A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for September, 2018

Let the Speculation Begin

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I’m betting that there are a lot of people who aren’t surprised to hear that Cody Wilson has been charged with the sexual assault of a child:

Cody Rutledge Wilson, the 31-year-old Texas man who’s been fighting with the U.S. government to publish instructions for 3D-printed guns on the internet, was charged today with the sexual assault of a child. Wilson allegedly met the girl on a website called SugarDaddyMeet.com.

Wilson allegedly paid the girl, whose name has been withheld in court documents, $500 for sex at a hotel in Austin, Texas. The exact age of the victim is not immediately clear, though the affidavit for the arrest warrant explains that she’s under the age of 17.

The reason I’m betting that a lot of people aren’t surprised by this is because it wouldn’t be the first time that a thorn in the government’s side found themselves falsely charged with a crime that was convenient for the government. Governments aren’t above ridding themselves of troublesome individuals by assassinating their character through fabricating evidence that they committed heinous crimes. In addition to being very convenient for the government for which Wilson is currently causing trouble, another reason this charge seems fishy is because Wilson seems to be aware enough of security matters to know that seeking sex from a minor online is a recipe for getting caught up in a sting operation.

However, in the interest of objectivity, I must also accept that there is a possibility that the charges are legitimate. If they are, Wilson wouldn’t be the first thorn in the government’s side who handed it a freebie by acting in a manner that most people find reprehensible.

What makes matters worse is if Wilson doesn’t beat the charge, we will probably never know beyond a reasonable doubt whether the charge was fabricated by the government or legitimate.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 20th, 2018 at 11:00 am

It’s Not Your Car

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I think the technology behind modern electric cars is really cool. What I don’t like though is that electric car manufacturers don’t seem satisfied with simply replacing gasoline engines with electric motors, they are also trying to replace the owner as the decision maker:

Hurricane Florence is approaching the East Coast of the US, and is predicted to bring with it catastrophic flooding, high winds, as well as a life-threatening storm surge and rain in North and South Carolina. As a result, both GM and Tesla have remotely activated features in their cars that could be of use in an evacuation.

Since OnStar is a subscription service, I at least understand why GM has control over whether or not certain features are available to users. But why should Tesla owners require the manufacturer to decide they need access to the extra battery capacity in order to utilize it? Why can’t the car have a button that enables and disables the capacity lock?

More and more consumers are losing control over devices that are supposedly theirs. Consumers are being treated like children who are incapable of making rational decisions and must therefore be guided by the manufacturer. This doesn’t sit well with me. When I buy something, I want complete control over it. If there is extra capacity in my vehicle’s battery, I want to have the ability to decide whether or not it’s being utilized. Unfortunately, it appears that I’m in the minority because most consumers appear to welcome having an overlord dictate what they can and cannot do with their devices.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 20th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Creating Jobs

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If you ask an advocate of tariffs what punishing consumers is supposed to accomplish, amongst other things they will claim that tariffs create domestic jobs. That ignorance is based on the belief that foreign companies don’t employ people domestically but since we live in a global economy, a lot of foreign companies hire domestic employees. So tariffs often destroy jobs rather than create them:

Alibaba’s founder and chairman Jack Ma says the Chinese mega e-commerce company no longer has plans to create 1 million jobs in the US, citing the ongoing trade conflict as the reason Alibaba is retracting its promise to Donald Trump. A new round of tariffs between the US and China will make mutual trade more difficult.

Who would have guessed that alienating one of the largest economies on Earth would have consequences?

Written by Christopher Burg

September 20th, 2018 at 10:00 am

The Bias within the System

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Radley Balko wrote an excellent article outlining just the tip of the iceberg that is the overwhelming evidence that the legal system in the United States is racial biased.

The entire article is worth reading but I wanted to take a moment to highlight the third paragraph because it addresses a common myth about the system:

Of particular concern to some on the right is the term “systemic racism,” often wrongly interpreted as an accusation that everyone in the system is racist. In fact, systemic racism means almost the opposite. It means that we have systems and institutions that produce racially disparate outcomes, regardless of the intentions of the people who work within them. When you consider that much of the criminal-justice system was built, honed and firmly established during the Jim Crow era — an era almost everyone, conservatives concluded, will concede rife with racism — this is pretty intuitive. The modern criminal-justice system helped preserve racial order — it kept black people in their place. For much of the early 20th century, in some parts of the country, that was its primary function. That it might retain some of those proclivities today shouldn’t be all that surprising.

One thing on which the “left” and “right” (in this context “left” is being used to refer to those who believe the system is racially biased while “right” is being used to refer to those who disagree with those on the “left”) commonly agree is that the definition of a racially biased system is based on those within it. The “left” tend to argue that the legal system in the United States is racist because the majority of those within it are racists. The “right” often adopt this definition because it’s easy to argue against. Since both groups subscribe to this definition of systemic racism, the argument over whether the legal system is racially biased tends to involve people on the “right” pointing to people within the system who aren’t racist while people on the “left” refute their argument by claiming that those people are actually racist (if no evidence exists supporting their accusation, they argue that the person is a closet racist).

Systemic racism isn’t defined by who composes the system but by what rules govern the system.

The legal system in the United States would continue to show a racial bias even if the entire system was composed by individuals who didn’t contain a single racist bone in their body (assuming, of course, that they also followed the rules). This is because the rules governing the system ensure a racially biased outcome. How is that accomplished without the laws overtly being based on race? By criminalizing activities that are more often enjoyed by individuals who belong to a target race (I say this with the understanding that race itself is arbitrarily defined).

Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario. Let’s say we have a racist politician who wants to write a law that will primarily put more black men in prison. How can he go about accomplishing this without mentioning race in his law? First he would identify an activity that is more often enjoyed by black men than white men. If we’re discussing fashion, it is more common for black men to wear pants that hang below their waist than it is for white men so that would make a good candidate. So our hypothetical politician could write a law criminalizing the act of wearing pants that hang below the waist. What do you think the arrest statistics are going to look like after one year? They will almost certainly show that far more black men were arrested than white men. As an added bonus, the arrest statistics will likely contain a few white men, which will give the politician evidence to argue that the law isn’t racist. Even if the majority of people who are tasked with enforcing the law (again, assuming they follow the rules) aren’t racist, the statistics will show a racial bias because the law targets an activity more commonly enjoyed by black men.

A system like this will more reliably deliver the desired outcome of its creators than a system that is composed of individuals who share the same desires as its creators. Why? Because the people who compose a system tend to change rather quickly whereas the rules that govern a system tend to change far less frequently. Moreover, even if the system is infiltrated by individuals who disagree with its creators’ desires, there isn’t anything they can do to change the system without breaking the rules (and thus being exposed and dismissed).

It’s unfortunate that the definition of systemic racism is far more complex than the commonly used definition. People tend to shy away from complexity. Although shying away from complexity is a sane default, it’s the wrong response when the seemingly simpler definition is wrong.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 19th, 2018 at 11:00 am

But Some Animals Are More Equal than Others

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Under the evil system of capitalism, hierarchies arise. The workers are reduced to a subservient class whose only purpose is to create wealth for the capitalists. The glories of socialism, on the other hand, ensure that all animals are equal:

With his country facing starvation, Venezuela’s leftist dictator caused a wave of disgust this week when he was seen chowing down on a pricey meal personally served to him by the celebrity chef “Salt Bae.”

Nicolás Maduro smiled and guffawed as he tucked into a $275 cut of lamb at the posh Nusr-Et steakhouse in Istanbul, Turkey, which is run by Nusret “Salt Bae” Gökçe, famous for viral videos of him seductively sprinkling salt.

In one video of the meal, the chef is seen slicing into the succulent lamb as the cigar-chomping Maduro watches.

This is why I don’t take socialists’ claims seriously. They claim that socialism creates equality but a rigid hierarchy of rich and poor has arisen in every country where it has been implemented. Living in the former Soviet Union, German Democratic Republic, Hungarian People’s Republic, etc. wasn’t too bad… if you were a member of the ruling party. If you weren’t, life was pretty miserable.

We’re seeing the equality of socialism play out again in Venezuela. While the plebeians starve to death, the patricians are eating lavish meals and smoking fancy cigars. The only silver lining is that governments aren’t permanent and the current Venezuelan government appears to be in the collapse stage. If the people are Venezuela are lucky, the next set of rulers won’t be as totalitarian.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 19th, 2018 at 10:30 am

The Power of Public Shaming

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Every major security breach is followed by calls for politicians to enact more stringent regulations. When I see people demanding additional government regulations I like to point out that there is a list of alternative solutions that can yield far better results (especially since regulations, being a product of government, are extremely rigid and slow to change, which makes them a solution ill-suited to fast moving markets). One of those solutions is public shaming. It turns out that public shaming is often a viable solution to security issues:

See the theme? Crazy statements made by representatives of the companies involved. The last one from Betfair is a great example and the entire thread is worth a read. What it boiled down to was the account arguing with a journalist (pro tip: avoid arguing being a dick to those in a position to write publicly about you!) that no, you didn’t just need a username and birth date to reset the account password. Eventually, it got to the point where Betfair advised that providing this information to someone else would be a breach of their terms. Now, keeping in mind that the username is your email address and that many among us like cake and presents and other birthday celebratory patterns, it’s reasonable to say that this was a ludicrous statement. Further, I propose that this is a perfect case where shaming is not only due, but necessary. So I wrote a blog post..

Shortly after that blog post, three things happened and the first was that it got press. The Register wrote about it. Venture Beat wrote about it. Many other discussions were held in the public forum with all concluding the same thing: this process sucked. Secondly, it got fixed. No longer was a mere email address and birthday sufficient to reset the account, you actually had to demonstrate that you controlled the email address! And finally, something else happened that convinced me of the value of shaming in this fashion:

A couple of months later, I delivered the opening keynote at OWASP’s AppSec conference in Amsterdam. After the talk, a bunch of people came up to say g’day and many other nice things. And then, after the crowd died down, a bloke came up and handed me his card – “Betfair Security”. Ah shit. But the hesitation quickly passed as he proceeded to thank me for the coverage. You see, they knew this process sucked – any reasonable person with half an idea about security did – but the internal security team alone telling management this was not cool wasn’t enough to drive change.

As I mentioned above, regulations tend to be rigid and slow to change. Public shaming on the other hand is often almost instantaneous. It seldom takes long for a company tweet that makes an outrageous security claim to be bombarded with criticism. Within minutes there are retweets by people mocking the statement, replies from people explaining why the claim is outrageous, and journalists writing about how outrageous the claim is. That public outrage, unlike C-SPAN, quickly reaches the public at large. Once the public becomes aware of the company’s claim and why it’s bad, the company has to being worrying about losing customers and by extent profits.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 19th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Gun Control Support Rating System

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Read any article discussing gun ownership privileges (sometimes referred to as rights but rights are something you take and in most cases the discussion of gun ownership revolves around what privileges the government will grant) from the perspective of a gun control supporter and it will inevitably mention the zealous National Rifle Association (NRA) and it’s absolutist position against gun control. Obviously there is some confusion on this matter because the NRA has a long history of supporting gun control. To say that the organization is absolutist is nonsense.

Because I like to be helpful, I’ve decided to put together a quick and dirty three tier rating system for gun control support. I hope that it helps people writing articles in the future (because let’s face it, anybody who claim that the NRA is an absolutist when it comes to opposing gun control is a damn fool). Without further ado, here’s the rating system:

Tier 1: Supports the abolition of private gun ownership. Examples of this tier are Everytown for Gun Safety and the Brady Campaign.

Tier 2: Supports some restrictions to private gun ownership. Examples of this tier are the NRA and Gun Owners of America.

Tier 3: Opposes all forms of restrictions on private gun ownership. The best example of this tier is Cody Wilson and his company Defense Distributed.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 18th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Believing in Science

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I’ve come across a lot of people who have said that people shouldn’t support politicians who don’t “believe in science.” That phrase always amuses me.

To believe is to accept that something is true. The scientific method is the antithesis of belief. Instead of accepting something as true, the scientific method postulates that all hypotheses be tested through experimentation. If experimentation doesn’t prove a hypothesis false, then there is some evidence to support it. But even then the hypothesis isn’t assumed to be true, it merely hasn’t been proven false. If a hypothesis hasn’t been proven false, the scientific method demands that further experimentation be performed. After rigorous experimentation a hypothesis may graduate to a scientific theory but even then it isn’t assumed to be true. A scientific theory is merely an explanation for observations in the natural world that has been repeatedly tested and verified. At any point in the future an experiment could show that the explanation isn’t correct.

One should not believe in the scientific method. One should treat the scientific method as a scientific theory, a tool that has proven useful through use but not necessarily the only useful tool. One should not believe what scientists have published. One should seek to recreate the results published by scientists. In other words, to truly subscribe to the scientific method one must be skeptical about all things, even the scientific method.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 18th, 2018 at 10:30 am

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Buying Less for More

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The Trump administration has decided to devalue your dollars even more by placing additional tariffs on Chinese goods:

The US is imposing new tariffs on $200bn (£150bn) of Chinese goods as it escalates its trade war with Beijing.

These will apply to almost 6,000 items, marking the biggest round of US tariffs so far.

Handbags, rice and textiles will be included, but some items expected to be targeted such as smart watches and high chairs have been excluded.

The Chinese commerce ministry said it had no choice but to retaliate but is yet to detail what action it will take.

The US taxes will take effect from 24 September, starting at 10% and increasing to 25% from the start of next year unless the two countries agree a deal.

The upside of trade wars is that they don’t start out as shooting wars. The downside of trade wars is that they’re a war on consumers. Every tariff means that consumers are stuck paying more for less. A bag of rice that costs $5.00 can suddenly cost $6.25 for no reason other than where it was produced. A cell phone that costs $500 can suddenly cost $625. What makes tariffs a real gut punch though is that since they’re usually calculated by the price of a good, they increase as inflation causes prices to increase. If that $500 cell pone begins to cost $600 due to inflation, the cost with the tariff tax included will be $750.

The only winner in a trade war is the government because it pockets the tariffs.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 18th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Monday Metal: Way Of Kings by Paladin

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This week’s Monday Metal entry is a demo from a new band out of Reykjavík, Iceland. I’m really digging the two demos that the band has released and I hope a full length album is released in the near future.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 17th, 2018 at 10:00 am

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