If you don’t control it, you don’t own it.

Disney proved that this holiday season by retroactively removing access to Christmas specials that were purchased for use via Amazon last year. More at the Guardian:

Disney’s Prep & Landing, a Christmas special first aired in 2009, has been available for customers to rent and buy on Amazon’s Instant Video service since Christmas 2011, when its sequel was aired and also uploaded.

For $2.99, customers could purchase the video, which Amazon’s site says lets them: “watch and re-watch it as often as you like… You may stream a purchased video while connected to the internet and access the video from Your Video Library on any other compatible device. You may also download the video.”

Now, though, the company has removed access to both episodes of Prep & Landing, not only preventing new customers buying or renting the show, but also preventing those who have already paid – under the promise that they could “re-watch it as often” as they like – from doing so.

That Amazon provided a credit is of little consequence; the fact that Disney pretended to “sell” this person a copy that, it turns out, they could deactivate at will is the problem.

Don’t go in for this kind of bullshit. Buy an unencumbered copy, which usually means a physical one. And, honestly, fuck Disney. They’ve proved over and over that they are an evil company, and do not deserve your love, your dollars, or your support.

Oh, AT&T. By what black magic have you managed to monetize customer annoyance?

So, imagine if you will that you have a question about your AT&T bill — a document of such unfathomably needless complexity that it seems obviously designed to allow those goatfuckers to slip extra charges in whenever they want.

First, of course, you do some mental math to determine of the possible value of the question makes it worth your while to call AT&T. Be honest with yourself: you know good and damn well that you’ll have to deal with a voice menu system that’s calculated to make you abandon your call, and then deal with a poorly trained offshore resource who cannot deviate from his menu — a menu that’s chock full of boilerplate phrases about how much they value your time and business (i.e., lies) but are instead designed to waste your time — and who cannot actually help you with anything, but (like the ARU) is doubtless in the mix to encourage even more callers to give up in despair before reaching the vanishingly few number of reps who might actually know something helpful.

But you persevere. You stay with it, even after they transfer you, even after re-entering your account number multiple times (and re-read it to operators), and and even after being hung up on during “transfers”.

Finally, you get to someone who might actually be able to help. You try to pose your billing question, but are interrupted by the poor sop in India who insists that you answer your security question.

Ok, fine.

Except, of course — you saw this coming, didn’t you? — the security question makes no sense at all. It’s something you never would have picked. You have no idea what the answer is. And because of this, they won’t help you.


Apparently, the Indian lets slip, this security question is sometimes set accidentally by AT&T. It happens. So you go back to the “My ATT” (if only!) site, keeping your Indian on the line all the while, and quickly navigate to the carefully hidden Security Options page so that you can reset your security question to something you actually know.

Here’s where it gets awesome: the security questions on MyATT? Totally unrelated to the one the Indian is asking you. There are two on MyATT. They make sense. You obviously picked them. But neither of them are the one the Indian on the phone demands you answer.

It will eventually be revealed that the question they ask when you call is a completely DIFFERENT question, unrelated to the ones you can set online. And, just to be safe, there is NO WAY to change the call-in security question except by calling in and answering it.

Somebody at AT&T seems to have mistaken a certain postwar novel for an instruction manual.

As for me, at this point? There was yelling. There was a language barrier, but I’m pretty sure yelling is universal. I did, eventually, succeed in getting it reset to something I know. It only took 90 minutes. And then they explained the bill. Finally.

Jesus fucking Christ on a pogo stick with a side of beans, these people suck. Will NO ONE create a telco that doesn’t seem completely invested in fucking us over? Where the fuck are the regulators? Bring these goatfuckers to heel, for the love of all that’s holy.

Dept. of Truly AMAZING Police Misconduct

In September, the NYPD decided it would be a good idea to confront and ultimately shoot at an unarmed mentally ill homeless man in Times Square, which (as you may know) tends to be a crowded place.

The cops managed to miss their mark entirely, but DID succeed in hitting two innocent bystanders.

Obviously, someone must pay for this sort of completely fucking retarded behavior, and someone will: The DA has indicted the mentally ill man for assault, claiming therein that he “recklessly engaged in conduct which created a grave risk of death.”

Basically, they’re charging an unarmed man for a shooting rampage. Nice one, NYPD.

Dept. of Governmental Misdeeds

Apparently, the FBI can watch you via your webcam without triggering the “active” light, which is a power I’m absolutely CERTAIN will NEVER be misused EVEN A LITTLE BIT:

The FBI has been able to covertly activate a computer’s camera — without triggering the light that lets users know it is recording — for several years, and has used that technique mainly in terrorism cases or the most serious criminal investigations, said Marcus Thomas, former assistant director of the FBI’s Operational Technology Division in Quantico, now on the advisory board of Subsentio, a firm that helps telecommunications carriers comply with federal wiretap statutes.

Get a post-it. Or, better yet, order some EFF stickers. Make sure YOUR devices are really and truly YOURS; given the absurd degree of surveillance the Snowden leaks have exposed, it’s the only prudent course of action.

How To Tell That We’re Screwed

When Jim Sensenbrenner, the author of the PATRIOT Act, a mad power-grab by executive power enthusiasts, thinks the NSA and the FBI have gone too damn far:

As the author of the Patriot Act, I am extremely troubled by the FBI’s interpretation of this legislation. While I believe the Patriot Act appropriately balanced national security concerns and civil rights, I have always worried about potential abuses. The Bureau’s broad application for phone records was made under the so-called business records provision of the Act. I do not believe the broadly drafted FISA order is consistent with the requirements of the Patriot Act. Seizing phone records of millions of innocent people is excessive and un-American.

ALEC: New frontiers in being evil douchebags

Now they’re lobbying for changes to energy regulations that will allow power companies to charge people who generate their own power, e.g. via solar.

In some areas, the power company must actually PAY homeowners who contribute a net positive amount of power to the grid with solar cells. Obviously, this isn’t popular with power companies, who seem to think that their monopoly position is ordained by God and that therefore everyone should pay them forever.

Fuck. That.

So, about those airport weapons

So, as I mentioned last month, somebody is making a point of assembling weapons made entirely of objects found inside airport security checkpoints.

Nothing will come of this, of course. Bruce Schneier explains why:

So, what’s the moral here? It’s not like the terrorists don’t know about these tricks. They’re no surprise to the TSA, either. If airport security is so porous, why aren’t there more terrorist attacks? Why aren’t the terrorists using these, and other, techniques to attack planes every month?

I think the answer is simple: airplane terrorism isn’t a big risk. There are very few actual terrorists, and plots are much more difficult to execute than the tactics of the attack itself. It’s the same reason why I don’t care very much about the various TSA mistakes that are regularly reported.

He’s completely right. As usual. 90% of the money and effort spent on the TSA checkpoints today is wasted, and we’d be better off if we used those resources for other things.

Go Home, DHS, You Are Drunk

The Department of Homeland Security is in increasingly hot water over its utterly goatfucked “no-fly” program. Something like 800,000 people are on it, but the DHS insists its classified, and that there’s no oversight or procedure to challenge your inclusion.

Predictably, this has not been popular with, oh, anyone with a brain, which apparently excludes DHS officials.

Anyway, a Stanford PhD student is suing over her inclusion in this list, and that suit is finally at trial. And that’s when the fun starts, because it turns out the DHS has put one of her witnesses on the no-fly list to keep her from testifying. As the witness is the plaintiff’s American-born daughter, this is absolutely NOT going over well with the judge.

Said judge was even less impressed when the DHS lawyers defending the suit lied to him about the situation. This one’s going to be fun to watch; go read the linked article.

Buried in the linked story is a data point that, if true, shows you just exactly how much respect you should have for the DHS program:

It would appear that the lawyers for [plaintiff] Ibrahim are making a (rather compelling, from the evidence) case that bumbling US law enforcement officials confused two very different Malaysian organizations with similar names: Jamaah Islamiyah Malaysia, which is a terrorist organization, and Jamaah Islah Malaysia, “a non-profit professional networking group for Muslims who have returned to Malaysia after post-secondary schooling in the U.S. and Europe.” The two organizations are, as you would imagine, quite different. Ibrahim is involved in the latter, and has no connection to the former, but it sounds like the FBI agents who interviewed her were unaware of the difference.

Case in point for why we prefer honest whiskey

Diageo is prevaricating and dissembling again about their “orphan whiskey” program.


Based on what we know, what’s most peculiar about Orphan Barrel is how closely it resembles something Diageo predecessor United Distillers & Vintners tried 20 years ago. That time it was called the Rare American Whiskeys Collection. It was intended to be a series of one-off releases of the most outstanding, unique, and rare whiskeys in their warehouses, which they had because they had acquired so many distilleries while building their empire. They planned to release a few every year, but the plan died a swift death at Diageo’s birth. The new company changed direction and within a few years, Diageo had essentially exited the American whiskey business.

The even more odd thing about both Orphan Barrel and Rare American Whiskeys is that in both cases Diageo decided to create brand names that are unrelated to the whiskeys. In that earlier case, they took names from defunct distilleries–Joseph Finch and Henry Clay–and used whiskey from other not-identified defunct distilleries. The whiskey called Joseph Finch was not made at the Joseph Finch Distillery, the whiskey called Henry Clay was not made at the Henry Clay Distillery, and the actual distilleries were not revealed. It seemed crazy then and it does this time too. This time it is what appear to be newly-created brand names with an old-timey feel.

What is Diageo thinking? You have this supposedly great and rare whiskey but you won’t tell us anything about its provenance? Then you wrap it in a package that suggests a false provenance?

Why doesn’t Diageo understand that most “discerning whiskey adorers” don’t appreciate being zoomed? Save the malarky for Jeremiah Weed and Captain Morgan, please. If the whiskey is as great as you say it is, why not just let it speak for itself? A Diageo rep said they’re not sure where it’s from. It’s written on the barrel head, stupid.

It seems sometimes that Diageo is incapable of doing anything (a) original, or (b) honest.

Apparently, “trespassing” in Miami Gardens means “working while black”

This story is in pretty wide distribution now, but it’s worth a moment of your time anyway.

Police operate this way because, to a first approximation, the individual officers never suffer any real consequences for grotesque abuses of their power and responsibility. This absolutely has to change. People trusted with power — and the lethal means to enforce their wishes — must be held to a much higher standard than private citizens.

Without such consequences, stories like this one and this one will become increasingly commonplace. It is already true that, when interacting with police, you are safest is you assume they are power-mad and dangerous, and behave accordingly.

And they say AUSTIN’s the weird one

Naked man goes on window-breaking rampage near Galleria. The best quote, btw:

“The naked man (was) running around in the street breaking cars,” said the store manager of the W Luxury Car rental. “He looked normal but I am sure he was on something.”

“Normal,” except, you know, naked. And toting a shotgun. TOTALLY NORMAL otherwise.

KHOU has pics of the damage, which includes a UH flag driven through the windshield of a Rolls.

Feds: We don’t need no steenking transparency!

The Feds are refusing to comply with a court order insisting they disclose the secret interpretation of the PATRIOT Act, under which they commit who-knows-what.

Yes, this means there are still secret laws and secret courts, and they insist it needs to stay this way. This can’t be allowed to stand.

On more minor notes, it seems that the NSA and FBI have decided that, as far as FOIA requests are concerned, enough’s enough. The NSA is (understandably) getting a LOT more requests — up almost 1000% — but it’s no trouble, as they just deny them all.

The FBI, for its part, has stopped responding to the most prolific requester on the grounds that, well, he might learn something. Guess we can’t have that.

Seriously, fuck ALL these people.

Who Zimmerman Is. Who He Always Was.

Josh Marshall runs down the latest on George Zimmerman, and points out what can no longer be denied: that he is a small, frightened man with a penchant for violence and a tendency to wave guns around.

It is verging on impossible at this point to maintain, with a straight face, that he did not stalk, attack, and murder Trayvon Martin. His pattern of behavior makes his claim of self defense even more laughable than it was before.

Yay, Florida!

How to Tell If You’re An Asshole

You’re a giant and fantastically profitable department store, and you feel the need to sponsor a food drive.

For your own employees.

Look, if you’re making money hand over fist and employees can’t afford to buy food, and you’re asking your community to donate food so they can eat, you are the vilest sort of jackass.

Books of 2013, #48: The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

I would be substantially less annoyed by Donna Tartt‘s writing pace — at one novel per decade, Tartt makes George R. R. Martin look like Stephen King — if The Goldfinch hadn’t fallen so completely flat in its final third. Seriously, it just sort of comes to pieces.

It’s hard to explain or discuss much about this book without engaging in spoilers, but it’s probably okay to set the stage: our hero is a Theo Decker, and he’s a child when the book opens. He and his mother — his father has taken a powder — live in New York.

One day, his mother takes him to the museum, where he is thundersturck by the sight of a young girl being shepherded through the museum by an older relative. The museum, shockingly, becomes the target of a terrorist bomb. Separated at the time of the blast, our hero survives only to encounter a mortally wounded man — the same man who’d been escorting the young girl, who is nowhere to be seen. The dying man presses Theo to rescue the titular painting (a real one, by the 17th century painter Carel Fabritius), and so Theo becomes the guardian of a lost treasure — one presumed lost in the museum bombing. (Yes, real-world art losses are name-checked, so you get to feel clever if you know what happened to Rembrandt’s only seascape.)

What follows is a positively Dickensian Bildungsroman, at least for about 2/3 of the book. Who will care for Theo? Will it be his wealthy friend Andy’s family? Where is is his father, and will he turn up? What’s the story of the girl and the dying man? Where will all this go?

It’s the resolution of the last question, I’m sad to say, that Tartt kind of whiffs. We stay with Theo into adulthood, and the book holds together pretty well most of the way there, but the final sequence of events — which consume most of the last third of the book — aren’t quite right by my lights. There’s a weird shift in tone, and a strange sense of both too much and not enough. We reach an end, but it’s not really an end that feels right for the book. (I’m not alone in my reservations, as it turns out.)

So here I am. I loved The Secret History in 1992, and The Little Friend ten years later. Her sensibility agrees with me. I suppose I’ll buy her 2023 book at publication, too.

But disappointments are easier to weather when there’s more work to enjoy. Write like the wind, Ms Tartt.