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December 2005
Status: Undetermined
image Here's a picture that's doing the rounds. I have no idea how long it's been circulating. Anyway, it's possible that the little girl's finger has been photoshopped in. But my guess is that the picture is real enough. Though who can tell anymore. I have no clue where the picture originally came from. Click the image to read the accompanying text. (It's another one of those 'priceless' parodies.)
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 21, 2005
Comments (9)
Status: Self-fulfilled prophecy
When Sandeep was born, an astrologer predicted that he would have a short life. Recently another astrologer, on TV, seconded this prediction. In despair (whether because of the second prediction, or for some other reason, is not clear), Sandeep took his own life, thereby fulfilling the prophecy. This isn't the only self-fulfillment of a death prophecy that I'm aware of. The more famous case was the prediction of the 16th century astrologer Girolamo Cardan, who foretold that he would die in 1576. Sure enough he did, though it seems probable he took his own life to insure the accuracy of his prophecy. Seems like an extreme way to prove a prophecy correct.
Categories: Death, Future/Time
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 21, 2005
Comments (5)
I said that I would decide who should win the caption contest today. But I'm having a tough time making a decision because there are a number of good entries. So I've decided to make the contest more democratic and let the winner be decided by a vote. I've selected my top eight choices. Pick your favorite, and cast your vote. I'll let the voting run for a day or two.
Update: As of Dec. 23, Kieran won the vote . Congratulations!

Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 20, 2005
Comments (14)
Status: Art hoax
Dr. Katja Schneider, director of the State Art Museum in Moritzburg, has been embarrassed by mistaking a painting done by Banghi, a 31-year-old female chimp, for a work by the late Ernst Wilhelm Nay:

The director of the State Art Museum of Moritzburg in Saxony-Anhalt, Katja Schneider, suggested the painting was by the Guggenheim Prize-winning artist Ernst Wilhelm Nay. "It looks like an Ernst Wilhelm Nay. He was famous for using such blotches of colour," Dr Schneider confidently asserted. The canvas was actually the work of Banghi, a 31-year-old female chimp at the local zoo. While Banghi likes to paint, she is not able to build up much of a body of work as her mate Satscho generally destroys her paintings before they can get to the gallery. But this one survived long enough to give Dr Schneider a red face. "I did think it looked a bit rushed," she told Bild newspaper.

Of course, this isn't the first time monkey art has fooled an expert. The classic case occurred in 1964 when newsmen from Sweden's Göteborgs-Tidningen obtained some paintings by Peter, a four-year-old chimp at the Boras zoo. They hung the paintings in a gallery, claiming they were the work of avant-garde artist Pierre Brassau. And soon the works were drawing critical acclaim. One critic wrote: "Brassau paints with powerful strokes, but also with clear determination. His brush strokes twist with furious fastidiousness. Pierre is an artist who performs with the delicacy of a ballet dancer."

Unfortunately I haven't been able to find examples posted online of the art of either Banghi or Pierre Brassau.
Categories: Animals, Art
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 20, 2005
Comments (18)
Status: Hoax
A news report has been doing the rounds concerning a student at UMass Dartmouth who was visited by Department of Homeland Security agents after ordering the official Peking version of Mao Tse-Tung's Little Red Book via interlibrary loan. The student needed the book for a research paper on communism, but apparently the book is on some kind of government watch list, and thus the visit. However, over at Boing Boing, suspicions have been raised that the story is a hoax. Apparently a second version of the story is floating around that places the student at UC Santa Cruz. Also, people find it suspicious that the student is unnamed, and therefore the story is basically hearsay. However, the reporter who wrote the story has responded to queries and is insisting that what he reported is true.
Update: Turns out the student invented the story about being visited by federal agents. Why he made up the story is unclear, but it's speculated that he did it simply to get attention. Details can be read in Aaron Nicodemus's follow-up article in SouthCoastToday.com.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 20, 2005
Comments (10)
Status: Fake
Yes, that's Tony Blair on the left and President Bush on the right. In the middle is the Duke of Edinburgh. They're dressed up as the three magi. It's pretty obvious that the picture is fake. Bush and Blair didn't really don these costumes. But it's not fake in the sense of being photoshopped. These are actually dummies (wax dummies, specifically) that appeared in a nativity scene at London's Madame Tussauds last Christmas. (Victoria and David Beckham served as Mary and Joseph.) Church leaders protested the scene, and it was soon shut down after being vandalized. But this picture still seems to be circulating around.
image
Categories: Photos/Videos, Religion
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 20, 2005
Comments (4)
Status: Hoax
In a dramatic move, the representatives of the state of Narnia have walked out of the WTO meeting in Hong Kong. AFX News issued this news release:

AFX News Limited
WTO MEETING - Narnia walks out of talks; says tired of EU, US 'bullying'
12.18.2005, 07:16 AM
HONG KONG (AFX) - The independent state of Narnia has walked out of trade negotiations here, citing pressure from the European Union and the US to enforce liberalization of its garment-related sector. Narnian spokeswoman Susan Aslan said in a statement that delegates 'were tired of bullying by EU and US delegations and would be returning immediately to their state capital at Cair Parvel.' 'If this brings the Hong Kong talks to the knees we will be delighted. Many other delegates told us they are sick of the eternal Lamy winter and are longing for a new trade spring,' Aslan said. The walkout was a first in this round of talks, and follows a similar move by some developing country delegates at the Cancun summit two years ago, the statement said.


This news release was then posted on Forbes.com, from which it has since disappeared (once Forbes realized it was a joke). I have no idea how it got uploaded to AFX News in the first place. (via The Disney Blog)
Categories: Business/Finance, Entertainment
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 20, 2005
Comments (6)
Status: Hoax
Ananova reports that an elephant is on the loose in St. Petersburg:

The animal, which was being transported through Russia by an unnamed Finnish company, escaped from its container by smashing through its walls. There have been a number of sightings around the city but no one has tried to catch the elephant yet.

But it appears that Ananova has done its usual thorough job of fact-checking, because the Moscow Times reports that the elephant was probably a hoax:

St. Petersburg police were looking for a mystery phone caller on Thursday after spending much of the night looking for an elephant. A man called the emergency services early Thursday on a cell phone and said an elephant he was transporting for a Finn had vanished, RIA-Novosti reported... Police turned up to investigate, but they could find no sign of the man or trailer, let alone the elephant, an animal that can grow up to 4 meters high and weigh up to 10 tons... Interfax reported that the man had called and said he had caught the elephant himself near 16 Ulitsa Obreli, the street in the city named after a famous Russian biologist. One witness was even reported as saying that he had seen an elephant heading down a street with a man running after it. Police eventually came to the conclusion that the call was a hoax.

Reminds me of the Central Park Zoo Escape of 1874.
Categories: Animals, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Mon Dec 19, 2005
Comments (5)
Status: Probably a hoax
image Andy Park claims that he celebrates Christmas every day:

Since "becoming Mr Christmas" in 1993, the 45-year-old electrician has eaten 109,500 sprouts. He devours 25 of them with a full roast-turkey dinner daily before watching a recording of the Queen's speech, sherry in hand... So deep is his love for Christmas that, over 12 years, he reckons he has consumed 4,380 turkeys (one a day), 87,600 mince pies (20 a day), 2,190 pints of gravy (half a pint a day), 26,280 roast potatoes (six a day), 30,660 stuffing balls, 219,000 mushy peas, 4,380 bottles of champagne, 4,380 bottles of sherry and 5,000 bottles of wine. He has given 21,900 presents, mainly to himself, and spent £12,000 on lights and effects. "I've spent about £250,000 celebrating Christmas for the past 12 years," he said. "I've also got through 36 ovens and 42 video recorders by watching the Queen's speech as well as Christmas films." His daily routine consists of breakfast - six mince pies and a turkey sandwich - then doing his work as an electrician until about 11.30am when he returns home to cook his roast.

However, MSNBC smells a rat, suspecting that Park is lying about his daily Christmas celebration in order to help sell a single he's just released, titled "It's Christmas Every Day." Keith Olbermann reports (the relevant section is about halfway down on the linked page):

Certain things didn‘t seem to add up. How could he afford all this? How come he wasn‘t morbidly obese from all those Mince pies? How come we only heard about him during the holiday season? This demanded a “Countdown” investigation... Our suspicions began when the German TV network ZA DA F (ph) went to visit him celebrating Christmas. And its people came back with a distinctly punked feeling. First off, the man asked for 200 pounds for the interview. That‘d be about $350. Then he asked for more money. Then he screwed up his own shtick about his supposedly endless Christmas...
His local newspaper, “The Wiltshire Times” tell us it has given up trying to do any stories on this man. Apparently, their photographer has shown up at his house several times, unannounced, in hopes of catching him celebrating. Yet, Mr. Christmas has not even let him in the door. So what exactly is going on here? This might shed some light. His latest video for his latest Christmas single. And it is just about as bad as his Christmas sweater. So there it is Andy Park, media hustler. We‘re obviously outraged on behalf of ourselves and all other media giants who got even slightly taken in by this clown.


(Thanks to Joe Littrell for the link.)
Categories: Folklore/Tall Tales
Posted by Alex on Sat Dec 17, 2005
Comments (18)
Status: TV show gets hoaxed (but claims it hoaxed first)
Hoax master Joey Skaggs has issued a press release describing the latest deception he's been involved in. I can't find the release posted online, so I uploaded the pdf file he emailed to me. I've also excerpted the main part of the release below:

Skaggs was contacted by producer Ben Sinden of ITV Factual, about a 90-minute special called "Danny Wallace's Hoax Files," to air in prime time Monday, December 19, 2005, on SkyOne throughout the UK. Sinden said Danny Wallace wanted to speak with the all-time great hoaxer Skaggs to see if he could teach him anything. In Skaggs' experience, producers of shows like this tend to overuse flattery, thinking that people will jump at the chance to be on TV. But Skaggs prefers not to become involved with this type of show. He'd rather expose them for what they are - self-aggrandizing and exploitive infotainment.
So, on October 30, 2005, rather than do the interview himself, Joey sent his friend Norman Savage in his place. Although Wallace had claimed to be a big fan of Skaggs' work, he apparently did not know the difference.
Savage, a novelist, has sat in for Skaggs before. In 1988 he appeared as Skaggs on "Entertainment Tonight" for a piece called "The Inside Story on Great Hoaxers," and in 1991 sat in for him on "To Tell the Truth" where he stumped the panel without the show's knowledge that he himself was a hoax.
Wallace's apparent plan was to attempt to hoax the hoaxer. He switched places with producer Sinden, who donned Wallace's signature glasses and messed up his hair. Savage, who had never met Wallace, was none the wiser, but apparently to his credit did a fine job impersonating Skaggs. Sinden proceeded to do the interview with Savage and each was happy in their duplicity, neither realizing the doublecross.
It wasn't until later, after the shoot, that the Skaggs switch was revealed to Wallace, and further confirmed while reviewing the collection of news clips of prior real Skaggs appearances licensed from other networks for use in the show. Says Skaggs, "It stands to reason that had he figured it out during the interview, he would have busted Savage, on camera, and used it in the show."
Realizing he'd been had, there was now a need for damage control. The trip to New York with the crew had cost the production company money. So now, how to salvage Danny Wallace's anticipated "leg up" on Skaggs? On December 8, Wallace phoned Skaggs to tell him he knew that Savage had played him and that, in fact, he (Skaggs) had been hoaxed by him (Wallace). Wallace was now going to make Skaggs confess! Curious to know what he had planned, Skaggs asked, "Are you pulling the interview?" "No!" said Danny Wallace, gloating, "We're going to show that it wasn't me doing the interview with you! We're showing a split screen with the fake you on one side and you on the other and we'll cut to me posing as crew during the interview." Skaggs replied, "Uh... Danny, but you didn't succeed in hoaxing me because, uh, it's not me!"
So, if the piece stays in the show, they'll be showing a fake interviewer interviewing a fake interviewee, while gloating about it. Unfortunately, Skaggs has seen this type of lame spin before. Embarrassed journalists who have fallen for his hoaxes, have frequently done follow-up stories to convince the audience that they knew the truth and were just going along for the ride.


The thing is, I recall being contacted by a researcher from this show, who wanted my advice on who the top hoaxers in the world were. So I mentioned Joey Skaggs. (Unless I'm confused about whom I discussed Skaggs with. Possible, because it was a while ago, but I'm pretty sure it was them.) In other words, I may have played a small role in giving him this hoaxing opportunity. Though the show doubtless would have contacted him anyway without my suggestion. (And I did warn them that Skaggs likes to turn the tables on the media.)
Categories: Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Sat Dec 17, 2005
Comments (9)
And the winner of the 'contest to pick a contest idea' was... ME!!! Yeah, apparently my proposal to have a caption contest was the overall favorite. So I'll be keeping the copy of the book (at least for now... I'll probably give it away later).

Anyway, now on to the real contest. I've selected an image. The challenge is to think up a caption or accompanying text for the image. Or, if you're so inclined, you can photoshop the image. I don't mind. Just do something creative with it using whatever tools you have at hand (either words or an image editor). But if you photoshop the image, you'll need to upload it to a web server (such as one of the free image hosting sites) so we all can see it.

The prize will be a copy of A Treasury of Deception by Michael Farquhar ("Liars, Misleaders, Hoodwinkers, and the Extraordinary True Stories of History's Greatest Hoaxes, Fakes, and Frauds"). (I promise I won't award the book to myself in this contest.)

Here's the image:

image

I'll decide who the winner is on Dec. 20.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Fri Dec 16, 2005
Comments (54)
Status: Fake chimp
image I'm posting this in honor of Monkey Day. The Sharper Image is selling a life-size animatronic chimpanzee head. It's the perfect gift for those hard-to-buy-for people on your list, if you don't mind shelling out $150 for it:

"Alive" Chimpanzee can see, hear and feel in ways that allow him to interact intelligently with you, your family, your guests...and with baffled strangers. Soulful eyes track movements using infrared "radar" vision; his ears have stereoscopic sound sensors; his skin reacts to contact with touch sensors all around. Four distinctive emotional moods include "Curious," "Happy," "Fearful" and "Feisty."

My wife thinks she's getting a new TV for her office this Christmas. Imagine her surprise when she opens this instead! (Thanks to Big Gary for the link)
Categories: Animals, Technology
Posted by Alex on Thu Dec 15, 2005
Comments (16)
Status: Real water, but it's not holy
image This is an odd marketing gimmick. This company is selling Holy Bottled Water. Of course, the label could easily be mistakenly read as Holy Water Bottled. But it's not holy water (in the sense of water that's been blessed by a priest). It's just regular old bottled water. The closest they come to explaining why their water is holy is this cryptic claim:

From the River of Living Water flows 'Holy Bottled Water Inc.' Produced by man under the inspiration of God.

They also make the strange claim that "WATER IS TWICE AS VALUABLE AS OIL" (as if that should make you want to buy their water), but wouldn't that depend on the type of oil? (via J-Walk)
Categories: Food, Religion
Posted by Alex on Thu Dec 15, 2005
Comments (4)
Status: Online tutorial
image For those who still don't realize that all those beautiful models you see in magazines have benefitted from the aid of photoshop, the Swedish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs has created an online tutorial to demonstrate exactly how photo editors manipulate appearances. They write:

The media world is becoming increasingly fixated on appearances. And the number of tricks used to achieve the increasingly exaggerated ideals is growing. Many models have plastic surgery and even more are retouched so they appear to have bigger breasts, smaller stomachs or fuller lips. We wanted to show how easy it is to change someone’s appearance in this campaign.

Now they should do a companion tutorial to show what real plastic surgery can do.
Categories: Body Manipulation
Posted by Alex on Thu Dec 15, 2005
Comments (10)
I'm having a contest. The challenge is to help me think of contest ideas. I posted the full details in the Hoax Forum (but then it occurred to me that only registered members can post responses there, so I'm posting a brief announcement here too so that comments/ideas can be left in either place.)

The basic challenge is to think of contest ideas. The one condition is that the contest has to generate responses, the best of which can be used as sidebar material somewhere in my archive of famous hoaxes throughout history. Like I said, full details are in the Hoax Forum.

The winner of the contest-idea contest will get a copy of A Treasury of Deception by Michael Farquhar. I then have two more prizes to give away (once we have ideas for more contests). Another copy of A Treasury of Deception, and a copy of Bar Mitzvah Disco.

Update: I should also note that I don't want contest ideas to demand people to do elaborate things like creating a hoax website, or creating a hoax on eBay. That presents too much of a technical challenge. People should be able to submit contest responses as text in the comments section (though if someone is inspired to photoshop something or create a website, that's fine, but it shouldn't be a requirement for entering the contest).
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 14, 2005
Comments (32)
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