A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

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

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

The Delusions I Suffer

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I had hoped that all of the outrage over Facebook doing exactly what it said it would do in its license agreement would have encouraged people to read the license agreements to which they agree.

Then I was snapped back to reality when I remembered that I live in a society that is rapidly approaching post-literacy so I can’t expect anybody to read anything.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 12th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Posted in Side Notes

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Misplacing Firearms, Ammunition, and Explosives

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Civilians cannot be trusted with firearms and ammunition, only responsible and accountable government agencies can be:

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) does not have the best reputation vis-à-vis guns, and a new internal audit finds the agency has a record of carelessness with its own weapons.

Though the ATF does not lose guns at the rate it once did, it had “26 instances of lost, stolen, or missing firearms” in the fiscal years 2014 to 2017, and at least one of those weapons is known to have been used in commission of a crime. Some of these guns were lost in diners or on the Washington Metro system. One was discovered by an agent’s neighbor, who found it sitting on the roof of the agent’s car.

Perhaps more troubling given the sheer scale of the problem is ATF’s missing ammunition. The report found “several significant deficiencies related to tracking and inventory of ammunition. For example, ammunition tracking records were understated by almost 31,000 rounds at the 13 sites we audited.” Extrapolated across the agency’s 275 offices, that comes out to about 650,000 missing rounds. Explosives were also not correctly inventoried in some offices and may be lost or stolen as well.

26 lost firearms, 650,000 missing rounds of ammunition, and a probability that some explosives were lost? So responsible!

This story is a good reminder that government agents aren’t the most responsible individuals. And why should anybody expect them to be? They’re not handling their own gear, they’re handling gear that was paid for by tax payers. If they lose or damage something, tax payers will be forced to buy a replacement. Furthermore, irresponsible government agents are seldom punished for their irresponsibility. If they lose or damage something, not only will they receive a replacement courtesy of the tax payers, but they also won’t be reprimanded in any meaningful way.

The findings of this report aren’t unique. Every year we see reports about government agents losing equipment. So why do statists continue to believe that the government is more responsible and trustworthy than civilians? I’m left to believe that it’s due to a gold-medal-worthy mental gymnastics performance. There is no way that somebody could comprehend this report and conclude that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is more trustworthy with firearms and ammunition than the average civilian.

How Do I Internet?

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Yesterday people who are in charge of the largest violator of privacy, the United States Congress, ironically grilled Mark Zuckerberg on the topic of privacy. I didn’t watch the hearing because I have better things to do with my time but I did check the highlights and they were what I expected. A bunch of old white people who have no idea how the Internet works made a public show of authority in the hopes of convincing the masses that their desire to further control the Internet is necessary:

In doing so, many of the senators betrayed a general lack of knowledge about how Facebook operates. Imagine trying to explain social media to your grandparents—this was essentially Zuckerberg’s task.

Sen. Roy Blunt, (R–Mo.), for instance, didn’t seem to understand that Facebook lacks a means of accessing information from other apps unless users specifically opt in. The same was true of Sen. Roger Wicker (R–Miss.), who needed a lot of clarification on how Facebook Messenger interacts with cellular service. Zuckerberg had to carefully explain to Sen. Brian Schatz (D–Hawaii) that WhatsApp is encrypted, and Facebook can’t read, let alone monetize, the information people exchange using that service. Zuckerberg had to explain to multiple senators, including Dean Heller (R–Nev.), that Facebook doesn’t technically sell its data: The ad companies don’t get to see the raw information.

[…]

But senators on both sides of the political aisle were clear about their concerns—and more than willing to step in.

“If Facebook and other online companies will not or cannot fix their privacy invasions, then we are going to have to,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D–Fla.). “We, the Congress.”

What Nelson and his colleagues largely failed to do was demonstrate that “we, the Congress” possess the requisite knowledge to regulate Facebook, or that those regulations would improve upon the policies Facebook would like to implement on its own.

The article contains other ignorant questions and concerns that were fielded by senators. From reading through them it’s obvious that the people tasked with the hearing are entirely out of touch with the topic at hand. Were it not for the positions of power that they hold, their opinions on the matter would almost certainly be dismissed by most people. But they wear suits and occupy a marble building so their ignorance is irrelevant. They have the power to give themselves whatever control they so desire. They may not understand how Facebook or the overall Internet works but they can vote themselves the power to regulate them.

This is part of the reason why political solutions always fail. There is no requirement that the politicians understand the problem to which they’re providing a solution. If you don’t understand the problem, you cannot hope to provide a valid solution.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 11th, 2018 at 10:00 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

The Scientific Method Doesn’t Prove Truth

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Yesterday I ranted about the tendency of individuals to use unspecific and subjective statements in political discourse. Today I want to rant about a similar tendency, the tendency of individuals to claim that something is scientifically proven (with the implication being that it has been scientifically proven true).

The scientific model involves a continuous cycle of making observations, thinking of interesting questions, formulating hypotheses, developing testable predictions, testing those predictions, and modifying the hypotheses based on the test results. If a test demonstrates that a hypothesis is false, the hypothesis can either be rejected or modified so that the cycle can continue.

The important thing to know about this cycle is that it never proves truth. A hypothesis might continue to be treated as true so long as no experiment shows that it’s false. But just because a lot of experiments have failed to show that a hypothesis is false, doesn’t prove that the hypothesis is true. A hypothesis might survive a million tests but that doesn’t mean it has been proven true. The 1,000,001st test could demonstrate that the hypothesis is incorrect, in which case it might be rejected entirely or modified based on the new information learned from the test and subjected to more tests.

Saying that something has been scientifically proven (true) doesn’t mean that that thing is true. It means that it hasn’t yet been proven false. While the difference between the two statements may appear to be subtle, it is important. The first statement makes a position appear unassailable, which is probably why so many people like to claim that their position is based on scientific truth. The second statement acknowledges the possibility that the basis of the position could be incorrect, which leaves the door open to changing positions based on new knowledge.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 30th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Posted in Science

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The Intercept Likes Getting Its Sources Caught

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Last years Reality Leigh Winner, who may have the most ironic name in history, leaked National Security Agency (NSA) documents to The Intercept. Instead of sanitizing the leaked documents, The Intercept staff just scanned them and posted them to their website. Since the documents weren’t sanitized, the NSA was able to use the watermark printed on the document by the printer to identify and arrest Winner.

Now another federal employee, an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) by the name of Terry Albury, who appears to have leaked documents to The Intercept is sitting in a cage:

A request for a search warrant filed in Minneapolis federal court against Albury did not identify the news outlet, but a review by MPR News found the documents described in the search warrant that Albury leaked exactly match the trove of FBI documents posted by The Intercept.

In January 2017, The Intercept published a series titled “The FBI’s Secret Rules,” based on Albury’s leaked documents, which show the depth and broad powers of the FBI expansion since 9/11 and its recruitment efforts.

The Intercept made two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the FBI in late March 2016. The requests contained specific information identifying the names of documents that were not available to the public. In addition, the FBI identified about 27 secret documents published by The Intercept between April 2016 and February 2017.

“The FBI believes that the classified and/or controlled nature of the documents indicates the News Outlet obtained these documents from someone with direct access to them,” according to the warrant. “Furthermore, reviews of the FBI internal records indicate ALBURY has electronically accessed over two thirds of the approximately 27 documents via trusted access granted to him on FBI information systems.”

One of The Intercept’s FOIA requests, dated March 29, 2016, asked for copies of a specific document classified as secret. The document, titled Confidential Human Source Assessing, gives tips for agents on how to cultivate informants.

A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that lists specific classified documents by title is going to kick off an internal investigation to discovery the individual who leaked the titles of those documents. It is also known that many federal agencies, especially those involved in law enforcement and intelligence, closely monitor their networks. They often know who accessed what file at what time. If a FOIA request comes in containing a list of specific documents by title and an agent has been found to access many of those documents without official cause, the internal investigation team is going to put two and two together.

The fact that federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies closely monitor network access is well known. Knowing that network monitoring can identify who accessed what documents at what time and that correlating that information with a FOIA request is a trivial matter, a news agency that regularly deals with leakers should know that issuing such specific FOIA requests is likely to put their source at risk of being caught.

Between Reality Winner’s case and this one, the Intercept isn’t establishing a good track record for itself. If I were a federal agent with information to leak, I certainly wouldn’t leak it to The Intercept.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 30th, 2018 at 10:00 am

No Meaningful Discussion Can Occur without Specifics

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One of my biggest pet peeves in political discussions is the number of unspecific and entirely subjective statements that get tossed around. For example, gun control advocates like to claim that they want common sense gun control laws but common sense is entirely subjective. What is common sense to me may not be common sense to you.

One person might believe that it’s common sense to prohibit private ownership of machine guns but not at all common sense to prohibit private ownership of semi-automatic firearms. Another person might believe that it’s common sense to prohibit private ownership of standard capacity magazines but not magazines with a capacity of seven or fewer rounds. Yet another person might believe that abolishing private gun ownership entirely is common sense.

If somebody claims that they want common sense gun control laws, they’re not presenting anything that can be meaningfully discussed. Without the ability to have a meaningful discussion, both sides of the aisle will end up making assumptions about the other and those assumptions will generally be the best case when a subjective statement is made by somebody with whom they agree and the worst case when a statement is made by somebody with whom they disagree. In the end both sides will just end up screeching at each other.

I used gun control as an example because I spend a lot of time writing about guns but what I’ve said is true of every political discussion. People will claim that they’re pushing a political agenda to make the nation a better place, guard the average person against the rich, help the poor reclaim their dignity, etc. But what qualifies as a better nation is subjective. What qualifies a person as poor, average, or rich is subjective. What qualifies as dignity is subjective.

Subjective statements should really be dropped in favor of specific proposals. To return to our gun control example, a gun control advocate could propose to implement a law that requires all firearm transfers to go through a federally licensed dealer in order to be legal or a ban on semi-automatic firearms with specific features. Since those are specific proposals, the pros and cons of those proposals can be debated. Instead of having to make assumptions about the other’s definition of a subjective idea, both sides can now discuss the specific proposal.

Unfortunately, I see no signs that political discourse in the United States will shift away from the subjective. All signs point to the opposite.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 29th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Posted in Politics

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Teach Facebook a Lesson, Leave Facebook for Facebook

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People continue to pretend that they’re upset with Facebook. Some of the people pretending that they’re upset have decided to leave Facebook for Instagram:

Goodbye Facebook, hello Instagram.

Instagram, which Facebook bought in 2012 for $1 billion, is having a moment — and just in time to be a lone bright spot for its parent company, which is in crisis over its handling of people’s private information.

“Thank Goodness For Instagram,” said a Wall Street research note on Facebook’s mounting troubles earlier this week. “I will delete Facebook, but you can pry Instagram from my cold, dead hands,” read a headline on tech news outlet Mashable.

I say that they’re pretending to be upset with Facebook because they’re effectively leaving Facebook for Facebook. Instagram was purchased by Facebook back in 2012 for the then seemingly absurd sum of $1 billion.

If you want to disassociate with Facebook, you need to be willing to do a bit of research (literally a single search on DuckDuckGo) to avoid simply transferring yourself to one of the company’s other departments. Furthermore, you should invest some time into finding an alternative that isn’t likely to suffer the same pitfalls as Facebook. For example, any company that appears to be providing a “free” service likely has a similar business model to Facebook. If you jump ship to another company with the same business model, you’re going to suffer the same privacy violations.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 28th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Gun Crime is Rising in London

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Remember what I said about laws being irrelevant? Here’s a great example of that:

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has been urged to consider a gun crime strategy for the capital, following a steep rise in the number of offences and fears that victims and perpetrators are getting younger.

The Metropolitan police recorded 2,542 gun crime offences in 2017, the highest number in five years and 44% more than the 1,755 recorded in 2014, according to a report by the London assembly’s police and crime committee.

Britain has enacted into law almost every restriction on gun ownership possible without a complete ban. According to the believers in law, this should have dwindled Britain’s gun crime to almost nothing. However, Britain is still experiencing gun crime and it’s increasing in parts of the country. How can this be? Simple, individuals have chosen to violate the country’s gun control laws. Since laws are nothing more than words on pieces of paper, they are entirely incapable of interfering with these individuals’ wills.

A government can pass whatever laws it desires. If people find the laws tolerable, they may obey them. If people find the laws intolerable, they will disobey them.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 28th, 2018 at 10:00 am