A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for April, 2018

Monday Metal: Alive For Evermore by Crystal Ball

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Written by Christopher Burg

April 30th, 2018 at 10:00 am

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Being Inquisitive Versus Believing

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William Blackstone expressed the popular idea that, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” Although the concept that accused parties are innocent until proven guilty existed before Blackstone’s formulation, it describes the foundation upon which the concept was built. Innocent people should never have to suffer for a crime they did not commit even if the rigorous criteria that ensure that allows some guilty people to escape punishment.

This is a concept in which I strongly believe, which is why arguments like this make me uneasy:

The mask slips yet again. When challenged to defend flyers posted around an Oregon campus that warn of a widespread sexual assault problem, a college official said the following: “Believing survivors means let’s sit down and understand each other’s experience. Let’s believe what that person said, he or she has experienced, that we have experienced. It may not be the truth, as has been determined, but it is that person’s truth and what they were going through.”

When I express my agreement with William Blackstone, I’m often accused of also necessarily saying that victims of sexual assault shouldn’t be believed. After all, if you believe that accused parties are innocent until proven guilty, you necessarily believe that anybody who accused another of wrongdoing is lying unless they can prove otherwise, right? Not quite.

I think the biggest problem with arguments about whether individuals who accuse others of wrongdoing should be believed is the use of the word “believe.” I’m of the opinion that if one individual accuses another of sexual assault, outsiders shouldn’t automatically believe the accuser nor should they automatically believe that the accuser is lying. Instead outsiders should be inquisitive. They should want to pursue an investigation so that the truth may be discovered.

Far too often people claim that an individual who accuses another of sexual assault should be automatically believed. On the opposite side of the spectrum is the automatic assumption that an individual making such an accusation is lying in order to bring harm to the accused. Neither attitude is productive because both attitudes establish judgements without investigation. It would be akin to a scientist, upon making an observation, concocting a theory to explain that observation and declaring that theory as fact without testing their theory through experimentation to determine whether it’s plausible or incorrect.

Being inquisitive when an individual accuses another of wrongdoing guards against punishing the accused if it turns out they didn’t wrong the accuser while also allowing the accuser to be punished if it turns out that they did wrong the accuser.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 27th, 2018 at 11:00 am

It’s Not Your Phone, Pleb

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The Fourth Amendment is often cited whenever a legal issue involving privacy arises. While I recognize that the “rights” listed in the Bill of Rights are actually temporary privileges that are revoked the second they become inconvenient to the government, I think that it’s worth taking a look at the language:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

What’s noteworthy in regards to this post is the fact that nowhere does the Fourth Amendment state that measures have to be taken to make information easily accessible to the government once a warrant is issued. This omission is noteworthy because a lot of the political debates revolving around computer security are argued as if the Fourth Amendment contains or implies such language:

Dubbed “Clear,” Ozzie’s idea was first detailed Wednesday in an article published in Wired and described in general terms last month.

[…]

  1. Apple and other manufacturers would generate a cryptographic keypair and would install the public key on every device and keep the private key in the same type of ultra-secure storage vault it uses to safeguard code-signing keys.
  2. The public key on the phone would be used to encrypt the PIN users set to unlock their devices. This encrypted PIN would then be stored on the device.
  3. In cases where “exceptional access” is justified, law enforcement officials would first obtain a search warrant that would allow them to place a device they have physical access over into some sort of recovery mode. This mode would (a) display the encrypted PIN and (b) effectively brick the phone in a way that would permanently prevent it from being used further or from data on it being erased.
  4. Law enforcement officials would send the encrypted PIN to the manufacturer. Once the manufacturer is certain the warrant is valid, it would use the private key stored in its secure vault to decrypt the PIN and provide it to the law enforcement officials.

This proposal, like all key escrow proposals, is based on the idea that law enforcers have some inherent right to easily access your data after a warrant is issued. This idea also implies that your phone is actually the property of the various bodies of government that exist in the United States and they are therefore able to dictate in what ways you may use it.

If we are to operate under the assumption that law enforcers have a right to easily access your data once a warrant is issued, we must necessarily admit that the “rights” outlines in the Fourth Amendment doesn’t exist since the language offers no such right to law enforcers.

The Leaders of North and South Korea Actually Talked

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We witnessed a historic moment yesterday. For the first time since 1953 a leader from one Korea crossed the demilitarized zone to the other Korea:

The leaders of North and South Korea have agreed to work to rid the peninsula of nuclear weapons after holding a historic summit.

The announcement was made by the North’s Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in of South Korea after talks at the border.

The two also agreed to push towards turning the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953 into a peace treaty this year.

This is great news. I’m actually surprised that Kim Jong-un is even discussing denuclearization since his nuclear weaponry is likely the only thing that has dissuaded the United States from invading his country. But then this agreement could act as similar agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union did. While both sides paid lip service to denuclearization, neither actually denuclearized. However, the talks about denuclearization opened a dialogue between the two countries, which helped greatly ease tensions.

Perhaps both North and South Korea are interested in denuclearization, perhaps not. But the mere willingness to discuss the matter will likely ease tensions between the two nations enough to allow for further progress on the road to peaceful coexistence.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 27th, 2018 at 10:00 am

You Child Is the Property of the State

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Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four took place in London, which was part of the great police state of Oceania. It is only fitting then that the real Britain has turned into an Orwellian state.

The latest horror story to come from that island is the one of Alfie Evans. Alfie is suffering from a condition that has put him on life support. The doctors treating him have said that his situation cannot be cured and have therefore decided to pull the plug on his life support. When it was announced that Alfie’s life support would be pulled, the Vatican stepped in and offered to care for the boy. In order to make the process of transferring the child smoother, the Italian government granted him citizenship. This situation seems pretty straight forward. Britain doesn’t have to front any additional costs for treating the boy and doctors willing to try to treat the boy can do so. Win-win, right? Wrong. The doctors in Britain are not only unwilling to treat Alfie but they have decreed that Alfie must die and the courts have backed their call:

Pope Francis has been praying for the British toddler Alfie Evans — and the Italian government has granted the child Italian citizenship and lined up a transportation plan that could swiftly bring the sick little boy to a Vatican hospital.

But Alfie’s doctors say he cannot be healed and shouldn’t make the trip at all.

On Tuesday, a British judge sided with the doctors, saying that the family cannot accept the offer to take Alfie to the Vatican for treatment. An appeals court swiftly re-heard the case and upheld the previous day’s ruling, saying on Wednesday that Alfie cannot leave the country.

This is the point where Alfie’s parents would be entirely justified in taking up arms, storming the hospital, and liberating their child. I’m not the only person to express a belief that the use of force is justified in this situation, which has resulted in the local police department issuing an Orwellian statement:

We’ve issued the following statement following reports of social media posts being made in relation to Alder Hey Hospital and the ongoing situation with Alfie Evans:

Chief Inspector Chris Gibson said: “Merseyside Police has been made aware of a number of social media posts which have been made with reference to Alder Hey Hospital and the ongoing situation involving Alfie Evans.

“I would like to make people aware that these posts are being monitored and remind social media users that any offences including malicious communications and threatening behaviour will be investigated and where necessary will be acted upon.”

In other words, shut up, slaves.

The doctors have decreed that Alfie must die, the courts have backed the doctors, and now the law enforcers are backing the doctors and the courts. What this means is that the government, in no uncertain terms, has claimed ownership over the child. The “rights” of the parents have been declared irrelevant. This precedent should scare the shit out of every parent in Britain.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 26th, 2018 at 11:00 am

You Get a Job! You Get a Job! You Get a Job!

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Bernie Sanders seems to think that he’s still relevant even though his party during the last presidential nomination process actively conspired against (which isn’t to say he would have gotten the nomination if his party didn’t conspire against him). His latest announcement is a plan to guarantee every American a job:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will announce a plan for the federal government to guarantee a job paying $15 an hour and health-care benefits to every American worker “who wants or needs one,” embracing the kind of large-scale government works project that Democrats have shied away from in recent decades.

Somebody has to build and staff the gulags! Of course this is Bernie Sanders we’re talking about so…

A representative from Sanders’s office said they had not yet done a cost estimate for the plan or decided how it would be funded, saying they were still crafting the proposal.

Why am I not surprised?

Make-work programs sound like a good idea on paper… to the economically illiterate. The problem is that they operate outside of the market, which means there is no feedback mechanism that indicates whether the work is in demand or not. Instead they are decreed by whatever politicians crafted the plan. That usually translates into those politicians’ cronies receiving labor subsidized by tax payers in order to cut their costs. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sanders’ plan resulted in Lockheed’s next manufacturing plant being built by government subsidized labor. Sure, that may not be his intention but once the program exists his intentions will be irrelevant, only the intentions of those who control the program will matter.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 26th, 2018 at 10:30 am

The Shit Show of Shit Shows

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Yesterday it was announced that Officer Noor is pleading not guilty to the charges against him:

The former Minneapolis police officer charged in the fatal shooting of Justine Damond last July plans to plead not guilty, using self-defense and reasonable force as a defense during trial, according to court documents.

I’m very curious to see what evidence will be presented by Noor’s defense to support their claim that he was acting in self-defense and used reasonable force. However, the courts tend to side heavily with law enforcers so I wouldn’t be surprised if he beats the charges even with the flimsiest of evidence.

What I do know is that this case is going to be a shit show.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 26th, 2018 at 10:00 am

There Is No Winning with Community Rules

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Facebook has had a rough year. As a service with over two billion active users, it has been receiving a constant stream of mutually exclusive demands. Unfortunately, there is no way to please everybody when they want mutually exclusive things. For example, a lot of Facebook’s users want the service to be a place that upholds the ideals of free speech while a lot of its other users want the service to regulate various forms of speech.

Facebook responded to these demands by enforcing “community standards.” However, its enforcement of these “community standards” have seemed arbitrary because they’ve never actually been published. But the age of being punished for violating a secret set of rules is over. Facebook has finally publishing its community standards:

Facebook has released a lengthy 22-point document that explains more fully what its “community standards” are—in short, what is and isn’t allowed on the platform.

Now that the age of being punished for violating a secret set of rules is over, the age of having to interpret the published rules can being!

There is no winning condition when it comes to community rules. If you enforce a secret set of rules, your users become upset because they feel arbitrarily punished. If you enforce a public set of rules, your users still become upset because they feel arbitrarily punished whenever their interpretation of the rules differs from an enforcer’s interpretation.

Anybody who has had the task of enforcing rules in a community knows that the devil is in the details. A rule that states, “racism is prohibited,” may seem straight forward but it’s not. Race isn’t a concrete idea. Americans generally tie race to external appearances. Judaism, for example, wouldn’t normally be considered a race by American standards. However, Judaism is considered a race by Nazism. If somebody posts something anti-Semitic, does the rule against racism apply? If you decide it does and ban the user, they will likely argue that the rule doesn’t apply because Judaism isn’t a race, it’s a religion. Simple enough, just create a rule against religious discrimination, right? Discrimination, like race, also lacks a concrete definition. For example, if I call Christianity barbaric because most sects of Christianity oppose same-sex marriage, am I being discriminatory? Some may interpret my statement as discriminatory, others may interpret my statement to be a valid criticism.

There is no way to satisfy 2.2 billion users. For most communities, being unable to satisfy everybody usually leads to a healthy split. For a service like Facebook that relies on having billions of users to make itself appealing to advertisement buyers, a community split is dangerous. However, it is also unavoidable because there is literally no way to win.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 25th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Safety First

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Although I have nothing even as insignificant as statistics to support this, I don’t think that it’s outside the realm of possibility that a correlation exists between ease of life and risk. There appears to be a tendency for people with easier lives have less risk tolerance. By and large the average person in the United States is well off compared to the average person in many other regions of the world. The average person in the United States also seems to have become more risk adverse and that aversion seems to be spreading to the point of absurdity:

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — A near-century-old outdoor recreation club will now refrain from going outside because it is too dangerous out in the wilderness, according to officials at Penn State University.

The Penn State Outing Club, originally founded in 1920, announced last week that the university will no longer allow the club to organize outdoor, student-led trips starting next semester. The hiking, camping and other outdoors-focused activities the student-led club has long engaged in are too risky, the university’s offices of Student Affairs and Risk Management determined.

When I first read the headline I assumed that the Penn State Outing Club was partaking in firearm-related activities and that this decision was really a move to punish gun enthusiast. After all, it struck me as absurd that a university would ban one of its organizations from partaking in mundane outdoor activities like hiking and camping. Then I read the article. Now I realize that the United States really has reached where things I think are too absurd to be reality and, in fact, reality.

Unfortunately, risk aversion is contrary to reality, which is extremely risky. You certainly can be injured while hiking or camping but you can also be injured walking around town. At any moment you could be hit by a car, you could trip over a broken piece of sidewalk, or you could be bitten by a stray dog. This isn’t even beginning to touch on the “background radiation” risks like the increased pollution of cities that leads to numerous health issues in the long run. Hell, you might just have the bad luck of being killed by a meteorite.

Different people are going to have different levels of risk tolerance. If you are entirely intolerance or risk, you are going to have a tough time living in this universe that is constantly trying to kill you.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 25th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Oftentimes It’s Impossible to Determine Who Is Right

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When two parties have a disagreement and provide opposing explanations for the disagreement, how do you determine which is giving an accurate explanation and which is giving an inaccurate explanation? If you’re watching the situation from the outside, you often can’t. However, that doesn’t stop individuals from reacting. A good example of this is the recent spat between the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Yeti:

The stunt followed a letter to NRA members sent by the NRA Institute for Legislative Action announcing that Yeti had severed ties with the NRA Foundation, following the lead of other companies in the wake of the Feb. 14 Parkland, Fla., shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The letter, sent by former NRA president and current lobbyist Marion P. Hammer, said the company “declined to do business with The NRA Foundation” without prior notice and “refused to say why.”

“They will only say they will no longer sell products to The NRA Foundation,” Hammer wrote. “That certainly isn’t sportsmanlike. In fact, YETI should be ashamed.”

But on Monday, just as the backlash and calls for boycott picked up steam, Yeti said in a statement to The Washington Post, also posted on Yeti’s Facebook account, that the NRA letter was “inaccurate.” The Austin-based retailer said it notified various organizations, including the NRA Foundation, that it was eliminating a “group of outdated discounting programs” from which the organizations benefited.

The NRA was not specifically targeted, Yeti said.

“When we notified the NRA Foundation and the other organizations of this change, YETI explained that we were offering them an alternative customization program broadly available to consumers and organizations, including the NRA Foundation,” Yeti said. “These facts directly contradict the inaccurate statement the NRA-ILA distributed on April 20.”

According to the NRA, Yeti severed business times without prior notification. According to Yeti, it discontinued a group of discounts for multiple organizations and offered a more customization option to those organizations. The NRA then said that Yeti was lying and Yeti in turn said that the NRA was lying. Who should be believed and why?

This is one of the arguments currently being had on numerous online communities. One side claims that the NRA is telling the truth while the other side claims that Yeti is telling the truth. Some of those who believe that the NRA is telling the truth have reacted by destroying Yeti products that they previous purchased. Meanwhile, some of those who believe that Yeti is telling the truth have called those destroying their Yeti products dumbasses.

Realistically, there is no way for those of us outside of the decision making apparatuses of these parties to know the truth. We don’t have access to the agreements between the NRA and Yeti. We don’t have access to the reason why Yeti discontinued its discount program. We don’t have access to the list of other parties that were also supposedly impacted by the discontinuation of the discount program. What we do have are statements made by two disagreeing parties. Trying to determine which of the two is giving an accurate summary of events is like trying to determine which spouse in a messy divorce is giving an accurate summary of the events that lead to the divorce.

Unfortunately, in these situations people tend to side themselves with whichever party they like better. Diehard supporters of the NRA will likely side with the NRA whereas diehard supporters of Yeti will likely side with Yeti. Likewise, people who hate the NRA may side with Yeti whereas people who hate Yeti may side with the NRA. Both sides will justify their position as being made by something other than their personal feelings but those justifications will almost certainly be based on statements made by the party they’re siding with.

I would argue that a better default position would be to side with neither party in a disagreement. Instead of a knee jerk reaction, why not be patient and wait for more information to possibly come to light? After all, what benefit is there from picking a side in an disagreement that doesn’t directly involve you?

Written by Christopher Burg

April 25th, 2018 at 10:00 am

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