A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘News You Need to Know’ Category

I Disagree

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It’s no secret that the people living in the United States of America are becoming more polarized. People increasingly refuse to even entertain the possibility that their ideas may not be the only correct ideas. What makes this matter especially bad is that there appears to be an inverse correlation between polarization and disagreement. As a population becomes more polarized, it seems to become less willing to entertain disagreement:

To listen and understand; to question and disagree; to treat no proposition as sacred and no objection as impious; to be willing to entertain unpopular ideas and cultivate the habits of an open mind — this is what I was encouraged to do by my teachers at the University of Chicago.

It’s what used to be called a liberal education.

[…]

That habit was no longer being exercised much 30 years ago. And if you’ve followed the news from American campuses in recent years, things have become a lot worse.

According to a new survey from the Brookings Institution, a plurality of college students today — fully 44 percent — do not believe the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects so-called “hate speech,” when of course it absolutely does. More shockingly, a narrow majority of students — 51 percent — think it is “acceptable” for a student group to shout down a speaker with whom they disagree. An astonishing 20 percent also agree that it’s acceptable to use violence to prevent a speaker from speaking.

These attitudes are being made plain nearly every week on one college campus or another.

Rhetoric and debate are being replaced by religious zeal. An increasing number of Americans appear to be holding their beliefs as infallible scripture. If you disagree with their beliefs, you are seen as a heretic and may find yourself excommunicated or even attacked.

Discussion and debate were once considered a cornerstone of education. You were expected to hold your beliefs because evidence had lead you to them and you were therefore also expected to be able to defend your beliefs from critics using the art of debate. In modern times you are expected to have faith in the beliefs dictated to you by your “betters.” Since people who hold beliefs because they were told to do so have not actually researched their beliefs thoroughly, many people today are unable to debate and thus resort to other tactics, which are sometimes violent.

Admittedly, part of me looks forward to the televised death matches that are the logical conclusion of this polarization. However, I’m already weary of every minor disagreement resulting in screaming matches or physical fights.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 27th, 2017 at 11:00 am

War is Good for Business

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War is good for business. At least if you’re on the waging side. It’s probably not so good for those on the invaded side. But who can bring themselves to care about them when we’re talking about numbers like this:

BOSTON, Sept. 26, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — Force modernization will be one of the primary factors underpinning growth in global defense spending, driven by unprecedented developments in autonomous systems, missile, space and cyber-electronic warfare, and other technologies. Strategy Analytics: The Strategy Analytics Advanced Defense Systems (ADS) service report, “Global Defense Spending Outlook 2016-2026,” forecasts the global defense budget will grow to $2.41 trillion in 2026, with the opportunities available to industry growing at a CAGR of 3.5% to reach $771 billion.

Force modernization, if it follows in the footsteps of the F-35, will involve a great deal of money. However, there will be little to show for that money. The F-35, for example, still has problems reliably delivering oxygen to pilots even though it has cost over $1 trillion. Imagine the same thing happening with other military equipment. If we look at the raw numbers alone, it’ll be amazing economic growth!

Unfortunately, all of the resources invested in “force modernization” cannot be allocated to productive uses like new manufacturing plants, office buildings, and research and development for new consumer products.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 27th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Selective Collectivism

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One of the most fascinating characteristics of collectivists is how they tended to individualize bad ingroup behavior and good outgroup behavior but collectivize good ingroup behavior and bad outgroup behavior.

Let’s use a supporter of the Democratic Party (party chosen at the flip of a coin) for an example.

If another member of the Democratic Party commits murder, our hypothetical supporter will likely be quick to point out that that murderer is a bad apple and not typical of democrats in general. If another member of the Democratic Party gives money to a homeless man, our hypothetical supporter will likely point out that that charitable individual is proof of the good acts of the Democratic Party.

If a member of the Republican Party commits murder, our hypothetical supporter will likely be quick to accuse the Republican Party of not doing enough to distance itself from the murderer and therefore everybody in that party is tacitly supporting the murderer. If a member of the Republican Party gives money to a homeless man, our hypothetical supporter will likely point out that that charitable individual is an exception and that the Republican Party in general hates the poor.

We see this everyday. How many Christians point out that the misdeeds of a handful of Christians aren’t representative of Christianity but then imply or outright claims that Islam is a religion of violence because a handful of Muslims commit violent acts? How many Americans continue to excuse the terrible acts of the country’s politicians as the acts of a few bad apples who aren’t representative of America as a whole but then collectivize all North Koreans because of the acts of the country’s leader?

Collectivists tend to be selective. They want all of the good credit for their side and all of the bad credit to the other side, which leads to a significant amount of philosophical inconsistency.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 26th, 2017 at 11:00 am

But Wait, There’s More

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Equifax already displayed a staggering level of incompetence but like a Billy Mays commercial there’s more:

The official Equifax Twitter account encouraged people to visit a knock-off website that mocks the company’s security practices instead of the site the company created to warn of a massive data breach. That recent breach exposed personal details for as many as 143 million US consumers.

In a tweet on Tuesday afternoon, an Equifax representative using the name Tim wrote: “Hi! For more information about the product and enrollment, please visit: securityequifax2017.com.” The message came in response to a question about free credit monitoring Equifax is offering victims. The site is a knock-off of the official Equifax breach notification site, equifaxsecurity2017.com. A security researcher created the imposter site to demonstrate how easy it is to confuse a legitimate name with a bogus one. The Equifax tweet suggests that even company representatives can be easily fooled. The tweet was deleted late Wednesday morning, more than 18 hours after it went live.

It’s almost as if large credit agencies like Equifax aren’t held accountable for screwing up and therefore aren’t motivated to do an effective job. Weird.

Statists continue to claim that government is necessary to deliver justice when large corporations like this screw up. However, I’m still waiting to see the government do anything more than give a corporation like this a minor slap on the wrist for fuck ups of this magnitude. Hell, I’m still waiting to see the government give Equifax a stern talking to over this series of amateur mistakes. As far as I can tell, government seems exists primarily to protect large corporations like this from competitors that would currently be tearing it apart if there was a free market.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 22nd, 2017 at 10:30 am

NSA Told to Sod Off

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After the National Security Agency (NSA) was caught cryptographic algorithms to enhance its surveillance abilities, trust for the agency fell to an all time low. This distrust lead the International Standards Organization (ISO) to reject two encryption algorithms recently submitted by the NSA:

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – An international group of cryptography experts has forced the U.S. National Security Agency to back down over two data encryption techniques it wanted set as global industry standards, reflecting deep mistrust among close U.S. allies.

In interviews and emails seen by Reuters, academic and industry experts from countries including Germany, Japan and Israel worried that the U.S. electronic spy agency was pushing the new techniques not because they were good encryption tools, but because it knew how to break them.

The NSA has now agreed to drop all but the most powerful versions of the techniques – those least likely to be vulnerable to hacks – to address the concerns.

The dispute, which has played out in a series of closed-door meetings around the world over the past three years and has not been previously reported, turns on whether the International Organization of Standards should approve two NSA data encryption techniques, known as Simon and Speck.

This is an appropriate response. The NSA has a track record of manipulating standards organizations in order to make its surveillance apparatus more effective. In security trust is everything. Since the NSA has proven itself to be untrustworthy, it only makes sense to reject any proposals from the agency.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 22nd, 2017 at 10:00 am

Collectivizing Individual Action

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The War on Some Drugs is justified by collectivizing individual action. According to its proponents, drug usage is a societal problem. They try to justify this claim by using other forms of collectivism. For example, proponents of the drug war will claim that drug usage costs “us” fantastic amounts of money in healthcare-related expenses. However, they can only make that claim because the government has collectivized a significant portion of the healthcare market. If the healthcare market were a free market, drug users would be left footing the expenses for their habit.

The drug war’s current hot topic is illegal opioid usage. In an attempt to make illegal opioid usage look like a societal problem, proponents of the drug war are now claiming that opioid usage has lowered the average life expectancy in the United States:

The problem is so bad, in fact, that the epidemic is dragging down the entire country’s life expectancy—by 2.5 months. That’s according to a new analysis by CDC researchers who published Tuesday in JAMA.

The problem with this statistic is that it’s completely meaningless.

Drug usage isn’t a communicable disease like plague or the flu. A drug user can’t transmit the effects of the drugs they’re using to you. Like them, you have to make a conscious decision to use drugs. If my neighbor down the street decides to use heroine, my life expectancy isn’t impacts in any way whatsoever. But if enough people actually realized that, the government would have a difficult time drumming up popular support for its very profitable war.

Let Them Eat Rabbit

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Socialism has brought equality to Venezuelans! Everybody is equally hungry (except for members of the Party but they’re more important than the lowly proles) and it’s not sitting well. Probably hoping to keep his head firmly attached to his neck, President Maduro has offered a plan to deal with the country’s hunger. His plan? Let them eat rabbit:

That was basically the message from President Nicolas Maduro to Venezuelans starving and struggling through severe food shortages brought on by a spiraling economic crisis.

Maduro unveiled “Plan Rabbit” on Wednesday with his agriculture minister, Freddy Bernal, at a meeting that was broadcast on Periscope. (In the video, the announcement comes after the two-hour mark).

Unfortunately for the people of Venezuela, rabbit meat alone doesn’t fend off starvation:

Protein poisoning was first noted as a consequence of eating rabbit meat exclusively, hence the term, “rabbit starvation”. Rabbit meat is very lean; commercial rabbit meat has 50–100 g dissectable fat per 2 kg (live weight). Based on a carcass yield of 60%, rabbit meat is around 8.3% fat while beef and pork are 32% fat and lamb 28%.

Unless Venezuelans can find a source of fat to go with their rabbit meat, they’ll be in the same position they currently are.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 15th, 2017 at 10:30 am

New Levels of Incompetence

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Equifax, one of the largest consumer credit report agencies, recently suffered a major database breech. Of course, you wouldn’t know it if the media wasn’t giving it heavy coverage because Equifax seems to want to keep things hush hush and I understand why. After reading this it would appear that Equifax implemented worse security than most college students in an introductory web development class:

It took almost no time for them to discover that an online portal designed to let Equifax employees in Argentina manage credit report disputes from consumers in that country was wide open, protected by perhaps the most easy-to-guess password combination ever: “admin/admin.”

[…]

Each employee record included a company username in plain text, and a corresponding password that was obfuscated by a series of dots.

However, all one needed to do in order to view said password was to right-click on the employee’s profile page and select “view source,” a function that displays the raw HTML code which makes up the Web site. Buried in that HTML code was the employee’s password in plain text.

This is an impressive level of incompetence and I mean that sincerely. Most amateur websites have better security than this. The fact that a company as large as Equifax could implement worse security practices than even the most amateur of amateur web developers is no small feat. Unfortunately, its piss poor security practices has put a lot of people’s sensitive information in the hands of unknown parties.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 15th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Play Stupid Games, Win Stupid Prizes

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On Tuesday night a security officer at St. Cathrine University was shot. The initial report said that an individual had shot the officer but it turns out that the officer shot himself and lied about it. Why did he do that? Because he played a stupid game:

Investigators continued working the case all day Wednesday. While interviewing Ahlers about 9:15 p.m. Wednesday, he told officers that he was in a wooded area of the campus about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. He had brought his personal handgun from home and was handling it when it accidentally discharged, hitting him in the shoulder.

He told police he’d lied and said he made up the story because he was afraid of losing his job because he’d brought a gun to work with him.

One of the rules of carrying a firearm is that you should leave it in the holster unless you absolutely need to use it. A holstered gun won’t hurt anybody but the second a gun leaves its holster the possibility of it being fired increases from zero.

As an additional note, if the officer wanted to carry a gun he should have sought out an armed job. Then he wouldn’t have had to worry about losing his job for being armed. Now he’ll probably lose his job and find a tough time getting a new job as a security officer since he’s proven himself to be untrustworthy.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 14th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Plan Ahead

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Planning ahead can save you a great deal of grief, frustration, and money:

Two things are true of all festivals: the security is super tight and the booze is very expensive.

[…]

One guy from New York named Alex found an ingenious way to get past these two road blocks. Three weeks before the Electric Zoo festival in New York City, Alex travelled to the Randall’s Island where the event is located with a bottle of Vodka in arm.

He filled a reusable bottle with the Vodka and using a small shovel that he brought with him, Alex and his friends buried the bottle of booze in the ground a long time before the festival crew arrived to construct the stages for the event.

Alex is a real American hero (I know this story could be fake but I want it to be true so I’m going to believe it is).

On a more serious note, this tactic could also work for smuggling weapons into outdoor festivals. I wonder how many security providers have considered such a threat model. It’s also a difficult threat model to defend against since a security team would have to run metal detectors across the entire grounds and that would only offer protection against metallic weapons.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 14th, 2017 at 10:00 am