An interesting article about Nigerian e-mail scams appeared in last week’s New Yorker. It told the tale of how a respectable Massachusetts psychotherapist, then aged 57 and a grandfather of seven (and the owner of a cat named Pancake), fell prey to a scam that bilked him out of $600,000 and landed him in federal prison for two years, where he still resides. I finished reading the piece this afternoon at around three o’clock; eerily, at 3:54pm, I received a solicitation, subject heading “A Cry for Help,” from a one Mr. Yassan Al-Fayadh, who claims to be “the son of Late Dhari Ali al-Fayadh (Prominent Iraq’s House of Assembly Member) who was killed along with three of his bodyguards and my Bother in a suicide bomb attack in the neighborhood of Rashdiya Northern Baghdad.” The man is offering me 32 percent of his father’s large fortune — which is inconveniently located in Dakar, Senegal — and he’s chosen me to help because he has “so much trust in [me].” (Apparently, Mr. Yassan Al-Fayadh got my “contact detail” from an unnamed friend in the neighborhood.) He’s not asking for very much. “All I need from you,” the writer writes, “is an assistance to transfer the fund my late Father deposited to your country for investment until I regain my freedom.” Also: “I will not want you to betray me.” Do heckling blog entries count?

Obviously, e-mail scams are nothing new, but this is the first one I have ever received. It’s unfathomable to me that anyone would ever fall prey to something so ludicrously fabricated, riddled as it is with typos and commands to hoop-jump. But it’s one of those things where you don’t feel sorry for anyone who gets taken in. While reading the article about the psychotherapist, my interest-level ratcheted upwards every time he replied to yet another plea for more money with indignance, and then sent more money anyhow. Not sure he deserves prison time for being duped (well, not duped entirely: he was found guilty of fraud, for knowingly depositing a doctored check at his bank), but maybe it’s fitting punishment for such willfully ignorant behavior. I have no pity for him. I do feel bad for Pancake, however.

WHY I’M ANGRY TODAY
Out of all of the music that’s come down the pike in the past ten years, the most overhyped of any of it — and that’s saying something — is that of Joanna Newsom. Not that she’s selling out Carnegie Hall or getting universally rave reviews, but the amount of positive mainstream publicity this woman’s debut album has generated is staggering. She is plainly bad; on top of that, she is as pretentious a musician as we’ve had to suffer since the mid-period of Moby. There is just so much going wrong all at once. First, she primarily plays a stand-up harp, without backing instrumentation. Now, the problem isn’t that she plays the harp badly. She actually is quite proficient on it. The problem is that the harp is the lamest of all instruments, or maybe second lamest only after the keytar, and that she’s building entire albums around it. Second, she seems to have a speech impediment that caused my mother, who had consented to listen at the urging of a favored student, to ask if she was from Appalachia. She is not from Appalachia; she is from California. Third, the timbre of her singing voice, high and sing-song and silly, sounds like that of a six-year old girl. Based on at least one interview I’ve read about her, apparently her normal speaking voice isn’t like that at all, which means she is a 23-year-old who is pretending to sing like a six year old. Suffice to say that I will do my best to ignore her from here on out, despite a new album likely coming out later this year. Judge her for your own damn self here.

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