A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘News You Need to Know’ Category

The Hypocrisy That Wasn’t

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Longtime readers know that my opinion of Rand Paul isn’t high but my opinion of intellectually dishonest people is even lower. The story that Rand Paul has decided to go to Canada to receive medical treatment has been spreading like wildfire in socialist circles. A proponent of capitalism is going to a country with socialized medicine in order to receive treatment seems like a great demonstration of hypocrisy after all. However, the socialists sharing this story have forgotten one major fact: although Canada is a land of socialized medicine, a handful of private facilities still exist. This minor detail is important because it turns out that Rand Paul is going to one of those private facilities:

Those who chuckled at this supposed irony missed a major detail, even though it was noted in the press coverage: Paul’s surgery will take place at the Shouldice Hernia Hospital in Thornhill, Ontario. The clinic is private, and run for profit; The Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale, who is from Thornhill, notes that it was “grandfathered in to Ontario’s socialized health system.”

Instead of demonstrating Rand Paul’s hypocrisy, this story demonstrates one of my pet peeves: biased nuance. When you criticize the actions of an individual those who consider themselves on the same side as that individual will analyze your criticism with a fine-tooth comb in the hopes of finding a detail that calls your criticism into doubt. That same level of concern isn’t take for criticisms made against perceived opponents.

If you see a criticism of somebody you perceive to be an opponent, do a little digging before you share that story with your ideological circlejerk. It’ll save you from looking like a fool when somebody on that individual’s “side” analyzes the criticism and finds details putting it into doubt.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 16th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Binary Thinking Is, on the Whole, Harmful

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A recent report released by the American Psychological Association (APA) has been making the rounds and stirring up outrage. Why? Because it more or less argues that traits commonly associated with the Western concept of masculinity are bad:

The main thrust of the subsequent research is that traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful.

My gripe with this claim is the same gripe I have with most claims made in controversial debates: everything is placed on a binary scale of good and evil.

It’s true that any one of these traits can be unproductive. For example, getting aggressive because you perceive that some guy across the bar is looking at your funny isn’t productive. However, us humans have these traits so they must serve some kind of purpose, right?

If you subscribe to the idea that humanity was created by a higher power, then you likely accept that we were given these traits for a reason. Likewise, if you subscribe to the idea that humanity is the product of millions of years of natural selection, then you’re probably open to the idea that these traits serve some evolutionary purpose. Either way you look at it, these traits obviously have some benefits.

I find that most of the people who criticize stoicism don’t actually understand stoicism (this can really be said about most critics of most things). Stoicism doesn’t teach that humans should be emotionless automatons. It teaches that humans shouldn’t be slaves to their emotions. Not making rash decisions based on the whims of your feelings is actually a pretty solid foundation upon which to build a personal philosophy in my opinion (another aspect of stoicism is to treat others fairly and that all individuals are equal, which are other points that I think make a good foundation for a personal philosophy).

Without competitiveness humans likely wouldn’t strive to achieve great things. Look at the Space Race. The United States put a man on the moon to show up the Soviets, who put the first artificial satellite and man into orbit to show up the United States. All of those satellites currently orbiting the Earth that enable satellite television, the Global Positioning System, and global communications are the byproduct of competitiveness.

You might not expect a self-proclaimed anarchist to say anything positive about dominance but even it can serve a valuable purpose. Consider the scenario where somebody gets shot. All too often this scenario can result it onlookers doing nothing other than recording the aftermath and uploading it to YouTube. When this happens, the person who was shot often dies. However, if a single person decides to dominate the situation, the outcome often changes. All it takes in those situations if for a single individual to point to a specific person and say in a commanding voice, “You, call 911,” to get medical personnel on site. Dominance is an important trait in crisis situations because if nobody takes charge, more often than not, no coordinated effort is made to deal with the aftermath in a productive way.

Aggression is also a valuable trait unless you enjoy being steamrolled constantly. If somebody tries to coerce you into doing something you’d rather not do, getting aggressive is often the best way to convince that person to strong arm somebody else. For example, if an individual is attempting to kidnap you, fighting back fiercely might convince them that you’re more trouble than you’re worth.

So all of these traits, on a whole, are not harmful. They can be harmful in excess but that is true of all human traits. But recognizing that requires breaking away from the binary thinking that dominates thinking here in the United States (and, really, most of the world).

Written by Christopher Burg

January 10th, 2019 at 10:00 am

One Weird Trick to Avoid Not Receiving a Refund

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The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), in its quest to make the federal government “shutdown” as painful as possible, has announced that while it will continue to take your money, it won’t return your refund:

During a shutdown, the IRS typically doesn’t perform audits, pay refunds or offer assistance to taxpayers if they have questions, especially outside of the filing season. And while some of the lights may still be on in the building, the agency is currently operating with only 12.5 percent of its workforce, or fewer than 10,000 federal employees.

A lot of people are upset about this but I’ve got one weird trick to avoid not receiving your refund: don’t overpay. If you receive a refund on your taxes, it means you gave the government an interest free loan that it is returning to you. If you adjust your withholdings properly, you won’t overpay and therefore won’t need to worry about a refund.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 7th, 2019 at 10:30 am

Grammar Matters

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People are often surprised by what constituted a “classical” education. Education in ancient Rome was heavily focused on grammar. Why? Because the highest aspiration of an educated Roman was to make convincing arguments to get his (sorry ladies, the ancient Romans weren’t into gender equality) clients off the hook for whatever crimes they were accused of perpetrating (much like the decisions of the legal system here in the modern United States, the decisions of Rome’s legal system were more dependent on the ability of lawyers to spin a good yarn than what the evidence indicated).

A brief conversation with the average person will quickly prove that modern education isn’t terribly concerned with grammar. But I urge people to study grammar. While the highest aspiration of an educated person today may not be to impress a judge or jury with impeccable storytelling, the proper use of grammar can still pay dividends:

A pair of student drug dealers have been spared jail after a judge was impressed by the ‘spelling and grammar’ of the texts they sent advertising their product.

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A court heard police examined their mobile phones to find text messages relating to their drug deals composed using perfect spelling and punctuation.

Judge David Hale said the ‘grammar and punctuation’ in the messages was of a much higher standard than normally seen from dealers and indicated a higher level of education.

The bar is set sufficiently low that the appropriate use of a single comma or period qualifies as a “much higher standard than normally seen.” But that’s good news for anybody who “don’t write so good.” They don’t have to study for long to become better than average.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 4th, 2019 at 10:30 am

The Shutdown That Isn’t

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Did you know that the federal government is shutdown? If you didn’t, look at these eight situations created by the shutdown that will impact your life in terrible ways!

The first takeaway from that article is that those eight things are the scariest things the writer could find. Of those eight things only one, Native American not receiving payment for lands “purchased” by the federal government decades ago, stands to impact anybody in any meaningful way. But Native Americans being screwed over by the federal government has been the status quo since its founding so the shutdown really isn’t changing anything in that regard.

The second takeaway is the answer to the question, how can that list of terrible shutdown consequences fail to provide anything truly frightening:

The partial shutdown means about 25% of the US federal government has no funding.

It turns out that this “shutdown” is leaving 75% of the federal government with funding. While you might not be able to watch a live stream of the pandas at the National Zoo (which, ironically, is just a camera running a feed and therefore doesn’t need any funding to continue operating), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives can still afford to kick down your door and shoot your dog because the 16 inch barrel on your AR-15 looks suspiciously like 15.9 inches.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 4th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Believe Everything You Read

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During this moral panic of fake news, a lot of people have expended a great deal of energy arguing over what news sources are trustworthy and what news sources spew lies. Most of the people arguing in this debate lack any arguments remotely approaching objectivity. Instead they declare whatever sources agree with their biases as trustworthy and whatever sources disagree with their biases as great deceivers.

I tend to take a more cynical approach. I assume anything being fed to me by a major media outlet is mostly bullshit with, at most, a few kernels of truthful information buried in the muck. My cynicism allows me to read stories like this with no feeling of surprise:

A German journalist who trekked to Fergus Falls, Minn., to profile a rural Midwest community after President Donald Trump’s inauguration wrote that he was greeted at the city limits by a sign that read: “Mexicans Keep Out.”

Problem is, the sign reporter Claas Relotius described in his March 2017 article in Der Spiegel, a German language news magazine, never existed. Some of the quotes in the story were made up, too, as were some of the anecdotes — from a brewery hosting a Super Bowl viewing party (the brewery was closed that day) to the city administrator hosting a “Game of Thrones” quiz night (the city leader said he doesn’t even own a TV).

On Wednesday, Der Spiegel disclosed that Relotius, an award-winning reporter, confessed to fabricating at least 14 articles out of the nearly 60 he wrote since 2011, including the descriptive article about Fergus Falls.

If Der Spiegel was on your list of trustworthy sources, you might want to scratch it off. If Der Spiegel was on your list of great deceivers, don’t let the feeling of smugness overcome you because I guarantee you that Relotius isn’t alone. Most major media outlets likely have at least one if not several Relotiuses.

Determining if a story is “fake news” requires more than checking if it aligns with your personal biases. It requires performing an investigation into the journalists’s supposed investigation. If the journalist quoted somebody, you need to find that person and verify that they said what the story claims they said. If the journalist claimed to have seen a sign, you have to go to where the sign supposedly was and verify that it existed or, if it has been removed, find photographic evidence that it existenced. Without that kind of due diligence a journalist could be lying and nobody would be the wiser, unless he later confesses as Relotius did.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 21st, 2018 at 10:30 am

Tim May Has Passed

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Yesterday I learned that Tim May, the man who established the concept of crypto-anarchy, passed away:

Tim May, co-founder of the influential Cypherpunks mailing list and a significant influence on both bitcoin and WikiLeaks, passed away last week at his home in Corralitos, California. The news was announced Saturday on a Facebook post written by his friend Lucky Green.

In his influential 1988 essay, “The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto,” May predicted that advances in computer technology would eventually allow “individuals and groups to communicate and interact with each other” anonymously and without government intrusion. “These developments will alter completely the nature of government regulation [and] the ability to tax and control economic interactions,” he wrote.

The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto influenced me greatly. It was an important document when it was released and its importance has only grown since then. Today surveillance technology is pervasive, which has caused many people to feel hopeless but, as The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto pointed out, technological advances would also give people the power to communicate away from the gaze of Big Brother.

May’s predictions did pan out. Consider the Silk Road and it’s various offspring. Crypto-currencies enable people to avoid one of the government’s largest sources of control, monetary exchanges. Tor provides a protocol that allows people to view and host sites anonymously. When these two technologies were combined, the prohibition enforcers had a hell of a time taking it down and only managed to do so because the suspected creator made a post on a clear web forum with an e-mail address associated with an account on Silk Road. Today there are dozens of online drug markets veiled by Tor and crypto-currencies that the prohibition enforcers have so far been unable to take down.

There are numerous technologies available to allow us to communicate with each other secretly. Signal is probably the best example as it is both easy to use and its protocol has remains unbroken. Even clear web traffic has become more difficult to surveil. When Edward Snowden revealed the National Security Agency’s (NSA) pervasive domestic surveillance program, a lot of online traffic was transmitted in the clear. Today more and more traffic is transmitted in an encrypted manner, partially thanks to the efforts of Let’s Encrypt, which allows server administrators to setup trusted Transport Layer Security (TLS) connections for free.

Tim May and the ideas he helped establish deserve a lot of credit for influencing all of this. Fortunately, even though he is no longer with us, his ideas are established and will remain with us.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 18th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Helping

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I love having access to online satellite imagery. I can use it to find landmarks, interesting geological features, and military bases! That last item is why many nation states have developed a love-hate relationship with satellite imagery. While the technology is convenient for finding enemy military bases, it’s inconvenient because it allows the enemy to find your military bases.

Yandex decided it wanted to be helpful to several national militaries. Before making its satellite imagery publicly available, Yandex decided to blur out a bunch of military bases. However, in so doing it showed everybody exactly where a bunch of previously unknown military bases were:

A Russian online mapping company was trying to obscure foreign military bases. But in doing so, it accidentally confirmed their locations—many of which were secret.

Yandex Maps, Russia’s leading online map service, blurred the precise locations of Turkish and Israeli military bases, pinpointing their location. The bases host sensitive surface-to-air missile sites and facilities housing nuclear weapons.

The Federation of American Scientists reports that Yandex Maps blurred out “over 300 distinct buildings, airfields, ports, bunkers, storage sites, bases, barracks, nuclear facilities, and random buildings” in the two countries. Some of these facilities were well known, but some of them were not. Not only has Yandex confirmed their locations, the scope of blurring reveals their exact size and shape.

Whoopsie!

Written by Christopher Burg

December 13th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Avoiding Embarrassment

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Operation Fast and Furious was quite an embarrassing moment in the federal government’s history. Imagine being in its shoes. You’re arguing for stronger domestic gun control to prevent drug cartels from acquiring guns and then somebody discovered that you’re simultaneously running guns to drug cartels. Now imagine that you’re forced to relive this embarrassing moment in court. I’m sure you can see why federal prosecutors are trying to hide the embarrassing memory of Fast and Furious from the jury of the El Chapo trial:

BROOKLYN, New York — Operation Fast and Furious is among the most epic boondoggles in the history of federal law enforcement, which probably explains why federal prosecutors don’t want jurors in the trial of Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán to hear anything about it.

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So on Friday federal prosecutors in El Chapo’s trial in Brooklyn, which is entering its fifth week, filed a motion that asks Judge Brian Cogan to make “questions or evidence” about Fast and Furious “completely off limits” to the defense. The government cited “negative reporting on the operation” and argued that mentioning it would “distract and confuse the jury.”

I think the reason most of the reporting on Fast and Furious was negative was because it involved the federal government arming the very same people from whom it claimed to want to keep guns away. And I’m sure hearing about Fast and Furious would confuse the jury. Members of the jury would likely be asking themselves why the federal government has any right to prosecute a man to whom it sold guns.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 13th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Changing the Rules

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As the tirade against intellectual property I posted last week probably demonstrated, I really don’t like it when content creators change rules after I’ve purchased a product. It should also come as no surprise that the gaming industry has inspired yet another rant from me by changing the rules after purchase since the gaming industry seems to be the biggest offender in this regard.

Capcom released Street Fighter V in 2016. Fighting games aren’t my thing so I never purchased it but a lot of people did, for the full new game price of $60. Then, as it tradition with Capcom, a new edition of the same game was was released for $40. So far, so good. However, Capcom has announced that those who paid $40 for the new Arcade Edition will now have to deal with in-game ads:

Capcom is introducing “sponsored content” to Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition on December 11th to promote its purchasable bundles, costumes and the Pro Tour. You’ll see them on costumes, in certain stages and on pre-fight loading screens.

While Capcom is offering players the option to disable ads, doing so will negatively impact their game play experience by making unlockables trickle out at a glacial pace, which is the same strategy free-to-play games employ (buy in game currency or you’ll be grinding forever).

I have no objection to ad supported, free-to-play, or subscription games so long as I’m told up front how the developer is going to make its money. I do object when developers charge full price for a game and then change the business model after the fact. This is the reason I no longer purchase or play games on my iPhone. It’s quite common for mobile game developers to charge a price up front and then transition to a free-to-play model at a later date. When the transition occurs, the gameplay is almost always altered to make advancing in the game much more time consuming (not necessarily more difficult, just time consuming) to encourage you to buy in-game currency. If you purchased the game before the transition occurred, you’re effectively charged twice for the same game.

Unfortunately, the app store model makes this bait and switch tactic much easier to pull off. If an old computer game did this, I just wouldn’t install any updates after the transition occurred. However, with the app store model there generally isn’t a way to download previous versions of an app so even if you avoid installing updates after a developer changes to a new business model, you won’t be able to install the version you had if you have to reformat your phone. The same is also true on modern consoles where only the latest version of a game can be downloaded from the online app store and only the latest update can be applied to a physical copy of the game.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 12th, 2018 at 11:00 am