Browsing the archives for the Politics category

Child-Proofing the Internet

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Miscellaneous, Politics

There’s been an interesting story developing over the past month at Digg. Apparently it all started with this Digg posting: My $2000 camcorder was stolen and I know who took it. Help get it back! The posting was made by a man named Phil who is claiming that his camcorder was stolen by a woman named Amanda, who was apparently his former roommate. Apparently, after Phil lost his camcorder he found it being sold on a couple of auction sites by users whose names mysteriously matched Amanda’s screen name(s).

The Good and the Bad: In a lot of ways I think what Phil did was the best course of action to him. I am really in favor of public shaming for thieves, cheats, and other sorts of scumbags. On the other hand, Phil decided to post up Amanda’s email address and home phone number with his Digg.com post. The email address isn’t a big deal, but the phone number is. My attitude is basically, the Internet is Vegas: “What happens in Internet stays in Internet.” Taking things from the Internet to real life without mutual agreement is about as close as it comes to a cardinal sin of internet etiquette.

So a few days ago I saw this post: Warning! Felony for submitting a Digg story. As it turns out, the guy has apparently been charged with violating some podunk law in Michigan. A followup story was posted today on the website of some sensationalist local TV station: Man faces cyber-bullying felonies. You can’t make this stuff up.

Amanda Brunzell, 23, said she is living in fear because of the actions of a man.

It is not his threats that got him in trouble, but the fact that he got others to do the harassing and the high-tech way he accomplished it.

It is a case that shows the power of the Internet and tests the waters of a relatively new law.

The former roommate Phillip Hullquist, who lived with Brunzell while she was working in Texas, claimed she stole his video camera.

It was not until after Brunzell moved back to Michigan that the former roommate, named Phillip, claimed she stole the camcorder.

He was so upset he put a video on YouTube and a post on another site, inciting supporters to get his camera back. The response was massive cyber-bullying.

The man now faces two felonies and Brunzell is afraid to sleep. The World Wide Web has become her personal prison.

Hullquist splashed his claims online and riled up Digg.com users to get his camera back. He gave out Brunzell’s home phone number and e-mail addresses.

She has received dozens of chat requests and hundreds of e-mails, some threatening her life.

Kentwood Chief of Police Richard Mattice and his detectives are investigating the case.

The World Wide Web has become her personal prison. Boo-Hoo! She got instant messaged by a few of the trolls over at Digg and then immediately a plan hatched in her head: Instead of instantly blocking them, and preventing further messages by blocking unknown users and sending mail from unknown people into her spambox, she’d decide to wreak vengeance on this guy, trying to ruin his life by going to the police and playing up the victimized woman angle. Even more absurdly, the Michigan police seem to be playing along with her, having charged the original poster with two felonies for merely posting the woman’s phone number and email address.

Let’s be clear, Phil was in clear violation of Article 1, Section 1 of the Internet Conventions Convention of .COM, but this manipulative hag took things beyond the next level by turning a simple situation of internet asshattery into a legal one that could lead to jail time for the guy. Michigan, too, is to blame, for having on books a completely asinine and unenforceable law which basically states, “If you do anything online that causes someone else to possibly behave in a way that could be construed as harassing, you can be held responsible for their actions.”

The thing that worries me with this whole story is the possibility that Amanda might win. I have very little interest in this spat, but I see a victory for Amanda in this case as a blow against the heart of the Internet. There is no way the Internet could exist if every thin-skinned, vengeful harridan could bring lawyers around and sue anyone who might be responsible when some internet troll makes a death threat. Grow a pair and realize that the rhetorical style of the whole damn Internet is inflated to extremes. Telling someone to go die is a casual hello. If one person can be held responsible for the actions of other people, why stop with Phil? Why not sue Kevin Rose and the rest of the people behind Digg for publishing Phil’s story with Amanda’s contact information? Heck, why not sue AOL for delivering the harassing messages to her, and every company running a wire between her and Phil? Go for the big fish, Amanda, Phil is small fries.

It’s not like Phil is some Charles Manson authoritarian pseudo-cult leader personality manipulating a bunch of drugged up women. Digg users may be drugged up, but the ones who were stupid enough to go about harassing Amanda were acting under their own free will. In the past I’ve had to deal with imbeciles who aren’t capable of making this sort of distinction, that Person A isn’t Person B and doesn’t send out mind control rays to Person B … Unfortunately, the lawmakers in Michigan seem to be the same sort of dolts.

In conclusion, both of these nitwits need to have their internet privileges permanently revoked. Amanda needs to die, and the state of Michigan needs to fall off the face of the earth.

No Boy Is An Island

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Culture, Miscellaneous, Politics

Except at Kilmer Middle School in Virginia.

All I can say is that I’m glad my kid isn’t attending this school. If he were, I’d be compelled to schedule a meeting with the Principal’s skull and a blunt object.

I can’t say I’m too surprised to find out that the Principal of this school is a woman. This sort of reductio ad absurdum policy is straight out of feminist modalities: Touching can be both good and bad, but using rationality and observation of reality to determine which is which is insufficient. Since we can never truly know whether a touch was good or bad, we must ban them all. This is not to say that a male principal couldn’t be just a empty-headed and nannyish so as to want a ridiculous policy like this, but I’d like to think that a man who’s so craven so as to think this would be a good idea would also be too spineless to actually try and implement such a policy.

This story found via Reddit. Although the Reddit comments are usually a cesspool of anti-Bush, anti-Religion, and whatever other banalities I can’t be bothered to dredge up in my memory right now, there are a few interesting tidbits here. Check out these comments:

Actually I attended Fairfax County schools (where Kilmer is located) and distinctly remember getting in trouble for sneezing during a school assembly in the 5th grade. I wish I were joking…

Oh yeah, I know exactly what you mean. In Northley Middle School, outside of Philadelphia, a kid would receive detention for sneezing during class presentations.

I distinctly recall learning that year how to suppress a sneeze.

It’s things like this that make me consider that the human mind is the enemy of reason.

Obligatory Victimization Lamentations

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Culture, Miscellaneous, Politics

I hardly watch any television, maybe about 5 hours a week, which is usually not a thing to note. It’s relevant, though, when I talk about a particularly obnoxious commercial I’ve run across rather frequently in the past few weeks.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the exact commercial on YouTube, but a similar commercial from the same advertising line can be seen below… I found a YouTube clip of the commercial and linked to it below.

At this point you probably recognize the commercial, but I’ll elaborate for those who don’t.

-“Chad” representing Alltel, is confronted by the “Nerds” and instructed to get into the back of the van.
-Rather than containing the ridiculous and stupid pinching segment, that segment is cut from the commercial.
-The next segment has “Chad” asking, “So what level Dungeon Master are you guys?”
-The “Nerds” reply, “Dungeon Masters don’t have levels!” and high five.

Like a good victimized minority, I object to the characterization of D&D players/ Tabletop role-players in such a negative fashion. It’s long past time to stop sitting down and accepting pop culture characterizations of role-playing game enthusiasts as ugly, unhygienic, socially inept people. It’s rather ridiculous that any major corporation will play into such a tired and inaccurate stereotype as part of an ad campaign. What’ll we see next, a “Trail of Tears” ad campaign with Native Americans who aren’t on Alltel’s cell phone network being forced to leave their homes for “coverage reservations”?

Not only should Alltel be ashamed for negatively stereotyping gamers this way, but let’s face it, their attempt to portray themselves (using the proxy of “Chad”) as “hip” and “cool” in the face of those other “D&D nerds” falls flat on its face. Regurgitating thirty year old stereotypes isn’t “hip,” it’s passe as hell. Get your advertising team off of the quaaludes and force them to come up with something relevant to the new millenium. Videogames are the biggest entertainment medium period. Over six million people play World of Warcraft alone. Guess what? If you’re playing tabletop games in this day and age it’s precisely because of the social element of being able to interact with people, face to face.

Time to grow up, Alltel. This isn’t high school anymore, where you can be part of some cool clique just by virtue of insulting other people’s hobbies. A group of people sitting around a table telling stories isn’t some sort of activity that deserves scorn, though nor does it deserve praise. It’s just one of many things people do to entertain themselves.

Henceforth, I call for all humans and demi-humans to boycott Alltel products until such a time as hostilities cease and reparations are made for this injustice.

Update: Here’s a thread on the Wizards of the Coast forums which talks about this Alltel commercial as well.
Update 2: I also found this reaction to the Alltel commercial on someone’s Livejournal. All I have to say is that I agree entirely.

Beckstein Blues/Germany Giggles

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Culture, Games, Politics

Note: The following post was originally posted at this location by a user known as “Tim Partlett” (presumably the author’s real name). I’m reposting this here because I think it’s a fascinating and well-written look at the problems that face one of Germany’s biggest game development houses.

Beckstein Blues
Note: This is a personal commentary and does not reflect the views of my company in any way.

When I tell people in Germany what I do for a living, they usually react with a mixture of pity and disgust, like I had admitted to them I was a male prostitute. I’ve learned to avoid the subject, and give a vague answer like “software developer”, because this causes me less problems. The attitude has been getting worse lately.

I was sitting in a restaurant one day in Coburg, Bavaria. An old couple asked if they could take the seat on my table. I agreed. They sat down actually at my table, ordered food, and the woman proceeded to chain smoke her way through a packet of Reemtsmas, allowing me to smoke passively while I ate.

Sitting at a stranger’s table in a full restaurant is considered quite normal in Germany. Smoking while other people are eating doesn’t even register here as something one shouldn’t do, and nobody would even think to ask if you might not enjoy it. And health reasons? Who cares; what are those anyway?

There’s a strong link between passive smoking and death. They estimate about 50,000 non-smokers die in the US every year to passive smoking. Under pressure from the EU the German government reluctantly proposed new laws banning smoking in restaurants. This law was due to take effect in the new year, but it got struck down last week for being unconstitutional.

Despite the proven links between passive smoking and a very unpleasant death for many thousands of people every year, nobody in Germany wants to ban smoking. Not the public, nor the politicians. They will find any excuse to avoid EU pressure to conform and save lives. Not so for computer games.

For computer games both the press and public are histrionic, and the politicians are keen to tap into every reactionary outrage. What triggered the latest bout of threats to the German computer games industry was an “amokrun” at Emsdetten last month, but the whole issue has been simmering for some years now, since Robert Steinhauser took out his 9mm Glock and killed 13 teachers and 2 students at his school in Erfurt.

At the time of the shooting, we were already in development of the “murder simulator” Far Cry at our old studio in Coburg. We were just across the state border from Erfurt in northern Bavaria. Tensions in the region were high. While the people of Coburg continued to treat us like mini-superstars, because we were the biggest thing ever to happen to this small German town, it was a different matter for the rest of the state.

In 2004 the Bavarian authorities sent in the state troopers. Ostensibly it was as a response to a claim made by a former employee that we had illegal software installed on our machines. Their remit, however, appeared to be a lot wider. When the small tech team appeared to inspect our computers, they were accompanied by over one hundred flak-jacketed riot police, all armed with Heckler and Koch sub-machine guns.

It was a total overreaction. It was like they expected to find us hunkered down behind our desks, pulling out our shotguns and semi-automatics and shouting “you’ll never take me alive, polizei!” They arrived first thing in the morning, and kicked down our doors. They even raided the nearby private residences, with one of our programmers forced to lay down naked on the floor with a gun to his head after he discovered armed police in his room after finishing his shower.

Because we weren’t all at work at the same ungodly hour that most Germans start, they were forced to set up ambushes all over town. I was caught just outside the office. Others were pounced on in the park. There were reports that they’d even set up roadblocks on the exits to the town. We were all shepherded into our Mo-Cap room, and there we were forced to remain until questioned, prevented from leaving by dozens of armed guards. There must have been two guys (and girls) with submachine guns for every one of us. You can imagine we didn’t feel very welcome in Bavaria after that.

Bavaria is a very conservative state, possibly the most conservative of an already conservative nation. The state president of Bavaria, Dr. Edmund Stoiber, renowned for his somewhat bizarre habit of dressing up in lederhosen and a Tyrolean hat, made it very clear before the raid how much he despised the kind of “killer games” that we made. And it is again from Bavaria where this latest attempt to ban computer games is stirring.

Dr. Günther Beckstein (many important Germans have doctorates; the Germans seem to have a great respect for qualifications), Interior Minister for the state of Bavaria, has drafted a new law so that those “who distribute, produce, obtain or deliver computer games that allow the player to perform violent acts against human beings in a cruel way or a way violating human dignity as primary or secondary objectives, will be punished with a fine or imprisonment of up to one year.” He’s backed by Lower Saxony, our neighbours.

It seems that the politicians are largely just reacting to hysteria in the public and press. The general consensus is that the government won’t pass this law, and even if they did, they would find themselves in conflict with local state laws, and overarching EU laws. EU laws are designed to protect free trade between nations, and so banning something that is perfectly legal in every other part of the EU causes problems. Our current home state of Hessen is relatively liberal, and so far hasn’t made any noises about supporting this legislation, so we aren’t packing our bags just yet.

The hysteria, however, is huge. Even before the latest amokrun the press were fixated with games and their effects on children. Crytek are big news in Germany just on their success alone. Our latest game is currently attracting more development dollars than any German movie in history. You’d think the press would be interested in us purely because of this, but no.

We had Der Spiegel, roughly equivalent to Time Magazine in the US, and the most popular weekly magazine in Europe, run a five page center spread on us a few months back, before the Emsdetten shooting and the latest furore. Even this relatively restrained and respected news magazine couldn’t resist focusing almost the entire article on violence in games. They even printed a picture of children playing some unnamed game at the Leipzig Games Convention, with the words of our CEO, Cevat Yerli, underneath saying how “we don’t make games for children.”

That’s pretty mild. The tabloids have headlines screeching about “killer games”, and stating as fact that children become killers because of playing such games. The TV stations when they covered this issue recently kept playing the youtube video of the “angry German kid” alongside supposedly serious coverage. If you’ve seen the video, you will understand what kind of impression this would give viewers. I don’t even believe the video is genuine, as he doesn’t even appear to be moving the mouse when he is shooting people in between bouts of keyboard smashing. But facts don’t appear to be all that important in the German “killer game” debate right now.

Since the shooting, Der Spiegal returned to the subject again last week, reporting on the violent murder of a homeless man in Cottbus, in deepest East Germany. The man was kicked in the face repeatedly until he died. The autopsy found “a profound demolition of the face”. The opening line of this article painted the obvious bias in it.

A 19 years old man has confessed that he killed a homeless man with kicks and blows to his face. His motive was frustration he stated at court. Right before this act of brutality he had been stopped by the local police and had been playing a violent computer game – losing every match.

At least Der Spiegel had the decency to write about the other factors in the case, albeit almost as a footnote. What they didn’t feel appropriate to comment on in the lede, was the fact that he’d claimed the killing was a result of him playing the game and having drunk a bottle of beer, two bottles of wine and an entire bottle of chocolate liqueur before the incident. Nor did it mention that he was a neo-Nazi obsessed with violence. He’d even scrawled “Heil Hitler”, “White Power Hooligans” and multiple swastikas on the walls of his holding cell before the trial.

Of course, it was the game’s fault that the neo-Nazi caved in this man’s skull. You know what the game was? Maybe Gears of War or Dead Rising, two games recently refused classification in Germany? The usual suspects of CounterStrike, Manhunt or Grand Theft Auto? No, it was SmackDown vs Raw 2006 – a wrestling game.

Wrestling is considered family entertainment in the US, but a simulation of Wrestling is considered in Germany a “violent computer game” with the ability to stir previously innocent neo-Nazi hooligans to acts of immense violence. It beggars belief and its little surprise that Germany is becoming the laughing stock of the European press.

Despite the incredulity of these articles, the lack of evidence, and the bemusement of the rest of Europe, Germans remain adamant that these games are evil. A recent survey suggested as many as 66% of Germans would support a ban on these games. On the other hand, despite the known dangers of passive smoking, the certainty of a nasty and painful death for thousands every year, the majority of Germans are opposed to the banning of smoking even in restaurants.

With a majority of Germans thinking you are evil and the press and politicians baying for you to be thrown in jail, it can make life uncomfortable. Thankfully Frankfurt is a wonderful city, the richest in Europe, where people are more interested in making money than moralizing about the contents of games. When my friend recently dared to mention his exact profession to a woman in one of the great nightclubs here, he was surprised that her reaction was “that’s a fantastic job, you must make a ton of cash.”

I love Frankfurt. I love Germany. I think it’s a great country to live in. I really hope they don’t make me leave.

It’s amazing to me that a country that’s presumably in the first world could even consider backwater legislation like this. “Games that allow the player to perform violent acts against human beings in a cruel way or a way violating human dignity” is such a flexible category… Presumably no videogames would fall under this definition, as videogames typically don’t involve the player performing violent acts against human beings but rather against representations of humans (or aliens).

That technicality aside, it definitely seems problematic to me when a game like BattleChess could reasonably expect to be banned under such a rule, for depictions of “cruel violence.” Indeed, Chess itself could be banned, though any such ruling would depend on whether mere killing constitutes “cruel” violence. Were this bill to pass into law I can imagine with glee the hilarity of German courts ruling, say, the exact amount of visible blood (in metric units, of course!) permissable before an act of violence becomes “cruel,” or whether vampires can be considered human beings for purposes of this law. Dark Ages 2.0, here we come!

Social News is Dead

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Culture, Politics, Technology

I’ve been progressively getting fed up with social news sites over the past few months. It started when Digg 3.0 rolled out and a whole slew of non-tech related news starting coming to the front page of Digg, and it’s only gotten worse over time.

Since I primarily see these social news websites via PopURLs.com, I’ve noticed a similar decline in quality amongst most of the social news sites. A few days ago I came across this post by Arve Bervendsen summing up his reasons for abandoning one of the other popular social news sites, reddit.com:

* Politics. Yes, I know this is election year in the U.S. No, I don’t care. I’m not American, and I don’t care which republican or demcratic candidate performs voter fraud, lies, cheats or messes with Diebold voting machines.
* Religion. I just don’t care. See politics, and add to it that I think Richard Dawkins is just as evangelical as Ted Haggard.
* Gay sex. See politics and religion.
* Drugs. Not of interest. See politics, religion and gay sex.
* Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. See politics, religion, gay sex and drugs
* Self promoters. See all of the above, since most of them are already linkjacked reposts of the categories I’ve already chosen to kill. In addition, they’re reposts of utterly unfunny youtube videos, bad financial advice and health scams. Or posted by people pretending to be programmers.
* Karma whores. See all of the above, plus their lame ass-polls.

Even YouTube has fallen prey to this problem. Two of the videos currently featured on PopURLs are overtly political, one of them being a speech of Howard Dean and another is some boy’s opinion on the election. The latter, in particular, has 77,000 views, which is a clear indication that the only reason his story is popular is because of a system of automated viewing scripts manipulating his viewing ratings on YouTube. This is a new technique that’s gained popularity over the past few days, when an expose revealed that many of the celebrities who seek to promote themselves on YouTube have hundreds of dummy accounts that auto-refresh their videos to increase their overall views, or to post automated comments to get their videos on the lists of “Most Talked About” videos.

I’d like to think that all of this political garbage will at least blow over by tomorrow, but if the “If we didn’t win, you cheated” contingent has their say (and they will, no doubt), we’re just seeing the beginning of the nonsense.

Copyrighting Infinity

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Culture, Politics

Awhile ago I found the xkcd webcomic via Kaedrin. I absolutely love this comic, and see so much of myself in them (things like calculating optimal path efficiency, mispronouncing words, analyzing structures for possible raptor entry points)… I have recently been waiting to link this comic to one of my best friends who I haven’t seen for about a week. Now, strangely enough, I saw the image above and then immediately saw…

This story found via Reddit (via PopURLs).

WARNING: Do NOT calculate Pi in binary. It is conjectured that this number is normal, meaning that it contains ALL finite bit strings.

If you compute it, you will be guilty of:

* Copyright infringement (of all books, all short stories, all
newspapers, all magazines, all web sites, all music, all movies,
and all software, including the complete Windows source code)
* Trademark infringement
* Possession of child pornography
* Espionage (unauthorized possession of top secret information)
* Possession of DVD-cracking software
* Possession of threats to the President
* Possession of everyone’s SSN, everyone’s credit card numbers,
everyone’s PIN numbers, everyone’s unlisted phone numbers, and
everyone’s passwords
* Defaming Islam. Not technically illegal, but you’ll have to go
into hiding along with Salman Rushdie.
* Defaming Scientology. Which IS illegal–just ask Keith Henson.

Monkeys with typewriters for the 21st century. It makes me wonder if someone who actually used this method to generate material could then copyright it.

On a related note, here’s a link via the Volokh Conspiracy on copyright infringement.

“In Accordance With Fair Use … We Forbid Any Reproduction”:

The “This article is copyright protected and Fair Use is not applicable” line seemingly no longer appears in new articles on the North Country Gazette site, but the “In accordance with Fair Use of Copyright: WE FORBID ANY REPRODUCTION in part or in whole of The North Country Gazette” remains on the front page. Why should people trust the accuracy of the articles on the site, if the site’s claims about copyright law are inaccurate?

Putting aside the formalities of the legal force of their statement being null, here we reach the apex of copyright hilarity. WE FORBID ANY REPRODUCTION in part or in whole of our useless little rag. Please note that “ANY REPRODUCTION in part or in whole” includes reproducing this notification that you are forbidden to reproduce any part of it. All mentions of this copyright notice must be referred to by a euphemism that we shall not name (because if we named that euphemism here, you would not be able to reproduce it).

Emet

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Culture, Literature, Politics

This is probably going to be a very long and rambling post with only sketchily drawn connections between various ideas.

More below…

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YouTube Disappointments

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Culture, Politics

It’s hard to expect much from YouTube videos: A little bit of copyrighted material here, a little bit of people making fools of themselves to music there.

This first video is a supposedly Muslim perspective on portrayal of Islam in the media, link via Dean Esmay.

I had to stop watching about halfway through when I got too sick of the speaker’s ridiculous assertions. A Muslim Terrorist is an oxymoron in the same category as “loud silence”? Please. This isn’t some parable of the cave where any Islam that you can see is merely a shadow of an ideal Islam. When he got to speaking about construction of stereotypes, as if there’s some kind of malicious conspiracy pushing some sort of racist agenda, I had to stop. Subjecting yourself to such a deranged alternate reality is just going to cause brain damage the more you expose yourself to it.

If the intent of this video was to claim that Muslims are poorly represented in the media, it, quite frankly, did a worse job than what I can see on the BBC.


This video
showed up on PopURLs.

The video starts off by being offensive, but seems to have a wry cynical edge created by playing the Apple ad music in the background. Unfortunately, it’s not smart or clever, it’s just tediously pedantic and deceptive. Supporting use of stress techniques that do not cause lasting physical harm is torture? Stress techniques do not provide reliable evidence? If not, why does every police force and military in the world use them in interrogations, for fun? If stress techniques violate the Geneva Convention then jihadis will retaliate by using even harsher tactics than decapitation with knives and corpse desecration?

Sorry to say I actually wasted part of my life listening to this kid.

I was going to leave comments for these videos, but, unfortunately, YouTube limits the length of a response to 500 characters. In other words, I couldn’t even write a proper sentence in the space YouTube allocates for a comment.

In related news, I suppose it’s good that Google bought YouTube, as it means the site’ll be staying around awhile.

Battlestar Sharklactica

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Culture, Personal, Politics

Has Battlestar Galactica jumped the shark?

That’s a question a lot of people have been asking since the season premiere aired on Friday. I haven’t decided just yet how I feel about it. Even though Battlestar Galactica is one of my favorite shows, and is definitely one of the better shows on television, I’ve been a bit disappointed with it for some time now. Many people’s feelings towards the Season 3 opener, to me, are just symptoms of the disease.

Spoilers below…

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