May 10th, 2006

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The 411 on 419

Ever wonder who in their right mind could actually fall for the Nigerian 419 scam? That's the crap we get in our spam boxes every day where someone from the middle of africa somewhere claims to have millions of dollars stashed away and all they need is someone from abroad to help them move the cash out. There are many different permutations of the scam, but they always offer a 30% cut of some ludicrously high amount of money in exchange for this help that usually involves the person paying some upfront costs. It sounds absolutely ridiculous and you just can't quite figure out who would actually believe such a thing.

Welp, The New Yorker has an article on one person who did fall for it, and fall hard. The story documents the entire escapade and included a lot of interesting tidbits about the nuts and bolts of the scam past the initial phase we're all familiar with. In the end, his involvement got him 2 years in jail, lost him 80,000 dollars out of pocket and charged to pay restitution in a further 600,000.

What was sort of amazing to me is how apparently easy it was for these scammers to fake and alter checks that would then get cashed. I'd like to believe that I would never buy this sort of thing, but it might be different if someone sent me a check for some large amount of cash and it actually cleared the bank. You just assume that crap like that has already passed some pretty extreme amount of scrutiny. It's easy to see how even a mildly credulous person could get tangled up when they actually have cash to show for it. Well, before the house of cards all come crumbling down anyway.

I know I'm usually the first to suggest immolation as an answer to intractable problems, but I'm thinking that maybe we should divert a few B2 bombers from Iraq and consider carpet bombing Festac Town for a day or two. Those fuckers have it coming.
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Going down with the ship

The latest Times/CBS poll shows Bush getting a new all-time low in his approval rating. At the moment he's at a meager 31% making him the third most unpopular president of the half centry, behind only nixon and carter. Sounds bleak and all, but the truly hilarious part is that the two people who ran against him in 2000 and 2004 have to look up to see 31% in the same poll.

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who was Mr. Bush's opponent in 2004, had a lower approval rating than Mr. Bush: 26 percent, down from 40 percent in a poll conducted right after the election.

And just 28 percent said they had a favorable view of Al Gore, one of Mr. Bush's more vocal critics.

I wouldn't exactly call it good news that those two crackpots score even lower, but it does sort of put things into perspective a bit.
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Henwy's Book Club

Today we will be discussing the book Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. Wicked is a retelling of the classic L. Frank Baum story of The Wizard of Oz with a focus upon the life of the wicked witch of the west. The book is divided into five parts beginning with the birth of Elphaba, the wicked witch to be, and ending with the arrival of dorothy and the events of the original book and movie.

Now, right off the bat I was a bit antsy about reading this book. I have a friend who's really keen on it and has wanted to get a group together to see the broadway musical for quite a while now. I haven't been against the idea but I was pretty sure that the book itself would likely piss me off. I figured that at the very best it would be some sort of noxiously sacchrine retelling of the wizard of oz with the wicked witch really being good and all the good characters really being evil. I figured that Dorothy might end up being a mouthy, snot-nosed bitch and Glinda would of course be the evil step sister of the story, tormenting poor little green Elphaba. At the worst, I was imagining some sort of morally relativistic stew of crap which would try to justify all the evil the wicked witch would commit because of her miserable childhood and how no one wanted to play with her on the playground.

That being said, I was really pleasantly surprised by Wicked. Instead of going for the easy out, it was instead a deep and powerful rewriting of the tale, painting in shades of obscure gray. Even after finishing the darn thing, I'm still not sure I have any real solid grasp of what the take home message was supposed to be nor what was the true nature of the protagonist. One thing that is for sure and that's Elphaba is no angel, despite what some soft-brained individuals will automatically want to recreate her as. I'm sorry to say that the musical version which I read the synopsis of does go with the sacchriney sweet bullcrap senario I mentioned earlier and completely misses the complexity of the original tale.

So lets get to the nitty gritty.

1) Again, Elphaba is no angel. I was ecspecially bothered with her little stint as a terrorist and her reasoning about how to view 'collateral damage'. Many terrorists often justify the death of bystanders and 'innocents' by calling them martyrs for the cause (though they have no part in choosing such a role) or as simply part and parcel of the price you pay for some larger goal. Elphaba's lack of any need to even try to justify those deaths was pretty chilling. For her, those people obviously had no value and were not even people. You seldom even see the nutjob terrorists of today go as far as that to dehumanize individuals. Her saving grace is that when given the chance to put her callous words into action she balks.

2) I really liked Glinda. In my opinion, she's a far more admirable character than Elphie and works as a great foil. Despite being spoiled and passively stupid at the start, you can see that she works to change herself over time. She never takes the rebellious risks that Elphie does, but compare the good that Glinda accomplishes over the course of her life and the endless disasters and tragedy that follow Elphie. Who is after all more worthy of admiration? A saint from birth or one who has known both sin and grace and chooses grace? Not exactly the best comparrison but it's the one that first came to my mind. Glinda changes and grows through her life. I'm not sure Elphie ever really does.

3) I have no clue exactly what Yackle's part in this whole story is. The dwarf says that in the world he comes from there are guardian angels and that Yackle is the opposite number. That would make her a demon of sorts and perhaps as a guardian angel protects you from harm, Yackle leads her charges to it. I just don't understand why. The motivation seems completely lost upon me. Everything seems planned to set Elphaba apart and plant the seed of resentment from her coloring to nessarose's deformity, and otherwise muck with her life. But why?

4) I'm also not sure exactly what the grimmoire is. If the wizard is from our world, I can't see how one of our texts can hold all that much power. Nor, quite frankly, can I see a standard Earth book having passages which will teach you how to attach wings to monkeys.

5) Poor dorothy. No wonder they locked her up in an insane asylum when she got home. I can't help but think she did Elphaba a mercy though.

So what did the rest of you think? Comments? Questions? Does Elphaba have a soul?