Archive for October, 2008

Al Capone, the notorious Chicago gangster, was a man of enormous power and great wealth. He housed his headquarters in the Lexington Hotel for three years, living in a suite there until his arrest for tax evasion in 1931. Five decades later, a construction crew was renovating the building and discovered a series of hidden tunnels that led to various speakeasies and houses of ill-repute, as well as a mysterious steel repository in the back. Rumors had long existed of a secret underground vault that Capone had used to hide his money, and it looked like this might be it.

Geraldo Rivera, intrepid TV reporter, learned of this fact and realized that he had potential winner on his hand. Note the word ‘potential’. He asked the hotel owners to hold off opening the vault, and then convinced broadcast executives to let him do a two-hour special on the subject. They agreed, and the amount of hype put forth to market the show was amazing. Commercials ran day and night which stated that Geraldo was going to do something that had never been done before, he was going to open the former crime boss’s vault live on television.

What would be found inside? Dead bodies, perhaps? Millions of dollars of stolen mob money? Dare we suggest… the Ark of the Covenant?

The TV special started out fairly mundane. Geraldo Rivera greeted the viewers, showed them the outside of the vault, and pontificated about its possible contents. A medical examiner was present, to identify any corpses should they be found, as was an IRS agent (to tax said corpses appropriately). Geraldo proceeded to hover about while a special team of engineers figured out a way to unseal the room, and when they finally succeeded, he made a dramatic gesture, invited the camera crews inside, and promptly discovered… nothing.

Well, there were a few bottles of moonshine bathtub gin, and a lone tumbleweed rolled past, but that was it. Geraldo had an inordinate amount of egg on his face, something which would only get wiped off a few years later when a deranged redneck hit him with a chair and fractured his nose. The sheer embarrassment of the non-event would not be the end of his career, however, far from it. He would get his own television show for his trouble, and provide constant explosive programming on the perils of midget infidelity for many years to come.


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BAD FOOD – Bambeanos

Bambeanos was a delicious snack food that first appeared on supermarket shelves in 1975. The product was made up of roasted and artificially flavored soybeans, traditionally known for their healthy effect on the human body. Bambeanos was known for causing excessive flatulence. Something about the dietary makeup of the cuisine had a unusually deleterious effect on the digestive system, especially in regards to the expenditure of gas, leading to numerous awkward moments on first dates and unfortunate meetings in the board room with important clients.

As might be expected, the food item sold horribly. People weren’t willing to put up with the odious side effects, even with a 50% off sale on clothespins, and less than 25,000 cases of Bambeanos were sold. It was eventually pulled off the shelves by Colgate-Palmolive, leading to a lawsuit by the original contractor. This, combined with the original price of research and development, would cost the company over 1.3 million dollars; a sign that maybe, next time, they ought to consider the reeking ramifications of a product made entirely out of roasted beans.

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The 1970’s gave us a lot of horrible things: disco, pet rocks, the president getting attacked by a waterborn rabbit on a midday afternoon… Perhaps the most hideous, though, was the leisure suit. This popular form of evening wear was made of super-stretchy polyester and consisted of a matching dinner jacket and pants. It was a suit that you could wear to business meetings -and- nightclubs, which had great time-saving appeal. Enormous gold chains and billowy chest hair were optional, but all the real skeezy club hounds sported them.

The typical color of leisure suits was smarmy white, but they also had them in bright yellow, navy blue, and hot pink. There was no better way to say “I am a complete sleazeball” to the swarms of hipsters around you, and the outfits quickly became one the true symbols of bad taste – not an easy task, considering the competition. They would also inspire the Leisure Suit Larry video games, in which you play a balding protagonist who tries to sleep with as many pixellated women as possible. So, in many ways, the game was completely true to life.

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There are a lot of bad scams to be found on the internet, but the Nigerian email swindles (also known as Advance Fee Fraud) are particularly devious. They’re certainly the most pervasive, with the United States losing an estimated $100 million a year through their malfeasance. They usually involve a low-ranking cabinet member who needs to get rid of a lot of cash in a hurry, and has just “happened” by sheer amazing coincidence to stumble upon the email holder in question. Here’s an example:

Dear Kindest Sir,

Having consulted with my colleagues in the Nigerian Chambers Of Commerce, I have the privilege to offer the transfer of $47,500,000.00 into your bank account. The above sum is the result of an over-invoiced contract that was commissioned and paid for by a foreign contractor over five years ago. This action was intentional, and has since been sitting in a suspense account at The Central Bank Of Nigeria Apex Bank.

I am now ready to transfer the funds overseas, and that is where you, my dear friend, come in. Civil servants are forbidden to operate foreign accounts, so I have sought out someone from your country who I believe to have impeccable morals. You! The total sum will be shared as follows: 70% for us, 25% for you and 5% for bribes incidental to the transfer.

The transfer is completely risk free on both sides! Really! I am a minister at the Nigerian International Trade Works In Transit, and if you find this proposal acceptable, please send me your bank account number, a photocopy of your driver’s license, your birth certificate, your telephone number, your PayPal password, every one of your credit card numbers (including the three digit sequence at the back), and a piece of letter-headed stationary that is stamped and signed.

Best Regards,

Name Withheld

Now, to any person with a modicum of intelligence, it’s pretty obvious that something fishy is going on here, but it turns out there’s a lot of people lacking said modicum who have lost their life savings to these scams. There are even a few people that have traveled all the way to Nigeria in order to pick up their money, only to be kidnapped by the spammers and ransomed back to their families. They normally wouldn’t be able to afford the payment, but they just heard about a great land deal in Florida that practically guarantees triple returns!

Variations on Advance Fee Fraud include:

– Charity Scams (Let’s exploit a horrible tragedy by swindling the charity!)
– Death in the Family Scams (Aunt Gertie died and I need an overseas account to get the inheritance!)
– Lottery Scams (I won the lottery but need help transferring the money!)
– Hitman Scams (Someone hired me to kill you but I won’t if you send me cash!)
-Stranded Missionary Scams (I’m trapped abroad and I need funds to get out of this godforsaken country!)
– Fraud Recovery Scams (Did you lose money to a Nigerian Email Scam? We’re here to help!)

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Fanny packs first appeared on the fashion scene in the early 1990’s. These small fabric pouches were worn on the side of the waist, and allowed people to have immediate access to their migraine medication, lip balm, chewing gum, tweezers, car keys, breath mints, comb, nail clipper, batteries, dental floss, sonic screwdriver, and so on. It’s remarkable how much stuff could be stuffed into them. All in all, they were fairly convenient devices, and some are still sold today, so what could possibly be wrong with them?

To start with, there’s the name. It has the word ‘fanny’ in it. That should be most people’s first warning sign. Then there’s the fact that anyone who wears one looks like a complete tool. It doesn’t matter if you’re dressed in the latest styles or no style at all – having a fanny pack instantly renders you into the same social level as the people who ran the Audio/Visual club. There’s security concerns as well, because pouches that face the rear can be pickpocketed without too much difficulty. Remember: if someone unscrupulous person tries to sell you a fanny pack, just say NO.

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Step right up, friends, and prepare yourselves for the opportunity of a lifetime. Today we are offering to you an amazing cure-all, stolen from the secret masters of ancient Tibet, at great bodily risk to our person. Bottled within this marvelous elixir are mystical ingredients that are guaranteed to cure your gout, halt your aches, prevent consumption, put a spring in your step, and make you irresistible to the ladies. You have absolutely nothing to fear, except perhaps an empty space in your wallet and thirty percent chance of permanent blindness.

Medicine shows were a common fixture of American life in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. They roamed from town to town in search of people to swindle, often using a plant in the audience that the snake-oil salesman could call upon during the pitch. The person would hobble up, take a swig of the awe-inspiring remedy, and then toss away their crutches and perform a merry jig. After such incontrovertible proof, it’s no wonder the townsfolk swarmed forward with money in hand and demanded a chance to purchase the amazing medicine.

So what were the rubes actually ingesting? In some cases it was common tap water with opium extract added for ‘miraculous effects’, which helps explain the odd sensations people would sometimes experience when imbibing the drink. Other patent medicines were a strange concoction of red onions, peppers, and dried apricot pits. The secret masters apparently liked to peruse the produce section of your local supermarket. Oddly enough, the most controversial element to be used was alcohol, but that was mostly due to ongoing Prohibition efforts at the time.

Some people might be surprised to learn that patent medicine still exists to this day, as do the shows which advertise it. If you’d like to see one, all you have to do is flip your television on Sunday morning and find the guy selling ‘Natural Male Enhancement’ or ‘Medical secrets THEY don’t want you to know about.’ Rest assured, there are no chemicals whatsoever in the revolutionary products they are promoting.

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Atomic energy was all the rage in the 1950’s. It had ended World War II, there was talk about using it to power cities, and schoolchildren had to duck under their desks regularly in case of nuclear attack. Knowing a good thing when he saw it, A.C. Gilbert (inventor of the Erector Set) decided to release the Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab to the world. The full set came with a Geiger Counter, a Wilson Cloud Chamber (this would let kids see alpha particles move around – cool stuff!), something called a Spinthariscope… and four chunks of Uranium-238.

The product was only on the shelves for a year before people realized, hmm, maybe it wasn’t a good idea to let their children play with radioactive material. The sudden preponderance of gigantic preying mantises everywhere may have been a factor as well. Exposure to Uranium-238 has been connected to all manner of debilitating illnesses, so it’s quite possible that the lucky tots who woke up early on Christmas morning and got the energy lab as a gift experienced cancer or leukemia later in life. Probably not the science lesson that their parents had intended.

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