Fahrenheit 451 without the Fire

The government of China, like most communist regimes, isn’t big on free expression. Expressing ideas that go against the state’s teachings can result in anything from spending some time in a reeducation camp to being outright executed. Although the Chinese government’s image has softened quite a bit since the days when Mao was killing millions, it still isn’t a teddy bear by any regard. For example, the regime is now cracking down on booksellers who traffic banned titles:

Lam Wing-kee knew he was in trouble. In his two decades as owner and manager of Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay Books, Lam had honed a carefully nonchalant routine when caught smuggling books into mainland China: apologize, claim ignorance, offer a cigarette to the officers, crack a joke. For most of his career, the routine was foolproof.


On Oct. 24, 2015, his routine veered off script. He had just entered the customs inspection area between Hong Kong and the mainland when he was ushered into a corner of the border checkpoint. The gate in front of him opened, and a phalanx of 30 officers rushed in, surrounding him; they refused to answer his panicked questions. A van pulled up, and they pushed him inside. Lam soon found himself in a police station, staring at an officer. “Boss Lam,” the officer cooed with a grin. Lam asked what was happening. “Don’t worry,” Lam recalls the officer saying. “If the case were serious, we would’ve beaten you on the way here.”


Over the next eight months, Lam would find himself the unwitting central character in a saga that would hardly feel out of place in one of his thrillers. His ordeal marked the beginning of a Chinese effort to reach beyond the mainland to silence the country’s critics or their enablers no matter where they were or what form that criticism took. Following his arrest, China has seized a Hong Kong billionaire from the city’s Four Seasons Hotel, spiriting him away in a wheelchair with his head covered by a blanket; blocked a local democracy activist from entering Thailand for a conference; and repatriated and imprisoned Muslim Chinese students who had been in Egypt.

I have a lot of respect for individuals to trade in prohibited information. They’re the ones who ensure that any attempt at censorship fails in the long run. However, a lot of them often die before the information becomes so widely disseminated that censorship efforts are no longer feasible.

As China continues rising to dominance, it’ll be interesting to see how it attempts to expand its power outside of its borders. With how big of a market China is, I wouldn’t be surprised if it attempts to put pressure on international publishers in the future by refusing to allow them to sell any of their titles inside of the country if they publish a single undesirable title outside of the country (I also wouldn’t be surprised if this is already happening and I’m simply unaware).

You Can’t Predict What Will Set an Individual Off

I’m sure you’ve already heard about the shooting at YouTube’s headquarters. Before evidence of the shooter’s motives was revealed, most people predicted the common justifications given by or ascribed to shooters (an attack in the name of ISIS, a domestic issue, the shooter taking revenge for being bullied, etc.). However, this shooting took a slightly unusual twist when it was revealed that the shooter may have perpetrated the crime because she was upset about YouTube’s policy changes:

In several videos posted over the last year or so, she angrily spoke about the company’s policies, saying they were filtering her videos so they wouldn’t get any more views, and she was upset over demonetization. It appears the channels have now been completely removed by YouTube, citing policy violations.

Since the shooter committed suicide, we’ll never know for sure what her motivations were. But evidence indicates that her motivation may have been changes to YouTube’s monetization policies that caused at least some of her videos to be demonetized. If this was indeed her motivation, it goes to show that you can’t predict what will set an individual off.

Any action a company or individual takes is potentially dangerous. Although a vast majority of policy decisions don’t result in violence, once in a while the decision to either maintain or change a policy can result in a disgruntled individual responding with violence.

Part of the reason security is so difficult is because people are unpredictable. Who would have predicted that YouTube’s decision to demonetize some videos would result in an individual going to the company’s headquarters and opening fire on employees before turning the gun on herself?

Posse Comitatus Act

Trump announced that he intends to deploy the United States military along the Mexican border to guard it until his proposed wall is built:

(CNN) — President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he’s calling on the military to guard the US-Mexico border until his long-promised border wall is complete.

“I told Mexico, and I respect what they did, I said, look, your laws are very powerful, your laws are very strong. We have very bad laws for our border and we are going to be doing some things, I spoke with (Defense Secretary James) Mattis, we’re going to do some things militarily. Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’re going to be guarding our border with the military. That’s a big step,” he said during a luncheon with leaders of the Baltic states.

According to the Posse Comitatus Act, neither the Army nor the Air Force can be deployed to enforce laws within the United States without an act of Congress. The Department of the Navy has also created regulations that make the Navy and the Marines operate under the same rules.

However, does the Posse Comitatus Act matter this day and age? Congress has already granted the president the power to wage war without a congressional declaration of war, which is required under the United States Constitution. Since Congress has ceded that power, I see no reason to believe it won’t cede its powers granted by the Posse Comitatus Act. As an aside, if Trump does follow through with his plan, it may be the first time that the Third Amendment gets some love.

But all of this may be a moot point. There isn’t a strong correlation between what Trump says and what he does. He’ll say he’s going to do something one day then seemingly forget all about it the next day.

Turnabout Is Fair Play

Cellular interceptors like the Stingray have received a lot of press in recent years. By imitating a cellular tower, interceptors can convince cellular phones to connect to it instead of a legitimate cellular tower. This allows the person operating the interceptor to surveil communications being transmitted or received by a connected phone. Government agents have been dismissive of questions about the warrant requirements of deploying a device that is capable of surveilling everybody in an area, which has lead to several court battles. However, it appears that government agents don’t appreciate turnabout because they’re upset that an unauthorized cellular interceptor was deployed in Washington DC:

The Associated Press reports today that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has confirmed that it found what appear to be unauthorized cell-site simulators, also known as Stingrays, in Washington DC last year. The agency told Senator Ron Wyden in a letter that it had found “anomalous activity” consistent with these sorts of devices in the Washington area and a DHS official told the AP that the findings were obtained through a 90-day trial that began in January of last year. Senator Wyden sent the DHS a letter last November requesting information on the use of cell-site simulators by foreign intelligence services.

That’s a shame.

I’m always amused by the hypocritical nature of government agents. They have no problem spying on all of us and even justify doing so. But when somebody spies on them it’s a fucking tragedy that needs immediate attention. I hope whoever was operating that interceptor acquired some good dirt on some high ranking politicians and leaks that information to the public.

A Glimpse of America’s Future

Britain used to be the country towards which I looked when I wanted to see what creepy surveillance technology was soon coming to the United States. The British government has a long, proud history of surveilling everything its subjects do. But Britain is falling behind the surveillance game. There’s a new king in town and that king is China:

Chinese authorities claim they have banned more than 7 million people deemed “untrustworthy” from boarding flights, and nearly 3 million others from riding on high-speed trains, according to a report by the country’s National Development and Reform Commission.

The announcements offer a glimpse into Beijing’s ambitious attempt to create a Social Credit System (SCS) by 2020 — that is, a proposed national system designed to value and engineer better individual behaviour by establishing the scores of 1.4 billion citizens and “awarding the trustworthy” and “punishing the disobedient”.

China’s Social Credit System is the next step in surveillance. Britain and the United States have been doing something similar. For example, in the United States the information gathered about you by the government can land you on a no-fly list, which then prevents you from boarding aircraft. However, these efforts have been chump change compared to what China is doing. Unfortunately, what China is doing is technologically feasible by both Britain and the United States. All of the required surveillance technology is already in place. All that is needed is tying those surveillance devices into a domestic social credit system.

I won’t be surprised if the United States implements a similar system within a decade. The country has certainly been moving in that direction since at least the beginning of the Cold War and has pushed the pedal to the metal since 9/11.

Rights are Imaginary

I recently came across an image on Facebook that sums up the true nature of rights.

To quote George Carlin, “Folks I hate to spoil your fun, but there’s no such thing as rights. They’re imaginary. We made them up. Like the boogie man. Like Three Little Pigs, Pinocchio, Mother Goose, shit like that. Rights are an idea. They’re just imaginary.”

If you ask 10 different people to list the rights every human being has, you’ll almost certainly end up with 10 different lists. This is because rights are a concept that exist solely in our heads. One person may believe that each individual has a right to keep and bear arms. Another person may believe that each individual has a right to safety, which they may also believe trumps any claims that there is a right to keep and bear arms.

I’m fond of saying that you have what rights you can convince others to acknowledge. You only have a “right” to free speech if you can convince others not to interfere with your speech. You only have a “right” to a refuse a search if you can convince others not to search you. When proponents of the Second Amendment write or call politicians, they’re trying to convince those politicians to agree with the concept that each individual has a right to keep and bear arms. While most proponents of the Second Amendment won’t admit that there really isn’t a right to keep and bear arms, they acknowledge this fact through their actions of requesting that politicians not violate their right (any further). Less a gun control advocate jump up and scream, “Ah ha,” let me also point out that proponents of the First Amendment, which many gun control advocates claim to be, acknowledge the fact that they don’t have a right to free speech every time they request that politicians not violating their right (any further).

Rights, like laws, may exist on paper but their existence stops there. If you can convince others to respect your concept of rights, then your concept of rights perhaps won’t be violated. But if you fail to convince others to respect your rights, your concept of rights will be violated.

I’m Sure There’s a Perfectly Reasonable Explanation

Stephon Clark was the most recent unarmed black man to make headlines for being gunned down by law enforcers. As is usually the case, law enforcers claimed that Clark appeared to be holding a gun. However, some people are questioning that narrative after hearing the results of a recent autopsy:

Stephon Clark, the unarmed black man who was fatally shot last week by Sacramento police officers, was struck eight times, mostly in his back, according to an independent autopsy released Friday, raising significant questions about the police account that he was a threat to officers when he was hit.


In its initial account, the Police Department said Mr. Clark had “advanced toward the officers” while holding what they believed to be a firearm. In body camera footage provided by the police, it is not clear which direction Mr. Clark is facing, and the family’s lawyer, Benjamin Crump, said the independent autopsy contradicted the assertion by the police that he was a threat.

I’m not sure why the autopsy results bring the department’s account into question. It’s obvious what happened. Mr. Clark must have drawn his gun while facing away from the officers and aimed it over his shoulder behind him! Because that’s what people commonly do.

While I’m being sarcastic, there are a lot of law enforcement worshipers currently concocting a narrative that exonerate the officers and their concoction will likely look something like what I just pulled out of my ass. People have a knack for dismissing or contorting information that doesn’t fit their narrative.

Effective Protesting

The Vermont legislature recently decided that its subjects no longer deserve the privilege of owning standard capacity magazines. While the subjects were unable to convince many of their rulers to not take away their privilege, they did throw one hell of a protest:

Protesters were giving away 1,200 30-round magazines. The legislation would ban high-capacity magazines and rapid-fire devices known as bump stocks, in addition to raising the legal age. It also would expand background checks for private gun sales.

Political protests in modern times tend to be worthless outside of creating some public relations. This is because most protests don’t involve any meaningful action. However, this protest was effective because it not only involved holding signs and yelling but also involved the action of distributing the soon to be prohibited items. Now more standard capacity magazines are in the hands of the subjects of Vermont, which directly violated the law approved by the legislature.