TIME europe

Latvia Watches Nervously as Putin Seeks to Exert Power

The Baltic state's large Russian population could make it an attractive target for Russian President Vladimir Putin to further broaden his authority in the increasingly tense region, but he's unlikely to make an overt military move toward Latvia

Many residents of Riga, Latvia, will say their nation of a little more than 2 million people, nestled on the east coast of the Baltic Sea between Estonia and Lithuania, is not a particularly diverse one. Most everyone within the country has white skin and Caucasian ancestry. By the standards of old European capital cities, it’s far from cosmopolitan.

Yet in this small nation there is at least some increasingly notable heterogeneity. Latvia has a sizable Russian minority, more than a quarter of its population and far larger than the Russian contingents of neighboring Estonia and Lithuania.

That large Russian-speaking population could make Latvia an attractive target for ever acquisitive Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose ongoing actions in Ukraine — where Russians make up 17.3% of the population — have demonstrated what can happen if he covets a nation that has a strong, pro-Russian contingent.

And although Putin’s actions have caused tension through the entire Baltic region, there are indications the President does have a particular interest in Latvia. A Ukrainian scholar of the region says Putin plans on occupying Latvia in hopes of establishing Russian dominance over a part of the world that hasn’t experienced it in years.

Putin is unlikely to make an overt military move toward Latvia, though, as the consequences would be far greater than Russia’s incursion into Crimea. Unlike Ukraine, Latvia is a member of NATO — meaning that, under Article 5 of the treaty, member countries would be obligated to treat any Russian aggression against Latvia as aggression against themselves, and they would need to respond in kind.

But there are ways to destabilize a country without sending tanks across the border. Putin has exerted power in eastern Ukraine with a covert campaign to foment unrest: Russian intelligence officials or special-ops soldiers with unmarked uniforms aiding or encouraging separatist groups and criminal gangs in regions where support for the motherland runs deep.

The fear now is that Latvia would be ripe for a similar kind of shadow incursion. The country’s Defense Minister told Reuters last week that Russia has already deployed “specially trained, professional provocateurs” in hopes of destabilizing the nation.

Artis Pabriks, a Member of Parliament who was Latvia’s Minister of Defense from 2010 until January, tells TIME there should be cause for concern. “I’m sorry to sound so hawkish, but the Baltics are a litmus test. Putin will have crushed NATO if our eastern borders are not the redline.”

Latvia presents a compelling target for Putin to broaden his authority, beyond its demographics. Riga, for example, has plenty of Western trappings — the E.U. has named the city a Capital of Culture for 2014, and an esplanade has gone up in the park to showcase the designation — but odd Soviet-era eyesores stick out among the city’s renowned collection of Art Nouveau buildings. Latvia adopted the euro only at the start of this year. The Russian culture and media still have a strong foothold there.

And the Russian media’s prominence in Latvia gives it a shot at outmaneuvering the West, according to a handful of citizens TIME spoke to in a park in Riga this week. Vitaly Parshin, a 26-year-old ethnic Russian student, says most of his friends have been convinced by Russian TV that Putin is a force for good. “They think Putin is trying to free us from the Latvians who hate us.” This belief is particularly widespread in Russified eastern Latvia, close to the border, where a petition recently circulated on Facebook in favor of returning Daugavpils, a city of 100,000, to Russia.

The strife may be generational. The youngest Latvian adults, who have learned both Russian and Latvian in school and have enjoyed the benefits of E.U. membership, have little appreciation for Putin, says Alexander Puziy, a 24-year-old wedding photographer. Besides, he adds, this generation is just barely old enough to remember the unpleasantness of living in the Soviet Union, under Russia’s thumb.

And many Russians, despite their heritage, are predisposed to oppose Putin. According to Pabriks, Russians came to Latvia in four waves in the past five centuries. The first three came to escape Russia after religious persecution, military aggression and the Bolshevik Revolution. But the last wave — Soviet citizens who arrived in Latvia on business or military obligations — came to perpetuate Russia.

This last group, Pabriks says, are the ones Russia might enchant today. “After the fall of the Soviet Union, they had no experience with an independent Latvia. They don’t know what Latvia is. It’s not easy to explain to them that we had our own lives.” Pabriks estimates that 60% of this last class, which never learned to speak Latvian, might appreciate a Russian return.

Yet latent Latvian support for Putin has not yet manifested itself in the kind of widespread unrest now being seen in Ukraine. Pabriks thinks it wouldn’t happen unless the region was further destabilized, owing to the presently strong governments in the Baltic states. The people TIME spoke to in the park generally agreed, believing the country to be safe from regional turbulence for now.

But Pabriks says a stable Ukraine is crucial to what happens in Latvia. “Ukraine is burning, and we need firemen there. The Baltics are the nearby houses, and the wind might start blowing the wrong way.”

TIME Silicon Valley

Ed Norton’s Charity Company Doesn’t Sound So Charitable

Mat Hayward—Getty Images

How do you become a $23 million darling in Silicon Valley? By building a for-profit business that serves nonprofits, apparently

What’s one of the rare blessings of living in an era characterized by tremendous asset inequality and a chastened, hamstrung welfare state? Charitable giving has by some accounts reached an all-time high, both among the general public and among the American wealthy. What a time to be alive.

As has been the case with many a popular activity in our time, techies have now come along to philanthropy to offer the piggy-back ride they like to call disruption, claiming to fix something that may not have needed fixing while skimming a fee for doing business. The crowded crowdfunding field offers any number of sites that handle charitable donations, from Indiegogo to GoFundMe to Causes to JustGiving. All tend to follow the same basic formula, allowing users to register their own charitable causes and to donate to established ones. It’s hard for any one site to make a name for itself.

But on Monday one of the pack stepped forward from the others with big news: CrowdRise, a charity-specific crowdfunding venture, had landed $23 million in venture capital funding from a group including Twitter/Tumblr investors Spark Capital and Union Square Ventures, and Jeff Bezos’s personal investment fund, Bezos Expeditions. (This funding round followed an earlier seed round that included investment from Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.)

Those big names join the biggest one that had previously been attached to the site: Edward Norton, the actor and director. Norton and a band of cofounders launched the site in November 2009 after they raised a surprising $1.2 million for a wildlife preservation concern in eastern Africa. They figured, If we can raise good money like this, why shouldn’t we let everyone else do the same? That was a giving notion, and it’s of a piece with CrowdRise’s passionate and playful message. The site’s motto says its users will “have the most fun in the world” while fundraising, and little jokes pepper its official literature. To wit: “CrowdRise is way more fun than anything else aside from being all nervous about trying to kiss a girl for the first time and her not saying something like ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.'” Fun!

But what does altruistic fun have to do with a $23 million round of funding? That cash would do some good in the pockets of the charities CrowdRise users support. The site’s literature explains its business plan this way: “When a donation is made through Crowdrise, we deduct a transaction fee so we don’t go out of business (GOB).” No, ExxonMobil’s corporate communications team would never write such a plain thing. But perhaps what they would write would not fudge things, either. Those transaction fees not only kept CrowdRise from going under but made the business promising enough to land all that venture money. As TechCrunch put it: “[CrowdRise is] profitable and … viewed the Kickstarter goal of $1 billion raised on CrowdRise as very doable.” (CrowdRise had not responded to questions from TIME as of late Tuesday afternoon.)

Capitalist techniques have gained an increasingly stable foothold in the world of nonprofits. Universities, hospitals and big foundations are lousy with MBAs and executives who command (citing market logic) salaries close to what their for-profit counterparts make. CrowdRise’s big-bucks waltz into this moral vacuum might be a little brazen—but at least it’s clever. The opposite of clever is the spirit that accompanies any event like this. A perusal of the comments on TechCrunch’s post, and the Twitter response to the same, indicates an unflinchingly positive reaction to the news. “Great to see.” “Psyched.” “Congratulations.” That’s a whole lot of accolades for a common middleman who just got a whole lot richer.

TIME Television

Jimmy Fallon’s Clickbait Addiction

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon - Season 1
Samuel L. Jackson and Jimmy Fallon NBC — Nathaniel Chadwick

Why late night TV's brand of ephemeral bite-sized entertainment is getting annoying

What’s funny, and what’s just pandering? The affable Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon toes this line more carefully than most. He’s trying to update an old genre for a new audience, one that’s less enamored of watching prolonged interviews with celebrities just before nodding off; the new viewership chooses instead to sneak bite-sized segments online at work the next day.

Sometimes Fallon strikes gold with these sketches. He recently mimicked Bruce Springsteen alongside the man himself, while roasting Gov. Chris Christie in the process. And he and Lindsay Lohan threw water on one another. Good, clean fun! The segments deservedly circulate throughout the internet’s favored corners, bringing joy to readers and traffic-conscious writers alike.

But then there are segments like last night’s self-contained “slam poem” “by” Samuel L. Jackson about Boy Meets World. For three minutes and forty-five seconds, Jackson performed his way through a written piece recapping the plot of the long-departed ABC show. There were references — were there ever references! — to memorable moments in the show’s plot that had long since left our minds. Jackson, affecting the Def Poetry aesthetic (with added bass accompaniment), quoted dialogue from the finale. After a commercial break, he sat down for an interview with the host. “Are you a fan of Boy Meets World?” Fallon asked, to which Jackson replied, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single episode of that show.”

Where are the bit’s laughs supposed to come from? The incongruity between Jackson’s style and the source material? (They’re both mid-1990s relics, albeit of different subcultures.) A great actor with high standards debasing himself? (LOL, says Capital One, which also counts Fallon as a spokesman.)

No, the humor, such as it is, springs forth from the goofy knowingness somehow still ascendant in the age of social media. Wait, you watched this show that averaged nearly 10 million weekly viewers during its seven-season run, and lived on long beyond that in syndication? No way, me too! It’s Dennis Miller’s old shtick, minus the jokes and the cultural capital.

Does this work? Hard to say. The amplification apparatus, those writers who love Jimmy Fallon in the good times and still need him in the bad, have gone about posting the video. “Samuel L. Jackson Performing Boy Meets World Slam Poetry Is Everything You Never Knew You Needed.” Samuel L. Jackson Delivers Epic ‘Boy Meets World’ Slam Poem. Samuel L. Jackson Proves He’s the Ultimate ‘Boy Meets World’ Fan. But it isn’t, it wasn’t, and he didn’t. And yet the YouTube count is at 155,224 views and counting.

Is this the new plan for late-night television? Viral segments with all the heft and permanence of a small bag of cheese puffs? ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel has headed down that road, too, with staged (and invariably viral) videos that derive much of their appeal from the viewer’s assumption that they reflect real, impromptu scenes. Only a lingering mild annoyance at Jimmy Kimmel, upon figuring out the true circumstances behind the videos’ production, makes them stick in the viewer’s mind. But Kimmel and Fallon have clearly seized on something something: web editors need to keep their mills turning, and web readers want to be entertained for free, and no one’s really in a position to complain.

A recent report claimed 36 percent of all internet traffic was fake — it comes from robots. What do you call the other 64 percent?

TIME March Madness

Blowing the Whistle on the End of Iowa State–UNC

Iowa State v North Carolina
Kennedy Meeks of the North Carolina Tar Heels, center, reacts as DeAndre Kane of the Iowa State Cyclones falls underneath the basket at the AT&T Center in San Antonio on March 23, 2014 Ronald Martinez—Getty Images

Iowa State (3) had the lead after a shot with 1.6 seconds left on the game clock. North Carolina (6) played the ball and sought a time-out, which it got, but the refs said after a video review that the arena's clock wasn't accurate and the game was over

There was a lot to like from Sunday’s NCAA-tournament slate, with Stanford’s upset of Kansas leading into the nail-biter between Wichita State’s undefeated veterans and Kentucky’s heretofore underwhelming upstarts. Third on the docket was Iowa State against North Carolina, with young Fred Hoiberg and his surprisingly successful Cyclones favored to beat the esteemed Roy Williams and his erratic Tar Heels squad to land in the Sweet 16. That game didn’t disappoint, either, until it did, with an ending that ought to go down as an officiating debacle and a blow against instant replay’s credibility.

The two teams nipped at each other throughout, with North Carolina falling behind early and Iowa State down as much as eight points late. With a little more than two seconds left on the clock and the score tied, Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane, taking on two powder blue defenders, hoisted a shot off the glass. The ball fell through the hoop for the final two of his 24 points, and the Cyclones had the lead, 85 to 83. The clock temporarily froze — as it does after any made basket in the last minute of the second half — at 1.6 seconds remaining.

North Carolina’s Jackson Simmons grabbed the bouncing ball and heaved it to Nate Britt, who sprinted down the court, past the centerline and called timeout, as Williams had requested from the sidelines. The clock, once Britt had grabbed the referee’s attention and earned his whistle, showed 0.3 seconds left.

After the whistle, the officials went to the monitor to check the situation out. Had there indeed been 0.3 seconds left on the clock? Could there have been more? Or maybe even less? After a protracted huddle, they emerged with a wretched decision, which should make sense only to those who watch the games with their own stopwatches and reject the decisions of the oh-so-fallible in-arena timers. The game, the officials told both coaches, was over.

Their reasoning, as deduced by CBS’s Steve Kerr, was that the clock had started far too long after Britt received the inbounds pass. And it had: Deadspin’s Tim Burke counted that 1.73 seconds elapsed between Britt’s touch and the referee’s whistle, which means the timer’s trigger finger was about four-tenths slow, at best. Kerr said the refs made the right decision.

Perhaps they had — in a world where the clocks on the court should be expected to signal precisely nothing to players, where the numbers on the clock at which Britt stared were in fact indecipherable hieroglyphs. But no: they were numbers, meant to tell the players playing in the game how much time was left in it.

This is not to blame the particular officials working on Sunday evening in San Antonio; they followed their sport’s code to the letter. This is only to ask in what possible way a technology purportedly implemented to increase precision can get away with an unprovable assertion in response to an in-fact unanswerable question.

Would Britt have called time-out had the clock started on time? There’s no way of knowing. Under instant replay’s presumptuous pedantry, there can be only guesswork.

TIME Books

Dupe Tells All

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter
Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter during his sentencing in 2013. Nick Ut—AP

In a new book, the journalist Walter Kirn writes of his friendship with the murderer Clark Rockefeller. In the end, the killer's con says more about his victims than himself

Crime can be funny. I swear. Readers and viewers may struggle to come by those laughs, thanks to the dominant, hackneyed style of crime storytelling that has soaked through cable television and discount-book racks like a liter of fresh blood. But somewhere in many of the darkest outcomes lie brilliant, cutting bits of whimsy in need only of a good polish. And their presence in a larger saga can whip a plodding, didactic tale into something rich and vivid.

Take the story of 53-year-old German-born grifter Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, whose U.S. aliases included Christopher Chichester, Christopher Rider, Christopher Crowe, Chip Smith, and, most memorably, Clark Rockefeller. Gerhartsreiter, then hastily posing as Chip Smith, was arrested in 2008 after a weeklong FBI hunt for him and his daughter, whom he had abducted during a scheduled custody visit. Within days of his arrest, news of Rockefeller’s true identity emerged, and with it word that he (then Chichester) was the primary suspect in an unsolved 1985 murder in California. By August 2013, Gerhartsreiter had been convicted of both the kidnapping and the murder and sentenced to 27 years to life for the latter offense. If California governors and parole boards of the future behave as California governors and parole boards have long behaved, Gerhartsreiter will never again see the light of day. This seems like an appropriately serious response to a set of serious crimes.

And yet seriousness is an odd choice for a default register when chronicling the life of a fine-art-forging phony aristocrat, one who learned his comportment from Gilligan’s Island’s foppish Thurston Howell III and ate Boston Cream Pie daily to prove he truly came from there. Unstinting bleakness does not quite fit when the man and his marks shared profoundly goofy traits.

The Gerhartsreiter-Chichester-Rockefeller case has found its way back into the news in recent weeks, owing to the publication of Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade, Walter Kirn’s recounting of his friendship with the man he knew as Clark Rockefeller. A terrific elevator pitch for publishers: A well-known author knew a killer well—where to sign? But Kirn’s book makes the mistake of rendering Rockefeller as an unforgivable terror, history’s greatest monster. For all the sociopathic acts now forever on his criminal record—what might, broadly, be called evil—the legacy of Rockefeller’s social conduct, the context in which Kirn knew him, is substantially bigger than all that.

***

The man who would become Clark Rockefeller was born in Bavaria in 1961 to Simon and Irmengard Gerhartsreiter, a carpenter and a housewife. As a child he was smart, a troublemaker, determined to make it out of his gloomy and small hometown. Before his 18th birthday, he had fashioned himself a ticket to Connecticut as an exchange student. He had told his parents that a New York radio station had hired him as a DJ. In Connecticut, he hopped from host family to host family, along the way ingratiating himself with his good looks and worldly charm but irritating each with his arrogance and quirks.

He next lit out for Wisconsin, where a satellite campus of the state university had offered him enrollment. There he anglicized his name, becoming Chris Gerhart, and convinced a local woman to marry him for a green card. Gerhart married her on Feb. 20, 1981, with a college acquaintance enlisted as his best man. And that was it for the couple. He would not see his first wife again until his kidnapping trial in 2009.

It was in Gerhart’s next haunt, San Marino, Calif., where he began aiming higher with his deceptions. He slapped himself with new identities, first becoming cardiologist Dr. Christopher Rider, then becoming movie producer and aristocrat Christopher Mountbatten Chichester. Chichester would ride through town in a beat-up Plymouth, when he had a car at all. He was also moonlighting as a student at USC’s prestigious film school. He had fine (if a little tattered) clothes and an upright manner, and he had no trouble charming the wealthy older women who filled the churches and social clubs of San Marino. He was routinely written up in the local papers as a man about town. He would invent family members or connections to renowned nobles. He would often talk of improbable financial transactions—he once suggested uprooting a Medieval church, because he owned it, of course, and transporting it to San Marino—but he would never pick up a check. The eccentricities of the truly wealthy. Chichester no longer wanted a home within America’s mass culture. He wanted to belong to its ruling class.

San Marino was the kind of place that might ache for a Thirteenth Baronet, as Chichester’s business cards put it then. According to the most recent American Community Survey data from 2012, San Marino has a median household income of nearly $140,000, more than double California’s statewide figure. The town has long been home to retired actors and entertainers, and an even more elevated old-money caste. General George S. Patton’s father had once been the town’s mayor. But in Chichester’s days, working-class Asian Americans had recently begin moving in from neighboring communities—the city is now more than half Asian-American. The town’s wealthy longtime residents evidently cast their lot with the paler interloper. Chichester soon found a rent-free dwelling with Ruth “Didi” Sohus, a widow with a drinking problem and a guest house.

He mentioned a visit from Britney Spears. He said he was friends with J.D. Salinger.He soon found, too, the first obstacle to his climb, in the form of John Sohus, Didi’s son. John and his wife, Linda, went missing in 1985, more than two years after Chichester had moved into their guest house. They had told their friends and Didi that they had been dispatched to New York on top-secret government work. A few postcards sent from overseas to friends and family at first seemed to confirm that they were alive. But the postcards stopped, and Didi, now worried, called the police to report her son and daughter-in-law missing. She told the police that they had been doing top-secret government work, but that her go-between at the federal level—one Christopher Chichester—had vanished, too. By her lights, he really had disappeared. But he had by that point headed back to Connecticut, this time to its ritzier southwestern coast, and taken on a new name, Christopher Crowe.

As Christopher Crowe, a film producer switching careers, he went about plying his old con in an even more fertile atmosphere. (This stage of the con is chronicled most ably in Mark Seal’s The Man in the Rockefeller Suit, which is essential reading on the case.) The cash spigot in Greenwich, Conn., had not begun to dry up like San Marino’s, and Crowe was able to take advantage of not only its preppy parties and welcoming guest houses but its residents’ connections in the banking world. Despite having no verifiable qualifications, he landed no fewer than three jobs in the securities field. He’d wear ascots; he’d talk of his massive Mountbatten family foundation (it didn’t exist); he’d pretend to trade bonds. At one gig, he gave as his Social Security number one that belonged to David Berkowitz, New York’s legendary Son of Sam killer. The joke was dark, but what a joke nonetheless.

But while in Connecticut, Crowe had made the mistake of trying to sell a 1985 Nissan pickup that belonged to John and Linda Sohus. In late 1988, a Greenwich detective went to find him at his workplace for questioning, but he had vanished again. He wouldn’t resurface until 1992—by which point he had become Clark Rockefeller.

His method as Rockefeller looked a lot like his method as Crowe. But he took the trappings of wealth even further. He didn’t bother trying to hold a job this time around; he told the people he met that he was a freelance central banker focused on Third World debt and living off family money. He had an apartment filled with fine modern art (all forgeries, we would later learn) he had apparently inherited, but he made a show of disdaining his Pollocks, Mondrians and Rothkos. He had entered Yale at 14, despite having been mute for most of his childhood. The flaw in his prior plan, he seemed to have reasoned, was its adherence to some kind of familiar reality. Dada was the solution.

Rockefeller’s big mark was Sandra Boss, a 26-year-old Harvard business student he met in the summer of 1993. Rockefeller had made himself a presence around old-guard Episcopal churches as Chichester and Crowe had before him, and through Saint Thomas Church, he befriended Boss’s sister. Soon she landed gigs at Merrill Lynch and later McKinsey and Company. He landed her steady income. They married on Nantucket in 1995.

Earlier that year, the NBC show Unsolved Mysteries, which averaged nine million viewers per week, had aired a segment on the discovery of the bones of John Sohus underground on his late mother’s former property. The segment told of Didi’s delusions, and John’s mysterious job offer, and the strange boarder who lived in the guest house. It closed with a photo of Christopher Chichester, noting that he happened also to be Christopher Crowe, the man who tried to hawk John’s truck, Christopher Mountbatten, and “Christian Gerhartsreiter, a native of Germany.” The manhunt was on, but police had no idea how far up the social ladder they’d have to climb.

Grey Goose Partners With The Young Literati's 3rd Annual Toast
Author Walter Kirn in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2010. AP

Kirn’s book picks up in 1998, five years into Gerhartsreiter’s Clark Rockefeller phase. His wife’s McKinsey career was waxing, and while she worked, he walked the dog, Yates, and made friends. He’d go sockless, with a worn-out Yale ball cap atop his head. He’d dine with acquaintances at tweedy New York clubs, flaunting whatever he pretended to have. Sometimes he’d mention “the family building” (Rockefeller Center, you see), and would gesture toward it, with the supposed master key in hand. Later he presented Kirn, who was fretting over unpaid federal taxes, with a private line belonging to “George.” (W. Bush, you know.) He told many stories about investments in Mexican aerospace technology, and he suggested to Kirn that he had some interest in purchasing one of the magazines that employed him, even though Rockefeller had registered a blank look when he first heard the words, “The Atlantic Monthly.” He mentioned visits to his New Hampshire country home from Britney Spears and German chancellor Helmut Kohl; he said he was friends with J.D. Salinger. He still refused to pick up checks. And yet none of this spooked anyone in his retinue, not even the journalist. Worse, none of this horsepucky seemed to prompt the guffaws it deserved.

The author (in 1998, a contributor to TIME) first met the grifter through a strange canine errand. Rockefeller had set his sights on adopting Shelby, a wheelchair-bound Gordon Setter, from a couple in Montana, where Kirn lived. Kirn and Rockefeller spoke over the phone, and Rockefeller eventually implored Kirn to chauffeur the dog himself cross-country. The book’s opening chapters, which chronicle this journey, read as doggie-lit for masochists.

While confined along with Shelby to a motel in Forsyth, Mont., Kirn cracked open John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley, because, he writes, “Preserving a sense of literary purpose was crucial to my self-respect tonight.” It’d be a laugh line in a different book, the neurotic author worrying about the aesthetic futility of his prose while sitting in a Montana motel with a dog who can’t use her hind legs or control her bowels. But in a book of modest length where the author nevertheless finds the space to mention his two alma maters, Princeton and Oxford, a combined 25 times, it reads just as pretense. (The active reader cannot help but count.) And what pretense! It’s fitting—if impossibly annoying to this devoted viewer—that Kirn’s book mentions the Unsolved Mysteries segment while confusing Robert Stack, the show’s host, with the actual Robert Culp. (Culp was on I Spy, paired with Bill Cosby. Stack was Eliot Ness, paired with no one.) Blood Will Out has plenty of cultural references, but all trade firmly above middlebrow. Kirn likes Hitchcock films and Dostoevsky.

He doesn’t care much for pulp. Forget true-crime: Kirn seems to orient himself above even Frasier, the witty NBC sitcom about two psychiatrists. But it pops into the story because Rockefeller tells Kirn of his resemblance to David Hyde Pierce, one of its leads. And then: “The first time my mother made me watch the show with her, my impression was that Niles was gay because the script portrayed him as an opera buff, but later in the program he mentioned a girlfriend. Because I’d been called gay at Princeton for writing poetry, and at Oxford for writing plays, I abhorred any stirrings of bigotry in myself, but when Clark compared himself to Niles, his tone of voice conspicuously pleased, I’d wondered if he were testing me sexually as other gay men whom I’d known had when I met them.” Being made by his mother, a humble nurse, to watch television? Princeton? Oxford? His irresistability to members of both sexes? Congratulations, you’ve hit Walter Kirn bingo!

Kirn later goes on to fashion himself a potential murder victim of Rockefeller’s, imagining in hindsight that his onetime friend may have been a little too desirous of Kirn’s Montana acreage and pickup truck. But this too is a bit of self-flattery, shoehorning his own circumstances into some modus operandi of a killer with just one victim to his ledger, nearly 30 years ago. (Not to mention: John Sohus was not a mark of Gerhartsreiter’s—he simply stood between the con man and an old woman’s estate.)

Powerful people fell for a man who said he had a master key to Rockefeller Center.Kirn was targeted for something else. At certain moments of lucidity, Kirn self-flagellates over his phony pal, and the reader feels a little sorry for him. (Yeah, yeah, but first: “In 1975, when I was twelve, my family packed a U-Haul van, snapped a Yale padlock on its rear loading door, and left predictable rural Minnesota for burgeoning, anarchic Phoenix.” Even Walter Kirn’s hardware is pedigreed.) Kirn writes, “Maybe my egotism was a homing beacon. Maybe it made me a more attractive mark.”

This was the central characteristic of Rockefeller’s frauds—and Crowe’s, and Chichester’s, if not Gerhart’s: their puffed-up prey. The prey who needed some insecurity polished by having nobility, American or otherwise, within their lives. There were the wealthy old ladies threatened by the middle-class-ification of their town. There were the Wall Street men who wanted to employ a broker who was to-the-manor-born and had connections in Hollywood. Then there was the management consultant who wound up leading her firm’s work for Michael Bloomberg and Charles Schumer; her Rockefeller connection could not have hurt her there. And of course there was the educated, snobby journalist on the make, looking for a story and an entrée into society. The people who accepted Gerhartsreiter in his various grandiose guises had hustles of their own. Powerful people within a nation ostensibly impervious to aristocracy fell for a man who said he had a master key to Rockefeller Center. Gerhartsreiter’s joke was on them.

That’s the funny thing about grifters. When their schemes work, they always say more about the targets than the perpetrators. In a jailhouse interview, Kirn asks Gerhartsreiter what he looked for in the people he manipulated. “Vanity, vanity, vanity,” he replies. What did the murderer do, according to Kirn, before he answered the question? “He almost laughed.”

TIME ESPN

How Nate Silver Hires

Nate Silver at the New York City headquarters of ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight blog on Feb 26, 2014.
Nate Silver at the New York City headquarters of ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight blog on Feb 26, 2014. Brad Harris for TIME

Forget H.R. The ESPN stats star uses a graph to measure his future employees

Read about Nate Silver and his plans for FiveThirtyEight at ESPN in the March 17 issue of TIME.

Since joining ESPN in late July, Nate Silver has spent an estimated 90% of his time interviewing candidates to add to FiveThirtyEight’s team. He is fanatical about hiring. He has insisted that potential hires demonstrate an ability to learn new things. In the journalism business, that might mean computer-programming skills or the creation of a novel beat. Silver judges potential employees by a set of coordinate axes he has saved on his computer. (“Because I’m a dork,” he says.)

The x-axis runs from “quantitative” to “qualitative,” the y-axis (top to bottom) from “rigorous and empirical” to “anecdotal and ad hoc.” All FiveThirtyEight employees, he says, need to land in the upper-left quadrant of the coordinate plane, where they are quantitatively inclined, rigorous and empirical. The adjacent quadrant above the x-axis, Silver says, belongs to journalists like some of his former colleagues at the New York Times and Ezra Klein, most recently of the Washington Post. “People call them numbers whizzes, but they’re not that—just very good journalists.” The bottom two quadrants belong to the dregs of American journalism: on the left, sportswriters who cherry-pick statistics without thinking through them, and on the right, op-ed columnists. “That’s the crap quadrant. Two-thirds of the op-ed columnists at America’s major newspapers are worthless,” Silver says. He hates punditry, he hates narratives, he hates bold proclamations — and so too does he hate the media’s most willing vessels for all three.

“Companies in general ought to spend more time on their hiring — it’s not the kind of thing that should be left to HR reps,” Silver says. “You know, clubhouse chemistry matters.”

Read about Nate Silver and his plans for FiveThirtyEight at ESPN in the March 17 issue of TIME.

TIME Music

Exclusive: Former ‘Wig Guru’ Sues Rapper Nicki Minaj

The "Super Bass" star known for her super locks cut her former hair designer out of millions, the man's lawyer says.

Hell hath no fury like a wig man scorned.

Terrence Davidson, the former “wig guru” for rapper Nicki Minaj, will file suit Friday morning against Minaj in district court in Atlanta, claiming that she stole wig designs he personalized for her, and sold and licensed them without cutting him in on the ensuing massive profits, TIME has learned. Davidson also claims Minaj’s management team discouraged him from a multi-million-dollar reality show deal under the guise that it would disrupt their partnership.

Representatives for Minaj had not returned email messages sent Thursday night.

Christopher Chestnut, an attorney for Davidson, says, “Her lawyers may complicate it, but we don’t need to get into intellectual-property law. This is basic American morality. Nicki Minaj lied to this man and cheated him.” Chestnut plans to seek at least $30 million in damages for Davidson if the case goes to trial.

(PHOTOS: Nicky Minaj Wigs Out: The Rapper’s Most Hair-raising Styles)

Minaj and Davidson began working together in January 2010, before the release of her platinum-selling debut album Pink Friday, but some time after she had achieved success rapping on mixtapes and on posse tracks with her label-mates at Young Money Entertainment. Minaj’s wigs — which ranged from black to blonde to any kind of cotton-candy color in between (often pink) — were one big part of a transformation in 2010 that elevated her from her hip-hop niche to pop superstardom. As Davidson’s attorneys put it in their lawsuit: Davidson created “fresh, hip, and unique wigs” that “significantly contributed to Minaj’s unsurpassed notoriety for her wigs.”

(Among these “fresh, hip, and unique wigs”? The “Pink Upper Bun Wig,” the “Fox Fur Wig,” the “Pink High Top Wig,” the “SuperBass Wig,” the “Half Blonde-Half Pink Wig,” and the “VS Wig.” And those are just the ones cited in the complaint. Helpfully, there are pictures.)

As Minaj’s star grew, so too did the opportunities for Davidson. In the complaint, he claims that he and Minaj planned to go into business together, selling wigs and making a reality show. That was in the blissful days of 2011, when Minaj toured with Britney Spears and “Super Bass” streamed from every car radio in sight.

But come 2012, Davidson alleges, with Minaj’s fame still booming, her management team shuffled him out of their shared business plans. There would be no wig line; there would be no Davidson-centric reality show. In January 2013, he left her team altogether, citing creative differences.

Now — with Minaj-branded wigs on sale on her own website, and with miniature wigs gracing the tops of Minaj’s fragrance bottles — Davidson wants a chunk of Minaj’s vast pink dominion.

“It’s a classic David versus Goliath situation,” Chestnut says. Although Goliath probably never offered to wrap Lil’ Kim’s coffin with a bow.

You can read the full complaint below:

TIME Media

Riding with Chrissy Teigen

Chrissy Teigen in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, New Zealand
Chrissy Teigen in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, New Zealand James Macari—Sports Illustrated

On a crosstown trip with the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue cover girl as she catcalls cops, bemoans Red Robin's hiring practices, and ponders life after modeling

Tap, tap, tap, go the cop’s knuckles on the passenger-side front-seat window.

It’s just after 3 p.m. on Tuesday. We’re idling in a white Lexus SUV on 43rd Street, just past Seventh Avenue, and this, we expect the cop to tell us, is not OK. Our window rolls down. “How long are you gonna be? My boss says you’re going to have to move soon.”

Then the backseat passenger-side window rolls halfway down. A young, slender, tan woman peeks her head out and says, “Hey there, handsome.” The cop — pale, muscular, with crisp features and a shaved head — moves along, but he lets us stay.

The young woman gives the rest of us in the car her read on the situation. “He’s almost like a cop stripper, isn’t he? He’s a little too cool to be a cop.” She drops her voice a couple octaves. “Turn down your music, laaaadies.

Another cop approaches, the boss. He’s older, stockier, and he hustles us along coarsely — “move your f–kin’ car.” But the young woman is in no mood to be picky. “God, so many strippers!”

She cackles. “You know how you feel so hyper when you’re so tired? That’s me right now.”

The young woman is hyper and tired because she is Chrissy Teigen, one of the three women Sports Illustrated put on the cover of its 50th anniversary swimsuit issue, which landed on newsstands Tuesday. As the swimsuit issue has grown from a quirky edition of an offbeat title (in 1964’s debut swimsuit issue, SI‘s masthead listed contributing nature and yachting editors) into the 260-page behemoth it is today, so too has the promotional campaign attending the thing.

Teigen and her cover-model compatriots, Lily Aldridge and Nina Agdal, were awake Monday morning before 3 a.m. Pacific to do the Today show. By day’s end they were on a red-eye to New York, and come Wednesday, they’ll be in Miami. A whirlwind, filled with appearances in most every media outlet up to and including Charlie Rose. Yes, Charlie Rose. Teigen’s excited about that appearance, because the studio allegedly offers a full food spread. And all she’s ingested today is a mimosa and the innards of a tuna sandwich. At least on Monday she had a big breakfast and an IV full of undetermined vitamins.

(A few words of disclosure here before proceeding: TIME and Sports Illustrated are owned by the same company, Time Inc. Occasionally the two titles collaborate on ventures, including my employment. But I had no involvement in the swimsuit issue, as a photographer, writer, editor or model.)

At 28, Teigen is the oldest of the three on the cover, and the most tenured, making her fifth appearance in the magazine. Yet she makes no show of being the most mature: When her makeup artist needs to slide past a reporter — the reporter says, “let’s just switch positions” — she cracks up. “That’s what she said!”

She makes fart noises and sings little songs she makes up on the spot. One was called “Hair Removal Tactics.” Its lyrics were simply, “hair removal tactics,” set to a shifting melody. “Sometimes I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I’m married? Somebody married me?’ I act much younger than I am.” (Teigen married the singer-songwriter John Legend in 2013.)

Her demeanor, she says, has doomed her in the world of high fashion. “I’m not good at” — and here she involuntarily guffaws — “taking pictures. I can’t give a good face. I crack up.” But it has made her something of an icon in the swimsuit world, where charm and approachability work in a model’s favor. It helps that Teigen broadcasts her silly sensibility almost endlessly on Twitter, where, as of last count, she has shared over 45,000 tweets with nearly 360,000 followers. All but two or three of them, it seems, were about Bravo reality shows.

Teigen takes herself not at all seriously, viewing her career as something of a happy accident considering she once couldn’t land her dream job at a chain restaurant. “TGI Friday’s, Applebee’s, Red Robin, I applied everywhere. I was dying to work at Red Robin.” She was working retail at a surf shop in Huntington Beach, Calif., in her senior year of high school, when a photographer told her she might have the goods to model. She did workaday stuff, catalogs and pamphlets, including one where she posed as a scientist. (She’s mortified of that one surfacing someday.) She climbed the ladder, and then, lo, she was here.

Here, that is, on the cover of a big magazine, on a screen in Times Square, crisscrossing the country. But her dreams are ever-shifting. She’s miffed she never had the chance to have an office job: “If — well, obviously not if — when the day comes that I will have to bow out of being in the issue, I told everyone that I still want to be able to come over to Time headquarters.”

“Hey, I could work there!” she says. “I wanna pack those gift bags that we got every year. I love packing things! I’m very organized! And I would bring things to the office! I love to cook!”

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