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Identity/Imposters
Status: Imposter
This is over a week old, but it struck me as odd enough to be worth posting anyway:
The archpriest of St. Peter's basilica has warned European concert organizers against a musician who is falsely advertising himself as the "official organist" to Pope Benedict XVI... An Italian musician, Massimiliano Mussi, has issued publicity brochures in which he claims to a papal appointment. The cardinal warned promoters that the Vatican has only one official organist, American James Edward Goettsche. "Any other person who claims similar titles or merits should be considered dishonest," the cardinal said.
So I'm really curious about what this guy's story is. Has he resorted to deception to get a leg-up in the cut-throat world of organ playing? Or is he using this as a line to pick up girls? "Hey baby, I play the Pope's organ."
Categories: Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 02, 2006
Comments (6)
Status: Case of mistaken identity
Guy Kewney, editor of newswireless.net, was scheduled to be interviewed by the BBC about the Apple Computer vs. Apple record label case. But as he stood in the lobby of the BBC building waiting to be met by the studio manager, he saw, to his surprise, someone else introduced and then interviewed under his name. Guy Kewney, according to his own description, is "fair-haired, blue-eyed, prominent-nosed, and with the sort of pale skin that makes my dermatologist wince each time I complain about an itchy mole." By contrast, the Guy Kewney being interviewed on air was "Black. Also, he spoke with a French-sounding accent, and he seemed as baffled as I felt."

So what was going on? It turned out that the studio manager had confused a taxi driver sitting in the reception area for Guy Kewney. The taxi driver didn't really understand what was going on and happily followed the studio manager's lead. The Times gives this description of the interview:
The cabbie, who is better qualified to talk about traffic jams in Shepherds Bush, answered questions for several minutes on Apple Computer’s victory at the High Court against Apple Corps, the record label for the Beatles, The Times has learnt. Karen Bowerman, the BBC’s consumer affairs correspondent, asked the driver what the implications were for Apple Computer, which is allowed to continue using its name and symbol for its iTunes music download service. He gave a rambling answer about how people would be able to download songs at internet cafés. Ms Bowerman was nonplussed, but persisted. What about Apple? "I don’t know," the driver replied. "I'm not at all sure what I'm doing here."
I've always thought that many of the "experts" interviewed on news shows aren't much more knowledgeable about the topics being discussed than any random person would be. They just happen to be the first person the news show could find who was willing to go on-air. So I think this cabbie should start a new second career as a freelance expert on all topics. Once he hones his b.s. skills, he could be as good as any of them.
Categories: Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Sat May 13, 2006
Comments (5)
Status: Imposter
image The scam of pretending to be British peerage is still going strong. A few months ago we heard about that guy in Minnesota who was picking up teenage girls by claiming to be the Fifth Duke of Cleveland (aka the Earl of Scooby). Now comes word of a far more elaborate scam. The man in question called himself Christopher Buckingham, the Earl of Buckingham. He had been living under that identity for almost twenty years. Police realized last year that he was living under a false name when his passport got checked as he was crossing the Channel. (The real Christopher Buckingham had died as an infant.) But police couldn't figure out what his true identity was. Until now. Turns out he's Charles Stopford of Florida. The Stopford family recognized him when they saw a story about him in The Times. He had disappeared twenty years ago and they had no clue what became of him.
Categories: Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Tue May 09, 2006
Comments (8)
Status: anti-counterfeit technology
Last year I posted about a group of MIT students who created an Automatic Scientific Paper Generator, capable of creating "random Computer Science research papers, including graphs, figures, and citations." One of the papers created by this program was accepted for presentation at the World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics. To stop something like this happening again, researchers at the Indiana University School of Informaics have invented an Inauthentic Paper Detector. It's supposed to be able to tell whether a paper has been written by a human or a machine. The researchers write: "The main purpose of this software is to detect whether a technical document conforms to the statistical standards of an expository text... We are trying to detect new, machine written texts that are simply generated not to have any meaning, yet appear to have meaning on the surface."

I tested the Inauthentic Paper Detector by having it analyze the last couple of entries I've written. It told me: "This text had been classified as INAUTHENTIC with a 38.4% chance of being authentic text." I guess this confirms the theory that the real Alex drowned in Loch Ness back in September 2004 and was replaced by replicant Alex. (via New Scientist)
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Science
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 28, 2006
Comments (15)
Status: Undetermined
image Last Friday a man was found floating on a makeshift raft in the Skagerrak strait between Sweden and Norway. He claimed that he had been set adrift four days ago by another ship. He also said that his name was George Williams, and that he had been born in Cape Town. Within a day he had added details to his story and now said that his parents were Russian-Jewish parents, but that he had been given up for adoption at an early age. Authorities doubt that he could have been floating out there for four days, given the cold temperatures. So the guy presents a bit of a mystery. Who is he really? And how did he end up on a raft in the middle of the ocean? The story has shades of last year's Piano Man mystery. (Thanks to Asheim for the links)
Categories: Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 25, 2006
Comments (2)
Status: prank
image Here's a prank that definitely rates as one of the more inventive (and cruel) student pranks of recent years. The set-up occurred a week before a NCAA game pitting UC Berkeley against the University of Southern California. USC's starting guard, Gabe Pruitt (pictured), met a UCLA coed named Victoria online. They traded messages via AOL Instant Messenger. She sent him her picture. He sent her his. They arranged to meet after the game on March 4.

The sinker occurred during the March 4th game. When Pruitt appeared on the court, UC fans started to chant "VIC-TOR-IA, VIC-TOR-IA." Their chants continued throughout the game, escalating to include the recitation of Pruitt's phone number. Transcripts of Pruitt's IM chats with "Victoria" were also circulated throughout the crowd (including classic lines such as "You look like you have a very fit body... Now I want to c u so bad"). Pruitt was visibly shocked, missed a bunch of free throws, and ended up 3-for-13 from the field.

It turned out that "Victoria" didn't exist. She was the fictional creation of a couple of UC fans. Pruitt had been punk'd. Understandably, some USC fans aren't too happy about the prank. (So are they plotting revenge?) (via Deadspin and Schneier on Security)

By coincidence, a similar prank was in the news last week (though it was far creepier and more disturbing in its implications). Five boys created an online profile of a fictitious 15-year-old girl they called "Jessica." To their surprise, a 48-year-old guy contacted "Jessica" and started to chat her up. The five boys played along, and eventually lured the guy into meeting Jessica in real life. But when the guy showed up for the meeting, it was the police, not Jessica, who were waiting for him.

Both these incidents go to show that you never really know who you're talking to on the internet. Or as Reality Rule 6.3 from Hippo Eats Dwarf states: "On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog." (It makes more sense if you see the cartoon it refers to.)

Related Posts:
Jan. 6, 2004: Vixen Love
Sep. 6, 2005: Skype Prank
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Pranks, Sports
Posted by Alex on Fri Mar 17, 2006
Comments (10)
Status: Final nail in coffin of JT Leroy
Just in case there was anyone who still doubted that JT Leroy was a hoax, the deception has finally been admitted to by an insider, Geoffrey Knoop. Knoop was the partner of Laura Albert, the woman who (it can now definitely be said) wrote all of JT Leroy's books. The face of JT Leroy, whenever Leroy made any public appearances, was Savannah Knoop, Geoffrey's half-sister. Geoffrey Knoop has said: "The jig is up... I do want to apologize to people who were hurt. It got to a level I didn't expect." Knoop also says that he doubts Laura Albert will ever admit to being JT Leroy: "For her, it's very personal. It's not a hoax. It's a part of her."

Previous posts about JT Leroy:
October 10, 2005: Is JT Leroy A Hoax?
January 9, 2006: JT Leroy: An Update
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Tue Feb 07, 2006
Comments (2)
Status: Phony
image Here we go again. Another memoirist has been unmasked as a phony. This time it's Nasdijj, celebrated Native-American author of autobiographical works such as The Blood Runs Like A River Through My Dreams and The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping. Turns out he ain't Native American, unless by Native American one means white anglo-saxon protestant. His real identity seems to be that of Tim Barrus, who grew up in a middle-class community in Lansing, Michigan. As Barrus, he was a pioneer of gay "leather" erotica, before the gay community got tired of his antics and he disappeared for a few years, only to resurface as Nasdijj. The Native American community has had its doubts about him for quite a while, since he never seemed to have a firm grasp on the nuances of Navajo culture. But he's been fully unmasked by Matthew Fleischer in an article in this week's LA Weekly.

So this month alone we've seen the work of JT LeRoy, James Frey, and now Nasdijj called into question. One common theme is that the work of all three was widely praised for its raw, brutal honesty. Given how artificial and pre-packaged much of our world seems, there's obviously a big demand for things that seem uncommercialized and genuine. But as we're seeing, this demand has provided a perfect opportunity for con artists who can cynically exploit it by serving up fake experience as the real thing. (Thanks to Joe Littrell for forwarding the link.)
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Thu Jan 26, 2006
Comments (5)
Status: Bizarre Excuse
Last year Jacques Pluss was fired from his position as a history professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University after the school became aware that he was an active member of the American Nazi Party. Now Pluss is saying that yes, he was a Nazi, but he was only pretending to believe all that stuff. It was all part of an effort to go undercover to collect information for a book. So far undercover that no one was aware of his true feelings, except for his mother, who's now dead. Inside Higher Ed reports:

Told that the links among various white power groups have been well documented by groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, [Pluss] said, “I became a Neo-Nazi because when I was thinking of applying my historical method last year, I wanted to find the most hard-hittingly obnoxious group that I could come up with.” He stressed that he finds Nazi ideology offensive. He said that he realizes his approach upset his former colleagues and students at Fairleigh Dickinson; at William Paterson University, where he previously was a tenured professor of history; and at the University of Chicago, where he earned his Ph.D. Pluss said that he couldn’t tell anyone about his deception as that would have disturbed his “method acting approach.”... Asked if we can know with confidence that he’s not engaged in another hoax, he said, “you don’t know,” but insisted that he was telling the truth — this time.

I think this guy goes beyond simply being full of it. He sounds full-blown delusional.
Categories: Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 17, 2006
Comments (8)
Status: Imposter
I kinda thought the posing-as-British-royalty scam had gone out of style with the end of the British Empire. But it seems con artists are still getting mileage out of it, as seen by this story in the Twin Cities Pioneer Press:

A group of Stillwater student journalists discovered [Joshua Adam] Gardner had been using a false identity when visiting the school in recent weeks. He'd been posing as "Caspian James Crichton-Stuart IV, the Fifth Duke of Cleveland" while staying with a Stillwater family for the past two months, investigators say.

Caspian James Crichton-Stuart IV, the Fifth Duke of Cleveland? People believed that? Though it seems his primary targets were teenage girls (who were probably pretty impressed to meet a Duke).

Update: CNN has published an article about this guy, who also called himself the "Earl of Scooby." It details how the students exposed him as a fraud. It also reveals how he came up with his name: ""Caspian" was a nickname he'd taken from the "Chronicles of Narnia" book series, he said, and Crichton is from author Michael Crichton."
Categories: Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 16, 2006
Comments (3)
Status: Marking an anniversary in hoax history
The million little biographical lies of James Frey have been getting all the attention in the press this week, but as the Devon Western Morning News reminds us, this month marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of a memoir whose lies were far greater: The Third Eye by T. Lobsang Rampa (aka the Plumber from Plympton). Rampa claimed to have grown up in Tibet (born into a wealthy Tibetan family), to have studied in Lhasa to become a lama, and then to have undergone a mysterious operation to open up the "third eye" in the middle of his forehead. This operation supposedly gave him psychic powers. But in reality, Rampa wasn't a Tibetan monk. He was actually Cyril Henry Hoskins, son of a plumber from Plympton, England. He hadn't even been to Tibet. As the Western Morning News puts it:

it is probable that his globetrotting was mostly restricted to commuting from his home in Plympton to Wadebridge, where he was born and later worked as a clerk and occasional fisherman.

When confronted with the facts about his past, Rampa admitted he had been born Hoskins, but explained that his body had been taken over by Rampa's spirit. Skeptics might say that Rampa/Hoskins was full of it. But happily, thanks to Oprah Winfrey, we now know that it doesn't matter if a memoirist lies about their past, as long as their "underlying message of redemption" is inspiring to readers. By this new standard, I think Rampa just might be off the hook.
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 13, 2006
Comments (5)
Status: Evidence is mounting that he's a hoax
Last October I posted about the writer JT LeRoy, and the suspicion that he was an elaborate hoax: that his books had actually been written by a woman named Laura Albert, and that the person who appeared in public as LeRoy was an actor. Today the New York Times has revealed more evidence that seems to confirm this theory. The person who has been appearing in public as LeRoy seems to be Savannah Knoop, the half sister of Geoffrey Knoop (who's the guy that supposedly helped rescue the teenage LeRoy). The Times found an image of Savannah Knoop online, and people who have met LeRoy confirm that she is he. Take a look:

image
Savannah Knoop

J.T. LeRoy


The Times also notes that there's "a mounting circumstantial case that Laura Albert is the person who writes as JT Leroy. Pressure to admit the ruse has been building on Ms. Albert since October, when New York magazine published an article that advanced a theory that she was the author of JT Leroy's books." They note that all the money paid to LeRoy appears to go to Albert or her family members. They also note that LeRoy wrote a travel article for the Times about a trip to Disneyland Paris, but (after looking at pictures of Albert) employees at Disneyland have confirmed that the person who was traveling as LeRoy was actually Albert.

So it seems pretty clear that LeRoy is a hoax.

The question is, does it matter? Defenders of LeRoy have been arguing that if people enjoy the books, the identity of the author shouldn't matter. This is a lot like the excuse that P.T. Barnum always offered, that it doesn't matter it people are fooled, as long as they're entertained. Critics are responding that it does matter because readers have been manipulated into caring about someone who doesn't exist. I suspect that the critics are going to win the day in this case, because the phony LeRoy has gone too far and people feel like they've been used. So LeRoy will probably go the way of Milli Vanilli. We'll have to wait to see if readers file a class-action suit against LeRoy.
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 09, 2006
Comments (5)
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