I’m thinking of turning to crime

He is a man of good birth and excellent education, endowed by nature with a phenomenal mathematical faculty. At the age of twenty-one he wrote A Treatise on the Binomial Theorem1, which has had a European vogue. On the strength of it he won the mathematical chair at one of our smaller universities, and had, to all appearances, a most brilliant career before him.

But the man had hereditary tendencies of the most diabolical kind. A criminal strain ran in his blood, which, instead of being modified, was increased and rendered infinitely more dangerous by his extraordinary mental powers. Dark rumours gathered round him in the University town, and eventually he was compelled to resign his chair and come down to London…

So begins the description of Professor Moriarty, arch-nemesis of Sherlock Holmes, a man whose talents I wish to emulate. Moriarty, that is, not Holmes. After all, Moriarty was the “Napoleon of crime”. He was “a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order.” As P.G. Wodehouse said, “He is crime itself.” High praise; maybe none higher, and worthy enough for any man.

Why these reflections? It’s because the recent lessening of economical vitality throughout the world has forced to rethink my career. I have been made to contemplate just what I am good at, what skills I posses in high order, what I can do and what I cannot.

Part of what drives me is that I want to make a lasting impression on the world before I head towards my final regression to the mean. Celebrity through the traditional routes—movie star, rock singer, messiah, and so on—are closed to me because of my lack of beauty. Fame through academics is extraordinarily unlikely—there is no Nobel prize in statistics, for example. So what better than to become a master of crime? Most people haven’t thought of it, there is opportunity and constant employment, ample room for a man to prove himself.

It is thus not much of a decision at all. The only real question is: what type of crime? There are, of course, many possibilities.

Murder is out, mainly because there isn’t anybody I want to kill and, despite what you see in the movies, there isn’t much money in it. No chance for kidnapping, which is both despicable and unprofitable.

I would never sell drugs. Not because I have anything against them (though I have never, not even once, used an illegal drug), but because there is already a substantial organization devoted to this activity, an organization that discourages competition. Besides, the prohibition that drives drug sales may be weakening. We have a president who is an ex-coke addict, a previous president that was a drunk, and one before that that didn’t inhale weed. Since nobody seems much bothered by these proclivities, it might be only a small matter of time before the prohibition is lifted. Thus, there isn’t a bright future for this area of crime.

Blackmail would be acceptable, but it isn’t like you can make it a full-time job. It’s too opportunistic and random to rely on for a steady income.

Burglary, larceny, grand theft auto, and such like are possibilities, but I’m not especially lithe or athletic, detriments which limit the upside because you have to be in pretty good shape to steal any kind of material goods.

Anyway, all these nefarious activities are the sort you have henchmen carry out once you reach the loftier stages of felonious activity. One doesn’t want to unnecessarily soil one’s hands, nor, as the saying goes, take the fall for small change.

No, what you want is some kind of crime that the public isn’t especially eager to prosecute, an area which, if you get caught, you can be assured of sympathetic or pliable juries. The traditional area is politics, but in politics you have to be able to stomach meetings, an endless string of despair-inducing meetings. I avoid meetings like proper spelling2, so it has to be something different.

It was Clark Gable that reminded me of the perfect branch of crime. The grift.

In Hold Your Man (1933), Gable sees a wallet on the street and makes a grab for it, right at the same time another passerby does. Gable says “Mine” and so does the other guy. Neither suggests going to the police to turn the wallet in. They instead settle on opening it and splitting whatever is inside, which turns out to be only two bucks. And a ring. Gable says, “Hey, I know a girl who’d like that. You keep the two bucks and I’ll give you another five for the ring.” The other guy says no way, it might be worth a lot more than that.

They decide to hock the ring and split the cash, so they walk to a pawn shop which is nearby. A man is rubbing the window of the pawn shop down. Gable approaches him and asks him how much he can get for the ring. The pawn shop man pulls out one of those monocle-jewelry eyepieces and says, “Let’s move over here where there’s better light.” He finally announces that he’ll give them $200 for the ring; then he walks back toward the pawn shop.

Gable says he doesn’t want to get involved and offers to “sell” his share of the ring for fifty bucks. The man thinks it over and shows that he only has thirty with him, which Gable accepts saying, “After all, it’s found money.” He takes the money and walks off, while the man, smiling, hurries over to and into the pawn shop.

You guessed it. Gable meets up with the “pawn shop” man, who you will remember was never actually in the store, just hanging around outside. The ring is worth nothing and the man is out twenty-eight bucks. Gable and the “pawn shop” man split the take.

No crime would have been committed unless the man on the street decided to first abandon morality and steal the wallet himself. In the grift, the “victim” is just as guilty as the con man and is thus very unlikely to report the transgression, and even if he does, he’d have an uphill battle convincing the cops of his honesty.

Grifting is not the perfect branch of crime and there are risks, but if there were not, then there would no point in trying to become a fiendish mastermind of it. The fields has a rich history loaded with colorful scalawags, now remembered fondly. The Yellow Kid Weil, Doc Meriwether, Fats Levine, Charles Ponzi. A grifter is not so much of a criminal as a character, what he does is not so much illegal, it is more that he teaches his marks a lesson. As the Yellow Kid said, “Each of my victims had larceny in his heart.” You can’t—and shouldn’t—cheat an honest man.

So grifting it is. But what specialty?

The medical con has a long, respectable history. Chiropractry, homeopathy, are still going strong. Positions in medical “guru-ship” are always open (e.g. Deepak Chopra and others). But I work in a hospital already and they are full of sick people who are not always in the best of moods. I like to be around happy people, so the medical con is out.

I could always set up shop as a psychic. But there isn’t much point going down that street unless you can be a psychic to some celebrity so that you can generate strong word of mouth and garner free publicity. The advantage, of course, is that it’s completely legal and you can get away with just about anything. That’s the negative side, too, for someone looking to be a master of crime. There’s no challenge.

It would be dull trying to horn in on an internet scam, mostly because people are so familiar with Nigeria’s leading export. Too much work for too little return, here.

Journalism is an age-old choice. You can say anything you want, fool millions of people, have a ball. But the best you can do is sell a book or two, maybe land a spot on a shouting show. Tedious work, really. Worse, it’s all legal.

Banking has recently been publicly revealed to be one big con—Madoff, Lehman Brothers, etc. etc. People are currently suspicious of anything to do with finance, but I still think there’s room to maneuver here. And it would be fun taking money back from the folks who are partly responsible for my turning to crime.

I’m not finally settled on the specific branch of sin, so I’m open to suggestions. I’m also accepting investments in my future career. I expect returns no less than 50%. The time to act is now. Send cash only.


1See also, Breaking the Law of Averages: Real-Life Probability and Statistics, “a book which ascends to such rarefied heights of pure mathematics that it is said that there was no man in the scientific press capable of criticising it.”

2See the same book.


  1. Speed

    Politics. A paycheck plus benefits while you set up the grift.

  2. Joy

    Joy’s advice:
    No, the psychic thing could work, but the earrings and the clients would get annoying.
    Write a book. Forget the numbers.
    Become an international spy. The danger money’s good and they always get the best gadgets and the girl. You might be too tall though, spies are always average in every department so they can blend in. The so called “grey man.”
    Offer to be vital statistician for a modelling agency, life models, not computer ones.
    What would you do if you were filthy rich anyway?
    Buy things? Travel? Do nothing, give money to charity?
    Surely it’s what you do now but with less stress and fancier equipment and surroundings.

    The wall Street Journal had an article with 200 jobs, also, the top ten most satisfying jobs.
    Interestingly, Mathematician was top out of 200, statistician was third, (how they tell the difference is interesting, does one have longer ears or more freckles?
    Physio was 111, but number 2 on the top ten most satisfying jobs. Clergyman was number one and fireman number 3.

    Here’s what you ought to do:
    Pack up, move to the middle of nowhere, near a lake, up a hill, on an island, learn to knit, fish and hunt, write your books and only let friendly people onto the island. You wouldn’t need to turn to crime.
    Last year I looked at buying an island. I started off with ones off the English coast, too expensive, then I looked at the fancy ones that the likes of Richard Branson buys. I had to lower my expectations, choice was, one in the middle of the pacific, looked like an atoll, no trees, just white sand and barely out of the water, great for about an hour; or a wild, cold place in Canada. Since we’re expecting global cooling, Figured it could be a bit lonely and no one would want to rent it for holidays. So I came back to earth and bought a flat instead.

  3. Bernie

    I urge you to read Howie Carr’s columns in the Boston Herald. He reports on a seemingly endless list of criminals and scams. Unfortunately all involve working in, no strike that, being paid by the public sector. Massachusetts appears to be a growth sector for people who want a new career with lavish pay, short work weeks, endless sick time, job security and magnificent pensions. You would be far more deserving than most.

  4. Cris

    But would you do internet scams if you could scam lawyers?

  5. Rich

    Insurance fraud. The impact on the average person is practically invisible and everybody hates big insurance companies. A woman recently had her hand-bag stolen. “There was a thousand dollars in it”, she said. So burn down your garden shed and claim for the two million in used notes you’d been keeping there because you didn’t trust the banks.

  6. MDM

    Start your own religion. It isn’t necessarily illegal but you could get quite rich and have the satisfaction of knowing you conned a lot trusting people. Or you can become an evil genius bent on world domination. If so, who would you choose as your nemesis?

  7. bbeeman

    With $400 Million bubbling in the pipeline for global warming research, you have a unique opportunity to profit, and it is all legal.

    Just pop over to Real Climate and ingratiate yourself with the scientists, there. Your slogan of “cheerfully undertaking statistical analyses” should eventually appeal to them. They undoubtedly need a statistitian of some repute to give the stamp of approval to their studies.

    The money will start flowing like water over Niagra. You don’t even have to read the studies. Just put your stamp of statistical approval on the studies, and rake in the dough.

    It is just like a public accountant signing off on Enron audits without the prospect of jail.

  8. Joy

    But I thought the Emp was already an evil genius bent on world domination. Isn’t that the impression everyone else got?

  9. Statistically speaking, isn’t politics the ultimate grift? And haven’t one or two recently successful politicians demonstrated quite handily one doesn’t actually need to attend meetings – sometimes known as “sessions” – to be considered an acceptable office holder? Apparently the trick is to obtain one post then quickly commence running for a higher position. Then repeat as necessary.

    So mightn’t you be misjudging the Meeting Attendance Quotient (MAQ) theorem involved in political grifting? If so, would you be modifying your criteria in order to accept PayPal?

  10. JH

    I am thinking of turning to crime.

    I knew it! You had some of the Hakka three-layer (skin-fat-meat) pork shown in your previous post, didn’t you?! Now, to get rid of the bad side effects of fat pork consumption, you might want to observe a vegetarian diet on the 1st (new moon) and 15th (full moon) day of each lunar month for at least one month. hahah…

    We had a mysterious 25 cents charge on the credit card bill last month. My treasurer just paid it because it’s not worth the hassle of calling the credit card company. Quite a scam.

  11. Mike B

    Whatever line of work you choose you need to make sure you do two things:

    1) Go big. Petty crimes just won’t do.

    2) Pick a cool acronym. SPECTRE, THRUSH, and KAOS are all good examples.

  12. I sense your tongue is in your cheek. The wry humor of a law-abiding man? What’s the motivation here: ill-gotten riches, sparkling cleverness, tweaking the established order? Mid-life crisis?

    Crime and punishment travel together. Don’t forget that.

    Moriarty? Some other famous criminals: Robin Hood, Socrates, Jesus.

    Who is to say that what you do now isn’t a crime?

    I suspect you are completely happy with your lot, in fact near delirious at your amazing luck. If not, if you don’t know where you’re going, then any road will take you there.

  13. Joy

    Ok, here’s a sensible suggestion: (not really criminal at all)

    Be aGuru in bio-statistics. Make a list of the favourite topics that most fascinate medical types, (I mean the staff, not the ones doing research or the ones involved in stats too much already.)

    Make them up into a day or even two days of lectures. These might have to be topics that bore you rigid. If you’re really canny, you’ll make a “part I, II and III”. You even have a book that you can plug as a bonus.
    This is how the physio gurus make a fortune, they don’t actually treat patients, they just talk about it. This distance from reality of the coal face, so to speak leaves their conscience free to be as sure or adamant that what they say is just what everyone needs to hear.
    If the course leaves people thinking ‘I knew that already’ they’ll go awaywith a warm smug feeling.

    I’m sure you could work the same magic in the financial sector as well. Start with the junior element, there’s more of them.
    Lectures for journalists could be given a special rate, not too low, for they’ll think what you’ve got to say is of no value, but these guys are the ones that have the power to spread the word and turn you from a caterpillar into a butterfly with appendages.
    Then, once you become infamous, or famous, you can swan about like black swan man but your wings will be more colourful.


  14. Just write some scripts to commit “click fraud”. It’s already been done but Google has little incentive to stop it. I don’t even know that it’s actually a crime (though it certainly does rip advertisers off).

  15. Tesla–
    Google tries to detect clickfraud. They will cancel accounts of publishers suspected of click fraud.

  16. harold

    If you live in the U.K. , you could set up a (bogus) charity. The “Work Foundation” is a nice blueprint of how this should be done. It has 61 employees, of whom 5 are directors who are paid more than 100.000 pounds per annum. Salaries and Pensions make up 65% of the budget. If you use this idea, would you consider placing me on the employee list? Thanks in advance.


  17. Bob Hawkins

    A long time ago, I read a story titled “Piracy Preferred.” It’s a variation on the Ponzi scheme.

    Your gang of pirates seizes valuable cargoes. Instead of just blatantly absconding with them, you “pay” for them by leaving preferred shares of stock in Piracy, Inc.

    When the shares start paying dividends (paid out of even bigger hijackings financed by early takings), the holders of shares begin to oppose attempts to stop you. Eventually, when your operation is big enough, your shareholders — which include many of the biggest international corporations — are able to totally stymie all action against you. The money rolls in and you don’t have a worry in the world.

  18. MrCPhysics

    Anyone wanting immense profit and real criminality (damaging everyone approximately equally) ought to go into carbon credits. Might be too many scallywags (scalawags?) there already, though…tough to break in.

  19. Radar

    I partly agree with the global warming scam, but not the government route. Go for the the private dollar from the guilty citizens.

    Terra-Pass or whatever it is is brilliant! “Need to fly on a plane, drive to L.A., give us some money and we’ll plant 12 trees to help you ease your guilt. Feeling bad about that new central air system, offset those kilowatts with kilodollars. Smaller plants available for the smaller CO2 criminal, like those that would open a can of warm soda.”

    You can sell associate plaques to small businesses for display in their waiting rooms and lobbies. “Briggs-Pass, We Contribute!”

    Align yourself with Exxon to charge an extra $0.03 for every gallon of gas, the proceeds of which will be used to plant more trees. They can promote themselves as “Green”, take 1/3, you get 1/3 for your administration fees, and spend 1/3 on actually planting trees.

    Target the college kids “Would you be willing to pay $0.01 more for your music download, to be donated to Briggs-Pass”.

    Images of swimming (I mean drowning) polar bears are easy to find these days.

    One word of caution, there is a climate mafia as well, and some portion of your proceeds will have to go to Mr. G_re, and Dr. J. Hans_n – don’t mess with big dawgs Briggs!

    -Dan Robinson

  20. dearieme

    Pose as an Economist.

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