A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘News You Need to Know’ Category

Romanes Eunt Domus

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A United States court decided that one cannot consent to a cop who is conversing with you through a commonly unserviceable translation utility:

Imagine you’re driving in a foreign country and a police officer stops you on the road. You don’t speak the cop’s language and they don’t speak yours, so a halting exchange ensues using a laptop and Google Translate. You’re not always sure what the officer is asking, and you end up agreeing to something you didn’t quite understand, and are arrested.

Translating human language is difficult, which is why it still remains a common target for satire. Anybody who has used Google Translate for a language about which they’re even moderately knowledgeable knows that it has severe limitations. While it can oftentimes provide you the gist of whatever is being translated, it’s a far cry from accurate. If you want to see this in action, translate something from one language to another then take the result and translate it back to the original language. The meaning may be preserved the first time, although even that’s unlikely, but if you keep doing this for a few iterations you’ll end up with some hilarious nonsensical arrangement of letters.

Needless to say, if a cop is using Google Translate to communicate that they’re arresting you, you have abundant evidence with which to argue that you had no idea what the officer was trying to communicate to you.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 19th, 2018 at 10:00 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

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

Play Stupid Games, Win Stupid Prizes

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Remember the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) agent who became separated from his weapon while dancing and ended up shooting somebody he attempted to retrieve his weapon in a panic? In a surprise twist, he has been arrested:

An off-duty FBI agent whose gun accidentally fired after it dropped out of its holster while he was doing a backflip at a Denver nightclub was taken into custody on Tuesday, jail records showed.

Chase Bishop, 29, turned himself in to the Denver County Sheriff’s Department Tuesday morning and was being held in a detention center in downtown Denver. He was charged Tuesday with one count of second-degree assault, the Denver County District Attorney’s Office said.

I feel the need to point out the verbiage used here. Notice how the report says that the FBI agent “accidentally” fired his firearm. While his actions were almost certainly accidental, it would have been better to use the word “negligently” since his negligence lead to the gun being fired. But negligence is when nongovernmental individuals unintentionally shoot somebody. When government agents unintentionally shoot somebody, it’s accidental.

As far as the charges go, I’d put money on the agent not being convicted. Law enforcers tend to enjoy a great deal of leeway when it comes to shooting bystanders, whether intentionally or accidentally. But it is nice to see that charges were actually filed and an arrest was made.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 13th, 2018 at 10:30 am

That’s a Shame

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The 34th Ferengi Rule of Acquisition states that war is good for business. However, the 35th rule states that peace is good for business. However, peace isn’t good for some businesses:

While the broad U.S. stock market reaction to the historic agreement between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to establish a new relationship committed to “peace and prosperity” was muted, shares of defense contractors took a dive.

Shares of Raytheon, which makes Patriot and Tomahawk missiles, closed 2.8% lower. Lockheed Martin, which supplies the Pentagon with air and missile defense systems as well as the F-35 Stealth fighter jet, tumbled 1.3%. And Northrop Grumman, which has increased its focus on cyber warfare and missile defense systems more recently, declined 1.5%. Boeing, which makes Apache helicopters and aerial refueling aircraft, dipped 0.1%. General Dynamics, a Navy shipbuilder, fell 1.6%.

That’s a shame.

If you own stocks in these companies, fear not! This “dive” is almost certainly temporary. The United States enjoys involving itself in wars far too much for peace to remain in the public’s eye for long.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 13th, 2018 at 10:00 am

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Finding New Justifications for Harassment

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The Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) has announced that it will stop arresting people for possession of small amounts of cannabis. At least that’s what you’d think if you were going by a lot of people’s comments. What MPD actually announced is far more limited in scope:

In a series of rushed announcements Thursday, authorities said that police would no longer conduct sting operations targeting low-level marijuana sales, and charges against 47 people arrested in the first five months of 2018 would be dismissed.

[…]

But in recent years, Minneapolis police have stepped up their presence on Hennepin Avenue in response to concerns about safety downtown. Using undercover officers posing as buyers, they arrested 47 people for selling marijuana on Hennepin between 5th and 6th streets.

MPD will stop having officers posing as buyers in order to find suckers to arrest. However, that doesn’t mean that the department will stop arresting people for possession of small amounts of cannabis.

Then there is the issue of demographics. When 46 of the 47 people you’ve arrested are black, red flags are raised. This is especially true when the arrests were the result of a sting operation that involved law enforcers initiating contact. Such demographics make it look as though the law enforcers in question were almost exclusively approaching black individuals and mostly ignoring people with lighter colored skin. But now that MPD has been caught apparently red handed, the racial profiling will cease, right? Don’t get your hopes up.

Anybody who studies the history of laws and how they’re enforced in the United States quickly learns that when law enforcers are caught targeting specific individuals, law that are claimed to prohibit such targeting are quickly passed but nothing changes. This is because law enforcers simply find another way to target those individuals using a different justification. A very good case can be made for the drug war actually being a continuation of Jim Crow laws. While the laws prohibiting drugs never specifically mention race, they tend to be enforced more rigorously against black individuals. But since the laws never mention race, when questions about the demographics of those arrested are asked, law enforcers have plausible deniability. They can claim that they were enforcing the law consistently but that blacks simply break those laws more frequently.

If MPD wants to racially profile, it can find a justification to do so that gives its officers deniability.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 8th, 2018 at 10:00 am

The Government Is Us

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Worshipers of democracy continue to tell me that the government is us. I’m not sure why they try to drag me into being part of the government but they’re very adamant. Anyways, when somebody tries to claim that the government is us I like to point to stories like this one:

A young hacker reeling from the Philando Castile case and the acquittal of the officer who killed him broke into several state databases last year and boasted about his exploits.

“An innocent man is dead, while a guilty man is free,” the hacker, known as “Vigilance” tweeted in part last year.

Here’s the thing, if Vigilance is the government (because, after all, he’s part of “us”), he would have every right to access any government computer he so desired. It is, according to worshipers of democracy, his computer after all. But the fact that he’s been arrested for accessing those computers indicates that he isn’t the government, especially in the eyes of the government.

You aren’t he government. If you disagree with me, try strolling into a National Security Agency (NSA) building. You’ll be provided a free education regarding your misunderstanding.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 7th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Living in Postliterate America

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I’m working with a dying medium. The written word has served humanity for thousands of years but it’s time, at least here in the United States, is coming to an end. Why do I think this? Because every time a piece of news involving even a tiny bit of minutia crops up, few seem able to read more than the headline.

The latest example of this involves a baker in Colorado by the name of Jack Phillips. A couple wanted him to make a cake for their wedding. He refused because the couple were both men and his Christian beliefs don’t jive with same-sex marriages. The couple decided that this was discriminatory and brought the wrath of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission upon him. Eventually the case reached the Supreme Court and yesterday the nine muumuu-clad judges announced that they sided with Phillips.

Obviously religious freedom just made a giant leap forward in the United States, right? Wrong. It turns out that everybody cheering this decision as win for religious freedom stopped reading after the headline:

In a case brought by a Colorado baker, the court ruled by a 7-2 vote that he did not get a fair hearing on his complaint because the Colorado Civil Rights Commission demonstrated a hostility to religion in its treatment of his case.

Writing for the case, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that while it is unexceptional that Colorado law “can protect gay persons in acquiring products and services on the same terms and conditions that are offered to other members of the public, the law must be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion.”

He said that in this case the Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, understandably had difficulty in knowing where to draw the line because the state law at the time afforded store keepers some latitude to decline creating specific messages they considered offensive. Kennedy pointed to the Colorado commission’s decision allowing a different baker to refuse to put an anti-gay message on a cake.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission showed hostility towards Phillips and that that hostility prevented an unbiased hearing. Basically the government failed to act as a neutral third-party mediator and that invalidated its decision. At no point did the Supreme Court rule on the law in question. The law forcing Phillips to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding wasn’t invalidated.

Knowing this literally took only a few paragraphs worth of reading but I somehow saw tons of people claiming that this decision was in regards to religious freedom. No wonder people make video blogs today. If you’re using the written word, you’re apparently making your content unavailable to 99.99 percent (this is totally a scientifically backed percentage) of the American population.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 5th, 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.

It’s Tough Having a Conduct Policy in the Music Industry

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Spotify announced that it was going to implement a conduct policy, which would punish musicians who behaved poorly. Spotify is now backing away from that decision:

That didn’t take long. After Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said it was working with civil rights groups and folks within the music industry to retool its “bad behavior” framework this week, the streaming service has scrapped it wholesale. “While we believe our intentions were good, the language was too vague, we created confusion and concern, and didn’t spend enough time getting input from our own team and key partners before sharing new guidelines,” a statement from the company reads.

When your business model is build on selling products produced by a group of individuals who have a higher than average tendency to act outlandishly in public, having a content policy is bad for business. Your customers aren’t going to be happy with your service when you remove their favorite artist’s discography after they were involved in a hookers and blow party that ended in a hotel burning to the ground.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 5th, 2018 at 10:00 am