A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Mental Illness Is a Meaningless Definition

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Now that I’ve skewered the vultures exploiting the Florida school shooting to forward their gun control agenda, it’s time for me to skewer my fellow advocates of gun rights.

Gun control advocates are quick to lump all gun owners, both those who have committed violent crimes with guns and those who haven’t, together and demand they all be punished. All too often gun rights advocates fall for the same collectivist nonsense. They’ll label the shooter mentally ill and by doing so throw individuals with mental illnesses under the bus.

Saying the shooter belonged to the collective of mentally ill individuals is, like all forms of collectivism, meaningless. Mental illness is such a broad term that saying somebody suffers from a mental illness says nothing specific. What kind of mental illness did the shooter suffer from? Were they schizophrenic? Were they autistic? Were they bipolar? Were they senile? There are a lot of recognized mental illnesses and only a handful of them carry any risk of instilling violent behavior in the sufferer.

I know, I know, anybody who is willing to kill innocent people is obviously mentally ill, right? If so, that means drone pilots and many law enforcers are mentally ill. Strangely enough, I generally don’t hear gun rights activists who label mass shooters as mentally ill apply the same label to drone pilots or law enforcers. It seems like the label of mentally ill is a euphemism for individuals they don’t like.

As tempting as it is, fighting fire with fire isn’t the best way to prevent a house from burning down. If a gun control advocate tries to use nonsensical collectivization to make their case, responding with your own flavor of nonsensical collectivization isn’t productive. It’s far more productive to call out their nonsense while simultaneously analyzing the problems that can be acted on (i.e. the real problems). There is no way to act on an individual belonging to an arbitrarily defined group. There are a ways to improve school security, response times, etc.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 16th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Fitting Definitions to the Narrative

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The shooting in Florida is the 18th school shooting in 2018! Or not. It turns out that the statistic that is being mindless regurgitated by much of the Internet is, like most such mindless regurgitations, malarkey. The statistic, not surprisingly, originates from Everytown for Gun Safety, which is an organization known for massaging definitions to fit its narrative:

Everytown has long inflated its total by including incidents of gunfire that are not really school shootings. Take, for example, what it counts as the year’s first: On the afternoon of Jan. 3, a 31-year-old man who had parked outside a Michigan elementary school called police to say he was armed and suicidal. Several hours later, he killed himself. The school, however, had been closed for seven months. There were no teachers. There were no students.

Also listed on the organization’s site is an incident from Jan. 20, when — at 1 a.m. — a man was shot at a sorority event on the campus of Wake Forest University. A week later, as a basketball game was being played at a Michigan high school, someone fired several rounds from a gun in the parking lot. No one was injured, and it was past 8 p.m., well after classes had ended for the day, but Everytown still labeled it a school shooting.

Everytown explains on its website that it defines a school shooting as “any time a firearm discharges a live round inside a school building or on a school campus or grounds.”

To borrow a phrase popularized by Mark Twain, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. The beauty of analyzing numbers is that you can whatever result you want if you use the proper definitions. If, for example, you want to maximize the number of school shootings in the United States, you merely need to define a school shooting as any incident where a firearm was discharged on school grounds. It doesn’t matter if the discharge happened at a school that has been closed for seven months or if the discharge was caused by a law enforcer’s lack of awareness of their surroundings.

Details matter but most people ignore them. When they see a headline that confirms their bias, they post it, usually without bothering to read the cited source. This is why most discourse is pointless. Facts aren’t being debated, confirmation bias is.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 16th, 2018 at 10:30 am

The Beginning of the End for Unsecured Websites

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Chrome looks to be the first browser that is going to call a spade a spade. Starting in July 2018, Chrome will list all websites that aren’t utilizing HTTPS as unsecured:

For the past several years, we’ve moved toward a more secure web by strongly advocating that sites adopt HTTPS encryption. And within the last year, we’ve also helped users understand that HTTP sites are not secure by gradually marking a larger subset of HTTP pages as “not secure”. Beginning in July 2018 with the release of Chrome 68, Chrome will mark all HTTP sites as “not secure”.

I think Let’s Encrypt was the catalyst that made this decision possible. Before Let’s Encrypt was released, acquiring and managing TLS certificates could be a painful experience. What made matters worse is that the entire process had to be redone whenever the acquired TLS certificates expired. Let’s Encrypt turned that oftentimes annoying and expensive process into an easy command. This made it feasible for even amateur website administrators to implement HTTPS.

The Internet is slowly moving to a more secure model. HTTPS not only prevents third parties from seeing your web traffic but, maybe even more importantly, it also prevents third parties from altering your web traffic.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 16th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Identifying Yourself with a Group Is Exhausting

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People really like identifying themselves with groups. We have a lot of self-proclaims libertarians, communists, atheists, theists, gamers, intellectuals, and so on. While these labels can serve as a sort of shorthand for explaining one’s beliefs, hobbies, etc., it seems like a majority of the time spent by individuals who identify themselves with groups is denouncing all of the other individuals who also identify themselves with the same group.

Consider the self-proclaimed libertarian. He may not have a racist bone in his body but he may be accused of being a racist by somebody who doesn’t identify themselves as a libertarian. Why? Because another self-proclaimed libertarian has openly espoused racist ideals and identity politics is all about guilt by association. So our hypothetical self-proclaimed libertarian must denounce the racist self-proclaimed libertarian. They might claim that racism and libertarianism are incompatible. They might claim that the racist isn’t a real libertarian for other reasons. They might apply an additional label, such as paleo-libertarian, to create distance between their libertarianism and the racist’s libertarianism. This is a lot of work. I know, I’ve been there.

The problem with identifying yourself with a group is that different people define different groups using different criteria. A self-proclaimed libertarian may define libertarianism as a belief in private property or the non-aggression principle. A self-proclaimed communist, on the other hand, may define libertarianism as a belief system that allows racism to thrive.

As a naturally lazy person, I’ve reached a point where I’d rather avoid all of the work identifying myself with a group entails. And, frankly, life is too short to fret about imaginary nonsense.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 15th, 2018 at 11:00 am

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Finding Alternatives to Advertisements

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People often make the mistake that many webpages are free but there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Most websites still use the age old monetization technique of displaying advertisements. However, advertisements quickly evolved from relatively safe static imagines. They started becoming more annoying. Imagines turned into animations. Animations turned into full video that also played sound. These “enhancements” also requires clients to run code. Needless to say, users started getting annoyed and their annoyance lead to the creation of browser plugins that block advertisements.

Online advertising has turned into an arms race. Website visitors use an ad blocker, advertisers create a method to bypass ad blockers, visitors upgrade their ad blockers to bypass the bypass, and so on. This is leading a lot of people to question whether the online advertisement model can remain feasible. Fortunately, some websites that rely on online advertisements have begun experimenting with alternative revenue sources. Salon, for example, recently launched an experiment where visitors blocking advertisements are given the option to run cryptocurrency mining code in their browser:

Salon.com has a new, cryptocurrency-driven strategy for making money when readers block ads. If you want to read Salon without seeing ads, you can do so—as long as you let the website use your spare computing power to mine some coins.

If you visit Salon with an ad blocker enabled, you might see a pop-up that asks you to disable the ad blocker or “Block ads by allowing Salon to use your unused computing power.”

A lot of people are pissed about this but I, possibly for the first time ever, actually agree with what Salon is doing.

Unlike a lot of sites that are experimenting with running cryptocurrency mining code in visitors’ browsers, Salon is being entirely transparent about doing so. If you visit the site with an ad blocker enabled, you are presented with a very clear option to either disable your ad blocker or run cryptocurrency mining code. If you choose the latter, your computer’s fans will likely kick on as your processor ramps up.

I doubt browser based cryptocurrency mining will be a viable alternative to online advertising. Cryptocurrency mining, as the linked article shows, requires a lot of processing power. On a desktop that isn’t much of a concern. On a laptop or other battery powered device, that increased processor usage will drain the battery quickly. With more computing being done on battery powered devices, anything that noticeably reduces battery life will likely anger visitors. But I’m happy that websites are finally exploring alternatives to advertisements. It’s clear that visitors aren’t happy with the current state of the online advertising model. If website operators want to continue being profitable, they need to find a way to raise money that their visitors find acceptable.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 15th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Take That, Chronic Pain Sufferers!

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Opioids are fantastic painkillers but have the unfortunately side effect of also being highly addictive. This has may opioids an attractive crisis of the moment. Since politicians never let a crisis go to waste, a lot of them have been wasting a lot of our time decrying opioids and explaining their plan to do something. Some politicians want to restrict opioids even harder (because doing the same thing that hasn’t been working even harder is a recipe for success). Other politicians, such as Mark Dayton, realize that crises can be lucrative:

ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) – Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is proposing a “penny-a-pill” paid for by drug companies to fund an opioid stewardship program for addiction prevention, treatment and recovery efforts in Minnesota. The governor estimates the program would raise $20 million each year.

It should be noted that paid by drug companies is a euphemism for paid by consumers since all expenses incurred by producers are reflected in the prices consumers pay. However, telling the public that chronic pain sufferers will be footing the bill probably won’t be as well received as telling them that multibillion dollar corporations will be footing the bill.

Dayton’s proposal isn’t surprising in the least. The government loves to punish people who are following the current law. Who buys opioids from the legal drug manufacturers who will be paying this proposed tax? People who have received prescriptions from licensed medical professionals. Who buys opioids from black market actors who won’t have to pay Day’s proposed tax? Everybody else. So the moral of the story is that following the law is foolish because you’ll likely get fucked over at some point in the future.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 15th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Statements of Fact Versus Statements of Opinion

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“You can’t be neutral!”

“You can’t be indifferent!”

“You can’t be apolitical!”

How many times have you heard somebody say a variation of these statements? I’ve heard these phrases quite a few times and the frequency seems to be increasing. However, anybody making such a statement is wrong. Why? Because you can be neutral, indifferent, apolitical, or any combination of those things.

People making such statements are mistaking their personal beliefs for facts. Most of the people who say you can’t be neutral, indifferent, or apolitical are really saying that since you disagree with them on something they view you as being in league with their enemy. For example, let’s pretend that legislation that would establish a government healthcare system has been introduced into Congress. Supporters of the legislation are making the same tired arguments that anybody who opposes it hate poor people, etc. You have been practicing medical tourism to gain access to cheaper and better healthcare and plan to continue doing so whether the legislation passes or not and therefore don’t have a preference on the legislation. If you declare your neutrality, a supporter of the legislation will likely respond by saying that neutrality is tacit opposition to the legislation and you are therefore not neutral but against it. Are you actually against it?

The problem with their assertion is that it’s based on their personal beliefs and personal beliefs are entirely subjective. There may be no such thing as neutrality in their little reality tunnel but your reality tunnel may be advanced enough to include such a concept. So what they’re really saying is that based on their personal beliefs you are their enemy.

Statements of fact can be objectively verified. For example, the top speed of a car can be measured with instruments. It doesn’t matter if you think the top speed of a car is 120 miles per hour if instruments consistently measure its top speed at 100 miles per hour. Saying that the top speed of the car is 100 miles per hour is an objective statement since it can be independently verified by others through experimentation. Abstract concepts such as neutrality, indifference, and lack of political opinions cannot be objectively verified. There is no way to objectively state that somebody cannot be neutral or that neutrality is tacit support or opposition.

The widespread lack of understanding of the difference between objective and subjective statements is, to me, one of the most aggravating characteristics of modern discourse. When somebody is stating their opinion as fact, that is to say when they are framing the debate in such a way that only their opinion is deemed valid, the debate can’t move in any constructive direction.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 14th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Large Free Library

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Here in the Twin Cities quite a few houses have little free libraries (as opposed to Little Free Libraries, which are specifically sanctioned by some 501 nonprofit organization that thinks it owns that term), which are small boxes filled with books. Anybody can take a book and it’s expected that anybody taking a book should also leave a book.

Little free libraries are a neat concept but some garbage collectors in Turkey decided to go bigger:

Turkish garbage collectors in the country’s capital city of Ankara have opened a public library that is full of books that were originally destined to be put into landfill. The workers began collecting discarded books and opened the new library in the Çankaya district of Ankara. News of the library has spread and now people have begun donating books directly to the library, rather than throwing them away.

[…]

The library now has over 6,000 fiction and non-fiction books and includes a children’s section, an area dedicated to scientific research books, and a number of English and French language books for those who are bilingual.

I would love to see this become a trend here in the United States. Although there are a lot of opportunities here to either donate unwanted books or sell them, I know a lot of books still end up in a landfill. Those books are effectively free inventory for anybody who wants to start a library of any size.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 14th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Imaginary Collectives of People

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There are few things in the universe as precious as an edgy atheist who makes a snide remark about imaginary sky people only to turn around and discuss societies, cultures, and other imaginary concepts as if they were real.

These individuals usually claim to have given themselves over entirely to reason. If something cannot be proven, they claim to not believe in it. Despite their claims though, most of them believe in plenty of things that can’t be proven. As I’ve noted numerous times before, there is no way to prove societies exist because societies, like all collectives of humanity, are concepts that only exists in our head. Ditto for cultures. In reality there are only individual human beings. Any attempt to treat individual human beings as a cohesive group becomes a fiction.

Thus I’m lead to conclude that most of these self-proclaimed atheists are actually theists but instead of, as they put it, believing in imaginary sky people they believe in imaginary collectives of people.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 14th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Postliterate America

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A few science fiction novels explore the concept of a postliterate society. In a postliterate society, reading and writing have been predominantly or entirely replaced by multimedia. Could the United States be transitioning into a postliterate society? The question may have been absurd to ask just a few years ago but I think there is reason today to give the question serious consideration:

I’ll make this short: The thing you’re doing now, reading prose on a screen, is going out of fashion.

We’re taking stock of the internet right now, with writers who cover the digital world cataloging some of the most consequential currents shaping it. If you probe those currents and look ahead to the coming year online, one truth becomes clear. The defining narrative of our online moment concerns the decline of text, and the exploding reach and power of audio and video.

Writing has been the predominant method of recording information since, at least, the fourth millennium BC when cuneiform first emerged (but for all we know there could have been an even older writing system that hasn’t been discovered yet). This shouldn’t surprise anybody. Writing systems have many advantages but one of their biggest advantages is versatility. You can scratch written information into a wet piece of clay, chisel it into stone, mark it on a piece of paper with ink, or record it to a hard drive. Whether you have access to no technology, modern technology, or anything in between, you can write information.

The biggest limitation of alternative forms of recording information such as pictures, audio, and video has been the cost of creating and consuming them. Only in the last century have photo cameras, audio recorders, video cameras, and televisions become widely available. And only only in very recent times have computers powerful enough and software advanced enough to enable individuals to easily create and consume media become widely available. Thanks to those advancements we live in a society where postliteracy is a possibility.

For the cost of even a low spec smartphone any individual can create a video and upload it to YouTube. For a little more money any individual can acquire a computer powerful enough for them to do based video editing. As with computing power, video editing software continues to become cheaper. It also continues to become easier to use and more featureful, which is why so many people are able to harness the power of artificial intelligence to make fake porn videos.

This widespread availability of media creation and consumption technology has already had a tremendous impact. You can find instructional videos online for almost anything you could want to do. Do you want to fix a running toilet? A quick YouTube search will show you tons of videos walking you through how to fix one. Do you want to learn proper squatting form? Once again, a quick YouTube search will result in tons of videos of professional and amateur weight lifters explaining and showing how to properly squat. But the explosion of media hasn’t stopped at instructional videos.

Most political discussion online seem to involve memes, images with a bit of text bolted on. At one time creating and viewing even the simplest of memes was no simple feat. Today there are free websites that allow you to upload a picture and enter some text and it will spit out and even host your meme. In a few seconds you can create and then share your meme with the world without investing anything more than your time.

I’m not saying the United States is a postliterate society at this point but I believe the foundation necessary for such a transition exists and there is evidence to suggest that such a shift could be taking place. Think back to math class when you asked your teacher why you had to learn multiplication tables when you had a calculator that could multiply for you. Your teacher likely said that you wouldn’t always have a calculator with you. Today anybody with a smartphone in their pocket also has a calculator. Soon the same question that has been so often asked about multiplication tables could be often asked about reading and writing. It’s an interesting thing to ponder.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 13th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Posted in Technology

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