In which I’m okay with this

My wife and I have watched the six-episode McMillions documentary over the last week or so. If you’re not familiar with it, you may remember the McDonald’s Monopoly game that they used to run; turns out that the game was basically rigged from the start, with one single guy taking most of the high-end winning pieces and selling them to a network of people that really wasn’t as spread out or sneaky as it should have been. Something like $24 million in prizes was diverted until an informant clued the FBI in, and then a lengthy investigation ensued, resulting in a whole bunch of people getting indicted, most of whom pled guilty.

The documentary itself is … okay. It’s probably twice as long as it needs to be– certainly an episode or two could have been cut out without really harming anything– and damn near every single person that they talk to over the course of the documentary is some variety or another of douchebag, loser, or both. There’s one guy who they try to make out as a sympathetic victim of the whole thing, which doesn’t really work because he’s just as much of a dick, if not more, than everybody else involved– and, frankly, as far as I’m concerned he might actually be the worst human being to actually take part in the documentary. But more on him later.(*) This will be diverting if you’re home on quarantine and you need something to watch, but it’s not gonna change your life or anything.

And, well, I don’t think this was the intent of the filmmakers, but by the end of the documentary I was pretty well convinced that nothing in the documentary was actually a crime and that no one should have been prosecuted for this.

There is a point, late in the documentary, where one of the defense lawyers points out that his client is being prosecuted for federal mail fraud because he broke a hamburger company’s rules for a promotional game that they made huge amounts of money off of. There is another point where an actual journalist points out that like three or four of the big winners lived in the same zip code and that no one ever noticed.

You know why no one ever noticed? Because they weren’t looking, because no one gave a shit, because no one even conceived of this as a crime until someone tipped off the FBI, who only paid any attention to the case because, as one of the lead douchebags investigators points out, they had been working on “health care fraud” and were bored.

Seriously, this man’s dress shirt is three sizes too big for him for the entire goddamn documentary and it was driving me insane by the end. But I suspect health care fraud probably involves actual victims? And this “crime” does not. Literally no one was hurt by this except for the people who didn’t realize that if you give the dude from the mob half of your winnings and the taxes on your winnings are 40% then you’re not going to actually get a whole lot of money out of it, and I don’t feel bad for them.

McDonald’s was gonna give that money away anyway, and remember they’re *profiting* enormously off of this game. No victims.

You could make a case that someone out there in the world was supposed to be the real winner of the money, or the car, or whatever, but it’s equally likely that those winning game pieces get accidentally thrown away, and at any rate we have no idea who that person is. No victims.

There’s a big deal made about how the marketing company and the “secure” printer went out of business and some people lost their jobs, but as it turns out the only thing they did wrong was hiring the guy who took the pieces, and at any rate they only lost their jobs because the FBI did the investigation. No investigation, no job loss.

You could make an argument that, yes, dude stole the game pieces– but that’s basically stealing office supplies, which isn’t a federal crime, and no law enforcement agency anywhere would ever take it seriously. If I can get you to give me a million dollars for a post-it note that I wrote “ONE MILLION DOLLARS” on, that doesn’t mean that I can get anyone else to give me a million dollars for that post-it note, and no one would argue that you have stolen a million dollars by stealing the post-it. Should McDonald’s have sued the guy? Sure, why not? But it’s not a crime.

They basically openly admit that the only reason they used mail fraud as the main crime they charged these folks with (apparently at some point you have to mail the winning game pieces in for verification) was because they really couldn’t get them on anything else. Because, again, this is breaking the rules of a hamburger company’s marketing scheme, not an actual crime. Crimes have victims. Some danger, either to individuals or society. This has neither. Literally no one anywhere was harmed by any of this, at all, except for whatever cases the FBI was ignoring so they could pursue the “more fun” french fry case.

The biggest bullshit? The longest prison sentence anyone served from this was the main dude, who did 37 months, which shows you how seriously the judge took the case. Three people mentioned having to pay restitution (I assume there were more; a whole bunch of folks pled guilty) and of those, two actually mentioned the amount.

One guy, who has to repay something like three and a half million dollars, is paying about $170 a month. And the ringleader of this entire thing, who diverted $25 million in winning game pieces, is paying $370 a month, or about 2/3 of the amount that I’m paying on my fucking student loans every month, and this is the point where I’m actively fucking angry now, if you were wondering. Because it’s abundantly fucking clear that this money is never getting paid back, so they don’t even care enough to actually pretend that’s going to happen. And McDonald’s didn’t care about the “crime” enough to do even the slightest amount of due diligence on the winners– like the journalist pointed out, several of them lived in the same zip code, and a bunch of them turned out to be related, and no one noticed or cared until the “informant” tipped off the FBI, and– this is great– it turns out that the reason the informant called the FBI was spite.

Because this wasn’t a crime. It was breaking the rules of a hamburger company’s marketing scheme.

I really do enjoy the idea that getting an education fucked up my finances worse than “stealing” twenty-five million dollars, well over three hundred times as much as I borrowed, would have. Tell me again why I’m paying this shit back?

(*) OH RIGHT I FORGOT: they go to some length to make one of the people who took the game pieces look sympathetic, right? And this guy does end up eventually getting acquitted on appeal. But the reason they let him go? Is because instead of being told “Hey, these fell off a truck” or whatever ridiculous justification they used for the other end-user people, this guy is told that the game piece was found by a guy who is going through a divorce, and he wants to secretly sell it so he can hide the assets from his wife, so that she doesn’t get any of the money. And, as he says, he’s been through a divorce himself, so he “gets it,” and he coughs up fifty grand or a hundred grand or however much money they asked him for so that he can prevent a woman who he doesn’t know and as it turns out isn’t real from getting half of the prize.

In other words, the sole “sympathetic” character in the entire documentary is a misogynist piece of shit, and fuck him a lot. As far as I’m concerned he deserves jail more than anyone else in the documentary, because he’s the only person who thought he was hurting someone, and he was just fine with it.

10:35 AM, Sunday, April 19: 735,366 infections and 39,095 Americans dead. It’s early in the day; we’ll be comfortably over 40K dead by the end of the day.

In which things are annoying in new ways

Credit cards chained up with padlockI appear to have fallen victim to the most minor identity theft of all time; a single charge of just over $50 to a Family Dollar in Atlanta, Georgia that just showed up on my online statement.  As I have not been to Atlanta at any point in my life, much less in the last two days, I quickly cancelled the card and get to go to my bank branch tomorrow and do a spot of paperwork.  I checked all of the rest of my cards and they’re all clean; this weekend I’ll change all of my passwords.

Yesterday I made the terrible mistake of trying to add an “Also by Luther Siler” page to my pre-existing ebook manuscript for The Benevolence Archives.  It led me down this lovely little rabbit hole where, after adding that page, a Prostetnic logo, and fixing the three places where I screwed up and referred to Lady Remember as “he,” the Amazon converter that turns my .doc file into a .mobi for the Kindle told me I had thirty-some spelling errors.   The vast majority of them were words with no spaces in between, which is not normally a typo I’d allow to slide past– much less thirty times.

I checked the manuscript.   Spaces in the proper places, every single time.  Weirdly, the word before the space tended to be a single italicized word.  In other words:

“I can’t believe Amazon is putting me through this bullshit,” Brazel said.


“I can’t believeAmazon is putting me through this bullshit,” Brazel said.

I actually rewrote every set of words where this happened, sometimes removing the italics and a few times where I felt they were really necessary leaving them in but carefully italicizing just the word and nothing else.  Viewed the file in two or three different ways to make sure it wasn’t an artifact of the viewer’s insistence on full justification.  Nothing made any difference.  The next step is to put two spaces after each of those words and see if that fixes it.  I promise the spaces are there in the source document; this is just a weird-ass artifact of the conversion process, and at the moment I don’t have a way to turn a .doc into a .mobi on my computer to dodge the need to use their converter.

Then, once I gave up on that frustration for the evening, I discovered that for some reason it doesn’t seem to be pushing the updated version through to my Kindle anyway, so the new version, which ought to be pushed out to replace old versions for anyone who hasn’t deliberately turned that feature off, appears to only be working for new downloads– and since I’ve already downloaded the book, I can’t download it again to double-check– I’ve tried to force my Kindle to update the file every way I can think of and it won’t do it, so I can’t check to see if the typos are just in the online viewer and I can’t get the book to recognize that the “Also by” page is supposed to be there.  It won’t work on the Kindle app on my phone or my actual Kindle, although come to think of it I may not have downloaded the app on my new iPad so I may try that next.

So yeah.  I’m frustrated.  If, by some magic, you happen to download BA from Amazon tonight, I’d appreciate you letting me know if you get a version of the file with the “Also by Luther” page at the back– you’d be able to tell immediately, because the Prostetnic Publications logo is on the first page in the new one too.  I need to know if the changes went through and if the space-omissions are there– they’re most common in the story called “Remember”.

Might even throw in a free copy of the new book once it comes out, actually, if you were to do that and tell me what happened.

(EDIT: Okay, I may have figured out the non-updating thing, as apparently you need to increment the “edition” number to make Amazon realize the new file is “important” changes.  I’ve done that.  The version up there now should still be different for new buyers, though, so the deal in the previous two paragraphs still stands. I have a hunch those errors will disappear when viewed on an actual Kindle device or through the app.)