A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘You Can’t Cure Stupid’ tag

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

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Ars Technica ran this story with the title China’s “democracy” includes mandatory apps, mass chat surveillance. The important part to note is the scare quotes around the word democracy. From the article:

As the National People’s Congress gathers in Beijing for the beginning of China’s “Two Sessions” political season, state media is making an international propaganda push on social media—including on platforms blocked by China’s “Great Firewall”—to promote China’s “system of democracy.”

[…]

That system of democracy apparently involves mass surveillance to tap into the will of the people. While China’s growth as a surveillance state has been well-documented, the degree to which the Chinese leadership uses digital tools to shape the national political landscape and to control Chinese citizens has grown even further recently. That’s because authorities have been tapping directly into Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members’ and other Chinese citizens’ online activities and social media profiles.

I’m using the Ars Technica article for illustrative purposes but the general attitude amongst Americans seem to be that China isn’t actually a democracy. However, democracy is a system where voters have the opportunity to gang up against each other. This inevitably results is a paranoid police state where everybody has voted to surveil and punish everybody else.

The primary difference between China and apparently freer democracies is where they started. Take the United States for example. It started with an almost powerless federal government and a strong mythology about individual freedom. It took a great deal of time for voters to first vote a larger government into existence and then vote to wield it against each other. The People’s Republic of China, other the other hand, started with a much more powerful government so there was no delay from voters having to first vote it more power before they could wield it against each other.

The things for which us enlightened people of the glorious Western democracies mock China are in our future. Just look at the massive surveillance apparatuses in the United States and United Kingdom. There is scarcely a thing you can do or a place you can go that isn’t surveilled by some government entity. The Ars Technica article discusses the effort China is putting into propagandizing its party members but the author likely failed to recognize the similarities between those efforts and the efforts in Western public education systems to propagandize young children. While most Western democracies aren’t as overt about controlling their news outlets as China is, all of the major supposedly independent media outlets are little more than government propaganda machines (how else are reporters going to get access to the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room or get themselves invited to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner).

Make not mistake, what we’re witnesses in China today is the endgame of any democratic system. To insinuate that China isn’t a democracy is to misunderstand what a democracy truly is.

Our Future

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God: “So do you guys want an Orwell or Huxley future?”

Humanity: “Both!”

God: “Uh, you only need to select one…”

Humanity: “Oh, and throw in a Mike Judge future too!”

God: “Fuck me. Fine. Here you go.”

Written by Christopher Burg

February 22nd, 2019 at 10:30 am

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Self-Inflicted Dystopia

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Nike has released its self-lacing shoes and the result is funnier than anything I predicted:

One user writes, “The first software update for the shoe threw an error while updating, bricking the right shoe.” Another says, “App will only sync with left shoe and then fails every time. Also, app says left shoe is already connected to another device whenever I try to reinstall and start over.”

“My left shoe won’t even reboot.” writes another. One user offers a possible solution, saying, “You need to do a manual reset of both shoes per the instructions.”

People like to argue over whether Orwell or Huxley more accurately predicted our dystopian future but I think Mike Judge’s prediction is proving most accurate.

Products like the Nike Adapt BB provide the opportunity for a self-inflicted dystopia. If your life is too free from anxiety, you can buy some. Running a little late for work? Now you can worry about whether or not your shoes have enough charge in them to lace themselves or whether or not your smartphone app will connect to them to activate the self-lacing operation. Will the lithium-ion batteries in your shoes explode? Who knows! Will wearing them outside in -20 weather cause the batteries to discharge to such a point that you won’t be able to unlace them? Perhaps!

On the upside, the entertainment derived from watching people struggle with their “smart” shoes is free.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 22nd, 2019 at 10:00 am

A Barrel of Laughs

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If it exists, politicians will try to tax it. As a correlative, politicians will try to tax it and tax it again. Politicians already tax personal electronics via federal and state sales taxes, regulatory compliance costs, tariffs, etc. But now some politicians in Kansas want to add an additional tax under the auspices of fighting human trafficking:

Two bills introduced in the Kansas House on Wednesday generate funding for human trafficking programs by requiring all new internet-capable telephones or computers sold in the state to feature anti-pornography software and by mandating adult entertainment businesses charge a special admissions tax.

Sabetha Rep. Randy Garber sponsored legislation requiring the software installations and dictating purchasers would have to pay a $20 fee to the state, and whatever cost was assessed by retail stores, to remove filters for “obscene” material. No one under 18 would be allowed to have filter software deleted.

Pay a $20 fee to the state or ask a neighborhood teenager (who will probably do it for free out of spite) to remove it just for the irony? Tough decision.

Setting aside the mental gymnastics required to tie human trafficking to the legal pornography industry, we’re left wondering how, exactly, Kansas legislators plan to enforce this. Take my ThinkPad for instance. Let’s pretend I purchased it in Kansas 20 minutes into the future and it included this hypothetical filtering software. The first thing I did after purchasing my ThinkPad was replace the stock hard drive with an SSD, which removed all of the included software. Moreover, I didn’t reinstall the included software, I install a Linux distribution. I effectively bypassed this legislation in a matter of minutes.

“Ah, you cheeky bastard,” you say, “but what about your phone?” If I lived in Kansas under this law, I would purchase my phone in a neighboring state. If that wasn’t an option, I would likely purchase an Android smartphone with an unlockable bootloader and flash something like LineageOS on it, which would accomplish the same thing as installing Linux on my ThinkPad.

I also guarantee that if this legislation passed, a script to remove the filtering software would be published to GitHub within a day or two. “But that would be illegal,” you say? Maybe in Kansas but that doesn’t apply to anybody in, say, Minnesota.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 20th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Play Stupid Games, Win Stupid Prizes

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This story is an illustration of how not to handle a fender bender:

Following the fender bender, Kamrowski stopped in the left lane and got out of his Ford F-150 pickup truck to exchange insurance information with Fitzgerald, according to police.

Fitzgerald, 37, of Ashland, Massachusetts, stayed inside of his white 2016 Infinity QX70 SUV, authorities said.

“That encounter became adversarial,” police said in a statement.

At some point, Kamrowski of Framingham, Massachusetts, reached into Fitzgerald’s vehicle and snatched a water bottle and then stood in front of Fitzgerald’s SUV, police said.

Ideally, after a collision, both parties get out of their vehicle and cordially exchange insurance information and let their respective companies deal with the situation from there. However, ideal situations are almost as rare as honest politicians. If you find yourself in a collision and the other party won’t exit their vehicle, don’t approach. But if you can’t stop yourself from doing that, at least don’t reach into the vehicle. Record the other driver’s license plate number, the make and model of their vehicle (if you can determine it), and identifying characteristics of their car (color, bumper stickers, etc.) and person. If the driver flees, you have a good description to give to the police. If they don’t, they’ll have to get out of their vehicle eventually.

Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re an idiot though and couldn’t restrain yourself form approaching and reaching into the car. At least don’t do this:

“Fitzgerald then began driving towards Kamrowski, who subsequently jumped on the hood of Fitzgerald’s vehicle,” according to the statement from police.

The box of his F-150 would have been a better place to go (or, better yet, back into the cab). But if do jump on the hood, do it only long enough to jump off the vehicle in a safer direction. If you decided to overstay your welcome (and your welcome will be approximately zero seconds), you could end up going for a ride:

With Kamrowski clinging to the hood, Fitzgerald headed west on the turnpike, accelerating and stopping in an apparent herky-jerky attempt to shake Kamrowski, police said. Fitzgerald’s Infinity hit speeds of up to 70 mph as it traveled about three miles on the highway with Kamrowski holding on, police said.

Now you get to ask yourself a question, is the driver panicked and working from their fight or flight state of mind or are they purposely trying to kill you? It’s a pointless question because the answer is irrelevant to your situation. But asking it might distract you from the fact that you’re probably going to die because of your poor decisions.

Fortunately for Kamrowski, a good Samaritan managed to end the situation before he died:

Several motorists tried unsuccessfully to get Fitzgerald to stop, police said. When Fitzgerald eventually got bogged down in traffic, a motorist with a permit to carry a concealed weapon approached Fitzgerald and ordered him out of the SUV at gunpoint just as troopers arrived on the scene, according to the police statement.

But that’s not something you can bet your life on. Moreover, you’re probably still going to jail:

Fitzgerald was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon on a person over 60, negligent operation of a motor vehicle and leaving the scene of a property damage accident.

Kamrowski was arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct and malicious damage to a motor vehicle.

In summary, don’t be either Kamrowsky or Fitzgerald. Especially don’t be Kamrowsky though because he put is life in danger (Fitzgerald, on the other hand, was at least smart enough to stay in his vehicle and thus maintained a significant advantage in the deadly situation they both worked to create).

Written by Christopher Burg

January 29th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Sometime to Amuse You

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Here’s something to amuse you, an opinion article written by a Transportation Security Agency (TSA) schmuck who thinks ordering people to throw away bottles of water and touching children is a tough job.

Though we’re just enforcing the rules that keep the public safe, most people treat us as the jerks who take away their nail clippers.

That’s because you are jerks who take away nail clippers.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 16th, 2019 at 10:30 am

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

Totally Not Socialism™

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her pals within the Democratic Party are touting their Green New Deal, which is their vision for a massive wealth redistribution scheme. Of course they’re not calling it a wealth redistribution scheme because that sounds like socialism and if there’s one thing Americans won’t stand for it’s anything that calls itself socialism. But Americans will stand (with their hand over their heart no less) for socialism so long as it’s wrapped up in Totally Not Socialism™ packaging. So to claim that their Green New Deal is Totally Not Socialism™ the advocates of this Green New Deal are calling it an economic stimulus package. One ritual required for wrapping a socialist program in Totally Not Socialism™ packaging is explaining how the programming will be funded by using traditional American methods (because, you see, America has always been anti-socialist so if something was done in the past it obviously can’t be socialist).

Ocasio-Cortez are performing this crucial ritual by pointing out that income tax rates between World War II and Regan’s presidency seldom dipped below 70 percent and even reached as high as 90 percent for the “wealthiest” Americans. So funding this stimulus package doesn’t require socialism, it merely requires going back to America’s (totally not socialist) halcyon days! Needless to say their supporters are lapping up their bullshit and eagerly asking for more because they’re ignorant about the difference between statutory and effective tax rates:

Yet this historical narrative is both simplistic and wrong. It relies upon a confusion between the statutory tax rate (i.e., the number that’s on the statute books) and the effective tax rate (i.e., the percentage of income that people actually pay once exemptions, deductions, and other tax-code incentives are accounted for).

Although statutory rates were extremely high between World War II and the Reagan-era tax cuts, practically nobody actually paid the taxman’s full sticker price on their earnings. Instead, a plethora of intentional tax exemptions, deductions, and legal income shelters ensured that wealthy individuals paid a much lower effective tax rate.

How much lower are we talking about exactly? Let’s take an example from 1963, the last year that top rates exceeded the 90 percent high water mark. A single filer in the $1 million bracket ($8.2 million today) faced a rate of 91 percent for every dollar earned over $200,000. While the statutory rate dropped for earnings below $200,000, it did not drop much. The 72 percent rate’s threshold kicked in at $44,000 (about $360,000 today). A 50 percent rate applied to single-filer earnings above $16,000 (about $130,000 today), with several other rate jumps as you attained higher income thresholds in between.

Finding a person who can obtain power without being corrupted is almost impossible. Finding a person who is willing to tell their benefactor to fuck off is even harder.

Those wealthy Americans that Ocasio-Cortez and her pals are claiming they’re going to soak? It turns out that they’re the ones who pay their biggest campaign contributions, the lobbyists who host their lavish dinners, and the human resource personnel who offer them absurd salaries to become lobbyists after they become bored with politics. So there’s no way that Ocasio-Cortez or almost any other politician is going to fuck them over.

The difference between the statutory and effective income tax rates is the key to how politicians keep their base supporters and benefactors happy. They promise their base supporters that they’ll soak the rich and redistribute the seized money to them. Since their gullible base supporters are ignorant of how taxes actually work for the wealthy, they fall for it hook, line, and sinker. Meanwhile, their benefactors are happy because the same politicians who passed the higher statutory income tax rate also created a large number of tax-incentives that allow anybody who falls into the new higher rate category to avoid paying the published rate.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 8th, 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