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September 2005
I'm off to Pittsburgh to visit with family. I doubt I'll have computer access there. Be back Tuesday!
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 29, 2005
Comments (9)
Status: True
image As you drive out of Brooklyn on the Williamsburg Bridge you'll see a traffic sign above you reading "Leaving Brooklyn. Oy Vey!" No, the sign isn't the work of a prankster, nor is the photo of the sign (to the right) a photoshop job. It's a real sign, placed there last week by the Department of Transportation at the request of Marty Markowitz, Borough President of Brooklyn. Says Markowitz: "Oy vey is an original Jewish 'expression of dismay or hurt.' The beauty is, every ethnic group knows it, and motorists seeing it know it means 'Dear me, I'm so sad you're leaving.'"
Categories: Places
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 29, 2005
Comments (6)
Status: True
The Telegraph reports on the latest funeral practice in Sweden: freeze-drying the corpse of your loved one using liquid nitrogen, then shattering it into a powder, picking out any metal or plastic bits, and using the powder as mulch in a garden. Says Susanne Wiigh-Masak, the inventor of this technique: "Mulching was nature's original plan for us, and that's what used to happen to us at the start of humanity - we went back into the soil." It actually seems like a pretty good idea to me. A lot of people already strew cremains in their garden.
Categories: Death
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 29, 2005
Comments (27)
Status: Hoax
Signs that appeared in a park in Fremont near Seattle announced that the city's park department "was planning to build a habitat to save the declining canal-rat population, species name: Rattus Norvegicus. The signs said the city was going to plant thorny bushes along that bank of the Lake Washington Ship Canal to make a safe and human-free habitat to increase the 'canal rat community.'" It all turned out to be a hoax, though according to the Seattle Times, many people were fooled: "At the Indoor Sun Shoppe across the street, customers were abuzz that Seattle is trying to save rats... Only one person said he thought it was a good idea, to protect them from the herons."
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 29, 2005
Comments (7)
Status: Hoax
A press release that appeared during the past week on declared that Tom Cruise would be delivering a series of four lectures at a scientology centre in Los Angeles on "topics related to 'The Modern Science of Mental Health.'" The press release turned out to be a hoax, getting a stern response from Cruise's lawyer: "It's totally phony... Tom is not giving any lectures... I'm going to look into it, because, in my view, it's forgery, wire fraud and apparently committed on an interstate basis. So, if I can find out who did this, I certainly intend to pursue every remedy I can find." The press release has now been removed from pressbox, so in the interest of posterity, here it is:

Continuing his vigorous advocacy for Scientology's solutions to mental health problems, Tom Cruise will deliver a series of four lectures on topics related to "The Modern Science of Mental Health" beginning next month. Co-sponsored by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, the lectures will be held at Scientology's Celebrity Centre International in Los Angeles. All lectures will be free to the public. Due to limited seating at the Celebrity Centre, tickets will be available only to Scientology parishioners and selected members of the press, but the lectures will be simulcast on the web, and a live video feed will be available for broadcasters who wish to cover these highly informative presentations.

The first lecture, set for October 15, is titled "How Psychiatry Invented Schizophrenia, and What Scientologists Can Do About It".

The second lecture, tentatively scheduled for October 22, is on "Handling Sexual Dis-Orientation: Out of the Closet and Into the Auditing Room".

The topic of the third lecture, in early November, will be "Diagnosis and Treatment of So-Called Clinical Depression with the Hubbard Mark Super VII Quantum Electropsychometer".

The fourth lecture is "Neuroanatomical Changes Resulting from Chronic Methamphetamine Abuse: Can Narconon's Sauna and Niacin Treatment Program Help?"

Transcripts of each lecture will be made available after the broadcast.

(via A Socialite's Life)
Categories: Celebrities, Psychology
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 29, 2005
Comments (13)
Status: Real
While searching San Diego craigslist for someone willing to clean my hardwood floors twice a month, I stumbled upon a "Flirts for Hire" service:

Is your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife not giving you the attention you deserve? Hire us, we will send someone over to bars, restaurants, clubs to flirt with you in from of them. They will get jealous in a heart beat. No physical contacts involved. No kissing, or any form of sexual activities. Just good clean fun.

I suppose this is a more real-life version of having an imaginary girlfriend. When I did a google search to find out if there were other Flirts for Hire services around the country, I found a 2003 article from about a more sinister version of this practice:

Kirri Cleveland... is the 30-year-old going on 13 who is starting a "flirts for hire" operation that sounds like a schoolyard game, but actually is being put up as a legitimate going concern. With any luck, her enterprise - where female "spies" tempt men into being unfaithful and then dob on them - will be a dismal failure. But its very existence is damaging enough with the wedge it is attempting to drive between the sexes...
Professional flirts will be paid to deliberately cause other people grief. At least garden variety adulterers - even if they do ultimately hurt a third party - are not financially rewarded for their misdemeanors. Ms Cleveland denies her service is entrapment. Well, that is a matter of opinion...
Ms Cleveland says it is mainly women who want to engage a "flirt for hire"... She also claims 50 to 60 per cent of men will take the bait.
Categories: Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 28, 2005
Comments (15)
Status: Unlikely
imageThe BBC has video footage, taken by a security camera at night, of a (supposed) ghost haunting a store in Gloucester, England. What you see is a blurry image in which a pile of boxes falls down followed by a scene in which a figure might be sitting in a chair. The audio interview with the manager of the store, Sue Cooper, is also worth listening to, if only for its entertainment value. Sue and the BBC reporter go into the basement of the store, whereupon Sue claims to feel the presence of the ghost and becomes extremely flustered. The reporter, on the other hand, senses nothing at all. I'm just hazarding a guess here, but it could be that the boxes fell down of their own accord, and personally, I really can't see the woman who's supposed to be sitting in the chair.
Categories: Paranormal
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 28, 2005
Comments (11)
Status: Highly Doubtful
I've received a lot of emails about a story in The Observer a few days ago alleging that thirty-six dolphins "trained by the US military to shoot terrorists and pinpoint spies underwater" and "carrying 'toxic dart' guns" were swept out of their tanks by Hurricane Katrina and are now at large in the Gulf of Mexico. This story is very doubtful for a number of reasons.

First, it seems to be a wild rumor inspired by the true report that eight bottlenose dolphins were washed out of their marina by Katrina, but were later recovered. Second, The Observer's story relies entirely upon one source, a "respected accident investigator" named Leo Sheridan. But as The Register points out, Mr. Sheridan has been the source for many dubious conspiracy-style claims in the past.

In 2003 he told The Guardian that he didn't believe the official explanation that the English aviator Amy Johnson's plane crashed in 1941 because it ran out of fuel. He believed she had been shot down.

In 1998 he told the Observer the cause of death of 22 dolphins found washed up on the shore in southern France was that "'these were dolphins trained by the US navy, and that something went badly wrong... They were disposed of to conceal the existence of the American's military dolphin programme.' According to Mr Sheridan, the United States navy launched a classified programme, the Cetacean Intelligence Mission, in San Diego in 1989 with the approval of President George Bush. The dolphins, fitted with harnesses around their necks and with small electrodes planted under their skin, were taught first to patrol and protect Trident submarines in harbour and stationary warships at sea."

And in 1991 The Observer used him as the source for a story about crop circles: "Britain's crop circles are caused by squabbling birds marking out their feeding territory, says environmental investigator Leo Sheridan. 'Each morning birds that feed off the crops, such as starlings and sparrows, squabble over their patch of field,' he says. 'The birds sometimes two or three hundred of them whirl round in circles close to the top of the crops, flattening them with the action of their wings as they fight each other for a patch of field.' Mr Sheridan, who is employed by aviation authorities to investigate atmospheric and environmental influences on air disasters, claims he has witnessed the phenomenon in Devon and Cornwall."

In other words, Leo Sheridan is The Observer's resident crackpot-on-call. They must phone him up whenever they want to add a bit of drama or weirdness to their stories.

Further discrediting the story is the US Navy's insistence that it has never trained dolphins for attack missions. The dolphins are only trained to locate suspicious objects. Not to destroy them.
Categories: Animals, Conspiracy Theories, Military
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 28, 2005
Comments (15)
Status: Uncertain
This is my second post about Ashton Kutcher in as many days. I'm not sure what that signifies (except that my standards are probably slipping), but the celebrity-gossip-lover in me couldn't resist. The story here is that newspapers have reported Moore and Kutcher tied the knot over the weekend. But now rumors are spreading suggesting the wedding was faked to prank the media and help publicize the new season of Kutcher's MTV show, PUNK'D. Though maybe Kutcher's publicist is spreading the faux-wedding rumor in order to stir up media interest. In which case, the publicist is also probably behind the AshtonHacked website I posted about yesterday. Either way, Kutcher gets publicity and wins.
Categories: Celebrities
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 28, 2005
Comments (3)
Status: True (in my opinion)
Here's a bit of a mystery. I received an email from someone called Prastil who wrote, "Check this hoax out:" The site he directed me to claims that the holy grail has finally been discovered in Da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper. For centuries people have wondered why Da Vinci omitted the grail from his painting, given that the grail is one of the central elements of the Last Supper story. Its absence has spawned a variety of theories, such as the one elaborated in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, that the holy grail was Mary Magdalene's uterus (and that the figure to the left of Jesus in the painting is Mary Magdalene). But claims that Da Vinci actually did include the grail in his painting, if you look hard enough. He concealed it as a symbol on the wall above the head of St. Bartholomew, the disciple at the extreme left. (I highlighted the cup in the image below).

It may seem a bit farfetched that after centuries someone discovered a detail in the Last Supper that no one had ever seen before, but as far as I can tell, that's the case. The man who noticed the grail in the painting was Gary Phillips, a Michigan computer programmer (and cryptologist). He was aided in his discovery by the fact that the painting was recently cleaned, revealing details previously concealed by dirt and grime. Of course, Phillips could be seeing a shape that was not intentionally placed there by Da Vinci, but once you see the cup, it seems so obvious that it's hard to believe it wasn't placed there on purpose. The legitimacy of Phillips's claim to have discovered this hidden detail is noted on a number of sites, such as's Art History blog.

Now here's where things get strange. Phillips has nothing to do with Instead, Phillips maintains a separate site called Realm of Twelve. is registered to (drumroll, please) Prastil, the same guy who emailed me telling me that the site was a hoax. Why did Prastil claim his site was a hoax? Was he trying to get me to write about his site, not thinking that I would check the domain registration? I have no idea (and I wrote about it anyway). But Phillips's discovery of the grail hidden as a symbol on the wall in The Last Supper seems real enough to me... unless there's some part of the story that I'm not clued in to. (Very possible.)
Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 28, 2005
Comments (123)
Status: Real (I think)
image At last you can enjoy your favorite passages from scripture as interpreted by mimes:

Christian Mime Theater brings scripture passages to life through the ministry of pantomime. During the “voice over” reading of the scripture, people come to life in various light pools across the stage, portraying modern enactments of the timeless Word of God.

I'm assuming this is real and not some kind of Objective-Christian-Ministries style parody. After all, it appears that you really can buy the Christian Mime Theater video, and the rest of the site appears serious. But it's still an odd concept. When I think of mimes I usually imagine tortured French existentialist types, not Christian theater.
Categories: Religion
Posted by Alex on Tue Sep 27, 2005
Comments (41)
Status: Satire
Jim Heffernan reports for the Duluth News Tribune that: "Homeowners who decorate their yards with life-sized plastic deer are complaining the sculptures are being damaged by those stalking real deer during Duluth's special season for bowhunters." That seems believable enough, but the article gets a little stranger with the first interviewee, Orval Pussywillow (that can't be a real name), whose "decorative doe, Felicity, had an arrow sticking out of her hind quarter," but whose "lawn ornament depicting the posterior of a fat woman bending over" was unmolested. Other locals interviewed include Randy Waxwing, Thelma Twelvetrees, Msgr. Ernest X. Chasuble, and Professor Michael Angelo (head of the Sculpture and Human Sexuality Department at the Arrowhead College of Carnal Knowledge).

I like the part where Heffernan reports that "religious leaders are concerned that fake donkeys in Christmas nativity scenes will be shot at by hunters when churches erect creches on their lawns around Thanksgiving... Religious leaders said either the hunt should be suspended during the holidays or characters in the displays should be adorned with blaze orange garments."

So most of the article has to be a joke. However, I'm wondering if any of it is real. Was there really a report of a plastic deer shot by a hunter in Duluth? Or did Heffernan make the whole thing up?
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Tue Sep 27, 2005
Comments (15)
Status: Hoax supposedly offers up recordings of real messages left on Ashton Kutcher's voicemail, as obtained by two guys who hacked his cellphone. (Some of the messages are not safe for work.) Kutcher's media rep claims that all the messages are fake. The owner of the site, however, continues to insist they're real, though the explanation of how the voicemail system was hacked doesn't sound very convincing. Anyway, the messages would only be of much interest to people who actually care what Ashton Kutcher does with his time.
Categories: Celebrities, Websites
Posted by Alex on Mon Sep 26, 2005
Comments (9)
Status: Urban Legend
I know a lot of people who swear by the notion that you have to sear meat "to seal in its juices." But I've always thought the idea was a bit far-fetched (though I agree that meat is best cooked hot and fast), so it pleased me to read, in a review of Alan Davidson's Oxford Companion to Food, that most food experts agree that it is indeed an urban legend that searing meat will seal in its juices.'s barbeque expert agrees:

By definition, searing is to cook something hot and fast to brown the surface and to seal in the juices. Yet many of the leading cooking experts agree that searing does not seal in juices. Frankly the idea that you can somehow melt the surface of the meat into a material that holds in all the juices seems a little strange to me. But whether you believe searing seals in juices or not, a great cut of meat needs hot, dry heat to caramelize or brown the surface to give it that great flavor.

The same review of Davidson's Oxford Companion to Food lists a number of other food myths. For instance:

MSG Causes Headaches (aka Chinese Restaurant Syndrome): "Jeffery Steingarten, food editor of the Vogue in New York, debunked this myth pretty comprehensively. Given the widespread use of MSG in China, he asked why weren’t there a billion Chinese people with headaches? He then went around relentlessly researching the theory in his characteristically thorough way, and came to the conclusion that MSG, taken in normal quantities, was perfectly safe." (I know many people who swear they get headaches after eating MSG, so I'm reluctant to accept this as an urban legend. But some quick research reveals that a controlled study at Harvard University also concluded that MSG in food doesn't cause headaches.)

Croissants were invented during the 1529 Siege of Vienna, when a baker who foiled a Turkish plan to breach the city's walls was rewarded by being given a royal licence to produce crescent-shaped pastries: "Davidson debunks this romantic legend and informs us that in fact, the first reference to croissants did not appear until 1891, more than two centuries after the siege of Vienna."

In the Middle Ages spices were used to mask the flavor of spoiled meat: "Davison cites Gillian Riley to rubbish the notion... Indeed, in pre-refrigeration days, we had assumed that the role of spices and heavy sauces was to conceal the fact that meat had spoiled. Riley makes the valid point that in those days, spices were far too expensive to be used for this purpose."

Chop Suey was invented by a Chinese restaurant in California which threw together odds and ends ('chop suey' in Chinese) as a meal for drunken miners: "according to Anderson, quoted by Davidson, chop suey is a local dish from Toisan, a rural district south of Canton. In Cantonese, its name is tsap seui, meaning 'miscellaneous scraps'."
Categories: Food, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Mon Sep 26, 2005
Comments (36)
Status: Real
I would think twice (and then maybe another three or four times) before going to a urologist named Dr. Dick Chopp. I would also suspect the name had to be a joke. But it doesn't seem to be a joke. It's his real name. He works at the Urology Team, based in Austin, Texas:

Dr. Richard (Dick) Chopp is well known in the Austin community for performing Vasectomies. He also enjoys treating patients with metabolic evolution of kidney stone disease, male endocrine urology disorders, prostate disease and Peyronie's disease. He has extensive laparoscopy surgery experience, is on the transplant team and performs Living Donor Nephrectomy.

He joins that select company of other unfortunately named doctors such as Dr. Reinhardt Adolfo Fuck and Professor Chew Shit Fun.
Categories: Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Mon Sep 26, 2005
Comments (19)
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