A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for September, 2017

None of Your Business

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California may be the second state to allow denizens to list “X” as their gender on government documents. I first heard about this when a self-described libertarian posted it in outrage. This particular libertarian is socially conservative so I can’t say that I was surprised that he was upset about this. However, I appreciate this change and believe many other libertarians should:

Libertarians—even those just fine with the gender binary and their place in it—should celebrate the change. It allows people more choice about how to define themselves in a way that is noncoercive and decreases government control.

Should D.C. ever give residents the option to essentially delist their sex/gender from their driver’s license, I would do it. (At least, you know, the next time my license is up for renewal or if there was some sort of online option; I’m not crazy enough to subject myself to the Department of Motor Vehicles any more than necessary.) And I would hope anarchist, libertarian, and limited-government-supporting types of any sex or gender might do the same.

There is no good reason the state, its representatives, and the countless people tasked with checking IDs for one reason or another need to know every individual’s gender or sex.

Even socially conservative libertarians should be able to appreciate the ability to opt out of having information printed on government documentation. There’s no reason why government documents should list a gender. Ideally there wouldn’t be any government documents but if there are going to be such documents then they should contain, at most, a unique identifier and maybe a picture (only because so many services want to see a picture ID). When you’re pulled over, for example, for driving faster than the arbitrarily selected limit, the officer doesn’t need to know anything about you. They only need a unique identifier to give the person in charge of mailing the extortion fee so they can look up where to send the ticket.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 29th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Judges and Science

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With all the talk about the importance of science you would think debunked forensic science would receive more coverage. Forensic science can literally be a life or death matter in some states for some crimes. Unfortunately, the courts are setup in such a way that the validity of forensic techniques is not determined by researchers in the field but by men in magic muumuus:

Giannelli, who served on President Barack Obama’s now-disbanded National Commission on Forensic Science, looks at how six forensic fields for which there is little to no supporting scientific research (or in some cases, that scientific research has discredited) — bite-mark comparison, arson, microscopic hair analysis, firearms and toolmark analysis, fingerprint analysis, comparative bullet-lead analysis. These fields vary in scientific credibility and probative value from little to none (bite-mark comparison and bullet-lead analysis) to possibly valuable, though the extent of which is still unproven (fingerprint analysis).

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But it’s quite a bit worse than that. The fact is, judges continue to allow practitioners of these other fields to testify even after the scientific community has discredited them, and even after DNA testing has exonerated people who were convicted, because practitioners from those fields told jurors that the defendant and only the defendant could have committed the crime. In the few fields where the courts have finally admitted that they got it wrong, for the most part there has been little effort to systematically review all of the cases that those mistakes may have affected. It has largely been left to defense attorneys and nonprofit legal groups to find those defendants and file claims on their behalf.

Of course, none of this should be surprising. We don’t ask judges to perform regression analyses. We don’t ask them to design sewer systems, hit fastballs or compose symphonies. We know they aren’t qualified to do any of those things. Judges are trained to perform legal analysis. No one goes to law school to become a scientist.

Judges should not be expected or even allowed to decide what types of forensic science are valid and what types are invalid. They lack the training and the background to determine such things. However, I’d hazard a guess that few in the legal system have any interest in putting qualified people in charge since that would likely reduce conviction rates and therefore cut into the State’s profits.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 29th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Communication Breakdown

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When you’re filming on location it’s wise to contact the local law enforcers to let them know. It’s also a smart idea to request an officer onsite during the filming. Why would I suggest voluntarily interacting with the police? Because, in the case of on location filming, it could avoid a situation like this:

Police in Indiana fired a gunshot at a man who they thought was a thief on Tuesday, but was actually just an actor playing one.

The incident occurred after Indiana State Police responded to the scene of a possible robbery at Backstep Brewing Co. in Crawfordsville, Indiana, according to Fox 8 Cleveland.

When actor Jim Duff exited the building, wearing a ski mask and holding a gun, police reportedly thought he was the suspect they were looking for.

My guess is that either the film crew didn’t alert the local law enforcers that they would be filming there or they did inform the local law enforcers but that information didn’t communicated down the chain. Having a local law enforcer present could have prevented this since when the other officers arrived at the scene a known individual could have informed them that the “robbery” was being shot for a movie.

There are no absolute rules in the universe. While I normally recommend against voluntarily interacting with law enforcers, there are circumstances where doing so may be the less bad option.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 29th, 2017 at 10:00 am

You Can’t Control Anything Outside of Yourself

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If I had a dollar for every time I heard a communist claim that real communism hasn’t been tried, I’d be sitting on a mega yacht in the middle of the ocean drinking scotch that is older than I am instead of sitting in front of my computer. But there is a lesson to be learned from communist countries and, really, everybody successful movement in history. Those who advocate for something generally have an idealistic view of it. Communists, for example, probably see a future where nobody is hungry, everybody has a home, and inequality is a thing of the past. It’s actually a pretty wonderful fantasy. Unfortunately, nobody can control things outside of themselves.

If you read the writings of many of the United States’ founders, you’ll realize that there was significant disagreement on many points. One faction, the smarter faction in my opinion, wanted a federal government that couldn’t even collect taxes whereas the other faction wanted a powerful federal government. While each founder had their view of an ideal country, none of them got everything they wanted.

The problem with movements of any kind is that your vision will never match the result. This is because you’re a cog in a great machine and as a cog you will have limited control. Even if you manage to attain a position of power within a movement, you can’t control how others execute your orders. You may be the Dear Leader of a great communist utopia and have the best intentions in mind but your underlings may be secretly building gulags and offing everybody who looked at them wrong in high school. You could be the founder of a new country with the intention of keeping the newly formed government as small as possible but your fellow revolutionaries may be putting together the foundation for a massive, tyrannical government behind your back.

I gave up on movements quite some time ago after realizing that the result will never match my vision. Instead I’m focusing on myself. I’m working to make myself freer, stronger, smarter, wealthier, and otherwise better. Unlike my time working in movements, I’ve actually had a great deal of success in pursuing my personal goals because I am in full control of all the actors that matter: me, myself, and I.

You can’t control the actions of others but you can control your own actions. Needless to say, if you want to actually accomplish something you have to do it yourself so you might as well do something that directly benefits you instead of something that you believe will benefit others (others, I might add, who you have no right to decide what is beneficial for).

Written by Christopher Burg

September 28th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Secession is Good for the Soul

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I’ve written about Catalonia’s strive for independence from Spain on several occasions. But Catalonia isn’t the only region trying to break away from a larger government. The Kurds in northern Iraq are also trying to break away from Iraq:

People living in northern Iraq voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence for the Kurdistan Region in Monday’s controversial referendum.

The electoral commission said 92% of the 3.3 million Kurds and non-Kurds who cast their ballots supported secession.

The announcement came despite a last-minute appeal for the result to be “cancelled” from Iraq’s prime minister.

As with every vote related to independence, this vote isn’t binding. But it does show the amount of support in northern Iraq for independence, which will hopefully give proponents for secession more motivation and hope.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 28th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Rejoice for Mozilla is Trying Again

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Some time ago I switched from Firefox to Chrome. While I far prefer Firefox in many regards, it’s performance had become so bad that I couldn’t realistically use the browser anymore (the entire browser would grind to a halt if, for example, I had Amazon open in a tab). At the time it seems like Mozilla’s only mission was to copy as much of Chrome’s user interface as possible but not bother with the important parts that make Chrome desirable.

It seems like the people at Mozilla finally realized that their strategy wasn’t a winning one because they finally put Mozilla Quantum in beta. I’m happy to say that the beta version of Firefox is fast. Damned fast. While shifting to a multiprocess in the current release of Firefox did help with performance, the changes made in Quantum have significantly boosted performance. On top of that, Mozilla has finally enabled U2F in Firefox’s nightly builds, which means we should see U2F support in the near future.

I’m glad to see that Mozilla is back in the game. While Chrome is a very good browser, I want to keep my Google footprint as small as possible because I don’t like its business model of surveilling users. I also don’t want to see a return to the dark days where one browser, at the time Internet Explorer, held an almost unshakeable monopoly.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 28th, 2017 at 10:00 am

I Disagree

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It’s no secret that the people living in the United States of America are becoming more polarized. People increasingly refuse to even entertain the possibility that their ideas may not be the only correct ideas. What makes this matter especially bad is that there appears to be an inverse correlation between polarization and disagreement. As a population becomes more polarized, it seems to become less willing to entertain disagreement:

To listen and understand; to question and disagree; to treat no proposition as sacred and no objection as impious; to be willing to entertain unpopular ideas and cultivate the habits of an open mind — this is what I was encouraged to do by my teachers at the University of Chicago.

It’s what used to be called a liberal education.

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That habit was no longer being exercised much 30 years ago. And if you’ve followed the news from American campuses in recent years, things have become a lot worse.

According to a new survey from the Brookings Institution, a plurality of college students today — fully 44 percent — do not believe the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects so-called “hate speech,” when of course it absolutely does. More shockingly, a narrow majority of students — 51 percent — think it is “acceptable” for a student group to shout down a speaker with whom they disagree. An astonishing 20 percent also agree that it’s acceptable to use violence to prevent a speaker from speaking.

These attitudes are being made plain nearly every week on one college campus or another.

Rhetoric and debate are being replaced by religious zeal. An increasing number of Americans appear to be holding their beliefs as infallible scripture. If you disagree with their beliefs, you are seen as a heretic and may find yourself excommunicated or even attacked.

Discussion and debate were once considered a cornerstone of education. You were expected to hold your beliefs because evidence had lead you to them and you were therefore also expected to be able to defend your beliefs from critics using the art of debate. In modern times you are expected to have faith in the beliefs dictated to you by your “betters.” Since people who hold beliefs because they were told to do so have not actually researched their beliefs thoroughly, many people today are unable to debate and thus resort to other tactics, which are sometimes violent.

Admittedly, part of me looks forward to the televised death matches that are the logical conclusion of this polarization. However, I’m already weary of every minor disagreement resulting in screaming matches or physical fights.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 27th, 2017 at 11:00 am

War is Good for Business

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War is good for business. At least if you’re on the waging side. It’s probably not so good for those on the invaded side. But who can bring themselves to care about them when we’re talking about numbers like this:

BOSTON, Sept. 26, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — Force modernization will be one of the primary factors underpinning growth in global defense spending, driven by unprecedented developments in autonomous systems, missile, space and cyber-electronic warfare, and other technologies. Strategy Analytics: The Strategy Analytics Advanced Defense Systems (ADS) service report, “Global Defense Spending Outlook 2016-2026,” forecasts the global defense budget will grow to $2.41 trillion in 2026, with the opportunities available to industry growing at a CAGR of 3.5% to reach $771 billion.

Force modernization, if it follows in the footsteps of the F-35, will involve a great deal of money. However, there will be little to show for that money. The F-35, for example, still has problems reliably delivering oxygen to pilots even though it has cost over $1 trillion. Imagine the same thing happening with other military equipment. If we look at the raw numbers alone, it’ll be amazing economic growth!

Unfortunately, all of the resources invested in “force modernization” cannot be allocated to productive uses like new manufacturing plants, office buildings, and research and development for new consumer products.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 27th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Cash is King

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I’m a rare bird amongst my friends because I always have some cash on hand. In this day of credit cards, Apple Pay, Bitcoin, and other forms of electronics payments, cash seems antiquated. However, when the power grid and Internet connectivity become unreliable, all of those forms of electronic payments cease to function:

In post-hurricane San Juan on Monday, commerce picked up ever so slightly. With a little effort, you could get the basics and sometimes more: diapers, medicine, or even a gourmet hamburger smothered in fried onions and Gorgonzola cheese.

But almost impossible to find was a place that accepted credit cards.

“Cash only,” said Abraham Lebron, the store manager standing guard at Supermax, a supermarket in San Juan’s Plaza de las Armas. He was in a well-policed area, but admitted feeling like a sitting duck with so many bills on hand. “The system is down, so we can’t process the cards. It’s tough, but one finds a way to make it work.”

The cash economy has reigned in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria decimated much of the U.S. commonwealth last week, leveling the power grid and wireless towers and transporting the island to a time before plastic existed. The state of affairs could carry on for weeks or longer in some remote parts of the commonwealth, and that means it could be impossible to trace revenue and enforce tax rules.

I believe that it’s important to always have a backup plan. While we enjoy mostly reliable power and Internet connectivity here in the United States, the infrastructure that provides those assets is only a natural disaster away from not functioning. Having cash on hand gives you an option if the infrastructure is damaged.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 27th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Selective Collectivism

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One of the most fascinating characteristics of collectivists is how they tended to individualize bad ingroup behavior and good outgroup behavior but collectivize good ingroup behavior and bad outgroup behavior.

Let’s use a supporter of the Democratic Party (party chosen at the flip of a coin) for an example.

If another member of the Democratic Party commits murder, our hypothetical supporter will likely be quick to point out that that murderer is a bad apple and not typical of democrats in general. If another member of the Democratic Party gives money to a homeless man, our hypothetical supporter will likely point out that that charitable individual is proof of the good acts of the Democratic Party.

If a member of the Republican Party commits murder, our hypothetical supporter will likely be quick to accuse the Republican Party of not doing enough to distance itself from the murderer and therefore everybody in that party is tacitly supporting the murderer. If a member of the Republican Party gives money to a homeless man, our hypothetical supporter will likely point out that that charitable individual is an exception and that the Republican Party in general hates the poor.

We see this everyday. How many Christians point out that the misdeeds of a handful of Christians aren’t representative of Christianity but then imply or outright claims that Islam is a religion of violence because a handful of Muslims commit violent acts? How many Americans continue to excuse the terrible acts of the country’s politicians as the acts of a few bad apples who aren’t representative of America as a whole but then collectivize all North Koreans because of the acts of the country’s leader?

Collectivists tend to be selective. They want all of the good credit for their side and all of the bad credit to the other side, which leads to a significant amount of philosophical inconsistency.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 26th, 2017 at 11:00 am