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Mel Hathorn

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13 Fun Ways to Screw Up the System Legally
By Mel Hathorn
Last edited: Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Posted: Saturday, November 06, 2004

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Recent articles by
Mel Hathorn

• How To Eliminate Corporate Personhood; Part I (Updated)
• Stages in the development of Social Change
• But Who's Going To Clean The Toilets?
• George Will's Unanswered Questions
• Letter to World Leaders
• The People's Fund
• An Open Letter to Connecticut Transit
           >> View all 39
Election week was distressing for many of us. I am beginning to realize that in the final analysis it doesn’t matter who won. Bush will simply accelerate our breakdown faster that Kerry would have. For the problems we face cannot be solved with political solutions; rather we are dealing with a systems problem. It is the system itself that is dysfunctional. How do we change a dysfunctional system? The first step is to become aware that the system is dysfunctional. That involves an education program which is proposed below.

13 Fun Ways To Legally Screw Up The System

This week, the week of November 2, has been for many of us a depressing one. It feels that no matter what we do, our votes and efforts to bring about positive change will never amount to anything. Before the election, I thought that a political solution to our nation’s problems was possible. I was wrong, at least for the foreseeable future. Control of the media by right wing zealots, electronic voting machines, and dirty tricks at the voting booths were an unbeatable combination. Yet in spite of all of that, I still have hope and faith for a future where every disenfranchised person is honored and treasured as a person with unbelievable potential. Why do I say that in spite of all the massive forces arrayed against us?

We live in a culture where more and more power is increasingly concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. This culture is obsessed with power, money power, personality power, name and connections power, political power, computing power, religious power, firepower, media power, and many others too numerous to name. We are obsessed with the idea that if we had enough money, time or recognition, we could control our lives and feel more secure.

When we say we feel powerless, we mean that we don’t have enough power to fight corporations, the system, or city hall. Usually most people compensate for that powerlessness by trying to get some of that power themselves, usually through war or revolution. This feeling of powerlessness creates crime or violence. However, there is a source of power freely available to everyone. It is the Butterfly Effect.

It was discovered by accident in 1960 by Edward Lorenz who had been using a primitive computer to mathematically model climatic weather conditions. He hoped to identify precise laws to make weather prediction possible. To save computer memory one day Lorenz rounded off .506127 to .506. He assumed the change in value of less than 1 one-thousandth would be inconsequential. It wasn’t. This small change in value, comparable to the puff of a butterfly’s wings, produced a tremendous difference in the final outcome.

Lorenz’s equations used what is known as feedback. As the computer produced an answer to his equations, it fed the answer back into the equations to get yet still another answer which was fed back into the equations, and so on. The final results of the rounded off numbers were radically different from the original numbers.

The definition of the Butterfly Effect is “sensitive dependence on initial conditions.” In other words, small changes tend to magnify themselves over the course of successive events and culminate in a large-scale happenings. A minor event like a butterfly flapping its wings could alter wind currents enough to create a tornado a continent away. Any improvement in the precision of weather prediction lasted only a few days. After that the Butterfly Effect took over and set weather conditions rolling in a completely unexpected direction.

However the Butterfly Effect is useful to explain not only weather problems, but can also be used to understand social changes and breakdowns.

Rosa Parks probably did not mean to set off the Civil Rights movement when she refused to move to the back of a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1954. She was simply tired. Yet her refusal set into motion a chain of events staring with a year-long boycott of the Montgomery bus system and culminating with the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Martin Luther probably didn’t mean to start the Protestant Reformation in 1517 when he hung his 95 Thesis on the door of Wittenburg Cathedral. He only meant to start a dialogue within the scholars of the Catholic Church. Yet that simple act magnified itself until it culminated in the Reformation.

The Butterfly Effect guarantees that deeply influential ordinary people can change history. Václav Havel, The Czech writer and philosopher, calls this the "power of the powerless." Unfortunately, we can’t know the final results of our actions. The best we can do is to know that our small acts can create a feedback system that has the potential magnify itself over and over again.

Therefore, I have listed thirteen acts (one for each of the original 13 colonies) of legal rebellion that can be disruptive, fun, and most importantly legal. They can get people thinking.


It’s important to move your money from the commercial banking system to a smaller, more humanistic system. You’ll also be charged less fees too.


Complain loudly about products and services. While doing this please do not harass or berate poorly paid clerks and other marginal workers. These people are like us, working stiffs. Give em a break! Rather complain about systematic problems to those who have the power to do something about them.

An example: the other day, I went into a large supermarket to buy lunch. I took my chicken thigh to the rapid scan counter only to find the $.89 bag of chicken wouldn’t scan. After unsuccessful repeated tries, I yelled in a loud voice, “Hey! Yo! We need help over here!” The whole store could hear me. (There are advantages to being a teacher; you learn to project your voice.)

Immediately a store manager came running over and was able to scan the chicken. She left and I fed a dollar into the machine. The machine grabbed my dollar and refused to give me change. Again, I yelled in deep frustration now, “Hey! Yo! We need more help over here!” another manager came running over and said, ”Quiet! Everyone can hear you!” I replied that I didn’t care if everyone could hear me or not. “The machine grabbed my money and refused my change.” As the manager fumbled punching in various keys, I turned to others and complained loudly about how I hated modern technology. Several standing in line nodded in agreement.


Why was Solomon with over 800 wives and concubines chosen by God to build the Hebrew temple when his father, King David, was not chosen because he was a man of war. Does this mean that God prefers us to make love rather than war?


Why did God slay Ananias and Sapphira (see Acts 5) when they lied about their donations to their church, yet when Bush gets a free pass from God while lying about weapons of mass destruction and claiming at the same time to be speaking for God? Not only does he get a free pass to tell more lies, but he gets reelected as a result of telling these lies. After centuries of punishing lies, is God now rewarding lying? If so, doesn’t that make God changeable and undependable? Is He no longer the God who demands absolute behavior from his followers?


Not only is the news false, misleading and inaccurate, it is irrelevant to our purposes. It only serves to depress us by its right-wing rhetoric. At least, if you must get your news, get it from alternate sources, i.e. Public Radio and TV are marginally better and more accurate then the major news media although there is the possibility of their being tainted due to corporate funding.


Since the media won’t give us accurate news, it’s necessary for us to spread accurate information to as many people as possible. One way to do this is through “cell phone preaching.” Stand on a street corner or another public place and talk into your cell phone loudly complaining about Bush’s latest environmental disaster or how he’s going to reinstitute the draft. This is especially effective when your audience is trapped in a restaurant.


Make sure that the routing number is covered so someone is forced to read it by physically unstapling the advertisement from the check in order to scan it. Do the same with pre-paid business reply envelopes. Insert your announcements, advertisements, etc. and have free postage-paid advertising. Do the same with those annoying cards that fall out of magazines. Since the postage is on the advertiser why not advertise your own business by stapling your ad or business card and dropping it in the mail. Alternatively, staple their ads to your payment.


Time is a commodity; it is the hard currency of our time deprived world. Since the days of John Calvin, wasting time has been thought sinful. Reclaim your time. Arrive late; leave early. One fun way of wasting time is to arrive late at meetings. Assume a ten minute late arrival at a meeting of five participants. Not only has your company lost ten minutes of your productive time, but you have leveraged that lost productivity five times. If everyone arrived late at meetings, our corporations would lose millions of dollars in productivity. This is especially true if you can involve a highly paid corporate officer into wasting time. Another way of wasting time is to drive at the speed limit in passing lanes. If everyone drove no faster than the speed limit in passing lanes, traffic jams would form behind them. Potentially scores of lost time and productivity would be created. What do you do with all this time you saved for yourself? Join the rebellion!


Instead of hanging up on a telemarketer, tell them you will get the person they are asking for. Put the phone down and go about your business leaving them waiting for you to get this person thus tying up the company’s time. Alternatively ask the telemarketer to describe the product and walk away leaving them talking to dead air.


This will cause confusion at the checkout counter. And while we are discussing supermarkets, here is a fee-free way to get extra cash. Instead of paying $1.50 per ATM or debit charge just because you used your pin number, write out a check and ask for cash back. Most supermarkets gladly give you cash back over your purchases sometimes up to $200. Whenever I need cash, I go to my closest supermarket, buy a small item I was going to buy anyway, and get money back. Sometimes you can do this many times a day at different supermarkets. I have rarely paid an ATM fee.


When you fill out a warranty card for some new purchase, the card will often ask for personal information such as salary, magazines read, etc. This is information that will be sold to boiler plate telemarketers and sleazy salesmen. Either don’t fill out personal information or lie. I especially like saying that I am a graduate student working on my Ph.D. with a stipend of $18,000 per year. Nobody ever bothers me.

Alternatively claim that you make $250,000 per year. If everyone did that database records would be completely screwed up. No one would trust them.


This might work for fundamentalist churches. Annoyed at that fundamentalist church down the street who not only urged its members to vote for Bush, but pickets every literary film and Planned Parenthood clinic in town? Attend a service. Slip a playboy in the magazine rack in church library or in the pews or in the high school Sunday school classroom. Sit back and watch the fun. Alternatively sign up the minister for a subscription and have it billed to the church.

Another possibility is to attend the church’s discussion group or Sunday school class and ask either or both questions 3 or 4 above.


First, it’s necessary to get the attention of a CEO. How do you do that? Not by threats such as lawsuits etc. CEOs deal with that all the time. They have more lawyers than you can shake a stick at. Rather, know where a CEOs vulnerability is. There is only one vulnerability a CEO has, image. To effectively deal with a CEO and get personal attention, it is necessary to embarrass him or her. Keeping up appearances is crucial to a CEO. The worst thing that can happen is for the CEO to look bad.

Here’s how to do that:

a. Locate the name and address of the CEO from annual reports, or many other sources.

b. With that information, compose your letter of complaint using all the rules of writing such a letter that are available elsewhere.

c. Send your letter. Know that any response you get will have been passed down the line to some flunky who will try to pacify you. You, of course, will not be bought off because your real purpose to create change and a more responsive system. But you first have to go through the hoops.

d. Resubmit your letter of complaint. This time, however, your approach will be different. You are now going after your elusive target, the CEOs’ personal attention. First, use an attention-getting envelope like priority mail or even overnight mail if you want to pay the expense. You will mark on your outside envelope a return address using a name like Desiree or Brucie. Dapple some cologne or perfume on the envelope. It should smell like a cheap French whore. Very important! Don’t forget to write “Personal and Confidential” on the outside along with a message like, “About last month.” There is no secretary that will open a letter like that.

e. Now that you have the CEO reading your letter of complaint, it’s time to pull out the big guns. You of course will have listed Cc’s at the bottom of the letter. These Cc’s should list a variety of consumer protection agencies, the Federal Trade commission, other CEOs in competitive industries, various federal, state, and local senators and representative and anyone else that the CEO might hang with. The trick here is to embarrass the CEO. Depending on the issue, you may have really copied your letter to some or all of the listed individual or maybe even none of them. The CEO has only to think this embarrassing letter went to these persons. I guarantee you will get personal attention. By the way this is especially effective with politicians.

I have listed only a few of the many and creative ways to disrupt the system. The ultimate goal of all of this is of course, not only to demonstrate the dysfunctionality of the system, but to get people thinking. Until it becomes clear that our national problems can no longer be resolved politically, we will not garner the courage to try new ways.



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Reviewed by Adrian Jones
Immature suggestions. Poor ideas. && I fail to see the purpose. Even the writing is childish; "I have listed only a few of the many and creative ways to disrupt the system."- Closure like that is meant and used by learning children, not adults. Also... This is rather pointless, despite your insistence as to 'demonstrating the dysfunctionality of the system.'

Dysfunctionality is not a word. These problems are not the Republicans fault. Views like these are why the liberals weren't able to win the election. This idea of fighting the problems within our nation by causing minor problems on a corporate level, and inconveniencing your fellow citizens, is ridiculous.
Reviewed by Sandy Knauer
Fun read, Mel. When I get through with the ten ways to allow the republicans to own what they just bought, I may try a few of these ;-)
Reviewed by m j hollingshead
interesting read

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