Sunday, October 15, 2006

Internet Email Scams

Now I don’t normally read e-mail scams. Sometimes I do, whether I was deceived by a misleading subject line, one entered my in-box while I was going through my e-mail, or even that the subject line was cleverly written. (I do know people who respond with things like counter-offers, marriage proposals, and the like.)

But the following e-mail scam message was somewhat interesting:

MR.Alan Willisc
14, Cameroon House, Wyndham Road,

Camber well, S.E. 5 OUJ. London UK.

I Am MR. Alan Willis a British Citizen And I Am 43yrs Of Age, I Am Married With Three Children, I Work With One Of The leading Bank Here In Lodon Uk.

I Am The Manager/Accounting Officer Of Mr. Brian Wright who Died On The Recent Bomb Blast, Which Occurred In London On the 7th Of July 2005.

Mr. Brian Long was National Of Your Country And An Expatriate With British House Of Common, He Was Our Client with Account Number UBS 101-720-4 Has Left The Sum Of (Five Million Five hundred Thousand Dollars) ($ 5,500.000.00) Which He Deposited With Us Before His Untimely Death. Before His Death He Was A Contractor With The British House Of Common

I Have Tried To Locate His Relative After His Death But Could Not; I There Fore Seek For Your Consent And Assistance To Stand As His Next Of kin So That His Money Be Transferred To Your Account Since I Could Not Locate Any Of His Relative. For Your Assistance You Will Receive 40% Of the Fund My Colleague And I Will Have 60%.

If You Are Interested In This Transaction I Will Like You To Contact Me As Soon As Possible So That I Will Give You More Information On How It will Be Done.

Treat With Utmost Confidentiality.

Yours sincerely,
MR.Alan Willis

Now there is this “common denominator” aspect to these e-mails—the bad grammar, spelling mistakes, and the like. Allegedly these missives are sent by “doctors and lawyers and such,” yet they cannot spell—or even consistently write their name?

This one adds that special touch: “I Am 43yrs Of Age, I Am Married With Three Children.” Is the author more believable because I know his age and family? I don’t think so.

But what really struck me was the alleged “victim.” In this case the unfortunate soul was killed “on [sic] the recent bomb blast, which occurred in London on the 7th of July 2005.” I believe this was the subway/bus blasts.

You see, there have been terrorist attacks even before 9/11. And these e-mail scams have been around even longer. But this was the first that I have seen anyway that directly tied the “deceased” to a specific terrorist attack. Most have been airplane crashes, some car accidents, but I haven’t read any that were about a victim of a terrorist attack. That doesn’t mean I didn’t receive one—I immediately delete many, many e-mails that appear to be the scam e-mails.
So, there you have it. Now the unfortunate national tragedies are fodder for these e-mail artists. I’m surprised that no victims of 9/11 were found to be without heirs and a wide ‘net is cast to find a survivor—or someone willing to be a “survivor.”

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Whither Wal*Mart?

Recently the business pages noted that Wal*Mart's profits didn't increase, or increased at a slower rate, for the first time in 10 years.

Of course the press obediantly reported the Wal*Mart party line: The higher cost of gas led to a shifting of consumer spending. That was the main thrust of the news reports. I haven't seen any comparisions as to how other retailers are doing. The only other "excuse," outside of the high cost of gasoline, is the pull-out by Wal*Mart from the German and Korean markets.

Kohl's department stores, meanwhile, reported an increase in sales and profits. So while gas prices went up, a store known more for mid-level pricing outperforms a store known for "every day low prices." What gives?

Let's add some anecdotal incredients to the stew, shall we?

In mid-July I was in Appleton, WI, staying with my parents so my son could go to Vacation Bible School at grandma and grandpa's church. Mom was leafing through the flyers when an item caught her eye. She saw an ad for 70-count notebooks. Wal*Mart advertized them at $0.40 (40 cents) each. ShopKo (based in Green Bay, WI) had them 10 for $1 (or 10 cents each). Where do you think mom stocked up on notebooks?

Last week we bought Matthew's school supplies. We went to Wal*Mart because they are the lowest in cost, right? And since my wife looks at the flyers (some call them "circulars") I assumed she did her due diligence price comparisions. We bought the items at Wal*Mart.

Later in the day we were at a Target store. Walking past the school supplies I looked at the prices--most considerably lower than what we paid at Wal*Mart!

So is it possible that Wal*Mart, riding its cachet of low prices, is being undersold? It's quite possible that other retailers are starting to beat Wal*Mart at its own game!

I'm not here to dump on Wal*Mart. After the fire that left me without a home March 1st. I needed to replace lost items. Did you know you can buy new clothes on clearance at a lower price than buying used clothes at a resale shop or thrift store?

Friday, August 11, 2006

What does Lieberman's loss really mean?

By now much ink has been spilled and electrons manipulated on what exactly the Joe Lieberman loss in Connecticut means.

And what does it really mean?

To hear the anti-war peaceniks tell it, this one election is a referendum on the war in Iraq. If you'll recall, Senator Joseph Lieberman, who was on the Democratic ticket for VP against George W. Bush in 2000, had expressed support for the war in Iraq and that the task be finished. Not that he gave W. carte blanc. He had vociferously expressed opposition to policies and tactics in carrying out this war.

His opponent, Ned Lamont, ran a one-issue campaign (or he was only able to elucidate one issue). That issue was the war in Iraq, in which he aligned himself with Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin).

Thus what the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal calls the "loony left" have sunk their teeth into this primary election outcome and feel vindicated in their anti-war, pro-terrorist stance. Ned Lamont's narrow victory, they believe, means the nation wants out of Iraq.

Now, the nation may well want out of Iraq. But the nation as a whole doesn't want to leave Iraq with an unfinished infrastructure and a continuing breeding ground for terrorists. Many people don't want war; many people also don't want threats to run unchecked, either.

But to believe that this one primary election is an omen or harbinger of a national trend and an indicator of how elections in November will go is a stretch. And the main-stream media has not answered several questions germaine to the debate:

1. Was the primary in Connecticut "open" or "closed?" If open, then Independants and Republicans could have "crossed over" if the Republican slate had no major races. In this case, Mr. Lamont's support is dubious. If "closed," then Mr. Lamont had a narrow margin of victory among Dems, who make up less than 1/3 of Connecticut voters. Mr. Lamont has to convince a huge array of people that he is worthy of their vote come November.

2. With Mr. Lieberman running as an Independant, what are the poll numbers now among likely voters? Will Mr. Lieberman's split from his party split the Democratic vote and propel a Republican to represent Connecticut in the Senate?

3. Will Mr. Lieberman prove that, while the radicals in his party seem to control the party, the majority of people aren't buying that message? Will this hurt the Democrats in the long run?

George McGovern ran as a "dove" in 1972, railing against the Vietnam War. While Americans may have believed Vietnam was a "quagmire" (thanks in large part to Walter Cronkite), they overwhelmingly re-elected Richard Nixon (yes, Nixon) to a second term.

Thus I will withhold any judgment on what the Lieberman-Lamont primary in Connecticut portends. There are too many unanswered questions and this particular primary race is one small slice of the American electoral populace as a whole.

Friday, March 24, 2006

War and the Christian

Christian Peacemaker Teams is a group that takes a pacifist approach to conflict and protests wars being fought, especially those with high visibility. I have only heard of their efforts in Iraq--do they also protest what the US and coalition forces are doing in Afghanistan and the Balkans? They also prefer to protest where it is more dangerous than the relatively safe confines of the United States and Europe.

Four members of the Iraqi protest team had been kidnapped. One, Tom Fox (and American), was killed. The remaining three were rescued by US and British soldiers.

The following statement comes the CPT web site:

[The ex-hostages] were in Iraq to learn of the struggles facing the people in that country. They went, motivated by a passion for justice and peace to live out a nonviolent alternative in a nation wracked by armed conflict. They knew that their only protection was in the power of the love of God and of their Iraqi and international co-workers. We believe that the illegal occupation of Iraq by Multinational Forces is the root cause of the insecurity which led to this kidnapping and so much pain and suffering in Iraq. The occupation must end.

Today, in the face of this joyful news, our faith compels us to love our enemies even when they have committed acts which caused great hardship to our friends and sorrow to their families. . . .

We pray that Christians throughout the world will, in the same spirit, call for justice and for respect for the human rights of the thousands of Iraqis who are being detained illegally by the U.S. and British forces occupying Iraq. During these past months, we have tasted of the pain that has been the daily bread of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Why have our loved ones been taken? Where are they being held? Under what conditions? How are they? Will they be released? When?

Notice the statement? It uses the word "released" rather than "rescued." Were the captives released voluntarily by their captors? If so, why were soldiers needed to free them?

Then they accuse the soldiers who had just freed them of creating the hostile climate that exists now in Iraq. Tell me, how many people have been killed with nerve gas in the last three years? How many new mass graves were created in the last three years? Can you really say live was better in Iraq under Saddam Hussein? Would this group have been allowed to protest any war Saddam was in and do this protest inside Iraq? I doubt it.

Some (many?) Christians have this idyllic notion of war and peace and that if we all play nice, then everyone else will play nice. They look at Jesus as the "Prince of Peace" and seek to promote "Peace on earth." What they neglect to consider are Jesus' own words that he "did not come to bring peace but a sword" and his own words that the end times would be marked by "wars and rumors of war."

Sometimes wars need to be fought--and won. We fight to protect our nation. We fight to free oppressed peoples, especially those entrapped in evil, murderous dictatorships. Isn't this an extension to charity to our fellow man? Isn't that a concept Jesus would embrace?

For a more in-depth look at what Scripture says about war, read my Lutheranism article. Or read more on the Just War Doctrine.

Does that mean as Christians we accept war as inevitable? We can pray for peace. We can also work for peaceful solutions within our own community. But to acquiese to evil is to deny that there is also good. Blanket pacifism is just as dangerous as unchecked militarism.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

I just have to share this with you. With the recent snowfall in the Milwaukee area (yes, we actually got some SNOW!), my son built a snowman at grandma and grandpa's house.

Look closely at the picture. See anything unique about the snowman?

If The Hair Club for Men is looking for any ad ideas, check out my son's snowman.

If you still don't see it, notice the snowman's head. My son decided it needed hair. And what better "hair" can a snowman have than a head of corn husk hair?

I don't think I would have thought of that when I built snowmen in my youth--and I had more practice because we always had snow growing up in Appleton (well, in Winter we had snow).

RIP, "Oakie" Brumm

On Monday, 23 January 2006, I read the paper and an obituary jumped out at me: Leonard "Oakie" Brumm. "Oakie" made a name for himself as a coach of youth hockey in the Milwaukee area. He also made a name for himself by writing and publishing a book entitled We Only Played Home Games. The book details Brumm's career, as brief as it was, as the recreation director at the state prison in Marquette, Michigan. The warden wanted something to keep the prisoners occupied so that they wouldn't cause trouble. The year before Brumm started his job the state prison in Jackson, Michigan, had had a riot. The warden wanted to prevent this from happening in Marquette.

Brumm accepted the job reluctantly, but pursued it with vigor once he took it. Along the way Brumm gives us a glimpse into prison life (and love), the tangles and frustrations of bureaucracy (golf clubs were deemed "dangerous weapons" even though baseball bats were already in the compound), and the delicate, egg-walking minuet of guards ("screws") and prisoners.

I had a chance to correspond with Oakie when his book came out and I reviewed it. I always tried to get him to make an appearance with his book at Salem's annual street picnic. He was always hopeful that the next year would find him free that wekend. I guess time ran out.

If you haven't read Brumm's book yet, I urge you to do so. At the very least you should find it in your local library.

Obituary of Leonard "Oakie" Brumm.

Review of We Only Played Home Games.

Ford, Toyota, and NASCAR

Yesterday's news was all about the downsizing at Ford. This is significant if only for the fact that American industry was rocketed forward by Henry Ford and his assembly line of Ford cars. When Henry built the River Rouge complex, raw materials came in one end of the complex and finished cars rolled off the line at the other end.

Of course Henry build this plant out of necessity. At that time it was difficult to get vendors who could supply enough parts to build the cars, to say nothing of quality control. Today many Fords are built by qualified vendors and the Ford plants merely assembled the finished parts into a finished vehicle.

Another announcement yesterday was Toyota's decision to field racing teams in NASCAR's Busch and Nextel Cup circuits. About 5 or 6 years ago Dodge did the same by resuming support of racing teams in those circuits. Seems the Dodge sponsorship of teams in the Craftsman series truck circuit showed promise so the Dodge Intrepid was pushed onto the ovals with the Pontiacs, Chevies, and Fords. Ironically, Toyota has been in the Craftsman circuit for a few years now, too, and are breaking into the Busch and Nextel series with cars.

As an aside, I wonder if the "good ol' boys" will root for Toyotas on the circuit. Toyota makes a vast majority of cars sold in the US in the US, mainly in plants located in the south. Stay tuned.

To close this loop, I haven't heard about Ford's involvement in NASCAR. Ford, like Chevrolet, Dodge, and Pontiac, supports teams in NASCAR. This is not a cheap endeavor. So, are people being laid off while the company still supports racing teams? And will the laid-off Ford employees cheer against the Ford cars in NASCAR? If so, will they cheer on the Toyotas racing the ovals?

Friday, January 13, 2006

About those "untraceable" cell phones...

ABC News broke a story that should be alarming on several fronts. It seems Wal*Mart has reported a sudden surge in sales of pre-paid cell phones. Using cash, someone can buy said phones and their identity remains a secret.

Well, I have some questions and maybe the ABC News reporter can answer them.

First, why are these cell phones suddenly so attractive for buyers (reportedly of Middle Eastern and Pakistani descent)? Could it be that someone leaked to the New York Times, which in turn decided to print the story, that the NSA (and George W. Bush) were eavesdropping on conversations? Perhaps this egregious breach in national security should be investigated. I sense the leak is serious enough to warrant charges of treason.

Next, those phones. Yes, you can pay cash for them. But does that make the user "anonymous?" Well, if you can buy the phone and use it immediately, it does. Now, reading the report on the internet (, I didn't see a brand name of phone, per se. A term "tracfone" was used, but was it used in a generic sense or as the name of a brand? Since I happen to own a TracFone, I know for a fact that this particular phone requires the purchaser to go to the TracFone web site and register the phone before the bank of minutes will be activated and the phone number for that phone given. Until this happens, the phones will not work. Unless the people buying them in bulk have a way to modify the phones to bypass the registration.

A local talk show host brought up the security issue this morning. I called to point out another issue--the fact the phones need to be registered to be activated. Could it be that identities are stolen in order to activate these phones? I found it somewhat interesting that Packer QB Brett Favre's identity had been pilfered and used for nefarious schemes and was reported in yesterday's news. Identity theft is all too common. I'd hate to have the FBI or other government agency knocking on my door because someone stole my identity and used it to register such a phone.

Of course the screener started arguing with me that these phones are paid for with cash and do not need to be activated. He rudely cut me off (I'll write the station manager and express my opinion). Anyway, I decided to do some research. Is it possible to buy a phone you can immediately use and not have to activate without giving some sort of identity?

I did a quick google of pre-paid (Google immediately asked, "Did you mean 'prepaid'?") programs. Besides TracFone there are about a half dozen prepaid phones and numerous prepaid phone cards. But every site I visited required an on-line activation of the phone or card.

So at lunch I took my research one step further. I stopped at the local Wal*Mart. There are, at this Wal*Mart, three different prepaid phones available. I read the details on all three. All three required an activation of some sort, usually through the internet.

So, which is scarier--that potential terrorists are using prepaid phones to try to avoid detection?

Or that in order to use these phones, and avoid detection, they may be stealing the identities of innocent Americans?

I would like to see a more in-depth report on this whole subject. As of now the ABC report on Google is 23 hours old. A more recent posting on the subject is 7 hours old--but the author wants to deny that we are even in a war.