This Week in Our Dumb World
There’s been an awful lot of politics in the newsletter lately and good god, but I’m tired of reading about politics and our crumbling democracy.
SO THAT MEANS IT’S TIME FOR CONMEN AND ELABORATE SCAMS!
I’d like to introduce you to the 19-year-old Ukranian who came for college and instead changed his birth certificate and started high school.
The way he'd envisioned it, he would show up to the States and save some money and enroll in a university that very fall. But he'd assumed the local colleges would cost what they do in Ukraine, a couple thousand bucks a year. He couldn't believe that they were asking for 10, 20 times that amount. That was more than he could make working full-time. And if he had to work full-time, where did school fit in? The paradox left him cold. The impossible bind left him panicked. He was already so lonely—no friends, work all day—and for what? The summer was flying, he was expected to depart in September. By mid-July, he realized anxiously, he was rapidly running out of time…
Which was around when an idea began to take shape between Artur Samarin and his new friends Stephayne McClure-Potts and Michael Potts. Later, Artur would relay the sequence of events as follows, although Stephayne and Michael dispute their alleged motivations—and only the three who sat at the table during those dinners in the summer of 2012 know the honest origins of the plot. And so: In order to help him out with his ultimate dream, Stephayne and Michael said they'd look into adopting Artur. They took his passport, filled out forms. They brought Artur along to a meeting with an attorney across the river. If they went through with it, they explained to him, he'd be able to stay in the U.S. To Artur, the gesture seemed unconscionably kind.
One thing they would ask of him in return, he says they said, was that Artur agree to change his age. He was 19 at the time and thus too old, they explained, to be adopted. If they were to go through with this, he would have to change his birth date. And if he was going to change his birth date anyway, how would he feel about claiming to be a full five years younger than he was? Further, if they were to do him this solid, they would need for him to enroll in the local high school, too. With a dependent enrolled in the public-school system, they would receive a small payout from the Social Security Administration and attendant tax benefits, which would amount to fair recompense, he says they said, for the legal cover they were granting him.
The summer days were long, but they were running short. Artur knew that this was his one shot at sticking around. His one chance at engineering school and the moon-shot future that might launch. And so he agreed. They asked him to fork over the two grand he'd saved that summer, to help with the adoption paperwork. The last day of his J-1 visa came and went, and by the third week of September, he strolled through the neoclassical columns that stood up the front of the school, ready as he could be for his first day at Harrisburg High.
This is immediately interesting because it’s a hack who destroyed huge systems. But it’s also interesting to re-emphasize just how dangerous a place the internet is and how fragile our systems are in the face of advancing technology.
The attack against Liberia began in October 2016. More than a half-million security cameras around the world tried to connect to a handful of servers used by Lonestar Cell MTN, a local mobile phone operator, and Lonestar’s network was overwhelmed. Internet access for its 1.5 million customers slowed to a crawl, then stopped.
The technical term for this sort of assault is distributed denial of service, or DDoS. Crude but effective, a DDoS attack uses an army of commandeered machines, called a botnet, to simultaneously connect to a single point online. This botnet, though, was the biggest ever witnessed anywhere, let alone in Liberia, one of the poorest countries in Africa. The result was similar to what would happen if 500,000 extra cars joined the New Jersey Turnpike one morning at rush hour. While most DDoS attacks last only moments, the assault on Lonestar dragged on for days. And since Liberia has had virtually no landlines since the brutal civil war that ended in 2003, that meant half the country was cut off from bank transactions, farmers couldn’t check crop prices, and students couldn’t Google anything. In the capital of Monrovia, the largest hospital went offline for about a week. Infectious disease specialists dealing with the aftermath of a deadly Ebola outbreak lost contact with international health agencies.
Eugene Nagbe, Liberia’s minister for information, was in Paris on business when the crisis began. He struggled to marshal a response, unable to access his email or a reliable phone connection. Then his bank card stopped working. On Nov. 8, with hundreds of thousands of people still disconnected, Nagbe went on French radio to appeal for help. “The scale of the attack tells us that this is a matter of grave concern, not just to Liberia but to the global community that is connected to the internet,” he said. The onslaught continued. No one seemed to know why, but there was speculation that the hack was a test run for something bigger, perhaps even an act of war.
First of all, you should know that “WAG” is an acronym used to refer to wives and girlfriends of high-profile sportspersons. They are one of the weirder corners of extreme british celebrity culture. Now, I’ve seen claims that the first reference is in the early 2000’s, but I swear to god it dates to the 90s. It’s a very 90s Briatin kind of term. Feels very S Club 7.
I’m very old now.
AAAAAAAAAAaaanyways, I’m explaining why they exist so that you can venture into this story of social media, class, internet culture, and celebrity with some grounding about why these two people being mad at each other is both newsworthy and insightful about modern culture.
(also, it’s very funny and EXTREMELY England)
As for the wider cultural context, let me be super clear: this is about heritage Wags coming together and closing ranks against second-gen interlopers. I don’t care if Rebekah is four years older than Coleen: if she wasn’t in Baden-Baden she’ll never really understand. The 2006 World Cup was the ’Nam of It-bags and hair extensions, and every true Wag succubus was forged in its fires. It was where I saw Victoria Beckham wearing high heels IN a swimming pool. It was where I watched Elen Rives dance on a bar table singing I Will Survive. It was where a slightly delayed flight forced Victoria to observe to the FA: “A dog gets better treatment than this.” It was where Sven-Göran Eriksson was still giving players – billeted in another hotel – what was known in tabloid terms as a “nookie pass”. THAT is heritage. You can’t buy it, even if – as Rebekah’s denial put it – “not being funny but I don’t need the money”. Fast-forward to the present day, and the Baden-Baden Wag fellowship – though dispersed – remain bonded by their shared experience. You’ll know the trash is really being taken out when Alex Gerrard flings open the door of her Overfinch Range Rover in Glasgow, where Stevie G now manages, to reveal vintage Juicy Couture tracksuit bottoms and a tiny T-shirt reading: “It’s………. Rebekah Vardy’s account.”
As for Rebekah…. well, it’s not looking great, let’s be honest. She’s got Nicola McLean batting for her, though seasoned Wag-watchers would class Nicola as “a complete ‘who?’”. But Rebekah denies it utterly, so we’ll see what the crack team of IT experts turn up. My guess is that we might learn of some assistant – since departed – who must be behind it all. Then again it does feel hugely remiss that no one has yet suggested Russian interference. In so many ways, Putin getting all up in Wag Instagram would be the highest level of his troll strategy – the surest indication yet that he truly means to destroy our way of life. If I were Rebekah, I would feel inclined to suggest that the choice of platform lends significant weight to that theory. Only this week, the US Senate investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election released the second volume of its report, which said: “On the basis of engagement and audience following measures, the Instagram social media platform was the most effective tool used by the [Russian-backed] Internet Research Agency to conduct its information operations campaign.”
On the other hand, it would be the only disinformation campaign to sow unity as opposed to discord. Not that this has been noticed by Truss, who brought up the story in a speech on Wednesday night. “There’s been a massive fallout between some very influential figures in our country,” the trade secretary told her audience, “that has divided the nation.” It has united it, but go on. “There’s been finger-pointing, there’s been blame-shifting, and there has been denials. But enough about Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy. Now for those of you who don’t know, those are footballers’ wives – ”
On one level, it’s very funny to read this feedback on the creation of the earth.
On the other hand, if you are someone who (in a professional setting) often find themselves preparing reports and receiving client feedback then it is possible that this article will give you crippling flashbacks.
And yes, I did spend a fair bit of time trying to find the silliest possible “client feedback” picture that someone would use in a powerpoint.
6 – Seas teeming with life is fine, but again, we need to reduce the sea. This is a showstopper for us.
7 – Are the winged birds final, or placeholder? Some kind of weird stuff going on with those. Just want to get some clarification before giving more feedback.
8 – Can we get more livestock and wild animals that move along the ground according to their kinds? Again, the passion points for our target users (slide eighteen) are ground and animals that move along the ground. Whatever we can do to increase the amount of ground will go a long way toward converting our users from passive consumers into brand evangelists.
Because of course.