A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for June, 2018

Taking Children to Court

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The immigration laws in the United States are asinine but you can’t fully appreciate the absurdity of the entire immigration system until you look at the court system that deals with immigration issues:

As the White House faces court orders to reunite families separated at the border, immigrant children as young as 3 are being ordered into court for their own deportation proceedings, according to attorneys in Texas, California and Washington, D.C.

Requiring unaccompanied minors to go through deportation alone is not a new practice. But in the wake of the Trump administration’s controversial family separation policy, more young children — including toddlers — are being affected than in the past.

[…]

The children being detained under the new “zero tolerance” policy, though, are facing immigration proceedings without mom or dad by their side.

“The parent might be the only one who knows why they fled from the home country, and the child is in a disadvantageous position to defend themselves,” Toczylowski said.

This is a perfect example of bureaucracy run amuck. There is no logical reason to have a three-year-old child appear in a courtroom. They likely have no idea why they were dragged into this country. Mom and dad probably just told them one morning that they were moving. But the letter of the law says that that child has to appear in court so they are dutifully dragged into court by the government goons who are just following orders.

Bureaucracies may be the worst invention humanity ever developed. Through the system of bureaucracy personal accountability is disposed of entirely. Whenever you’re tasked with doing something stupid or illogical in a bureaucracy you just need to respond with, “Those are the rules. I’m just doing my job.” If you find yourself questioning the morality of what you’ve been tasked with doing in a bureaucracy, you can just tell yourself that the rules were written by really smart people who know better than you. The invention of bureaucracies enabled far too many people to act as mindless automatons.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 29th, 2018 at 11:00 am

George Orwell Wasn’t Cynical Enough

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George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four either served as a dire warning or as a blueprint depending on what side of the state you occupy. The Party, the ruling body of Oceania, established a pervasive surveillance state. Helicopters flew around peeking into people’s windows, every home had a two way television that couldn’t be turned off and allowed government agents to snoop on you, children were encourage from a young age to rat out their parents if they did anything seditious, etc. However, as cynical as George Orwell’s vision of the future may have been, it wasn’t cynical enough:

In April, California investigators arrested Joseph James DeAngelo for some of the crimes committed by the elusive Golden State Killer (GSK), a man who is believed to have raped over 50 women and murdered at least 12 people between 1978 and 1986. Investigators tracked him down through an open-source ancestry site called GEDMatch, uploading the GSK’s DNA profile and matching it to relatives whose DNA profiles were also hosted on the website. Now, using those same techniques, a handful of other arrests have been made for unsolved cases, some going as far back as 1981.

The New York Times reports that GEDMatch has been used to track down suspects involved in a 1986 murder of a 12-year-old girl, a 1992 rape and murder of a 25-year-old schoolteacher, a 1981 murder of a Texas realtor and a double murder that took place in 1987. It was even used to identify a man who died by suicide in 2001 but had remained unnamed until now. Many of these suspects were found by CeCe Moore, a genetic genealogist working with forensic consulting firm Parabon, who has previously helped adoptees find their biological relatives. “There are so many parallels,” she told the New York Times about the process of finding a suspect versus a relative.

Genetic databases are a boon for law enforcers. While most people are worried about the commercial databases like Ancestry.com and 23andMe, there is an open source genetics database called GEDMatch that, unlike the commercial products, doesn’t even require a warrant to access. What makes genetic databases even more frightening from a privacy standpoint is that you don’t have to submit your genetics. If a family member submits their genetics, that’s enough for law enforcers to identify you.

Since law enforcers are using this database to go after murderers, rapists, and other heinous individuals, it’s likely that many people will see this strategy as a positive thing. But government agencies have a tendency to expand their activities. While they’ll start using a new technology to identify legitimately terrible people, they quickly begin using the technology to go after people who broke the law but didn’t actually hurt anybody. The scary part about law enforcers using tools like GEDMatch is that they will eventually use it to go after everybody.

Why I’m Wary of Particularly Virtuous Individuals

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We all know somebody who comes off as acting far too virtuous. They take every opportunity to talk about their virtuous nature and berate anybody who doesn’t meet their high standards. Politicians are probably the best example of this. Anti-gay activist Republicans who end up being caught in an airport bathroom soliciting sex from other men or politicians who never stop talking about family values who are later caught having an affair are two good examples. But politicians don’t have a monopoly on such hypocrisy:

For a 22-year-old Columbia University student, Joel Davis had built an impressive reputation as an activist for ending sexual violence.

He was the founding executive director of the international organization Youth to End Sexual Violence. He served as a youth ambassador for the United Nations special representative on sexual violence in conflict. He was on the steering committee of the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict, a group of more than 5,000 human rights organizations and experts worldwide.

Davis traveled around the world, worked alongside high-profile activists such as Angelina Jolie, delivered a TED talk and appeared on media panels. In 2015, at age 19, he claimed to have been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

This is the type of resume that makes my eyes narrow and say, “doth protest too much, methinks.” What’s the catch? What personal secret is this guy trying to cover up? Well:

Yet behind this virtuous front, Davis was allegedly committing the same types of crimes he claimed to be fighting, federal prosecutors say. On Tuesday, authorities arrested Davis on charges of attempting to sexually exploit a child, enticing a child to engage in sexual activity and possessing child pornography. If convicted, he could face a long sentence.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that every person who acts extremely virtuous is trying to cover up something. But there is enough correlation for me to see red flags whenever somebody invests so much effort in publicly expressing their virtuousness.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 29th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Judging the Past by Modern Standards

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A minor controversy that has recently been making the rounds on the Internet is Laura Ingalls Wilder being removed from the Children’s Literature Legacy Award:

The author of the “Little House on the Prairie” series, Laura Ingalls Wilder, had her name removed from a prestigious children’s book award because of “dated cultural attitudes” contained in her books, the association that issues the award said Monday.

In a joint statement, the American Library Association and the Association for Library Service to Children said the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award was changed to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award during a weekend conference in New Orleans.

While the decision itself is irrelevant to me since I couldn’t care less who receives what awards, it is another example of a particular pet peeve of mine: the tendency to judge people from the past by modern standards.

A good example of this Genghis Khan. Genghis Khan is usually seen as a violent marauder, which is true. Due to that view of him, he’s commonly declared an entirely evil person because by today’s standards he is. However, in this time armies going from city to city and offering their inhabitants either subjugation or annihilation was the status quo. By the standards of his day Genghis Khan was quite progressive. For example, he allowed the people of subjected cities to continue worshiping their gods and even had people of many different faiths in his inner circle. He also took measure to improve the efficiency of travel and trade along the Silk Road, which benefited societies all along it.

People cannot perceive the future. There was no way for Laura Ingalls Wilder to know that the attitude in the United States regarding Native Americans would change so drastically from her time. Moreover, whatever views she held (and since she was a writer, going by her fiction isn’t a good way of knowing her personal views) were more likely than not the common views of her time. People tend to pick up predominant memes (not the fun Internet kind but the idea transfer between individuals kind). If you living in a heavily Christian area, you will likely be Christian, at least for the early part of your life. If you’re a white person living in a society where most white people hold negative views about Native Americans, you will likely hold negative views about Native Americans. Judging people of the past by modern standards is, in my opinion, foolish outside of thought exercises.

I imagine that people living a century from now will look back at us as barbaric and backwards (although I hope they overcome the tendency to judge people of the past by modern standards) because the generally accepted moral framework will have changed significantly. That’s something to consider when you’re judging a person from the past.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 28th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Public Union Profits Not Looking Good

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Unions are big business and it’s easy to see why. Most unions have a sweetheart deal where employees at union shops are forced to pay union dues. While this practice can be annoying for private employees who see a portion of their paycheck skimmed off to help pay the union boss’ six figure salary, it’s worse when the dues are paid by outright theft. Five of the nine muumuu clad individuals that make up the Supreme Court have issued a rare common sense ruling that states that public unions cannot collect mandatory fees:

The Supreme Court dealt labor unions a sharp defeat Wednesday, ruling that teachers, police officers and other public employees cannot be forced to pay dues or fees to support their unions.

By a 5-4 vote, the justices overturned a 41-year-old precedent and ruled that the 1st Amendment protects these employees from being required to support a private group whose views may differ from theirs.

The decision, in Janus vs. AFSCME, strikes down laws in California, New York and 20 other mostly Democratic-leaning states that authorize unions to negotiate contracts that require all employees to pay a so-called fair share fee to cover the cost of collective bargaining.

The problem with government employees is that they are paid with money stolen from taxpayers, which means public union dues are also paid with stolen money. As for the claim by union bosses that the fees are collected because all employees benefit from collective bargaining, I don’t want government employees benefiting in any way. They should be making shit wages and receiving shit benefits to encourage them to find honestly employment in the private sector.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 28th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Ihre Papiere, Bitte

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What can you expect when driving down a highway in the freest country on Earth? Checkpoints where government goons demand to see your papers:

(CNN) — Far from ground zero in the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration along the southern border, US Customs and Border Protection checkpoints on highways in Maine and New Hampshire are catching the eye of civil liberties groups.

On Interstate 95 near the remote northern Maine town of Lincoln last week, the Border Patrol said it made nine drug seizures and two arrests for immigration violations during an 11-hour checkpoint operation in which agents asked motorists about their place of birth and citizenship status.

You could usually tell who the bad guys in old World War II and Cold War movies were by their bad Eastern European imitation accent and the fact that the guards were asking random people on the street for their papers. Somehow that went from an easy way to differentiate the evil Nazi and communist nations from the freest country on Earth to the status quo in the “freest country on Earth.”

Written by Christopher Burg

June 28th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Another Processor Vulnerability

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Hardware has received far less scrutiny in the past than software when it comes to security. That has changed in recent times and, not surprisingly, the previous lack of scrutiny has resulted in a lot of major vulnerabilities being discovered. The latest vulnerability relates to a feature found in Intel processors referred to as Hyperthreading:

Last week, developers on OpenBSD—the open source operating system that prioritizes security—disabled hyperthreading on Intel processors. Project leader Theo de Raadt said that a research paper due to be presented at Black Hat in August prompted the change, but he would not elaborate further.

The situation has since become a little clearer. The Register reported on Friday that researchers at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands have found a new side-channel vulnerability on hyperthreaded processors that’s been dubbed TLBleed. The vulnerability means that processes that share a physical core—but which are using different logical cores—can inadvertently leak information to each other.

In a proof of concept, researchers ran a program calculating cryptographic signatures using the Curve 25519 EdDSA algorithm implemented in libgcrypt on one logical core and their attack program on the other logical core. The attack program could determine the 256-bit encryption key used to calculate the signature with a combination of two milliseconds of observation, followed by 17 seconds of machine-learning-driven guessing and a final fraction of a second of brute-force guessing.

Like the last slew of processor vulnerabilities, the software workaround for this vulnerability involves a performance hit. Unfortunately, the long term fix to these vulnerabilities involves redesigning hardware, which could destroy an assumptions on which modern software development relies: hardware will continue to become faster.

This assumption has been at risk for a while because chip designers are running into transistor size limitations, which could finally do away with Moore’s Law. But designing secure hardware may also require surrendering a bit on the performance front. It’s possible that the next generation of processors won’t have the same raw performance as the current generation of processors. What would this mean? Probably not much for most users. However, it could impact software developers to some extent. Many software development practices are based on the assumption that the next generation of hardware will be faster and it is therefore unnecessary to focus on writing performant code. If the next generation of processors have the same performance as the current generation or, even worse, less performance, an investment in performant code could pay dividends.

Obviously this is pure speculation on my behalf but it’s an interesting scenario to consider.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 27th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Welcome to America

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A man from New Zealand flew to the United States with the intent of attacking a teenage girl. Not surprisingly he received the hospitality for which Americans are famous:

Troy George Skinner, 25, was shot in the neck by the girl’s mother after smashing his way through a glass door.

Goochland County Sheriff James Agnew said the man was also armed with a knife, duct tape and pepper spray.

He travelled over 8,500 miles (13,500km) after the girl stopped speaking to him online, police say.

Welcome to America, asshole.

As with most humans, I enjoy stories where characters get their comeuppance. If gun control advocates had their way, it’s likely this story would have been far different. While Skinner probably wouldn’t have gotten away with his crime, there would have been a far higher chance that he would have succeeded in perpetrating his attack. As somebody who enjoys reading stories about assholes like this being shot before they can perpetrate a violent crime, I’m glad gun control advocates haven’t gotten their way.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 27th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Unsurprising Results

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What happens when your government decides to place additions taxes in the form of tariffs on imported materials that your business relies on? You face the possibility of going out of business:

Steel tariffs could force the nation’s largest nail manufacturer to close or move to Mexico.

The Mid-Continent Nail plant in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, laid off 60 of its 500 workers last week because of increased steel costs. The company blames the 25% tariff on imported steel. Orders for nails plunged 50% after the company raised its prices to deal with higher steel costs.

The company is in danger of shutting production by Labor Day unless the Commerce Department grants it an exclusion from paying the tariffs, company spokesman James Glassman told CNN’s Poppy Harlow.

Shocking, I know.

This isn’t the first business to announced difficulties due to Trump’s new tariffs. Harley Davidson announced that it will move at least some production outside of the United States to get around the new tariffs. More dominoes are likely to fall as well.

“But, Chris, why don’t these unpatriotic companies buy American steel instead,” you ask? Because America doesn’t produce a whole lot of steel and what steel it does produce costs more than imported steel. “Well these tariffs will cause domestic steel production to increase, right?” Not so much. Profit is only one reason for the lack of domestic production. There is also a terrible amount of red tape strangling steel production. The environmental regulations on mining raw materials are many and when those regulations are finally dealt with the refineries get to deal with a bunch of additional environmental regulations. Labor is another factor. American labor isn’t cheap, especially when employers are required to pay Social Security, Medicare, disability, and other mandatory benefits for each employee they hire. Then there is the simple fact that a lot of Americans don’t want a job working in mines or refining metals.

Domestic manufacturers import foreign steel because it’s cheaper but foreign steel is cheaper due to many factors. While the recently implemented tariffs are likely to encourage some increase in domestic steel production, the additional steel probably won’t be enough to satisfy domestic needs and will almost certainly be more expensive than foreign steel, which means domestic manufacturers will still have to move outside of the country if they want to keep their prices at a level to which consumers have become accustomed.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 27th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Propaganda 101

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What makes for good propaganda? Ideally good propaganda appeals to emotion. The goal is to manipulate the emotions of individuals to win them over to your cause. However, better propaganda is also based on some amount of truth. If your propaganda is entirely fictitious, it will likely be discovered at some future point and the people you won over may not to happy with you. The best propaganda is not only based on some amount of truth but the lies, when discovered, can be waved away with deniability.

The girl on the cover of Time Magazine’s latest issue is an example of excellent propaganda:

The widely shared photo of the little girl crying as a U.S. Border Patrol agent patted down her mother became a symbol of the families pulled apart by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy at the border, even landing on the new cover of Time magazine.

But the girl’s father told The Washington Post on Thursday night that his child and her mother were not separated, and a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman confirmed that the family was not separated while in the agency’s custody. In an interview with CBS News, Border Patrol agent Carlos Ruiz, who was among the first to encounter the mother and her daughter at the border in Texas, said the image had been used to symbolize a policy but “that was not the case in this picture.”

A crying girl is always a good way to manipulate emotions. Moreover, the current administration provided its detractors with a great deal of ammunition by separating immigrant children from their parents. These two factors already made the crying girl on Time’s cover a good piece of propaganda. But the icing on the cake is that the lie can be easily denied. The person who created the cover could easily claim that they were told that the girl that was to be included on the cover was an immigrant child separated from her parents. The editor could easily make the same claim. Even the photographer could claim that they were later informed that the girl was separated from her parents. It’s difficult to claim that Time Magazine knowingly lied in this case, which helps protect the magazine’s reputation even though it was caught lying.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 26th, 2018 at 11:00 am