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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Monday, August 28, 2006

How many successes make you an expert?

That question is rhetorical, but I ask it 'cause I was talking to a buddy earlier on the phone about a mutual former friend and a con that former friend was involved in that landed him a boatload of money in a short period of time. But it also ultimately landed him in jail.

And my buddy made the offhand comment that our former friend had become a "criminal mastermind."

My response was to question two things: whether those two words - criminal and mastermind - are too contradictory, and whether one or two successes at something make you an expert.

This guy pulled his con a handful of times. I say he got lucky. If he was a mastermind he wouldn't have gotten caught so soon.

If you hit 21 in Blackjack two hands out of three, are you an expert or just lucky? If you pull off a flawless bank robbery once or twice, are you a master criminal or just lucky? Maybe it's something in between. Maybe you're just good, because you practiced.

But when I think criminal masterminds I think of people like John Gotti, and Robert De Niro AKA Neil McCauley and his crew in Heat. Gotti and McCauley were really good at their bad acts for a period of time...And then they died violent, untimely deaths - Gotti of disease in prison and McCauley in a shootout.

The only person even close to being a real criminal mastermind I can think of is Adam Worth. He actually lived to old age and died of relatively natural causes.

I honestly don't know how much time it should take for you to be considered an expert at something. But if you get snuffed out or locked up in the process you're no mastermind. You were just another stupid criminal whose luck ran out.


  • I dunno. I think that guy Leo played in Tom Hanks' "Catch Me If You Can" was pretty clever.

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 8:38 PM  

  • Good point, Sarc. He lasted pretty long on the lam too. I suppose I'd consider that guy a master criminal. Still, those folks who deserve that title are few and far between.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 9:00 PM  

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