Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Google

Ungoogling

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday May 18 2017.

According to this link

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=21262

“4142 readers have read this article !”

See also

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2016/10/02/identity-crisis-part-1/

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2016/10/07/identity-crisis-part-two/

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2016/10/13/identity-crisis-part-three/

Google Docs Phished

On May 3, I read the news that G-Mail accounts were being hacked by means of a malicious email containing what appeared to be a link to a Google Doc file. This leads to a legitimate Google.com page asking you to authorize “Google Docs” to access to your Gmail account. Christopher Boyd, malware intelligence analyst at Malwarebytes, said, “There’s a very clever phishing scam going around at the moment – originally thought to be targeting journalists given the sheer number of them mentioning it on their Twitter feeds, it’s also been slinging its way across unrelated mailboxes – from orgs to schools / campuses,” Boyd thought it remiss of Google not to think of preventing non-Google people from calling their apps “Google Docs”.

Ransomware

On May 13, there was news that computers all over the world were being attacked by malware known as Ransomware. This is software that locks a computer and demands payment before allowing access again. Eleven out of fourteen NHS Trusts in Scotland were disrupted. Screenshots shared online purportedly from NHS staff, show a programme demanding $300 (£230) in Bitcoin that looks similar to ransomware known as WannaCryptor or WCry. The US government NSA (National Security Agency) is widely believed to have developed the hacking tool that was leaked online in April and used as a catalyst for the ransomware attack.

Not Lost in Limassol

These attacks make my own experience of hacking seem trivial but I suffered a great deal of inconvenience and embarrassment. As I reported in this column, one of my Sri Lankan editors messaged me on Facebook on 24 July 2016 to inform me that my G-Mail account had been hacked. I was soon receiving messages from friends and bank managers asking if I was OK. The hacker was sending messages to countless people in my G-Mail contacts list saying that he was me and was stranded in Limassol, Cyprus and in urgent need of funds. I soon discovered that he was doing the same from my other account.

My hacker used my G-Mail accounts to gather personal information about me from my correspondence. He managed to convince my lawyer (who has known me in real life for 13 years) that he was me because he could quote things about my business dealings with her. He also got hold of her phone number. He was also using a photocopy of my passport to convince people that he was me.

I tried to report to Google what had happened but was unsuccessful. My hacker changed the passwords of my accounts and effectively prevented me from using them. I could not use the normal authentication procedure because he replaced my phone number with one of his own. He then went on to hi-jack my Facebook account and proceeded to send begging messages to my Facebook friends. The last message I heard about was on September 26 2016.

Fishbird

I refrained from contacting the hacker directly but some of my friends chastised him and he sent threatening messages back to them. Using the name “Spitfire” he sent this message: “Maybe you should just mind your business because your email might be next.PS: tell your friend that this is what happens when he tries to recover the email i already hacked into. If he tries recovering it with any other email then he looses that one too!” I set up an e-mail account with mail.com and he immediately sent me a message: “Signing himself as “Fishbird” he wrote: “I am sorry for all the problems i have caused you this past few days. However, i want you to know the follwing (sic): I don’t know you nor have any particular personal motivation for taking over your mailbox other than looking for little money to survive on. I am willing to hand you all i have taken from you if you will help me with very little money to enable me settle my school bills. I know i have wronged you but please i need your help. I will let you know how to prevent future hacks as creating new emails is not the best line of action.”

I gave up trying to recover my accounts and put the matter behind me. I was moved to take it up again in February when I started receiving irate messages from a Sri Lankan who demanded that I return the 100,000 rupees that he had sent me when I was stranded in Limassol. I explained that I had never asked him for money and had never received any. I suggested that he report the matter to the police. He suggested that we discuss the matter on the telephone. When I said that did not intend to do that, the flood of e-mails suddenly ceased.

Belated Response from Google

I reported this latest development to CERT (Computer Emergency Readiness Team | Co-ordination Center) and they managed to get someone at Google to communicate with me directly. That was another frustrating experience, but, cutting a long story short, I was able to recover my G-Mail accounts. I replied to an e-mail sent by a real-life friend last July. After I had sent it, I realised that it looked as though it was sent by one Avraham Yitzchok Geisler – someone I had never heard of before. My contact at CERT warned me to check my settings as the hackers would have altered them to suit themselves.

On checking the settings for one account, I found that the default country was Nigeria and the signatures were Frank Barry, Atthulla Edirisinghe and Thanja Peiris. On checking the settings for my second G-Mail account I found the default country was Sri Lanka and the signatures were Avraham Yitzchok Geisler, Atthula Edirisinghe, Ray Guinan, and a couple of names in Hebrew, who appeared to be Nadiv and Adi Caspi who, according to Facebook, live in Tel Aviv. It looks to me that the original hacker was Atthula Ederesinghe who passed on my details to people in Israel and possibly Ireland. They have been using my accounts to send messages to people I have never heard of. Looking at my G-Mail accounts was a distasteful experience and I cannot bring myself to use them again. It feels like some rancid dosser has been sleeping in my sheets.

Repair

At the time of the hacking I was using a laptop at home because my desktop PC was being repaired. The technicians in the shop would have been able to access my G-Mail accounts without knowing my passwords because my browser remembered the passwords. My mobile phone number was stuck to the PC so they could contact me. I went to the shop and told them what had happened. They denied that they were at fault. I recently telephoned the owner to ask if he knew Atthula Edersinghe. He phoned me back to say that that it might be the name of a trainee he employed at one time. When I pursued the matter by e-mail he responded: “I felt very sorry and frustrated hearing this incident and I am strongly deny this was  not done by any of my technicians because we have good reputation in our area nearly 17 years of computer service and repairing. And also I advice  you to complain regarding this incident to the Sri Lanka police Cyber Criminal Section so they will be able to find from where your email hacked. And also I don’t know who is Attula Ederesinghe.”

Motive

I often wonder why people do this kind of hack. Only one person has claimed to have sent money to my hacker. Experts estimate that the ransomware hack, despite its large scale, could only have netted about $20,000 for the hackers. Is the motive sheer malice?

Google seems to have reached that point that Microsoft reached a long time ago. It wants to get involved in everything in the world but refuses to respond to the evil effects it itself allows or causes. It has reached a state of near monopoly power which enables it to alienate people who use its products. We are not seen as customers because we do not pay anything. We are a resource that can be treated with impunity. I am disengaging myself from Google starting with G-Mail.

Identity Crisis Part Three

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday October 13 2016 under the title Licence of Anonymity

Colman's Column3

My G-Mail accounts were hacked at the end of July. The hacker, pretending to be me, sent out messages to my contacts asking for money and prevented me accessing my own accounts. He did the same with my Facebook account.

Who?

One real-life friend decided to test the hacker out by introducing false information. PH (my Personal Hacker) responded to the testing by becoming petulant: “I am surprised with the way you have been making a joke of a very serious situation.” My friend knew that I would not write like this, especially if I were asking him for help. He speculated that PH was “not a native English speaker.” Another real-life friend came to the same conclusion after receiving a nasty message from the PH saying “mind your business”. “I reckon the person is someone who speaks English as a second language.”

I had wondered if PH was a Sri Lankan.  To one real-life friend he wrote: “I want to ask if you can len­d me a­bout €850 to make up the little mo­ney lef­t with me so that i will be able ­to sort out a­ few bills and make the nec­essary arrange­ments to return home. I wi­ll r­efund ­you­­ the money in full as­ s­oon as i get b­ack.”  He makes the point that it is difficult to transfer money abroad from Sri Lanka – which is true. My wife believes the English in some of his messages is too good for a Sri Lankan but in those he has been copying from my e-mails.

PH showed his character when he approached someone I have never met in real life but whom I have known online since 2008. She showed the goodness of her heart by immediately offering to help ‘me’. She thought he wanted 50 euro and asked how she could send it. He suggested MoneyGram but stressed it was 850 euro that he wanted. She said she was struggling on a severely limited income and it would cause her hardship even to send 50 but she would try. He said “can you send 400”? What kind of person is this?

The inimitable Donald Trump imagined a typical hacker as “someone sitting on their bed that weighs four hundred pounds.” A comment from a real-life friend about my PH was more succinct: “A vindictive little shit”.

Remote Control Valour

Way back in the last century, I studied Balzac’s Le Père Goriot for my French ‘O’ Level. A small passage from that has stuck in my mind ever since. Rastignac and Bianchon are discussing Rousseau, “Do you remember that he asks the reader somewhere what he would do if he could make a fortune by killing an old mandarin somewhere in China by mere force of wishing it, and without stirring from Paris? …  Pshaw! I am at my thirty-third mandarin”.

orson

In the 1949 film The Third Man, Orson Welles, as Harry Lime, is at the top of the Wiener Riesenrad Ferris wheel looking down: “Victims? Don’t be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man.” This displays Lime’s amorality, his lack of interest in the children who are victims of his diluted penicillin, brain-damaged as a result of meningitis.

I have always been uncomfortable about the way movies glamorise snipers and professional hit-men. Snipers certainly have to develop an impressive skill, as do hackers. Snipers are shooting at people a long distance away. The longest shot ever was over 2400 meters; snipers are shooting at people who are hit before the sound of the shot even reaches them. Navy Seal Sniper Chris Kyle had over 150 confirmed kills. He was himself killed on a firing range by a former Marine with PTSD. Is it moral or ethical to shoot somebody from over a mile away? Somebody who has no warning, can’t even see you or have any chance to shoot back?

kyle

Keyboard Warriors

Drones, killing machines that can be operated from thousands of miles away from a keyboard with no danger to the killer, have killed far more people under Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama than under GW Bush.

police-eagle-drone-hunting

The anonymity of the internet allows PH to bully with impunity total strangers who have never done him any harm, and are in no position to kick him in the nuts. Tough guy!  In Plato’s Republic, there is the tale of a shepherd named Gyges who finds a ring that makes him invisible. He has sex with a queen, kills her king, and takes his throne. The impunity of invisibility is corrupting. Physical invisibility only occurs in fiction but the internet has granted the license of anonymity and trolls and hackers operate under a cloak of invisibility to behave in a way they would not contemplate if they were visible in the real world. They are unaccountable.

Digital Savvy versus Wisdom

PH dropped all pretence of BEING ME when he wrote TO ME! Signing himself as “Fishbird” he wrote: “I am sorry for all the problems i have caused you this past few days. However, i want you to know the follwing (sic): I don’t know you nor have any particular personal motivation for taking over your mailbox other than looking for little money to survive on. I am willing to hand you all i have taken from you if you will help me with very little money to enable me settle my school bills. I know i have wronged you but please i need your help. I will let you know how to prevent future hacks as creating new emails is not the best line of action.”

If he is clever enough to cause so much disruption and unpleasantness, surely it would have been more intelligent to just send me an e-mail in the first place asking for my help. As he has been grubbing through my personal correspondence he will have gathered that I am an elderly person surviving on a modest pension. He will also have seen that am always giving money away, so I probably would have helped him. How often do these scams bring in any money?

Why?

Mat Honan is digital savvy enough to write regularly for Wired magazine. “In the space of one hour, my entire digital life was destroyed. First my Google account was taken over, then deleted. Next my Twitter account was compromised, and used as a platform to broadcast racist and homophobic messages. And worst of all, my Apple ID account was broken into, and my hackers used it to remotely erase all of the data on my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook.”

Matt Honan managed to establish some contact with his hacker and asked him why he did it: “His answer wasn’t satisfying. He says he likes to publicize security weaknesses, so companies will fix them.” Pull the other one!

I readily admit that PH is much cleverer than me when it comes to the intricacies of IT. He is sadly deficient when it comes to moral or ethical intelligence. Why is PH going to all this trouble? There is a strong sense of cognitive dissonance. He is lying to himself. He seems to be angry with me just because I am trying to get on with my life, in which I try to do good rather than harm. Somehow I seem to have failed him because he is being frustrated in his project of doing harm rather than good. How does he sleep at night?

Identity Crisis Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday October 6 2016

Colman's Column3

Someone is begging for money using my name. Some people really believe he is me. On several occasions, I have had to answer some testing questions from people I have known for a long time in real life. This is reasonable enough and I could easily convince them that I am the man they know.

It is not so easy to convince Facebook and on 27 September I was expelled from that community. Dealing with Facebook and Google one enters the world of Kafka.

lw435-mc-escher-ascending-and-descending-19601

Der Prozess

In The Trial by Franz Kafka, Joseph K is arrested by two warders “one fine morning,” although he has done nothing wrong. The German title, Der Prozess, connotes both a “trial” and a “process”: the machinery has been set in motion, and the process will grind toward conclusion. The examining magistrate tells K that he has seriously damaged his own case by his behaviour. Everyone who knows K also knows about his trial. From his point of view, the entire universe finds him guilty. He is taken to a quarry by two men who stab him to death. At least my unfair trial by Facebook only led to this: “We’ll get in touch with you at the email address you provided after we’ve reviewed your ID. You will now be logged out of Facebook.”

 

I am grateful that, on this “fine morning”, I am not a corpse in a quarry, merely a live one in a quandary.

 

kafka-the-trial

 

Positive and Negative

The experience of having a faceless stranger’s grubby fingers rifling through one’s life is very distasteful. There have been some positive aspects, however. I have reestablished contact with a lot of real-life friends from whom I had not heard for a long time. Thank you for that Mr  PH (Personal Hacker). Soon after I was alerted that I had been hacked, I started receiving many supportive phone calls – from Ireland, Thailand, Sri Lanka, the US and the UK. Two different bank managers called me. One real-life friend in Sri Lanka telephoned and was surprised when I answered the phone. She really though I was stranded in Cyprus and had been making arrangements for her daughter in the UK to send ‘me’ a payment. I was touched by this but puzzled that an astute professional could be so gullible. When I met her last week she showed me the e-mails the hacker had sent.

I understood why she had believed the hacker. One e-mail said “Dear B, Can I call you on this line (he quoted her office phone number) X (that’s my wife) extends her sincere greetings and gratitude for all your concern and assistance”. Another e-mail to B gave details of our attempt to purchase a property and to dispose of our current home. There were enough errors in his e-mails to indicate that the writer was not me. Nevertheless, it is creepy to be aware that he is obviously ploughing through my personal correspondence and putting together a faux persona that convinces some.

 

Customer Service

My real-life and virtual friends responded sympathetically to my plight but many were far too optimistic about how easy it is to deal with such a situation. People told me that the first thing to do was to report the breach to Facebook and Google because those organisations have solid systems in place to handle account hacking. I would certainly expect them to have solid systems in place but I was not able to utilise them.

If my credit card were stolen I would be expected to notify the provider immediately. I have found it impossible to notify Google or Facebook that my identity has been stolen. I have attempted the cumbersome recovery procedure several times. I am told it has been successful but then I have to enter a verification code sent to my mobile phone. I cannot do this because my friendly neighbourhood PH has replaced my mobile phone number with his.

Horse Bolted. Lock the Stable Door

The Google and Facebook help pages confine themselves to giving useless advice about preventing future hacks rather than dealing with the specific hack that has already happened. I had anyway followed the advice. I never share my passwords with anyone, even my wife. I had recently changed my passwords several times. There is nothing personal in the passwords. They are rated as ‘strong’ because they are totally random and contain mixtures of letters, digits and symbols. I could not hope to remember them myself, so I do not understand how anyone else could guess them.

Who Cares about Customers?

This kind of scam has been going on for many years. I have received many such messages myself. The modus operandi is to send an e-mail to my contacts asking why the hacker posing as me has not received a reply to a previous (non-existent) e-mail. He has got my friends’ addresses from my G-Mail accounts which he has hacked. However, he does not use my G-mail  addresses to write to my contacts. He has set up new accounts with addresses that differ from my addresses by just one character.  The recipient generally does not realise the discrepancy and even if they do they dismiss it as an error.

One friend wrote to me: “Surely G-Mail have some idea who he is and where he is from these newly created accounts?” I would have thought so but experts advise me that Google would not seek such information without a court order. The perpetrator’s human rights get more protection than the victim’s. It is impossible for me to report this to G-Mail. I just get sent around in a loop and fail at the end. I am reminded of those so-called “impossible constructions” by MC Escher, such as Ascending and Descending and Relativity. There appears to be a lot of information on the G-Mail and Facebook help pages but there is no e-mail address or telephone number. There is at Google or Facebook no human being with whom to discuss the identity theft. This kind of scam has been the subject of numerous articles over the years and the boffins at Google and Facebook must be clever enough to stop it. They haven’t stopped it because they don’t care. It is not harming profits.

lw389-mc-escher-relativity-19531

You Are Who?

While many pooh-poohed the idea, I wondered from the outset whether this hacker had some personal grudge against me. Like the pooh-poohers, I had seen many examples of this kind of scam before. Nevertheless, I was surprised at his persistence. The messages have been going out for three months and, at the time of writing, show no signs of stopping.

 

A real-life friend tried to engage with my PH and got a threatening response. All pretence of being me was dropped: Using the name “Spitfire” he sent this message: “Maybe you should just mind your business because your email might be next.PS: tell your friend that this is what happens when he tries to recover the email i already hacked into. If he tries recovering it with any other email then he looses that one too!”

In the first debate with Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump visualised a stereotypical hacker: “It could be someone sitting on their bed that weighs four hundred pounds.” One of the hackers who recently intruded on President Sirisena’s official website was a seventeen-year-old boy. Mat Honan is digital savvy enough to write regularly for Wired magazine-  but he still got hacked: “In the space of one hour, my entire digital life was destroyed”. Honan managed to establish some contact with his hacker whom he calls Phobia. Phobia was 19 years old.

A real-life friend speculated about the identity of my PH: “This smacks of an IT support type person who has had an opportunity to either get third party access to your hardware or even direct access during a mend or upgrade.” I followed up on this line of thinking. My desktop PC was indeed in a shop being repaired when the hacking occurred. It would have been easy for one of the technicians to log into my G-Mail accounts because the system remembered the passwords. Once in, he could change my passwords because he knew my mobile phone number. He could then use two-step authentication to override my mobile phone number.

I went to the shop and explained to one of the managers and a technician what had happened. They said it could not have happened there. Three brothers have been running the business for 15 years (they have always been helpful to me and are often reluctant to charge for their service) and they said they had never experienced anything like this before. Their technicians have been with them a long time and are completely trustworthy – they would say that wouldn’t they? The technician showed no sign of guilt and told us about a CID unit that investigated this kind of hacking. We had expected the messages to stop after letting the shop know that we knew. In fact, incidents gathered pace.

Next week I explore the psychopathology of the hacker. Why on earth do they do it? What kind of moral universe do they inhabit?

Identity Crisis Part 1

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday September 29 2016

Colman's Column3

There has been some peculiar activity on my G-Mail and Facebook accounts.

hoody

Burgled

Have you ever been burgled? It has happened to me on three separate occasions. Twice in Manchester, and once in London. The first time in Manchester, I was actually in my home when it happened, shut up in my room suffering a terrible bout of flu. My flatmate, who had helpfully left the kitchen window on the ground floor open, had nothing stolen. I lost a jacket and an overcoat. Dealing with the police was not a pleasure. I was also close by for the second Manchester break-in, although I had been away in India, Nepal and Thailand for three weeks. We arrived home by taxi to find the front door open and a wind blowing through the house. There was a photo on the front room window ledge. The burglars were in the house when we arrived and watching out for us. When they saw us they escaped through the back door. Again, the police were not helpful. They went through the house taking fingerprints but one sensed that it was futile. A constable stared at me philosophically for a long time before saying :”If nothing appears to be missing, sir, how do you know you have been burgled”. I reminded him that we had returned home after three weeks abroad to find the front an d back doors open. My Wimbledon house was broken into when I was working away and my wife was in Paris with her mother. The intruder may have thought he had found drugs, because scattered about were chunks of Moroccan Mud, a shampoo that could have been mistaken for cannabis resin. He would have been very disappointed if he tried to smoke it.

Hacked!

On July 24, 2016, Gazala Anver, editor of Roar.LK, the Sri Lankan on-line news site, contacted me to warn me that I had been hacked. My G-Mail account was being used to send a message that I was stranded in Cyprus and in urgent need of funds to get back to Sri Lanka. I have never been to Cyprus in my life and have not set foot outside Sri Lanka for ten years. This is a very common sort of scam that has been going on for years. Over the years, I have received many similar messages purporting to be from my friends. Many articles have been published in the press about it. I was inclined to ignore it, thinking nobody would take it seriously, and move on but my own PH (Personal Hacker) seems to be prepared to go that extra mile to discommode me.

One of the many downsides of G-Mail is that it tries to organise one’s e-mail experience to suit Google rather than the individual punter. One of the most annoying things it does is to remember the e-mail address of every entity that one has ever corresponded with. My PH  was using this unwanted-by-me facility to annoy everyone in the world who had ever communicated with me online. My immediate reaction was to contact all my friends and family to let them know that I was OK and not in need of funds. This proved impossible because the hacker was sending his lying message to hundreds of people and had blocked my access to my own G-Mail account. The address book I had compiled for myself contained only a small proportion of the addresses he was targeting. He proceeded to do the same with my second G-Mail account. Then he moved on to my Facebook account.

As I write, he is still sending out that Cyprus scam to my Facebook friends and I cannot access my FB account.

Violation

People who received the scam message reacted in a variety of ways. I have to this day avoided engaging with the PH although he has written directly to me as well asking for money. Some did engage with him. Most people saw that it was a scam and knew that the message did not come from me. Some chided him, some teased him. Some thought the whole thing was amusing.

It was hard for me to see the funny side. I had used G-Mail for my work, for managing my finances and for communicating with friends and family all over the world. I used it to collect and store a lot of material. All this is now lost to me because my PH somehow got past my Gmail passwords (which had been classified by Google as ‘very strong’) and proceeded to deny me access to my own accounts. I have recent evidence that he has been carefully studying my e-mail correspondence.

Returning to the burglary analogy – the break-ins I experienced did not result in major financial loss or damage to property, but that did not mean they can be treated lightly. Scholarly studies have indicated that in some cases the after-effects of burglary are similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Emotional problems can include: feeling guilty for not preventing becoming the victim of a crime; a loss of faith in a society where such crimes could occur; feelings of mistrust, isolation, fear and vulnerability; fear of a repeat burglary; an obsession with home security.

In my case, the strongest feeling was of violation – an uninvited and malicious stranger had contaminated the sanctum of my home and had been rifling through my personal possessions. I am not talking about property, materialism or commercialism. The intruder had scattered around disrespectfully things that had personal value to me, including a collection of postcards that my grandfather had sent to my grandmother during the First World War.

This hacking aroused similar emotions. A malevolent stranger is, as I write, for no discernible rational purpose, rifling through my personal correspondence on G-Mail and using the information gathered to try to convince people that he is me. How hilarious is that!

Victim as Perpetrator

My Wimbledon burglar did not employ a very subtle technique. He gained ingress to the back garden from an alleyway that runs between the rears of the parallel terraces of houses. He then proceeded to batter down the kitchen door and go about his business. I was surprised that no-one heard him and called the police. When I asked the old lady next door about this, she said she had indeed heard it and it was a terrible noise. She did not think of calling the police but was, in effect, blaming me for the inconvenience she had suffered.

I detected something similar in responses from some of my virtual acquaintances. One Facebook friend, to whom I had thought I had explained the situation, still seemed to think I was asking her for money and said, “I wasn’t born yesterday!” Someone who had been an online friend since 2008 wrote to me recently saying, “Hope you were able to find the help you needed the other day. I’m truly sorry I couldn’t help.” I responded that I had sent her an e-mail explaining that I was not in Cyprus but had been hacked. She said, “I genuinely thought it was you needing help.  It was over Facebook messenger so I did think it was you.  The idea of a hack or scam occurred to me briefly, but because it was a live conversation, I really did think you needed help. His story was really rather believable.”

 

Doppelgängers

unknown_poster

There have been a number of movies about mistaken identity and identity theft. Unknown (2011), starring Liam Neeson and January Jones, is about Martin Harris (Neeson) waking from a coma to find his passport missing, his wife (Jones) denying knowing him and Aidan Quinn claiming to be him. Nobody believes Harris is who he says he is. In John Boorman’s The Tiger’s Tail (2006), Liam O’Leary (Brendan Gleeson), is an Irish property developer of humble origins who has become rich and powerful during the “Celtic Tiger” Irish economic boom. The Irish bubble burst and O’Leary is under stress as his overreaching seems to be leading him to his ruin. He begins to be haunted by his own Double who is sighted around Dublin, ordering suits and flash cars on Liam’s credit card and behaving in a scandalous manner. Liam’s mental condition is not helped by having to convince people he is Liam and the doppelgänger isn’t.

tigers-tail

There is something particularly nightmarish about trying to convince sceptics that you are you, when a doppelgänger about whom you know nothing is trying to convince them that he is you.

More about doppelgänger nightmares next week.

Leaving the Heart in San Francisco

Hipsville to Nerdsville

 

This article was published in the May 2014 edition of Echelon magazine.

gold rush

Modern San Francisco was born raffish and rebellious. The prospect of gold increased the population from 1,000 in 1848 to 25,000 by December 1849. Crews deserted their ships for the gold fields. Silver discoveries further drove rapid population growth. A transient population encouraged lawlessness, with the Barbary Coast quarter seething with prostitution and gambling. In the 1950s, Kenneth Rexroth and the Beats revolutionised poetry. In the 1960s, The Grateful Dead transformed music. Today the pioneers of the digital revolution are changing the character of San Francisco yet again.

port_rexroth

Districts

San Francisco is a walkable city, measuring about six square miles. Not so square – it is still a cool place to be in 2014, but perhaps not as hip as it was in 1967. Many neighbourhoods are dotted with boutiques, cafes and nightclubs as businesses, restaurants and venues cater to both the daily needs of local residents and for tourists.

nob hill

The historic centre of San Francisco is the northeast quadrant of the city anchored by Market Street and the waterfront. The Financial District is located here, with Union Square, the principal shopping and hotel district, nearby. Cable cars carry you, if not quite halfway to the stars, up steep inclines to the summit of Nob Hill, once the home of the city’s business tycoons, and down to Fisherman’s Wharf.

fishwharf

cable car

The large Western Addition, which acquired a large African-American population after World War II, survived the 1906 earthquake with its Victorian mansions mostly intact. It includes smaller neighbourhoods such as Haight Ashbury, which was a hippy haven in the 60s but is now home to some expensive boutiques and a few chain stores, although it retains some bohemian character.

Haight Ashbury2

Working class immigrants from Europe populated the Mission District in the 19th century. In the 1910s, a wave of Central American immigrants settled there but in recent times the demographics of parts of the Mission have changed from Latino, to twenty-something professionals.

Diversity

With 39% of its residents born overseas, San Francisco has numerous neighbourhoods with businesses and institutions catering to new arrivals. In 1870, Asians made up eight per cent of San Francisco’s population. The Chinatown quarter around Grant Avenue developed from around 1848 as businesses sprang up catering for Chinese railroad workers. Chinatown is an enclave that continues to retain its own customs, languages, places of worship, social clubs, and identity (and crime).

chinatown-san-francisco_s345x230

According to an FBI criminal complaint, behind the restaurants there is a sinister underworld. The federal charges, which allege a California lawmaker accepted money and campaign donations in exchange for providing official favours and helping broker an arms deal, cast harsh light on Chinatown’s tight-knit network of fraternal organizations and one of its most shadowy characters, Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow. Chow’s gang is said to have lured state Sen. Leland Yee into its clutches through money and campaign contributions in exchange for legislative help, as Yee sought to build his campaign coffers to run for California secretary of state.

castro

West of the Mission, the area now popularly called the Castro was once a working-class Scandinavian and Irish area, which became North America’s first gay village. San Francisco has a LGBT-friendly history. The city’s large gay population has created and sustained a politically and culturally active community over many decades, developing a powerful presence in San Francisco’s civic life. San Francisco is the only city in the state to cover gender reassignment surgery for the poor and uninsured.

Literature

A circle of writers turned 628 Montgomery Street into a literary bohemia during the Civil War. Bret Harte was successful with “The Luck of Roaring Camp” and “The Outcasts of Poker Flat.” However, his friend Mark Twain’s achievements eventually outweighed his.

bret harte

The original “Beat Generation” writers met in New York and migrated west in the mid-1950s, when they linked up with the San Francisco Renaissance, which made the city a hub of the American avant-garde. The poet Kenneth Rexroth was the founding father. Lawrence Ferlinghetti met Rexroth in Paris and went with him to San Francisco where he established the City Lights Bookstore and publishing company.

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Music

The British-born philosopher Alan Watts wrote that by around 1960 or so “… something else was on the way, in religion, in music, in ethics and sexuality, in our attitudes to nature, and in our whole style of life.” Many of the songwriters of the upcoming rock-music generation of the mid-1960s appreciated City Lights writers. The hippie culture on the Haight absorbed elements of the Beat movement gravitating around North Beach since the 1950s.

Some of the songwriters of the upcoming rock-music generation of the mid-1960s and later read and appreciated writers like Kerouac, Snyder, McClure, Ferlinghetti, and Ginsberg. In the 1960s, elements of the expanding Beat movement were incorporated into the hippie culture.

dead

Haight Ashbury bands played with each other, for each other, for free and at Chet Helms’s Avalon Ballroom and Bill Graham’s Fillmore. By 1967, fresh and adventurous improvisation during live performance (epitomized by the Grateful Dead) was one characteristic of the San Francisco Sound. In San Francisco, musical influences came in from not only London and Liverpool, but also the American folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s and the Chicago electric blues scene, as well as poetry.

quick

Banking

In the 19th century, entrepreneurs sought to capitalize on the wealth generated by the Gold Rush. Wells Fargo was established in 1852 and the Bank of California in 1854. San Francisco became the main finance centre of the West Coast and Montgomery Street, which had nurtured literary bohemia, became known as the Wall Street of the West. In the wake of the 1929 stock market crash, not a single San Francisco-based bank failed. Bank of America completed 555 California Street in 1969 and the Transamerica Pyramid was completed in 1972, (on the site of literary bohemia) igniting a wave of extensive high-rise development that lasted until the late 1980s.

pyramid

Start-Ups

During the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, large numbers of computer application developers moved into San Francisco, bringing marketing, design, and sales professionals in their wake. Many popular and prominent Internet companies such as Craigslist, Twitter and the Wikimedia Foundation established their head offices in San Francisco. In August 2013, Forbes named San Francisco among its list of Best Places for Business and Careers. However, the number of San Franciscans employed by firms of more than 1,000 employees has fallen by half since 1977. Small businesses with fewer than ten employees and self-employed firms make up 85% of city establishments.

The blow-ins gentrified poor neighbourhoods and the city’s property values rose, creating a large and upscale restaurant, retail, and entertainment scene. Many families have been leaving the city for the outer suburbs of the Bay Area, or for California’s Central Valley.

 

evictions

Nerdsville

In the early-90s, tech workers made up less than one percent of workers in San Francisco. In 2000, tech employees had risen to three percent of the workforce. By 2013, that number had passed six percent.

Internet developers like to think of themselves as creative rebels while the real cool people might see them as geeks. Go into any bar in San Francisco and you will hear people bragging about their start-up, or a titanic struggle with a line of code. These people rarely interact with people outside the tech world. Silicon Valley workers seem to want to inherit the cachet of the anti-war, social-justice, mutual-aid heart of historic San Francisco.

Google Buses

According to the Brookings Institution, after Atlanta, San Francisco has the second-highest level of inequality in the US. Software engineers at Google, Facebook, Apple and Twitter make on average up to $120,000 a year plus bonuses.

homeless

The city estimates there are about 7,350 homeless people now living in San Francisco and has allocated $165 million to help them. It has succeeded in offering 6,355 permanent supportive housing units to the formerly homeless. Nevertheless, the number of homeless people on the streets has remained unchanged. Techies living in condominiums constantly express their deep disgust that city policies provide a magnet for homeless people, spoiling an otherwise lovely place for all the hardworking taxpayers.

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The rising presence of company-funded buses in densely populated neighbourhoods has led to protests and occasional violence in a city formerly known for tolerance. Luxury coaches 45 feet long, outfitted with tinted windows, plush seats, TVs and wireless Internet, chauffeur programmers around the Bay Area. Passengers scowl or text from behind tinted windows. The Google bus and the Apple bus do not reduce commuting impact. They just transfer it to poorer people.

 

googlebus

Coda

In order to buy a home, your income needs to be nearly one and a half times higher in San Francisco than in the next most expensive city in the US. Many people can no longer afford the city they have lived in all their lives. Bookstores, bars, Latino businesses, black businesses, cannot afford high rents or purchase prices. The current boom is destroying what made San Francisco attractive in the first place.

 

 

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