Big Smoke

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

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.

First World Problems

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Technically, we're 6%, but who's counting?

The self-conscious sneering of my generation is surprisingly hypocritical. I got into an argument recently when an acquaintance posed the point that the #OWS protestors had nothing on starving African children, and that our squabbles were a First World Problem. Hell, this tack even came complete with one of those pithy cartoons, as seen right.

The thing is, the irony that this exchange took place on Facebook was not lost on me. As it stands, reminding ourselves that the world exists – and indeed, letting that reminder stand in for actual action – seems to be a favorite past time of folks my age. Like all things, there’s a website devoted to just that sort of ironic tut-tutting, not to mention a song by MC Frontalot, itself an ironic ‘nerdcore’ band.

(Y’know, white guys acting like Black musicians used to be called hipsters, but I suppose now that hipsterdom has grown a life of its own, ‘nerdcore’ needed to be coined, but I digress…)

But, really, who are we fooling? If we do anything at all – beyond, of course, sharing that photo (and that photo’s been shared some 400 times on Facebook at the time of this posting, with a commensurate number of people cooing at its wit) – it’s a token effort done more to assuage our consciences than to bridge the divide between the developed and developing worlds. Nobody is about to give up their wealth and live frugally, no matter how many people thousands of miles away are starving.

But more importantly, how do the problems of the developing world equate with ours? Should we simply stop fighting about inequity here until all problems abroad are solved? Yes, if I have a bachelor’s and live in the United States, then no matter my personal debt and current employment status, I have one up on most of the world. I’m fully aware of that. But that doesn’t pay my rent, nor does it stop the fact that a lot of this nation’s wealth is mostly hoovered up by a tiny minority of plutocrats.

I’m thankful I have the comfort and luxury of being able to sit here in my heated apartment and type out this post on my computer. I’m aware of my situation. I’m aware that there are people poorer than those protesting downtown, even inside this country. But how does that negate their message?

Neo-Luddism

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I’ve rather considered myself a fervent traditionalist, for somebody who was born into the computer age, despite the glow of electronic devices pretty much dominating my time: I work IT. I’m a consummate forum troll. I’m rarely more than two hours away from a computer if I’m awake.

But I only just now got a cell phone, eschew the 3G network, maintain a personal library of more than two thousand books – as in the physical objects, not the digital feeds – and hate Web 2.0 with every fiber of my being. I’m friends with people who prefer personal contact and live performances to networking and recordings, and who keep LPs not just for the fidelity but for the social protocol as well.

The reason for this is as simple as it is distressing: I feel that we’re replacing a medium with new one that does not offer everything the former one did. We’re losing something. And not just the displaced jobs – else I’d be a neo-luddite – but something far more intrinsic; fundamental: We’re losing intellectualism.

I mean, sure, there’s already a lot written out there about how, with the decline of newspapers being able to afford foreign offices and investigative reporters, we’re deluged in a wave of amateurs, but that was always the case with the internet. This is a blog. This isn’t my first blog. I know the score. But perhaps I’m a skylarking idealist whose hope that the original precepts of the internet – a frank and open exchange of ideas – would be born out.

I remember in college lauding the internet for being what is essentially a printing press in every living room. The flip side to that is, when printing presses came out, what kept the presses running were not peer-reviewed periodicals and papers of record, but handbills and tawdry literature: The equivalent of “Obama is a Secret Radical Muslim” and Dan Brown potboilers.

How the concept of journalistic integrity came out of this cauldron, I don’t know, but we appear to be, with this shift in dynamics, losing it. It was inevitable, to be sure: What was the wild west of the electronic frontier would be tamed and, eventually, monetized, but short of that right now what we get is not exactly WalMart and not exactly anarchy but instead Abu Dhabi: Two or three big players with their own spurious agendas and a lotta unpaid laborers.

And in the fray we’re reading less (yet owning more “books”), not paying attention to what we read, and care not for the truth but the domination of the message. What matters is not what happened but who’s shouting loudest – in school we denigrate the Soviet Union for their reliance on propaganda to opiate the masses, but our current system of dueling propaganda isn’t exactly better.

Fox excuses itself by saying the NYTimes is a liberal rag and thus we need “balance.” Democrats lament that Republicans are pulling the debate to the right by catering to their extreme, and then turn around and suggest the solution to that is to do the same, reversed. The news is only too happy to “report” on both, which is to say they’ll take quotes ad verbatim and play on the salacious and scandalous attention rather than the veracity of the claims.

What matters is not whether a statistic quoted is correct, but how soon that statistic will become a meme before it is corrected. The Islamic Cultural Center on Park Place lost the media battle the moment Sarah Palin called it a “Ground Zero Mosque,” which it is of course neither, and only in the op ed pages do columnists report on the “error.”

Stephen Colbert reported on the “truthiness” of the current cultural zeitgeist: Nobody reads into anything, so everybody is duped by any ruse that plays to their pre- and mis-conceptions. I think the internet must take its fair share of blame, here. Rather than being the great egalitarian library – the forum (in the original sense of the term) of a new age – it’s instead done the exact opposite: Reinforced ignorance, hyperbolized public sentiment, and self-served prophecy.

We’re looking at ourselves through a funhouse mirror and calling it the world. We’ve become lumpen-sophists, in the ugliest form of the word. Perhaps we should take a step back and figure out what parts of this new electronic age really work and what clearly do not.

Fire the Editors

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Andrew Leonard makes a rather tongue-in-cheek article about how Apple fanboys are railing against Obama over a speech he recently made at Hampton University, in which he says,

“Meanwhile, you’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t rank all that high on the truth meter. With iPods and iPads; Xboxes and PlayStations; information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment.”

Leonard ends his article by clarifying that Obama is, after all, pointing out the difference between educating oneself on the world and filling one’s free time with the hyper-grapevine New Media has become. Hey, it’s a valid point and Leonard agrees with it. Which is why Salon titles his article “Obama’s self-hating iPad attack” and gives it a picture of Obama’s laser-beam eyes blowing up an iPad.

Thereby proving Leonard’s and Obama’s point. Irony.

Gaming

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as art?

A very chipper Kellee Santiago at the University of Spoiled Caucasians says yes. Roger Ebert says no. Santiago replies. I’m inclined to side with Ebert’s logic, thought that puts me at odds with the established computer gaming writers. Fuck them.

Personally, however, I subscribe to Scott McCloud’s rather inclusive definition of art, being any activity not essential to survival or reproduction. Of course, this definition almost completely blows away any attempts at qualifying the term, but quite frankly anybody who attempts to elevate their particular interest with said term is guilty of at least some form of masturbation.

Another point of fact I find myself at odds with the gaming writers is with Ubisoft’s DRM (again), now that a collective called SkidRow have torrented a sort of Crack For Dummies of their latest DRM iteration, for everyone who wasn’t smart enough to figure out how to use the server referral loop the previous cracks depended on. Shamus Young suggests to Ubisoft that they go one further: Don’t put just some content online, make all content online, making each end-user a mere client on a “cloud” gaming platform, each “purchase” a mere fee for entering into a subscription.

The concept is abhorrent to me. I’m sure all companies would love to just have a direct connection to my credit card info, regardless of whether or what they produce and when, how or even if I partake in their product.

Sorry, did I say “product?” I meant “license,” abridged, qualified and revocable at any time.

Somehow the right to free enterprise became a moral obligation for consumerism, lest we be accused of “not supporting” our creative types (when they themselves are just as often thrown out when inconvenient). Somehow copyrights became the new feudalism. However, I’m not in the habit of allowing purveyors with such unvarnished, abject hostility to their patrons to have their cake and eat it too.

But Seriously Now

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The Times put out a “report” that “rates” the iPad (which still sounds like an Apple Tampon) that distinguishes between “techs” and “normal people.”

I think by “normal people” you meant “luddites,” Mr. Pogue.

There was a time in the 90s when I was sure that computers and the internet would drive people to be more active and engaged in the flow of information – that TVs would become more like computers. Instead, it would appear more that computers have become more like TVs – no longer tools but mere consumer toys.

“But it’s not the same market!”

At $700 a pop, they sure as hell ARE the same market as laptops.

Of course, far more crazy is the fact that the apocalyptic christian militia caught last week planning to kill a cop and subsequently bomb his funeral plead Not Guilty in their hearing; their lawyer cited as saying, “This is going to be a free-speech case.”

Uh, no. “I hope he dies” is barely covered as free speech (and arguably not if you’re, say, propagating such speech as a public figure in retaliation for a congressman voting one way). “We’re going to kill him next Friday at 7” is most certainly not protected. But what gets me is that another Michigan militia helped turn them in. That’s right: Even crazy has standards.

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