Big Smoke

’cause it’s hard to see from where I’m standin’

Ghost in the Shell is Now

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One of the themes I found so intriguing in the Ghost in the Shell IP – the movies, the mangas, the TV series – was the idea of the re-emergence of a public censure (to say nothing of domestic terrorism) as heralded by the social zeitgeist of the internet. It was messy in that universe – ideas have a habit of morphing beyond anyone’s control – and it’s messy here.

I’m reminded of it thanks to the recent destruction of Ocean Marketing Public Relations Manager Paul Christoforo’s career. He, in a particularly unprofessional fit of pique, got into a heated exchange with a customer of a company his was contracted to represent, and got burned for it.

But let’s set the stage: The company, N-Control, which sells game controllers, got several times its expected holiday demand and could not fulfill orders in time. Its in-house marketing and public relations threw up their hands and it put Ocean Marketing to the task. Christoforo got put handling customer complaints, where one particularly irate customer and he escalated their argument to the point of name-dropping and threats. Said customer forwarded the exchange to the tips inbox of Kotaku, a gaming webzine, and directly to Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade, a gaming webcomic, and the whole thing blew up.

Within twenty four hours, Christoforo lost his job, his marketing company went belly up, his police record and personal life was exposed to the world, and the company he was representing was put in jeopardy, struggling with collateral damage when its flagship product got Amazon bombed.

In effect, by broadcasting the e-mail exchange, the customer – who is still anonymous beyond the moniker “Dave” – unleashed an online riot against the PR rep. The broadcasters themselves – Luke Plunkett of Kotaku and Mike Krahulik, the kindling to the Reddit/IGN wildfire – could fire their salvos with impunity, calling ignorance and denying culpability to the work of thousands of anonymous internet denizens who trawled the net for Christoforo’s Twitter account, scoured his Facebook pictures, hijacked his old Twitter account, looked up his Youtube videos, created parody videos of him, searched his work history, posted his police records, called his home and brought his family into the ordeal.

Suffice it to say, the internet has grown up. It’s now the preferred tool of public censure, and with the utter lack of privacy thanks to the humungous paper trail sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn offer, we live in the biggest small town in the world. Of course, stuff like this has happened before – 4Chan’s /b/ community loves reliving escapades of ‘Anonymous,’ its distributed wars against whomever – but it’s surprising the speed at which it manifests and does its damage, and that presents a huge problem.

Public censure is a nice way of saying “lynch mob,” and while Christoforo may not have been right for the job he was put in, lynch mobs don’t understand concepts like ‘proportionate response.’ Further, neither Kotaku nor Penny Arcade are willing to take responsibility for their efforts in fanning the flames. Owen Good of Kotaku gave a politician’s non-apology today, but Krahulik remains unrepentant: He practically crowed his accomplishments at destroying the man, citing outright malice, and in a just world he should be held legally responsible for that sort of grotesque harassment.

At this juncture, however, he likely won’t, which means that this monster has no boundaries. We have a system that nobody can corral, and that is a scary notion.

Alabamer

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I know I’m late in posting this (by a couple months), but hell, it’s still pertinent:

When Alabama decided to crack down on undocumented immigrants and suddenly found themselves without workers to pick their crops because, as it turns out, no self-respecting American works hard labor for less than minimum wage with no benefits… I was struck. I was struck because it meant that the South’s economy has not progressed very far from slave plantations. If your economy’s dependent on labor so cheap that, even in a depression, Americans don’t want to do it, well, hell. I don’t even have a punchline for that.

A Tax on Poverty

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…is what Matthew Yglesias’ idea of having a negative interest rate amounts to.

Protip, Matt: Poor people don’t need convincing to buy things. They have to buy things to survive. If you want demand to come up, you have to give them more money to buy things with. How dare the poor save their money. We clearly need to put an end to that.

What the fuck. Tax the rich, not the poor. Of all the boneheaded – no, scratch that, evil – ideas of late, this has to be in the top running – and that’s saying something, considering that in the past week we had Gingrich – the current GOP frontrunner – arguing that Blacks are lazy and shiftless and that child labor would teach them right!

In fact, there’s been quite a lot of idiocy lately, like how Gingrich’s answer to the fact that there’s four recently unemployed people per job opening is that said people need to have better attitudes and how we shouldn’t “pay them not to work.” Like Thomas Donahue, head of the US Chamber of Commerce, actually having the gall to say that we have too much regulation instead of too little. Where the hell have you been this past decade, Tom, when we’ve had the lowest levels of regulation since the 1920s give us the highest corporate profits in history and the largest bust since the Depression?

Hell, this past week we’ve also had the Florida Family Association’s surprisingly effective attack – as they got advertisers to pull out their money due to the “controversy” – on The Learning Channel’s show All-American Muslim for “not presenting the extremist, violent side of Islam” and thus misleading god-fearing Americans to believe that Muslims are, y’know, normal. Such brazen racism draws scary parallels to the national campaign by the GOP and Tea Party zealots to destroy any hope of a mosque being built in downtown Manhattan, because, as we all know, Muslims are terrorists and terrorists are Muslim.

Have we gone stupid? Why the blitzkrieg of recrimination on the victims of society? Why are we giving this shit the time of day?

The optimist in me says that this is the death knell of a political party that doesn’t have a future in this country. The pessimist in me says that the Democrats will find a way not to sweep the next elections anyway.

Sign Here at the Dotted Line

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Part of Section 9 of Electronic Arts’ Terms of Service – the End-User License Agreement that everybody signs after buying (or, rather, in the software world, leasing the rights to use) a product and before installing it:

EA may also terminate access to EA Services for violation of this Terms of Service (in its sole discretion) … You may lose your user name and persona as a result of termination. If you have more than one (1) Account, EA may terminate all of your Accounts and all related Entitlements. In response to a violation of these Terms of Service or any other agreement applicable to EA Services accessed by you, EA may issue you a warning, suspend your Account, selectively remove, revoke or garnish Entitlements at an Account and/or device level , immediately terminate any and all Accounts that you have established and/or temporarily or permanently ban your device and/or machine from accessing all EA Services or certain EA Services. You acknowledge that in such an instance EA is not required to provide you notice before taking action to suspend or terminate your Account, temporarily or permanently banning your device from some or all EA Services or selectively removing, revoking or garnishing Entitlements associated with your Account. If EA terminates your Account, you may not participate in an EA Service again without EA’s express permission. EA reserves the right to refuse to keep Accounts for, and provide EA Services to, any individual. You may not allow individuals whose Accounts have been terminated by EA to use your Account.

If your Account, or a particular subscription for an EA Service associated with your Account, is terminated, suspended and/or if any Entitlements are selectively removed, revoked or garnished from your Account and/or if your device is temporarily or permanently banned from accessing some or all EA Services, no refund will be granted, no Entitlements will be credited to you or converted to cash or other forms of reimbursement, and you will have no further access to your Account or Entitlements associated with your Account or the particular EA Service.

Part of Section 11 of EA’s ToS:

You may violate the Terms of Service if, as determined by EA in its sole discretion, you:

[long list of actions]

Specific EA Services may also post additional rules that apply to your conduct on those services.

In short: “You agree that we can cut our services to you with no prior notice or compensation if it should break rules that we can invent after the fact, as interpreted by us only.”

In shorter: “You agree that fuck you.”

This has come to light of late mainly because Electronic Arts’ forums are tied to the same account as their games – with their new digital download service named ‘Origin’ – which means that any disputes over forum conduct has ended up in the permanent suspension of more than a few people’s game accounts. In one case, a gamer used the word “badass” on one of EA’s forums and, being banned due to a word filter, found he was banned from every game he purchased from EA as well.

Now, the funny aspect of this, if you can call it that, is that Terms of Services and End-User License Agreements are largely untested, legally, and as such their status as binding contracts are currently dubious. Indeed, it is hard to imagine that Section 20 of the ToS, which categorically denies customers the right to trial by jury and class-action lawsuits as well as severely limits the window of time in which they’re allowed to dispute anything at all, would be all that defensible if actually challenged.

Indeed, consumer rights legislation requires that, if a service is paid for, it remains available, and if it stops being available, a refund is offered. However, on the internet, the rules (seemingly in outsize response to piracy) have become fantastically draconian and currently exist largely because nobody’s taken the time to fight them yet. They’ve attempted to redefine products as services (for instance, a piece of software that you purchase for use offline is not a “product,” but a “service” that you lease the rights to use – a service that can be revoked), and now they’re attempting to redefine the parameters of services themselves.

Clearly this is just reality being a few years ahead of legislation, but it’s an incredibly sour note in the rather hostile relationship between corporations and consumers of late. At least, in the internet, nobody has yet and nobody likely will able to put a lid on piracy, so the consumers, for the moment, still have the upper hand.

We’re in it for the artists…

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…except when we’re in it for the money.

Dutch anti-piracy group BREIN stole a piece from composer Melchior Reitveldt for use in their ad campaign.

When he discovered this, he asked non-profit copyright advocacy agency Buma/Stemra to support him in getting his due compensation, to which board member Jochem Gerrits replied, “sure… just sign this contract giving us publishing rights to your music, and then allow us to take a third of what you’re owed.”

I count at least three levels of hypocrisy. How about you?

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