A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for July, 2018

Don’t Be Evil

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There seems to be a rule that startups appeal to and play by standards while those at the top disregard standards in order to toss wrenches into their competitors’ machinery. In Google’s early days it was a fan of standards. Now that it’s at the top of the pyramid, it seems like enthusiastic about them and has demonstrated a willingness to disregard them, usually when doing so appears to cause some issues for its competitors:

YouTube page load is 5x slower in Firefox and Edge than in Chrome because YouTube’s Polymer redesign relies on the deprecated Shadow DOM v0 API only implemented in Chrome.

Now that Google’s browser owns the market, it appears to be pulling the same stunt Microsoft when Internet Explorer was the dominant browser. By redesigning YouTube and having it rely on a deprecated API that is only currently supported in Chrome, Google has effectively made its browser appear faster than Firefox or Edge. Ends users who know nothing about such matters will only see that Chrome appears to load YouTube faster and use that criteria to declare it the best browser.

This is just the latest move in a series of moves that Google has taken that demonstrates that its old slogan, “Don’t be evil,” was meant only to develop goodwill with the community long enough to become the top dog. Now that it’s the top dog it’s more than happy to be evil.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 25th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Posted in Technology

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Government Creates the Problems It Solves

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Here’s a familiar story. A government body implements a new policy that causes major hardships for a large number of people then swoops in to “fix” the problem. That’s what’s happening here:

The Trump administration plans to offer up to $12 billion in aid to farmers hit by tariffs on their goods, an emergency bailout intended to ease the pain caused by Trump’s escalating trade war in key electoral states, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue told reporters Tuesday.

First the government created the problem by implementing tariffs then it offered to redistribute some wealth to those hurt by the tariffs. Of course the redistributed wealth has to come from somewhere, which means another problem will be created by the government that it will then claim to solve.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 25th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Domestic Tariffs

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Tariffs are in the news after Trump decided that the playing field between the bureaucratically choked United States and the rest of the world needed leveling. But what about domestic tariffs? The states that make up the United States aren’t supposed to implement tariffs against each other but thanks to the Supreme Court they now can:

If an internet retailer in Pasadena, CA sells a good or service to a resident of Washington, D.C., simple logic dictates that the transaction not be sales-taxed in Washington, D.C. It shouldn’t because the business isn’t in Washington. It’s on the other side of the country, and there the business will pay Pasadena taxes. So when judges and politicians talk about the importance of levying sales taxes on outside vendors, what they’re really saying is that they want government to dip its hands into our pockets twice.

Stating the obvious, the internet sales tax isn’t about leveling the tax playing field as much as it’s yet another grab of the economy by politicians. “Grab of the economy” is an apt phrase simply because politicians don’t tax away our dollars to stare lovingly at them; rather they take our dollars for what they can be exchanged for. The more tax dollars that politicians collect, the greater their ability to be size buyers of cars, trucks, land, buildings, and most economy-suffocating of all, human labor. Having decided they’re not collecting enough of what we earn, and plainly averse to competing with other locales when it comes to keeping taxes down, gluttonous local governments naturally love the idea of using internet commerce as another way to take.

About all this, let’s make no mistake about what these tax-thirsty governments are doing. Much like businesses that seek protection from competition, they’re seeking protection from lower-tax cities, states and countries. To be very clear, they’re seeking tariff-protection. Let’s call them domestic protectionists.

The reason the issue of online sales taxes arose is because politicians in tax heavy states were losing out to states with less burdensome taxes. Online retailers can operate anywhere in the world, which means many operate in states with relatively low sales tax. For example, an online retailer could headquarter in Montana, which has no sales tax and sell to somebody living in Minnesota, which has an absurdly high 6.875 percent sales tax. The person in Minnesota will be encouraged to purchase from the online retailer over a local sellers because the local seller will charge an addition 6.875 percent on top of the cost of the good or service. This arrangement upsets the politicians in Minnesota because they lose the opportunity to pocket some of the buyer’s money. If Minnesota can force the retailer in Montana to collect sales tax for it, it wins (and, of course, retailers throughout the country lose because they have to become experts on Minnesota sales tax laws along with the sales tax laws of their own state).

A lot of people believe that arrangement sounds fair (funny enough, they’re often the same people who are currently bitching about federal tariffs). But the alternative, states with high sales taxes having to lower their taxes in order to compete with states with low sales taxes, would be far fairer to consumers, especially poorer consumers to whom an additional 6.875 percent isn’t chump change.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 24th, 2018 at 11:00 am

The New College Scam

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Students in the United States owe an estimated $1.48 billion in college loans. This shouldn’t surprise anybody. The United States government has been handing out absurdly cheap loans for college students for ages now. With this influx of cheap cash colleges have realized that they can charge more. In response the government has doled out more cheap cash and the cycle has continued to its current state of a ton of outstanding debt that can’t be repaid.

Colleges, realizing that the student loan bubble is going to burst, have been looking for alternative methods to continue charging their current rates when cheap cash is no longer available to students. Some colleges are experimenting with taking a percentage of students’ future earnings:

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — As more students balk at the debt loads they face after graduation, some colleges are offering an alternative: We’ll pay your tuition if you offer us a percentage of your future salary.

Norwich University announced Tuesday that it will become the latest school to offer this type of contract, known as an income share agreement. Norwich’s program is starting out on a small scale, mainly for students who do not have access to other types of loans or those who are taking longer than the traditional eight semesters to finish their degree.

On the upside, students pursuing degrees that traditionally result in low paying jobs, such as interpretive underwater basket weaving, have an opportunity to obtain a cheap college education. On the other side of the coin though, students pursuing degrees that traditionally result in high paying jobs, such as computer science, get a less appealing deal.

I don’t foresee this strategy working out for colleges. It relies on students actually obtaining jobs after graduating, which can never be guaranteed. Moreover, in order for colleges to continuing charging their current prices, this strategy requires most students to get high paying jobs after graduating.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 24th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Buying Votes

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Every politician buys votes but most go about it in a roundabout way. Promises of tax breaks for companies, wealth redistribution from the wealthy to the masses, and increases to welfare benefits are common ways to buy votes. But one mayoral candidate in Chicago decided to try the direct route:

CHICAGO — Chicago mayoral candidate Willie Wilson says he wasn’t trying to buy anyone’s vote when he handed out close to $200,000 to churchgoers.

[…]

The Illinois State Board of Elections said Wilson didn’t break any campaign finance laws because the money came from his non-profit foundation.

I appreciate this level of honesty. If a politician wants to buy votes, they should just fork out the cash. This strategy is far better for voters because they get paid upfront whereas political promises usually go unfulfilled and when that happens the voters don’t get their payoff.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 24th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Posted in Politics

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Monday Metal: Killers with the Cross by Powerwolf

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Powerwolf’s new album was released on Friday and it sounds pretty much the same as their previous albums, which is to say it sounds awesome. This week’s Monday Metal entry is my favorite song off of that album, Killers with the Cross:

Written by Christopher Burg

July 23rd, 2018 at 10:00 am

Posted in Media

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Foreigners Influencing Elections

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Anybody who has been paying attention to the news is aware that there is a lot of evidence that foreigners are influencing our elections! Before those of your who have assigned yourself to the left of the binary political spectrum jump up for joy thinking that I’m finally going to lambast Russia for defiling our most holy of traditions, I’m not talking about Russia. It’s actually time for those who have assigned themselves to the right of the political spectrum to jump up for joy because I’m going to talk about illegal immigrants being allowed to vote in a domestic election:

San Francisco began registering non-citizens, including undocumented immigrants, to register to vote Monday in the November election for the city school board, reported The San Francisco Chronicle.

The move follows passage of a 2016 ballot measure by San Francisco voters opening school elections to non-citizens who are over the age of 18, city residents and have children under age 19, reported the publication.

Just kidding, I’m not really going to talk about this either. Instead I’m going to use this as a launchpad for mocking both of you!

Both sides are flipping their shit over foreigners influencing domestic elections… if they believe those foreigners are interfering with their agenda. Those who have assigned themselves to the right generally take aim at those who crossed the imaginary line separating the United States from the rest of the world. They believe that these line crossers only vote for people on the left side of the political spectrum. Meanwhile, they are entirely fine with the possibility of Russia influencing domestic elections because they believe that Russia is manipulating elections in a way that will ensure politicians on the right of the political spectrum will win. People who have assigned themselves to the left believe the reverse. They want line crossers to vote because they believe that they will vote for candidates on the left and they don’t want Russia to influence elections because they believe it will work for candidates on the right.

If both sides would be honest and admit that they don’t care about the issue of foreigners influencing domestic elections but only care about forwarding their agendas, they wouldn’t be a bunch of hypocrites.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 20th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Posted in Politics

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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

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Californians were scheduled to vote on a measure to divide the state into three separate states but they won’t have that opportunity because a men in muumuus said so:

The California Supreme Court shot down the controversial initiative from appearing on the November ballot in a unanimous decision, writing that “significant questions have been raised regarding the proposition’s validity.”

Proposition 9 would’ve asked voters whether California should separate into three states: California, Northern California and Southern California. It would’ve been subject to approval by US Congress. The initiative had gained enough signatures in June to qualify for the ballot on November 6.

“We conclude that the potential harm in permitting the measure to remain on the ballot outweighs the potential harm in delaying the proposition to a future election,” the justices wrote.

Proponents of Democracy believe that it gives the people an opportunity to voice their opinion to their government. That’s true only if their opinion isn’t radical. Democratic systems have a lot of safeguards in place to protect the status quo. If, for example, you are able to get enough signatures to get a radical measure placed on a statewide ballot, the safeguard of the courts kicks in to toss that measure out.

Whenever I say that real change cannot be realized through political means, somebody lists off all of the changes that have occurred through political means. What all of those changes end up having in common is that they’re minor, not radical. You cannot, for example, vote to abolish a political office, you can only vote on who occupies that office. So you may managed to get a slightly less terrible candidate to occupy an office but that isn’t real change, that’s a minor change. If you did try to get a measure on a ballot to abolish a political office, one of the state’s safeguards would kick in to prevent you from realizing your goal. That is democracy in a nutshell, the plebes can do no more than vote on some minor details.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 20th, 2018 at 10:30 am

What What, In the Butt

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Law enforcers offer a lot of free services. If you see a black family grilling in a park, you can call a law enforcer and they’ll come and hassle them for you. If a member of your family is threatening to commit suicide, you can call a law enforcer and they’ll come and kill your family member before they have a chance to kill themselves. If you can’t afford a visit to the doctor’s office, you can call a law enforcer and they’ll come and give you a free prostate exam:

WASHINGTON (WJLA) — The cell phone video shows a ‘Stop and Frisk’ encounter last September between an MPD officer and M.B. Cottingham, a D.C. resident.

“Come on man! Stop fingering me, bruh!” the 39-year-old cries out.

“Stop moving,” replies Officer Sean Lojacono.

Now, 10 months after that pat-down, the ACLU of DC has filed a federal lawsuit against Lojacono, calling it an illegal and invasive body search.

“The officer, instead of frisking him for weapons, just jams his finger and his hand between Mr. Cottingham’s legs,” said ACLU attorney Scott Michelman.

Not surprisingly, there were several officers involved:

The suit says several officers, including Lojacono, “got out of their cars and asked the men if they had any guns. They responded they did not.”

It’s not just that there are bad apples but that there are also a lot of indifferent apples willing to standby and let the bad apples do whatever they want.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 20th, 2018 at 10:00 am

One Reason for Social Media Sites to Avoid Censorship

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Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other popular websites are being pressured to censor “undesirable” content (what qualifies as undesirable content differs from person to person). Proponents of censorship believe that some content (which seems to always been content that disagrees with their worldview) is far too dangerous to allow to be posted. Most of the large social media sites have responded to this pressure by implementing some kind of (usually half-assed) censorship system. What has been the result? The proponents bitch that the censorship isn’t severe enough:

Last week, Facebook invited some media outlets to an event to hear what the company plans on doing about misinformation disseminated on its platform.

But many journalists, including CNN’s Oliver Darcy, were left dissatisfied with Facebook’s response.

Facebook invited me to an event today where the company aimed to tout its commitment to fighting fake news and misinformation.

I asked them why InfoWars is still allowed on the platform.

I didn’t get a good answer.https://t.co/WwLgqa6vQ4

— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) July 12, 2018

In my opinion it’s hypocritical that an individual who works for a media organization that publishes a significant amount of false information bitching that another media organization that publishes a significant amount of false information isn’t being censored but opinions are like assholes, which is also why censorship is a difficult problem to tackle. Why is InfoWars (and for that matter, CNN) not being censored by Facebook? Because the opinion of Facebook’s CEO differs from that of Darcy:

Zuckerberg went on to explain that Facebook would examine sites that were flagged as “potential hoaxes”—in other words, limiting their spread across the site.

“Look, as abhorrent as some of this content can be, I do think that it gets down to this principle of giving people a voice,” he continued.

Zuckerberg has placed himself in a difficult place because he has implemented a censorship system on Facebook, which means he now has to fight in the quagmire that is public opinion on whether or not he’s censoring hard enough. The worst part is that there’s no winning that fight. One of the best arguments against a social media platform implementing a censorship program is that doing so opens them up to having to deal with everybody bitching that they’re not censorship the correct material or not censoring hard enough.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 19th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Posted in News You Need to Know

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