A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for October, 2018

Crowdsourcing Healthcare

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A lot of statists have been pointing out the prevalence of healthcare-related fundraisers on crowdsourcing sites like GoFundMe as an argument for implementing government monopolized healthcare (usually sold under the euphemism “universal healthcare”). On the one hand, there are quite a few healthcare-related fundraisers on crowdsourcing sites. One the other hand, a lot of them are for bullshit treatments that no government monopolized healthcare system would cover anyways:

They focused on five treatments that were showing up a lot in their results, searching the sites systematically for US- and Canada-based campaigns from the last three years that were specifically for those five. They found 1,059 campaigns that fit the bill, with the collective goal of raising more than $27 million, and hitting about a quarter of that target.

Just less than half of the campaigns were for an obvious culprit: homeopathic or naturopathic treatments for cancer, which raised $3.5 million across 474 campaigns. Around 200 campaigns were raising funds for hyberbaric oxygen therapy for brain injury, which supposedly “enhances the body’s natural healing process by inhalation of 100 percent oxygen in a total body chamber.” Much like homeopathy, it’s ineffective for anything other than efficiently emptying people’s pockets. While these treatments themselves might not do any direct harm, the harms of untreated cancer are glaring. (And we probably don’t want to be funneling funds towards the people offering these therapies.)

The other treatments on the list were less popular, but offer more direct dangers. Stem cell therapy for brain injury or spinal cord injury carries substantial risks, while unproven claims of benefits are oversold. And long-term antibiotic therapy for so-called “chronic Lyme disease” can damage the body’s microbial partners, as well as causing antibiotic resistance and heightened risk of life-threatening infections. Together, these made up around 400 campaigns, raising $2.5 million.

Isn’t it annoying when somebody performs more than a cursory glance of your shoddy argument?

Most crowdfunding sites have little oversight of fundraisers. Obviously illegal fundraisers, such as people trying to crowdsource money to buy illegal drugs, usually get pulled quickly but if somebody managed to write a solid sob story about how they’re going to lose their house or die of cancer, it seems very little investigative effort is put into verifying the claims. Does the person who setup the fundraiser even live in a house? Does the treatment being sought by the cancer patient who setup the fundraiser have any medical validity? Who knows!

If you’re going to point to the number of healthcare-related fundraisers on crowdsourcing sites, you should take the time to investigate how many of those fundraisers are legitimate.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 26th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Special Delivery

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I’m assuming these bombs that everybody is taking about are newsworthy because they were mailed instead of launch from a drone.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 25th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Trade-offs

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I frequently recommend Signal as a secure messaging platform because it strikes a good balance between security and usability. Unfortunately, as is always the case with security, the balance between security and usability involves trade-offs. One of the trade-offs made by Signal has recently become the subject of some controversy:

When Signal Desktop is installed, it will create an encrypted SQLite database called db.sqlite, which is used to store the user’s messages. The encryption key for this database is automatically generated by the program when it is installed without any interaction by the user.

As the encryption key will be required each time Signal Desktop opens the database, it will store it in plain text to a local file called %AppData%\Signal\config.json on PCs and on a Mac at ~/Library/Application Support/Signal/config.json.

When you open the config.json file, the decryption key is readily available to anyone who wants it.

How could the developers of Signal make such an amateurish mistake? I believe the answer lies in the alternative:

Encrypting a database is a good way to secure a user’s personal messages, but it breaks down when the key is readily accessible to anyone. According to Suchy, this problem could easily be fixed by requiring users to enter a password that would be used to generate an encryption key that is never stored locally.

In order to mitigate this issue the user would be required to do more work. If the user is required to do more work, they’ll likely abandon Signal. Since Signal provides very good transport security (the messages are secure during the trip from one user to another) abandoning it could result in the user opting for an easier to use tool that didn’t provide as effective or any transport security, which would make them less secure overall.

iOS and many modern Android devices have an advantage in that they often have dedicated hardware that encryption keys can be written to but not read from. Once a key is written to the hardware data can be sent to it to be either encrypted or decrypted with that key. Many desktops and laptops have similar functionality thanks to Trusted Platform Modules (TPM) but those tend to require user setup first whereas the smartphone option tends to be seamless to the user.

There is another mitigation option here, which is to utilize full-disk encryption to encrypt all of the contents on your hard drive. While full-disk encryption won’t prevent resident malware from accessing Signal’s database, it will prevent the database from being copied from the computer by a thief or law enforcers (assuming they seized the computer when it was off instead of when the operating system was booted up and thus the decryption key for the drive was resident in memory).

Written by Christopher Burg

October 25th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Job Opportunities

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A lot of people complain that illegal immigrants are taking jobs from hardworking Americans. I expect many of them will soon be heading down to Texas to claim the jobs recently freed up by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE):

ICE rounded up more than 150 employees — nearly a quarter of Hiebert’s workforce — loaded them into buses and booked them for working in the country unlawfully. A criminal investigation of the company continues.

OK, I don’t expect any of the people complaining about illegal immigrants taking jobs to head down to Texas to fill those jobs. Why? Because welding trailers all day is generally seen as shit work. The hours are long, the work is repetitive, and the environment isn’t as comfortable as most office jobs. In other words it’s work that most Americans have no interest in doing, which is why a lot of these industries are dependent on illegal immigrants. While a lot of these jobs qualify as shit work for the average American, they qualify as a huge step up from the opportunities otherwise available to many illegal immigrants.

ICE isn’t freeing up these jobs so hardworking Americans can claim them, they’re removing the only labor pool that these manufacturers realistically have available to them. If ICE keeps up its current efforts, it could put a lot of manufacturers out of business.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 25th, 2018 at 10:00 am

The Government Giveth, the Government Taketh Away

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The problem with basing federal civil rights laws on government defined groups is that the government can at any time redefine or remove group definitions. One moment you might be a member of a protected group as defined by the federal government, the next moment you might not:

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth, the most drastic move yet in a governmentwide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law.

[…]

Now the Department of Health and Human Services is spearheading an effort to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance, according to a memo obtained by The New York Times.

Libertarianism, being an individualistic philosophy, argues that all should be equal under the law. This article demonstrates why. The principle that all are equal under the law is meant to take away the government’s ability to give and take protections willy nilly.

Of course it’s impossible for everybody to be equal under the law as soon as a government is established because members of a government by definition have privileges that people outside of the government lack (one of those privileges being the ability to define what protections exist). But I digress.

As soon as any individual is made unequal under the law the door is open for making other individuals unequal under the law. Title IX was meant to guard against gender-based discrimination in federally financed educational programs and activities. However, this law only came into existence because all were not already equal under the law. Instead of fixing the root of the problem, a group of politicians decided that two legally defined groups, men and women, should enjoy the same privileges from federally financed educational programs and activities. These protections were later expanded to transgender individuals by the previous administration. Now the current administration is proposing to redefine the applicable groups in such a way that transgender individuals lose Title IX protections.

Debates like this are inevitable when legal protections are granted collectively to legally defined groups instead of equally to every individual.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 24th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Obedience School

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To open with one of St. George Carlin’s best monologues:

There’s a reason for this, there’s a reason education sucks, and it’s the same reason it will never ever ever be fixed.

[…]

They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around a kitchen table and think about how badly they’re getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fuckin’ years ago. They don’t want that. You know what they want? They want obedient workers. Obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime and vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it.

The public schooling system here in the United States has nothing to do with education. Whatever education a child may receive is merely accidental. What the public schooling system is meant to do is create obedient subjects:

Late Friday afternoon, I received a notice from the Plano Independent School District, which runs the middle school our youngest daughter attends in Dallas, describing a new policy authorizing “random, suspicion-less metal detector searches” of students in grades 6 through 12. The district plans to use “both walk-through and hand-held metal detectors” on “random groups of students,” who will be required to “remove all metallic items from their pockets and person.” In addition, “backpacks, bags and personal items capable of concealing a weapon will be opened and inspected for the presence of weapons.” Any student “who refuses to comply with the search process will be removed from campus and subject to disciplinary consequences.”

Most students are subjected to a civics class where the Bill of Rights is explained. One may worry that learning about something like the Fourth Amendment may convince a student that they have protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, which is why the students are also taught that the Bill of Rights doesn’t apply to them. When I was in school the line was that since we weren’t yet adults, the Bill of Rights didn’t apply to us. The school mentioned in the article has opted to go with a more demonstrative strategy by subjecting students to completely random searches.

The end goal is to create a population that believes it is free without actually being free. After these students graduate they will be used to rolling over for random searches so when law enforcers demand that they submit, the vast majority of them will without question.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 24th, 2018 at 10:30 am

NYPD Suspends Use of Body Cameras

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What were sold as a tool for law enforcer accountability turned into a tool for evidence gathering. Body cameras have failed to reign in bad police behavior but they still provided us little people with some amusement as law enforcers tried to explain how really egregious looking footage was actually a misunderstanding. It appears as though the New York Police Department (NYPD) has tired of explaining the embarrassing footage because it has completely suspended their use:

The NYPD’s plan to outfit every officer with body cameras has run into trouble. The department has pulled about 2,990 Vievu LE-5 cameras across the city after one officer’s camera caught fire near a Staten Island precinct. There’s a “possible product defect” with the LE-5, the NYPD said in a statement, and it was removing existing models out of an “abundance of caution.” Most of the force’s 15,500 cameras (including LE-4 models) aren’t affected.

As one of my friends said, I wonder how long the officer had to hold a lighter to their body camera before it stayed lit.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 24th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Voter Fraud

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There are certain rules in the universe. Light travels at 299,792,458 meters per second, the total entropy of an isolated system can never decrease over time, and arguments about voter fraud become more frequent as election dates near. An election is drawing near here in the United States so politicos are arguing about voter fraud. As is tradition the Republicans are arguing that voter fraud is a major problem while the Democrats are arguing it isn’t.

What amuses me most about this argument is that everybody involved in it uses the term voter fraud as if voting itself wasn’t a form of fraud. According to Wikipedia, “fraud is deliberate deception to secure unfair or unlawful gain, or to deprive a victim of a legal right.”

When people go to the voting booth, what are they trying to accomplish? They’re trying to get their preferred candidates into office. Why would they care about what candidates are in office? Because they hope that their preferred candidates will reciprocate by giving supporters special favors.

Mind you, no self-respecting voter will admit to this, which is where the deception comes in. If you ask 10 voters what they hope to accomplish by voting, you’ll probably hear 10 people tell you that they’re trying to make their nation, state, and/or local community better for everybody living in it. They don’t claim to being voting for themselves but for the greater good. Isn’t that so magnanimous?

If the claim to be voting for the benefit of everybody is a lie, what special favors might a voter hope to gain if their preferred candidates get into office? A business owner might hope that their preferred candidate will pass regulatory legislation that will hinder their competitors. An anti-gun activist might hope that their preferred candidate will pass legislation that prohibits nongovernmental entities from possessing firearms. A religious individual might hope that their preferred candidate will pass legislation that gives their religious beliefs force of law.

Voting is nothing more than a deception to realize unfair gain or deprive individuals of legal rights. When somebody commits what is commonly referred to as voter fraud, they’re simply cheating at cheating. That being the case, I believe that the term voter fraud is redundant and should instead simply be referred to as voting.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 23rd, 2018 at 11:00 am

Is Facebook Private or Public

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Is Facebook private or public? This is currently being hotly debated, even in libertarian circles where Facebook was by and large considered private up until it silenced a large number of libertarian-leaning groups and pages. I believe that in order to debate this topic, the definitions of public and private must first be established.

What distinguishes a private entity from a public one? I would argue that the characteristic that most distinguishes a private entity from a public one is whether or not you’re allowed to stop participating in it. If, for example, you stop participating in the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), you will likely be awakened some early morning by the sound of men with guns breaking down your door. If you’re lucky, they’ll kidnap you. If you’re unlucky, they’ll summarily execute you.

What happens if you stop participating in Facebook? You stop participating in Facebook. That’s it. No men with guns will kick down your door and kidnap or execute you.

Since participation in Facebook is voluntary, I will continue to argue that it is a private entity. Even if it does collect user information for the expressed purpose of selling it to government agencies (as many self-proclaimed libertarians have been arguing as of late), it’s still private because you’re not being cohered into participating in the information collection (until the IRS’s information collection).

Written by Christopher Burg

October 23rd, 2018 at 10:30 am

Reduced Competition

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Pat Robertson appealed to the people of the United States to overlook the Saudis’ minor transgression of butchering a journalist because a $100 billion weapons sale was on the table. Not only does it appear as though those weapons sales will continue but there may actually be more! One of the United States’ competitors has announced its intention of pulling out of future arms deal with Saudi Arabia:

BERLIN — In a move that could put further pressure on President Trump to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced Sunday evening that her government would not approve new arms exports to the kingdom until further notice.

If the United States can exploit Germany’s decision, it could ensure that Germany never gets another arms deal with Saudi Arabia. That would put the United States one step closer to being the despotic regime’s sole arms dealer! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

Written by Christopher Burg

October 23rd, 2018 at 10:00 am

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