner Demographic

I, unlike some gun owners, actually believe that gun ownership is a right that should be exercisable by everybody, which is why I was happy to read this story:

Up to 59 percent of African-American households now view owning a gun as a “necessity,” according to a recent study from the Pew Research Center released this month, and African-American women have outpaced all other races and genders in terms of securing concealed carry permits in Texas between 2000 and 2016, according to demographic information released by the state. It wasn’t always this way — as recently as 2012, Pew had found that less than a third of black families saw gun ownership as a positive. Philip Smith, the founder of the National African American Gun Association, says that politics — and police shootings such as the recent slaying of Philando Castile — have caused the sudden upswing in gun ownership. And, in his opinion, owning a gun is perhaps the only way that African-American men and women can truly protect themselves.

Unless one is willing to ignore a lot of data, it’s difficult to claim that law enforcers here in the United States aren’t disproportionately targeting blacks (both for arrests and summary executions). Likewise, it’s difficult to argue that racists aren’t acting more boldly. Those two points should make any black individual consider owning a firearm.

Laws are an ineffective way of dealing with violent crime. But the cost of committing violent crime, by both governmental and non-governmental criminals, can be increased, which is a far more effective deterrent than words on a piece of paper. Minority groups are generally targeted because they’re at a significant disadvantage compared to their aggressors. Blacks in the United States are a minority population and therefore are seen as an easy target by some. The Black Panthers knew this and armed themselves to make themselves a costlier target to aggress against. Anybody who is in a minority population today; whether it be due to their skin color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or sexual identity; should consider making themselves harder targets by arming themselves to dissuade aggressors. While a law won’t protect you and a police officer may kill you, a firearm will do what you will it to do and is therefore the best defense one can have against aggression.

You Have Only the Rights You Take

I’m going to start this post off with a clip of George Carlin:

You have no fucking rights. Whenever I say this somebody inevitably gets upset and tries to rebut my statement by listing off a bunch of rights that they think they have. Libertarians are probably the worst offenders but followers of most political philosophies generally have a list of what rights they believe they have.

As George Carlin said, rights aren’t rights if somebody can take them away. Let’s consider the right to property. It’s probably libertarianism’s most fundamental rights. But nobody in the United States has a right to property. At best a person living in this country can enjoy the privilege of renting property. The privilege is revoked if the renter fails to pay their rent, which is often referred to by the euphemism “property tax.” The privilege is also revoked, as is the privilege to any property, if a law enforcer claims that the property might be related to a drug crime (Isn’t civil asset forfeiture great?). And let us not forget the fact that the privilege can also be revoked if the landlord decides the property would be better off in somebody else’s hands (This is usually referred to by the euphemism “eminent domain.”).

So we can just cross the right to private property off of the list. At least have have a right to live, right? Again, at best, you have a privilege to live that can be revoked at any time. Justine Ruszczyk privilege to live was revoked by Officer Noor. Your privilege can live can be revoked at any time by a law enforcer and if it is the enforcer’s employer will retroactively justify that revocation.

You don’t even have a right to associate or disassociate with whoever you choose. If you believe you do, try disassociating with a law enforcer during a traffic stop sometime. I’m just kidding, don’t do that because your privilege to live will likely be revoked. But I think you understand my point. There is a list of individuals and organizations you are required to associate with and another list, probably just as long, of individuals and organizations you are not allowed to associate with.

If you have no right to property, life, or voluntary association then what rights can you say you have? None whatsoever. Unless, of course, you can take them.

There are people who have managed to protect their property from being seized through civil asset forfeiture and eminent domain. People have also been successful at defending their lives when law enforcers attempted to revoke their privilege to live. And there are people who manage to disassociate themselves with unsavory characters as well as associate themselves with individuals and organizations they are prohibited from associating with. How did they managed to protect their privilege to property, life, and voluntary association? How did they turn a privilege that was about to be revoked into a right? By defending their rights. This brings us to the point of this post, you have only the rights you take.

How you take your rights is irrelevant. If you are able to take your rights by pleading with the State’s courts, by defending yourself against law enforcers, by convincing others to respect them through rational discourse, or by leaving the territory controlled by the individual(s) or organizations attempting to force you to associate with them, the result is the same. They lose. You win. They fail to take your rights. You succeed in taking your rights.

Those who rely on anything other than their personal ability to guarantee their rights have no rights. No philosophical axioms, constitutional amendments, or higher deities can grant you rights. The only thing that can grant you rights is yourself and, as much as it sucks to read, you won’t always be successful.

Cranking Down the Screws a Little More

Flying is already a miserable experience. Airplanes are designed to cram people in like sardines, the food offered on most flights is subpar (a tiny bag of pretzels, peanuts, or cookies isn’t exactly a gourmet meal), and getting through security is a nightmare. Unfortunately, getting through security is going to become a little worse:

Travelers must remove electronics larger than a mobile phone from their carry-on bags and “place them in a bin with nothing on top or below, similar to how laptops have been screened for years. This simple step helps TSA officers obtain a clearer X-ray image,” the TSA announced amid growing fears that electronic devices can pose as homemade bombs.

“Whether you’re flying to, from, or within the United States, TSA is committed to raising the baseline for aviation security by strengthening the overall security of our commercial aviation network to keep flying as a safe option for everyone,” TSA Acting Administrator Huban A. Gowadia said. “It is critical for TSA to constantly enhance and adjust security screening procedures to stay ahead of evolving threats and keep passengers safe. By separating personal electronic items such as laptops, tablets, e-readers and handheld game consoles for screening, TSA officers can more closely focus on resolving alarms and stopping terror threats.”

The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) slogan should be we’re not happy until you’re not happy. Since it was established in 2001, the TSA has failed to find a single terrorist. The only credit to the agency’s name is its ability to detect water bottles. But that hasn’t stopped the agency from continuously tightening the screws. Flying today usually requires you to choose between going through their slave scanners or being sexually assaulted (and oftentimes both) just to get on the goddamn airplane. Now you’ll also have to waste your time sorting your electronics into separate bins, which will increase security line wait times and lead to an even more miserable experience for no reason whatsoever. Unless, of course, you pay the TSA an extortion fee:

But the new rules don’t apply to everybody. The TSA was quick to point out that the revised security measures do not apply to passengers enrolled in the TSA Precheck program.

By this time next year I wouldn’t be surprised if the TSA requires passengers to unlock their devices so they can be search by crack agents with a lukewarm IQ (unless you paid your extortion fee to enroll in Precheck).

Another Summary Execution

It’s a day ending in “y” so that must mean that a law enforcer in the United States murdered somebody. Oh, and will you look at that, one did! However, this story has a twist. The officers involved were heading to serve a warrant but ended up at the wrong address and, I guess, decided to eliminate all witnesses to their mistake:

One officer fired shots at the pit bull that hurtled out of the mobile home in Southaven, Miss., police said. The other officer fired at the person pointing a gun from behind the cracked front door.

They had been trying to serve an arrest warrant in an aggravated assault case at a mobile home in the neighborhood before the sudden explosion of gunfire Sunday night. When they surveyed the aftermath, they made a heart-dropping discovery: They were at the wrong home.

Ismael Lopez likely never knew why officers were at his door — or even that they were officers.

I already know that the cop apologists are going to blame the victim for having a gun (it’s funny how so many cop apologists simultaneously claim that gun ownership is a right and that possession of a gun is a valid reason for a cop to execute somebody) but the real takeaway from this story is that a man is dead because some idiot law enforcers couldn’t be bothered to verify an address. And this isn’t anything new. There are numerous documented cases of police officers performing no-knock raids at wrong addresses. As far as I know, none of those cases resulted in any officers receiving any meaningful reprimand and I doubt this case will either. Hell, we already know how the officers actions will be justified in this case, the man had a gun so the officers were well within their rights to murder him. Never mind the fact that that excuse wouldn’t work if your or I decided to barge into an innocent person’s house unannounced.

Retroactive Justice

After Castile was murdered the State went through his and his girlfriend’s social media records with a find toothed comb. Ultimately, as we learned during the Yanez trial, the defense wanted information to use to assassinate the characters of Castile and his girlfriend during the trial. This was a form of retroactive justice. The crime, the shooting of Castile, was justified by going through the victim’s history to find dirt to use against him. Although the murderer had know way of knowing any of the discovered information at the time of the crime it still allowed his defense to poison the well so to speak.

History may not repeat itself but it does rhyme. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension was granted permission to search the home of Justine Ruszczyk, the woman murdered by Officer Noor:

Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) investigators were granted permission to search Justine Damond’s home hours after she was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer, according to court records.

A criminal law expert can’t understand why.

“I don’t understand why they’re looking for bodily fluids inside her home,” said Joseph Daly, an emeritus professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, referring to one of two recently-released search warrant applications.


According to court documents, investigators applied for the warrant on the following grounds:

  • The property or things above-described was used as a means of committing a crime
  • The possession of the property or things above-described constitutes a crime.
  • The property or things above-described is in the possession of a person with intent to use such property as a means of committing a crime, or the property or things so intended to be used are in the possession of another to whom they have been delivered for the purpose of concealing them or preventing their being discovered.
  • The property or things above-described constitutes evidence which tends to show a crime has been committed, or tends to show that a particular person has committed a crime.

Professor Mitchell doesn’t understand what the BCA is looking for because he’s look at the warrant through the lens of justice, not he lens of retroactively justifying a murder. The search warrant was issued in the hopes of finding dirt on Justine. With dirt in hand Officer Noor’s actions can either be written off as justified outright or, if the case goes to trial, justified to a jury by assassinating the character of Justine and anybody connected to her.

Actions like this will continue to widen the rift that already exists between the public and law enforcers. Unfortunately, I see no signs that law enforcers or their employers care. If they cared about such things, they would have taken steps to reprimand the bad actors in their departments early on. Instead they’ve either stood aside or directly assisted in shielding those bad actors from consequences. With this being the situation I feel justified in saying that The United States is already beyond the point where law enforcement can be reformed.

The Death of a Scoundrel

I was extremely happy when all of the major browsers started dropping supported for the Netscape Plugin Application Programming Interface (NPAPI). NPAIP, for those who don’t know, is the plugin architecture that allows things like Java applets and Flash to run in your browser. With support for NPAPI going away Java applets have been effectively killed off and Flash has been relegated to a very restricted plugin included with the browser. Due to this wonderful change Oracle announced that support for Java applets was going away and now Adobe is joining Oracle and announcing that Flash will be killed in 2020:

Given this progress, and in collaboration with several of our technology partners – including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla – Adobe is planning to end-of-life Flash. Specifically, we will stop updating and distributing the Flash Player at the end of 2020 and encourage content creators to migrate any existing Flash content to these new open formats.

I want to give Apple its due credit here. When Apple announced that Flash wouldn’t be supported on Mobile Safari most people were up in arms. Flash, at the time, was still frequently used by web developers. However, the lack of Flash didn’t hurt the popularity of the iPhone or iPad. The devices actually sold so well that web developers were forced to replace their Flash applications with HTML5 applications. In the end Apple played a major part in killing a major security nightmare.

Although Adobe has promised to improve Flash’s security and, to its credit, has improved its security to a point, the Flash Player still continues to be a security nightmare. Microsoft, Mozilla, and Google applied a bandage to the problem by including a sandboxed version of Flash with their browsers (In Microsoft’s case, with the Edge browser. Internet Explorer still relies on the NPAPI as far as I know). But the bandage was meant to be temporary and now Adobe has given us an execution date. While I wish the execution date was closer I’m just happy to know that there is an execution date now.