A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

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The Devil Is in the Details

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I, probably like most people who travel in libertarian circles likely, have friends on both sides of the abortion aisle. The last few days my friends who are against abortion have been celebrating this piece of news:

Michael Bowman, a 53-year-old self-employed computer software developer from Columbia City, Oregon, hasn’t paid his federal income taxes since 1999.

He says it’s because his Christian ideals don’t allow him to pay into a system that funds abortions. In a YouTube video explainer of his defense, he likened paying taxes that then go toward funding abortions to German citizens under Nazi rule who outed Jewish citizens, sending them to their deaths.

And according to The Associated Press, he beat the feds in court this week.

Unfortunately, many of my friends celebrating this piece of news apparently stopped reading at this point. If they had read further, they would have learned that Bowman didn’t win an argument saying that being forced to pay for something that are at odds with his religious beliefs is wrong. He won an argument saying that he didn’t commit felony tax evasion:

To be clear, Bowman won the battle, not the war he’s fighting with the IRS and the Oregon U.S. District Court, when federal Judge Michael W. Mosman dismissed a felony tax evasion charge against Bowman.

Mosman ruled that the government’s indictment failed to provide any evidence that Bowman tried to conceal money from or misled the IRS by cashing his paychecks instead of depositing them and keeping a low bank balance so tax collectors couldn’t garnish wages from it to pay what it says are back taxes owed.

From what I’ve been able to ascertain, Bowman hasn’t made any effort to conceal the fact that he’s not paying taxes. He’s not evading taxes, he’s outright refusing to pay them. However, this decision doesn’t mean that his battle is over and that people can now avoid paying taxes by declaring that they’re Christian and therefore unwilling to pay taxes due to their opposition to abortion. The charge was dismissed without prejudice, which means prosecutors can seek a new indictment. Moreover, Bowman is still facing misdemeanor charges for willfully refusing to pay taxes.

I believe that people shouldn’t be forced to pay for something they don’t want. If Bowman doesn’t want his money going towards supporting abortion, he shouldn’t be forced to pay money that goes towards supporting abortion. Unfortunately, the legal system in the United States doesn’t believe as I do, which means Bowman will likely be found guilty and be forced to pay the taxes he owes along with the penalty.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 20th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Facebook Demonstrates the Irrelevancy of Laws

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Laws are irrelevant so I became curious about how companies would get around the European Union’s new privacy laws. Facebook announced its plan and it will likely be the blueprint other companies will follow:

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – If a new European law restricting what companies can do with people’s online data went into effect tomorrow, almost 1.9 billion Facebook Inc users around the world would be protected by it. The online social network is making changes that ensure the number will be much smaller.

[…]

Facebook members outside the United States and Canada, whether they know it or not, are currently governed by terms of service agreed with the company’s international headquarters in Ireland.

Next month, Facebook is planning to make that the case for only European users, meaning 1.5 billion members in Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin America will not fall under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which takes effect on May 25.

This move will make the new European Union regulations only apply to users living in the European Union. And fear not! After a few court cases have been fought over this law, Facebook’s lawyers will have judges’ interpretations of the law to work with, which will give them the wiggle room they need to make the law irrelevant to people living in the European Union as well.

Once again, if you want to defend your privacy against Facebook, you have to take matters into your own hands. No amount of legislation is going to protect you.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 20th, 2018 at 10:00 am

It’s All a Dog and Pony Show

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Do you watch the news? If so, do you believe that you’re well informed because of it? If you do, I have some bad news for you. The news you’re watching is nothing more than a dog and pony show:

Earlier this month, CNN’s Brian Stelter broke the news that Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner or operator of nearly 200 television stations in the U.S., would be forcing its news anchors to record a promo about “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.” The script, which parrots Donald Trump’s oft-declarations of developments negative to his presidency as “fake news,” brought upheaval to newsrooms already dismayed with Sinclair’s consistent interference to bring right-wing propaganda to local television broadcasts.

The funniest part about this story is that CNN, which is one of the most blatantly biased stations out there, brought this up.

What the Sinclair Broadcast Group is doing isn’t unique. It’s not uncommon for broadcasters to require their on-air personalities to record various promotions. Oftentimes the promotions are for the station’s advertisers but sometimes the promotions are to push an agenda for the higher ups of the station.

The fact that the news is a dog and pony show is best illustrated by how people tend to choose their preferred sources. A self-declared conservative will generally choose Fox News whereas a self-declared liberal will generally choose CNN and MSNBC. Their choices are dependent on their personal beliefs. If a station agrees with their beliefs, they will accept what the station feeds them. If a station disagrees with their beliefs, they will reject what the station feeds them. In either case, they aren’t seeking to be well informed, they’re seeking confirmation bias.

What can you do? My advice is to assume that everybody is lying to you. Yes, you should even assume that I’m lying to you. Keep a skeptical eye and try to dig into matters you care about yourself. Unless you do that, you will not be well informed about anything.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 13th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Regulations Make Medical Tourism a Necessity

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The United States was once a leader in medical technology. However, increases in bureaucracy have pulled back that lead. Many new and experimental medial treatments remain illegal in the United States, which has created a significant medical tourism industry. Every year numerous Americans travel to foreign lands to seek treatment for their ailments. The latest example of this is opioid addicts traveling to Mexico to seek treatment:

As America’s opioid and heroin crisis rages, some struggling with addiction are turning to a drug illegal in the US. Jonathan Levinson went to one clinic offering the treatment in Mexico.

At the end of a dead end street in a town near the US-Mexico border, Emily Albert is in the basement of a drug treatment clinic, hallucinating about her son as a heroin addict. She imagines him going through rehab and desperately trying to get clean.

But Albert is the one with the addiction. She’s in the middle of a psychedelic treatment for opioid addiction.

[…]

The drug is illegal in the US, but several studies have suggested it is effective in alleviating opioid withdrawals and curbing addiction.

[…]

Ibogaine, along with other hallucinogenics, such as LSD and psilocybin (magic mushrooms), are schedule I substances in the US – drugs which have no medical application and are not safe for use, even under medical supervision.

The medical potential of psychedelics has been known for decades. Timothy Leary performed research on their psychological benefits in the ’50’s and ’60’s. His research discovered that psychedelics did have a lot of positive aspects. Modern research has shown that psychedelics offer a lot of potential for people suffering from depression. And now clinics in Mexico are using psychedelics to help people kick their opioid addiction.

But even with all of this information at hand, the United States government continues to claim that psychedelics have no medial application whatsoever. So long as they maintain that attitude, it is mostly illegal to experiment with psychedelics for medical purposes in the United States, which creates an impasse. A researcher can’t experiment with psychedelics to determine if they can be used in medical applications so they continue to have no medial applications, which prevents researchers from determining if they can have medical applications.

Because of this impasse, the only way to gain access to psychedelics for medical use is to travel to a country less burdened by such regulations.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 12th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Overt Internet Censorship

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The Internet, especially the free speech that it has enabled, was fun while it lasted but it has become obvious that the governments of the world will no longer tolerate such a free system. Of course few governments wants to admit to attacking free speech so they are using euphemisms. For example, the United States government isn’t censoring free speech, it’s fighting sex trafficking:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. law enforcement agencies have seized the sex marketplace website Backpage.com as part of an enforcement action by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to a posting on the Backpage website on Friday.

Groups and political leaders working to end forced prostitution and child exploitation celebrated the shutdown of Backpage, a massive ad marketplace that is primarily used to sell sex. But some internet and free speech advocates warned the action could lead to harsh federal limits on expression and the press.

Notice how they managed to throw the “for the children” get out of jail free card in there? Shutting down Backpage wasn’t about prostitution, it was about human trafficking, especially the trafficking of children. It’s just like how the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) is being sold as a law against sex trafficking but it’s really about opening the door to censoring any online material that offends the political class.

Fortunately, there are new frontiers. Tor Hidden Services and I2P offer a mechanism for server operators to keep their location concealed, which makes taking them down more difficult than taking down a standard Internet service. As the precedent being set by SESTA expands, more Internet service operators will find themselves having to utilize the “dark web” to avoid being censored.

He’s Making a List, He’s Checking It Twice

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Few things are as frightening as government lists. No good ever comes from a government list and if you’re one of the individuals who is listed, your future is probably a bleak one, which is why journalists may be facing rather unhappy times in the near future:

In today’s installment of “I’m Not Terrified, You Are,” Bloomberg Government reports on a FedBizOpps.gov posting by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with the relatively benign-sounding subject “Media Monitoring Services.”

The details of the attached Statement of Work, however, outline a plan to gather and monitor the public activities of media professionals and influencers and are enough to cause nightmares of constitutional proportions, particularly as the freedom of the press is under attack worldwide.

[…]

Meanwhile, the United States government, traditionally one of the bastions of press freedom, is about to compile a list of professional journalists and “top media influencers,” which would seem to include bloggers and podcasters, and monitor what they’re putting out to the public.

I can’t think of any reason why the Department of Homeland Fatherland Security (DHS) would want a list of all “media influencers” that aren’t horrible. Every regime in history who has created and maintained such a list has done so for the specific purpose of eliminating (either through intimidation, disappearing, or outright murder) media personnel who fail to push the approved agenda.

Since this is a DHS program, it’s being advertised as a method of tracking foreign media personnel. However, I think recent history with the National Security Agency has shown that government surveillance programs aimed at foreign entities tend to get aimed at domestic entities in short order. So while this database of media personnel may be advertised as being aimed at foreigners, if it isn’t already, it will shortly be aimed at domestic medial personnel as well.

On the one hand, this is rather unsettling. On the other hand, I do appreciate that the political class is finally being overt about its intentions.

Laws Don’t Work

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Formerly Great Britain is known for having passed pretty much every kind of weapons control law on the books. According to believers in law, this should make Britain one of the safest places on earth. But that’s not the case. Britain still suffers from a not insignificant number of murders committed with weapons:

London has endured a significant increase in knife crime, with 15 dying in February, nine of whom were aged 30 or younger. Meanwhile 14 were killed in the Big Apple.

London also suffered 22 fatal stabbings and shootings in March, higher than the 21 which took place in New York, according to the report in the Sunday Times.

Both cities have populations of similar sizes which are around 8.5 million people. While New York City’s murder rate has gone down – decreasing by around 87 per cent since the 1990s – the Big Smoke’s has simultaneously surged. London’s has increased by nearly 40 per cent in the space of three years alone – not including deaths caused by terrorist attacks.

How can this be? Simple, laws are irrelevant. Britain may have passed a bunch of laws heavily restricting both knife and firearm usage but those laws are nothing more than words on pieces of paper. If an individual wants to stab somebody with a knife or shoot somebody with a gun, the laws prohibiting them from doing so cannot physically stop them.

Many people make the mistake of believing that they don’t have to have a means of defending themselves so long as laws prohibit other people from possessing weapons. They never stop to consider the fact that physically attacking somebody is already against the law throughout most of the world yet people still do it. Logically speaking, if individuals can act in spite of one law, then they can act in spite of any other law. That means that no matter what laws exist on the books, you need to have a plan to defend yourself, even against weapons that are illegal to possess.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 6th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Nobody Gets Fired for Doing Their Job

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In the latest chapter that is the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica drama, people are upset because Mark Zuckerberg said that he didn’t make any heads roll:

Facebook has been ramping up its damage control as outrage continues over the Cambridge Analytica mess. But it seems nobody at the social media company has been let go as a consequence. On a media conference call, Mark Zuckerberg confirmed that no employee was fired in the wake of the scandal because, in his words, it’s his fault: “At the end of the day this is my responsibility,” he said.

While many people are asking why nobody was fired over this, I’m asking why people are expecting somebody to be fired for doing their job. The beginning of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica drama started with a business transaction. Cambridge Analytica purchased the personal information of Facebook users, which is the product that Facebook sells. From there Cambridge Analytica provided analysis of the data to political campaigns, which is what has irked everybody. But as far as I can tell there was no contractual agreement between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica that prohibited the latter from using the data it purchased for political purposes.

There is no reason to expect somebody at Facebook to be fired because everybody at Facebook did their job correctly.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 6th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Important Lessons All Around

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The students of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are back in prison and are already learning some valuable lessons:

Survivors of the deadly school shooting in Florida have resisted new security rules that ban all but clear backpacks at their school.

Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, adorned their bags with signs, badges and slogans protesting against the measures.

Seventeen people were killed in the shooting on 14 February.

The attack led to an extensive social media campaign, culminating in a national march for tighter gun control.

But students have argued that the new bags will not prevent future attacks and infringe their privacy.

The first lesson, obviously, is that it sucks being punished for something you didn’t do.

The second lesson is probably a bit more subtle but the students have identified what the faculty who imposed this policy never comprehended: security theater is not security. Those students who are claiming that transparent backpacks don’t prevent future attacks are entirely correct. First of all, weapons can still be hidden in transparent backpacks. One can easily toss a weapon in a hollowed out book, pencil case, or tampon box. Moreover, an attacker doesn’t have to sneak a weapon into the school, they can just walk in with the weapon and shoot anybody who attempts to stop them.

The third lesson should be the most obvious but is probably the least obvious: laws (or in this case, policies) are irrelevant. While the school may require students to use transparent backpacks, the students have found the policy burdensome and are violating the spirit of it by concealing the contents of their backpacks behind signs and other obstructions. The words on pieces of paper that are the actual physical policy are unable to control the will of the students. This is why laws fail to prevent the behavior that they’re aimed at preventing. Gun control laws can’t stop individuals from acquiring of manufacturing a firearm. Transparent backpack requirements can’t stop individuals from obscuring the content of their backpacks.

Unfortunately, I have little faith that these lessons will be comprehended. The students, being interred in a government indoctrination center, are at a severe learning disadvantage due to the indoctrination that they’re being told is an education. The faculty were likely the product of the same indoctrination and are therefore also hindered from learning. And few people allow new knowledge to alter their beliefs. If new knowledge doesn’t support their beliefs, they will perform the mental gymnastics necessary to make it fit into their worldview.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 5th, 2018 at 11:00 am

You Can’t Predict What Will Set an Individual Off

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I’m sure you’ve already heard about the shooting at YouTube’s headquarters. Before evidence of the shooter’s motives was revealed, most people predicted the common justifications given by or ascribed to shooters (an attack in the name of ISIS, a domestic issue, the shooter taking revenge for being bullied, etc.). However, this shooting took a slightly unusual twist when it was revealed that the shooter may have perpetrated the crime because she was upset about YouTube’s policy changes:

In several videos posted over the last year or so, she angrily spoke about the company’s policies, saying they were filtering her videos so they wouldn’t get any more views, and she was upset over demonetization. It appears the channels have now been completely removed by YouTube, citing policy violations.

Since the shooter committed suicide, we’ll never know for sure what her motivations were. But evidence indicates that her motivation may have been changes to YouTube’s monetization policies that caused at least some of her videos to be demonetized. If this was indeed her motivation, it goes to show that you can’t predict what will set an individual off.

Any action a company or individual takes is potentially dangerous. Although a vast majority of policy decisions don’t result in violence, once in a while the decision to either maintain or change a policy can result in a disgruntled individual responding with violence.

Part of the reason security is so difficult is because people are unpredictable. Who would have predicted that YouTube’s decision to demonetize some videos would result in an individual going to the company’s headquarters and opening fire on employees before turning the gun on herself?

Written by Christopher Burg

April 5th, 2018 at 10:00 am

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