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Anis Amri Is Dead: Now The Work Begins

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 23, 2016 in News & Opinion |

The news that Anis Amri, the terrorist suspected of driving a lorry into the Christmas market in Berlin, is dead came from Italy and spread very quickly through the media. For many this is good news; a terrorist has been eliminated and cannot strike again. For others it is merely the beginning, and the trail which has been left is long and complicated. It may well begin many years ago, when this man first came into contact with the wrong side of the law, but it certainly does not end with his death.

Questions which need to be answered include whether he was involved in other crimes in Europe; who he was involved with along the way, from Italy, from France, from Germany; how was he able to move so quickly back towards Milan; how did he come to possess a weapon; who supplied him, who hid him, who advised him.

Berlin Attack

Screenshot Source: Twitter / Peter Neumann

Unlike Peter Neumann, I am not surprised he managed to get as far as he did. Immediately following the attack the police and security services were too involved with the crime scene and with the pursuit and then questioning of another man who could have been involved. They relied on witnesses as much as on their own resources and, in this case, they were disappointed. It took time for the real culprit to be identified. Amis Amri was filmed in Moabit, a section of Berlin, and it was assumed that he must still be in the area, rather than the possibility that he was arranging his escape being taken into account. He and his helpers had enough time to make arrangements for him to leave the city, if they hadn’t been made in advance.

There can be no doubt that other people were involved in this act of terrorism, as in the attack in Nice back in July, in the background. His suppliers and those prepared to spirit him out of the country again, should he survive, are still among us, and it is against these people that the police must now concentrate their investigations.

I do not doubt that we will see several people answering for their actions over the coming weeks, for their involvement in terror against a country which has been their home, which has given them a living, which has looked after and protected them. Amis Amri may well be dead, but the cause which assisted his act of terror will not be buried with his lifeless body. Not yet.

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Hoax, Cry Wolf, Fake News Damage

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 22, 2016 in News & Opinion |

In Aesop’s fairy tale, a young shepherd boy found it amusing to alert local villagers with the claim that his flock of sheep was being attacked by a wolf. The villagers, out of concern for their own livelihoods as much as anything else, would immediately come out to his defense, to drive the wolf away, protecting his flock and their own from attack. There was, however, no wolf, just a series of false alarms which, after a while, annoyed the villagers. Eventually the shepherd boy called them out when his flock was really being attacked by a wolf, and they did not believe him. No one came to his assistance.

Imagine what it would be like if the fire service reacted in this way. Ten false alarms in your area over a day or two, and they do not react to the eleventh. Or the police, the ambulance service and countless others who are constantly being called out with false alarms, wasting their time for no good reason other than the childish prank, or malicious intent, of one person. That any community, be it a Muslim one or otherwise, should be worried by such Cry Wolf actions, by false alarms and fake stories is understandable. They hit the news just as hard as any other story at the moment, but with the downside that, very quickly, someone finds out they are false and the story gets twisted. No one is going to believe that a small boy died in the arms of Santa this coming year, even if it does happen. Likewise, fewer and fewer people are going to believe that Muslims are being attacked, when the revelation of one or two faked attacks precedes them.

Muslim Hoax Fear

Screenshot Source: Twitter / ABC News

We can look on it at a much larger scale: would anyone believe the government ans the CIA if they claimed that a certain dictator had weapons of mass destruction following the lies surrounding the Gulf war? Admittedly the scale is completely different, but it runs from the same idea. Someone cries wolf too many times, and no one comes out when it is real. We’re not in Hollywood here, where a young woman can tell everyone there is a problem with the plane, they disbelieve her and she has to save the world on her own. These fake stories lead the way for real criminals to escape justice, for people to be assaulted and abused without any chance of help. And that cannot be right.

Whether an individual person, or a news organization, those who spread fake news, who fuel the fires which lead to us not reacting when the time comes, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. They should not have the option of hiding behind the First Amendment when it comes to putting lives in danger, but be forced to stand up to the responsibilities surrounding their actions.

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Terrorism: The Passage Of Information

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 21, 2016 in News & Opinion |

We are going to be overwhelmed with a wealth of information in the next few days, and all of it information after the fact which was available before the fact. This has been the case in so many terrorist attacks worldwide, so many crimes, that it is almost parr for the course that we learn everything designed to prevent when it is too late. We have CCTV in many cities, we have foot patrols, we have databanks packed with information, we have no-fly lists and we have international cooperation agreements. We also have a series of organizations and laws which are designed to protect the interests of ordinary people, whether they be citizens or refugees.

All of these are good things, on the whole, were it not for the fact that no one has yet shown any interest in working in cooperation with anyone else. Information is not shared, laws are not enforced, people die.

The Passage of Information

Screenshot Source: Twitter / MIT Press

I picked out this illustration originally to make some form of joke about how all geeks and nerds look the same in the eyes of some. Now I am using it to illustrate something completely different. The passage of information. This shows how it should work, if all the agencies who claim to be working together did work together. One country would tell another, without the need to implicate their sources, what they know about a dangerous person. Take, for example, someone who has been convicted of a crime in one European country: that country informs the remaining EU members of the conviction of a refugee so that an attempt to enter another country can be stopped, so that this criminal cannot just move from one land to another with impunity and commit more crimes.

It would appear that this does not happen, certainly not in the case of the attacker from Berlin. Convicted of a crime in Italy, he comes to Germany where, if the Italians had informed the appropriate authorities, he would never have been accepted. Convicted of a crime in Tunisia, his home land, it should have been easy enough to send him back to serve his sentence. Except for the fact that he did not have, we are told, a passport and so could not be sent back!

I am in full agreement with the helping and accepting of refugees wherever possible, predominantly in the short-term so that they can return eventually to their home lands and rebuild. But I also believe that these refugees should be checked, as far as is possible, and a decision on their future made as quickly as possible, that decision being then carried out immediately. I also believe that the various intelligence and security agencies – European and from the American continent – should work together in reality, and not just on paper. This version of cooperation would result in quicker decisions, better security and as a deterrent to those with ideas other than terrorism.

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News Media And Terrorism: Verify First!

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 20, 2016 in News & Opinion |

Yesterday evening a large lorry drove into a crowd of Christmas market visitors in Bremen. Latest reports say that twelve people died and about fifty were injured. I followed the news live on Twitter, and especially the news coming from those people so far away from the course of events that they could have no idea of what was actually happening, could only speculate. This is how fake news gets out, through those people who only wish to push up their circulation, get clicks on their web sites and claim an exclusive story.

It went so far that Donald Trump sent out another misguided Tweet about terrorists, and that politically and socially blind English idiot Nigel Farage – not content with lying to his own country and bringing it to the brink of disaster – began throwing accusations about. Countless journalists began reporting things which the Berlin police had not said, as if they were facts, shouting out about a terrorist act being confirmed, when the official version, from police and government, was that a terrorist action could not be ruled out.

And then we had the reports from some less than clear-sighted reporters that the whole thing had been cleared up and the guilty person arrested in Berlin’s Tiergarten. Judge and jury, as far as some were concerned, had sat, brought their evidence, and convicted without the suspect even coming before them, without him even being questioned by the police, and most certainly without a shred of proof.

Terrorism Unverified

Screenshot Source: Twitter / Stuart Millar

I gave up sending out Tweets last night, telling people to check their sources, to wait until official confirmation came out, not to jump the gun with their wild speculation. I can’t expect any of these professional people to listen to someone like me, even though I am here and probably thousands of miles closer than they will ever be. I can’t expect them to follow their own demands that sources are required, that facts should be verified before writing and publishing. They sense a story – even a false one – and are like vampire bats on an open wound. No checking, no verification, just write and publish, the truth be damned.

So today we see the one suspect being released as there is no evidence to hold him. The furore over a twenty-three year old asylum-seeker from Pakistan as being the terrorist is out of the window for the time being, and there should be many, many red faces and humble apologies on the Internet right now.

Dear Journalists: if you’re going to claim that fake news must be fought and good journalism requires expertise and fact checking, live up to it, do it yourselves rather than just blowing out hot air and accusing everyone else of not doing their job or of misleading the public. It’s better to have the right story, with all the facts verified than an exclusive based on speculation which doesn’t hold water five minutes after it’s been published.

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Where A Typo Shouldn’t Be

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 19, 2016 in Internet |

A few days ago we saw a whole mess of Twitter comments, and newspaper reports, about a typo from Donald Trump. In a less-than-well-thought-out Tweet he used the (non) word unpresidented rather than the (real) word unprecedented when blowing hot air about China intercepting a drone in international waters. I wrote about it here and, to all intents and purposes that would have been the end of it for me. Until I came across this wonderful example of a typo which should never have happened – and has since been corrected – and which will cause absolutely no waves in tea cups whatsoever.

WikiLeaks Typo

Screenshot Source: Twitter / WikiLeaks

Whoever writes the Tweets for the partisan revelation platform WikiLeaks made a big point of highlighting sections of the document they reproduced for all to read, but clearly didn’t bother reading it him or herself. The very well-known term Pied Piper didn’t manage to make it into their mind and was replaced by the inexplicable Piper Piper, as if that made any sense.

I wonder how many of the nearly one thousand people who retweeted it noticed, or even bothered to read the document. And much the same for the additional one thousand two hundred  who marked the Tweet as a favorite. Will we see the press and others jumping all over WikiLeaks now for their mistake? I sincerely doubt it: WikiLeaks is relatively insignificant for many, if not most, people. They get their fodder from elsewhere, and only look for mistakes in those who are easiest to attack. And, let’s be honest, the Donald is – and many other politicians, world leaders, business executives and so on are – an easy target, whether rightfully or not.

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How To Disappear On The Internet

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 18, 2016 in Internet |

I read an article on how to remove yourself from the Internet today which, at the start, gave the impression that deleting everything about yourself on the Internet is remarkably easy, and only takes a few clicks of the mouse to achieve. Further on in the article, it became clear that this is not the case, the removing your footprint from the Internet is a long, almost impossible task hardly worth pursuing. There are a few businesses which apparently offer this service, but they are expensive and cannot guarantee complete obliteration. Not even going through all the instances that you have registered yourself for something on the Internet and then deleting them can completely remove you. There are some sites which keep your information no matter what you wish, no matter what they promise.

There is, however, another way to not quite remove yourself from the Internet, but to move yourself within the Internet and become lost. And there are some services which help you with this, for free.

Internet Disappearance

Screenshot Source: Mailfriends / Google

Simply entering information into the standard data fields on various web sites which insist on knowing all about you, for no good reason other than to sell your information or target advertising, is a good start, providing you are not planning on doing anything illegal on the site. My above example shows how the entering of information, which is essentially correct, in the wrong order has caused Google Maps to help, inadvertently, by moving Dortmund in Germany to somewhere near Milton Keynes in England. Having a throwaway mail account simply for confirming your membership – and handling the constant rubbish mail that some sites insist on sending you – with misleading location information is also good. Choosing usernames which have no relation to your real name, but could still be real, and employing different spellings for each web site helps too.

Deleting yourself from the Internet is practically impossible. Once you’ve started with Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or even using Google as your search engine of choice, you’re in there for good. Information is recorded and kept, shares are made, there are conversations and interactions. Twitter is even archived by the Library of Congress. But a few simple, and fairly obvious, tricks employed along the way can remove the link between various Internet profiles and the real person in the real world.

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When A Typo Makes A Difference

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 17, 2016 in Immoral Conversations |

You’ll have caught it in the news sometime recently, the hack on the DNCs mail server, and on Hillary Clinton herself, was caused by a typo. Instead of writing illegitimate someone wrote legitimate and possibly caused a phishing virus to embed itself in a computer, allowing access to all the information stored there. It could happen to anyone, but it happened to someone in the news and there are different standards employed for the rich, famous and politicians.

Trump, The Press, Auto Correct and Stuff

Screenshot Source: Twitter / Blake Hounshell

Some mistakes, however, are not caused by a simply mistake with fingers and thumbs, they are caused by a genuine lack of knowledge, a momentary lack of concentration, or worse a failing in the education system. I’ll not go into the third in this case, no matter how tempting it could be, and assume that Donald Trump’s misspelling of unprecedented as unpresidented was a slip of the thumb. The letters are close to one another, relatively, so it is possible.

Trump, The Press, Auto Correct and Stuff

Screenshot Source: Twitter / Sam Stein

And Trump does, after some time and many, many comments, correct the mistake by deleting the original Tweet and sending out a new, corrected version. Or, rather, someone did it for him. We all know that the Donald doesn’t make mistakes, so he would hardly have taken the trouble to correct the error himself, probably lambasted Merriam Webster for having a different spelling, claimed that the publication is dying and the editor-in-chief on the way out.

Trump, The Press, Auto Correct and Stuff

Screenshot Source: Twitter / Catherine Rampell

The whole, very minor, incident does show, however, how people are keeping an eye on Trump, and trying to find each and every little failing, mistake, miswhatever to catch him out on. I guess that’s the price he will have to pay for the next few years, much the same as Barack Obama has had to live with certain birthers getting on his birth certificate for the last eight years, and there being no sign of an end to that stupidity either.

Trump, The Press, Auto Correct and Stuff

Screenshot Source: Twitter / Stew

The Twitter account does belong to Trump, however, no matter how often his mentor’s may try to limit his usage, and it is up to him to use it as he wishes; even if that means we will now have policy and press conferences via Twitter rather than by the old, tried and trusted methods.

Trump, The Press, Auto Correct and Stuff

Screenshot Source: Twitter / Blake Hounshell

And we all know that Trump tends to Tweet when all his advisors are sound asleep and can’t catch him in the act. They don’t seem to have learned from his habit yet, perhaps that will come with time.

What I find sad about the whole thing is not that he made a mistake, and not so much that hundreds of people – including reputable journalists – jumped on him for it, but the fact that anyone else would have been given a laugh and a slap on the back and nothing more. There are countless examples of spelling errors – whether auto-correct or otherwise – on the Internet, from YouTube right through to specialized web sites, and we look, we read, we laugh. Now, I’m not a fan of the Donald, and I don’t envisage my opinion changing in the near future – although there are always hopes – but this wasn’t above-board. He made a mistake, just like anyone else, even a journalist with copy editors. Let it pass. Concentrate on the important things in life.

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Loan Interest: How Much Are You Paying?

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 16, 2016 in News & Opinion |

This is the way it works: you’re short of cash and need a quick loan. You know someone, or there is a payday loan company near you, and you get some ready cash to help you through the day, a few days, the week. Simple as that.

Except that the interest many people pay on their short-term loans eats up the money they need to survive the next week or month, and they are forced to go back again and again to cover the gap, to bridge themselves over to the next check. We’re talking about interest rates which no respectable bank would be allowed to charge, and which no one would wish to pay if a bank did charge them.

In the United States there has been a minor outcry against this form of (legal) loan-sharking, but only minor since it takes money from the pockets of poor people who, as we all know, count for less than upper middle class or multimillionaires – who can negotiate their own interest rates at any bank any way.

Payday Loans

Screenshot Source: Twitter / Salon

In the United Kingdom there is a similar sort of business model, but not based on paychecks, since most receive their wages or salary paid directly into their checking account. This, I might add, is the general form throughout Europe: you’re paid monthly – often with a large portion of your wages being credited at the end of the month and the balance by the fifteenth of the following month to allow extra hours and allowances – and the money goes direct into the bank. No need to take a check there and wait for it to clear and, more important, the bank knows the cash is coming, so credit ratings are better and loans easier to gain.

This similar paycheck loan business model reared its ugly head in my direction as I was watching an English television program, and didn’t hurry off during the commercial break to make a coffee or answer the call of nature. I caught an advert for a quick loan service with an Annual Percentage Rate of nearly seventy percent. This, I thought, is unreal: how can anyone want a loan from such a company when banks offer loans with an APR of under twenty percent?

It clearly works, otherwise these companies would be able to afford the advertising costs. I caught another one, with an APR over three hundred percent. This, I thought, is the limit.

It wasn’t. A third one – this is in the course of one evening – advertised with a rate of six hundred and eighty-five percent. Try and get your mind around that figure. You borrow one dollar and have to pay so much back on that small loan that, when calculated over twelve months, it comes to nearly seven hundred percent.

I switched off completely when I saw one for one thousand, two hundred percent APR. Let them leave Europe, clearly everything is fine in the United Kingdom.

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From Hacker Who Is Asking A Question

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 15, 2016 in Internet |

I get all sorts of mails and messages, some serious, some amusing, many straight into the spam bucket, some downright, well, you know what I mean. I tend to know at a glance what someone is up to, whether they are serious or not, whether there is a scam behind what they’re saying or a real opportunity. So, when I got this mail the other day, all was clear for me:

From: Hacker who is asking a question <zhabhow69@gmail.com>

Subject: some buisnees of mine

Message Body:

Im am here to ask If I can use your selfie picture in official ANONYNMOUS business which if you want to know just send me and email and with your picture I will be creating a facebook under a false name to attract some one of importance to Anonymous

my emails are :

zhabhow69@gmail.com

viralc0de.anonymous@gmail.com

to report something to me send email to viralc0de.anonymous@gmail.com

There are many things here. Clearly whoever sent the mail is not working for or with Anonymous – they can’t even spell it right! If Anonymous wanted to catch, or attract, an important person, they’d do it without the need to create a Facebook profile with my picture, or that of anyone else. I am reasonably sure that Anonymous people wouldn’t bother using mail through Google either, but I guess each person decides for him or herself. And why would they say what they want it for anyway?

Why, come to that, would anyone wish to believe that someone else would be prepared to provide their picture and link themselves to fraud? There can’t be many people left in the world who are that stupid, can there? I mean, aside from the idiot who sent me this mail…

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Playing The Stock Market

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 14, 2016 in News & Opinion |

Two days ago a small thought came to me, after I had seen reports about the troubles Boeing and other companies have had, or could potentially have, when Trump lets his thumbs do the talking through Twitter. In between the realization that these Tweets will probably be his press releases now, whether he wants to sit at the same table as Jack Dorsey or not, came the darker knowledge:

Twitter - Viktoria Michaelis
Twitter - Viktoria Michaelis
Twitter - Viktoria Michaelis
My thought was that, when Trump tanks on a company, its shares will plummet in value. It may only be for a few hours, but that is long enough for anyone in the know, and with the spare cash to follow through, to take action. If they happen to be up and about at three in the morning.

It seems that I am not the only one who has not only had this thought, but taken action on it:

Trump Playing the Market

Screenshot Source: Twitter / Salon

Salon published this article this morning which, in a slightly longer form than my Tweets can achieve, says much the same thing. Someone is out there watching and waiting. When Trump tweets and tanks on a company such as Boeing, they get involved whether by short-selling, or by buying at the lowest point and selling off again when the shares get back to where they should be.

Now, if Trump worked for the companies he is tanking, he’d be taken for an inside trader, something which isn’t too well thought of, to the point that it is illegal. Instead, he isn’t, but could almost be accused of industrial espionage. The way in which stocks and shares work is not the same as with journalism: Trump can tank on Vogue Teen or any other publication which lambasted or criticized him, and there will be next to no detrimental result; stocks and shares react differently and the value of a company can literally be destroyed by a wrong word.

But, as we all know, Trump only wants what is best for his America….

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