A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘News You Need to Know’ Category

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

The American Medical System

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What do you get when you take a wonderful free market medical system and continuously inject a little more government into it? The American medical system:

Sorry, let me explain a hospital to you: we give you medical care, then we charge whatever the hell we want for it.

If you don’t like that, go fuck yourself and die.

Honestly, there’s no telling what you’ll pay today. Maybe $700. Maybe $70,000. It’s a fun surprise! Maybe you’ll go to the ER for five minutes, get no treatment, then we’ll charge you $5,000 for an ice pack and a bandage. Then your insurance company will be like, “This is nuts. We’re not paying this.” Who knows how hard you’ll get screwed? You will, in three months.

When I buy gas, books, groceries, a cell phone plan, computers, or anything else, the prices are clearly posted. I know what a gallon of gas costs before I buy it. I know what a gallon of milk and a carton of eggs costs before I buy them. But when I need anything involving the medical industry, I seldom have any idea what I’m going to be charged. If I ask, I won’t get a straight answer (unless I’m dealing with one of the handful of wonderful medical facilities that deals in cash but they’re still pretty hard to find). I’ll be told that it will depend on my insurer.

My insurer is an asshole. It has continued to increase my premiums and deductibles will reducing my services. I’m stuck with it though because I, like most Americans, get my insurance through my employer and my employer isn’t big enough to strong arm insurers into providing better packages. This was an entirely different situation before the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which mandated that every American do business with medical insurers and thus removed any motivation they had to provide a good product at a reasonable price. Before the ACA my insurance was pretty decent and if it hadn’t been decent, I could have found an individual plan that suited my needs.

The passage of the ACA was just one amongst decades worth of laws that slowly transformed the country’s free market medical system into the government controlled mess that won’t even clearly tell you what the product you’re buying costs. Unfortunately, most people subscribe to the idea that if something didn’t work then it wasn’t tried hard enough. If you ask most people how the medical system can be fixed, they’ll tell you, “More government!” Needless to say I’m not hopeful that I’ll be able to walk into a clinic and see a board that clearly advertises the prices being charged for offered services anytime soon.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 11th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Getting Leadership Ousted in the Minneapolis Police Department

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If officers executing unarmed individuals isn’t enough to get leaders in the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) ousted, what is? Apparently Christmas decorations:

Just days after controversy erupted over a racist Christmas tree on display at the Minneapolis Police Department’s 4th Precinct, Chief Medaria Arradondo has assigned a new inspector to lead the north Minneapolis precinct.

Images of a Christmas tree decorated with beer cans, cigarettes and police tape spread quickly on social media Friday. It was condemned by members of the public, activists and Minneapolis City Council members, including Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, who represents the area. Ellison said it’s “the type of thing that always instills fear in the community.

We’ve learned something here. The value of an unarmed person is worth less in the eyes of the MPD than bad publicity generated by a Christmas tree. While that’s not exactly a happy thing to learn, at least we know.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 7th, 2018 at 10:00 am

More Effective than Voting

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The French government decided it was going to bleed its subjects a bit more by passing a fuel tax hike. This didn’t go over well. By “didn’t go over well” I don’t mean the usual American response where people scream bloody murder and claim they’re going to vote the responsible parties out of office when the next election rolls around, I mean shit was literally on fire. In response the French government has reconsidered the hike:

Fuel tax rises which had led to weeks of violent protests in France have been suspended for six months.

PM Edouard Philippe said that people’s anger must be heard, and the measures would not be applied until there had been proper debate with those affected.

Smart move. Considering France’s history, the next step in the protest would have likely involve guillotines.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 4th, 2018 at 10:30 am