Category: Politics

Resources for pfSense, Private Internet Access, Netflix, and Hulu

You've probably heard by now that the US Congress just repealed Obama-era regulations preventing Internet service providers from selling their users' browsing data to advertisers. I'll probably talk more about that in future posts. For now, I'm going to focus on a specific set of steps I've taken to prevent my ISP (Cox) from seeing what sites I visit.

I use a VPN called Private Internet Access, and a hardware firewall running pfSense. If that sentence looked like gibberish to you, then the rest of this post is probably not going to help you. I plan on writing a post in the future that explains some more basic steps that people who aren't IT professionals can take to protect their privacy, but this is not that kind of post.

So, for those of you who are IT professionals (or at least comfortable building your own router), it probably won't surprise you that streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu block VPNs.

One solution to this is to use a VPN that gives you a dedicated IP (I hear good things about NordVPN but I haven't used it myself); Netflix and Hulu are less likely to see that you're using a VPN if they don't see a bunch of connections coming from the same IP address. But there are problems with this approach:

  • It costs more.
  • You're giving up a good big chunk of the anonymity that you're (presumably) using a VPN for in the first place; your ISP won't be able to monitor what sites you're visiting, but websites are going to have an easier time tracking you if nobody else outside your household is using your IP.
  • There's still no guarantee that Netflix and Hulu won't figure out that you're on a VPN and block your IP, because VPNs assign IP addresses in blocks.

So I opted, instead, to set up some firewall rules to allow Netflix and Hulu to bypass the VPN.

The downside to this approach is obvious: Cox can see me connecting to Netflix and Hulu, and also Amazon (because Netflix uses AWS). However, this information is probably of limited value to Cox; yes, they know that I use three extremely popular websites, when I connect to them, and how much data I upload and download, but that's it; Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon all force HTTPS, so while Cox can see the IPs, it can't see the specific pages I'm going to, what videos I'm watching, etc. In my estimation, letting Cox see that I'm connecting to those sites is an acceptable tradeoff for not letting Cox see any other sites I'm connecting to.

There are a number of guides on how to get this set up, but here are the three that helped me the most:

OpenVPN Step-by-Step Setup for pfsense -- This is the first step; it'll help you route all your traffic through Private Internet Access. (Other VPNs -- at least, ones that use OpenVPN -- are probably pretty similar.)

Hulu Traffic -- Setting up Hulu to bypass the VPN is an easy and straightforward process; you just need to add an alias for a set of FQDNs and then create a rule routing connections to that alias to WAN instead of OpenVPN.

Netflix to WAN not OPT1 -- Netflix is trickier than Hulu, partly because (as mentioned above) it uses AWS and partly because the list of IPs associated with AWS and Netflix is large and subject to change. So in this case, instead of just a list of FQDNs, you'll want to set up a couple of rules in pfBlockerNG to automatically download, and periodically update, lists of those IPs.

That's it. Keep in mind that VPN isn't a silver bullet solution, and there are still other steps you'll want to take to protect your privacy. I'll plan on covering some of them in future posts.

Down-Ballot

The other day I wrote a Letter to the Editor to the Arizona Republic. I don't know if it made the print edition, but it's up on azcentral.com.

The letter was in response to an op/ed by Lisa Loo, titled Do judges justice. Finish marking your ballot. I appreciate Loo's message; down-ballot races are important, and your vote counts for a lot more, proportionally, than your vote for President.

But it can be damned difficult to find information on down-ballot candidates and initiatives; the less high-profile and glamorous the race, the harder it is to learn about it.

Loo points to Judicial Performance Review (azjudges.info), which scores judges on a variety of criteria.

The problem is, without context, those scores are just numbers; they don't mean anything if no explanation is provided.

So here's my letter to the editor, quoted in full:

I appreciated Lisa Loo's op-ed on the importance of studying up on judges and filling out the complete ballot, but it's easier said than done.

I know Jo Lynn Gentry is the only judge to receive failing marks, but I have been unable to find any explanation of why. Low scores out of context lack meaning, and I'm reluctant to cast a vote without an explanation for why I'm casting it.

It's not just the judges; a number of down-ballot candidates and local initiatives are obscure and have little information available. (Should TUHSD be allowed to sell two lots of property? I have no idea!)

What can we as voters do to educate ourselves when so little information is available?

The Republic didn't respond with any good answers for these down-ballot races.

A commenter named Jay Martin added this:

Exactly, I've been scouring why such a low score for hours and the only thing I can think of is that she ruled against blocking Prop 205 from the ballot and people against the measure are now upset at this.

Prop 205 is the ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. (Sort of. It's not full legalization, and it heavily favors existing vendors, basically setting up a cartel. Suffice it to say, I'm voting Yes because any move to stop putting people in prison for marijuana use is a step in the right direction, even if this isn't the ideal way of doing it.) County Attorney Bill Montgomery challenged it and tried to prevent it from getting on the ballot; Judge Gentry dismissed his challenge.

Could that be the reason Gentry has received such low marks?

In a word, no. Gentry's dismissal of the 205 challenge happened two months after Judicial Performance Review released her low scores.

So I have no idea why she Does Not Meet Expectations. And I'm not willing to vote to remove her without a reason. So I guess I get to decide between voting to keep her or not voting on her either way.

I still don't know what to do about that TUHSD thing, either, but I've got a friend who works at Marcos; I guess I should text him and ask if he knows what the deal is.

Calandra Vargas Won't Stop Spamming Me

In 2006, I made a mistake.

I was working for a small company in north Phoenix. (That was not the mistake. ...Well, actually, it was, but not the one I'm here to talk about today.) And I represented that company in a networking group of local small businesses.

One of the people in the group was Sam Crump. I'm not used to using people's real names when I tell stories like this, but Sam's a public figure, so I'm going to go ahead and make an exception in this case.

Sam owns a law firm. I can't tell you anything about it from personal experience, but I hear good things.

And in 2006, Sam decided to run for the state legislature.

Sam's politics are not my politics; he would later describe himself as a "Tea Party Republican," though people weren't calling themselves that yet. I wouldn't have voted for him. But I liked him; he was a nice guy, and so when he asked us all to join his mailing list, I went ahead and wrote my E-Mail down.

Never put your E-Mail address on a political mailing list. Not for a politician you agree with, and certainly not for one whose views you find appalling. No matter how much you like him as a person.

Now, I don't know for sure that Sam or his people sold or gave away my E-Mail address to some group that collects E-Mail addresses for various fringe Republican candidates. It could be just a coincidence. But it's an E-Mail address I don't give out to a lot of people, it's the only E-Mail where I regularly get right-wing spam, and it just so happens that I started getting right-wing spam at that address after giving it to a local right-wing politician. Maybe whatever godforsaken list that address got put on got it from someplace else. But if I had to guess, I'd say they got it from Sam.

In the past, I've gotten spam for Arizona political candidates including Pamela Gorman and Joe Arpaio. But the latest politician who won't leave me the fuck alone is a woman named Calandra Vargas, who is running for Congress in Colorado Springs.

I have never set foot in the state of Colorado.

In fact, I've explained that to Ms. Vargas, or whoever's reading her inbox (if anybody), multiple times, in between clicking the Unsubscribe link at the bottom of her E-Mails.

The campaign's response to my first unsubscribe request, a few weeks ago, was to send me three more fucking E-Mails. When I got them, I clicked the Unsubscribe link again, and sent a reply letting Ms. Vargas, or whoever's reading her inbox (if anybody), know that if I received any more E-Mails from her campaign I would report her to the FCC for violating the CAN-SPAM Act.

I got another E-Mail from the Vargas campaign today.

Calandra Vargas is a politician, so she's probably not used to dealing with people who keep their promises. But I'm a man of my word, and I filed that complaint. And if I hear from her again, I'll file another one.

Here's the FCC's guide to reporting spam. If you're getting unsolicited E-Mails from politicians who won't let you unsubscribe from their lists, they're breaking the law.

Fanboy Rationalizations

There's one more thing I want to get to before I close out my run of Ken Penders posts, and that's fanboy rationalization.

There's a meme that I've seen infect the anti-Penders fanboys, since the suit was settled: "If only Ken had been nice when he asserted his copyrights, the fans wouldn't be so angry at him."

Here's somebody named Strike Carson making that argument to me in a 2013 comments thread at TSSZ News (via archive.org since TSSZ News appears to have nuked its comments section in a software upgrade):

Penders did something behind the backs of Sega and Archie that strained the relationship and almost got the comic cancelled. Maybe I’m mixing the two stories up… But still, Archie may have ignored him for the royalties, but it was Penders decision not to let Archie know what he was going to do if he wasn’t given the compensation he deserves as stated by law. You know, that whole threatening legal action thing if he’s not paid for what’s legally his? Had he done that in the first place, perhaps he would have had much more sympathy from us.

And here's the same argument, as put forward by Tylinos on the Ken Penders messageboard:

While it'd be silly to deny that The Spice Must Flow is a significant factor in it, it should be pointed out that the most commonly cited reason here was the attitude of the whole thing, and how absurd it all looked. (Even outsiders who don't read or even dislike the comic have been among those against how Ken went about it.)

Ken could've even underminded The Spice Must Flow mentality a bit by easing into the situation with some psychology, starting out slow with a "Well, I did make these characters" and nothing more and slowly building support up to saying "I should get payment for their use," instead of immediately starting out with that.

Heck, odd as it is, even among people against how he's acted, there's been near-unanimous agreement toward him getting reprint compensation for the stories he wrote. (Which, I know, isn't in the way of the spice anyway.)

The Spice Must Flow definitely factored in, but it's fairly clear that going about the whole thing a different way would've changed fan reaction immensely, and could've bitten past it.

And jameygamer in the same thread:

If he had been a lot less uptight when this whole mess started, he would be better off in terms of reputation.

These are people who, during the years Archie was suing Penders, said they were mad at Penders because his claims were frivolous and false. Since it turned out his claims weren't actually frivolous or false, they've changed their rationalization; now they say they would totally have been on Penders's side if only he hadn't been so rude about the whole thing. We have always been at war with Eurasia.

Of course, that's nonsense; it's rationalization. They're not arriving at their conclusion based on facts; they're starting with their conclusion (Rrrr, Penders bad!) and then cherry-picking facts to support it.

A rational person changes his opinion when confronted with new facts. When I first heard about Penders asserting his copyrights, I reacted with disbelief; I thought it was unfathomable that Archie would have neglected to make him sign a contract.

As it became clear that I was wrong and that was exactly what had happened, I changed my opinion. (Not for nothin', I also admitted I was wrong and apologized for being kind of a dick about it.)

These fanboys, of course, are not rational; they haven't changed their opinions, only their justifications for those opinions.

And, needless to say, I don't believe for a second that there is anything Ken Penders could have done differently that would have prevented fanboys from howling for his blood. If he'd done exactly what Strike Carson, Tylinos, and jameygamer said he should have done, then Strike Carson, Tylinos, and jameygamer would be up there saying that they would have taken his side if only he'd done something else instead.

Well, maybe not Tylinos. He seems like a pretty reasonable guy, at least.

And I'm not just saying that because he was (at least partially) agreeing with something I'd said earlier. When he said "The spice must flow," he was referring to a phrase I'd used in a post about Jim Starlin back in 2012:

Guys like that? It's not about the law and it's not about the ethics. It's The Spice Must Flow. It doesn't matter how Marvel treats creators, as long as it keeps putting out product to consume.

There's always a fresh rationalization on the horizon. "He signed a contract." No he didn't. "Well, he's dead now." Okay, but this guy's alive. "The character we know is the work of dozens of creators over a period of decades, so no one person can really claim credit to him." Even if that were true in some cases, Thanos is unmistakably Jim Starlin's character. "Well, it was only a tiny cameo, so he's not entitled to anything." And once Thanos has more than a cameo, it's going to be "Well okay, that's terrible, but the industry's not like that anymore; it's all better now." (A point Scott Kurtz raised recently, right about two weeks before Static co-creator Robert Washington III died of multiple heart attacks at the age of 47 and his family had to turn to charity to get him buried.)

There is and will continue to be a vocal minority of comic book fans who will side with the publishers no matter what. (Oh God how I hope it's a minority -- but I think it is. You can find a vocal population of people on the Internet who will angrily, zealously defend absolutely any dumbass position you can possibly think of.)

And here's what I said to Strike Carson:

Every single comic book copyright dispute in history says the fanboys would have been just as enraged no matter what he did.

Siegel and Shuster sell Superman for $130? Tough titty; they signed a contract.

Jack Kirby gets no royalties for any of the work he did at Marvel? Tough titty; he signed a contract.

Point out that Jack Kirby didn’t actually sign a contract? Well, that’s just how things were done back then, man!

DC continues to exploit Watchmen against Alan Moore’s wishes, even though in 1985 they made a big thing of how it was a creator-owned book? Tough titty, man, he signed a contract!

Marvel demands $17,000 from broke Gary Friedrich and demands he stop referring to himself as the creator of Ghost Rider? They’re just protecting their interests!

Archie screws creators out of royalties for decades, grinds anyone who legally challenges them into paste, actually removes Dan DeCarlo’s name from reprints, then a creator comes along asking for what Archie legally owes him, Archie doesn’t respond, he provides sufficient evidence to back them into a corner and get them to agree to a settlement — and you’re complaining that he didn’t issue enough legal threats beforehand? Seriously, dude?

Yeah. I’m sure if Penders had threatened to sue Archie in 2010, all the people in this thread who are crying for Penders’s head for the crime of, um, asking for the rights he is entitled to by law, would have totally been on his side.

To the anti-creator fanboys, the facts don't matter, the law doesn't matter, the ethics don't matter, and actual human beings do not matter. All that matters is that they get the comics they want.

They'll tell you differently, and they probably believe it -- after all, most people don't realize when they're rationalizing, and most of these are individual people opining on individual cases. By and large, the guy dumping on Penders is probably not the same guy dumping on the Kirbys is not the same guy dumping on the Siegels is not the same guy dumping on the Shusters is not the same guy dumping on Wolfman is not the same guy dumping on Friedrich is not the same guy dumping on Starlin (or Ditko or Gaiman or Moore or DeCarlo or whoever). If you're not the sort of person who follows these stories, who's seen this conversation play out dozens of times in different permutations, you don't see the pattern.

But there is a pattern. And the pattern is, there are always fanboys who care more about the product than about the human beings who created it. That's the long and short of it. The justifications may change from case to case, but the attitude is always the same: "Fuck that guy, I just want my comics."

That's it for my Penders coverage. But I'm sure we'll be right back here talking about exactly the same things the next time a comics creator has a dispute with a publisher.

Fanboys Miss the Point

The plan was that this would be my last Ken Penders post for awhile, because this is not the All Ken Penders All the Time blog. Sometimes it is the Long Rambling Post About the Past 20 Years of Web Design blog.

However, the post wound up running long, and had a nice natural break in the middle, so now it's going to be two posts. There will be at least one more Penders post after this one.

But while Ken Penders is the focus, these posts aren't just going to be about Ken Penders. I intend to make a few unflattering generalizations about anti-creator fanboys in a minute here, and you may be interested to read them even if you don't care about Penders, Archie, Sega, or Sonic. If you like my posts about creators' rights, this is one of them, and the next one will be too.

So what brought me back to Ken Penders, anyway?

Well, awhile back I was looking at my site stats, and found a referral from a DeviantArt post titled A Summary of ACP Vs. Ken Penders, posted in a group called Save Archie Sonic, which is dedicated to petitioning Archie Comics to bring back all the Penders-created characters that it wrote out of the series. It was a pretty old post by the time I saw it, but at any rate it flatteringly linked to my previous Penders coverage.

And the second comment down, by a guy named CMAugust, had this to say:

The rest of this guy's articles on the subject are great too, well worth reading. On another cool note, this is the same fan who got the first online letter printed in the comic, way back in issue 40.

Holy God, what a thing for somebody to remember after all these years.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it: the most obscure and inconsequential piece of Sonic the Hedgehog trivia ever. And it's me.

CMAugust went on to say:

Oh yeah, and if you check out his stories about other comic book people tagged under "creators rights," you'll find that whenever there's a creator vs publisher court case, the fanboys will dump on the creator every time. Sad but true, most fans only care about whether their favorite characters are featured month after month and attack anyone who rocks the boat. No matter who it is.

This is a depressing but entirely accurate observation. I will be coming back to it in my next post.

The third reply down took rather a different and less coherent tack. Somebody posting as THEATOMBOMB035 wrote:

where do we stand? same as last time
Penders is a greedy prick who doesn't deserve the right to even be remembered in the Sonic world after what he is done
he is now a living reason why we exist and why we must stand as are own group of Freedom Fighters
Penders, you are a shame to Sonic fans everywhere

It's the third line that really got me. The part where he compared the fanboys -- the people calling the guy who created or co-created a raft of their favorite characters "a greedy prick" -- to the Freedom Fighters.

And this got me thinking about something I've thought of often before.

The fanboys in these stories -- the ones who insult Jack Kirby's family, or Jerry Siegel's family, or Joe Shuster's family, or Marv Wolfman, or Gary Friedrich, or Jim Starlin, or whoever -- are, invariably, fans of a certain type of fiction. Specifically, these are fans who are extremely passionate about stories where a ragtag band of underdogs strives against impossible odds to defeat an evil empire that is far bigger and more powerful than they are.

And they sure like those stories, but they really don't seem to understand them.

Here is a guy, right here, who looked at Sonic the Hedgehog -- the story of a scrappy band of Freedom Fighters squaring off against an evil empire to regain control of their homeland -- and then looked at Archie v Penders -- the story of a lone cartoonist squaring off against a multi-million-dollar corporation to regain control of his own work -- and thought that in this analogy, the people siding with Archie were the Freedom Fighters.

I just don't get it, man. I don't get how you can be so passionate about a work of fiction while simultaneously failing so utterly to understand its message even a little bit.

Speaking of utterly failing to understand a message, I also found my Penders coverage linked from a comments thread under a piece of fan art called Bunnie's Choice. A user named AlcyoneSong said,

yeah its just sad, because the whole comic has had a reboot due to Penders lawsuit.

And then he linked to my Ken Penders coverage.

My Ken Penders coverage which contains the following passages:

And it is important to remember, throughout this discussion, that while fanboys continue to misstate the basic facts of the case, Archie sued Ken Penders, not the other way around.

and

If Archie does permanently drop Penders's characters and cease reprinting his comics, make no mistake: that's out of spite, not legal obligation. That's not Archie being forced to stop using those works, it's Archie choosing not to use them so it doesn't have to pay Penders for them.

Emphasis in originals.

I mean, for fuck's sake, maybe actually read the thing you're linking to before you describe it.

There was a time in my life where I would probably have gone to the trouble of signing up for a DeviantArt account just so I could argue with year-old posts misstating the basic facts of the case and the content of my posts. Fortunately, I'm past that now, and content to merely criticize them in really long blog posts.

Work-for-Hire, Royalties, and Freelancing

In my previous post, I linked to a piece on Ken Penders written by TheAmazingSallyHogan, and I said that I had a few minor quibbles with it that I'd come back to. So here they are.

Ms. Hogan says this about work-for-hire law:

Under Work for Hire contracts, a creator is paid a flat fee for producing content. All artwork, stories, characters, plots, symbols, etc. become the property of the employer (or a third party, which would be SEGA in this example). Under Work For Hire, a creator does not receive further compensation/royalties if their work is reprinted, if their characters are reused due to popularity, or even if their work results in merchandise/mass media. This is not a salaried position – at any point a publisher can decide to simply stop asking a creator to submit work.

While that's true of Archie's work-for-hire agreements, it's not true of work-for-hire in general as Hogan suggests. It is entirely possible to have a work-for-hire agreement that does allow for royalties, or other profit-sharing arrangements; for example, the audiobooks I've recorded were all produced under work-for-hire agreements that only pay royalties, with no money upfront. Likewise, while the creators who produce work for Archie Comics are freelancers and not employees, it is possible (and indeed standard practice) for an employment agreement to include a work-for-hire clause.

And while Hogan correctly notes, here, that Ken was not an employee on salary, she incorrectly uses the word "employment" several times throughout the article to describe his work for Archie. But a job is not the same thing as employment. Ken was not an employee; he was a freelancer and Archie was his customer.

Hogan goes on to say:

These “no royalties” contracts are no longer the norm in the industry for creators working extensively on titles.

This is true (though the qualifier "extensively" is unnecessary); DC and Marvel both have royalty clauses in their work-for-hire contracts (Comic Book Resources has discussed both DC's current royalty policy and Marvel's). Archie is not the only comics publisher that does not pay royalties, but it is lagging behind the Big Two in terms of compensating its creators.

The point of all this is that all work-for-hire means is: Alice hires Bob to create something, under a contract which stipulates that for legal purposes, Alice is the creator.

That's it. That's what work-for-hire means.

How Alice pays Bob, whether Bob is Alice's employee or Alice is Bob's customer, and any other details of the arrangement between Alice and Bob are separate issues, and not determined by whether or not the work is for-hire. All work-for-hire determines is who is the legal creator of the work.

Some work-for-hire agreements pay a flat fee, some work-for-hire agreements pay royalties, some work-for-hire agreements are between a freelancer and a client, some are between an employee and an employer.

But in Archie's case, Hogan is correct: money upfront, no royalties; freelancers, not employees.

Go, Ken, Go! -- Part 6: Penders v Sega Dismissed

I'm going to talk about Ken Penders for a bit, because apparently somewhere along the line my blog became the Internet's foremost resource for information on Archie v Penders. And I never did get around to writing about the conclusion to the other suit, Penders v Sega et al, so I should probably start there.

To read my previous Ken Penders coverage, peruse the handy Ken Penders tag.

The gist: Archie forgets to make Ken Penders sign work-for-hire agreements prior to his work on the Sonic the Hedgehog comic, Penders asserts that he still owns or co-owns the copyrights to all that work and will be working on his own sequel, Archie sues him and writes all his characters out of the comic, fanboys flip out, Archie and Penders settle for undisclosed terms. And that's where I left off back in 2013.

Well, there were two lawsuits: Archie v Penders, where Archie sued Penders to assert that his work was for-hire and he held no ownership stake in it, and Penders v Sega et al, where Penders sued Sega and EA over Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, a game which featured characters similar to the Dark Legion he had created in the Knuckles the Echidna comic.

Last I talked about this, Penders v Sega was still awaiting resolution, but I learned recently that last year it was dismissed on a technicality.

I took a look at Ken Penders's messageboard a little while ago (I'll come back to that in a future post), and he linked to a Tumblr post by TheAmazingSallyHogan, citing it as an authoritative and scholarly rundown of the case.

I have a couple of minor, tangential quibbles with Ms. Hogan's piece, such as how she defines work-for-hire; I'll get to them in a later post. But they're not relevant to the specifics of the Penders case, which, near as I can tell, she has exactly right, and describes in great detail.

And as for the conclusion of the Sega case, here's what she has to say:

On September 26, 2011, Penders’ lawsuit against SEGA/Electronic arts was dismissed, with the Judge essentially telling Penders that he needed settle matters with Archie first, and then he could re-file. Penders re-filed on September 30, just four days later. The same Judge dismissed the case a second time, saying very firmly that Penders needed to settle matters with Archie before re-filing against SEGA/Electronic Arts.

[...]

In May 2012, Penders’ council appealed the dismissal of his case against SEGA and EA. Penders’ determination to have a case in progress against SEGA/Electronic Arts, instead of just waiting to re-file, was because there is a three year statute of limitations on US copyright claims – a legal time limit intended to make sure cases are tried while the evidence is fresh. Sonic Chronicles was released September 25, 2008, almost exactly three years earlier. Filing a new case later would mean he would lose the chance to sue SEGA for Sonic Chronicles’ sales, so Penders appealed the dismissal. The importance of these dates was not stated in his appeal, an omission that would later prove crucial.

[...]

On October 11, 2013, Penders’ appeal (concerning his case against SEGA/Electronic Arts) was heard. While the judges agreed that the timeline was highly relevant and that if the case was dismissed he would largely lose the ability to seek compensation for Sonic Chronicles, his previous lawyer had failed to state why the dates were important in the appeal, and thus the judges could not take that issue into consideration. Shortly after, the court rejected his appeal and upheld the dismissal. While he could re-file, Sonic Chronicles had been released September 2008. It was now well past three years later, putting essentially all sales outside of the three year statute of limitations window. However, any new usage of the characters introduced in that game (such as an appearance in the comic), could potentially lead to a lawsuit from Penders. Late October, Penders stated “this case may yet end up in the US Supreme Court if a resolution isn’t found prior to that”.

So there it is: due to a mistake in Penders's lawyer's legal filing, Penders v Sega was dismissed, and he missed the statute of limitations for collecting any of the money generated by Sonic Chronicles. No ruling, no settlement, no resolution. While I wouldn't be surprised to see some fanboys take the words "case dismissed" to mean that Penders's case against Sega was flimsy or lacking in some way, that is not what this dismissal means; the case was dismissed due to a mistake in filling out the paperwork, and no other reason.

I wouldn't expect to see Sega re-release Sonic Chronicles any time soon, as that would open them up to a new suit.

Penders's allusions to a Supreme Court case notwithstanding, this is most likely the end of it, though he's still got his own series coming at some point, whatever form it may take.

I noted before that a lot of the other writers and artists who worked on Sonic around the time Penders did could potentially file for their own copyrights (and that Scott Shaw already had). I haven't heard anything more about that. However, given how the Penders case went, I would expect Archie to quietly settle with any other creators who made similar claims, on similar terms, without suing them, and it's entirely possible this has already happened. It's one of those things we'll most likely never know.

Meanwhile, if you're interested in the case at all, I highly recommend that you read the entire piece by TheAmazingSallyHogan. It's as good and thorough a summary of the case as you'll find anywhere.

Try Them and You May, I Say

Dear Senator Cruz,

I enjoyed your courageous Senate speech on the importance of Senator Ted Cruz. I was particularly interested in the part where you read Green Eggs and Ham, and stated that it was analogous to the healthcare debate, saying Americans "did not like Obamacare in a box, with a fox, in a house, with a mouse."

Senator, I have two questions.

The first is, is your copy of Green Eggs and Ham missing the last few pages, or did you legitimately miss the point of a book that is easily understood by a typical four-year-old?

And, as a followup: do you next intend to quote 1984 in support of the NSA's domestic surveillance program, or are you more interested in citing Soylent Green as a great agribusiness innovation that will create jobs and feed the hungry?

Important Comics

Today's the anniversary of a couple of things.

It would have been Jack Kirby's 96th birthday.

And, more importantly -- as the King himself would surely have acknowledged --, it's the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington.

I was at a loss for precisely how I was going to tie these two events together in the same post -- and then I remembered Congressman John Lewis has a comic book out.

Stephen Colbert interviewed him a couple of weeks back:

Lewis discusses not only his new comic trilogy, March, but a comic that inspired him in 1957: Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. An excellent summary by Andrew Aydin at Creative Loafing Atlanta says:

Richard Deats, [the Fellowship of Reconciliation]'s Director of Communications in the 1990s, laid out FOR's motivation and purpose behind the comic in a 1997 letter, saying, "The comic book was originally intended to convey to semiliterate persons the story of nonviolence and its effectiveness as seen in the Montgomery movement. The medium of the highly popular comic book was believed to be the best way to reach masses of exploited African-Americans."

And that's what comic books were: they were a way of reaching the masses. They were literature for the illiterate.

And as with all mass-media means of distributing information to the poor, this upset the elites.

When comics first appeared in American newspapers around the turn of the twentieth century, they were seen as gutter trash. In the decades that followed, they were scapegoated for society's ills, culminating in Senate hearings, the Comics Code Authority, and the devastation of an entire American art form.

In a way, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story was exactly what the elites feared: it upset the social structure. It gave teenagers like John Lewis ideas.

It's ironic that the comics medium's greatest foe, Fredric Wertham, was also an ardent progressive in the Civil Rights Movement -- if he had never written Seduction of the Innocent, he would instead be best remembered for the doll study used in Brown v Board. Wertham was right, in a way, about comics' potential as a disruptive force, as a powerful tool for influencing young people -- but he chose to fear the imagined impact of fictional crime and horror stories, rather than see the true potential of comics as a force for good, for education, for organization, for social justice.

Kirby, of course, saw boundless potential in comics, in a way few people ever have. He used comics to advocate for social change, too, though he preferred fiction and metaphor, and is best remembered as a superhero artist (though his work crossed all genres and invented some). He saw superheroes as modern mythological figures -- as New Gods -- as aspirational avatars.

In the 1940's, Kirby co-created Captain America, advocating for US intervention in WWII when that was still a controversial position. In the 1970's, his Forever People were technologically-advanced, alien hippies. In the 1960's, The Fantastic Four gave us The Hate-Monger, a supervillain in a Klan hood who turned out to be Adolf Hitler himself. It also gave us this guy:

The Black Panther

That image is courtesy of Brian Cronin's Comic Book Legends Revealed, which notes that the Black Panther didn't look like that in the final published comic -- his half-mask was replaced with a full mask, making it less immediately obvious that the Black Panther was, in fact, a black man -- indeed, possibly the first black superhero. (Inevitably when you refer to a comic book character as "the first" of anything, that's going to lead to debate -- sometimes that debate can miss the point entirely and turn into mere nitpicking over comic book trivia, though other times, as in Who Was the First Black Superhero? by JV Halliburton II, it can explore the richness of comic history and highlight all the important characters who have helped to build and shape it and make it more diverse.)

Today Mark Evanier wrote a lovely remembrance of his friend and mentor, and among many other things he had this to say:

Jack was all about something new, something exciting and something that took whatever he was doing to the next level. [...] Jack was first and foremost interested in producing something that would take comics to some new plateau, creating new opportunities and new possibilities.

Kirby believed in comics. So did Martin Luther King and Alfred Hassler. So does John Lewis.

And so does Jillian Kirby. I've written before about her Kirby4Heroes fundraiser for the Hero Initiative, a charity that helps struggling comic creators. As we celebrate her grandfather's birthday, don't forget about the less fortunate who have helped shape the comics medium over the years and decades.

Customer Service Survey

I have no complaints about the representative who I spoke with; he was great. He was knowledgeable, professional, and responsive, and told me that they were aware of the outage and working on it.

HOWEVER, I have some pretty serious complaints about Cox's level of service.

First of all, my Internet outage lasted for over 12 hours.

Second, when I called, there was no recorded message informing me that there was a known outage in my area; I had to wait on hold for an extended period of time just to be told something that could have been handled by a recording as soon as I called in.

And speaking of recordings: you're seriously going to make me listen to the same four commercials, over and over again, on a continuous loop? Hey, kudos for finding a way to make being on hold an even MORE unpleasant experience; I didn't think that was actually possible. But I have to wonder, does Cox hate its employees AND its customers? Because this is just about the best way I've ever seen to ensure that a customer is as angry and frustrated as humanly possible before getting to speak to a support tech.

Put bluntly: Cox's Internet service is poor, rates keep increasing even as services are dropped (thanks so much for discontinuing Usenet support and then jacking up my rates five bucks), and saying that calling technical support is like pulling teeth is an insult to dentists everywhere.

Continuing bluntly: the only reason Cox has managed to keep my business is by virtue of being a local monopoly. The only other option for broadband Internet at my address is CenturyLink at 3.0Mbps, which is even more unacceptable than Cox's poor service, frequent outages, high prices, and legitimately terrible hold experience.

And, what's more, I strongly believe that Cox knows this, that the company is well aware that it has a captive audience and can therefore charge high rates for poor service and there is nothing else its customers can do but sit here and take it, because the broadband market has no competition to speak of.

In the short term, I begrudgingly admit that Cox has my business simply by default, because I have nowhere else to go.

In the long term, the market is going to change, competition is going to increase, and all the customers like myself who have spent the past decade being grossly dissatisfied with Cox's service are going to jump ship at the very first opportunity. A hard rain is going to fall.

I strongly suggest that Cox study the lessons of companies like Microsoft -- or, more dramatically, Blockbuster Video. Both of these are examples of companies that had a virtual monopoly in their respective industries. This monoculture allowed them to become bloated and unresponsive, and keep collecting money from their captive customers -- because where else were they going to go?

It didn't last. Technology changed. The markets changed. Blockbuster went bankrupt and, while Microsoft has held on to its majority share in the desktop/laptop OS and office suite markets, it has utterly failed to gain a foothold in emerging markets like phones and tablets, its browser market share has plummeted, and even companies that are using the latest version of Microsoft Office are likelier to use Google Docs for online collaboration.

Did this happen because Blockbuster didn't offer comparable, competetive services to Netflix and Redbox? Did it happen because Windows Phone is a poor operating system, or because Internet Explorer is an inferior browser?

No. Blockbuster offered very competetive prices to Netflix (no, it didn't offer streaming, but Blockbuster went bankrupt before streaming became Netflix's dominant distribution model). Windows Phone has received positive reviews, and Internet Explorer now performs comparably to other standards-compliant browsers.

So why did customers eagerly drop Blockbuster and Microsoft the first chance a viable alternative appeared?

Because that's what happens when you spend a decade taking your customers for granted, charging them a ridiculous rate for a barely-functional product or service, and generally treating them like livestock.

Yes, Blockbuster and Microsoft improved the quality of their products and services once competition started to pressure them into doing it. By then it was too late.

I know Cox is a monopoly in my area. I know there's no short-term incentive for it to improve its service or decrease its cost, because it doesn't have to in order to keep my business.

But if I were running Cox, I would think long and hard about the future. Someday, you ARE going to have a viable competitor. If you want to keep your existing customers' business when that day comes, you should probably start treating them better, right now.

The first thing you should do is stop making your customers listen to commercials when they're on hold.