Posts Tagged ‘fraud’
In October 1822, Gregor MacGregor, a native of Glengyle, Scotland, made a striking announcement. He was, he said, not only a local banker’s son, but the Cazique, or prince, of the land of Poyais along Honduras’s Black River.
A little larger than Wales, the country was so fertile it could yield three maize harvests a year. The water, so pure and refreshing it could quench any thirst – and as if that weren’t enough, chunks of gold lined the riverbeds. The trees overflowed with fruit, and the forest teemed with game. Painting an exotic, Edenic vision of a new life abroad, his proposal offered quite the contrast with the rainy darkness and rocky soils of Scotland.
What Poyais lacked, he said, was willing investors and settlers to develop and leverage its resources to the fullest. At the time, investments in Central and South America were gaining in popularity, and Poyais appeared to be a particularly appealing proposition.
Scotland didn’t have any colonies of her own, after all. Could this not be a corner of the new world for her own use?…
Gregor MacGregor’s massive fraud and how he brought it off: “The con-man who pulled off history’s most audacious scam” (excerpted from Maria Konnikova’s The Confidence Game).
* John Dryden
As we demur from accepting wooden nickels, we might recall that it was on this date in 1922 that Los Angles police were summoned to the home of silent film director William Desmond Taylor by a call about a “natural death” that had occurred the night before. When they arrived they found actors, actresses, and studio executives rummaging through the director’s belongings… and Taylor lying dead on the living room floor with a bullet in his back.
Mary Miles Minter, a teenager, had become a star in Taylor’s films and had fallen in love with him– much to the dismay of her mother, Charlotte Shelby. After Taylor’s murder, a love note to Taylor from Minter was found in his home, along with her nightgown in the bedroom. Then other damning facts came to light: Minter had once tried to shoot herself with the same type of gun used in Taylor’s murder; Shelby had previously threatened the life of another director who had made a pass at her daughter; and most portentously, Shelby’s alibi witness received suspiciously large sums of money after the murder. Still, no one was ever prosecuted for Taylor’s death– the case remains officially unsolved.
Why do archaeological fraudsters work so hard to deceive us? Because bad science makes for good stories: “What Lies Beneath.”
[image above sourced here]
* Terry Pratchett,
As we dig, we might send exploratory birthday greetings to Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt; he was born on this date in 1769. The younger brother of the Prussian minister, philosopher, and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt, Alexander was a geographer, naturalist, explorer, and champion of Romantic philosophy. Among many other contributions to human knowledge, his quantitative work on botanical geography laid the foundation for the field of biogeography; his advocacy of long-term systematic geophysical measurement laid the foundation for modern geomagnetic and meteorological monitoring.
Readers can try their hands at recognizing the identifying hues of tech brands, NFL teams, and NHL clubs at Name that Blue.
[TotH to @mattiekahn]
As we cogitate on color, we might recall that it was on this date in 2001 that energy high-flyer Enron (which had blue, among other colors, in its logo) declared bankruptcy. The company, to that point a widely-cited exemplar effective corporate management (Fortune named it “America’s Most Innovative Company” six years in a row), turned out to have been innovative in an altogether different way: it was revealed that Enron’s performance– it claimed revenues of nearly $101 billion during 2000– was largely the product of institutionalized, systematic, and stealthily-executed accounting fraud. In the aftermath, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was passed; Arthur Andersen, the auditing firm that certified Enron’s results (and was, in the most charitable construction, asleep at the switch) went out of business; 11 financial institutions (among them, Deutsche Bank and Citicorp) paid over $20 billion dollars into the bankruptcy creditors’ account in recompense for having colluded with management… and “Enron” became synonymous with “corporate fraud and corruption.”
Last week, the United States Postal Service announced that it would be ending Saturday letter deliveries as of August, 2013. The decision is partly financial—it will save a couple billion dollars—but then, the post office wouldn’t be going broke if not for a series of legislative mandates so absurd that they make the decision to sponsor Lance Armstrong look almost prudent.
To commemorate the change, The New Yorker has collected a series of its Postal cartoons– “Is the Post Office Being Funny?”
As we check the forecast for rain, sleet, or snow, we might recall that it was on this date in 1969 that a Florida audience enjoyed what they thought was a club performance by Aretha Franklin. In the end the performer, a woman named Vickie Jones, was arrested for impersonating the diva, and charged with fraud– but she was sufficiently entertaining that nobody in the club demanded a refund.
From Collectors Weekly:
These days, “snake oil” is synonymous with quackery, the phoniest of phony medicines. A “snake oil salesman” promises you the world, takes your money, and is long gone by the time you realize the product in your hands is completely worthless. But… the original snake oil actually worked.
In the 1860s, Chinese laborers immigrated to the United States to work on the Transcontinental Railroad. At night, they would rub their sore, tired muscles with ointment made from Chinese water snake (Enhydris chinensis), an ancient Chinese remedy they shared with their American co-workers.
A 2007 story in Scientific American explains that California neurophysiology researcher Richard Kunin made the connection between Chinese water snakes and omega-3 fatty acids in the 1980s.
“Kunin visited San Francisco’s Chinatown to buy such snake oil and analyze it. According to his 1989 analysis published in the Western Journal of Medicine, Chinese water-snake oil contains 20 percent eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), one of the two types of omega-3 fatty acids most readily used by our bodies. Salmon, one of the most popular food sources of omega-3s, contains a maximum of 18 percent EPA, lower than that of snake oil.”
However, it wasn’t until several years after Kunin’s research that American scientists discovered that omega-3s are vital for human metabolism. Not only do they sooth inflammation in muscles and joints, but also, they can help “cognitive function and reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and even depression.”
So why does snake oil have such a bad rap?
Well, hucksters that sold patent or proprietary medicine caught wind of the miraculous muscle-soothing powers of snake oil. Naturally, they decided to sell their own versions of snake oil—but it was just much easier to forgo using actual snakes…
As we give credit where credit is due, we might recall that it was on this date in 1721 that John Copson of Philadelphia became the first insurance agent in the Americas, and took out the first advertisement for insurance (in the American Weekly Mercury); he opened the first insurance office several days later. While there’s no record of how Copson fared, his initiative was sufficiently precedential that four years later the first book printed by Benjamin Franklin contained a long passage extolling the virtues of indemnification.
Happy Towel Day!
… but you can’t make him think.
There is enough iron in a human being to make one small nail.
A raisin dropped in a glass of fresh champagne will bounce up and down continuously from the bottom of the glass to the top.
Rapper Ice Cube’s real name is O’Shea Jackson.
There are 336 dimples in a regulation golf ball.
Readers can recharge with hundreds of other fatuous facts at Unnecessary Knowledge.
As we perfect our impersonations of Mr. Nigel-Murray, we might recall that it was on this date in 1986 that Ivan Boesky copped a plea, accepting a $100 million dollar fine for insider trading– he confessed to making $200 million trading illegally on inside information– and agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors in rolling up the nationwide network of nods-and-winks that had fueled the Wall Street boom of the 80s. Among those caught in the subsequent round-up was Junk Bond king Michael Milken, who was indicted on 98 counts of racketeering and fraud, and pled guilty to six. Milken’s fines and payments-in-restitution totaled over $1 billion. Boesky served 22 months of a three year sentence in Federal prison. Milken was sentenced to 10 years; but served only 19 months.
Boesky (top), Milken on their ways into the courthouse (source)