Taking a Plea Bargain Doesn’t Imply Guilt

Reality Winner, who has a rather unfortunate name considering her current circumstances, has plead guilty to alerting the public to surveillance being perpetrated against them by the National Security Administration (NSA):

A former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who admitted passing secret information to the media has been sentenced to more than five years.

Reality Winner, 26, had faced up to 10 years in prison, but this was reduced to 63 months under a plea deal.

I won’t use the word guilty in her case because I think that it’s time to admit that if somebody is found “guilty” because they took a plea bargain, they probably only admitted guilt because they were under duress and since no trial occurred, they weren’t proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Imagine being trapped in a similar situation. Say a prosecutor is threatening you with 10 years in prison if you’re found guilty by a legal system that is heavily stacked against you. However, the prosecutor is willing to cut you a deal. If you make their life easier by admitting guilt, you will only suffer five years in prison. Can you say for certain that you would choose to take your case to court?

Spend a bit of time really considering the scenario. The court where your case will be tried is part of the same government that you’re accused of wronging. The judge who will preside over your case is also an employee of that government. The prosecution will try to get any jurors who might be sympathetic to your cause removed from the pool and the judge will then lie to the jurors by instructing them that they must rule on the letter of the law. Oh, and the agency that you’re accused of wronging controls one of the world’s largest surveillance apparatuses and there is no telling how much information they have about you (this is especially important because the reason you’re accused of wrongdoing is that you were trying to inform the public about the agency’s illegal use of its surveillance powers). It’s easy to see why an accused individual might consider that an unwinnable situation.

People take plea bargains all the time because they look at situations like this and realize that their chances of winning are almost nonexistent, not because they’re actually guilty of the crimes they’re accused of perpetrating.

Pointless Judicial Decrees

A bunch of states decided to sue Cody Wilson’s company Defense Distributed after the Justice Department gave up its futile fight against the company. As part of this ongoing lawsuit a federal judge has extended the ban against Defense Distributed distributing its 3D printer designs for firearms:

A federal judge in Seattle issued an injunction today that blocks Defense Distributed from publishing its 3D-printed gun designs online. The move extends a temporary ban issued last month and the injunction will remain in place until a lawsuit brought forth by a number of state attorneys general is resolved. Washington, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Oregon, Maryland and Washington, DC signed onto the suit last month in an effort to reverse a US Department of State settlement that allowed the 3D gun designs to be published online. Eleven additional states joined the lawsuit earlier this month.

Gun control advocates, who have never been the sharpest tools in the shed, are celebrating this ruling. In their fantasy land where laws have power they view this judge’s ruling as a strike against 3D printed firearms. The problem is that this ruling, just like the previous ruling it extends, is meaningless because you can find the designs all over the Internet.

What gun control advocates and the states that are bringing this lawsuit against Defense Distributed fail to understand is that the gun control debate is over. Once guns became data that could be uploaded to the Internet the ability to control them ceased to exist. It doesn’t matter what the outcome of this lawsuit is, the files released by Defense Distributed will remain available.

Never Let a Crisis Go to Waste

We have a dead woman in Iowa named Mollie Tibbetts. Her killer turned out being from Mexico. Although new information shows that the killer may have been in the country legally, the story originally reported was that he was in the country illegally. Needless to say, the original story was politically exploited.

Predictably the Republicans were using Tibbetts’ murder to crusade against illegal immigration. In their worldview either legal immigrants and people born here never kill people here or being killed by a legal immigrant or somebody who was born here is better than being killed by something who crossed the imaginary line that they call a border without first receiving the king’s permission.

The Democrats also swooped down on Tibbetts’ corpse to bitch about the difficulties faced by illegal immigrants. Apparently Tibbetts’ killer wouldn’t have killed her if he had enjoyed the same opportunities and privileges as legal immigrants and people who were born here.

I was happy for people in both political camps that a murdered woman played so well into their political agendas. Sadly, if the killer does turn out to have been in the country legally, this murder will no longer serve anybody’s political agenda. That would be truly unfortunate. There’s nothing worse than a murder that can’t be exploited for political gain.

How Quickly People Forget

There has always been a cat and mouse game between game developers and pirates. Over the years developers have tried various tricks to prevent people from pirating their games. My earliest experience with piracy prevention the original MechWarrior. When you first loaded the game it presented you with a prompt that required entering information based on what was prompted. That information was found in the game manual. Of course this method was a pain in the ass if you either lost the manual or bought the game used without the manual because you didn’t realize that you needed it in order to play the game. Therein lies the problem with piracy prevention mechanisms, they always inconvenience paying customers.

Piracy prevention mechanisms continued to evolved after MechWarrior. Not too long ago computer games started including what amounted to literal kill switches. These mechanisms were referred to as Digital Rights Management (DRM). The name was idiotic since rights should need to be managed but it sounded friendlier than Developer Kill Switch so the marketing teams went with it. As you might expect, these kill switches didn’t sit well with a lot of games. However, time heals all wounds and now many games are unaware that their games include a kill switch.

Enter GOG. GOG is my favorite game distributor because, unlike Steam, it provides titles without DRM. And it has decided to make modern gamers aware of the fact that they don’t own many of their games, they merely rent them:

The landscape has changed since 2008, and today many people don’t realize what DRM even means. And still the DRM issue in games remains – you’re never sure when and why you can be blocked from accessing them. And it’s not only games that are affected, but your favourite books, music, movies and apps as well.

To help understand what DRM means, how it influences your games and other digital media, and what benefits come with DRM-free approach, we’re launching the FCK DRM initiative. The goal is to educate people and ignite a discussion about DRM. To learn more visit https://fckdrm.com, and share your opinions and stories about DRM and how it affects you.

This is the kind of marketing I like. GOG is telling gamers why its service is superior by pointing out the very real flaws that exist in many of their competitors’ services. It’s also important for everybody to understand exactly what DRM is, especially since it can render a legitimate copy of a game unplayable. DRM mechanisms usually involve a phone home system where the game contacts a DRM server to get authorization to load. If that server cease to exist, say if the developer goes out of business or decides that maintaining the server is costlier than an old game warrants, then legitimate copies of the game can no longer be played.

All the Conveniences of Vegas

What do you do if you’re a Catholic who hasn’t been to confession in a while but need to get your sins absolved before the Pope’s scheduled visit? You head over to the drive-through confessional:

Now, with Pope Francis scheduled to visit Ireland this weekend, a different kind of massive structure has been built to welcome him: a drive-through confessional close to the same park, where Francis will celebrate Mass this weekend.

And here I thought that the religious conveniences of Vegas stopped at drive-through wedding chapels!

Fighting the Important Battles

When an organization is named People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) you might make the mistaken of assuming that it is an organization that focuses on fighting animals abusers, not how fictional animals are portrayed on a bag of snacks:

(AP) — After more than a century behind bars, the beasts on boxes of animal crackers are roaming free.

Mondelez International, the parent company of Nabisco, has redesigned the packaging of its Barnum’s Animals crackers in response to pressure from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

PETA, which has been protesting the use of animals in circuses for more than 30 years, wrote a letter to Mondelez in the spring of 2016 calling for a redesign.

Far be it for me to tell others what battle are or aren’t important but the fictional conditions of fictional animals that represent what you’re about to bite the head off of (because all normal people start by biting the head off of animal crackers) seems pretty insignificant to me.

Airport Law Enforcers Arrest Actual Criminals

Readers, I have a rare story for you today. Airport Law enforcers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport actually arrested honest to gods criminals:

A federal air marshal “flashed a gun in flight,” prompting police to remove him from the plane upon arrival at the Twin Cities airport and handcuff him on the tarmac along with a fellow marshal, authorities said Tuesday.

It would be nice if this was the beginning of a trend where local law enforcers make the lives of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel as miserable as they make the lives of air travelers. Sadly, I doubt this is the case.

As for the air marshals, they were likely verifying the hair color of a passenger who was caught staring at a noisy child in a cold and penetrating manner during a previous flight.

Failing to Cover Your Ass

One of Trump’s cronies, Michael Cohen, has plead guilty to charges against him. In a move that should surprise nobody, after pleading guilty Cohen decided to snitch on his former client:

US President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, has pleaded guilty in a New York court to violating campaign finance laws.

He said he had done so at the direction of “the candidate”, for the “principal purpose of influencing [the] election”.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is why you only conspire with individuals who, after your goals are achieved, will commit suicide by shooting themselves in the back of the head… with a shotgun… twice.

Going the Way of Cable

Cable companies have been feeling pressure from Internet streaming services. Every day more people appear to be waking up to the fact that paying money to watch a bit of interesting content between commercials isn’t a great proposition. The glory days of ad-free subscription streaming services may be coming to and end though. Last week Netflix began experimenting with display ads to customers:

Now Netflix users might start to see ads for other shows during those countdown seconds, as the streaming giant has said it is testing out recommendations.

“We are testing whether surfacing recommendations between episodes helps members discover stories they will enjoy faster,” it said in a statement given to the website Cord Cutters.

Following in Netflix’s footsteps is Twitch, which announced that it will soon be stripping paying subscribers of their ad-free experience:

As we have continued to add value to Twitch Prime, we have also re-evaluated some of the existing Twitch Prime benefits. As a result, universal ad-free viewing will no longer be part of Twitch Prime for new members, starting on September 14.

Twitch Prime members with monthly subscriptions will continue to get ad-free viewing until October 15. If you already have an annual subscription, or if you upgrade to an annual subscription before September 14, you will continue with ad-free viewing until your next renewal date.

I’m always amused by how marketing departments try to spin the fact that their customers will be paying the same amount and receiving less. Netflix’s department has the easier task because at the moment the ads are house ads, not for third-party products. But if the company’s subscribers don’t revolt over this those house ads will begin to feature “favored partners” and if subscribers don’t revolt after that, anybody with some money in hand will be able to buy ads.

Twitch Prime’s marketing department had to justify its company’s actions by claiming that its move is good for streamers, err, creators (goddamn I love marketing speak) and then pointing out that all of the other benefits will remain as they were… until they’re eventually stripped or watered down as well.

The only solace to the cablefication of Internet streaming services is that a competitor will likely arise that will provide content without ads to paying customers, at least long enough to steal a bunch of disgruntled Netflix and Twitch customers. Then, of course, the cycle will begin anew.