The case of the disappearing Facebook accounts

The DigitalBeat column on VentureBeat recently reported on a case where three critics of Facebook had their accounts mysteriously deactivated.

Juan Faerman, an author in Argentina who wrote a book called Faceboom, the cover of which has the title rendered in a font which easily could be mistaken for Facebook’s official logo, had his profile deactivating shortly after releasing the book, along with two others involved in the book and its marketing.

More troubling than that is Facebook shut down a group for fans of the book, which the trio claims had 30,000 fans at the time of shutdown. This smacks of censorship. It is one thing to claim trademark infringement due to similarities between the book’s cover and the official Facebook logo, but I feel Facebook crossed way over the line here.

Most troubling is that it took VentureBeat’s inquiry as well as an uproar in Latin American media in order for Juan to get his account back. This is unacceptable. Shame on you, Facebook.

At one time I wrote, but did not publish, a no-nonsense parody of one of Facebook’s help files. Which one, you ask? Okay, I’ll come clean. I parodied the one about the block function after someone blocked me. I was hesitant to publish it, if for no other reason because I’m not sure where it should go. It’s too good, and unfortunately, also a bit too no-nonsense and too profane to put in a blog post.

I’d like to think Facebook wouldn’t deactivate my account over it, though. The case for a distributed social network that cannot be arbitrarily censored by any one party is a lot closer to being made if Facebook were to do so, however.

On professional sports: what many fans forget, ignore, or don’t know

This goes back to a spur-of-the-moment tweet I made yesterday. I still stand behind what I wrote even though some people almost certainly got the wrong idea:

And for the record… I really, truly, could not care less who wins the Super Bowl. I just hope none of the players get hurt.

A lot of people forget things about professional sports. When an athlete wants a salary that most average people deem inflated if not outright obscene, it’s easy to forget a lot of the cold, hard, unpleasant realities of professional sports.

The first of those is that for the players at the professional level, playing the game is their day job. Not only is it their day job, particularly in the cases of football, hockey, and motorsports, it is one of the most dangerous jobs in existence. And I’ll probably get flamed for this, but I assert that professional athletics is at least somewhat on par with law enforcement for danger level; it’s difficult to be completely objective on things like this, but my educated guess says that most football players have less than half the working hours per year of most beat cops. In particular, the sheer quantity of police officers with 10+ year careers compared to the relative rarity of NFL players with the same tenure pretty much speaks for itself. I would go as far as to suggest most cops who change careers inside of a decade do so willingly as opposed to being forced to do so from injuries. The NFLPA FAQ for those considering becoming an NFL player is rather clear:

The average length of an NFL career is about 3 and a half seasons. Although there are some exceptional players who have long careers that extend 10 or twelve seasons and beyond, most players only stay active for about three seasons. Players leave the game because of injury, self-induced retirement, or being cut by the team. This also means that while players may make more money than most people, they are only making it for an average of three and a half years. To make sure they are successful in the future, players must invest their money well and make plans for another career when they can no longer play football.

I invite comments from anyone with insight from the law enforcement community, or for that matter any other similarly dangerous career.

The second of these is that when rule changes are made to promote safety, that means for the players, this is a workplace safety issue. Without the players, there’s nothing for the fans to watch. I’m not saying the fans should be completely ignored, but there is no game without the players. The so-called “armchair quarterbacks” are quick to call the players all kinds of derogatory names like “sissies afraid to get hurt” when a league makes a safety-related rule change. Most professional sports fall outside the jurisdiction of OSHA; the players’ union and the league are all the players really have as far as who is looking out for their interests. (And in some cases, the leagues eagerly turn a blind eye until the union makes enough noise.)

Another is the perception that most athletes are millionaires. The NFLPA FAQ linked above refutes this:

Despite what most people think, not all NFL players are millionaires! For example in 2000, the minimum salary for rookies was $193,000. While the highest paid players in the league can make $7-8 million per year, most players make much less than that. … This year, the average NFL salary was $1.1 million.

Note that this is the average, meaning there are a significant number of players who make less than this.

I would go as far as to say an NFL player making the minimum salary, who suddenly finds himself playing for an entire quarter of every game from, say, the fourth week on, is probably not being adequately compensated for the risk he is undertaking! (To be fair about it the same could certainly be said of many police and fire personnel as well.)

(Quick aside: the average is different from the median; the former is the sum divided by the count, while the latter is the number of which half the numbers in the set are either above or below. I suspect the small number of multi-million-dollar salaries inflate this average to be much higer than the median, but would need to find the numbers to actually back it up. I believe the median to be a much more useful statistic which would probably go much further towards proving my point in this case.)

Finally, the career of most professional athletes, save for certain sports such as bowling or golf, is short enough as it is, without the ever-present possibility of career-threatening or career-ending injuries. As mentioned previously, especially in the case of professional team sports, there is the possibility of being cut (or, as the rest of us know it, getting fired) by the team. The reasons for an athlete being out of work are sometimes just as arbitrary as some of the layoffs and firings that happen in the corporate world.

So when I say things like that, there’s a reason for it. I do feel the New Orleans Saints played a great game and congratulate the team and its fans on the victory; while I did not really root for the Saints, I am capable of admiring well-played football by any team.

Today’s a great day for sports fans, all sports fans, to pause and give the proper credit to the players that make each sport what it is. Without the players, there would be no game to watch.

The musicians’ revolt

I know this is way old, but I’m running out of things I feel like writing about and I need to start clearing off some of these drafts.

In early October, Techdirt reported on musicians lining up to take back their copyright from the record companies, in the wake of Jack Kirby’s heirs invoking the same termination provisions in the Copyright Act against the comic book companies, and a similar attempt by the heirs of Jerry Siegel, Superman’s creator which ended in a very bizarre fashion. If you think it’s absurd the idea Superman can fly is restricted by part of the copyright, you’re not the only one.

Anyway, in 2013 musical works become eligible for the same type of copyright termination. Granted, this is still a good three years away. The RIAA of course has not taken this lying down, trying to get musical works classified as “works for hire” which is, to put it bluntly, absurd. If you go back to, say, 1979, there was no Internet, no Web, no personal computers as we know them today (the “personal computers” of 1979 were much closer to “fancy calculators” and in fact, their primary uses were bare-bones word processing, simple spreadsheets/budget applications, and rather primitive games), no Magnatune, no Myspace, no Facebook, no Ogg Vorbis or MP3. All copying was analog. Usually, local bands got their exposure from local shows, and were at the mercy of the A&R (artist & repertoire) people for exposure beyond that. In essence, there was no way around the record companies.

As the decades went on all that changed, 1989 saw the CD and the beginnings of digital recording on a home computer. By 1999 the Internet was in full bloom and record company CEOs were freaking out about the Diamond Rio, the first digital music player, to the point of launching a failed lawsuit to try and squash it. Already there was concern about CD “ripping” as the original CD format had only nominal copy restriction capability, which the CD drives on computers (“multifunction devices”) were not even bound to honor.

And here we are in 2010. Digital distribution is no longer the exception; it’s still relatively commonplace for local artists to sell CDs at shows, but some people are starting to see physical media as antiquated. But the artists have options: Magnatune, CD Baby, etc. It’s no longer a game controlled strictly by the record companies and they are feeling the pinch. They blame unauthorized copying (which they refer to using the loaded word “piracy”) when in reality they expect $20 for a CD that’s often an inferior product to a local artist’s $10 to $15 CD. Gee, I wonder why some people prefer to just go download it off of a peer-to-peer network instead of shell out $20, when the warm fuzzy feeling of being “legal” or “honest” is that expensive.

For every Napster or Bearshare, there’s a Pirate Bay or similar site. I do believe one has a responsibility to financially support those who make it possible for one to enjoy music. However, the viability of doing so by buying “legitimate” copies of CDs from RIAA-member labels is highly dubious at best. Beyond a certain level, even concerts become an activity which financially exploits artists (which I have already gone into in detail here several times).

It’s high time for those who actually make the music to get their fair share. I feel once the artists own the copyrights to their music, we’ll start seeing CD (or equivalent download) prices drop back to a much more reasonable level.

“Inmate…” revisited

I’ve let this sit here way too long. It’s time I post this and be done with it.

This is a follow-up post to my original post on this story back in 2009 November, so just in case you have not already read it, you may wish to go back and read that one and get some of the background. In case you don’t, here it is in a nutshell: I blogged my reaction to a Houston Press article describing an apparent lapse in medical care of a man at the Harris County Jail. While this man, Monte Killian, doesn’t start his unfortunate ordeal with our “justice system” in the best of medical shape, the medical care he receives is so sloppily managed that he is effectively coerced into pleading guilty, and on the day after his release he is immediately sent to the emergency room by his doctor.

Before I go any further: It is my position that regardless of the crime of which one is accused, that this kind of thing should never happen. One whom a government agency has taken into custody and thus accepted the responsibility for should not just be released into the free world in a condition where one should be in a hospital. To do otherwise is reckless.

I honestly had no idea when writing that post on this story that it would be so hotly contested by the Harris County Sheriff’s Department and that I would wind up exchanging several e-mails with both Randall Patterson, the Houston Press reporter, and Alan Bernstein, the HCSD’s director of public affairs. I did learn a few things about the case that I did not know before, that were not made quite as explicitly clear in the original story.

I have seen both the memo Mr. Bernstein sent to the Houston Press, and the response from Margaret Downing, the editor. Unfortunately, I am not permitted to quote from either, but I am permitted to relay my impressions after reading both. Were I not, there would be no reason to enter another post on the topic.

I, of course, did not expect the warmest reception to a story quite critical of a party, by a liaison for that party. Mr. Bernstein’s memo is very aggressive in calling out what he believes to be errors in the story, quotes taken out of context, and he like. I believed many of these errors to be minor and immaterial to the story, even before reading the official word from Ms. Downing that the Houston Press stands by the story as printed.

Even the slightly more significant errors do not really undermine the story. In fact, it’s kind of a stretch to call some of them errors, some can be seen as simply a different way of telling the story that doesn’t quite jive with the county’s PR people want out there.

This part is, or at least should be, public record: Monte did not plead guilty to the drug possession charge, he pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer. However, this latter charge falls squarely in the category of the type of “trumped up” charges often laid on someone in the hope that even if the original case is thrown out, the other charge(s) will stick. Other examples of these kinds of charges: resisting arrest, evading arrest, disorderly conduct, escape and related charges (for those already in custody). These are not the only ones.

The laws are written specifically to make sure these trumped up charges stick even if the original charge is dropped. In fact, just to give you an idea, I’ll quote some of the penal code here, for the charge of resisting arrest:

Sec. 38.03. RESISTING ARREST, SEARCH, OR TRANSPORTATION. (a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally prevents or obstructs a person he knows is a peace officer or a person acting in a peace officer’s presence and at his direction from effecting an arrest, search, or transportation of the actor or another by using force against the peace officer or another.

(b) It is no defense to prosecution under this section that the arrest or search was unlawful.

There are similar sections of other laws (most notably, 38.08 as it applies to both charges related to escape).

I know I’m speculating big time here, but I can’t let this go unsaid. It is entirely possible the “crack rock” the original arresting officer saw was just a ploy to try to establish probable cause, of looking through events with “cop-colored glasses.” I will admit I wasn’t there, and I haven’t seen the original arrest report. At some point I’ll try to get whatever is available as public record.

Even if I were to give the HCSD every benefit of the doubt, and accept Mr. Bernstein’s memo as the gospel truth, I am still left with this: A man who HCSD was responsible for the custody and care of, was given “strict ER precautions” by a county doctor at LBJ Hospital, and yet the day after his release directly to the free world (not to a hospital or medical care facility), he’s in such bad shape he’s sent immediately to the ER by his own doctor.

And yet, the county (as evidenced by Ms. Garza’s statement quoted in the original post) stands by the PR spin that “Mr. Killian’s medical issues were always promptly addressed by the physicians,” everything is fine and dandy. Oh, what, he was barely alive when he pleaded guilty? This newspaper reporter writes this story that he pleaded guilty just to save his life? Hey, we did our job, we kept yet another trial off the court’s docket, we made sure the public defender didn’t have to deal with another trial, mission accomplished.

That’s inexcusable. That’s disgraceful. That’s the kind of stuff that wrecks years’ worth of goodwill and makes honest PR people cringe knowing they might have to clean up that mess.

I’m not expecting first-rate medical care out of the doctors and nurses the HCSD hires to work in the jail. But even the deputies should be able to make the call “hey, we can’t just let this guy wander out into the free world like this, he needs to go to the hospital or at least have a doctor look at him.” Maybe even say to the inmate (Monte in this case) “you’re a free man right now, but we really think you should get checked out by a doctor.”

It does not matter if one is accused of assaulting one of their own. There is a reason for the expression “one of Harris County’s finest.” The badge means one has a duty to be better than that. Those not up to fulfilling that duty shouldn’t be wearing that badge.

An ingenious way to deal with ticket scalpers

Okay, last ticket scalper/reseller post for a while, I swear.

A recent page posted on the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo website (hslr.com) details the plight that the local rodeo has to deal with in regards to ticket scalpers. When I went last year, I did happen to notice that resale of rodeo tickets is prohibited by the language on that ticket, though I’m sure they don’t bother in the majority of cases.

However, I’m really shocked by this (and I know the formatting is wrecked by my copy and paste–forgive me, please):

Hey, RODEOHOUSTON fans!

Don’t get drawn in by offers from “ticket resellers”!

They’re selling a ticket to the Jonas Brothers at RODEOHOUSTON in the lower level for $170 and an upper-level ticket for $80!

Did you know that for just $132, you could get a ticket to Jonas Brothers and Demi Lovato, PLUS Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Alan Jackson, Eli Young Band, Gary Allan, and Blake Shelton. Seriously—$132 (plus one $10 handling fee), nine shows, 11 entertainers.

This shows just how low the scalpers are willing to go. (The rodeo is being way too nice by calling them “resellers.” I assume they are trying to avoid potential defamation lawsuits. I have no problem calling them “scalpers” because I am, so far, a much less inviting lawsuit target. That may change in the future…)

The rodeo is one reason I’m proud to be a resident of Houston and one of the things I love about the city. The people that run it have gone out of their way to keep it affordable. It disgusts me that scalpers continue to rip off the rodeo–our rodeo–year after year. It’s one thing to rip off big-name entertainers; it’s no more excusable, but some of those entertainers can afford to leave money on the table. I do realize the rodeo is a for-profit enterprise as well, but it is an exceptional low to rip off an organization which keeps ticket prices low on purpose, whether non-profit or for-profit.

Anyway, one ticket at a scalper going for the price of an entire mini-season-ticket package is outrageous. Please don’t support these scum.