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Sale Ends Tomorrow! Last Chance To Get CIA: Collect It All for 25% Off

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Get 25% off your copy of CIA: Collect It All with
the code STAYINSIDE until tomorrow night »

CIA: Collect It All on KickstarterThis weekend is your last chance to save on copies of CIA: Collect It All, our recreation of a real CIA analyst training game. Use the coupon code STAYINSIDE this weekend to get 25% off your purchase — the sale ends tomorrow night.

CIA: Collect It All is a game for two or more players with over 150 cards representing global crises that must be dealt with, intelligence techniques for addressing them, and the unexpected twists and turns that reality throws at an analyst's best laid plans. It also comes with a set of variant rules that turn it into a storytelling game that generates tales of intrigue and spycraft.

Get 25% off your copy of CIA: Collect It All with
the code STAYINSIDE until tomorrow night! »


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posted at: 12:00am on 31-May-2020
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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Last Minute Addition To Louisiana Bill Hamstrings Community Broadband

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We've long noted that roughly twenty states have passed laws either outright banning community broadband, or tightly restricting such efforts. The vast majority of the time these bills are literally written by telecom lobbyists and lawyers for companies like AT&T and Comcast. While the bills are usually presented by lawmakers as an earnest concern about taxpayer boondoggles, the real motivation usually is the prevention of any disruption of their cozy geographical monopolies/duopolies.In some states, community broadband is being offered via the local power utility. That's the case in Tennessee, where Chattanooga-based EPB has been prohibited from expanding despite the overall lack of competitive options in the state -- and despite EPB having been rated one of the best ISPs in America. When ISPs can't get straight out bans passed via state legislature, they'll usually trying to bury such restrictions in unrelated bills, such as when AT&T tried to include community broadband restrictions in an unrelated Missouri traffic ordinance.Hugely frustrated by substandard service and a lack of broadband competition, more than 750 communities around the country have built some sort of community broadband network. But even when legislation intended to help them is proposed, it's an uphill battle to try and keep entrenched telecom lobbyists from making the bills worse. Case in point: Louisiana is considering Senate Bill 407, which would let utilities expand broadband to their rural customers. But provisions buried in the bill at the last second restrict utilities from offering broadband anywhere an incumbent already offers service:

"Jeff Arnold, who heads the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives, said they supported the bill until wording was added that wouldn't allow co-ops to sell broadband to their electricity customers who are mapped in areas as already served by broadband. The language would restrict us from competing with others in the broadband market but would not stop them from cherry picking (customers) from cooperatives who choose to get in the broadband market, said Arnold, who as legislator years ago chaired the Commerce committee."
The problem: less than 13% of Louisiana lacks any broadband access whatsoever. The other problem: the FCC's broadband mapping data has long been maligned as not accurate whatsoever, meaning these restrictions won't be based in, you know, factual reality. And one last problem: while many people can "access broadband," in reality this usually means just one telco (with un-upgraded DSL lines and sky high prices) or one local cable monopoly with sky high prices (usually Comcast or Spectrum). In short, the ban would effectively ban competition, something there's simply too little of.And as the folks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) note, such restrictions also threaten the financial stability of such efforts, given it takes away more profitable customers in more populated areas:
"Not only will this prevent broadband competition in rural Louisiana, but it could also undercut the feasibility of rural electric co-op projects in unserved areas. To make broadband networks financially possible, co-ops often need to balance low density areas with more populated communities. Otherwise, cooperatives might not be able to connect the most rural and unserved parts of their service territory especially since co-ops can't (and don't want to) subsidize broadband projects with funds from their electric operations. Furthermore, as Arnold pointed out, SB 406's new provisions put electric cooperatives at the whim of broadband providers that might choose to expand in only the most profitable parts of the state, making the most difficult to connect communities even harder to serve."
Again, incumbent ISPs (and the lawmakers, consultants, and other experts paid to love them) have spent twenty years falsely claiming community broadband is an inevitable taxpayer boondoggle, despite that simply not being true (you'll almost never see these same folks complaining about the billions thrown at giants like AT&T in exchange for absolutely nothing). But as always, these towns and cities wouldn't be getting into the broadband business if locals were happy with what's on offer. And with 42 million Americans lacking any broadband at all, the country needs all the creative alternatives it can get.

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posted at: 12:00am on 30-May-2020
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Professional Race Car Driver Hires Expert Gamer To Race His Video Game Car

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The esports momentum due to the COVID-19 pandemic isn't slowing down. And one of things many people are learning now that they're either spectating or participating in esports for the first time is just how hard it is to be really, really good in these competitions. The days that bore the cliches about unskilled gamers slothing in their parent's basement are long gone, replaced by corporate sponsorships for sold out events in full-scale arenas. In the absence of traditional IRL sports at the moment, many professional athletes are now getting into esports as well, with autoracing having led the way.And now, in an occurrence that basically had to happen, we have our first instance of a professional racer getting caught having a gamer stand in for him during a race.

As the BBC report, 27-year-old German driver Daniel Abt finished third in the latest leg of Formula E’s Race at Home Challenge. Or, organisers thought he’d finished third, until later discovering that he’d hired a gamer to drive the race for him.The switch was discovered by ex-F1 driver Stoffel Vandoorne, who finished second in the race and suspected that Abt—who didn’t have his video on—wasn’t behind the wheel. Instead, it turned out to be a gamer by the name of Lorenz Horzing.Abt has been forced to pay £8,900, was disqualified from the last race and has had all his points from the series wiped.
This is where you really have to check any inclination to hand-wave this due to it being esports instead of IRL sports. Were a racer to have a different driver drive his car, we all agree that would be indefensible. The same is the case here, especially given just how much we're talking about in terms of marketing, advertising, purse, and sponsorship dollars. Once you accept that esports is a very real and established thing, this sort of cheating takes on an entirely different light.It's perhaps one of the challenges esports faces: getting spectators to buy into events when the participants aren't live and in-person. Frankly, I'm a bit surprised there wouldn't be a rule mandating the cameras be turned on.For what it's worth, Abt has since apologized. Regardless, this is something that probably had to happen at some point, but it's worth remembering that not all milestones are positive.

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posted at: 12:00am on 30-May-2020
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SmileDirectClub Sues NBC For $2.85 Billion, Claims Factual Statements And Quotes From Customers Are Defamatory

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SmileDirectClub -- maker of in-home dental appliances -- is back in the lawsuit business. A couple of years ago, the company sued Lifehacker over an article originally titled "You Could Fuck Up Your Mouth With SmileDirectClub." The company claimed any criticism of its products and techniques was defamatory. Despite the original inflammatory headline, the Lifehacker piece was even-handed, warning potential customers that semi-DIY dental work has some downsides. SmileDirect voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit a week later, perhaps sensing a judge -- even one in bogus lawsuit-friendly Tennessee -- might not agree that critical opinions, however harsh, were libelous.Apparently hoping to undermine the "defamation" market, SmileDirectClub began tying refunds to gag orders, refusing to give unhappy customers back their money unless they signed a non-disparagement agreement. Now, SmileDirect is headed back to court to take on NBC for its critical news report. This time, SmileDirect has to talk its way past a revamped state anti-SLAPP law to get the $2.85 billion it's seeking in this lawsuit. (h/t Daniel Horwitz)The lawsuit [PDF] appears to have been filed by lawyers being paid by the word. It's over 200 pages long and comes with a comprehensive table of contents. Longer does not mean better-developed. And it also doesn't mean the legal arguments are stronger than those found in more sensibly-sized filings.SmileDirect says NBC's report did an incredible amount of damage to its business.

SDC’s stock price, which had been trending upward prior to the Reports, plummeted 15% the day after the Reports were published. Prospective patients cancelled their treatment. SDC’s revenue fell. And, SDC’s market capitalization dropped by over $950 million.
The company believes NBC's report (which was sensibly titled "SmileDirectClub Promises Easy Teeth Straightening. Some Patients Report Problems.") did all of this and more. The lawsuit accuses NBC of deliberately deploying lies because the reporters chose to ignore the documents and interviews SmileDirect offered when it found out this report was going to be aired. "For the clicks" is the argument SDC makes.
SDC’s employees and officers across the country, as well as SDC-affiliated doctors, witnessed their hard work being undermined by a news organization and reporter who cared more about ratings and making a splash than the truth.
However, the arguments made by the company while establishing jurisdiction seem to undercut SDC's narrative about NBC reporters deliberately avoiding contact with the company.
[N]BC knowingly and intentionally contacted SDC in Davidson County in connection with the Reports. NBC initiated, received, and responded to, communications (electronic and telephonic) with SDC employees located in Davidson County. And, NBC repeatedly solicited information from SDC employees located in Davidson County over the course of three months prior to the publication of the Reports.[...]NBC knowingly and intentionally traveled to Davidson County in connection with the Reports where it, among other things, interviewed an SDC officer. NBC requested an interview with an SDC officer. NBC voluntarily decided to travel to Davidson County to conduct the interview.
Here's as concise a summary of SDC's allegations as can be found in the sprawling lawsuit:
As discussed below, NBC’s online report was defamatory and disparaging because it: (a) falsely stated that treatment using SDC’s platform caused health and physical problems; (b) falsely stated that treatment using SDC’s platform can cause permanent injuries and omitted material facts to falsely imply that treatment using SDC’s platform can cause permanent injuries; (c) omitted material facts about the thoroughness and extensiveness of treatment received by patients from SDC-affiliated doctors using SDC’s platform; (d) falsely stated that treatment using SDC’s platform injured Female Patient; (e) falsely stated that treatment using SDC’s platform injured Male Patient; (f) falsely stated that patients must be protected from treatment using SDC’s platform; (g) omitted material facts to falsely imply that treatment using SDC’s platform violates government regulations; (h) falsely stated that treatment using SDC’s platform is “do it yourself” dentistry and omitted material facts to falsely imply that treatment using SDC’s platform is “do it yourself” dentistry; (i) falsely stated that SDC-affiliated doctors are not involved in treating patients and omitted material facts to falsely imply that SDC-affiliated doctors are not involved in treating patients; (j) falsely implied that treatment using SDC’s platform is not safe; (k) falsely implied that treatment using SDC’s platform is “do it yourself” dentistry; (l) falsely implied that treatment using SDC’s platform is not effective for patients; and (m) falsely implied that SDC is a dishonest company.
But SDC's allegations all seem to lead to statements that appear to be factual. The company complains about statements like "nine Congressmen also asked the FDA and FTC to investigate [Smile Direct]..." (which is factual) and "More than 1,800 complaints have been filed with the Better Business Bureau…" (also factual).The other commentary SDC complains about comes from patients who discussed their experiences with the company's products. The lawsuit lists direct quotes from unhappy customers as defamatory statements made by NBC, conveniently ignoring the source of those quotes in favor of trying to hit a bigger target.The other stuff listed falls into the category of protected opinion. NBC's assertion that "some" patients experienced problems is not only accurate, but it's the sort of conclusion anyone would have reached by speaking to unhappy customers or reading its BBB page. SmileDirect claims its Better Business Bureau rating makes NBC's conclusions and assertions maliciously false, but it's the sort of conclusion only a company filing a 200-page complaint could reach.
SDC’s overall score by the Better Business Bureau (“BBB”) is A+, the highest available rating. At the time of the Reports, the number of issues raised with the BBB by patients treated using SDC’s platform, including non-clinical issues, was less than 0.2%. The number of issues raised with the BBB—by patients or non-patients (i.e., people pretending to be patients)—regarding clinical issues was a small percentage of that infinitesimally small percentage, less than 0.001%.
Be that as it may, there are still more than 2,000 complaints listed on the BBB site and the site has noted the company is trying to get people to speak to a customer service rep before filing a complaint. Also, as was reported earlier this year, the company has been tying people to restrictive non-disparagement agreements before issuing refunds.Making the lawsuit longer doesn't make it any better. The same points are rehashed repeatedly in an apparent effort to bludgeon the presiding judge into arriving at the conclusion that something this lengthy must contain viable legal arguments. But it doesn't. What's called defamation in this lawsuit is a collection of factual statements, supported opinions, and direct quotes from unhappy customers.Tennessee's anti-SLAPP law may keep SDC from bleeding NBC for too long, but there's a good chance that law will never be tested. SDC may have wanted to keep this case at home, but suing a New York-based company for $2.85 billion means the lawsuit will have to be handled in a federal court. Tying in some state claims about alleged violations of Tennessee's Consumer Protection Act won't be enough to keep it local. Unfortunately, that may work out better for SmileDirect, which will be able to force NBC to defend itself from this lawsuit. Federal courts have been very hesitant to apply state anti-SLAPP laws to federal lawsuits, highlighting (once again) the need for a federal anti-SLAPP law.

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posted at: 12:00am on 29-May-2020
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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