The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'fraud'
After it emerged that Thamsanqa Jantjie, the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial ceremony, had actually been making it up and just moving his arms about meaninglessly, Slavoj Žižek (no fan of well-meaning liberalism, to say the least) argues, with supreme cynicism, that his doing so was not so much a fraud as a deeper form of honesty, laying bare the hypocrisy of liberalism:
Now we can see why Jantjie's gesticulations generated such an uncanny effect once it became clear that they were meaningless: what he confronted us with was the truth about sign language translations for the deaf – it doesn't really matter if there are any deaf people among the public who need the translation; the translator is there to make us, who do not understand sign language, feel good.
And was this also not the truth about the whole of the Mandela memorial ceremony? All the crocodile tears of the dignitaries were a self-congratulatory exercise, and Jangtjie translated them into what they effectively were: nonsense. What the world leaders were celebrating was the successful postponement of the true crisis which will explode when poor, black South Africans effectively become a collective political agent. They were the Absent One to whom Jantjie was signalling, and his message was: the dignitaries really don't care about you. Through his fake translation, Jantjie rendered palpable the fake of the entire ceremonyOf course, actual deaf people might not agree with this assessment.
The street finds its own uses for things: Russian crime organisations have online marketplaces offering the services of willing underworld accomplices in various cities, administered through a cutting-edge web-based control panel:
The service, advertised on exclusive, Russian-language forums that cater to cybercrooks, claims to have willing and ready foot soldiers for hire in California, Florida, Illinois and New York. These associates are not mere “money mules,” unwitting and inexperienced Americans tricked and cajoled into laundering money after being hired for bogus work-at-home jobs. Rather, as the title of the ad for this service makes clear, the “foreign agents” available through this network are aware that they will be assisting in illegal activity (the ad refers to them as неразводные “nerazvodni” or “not deceived”). Put simply: These are mules that can be counted on not to freak out or disappear with the cash.
According to the advertisement, customers of this service get their very own login to a remote panel, where they can interact with the cashout service and monitor the progress of their thievery operations. The service also can be hired to drain bank accounts using counterfeit debit cards obtained through ATM skimmers or hacked point-of-sale devices. The complicit mules will even help cash out refunds from phony state and federal income tax filings — a lucrative form of fraud that, according to the Internal Revenue Service, cost taxpayers $5.2 billion last year.The contractors are available for other services, such as pickup and forward shipping of sketchy merchandise and “other interesting transactions”.
Once again, Russian biznesmeni are at the forefront of bringing free-market efficiency and the disintermediating, just-in-time power of the internet to the underworld (for long dominated by the almost Leninist command economies of hierarchical Mafia organisations and insular cells of bandits), or, if you will, liberating open-slather capitalism from pretences of legal propriety. Or, as has been said before, “Lenin failed to teach the Russians socialism, but he succeeded in teaching them capitalism”.
A few random odds and ends which, for one reason or another, didn't make it into blog posts in 2011:
- Artificial intelligence pioneer John McCarthy died this year; though before he did, he wrote up a piece on the sustainability of progress. The gist of it is that he contended that progress is both sustainable and desirable, for at least the next billion years, with resource limitations being largely illusory.
- As China's economy grows, dishonest entrepreneurs are coming up with increasingly novel and bizarre ways of adulterating food:
In May, a Shanghai woman who had left uncooked pork on her kitchen table woke up in the middle of the night and noticed that the meat was emitting a blue light, like something out of a science fiction movie. Experts pointed to phosphorescent bacteria, blamed for another case of glow-in-the-dark pork last year. Farmers in eastern Jiangsu province complained to state media last month that their watermelons had exploded "like landmines" after they mistakenly applied too much growth hormone in hopes of increasing their size.
Until recently, directions were circulating on the Internet about how to make fake eggs out of a gelatinous compound comprised mostly of sodium alginate, which is then poured into a shell made out of calcium carbonate. Companies marketing the kits promised that you could make a fake egg for one-quarter the price of a real one.
- The street finds its own uses for things, and places develop local specialisations and industries: the Romanian town of Râmnicu Vâlcea has become a global centre of expertise in online scams, with industries arising to bilk the world's endless supply of marks, and to keep the successful scammers in luxury goods:
The streets are lined with gleaming storefronts—leather accessories, Italian fashions—serving a demand fueled by illegal income. Near the mall is a nightclub, now closed by police because its backers were shady. New construction grinds ahead on nearly every block. But what really stands out in Râmnicu Vâlcea are the money transfer offices. At least two dozen Western Union locations lie within a four-block area downtown, the company’s black-and-yellow signs proliferating like the Starbucks mermaid circa 2003.
It’s not so different from the forces that turn a neighborhood into, say, New York’s fashion district or the aerospace hub in southern California. “To the extent that some expertise is required, friends and family members of the original entrepreneurs are more likely to have access to those resources than would-be criminals in an isolated location,” says Michael Macy, a Cornell University sociologist who studies social networks. “There may also be local political resources that provide a degree of protection.”
- Monty Python's Terry Jones says that The Life Of Brian could not be made now, as it would be too risky in today's climate of an increasingly strident religiosity exercising its right to take offense:
The 69-year-old said: "I took the view it wasn't blasphemous. It was heretical because it criticised the structure of the church and the way it interpreted the Gospels. At the time religion seemed to be on the back burner and it felt like kicking a dead donkey. It has come back with a vengeance and we'd think twice about making it now."
- The Torygraph's Charles Moore: I'm starting to think that the Left might actually be right:
And when the banks that look after our money take it away, lose it and then, because of government guarantee, are not punished themselves, something much worse happens. It turns out – as the Left always claims – that a system purporting to advance the many has been perverted in order to enrich the few. The global banking system is an adventure playground for the participants, complete with spongy, health-and-safety approved flooring so that they bounce when they fall off. The role of the rest of us is simply to pay.
- The sketchbooks of Susan Kare, the artist who designed the icons, bitmaps and fonts for the original Macintosh, and went on to an illustrious career as a pixel artist (Microsoft hired her to do the Windows 3.x icons, and some years ago, Facebook hired her to design the virtual "gifts" you could buy for friends.) The sketchbooks show her original Macintosh icons, which were drawn by hand on graph paper (because, of course, they didn't have GUI tools for making icons back then).
- How To Steal Like An Artist: advice for those who wish to do creative work.
- The street finds its own uses for things (2): with the rise of the Arduino board (a low-cost, hackable microcontroller usable for basically anything electronic you might want to program), anyone can now make their own self-piloting drone aircraft out of a radio-controlled plane. And it isn't actually illegal in itself (at least in the US; YMMV).
- An answer to the question of why U2 are so popular.
Dispatches from the American kleptocracy: In 2008 and 2009, the US Government distributed trillions of dollars in bank bailout funds. These funds were authorised as a matter of urgency to prevent the imminent collapse of the financial system and get the banks lending money to the little people again; the distribution was done in secrecy. Now, thanks to an act of Congress, the destinations of these funds have been revealed, and it's not pretty.
Among the beneficiaries of the US taxpayer's largesse: financial firms run by bank executives' wives, themselves having little financial experience to show other than having invested in racehorses, random billionaires with Cayman Islands addresses, funds for investing specifically in foreign countries, and carmakers in Germany and Japan. Oh, and a bank majority-owned by the Gaddafi regime. If you made this stuff up, nobody would believe it:
It is as though someone sat down and made a list of every individual on earth who actually did not need emergency financial assistance from the United States government, and then handed them the keys to the public treasure. The Fed sent billions in bailout aid to banks in places like Mexico, Bahrain and Bavaria, billions more to a spate of Japanese car companies, more than $2 trillion in loans each to Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, and billions more to a string of lesser millionaires and billionaires with Cayman Islands addresses. "Our jaws are literally dropping as we're reading this," says Warren Gunnels, an aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. "Every one of these transactions is outrageous."
Cue your Billy Mays voice, because wait, there's more! A key aspect of TALF is that the Fed doles out the money through what are known as non-recourse loans. Essentially, this means that if you don't pay the Fed back, it's no big deal. The mechanism works like this: Hedge Fund Goon borrows, say, $100 million from the Fed to buy crappy loans, which are then transferred to the Fed as collateral. If Hedge Fund Goon decides not to repay that $100 million, the Fed simply keeps its pile of crappy securities and calls everything even.
And then there are the bailout deals that make no sense at all. Republicans go mad over spending on health care and school for Mexican illegals. So why aren't they flipping out over the $9.6 billion in loans the Fed made to the Central Bank of Mexico? How do we explain the $2.2 billion in loans that went to the Korea Development Bank, the biggest state bank of South Korea, whose sole purpose is to promote development in South Korea? And at a time when America is borrowing from the Middle East at interest rates of three percent, why did the Fed extend $35 billion in loans to the Arab Banking Corporation of Bahrain at interest rates as low as one quarter of one point?it's like the salad days of the Iraq occupation, only those in the loop don't need to actually fly to Baghdad to pick up a pallet or two of greenbacks. Of course, it's the long-suffering US taxpayer who's stuck holding the bill for this party, but they've been well trained to believe that it's their fault for having it too good for too long. (Isn't Calvinism, with its attendant self-loathing, a wonderful ideology for keeping the masses from rebelling?) So no, America can't afford a public health care system, or decent public schools, high-speed trains or non-crumbling bridges, because the cupboard's bare, and it's your fault. That money over there? Well, that's not yours, and you can't take it because that'd be socialism, and socialism is always absolutely wrong. So when they're given the choice of a 50% pay cut and unpaid overtime or losing their job, and are struggling to keep their homes from beign foreclosed, they flagellate themselves for having the temerity to have bought a PlayStation and a plasma screen, and then turn their rage on the trade unionists whom they see as trying to take their few crumbs of the pie.
Though at least America's luxury goods dealerships will survive another day.
Business models for the highly morally flexible:
- Advertise designer goods online, wait for orders, then defraud the customers, threaten them when they complain, and wait for negative online discussion to propel you to the top of Google's search rankings, or
- disguise yourself as a Big Issue vendor and steal and sell dogs left outside shops
(via MeFi, Arbroath)
A couple in New York are charged with defrauding a wealthy musician of somewhere between $6m and $20m after he asked them to remove a virus from his laptop. Vickram Bedi and Helga Invarsdottir, who operated a computer shop, allegedly discovered, upon learning of their client, pianist and PC user Roger Davidson's wealth (and possibly other things; perhaps his browsing history revealed a propensity for fantastic stories and/or conspiracy theories?), that the virus on his laptop was merely the tip of a vast, sinister conspiracy against him by intelligence agencies, foreign nationals and the shadowy Catholic sect Opus Dei (best known as the villains in a Dan Brown novel), and then offered him "24-hour protection" against the threats for the low, low price of $160,000 (a bargain for protection against the arrayed forces of evil itself, I'm sure you'll agree). Anyway, Bedi an Invarsdottir apparently managed to convince Davidson so well that he paid up, and kept paying for some six years.
What do you do if you're facing a long prison term for fraud? Well, one option is to plead for leniency, and present photoshopped photographs of your charitable works with the sick and underprivileged as evidence. Unfortunately for one Daryl Simon, his Photoshop skills weren't up to the task and the judge noticed that the images were fake and slapped another 50 months onto his sentence, getting it up to 24 years.
A discussion on Ask Metafilter about credit card fraud spawned a rather interesting comment from a former fraud detection department employee about what makes credit card transactions look suspicious:
Testing charges. These are usually online charges through known online vendors that a scammer can use to test a card number as valid. These have been mentioned before in the thread, but there were certain vendors that would fade in and out of popularity (I'm not naming names) that would allow very small (usually 1 dollar) charges on a card and produce some sort of digital product that allowed them to verify “yes this card works” or “no, this card is already being monitored”. They also told us that sometimes there were random guessing programs just trying to stumble across cards (as cards follow certain numbering rules, making it slightly more probable, and there being so many unused cards like college students get at football games and never touch). I'm not sure that I believe that last part, but that's what they told us. So Amazon MP3 followed by newegg... probably going to get called.
My first task was to take a look at the charge that specifically tripped the fraud alarm. I would look at it and first think to myself “Do they have a history of this?” I would compare this against demographics. An 80 year old woman who buys food for 6 months, and all of a sudden a charge coming through from steam? Probably not passing on that one. A 20 year old college student who charges everything from clothes to books, and then an iTunes purchase? Maybe they just got an iPod, I'll pass on it.
Cases weren't always cut and dried, so there's other things I can look at. I could see where plane tickets were purchased to and from. So if we have a plane ticket bought from BWI to LAX and sudden out-of-character charges for shopping in California, well... yeah, probably. I could see previous history through a comment log. Other operators (regardless of department) are obligated to comment each interaction with an account. For example, after working an account that I passed on I might write: “CHRGS COMING FROM OOS (out of state) BUT GAS TRAIL FROM HOME LOCATION TO CURRENT LOCATION PLUS HISTORY OF TRVL. N/A”
Greece's economic crisis has highlighted the fact that the Greek taxation system leaks like a sieve, with tax evasion being almost a point of honour. Now, under pressure from the northern European economies paying to bail them out, the Greek tax authorities are uncovering the depth of the problem:
In the wealthy, northern suburbs of this city, where summer temperatures often hit the high 90s, just 324 residents checked the box on their tax returns admitting that they owned pools. So tax investigators studied satellite photos of the area — a sprawling collection of expensive villas tucked behind tall gates — and came back with a decidedly different number: 16,974 pools.
Various studies have concluded that Greece’s shadow economy represented 20 to 30 percent of its gross domestic product. Friedrich Schneider, the chairman of the economics department at Johannes Kepler University of Linz, studies Europe’s shadow economies; he said that Greece’s was at 25 percent last year and estimated that it would rise to 25.2 percent in 2010. For comparison, the United States’ was put at 7.8 percent.The Greek government has introduced laws stepping up tax enforcement and eliminating loopholes; whether they're strong enough to survive the entrenched culture of bribery in Greece remains to be seen.
(via Boing Boing)
An aide in Prince Charles's campaign to get homeopathy on the NHS has been arrested on suspicion of fraud and money laundering. Sadly, the fraud charges do not relate to the practice of selling water and claiming that it has medicinal properties, but to an irregularity in the accounts of Prince Charles' "Foundation for Integrated Health":
Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, last year described a detox tincture made by the prince's Duchy Originals company as "outright quackery". Profits from Duchy Originals have helped to fund the foundation. It has also received more than £1m in public funds, mainly from the Department of Health since its launch in 1993, and almost £3m from the Prince's Charities Foundation, which handles his personal giving.Given Prince Charles' willingness to use his clout to stamp his views on the country he was, constitutionally, born to rule over (such as, for example, by using his influence with Arabian royalty to get modernist architects sacked from development projects and replaced by Charles-approved purveyors of traditionalist kitsch), the prospect of the future king's influence diverting any money from Britain's health budget (which, as we know, is not bursting with cash) from, say, underequipped ambulances or cancer drugs to the pockets of hucksters and charlatans is a grim one to contemplate.
"I used to run a small web design service, the domain for which I allowed to expire after years of non-use. A few weeks ago, I noticed that my old site was back online at the old domain. The site-cloners are now using my old email addresses to gain access to old third-party web services accounts (invoicing tools, etc.) and are fraudulently billing my clients for years of services. I've contacted the Russian site host, PayPal, and the invoicing service. What more can I do? Can I fight back?"
A Russian CCTV surveillance company has allegedly stumbled along an ingenious way of reducing operating costs and boosting profits: by replacing surveillance camera feeds with prerecorded video. The alleged fraud was uncovered during a routine check of cameras in Moscow; the director of the surveillance company, who has been detained by police, denies the claims, claiming it's a setup by rivals.
Facebook page of the day: List of cats with fraudulent diplomas:
On several occasions, people who desired to expose a diploma mill have registered their pet cat as a student. Upon its speedy graduation, the cat and its diploma are displayed to the news media.The article then enumerates several illustrious felines, amongst them Colby Nolan, Oliver Greenhalgh, and George, the aforementioned hypnotherapist.
It has emerged that organised crime gangs modified hundreds of credit/debit card terminals at the Chinese factory they were made at, installing a GSM module and SIM card, which was then used to send stolen credit card data to a number in Pakistan, and also receive instructions on what to target. The terminals, which were distributed across Europe, remained undetected for a long time, stealing only small numbers of details, only arousing suspicion when a security guard noticed mobile phone interference near the checkout area.
The corrupted devices are an extra three to four ounces heavier because of the additional parts they contain, and the simplest way to identify them has been to weigh them. A MasterCard International investigator said: "As recently as a month ago, there were several teams of people roaming around Europe putting the machines on scales and weighing them. It sounds kind of old school, but the only other way would be to tear them apart."
The illicit transactions took place at least two months after the information had been stolen, making it difficult for investigators to work out what had happened.
But after six months of fruitless investigation, investigators spotted an attempt at a similar fraud on a card which had only been used in one location in Britain. The chip and pin machine from the particular store was passed to MasterCard's international fraud lab in Manchester for inspection.There has been no announcement of anybody having been arrested, and the criminals got away with a tidy profit, so one can probably chalk this down as a success for the criminals, and a serious failure of security (for one, the chip-and-pin protocols governing communication between the chip on the card, the reader and the network seems to be too weak by far if they allow a card to be cloned; shouldn't the system be using some form of challenge-response security rather than handing all the information over in one go)?
The Principality of Hutt River, Australia's best-known novelty nation, has found itself in the news again, when an Iranian man facing fraud charges in Dubai claimed to be an ambassador of the province and demanded diplomatic treatment. The unnamed defendant is facing several fraud charges, some relating to the issuing of false passports:
Asked to explain why he was not on a list of foreign diplomats, he claimed his state was trying to open an embassy in Dubai and had just recently started the registration process.The Principality of Hutt River's Prince Leonard (known as Leonard Casley to the Australian Tax Office) has admitted to knowing of the man, though denied that he was a Hutt River diplomat.
In 2002, Teresa Nielsen-Hayden wrote up a taxonomy of the various forms virtually all fraud falls into, from pyramid schemes to promises of inside information to variants of classics like the "Spanish Prisoner", to the numerous "tax protest" frauds rife among the mad-as-a-rattlesnake class in the US. Anyway, amongst the illuminating commentary, there is the following insight:
A couple of days ago I finally put my finger on something I’ve been sensing but not grasping—you know, one of those itchy back-of-the-brain apprehensions that there’s a pattern here, only you can’t quite see what it is. Somehow it’s felt like literary analysis. The question is, why do these scams—inheritance cons, MLMs, tax dodges, Make Money Fast, hot stock tip swindles, et cetera—take the forms they do?
What did it was looking at my list of basic scams and observing that what they have in common is the promise of lucrative, risk-free investments. Lord knows the things exist, I thought, but nobody ever gives them away. In theory, high rates of return are the investor’s payoff for taking on higher-risk investments. Achieving that happy state of all payoff and no risk is the main reason the wealthy and powerful manipulate the system.
These scams take the forms they do because they’re parodies—no, a better way to put it: they’re cargo-cult effigies—of the deals the ruling class cut for themselves. If you’re an insider, if you have the secret, you can have a job where you make heaps of money for very little work. You can avoid paying your taxes. You can inherit a pile of money because an ancestor of yours left a moderate fortune that’s been appreciating ever since. You can be your own boss. You can have other people working for you, who have other people working for them, who all pay you a percentage of the take.Which, when applied to get-rich-quick schemes, from scams and frauds to perfectly honest (if dumber than a sack of hammers) ideas based on visualisation, prayer, ritual or other forms of magical thinking (such as "the Secret", as found in the self-help sections of bookshops across the US), makes perfect sense. The original cargo cults consisted of Melanesian islanders who, upon witnessing American airmen arrive during World War 2 with food rations, clothing and other useful goods (whose provenance their culture had not equipped them to understand), reasoned that these goods must be boons from the gods and that, if they carried out the same rituals as the Americans (i.e., parading in handmade US Army uniforms, building makeshift runways and control towers), they would reap the same benefits. Could it not be that this magical mode of thinking is not purely the province of "primitive" cultures, but is an idiosyncracy of the human mind's irrational pattern-matching tendencies, the same tendencies that attribute misfortune to elaborate (and unfalsifiable) conspiracies over mere chance? After all, our instincts say, there must be a man behind the curtain.
Elsewhere in the article, there is the following observation about one persistent category of frauds: the ever-thriving business of telling people that they don't really need to pay taxes, and that, for a fee, they can know the secret of how to get away with not paying it (which, unsurprisingly, seldom works):
Somewhat humorously, in several cases where the IRS has gone after promoters of “Don’t File” schemes, it was determined that the promoter—while advocating not filing returns—had been filing their returns all along. This really isn’t surprising, since most of the promoters will secretly confide that they really don’t believe these theories either, but it makes them good money.
There is, indeed, nothing new under the sun. 74 years ago, people in America were besieged by unsolicited advertisements for dodgy medical products, financial scams, gambling, drugs and "dubious pleasure activities". Only rather than cluttering up their nonexistent email inboxes, this spam took the form of powerful radio broadcasts from transmitters in Mexico and/or aboard ships, jamming the signals of existing radio stations.
Facebook is in the news again, with (so far) the first known instance of a Facebook application being used to install adware on users' PCs. If your friends invite you to install the "Secret Crush" application, you accept, and you are using Windows, then the application will install the Zango adware program on your PC, not to mention arm-twist you into spamming your friends with requests to add it.
If Secret Crush actually needs you to click buttons to invite your friends to add it, the criminal scumbags who designed it have missed a trick; some other applications, such as RockYou's Super Wall and related applications, are able to send messages to randomly selected individuals from a user's friend list, purporting to be that user and asking to be installed to see a message from them, without the user's intervention. (I once found in my notifications the notice that I had messaged three randomly-chosen people, whose relationships to me have nothing in common, inviting them to install Super Wall. Soon after that, Super Wall was no longer installed on my page.)
A Canadian "Ethical Hacker" has some tips on protecting oneself from PIN fraud:
When you visit an ATM, always type in a bad personal identification number (PIN) first. Doing so will ensure PIN validation and that the machine is really hooked up to the banking service.
The latest tactic used by ATM card fraudsters in Denmark is to break into shops, pretending to ransack them, and surreptitiously install wireless card skimmers inside payment terminals.
A look at the growing crime of cash machine fraud involving card-skimming devices:
Since it began five years ago, cash machine fraud has swiftly increased in sophistication, staying one step ahead of the banks' attempts to control it. In a recent case in Whitley Bay, Tyneside, fraudsters jammed other cash machines in the area so that customers were forced to use a cloned Nationwide machine.
The criminal gangs behind such a sophisticated scam sometimes make elementary mistakes. Police in Southend are searching for three men and a woman of "Eastern European" appearance who forgot to wipe the digital memory card before putting it in a camera inside a fake fascia.
The pictures showed them posing with waxworks at Madame Tussauds. A spokesman for Essex Police said: "We don't know who these people are but we have ruled out Gary Lineker, John Travolta and Nicolas Cage from our inquiries."
You've probably read about the scientific studies proving that praying or being prayed for is beneficial to one's health. According to skeptic Michael Shermer, these studies are deeply flawed, suffering from faults such as failure to eliminate other factors (such as socioeconomic status, lifestyle differences, and people in poor health being less likely to attend church). There's also the small matter of one of the authors of one study being a fraudster. (via FmH)
A good essay by Simon Schama on why America is now two nations: Godly America and Worldly America.
Worldly America is pragmatic, practical, rational and sceptical. In California it passed Proposition 71, funding embryonic stem cell research beyond the restrictions imposed by Bush's federal policy. Godly America is mythic, messianic, conversionary, given to acts of public witness, hence the need - in Utah and Montana and a handful of other states - to poll the voters on amendments to their state constitution defining marriage as a union between the opposite sexes. But then Worldly America is said to feed the carnal vanities; Godly America banishes and punishes them. From time to time Godly America will descend on the fleshpots of Worldly America, from Gotham (it had its citadel-like Convention there after all) to Californication, will shop for T-shirts, take a sniff at the local pagans and then return to base-camp more convinced than ever that a time of Redemption and Repentance must be at hand. But if the stiff-necked transgressors cannot be persuaded, they can be cowed and conquered.
And jwz makes a case for the US Presidential election having been rigged (though concedes that it is entirely possible that that didn't change the final outcome):
bellaciao.org has some graphs of the major discrepencies between exit polling and vote counts. They're pretty incredible! Now, maybe the exit polling methodology is just fundamentally broken, but isn't it funny when you see pictures like the one at the right, knowing that last year, Diebold's CEO swore that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to President Bush."
You don't steal an election with a landslide, you steal it with 3%. You stay within the margin of error across the board so that it's not obvious.
- Parrot knows 950 words, has grammar, can coin phrases and shows evidence of a sense of humour. Which calls into question the accepted belief that parrots act as sound-recording devices. Mind you, the article also claims that the parrot has telepathic abilities, which makes it sound rather dubious. Perhaps the BBC News has been acquired by Pravda?
- FBI computer expert talks about (in)security:
American companies have tried to respond to the massive fraud being perpetrated online. One common preventive, adopted by most companies that sell products online, has been to refuse shipments outside of North America, or allow international shipping, except for Eastern Europe. Criminals have figured out a way around this, however. They hire folks to act as middlemen for them. Basically, these people get paid to sit at home, sign for packages from Dell, Amazon, and other companies, and then turn around and reship the packages to Russia, Belorussia, and Ukraine. You know those signs you see on telephone poles that read "Make money! Work at home!"? A lot of that "work" is actually laundering products for the Russian mob. Of course, anyone caught acting as a middleman denies knowledge of their employer: "I had no idea why I was shipping 25 Dell computers a day to Minsk! I just assumed they liked computers!"
Dave also had a great quotation for us: "If you're a bad guy and you want to frustrate law enforcement, use a Mac." Basically, police and government agencies know what to do with seized Windows machines. They can recover whatever information they want, with tools that they've used countless times. The same holds true, but to a lesser degree, for Unix-based machines. But Macs evidently stymie most law enforcement personnel. They just don't know how to recover data on them. So what do they do? By and large, law enforcement personnel in American end up sending impounded Macs needing data recovery to the acknowledged North American Mac experts: the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Evidently the Mounties have built up a knowledge and technique for Mac forensics that is second to none.
- The amazing story of three blind brothers who became Israel's most formidable phone phreaks, partly by dint of their acute senses of hearing:
Two hours into an afternoon-long interview with the Hebrew-speaking Badirs, my translator's lips lock. He shrugs and tells me that the Badirs have shifted into a secret code. Ramy later explains that as kids he and Muzher developed their own language - reordering letters in mathematically complex ways - after they discovered that other boys were snooping on their conversations.
Ramy, Muzher, and Shadde were arrested on a variety of charges relating to computer fraud in connection with their hacks of the radio station and Bency Levy's phone sex operation. Police took them from their home in wrist and leg cuffs, but even in custody, they could not help but show off by conversing in their secret language and announcing telephone numbers that were being keyed in by law enforcers.
- Warning: blogging can endanger your career, relationships or general wellbeing: (via FmH)
"The blogging community is terribly incestuous," Lapatine admits. "If the relationship doesn't go well, all your mutual friends will read about it. This," he adds, "is how a friend of mine learned that he had halitosis and was a bad dancer."
Some bloggers run into difficulties from seemingly mundane reports about their daily thoughts and activities. "As an Asian girl, I get weird Asian-fetish e-mails from people who read [my] site," says Lia Bulaong, the twentysomething Manhattan author of Cheesedip (she includes tame photographs of herself in everyday clothes). "Also, stalkers I had in college that I didn't know about have come out of the woodwork."
- The prognosis for the upcoming Hitchhiker's Guide film looks somewhat dubious, what with Karey "Chicken Run" Kirkpatrick rewriting the script (undoubtedly crushing out anything that doesn't fit the standard Hollywood rules of characterisation and plot) and a rapper being cast as Ford Prefect. The thing about Trillian having been rewritten as a "brilliant scientist" also seems dubious. But you knew that already.
- A proposed Trainspotting-themed tour of Edinburgh has run into problems because the city has been cleaned up too much, with many of the locations in the novel and film no longer existing in any recognisable form (via Lev)
Arch-contrarian Christopher Hitchens gets mediæval on Mother Teresa, best known as the world's leading brand of goodness. According to him, her works served to increase poverty and suffering whilst boosting her personality cult, raking in lots of money from the guilt-assuagement industry, and the Pope (himself a reactionary) has improperly cut corners in the usually rigorous beatification process, eliminating procedures designed to guard against fashionable superstition, in order to make her a saint before he dies. Oh, and the "miracle" "she" performed was a fraud too.
A Bengali woman named Monica Besra claims that a beam of light emerged from a picture of MT, which she happened to have in her home, and relieved her of a cancerous tumor. Her physician, Dr. Ranjan Mustafi, says that she didn't have a cancerous tumor in the first place and that the tubercular cyst she did have was cured by a course of prescription medicine. Was he interviewed by the Vatican's investigators? No.
I wonder what would happen if one could look more closely, using primary evidence, at the miracles for which most historical saints got their haloes; how many of them would turn out to be polite fictions, well-meaning conspiracies of true believers cooking the books for the greater good of giving the faith (and the local community) a new saint. Faith can make people do intellectually inconsistent things; for example, Creationists who truly believed that the world was created in six days 6,000 years ago have been caught doctoring evidence and knowingly lying about verifiable facts that supported unfavourable hypotheses; who's to say that the vast majority of beatifications aren't the product of conspiracies of consensual deceit? I'll lie if you look the other way, and a hundred years from now, nobody will know the difference.
MT was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go? The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had beenshe preferred California clinics when she got sick herselfand her order always refused to publish any audit. But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order. Excuse me, but this is modesty and humility?
Forgotten were the elementary rules of logic, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and that what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence. More than that, we witnessed the elevation and consecration of extreme dogmatism, blinkered faith, and the cult of a mediocre human personality. Many more people are poor and sick because of the life of MT: Even more will be poor and sick if her example is followed. She was a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud, and a church that officially protects those who violate the innocent has given us another clear sign of where it truly stands on moral and ethical questions.
North Carolina cops are searching for a guy who successfully passed a $200 bill bearing George W. Bush's portrait and a drawing of the White House complete with lawn signs reading "We like ice cream" and "USA deserves a tax cut." With copy of the bill in question. (via bOING bOING)
How George W. Bush won the 2004 Presidential Election. The fact that the US is handing over control of its electoral processes to companies connected to the Republican Party and extreme-right-wing organisations, and installing voting machines seemingly designed to facilitate fraud nation-wide would be alarming. Except that such things would never really happen in America, except in the fevered imaginations of delusional Chomskyites. Right? (via FmH)
How to rig an election using the voting machines popular in the U.S. (and often manufactured by Republican-controlled companies). Apparently the things are riddled with back doors, allowing well-placed officials to make strategic adjustments and cover their tracks seamlessly. You'd think that if democracy was taken at all seriously, they'd ensure that the voting machines were open-source and open to scrutiny by any concerned members of the public.
And more on the recording industry's systematic defrauding of artists, with Moses "Confessions of a Record Producer" Avalon's reports from recording industry hearings in the US: (via bOING bOING)
1) By contract, artists are prohibited from showing royalty statements to third parties. Normally this would not include their managers, lawyers, consultants, or others who could aid them in getting paid, but apparently this is not necessarily the case. Senator Kevin Murray, leading the initiative for artists' rights, claimed the that Cary Sherman, Chief Counsel for the RIAA himself, said to him in an interview, that RIAA members (the major labels) would sue any artist that broke ranks and shared information with the Committee. This claim was rejected by Sherman but supported by others in the room. Don Henley, among them, outwardly dared his record company to sue him for bringing royalty statements to the hearing. He presented his most recent royalty statement for "Hell Freezes Over," which showed the panel that even though his contract called for a no more than a 10% "reserve" on sales of records shipped, Universal Music had held back more than that for eleven pay periods (roughly under three years) and that, even though his contract calls for no free goods in Europe, they had deducted $87,000 in free goods charges to Europe.
And these mafiosi are the highly moral figures who want to put anti-copying chips in our computers and MP3 players?
An article giving details of how recording companies systematically defraud artists. (via rocknerd.org)
Imagine you're an Australian artist. You signed a contract more than 20 years ago when you were under age. You were getting a royalty rate for singles of 5%... but it was only calculated on 8% of what you actually sold because we're talking singles here. Forget about the fact that your music has been used on countless compilations, licensed by your 'parent' record label. Forget about the fact that you have asked for years about the status of your royalties and the executives at the label have constantly rebuffed you.
Imagine that one of the top executives at the label, when confronted with the inequities of this situation and knowing you are owed money, not only refused to deal with you but told staff to ignore you and like other artists seeking royalties, you'd go away. They always do.
Here's another artist. They are owed about $20,000 from their hits in 1968. 34 years ago. The record company knows it. They haven't informed the artist. They know where the artist lives. The attitude of the man in control of this is why tell them if they don't know and if they want to sue us, fine, let them. But they can't sue us if they don't know. And if we don't tell them, how will they know?
Here's a new scam for you, Lev: Who Knew It Would Be So Easy To Impersonate A Priest?
The thing you have to realize is, when you dress up like a priest, people want to believe you're a priest. I recently visited a small town in Missouri where no one knew me and started walking around in my priest outfit. Within a few hours, I was invited to a week's worth of home-cooked meals. Man, did I eat good! And you know what? Not a single person asked me to show my priest ID card before serving up the roast turkey and mashed potatoes.
And in the same Onion:
BREMERTON, WA-- A head of genetically modified broccoli shrieked its numerous benefits at shoppers Monday in a Seattle-area Safeway. "I contain 40 percent more vitamin A than non-modified broccoli!" the head screeched at terrified produce-aisle customers. "I can fight off insects and disease without the use of pesticides!" Monsanto, makers of the vegetable, stressed that genetic-modification technology is still in its infancy, and that more pleasantly voiced broccoli should hit store shelves by 2003.