Archive for September, 2013

Scams and Fraud, PART TWO: How to commit check fraud – a new post from TheReporterandTheGirlMINUSTheSuperman

September 28, 2013

t: Saturday, September 28, 2013 5:58 AM
To: paxton.bkk@gmail.com
Subject: [New post] How to commit check fraud

Hugh Paxton’s Blog in Part One outlined a few scams encountered in Africa. In this follow up post provided by TheGirl details a nasty piece of work perpetrated by a resident of Yemen (I think, though with these things it’s hard to be sure where they oiginate). TheGirl rather neatly crushes the serpent. Check her blog for details of another highly peculiar scam – “cat-fishing”.

PS It is still not too late to enter TheGirl’s (scam-free) competition and win a Kindle or $US180. See recent post on Hugh Paxton’s Blog or, of course, the Girl’s TheReporterandTheGirlMINUSTheSuperman.

New post on TheReporterandTheGirlMINUSTheSuperMan!

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How to commit check fraud

by TheGirl

Unwittingly of course.

There was this job opportunity from careerbuilder.com where I applied for an administrative position. I received a response from someone, who goes by the name "Toni Dove," and needed a personal assistant to help with some things for her art gallery.

Initially it looks legit, I googled Toni Dove and she is an artist in the city. As well as the job description sounded mundane: purchasing supplies for the studio, calling customers to collect payments, etc…

And all from home?!

So "Ms. Dove" mails me a packet which I received today, and inside contained a check, with her instructions to cash it and IMMEDIATELY deduct $500 for myself as a weekly payment then to wire the rest via Western Union to SOS Children’s Villages Yemen.

Oh no, blood money!

As you can see by the image posted, the check looks very real. But computers have come a long way since the 90’s; today anybody can print their own checks. So I call Delta Community Credit Union, where the check was supposedly issued.

I asked, " Is there a way to verify a check issued by your bank? Whether the account number is valid…or maybe the check number?"

At first the lady said no, but after some more questions she transferred me to the credit union’s rep and I gave him the check number and the amount. He could not give me any private information, but said that the check ‘had been issued and cleared already, and that it was for a different amount.’

He couldn’t tell me more than that, but boy that was all I needed to know. And what YOU need to know is this: knowingly or not, if you cash a fraudulent check you are RESPONSIBLE for the money that the bank cleared. Meaning, paying back the bank for issuing the funds and even legal consequences (yes, you can be charged with a crime, even if you were scammed).

Nowadays, even bank tellers can’t know right away if a check is fake when they accept it for deposit. The appearance may be realistic, such as watermarks and the back for endorsement. The account/routing numbers may be real too, in fact the check may have even came directly from the bank’s drawers . BUT someone– ANYONE who saw the check, may have wrote down the check number and account number and then created a copy at home…or at the secret warehouse.

At least now the bank and the FTC know the check is stolen.

The address that was used to mail this document probably came from a victim, whose address is now unwittingly the "sender of fake checks" and now my home address may be used for this too. Also, I’m assuming that the real Toni Dove did not contact me nor put up a posting for this "job."

Hhhmmm…not the greatest week ending with this pile of shit, which makes stepping on a real pile of shit like winning the lottery.

But I have some light at the end of this shit-swamp story…

Next week, I am having a guest contributor who will post his version of "What makes a woman seductive and attractive." The kicker here is that I would like a reader to write a counter blog post. Please email me your articles, and the chosen lucky winner will be mailed a gift card or for my international readers a cash payment via Paypal (I swear, I will never mail you a check!), gift card and Paypal payment will be in the amount of $20.

And hey, at least I wasn’t cat-fished…

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Scams and Fraud: Part one of two parts. “The Diary of Abbot Buggly – Diamonds.”

September 28, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s Blog has just received a new post from TheGirl outlining a fiendish scam originating in Yemen. Clever but fiendish! And potentially very expensive for the unwary victim. I’ll run her post in a minute. First here’s something on scams from the Hugh Paxton Blog archives.

BLOG ED NOTE: Nine years ago my wife and I had a daughter. We were in Namibia at the time and I decided to record her first year of life in diary form, ostensibly written from her perspective.  All the events described in the book, no matter how improbable they may sound, actually occurred. The book, titled “The Diary of Abbot Buggly” trotted around a few publishing houses who all said the same thing. “It’s a charming book but…” The problem was that the book didn’t slot neatly into any established publishing genre. So that was that. At one years-old my daughter had already joined the long list of aspiring authors to hit a brick wall. Not that she noticed. The story didn’t quite end there. With a little help from her Daddy, Annabel (my daughter) approached Air Namibia’s in-flight magazine, Flamingo, and for the next six years ran a monthly column describing her African adventures. She was, and remains, Africa’s youngest travel correspondent.

‘Abbot Buggly’, incidentally, is just one of many ridiculous nicknames we have inflicted on the poor girl during her lifetime. Some time I’ll tell you why but not now.

It’s scam time! Hey ho! Let’s go!

 

Excerpt from The Diary of Abbot Buggly: START:

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN:  Diamonds.

Akiko (our Flat A tenant and my godmother) has a new Owambo boyfriend named Paulo.

 

For some reason whenever I see him I start screaming. He tries to be friendly but I scream. Oddly no other individual I know has that effect on me. I’ve met Basters who’d give Freddy Kruger nightmares but all I do is smile at them. I’ve been barked at by enraged baboons. No problem. I’ve even seen some of my father’s drinking buddies  – not a sight for the faint hearted – but all they do is make me chortle. Paulo turns up, wearing a suit, Mr. Respectable, smiling tenderly, and I just let rip!

 

“Waaaaaaaahhhh!”

 

It embarrasses my parents but he seems to take it in his stride.

 

“She just hates me,” he explains.

 

Paulo is some sort of director at Namdeb, the parastatal that controls Namibia’s diamond mines and the domestic diamond industy. Namibia has a LOT of diamonds.

 

At one time they were so plentiful that they could be collected by moonlight – lines of poorly paid serfs would shuffle forwards on their hands and knees out in the desert looking for their pale reflective glow.

 

Its not that easy now. You need to dig for them, or dredge off shore at the river mouths, particularly the Orange river mouth. But there are still a lot of them about.

 

 

ABBOT BUGGLY ADVISORY TO WOULD-BE DIAMOND SMUGGLERS.

 

If you are a diamond dealer and receive an invitation to Namibia to view a diamond that has fallen off the back of a lorry, so to speak, the invitation has in all probability been sent to you by a policeman.

 

The same rule applies if some chap surreptitiously saunters up to you outside the Hidas Shopping Centre or the Maerua Mall.

 

Fish are caught by shiny lures and so are diamond smugglers. It’s an expensive business, being hooked, what with the crippling fines and legal costs and whatnot. But it keeps the State coffers stocked.

 

Inserting diamonds into orifices of one sort or another (but usually the first sort that springs to mind) is also inadvisable. The concept is neither new nor imaginative.

 

A cleaner at Namdeb made unfortunate headlines by leaving NamDeb’s premises through an X-ray machine weighing a few more carats than he had when he’d entered the building.

 

His name was – and this is probably why the arrest made the headlines – variously reported as Mr. Sodem or Mr. Sodom.

 

A lot of people DO smuggle diamonds. The illegal trade comprises anything up to 15% of annual global turnover. But they’re usually Lebanese, Angolans or have their own private armies

 

And the black market keeps a lot of potentially rich countries perpetually poor as drug crazed warlords rampage and fight and lay waste the land (see my father’s hideous novel, Homunculus, for grisly details).

 

No, take my advice, go with the nappy ploy (see Chapter Two).

 

Or leave Namibia, sun-bronzed, happy and about as rich as when you came. Diamonds may be forever (they’re at least 4 billion years old) but a ten stretch is no tick of the clock.

 

While we’re on the subject of receiving uninvited offers you cannot refuse from Africans you’ve never met and never heard of, take the Abbot Buggly stance. Just say no.

 

My father and mother regularly receive emails from Nigeria, or Senegal and most recently from Cameroon and Cote D’Ivoire.

 

The emails come from government officials disgusted with the state of corruption in their respective countries, or from earnest NGO workers appalled by the mismanagement of state funds, or from bankers who want to mobilize public money  (that would otherwise be wasted by self-serving politicos) for the benefit of the poor.

 

Occasionally the mails come from a lawyer who has just discovered that a very distant relative of my parents has died leaving 500,000 acres of oil-rich land to them to apologize for not having kept in touch.

 

In every case there is a request for funds to be transferred to an account, or a request for the fortunate recipients of the email to provide their own bank account details. So that funds can be transferred to their own account, you understand.

 

You see, in every case there is the offer of making my lucky parents rich for facilitating the financial procedures.

 

My father has just been offered ten percent of five million greenbacks if he could only help a human rights activist release the said sum from a Nigerian account held by a dead member of the former military dictatorship. The money would help in promoting democracy.

 

“Yeah,” my father said, “right.”

 

Strangely a large number of people actually get suckered in. To quote a recent Nampa-Reuters report, “The so-called 419 scam, named after an article in Nigeria’s penal code outlawing it, has been so successful in the past 20 years that campaigners say it is now the third largest foreign exchange earner in Africa’s most populous nation.”

 

The third largest!

 

One wretched German was informed by a “government minister” in Lagos that that old staple, a distant relative, had died leaving an estate worth well over ten million pounds. In order to transfer the property to the German, funds were needed to smooth the procedure.

 

This is not Europe, the German was regretfully informed, this is Africa and sadly riddled with people whose palms need greasing before things get done.

 

The amount of grease needed in this case could have kept an armored division rust free for the best part of a decade; several hundred thousand smackers. There was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing. Emails to the German, more money transferred to Lagos fro the German.

 

The German then received a communication from the Lagos police authorities.

 

The German was, they regretted to inform him, the victim of a criminal gang specializing in mail fraud.

 

The good news, however, was that the authorities were on to them. The fiends would be arrested. The money returned.

 

But this is not Europe, the police told him, this is Africa and sadly in order to get things done funds were needed to facilitate things.

 

By this stage most people would be entertaining serious doubts when encountering a Lagos government letterhead, no matter how nicely forged it was.

 

Not the German. No expense was spared to help the law track down the scoundrels who had duped him. Hundreds of thousands. But he was determined to fight to the bitter end.

 

This came when he finally ran out of money.

 

And never heard from anyone from Lagos again.

 

An even more extreme case occurred when a retired Czech doctor was taken for $600,000. Understandably disgruntled, the man stormed the Nigerian embassy in Prague last February, and shot dead the leading consul.

 

Of course Interpol takes a keen interest in these shenanigans, but more amusing is the phenomenon of scam baiting. Scam-baiters lead the con artists along with a view to humiliating them. One Englishman is building up a large collection of scammers’ photos.

 

First he gives the scammer his name. It is a false name. Then feigning keen interest in the scammer’s proposals he requests photos of the scammers holding a placard displaying his false name. It’s so he can see who he’s dealing with, he tells them.

 

One scammer obliged by sending a photo of himself, beaming amiably into the camera and proudly holding aloft a piece of paper reading “Iama Dildo.”

 

That gets it said.

 

……

 

Back to diamonds. Yesterday there was a robbery . Three men made off with several cases of shiny stones from Namdeb down in Orangemund .

 

Early evening, Paulo came over with a gift of two large frozen fish (the deal being that my father will cook them and then everyone will gather and eat them). After the fish had been appraised, praised and manhandled into the freezer compartment of the fridge – they weren’t large fish really, they were huge fish – my father asked about the Orangemund incident.

 

After I’d stopped shrieking at him (it took a long while), Paulo gave a derisive snort.

 

“We’ll get them. Those guys were SO dumb. So DUMB! Idiots!”

 

Seems the robbers were wearing overalls and balaclavas to hide their identities. Clever. After making their getaway they changed their clothes, dumped the overalls, but one of them forgot to remove his birth certificate from a pocket.

 

Why would anybody bring their birth certificate along on an armed robbery ? Shotguns, yes. Balaclavas, yes. But a birth certificate ?

 

Dumb. Real dumb.

 

….

 

This morning the phone rang unfortunately early. Our caller had seen the advertisement in the window of our Isuzu trooper.

 

“How does it work ?”

 

My father launched into his patter. “Well, it’s a smooth runner, has 170,00 kays on the clock give or take..”

 

“No,” the voice interrupted. “I mean how does the deal work?”

 

“Well, I guess you come and see the car, we take it for a test drive, if you like it you give me money, I give you the car.”

 

 

“So you want money for the car?” The voice was now sounding furtive. Sleazily furtive.

 

“Uh huh. Yes. ”

 

“Can we work it differently?”

 

“What differently? You mean you take the car but don’t give me any money ? “

 

“There can be ways of doing things. Shall we make a plan?”

“Go away.”

 

A moment later the phone rang again. A different caller, this man got to the point fast in a strangely offensive “jiveass” pseudo-black-1960s-American pimp accent.

 

African pronunciation of English is mainly a wonderful thing. It is solemn, considered, structured, sincere; it employs a splendid, entertaining, enthralling vocabulary.

 

It is possible to listen to a politician making the most outrageous ly deranged statements  and find yourself nodding; awed, overwhelmed by the richness of the voice, the syntax, the steadied rhythm. Unless they’re some racist monstrosity like Mugabe.

 

That man could be singing Grand Opera a la Pavarotti only better. You’d still want to throw eggs.

 

But this jiveass thing. Yech! Drives my father wild. He was now fully awake. So was I.

 

“Hey man I need the wheels. Your Land Cruiser.”

 

“My Land Cruiser is an Isuzu Trooper. And why don’t you go away?”

 

“S’right, man. Cool. The Trooper. I’ve got to be over the Angolan border by seven tonight. We’ve got to make speed. I’m packing stones.”

 

“Where are you ?”

 

“The Tech.”

 

“Windhoek Polytechnic ?”

 

“Ya man. The Tech. Can you pick me up ? We got to check this thing out.”

 

“Go away.”

 

“Heeyyy! We need to work on this!”

 

“Go away.”

 

 

Catherine is a colleague of my mother. She’s from Kenya but is on a one-year renewable contract with UNDP’s Environment Unit here and she intends to stay in Namibia.  Catherine is willowy, elegant and altogether lovely. Fantastic telephone manner. Makes great cakes.

 

But this is not germaine to my tale.

 

She advertised that her car was for sale and she got similar telephone calls.  Subsequent encounters with the prospective buyers indicated that they were all criminals seeking to convert smuggled diamonds into something more legally sellable than lumps of compacted carbon.

 

Cars don’t last forever but at least they are useful.

 

Catherine did sell her car eventually, but not before she and her mother were lured by a smoothly packaged individual into a small room with a Chinese gentleman sitting behind a desk. On the desk was a neat little suitcase.

 

Pop went the suitcase’s locks.

 

“Take a look,” said the Chinese gentleman, or words to that effect. They looked. The stones, supremely indifferent to the passage of billennia and their current surge in popularity – a mere nothing in geological time-scale –sat there.

 

Catherine and her mother got out fast. Then they sold their car to someone who wasn’t waving minerals at them.

 

Wendy summarized the whole phenomenon perfectly.

 

“If they want to buy a car why don’t they sell their diamonds and use the money to buy the car?”

 

Why not indeed?

 

Akiko coming back with Paulo pointed out that if my father was interested in buying stones and making a huge profit he’d need to know whether the stones were worth anything.

 

My father admitted that he knew nothing about diamonds.

 

Akiko gave a gay laugh. “Of course not, you’re not Jewish.”

 

Good point.

 

Paulo was equally well informed.

 

“They sell you glass. Your car crosses the Angolan border. That’s it. Your glass. Their car.”

 

Then he said, “Hello, Isobel!” and gave me a wide smile.

 

Isobel????

 

Isobel!!!!

 

I screamed at him. He fled.

 

Speaking from a five month old perspective, if I saw an uncut diamond I’d ignore it. Dull, soapy looking pebble of a thing. Perhaps if someone had cut it so that it reflected light and sparkled, I’d swallow it.

 

Or choke on it. Or throw it away. Or lose interest in about thirty seconds. My question to the world is this. Why are wars, atrocities, madmen in Sierra Leone/Angola/ Liberia/Congo beating baby’s brains out being funded by these silly little things ? Why don’t the people buy small yellow furry octopi that squeak when you squeeze them instead?

 

They’re fun.

 

And I don’t think that anyone has killed anyone over a soft furry yellow octopus that squeaks when you squeeze it.

 

Or tried to exchange one for a car.

 

But, heck, I’m young and I’m sure the world has things to teach me.

 

 

 

 

 

THAI DAYS: If You Go Down to the Woods Today (Part two)…. It’s War!

September 27, 2013

Take Hugh Paxtons Blog’s word for it – Thailand’s tropical forests are beautiful. Dawn brings the liquid whoop of gibbons in the forest canopy hundreds of feet above the mist that pools around the gnarled dipterocarp roots– if a tall, cool glass of water could sing it would sound like a gibbon –, the heavy whoosh, whoosh of a giant hornbill’s wings, the startled cough of barking deer smelling dhole hunting dogs, the distant grumble of elephants, tens of thousands of bats leaving crag caves at twilight, after the first rains tens of millions of fireflies drifting and blinking through the velvet dark like tiny constellations…yes, beautiful.

But they can be hard work; a lot of steep, slippery muddy, slopes, snagging vines, streams to forge, leeches galore (and I do mean galore, and those suckers have no respect for leech proof socks), wild boar ticks, sudden torrential downpours, and ridge after ridge of limestone karst formations that stick out above the forest giant canopy like the back plates of long dead stegosaurs.

There are trails made by man or animals (forest pig, elephant, gaur, the giant Asian bison etc,) and I never leave them, unless I have a guide, for the simple reason that I’d get lost and would never be seen again. Despite deforestation and human incursion and population growth Thailand’s forests are still vast. The western forest complex, comprising 17 protected areas including Huai Kha Khaeng, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for example, covers 18,727 sq kms.

Beautiful, yes, tough going, yes…and currently a war zone.

On one side are the poachers drawn by rosewood (highly valued outside Thailand – but not in country where it is considered a sacred tree), tigers, elephants, bushmeat, animals valued in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or the international exotic pet trade , but most of all money.

Some poachers are simply poor, or greedy, opportunistic locals who use the forests for a free meal. But others are mixed up with a slew of illegal activities – drug manufacture and smuggling (particularly methamphetamines or heroin), people trafficking, and of course the killing or trapping of wild animals and birds, the rarer the better. Their backers and customers are powerful criminal syndicates operating out of Lao, Cambodia but principally Vietnam (an increasingly significant final destination for wildlife products due to a burgeoning, not to mention ostentatious, ignorant and affluent, nouveau riche class), and our old voraciously amoral friend, China.

On the other side are the staff and rangers of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP).

When it comes to weapons the good guys are woefully outgunned. Most of them are equipped with either shotguns or Heckler and Koch firearms that are over 30 years old. The poachers have AK-47 assault rifles and automatic carbines. State of the art stuff ideally suited to jungle warfare.

What puzzles me is their willingness to use these weapons so freely.

One of the principle problems facing effective wildlife crime enforcement is the judicial system. Wildlife offences are still perceived by the law as a “victim-less crime” and sentences are lenient, going on ludicrously non-deterrent .

If successfully prosecuted at all, the criminals can confidently expect to be back in their hunting grounds mere weeks or, at most, a couple of years later. And if you have the backing of a multi-million dollar crime syndicate on your side, a $US500 fine is risible.

But shoot they do. Hence the DNP’s declaration of war.

Since 2009, 47 forest rangers have been killed on duty and 48 others injured.

On Sept 12th came the final straw. Hmong hilltribe tiger hunters, part of a well known gang operating in the Huai Kha Khaeng World Heritage Site , shot and killed two rangers and wounded two more. One hilltribesman was killed in the firefight, two were captured, and two fled. They are believed to be hiding in the Bangkok area. If they have been injured, and I hope they were, it will make apprehending them easier – even in Bangkok, bullet trauma raises eyebrows in medical facilities.

But two more deaths, two more injuries – the DNP decided enough was enough. Negotiations were begun with the army to buy or borrow state of the art weaponry for rangers. All protected area managers were ordered to assemble every scrap of information they had on poaching gangs, proven, suspected, rumoured, anecdotal. This exercise to be conducted in close co-operation with local police. All weapons were ordered to be checked for readiness and/or obsolescence.

And this morning, pre-dawn, over 1,000 armed forest rangers deployed throughout the western forest complex on the largest patrol/man hunt ever conducted by the DNP. They are out there as I write.

Time for the poaching gangs and syndicates to reap the whirlwind.

In Part One of this Two Part Post I described meeting Thai park rangers and observing their anti-poaching training. Things have escalated.

It started with a contact between

Thai Days: If You Go Down To The Woods Today (Part One)… Poaching in Thailand: Mushrooms and Muscle

September 27, 2013

Hugh Paxtons Blog notes with approval that Thailand’s Forestry Department has just declared war on poachers, both Thai nationals and those crossing borders from neighbouring countries to kill and loot The Kingdom’s natural, and dwindling treasures. I’m posting a two part focus on the murderous trade. This first piece I wrote for the Japan Times newspaper earlier this year during the CITES conference on the illegal international trade in endangered species. It is for background. Part two of the post covers the events of today.

PART ONE START: MUSHROOMS and MUSCLE

It is one of the most poignant photos I’ve taken during this CITES. We are in Khao Yai (lit big mountain) Thailand’s first and grandest national park. Peaks and plunges. Huge trees. Waterfalls. And there are elephants and even a few tigers out there. Also rangers and poachers and a largely un-noticed wildlife war.

The photo ingredients!

A burly Australian, Sean Willmore has his computer out on a table in the shade of helpful trees. Sean is director of the International Rangers Foundation.

Watching Sean, with obviously mixed feelings, is a group of rangers from 13 different Asian countries. Bhutan, India, Laos, Thailand , China, Philippines … Sean is showing them a list of rangers who have been killed worldwide while doing their job. It makes for grim reading; about 1,000 killed in the last ten years when he started the butcher’s bill. “This is a conservative estimate based on partial data from only 35 countries,” he says. The implication is obvious. Many others have died. And died hard. A few lucky escapes – poachers decided to bury one Congo ranger alive in a grilling pit but his mates dug him out.

All the national parks rangers here in Khao Yai have been invited by the Bangkok-based Freeland Foundation, an NGO that specialises in tracking wildlife crime, exposing criminal syndicates, strengthening the capacity of national parks staff and developing alternative livelihoods for poachers.

I have heard Freeland described as “mushrooms and muscle.” The mushrooms are grown by former poachers aided and abetted by Freeland advisors as alternative livelihoods. Income good, and the mushrooms apparently are first rate.

Freeland’s people have various backgrounds – investigative journalists, environmental activists, biologists, but the field trainers are mainly ex-military skilled in tactics and are veterans of operating in hostile forest and wilderness environments. The army touch is essential. The ongoing wildlife war shows no sign of a ceasefire.

Wildlife trafficking in South East Asia isn’t a matter of a hungry local ‘shooting for the pot’, explains Tim Redford, one of Freeland’s principle field trainers – it is a huge business involving skilled and sophisticated criminal syndicates. ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network, a trans-national organisation monitoring and combating trafficking, reports that in the past four years 150,000 wild animals have been confiscated in the region. Some are released back into safer areas, many die of stress or have to be destroyed. Nine tonnes of pangolins have been captured and there’s nothing to do but try to feed them ants (which isn’t effective) then reduce the remains to ash.

Thailand sits slap in the middle of the wildlife trade routes and its porous borders offer easy access and egress to smugglers. ASEAN WEN estimates that 153,000 animal and plant parts are smuggled internationally every day in this part of the world.

Wildlife crime is coordinated and cool-headed. The Environment Investigation Agency (EIA) states that professional traffickers are more than familiar with CITES. CITES efforts to protect them might even raise a species market value. Or lead to hoarding. The EIA notes that wildlife crime receives a low priority in many countries as it is perceived as “victimless” and for a criminal syndicate the penalties handed down by courts are “low risk, high profit.” Drugs can invite a death sentence. Ivory, pangolins, rosewood, frogs – these arrests are laughed at.

In Khao Yai, the rangers and the managers are eager to learn.

Being a ranger is overworked, underpaid and at times very dangerous as Sean’s statistics show. In Khao Yai, poachers don’t come for elephants. They come for rosewood trees. The poachers bring rice pots and guns. They shoot gibbons and boar to go with their rice. Elsewhere in the country they set up small saw mills to process their timber. If a ranger patrol approaches they shoot at them.

At times poachers set booby traps- pipe guns with shotgun shells, a whiff of gunpowder and a trip wire that will fire lethal pellets into a passing barking deer or into the legs of a ranger.

The men and women attending the Freeland training session are well aware of the dangers of their work. And if they weren’t they are now. Sean’s hardly reassuring. Assassinations, 50 rangers versus 5,000 drugged up Congo militia men intent on raping and pillaging, ranger killed by angry rhino, ranger treading on landmine, intimidation, being hung upside down stark naked by the Venezuela military and anally raped with batons after trying to stop sea turtle poaching by the military…

“Sean,” think I. “These guys have enough to worry about! One of their colleagues just got shot and another one had his face ripped off by a bear!”

But the rangers take all this horror in their stride. They seem to become more determined.

Sean sweetens the bitter pill. His organisation will pay $1,000 bucks to any ranger killed. “Unless they’re drunk or commit suicide. Which rules all of you out!”

There’s laughter.

Every ranger is issued with a Freeland kit…water bottle, combat fatigues, cookpot for brewing tea or rice and blimey a tablet! Not for malaria, a Sony tablet! All the course material is there, all the group photos. But most importantly they leave with training, support and companionship. Back into the forests. Back into the war.

The poachers keep coming, says one ranger, and we will be there to say hello and goodbye.

Al-Shabaab cry foul over Kenyan chemical weapons crime.

September 27, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s Blog read, with incredulity, an anonymous Al-Shabaab spokesthing, complaining that Kenyan authorities had used gas against its murderous vermin holed up in the wreckage of Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall. The Kenyans dismissed this utterly outrageous claim as rubbish, or words to that effect. Even if it were true (which I am sure it is not) I really cannot award Al-Kebab my sympathy vote – if you do what they did, a bit of gassing strikes me as well deserved. And if it is Al-Shabaab’s plan to bring the Kenyan army chief up before the International War Crimes Tribunal these scumbags are even crazier than I gave them credit for. Which is saying something.

From grotesque farce to abject tragedy. Among the many gratuitously slain was the best friend of my wife’s colleague. Her offence? Moving to East Africa as an aid worker. That and going to the Westgate to enjoy a meal. I never met her. Never will. He is devastated. In the highly unlikely event that any would be-Jihadists read this blog I urge you to rethink. You don’t win, you never will. You only blight and ruin lives and bring pain. Cool it. Live and let live.

SPORTS! BRINGING US TOGETHER! The Islamic Solidarity Games Fiasco

September 26, 2013

Hugh Paxtons Blog (HGP): Standing in front of a wilting crowd of sports fans.

HGP: Gimme an ‘O’!

Crowd: “O”.

HGP: Gimme an ‘x’!!!!

Crowd: “x!!!”

HGP: Gimme a ‘y’! Come on y’all! Giimme a ‘y’!!!!’

Crowd: “Y!!!!”

HGP: Gimme a great big ‘M!!!!!!”

Crowd: “M.”

HGP: Add me an ‘oron’! And what have we got?

Crowd: Oxymoron!

HGP: Yes folks! And it’s a humdinger! The Islamic Solidarity Games! And over to the Bangkok Post Editorial for one good reason! With the exception of Al Jazeera the Qatar-based news agency who posted the inauspicious headline “Tensions mar Solidarity Games” The Post is the only media organ I’ve encountered since the Games kicked off on Sunday who has actually mentioned them.

“The obviously misnamed Games,” stated the Post “[were] in principle supposed to be to be an athletic competition in many sports. In short order, however, they became a religious/political debate over, of all things, bikinis.”

The Games organisers, in the spirit of stopping solidarity deteriorate into farce had, months ago, decidedthat the event would follow international protocol, rules and regs at the Indonesia-based events. This wasn’t good enough for some Islamic sports groups who ban their female members from wearing two piece outfits on track and field. These elements insisted that all competitors cover up in the name of decency. Demands from minority Indonesian Islamics escalated.

Swimming? Women swimming? Even swimming in one-piece kit? Highly offensive! All men must be prohibited from attending female swimming events. And then, wow, let’s push this to the Muslim morality max! Male and female competitions should be held on alternate days so that neither sex catch a glimpse of the other.

This isn’t the first time events have been besieged by over-excited sexually repressed men with beards. Miss World had to relocate from Jakarta to avoid disrupting Indonesia’s social fabric and took place in Bali instead. The 2011 Southeast Asian Games suffered similar tribulations.

The only reason The Bangkok Post bothered running the editorial was that a handful of Thai Islamic hysterisc pitched a fit over clothes worn in a Thai TV drama – and instead of suggesting that they just switch channels if they were offended or asking these censorious gits why they were watching the drama in the first place, the TV people gutlessly agreed to their demands. The Post angrily talked about “the tyranny of the minority” and then moved on to other weightier matters. And so did everybody else, leaving the beards to gloat on their victory alone and no longer noticed.

As for the Islamic Solidarity Games I really can’t say what the upshot is. Nobody – and I mean nobody has reported anything further about them. They’ve not appeared on the BBC, CNN or other international heavyweights to my knowledge, haven’t graced my sports channels, the newspapers seem blissfully unaware that they are ongoing, and if there is closing ceremony (assuming it hasn’t already happened) nobody will notice that either.

Meanwhile as the athletes sweat in the tropical sun, or soak in the typhoon rain (no matter what they are wearing) all in the interests of Islamic Solidarity, the sectarian violence rages on elsewhere without any sign of solidarity at all – Sunni v. Shia etc. etc.

HUGH PXTON’s BLOG would be indebted to any reader who has actually seen a single Islamic Solidarity Games event or heard an event result. Please let us know what I, and the rest of Thailand, have been missing.

Elephants: Hideous News from Zimbabwe and Perhaps Some Good News: Hwange Cyanide Horror and Media advisory: United Nations event and Clinton Global Initiative target illegal wildlife trade

September 26, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s Blog has two bits of elephant news. The first? Appalling. At least 81 elephants have been poisoned by poachers using cyanide in water holes in Zimbabwe’s largest, and in my opinion, most beautiful, national park. Hwange. I only visited Hwange once but was entranced by the vistas, the abundant wildlife and I spent evenings sharing cold beer with rangers on the Sinamatella escarpment watching heat lightning flare and listening to the restive trumpeting of elephants and the roar of lions on the plains below. Even then, back in tHe early 90s Hwange was An occasional battlefield. The men I drank with had all had ‘contacts’ with poaching gangs mainly from over the Zambian border in search of rhinos. It was a brutal time. Shoot to kill on both sides. But the rangers were on top of it.

With the rise of Mugabe’s senility and the country’s subsequent descent into violence, economic ruin following black racist armed confiscation of white-owned farms, and subsequent social collapse, the really hard winds began to blow through the newly independent nation’s national parks. The whole scenario was heartbreaking to witness and the world largely ignored the slaughter both of opposition supporters, white farmers and wildlife. My friends and I did what we could, which admittedly wasn’t much – we participated in an Adopt-A-Scout programme, which involved raising money (or more successfully donating it ourselves) to provide scouts with sorely needed equipment; boots, wet weather gear, binoculars, socks, that sort of stuff. I supported free-thinking journalists who were struggling with the twin demons of thuggish secret police and an inflation rate that ultimately resulted in the printing of 10,000,000,000 dollar bills (upon achieving independence one Zim dollar was equivalent to one GB pound – your 10,000,000,000 might purchase at best, and if you were lucky, an egg). Things haven’t changed that much although nobody uses Zim dollars anymore. Horror still simmers beneath the surface. Mugabe has recently been re-elected in rigged elections (he’s been in power since 1980) and as this latest incident so cruelly illustrates poaching is an ever-present blood-soaked spectre.

The cyanide killing was reported on Saturday by a group of government experts who went to Hwange to verify or disprove stories that poisoners were at large in the park. Jerry Gotora, a director the Zim Parks Dept confirmed 81 dead eles as well as an unspecified number of other animals. Quite a lot is my guess. You poison a waterhole and everything that drinks is history. The animals depend on waterholes. No arrest have been made and the story is still ongoing. Unlike the elephants.

On a brighter note I received the following press release. It seems that illegal wildlife crime is slowly inching up the global agenda ladder. The involvement of Clinton can only be good news.

START:

Dear media correspondent,

Please find attached and below a media advisroy from TRAFFIC on two separate events taking place today in New York: a side event on illegal wildlife trade at the UN General Assembly and an announcement by the Clinton Global Initiative.

Best regards

Richard

TheReporterandThe Girl FW: Kindle Fire Giveaway! I’m hosting this giveaway…

September 26, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s Blog received the following from TheGirl – an offer you cannot refuse (or shouldn’t if you fancy winning a free Kindle Fire (US winners only) or a an Amazonn.com Gift Card worth $US199 or a Paypal Cash transfer of $US199 (international winners). Follow the link for details.

This is a double opportunity – not only can you win a Kindle but also use it to swing into action and read her just released book. I read it straight through yesterday and long into the night and must say it is well worth a look. I’ll be posting a review (not written by myself) shortly. Enough from me. Check the link. It’s an intriguing concept and a very straightforward competition. Good luck and cheers from Bangkok!

Over to TheGirl!

photo.jpg Kindle Fire Giveaway! I’m hosting this giveaway on my blog!!

OJZfpm9mBHgRx-z8kWtGj-0zHf-lluKSxERhyVh6ictcpCYk6siQBbiDLkx5CRHC5f-TyV48UDg1IOxarDS9IGIarvO564D8DhMyjLMN8YVqtqnX-xOyG2dQ0KmNy4aVbV4pymhPoCYjRlONl9rPDf87WpyB4wTvrg=w120-h120

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Brigitte’s Pick: Strange, but awesome Flowers

September 25, 2013

Brigitte says it with flowers. Strange and wonderful indeed but Hugh Paxton’s Blog like anybody living in Thailand doesn’t find them so surprising. We’re spoiled. The flowers here are extreme – both in abundance and beauty. Even the smallest garden is wreathed in orchids. One of the things that makes life here so lovely!

Over to Brigitte and the floral kingdom!

Once in a while, Nature gets a bit extravagant in her design of flowers . . . .

flowers you may not have seen before.

Rare and Unusual Flowers

Thai Days: The Great Plane Whitewash and the Cursed Trains

September 23, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s Blog asks you to imagine that you are handling PR for Thai Airways.

A flight arrives from China and skids off the runway at Suvarnabhumi Int Airport. Nobody is seriously hurt.

Do you

a) think “No big deal, it’ll make page three of the Bangkok Post if it’s lucky, 150 words max, no photo. A one minute wonder.”

b) promise a full investigation and wait for everybody to forget about it.

c) decide to cover the whole incident up. With black paint.

If you answered a) or b) you wake up the next morning, the sun is shining, all’s right with the world and nobody’s even picked up on the runway slip-up.

Went for option c)? Congratulations! There is the offending aircraft, its logos smeared with hideous blotches of black paint hastily applied by several employees who clearly failed their kindergarten art course. The photo is huge. Almost bigger than the headlines. The interesting thing is that the photo isn’t just on the front page of the Bangkok Post newspaper. Its on the front page of ALL the newspapers. Many leader articles urge readers to turn to page two for more details (and more photos). The Letters Page regulars have swung into action, too, and columnists are running headers like “I see a white plane and I want it painted black.”

If Thursday’s bad, then Friday’s worse. That photo! Again! That botched paint job! The mockery! The TV, the international media…

The story mutters on over Saturday but the jokes are beginning to run thin (hardly surprising, there have been so many of them) but the reprieve is short lived. Cometh the Sunday, cometh the colour supplements (that photo! In colour!) and the weekly roundups.

Cometh the Monday and cometh the pink slip.

From planes to trains. The number of derailments so far this year, as columnist Roger Crutchley points out has “reached a respectable darts score.” Close to 180.

Some derailments are particularly noteworthy – one train derailed itself while stationary, another managed to travel 1,400 kms from the far south before falling off the tracks just 300 meters from its destination. Who or what is the culprit behind this epidemic of cockups and disasters? Lack of maintenance? Heavy rain? Subsidence? Incompetence? Antique rolling stock?

Nope! SRT staff at headquarters have just discovered that a 68 year old painting of a steam locomotive hanging in head office has been slightly damaged, and just like the real thing, a small chunk of track is missing. Notes Crutchley “This, of course, is a “bad omen,” and hopefully this work of art will be quickly restored to its original state, which should stop any more trains falling off the tracks forthwith.”

“Incidentally,” Crutchley adds ” the steam locomotive in the painting looks in better shape than some of the current diesel locomotives, which is a bit worrying.”

“Get restoring!” say I. “But for heaven’s sake, don’t use black paint!”

 

 

 

 


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