A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘You’re Doing it Wrong’ tag

Whoopsie

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There are some jobs that are so critical that many people believe they must be performed by government agents. One of those jobs is protecting radioactive material. But what happens when you give an important job to an organization that historically sucks at everything? Exactly what you expect:

Two workers from the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory lost an undisclosed amount of plutonium and cesium from a rental car parked overnight in a San Antonio, Texas, hotel parking lot in a neighborhood known for car break-ins and other crimes, according to an article published Monday by the Center for Public Integrity.

The loss of the highly radioactive material occurred in March 2017 and was discovered when the two workers awoke the next morning to find the window of their Ford Expedition had been smashed. Missing were radiation detectors and small samples of plutonium and cesium used to calibrate them.

The best part? This isn’t the first time government agents have lost plutonium:

The missing plutonium and cesium join the ever-growing amount of MUF—short for material unaccounted for—that has resulted from thefts or losses over the years. In 2009, the Energy Department’s inspector general took account of radioactive materials the military loaned to US academic researchers, government agencies, or commercial firms. The conclusion: despite being listed until 2004 as securely stored, one pound of plutonium and 45 pounds of highly enriched uranium were missing.

Who needs a uranium enrichment program when you can just take what the United States has already produced?

This news shouldn’t surprise anybody. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has a history of losing guns, the Pentagon has a history of losing money, and the Department of Health and Human Service has a history of losing children. The federal government flat out sucks at keeping track of anything left in its care.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 18th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Bad Analogies

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If there was an annual award for worst analogy, this article would win it hands down:

Venezuela’s inflation hits more than 40,000% as everyone dumps its currency ‘like a hot potato’

The last thing anybody in Venezuela is going to drop at the moment is a potato.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 11th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Sometimes I Swear That the Universe Is Sentient

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I’m generally of the opinion that the universe itself is insentient. However, once in a while sometime happens that causes me to wonder if the universe is actually sentient. For example, when I see a quote like, “Life isn’t about responsibilities, tough decisions and hard work, it’s about feeling bliss and living in the moment,” in a story like this:

Three members of a YouTube travel blogging collective have died after falling over a waterfall in Canada.

Ryker Gamble, Alexey Lyakh and Megan Scraper were part of High On Life, who post videos of their travel adventures.

The quote I mentioned? It was from one of the people who died after plunging over that waterfall:

In one of his last Instagram posts, Gamble, spoke about the things we can all learn from “our younger selves”.

He wrote: “Life isn’t about responsibilities, tough decisions and hard work, it’s about feeling bliss and living in the moment.”

I swear that the universe saw that statement and said to itself, “I have to teach this pile of carbon and others like it how wrong this is.”

You may not think that life is about responsibilities but if you fail to be responsible, you will very likely end up fall off of your mortal coil sooner than you anticipated.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 10th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Justice in America

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I have an aversion to the death penalty because far too many people seem to be sentenced to death for questionable reasons. Case in point, a South Dakota jury sentenced a man to death. The man was found guilty of murder, so he isn’t exactly an angle. However, the jury’s reasoning for issuing the death sentence calls its impartiality into question:

On Monday, the Supreme Court announced it would not stop South Dakota from killing a man who may have been sentenced to death because he is gay.

Some of the jurors who imposed the death penalty on Charles Rhines, who was convicted of murder, have said they thought the alternative — a life sentence served in a men’s prison — was something he would enjoy as a gay man.

During deliberations, the jury had often discussed the fact that Mr. Rhines was gay and there was “a lot of disgust” about it, one juror recalled in an interview, according to the court petition. Another said that jurors knew he was gay and “thought that he shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison.” A third recounted hearing that if the jury did not sentence Mr. Rhines to death, “if he’s gay, we’d be sending him where he wants to go.”

I would say that the jury’s impartiality is certainly in question. There is some obvious discrimination displayed since the justification given, that a gay man would enjoy being incarcerated in a men’s prison, is absurd (if that were the case, why aren’t gay men constantly committing crimes that will result in them being sent to prison). This discriminatory attitude calls into question whether the jurors were impartial during the case or allowed their discriminatory views of gay men to color their judgement.

None of this is to say that Charles Rhines is an innocent man who would be set free. However, the jury’s apparent lack of impartiality along with the fact that it sentenced Rhines to death for an absurd reasons does, in my opinion, indicate a need to review the trial and especially the sentence. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court was uninterested in doing so, which means that a further review is unlikely.

Should Free Speech Be a Little Less Free?

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Should free speech be a little less free? The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is beginning to think so:

The American Civil Liberties Union will weigh its interest in protecting the First Amendment against its other commitments to social justice, racial equality, and women’s rights, given the possibility that offensive speech might undermine ACLU goals.

“Our defense of speech may have a greater or lesser harmful impact on the equality and justice work to which we are also committed,” wrote ACLU staffers in a confidential memo obtained by former board member Wendy Kaminer.

[…]

The memo also makes clear that the ACLU has zero interest in defending First Amendment rights in conjunction with Second Amendment rights. If controversial speakers intend to carry weapons, the ACLU “will generally not represent them.”

One good thing to come out of the Trump presidency is that many political activists and organizations are revealing their true colors. I’m of the opinion that rights are make believe. Part of why I believe this is because of how supposed rights are treated here in the United States. I’m of the opinion that if rights exist, then they’re absolute. The prevailing attitude here in the United States is that rights exist but instead of being absolute they’re more like a wishy-washy guideline that can be infringed whenever convenience requires it.

The ACLU has advertised itself as a bulwark of rights since its inception. Moreover, the ACLU generally cites the Bill of Rights when it discusses the matter. However, anybody who has seen the ACLU’s lack of zeal in defending the Second Amendment knows that the organization, like most Americans, has been selective in regards to what is considers rights for ages now. It should come as no surprise that the organization is now less zealous about defending the First Amendment as well. If the Bill of Rights is the source of rights, as the ACLU generally acts, then it admitted that rights can be infringed whenever convenience requires it as soon as it decided that the Second Amendment wasn’t worth defending.

In a way I get the ACLU’s position. Nobody wants to be seen as the person who defends Nazis or members of the Ku Klux Klan. But if you’re going to be in the business of defending supposed rights, then you’re necessarily putting yourself in a position where you’re going to be defending unsavory sorts because those are the sorts whose rights tend to get infringed frequently. While I do understand the ACLU’s position, I also think that if the organization can’t take the heat, it should get out of the kitchen. Perhaps it could change its name to the American Convenient Liberties Union or something to reflect its true nature.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 22nd, 2018 at 11:00 am

Civitates Foederatae Americae Delendae Sunt

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Since I’m on the topic of perspective, let’s take a moment to consider the current crisis, immigrant children being held in concentration camps:

Reporters and Democratic lawmakers have been allowed inside a detention centre that lies at the heart of a growing storm over a new US policy separating migrant children from their parents.

Authorities did not allow photos or videos to be taken inside the centre, but US Customs and Border Protection later released several images. Former First Lady Laura Bush has compared it to the internment camps used for Japanese-Americans during World War Two. A Democratic congressman who visited the site said it was “nothing short of a prison”.

If you listen to many partisans, you may be lead to believe that Trump is personally kidnapping these children to put them in concentration camps. The first red flag in this article should be that photos were not allowed. Why should that be a read flag? Because it raises an awkward question, from where have all of the pictures of these concentration camps come? Awkward questions often have awkward answers:

There’s also precedent for warehousing immigrant children at military bases. In 2014, Obama temporarily held kids at an emergency shelter at Lackland AFB in San Antonio — a development that Ted Cruz and Greg Abbott were appalled by at the time. The photo at the top of this story — of Central American kids at a Border Patrol processing center — has been repeatedly mistaken as a recent, Trump-era image. In fact, it’s from 2014, during the Central American refugee surge.

Many of the pictures being passed around supposedly from current concentration camps full of children are actually from concentration camps full of children that existed under the previous president. Yes, you read correctly, concentration camps that existed under Obama.

If it wasn’t for humanity’s wonderful feature referred to as cognitive dissonance, this news might shake some partisain’s political faith in their party. Fortunately for them, cognitive dissonance will guard most of them from having to accept this difficult information. However, all of us should keep in mind that human rights abuse is nothing new for the United States of America.

From kidnapping Native American children and forcing them to abandon their heritage and language under the guide of civilizing and educating them to interring Japanese Americans during World War II for no other reason than their descent to the continuous abuse of black individuals from slavery to Jim Crow laws to the drug war, there hasn’t been a single instance in the United States’ history where the federal government wasn’t abusing large swaths of people.

None of the human rights abuses being perpetrated under Trump are new or without precedence. Moreover, if voting could fix this, as most partisans either outright claim or imply, this issue would have been fixed already.

If you’re actually looking for a solution to the human rights abuses perpetrated by the United States government, there is only one solution.

Civitates Foederatae Americae delendae sunt!

Written by Christopher Burg

June 19th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Perspective

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I’m of the opinion that you can despise somebody but not despise everything single thing that they do. For example, I despise Adolf Hitler. Adolf Hitler drank water. Does that mean I despise drinking water? Of course not. Likewise, I despise Donald Trump. Donald Trump is making inroads with North Korea that could lead to a reduction in hostilities if not outright peace. Does that mean I despise peace? Of course not.

Unfortunately, this attitude, albeit quite simple, still qualifies as rather nuanced by modern standards. Many people, especially those who have given themselves over entirely to a binary political spectrum, are unable to deal with even minor nuances so even some former peaceniks have begun screaming about the evils of making peace with North Korea for the sole reason of who is making that peace. This has lead to some rather unexpected propaganda. Case in point, Engadget, a website that posts articles almost exclusively about technology products, felt the need to pen an article that can be summed up as, “North Korea is evil! It cannot be trusted! We can’t make peace with it!” The argument put forward by the article, like the attitude that lead to the writing of the article, is built on the lack of being able to understand nuance.

The first part I’m going to pick out isn’t an argument but an attempt to frame North Korea as an evil nation who did terrible things to Americans. What it fails to do is take perspective into account:

North and South Korea have been divided since 1945; for a short period Russia occupied the North while the US occupied the south; during the war, China aided the north and the US aided the south (we lost 54,246 lives, and 7,704 American soldiers are still unaccounted for). The Korean War ended with an armistice agreement but no peace settlement, so technically the war has never ended. American military remains in the south as part of a mutual defense treaty.

North Korea killed 54,246 Americans! See how evil it is! What’s missing is the other side of the equation. You see, the Korean War was, as the name implies, a war. In war soldiers on both sides tend to die. As it turns out, a lot of North Koreans died:

In a 1984 interview, Air Force General Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, claimed U.S. bombs “killed off 20 percent of the population” and “targeted everything that moved in North Korea.” These acts, largely ignored by the U.S. collective memory, have deeply contributed to Pyongyang’s contempt for the U.S. and especially its ongoing military presence on the Korean Peninsula.

If an estimated 20 percent of the North Korean population wasn’t enough, many North Korean cities, including Pyongyang, ceased to exist.

I don’t say this to give North Korea a pass on the regime’s abuses. The North Korean government is an absolutely brutal one. However, to only give one side of the story is propaganda, not accurate history. Understanding the conflict requires analyzing all sides of the war, not just the American side.

Now that the outright propaganda of the article has been addressed, let’s consider the argument against making peace with North Korea:

Fast forward to 1963, and the world finds out that the North has begun building a nuclear reactor. Then a nuclear weapons program in the 1980s. The first time North Korea committed to denuclearization was 1992’s Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula — though historically, nuclear inspectors have been barred from surveying North Korean facilities.

North Korea entered the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization and failed to abide by the agreement! How can we trust a regime that has broken its promises in the past? But why did North Korea fail to abide by its side of the agreement? Fortunately, I’ve read The Dead Hand by David Hoffman. Part of it touched on the history of nuclear weapons in North Korea and the agreement that was made between it and the United States. As with any agreement, this agreement involved concessions from both sides. One of the concessions made by the United Stats was a commitment to provide North Korea with two light water nuclear reactors. However, after the agreement was made, as is so often the case in the United States, the rules changed:

Soon after the agreement was signed, U.S. Congress control changed to the Republican Party, who did not support the agreement.[19][20] Some Republican Senators were strongly against the agreement, regarding it as appeasement.[21][22] Initially, U.S. Department of Defense emergency funds not under Congress’ control were used to fund the transitional oil supplies under the agreement,[23] together with international funding. From 1996 Congress provided funding, though not always sufficient amounts.

The United States didn’t abide by its part of the agreement. Normally when one side fails to uphold its end of an agreement, the other side is not expected to uphold its part. Apparently North Korea was supposed to uphold its end even though it didn’t receive what was promised to it.

Once again the issue wasn’t the upstanding United States being snuffed by wicked North Korea. The issue was two belligerents continuing to be belligerent. This is not to say that North Korea was the good guy or an innocent victim, it’s to point out that the United States wasn’t an angel.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 19th, 2018 at 10:00 am

The Science is Settled… Until It’s Not

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I’m a skeptical man by nature but I tend to be more skeptical of what are traditionally labeled soft sciences such as psychology and sociology. My stronger than average skepticism stems from several factors.

First, and probably most importantly, experiments in these fields can’t isolate variables. When you’re experimenting on humans, one variable is the life experiences of the subjects of your experiment. Different people have different life experiences, which can lead them to act differently under the same circumstances.

Second, the subject of experiments in fields like psychology tend to act differently when they’re the subject of an experiment. This tendency isn’t unique to humans. Ravens and chimpanzees act differently when they know that they’re being watched.

Third, most experiments involving human subjects suffer from selection bias. Professors have a ready pool of humans to experiment on, western undergrads, and utilize them for most experiments. Anybody with even the most basic observation skills will notice that undergrad students tend to behave differently than, say, elderly individuals.

Now I have a fourth reason for my skepticism. It turns out that the findings of many psychological experiments are, to put it nicely, rather dubious:

The Zimbardo prison experiment is not the only classic study that has been recently scrutinized, reevaluated, or outright exposed as a fraud. Recently, science journalist Gina Perry found that the infamous “Robbers Cave“ experiment in the 1950s — in which young boys at summer camp were essentially manipulated into joining warring factions — was a do-over from a failed previous version of an experiment, which the scientists never mentioned in an academic paper. That’s a glaring omission. It’s wrong to throw out data that refutes your hypothesis and only publicize data that supports it.

Perry has also revealed inconsistencies in another major early work in psychology: the Milgram electroshock test, in which participants were told by an authority figure to deliver seemingly lethal doses of electricity to an unseen hapless soul. Her investigations show some evidence of researchers going off the study script and possibly coercing participants to deliver the desired results. (Somewhat ironically, the new revelations about the prison experiment also show the power an authority figure — in this case Zimbardo himself and his “warden” — has in manipulating others to be cruel.)

The problem of manipulation isn’t unique amongst so-called soft sciences. The scientific method generally assumes that the experimenter is unbiased but what happens when the experimenter wants a specific outcome? Oftentimes, they can setup the experiment or manipulate the results in such a way that they can create their desired outcome. This is especially easily to do when the subjects of an experiment are manipulable humans. A little coercion can result in desired behavior.

I’m happy that these issues are finally being scrutinized more thoroughly. But I’m curious what the fallout will be. Science has become a religion to many people. People tend to react negatively when they learn that their priests have been lying to them and that their gods are not actually gods. Part of my worries that the backlash of this scrutiny could be a reflexive opposition to science by the masses but then the other part of me remembers that most fans of science aren’t actually scientifically minded anyways.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 15th, 2018 at 11:00 am

When Your Smart Lock Isn’t Smart

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My biggest gripe with so-called smart products is that they tend to not be very smart. For example, the idea of a padlock that can be unlocked with your phone isn’t a bad idea in of itself. It would certainly be convenient since most people carry a smartphone these days. However, if it’s designed by people who paid no attention to security, the lock quickly because convenient for unauthorized parties as well:

Yes. The only thing we need to unlock the lock is to know the BLE MAC address. The BLE MAC address that is broadcast by the lock.

I was so astounded by how bad the security was that I ordered another and emailed Tapplock to check the lock and app were genuine.

I scripted the attack up to scan for Tapplocks and unlock them. You can just walk up to any Tapplock and unlock it in under 2s. It requires no skill or knowledge to do this.

I wish that this was one of those findings that is so rare that it’s newsworthy. Unfortunately, a total lack of interest in security seems to be a defining characteristic for developers of “smart” products. While this lack of awareness isn’t unexpected for a company developing, say, a smart thermostat (after all, I wouldn’t expect somebody who is knowledgeable about thermostats to necessarily be an expert in security as well), it’s an entirely different matter when the product being developed is itself a security product.

The problem with this attack is how trivial it is to perform. The author of the article notes that they’re porting the script they developed to unlock these “smart” locks to Android. Once the attack is available for smartphones, anybody can potentially unlock any of these locks with a literal tap of a button. This makes them even easier to bypass than those cheap Masterlock padlocks that are notorious for being insecure.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 14th, 2018 at 11:00 am

The Only Ones Responsible Enough to Own Firearms

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Remember, kids, only government agents are responsible enough to own firearms:

He was trying to bust a move but ended up busting a cap.

An off-duty FBI agent dropped his gun doing a backflip on the dance floor of a Denver bar — then accidentally shot a fellow reveler while scrambling to pick up the piece, according to a report.

The real icing on the cake is the fact that the gun didn’t go off when it hit the floor (drop safeties are a great feature when you’re dancing with a gun held in a shitty holster) but when the agent went to pick it up. That’s two major fuck ups in less than a minute! Talks about government efficiency!

If you’re going to dance with a gun, wear a goddamn retention holster. And if you’re gun falls out of its holster, don’t scramble to grab it (unless somebody else is trying to snatch it). It’s not going anywhere. Instead calmly pick it up so you don’t do something stupid like pull the trigger and shoot an innocent bystander.