Mom Escapes Jury Duty

Mom was called up for jury duty, again. Right now, my days are mostly free, and I’d love to get paid to sit in a courtroom. It’d even help me with paralegal stuff. But no, I haven’t been asked to serve on a jury for over 20 years.

Anyway, Mom knows several lawyers and judges, and so chances were good that she wouldn’t have to serve, but you never know. I don’t understand jury duty. Like I said, I have never gotten a summons when I could actually participate. I’ve been several states away, in college, or in another city (please update your records, you guys), or starting a new job. When I could actually serve (like now), and have endless free time (well, not so much, but I could MAKE time for a paying gig, no matter how little it pays), I never get tapped to serve. Ridiculous. I wouldn’t mind doing my civic duty. Of course, I’m what lawyers Do Not Want. I read the news, I read true crime novels, I’m fairly bright, and I’m going to be swayed only by known and demonstrated facts, not courtroom antics and speeches.

My mom had to sit for nine hours, then–immediately upon entering the courtroom–she realized that she knew the judge (as usual; she’s lived here a long time) and had even taught the judge’s children. Dismissed! They could have saved a lot of time by asking if any of the jury pool knew the lawyers or judge right off the bat.

Another issue that bugged her was that the case was about an assault in the parking lot of a big box retail store, and the jury pool (approximately 36 people) were asked if they’d ever been assaulted. Over a third had. One had been beaten up while walking home from a frat party. Several women had been beaten by spouses or boyfriends. Some had been mugged. Another guy got into a tussle leaving a bar. My mom was a bit surprised to hear that violence was so common “these days…oh, what a world we live in.” I think we’re just lucky that statistics haven’t caught up with us yet.

The Defense wouldn’t have wanted her, anyway, because the defendant was, according to her, sitting there looking bored and smirking the whole time. She wasn’t impressed. Way to take your trial seriously and not antagonize the jury, pardner.

As a personal favour to me, can you guys refrain from mugging people or beating them up at the Wal*Mart? Thanks. Like I even have to ask, I know. Who are these people going around beating on other people? Do they have blogs? Are they on Facebook or Twitter? Probably so, as I suppose anything is possible.

Just don’t do it. Don’t assault or batter anyone. My faith in humanity is already at a low ebb. Thanks.

Advertisements

The Problem With Anti-Piracy Laws

When looking at laws, you have to ask who, if anyone, is hurt, and what degree of hurt, if any, has been inflicted? What purpose is the law trying to serve? Does the law exist because of rare or non-existent “worst case scenarios” that the law is intended to prevent? In most cases, laws are broken when actual crimes have been committed. Some laws, however, presume that laws WILL be broken, try to supply reasons for why they will be broken, and then chase down supposed scofflaws with those assumptions in mind.

During the 1970s, you could not buy many record albums without an annoying “do not tape and share this music, or you will kill the record industry and then there’ll be no more music, ever!” advert. Of course, home-taping became more and more popular, and, surprise!, sharing music actually benefited the record companies, because it exposed new people to new bands’ work, and then they went out and bought the bands’ albums themselves.

The same argument is being tried today, and the record companies are making several foolish choices and refusing to learn from past history. Home-burning and home-recording will never stop, because people want to manage their own music the way they see fit. Attacking twelve-year-olds with massive shared libraries, pricing five cents’ worth of materials at $20 US, scamming artists out of profits due to them, and generally being blind to the realities that new technology has wrought is what will kill the record industry, not fans sharing songs.

Vulture-like media companies like Clear Channel trying to buy every independent radio station and enforce a single universal playlist aimed to please the Lowest Common Denominator in every major city in the United States is part of the problem, too.

Video game manufacturers are often just as bad: blind to customer dissatisfaction, including invasive anti-piracy programs that don’t work as intended and actually cause damage to user’s machines, turning out crappy product to turn a quick buck and being arrogant enough to assume that customers are too addicted to their product to ever stop buying it…that will kill the game industry. Or, rather, it will kill the industry where PC-based gaming is concerned. Sadly, the biggest companies will continue to thrive, because they have enough money to weather several titles bombing commercially after being released, while smaller companies won’t be able to weather any dissatisfaction with a product, and will be bought up or die out.

Anti-piracy laws do not protect the little guy, the consumer. They protect large companies, and do so to the degree that those large companies feel less behooved to actually offer quality product. Case in point: You open the package, you’re stuck with contents. Too bad for you. They won’t offer demos, because they gamble that more people will buy a crap product without a demo and be stuck with it than those who would buy a good product that they have gone to the time and expense of making a demo for. Their marketing is designed to separate the customers from their money, not to gauge satisfaction or loyalty among their customer base.

Good products will succeed despite piracy. As it stands, bad products sell more than they should, and the customer is left with no recourse. Piracy exposes bad products and word of mouth kills sales. Piracy thwarts substandard product-flacking, it doesn’t actually significantly hurt a good company with a good product.

Information wants to be free. Trying to command the ocean to stop wetting you with waves and to stay where you tell it to stay is as futile as fighting piracy. The wise course of action companies could take would be to explore why people pirate, and to offer products that can’t be pirated: good customer service, releasing well-tested games that do not ship in a borked state and which need umpteen patches, bonus items, attractive packaging and support materials and manuals, good perks (not useless crap) in exchange for legal serial numbers, tech support, not invading customer privacy for marketing and advertising purposes, and listening to customer complaints and ideas open-mindedly and actually putting feedback gained into practice. Most of those things can’t be pirated, and yet they are almost as valuable as the data. Instead of focusing on the small percentage of their customers who have not legally paid for their pixels and bytes and trying to be punitive, as there will always be a segment of this group who will never change their ways and pay for things, they should focus on the vast majority of customers who do pay for legal copies, and reward them.

What EA (for example) and other companies do is arrogantly assume that everyone who buys the game is a pirate. They foist invasive software upon their customers that, again, DOES NOT WORK AS INTENDED, to prevent sharing. They put out substandard product that does not entice customers to buy it legally, because it is overpriced and contains no benefit for paying customers besides a pretty package (full of adverts for more crap products!) and is likely to break something or need a patch or not play nicely with other software the customer owns.

Companies with good reputations and consistently good and functional products who reward customers who purchase their products legally, rather than chasing down the few that don’t, have the right idea.  Companies with increasingly poor reputations who turn out consistently buggy software and whine about pirates pretty much get what they deserve. No tears from me.

I typically do not pirate anything. I made an exception after I bought a very expensive (almost a thousand dollars) software package from Adobe. Twice. For two different OSes. Geek Squad zorched my serials for my legally-purchased software and refused to fix the problem. Adobe claimed not to have my customer data. At that point, I was not going to pay them a third time. As I already paid them twice, I consider the pirated version I have now completely legal twice over. The company got my money. Twice. I legally registered both copies. I installed the required updates on schedule. Yet, somehow, they had no record of my existence. Without that record, I was just scr00d. Without a pirated copy, I’d be in deep shit professionally and academically, and it would not have been my fault. Furthermore, Adobe treated me so shittily when I was trying to resolve the problem I almost–but not quite–decided to stand in the middle of the largest classroom building and wave around the burned DVD and offer free Adobe goodies to all comers. Motherf…scratchers. You shouldn’t piss customers off.

I understand why people who have been burned by EA and SecuROM are sharing pirated versions. I understand it all too well. At some point, you get tired of playing against an 800-pound gorilla who also has a stacked deck and Doberman lawyers. You, as the consumer, will only take sand being kicked in your face for so long.

You cannot legislate morality. If it could be done, we’d all be saints just because some law told us to be. You have to look at what the law is intended to accomplish, and decide if it is a dumb law. If it is a dumb law, work to get it changed, and work to get laws in place that protect the rights of those the dumb law has invaded and disregarded.

In all cases, people will do as their consciences dictate. If it pinches your conscience to download, for whatever reason, don’t do it. But don’t presume to offload your moral guidelines onto other people and expect that to go over well. “Because it’s moral” is not sufficient reason to follow a law that is fundamentally flawed, protecting the wrong parties, and short-sighted.

Businesses require customers to survive.

Customers want products that function as advertised.

Products which cannot be demonstrated by customers prior to purchase, or returned if they do not function as advertised, do not give customers what they want.

Customers who have been burned by a product sold by a particular business are likely to shop elsewhere.

The end result is that the business ends up lacking customers.

If customers find a way to try products before buying them, they can make the decision whether to purchase the business’ products.

Some customers will be honorable and buy a legal copy. Some will not.

The end result, however, is that the business is not out anything, not even good will, if the customer tries but does not buy a product. It’s data, pixels.

On the other hand, if the customer does like the product, they are more likely to buy it and/or more products from the business in the future.

As has been stated before, companies who release demo versions are smart. They allow a customer to try before she or he buys.

Smart companies do NOT force customers to risk wasting their money, installing unadvertised “bonus” programs on their expensive machines, or finding out that although their PC specs match or exceed those required by the company, the game still does not function as advertised.

There will always be those who, due to financial difficulty or greed, will torrent everything and pay for nothing. However, there are also a lot of people who torrent because they do not have the option to try a demo version and have been bitten in the arse one time too many by a particular company or type of company (PC game manufacturers, perhaps) to risk throwing more money at them for what is likely to be a borked product.

In some cases, the consumer can argue Fair Use. DJs who download MP3 tracks for their radio shows are using those downloads for legal, promotional purposes. There’s a reason why most of the music-sharing folks who have been sued were those who also uploaded frequently and kept open libraries online full of gankable stuff. Unless they are uploading tracks to a music blog, which is also a type of Fair Use / promotion, there’s not really a good reason to upload tracks.

It’s a hotly contested grey area, obviously.

Dumb Or Strange Georgia Laws

Dumb Or Strange Laws in Georgia:

(Acworth)
All citizens must own a rake.

(Athens/Clarke County)
If you want to read your favorite book in public to your friends, do it before 2:45 AM.
Selling two beers at once for the same price is not allowed.
Goldfish may not be given away to entice someone to enter a game of bingo.
Persons under the age of 16 may not play pinball after 11:00 PM.
It is illegal for one to make a disturbing sound at a fair.
On Mondays, it is illegal for one to whistle very loud after 11:00 PM.

(Atlanta)
It is illegal to tie a giraffe to a telephone pole or street lamp.
One man may not be on another man’s back.

(Cobb County)
At Nickajack Elementary School, all peanut products are banned, even peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

(Columbus)
No one may practice the business of tattooing on Sunday.
It is illegal to carve your initials on a tree, even if it is on your own property.
Cussing over the telephone is against the law.
No one may tease an idiot.
It is illegal to wear a hat in a movie theater.
Crosses may be burned on someone else’s property, so long as you have their permission.
Barber shops may not open on Sundays.
Picnics are prohibited in graveyards.
All Indians must return to their shore of the Chattahoochee River by nightfall.
The fine for waving a gun in public is higher than actually shooting it.
It is illegal for stores to sell corn flakes on Sunday.
Can’t cut off a chicken’s head on Sunday.
It is illegal to carry a chicken by its feet down Broadway on Sunday.

(Conyers)
One may not place a dead bird on a neighbor’s lawn.

(Dublin)
Rocks may not be thrown at birds.
Persons may not wear hoods in public.
It is illegal to play catch in any city street.

(Gainesville)
Chicken must be eaten with the hands.

(Jonesboro)
It is illegal to say “Oh, Boy”.

(Marietta)
Though it is illegal to spit from a car or bus, citizens may spit from a truck.

(Quitman)
It is illegal for a chicken to cross the road.

(Roswell)
Erotic dancing is prohibited on Sundays.
The flooring of adult bookstores and video stores must be non-absorbent and smooth textured.

(St. Mary’s)
No spitting on the sidewalk is permitted after dark.

Californian Thrilled To Be Caught By The Fuzz While Carpooling With Corporate Person

CorporationNotPeopleSan Rafael, California resident Jonathan Frieman got pulled over in the carpool lane and ticketed in October, but, unlike most of us, Frieman was delighted and is looking forward to his day in court this week: it was all part of his plan to expose what he feels is the ridiculousness of the concept of “corporate personhood.”

Frieman has been into the idea of opposing corporate personhood since before it was “cool”: he’s been at it for more than ten years. For most folks, corporate personhood was not something discussed in much detail until after the unpopular 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United ruling, or perhaps until after Mitt Romney, while campaigning in 2011, cheerfully chirped at critics that he agreed that “corporations are people, my friend.”

As Wendell Potter from Citizens for Media and Democracy wrote in an article titled Corporations are People, My Friend, and So are States, Say GOPers:

While on the campaign trail in Iowa, former corporate executive and Republican governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney shot back at hecklers who were challenging his stance that it would be unfair and unwise to raise taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations to reduce the deficit.

“Corporations are people, my friend,” Romney said. “Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to the people. Where do you think it goes? Whose pockets? People’s pockets! Human beings, my friend.”

Democrats were quick to pounce. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said of Romney’s remarks: “It is a shocking admission from a candidate — and a party — that shamelessly puts forward policies to help large corporations and the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the middle class, seniors and students.”

There are some legal reasons why corporations are considered to be “people.” Most of those reasons deal with how legal disputes are to be handled (in short, who / what can be sued), but in recent years, the amount of funds a corporate “person” can contribute to influence political campaigns (among other things) has been hotly debated.

A brief synopsis of corporate personhood-related court cases:

In 1907, The Tillman Act banned corporate contributions to national political campaigns. In 1971, The Federal Election Campaign Act sought to set guidelines for campaign financing, then in 1974, the Federal Election Commission was founded to regulate elections,  and campaign funding limitations were imposed (the amount of money donated, the types of entities allowed to contribute, the degree of disclosure of contributions and contributors, and the amount of funding the government would or could provide were all legally defined).

In 1976, Buckley v. Valeo enforced campaign contribution donation limits, but also tied expenditure of money used to support one or more candidates during their elections to First Amendment protections. In other words, groups of people claiming that spending money is legally equivalent to exercising free speech rights have been around for decades; it is not a new concept.

In 1978, First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti set precedent that claimed that corporations and other similar entities should be allowed to donate to other political causes that did not necessarily involve supporting a specific candidate, such as ballot initiatives and referendums. Again, this may ring a faint bell if you followed the trail of corporation and other money that flooded in to oppose the Prop 8 same-sex marriage initiatives in California. First National v. Bellotti made it perfectly legal.

In 1990, Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce supported the state of Michigan, which was attempting to keep corporations from using their wealth and resources to unfairly influence elections. In 2002, The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (also known as McCain–Feingold), prohibited corporations from buying advertising that specifically named candidates close to elections. In 2003, a similar court case–McConnell v. Federal Election Commission–upheld McCain–Feingold. In 2007, Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. undercut McCain–Feingold, but (mostly) upheld McConnell.

Here’s where–for some, at least–corporate personhood became a discussion topic around water coolers at work. In 2010, not only did Democrats stay home from the polls and allow Congress to become infested with Tea Partiers and their ilk, SCOTUS also decided, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, that the First Amendment protects corporate “people” that might wish to donate freely to any candidates they liked, but also to allows them to flood the airwaves with “independent political broadcasts” during candidate elections (as well as, as already established, non-candidate elections such as Prop 8). Thus did SCOTUS render Austin invalid as it also partially overruled McConnell, making it practically toothless.

CorporationsRPeople

In 2011, then-candidate Mitt Romney infamously called corporations people when responding to hecklers in Iowa. Last year SCOTUS also ruled, in Western Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Attorney General of Montana, that Montana’s state law(s) against corporate financing pertaining to elections did not overrule Citizens United. To be clear, neither Buckley (in 1976) nor Citizens United (in 2011) specifically addressed corporate personhood; corporate personhood as a legal construct was already simply assumed.

Our Californian friend Mr. Frieman is clearly a patient man. It is implied that he has been diligently toting a sheaf of corporation papers around with him–at least when driving alone in carpool lanes–for at least a decade, boldly setting out to be a solo-driving carpool lane scofflaw as often as possible, all while hoping that one day a law enforcement officer would eventually notice only one head silhouetted within Frieman’s car…and issue him the traffic ticket that would allow Frieman to show up in court to dispute it. Finally, in October last year, Frieman was pulled over for ridin’ solo in the wrong lane and ticketed. Score! It only took ten years!

As NBC News reports:

He waved his corporation papers at the officer […] saying that “corporations are people” under California law. Frieman doesn’t actually support this notion. For more than 10 years, Frieman says he had been trying to get pulled over to get ticketed and to take his argument to court — to challenge a judge to determine that corporations and people are not the same. Mission accomplished in October, when he was slapped with a fine — a minimum of $481. […]

Frieman, who faces a traffic court on Monday, plans to tell the judge that this isn’t about carpool lanes; it’s about corporate power. “I’m just arresting their power and using it for my service to drive in the carpool lane,” he told NBC Bay Area’s Jean Elle.

University of San Francisco law professor Robert Talbot says Frieman’s argument may not hold up because it steers too far from the intent of carpool lane laws. “A court might say, ‘Well, it says person, and a corporation is a person, so that’ll work for the carpool lane,’” Talbot told NBCBayArea.com. “It’s possible, but I doubt it.”

Frieman explained his rationale further for the San Rafael Patch in May, 2011, long before he finally achieved his goal of being arrested last year:

You know how the carpool lane on 101 has those signs which say, “Carpool is two or more persons per vehicle?” Did that ever make you want to check out what the definition of a person is in the California Vehicle Code? It says “Person includes a natural person or corporation.” That’s wide enough to, ahem, drive a truck through. Not to mention a skinny little carpool lane.

Just imagine what THAT courtroom scene’ll be like: “Your honor, I got this ticket because Officer ‘so-and-so’ believed I was the only ‘person’ riding in my car in the carpool lane during the restricted hours where the sign says two ‘persons’ need to be in a vehicle. Officer ‘so-and-so’ did correctly espy only one human being in my vehicle. From that he mistakenly believes there was only one ‘person.’ But there were indeed at least two ‘persons’ in that automobile at that time. At least.

Why? Cuz the definition of a ‘person’ in the California vehicle code includes both a corporation and a natural person. Section 470. I had incorporation papers just to be safe, but here’s why I was safe without them: there’s no definition of a corporation in the California Constitution. Nothing in the California Corporations code defines a corporation, either. Why? Cuz a corporation is an imaginary entity. Sort of like a childhood playmate. […]

Your honor, according to the vehicle code definition and legal sources, I did have a ‘person’ in my car. But Officer ‘so-and-so’ believes I did NOT have another person in my car. If you rule in his favor, you are saying that corporations are not persons. I hope you do rule in his favor. I hope you do overturn 125 years of settled law. On the other hand, your honor, if you dismiss the ticket and say I am right, that means anyone can go into the carpool lane alone during restricted hours. That is, you are saying that everyone, riding alone in an automobile in the carpool lane during restricted hours, also has on board a corporation, or, under California law, a ‘person’ other than them.

Frieman is not the first to come up with a novel approach to protesting corporate personhood. As Addicting Info reported in July, a Seattle, Washington woman has already married a corporation (the video clips are charming and amusing, as are the special wedding vows):

Ms. Angela Vogel married a Corporate Person in a public ceremony in Seattle Washington. Officiated by United Methodist Pastor Rich Lang, the ceremony was of course a political statement on the dangers of Corporate Personhood. However, due to the Citizens United decision, the marriage was in fact issued a legal marriage license, making Ms. Vogel, Inc. now the first person in the United States to have married a Corporate Person. […] Sadly, for the happy couple, marital bliss was not to be, as it was determined earlier today that the marriage license could not be legal due to the Corporate Person being underage.

There is one serious flaw in Frieman’s clever plan: if the arresting officer fails to show up on the appointed day, Frieman’s carpool lane ticket may simply be dismissed, saving him $481, but robbing him of his long-awaited chance to have his day in court to express his opinion about corporate personhood to a judge.

Cartoonist Ted Rall's take on the subject.

Cartoonist Ted Rall’s take on the subject.

In the meantime, if you think Citizens United is ridiculous, and think corporate personhood is even more so, you don’t have to risk annoying a traffic cop, exasperating a judge, or marrying a Corporate Person yourself. You can keep up with what groups like Move to Amend are up to, you can tell your Congresscritters that you want them to seriously consider the amendment proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders, and you can support other similar efforts nationwide.


Lorelei welcomes you to visit Liberal Lore on FacebookTwitter or at Addicting Info.