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January 2005
image What's the one thing sure to liven up any party? How about a midget? That's not the answer that would have occurred to me, but it's the premise behind Rent A Midget, a California company that rents out midgets (or little people) to 'hang out at parties'. Based on their website, this company looks real enough, though the only way to be certain would be to go ahead and try to rent a midget through them. The midget entertainment options range from "Midget Strip Shows, to Christmas Cookie Servers or Office Pranks." As shocking and slightly cruel as the idea sounds, I suppose it's no different than what circuses have been doing for centuries (i.e. using midgets as entertainers).
Categories: Entertainment
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 07, 2005
Comments (101)
A woman has filed suit against the makers of anti-aging creams, accusing them of lying when they say that their products prevent or even reverse aging. Of course, she's right, though I'm sure the companies will argue that they never blatantly say that their products reverse aging. Instead, they claim that they reverse the 'appearance of aging.' I've never studied the issue in any great detail, but my perception is that the high-priced beauty products really aren't any better for your skin than a cheap bottle of sunblock would be. Though, of course, the expensive stuff smells and feels better.
Categories: Body Manipulation
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 07, 2005
Comments (12)
Frances Harris surprised everyone for a second time. The first surprise was when this 59-year-old woman announced in November that she was pregnant with twins. And it wasn't the result of in-vitro fertilization, like that 56-year-old lady who gave birth to twins late last year. Harris said she just got pregnant. The second surprise (not much of a surprise really) was when she admitted yesterday that she just made up the pregnancy. Why did she do it? Her family is chalking it up to "personal issues that are still being evaluated". But to me the problem is clear. She's suffering from Southcott Syndrome, a medical condition whose name I coined myself. I define this condition as being when a post-menopausal or otherwise infertile woman insists, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that she's pregnant. I named the syndrome after Joanna Southcott, the 19th-century prophetess who announced at the age of sixty five that she was pregnant with the new messiah. Nine months passed and she never gave birth, much to the disappointment of her many followers. Instead, she died. Doctors who performed an autopsy on her could find no evidence of pregnancy. Maybe there's an actual medical term for something like Southcott Syndrome, but I'm not aware of it. Believe it or not, I've heard about cases like this often enough that I had coined the term before I read about this most recent case.
Categories: Birth/Babies
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 05, 2005
Comments (14)
I received an email containing this list of THE YEAR'S BEST [ACTUAL] HEADLINES OF 2004! But, of course, these aren't really headlines from 2004. This list has been going around for at least four years. Check out this competition from 2000 in which people created images to match some of these headlines. Plus, I doubt any of these were ever actual headlines either.
  • Crack Found on Governor's Daughter.
  • Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says.
  • Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers.
  • Iraqi Head Seeks Arms!
  • Is There a Ring of Debris around Uranus?
  • Prostitutes Appeal to Pope.
  • Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over.
  • Miners Refuse to Work after Death.
  • War Dims Hope for Peace.
  • If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile.
  • Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges.
  • Man Struck By Lightning Faces Battery Charge.
  • New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group.
  • Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft.
  • Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half.
  • Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors.
  • Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead.
  • Police Chief says "when we find prostitutes on our streets, we stay on top of them".
Categories: Email Hoaxes, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 05, 2005
Comments (7)
According to legend all the erotic paintings of the artist JMW Turner were burned in the mid-nineteenth century by the prudish critic John Ruskin. The source of this legend was Ruskin himself, who often boasted that he had burned them to conceal the evidence of Turner's "failure of mind". It turns out Ruskin lied. He couldn't bring himself to burn them. Instead, as researcher Ian Warrell discovered, Ruskin simply misfiled most of the nudes, thereby effectively concealing their existence. Through diligent archival work Warrell realized that "Almost all the hundreds of allegedly missing drawings, which range from close-up detail to blurry colour washes and clearly held a powerful erotic charge for Turner, appear to be safely in the Tate collection."
Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 05, 2005
Comments (0)
There's a well known urban legend about the phone number 867-5309. Supposedly phone companies no longer issue this number to customers because of the popularity of that Tommy Tutone song from the '80s, "Jenny (867-5309)", about a guy trying to call a girl named Jenny whose number he sees on a wall. Dan Wiki (not sure if that's really his last name) set out to prove this urban legend wrong. How? By dialing every 867-5309 in the country. He got a list of all the area codes and set to work. The results are posted on his site. He lists in bold the numbers for which someone claiming to be Jenny actually answered. I couldn't resist calling some of the numbers for myself. All my results were identical to his.
Categories: Entertainment
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 05, 2005
Comments (20)
image Snopes posted a photo (click to enlarge) that's going around accompanied by this text:

Be sure and open the picture for a shock of your life to see what the tsunami looked like just before hitting Puket, Thailand. This picture is not a fake. It appears to have been taken from a hi-rise building window in downtown Phuket Thailand. The power of nature is hard to comprehend, especially the destructiveness of water.

Snopes says the status of the picture is undetermined, but I'd have a hard time believing it's real. First of all, is that actually downtown Phuket? I've never been there, so I couldn't say, but all the pictures of Thailand I've seen show it being a lot greener... a lot more vegetation. Second, almost every account of the tsunami I've read said that it didn't look like the classic hollywood image of a tidal wave towering above the land... which is exactly what this picture looks like. The wave in this picture is nearly as high as the tallest buildings, which would make it at least 100 feet high (or even higher). Of course, if this picture is real, it's pretty incredible.
Update: The cars are driving on the wrong side of the road for this to be a picture taken in Thailand.
image Update 2 (1/19/05): This picture actually shows a harbor view of Antofagosta, Chile (as seen in the thumbnail to the right). The large wave has obviously been photoshopped in.
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 04, 2005
Comments (47)
I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't immediately realize this was a joke. I thought, 'Sure. I can imagine a game where you have to identify different types of trains.' Then I looked at the game controls: Wait, Wait, Wait Some More, Blink, Wait, Have a Cup of Tea, Wait, etc. (via Bifurcated Rivets)
Categories: Websites
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 04, 2005
Comments (16)
image A few days ago the Calgary Herald ran on its front page this dramatic photo of a tsunami wave crashing over a surprised group of people, along with the headline 'Tsunami death toll could pass 100,000'. The photo soon appeared elsewhere, such as on the start-up page of AOL. The problem is not that the photo itself is fake. It's not. It really does show a real tsunami wave. The problem is that it doesn't have anything to do with the recent Indian Ocean tsunami. As Nicole Bogdas of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel discovered:

This is a two-year-old Reuters photo of a tsunami in China. You might remember the event: a bunch of people went to watch the waves and it turned out to be bigger than they thought. Anyway, the doctor gave the photo to the mayor of Calgary--he'd saved it for fundraising purposes. The Mayor showed it during a presentation on tsunami aid and the herald asked if they could have it thinking it was from this tsunami.

The Herald apologized once it realized the error.
Update: Tamandua points out in the comments that this is a wave produced by a tidal bore, not a tsunami.
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 04, 2005
Comments (4)
The artwork of Matthew Barney is highly abstract and conceptual. Even for modern art, it pushes the envelope of weird. For instance, his series of films titled The Cremaster Cycle involves, among other things, "a half-vegetable, half-man creature with a fleet of Jacobin pigeons attached to his gonads." Not exactly the kind of stuff to appeal to a mass audience. And yet he has a fan page, Cremaster Fanatic, similar to the kind of fan pages you find devoted to teen stars such as Lindsay Lohan or Hilary Duff. But as an article in yesterday's NY Times reveals, the fan site is actually an elaborate deadpan-style joke: Cremaster Fanatic is a fake. Or to put it more kindly, it's a parallel work of art. "I'm pretending to be a fan," said its creator, the New York artist Eric Doeringer. If you were casually perusing the site, you would probably never guess that it was a spoof, but it does get funnier once you learn that it's not for real.
Categories: Art, Websites
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 04, 2005
Comments (2)
image Most people think the musician Jim Morrison, lead singer for the Doors, died in Paris on July 3, 1971. But Gerald Pitts says that he "discovered Jim Morrison Living on a Ranch in the Pacific Northwest in the summer of 1998." According to him, Morrison is living a quiet life as an American cowboy "away from the Hollywood scene." Even though Morrison evidently engineered an elaborate death hoax to escape publicity, he agreed to appear on film for Pitts. You can buy a copy of this film for only $24.95 (shipping is extra). Pitts' site includes a video comparing the features of Jim Morrison the fifty-something cowboy to Jim Morrison the twenty-something singer. However, no matter how many times I watch the video, I just don't see any similarity.
Categories: Celebrities, Death
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 03, 2005
Comments (1942)
image For Christmas I received a great book, Weird U.S.: Your Travel Guide to America's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets by Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman. Immediately I flipped through it to find anything about San Diego, and soon came across the legend of Midgetville.

Midgetville refers to the legend of a town consisting of scaled-down houses built for little people. Midgetville is said to exist in various places throughout America. As Moran and Sceurman note, the most credible rumor locates such a town in Jefferson Township, New Jersey, on the former estate of circus mogul Alfred T. Ringling. There really is a collection of small-sized houses there that could conceivably have once been home to a colony of midgets. However, another very persistent legend locates a Midgetville in San Diego.

Moran and Sceurman don't go into much detail about the San Diego Midgetville, but I realized that I had heard this legend before (my wife had also heard it). This is how it goes: back in the 1930s a group of little people who had made a lot of money in Hollywood appearing in movies such as The Wizard of Oz supposedly came down to San Diego and built a collection of miniature houses on Mt. Soledad where they could live in comfort together. But of course, nobody seems to know exactly where on Mt. Soledad this group of small houses was or is, though everybody has heard of a "friend of a friend" who once accidentally found the houses (though this FOAF can never remember how to get back there).

Determined to find the houses, I did a google search and came across an article from 2003 written by Kenneth Smith for the Daily Aztec detailing his own efforts to track down San Diego's fabled 'Munchkin Houses'. After many false starts, he finally discovered that they were most probably "a group of four cottages on Hillside Drive in La Jolla... built by famed architect Cliff May." Although no midgets or little people were ever known to live in these houses, Smith says that, "The houses do indeed have smallish features, accentuated by an optical illusion. The steep road that passes them makes them seem even smaller than they actually are." Unfortunately only one of the four cottages remains standing, but Smith provides directions to find it: "take Hillside Drive from Torrey Pines Road. The house will be on your left-hand side. Look for the crazy midget handwriting." He also mentions that if you peek through the window (the house is unoccupied) you'll see "cobblestone-like tiled floors and a little round fireplace."

Of course, I had to see this for myself, even if no colony of Wizard-of-Oz midgets had ever lived there. So on New Year's Day I convinced my wife to accompany me on a search for the Munchkin House. The results were mixed. It was no problem finding Hillside Drive, but as it turns out Hillside Drive is fairly long. We were driving up and down it (as a line of cars formed behind us) wondering 'exactly which house on the left did he mean.' None of the houses leaps out at you and screams 'Munchkin House.' But finally we settled on one house that we figured must be it: Seventy-Four Seventy-Seven Hillside Drive. It had small windows and a small door. Plus, the address written beside the door looked a bit like 'crazy midget handwriting' (though I think Smith was joking about this). Ignoring the 'No Trespassing' sign (even though part of the legend of Midgetville is that the midgets who live there fiercely defend their land from the Bigs), I peeked through the window and saw the cobblestone-like tiled floors and a little round fireplace. So I think I found the Munchkin House, though I'm not 100% sure. It's certainly not anything that would catch your attention if you weren't specifically looking for it since it's really not that small, which made the trip a bit disappointing. But the weird thing is, I've already forgotten how to get back there.
Categories: Places
Posted by Alex on Sun Jan 02, 2005
Comments (276)
The latest possible faux-blog gaining attention is, the online diary of a twenty-something New Yorker named Alexa who quit her job as an editor's assistant at a fashion magazine a few years ago and became an escort (her blog is somewhat safe for work, R-rated language, but relatively tame images). This immediately invites comparison to Belle de Jour the supposed London call girl who kept a blog. Belle managed to secure a book deal from her true-confessions blog (her book arrives in stores in just two weeks). Like Belle, Alexa doesn't offer any proof to back up her claim that she's a call girl. You just have to take her word for it. Also like Belle, Alexa is quite well educated, "Majoring in English and Philosophy in a good New England liberal arts college," and seems to have literary ambitions.

In one of her recent posts Alexa addresses the issue of people doubting whether she really is an escort, noting that "One reader went so far as to suggest that I'm actually a 300lb man in some office in Nebraska." Alexa claims to be "genuinely perplexed" about people's doubts, not seeming to realize that if she makes an extraordinary (or even somewhat unusual) claim, then the burden of proof should be on her to prove her claim. It shouldn't be on all of us to prove that she isn't real. If she's not willing to offer such proof, then we shouldn't be willing to believe her. After all, there's an obvious motive for her to lie: to get attention and possibly land a book deal. Sure, read her blog if you find it amusing. But why take the extra step of actively believing her? Unfortunately most people don't maintain this skeptical distance because the human impulse to believe is very, very strong, which is exactly why con artists stay in business.

Alexa pleads that we have to take her word for it, because there's no way for her to prove that she does what she says she does. It doesn't occur to her to invite a trusted third-party person, such as a reporter, to verify her story. But then, that option never seems to occur to the Rances and Belle de Jours of this world.
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Sex/Romance, Websites
Posted by Alex on Sun Jan 02, 2005
Comments (28)
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