Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Fake It Til They Make a Movie About You

Con artists work by gaining your confidence.  Hell, it's in the name.  Sometimes this is done by creating a thorough and plausible identity.  Other times, they just wing it and hope no one will ask questions. Perhaps one the most ballsy types of  this scam are people who claim to be close relatives of famous people, especially when those people do not exist.  I recently heard about the case of Alison Reynolds, who in 2003 went around claiming to be TS Eliot's twin daughters, Claire and Chess, while scamming the British theater establishment for large sums of cash.  There are two basic problems here: TS Eliot had no children, and Reynolds was incapable of being in two places at once. She was forced to drop the identity "after theatre staff became suspicious that they had never seen Claire and Chess in the same room."  What's baffling is that she was able to get away with this in the age of Google.  I'll be honest, I'd watch a movie about a con woman claiming to be the non-existent twins of a famous playwright and, if history is any indication, we might well get one.
A similar scam was perpetrated in Manhattan in the early 1980s, when David Hampton went around claiming to be Sidney Poitier's son. (Poitier has six daughters, but no sons).  His story was the basis of the play and movie Six Degrees of Separation

But of course, if we're talking about celebrity impostors, we have to acknowledge the infamous Alan Conway, who didn't settle for pretending to be related to Stanley Kubrick, but claimed that he was Stanley Kubrick.  If you think it's a bit funny that a con artist would be named Conway, well so would he, considering that he chose the name for himself, after being charged with numerous frauds. But this is just the kind of boldness you'd expect from a guy who, despite being British, clean shaven, and having "had apparently only seen a couple of Kubrick's films," managed to keep convincing people he was the real deal.  The story of his unmasking is worth a read.  It was largely left up to the real Kubrick's assistant, Anthony Frewin, who later went on to write a screenplay about the ordeal, titled Colour Me Kubrick.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Hey, Hey, LBJ, How Much Did You Chafe Today?

Every now and then, it's nice to remember that president's are still people, who have the same problems as the rest of us.  And, the persistent use of secret recordings in the Oval Office from FDR up through the Nixon administration, gives us the ability to hear some of the more mundane difficulties that presidents face.  Such as finding a pair of pants with enough room to "let your nuts hang."  LBJ's call to his tailor is scandalous in a different sense than most secret white house recordings.


Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Flynn Precedent

While there have been a lot of comparisons made between Trump and Jackson (by supporters and opponents), one important similarity keeps getting overlooked. As far as Jackson was concerned, there was only one quality that proved someone's character: Loyalty to Andrew Jackson. While this caused plenty of turmoil within the cabinet (most notably the Eaton Affair), there's one particular event I want to bring up.
Samuel Swartwout had a checkered past. A military man with plentiful New York political connections, he was rounded up as part of the Burr conspiracy but was eventually released. During the election of 1828, he was a vocal campaigner for Jackson, so the new president decided to give Swartwout a cozy patronage position, as Collector of the Port of New York. To quote from Remini's "Life of Andrew Jackson:"
"And when Van Buren learned that Jackson intended to appoint Samuel Swartwout to the office he almost collapsed. Not only did Swartwout have criminal tendencies but the [Albany] Regency detested him. Van Buren alerted the President immediately and warned him that Swartwout's appointment would 'not be in accordance with the public sentiment, the interest of the Country or the credit of the administration.' Unfortunately, Jackson refused to listen. He liked Swartwout because he had been an early supporter -- unlike Van Buren -- and so he went ahead with the appointment. In time, of course, Swartwout absconded with $1,222,705.09. It was a monumental theft...
When the scandal broke, Jackson's opponents doubled over with laughter. All the talk of rooting out corruption in government, they said, and here the greatest theft in the history of the Republic..."
Jackson, like Trump, campaigned on a promise of fighting corruption and waste in government, but, through his own shortcomings, appointed people who were more corrupt than those they replaced.