Adventures in Cell Phone Hell


If you’ve done any studies in macroeconomics, then you know that capitalism is not, in and of itself, a perfect and foolproof system. When a company is able to develop a monopoly on something, particularly a product or service that is vital to the people in a community, then there’s a great risk of harm simply because the monopolistic company can set whatever price they want on their product or service, since there aren’t competing companies to keep a check on rising prices; similar problems exist with product quality and customer service. This is why laws against monopolies, or laws that tightly regulate a company that has a monopoly, generally don’t provoke that much controversy. (There are always those who are so laissez-faire that they think monopolies should be unregulated as they’re a natural result of market forces, but even among the far-right they’re relatively few.)

A problem arises, however, when a product or service is only being provided by a few large companies, because those companies can then get together and agree to raise prices or lower service together in order to rake in even more money. Even though there isn’t one big company holding a monopoly in the market, this collusion of companies effectively creates all the same problems that a single monopolistic company can cause. This is why there are laws against companies overtly colluding in this way to fix the market, and again, even conservative economists tend to see these laws as being beneficial for both the market and society as a whole. A difficulty arises, though, when this collusion isn’t happening through easily-documented emails or meetings in smoke-filled rooms, and the rapid technological changes in our world in the past few decades have created possibilities for companies to effectively collude in ways that are impossible to empirically prove.

The philosophies and politics of 21st century economic collusion merit their own treatment — possibly even book-length — but I bring them up here just as a background as to why I can’t freaking stand cell phone companies any longer. Strap yourselves in, because this is gonna be a long ride.

I got my first cell phone three days after the 09.11 attacks, and that was no accident; I’d just started back at college full-time late that August, and quickly noticed how many students around me had cell phones. I didn’t feel like I really needed one at first, but after 09.11 I thought it was best to have one on me just in case. A few months later, when a family member called my cell phone to tell me to stop driving my car because it had leaked transmission fluid onto our driveway, I’m sure that alone saved me at least a thousand dollars. Cell phones are both incredible tools and incredible toys, and I’d like to think that I use mine to enhance my productivity rather than destroy it. I could be wrong on that, though.

My first phone was one of those old Nokia bricks, and I got service through Verizon because that was what I was offered when I walked into Radio Shack that day. A couple of years later, once my phone started glitching, I switched to Virgin Mobile, sticking with their barebones plans where I only had to pay about $20 or $30 every few months to buy minutes that I hardly ever used. In 2010, though, I bit the bullet and went the smartphone route, which meant paying more money every month, and my previously good experiences with Virgin Mobile soon evaporated when I found out, over a course of several months, that all their smartphones were crap. (Also, despite living right next to one of the biggest highway interchanges in Toledo, I often got zero bars of service at my house, especially on the ground floor.)

I’d wanted to change providers for a long time now, but it was only about a month ago that I was ready to take the plunge. I knew I wanted a Nexus 5 (especially after the troubling initial reviews of the Nexus 6 came out), so I did some comparison shopping. T-Mobile not only sold that phone, but they also offered a monthly service plan that was perfect for me — only 100 minutes per month, but lots of data — and it was even cheaper than what I’d been paying at Virgin Mobile. I thought about it for a while, then decided to go ahead and take the plunge, ordering the phone through T-Mobile’s website.

Once the phone got here I was quick to try to register it, but during the registration process I was told that I’d have to wait a few days for my old Virgin Mobile number to transfer over. I still had over a week to go on my final Virgin Mobile month, so I didn’t have a problem with this. T-Mobile’s website also wouldn’t recognize the PIN number on the prepaid service card that came with my phone, although it seemed to credit my account after I gave them my credit card number to pay for an additional month. I waited a couple of days, hopeful that my new phone — which was getting even worse service at my house  than my Virgin Mobile phones, but T-Mobile was in the process of adding wi-fi phone service that would alleviate that problem — would soon be ready and raring to go.

A couple of days after registering my phone, though, I got a couple of voicemails on my Virgin Mobile phone that were so garbled that they sounded like something out of a horror film. I only knew they were from T-Mobile by googling the caller ID number. I joked about this on my Twitter, which prompted a response from T-Mobile’s customer service Twitter account. Over the next couple of days we sent direct messages back and forth to each other, with me providing all the numbers I’d had to input during registration, until they said that they didn’t have my SIM card number in their system and I’d need to call their activations department to get things straightened out. (I’d tried starting the registration process all over again, but their website wouldn’t let me get past the first step, so I have to assume something from my initial registration attempt remained in the system.)

When I tried to call T-Mobile, though, I was forced into a loop where their system kept asking me for my phone number, then saying they didn’t recognize it, whether I spoke it out or inputted it in via my phone’s keypad. T-Mobile’s customer service Twitter gave me a second number to call, but that just resulted in the same problem. In the meantime I’d used up nearly all my minutes on my old Virgin Mobile phone, so I wound up having to buy Skype credit and calling T-Mobile that way, and the one time, the one time I got through to an actual human being, she promptly transferred me to someone who greeted me in Punjabi. I told T-Mobile’s customer service Twitter that I was on the verge of tears (which I was), and could I just please go to one of their stores and have their employees figure this out for me. They said that would be okay, and so I did.

I was greeted at their store by four employees who did not exactly inspire confidence that they would be able to help me. After about ten minutes of explaining what had happened (because they seemed to forget what I told them fifteen seconds after I said it), they started the activation process from scratch. When I told them what monthly plan I wanted, though, they laughed and said that they didn’t offer anything like that plan. My face reddening and my pulse quickening, I told them that I’d signed up for that plan through their website just that past week. (It’s still on T-Mobile’s website, the $30 per month plan about two-thirds of the way down the page.)

One of the workers at the store finally put it all together, and explained to me that I hadn’t bought a T-Mobile phone, but a Walmart phone, and that I needed to go to the nearby Walmart to have them activate my phone. He also explained that as it was going to be signed up through Walmart, I’d only have access to about half of T-Mobile’s towers for service. (Again, I remind you that I was getting nearly zero service at my house.) Now, setting aside the fact that I boycott Walmart for a moment, at no time in this process prior to this point had I been told I would have anything to do with Walmart. I bought the phone through T-Mobile’s website, and at no point was told this would be a Walmart phone or that I’d be getting Walmart service. My package came with a T-Mobile return address and T-Mobile’s logo all over the box and everything inside it. Walmart, and the name of their cell phone service, was never on anything I received or looked at.

Needless to say, I was through with T-Mobile at that point. After another quick round of comparison shopping (because time was running out on my final month of Virgin Mobile service), I decided to go with AT&T for my service provider, even though I’d be paying $10 a month more than I had with Virgin Mobile. (Remember, I’d started this process thinking I was about to lower my monthly payments.) I’d also have to get a plan with not much data (which I use) and unlimited minutes (which I didn’t need). I went to an AT&T store near my house and explained things there, and one of the employees there got my phone activated on their network.

Unfortunately, I was far from getting screwed over at that point. For one thing, the employee at the store didn’t transfer my old number over, and a quick perusal through AT&T’s website confirmed that I would need to do a whole new activation (and pay another $45 to start service on my “new” old number). Secondly, after telling the employee what plan I wanted, he signed me up for a different plan where the data package was only good on non-smartphones. This meant that I couldn’t use data on my phone at all except for wi-fi, and mobile data is what I most often use my cell phone for.

By this point I just wanted to get everything over with, so I went to the most upscale AT&T store in the area and explained to them what had happened, albeit without heaping on the poor employee there the 37,129 swear words I so wanted to let loose to describe my frustration at this whole process. He explained to me that he could get my phone going on my old number, and after not a small amount of time working through various problems, he gave me back my phone and said it would receive calls on my old number soon, which it did. At that point I had to rush to get to campus to teach my first class of the day, so I thanked him and ran off.

When I got to campus, though, I quickly found out that even though I told that employee several times about the mix-up with  at the other AT&T store with them signing me up for a data plan that wouldn’t even work on my phone, and told him exactly what plan I wanted to be on, he put me on the same plan that wouldn’t let me use any mobile data. By this point I basically had no choice to pay $45 to change my plan to the one that would let me use mobile data, so I did that, but I tweeted AT&T’s customer service and told them that I expected a $45 service credit because they’d now made the same mistake twice and I had been very specific to that second employee about the plan I wanted. The person on AT&T’s customer service Twitter then gave me a $45 service credit — on the first account they’d set up, that I was no longer using because my phone was now operating on my old number.

I desperately, desperately want to give you a happy ending to this story. I want to tell you that I mustered the reserves of my energy and patience, launched a huge campaign and got everything set right. I want to tell you that I got everything I paid for, or at least close to it. The reality, sadly, is that I’ve just given up. I have a working Nexus 5 now — with mobile data — and I actually get decent reception at my house. I just had to pay T-Mobile $50 more for the phone than I would have paid if I’d bought it directly from Google, then $60 for two months of service that I never used one second of (funny how they didn’t recognize my SIM card number or my phone number, but my credit card number went through perfectly), to say nothing of the two screen protectors I bought that both fell off of my phone within five days of applying  them. Then I had to pay AT&T $90 for two botched activations to finally get my phone working the way it should have worked after I left that first store.

This should be completely unacceptable. This should be the kind of story that angers everyone who reads it. This should be the kind of story that has both T-Mobile and AT&T bending over backwards to rectify all the mistakes they made. That’s not going to happen. I’ve had too many dealings with them, and Virgin Mobile, and other companies in the past few years, to expect that this blog is going to do anything more than elicit a shrug of the shoulders from some of you. This kind of gross incompetence, of screwing over a customer repeatedly, has become so commonplace in recent years that it’s pretty much to be expected, and even with my capacity for indignant outrage, I’m just spent at this point. I no longer have the capabilities — mental, emotional, fiscal, you name it — to fight this any longer, to try to recover any of the money I lost thanks to false advertising and incompetence, and the worst part is that I’m damned sure that this is exactly what all these companies want.

We’re twenty years removed now from the Stella Liebeck “hot coffee lawsuit” that conservatives mischaracterized and outright lied about in order to make the American public think that there was this huge wave of dishonest people out there trying to extort huge amounts of money from saintly American corporations through bogus and frivolous lawsuits, and many of the misconceptions and conservative lies about that case still persist two decades later. More recently, though, it’s been hard to ignore a rash of complaints on social media from people in (ironically enough) McJobs that people are inventing bad customer service experiences in order to get free gift cards from companies eager to avoid having those experiences published on Facebook and the like. Certainly there are some people doing that, just like some people do file frivolous lawsuits against companies to try to get money out of them, but these have been characterized as the norm, to the point where when companies do engage in genuine bad behaviour or wrongdoing, it’s next to impossible both legally and culturally for wronged consumers to get justice.

What this means is that companies now know they can pretty much get away with whatever they want when it comes to mistreating customers, simply because all of them have now recognized that if they all act like jerks, customers will likely stick with them anyway because they won’t have anywhere else to go. Finding the right company to do business with is now no longer a matter of determining which one will provide the best product or service, but which one will screw you over less often than the others. If everyone else is going to be an asshole, then you can get away with being an asshole too, just as long as you aren’t too much more of an asshole than everyone else. This isn’t the dictionary definition of collusion, but in practice it’s pretty damn close, and we all suffer from it just as much as we would if it were a group of companies, or a single company, manipulating the market to screw us over.

As for me, I may be out a whole lot of money I never intended to spend for service that I never got, but at least my phone fucking works. Maybe that should be AT&T’s next advertising slogan: “At Least Your Phone Fucking Works.” These days, that’s a pretty high level of customer service.

.journal update


New in the .journal: .org.14: I Have So Much to Lose Here in This Lonely Place. Coming to terms with another year of the .org, I have to wonder just how much longer I can keep on doing this stuff in America without, literally, risking my life. It’s not a time for celebration, once again. Sorry about that.

The Normalization of Rape Threats and Death Threats


The only guide to Gamergate you will ever need to read (Washington Post)
Why #Gamergate won’t die (

There’s nothing like stating opinions online to show you the problems of socializing on the Internet. A little over two decades ago, shortly after I first got regular Internet access when I went to college for the first time, I got involved in professional wrestling discussions online because I’d never had a real-life group of friends to talk about wrestling with. One thing led to another, and I ended up launching a series of different wrestling-themed websites, and even wrote about wrestling for CBS SportsLine for a while. I never liked professional wrestling that much, though — not for the absurd amount of time I was devoting to it, at the expense of other things that I actually wanted to do — and it’s now been close to fourteen years since I left that scene for good. (Whatever appreciation I had left for professional wrestling evaporated to almost nothing in a short amount of time, and the Chris Benoit tragedy nailed that coffin shut forever.)

A good part of the reason I left when I did was because of the insane amount of harassment I was receiving. To be fair, I said and did a number of intensely stupid things back then that I deserved to be called out on, but a lot of this harassment wasn’t based on the dumb stuff I did, but simply because I dared to have a different opinion than others about what professional wrestlers or promotions were good. In some cases this harassment extended to phone calls and threats to come over to my house. Nearly fourteen years after making a permanent exit from online discussions of professional wrestling I am still getting troll emails, some from people who’ve been regularly or semi-regularly harassing me all this time, others from new people who just decided to give me a hard time even though they never read what I wrote back in the day, presumably because they have nothing better to do with their lives.

I don’t think I can truly sympathize with Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, and the countless other women who have been harassed recently over their involvement with video games, simply because the harassment I’ve received over the years has never been so systematized and virulent as what has happened to women in video games lately. What I can say, though, based on not just personal experience but also what I’ve seen others go through, is that no one deserves rape threats or death threats for daring to voice an opinion, no matter how incorrect or ludicrous anyone considers that opinion to be. There is a lot to be said about the gendered aspects of video games and gaming culture, and the controversies of the past year have opened up a number of necessary dialogues relevant to those issues. What isn’t being discussed nearly as much as it should be is how the use of rape threats and death threats towards women in video games/gaming (or those who defend them) has become systematized, widespread and, in the absence of substantial mainstream media scrutiny, effectively condoned by society.

To be clear, the problem of unbalanced people making rape and death threats is hardly a new one (I received my first death threat before I even hit puberty), and it’s hardly confined to just the Gamergate crowd and their intellectual ilk. All kinds of people make death threats, and all kinds of people should receive them, and they should never be tolerated regardless of who makes or receives them. Although it’s true that the current wave of violent harassment towards women must be contextualized in our cultural history and the still-present aspects of our culture that devalue women’s experiences, a lot of the same principles would be at work here if it were conservatives being harassed for criticizing liberal philosophy, or Christians being harassed for criticizing rap music, or African-Americans being harassed for criticizing the taste of yerba mate, or left-handed people criticizing the furniture offerings at their local office supply store. Under no circumstances should rape and death threats be permissible, and I encourage all those who have received them for merely expressing an opinion to speak out against this kind of treatment, because no one deserves it.

That being said, it’s hard to divorce the current epidemic of rape and death threats to women from its similarities to a lot of the rhetoric used by some conservatives today. The devaluing of women’s experiences — simply stating that women’s opinions and feelings don’t count because they’re women (or at least women who deviate from the conservative patriarchal norms for how women should think and act) — has gone on for ages, and the sad fact is that Gamergate-like intimidation campaigns to silence women through rape and death threats are nothing new; it’s only Gamergate’s size, visibility and brazenness that makes it so noteworthy right now. The false equivalency of the “threats” posed by Sarkeesian and Quinn and Wu for expressing their opinions or developing games that depart from the norms of video gaming offerings — by overinflating the possibility that their work will somehow result in an end to “man-friendly” games or even people coming into their homes and taking away games that they already own (and absurdly asserting that this is something Sarkeesian et al. are trying to do with their work) — with rape and death threats is an echo of how right-wing media has resounded with doomsday proclamations for every single policy President Obama has put forth in the past six years. (The correlation between “They’re coming to take our games!” and “They’re coming to take our guns!” would be funny if it weren’t so sad.)

Just like the heart of conservatives’ fever dream about the Benghazi attacks has been debunked for a long time, the key “fact” behind Gamergate — that Zoe Quinn allegedly slept with a video game reporter to get a favourable review for her game Depression Quest — was put to bed, definitively, weeks ago. Gamergaters still hold that Quinn must have slept with men to get any attention (because, according to them — and this is one of the kindest ways of putting it — all women are sluts), though, and so even provably false claims are still put forward as gospel truth, and words like Gamergate, and related words and terms like Quinn’s and Sarkeesian’s and Wu’s names, and the name of Quinn’s game, and the descriptor “social justice warrior,” are repeated ad nauseum to get Gamergaters fired up. It’s practically identical to the way right-wing media works the word “Benghazi” into every possible discussion, because they’ve trained their listeners and viewers to respond to the word with hatred bordering on bloodlust of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for allegedly laughing and celebrating while innocent Americans were murdered.

There is a lot to say for the actual substance of the arguments within Gamergate, and it’s been a good topic for discussion with my composition students this year, especially a new class I’m helping pilot that focuses on topics of gender and sexuality. More is being written and spoken about this topic as the weeks go on, and I may yet have more to say about the issue on this blog. Looking at the issue as a teacher of composition and rhetoric, though, I can’t help but be afraid about what this kind of mass intimidation campaign in a field that many young adults pay close attention to augurs not just for teaching rhetoric, but for the classroom environment (and broader social environments) that people live and work in. Teaching rhetoric is already made incredibly difficult when students come to college without previous training in formulating and expressing opinions (and from school environments that actively discourage student expression), and the American political “debate” they may have been exposed to on television is often little more than a glorified contest of who can come up with the most audacious ad hominem attack, but to ask students to formulate and express opinions, when doing so has made so many the targets of sustained campaigns of rape and death threats, may well be an impossible task.

Of all the shocking things that have been said to and about Sarkeesian and Quinn and Wu, what shocks me even more is that there has yet to be a single publicized arrest over the rape and death threats. Perhaps there have been arrests and they haven’t been made public for fear of inspiring copycat attacks, but the ideology behind that line of reasoning is undermined when the attacks are already so well-publicized (and outright celebrated). As long as the people making these rape and death threats continue to receive no significant form of sanction for their actions (even though mainstream coverage of this issue has picked up in recent days, the reports tend to understate the extent and fierceness of the intimidation campaigns), more people are going to join in harassing women in video games because no one has faced any real consequences for doing so. These kind of open harassment campaigns are likely to spread to other topics as well, until and unless the government and law enforcement act; if law enforcement lacks the resources to enforce the laws against menacing already on the books, then they need to get those resources as quickly as possible.

Right-wingers have already succeeded over the past few decades in redefining the cultural concept of “debate” in ways that have grievously harmed our country, perhaps irreparably so. If we are going to allow, through our lack of action,  rape and death threats to become a de facto acceptable way of silencing those we disagree with, then we may be a very short ways away from descending back to our simian ancestors and settling our arguments by flinging poop at one another. Come to think of it, that may actually be an improvement over the current state of affairs.

Kefka’s Million Deaths is a Statistic


Dancing Mad: How a Video Game Character Came to be the Standard by Which I Measure All Villains (The Mary Sue)

SPOILER WARNING: This blog gives away major plot elements of the video games Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy VII.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the gaming world will be forever divided into two camps: Those who believe Final Fantasy VII is the greatest video game of all time, and those who are wrong. Okay, that’s more than a little hyperbolic, and I don’t really mean it, but I think it’s safe to say that Final Fantasy VII, as arguable as the quality of its strengths and innovations may be, remains one of the most divisive video games ever made, inspiring spirited debates about elements both within the game and compared to other games (both inside and outside the Final Fantasy series) that are still going on over seventeen years since the game’s first Japanese and American release. There hasn’t been another Final Fantasy title that has inspired the sheer volume of debate over its merits.

When comparing Final Fantasy VII to other titles in the series, Final Fantasy VI is the title that invariably gets brought up. Not only were the two titles released relatively close to one another, but they were the two console RPGs that turned the genre into something truly mature, with characters and storylines that began approaching those found in literature. The games also share enough themes in common that they kind of invite comparison. As much as I try to adopt a “live and let live” attitude towards these kinds of debates, though, there’s still a part of me that gets drawn into arguments about Final Fantasy VII, particularly those that try to argue Final Fantasy VI is better in some way. It’s the same part of me that gives my students a handout of “some really, really good music” at the start of every semester because I’m still a bit of a music snob; it’s not a part of myself that I’m proud of, but at least I can admit that it’s there and it shouldn’t be.

To be clear, I think Final Fantasy VI is one of the best video games ever made. In my opinion, though, it was more evolutionary than revolutionary, and ultimately I’d even rank Final Fantasy IV (even with its myriad flaws) above Final Fantasy VI when it comes to the Super NES/Super Famicom games. A full discussion of the merits of Final Fantasy VII over Final Fantasy VI would probably end up being close to book-length, and even I don’t have the enthusiasm for a project like that, so for the purpose of brevity let’s just focus on the merits of Final Fantasy VI’s main villain Kefka, as written about by Sara Goodwin in the article above, versus those of Final Fantasy VII’s Sephiroth.

Kefka has always enjoyed a sizable fanbase because of his character design and psychotic, unpredictable behaviour; I’m not sure there’s been a good parallel to Kefka in broader pop culture except for Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, which came well over a decade later. Whereas Ledger’s Joker character had well-planned comic moments, though, Kefka’s comedy comes mostly from the kinds of lines that we were getting, albeit inadvertently, in previous Final Fantasy titles due to translation issues. (Final Fantasy IV’s “You spoony bard!” may be the most transcendent bad line in video game history.) Between that and Kefka’s evil behaviour before his gradual descent into insanity, Kefka ultimately comes across as one-dimensional, just an evil guy who gets more and more crazy as the game goes on. Contrast that with Sephiroth in Final Fantasy VII learning during his time in SOLDIER that he’s the result of a bizarre medical experiment by Shinra Corporation, which ties into the game’s themes of man versus nature in a way that ultimately, even given all the horrible things Sephiroth does later, makes him something of a sympathetic character. Even by the standards of the time, Kefka was just too generic of a “pure evil” character, especially when put side-by-side with Sephiroth.

Looking at Kefka’s character arc more closely, the fact that Goodwin uses the phrase “Whedon-worthy” as a compliment almost makes me want to dismiss her arguments off-hand. She talks about the reveal of Kefka being the actual villain of the game instead of Emperor Gestahl as if it were an unprecedented twist, even though Square had done the same thing in Final Fantasy IV years earlier with Zemus and Golbez. Plot twists can be wonderful when they’re used sparingly and to good effect, but Kefka’s actions, apart from being a couple of degrees darker than what had been seen in previous Final Fantasy games, weren’t really that remarkable. The killing of General Leo, in particular, lacked any emotional impact because they literally introduced his character about four minutes before killing him off. (As for that being somehow unprecedented, has no one heard of Miami Vice? Seriously, the way some Whedon fanatics talk, you’d think the man singlehandedly invented surprise, when all he did was overuse plot twists and fourth wall-breaking so self-consciously that his shows descended almost immediately into sad self-parody, and not the funny kind of self-parody, either. By the time I finally forced myself to watch his “brown” series, I was not only able to predict all the plot twists before they happened, but about half the dialogue as well.) Compare that to Final Fantasy VII, where the first half of the game is spent building up Aeris as a central character to the narrative so that when Sephiroth kills her, we care (oh do we care) to the point where not only is Aeris’ death unquestionably one of the most iconic scenes in video game history, but it’s often talked about as the first video game scene that made players cry. Even after all these years, that scene still hasn’t lost its emotional impact.

One of the thing that sets Kefka apart from other Final Fantasy villains, and one which Goodwin spends a great deal of space talking about, is the fact that Kefka is ultimately successful, halfway through the game, of largely destroying the world, leaving only a handful of survivors. As a plot device this was unprecedented (in video games), yes, but again, the potential emotional impact of this is lost by the fact that the pre-apocalypse world wasn’t really developed that well to start with, and most of the characters you know who die in the game do so before the apocalypse. It creates stark visuals, but little else; players aren’t going to get emotionally invested in “that NPC near the flowers who talked about wanting to travel the world but isn’t there now.” The old line about a single death being a tragedy but a million deaths being a statistic is true; there’s just no reason for players to really care about Kefka’s apocalypse, whereas Aeris’ death in Final Fantasy VII invests not only the protagonist Cloud, but players as well, with a desire to see Sephiroth pay for what he’s done. It doesn’t help that the second half of Final Fantasy VI has very little in the way of narrative structure, in order to give players options in terms of which party members they seek out after the apocalypse to defeat Kefka; what that mechanic gains in open-ended storytelling, it more than loses in its inability to further develop Kefka, whereas Sephiroth continues to develop after killing Aeris in Final Fantasy VII, all the way up to the game’s final battle.

The epilogue after the game’s final battle also shows the danger of having a villain succeed in his apocalyptic vision. Final Fantasy VI doesn’t even have that much of an ending (again, a tradeoff the game developers made when they wanted to let players decide which party members to bring back for the quest to defeat Kefka, since it was basically impossible to write developed endings for all possible party setups), but in the end it feels hollow. There’s no ability to travel back in time and undo all the damage and killing Kefka has done; the world is still a shell of its former self, just a shell that no longer has the big villain to deal with any longer. Contrast that with Final Fantasy VII’s ending, where even after Sephiroth’s death the players still have to watch Meteor rapidly approaching the planet, and players are left with a couple of deliberately ambiguous scenes that allowed them to wonder whether or not the world was saved, and if so, how (possibly even by the dead Aeris). That possibility that the world wasn’t ultimately destroyed by Sephiroth’s actions gave players a sense of really accomplishing something, whereas Final Fantasy VI just ended without a palpable sense of fulfillment.

All of this is just my subjective opinion, of course, and I try not to get involved in these kinds of debates because I do get more involved in them than I should, for reasons I still don’t understand completely. I don’t mean to tick off fans of Final Fantasy VI, and I don’t know what compelled me to respond to Goodwin’s article like this. Maybe I just needed a break from talking about politics for a bit. Still, I had to say something, so there you go.

A Thousand Racist Words


‘Beyond Outraged’ Family Of Michael Brown & Their Attorneys Release Statement (Huffington Post)

One of the few times President Obama has been out-and-out defeated in his presidency came earlier this March, when he nominated lawyer Debo Adegbile to oversee the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. Republicans, as with nearly every action Obama has undertaken during his presidency, mounted a vigorous opposition to Adegbile’s nomination, seizing on the fact that he had once been part of a defence team that had successfully worked to commute the death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who had been convicted in 1981 of the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Setting aside the controversy over whether or not Abu-Jamal actually committed the murder, it has always been common practice, when considering a lawyer’s ability to serve in higher office, the quality of performance in the court, not whom the lawyer represents. For example, Chief Justice John Roberts, before he became a justice, did pro bono work for welfare recipients and GLBT activists, but no one opposed his nomination to the Supreme Court on those grounds. Heck, John Adams, our second president and a conservative lion, defended the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre. Still, the right-wing media pulled out all the stops to oppose Adegbile, and in the end convinced enough conservative Democrats to break away from President Obama to outright defeat Adegbile’s nomination in the Senate, despite the dangerous precedent this will set in terms of how aspiring lawyers choose which clients to represent.

Fox News, in particular, waged a month-long campaign against Adegbile’s nomination, running several segments attacking him throughout his confirmation process. As many pointed out after his nomination was defeated, though, there was a very telling thing about those segments. If you watched the Fox News segments but didn’t hear the audio, most of the time you were just watching this African-American prisoner, often walking around in chains. When you watched with the sound on, though, the word you heard most often was Adegbile’s, not Abu-Jamal’s. It was an obvious, facile attempt to link Adegbile to the dominant conservative stereotype about African-American men, so that when people in the right-wing media bubble heard his name they didn’t think of a mixed-race lawyer, but instead thought big scary black man who’s gonna rape and murder our womenfolk. Say what you will about it, but it worked, and the taint of this character assassination is probably going to follow Adegbile for the rest of his professional life, and possibly his personal life as well.

When the initial news of Michael Brown’s death came out last weekend, I wish I could say that the details — how he wasn’t armed, how he had his hands up in a gesture of surrender when he was gunned down by a policeman — shocked me that much. There was certainly a good deal of anger; I was a fan of rap music in the 1980s, and so I saw things like the Rodney King beating and the 2 Live Crew obscenity arrests through that prism. (The latter was what not only got me involved in identity politics, but politics as a whole.) It isn’t just what African-Americans have suffered at the hands of the police and the justice system, either, because I had the same reaction when Columbus police went after my friends at Antioch when they protested John Kasich’s proposed student aid cuts, and what Cecily McMillan of Occupy Wall Street went through at the hands of the NYPD. Still, the deep problems African-Americans have with the American justice system deserve special attention, but we’ve reached a point where they are now so commonplace that sometimes it’s hard to get angry unless it happens to one of your friends, or it happens in your own town.

As the days following Brown’s death passed, though, the scenes from Ferguson just got grimmer and grimmer. Police officers in military camouflage and body armor, pointing sniper rifles at peaceful protesters, choking whole neighbourhoods with tear gas, acting with seeming impunity, broadcast to the whole world some of the worst of what America is. You’ve probably heard all the statistics about how African-Americans make up two-thirds of Ferguson’s population but less than a tenth of its police force, but to me the most damning facts to come out of the police escalation were from former American soldiers who pointed out that Ferguson police had more body armor than some of the first troops who invaded Iraq a decade ago, and that they weren’t allowed to point their weapons at protesting Iraqis. That says a lot about how many (certainly not all) police treat African-Americans.

The Ferguson police’s reaction to the protesters also adds to a very troubling pattern of police response to liberal and conservative protests over the past year. The most obvious example that came to mind during the Ferguson police response was the reaction to the standoff at Cliven Bundy’s ranch this past spring, where anti-government protesters pointed assault weapons at federal agents who were confiscating the property of a rancher who had repeatedly broken the law over several years by not paying grazing fees when he let his cattle graze on federal lands. Instead of bringing in tanks and other military items in the face of this armed far-right resistance, like Ferguson police did with the peaceful protesters there, the feds backed down and allowed Bundy to continue to graze his cattle for free on federal lands. More recently, anti-immigration protesters were allowed to prevent a bus full of Central American refugee children from going to a processing station in California without police interference, but when liberal protesters in Detroit used similar tactics to try to stop water trucks from shutting off service to needy Detroiters, they were arrested. If police at a Tea Party rally had pointed their guns at protesters, does anyone doubt that the police would have been blamed for the shootout that would have inevitably followed?

The situation in Ferguson got better on Thursday when the Missouri State Highway Patrol took over policing duties in the city and allowed the protesters full legal exercise of their First Amendment rights. Things were looking up that day, but then Friday the Ferguson police dropped a bombshell on everyone by releasing video allegedly showing Michael Brown stealing cigars from a convenience store and intimidating one of the employees. Putting the racial dynamic aside for a moment, the tactic here is as old as the judicial system itself: The police wanted to put Brown on trial in the court of public opinion, thus deflecting attention away from what their own police officer did. Regardless of what Brown did, nothing justifies shooting an unarmed person, with their hands up in a gesture of surrender, and the fact that the police continue to withhold so much information about the shooting just raises more and more questions about whether or not they’re trying to hide something. All of this would be true, as many have pointed out, regardless of the colour of Michael Brown’s skin.

Once the video was released, though, it was instantly in a near-constant loop in all of right-wing media, because it gave them the angle they needed to satiate their viewers’ most base instincts. From Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” to the birtherism crowd, conservatives have been preying on white conservatives’ fears with only the slightest gossamer of deniability draped over their efforts. We saw this most recently with Trayvon Martin, when right-wing media went into overdrive to try to pick out any small problems in Trayvon’s past to hold up as alleged examples of how evil he was, then plastered video screens with the most sinister-looking pictures of Trayvon they could find. The video of Brown allegedly intimidating a store clerk and stealing cigars, even if it doesn’t directly exculpate the police officer who killed him, will be enough justification for many right-wingers because even if Brown didn’t deserve to die at that moment then he was going to deserve it soon anyway because he was obviously going to turn into a gang member, a drug dealer, another violent n***** who was going to rape and murder their wives and daughters, “just like the rest of them.”

I almost spelled the n-word out there because I’m getting tired of softening the ugliness of this kind of racism. I’m sick of all this talk about the “soft racism” of conservatives, as if something as horrible as racism can even be softened. Yes, southerners may no longer be rapturously smiling to cameras in front of lynched African-Americans, but you know what? African-Americans are still being murdered. Michael Brown is dead, Trayvon Martin is dead, and as long as we allow this so-called “soft racism” to persist without a vocal and sustained response, it’s just going to mean more African-American parents burying their teenage kids, murdered by people who have been led to believe by right-wing media that they’re doing the country a service. The n-word may not be on their lips, but it’s damn sure on their minds.

I don’t condone looting or other acts of stealing or violence in response to what the Ferguson police have done this past week, but if you don’t understand why Ferguson residents, and people across America, are coming out in such large numbers and protesting what happened to Michael Brown so loudly, then you don’t understand the problem at all. If we don’t raise our voices then the next young African-American man to get gunned down in an American street could be one of our friends, or someone in our own family. Staying silent is no longer an option.