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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Iran’s President says “2 or 3 hangings” could end market woes

Iran Focus reports:

Tehran, Oct. 30 – Iran’s hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the latest cabinet meeting in the Iranian capital that “if we were permitted to hang two or three persons, the problems with the stock exchange would be solved for ever,” according to a Tehran-based newspaper.

Ahmadinejad was addressing a cabinet meeting held to discuss the rapidly deteriorating situation at the Tehran Stock Exchange, the daily Ruznet reported on Sunday.

Ministers and experts disagreed with all the different views and proposals raised at the meeting, which came to an end without any concrete results. Tempers flew high and participants shouted at each other during the discussion, according to the daily. Frustrated with the inability of his economic advisers and experts to come up with any solution, Ahmadinejad told them that the only way out of the current stock exchange and financial market problems was to “frighten” speculators by hanging two or three of them.

Iran’s ultra-Islamist President first sent jitters through the country’s markets when he said on the eve of the presidential elections in June that “stock exchange activities are a kind of gambling and we are against them”. Gambling is banned in Islam.

Nervous investors have been transferring their capital to other countries, and Dubai has benefited palpably from the flight of capital from Iran. The Tehran Stock Exchange has lost 20 percent of its value in the past four months.

Threating the "speculators" with death by hanging will certainly move the Iranian stock market - completely out of Iran.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Turtles all the way down

Turtles all the way down refers to a myth about the nature of the universe (see Cosmology). Stephen Hawking in his 1988 book A Brief History of Time starts with an anecdote about an encounter between a scientist and an "old lady."

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the Earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy.

At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise."

The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?"

"You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down."

The anecdote in this form has achieved the status of an urban legend on the internet, as there are numerous versions in which the name of the scientist varies (e.g., Thomas Huxley, William James, Arthur Stanley Eddington, or Carl Sagan) although the rest is the same.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

God Bless Alan Greenspan - Will we miss you?

Alan Greenspan?
Alan Greenspan: enigma

Did a "Greenspan Effect" cause the global warming of the financial markets?


Alan Greenspan, the Chairman of The Federal Reserve is exiting the world stage to applause sprinkled with some boos. James Grant for one thinks Greenspan was a con man:
The public worships Alan Greenspan for his oracular wisdom. But what is his legacy? It includes a crazy housing market, overextended consumers and a burst stock bubble

The most revered figure in American finance happens to be an aging price controller. Until the end of January the price of a short-term loan--the federal funds rate--will be whatever the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board decides to make it.

Never mind the conundrum of a flattish yield curve, where ten-year Treasurys now yield only six-tenths of a percentage point more than the funds rate. Alan Greenspan, 79, is a conundrum himself, personally: capitalist price controller, Ayn Rand-trained public servant and, most oxymoronic of all, beloved central banker.

His imminent leave-taking presents an occasion both to appraise his 18-year Fed stewardship and, more important, to speculate on its consequences to all who hold, save or invest the U.S. dollar.
Some astute financial forecasters believe a bad "hurricane season" is brewing in the warm frothy waters of the financial markets that Greenspan is leaving as his legacy. Will an unexpected category 5 financial crisis hit the newly appointed Fed chief, Ben Bernanke, squarely in the chops? Stephen S. Roach, the chief economist for Morgan Stanley, thinks so:
MOST FED chairmen are blindsided early on in their tenure...

The U.S. economy actually faces far greater threats than inflation - threats that an inflation targeter such as Bernanke may be ill-equipped to deal with.

At the top of the list is a record U.S. current account deficit the broadest measure of the nation's trade balance (imbalance, in this case) with the rest of the world. Running at an annual rate of close to $800 billion in the first half of 2005, it requires foreign funding to the tune of $3 billion per business day. To accomplish that without a sharp drop in the dollar and/or a related backup in interest rates requires extraordinary confidence on the part of foreign investors in U.S. assets.
Will the first big financial storm during Bernanke's term be named Hurricane Alan? Anyway, it sounds like you may need to sell your house and move to high ground. Or at least get your boots on and have your bailing buckets ready.

links:
The ambush waiting for Bernanke [Roach, LA Times (sub required), Oct. 26, 2005]
Tough flying for the global economy [Roach, Asia Times, Oct. 26, 2005]
O Sage! O Confidence Man! [James Grant, Forbes, Oct. 31, 2005]

Friday, October 21, 2005

Spam Stock Tracker and the art of "pump & dump"

The SPAM STOCK TRACKER is a website that tracks the performance of stocks promoted in spam email. Joshua Cyr set out to see if he could trust and profit from the unsolicited (spam) stock tips he received. What would happen if he purchased 1000 shares of stock from EVERY stock tip mentioned in a SPAM email?

The practice of "pump and dump" schemes apparently continues to thrive. Cyr has received hundreds of spam tout emails. Many are for the same handful of stocks. It's basically a child's play scam. A good example of this is when a 15-year-old New Jersey high school junior, Jonathan Lebed, paid $285,000 to settle a civil fraud lawsuit by the SEC in 2000 for running a pump and dump operation from August 1999 to February 2000. Lebed was profiled on CBS's 60 Minutes.

Jonathan Lebed Jonathan Lebed
Jonathan Lebed teenage pump-and-dump artist

CNN reported:

The SEC alleges Lebed used "pump and dump" in 11 transactions involving nine different stocks. The trades were made from custodial accounts in his father's name at two brokerages but authorities said there is no indication his parents knew about the transactions.

Regulators said that after Lebed bought a stock, he sent hundreds of false e-mail messages, each under a fictitious name, promoting the stock.

In one case, he allegedly claimed that a company trading at $2 per share would be trading at more than $20 per share "very soon." Other postings claimed that a stock would be "the next stock to gain 1,000 percent," and was "the most undervalued stock ever."

Lebed's profits on each trade ranged from more than $11,000 to almost $74,000.

Ronald Long, district administrator of the SEC's Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, office, which handled the case, said Lebed broke securities laws in a number of ways:

"He lied, he did anonymous false postings, he purchased cheap stocks knowing that he planned to lie to move the price and then sold in light of the price movement his lies created," he said.

Long said the Internet helped boost Lebed's credibility.

"Remember, he posted hundreds of postings under numerous anonymous screen names to give the impression that not only was the false information true, but many hundreds of investors also believed it... different investors," Long said. "If you hear something from one person you might not believe it. By using the hundreds of postings and false names you arguably create the impression for the market that this was true because it's not just one person saying it."

It's ironic that Spam Stock Tracker page has Google Adsense Ad's for "penny stocks" listed on it (it seems, the words "penny stock" attract a lot of interest). Would anyone still buy a penny stock based on a internet tip? Guess so.

As for Michael Lebed, he is currently 21 years old. He runs an investor relations firm Lebed Biz, LLC and publishes an investing newsletter. His website is lebed.biz.

links:
Spam Stock Tracker [Joshua Cyr]
Teen stock tout to pay $285,000 for 'pump and dump' scheme [CNN, Sept. 21, 2000]
Pump And Dump [CBS.com, Oct. 19, 2000]

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Specialized Crime Search

Rollyo.com (as in "roll your own search engine") allows people to set up specialized searches of specified websites. Here is a specialized Crime Search that The Johnsville News set up. Use it if you are looking for something related to "crime" that is off the mainstream news websites. It searches the following (mostly primary source) websites:

www.usdoj.gov - The U.S. Department of Justice
www.fbi.gov - The FBI
www.ustreas.gov - The U.S. Treasure Department
www.dea.gov - The Drug Enforcement Agency
www.usmarshals.gov - U.S. Marshalls
www.courttv.com - Court TV
www.crimelibrary.com - The Crime Library
www.officer.com - Police & Law Enforcement
www.thesmokinggun.com - The Smoking Gun
www.amw.com - America's Most Wanted
www.missingkids.com - National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
www.doenetwork.org - Int'l Center for Unidentified & Missing Persons
www.interpol.int - Interpol
www.blottered.com - Blottered Group Crime Blog
www.crimeandjustice.us - Community Crime Forum
www.websleuths.com - Community Crime Forum

The "search roll" may be copied and modified by anyone for their own custom search. Happy hunting.

Rollyo Crime Search [by The Johnsville News]

Friday, October 14, 2005

Wealthy Farmer, 3 of Family Slain

In Cold Blood

November 16, 1959
Holcomb, Kansas

A wealthy wheat farmer, his wife and their two young children were found shot to death today in their home. They had been killed by shotgun blasts at close range after being bound and gagged.

The father, 48-year-old Herbert W. Clutter, was found in the basement with his son, Kenyon, 15. His wife Bonnie, 45, and a daughter, Nancy, 16, were in their beds.

There were no signs of a struggle and nothing had been stolen. The telephone lines had been cut.

"This is apparently the case of a psychopathic killer," Sheriff Earl Robinson said.

Mr. Clutter was founder of The Kansas Wheat Growers Association. In 1954 President Eisenhower appointed him to the Federal Farm Credit Board, but he never lived in Washington.

This is the story that launched the career of Truman Capote. The New York Times has "A Sponsored Archieve" dedicated to Truman Capote paid for by Sony. This archive republishes a series of The New York Times articles on the life and career of Truman Capote, highlighting his famous work, In Cold Blood. It promotes the upcoming Sony Pictures film, Capote, based on Truman Capote.

Capote died in 1984, so this is ancient history to generations MTV, X, and Y. But it reminds us of a terrible crime in Kansas and of the stylish and interesting man who wrote about it.

Truman Capote, His Life & Works | A Sponsored Archieve [NY Times]
courtesy (designerjones.com)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Alex Rudaj - Albanian Mafia Trial - Week 3

The 3rd week of the trial of the Albanian organized-crime group called the Rudaj Organization by federal prosecutors begins this week. There has been a serious lack of reporting on this trial by the New York news media. There have only been two news stories published: one by the Westchester County based Journal News on Sept. 28th and one by The New York Daily News on Oct. 9th.

The trial in courtroom 26A of Manhattan Federal Court started September 26th and is expected to last about three months. Given the weak rehash of old stories from last October's indictment and arrest of the 22 members of the Rudaj Organization you wonder if any reporters are really at this trial or if they're just phoning it in. Where is Court TV? The Feds are making Alex Rudaj out to be the new John Gotti of organized crime.

The six men being tried for racketeering, gambling, extortion and loansharking are:


  • Alex Rudaj (Allie Boy, Uncle Radaj, Xhaxhai, Sandro Rudovic), age 38, Yorktown, New York - ring leader

  • Nardino Colotti (Leonardo, Lenny), age 43, Bronx, NY - Italian protégé of the late Gambino soldier Phil (Skinny Phil) Loscalzo and group co-leader

  • Nikola Dedaj (Nicky Nails, Big Nick, Nikol), 42, Yonkers, NY - Rudaj's alleged chief enforcer and co-leader.

  • Ljusa "Louie" Nuculovic, 47, Hopewell Junction, NY.

  • Prenka Ivezaj (Frankie, Big Frank), 40, Queens, NY.

  • Angelo DiPietro (Fat Angelo), 48, Hopewell Junction, NY. Former owner of Sue's Rendezvous, a strip club in Mount Vernon, NY. He is accused of being a salaried employee of the organization and is charged with racketeering. Prosecutors said he was fired for stealing from the crime group.


Defendant, Gjelosh Lelcaj, pleaded guilty to racketeering after jury selection was completed on Tuesday, Sept 27, 2005. The other 15 indicted individuals of "The Rudaj Organization" have or will be tried, with one individual, Miri Patani, still remaining at large. It will be interesting to see if any of them testify at this trial.

Prosecutors said that Rudaj and his friend Colotti broke off from the Gambinos after Phil Loscalzo died in the early 1990s. Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Gruenstein said their goal was "to become one day, they hoped, a sixth family."

The NY Daily News said:
federal prosecutors are claiming the Gambinos and the Lucheses - among the most bloodthirsty crime families the city has ever known - are just a bunch of pansies...

"The Gambino crime family simply could not stand in the way of the Rudaj organization, and the Rudaj organization took great pride in that," prosecutor Benjamin Gruenstein said.

They also pushed the Lucchese crime family out of Astoria, Queens, prosecutors said, taking over gambling clubs the Luccheses had run for years.

Small discrepancies come out of these reports. For example, how can the Feds claim that Mr. Rudaj is a criminal kingpin or the new John Gotti if he just "fired" Mr. DiPietro for stealing from the group? Wouldn't a kingpin inflict something a bit more serious than a piercing Donald Trump look and a "you're fired" for stealing from the family till? What's going on here?

One new piece of information that Rudaj's lawyer, James Kousouros, provided is that Mr. Rudaj is "a legitimate businessman, owner of Morris Park Games, which sells foosball games, pool tables and gambling machines to bars and clubs throughout the city." Here's the address:

Morris Park Games, Inc.
840 Morris Park Avenue
Bronx, NY (New York) 10462-3615
Phone: (718) 892-9004

Google Map for Morris Park Games, Inc.

As for Mr. Kousouros's quoted remarks, someone needs to explain how it's legitimate to sell "gambling machines" to New York City bars and clubs? Thought the only forms of gambling that are allowed are the state lottery and off-track betting (OTB), plus the occasional informal game of bingo. Help!

Also, Mr. Rudaj's lawyer, James Kousouros, should ditch the "legitimate businessman" description. Hollywood has turned that tired cliche into a Mafia calling card. Call Mr. Rudaj an honest citizen, a steady Eddie, a taxpayer, a hard working immigrant, or a small business owner, just please don't say "legitimate businessman."

links:
Mafia turns scaredy-cat [NY Daily News, Oct. 9, 2005]
Albanian mob trial opens [Journal News, Sept. 28, 2005]
Gangs of New York: Rudaj vs. Gambinos [TJN, Dec. 15, 2004]
Albanian Mafia Boss Denied Bail [TJN, Dec. 10, 2004]
New Mafia Gangs of New York fly below the radar screen [TJN, Nov. 15, 2004]
The Rudaj Organization aka: The Albanian Mafia [TJN, Nov. 1, 2004]

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Profiting from the BTK Serial Killer

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a capitalism and making a profit. But sometimes with the good of a market economy you get some messy ethics questions. It's now pop culture custom and practice that vicious killers will get their own movie. Especially, if they have been one of the most infamous serial killers for the last 31 years. CBS delivers the story of Dennis Rader the Wichita BTK (Bind, Torture, & Kill) serial killer tonight in the television movie: "The Hunt for the BTK Killer."

Rhonda Holman at Kansas.com provides a Wichita perspective on the BTK movie: BTK'd - Like it or not, killer part of pop culture.

Then there is the case's emerging impact on pop culture. There was coining of "BTK" as a verb last month on the WB's "The Gilmore Girls," as in "If you see me BTK'd, you'll know why." There was the commercial for new CBS lawyer show "Close to Home" that cast Rader alongside Scott Peterson and the Menendez brothers as killers next door. National radio host Phil Hendrie even did a wicked bit on "BTK clothing," as in big, tall kids.

It's easy to respond to the notoriety with indifference, as in whatever -- just as long as they spell Wichita right. This is, after all, a fascinating true story that found its finale at a time of feverish fascination with crime.

What's regrettable is that the pop culture retellings can't help but refresh the pain for Rader's victims and survivors.

The economic bottomline means that it's okay for a big network like CBS and its advertisers to profit from a notorious case. So why can't a small website operator do the same thing? Tom Voigt is the operator of the CatchBTK.com website. Mr. Voigt set up CatchBTK.com in May 2004 in the hopes it could help find new leads. He said that in just two months the website has received over a million hits from all over the world.

The CatchBTk.com mission:
The goal of catchBTK.com is to identify the serial killer calling himself BTK through the sharing of case-related information.

Now since BTK has been caught Mr. Voigt no longer thinks it's necessary to share any of the information. So he has taken the 20 Megabytes of information that he and hundreds of people have shared about the Wichita BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) serial killer case off the internet and is now selling it on a CD-ROM for $6.95. His site his right. However, this is unfair to the many people who contributed to the site and who linked to it (like TJN). If it was just Mr. Voigt's own content that wouldn't be so troubling. But, when he takes down the public forums and case information from contributors and tries to sell it that crosses some sort of fuzzy internet code-of-conduct boundary and puts him on slimy ground.

Looking at it from Mr. Voigt's point of view it's understandable that he might not want to pay for the bandwidth that his site (with mission complete-BTK caught) will draw due to the renewed BTK interest for this evenings broadcast of "The Hunt for the BTK Killer" telemovie. But, when you put your website out there as a public service you need to come up with a better business model for sustaining it and/or terminating it. Additionally, breaking links and turning away web traffic doesn't seem very smart. It also doesn't seem completely fair to pick on Mr. Voigt when you have a multi-billion corporation like CBS profiting from their exploitation of the BTK case on a much larger scale. However, that's capitalism - messy and ethically imperfect, but better than any alternatives.

One small lesson from this story is that topic specific websites like CatchBTK.com come and go. Choose wisely if you decide to contribute or link to them.

Some of the CatchBTK.com information is still available at the Internet Archive:

Reviews of the movie:
The Hunt For The BTK Killer: Just Your Average, Deadly Dull Serial Killer! [eclipsemagazine.com]
BTK on TV: 'A study of evil' [kansas.com]
Playing Cat-and-Mouse With a Serial Killer [NY Times]
Hunt for the BTK Killer [Hollywood Reporter]

related:
Crime & Justice Forum discussion of The BTK movie: "The Hunt for the BTK Killer"
BTK (Bind, Torture, & Kill) Strangler Case Info [TJN]
Dennis L. Rader arrested as Wichita BTK Serial Killer [TJN]

Update: We've been informed that ironically Tom Voigt himself was jailed for over 3 months in Oregon for stalking a women around the time of Rader's arrest. That puts everything in perspective. Mr. Voigt also runs the ZodiacKiller.com website, where he was busy today. The temptation is to rewrite and rename this post "The Stalker's Stalker is Really a Stalker," but we don't want to get stalked.

KAKE-TV reported on Sept. 20, 2005, about Mr. Voigt's legal problems. It was easy to miss because it misspelled Mr. Voigt's name as Voight:
Right after Dennis Rader was arrested many people noticed Catch BTK website creator Tom Voight was nowhere to be found. That's because he was serving a jail sentence for stalking.

According to a state offender website, Voight was in the Multinomah County Jail in Portland, Oregon for stalking a woman. A clerk with the Multinomah County Courthouse says Voight was convicted for multiple violations of a protection from stalking order. On February 11, he was sentenced to six months in jail and five years probation. He was released on May 23rd.

Voight says the charges stem from an incident involving a former employer. He says the female car dealer he worked for as a webmaster owed him about $2,000. Voight says he made a number of calls and sent many e-mails using colorful language to collect the money, but he was never physical and never threatened violence.

Voight is now trying to put the incident behind him. He's moved and is currently engaged to be married. Voight has stopped updating his website, saying now that BTK is caught the case doesn't interest him anymore.

BTK Website Developer Arrested for Stalking [KAKE.com]

Friday, October 7, 2005

Blink-O-Rama Redux

Sadly the Blink-O-Rama Blog seems to have disappeared. In their memory here are some celebrity blinking favorites:

Angelina Jolie Ann Coulter
Angelina Jolie - Ann Coulter

Arnold Schwarzenegger Bob Dylan
Arnold Schwarzenegger - Bob Dylan

Brian Williams Dan Rather
Brian Williams - Dan Rather

Dr. Ruth Westheimer Emeril
Dr. Ruth Westheimer - Emeril

George W. Bush Joan Rivers
George W. Bush - Joan Rivers

Mel Gibson Richard Kind
Mel Gibson - Richard Kind

Whoopi Goldberg Nancy Grace
Whoopi Goldberg - Nancy Grace

Snoop Dogg Peter Jennings
Snoop Dogg - Peter Jennings

Paula Zahn ?
Paula Zahn - ??

South Park Preacherman
South Park - Preacher

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Amateur sleuths solving cases

Amateur detectives have played an increasing role in solving John, Jane and Baby Doe cases in recent years, often using the Internet to make links between reports of missing people and unidentified bodies that overwhelmed police departments failed to notice. Here are five examples:

Amateur sleuths solving cases [SHNS, Oct. 4, 2005]
courtesy: Professor Hex

related:
The Doe Network - International Center for Unidentified and Missing Persons
"There is no time limit to solving a mystery" [doenetwork.org]

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

The Fine Art of Call Rolling

The art of call rolling is a skill that will be required if you want to be an assistant to a budding mogul. DrewDown an assistant at NBC-Universal wrote a primer:

Rolling calls is when your boss is out of the office and he calls you either on a cell phone or from some other phone and has you call other people while he is on the line. You have to call the other person and conference them in. You then stay on the line until the call is completed and then call the next person. Normally you have a mute button on your phone because no one is supposed to hear you.

Problems arise when you get another call while you are rolling calls. You then have to put the other call on hold and get done with that call before the other call ends. It get really interesting when you call someone else and his assistant is rolling calls and you have 4 phone calls going on.

Example:

my boss calls me from New York to call some one at another studio here in LA. I call them but that person is on the freeway coming back from lunch and was having his assistant call some one in London who is on the phone with some one else in NY. I am on hold for all this and at some point get connected and have to stay on the line because next I have to call some one else here in LA and I have to find this person's number but I have no idea how to find it because no one knows it. While I am looking for it an assistant from New Zealand call to talk to my boss while I am still waititng for the conversation with the London guy to end. In theory all of this is supposed to happen without anyone but the assistants knowing. This is an extreme but possible example.
courtesy:
MySpace for Aspiring Assholes [totc]
Hollywood Assistants [myspace.com]

Monday, October 3, 2005

The 2005 New York Yankess Payroll - NumSum.com 'd

The New York Yankees are the highest paid team in all of professional sports. The Yankee players will be paid $216,030,370 in 2005 by the calculation of a NumSum.com spreadsheet. The Boston Red Sox with the second highest payroll paid its players $121,311,945 for the 2005 season according to ESPN.

Numsum.com is a "FREE bite-sized web spreadsheets for sharing." Here is a Numsum.com spreadsheet TJN made to look at the 2005 New York Yankees player salaries on a per game basis:



ESPN reported the New York Yankee player salaries totaled $205,938,439. The ESPN total and The Johnsville News total of $216,030,370 differ by $10,091,931. What does $10 million matter to the Yankees anyway?

Numsum.com is in beta - so it will certainly get better. Currently, Numsum.com is relatively clunky and difficult to use. Formatting is painful. You can't paste a number with commas or dollar signs into it. There is lots of room for improvement. Since this spreadsheet is public anyone can paste into their own web page. The height and width of the spreadsheet can be adjusted. Numerous formulas are supported, for example, if you want to compute the average age of the Yankees insert the following formula: =AVERAGE(F2:F29)

A NumSum spreedsheet provides an alternative way for a blog to insert data in a column format into a page. The downside of this format is that it is added as a browser frame. Click on one of the player links to see a better example of that.

links:
http://www.numsum.com/spreadsheet/show/919
Num Sum formula language
New York Yankees 2005 Salaries [espn.go.com]
"Who Makes How Much" New York Magazine

Calculated Risk

MishTalk - Mike Shedlock

Paul Krugman - NY Times

The Big Picture - Barry Ritholtz

naked capitalism - Yves Smith

Pragmatic Capitalism

Washington's Blog

Safe Haven

Paper Economy

The Daily Reckoning - Australia