A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘News You Need to Know’ Category

Promises, Promises

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There was a lot of anger when Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were arrested for, apparently, being black in Starbucks. Some people have claimed that there were other grounds for the arrest but form what I’ve found, and I admit that I hasn’t spent much time digging deeply into this so I could be incorrect, the arrest was for being black in Starbucks. But the reason for the arrest is irrelevant. What matters is the public’s perception of the arrest. That perception has caused a not insignificant amount of heartache for both Starbucks and the City of Philadelphia, which employs the law enforcers who performed the arrest. The City of Philadelphia, not surprisingly, decided to settle the matter with a payoff. However, it got off cheap:

Two black men arrested for sitting at a Philadelphia Starbucks without ordering anything have settled with the city for a symbolic $1 each and a promise from officials to set up a $200,000 program for young entrepreneurs.

Emphasis mine.

Promises from politicians aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. Nelson and Robinson would have been better off taking the $200,000 and setting up the program themselves because I guarantee that the city is going to sweep its promise under the rug as soon as the public forgets about the entire matter. If Nelson and Robinson somehow do manage the make the city go through with its promise, the officials tasked with doling out the money will certainly find a way to disqualify everybody who isn’t politically connected. That’s how government programs work.

Overall, this was good news for Philadelphia and bad news for black people who frequent Starbucks because now neither the city nor its law enforcers have any motivation not to arrest people for being black in Starbucks.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 3rd, 2018 at 10:00 am

Open Textbooks

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I enjoy helping individuals educate themselves. In pursuit of this goal I try to find sources of free educational material and share them with as many people as possible. Recently I stumbled across the Open Culture website, which has a page listing freely available textbooks.

I haven’t had an opportunity to dig through all of the listed textbooks nor am I qualified to determine the accuracy of the material in many of the listed books. However, of the few textbooks I have perused, they appear to be good quality and were written by credentialed professors.

Feel free to go through the list and download anything that piques your interest.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 1st, 2018 at 10:30 am

Two Seasons

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Here in Minnesota there are two seasons: the season where the roads are unusable due to snow and the season where the roads are unusable due to MnDOT:

This week’s ramp closures and detours are just a foretaste of what’s coming in mid-June. That’s when the Minnesota Department of Transportation will shut down the main ramp leading from northbound Interstate 35W into downtown Minneapolis — for four months.

MnDOT, city officials and many downtown employers are bracing for epic traffic jams and urging commuters to take transit or work at home — and even dangling huge parking discounts for carpools.

The I-94/I-35W interchange is being rebuilt as part of a $239 million makeover of I-35W between downtown and 43rd Street. But that is just one of four work zones that I-35W drivers will encounter this summer. Overlapping projects with lane closures of their own will be underway simultaneously in Burnsville and Roseville and just past the I-35W/35E split in Forest Lake.

The last sentence probably illustrates the biggest issue with Minnesota road construction. It’s not just that parts of a major artery are shutdown but that multiple parts of multiple major arteries are shutdown simultaneously. MnDOT representatives are always quick to tell commuters to use alternate routes but oftentimes no alternate routes exist because MnDOT has shut them down as well.

As a libertarian I’m required by law to answer the question, without government who would build the roads? I will answer that question with another question. Without government who will shutdown the roads? Here in Minnesota it seems like we’re forced to pay a lot of taxes to build roads that we’re never able to use.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 1st, 2018 at 10:00 am

Being Inquisitive Versus Believing

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William Blackstone expressed the popular idea that, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” Although the concept that accused parties are innocent until proven guilty existed before Blackstone’s formulation, it describes the foundation upon which the concept was built. Innocent people should never have to suffer for a crime they did not commit even if the rigorous criteria that ensure that allows some guilty people to escape punishment.

This is a concept in which I strongly believe, which is why arguments like this make me uneasy:

The mask slips yet again. When challenged to defend flyers posted around an Oregon campus that warn of a widespread sexual assault problem, a college official said the following: “Believing survivors means let’s sit down and understand each other’s experience. Let’s believe what that person said, he or she has experienced, that we have experienced. It may not be the truth, as has been determined, but it is that person’s truth and what they were going through.”

When I express my agreement with William Blackstone, I’m often accused of also necessarily saying that victims of sexual assault shouldn’t be believed. After all, if you believe that accused parties are innocent until proven guilty, you necessarily believe that anybody who accused another of wrongdoing is lying unless they can prove otherwise, right? Not quite.

I think the biggest problem with arguments about whether individuals who accuse others of wrongdoing should be believed is the use of the word “believe.” I’m of the opinion that if one individual accuses another of sexual assault, outsiders shouldn’t automatically believe the accuser nor should they automatically believe that the accuser is lying. Instead outsiders should be inquisitive. They should want to pursue an investigation so that the truth may be discovered.

Far too often people claim that an individual who accuses another of sexual assault should be automatically believed. On the opposite side of the spectrum is the automatic assumption that an individual making such an accusation is lying in order to bring harm to the accused. Neither attitude is productive because both attitudes establish judgements without investigation. It would be akin to a scientist, upon making an observation, concocting a theory to explain that observation and declaring that theory as fact without testing their theory through experimentation to determine whether it’s plausible or incorrect.

Being inquisitive when an individual accuses another of wrongdoing guards against punishing the accused if it turns out they didn’t wrong the accuser while also allowing the accuser to be punished if it turns out that they did wrong the accuser.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 27th, 2018 at 11:00 am

The Leaders of North and South Korea Actually Talked

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We witnessed a historic moment yesterday. For the first time since 1953 a leader from one Korea crossed the demilitarized zone to the other Korea:

The leaders of North and South Korea have agreed to work to rid the peninsula of nuclear weapons after holding a historic summit.

The announcement was made by the North’s Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in of South Korea after talks at the border.

The two also agreed to push towards turning the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953 into a peace treaty this year.

This is great news. I’m actually surprised that Kim Jong-un is even discussing denuclearization since his nuclear weaponry is likely the only thing that has dissuaded the United States from invading his country. But then this agreement could act as similar agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union did. While both sides paid lip service to denuclearization, neither actually denuclearized. However, the talks about denuclearization opened a dialogue between the two countries, which helped greatly ease tensions.

Perhaps both North and South Korea are interested in denuclearization, perhaps not. But the mere willingness to discuss the matter will likely ease tensions between the two nations enough to allow for further progress on the road to peaceful coexistence.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 27th, 2018 at 10:00 am

The Shit Show of Shit Shows

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Yesterday it was announced that Officer Noor is pleading not guilty to the charges against him:

The former Minneapolis police officer charged in the fatal shooting of Justine Damond last July plans to plead not guilty, using self-defense and reasonable force as a defense during trial, according to court documents.

I’m very curious to see what evidence will be presented by Noor’s defense to support their claim that he was acting in self-defense and used reasonable force. However, the courts tend to side heavily with law enforcers so I wouldn’t be surprised if he beats the charges even with the flimsiest of evidence.

What I do know is that this case is going to be a shit show.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 26th, 2018 at 10:00 am

There Is No Winning with Community Rules

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Facebook has had a rough year. As a service with over two billion active users, it has been receiving a constant stream of mutually exclusive demands. Unfortunately, there is no way to please everybody when they want mutually exclusive things. For example, a lot of Facebook’s users want the service to be a place that upholds the ideals of free speech while a lot of its other users want the service to regulate various forms of speech.

Facebook responded to these demands by enforcing “community standards.” However, its enforcement of these “community standards” have seemed arbitrary because they’ve never actually been published. But the age of being punished for violating a secret set of rules is over. Facebook has finally publishing its community standards:

Facebook has released a lengthy 22-point document that explains more fully what its “community standards” are—in short, what is and isn’t allowed on the platform.

Now that the age of being punished for violating a secret set of rules is over, the age of having to interpret the published rules can being!

There is no winning condition when it comes to community rules. If you enforce a secret set of rules, your users become upset because they feel arbitrarily punished. If you enforce a public set of rules, your users still become upset because they feel arbitrarily punished whenever their interpretation of the rules differs from an enforcer’s interpretation.

Anybody who has had the task of enforcing rules in a community knows that the devil is in the details. A rule that states, “racism is prohibited,” may seem straight forward but it’s not. Race isn’t a concrete idea. Americans generally tie race to external appearances. Judaism, for example, wouldn’t normally be considered a race by American standards. However, Judaism is considered a race by Nazism. If somebody posts something anti-Semitic, does the rule against racism apply? If you decide it does and ban the user, they will likely argue that the rule doesn’t apply because Judaism isn’t a race, it’s a religion. Simple enough, just create a rule against religious discrimination, right? Discrimination, like race, also lacks a concrete definition. For example, if I call Christianity barbaric because most sects of Christianity oppose same-sex marriage, am I being discriminatory? Some may interpret my statement as discriminatory, others may interpret my statement to be a valid criticism.

There is no way to satisfy 2.2 billion users. For most communities, being unable to satisfy everybody usually leads to a healthy split. For a service like Facebook that relies on having billions of users to make itself appealing to advertisement buyers, a community split is dangerous. However, it is also unavoidable because there is literally no way to win.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 25th, 2018 at 11:00 am

The Devil Is in the Details

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I, probably like most people who travel in libertarian circles likely, have friends on both sides of the abortion aisle. The last few days my friends who are against abortion have been celebrating this piece of news:

Michael Bowman, a 53-year-old self-employed computer software developer from Columbia City, Oregon, hasn’t paid his federal income taxes since 1999.

He says it’s because his Christian ideals don’t allow him to pay into a system that funds abortions. In a YouTube video explainer of his defense, he likened paying taxes that then go toward funding abortions to German citizens under Nazi rule who outed Jewish citizens, sending them to their deaths.

And according to The Associated Press, he beat the feds in court this week.

Unfortunately, many of my friends celebrating this piece of news apparently stopped reading at this point. If they had read further, they would have learned that Bowman didn’t win an argument saying that being forced to pay for something that are at odds with his religious beliefs is wrong. He won an argument saying that he didn’t commit felony tax evasion:

To be clear, Bowman won the battle, not the war he’s fighting with the IRS and the Oregon U.S. District Court, when federal Judge Michael W. Mosman dismissed a felony tax evasion charge against Bowman.

Mosman ruled that the government’s indictment failed to provide any evidence that Bowman tried to conceal money from or misled the IRS by cashing his paychecks instead of depositing them and keeping a low bank balance so tax collectors couldn’t garnish wages from it to pay what it says are back taxes owed.

From what I’ve been able to ascertain, Bowman hasn’t made any effort to conceal the fact that he’s not paying taxes. He’s not evading taxes, he’s outright refusing to pay them. However, this decision doesn’t mean that his battle is over and that people can now avoid paying taxes by declaring that they’re Christian and therefore unwilling to pay taxes due to their opposition to abortion. The charge was dismissed without prejudice, which means prosecutors can seek a new indictment. Moreover, Bowman is still facing misdemeanor charges for willfully refusing to pay taxes.

I believe that people shouldn’t be forced to pay for something they don’t want. If Bowman doesn’t want his money going towards supporting abortion, he shouldn’t be forced to pay money that goes towards supporting abortion. Unfortunately, the legal system in the United States doesn’t believe as I do, which means Bowman will likely be found guilty and be forced to pay the taxes he owes along with the penalty.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 20th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Facebook Demonstrates the Irrelevancy of Laws

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Laws are irrelevant so I became curious about how companies would get around the European Union’s new privacy laws. Facebook announced its plan and it will likely be the blueprint other companies will follow:

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – If a new European law restricting what companies can do with people’s online data went into effect tomorrow, almost 1.9 billion Facebook Inc users around the world would be protected by it. The online social network is making changes that ensure the number will be much smaller.


Facebook members outside the United States and Canada, whether they know it or not, are currently governed by terms of service agreed with the company’s international headquarters in Ireland.

Next month, Facebook is planning to make that the case for only European users, meaning 1.5 billion members in Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin America will not fall under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which takes effect on May 25.

This move will make the new European Union regulations only apply to users living in the European Union. And fear not! After a few court cases have been fought over this law, Facebook’s lawyers will have judges’ interpretations of the law to work with, which will give them the wiggle room they need to make the law irrelevant to people living in the European Union as well.

Once again, if you want to defend your privacy against Facebook, you have to take matters into your own hands. No amount of legislation is going to protect you.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 20th, 2018 at 10:00 am

It’s All a Dog and Pony Show

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Do you watch the news? If so, do you believe that you’re well informed because of it? If you do, I have some bad news for you. The news you’re watching is nothing more than a dog and pony show:

Earlier this month, CNN’s Brian Stelter broke the news that Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner or operator of nearly 200 television stations in the U.S., would be forcing its news anchors to record a promo about “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.” The script, which parrots Donald Trump’s oft-declarations of developments negative to his presidency as “fake news,” brought upheaval to newsrooms already dismayed with Sinclair’s consistent interference to bring right-wing propaganda to local television broadcasts.

The funniest part about this story is that CNN, which is one of the most blatantly biased stations out there, brought this up.

What the Sinclair Broadcast Group is doing isn’t unique. It’s not uncommon for broadcasters to require their on-air personalities to record various promotions. Oftentimes the promotions are for the station’s advertisers but sometimes the promotions are to push an agenda for the higher ups of the station.

The fact that the news is a dog and pony show is best illustrated by how people tend to choose their preferred sources. A self-declared conservative will generally choose Fox News whereas a self-declared liberal will generally choose CNN and MSNBC. Their choices are dependent on their personal beliefs. If a station agrees with their beliefs, they will accept what the station feeds them. If a station disagrees with their beliefs, they will reject what the station feeds them. In either case, they aren’t seeking to be well informed, they’re seeking confirmation bias.

What can you do? My advice is to assume that everybody is lying to you. Yes, you should even assume that I’m lying to you. Keep a skeptical eye and try to dig into matters you care about yourself. Unless you do that, you will not be well informed about anything.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 13th, 2018 at 10:00 am