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January 2014

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Shehryar Qamar recently posted a confession on the trance addict forums. Luckily for the people scammed there, he's refunding their money one at a time - unluckily for me, he claims not to have enough money to refund it. He has recommended that I sell the item on eBay and he pay the difference, or that he pay me back in installments and I return the item to him. If you think I'm about to do either of those, you're nuts.

So, around we go...

Sometimes I forget how personally some people take politics.

The #1 guaranteed thing you can do to make any Democrat's head explode is link to these two Senate role call votes.

Those votes are for PATRIOT and the Iraq war, respectively, both of which were supported by Kerry and Edwards. Both passed with a large bipartisan majority, and the former passed with only a single opponent.

Now, the problem for the Democrats is that their candidates look identical to the Republicans on these issues. How, then, do people who are opposed to those two items now in good faith support Kerry, who voted for them?

Kerry is not the anti-Iraq-war candidate, and he has no way to turn himself into that. He lets his lapdogs like Kennedy (one of the few who actually did vote nea) talk tough about it, but Kerry just dodges the issue and lets people get whatever impression they want out of it. To Kerry supporters who support the Iraq war, he voted for it! To Kerry supporters who don't support the Iraq war, some Democrats are against it!

This bullshit is sure to get Kerry in trouble in the long term. How long can he really play both sides? He can't have his damn cake and eat it too.

Or can he? The fact is, even though Kerry himself was for the war, some people in his party were against it. This makes him, in the minds of the anti-war crowd, not quite as bad by association. Wow, what a great condition to be in.

PATRIOT is a whole other hot potato, that no Democrat is willing to even talk about. This is probably even more odious, as both sides have managed to keep PATRIOT a non-issue. But then, of course it's a non-issue - everybody in both parties supported it, so why bother talking about it to the voting public? If everybody in Congress agrees, then surely it must be in our best interests.

So, let's get the facts straight. Senate Democrats (Kerry and Edwards in particular) supported the war in Iraq and they supported PATRIOT. If you object to Bush based on these issues, then you effectively don't have a candidate - thanks again to our lovely two-but-really-one-party system.

Of course, the anti-war, anti-PATRIOT crowd can always just ignore the facts and vote for a Democrat. That works, too.

Oh my, the drama continues.

You may have noticed the comment a guest recently posted to my blog. It seems that Shehryar Qamar, or somebody posing as him, has been up to more no good. This time, having been banned from eBay, the scammer has resorted to selling bogus goods directly from the trance addict forum.

Now, a person claiming to be Shehryar Qamar has replied on that same forum attempting to explain the situation, claiming that he is a victim of identity theft at the hands of his ex-fiance. He now wants to make amends... by slowly refunding everybody's money over a period of several months. Of course, I have no way to prove that he is not telling the truth, however the following items are of note:

1) He refuses to talk via phone
2) He is claiming that he will refund the money. Why would he do this if he was in fact a victim?
3) His current IP address (as of last night) matches the IP address from which the scam mails originated

So, the body of evidence currently lends to the conclusion that this Shehryar Qamar is lying. However, there is no certain proof of that, so I cannot state that he is lying - only that he appears to be lying.

Either way, it doesn't impact me much, as he has not offered to refund my money, which is of course the only sane solution to the problem. I spoke with him directly via AIM, and his recommendation was that I sell the item on eBay and that he would cover the difference. I have a better idea - why don't I send the unit to paypal and get a full refund via American Express, letting them take the scammer to court?

My thinking is that Sheryar Qamar was in a tight financial situation. It may have been as the email from him suggested, that he was unemployed, or it could be any number of other things. He started relatively small on the larceny scale - misrepresentation of goods and mail fraud (e.g. the Powerbook), escalated to selling outright fictitious items (multiple Powerbooks and G5s), was banned from eBay, and concocted a new identity as his "fiance" to scam people on the TA forums.

Recently, though, I imagine that all of my combined actions against him have started to take their toll. Hence the "last gasp" emails I recently received - Paypal, Amex, the IFCC, god only knows who else had started to get real close. He looked for a way out, hoping to scam me again with an "installment plan" that I of course didn't want anything to do with. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me...

Then comes another problem for our scammer. Once the people on the TA forums tracked down his real name and googled for more information, they came across my site and learned of the fraud. Now they know exactly who he is. They know his real name, his real address, his real phone number. They call him out, and I relate my story on the forums... trance forums, a community that this guy is seriously involved in. It's probably not good for your rep if you're called out as an internet scammer, so Shehryar Qamar has to do something in response.

So now we get Shehryar Qamar forced to show up on the TA forums using his real account, defending himself against the half dozen accusations that point straight at him.

So that's my current take on the situation. I admittedly could be wrong, but I doubt it - finally the pieces all seem to be falling into place, and hopefully the whole situation is another step closer to being resolved.

Oh, and Shehryar is fully aware of this site now, so he will surely be reading this at some point. If you have any information you'd like to relay to him, feel free to leave it in the comments section of this entry.

If you tried to access the site within the last, oh, 7 hours, you would have noticed it didn't work. This is because Debian Unstable's updated php packages caused apache 2 to segfault on access, even for non-php pages (joy!) Once I got off work, I had to fiddle with aptitude to downgrade everything back to something functional.

Yes, you should always keep a test box around to verify that upgrades don't destroy things (even with stable distributions), but I'm burning up enough electricity and time as it is.

A reminder kids - don't use Debian Unstable in production. I'm not overly pissed, because I knew what I was getting into, but it does make me sad that my favorite distribution is unusable on critical systems due to crap like this. Hopefully, some day, Sarge will actually become Stable...

After that initial mail (reposting here), I did some email tag with the 'ol scam artist. I think something may have gotten him worried.

07/07/04 9:08 PM

Look man, I've come to my senses. Last night I had a dream about you. I dreamed about the stress I put you through and felt that pain during my dream.

I am not typically like this. Usually I am a legit person, hence why I was on eBay for 5 years with positive feedback before I decided to pull this.

The truth is that I was laid off and was very tight on money. I depleted my entire bank account paying off bills and had to come up with something to prevent myself from going homeless. As Darwin said, "survival of the fittest."

I know my personal problems should not have affected you, but I made a bad decision and it really did affect you. I apologize a million times for what I have done for you.

PayPal is going to send you a refund for the laptop. Since you will get your money back, and be able to purchase the laptop you really wanted, can you send me back the laptop so that I can find a way to legitely sell it for the condition it is in?

Let me know. I really am sorry. I should have known better, but desperate situations make you irrational sometimes.

I hope you can accept my apology.

So I fire back:

Dear Sir/Madam,

Your previous lack of willingness to resolve the situation has forced me to persue resolution through external agencies. I will discuss the situation with you directly if/when these agencies recommend that I do so.

Jeremy Thornhill

And around we go:
Well any agency will encourage that we resolve it amongst ourselves, rather than clutter their resolution system. In any case, things will be resolved, I will see to that!

Yeah, I'm sure you will. I reply:
While I am encouraged that you now express a wish to resolve the situation, your long silence and prior record of dishonesty in relation to our transaction has convinced me that dealing with you directly is not in my best interest. Once my funds are returned, be it by your actions or by those of another agent, I will re-evaluate the situation and act according to the advice of the agencies which have been assisting me in this matter.

Shazaam. He shuts up after that, but last night I decided if he was serious about returning the money I'd better give him a chance:

I have come to the conclusion that the unit may be returned to you if all of the following conditions are met beforehand:

1) My money is refunded in full by you. It can be returned via another agent, but you must be the source of the transaction. I will verify this.
2) You pay for all shipping/handling/processing fees
3) You communicate with me directly via telephone
4) You provide correct information and are honest in all future communications with me

If you truly desire to resolve the situation, I am reachable via telephone (919-413-8480).

You should be aware that this situation has cost me a great deal of time and effort, has tied my finances up for months, and has prevented me from acquiring the proper unit as I await resolution. If you are not serious about correcting the situation, please do not waste my time with more dishonesty. Should I feel at any point you are lying to me, I will return to the other avenues I have been persuing.

This is my absolute last gesture of good will and the last chance I will give you.

More then generous, isn't it? I get back this flaming pile of poo:
This is fine. Can you give me sometime to earn the money to pay you back. Currently I only have $1000 available in my savings to give you to. However, if you can wait about a month so I can put the hours into my job to acquire the money to give back to you, then it could help me a whole lot. As i mentioned before, I was in a tight financial situation earlier due to a lay off at my previous job. I do have another job now, but I havent worked long enough to acquire more than $1000.

Let me know if this will be all right.

Yeah, let me think about that... um... no?
If you cannot provide a refund immediately I will rely on external resolution. No other alternative is negociable.

I noticed today that the paypal chargeback is no longer "under investiagation" and it's listed as "closed." Amex doesn't tell me anything new though when I call.

My thinking is that Paypal lit a fire under his ass with their inquiry, which is why he contacted me initially trying to get the unit back. Paypal made up their mind on what to do - either give me the shaft and let him slide, take the money back from him, or some other form of resolution. Since neither paypal nor amex is telling me jack, all I can do is speculate and keep my fingers crossed. Even if all of the financial institutions fail me, there's still the IFCC and the USPS to contend with...

This weekend John Kerry and John Edwards held an event on the campus of my alma mater, NC State University. As I've always lived in NC (not known for being hotly contested political territory), this was the first chance I had to actually witness presidential campaigning in action. I remain undecided as to how I'm going to vote this year, and I figured it would be good to see these candidates in person to find out just what they would bring to the table.

I didn't plan on spending all day at this thing, so I wanted to get an idea of when the candidates would actually start speaking. The official campaign websites provided little help - they only said "gates open at 1 pm." I figured it couldn't be starting too long after that, so I planned to show up about 1:30-2. I later learned that the local print media provided a complete itenerary - fah, why waste trees for that when they could've placed it online!

I printed out the "ticket" - a form generated from the Kerry campaign website. To get a ticket, you have to give an email address, which undoubtedly places you on the official spam list (I was already on the list, so I didn't much care). I wasn't sure that the ticket would be needed, but I decided it was better to be safe than sorry.

Around 1:30 I grabbed my iPod and headed over to campus. I found a parking spot (wow, NC State finally finished that parking deck... too bad they didn't have that back when I was still in school!) and hoofed it on over to the Court of the Carolinas. Having gone to the school for more years than I'd like to admit, I knew the way - but if I hadn't, the line of red, white, and blue-clad living billboards, marching like ants in a meandering line across campus, would have given me a hint on where to go.

I hit the entry to the rally proper around 2. It was interesting to note the multiple tiers of seating - people with "red" or "blue" tickets (presumably financial supporters) got shuffled on up near the stage or on the embankment to the side of the podium. People with "white" tickets printed from the internet, who hadn't given any money, got shuffled to the extreme end of the courtyard, seperated from the more special people by a divider. I couldn't help but wonder if this had something to do with that "two Americas" thing these guys kept talking about.

I should mention at this point that it was hot. Very hot. The campaign folks were kind enough to provide free bottled water, although you had to shell out $5 to get your hands on a campaign button. $5! Wearing one of those makes you a walking political advertisement, so if anything they should be paying me to wear it. Fah!

So, I stood around waiting in the hottest part of a sweltering North Carolina summer day. I was lucky enough to meet up with Marika, whom I'd met on Orkut - she managed to pick me out of the crowd, and without her company I'm sure I wouldn't have lasted through the thing. Hours passed. It got hotter. After a while, some obscure band started playing - the sound system was terrible and the music was unrecognizable. They were replaced by another band that did the same.

About 4:30, the first actual speaker showed up on the stage and started talking, barely audible to those of us in the cheap seats thanks to the lousy audio equipment. A local politician of some sort, he said little about Kerry and much about Bush and Clinton. He referred several times to the "age of prosperity" Clinton magically brought about, and slammed the Bush administration for destroying it.

I thought that was odd, as Clinton wasn't running for any sort of office. Maybe this guy was trying to help move his autobiography.

This man was replaced by other barely audible NC Democrats, until finally - after 30 minutes of garbage - Kerry and Edwards were introduced and strolled onstage through a corridor of American flags, dangling limp in the stagnant NC summer air, with wives in tow. The time was about 5:00.

The crowd started getting excited, but to our disappointment yet another minor player grabbed the mic. A woman, barely audible to us white ticket holders, mumbled some things we couldn't quite make out. After about 15 minutes of this, she handed the mic over to Mrs. Edwards. Finally, we're moving up the ladder of useless speakers!

Mrs. Edwards talked about how good a man her husband was, how good a man Kerry was, how good their families were, and after maybe 5 minutes she tossed the mic to Mrs. Kerry. Mrs. Edwards kept it short and sweet, and she managed to enunciate and project her voice enough that we in the back could hear - hey, not bad!

Mrs. Kerry, on the other hand, was mostly inaudible. We could make out bits and pieces, about how she and Mrs. Edwards would "keep their husbands straight," about how Bush had left children behind, about how women were vitally important to the political process. I thought the last was an odd assertion, as it came from a woman who was not running for and did not currently hold any political office. Ah well, it got some applause.

Finally on to Edwards. Having long since taken off his jacket, looking very friendly and neighborly up on the podium, Edwards immediately appealed to the southern crowd and had them eating from his hands in short order. The primary topics for discussion were vague statements proclaiming that he and Kerry didn't just bandy about terms such as about "values" and "faith" and "patriotism," but that they actually believed in them. And he proved this... by talking about them. Edwards tried to emphasize how he was a man of the people, how he stood up for the little guy, and how he would magically create great jobs for everybody. Then he started talking about his good friend John Kerry, talking about how good a man he was, about his "values" and "faith" and "patriotism." Edwards really hit home with the audience, and people were pretty excited as the mic finally got into the hands of John Kerry.

Kerry himself seemed much more animated and excited than I'd come to expect. I think Edwards has really had an impact on his emotion level, bringing out a degree of enthusiasm I hadn't seen from him in the numerous TV and radio soundbytes. He attacked some administration policies without offering any solutions of his own, criticizing the war that he himself voted for. But this wasn't about policy - it was about platitudes. Kerry would make America safer. Kerry would make America more prosperous. Kerry would give everybody health care. Kerry would protect your values. Kerry would give everybody jobs. The only specific policy point I can recall is that he said he would like to increase the minimum wage, to which I can only reply - well DUH, it's been a hell of a long time since an increase and the cost of living continues to rise.

But the crowd... the crowd consumed every word as if it were mana from heaven. People cheered loudly as Kerry talked about hope and the future, but I sat back thoroughly unimpressed - why were they so excited about nothing? How can anybody be blindly enthusiastic about such vague assurances?

It was clear that this process wasn't for people like me, people who wanted to understand what Kerry would actually do as President, what he actually believed on policy issues. All he and Edwards discussed were generalities, least common denominators that have a universal appeal. Values, they're great! Jobs are good! Health care is excellent! No sane person could disagree with the proclaimed goals, but without any specifics of how Kerry would work to bring about his vision of America, I was just left scratching my head.

I walked out before Kerry finished, as it had become obvious what these rallies really were. They're orgasmic expressions of blind love and blind hatred, community events designed to convince people who have already made up their minds that they're voting for a guy who loves them and wants to make America great, without having any clear plan on how to do so.

I went into the event expecting little, and I came out disappointed. I think I finally understand what the "two Americas" really are - the wealthy politicians with the power and the money, and us poor saps with white tickets who sit back and applaud them. Drink your Kool-Aid and smile... it'll all work out in the end.

What should suddenly appear in my inbox but...

Look man, I've come to my senses. Last night I had a dream about you. I dreamed about the stress I put you through and felt that pain during my dream.

I am not typically like this. Usually I am a legit person, hence why I was on eBay for 5 years with positive feedback before I decided to pull this.

The truth is that I was laid off and was very tight on money. I depleted my entire bank account paying off bills and had to come up with something to prevent myself from going homeless. As Darwin said, "survival of the fittest."

I know my personal problems should not have affected you, but I made a bad decision and it really did affect you. I apologize a million times for what I have done for you.

PayPal is going to send you a refund for the laptop. Since you will get your money back, and be able to purchase the laptop you really wanted, can you send me back the laptop so that I can find a way to legitely sell it for the condition it is in?

Let me know. I really am sorry. I should have known better, but desperate situations make you irrational sometimes.

I hope you can accept my apology.

Eh? What's that you say?

I'm going to have to consider this further.

Some of you may already be familiar with my ongoing Powerbook scam saga. Well, after about a month of absolute inactivity, something has happened.

This morning, I got the following notice from PayPal:

Dear Jeremy Thornhill,

We were recently notified that you initiated a chargeback through your
credit card company for the following transaction:

Seller's Name: Shehryar Qamar
Seller's Email: vinylpushers@hotmail.com
Transaction Date: May 18, 2004
Transaction Amount: -$2,300.00 USD
Case #: PP-042-514-809

We would like to take this opportunity to let you know about a service
available to you through PayPal. PayPal's Buyer Complaint Policy allows you
to resolve disputes through PayPal before contacting your credit card
company. To learn more about this helpful program, simply click the
"Security Center" link in the footer of any PayPal page.

Let's put aside the snide "you should've gone through us" bullshit - believe me, I tried, but PayPal was absolutely worthless. I'm taking this to be a "good thing." It seems as if American Express has decided to bitchslap Paypal to try and get my money back - here's hoping the good guys win.

No two people are alike.

As it turns out, this is a major problem for a representative Democracy, and an even more noticable problem when that democracy embraces a 2-party system. In such a large community with so many independent viewpoints, having only 2 candidates per election means that a vast majority of voters will always be forced to accept what is, in their minds, a "lesser of two evils."

But, of course, that's what we've come to expect from politics. Vote for this guy because he isn't as bad as the other guy.

The fact of the matter is, as the population grows, as the sample size increases, it becomes much more difficult to find a viewpoint that most people agree with. Obviously the Presidency is the ultimate example of this - a position that is supposed to somehow represent the best interests of an entire country. In the end, the President is by necessity far removed from any direct "will of the people." Most issues blur into background, with a few spikes of powerful interest that large segments of the population are willing to agree upon - the distinctions between the two big parties are defined by those spikes, which means that at any given time most issues are relegated to the realm of static. What's worse is that, through the media, the parties can actually manufacture spikes, rallying people to support a certain cause by making them freak out (prime example - the war on terror).

Of course, the President can't represent the majority, because there really isn't a single "majority platform" among millions of discreet sets of viewpoints. All a Presidential candidate can really do is tell the people what he believes in and let the people decide collectively if that's reasonable. The people then decide whether or not to place the burden on his shoulders to do what he feels is right for the country.

The President will always be in that position, and it's not necessarily bad - sometimes you need a single individual willing to stand up for what he believes is right, even if it's not the most popular course. It's our job to find a person we trust with that responsibility, and then we have to rely on Congress and the Judiciary to keep him straight. The breakdown occurs when the President starts pandering to financial contributors and special interests, losing track of the greater interests of the country and instead focusing on re-election and profit for his allies.

Congress, on the other hand, should theoretically have a diverse enough sampling to represent more distinct viewpoints. The House, though it maintains some level of diversity due to its size and creative districting, is still dominated by the two big parties - and the much smaller Senate has it even worse. Two Senators per state made sense back when states had a tenth of their current populations - but as the population per state has increased, the number of Senators per state has not, which means that even at the Senate level you'll find least-common-denominator politicians far removed from the local issues.

Such uniformity will ultimately equate to mediocrity. With national decisions made by a few people who can't possibly understand local needs, we seem to end up with policies that are merely tolerable to a majority of people. This is why nobody loves Bush or Kerry, and everybody wishes they had a better option they would agree with more.

What the country needs is a strong third party, and fourth, and fifth, and it needs the size of the Senate doubled at least to accomodate more viewpoints. We need options beyond A and B, and the minority viewpoints (which will be majority viewpoints in certain communities) need some way to be represented, to at least be heard among the tide of middle-of-the-road politics. Without more options, we'll always be doomed to mediocrity.

But how can you encourage new parties to become engaged in such an entrenched political process? How do you encourage the voting public to accept new options? Is our system inherently designed to impose mediocrity, and is there anything we can do to fix it?

I wish I knew.

Four months after finally convincing my mom to replace her desktop Windows XP system with an eMac (she'd been using an iBook for work and loving it), the damn thing has apparently died. She sees video corruption when attempting to boot, and the system promptly freezes.

Luckily we're in striking distance of a local Apple Store, but still - the thing is practically brand new. Not encouraging to see such a failure.