Tag: Money

Day 927: Justice Joe Pulls A Crater

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At the sputtering end of the era of utmost corruption within the governance of the city of New York, people had to – in the parlance of today’s aspiring gangstas – get got. Arnold Rothstein met his untimely end in 1928 (spoilers to any Boardwalk Empire fans), and in the wake of his demise the final vestiges of the Tammany Hall fist of political smarminess were poised to become rubble. This wasn’t the end of corruption in New York of course, only the final curtain for this particular brand of centralized evil.

On the filthy payroll were cops, city officials and judges – hell, if the Tammany Hall machine were still around they’d probably be using those Times Square Elmos to peddle fenced goods. Unfortunately for the families of those who were caught up in this web of political malfeasance, when someone was rubbed out, there wasn’t always an accompanying explanation.

This brings us to the mysterious vanishing of Associate Justice Joseph Force Carter of the New York Supreme Court. Here was a man poised in the toasty glow of a biopic-worthy legal career: sitting on the second-highest court in New York at age 41 and allegedly a contender for the next open spot on the US Supreme Court. Then one day, he vanished. Did he flee? Was he dispatched from this planet via a snub-nosed messenger? Was he secretly a ghost the entire time? No, probably not that last one.

This guy was corrupt? Really? With that honest face?

This guy was corrupt? Really? With that honest face?

In the summer of 1930, Justice Crater was vacationing with Stella, his wife, at their cozy cabin in Belgrade, Maine. Crater had only been appointed three months earlier, but he felt he deserved a little break. He received a call in late July, and announced to Stella that he needed to return to New York “to straighten those fellows out.” Nothing else was said, and the next day he was back in the couple’s swanky Fifth Avenue apartment.

Whatever pressing business had summoned Justice Crater to New York, it would have to wait until after his wild weekend in Atlantic City with his showgirl mistress, Sally Lou Ritzi. This guy couldn’t have been more of a cliché if he wore a tommy gun over his shoulder. Read more…

Day 923: The Moderately Bungled Legend Of The Dalton Gang

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Of course, we all know the stories of Billy the Kid, Wild Bill Hickok and Jesse James, but do we really know… wait, I can’t make that assumption anymore. There have been maybe three or four decent western movies released in the 22 years since The Unforgiven, so it’s a safer guess that our collective knowledge of old west outlaws is probably somewhat shallow, apart from basic name recognition.

So maybe most people only know Jesse James as that West Coast Choppers guy, and maybe there are some who believe Billy the Kid was the character Gene Wilder played in Blazing Saddles. A hundred years ago, anywhere from 10-20% of American movies were westerns; now the genre barely shows up as a blip on the map. But alas, I’m digressing off the dusty path.

If the biggest names of America’s frontier days have already drifted into pop-culture obscurity, then I’m sure the tale of the Dalton Gang is utterly recondite. This is a tale of outlawism, of high aspiration and of ludicrous ineptitude. It’s a story that truly deserves a modern re-telling (and perhaps a resurrection of one of film’s most delicious genres).

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It all begins here, with Frank Dalton. Frank was the eldest of 15 kids, a Deputy US Marshal and by all accounts, a hero. He was shot dead in the line of duty while trailing a horse thief through the Oklahoma Territory in 1887, and within three years his brothers (Grat, Bob and Emmett Dalton) had followed in Frank’s footsteps and joined the noble side of law enforcement. After a monetary dispute left the brothers feeling soured on their distinguished vocation, they hopped across the proverbial tracks and became bad guys.

Let’s do a quick sweep of the Dalton Gang that formed in 1890:

–       There were the brothers: Gratton (Grat), the eldest brother who had idolized Frank; Bob, the wild man who murdered a romantic rival while he was still a deputy; and Emmett, the youngest of the bunch. Another brother, Bill, was also an outlaw, but he spent most of his years out in California on his own. Read more…

Day One After 909: Mr. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer Of Quality Education

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It is the final day of classes. Just a day in the life of Mr. Maxwell, a grade six teacher who’ll be flying across the street to teach summer school next week. It’s not the end for him, just the annual hello/goodbye to this year’s crop of kids. The man has a real love for his profession, but something doesn’t feel right today. This boy wants a vacation. And his kids are running here, there and everywhere with the bottled-up energy of ten months’ anticipation of being – finally – free as a bird.

 

MAXWELL:  Good morning! Good morning everyone. Take a seat.

JIMMY: Mr. Maxwell?

MAXWELL: Yes Jimmy?

JIMMY: I forgot to remember… to forget… to get a note from my mom about our end-of-year picnic today.

MAXWELL: I’ve got a feeling you’re still half-asleep. The picnic was last week. Remember the rain?

JIMMY: Right. Those three cool cats were sniffing an old brown shoe while two of us threw rocks at it by the new grazeeboo.

MAXWELL: The what? What’s the new – Mary-Jane, tell me why you just smacked Joey in the head? You can’t do that.

MARY-JANE: He told me, “Run for your life, cuz I’m searchin’ for a taste of honey, and baby, it’s you.” He’s always so bad to me!

JOEY: Oh yeah? Well she said… she said I was the sun king.

MARY-JANE: I did not!

MAXWELL: Alright, that’s enough. Mitchell, slow down and get back to your desk; you’re liable to trip and roll over Beethoven, the class gerbil, and I ain’t using my first aid skills for no one on the last day of school.

After all, the school's first aid kid is woefully out of date.

After all, the school’s first aid kid is woefully out of date.

MITCHELL: Yes Mr. Maxwell.

MAXWELL: Okay everyone. It’s the last day! Let’s talk about the summer. I’ll be on my way to the airport after dismissal today. I’m headed back in the USSR on a long, long, long flight (please let it be a smooth one). It won’t be long though, and I’ll be back here with another class of bad boys – sorry, just ‘boys’ – and girls. Ha ha.

JULIA: Mr. Maxwell?

MAXWELL: Yes, Julia?

JULIA: Why do you call it the USSR? It’s Russia, isn’t it?

MAXWELL: I call it the USSR just as I call your name – it’s how I’ve always known it. You see, in my life there’s a place in my heart for Moscow in the 80’s. The inner light of that city always spoke to me; I’m so tired of hearing how bad it was back then. The night before I left last time, the warm and lovely Rita – she’s a girl I’d just met – whispered words of love into my ear. She said, “I need you to know that I’m happy just to dance with you, but that true happiness is a warm gun.” Yep, that’s what I loved about Moscow – the girl and the guns. Read more…

Day 906: Lord Gordon-Gordon & The Case Of The Tycoon’s Million Bucks

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How does one judge the success of a swindle? To my hopelessly naïve and tragically honest mind, I believe one must be able to enjoy the bounty of one’s evil in order to truly rate it as a win. Others might disagree, claiming the mere act of absconding with a victim’s money is sufficient grounds for a toast of victory champagne. No matter how the cards tumble, a good scam makes for great human theatre.

When a British man adopted the curious name of Lord Gordon-Gordon and set out to pilfer a fortune from American railway interests, he was likely after the money and not the thrill of the swindle. To Jay Gould, the man who found himself a million dollars lighter courtesy of Lord Gordon-Gordon’s smooth and smarmy charm, it didn’t matter. He’d been taken. Humiliated. Kicked squarely in the fiscal nads. And he’d get his revenge, dammit.

The revenge itself is as weird a tale as whatever backstory Lord Gordon-Gordon might have used to explain his bizarre moniker. This is the story of how one schmoozy Brit almost singlehandedly instigated a war between the United States and Canada, all for the sake of a few bucks.

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Almost nothing is known about this man’s history. There’s a rumor that he may have been the illegitimate child of a North Country priest and his maid, but we don’t even know his real name so tracing his origin story is little more than an effort in fiction. He first appeared in London in 1868 under the name of ‘Glencairn’, insisting he was soon to become the heir to the title of Lord Glencairn, along with the immodest fortune that came with it. Read more…

Day 895: The Mysterious Misadventures Of D.B. Cooper

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Depending on what actually happened – and the sad truth is that we will probably never know – the D.B. Cooper story is either one of the greatest robberies of all time or a brilliant example of how a poor exit strategy can trip up any criminal. You’ve probably heard about the story (or perhaps you’ve seen it come to life on Newsradio or Prison Break), how a quiet and polite hijacker stepped off an airborne plane and into the night with a bag full of stolen loot. But the resonance of this 43-year-old mystery is truly worthy of our collective awe.

It was November 24, 1971, the day before Thanksgiving, yet somehow the 2:50pm Northwest Orient flight from Portland, Oregon to Seattle – Flight 305 – was only about a third full. A man who had purchased a ticket under the name ‘Dan Cooper’, took his seat near the rear of the Boeing 727, lit up a smoke and ordered a bourbon.

When the man slipped a note to Florence Schaffner, the flight attendant, she tossed it in her purse unopened, believing it to be the phone number of yet another smarmy businessman believing all stewardesses to be little more than travelling whores. “Miss,” the man whispered to her, “you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.”

"Or am I just happy to see you?"

“Or am I just happy to see you?”

The man showed Florence the contents of his briefcase, which looked enough like a bomb for her to believe him. She relayed his instructions to the cockpit: he wanted $200,000, four parachutes (two primary, two reserves), and a fuel truck to gas up the plane upon arrival in Seattle. The man wasn’t nervous, he wasn’t agitated, and all reports state that he was rather polite. He even tipped Florence when she brought him another bourbon. Read more…

Day 873: The Movie-Money Juggling Game

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A spoiler for today’s article: it may shatter your innocence, lay waste to your humbling yet lavish optimism regarding the spirit of humanity, and rend into tatters your perceptions of Hollywood studio executives as upstanding, honest and forthright folk. If this won’t be a problem for you, read on.

The movie business is all about money, as evidenced by the fact that any film that coughs up some modest box office returns seems to get a sequel, or by the fact that Tyler Perry and Martin Scorcese technically have the same job. But beneath the big sparkly numbers earned by flicks like Avatar and Titanic lies an even more impressive act of CGI than those frolicking blue cats – they call it Hollywood Accounting.

Hollywood Accounting has nothing to do with the studios scamming the government to avoid paying taxes. I’m sure like any massive business they employ accountants to help them with that cause too, but specifically Hollywood Accounting is the insider method by which the movie studios can pilfer money from the very artists who concoct their revenue. It’s an ugly side of show business, but one that every aspiring actor, writer and director should be aware of.

To illustrate, let’s talk about this guy:

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That’s Art Buchwald, whom you might remember from his Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated Washington Post column, or, if you’re under 50 you might not. He was a brilliant wordsmith though, which is why it was strange that Paramount Studios was unable to transform his treatment into a full-blown feature. His concept – entitled “King For A Day” at this point – was about an arrogant and wealthy African potentate’s visit to the United States, ensuing in wacky hijinks and goofy hilarity. It would have been a perfect fit for Eddie Murphy, who was under contract with Paramount at the time. Read more…

Day 867: The Case Of The Missing (Let’s Assume Dead) Person

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During the aftermath of the English Civil War, while a spanking-new parliamentary monarchy was struggling to gain its balance and move forward, a number of questions popped up like bulbous weeds all over the field of law and order. Land claims, the reach of justice, the decision of whether or not to punish the folks who had chopped off the head of King Charles I a few years back… these were just a few of the issues that were plaguing the machinery of justice. No wonder the judges started wearing powdered wigs – with the system in this much disarray, you might as well look a little goofy and have some fun at work.

Nestled within the salad of regicide and war-crimes was the pesky little crouton of murder. The precedents for the legalities of that most heinous crime had yet to be plunked down in cement. When the bizarre case later dubbed the Campden Wonder landed in the court system, the wonky sequence of events that would follow would alter how murder trials were handled for centuries.

Also, I’m thinking The Crouton of Murder would be a riveting piece of detective fiction. I’m not claiming dibs on this one – I release it unto the world. I just want to read it.

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It was August 16, 1660. 70-year-old William Harrison left his sprawling estate in Chipping Campden for a two-mile walk to collect some rent money in Charingworth. It was what he’d always done; rents were collected by hand, and even in his advanced years, William didn’t mind the walk. To be clear, there is some debate about whether he was actually 70 years old – searching historical records for a name as generic as ‘William Harrison’ makes it hard to get accurate results. Anyway, it’s not important – he was an older guy walking two miles with a good chunk of change in his purse. Read more…

Day 855: Globe-Surfin’ – The Life Of The Perpetual Traveler

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It only took 14,465 days for me to figure it out, but I think I finally know what I want to do when I grow up. No, it’s not writing; that’s my fall-back option if the real dream doesn’t pan out. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy plucking fancifully at my keyboard like a squid with a brand new marimba. But all that arrhythmic finger-tapping can be exhausting. Also, it gets in the way of my finger-drumming along with Rush’s “YYZ”.

No, the answer wafted sensuously into my think-holes this morning on a breeze of sweet euphoria and buttery revelation. I want a vocation that simultaneously provides no measurable improvement to the world around me while enabling me to try the best regional food and liquor around the globe. Something with only the vaguest of schedules, yet with a built-in excuse to disentangle myself from unwanted invitations whenever necessary. I’m craving a career that would inspire envy and drive in my younger self – a true calling steeped in long, lazy stretches within the regal realm of unending liberation.

I want to become a perpetual traveler. Is that too much to ask?

Not to be confused with a hobo.

Not to be confused with a hobo.

There are two variants on the perpetual traveler philosophy. The first is rooted in the freedom of not being a resident of any nation. It’s an expression of pure anarchy, or as pure as one can muster on the friendly side of local laws. One must still adhere to regional rulebooks, but without having to pledge fidelity to any bureaucratic system. The bastions of authority may still dictate the impenetrable limits of your actions, but they don’t own you. To put it existentially, you are adrift – truly disconnected from the rigors of permanent residency. You never vote, and you are tethered to the ramifications of politics by nothing more than the sponge-cake strand  of your whim. Sounds pretty, doesn’t it? Read more…

Day 845: The Red Side Of The Moon

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Stargazers with a curious mind, a tolerance for late night wakefulness and who weren’t locked beneath the astronomical cock-block of an overcast sky got to witness a spectacular lunar eclipse last week. It was a crimson marvel, a humbling reminder of a universe beyond petulant cat videos and the frustrating television antics of Jon Cryer, Ashton Kutcher and the Halfling they keep chained up in their basement (I’ve never actually seen the show). But was it simply a glorious spectacle, or did it *mean* something?

If you’ve spent any time among the amply-zealotted nutjob crowd then you know that someone must have ascribed some catastrophic significance to the eclipse, in particular because it was the first in a tetrad – a quartet of full-on lunar eclipses that will take place between now and September 2015.

Four full eclipses in two years? Surely that must be an occurrence so fantastically rare that even the most jaded and skeptical among us should pull ourselves up from our hearty breakfast of Sugar-Frosted Reason-O’s and smoked logic-sausage and take note, right?

Actually, there will be eight tetrads occurring throughout the 21st century. But once you slap the obsidian tarp of unflinching dogma overtop these eclipses, it’s easy to spot the deeper meaning.

Also, it's a good excuse to get funky with Photoshop.

Also, it’s a good excuse to get funky with Photoshop.

If you’re the type who believes our species should be beyond ascribing prophecies to the fact that shorter light wavelengths get dispersed while longer ones refract through the earth’s atmosphere to cast a red glow on an eclipsed moon, then congratulations! You have a firmer grasp on logic than pastors John Hagee and Mark Biltz. Read more…

Day 842: Locked Up For Life, And Then Some (part 1)

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On June 29, 2009, District Judge Denny Chin sentenced Bernie Madoff to a whopping 150 years in prison for defrauding thousands of investors and ripping off more than $65 billion for his own pocket from people who presumably actually worked for that money. Madoff had committed an act of wickedness that would make any Bond villain shake their heads in filthy humbled admiration, but Judge Chin’s sentence was a headline unto itself. The federal probation office had suggested fifty years. Madoff’s lawyers had asked for twelve.

At the time, I questioned the reasoning behind sentencing a 70-year-old man to 150 years in prison. Fifty would have been plenty to ensure he died behind bars, even if Bernie had been spending giant globs of that $65 billion on youth-juice injection treatments. One hundred years would have been sufficient to deliver a message to any would-be Ponzi-cookers out there that the benchmark standard for such schemery was death in the joint, even with time off for good behavior. But 150?

It’s a glorious fuck-you to Madoff’s great-great-great-great grandkids, a permanent etching of shame upon the family name. But even as far as prison sentences go, Madoff’s lengthy booking is far from the longest ever handed down. His crimes may have been more despicable than those committed by some of the others on this list, but I guess it’s all a question of who you piss off.

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Velupillai Prabhakaran had a dream. He wanted to create a peaceful Tamil state just northeast of Sri Lanka, a gift unto his people, albeit with himself as the corruptible, mustachioed leader-for-life. He founded the Tamil Tigers, an organization dedicated to achieving this goal through violent means if necessary (which, as it turned out, was constantly necessary). 32 countries called Velupillai’s organization a terrorist group. After an unsuccessful attempt at peace talks broke down, Velupillai was killed in a clash with the Sri Lankan army. Read more…