The continuing crisis…

Against all expectations Paypal did restore the access to my account on Saturday, but for some stupid reason they are still pursuing disputes on my behalf that I never filed or asked to be filed. So now I’m receiving some emails with the title “We’ve decided in your favor”, but these seem to be for items that are already on their way to me (and Paypal is aware of this). And this is after me writing to them on several occasions to clear up the fact that these are things I willingly purchased. I know this because they sent some largely incoherent responses to my previous communications yesterday.

At this point I can only shake my head a little. The whole thing has gone from being silly and aggravating to suddenly making no fucking sense at all.

Here’s what Paypal had to say about the whole thing:

“Due to data protection reasons we are unable to give you the specific reason as to why a payment has been investigated.”

“I am sorry to tell you that the transaction you mentioned had been reversed for risk concern. If you still want the item, you can resend payment to this seller.”

Seriously, why anyone would trust their money to Paypal is beyond me.

The continuing Paypal saga

Every step in dealing with Paypal just leads to further steps. And at no point is there any indication that progress is being made, or even that the person handling the case now is even aware of the steps that have already been completed. It’s like Astérix Chez Les Romains, you know, that sequence where Asterix has to fetch a form (“le laisser-passer A38!”) and is sent on a wild goose chase through a building known as “the building that makes people mad”. Asterix of course completes this task by driving the people who work in the building mad themselves, but I seriously doubt that this is a realistic option for me (regardless I’ll give it a go).

This is bloody ridiculous. At first they wanted a proof of address, and I provided one. Not good enough. Today I actually talk to a human being (whom, it turns out, is about as useless as the rest of the resolution process, sorry to say). He wants me to upload a photo ID. I do so. I hear nothing for a while.

And now Paypal is telling me that my computer may have a virus and they want to see proof of an antivirus scan being run. Never mind that I have MSE scan every night. And frankly this is starting to sound funnily like those scams where someone calls you up from India claiming to work for “Windows” and telling you that your computer is “broadcasting error messages”. This does not fill me with confidence coming from a company that already has my credit card information. So I’m running a full scan with MBAM (Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, the top offering out there AFAIK). And yet I would gladly bet a sizeable amount that Paypal will simply then change their tune again (as they have at every step so far) and demand yet something else.

It’s in-fucking-sane. Oh, and also now I must change my password and security questions. As I have been requested to do (and have done) two days ago and again yesterday. They claim that someone has had unauthorized access to my account but all purchases charged have very much been made by myself. They have essentially invented a problem where before there was none. I really cannot fathom why they persist in this.

I’m sure there will be more to this story…

Paypal lies to its merchants!

So, my Paypal account is still suspended. They wanted a proof of address, I sent them one, then the next day that didn’t work for some reason and now they wanted a photo ID, which was promptly sent. Since then, nothing. So I went to hit a few golf balls, come back, check out the resolution center and Paypal has now taken the liberty of telling people I purchased items from on Tuesday that the charge was unauthorized, like someone had stolen my account credentials.

Paypal is lying. Paypal is not telling the truth. Paypal is dishonest.

I have to agree to cancel those two transactions. But when I do I explain to the seller what’s happened, I tell them that Paypal is lying to them, but that since (in the case of at least one merchant) they offer no alternative way to pay, then I must agree to cancel because I have no idea when those idiots are gonna be done creating the completely unjustified mess they’ve made, let alone clean it up.

Still, what the fuck? Did an ex of mine get hired by Paypal or something?

A note to everyone at Paypal

Dante described the very worst of the bottom rung of hell as “All of the sinners punished within are completely encapsulated in ice, distorted in all conceivable positions”. Yet in my view that is still not as bad as trying to deal with an issue with my Paypal account. Now I have to write the people from whom I have attempted to purchase things today and explain to them what’s happening, and it won’t be kind to paypal. Seriously, how much easier does commerce get? I’m a customer who wants to buy a product which is legal, and there’s a seller who wants to sell it to me. Somehow you managed to utterly bugger it up now. The words “piss-up” and “brewery” spring immediately to mind.

So apologies to the following: Nicole Leibman, Discount Golf, irina cristobal, Rare Posters Dba Art Wise and AwesomeTreats. Paypal has decided to hijack the money in mid-payment. That’s what you get for making the mistake of trusting them.

Did Postmedia attempt to smear the NDP in the @vikileaks30 affair?

After a most momentous week in Canadian politics — namely, one in which a government with an absolute majority in both the House of Commons and the Senate was at least momentarily thwarted in its efforts to pass Bill C-30 — the @vikileaks30 twitter account has been retired. It simply no longer exists. However it has had one hell of an effect, and the way in which it was reported about should definitely raise a lot of eyebrows.

For those who don’t know about this story, @vikileaks30 was an anonymous account launched on Wednesday which broadcasted certain salacious details about Vic Toews, including parts of affidavits from his 2007 divorce — largely his ex-wife’s testimony — and many interesting details of expense claims by Mr. Toews as a government minister.

Soon after the novelty twitter account appeared on the scene Ottawa Citizen tech news reporter Vito Pilieci came up with an interesting plan to figure out who was posting on it and came up with the idea to send the twitterer a web site link which was unique for that particular user. There’s nothing wrong with that technique, I’ve used it myself a couple of times, and twitter’s use of URL shorteners makes that technique discoverable only with some difficulty. The IP address which was used to visit the link turned out to have been one connected with the Parliament buildings. That much can be reliably established.

What I find a little more difficult to understand is the way that the story was reported both by Pilieci himself and Postmedia flagship paper the National Post. Starting with the title, which was surely written by a higher-up: “Vikileaks Twitter account on Vic Toews linked to ‘pro-NDP’ address in House of Commons”. Indeed the original Ottawa Citizen story used the considerably less “inciteful” (if you will) “Vikileaks30 linked to House of Commons IP address”. But this is only the start of the smear. In the story itself we see this paragraph:

Aside from being used to administer the Vikileaks30 Twitter feed, the address has been used frequently to update Wikipedia articles — often giving them what appears to be a pro-NDP bias, actions that have attracted the attention of numerous Internet observers in recent months.

I’ve taken the liberty here to put in bold type the second instance of the smear. Note the use of “weasel language” here — the author (almost undoubtedly Pilieci himself) double-qualifies the statement so as to obviate the necessity of backing that statement with actual evidence, which he indeed does not provide.

So, that’s interesting. Without any more specifics this certainly looks like an attempt to smear the party that currently holds the position of Official Opposition in the House of Commons. Now why would someone do that and be this specific about it?

Well, the Ottawa Citizen, which currently employs Pilieci, is owned by the Postmedia Network, which is a group encompassing several newspapers, including my hometown’s The Gazette newspaper and Canada’s second national daily, the National Post (which should be no surprise to you as the link shown above goes to a NatPo story). The National Post, pretty much since its inception, is regularly accused of running a pro-Conservative slant on the political stories it covers, which clearly explains why they chose to edit Pilieci’s story  from the rather more neutral “Vikileaks Twitter account traced to House of Commons” (the title of the story on Thursday) to the, well, deliberately less equivocal title they chose to run on Friday. Am I supposed to think that this is just some kind of “oversight” or absent-minded error? Maybe others can think so, but I’m not that gullible. The smear is clear and deliberate.

OK, so maybe you think, this is a one-off thing… well, no. On Friday the Citizen ran this Stephen Maher editorial, this time with a neutral, toned-down title: “Maher: Toews made himself Twitter target with ‘pornographers’ crack” about how the @vikileaks30 story started. Read the story, though, and the ugly smear rears its head again in connection with the IP address:

That IP address also was linked to some Wikipedia pages where someone had written pro-NDP comments, which the Citizen reported.

Actually I do wish that Postmedia hired better editors because what Maher is saying now is not quite the same as what Pilieci was saying earlier, but this seems to me little but a barely-disguised attempt at repeating the smear. And then not content with doing it once, Maher pipes up again soon after:

It may be that that person is a secret NDP supporter, and enemy of Vic Toews, or it may be that there is some confusion over the IP address.

Does Maher think we’re all blind here?.. this is getting pretty blatant. Again, note the use of the weasel phrase “it may be”. Overall the article is pretty weak stuff by a national  Postmedia correspondent. In Canadian print journalism this is as senior as it gets without getting bumped up to a position involving more management duties, this isn’t the young guy who writes the computer column (that would be Pilieci, who is a staff member at the Ottawa Citizen and not really staff with the Postmedia “mothership”).

But that article isn’t what really rang a bell for me on the smear question — rather, what made me see the big picture was the follow-up by Pilieci following the @vikileaks30 poster’s announcement that the account was now retired. See if you can spot the difference from the (youthful?) exhuberance of his former column:

A further look into the IP address associated with Vikileaks30 found the address had been used in a range of online activities, including to edit several entries on the Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia ranging on topics from the history of ice hockey to a biography of Whitney Houston, as well as to alter content on a variety of politically charged topics that span the political spectrum. It does not appear the poster was targeting any specific political party or affiliation.

This went to publishing after it was clear that the NDP slur had failed to gain any traction in the House of Commons or indeed with public sentiment. What a difference a day makes, I say.

It still remains a good question as to whether there was a concerted effort by the Tory-friendly Postmedia to deliberately steer hostility towards the NDP at a time when the Conservative Party was in a bit of a crisis. The coverage in the first story mentioned actually lead to quite a few angry words in the House of Commons, mostly coming (as the second story reports) from rather easily-influenced Tory attack dog John Baird:

“Not only have they stooped to the lowest of the lows, but they have been running this nasty Internet dirty-trick campaign with taxpayers’ money,” he said.

That’s the head of Canadian diplomacy shooting himself in the foot there, taking Pilieci’s story as gospel truth (his was the main story that included the smear). Oh dear.

I for one will be following further developments regarding this aspect of the C-30 story, and I certainly hope that others will start asking questions about the possibility of spin or even possible fabrications by the newspaper conglomerate that bills itself as “the largest publisher by circulation of paid English-language daily newspapers in Canada”.

Either that, or they need to take a serious look at who they keep on staff.

Note: in order to avoid any confusion if any of the three aforementioned stories should be edited or somehow deleted, I have taken screen captures of all 4:

  1. The original IP address story as it appeared on the National Post web site on 2/16
  2. The same story as it appeared on the Ottawa Citizen web site
  3. The Stephen Maher story as it appeared on the Ottawa Citizen web site on 2/17
  4. The later story by Pilieci as it appeared on the Ottawa Citizen web site on 2/17

“Lawful access” — coming very soon to a computer near you

Public Security Minister Vic Toews is planning to introduce his so-called “lawful access” bill to the House of Commons later today. So, how does it measure up?

According to Ottawa U Law professor Michael Geist, it’s going to create a panopticon society where online privacy essentially no longer exists and is replaced with a sort of Big Brother. Which is pretty funny when you consider that the Tories are also about to introduce their bill to scrap the long gun registry and proactively delete any and all data therein. Apparently guns don’t kill people, but the freedom to go about one’s own business does… that pretty much tells you what you need to know about Stephen Harper and his cronies.

And then there’s the issue of cost, which is entirely offloaded onto the ISPs themselves, who will now have to keep a record of everything you do online — well, everything you do online taking the direct route via your ISP, making it trivial to circumvent — for 90 days. I rather pity the ISPs who are going to be stuck storing all that data at their own expense. You can be certain that they’ll be glad to pass the savings onto you, of course.

So what’s the justification for this garbage? Mr. Toews, never one to shy away from stooping to scrape the bottom of the barrel, claims that either you are with him or you are siding with “the child pornographers”. Never mind that there have been a number of child porn busts recently which have not required any of the new police state powers Mr. Toews insists are absolutely crucial to fight that crime. Personally I’ve always thought that it was illegal, but apparently by senile old Vic’s reckoning it was impossible to fight this crime before! Of course it wasn’t. Mr. Toews is just pulling his Maud Flanders act, and it sells out very well out West, where evidently people ignorant or mad enough to vote for the insane old codger think “internet” is a kind of potato blight.

But why should we let Vic the impaler set the terms? I say, unless you are against this so-called “lawful access” bill, you are siding with the fascists. I guess the Conservative Party has yet another self-renaming in the works.

The SomethingAwful Experience

1. Be in the middle of an interesting thread about creepy things you have read online.

2. Write up a long and meaningful post with many outside references that illustrate a salient point.

3. ..?

4. When you try to submit said post, you find that you’re on probation. For something you wrote over 24 hours ago but which some admintwat suddenly decided was probatable.

You know what, SA? Fuck you. I could hold on to my post for a couple of days and post it then, but no. That would be like casting pearls before swine at this point.

Assange extradition case: is the UK CPS under foreign pressure?

Like a rather large number of people I am following the legal proceedings to extradite Julian Assange to Sweden with very keen interest. It is a very unusual case indeed. The British Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is currently attempting to extradite Mr. Assange, the head of Wikileaks, to Sweden for questioning regarding something which does not appear to be considered prosecutable in any way outside of Sweden. Of course there are additional facts which make this case particularly odd for the CPS to pursue — but pursue it it has, all the way to the UK’s highest court.

One does very well to wonder why. Mr. Assange has not been charged with any crime, in the UK, Sweden, or anywhere else. Mr. Assange has offered to submit himself to questioning at the Swedish embassy in the UK. There are strong questions of prosecutorial misconduct already surrounding the case, and rumours seem to abound to the effect that the “victim” in the affair has been coerced into declaring that there was wrongdoing at all by a particularly zealous and right-wing Swedish prosecutor.

So of course inquiries have been made as to why the CPS is taking on this case. I myself cannot think of a justification to pursue extradition proceedings against a person who is not under a criminal charge for anything. It just doesn’t make sense, unless of course the entire affair is political in nature, in which case there are strong implications that the CPS is being used by another organ of the British government for purposes which, on the outside at least, seem unethical at best and downright illegal at worst.

As I have already mentioned an inquiry was made to obtain information from the CPS as to why they are conducting this campaign, and the CPS’s response can now be published, as it has been here. The CPS is refusing to answer the question, but it’s the cited reasoning which is most interesting:

Information is exempt information under s. 27(1)(a) if its disclosure under the FOIA would, or would be likely to, prejudice relations between the United Kingdom and any other State.

Now, I’m no expert in diplomacy or foreign relations myself, but it seems that the CPS itself is admitting that it is, directly or indirectly, being pressured by a foreign government into proceeding forward with the extradition. That seems highly improper. The CPS is not, nor should it be, answerable to the Foreign Office, or indeed any other body than the Home Office. And what interest does the Home Office have seeking the extradition of a man who is not charged with a crime in the UK or abroad?

And since the response hints at foreign pressure, who is behind that? Sweden has not seen it fit to charge Mr. Assange with a crime. Which country could possibly have a vested interest in getting the head of Wikileaks out of a jurisdiction where he enjoys legal protection and into international territory where he is completely unprotected? Hmm, I wonder. Not to mention that Sweden,  nice country though it may be, hardly has the clout to tell the Brits what to do. For that you have to look elsewhere. Surely it would have to be a more influential country, perhaps one which operates several military bases in the UK, to pick only one consideration out of a hat. As it is now no question can be answered as the CPS is keeping mum on the subject.

Of course one doesn’t have to spend too long reading between the lines to figure it out…

Quitting Facebook (again) and, to a certain extent America…

In light of recent developments in the Wikileaks saga — mostly the recent decision by the United States government to subpoena all information related to twitter users who follow #wikileaks, of which I am one — I have decided to curtail my activity on American social networks. Sadly, the United States government does have sway over American companies and can effectively put a gun to their heads in order to force them to reveal information on their users regardless of said companies’ privacy policy.

Frankly, this isn’t acceptable. If one wants to protect one’s information one is left with little choice but to try and abandon US sites and companies as much as possible and opt instead for other sites and companies that are at least at arm’s length distance from the American behemoth. Not that the USG won’t overreach and encroach on foreign sovereignty to the extent to which they can get away with, but at least I won’t make things easy for them. My domain name registrars and web server ISP are already fully Canadian, and I’ll try and examine ways to put more distance between myself and the USA in the coming weeks.

Yeah, I’ve deleted my Facebook account before, and stupidly came back because someone I know seemed to have problems getting in touch with me. That turned out to be pretty dumb and pointless for a number of reasons I shan’t bore you with, and I keep almost no data on Facebook as it is, but a step’s a step.

Am I giving up Twitter? There doesn’t seem to be much of a point in doing that now. You can’t delete a Twitter account anyway, you can only deactivate it; and one has to give kudos to Twitter for getting the formerly-secret subpoenas unsealed so that they can notify the users directly concerned, that took balls on their part. Can you imagine Mark Zuckerberg doing such a thing? I can’t. The guy has no scruples or moral compass. He’d hand over your info before even reading the subpoena. Probably already has, to be frank, and that’s why Facebook is the first to go, and I won’t be back this time.

Whatever happened to Obama? I railed as much as anyone against Bush’s secret warrantless wiretapping for the Orwellian nightmare that it was, and back when he was just a candidate Obama was saying the right things, such as:

“Government whistleblowers are part of a healthy democracy and must be protected from reprisal.” -Candidate Obama, 2008

But once in the White House he wasted little time in showing us that this display of principle was nothing but bullshit and marketing (but I repeat myself). All in all Obama is no different than his predecessor, but he does prove in his own disappointing-the-supporters way that there is indeed no difference between black and white. I can’t remember a time when an individual has disappointed me more than Mr. Obama. People like me thought he would be the man to bring “change you can believe in”. But as with everything said for a purpose (in this case, to win votes), ultimately one is disappointed at the sheer hypocrisy of it all.