Dream final?

Oh boy, FIFA’s gone and done it again. Its own site proudly trumpets “Dramatic semis produce dream final“, and the article goes on to proclaim that a Japan-USA rematch is “the gold medal match fans the world over were hoping to see”.

Well, it’s the final that FIFA was hoping to see, clearly. When you put things in those precise terms, FIFAbots, people might at some point assume that the result of the Canada-USA match was rigged. And given FIFA’s own notorious problems with corruption and people at very high levels passing brown envelopes full of money up and down the chain to ensure expected results (let’s not kid ourselves, that’s how Qatar got the next world cup) it really should make more people wonder whether FIFA has perhaps taken a position on the match that was not exactly impartial.

And when I now hear that FIFA is looking into punishing Canadian players for their post-game comments, while the real outrages that took place on the field remain unquestioned, I can’t help but see Sepp Blatter as your traditional mafia don, preordering the result of important games and exacting a capricious, autocratic revenge on anyone who dares question his dictatorship. Remember how this is the same idiot who didn’t think there was anything wrong with Thierry Henry’s infamous handball which sent big-market France to the World Cup finals and sent small-market Ireland homeward.

It’s time to call a spade a spade here. FIFA and its leadership are corrupt to the core and everybody knows it. It’s time for serious football to organize in an organization which is not so completely and utterly rotten.

edit: I’ve decided to save a copy of FIFA’s “dream final” text to this post, as I have a feeling that it will probably be heavily edited later.

Image of the day

Just a little something I threw together in Photoshop…

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.

How times change…

Once upon a time a Canadian didn’t think twice about visiting the United States, but in this “war on terrah” era where American officials can take a foreigner, ship him off to Syria to be tortured, and then simply refuse to have his case for redress heard in their courts because it’s inconvenient why on earth would anyone want to take that insane risk?

When this did become acceptable?

This video is astonishing. It was taken earlier today when during student protests in Montreal. In it a police officer points his tear gas grenade launcher squarely at a protester — almost touching the guy — and fires it, with the clear intent of harming the protester and making no effort whatsoever to arrest him for anything! This is absolutely, completely unacceptable and unless the sadistic officer involved is identified and disciplined in a serious way it will be difficult to take the SPVM at all seriously.

Royal Bank: the wrong choice for business

I own a business that handles a couple of fairly lucrative contracts a year. My banking needs set the bar fairly low for what I expect from a bank — mostly it’s taking in payments, paying a couple of bills every month, and filing payment for the taxes I owe. This should be pretty straightforward and shouldn’t cost much… unless you bank at RBC.

Their ad for the $6 business checking account is all over the radio these days (so much so that even I heard it, and I don’t listen to the radio). On the onset, that seems remarkably cheap, but it is actually a ripoff. Because to achieve that low figure RBC has cut a lot of features that the “banking advisors” don’t seem too keen to tell you about until you’re signed up and on the hook. Crucially, the big feature that’s been cut is government remittances, which frankly is the killer app for a business banking account.

Yes, you have to pay the Royal Bank a signup fee to be able to pay your taxes online. And frankly you’ll have to pay out the ass for any means to settle an account that you can’t pay in cash, really, because if you don’t pay your taxes online you’ll have to buy cheques (starting at $65 for an order, another Madoff-scale ripoff as far as I’m concerned) or have a money order made, which will cost you $6 or so.

The fee just to sign up to be able to pay your taxes through the RBC web site is $25 a year. Now you’ll think, this is not so bad, if you divide this into 12 that’s just over $2/month… but you’re not done paying yet. At RBC you’re never done paying endless fees for every little thing. For each tax bill that you want to pay you will have to shell out another $2. So if your business has to file sales tax payments every month that’s almost $50 a year for sales tax payments alone, let alone your federal and (if applicable) provincial income tax filings. And if you have a really successful business you’ll also have to make installment payments, either every 3 months or every month. And each time, it’s $2 practically stolen from your business. Kaching, kaching, kaching.

Not that the “external” (i.e. RBC subsidiary) web site is worth shelling out $25 a year for. Admittedly I don’t have huge experiences with business checking accounts and the online services connected to them, having had only two, but RBC’s remittal portal is… well, it’s shit. There’s just no other way of putting it. Your average 12 year old could come up with much better. Not a single hour of contract work was spent trying to make sure that the web app is visually appealing in any way at all, or in performing any sort of usability testing. For example, there is no option to add a payment for your corporate income tax in Quebec. What you must do is register an installment payment, then when you use that item specify the year for which the payment should apply. At the opposite end of the scale when it comes to federal corporate tax payments there is no way to register an operation for installment payments only — you register the operation to pay for your corporate tax, and when you use this item you can then earmark your payment as an installment. No effort whatsoever has been made to make things intelligible or easy to use. It’s just awful,  and hands-down the worst business banking experience I’ve had so far. Had I known, I would have stayed at Desjardins.

My “favorite” feature of it, though, is that it’s only a fake online payment system. It does not actually process your payment online.  Apparently the only thing that shitty “payment” system does is to output a list of tasks which are manually done by a person. This means, among other things, that you cannot use this system to pay for your taxes on the due date, like I could with Desjardins. Instead you can only post transactions to the next working day. And if the next working day is a holiday or legal holiday, that can be up to 4 or 5 days later. I registered a (late) corporate income tax payment today (april 5th) and was informed that it could not be posted before Monday april 9th.

Nor is there any sort of guarantee that the system will even be available at all. Yesterday the system was completely unusable, for instance. It prompted users for a user id and password that they had not created. I was logging in to pay my corporate tax, was unable to do so because of the bank’s incredibly awful, overpriced and badly-designed application wasn’t even available, and as a result my payment will be made 4 days later than it should, incurring me additional penalties. And all because I made the mistake of banking at the Royal Bank.

Nor is RBC any better when it comes to personal banking. Having your account “at the Royal” means an endless litany of fees, long queues at your local branch, and delays which are very difficult to understand. For example, did you know that if you deposit items at an ATM that’s physically connected to your branch, they fall into a black hole for 5 business days? I had this experience recently when I made the mistake of depositing my federal tax refund at the ATM connected to my local branch. I was surprised to find that there was a hold on that deposit that the branch couldn’t remove because in their words they couldn’t know that it was a tax return check. One would expect deposits at a branch’s own ATM to be processed there, but clearly it makes no difference whether you deposit an item at your local branch’s ATM or at one located across the country.

But what really gets my goat about RBC is that they see their customers as nothing but money cows to be milked continuously. Sign up for an account with them and you will find yourself constantly beset by telemarketing upsell calls and endless so-called “free” offers that are designed to suck more and more dollars out of your pockets. I guess they figure that if you’ve had a look at their rates sheet and still bank with them you must be a first-class charlie who exists simply to be exploited and devoured by the parasites of big banking.

So, fuck that. I’m taking my business over to ING. I’ve had a more positive experience with them so far than I’ve had at RBC.

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