A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘News You Need to Know’ Category

Should Free Speech Be a Little Less Free?

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Should free speech be a little less free? The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is beginning to think so:

The American Civil Liberties Union will weigh its interest in protecting the First Amendment against its other commitments to social justice, racial equality, and women’s rights, given the possibility that offensive speech might undermine ACLU goals.

“Our defense of speech may have a greater or lesser harmful impact on the equality and justice work to which we are also committed,” wrote ACLU staffers in a confidential memo obtained by former board member Wendy Kaminer.

[…]

The memo also makes clear that the ACLU has zero interest in defending First Amendment rights in conjunction with Second Amendment rights. If controversial speakers intend to carry weapons, the ACLU “will generally not represent them.”

One good thing to come out of the Trump presidency is that many political activists and organizations are revealing their true colors. I’m of the opinion that rights are make believe. Part of why I believe this is because of how supposed rights are treated here in the United States. I’m of the opinion that if rights exist, then they’re absolute. The prevailing attitude here in the United States is that rights exist but instead of being absolute they’re more like a wishy-washy guideline that can be infringed whenever convenience requires it.

The ACLU has advertised itself as a bulwark of rights since its inception. Moreover, the ACLU generally cites the Bill of Rights when it discusses the matter. However, anybody who has seen the ACLU’s lack of zeal in defending the Second Amendment knows that the organization, like most Americans, has been selective in regards to what is considers rights for ages now. It should come as no surprise that the organization is now less zealous about defending the First Amendment as well. If the Bill of Rights is the source of rights, as the ACLU generally acts, then it admitted that rights can be infringed whenever convenience requires it as soon as it decided that the Second Amendment wasn’t worth defending.

In a way I get the ACLU’s position. Nobody wants to be seen as the person who defends Nazis or members of the Ku Klux Klan. But if you’re going to be in the business of defending supposed rights, then you’re necessarily putting yourself in a position where you’re going to be defending unsavory sorts because those are the sorts whose rights tend to get infringed frequently. While I do understand the ACLU’s position, I also think that if the organization can’t take the heat, it should get out of the kitchen. Perhaps it could change its name to the American Convenient Liberties Union or something to reflect its true nature.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 22nd, 2018 at 11:00 am

The Nazgûl Decided that Small Online Businesses Must Be Destroyed

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If you’re a small online retailer in, say, Texas and a customer in Minnesota buys an item from you, should you be required to collect sales taxes for Minnesota? I would argue that it’s asinine to expect a small only retailer to be familiar with the sales tax laws of all 50 states but I’m not one of the Nazgûl so my opinion on the matter is irrelevant:

The 5-4 decision overturns a 1992 Supreme Court precedent that effectively barred states from collecting such taxes, and could leave consumers paying more for online purchases as cash-strapped states tap a rich vein of new revenue.

The icing on the cake, in my opinion, is the justification for the ruling. Usually the nine muumuu clad individuals who constitute the Supreme Court cite constitutional precedence to justify their rulings. For this case they appear to have just outright said that the previous ruling was inconvenient and therefore invalid:

In making their decision, justices ruled that South Dakota can collect sales taxes from online retailers like Wayfair, which was sued by the state. In doing so, the court reversed a 1992 ruling that allowed states to levy taxes only on those businesses with a brick-and-mortar location within the state. The court said that law effectively incentivized businesses to “avoid physical presence” in states and led to “a judicially created tax shelter.” Ultimately, the justices deemed the current law outdated.

“The Internet’s prevalence and power have changed the dynamics of the national economy,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. “The expansion of e-commerce has also increased the revenue shortfall faced by States seeking to collect their sales and use taxes.”

This illustrates one of my biggest gripes with nation-state legal systems. It’s difficult to operate in an environment where the rules can change on a whim. At any point your municipal, county, state, of federal government could pass a law that affects your business negatively. Moreover, if you do manage to fight the new law in court and win, you aren’t safe because a future court ruling could reverse the decision.

In this case online retailers have been operating on a 1992 Supreme Court precedent that said that state governments can only collect sales taxes from businesses within their borders. Today’s Supreme Court decided that its previous decision was inconvenient and changed the rules. Now states are free to collect sales taxes from retailers in other states. That means every online retailer now needs people on hand who are familiar with the sales tax laws in all 50 states. Tax specialists aren’t cheap so this decision will impact a lot of retailers negatively, possibly to such an extent that they will be forced to close up shop.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 22nd, 2018 at 10:30 am

Another Socialist Paradise

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The best argument against socialism is socialism itself. Socialists will often argue that socialist nations ensure that their people have access to shelter, food, clean water, healthcare, and so on. That may be the case initially, though even that is extremely rare, but eventually the iron rule of TANSTAAFL comes into play and the price of all of those “free” things makes itself apparent and, unfortunately, that price is very high:

Venezuelan security forces have carried out hundreds of arbitrary killings under the guise of fighting crime, the UN says in a new report.

The UN’s human rights body says it has credible accounts of security forces raiding poor neighbourhoods and killing young men, often in their homes.

The rule of law was “virtually absent” in the country, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said.

Somebody has to pay for all of those “free” goods and services. If there is a great deal of wealth in a nation, its government can pilfer that wealth for quite some time to provide its promised “free” goods and services (which is how many European countries are getting away with it). However, the government eventually pilfers all of the wealth. When that happens, people begin to starve and starving people have a habit of not starving to death quietly. They tend to rebel. When that happens, the government has only one option to maintain its power: brute force.

Things get ugly when men with guns go against men without guns. But the men with guns who are employed by collapsing governments tend to only stay loyal so long as they’re receiving paychecks. Since the Venezuelan government is running out of money, it will soon be unable to pay its soldiers. Once the soldiers aren’t being paid, they will likely turn on everybody (they have the guns so they can take whatever they want from those without guns) and a warlord or two will eventually gain enough support to become the new government. It’s a messy process but the inevitable one for socialist nations.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 22nd, 2018 at 10:00 am

The Absurdity Continues

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After a tremendous amount of public outrage, Trump finally relented and decided to end the policy of separating children from their parents. All is well again, right? As this is a post about a political solution to a political problem, you know that the answer is no. The executive order signed by Trump didn’t really improve the situation:

President Trump caved to enormous political pressure on Wednesday and signed an executive order that ends the separation of families by indefinitely detaining parents and children together at the border.

[…]

Mr. Trump’s executive order directed the government’s lawyers to ask for a modification of an existing 1997 consent decree, known as the Flores settlement, that currently prohibits the federal government from keeping children in immigration detention — even if they are with their parents — for more than 20 days.

But it is unclear whether the court will agree to that request. If not, the president is likely to face an immediate legal challenge from immigration activists on behalf of families that are detained in makeshift facilities.

If Trump’s request is granted, children won’t be separated from their parents but will instead be detained potentially forever alongside their parents. This raises a lot of questions about ethics. For example, what happens if a child is illegally brought into the United States with their parents when they are young but they come of age during a lengthy detainment? The child didn’t choose to cross the border illegally, they were brought by their parents. However, they’re now adults and in the country illegally. Are they prosecuted even if the reason they’re in the country and legally considered an adult is because they were detained by law enforcers?

What is happening now is what inevitably happens whenever a zero tolerance policy is implemented. The flexibility that allows absurd situations to be avoided is gone so now the absurd situations come into existence. Unless the zero tolerance policy currently in place is removed, we’re going to be seeing a lot of absurd situations crop up and, in this case, those situations are going to involved complex ethical questions.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 21st, 2018 at 10:00 am

Living in an Idiocracy

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Sometimes I consider renaming my blog to Living in an Idiocracy. I continue to be amazed, or really dismayed, at the lack of basic intelligence held by my fellow Americans. The problem is that the idiocy doens’t stop at inconsequential matters, it involves matters of significant consequence as well:

The most important safety feature on your car isn’t its airbag or even the seat belts—it’s the tires. This should be obvious; those four round black things are the only part of the vehicle to actually touch the road, after all. Sadly, most American drivers fail to take care of their tires, with 35 percent of drivers not able to tell if their tires are bald. When you consider that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that vehicles with worn out tires were three times more likely to end up in a crash, you can see the problem.

Checking to see if your tires have a safe amount of tread on them isn’t difficult. Tires include a convenient built-in mechanism to determining your tires’ tread depth. Tread depth gauges can also be acquired for a song and if even that is too expensive for you, you can use something like a coin to determine if your tires need to be replaced.

The fact that motorists can get a license without learning that their tires need to be replaced periodically is astounding to me. How can somebody get through 16 years of their life without having known somebody who got the tires on their vehicle replaced and at least developed the curiosity to ask why they replaced their tires? The level of ignorance seems to require a willful commitment.

Honestly, if advocates of mass transit want a catchphrase for their campaigns they could do worse than, “Mass transit. Because you’re too stupid to be trusted with your own vehicle.”

Written by Christopher Burg

June 20th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Prison Nations Are Expensive

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The concept of justice in this country doesn’t involve trying to make victims as whole as possible, it involves locking offenders in secure storage faculties for arbitrarily defined spans of time. Seeing justice in this way has numerous downsides. One of those downsides is that the justice system becomes expensive. Couple the expense of a storage-based justice system with a list of laws so long that no single individual can ever hope to memorize it entirely and you end up with a financial crisis:

Gov. Jerry Brown’s spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1 includes a record $11.4 billion for the corrections department while also predicting that there will be 11,500 fewer inmates in four years because voters in November approved earlier releases for many inmates.

[…]

The price for each inmate has doubled since 2005, even as court orders related to overcrowding have reduced the population by about one-quarter. Salaries and benefits for prison guards and medical providers drove much of the increase.

The result is a per-inmate cost that is the nation’s highest — and $2,000 above tuition, fees, room and board, and other expenses to attend Harvard.

If California wants to spend billions of dollars for nothing of value, I can think of some alternatives that would at least have some kind of positive quality.

The only positive thing that I can say about a storage-based justice system is that it eventually bankrupts any government that implements it. Unfortunately, the bankruptcy doesn’t happen until a lot of misery has been created both in the victims because no real attempt has been made to make them whole again and the prisoners who spend years sitting in a cage doing nothing of value to anybody.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 20th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Romanes Eunt Domus

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A United States court decided that one cannot consent to a cop who is conversing with you through a commonly unserviceable translation utility:

Imagine you’re driving in a foreign country and a police officer stops you on the road. You don’t speak the cop’s language and they don’t speak yours, so a halting exchange ensues using a laptop and Google Translate. You’re not always sure what the officer is asking, and you end up agreeing to something you didn’t quite understand, and are arrested.

Translating human language is difficult, which is why it still remains a common target for satire. Anybody who has used Google Translate for a language about which they’re even moderately knowledgeable knows that it has severe limitations. While it can oftentimes provide you the gist of whatever is being translated, it’s a far cry from accurate. If you want to see this in action, translate something from one language to another then take the result and translate it back to the original language. The meaning may be preserved the first time, although even that’s unlikely, but if you keep doing this for a few iterations you’ll end up with some hilarious nonsensical arrangement of letters.

Needless to say, if a cop is using Google Translate to communicate that they’re arresting you, you have abundant evidence with which to argue that you had no idea what the officer was trying to communicate to you.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 19th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Perspective

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I’m of the opinion that you can despise somebody but not despise everything single thing that they do. For example, I despise Adolf Hitler. Adolf Hitler drank water. Does that mean I despise drinking water? Of course not. Likewise, I despise Donald Trump. Donald Trump is making inroads with North Korea that could lead to a reduction in hostilities if not outright peace. Does that mean I despise peace? Of course not.

Unfortunately, this attitude, albeit quite simple, still qualifies as rather nuanced by modern standards. Many people, especially those who have given themselves over entirely to a binary political spectrum, are unable to deal with even minor nuances so even some former peaceniks have begun screaming about the evils of making peace with North Korea for the sole reason of who is making that peace. This has lead to some rather unexpected propaganda. Case in point, Engadget, a website that posts articles almost exclusively about technology products, felt the need to pen an article that can be summed up as, “North Korea is evil! It cannot be trusted! We can’t make peace with it!” The argument put forward by the article, like the attitude that lead to the writing of the article, is built on the lack of being able to understand nuance.

The first part I’m going to pick out isn’t an argument but an attempt to frame North Korea as an evil nation who did terrible things to Americans. What it fails to do is take perspective into account:

North and South Korea have been divided since 1945; for a short period Russia occupied the North while the US occupied the south; during the war, China aided the north and the US aided the south (we lost 54,246 lives, and 7,704 American soldiers are still unaccounted for). The Korean War ended with an armistice agreement but no peace settlement, so technically the war has never ended. American military remains in the south as part of a mutual defense treaty.

North Korea killed 54,246 Americans! See how evil it is! What’s missing is the other side of the equation. You see, the Korean War was, as the name implies, a war. In war soldiers on both sides tend to die. As it turns out, a lot of North Koreans died:

In a 1984 interview, Air Force General Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, claimed U.S. bombs “killed off 20 percent of the population” and “targeted everything that moved in North Korea.” These acts, largely ignored by the U.S. collective memory, have deeply contributed to Pyongyang’s contempt for the U.S. and especially its ongoing military presence on the Korean Peninsula.

If an estimated 20 percent of the North Korean population wasn’t enough, many North Korean cities, including Pyongyang, ceased to exist.

I don’t say this to give North Korea a pass on the regime’s abuses. The North Korean government is an absolutely brutal one. However, to only give one side of the story is propaganda, not accurate history. Understanding the conflict requires analyzing all sides of the war, not just the American side.

Now that the outright propaganda of the article has been addressed, let’s consider the argument against making peace with North Korea:

Fast forward to 1963, and the world finds out that the North has begun building a nuclear reactor. Then a nuclear weapons program in the 1980s. The first time North Korea committed to denuclearization was 1992’s Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula — though historically, nuclear inspectors have been barred from surveying North Korean facilities.

North Korea entered the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization and failed to abide by the agreement! How can we trust a regime that has broken its promises in the past? But why did North Korea fail to abide by its side of the agreement? Fortunately, I’ve read The Dead Hand by David Hoffman. Part of it touched on the history of nuclear weapons in North Korea and the agreement that was made between it and the United States. As with any agreement, this agreement involved concessions from both sides. One of the concessions made by the United Stats was a commitment to provide North Korea with two light water nuclear reactors. However, after the agreement was made, as is so often the case in the United States, the rules changed:

Soon after the agreement was signed, U.S. Congress control changed to the Republican Party, who did not support the agreement.[19][20] Some Republican Senators were strongly against the agreement, regarding it as appeasement.[21][22] Initially, U.S. Department of Defense emergency funds not under Congress’ control were used to fund the transitional oil supplies under the agreement,[23] together with international funding. From 1996 Congress provided funding, though not always sufficient amounts.

The United States didn’t abide by its part of the agreement. Normally when one side fails to uphold its end of an agreement, the other side is not expected to uphold its part. Apparently North Korea was supposed to uphold its end even though it didn’t receive what was promised to it.

Once again the issue wasn’t the upstanding United States being snuffed by wicked North Korea. The issue was two belligerents continuing to be belligerent. This is not to say that North Korea was the good guy or an innocent victim, it’s to point out that the United States wasn’t an angel.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 19th, 2018 at 10:00 am

When Your Smart Lock Isn’t Smart

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My biggest gripe with so-called smart products is that they tend to not be very smart. For example, the idea of a padlock that can be unlocked with your phone isn’t a bad idea in of itself. It would certainly be convenient since most people carry a smartphone these days. However, if it’s designed by people who paid no attention to security, the lock quickly because convenient for unauthorized parties as well:

Yes. The only thing we need to unlock the lock is to know the BLE MAC address. The BLE MAC address that is broadcast by the lock.

I was so astounded by how bad the security was that I ordered another and emailed Tapplock to check the lock and app were genuine.

I scripted the attack up to scan for Tapplocks and unlock them. You can just walk up to any Tapplock and unlock it in under 2s. It requires no skill or knowledge to do this.

I wish that this was one of those findings that is so rare that it’s newsworthy. Unfortunately, a total lack of interest in security seems to be a defining characteristic for developers of “smart” products. While this lack of awareness isn’t unexpected for a company developing, say, a smart thermostat (after all, I wouldn’t expect somebody who is knowledgeable about thermostats to necessarily be an expert in security as well), it’s an entirely different matter when the product being developed is itself a security product.

The problem with this attack is how trivial it is to perform. The author of the article notes that they’re porting the script they developed to unlock these “smart” locks to Android. Once the attack is available for smartphones, anybody can potentially unlock any of these locks with a literal tap of a button. This makes them even easier to bypass than those cheap Masterlock padlocks that are notorious for being insecure.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 14th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Play Stupid Games, Win Stupid Prizes

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Remember the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) agent who became separated from his weapon while dancing and ended up shooting somebody he attempted to retrieve his weapon in a panic? In a surprise twist, he has been arrested:

An off-duty FBI agent whose gun accidentally fired after it dropped out of its holster while he was doing a backflip at a Denver nightclub was taken into custody on Tuesday, jail records showed.

Chase Bishop, 29, turned himself in to the Denver County Sheriff’s Department Tuesday morning and was being held in a detention center in downtown Denver. He was charged Tuesday with one count of second-degree assault, the Denver County District Attorney’s Office said.

I feel the need to point out the verbiage used here. Notice how the report says that the FBI agent “accidentally” fired his firearm. While his actions were almost certainly accidental, it would have been better to use the word “negligently” since his negligence lead to the gun being fired. But negligence is when nongovernmental individuals unintentionally shoot somebody. When government agents unintentionally shoot somebody, it’s accidental.

As far as the charges go, I’d put money on the agent not being convicted. Law enforcers tend to enjoy a great deal of leeway when it comes to shooting bystanders, whether intentionally or accidentally. But it is nice to see that charges were actually filed and an arrest was made.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 13th, 2018 at 10:30 am