Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I Knew that Two

More riddles from MindTrap. Behind Blue Eyes, Beckeye, forgive me.

1. [Police Detective] Shadow discovered Sandy lying on her side in a puddle of water and broken glass. When the doctor arrived, he announced her dead. Since Sandy had no cuts on her body, how did she die?

2. While sitting in her easy chair, drinking beer and watching a ball game, Bertha Dribble decided to turn over a new leaf. She decided to get into shape.

Not one to make rash decisions, Bertha hollered out to her husband to go to the library and find her a book on physical fitness. When Mr. Dribble got to the library, he saw a book with “How to Jog” on its spine. He ‘snuck’ it out and returned home.

When Bertha finally glanced at the book, several weeks later, she found that it had nothing to do with getting into shape. What kind of book was it?

3. Sid Shady asked his wife to accompany him to a war movie being featured that night. During a scene when grenades were exploding and guns were firing, Shady decided the time was right; he pulled out a gun, and shot his wife. He then took her out of the theater without anyone trying to stop him. Why not?

4. Even though the odds are always in favor of the gambling house, why does the establishment insist on a house limit on stakes?

5. After being in a coma for two weeks, Granny Smith died on May 20, 1991. [Nurse] Candy Care was trying to comfort Granny’s grandson, Smitty.

“Listen, Smitty,” said Candy, “this couldn’t have come as a great shock.”

“No it wasn’t,” said Smitty. “The big upset is Granny’s will. My cousin, Sid Shady, says that acoording to her latest will, he’s going to inherit the entire estate. Granny made a will four years ago and showed it to me at that time. It said that upon her death, I was to inherit 90% of her estate and my cousin Shady was to get the rest.”

Candy examined a photocopy of the new will Shady produced. It was dated May 10, 1991, and stated that Shady was to inherit the entire estate. It was signed by Granny Smith and two witnesses.

“This is a fake!” declared Sandy.


6. The Isle of Begile is a place where the natives always lie, and the visitors always tell the truth. [Detective] Shadow is interviewing prospective candidates for police work, the requirements being that the person must be a truth teller.

While interviewing a young man for the job, the applicant suddenly volunteers that the woman in line behind him had confided that she is a native. Is the young man in the interview qualified for the job?

7. What is the next letter in the following sequence: O, T, T, F, F, S, S?

8. What word from group B belongs to group A, and why?


9. Sam Slug got out of jail and pushed his car to the St. James Place Hotel. When he arrived, he realized he was bankrupt. How could his financial disaster be explained?

10. Barney Dribble staggered out of the Soul-Ace Hotel, and managed to make his way over to the large circular kiddy pool located in the center of town. He got into the pool and crawled on his hands and knees due south for 6 meters before he banged his head on the pools edge. Undaunted, he turned due east, and crawled for 8 meters before he hit his head on the side of the pool for the second time. Barney realized he had had enough fun for one night, and decided to go home.

What is the pool’s diameter?

Click here for the answers.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

I Knew That!

Just to keep things light, I thought I’d share with you a favorite game of mine, called Mindtrap. The game centers around a number of questions requiring deduction, horse sense, and close observation. Here are seven sample questions. How many can you figure out all on your own?

1. Gary Gladhand, the politician, was very tired after a long day of campaigning. He went to bed at 10 p.m., wound his alarm clock and set it for noon the next day. Since Gary fell asleep almost immediately, how many hours of sleep did he get before the alarm woke him?

2. Captain Frank went to the hardware store to make a purchase for his house. He asked the clerk, “How much will one cost?”

The clerk thought for a moment, and said, “Three dollars.”

Captain Frank, who looked a little puzzled said, “Well then, how much will twelve cost?”

“Six dollars,” replied the clerk.

Captain Frank scratched his head and said, “If I were to purchase two hundred, how much would that cost?”

“That,” said the clerk, “will cost you nine dollars.”

What was Captain Frank buying?

3. A worm is at the bottom of a forty meter hole. It can crawl upwards at the rate of four meters in one day, but at night, it slips back three meters. At this rate, how long will it take the worm to crawl out of the hole?

4. If a third of six is three, what would half of twenty be?

5. The gym was generally crowded at lunch hour, and part of the reasons was that Sam Slug, Sid Shady, Slip Shod and Art Bragg always attended. Following their workout, the four would regularly retire to the sauna. Sam and Sid read magazines. Slip always brought a thermos with a drink, and Art just talked about the next million dollar deal he was working on.

One day, when they left the sauna, they realized Art had not come out. When they went back in to check on him, they found him with a deep stabwound through his heart.

Detective Shadow searched the sauna for clues and questioned the three witnesses, but discovered nothing. Even the autopsy failed to reveal the murder weapon.

Which of the three men killed Art, and how did he do it?

6. A poem:
Four men sat down to play.
They played all night ‘til the break of day.
They played for gold and not for fun
With separate scores for everyone.

When they came to square accounts.
They all had made quite fair amounts.
Can you the paradox explain?
If no one lost, how could all gain?

7. Charles Pompuss travels all over the world buying expensive pieces of art, gem, and antiques to add to his collection. Each time Charles negotiates a price for an item, he insists on wearing dark sunglasses, regardless of the lighting conditions in the room. What is the reasoning behind Charles’ peculiar behavior?

Click here for the answers.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

He Has Some Audacity

Over the past month or so, I’ve been busy transferring all of my old recordings to mp3 files, courtesy of Audacity, a recording and editing software. About a month or so ago, I posted one recording of myself playing Gershwin’s “Three Preludes.”

I did this at the prompting of our friend Lux, who asked me to do an audio post. Of course, I don’t think she was that interested in hearing me play the piano, but rather in hearing my voice. Trouble is, I don’t have many recordings of my voice. Worse yet, I don’t have any microphones around, so I can’t make a new recording at the present time.

Last week though, I found some of my homemade TASCAM four-track recordings.

Back in the day, when we used such things as phone machines, people were kinda clueless about what kind of outgoing message to put on them. So, I would sing into mine.

I then wondered, what would Lux say if she heard my singing phone messages? Other than, “He’s not much of a singer, and he’s a plagiarist when it comes to phone messages?”

Well, as I said in the first paragraph, I have Audacity. So, imagine that you were my friend in, say, 1991, and you called me up. You would probably hear:

Or, you might hear this. Curiously, sales of cranberry juice among my friends went through the roof whenever I put this one on. I don’t understand why.

I sometimes played instruments on these too. Once, my ex (?) spy friend told me he was having trouble getting a good sound out of his cheap $39 Casio toy keyboard. So I checked it out here:

There was something wrong with the machine—namely, the owner.

I was a little disappointed with the next one, because I thought I would simulate a drum kit using only my voice. Problem was, that I had no windscreen, so there was a lot of sibalence on it (you have to really crank it to hear all the cool jazz chords—of course you have to remember to turn the player back down once it’s over)

This one’s my favorite, mostly because it’s so damned annoying. I used it when I didn’t really want to talk to anyone, for most people would lose patience and hang up, unless it was really important.

As for my real recordings, I’m now really sorry that I used the cheapest tape I could find (RadioShack low-quality tapes that sold three-for-a-dollar). Back then, I didn’t have a turntable, so I didn’t ask for any of the vinyl copies of my recordings. I wouldn’t own a CD player until 1999, so I didn’t get that either.

Well, at least I have them as mp3 files, so they won’t degrade any further. What the hell? They’re only for my personal enjoyment anyway.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Crooks and Criminals International

In a 2007 essay titled “BCCI’s Double Game: Banking on America, Banking on Jihad,” written for the book A Game as Old as Empire: The Secret World of Economic Hit Men and the Web of Global Corruption (ed. Steven Hiatt), journalist Lucy Komisar outlined some of the ties that the Bank of Credit and Commerce International had with US and Saudi power brokers. Founded in 1972 by Agha Hasan Abedi and Swaleh Naqvi in Pakistan, BCCI quickly found funding from UAE Emir Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahayan and the Bank of America. Some strongly suspect that another initial investor in BCCI was the CIA. Others followed.

Whether or not the BCCI functioned partly as the CIA, there remain a number of titillating connections between the two. One of the BCCI’s major shareholders, Kahlid bin Mahfouz, an Irish citizen originally hailing from Saudi Arabia, partnered with Texas businessman James Bath, who invested Mahfouz’s money in the US in his own name. Bath, Mahfouz and a third partner, a Harvard educated Saudi businessman named Ghaith Pharaon, whom the US Federal Reserve Board named as the BCCI’s frontman, jointly owned the Main Bank of Houston. They also owned an airline, Skyway, which purchased Air America jets from the CIA in 1975 during George H.W. Bush’s tenure as Director of Central Intelligence.

In 1979, Bath financed an oil company, Arbusto Energy Incorporated, founded by future Oval Office occupant George W. Bush. Arbusto is Spanish for ‘bush,’ but wags within the industry, noting the company’s penchant for digging dry wells, dubbed it ‘Are Bust-o.” Nevertheless, Bush family associates William DeWitt and Mercer Reynolds rescued W. from financial ruination by merging Arbusto with their Spectrum 7 Corporation, and naming George Jr. CEO of the company. From there, Spectrum 7 incurred additional losses of $1.5 million (they still couldn’t find oil), and was subsequently sold to Harken Energy in 1985. Phareon and bin Mahfouz associate Sheikh Abdullah Taha Bakhsh then purchased a controlling interest in Harken in 1987 from the Union Bank of Switzerland, which had previously financed Harken to the tune of $25 million. Upon the election of Bush Sr. to the US Presidency in 1988, Harken welcomed a number of new investors, among them bin Mahfouz, who purchased his shares outright and in his own name, and Muhammad bin Laden.

The names bin Mafjouz and bin Laden have occasionally surfaced in the news over the past ten years. Mafhouz has long been accused by some of arranging the financing for Al Qaeda, although concrete proof of such has yet to emerge. The bin Laden in question, however, is not Muhammad, but his son Osama. According to a number of sources, including Komisar, Osama held accounts in BCCI’s Islamabad branch.

In the 1980s, the CIA recruited, trained and financed the Mujahadeen (the term derived from the word ‘jihad’) fighters in an effort to repel the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The Agency funneled money through BCCI via Bank al-Taqua (or al-Taqwa), a financial institution based in the Bahamas.

The 1987 Kerry Commission (headed by Senator John Kerry—D-MA) found that the CIA also used BCCI to funnel money during the Iran-Contra scandal. Oliver North issued checks from the BCCI’s Paris branch to cover expenses, not the least of which were $11 million dollars worth of Hawk and Tow missiles destined to Iran in exchange for hostages, most likely through a Tap 6 procurement as outlined by Col. Fletcher Prouty. Worse yet, North wrote down in his own notes that drug money was somehow involved in the Iran-Contra affair, money allegedly laundered through BCCI and its then-numerous satellites. At the request of the Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI), Kerry dropped the investigation.

In 1991, independent investigations in the US (headed by Senators Kerry and Hank Brown—R-CO) and the UK (headed by Baron Lord Justice Thomas Bingham of Cornhill) came to the same conclusion: the BCCI participated in money laundering, bribery, the financing of terrorist movements, and aided in the facilitation of drug peddling, tax evasion, illegal immigration, and the fraudulent purchase of banks and real estate holdings. These investigations came after the bank’s failure, when BCCI liquidator Deloitte and Touche discovered that some $20 billions in assets had gone missing.

So you can add theft to the findings against BCCI, for it represented the biggest bank heist in history. Willie Sutton would have been proud. No wonder former DCI Robert Gates jokingly referred to the institution as the Bank of Crooks and Criminals International.

Legal consequences were minimal. Deloitte and Touche settled with Price Waterhouse and Ernst and Young, the auditing firms that allegedly cooked the books to hide the missing $20 billion, for $178 million in 1988. They also filed suit against Mahfouz in 1999, and at last report the case is still pending. Meanwhile, BCCI creditors have filed a $1 billion lawsuit against the Bank of England for not regulating BCCI practices in the UK. That case is also pending.

The US government began a lackluster investigation into BCCI. Frustrated by the lack of federal enthusiasm, a local District Attorney, Robert Morganthau of New York County (Manhattan), indicted a couple of American BCCI associates (former Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford and his associate Robert A. Altman—not the filmmaker, who is Robert B. Altman), but failed to convict them.

Komisar and others monitoring offshore secret funding lament that despite the BCCI scandal, offshore banking hasn’t changed much. In fact, BCCI appears to be still in operation with its books divided between the Grand Caymans and Luxembourg. So any bank regulators would be hard pressed to figure out what Mahfouz and his associates are up to now.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Over the Sea, Under the Table, Pt. II

For a long time, the CIA ran a number of profit-making businesses (called ‘proprietary’ or ‘front’ companies), among them Air America, The Double Check Corporation, Associated Traders, Alabama Holdings LLC, and other firms few have heard about. The Agency also received donations from private citizens. Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel who won convictions against Oliver North and other Iran-Contra conspirators (overturned on appeal), traced $65,000 of the operation’s funding to beer tycoon Joseph Coors, and at least $75,000 to novelist Ellen Garwood (in his book The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis PBS journalist Bill Moyers put the figure at closer to $2.5 million).

With all of this money floating around, the CIA needed ways to keep its income and expenditures secret, away from the prying eyes of Congressional oversight committees. According to former CIA operator Fletcher Prouty, the legal mechanisms for the Agency to move money surreptitiously came from two pieces of legislation. The first, the National Economy Act of 1932, allowed each branch of the Armed forces to trade equipment with each other. So, the Army would have an account with the Navy and the Marines, and the Navy and Marines would have accounts with the Army and each other. If the USMC needed more rifles, for example, they could purchase them from the Army, provided that the Army could spare them.

The second piece of legislation, the CIA Act of 1949, allowed the Agency to take advantage of the provisions in the National Economy Act of 1932. The budgetary restraints of the CIA’s original charter, as established by the National Security Act of 1947, precluded the Agency from secretly moving money, and instead required the Company to account for its expenditures as all the other institutions of government did. The CIA argued, however, that it needed increased funding because much of its spending supported other institutions within government. For example, the first CIA Director, Rear Adm. Roscoe Hillenkoetter, still functioned as a commissioned officer of the US Navy, but his paycheck came from the Agency. Furthermore, tipping off a potential enemy of the US by making public the CIA’s dealings with other civilian and military authorities risked the national security.

The Defense Department had no objection to the CIA’s budget increase, nor did it object to the CIA’s black budget so long as the CIA reimburse the military for any expenses. To meet the Pentagon’s requirements, the CIA developed a reimbursement protocol dubbed Tap 6 (Tap Six). According to Prouty, the Company contracted approximately 5,000 active military personnel, whose orders were to serve as Focal Point Officers for logistics units on various bases and camps.
These logistics units had addresses and telephone numbers, etc., but would only contain one or two people. Their purpose was to funnel personnel, weapons and other hardware to CIA clandestine ops. For example, as a Focal Point Officer of an Air Force logistics unit blandly named The B Team, Col. Prouty received an order from his superiors at Langley to arm rebels to overthrow Sukarno in Indonesia. Prouty then arranged for 30,000 Army rifles and 12,000 Marine rifles to be reassigned to the B Team logistics unit of the USAF, in accordance with the National Economy Act of 1932. Prouty then air-dropped the rifles to Indonesian rebels, and reimbursed Army and Marines with money that came indirectly from the CIA. To the Pentagon, this would have looked like a normal transaction between the Marines, Army and Air Force on paper, with the accounts of all three neatly balanced. To Congress, this would simply be a CIA expenditure, the nature of which couldn’t be disclosed due to national security interests.

Over the years, according to Prouty, the CIA placed Focal Point Officers into such civilian agencies as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the White House staff. In this manner, the CIA could pull equipment and personnel from other agencies, and use them for heaven knows what purpose, all under the aegis of another government agency. Earlier, I posted something on the exploits of one George Hunter White, an officer of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics who ran one aspect of the CIA’s mind control program. Although I have no evidence that this was the case, one might nevertheless suspect that White's work might have been funded through a Tap 6 (or similar) arrangement, with the CIA reimbursing the FBN for the use of one of its agents.

The money used for reimbursements did not come from the CIA directly. Prouty mentioned that the Company maintained accounts with legitimate Wall Street banks through such intermediate proprietary companies as Cede Incorporated and through another company called Suydam. The money received by the CIA—from Congressional budgeting, business profits, and donations—went into Cede and Suydam accounts. Those managing these accounts would either invest them with legitimate bankers or Wall Street firms, deposit them, or use the money to cover reimbursement expenses incurred by their Focal Point Officers.

In other words, Cede and Suydam appear to have been shell companies that served as conduits for CIA money transfers. As such, they functioned like many offshore banks in that they primarily managed CIA accounts in conjunction with other financial institutions. Yet, the CIA did use offshore banks in addition to the street accounts. One such bank, founded in 1972, and its affiliated institutions helped the CIA move money during the Iran-Contra affair. When this bank collapsed in the winter of 1991, it exposed a lot of dirty laundry belonging to the Agency and those tied to it.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Over the Sea, Under the Table

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in the position where you had to deposit, say, $15,000 into your friendly neighborhood bank. If you have, then you’ll know that your account holders become a little less friendly, as they give you paperwork to do.

Of course, there’s little problematic about a transaction such as this, mostly because your money (likely) came from a legitimate source, and you’re not trying to hide anything from your tax collectors, or your creditors. So law-abiding citizens such as yourself need not worry.

Then again, if you make most of your money selling drugs, circulating kiddie porn, or pimping barnyard animals, then you probably want to avoid explaining that to your bank or your national government. If you make tons of money doing that kind of stuff, then you wouldn’t want to declare it on your taxes either.

Your solution? You need an offshore bank.

Of course, you don’t want one like the Bank of Sark that’s just going to take your money and run. You want one that has a solid reputation. You want one that can keep its mouth shut whenever your home country wants to know if you’ve deposited there. You want a bank that has support from legitimate banks in order to stave off a possible bank failure.

According to financial journalist Lucy Komisar, seventy jurisdictions currently allow banks to accept accounts without having to disclose to their governments (or any other governments for that matter) the identity of its clients and depositors. Yet they operate with the approval of the major industrial (or G7) nations.

Some of these banks could loan money if they wanted to. But like the Bank of Sark, other offshores might not have a cent to their names. In fact, they might not even have a building. What they have, however, are accounts--thousands of them--in real banks, the kind that have real money. This would allow a depositor to have the interest bearing security of a top-name bank without having to divulge any personal or company information to her or his local authorities.

The reason for maintaining a subaltern system of banking is clear. In Komisar’s words, “It’s where secret money stays secret.”

The prospect of hiding money in a secret bank appealed to those in clandestine services. After all, the CIA and other spy operations operate with black budgets--i.e. their exact funding from taxpayer money remains undisclosed.

True, national budgets are a matter of public record, and one could very easily deduce the amount of money spent on intelligence by subtracting whatever isn’t accounted for from the sum total. Yet, we would be in error were we to suppose that the only source of CIA's revenues is the US government.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Wrong Sark: Part II

In his 1973 book The Super Swindlers: The Incredible Record of America’s Greatest Financial Scams, former Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Kwitney did a fairly extensive post-mortem on the Bank of Sark, outlining a number of its implications to the world of international banking, a network of institutions that relied to heavily upon trust and reputation.

According to Kwitney, the Bank of Sark profited more from its own swindles than it did from assisting the schemes of others. Sometimes, investors would simply invest their savings into a new account at the Bank of Sark. They would then see their savings vanish. Trying to get money out of that bank proved fruitless. Just as they did with lenders trying to collect securities, the Bank of Sark would send the hapless depositor loads of paperwork and red tape, but no money.

The Bank of Sark would also scam desperate businesspersons who couldn’t get loans from legitimate banks. Running ads in newspapers across the US, the bank would offer low-cost loans, despite less-than-stellar credit. After the potential borrower applied for the loan, one of Wilson’s people would then sit him or her down and explain that in order to process the loan, they required a fee. When asked why they needed upfront money to secure a loan, the con man would tell them that the reason why such a high-risk borrower such as him/herself came at such a low cost was because the money was tainted in some way—either it came from Nazi reserves from after WWII, or it was Mafia money that needed laundering, or some kind of travel and bribery expenses were needed, or some other excuse. After paying upfront, however, you can bet your bottom dollar that the potential borrower never got any money.

In 1970, they conned a Mafioso, Santos DiFatta of New Orleans, out of $150,000. DiFatta proposed building a new marina, but needed the approval of the New Orleans Levee Board. While the Board considered his proposal, Aaron Kohn, a former FBI Special Agent, informed them that DiFatta was a suspected mobster. The Board then required that DiFatta secure $5.8 million in credit as a condition of their approval. Because of his criminal past, he couldn’t get an A-list bank to front him the money. So he turned to, you guessed it, The Bank of Sark.

Wilson’s decision to fleece a gangster was about as dumb as it sounds. After finding out that he wouldn't be getting a loan depite the six-figure fee, DiFatta allegedly put out a contract on Wilson’s attorney, Theodore Schwartz, in order to send a warning to Wilson to pay up. But the hitman accidentally killed Schwartz’s friend, Philip Lucier, in a car bomb explosion (Lucier and Schwartz’s cars were nearly identical).

From there, everything hit the fan. Wilson’s associates sought protection from the FBI. Meanwhile DiFatta tried to get the FBI to pressure the Bank officers into paying up. On July 24, 1970, the date of Lucier’s demise, the FBI arrested Wilson for fraud, and that was curtains for the infamous Bank of Sark.

Kwitney’s book reads more like a consumer protection manual, warning the reader time and time again caveat depositor. According to him, such dealings happen in the world of offshore banking. After all, there isn’t any oversight or regulation from your local government. And because they are distant, you can’t just walk into the lobby (assuming that they in fact have a building—many didn’t) and demand repayment of your deposit. Furthermore, their shady operations might not violate the laws of their host countries. So prosecution is out of the question.

Yet, offshore banking continues. Moreover, many of its depositors view it as a godsend. You see, the very things that make offshore investing risky also make it quite useful.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Wrong Sark

My apologies to Rinda Elliot for the title. Edited for clarity and accuracy, 12/4/11.

Guernsey, and its neighbor Sark, are a couple of small islands that lie between Britain and continental Europe. As British crown dependencies, they exercise a good deal of governmental autonomy. Guernsey incorporation laws, for example, were fairly lax back in the 1960s. For that reason, some shady operators used Guernsey to start businesses that weren’t quite on the up and up.

As a St. Louis, MO insurance peddler, Philip Wilson had a knack for writing sham policies. But in 1966. a new venture crossed his mind when he discovered a ne’er-do-well Guernsey bank founded by twenty-two-year-old wannabe John Konig. Wilson easily took over Konig’s Bank of Sark in 1966, and incorporated it after bribing Nassau (Bahamas) CPA Dr. Samuel Wilkinson to verify that the bank held over $72 million in assets.

Of course, these assets were pure fiction. The Bank of Sark would nevertheless prove to be quite profitable in the hands its new owner, despite the fact that it didn’t have a penny to its name.

The Bank of Sark made the bulk of its money two different ways. The first involved massive fraud. The second involved out-and-out swindles.

Say that you’re a con man, who wants to make a million 1969 dollars in one fell swoop. If so, you would be in luck if you happened to have, say, $100,000 hanging around. You could send the money to the Bank of Sark or a similar institution in exchange for a very official-looking statement declaring that you have several million bucks in securities with them.

Once again, the three million is fictional. You, the con man, know that you don’t have that kind of money in the Bank of Sark. The Bank of Sark knows that too.

Your average local bank/credit union/savings & loan, however, would be totally in the dark.

Back in the 1960s, few had access to computerized bank records, and Internet criminal background checks were not yet available. A bank located outside Guernsey would have difficulty checking out the securities issued by the Bank of Sark. From their point of view, they would receive very official-looking documents issued by yet another offshore bank. If they called the government of Guernsey, they would have received word that the Bank of Sark was a properly licensed, properly incorporated institution with assets totaling over $72 million. As far as they could tell back then, such securities were legit.

So, if you come in from off the street wanting to borrow, say, a million dollars, you can use the documented three million in securities registered with the Bank of Sark as collateral. After securing the loan, you can then open up a Swiss bank account, send the money there, and relocate to a nice resort-filled island that has no extradition treaty with your home country.

When the lending institution tries to find you, they can’t. So they try wiring the Bank of Sark to collect part of your make-believe three mill in securities. Instead of sending a check for a million dollars, however, The Bank of Sark sends the lender paperwork and red tape, thus delaying the process until the cows come home. Sure, the Bank of Sark would soon expose itself to the world. But by that time, Mr. Wilson will have wracked up enough bucks to lead a very comfortable, though quiet, life.

So, voila! You're a millionaire! Easy, huh?

And it only cost you a hundred grand.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Willie Sutton’s Worst Nightmare

According to journalist Mitch Olmstead, when asked why he robbed banks, legendary criminal Willie Sutton (above) supposedly replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” In his 1976 autobiography, however, Sutton denied saying this, even though he agreed with the statement:

Why did I rob banks? Because I enjoyed it. I loved it. I was more alive when I was inside a bank, robbing it, than at any other time in my life. I enjoyed everything about it so much that one or two weeks later I'd be out looking for the next job. But to me the money was the chips, that's all.

Go where the money is...and go there often.
Either way, Sutton based his fascination with banks on their tendency to carry large amounts of money. Imagine this, however. Suppose Willie walked into a bank that had no money. Wouldn’t that be his worst nightmare?

A moneyless bank might seem like an oxymoron, but such institutions do exist. A couple of them have become notorious. Through a brief chronicling of their deeds (or more accurately, their misdeeds), we can get a sense of why there are certain advantages to owning one. We’ll also see, there are a number of reasons to do business with one.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Wondering Son in the Desert

When I was a lad, my family had a rather unusual method of taking vacations. I’d wake up one morning expecting an ordinary day, when out of the blue my dad would call out, “Anybody want to go to [New York, Atlantic City, Chicago, Atlanta, Toronto, etc.] today?” Without any planning at all, we would all pack up our bags and within a couple of hours we would find ourselves in the car headed for some distant place.

Sure, we planned a few of our vacations. But the more planning we put into them, the worse they were.

So, last Wednesday I arrived at JFK International airport with a round trip e-ticket to Columbus. I got there early (about two-and-a-half hours) and called my parents in Cincinnati to arrange the pickup. After settling on a time and place, my dad and I drifted into small talk (as is our custom). The topic turned to sports. He asked what I thought of the upcoming fight between Oscar de la Hoya and Floyd Mayweather. To be honest, I lost interest in boxing decades ago, so I had no opinion.

The topic quickly turned to the venue of the fight, Las Vegas, Nevada. I hadn’t been there since 1977, on what would turn out to be our last ill-fated, planned family vacation. Because I was a minor at the time, I didn’t have good memories of the place.

“But it’s changed,” insisted my father. “You’d really like it.” For the next ten minutes he gave what could be best summed up as a sales pitch for the desert town. He then recalled that he and mom had a couple of unused flight vouchers. Out of the blue, he said, “You want to go to Vegas now? Check and see if you can change your ticket, and we’ll meet you there.”

Long story short: two hours later I found myself on a plane headed for Las Vegas, cleavage capital of the US.

The parental units, as it turned out, were quite familiar with Vegas. Per their instruction, I took the shuttle bus to the rent-a-car terminal at McCarran Airport. They met me there twenty minutes later. I wondered where we would stay, but they had become so used to going there that Mom had already booked rooms in two different hotels (Circus Circus and the Frontier), both of them completely free. Moreover, they also managed to get tickets to a couple of shows, some free buffets, discounts on other shows and buffets, and $500 worth of free casino chips before their plane even landed.

“How did they do this?” you ask

I found out as soon as we arrived. In every casino on the Strip, and up and down Las Vegas Ave., people offer you giveaways for all sorts of things, ranging from cruises to the Bahamas to day trips to Area 51.

The catch? You have to listen to listen to a two-hours sales pitch. Most of the sellers hawk condos and time-shares. Some try to sell you a membership into clubs that sound pretty much like pyramid schemes.

Fifteen years ago, my parents purchased a time-share for $600, so they already had an ‘in’ with the local sellers. Nowadays, Mom and Dad know the setup, they know the pitch, and they know how to take advantage of greedy salespeople. They know, for example, to rent a car and drive to the sales place instead of riding in their limo. When you come by limo, the hucksters stretch the presentation to four hours or more, while you’re stranded there and forced to listen to them--hopefully to the point where you break down. The parents also found that if you give a firm ‘no’ at the very beginning, the sellers see they’re wasting time on you. Sometimes, Mom and Dad only have to listen to ten minutes before they’re out the door with goodies in hand. In other words, they got it down to a science.

I couldn’t go on any of these sales pitches myself, for they only do them on married couples. I’d walk down the street when one of these people would ask, “So, is the little lady back at the hotel?” It was one of the few times in life that I wished I had married. Had I a wife, I could have taken that day trip to Area 51. More important, the kind of woman that I’m attracted to would have kicked those salesmen’s asses for referring to her as “the little lady.”

The stay in Vegas was considerably more pleasant than my last visit. The casinos all have their individual themes: Circus Circus (obvious), The Luxor (ancient Egypt), and so forth. My mom really wanted me to see New York, New York, which turned out to be a big disappointment (I wondered whose Disneyfied hallucinations saw my fair city this way).

I saw a couple of shows people who are famous in Vegas, but virtually unknown anywhere else. One of them, Danny Gans, has a billboard outside of town that says in effect that once you pass this sign, the chances of anyone having heard of him are virtually nil. He was, however, quite engaging as an old-fashioned type Vegas entertainer who sang, did comedy, et cetera. Another guy, a standup magician named Tim Gabrielson was uproariously funny. If you make the trip to Vegas yourself, I highly recommend both.

For me, the most fun thing about the place was seeing the city outside of the strip, catching a glimpse of the real downtown and the campus of UNLV, which happens to own a lion’s share of the state’s 500 blades of grass. It was also interesting to see the legacy of Howard Hughes, Bugsy Siegel and a lot of other people prone to make an appearance on The X-Spot, and learn more about the CIA/Mafia/Wall Street connections that figured so prominently in the city’s development.

Nevertheless, Vegas isn’t really my cup of tea. Museums are more my thing, first of all. And since I’m not much of a gambler, there’s still not that much else to do, at least with respect to affordable stuff. So, unless I have business there, I can’t see myself ever returning.

Still, I had a lot of fun spending time with the folks on one more spontaneous trip. There’s a certain comfort in knowing that some things just never change.

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  • Alien Abductions
  • April Fool's Day
  • Mae Brussell
  • Cause-Stalking
  • Chappaqiddick
  • The Children of God Cult
  • Sam Cooke
  • Culture Jamming
  • Theresa Duncan & Jeremy Blake
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  • Fox, Monsanto and Mystery Milk
  • Games
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  • The International Church of Christ
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  • Legends, Hoaxes and the Big Lie
  • Lyndon LaRouche and Jeremiah Duggan
  • John Lennon
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • McMartin Preschool
  • MJ-12
  • Nurse Nayirah
  • Ode to Miss Texas
  • Operational Finance
  • The Paul-Is-Dead Rumor
  • The Paul-Is-Dead Rumor, Revisited
  • Perverse Science: Biological Determinism
  • Project MK-ULTRA
  • Ruminations on the JFK Assassination
  • Anne Sexton
  • The Summer of 1947
  • The Tate-LaBianca-Hinman-Parent-Hinman-Shea Murders
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  • Shameless Plug Division
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