Tag: Forgery

Day 996: The Greatest Prank In The History Of History

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“That putz, Bolton. This will totally blow his mind.”

The above may have been uttered between the cool gusts of sharp giggles at a gathering of the Berkeley chapter of E Clampus Vitus, an organization designated either as a “historical drinking society” or a “drinking historical society”, depending on whom you ask. These are folks who are dedicated to the noble history of the American West, though they prefer to cozy up to their history with a frothy glass of smirk. Call them deviant scholars, outlaw students of the distant past and the eternal spirit of yeeha. Practical academics and impractical jokers.

The brass plate left by Sir Francis Drake near the bubbly Pacific coast is little more than a whopping banana peel, left on the ground to trip up one unfortunate mark but soon elevated into an established part of the natural vegetation. The so-called plaque that signifies the terminus of European exploration across our happy little continent is a hoax, a forgery, a one-off gag that exploded into accepted fact.

The lesson here is that history, for all her dates and names and oft-inexplicable motivations, can be a blast. Especially when iniquitous historians with a smirking sense of humor mess it up on purpose.

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Herbert Eugene Bolton was one of the most respected historians of American western expansion, the author of a now-commonplace theory that asserts that we should look at colonial expansion across all the Americas holistically, rather than piece by piece. He was a brilliant man, the fantastic mind who established the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley as the preeminent historical resource it is today. He was also a member of E Clampus Vitus. One would expect he’d have been on the lookout for shenanigans. Read more…

Day 739: Freedom Is In The Eye Of The Guy With The Big Stick

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Looking for a way to feel old? With a few exceptions, the only people who vividly remember the events of 9/11 first-hand are now legally eligible to vote. Those of us who can recall it are easily able to summon that cool twitch of nerves below the surface of our skin, and the shadowy ash of paranoia that all but blocked out the sun in the days that followed.

When President George W. Bush took action in pursuit of Osama bin Laden, he was hailed a hero and basked in the fleeting warmth of a 90% approval rating. Partisan lines that had been carved in the sand by jagged, blood-flecked sticks were swept clean and presidentially raked like a long-jump pit. Everyone wanted to get the bad guys, and we didn’t care if it took John McClane, John Rambo or every US Marine and his/her pet gerbil to get it done.

But as 2001 faded into the dim indigo glow of 2002 and then 2003, enthusiasm began to wane. The bad guys clearly couldn’t be taken down within the confines of a two-hour blockbuster storyline. It wasn’t a matter of claiming their base with a steel-toed thud, or chasing bin Laden to the edge of a volcano for a Hans Zimmer-scored climactic duel with battle axes. Instead we had the Patriot Act, the TSA, and home-spun atrocities that scantly trickled through our newsfeed.

Like the story of Khalid El-Masri.

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Khalid was born and raised in Lebanon, but when the local political climate blew in a nor’easter of a civil war during the 1980’s, he booked a one-way trip to Germany and applied for political asylum. Since then, Khalid got married twice, and had settled into a comfortable lifestyle. In late 2003, he decided to take a short vacation from his home in Ulm to the city of Skopje, Macedonia, home of over 600 newspapers (seriously). At the Macedonian border, things began to go wrong. Read more…

Day 661: The Long Island Snake

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There comes a point in most people’s lives when they realize they will most likely never make a living as a professional athlete. That’s okay, we can still become owners, right? Well, for those of us awash in a life of government drone-dom, owning the team of our dreams is also a fantasy among the unattainable. But what if we could fake it?

ESPN is airing an interesting documentary tonight as part of its 30 For 30 program, documenting the wonky exploits of a man named John Spano, who sort of owned the NHL’s New York Islanders for a brief and weird period in 1997. In Canada we don’t get ESPN, and this program isn’t airing here until Saturday, November 2nd at 11:00am, when I’ll be busy in my Lamaze class (we’re not expecting a baby – I just like practicing my breathing). So instead of setting my PVR I’ll simply hop the boards and do my own research today.

Spano’s story would be deemed too unrealistic, too implausible for that of a fictitious villain. That’s what makes it so compelling. He had balls the size of hockey helmets and sufficient knowledge of how to manipulate the system to put together a pretty slick caper. Unfortunately, he didn’t quite have the knowledge to execute the caper successfully.

Therein lies my favorite ingredient of any story – the utter absurdity.

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Back in the mid-1990’s, when hockey games would periodically pause for the occasional acoustic jam by the players, the New York Islanders were a well-respected franchise. Only a few years removed from a near-miss at the Stanley Cup finals (and with the memories of four Cups in a row in the 80’s still strong), it didn’t really matter that they’d stunk up the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum for the past couple seasons. When owner John Pickett decided it was time to sell the club and spend the rest of his years under the Florida sun, he felt an $80 million price tag for his 90% share in the team was a fair price. Read more…