Thursday, 4 May 2023

A Free Ride


Some years ago, I blogged (and bragged) about how much I enjoyed scams, especially those of the internet variety. The reason I love them is because they are so obvious that anyone with half a brain can spot them a mile away. Some appear to be totally resistant to the correctives of the internet grammar police and are delivered as is, DOA (dead on arrival), rendering them useless, not fit for purpose other than the unintended inducement of laughter. However, perpetrators persist. Recently, my inbox has been flooded, yes, inundated with a mass of mail inviting me to improve my life and being in various ways, or to participate in a range of risqué personal behaviours.  Far be it from me to give ideas to the grammatically challenged, but I can’t help but wonder what ChatGPT might be capable of in refining these incursions.

It might sound as if I am daring the bad actors to bust my security. I’m sure they don’t need my invitation because this is what they do. They don’t just do email jobs either. They are all over the place, not just the digital space. They do both, digital and analogue, and in between. You might just, inadvertently, wander into their space. Sorry, trap.

Like I did a few days ago.

It was a fine evening, the likes of which are rare at this time of the year in Toronto. I had just emerged from the AGO, the Art Gallery of Ontario, where I had been among invitees to an exhibition by the German contemporary photograph artist, Wolfgang Tillmans: "To look without fear", consisting of massive, large, and small works. Thoroughly enjoyable . And as I emerged from the building, I imagined myself in luck to see a taxi cruising along in the direction of home. I hailed it and jumped in for a relaxed drive, with pictures of fine art swirling around my head.

Nothing unusual here, until I woke up the next morning, still savouring the art experience of the night before, and with the bedside radio playing softly and giving the news and weather of the day, when the announcer began relating an account of a card-swap scam, so-called, in which the perp would deftly swap your credit or debit card for a false or fake one and you, being trusting and unaware, would pocket the scam substitute and walk away and continue on your merry way. On hearing this, I recalled that on my taxi ride home the night before, I had used a credit card to pay, and that I had handed the card to the taxi driver to insert into his machine. I needed no urging and leapt out of bed to check if my card was indeed in place in my wallet, to discover that the card that was now in my possession was, shockingly, that of a total stranger. My card had been swapped.  That threw me into a panic and propelled me around the apartment for a few dazed seconds, before I collected myself and went on to ask my wife for her own companion card to get the bank's phone number to call them and nip potential fraud in the bud. Nothing potential about this one, though. This was a bare-faced attempt at electronic pocket-picking. Interestingly, the bandit had been masked, which in this post-Covid era, though not remarkable, was, in the circumstances, highly appropriate.

Quickly calming myself down, I used the house phone to call my credit card company. I had to wait in line, for a massive, agonizing time void, listening to a stream of annoying muzak. During the wait for a human response, my mobile phone went off, displaying a 1-800 number which, in normal circumstances, I would have ignored. But this was no normal circumstance, so I promptly picked up, whereupon I was informed that my credit card had been on parade in a string of suspicious transactions during the night, about half a dozen times in all, amounting to about 2K. Had I made them? No, no, no, no, no and no. The issuer had blocked them all, thankfully, for charges at drugstores, gas stations, ATMs, and other places. Phew!

My card issuer then went through the processes of cancelling the swapped card and then issuing me a new one. 

So, what the masked bandit driver had done was to swap my card for another Visa card (issued to someone else, initials RHM, with an expiry date of July 2023, and which the bank informs me had also been stolen). And the scoundrel was such a polite boy, too. Did his dear mother know what he had been up to, I wondered. He must be such a disappointment to her.

I have since received a new card by special delivery and my nerves have returned to their usual state of calm.

Was there any upside to this experience? None, really, except that my account did not get charged for the taxi ride, after all that. So, I did make a profit of $12, but don’t tell anyone I told you. I wouldn’t want to be charged with profiting from the proceeds of crime.

A cautionary tale, nevertheless.

Tell Fren Tru

Friday, 20 January 2023

Age of Irony


Twenty twenty-two was a year and a half. Now, thankfully, we have seen its back with that of one of the existential issues of our times. I speak of Covid-19, of course, which, during its peak, had confined most of us to barracks. Happily, the majority of us survived it, and are now returning to something like normalcy. We are still not yet back to the relaxed ways of pre-pandemic days, though. Whatever satisfaction we may feel at this point, it is well to remember that the pandemic has taken nearly 7 million lives. These dead are not just numbers. They left behind deeply scarred families who watched their loved ones sicken and die. The worst is now over. Probably. We must spare a thought though, for those among us who avoided Covid’s worst outcome, yet survive to contend with the debilitating symptoms of “Long Covid”.

The virus’s other legacy, the economic one, endures too. The pandemic disrupted industrial production and dislocated supply chains everywhere, contributing to the anxiety that haunts many of us, especially among those who could not quarantine because they had to earn a living at-site. By contrast, those who could work off-site and earn from home, did so with smug satisfaction. Thus arose another divide between the haves and the have-nots that intensified appetites for false narratives about Covid, its nature and origins and, indeed, whether it is a real thing, undermining what governments and their public health experts were trying to do to keep us all safe. From that place, it was only a short hop for dissenters to jump on to the bandwagon that was headed for Ottawa, the Canadian capital, where they tried to ransom the city and the rest of the country. On their way, the agitators collected an assortment of antivaxxers and anti-maskers, racists and fascists, putschists and would-be assassins avowing, bizarrely, to kill the Prime Minister, topple the Federal Government and install an alternative that was more to their taste. Canada was headed for its January 6 moment.

The government was prepared. Using special powers, it eventually put an end to what was becoming a national embarrassment, and which had been seeding similar outbreaks elsewhere in the country. Social media had, once again, shown its power to spread false information and stoke up emotions.

The medium remains massively disruptive with that ability to disseminate false anti-science narratives about the pandemic (and other matters) that could have resulted in much worse clinical outcomes while, at the same time during 2022, enabling dissenters to collect and amass a substantial war chest. It is an irony that, quite possibly, escaped the convoy organizers and their followers: The weaponizing of the internet (and diesel-powered trucks) for the war against the very science that devised them.

Meanwhile, Covid’s economic fallout continues into the new year, taking the world to the brink amid forecasts that grow darker by the day.

The year twenty twenty-two also fuelled a couple of exotica, NFTs and cryptocurrency, to illustrate how easy it is for a fool and his money to be parted. As if to emphasize the point, the world’s richest man dropped $44bn lusting after a dysfunctional chat box.

“Loss and Damage” was the 2022 mantra that resounded from Sharm El Shaikh to all corners, as activists call on rich countries to foot the bill for the harm they continue inflict on the environment that threatens to take lives and destroy livelihoods everywhere, especially in poor countries. Yes, the survival of the world itself is at stake, with record high temperatures in many regions including in Europe and North America. The UK’s Met Office recently announced that 2022 was the hottest on record. In the Horn of Africa, drought was relentless, creating and sustaining a famished landscape throughout the region. On the other side, Pakistan and Nigeria drowned in unprecedented floods that displaced millions and killed thousands. The think tank, The Copernicus Climate Change Service, predicts that unless we change our ways, the world will warm up by 1.5 degrees by 2034, and the end will be nigh.

Unless Putin’s special operations does us in earlier.

Tell Fren Tru

Friday, 25 February 2022

Compare and Contrast


Canada has always been a place of peace and good order. In fact, things are so orderly here that the country has become a byword for niceness. We Canadians accept this as given, and gracefully bear niceness jokes frequently directed at us. At least this has been the comfortable and comforting narrative. The actuality is rather different. Certainly, the original peoples of this place have always experienced a different reality: that their happiness, peace, and well-being have never been of much concern among those who govern.

More than four centuries on after the first European settlers landed on the eastern shores of what was to become the country of Canada, what the original inhabitants have had to endure at the hands of the settler population is beyond calculation. Although now, at last, the governing class have been dragged, kicking, and screaming into acknowledging that their treatment of the indigenous peoples has been abominable, residues of these centuries-long mistreatment persist. Indeed, through a series of laws and administrative actions that the framers themselves openly acknowledged were designed to drive the “Indian out of the Indian” (Insert the expletive), the “Indian”, a misnomer that endures, was not only driven out of the Indian, but the Indian has also been kettled into restricted areas in their own country, in constructs that Apartheid South Africa frankly called Bantustans, but which we, in our Canadian niceness, characterize as “Reservations”, and out of which, the indigenous individual, especially women and girls stray at their peril. So, now, after a long history of evasion, equivocation and neglect and even outright opposition, Governments of Canada, eventually, emulated South Africa, again, by striking up a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” of our own. This, in time, has come up with a series of recommendations, ninety-four in all, that form the basis of a road map for reconciliation with the indigenous population.

Fair enough.

But here is the thing. It has taken four centuries for the power elite to see the light, egged on by countless protests, demonstrations, and occupations of public installations, year after year, mostly ignored, but in some instances brutally dispersed. So, it was with some wonderment that we watched a huge rabble, gathering numbers as it proceeded from the Pacific coast, across the Prairies, on to the nation’s capital and to end up occupying it, ostensibly in protest against Covid-related restrictions and mandates. The occupation of the country’s capital was unprecedented and resulted in paralysis of its civic life for more than three weeks. Here was a disparate group of anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists, racists, anti-Semites, anarchists, and others of shadowy lineage, waving flags and carrying placards that threaten the overthrow of the government and murder of the country’s leaders.

"And the crazy rascals raged their fill".

But for three weeks, not a single baton was wielded, nor a trickle of water discharged from hose, nor a grain of pepper sprayed..

We know how it ended. Not a single drop of blood shed.

Compare and contrast.

                                                                              Tell Fren Tru