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January 2006
Status: Seems to be an urban legend reported as news
Remember that story about the British parrot that kept squawking the phrase "I love you, Gary", thereby revealing to its owner, Chris Taylor, that his girlfriend was having an affair with a guy named Gary? It was all over the news about a week ago. (Charybdis posted it in the forum.) Well, it's looking more and more like the story was bogus. The couple has been refusing offers of thousands of pounds to get their photo taken with the parrot. In fact, it's not clear that the couple even exists since the freelance reporters who produced the story are the only ones who have access to them. The New York Times has posted a correction to its original story about the parrot:

An article on Wednesday about infidelity exposed by a chatty parrot described the way the parrot, owned by a man living with his girlfriend in Leeds, England, kept screeching the name of the woman's secret lover. When the parrot said "I love you, Gary," in what sounded like the woman's voice, her boyfriend (whose name is not Gary) broke up with her. Although the article reported that the information had been obtained from reports in The Daily Telegraph and other British newspapers, The Times could not verify the former couple's accounts because the information was given to the British press by a freelance journalist who charged for the account. The Times does not pay for information. The Times should have disclosed fully to readers why we relied on other news reports. Or, perhaps it would have been prudent, given that condition, for The Times to have resisted parroting the episode at all.

The New York Daily News encountered similar difficulties when it tried to track down the couple, leading it to speculate that the entire thing was a case of an urban legend reported as news:

When The News' Adam Nichols investigated the tale, he found strikingly similar ones earlier in the year, in Israel and Germany. When contacted, freelancer Paul Hardaker, who wrote the original story, would not give up his sources. "You see the same stories about parrots over and over, going back hundreds of years," explained urban legend expert David Mikkelson, who runs the Web site www.snopes.com. "I really have a hard time believing that there are that many people who are caught by parrots blurting out their lovers' names."
Categories: Animals, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 25, 2006
Comments (5)
Status: Undetermined
A Delaware woman alleges that the hot fudge sundae her son was served at a local McDonald's was topped with a special sauce: human blood. The restaurant owner disputes this, claiming the red stuff was simply strawberry syrup:

According to court documents, Jara bought food, including four hot fudge sundaes, at the restaurant's drive-thru window on Dec. 30, 2004.
Her son, now 13, dug into his sundae and "recognized the taste of blood and, upon careful inspection, noted a red substance on the side of the sundae cup as well as mixed into his ice cream," the lawsuit claims. Jara then went into the store and spoke to a swing manager [Joshua Ferrell], who confirmed that it was blood, according to the lawsuit... Michael Meoli, owner of the McDonald's franchise, said the claims are unfounded, and that strawberry syrup probably had clogged the sundae machine. Ferrell, who no longer works at the restaurant, should not have said the substance was blood, Meoli said. "What is he, a botanist? No, he's a 21-year-old assistant manager who saw her screaming in the lobby and said 'whatever you say lady.'"


A botanist? And how could the kid know it tasted like blood, if it was mixed in with ice cream? That sounds fishy to me. Anyway, the bloody sundae does not appear to have been saved, so it's a case of the woman's word against the restaurant owner's word. But the lawyers, I imagine, are extracting their usual pound of flesh from both sides. (via Hometown Tales)
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 24, 2006
Comments (13)
The first review of Hippo Eats Dwarf is in. Actually, it's not so much a full review as a descriptive blurb, but it's what the reviewer from Booklist wrote. (Booklist, from what I understand, is read mostly by librarians and bookstore owners.)

Boese, Alex. Hippo Eats Dwarf: A Field Guide to Hoaxes and Other B.S. Apr. 2006. 288p. illus. Harcourt, paper, $14 (0-15-603083-7). 001.9. From the author of the entertaining Museum of Hoaxes (2002) comes an even more entertaining follow-up. The book is a reasonably thorough, not to mention playful, guide to fakery. Advertising posing as legitimate news stories, nonexistent movie reviewers, fraudulent sales pitches, reality television, imaginary Internet bloggers, phony celebrities—they're all here, and plenty more, too. The book also features a series of "reality rules" (#5.2: should a suitably dramatic picture of a major event not exist, one will be created) and several "case files" that use real stories to illustrate various kinds of fakery (like the professor who fell for the Nigerian bank scam). Boese, a self-described "hoaxpert," keeps us on our toes by slipping in real-but-improbable events among the fakes and challenging us to see if we can tell the difference. All too often it's impossible to know whether something he describes is bona fide or bogus, and that's Boese's point: we need to stay on our toes, if we want to avoid getting fooled. —David Pitt
YA: Is there a teenager who wouldn't be interested in a hippo eating a dwarf, even if it was fake? BO.


The comment at the end, I'm assuming, is a supplementary remark made by the young adult reviewer. My publisher tells me that Playboy has also indicated they're going to review Hippo Eats Dwarf in their May issue (on newsstands in April), which will give me an excuse to buy the magazine and tell my wife I'm only reading it for the review. Giant magazine, which I hadn't heard of before, has also indicated they'll review it. Anyway, if you have any inclination to buy the book, think about pre-ordering it. I won't pretend to understand the economics of the publishing industry, but I've heard that bookstores and publishers care a lot about pre-orders. (Probably because it makes them more confident that the book will sell well, and thus more willing to devote marketing dollars to it, in the case of publishers, or to stock it, in the case of bookstores.)
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 24, 2006
Comments (5)
Status: True
image Two weeks ago a lot of people were linking to a story about books bound in human skin that can be found in many libraries, including the rare book libraries at Brown and Harvard. This is, apparently, quite true. Often the books are old medical works, with the skin coming from patients or paupers whose bodies were bought for research. The most gruesome book, owned by the Boston Athenaeum, is an 1837 copy of the memoirs of the highwayman George Walton, bound in his own skin.

Following on in this vein, Paul Collins has noted that Mark Gruenwald, a writer for Marvel Comics, had his cremated ashes mixed into the printing of a comic book, Squadron Supreme. This is absolutely true. A copy of this "cremain printing" is currently for sale on eBay. The seller notes: "The book is in good shape with a ding on the upper, left corner from falling off a table. I hate to part with Mark, but I'm real tired of telling him to get his ash off the table."

The only other way I can think of to incorporate a human body into a book would be to write it in blood, which I'm sure someone has done. Though maybe I'm not being imaginative enough. Perhaps one could make a book's spine out of human bone, the paper from hair and nails... the possibilities are endless.
Categories: Death, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 24, 2006
Comments (15)
Status: Undetermined
There's an old urban legend that states that the makers of lip balm (Carmex, specifically), add ground-up fiberglass to their product. The glass irritates people's lips, causing them to feel like they need to apply the balm again and again. There's another urban legend that states that lip balm interferes with the moisture sensors in the lips, causing lips to become dry and requiring more lip balm to be applied. Neither of these urban legends is true. Carmex debunks the fiberglass myth on their website, and the moisture sensor one is false because there are no such thing as moisture sensors in the lips. (At least, not ones that regulate the moisture levels of the lips.)

However, an Associated Press article points out that many lip balms contain salicylic acid or other irritants, and that these additives could encourage repeated use, thereby lending some substance to the charge that lip balm is physically addictive:

Dr. Monte Meltzer is the chief of dermatology at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore. He says lip balm often includes ingredients that cause a tingling, such as salicylic acid, phenol and menthol. Some of these are exfoliants that cause lips to peel. In turn, the lips become thinner and less able to protect against the elements. So people need to apply again, and the vicious cycle continues.

Carmex, in its defense, tries to make out as if salicylic acid is a mild, non-irritating chemical, pointing out that it's "closely related to aspirin." However, I don't see why its relationship to aspirin is relevant since salicylic acid obviously does dry out your skin (which is why it's used in acne medicine).

However, even if lip balm isn't physically addictive, I know that it's definitely psychologically addictive, because my wife is totally addicted to the stuff. (I try to tell her that if her lips feel dry, she should drink more water, but she doesn't listen.) For those who are hooked on the stuff, Lip Balm Anonymous can offer some help.
Categories: Health/Medicine, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 24, 2006
Comments (21)
Status: Prank
The Garden Gnome Liberation Army has been in the news recently:

Twelve garden gnomes kidnapped in western Sweden a month ago have been found in a snowy forest, standing in a ring beside a lighted bonfire and a small hut, Swedish news agency TT reported. "It looked very cozy," Bo Larsson, a police officer in the town of Kil, near Karlstad, told TT on Friday. The gnomes mysteriously vanished from their gardens just before Christmas. A letter from the "Garden Gnomes Liberation Army" later claimed responsibility for their disappearance, explaining that the dwarfish figures had pined for freedom.

The gnomes were returned to their former owners.
Categories: Gnomes
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 24, 2006
Comments (8)
Status: Undetermined
The Register has found what appears to be a flying car, captured by the satellite imagery of Google Earth. It's definitely either a flying car, a car parked alongside a dark-looking patch on the ground, a car-shaped object floating in the air... or maybe a UFO! The Register provides some screenshots of the object, but unfortunately no direct link. (Google Maps doesn't cover Australia, so you'll need the Google Earth program to see it). The mysterious object is located at Pt. Walter in Perth, Australia.

image image
Categories: Photos/Videos, Places, Technology
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 24, 2006
Comments (69)
Status: Photo parodies
The USC cheerleader caught (supposedly) giving an inappropriate cheer during the Rose Bowl is now being photoshopped into everything. A whole bunch of the images can be seen here. I suppose this was inevitable, especially the pairing of her and Touristguy.

image image image

image image image
Categories: Photos/Videos, Sports
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 23, 2006
Comments (14)
Status: Fake
image Here's an image going around, captioned "Saudi Bride." First of all, I think it's safe to assume that these two aren't really bride and groom. I don't think she's wearing traditional Saudi wedding attire. (Though maybe she really is a bride... perhaps an American one.) Also, the guy's face has obviously been photoshopped. For instance, the left ear has been reduced in size, while the right ear has been enlarged. In fact, I'd guess that his entire face has been pasted into the photo.
Categories: Photos/Videos, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 23, 2006
Comments (10)
Status: Scientific fraud
A Norwegian doctor, Jon Sudbo, who published an article in the Lancet last year suggesting that aspirin could reduce the risk of oral cancer, has been accused of making up the data in his study. Specifically, he invented almost all of the 900 patients in the study (or at least half of them, by other accounts). The director of the hospital where he worked said: "he faked everything: names, diagnosis, gender, weight, age, drug use." Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, said: "What I've been told is that he sat in front of his computer and made the whole dataset up and convinced his co-authors it was genuine... It's completely inexplicable." I guess that's one way to avoid having to get consent forms signed.

Other journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, are now finding evidence of fraud in articles they published by Sudbo.
Categories: Science
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 23, 2006
Comments (2)
Status: Undetermined
According to Scott Tissue, during the halftime of the SuperBowl (or the Big Game as they call it, to avoid infringing on the NFL's trademark) "more than 350 million gallons of water will flush through our toilets as an estimated 90 million people use their facilities. That amount of flushing equals seven minutes of water flowing over the Niagara Falls." Actually, they admit that this is a legend, but they've created a website to cash in on the legend: halftimeflush.com. However, I don't know how they arrive at the figure of 350 million gallons. (I assume they're just making up the figure of 90 million people flushing the toilet.) I thought that the average toilet uses about 2 gallons per flush. In which case, the volume of water used would be closer to 180 million gallons... and so equivalent to only about 3 1/2 minutes of water flowing over Niagara Falls.

But where are they getting their facts about the volume of water flowing over Niagara? According to this site, 150,000 gallons per second flows over the American Falls, whereas 600,000 per second flows over the Canadian falls. So, assuming that they're talking about the Canadian falls, 350 million gallons of water flushed down the toilet would be equivalent to almost ten minutes of water flowing over Niagara.
Categories: Sports
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 20, 2006
Comments (17)
Status: Hoax
image Pherotones are ringtones that will make you "irresistible to the opposite sex." They're basically like pheromones, but they work via sound rather than scent. They're also a hoax. According to NewsTrend.com, the website promoting them is part of a viral marketing campaign dreamed up by the McKinney-Silver ad agency. NewsTrend writes:

The first mentions of Pherotones began around December 30, on "Dr. Vanderhood's" Pherotones blog, where the good doctor began posting "an ongoing diary of the life of a scientist on the verge of a major breakthrough." The JoniMueller blog caught wind of the Pherotones blog and posted about it on January 16. The real story began to break on January 18th with an Oreilly interview with Vanderhood.

The strange thing is that no one knows what this stealth marketing campaign is for. It seems a bit useless to attract all this attention, and then blow it by not revealing what you're advertising. (Thanks to Thilo for the link.)
Categories: Sex/Romance, Websites
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 20, 2006
Comments (6)
Status: Tall-Tale Photo
It's good to see that people are still making whopper hopper photos. (via Daily Owned)
image
Categories: Animals, Folklore/Tall Tales, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 20, 2006
Comments (2)
Status: Possible canine suicide?
Charles G. Jetchick was driving along, minding his own business, when suddenly a dog crashed through his window. It had fallen from an overpass. Police don't think it was thrown. Instead, they speculate the dog fell by accident while trying to avoid a car. The police officer commented: ""We've had rocks and other stuff like that fall off of overpasses. This would be the first dog we've had." The Anomalist, however, speculates that it might be another case of canine suicide... because like spontaneous human combustion, spontaneous canine suicide can strike at any time.
Categories: Animals, Death
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 20, 2006
Comments (5)
Status: urban legends
The Auburn Plainsman (student paper of Auburn University) has a short article about campus urban legends. The ones they list are:

Endowment from old lady bans sorority houses: This UL seems to exist on every college campus that doesn't have sorority houses. It states that some rich old woman left a large sum of money to the college on the condition that they ban sorority houses, because she considered them to be brothels. The more likely reality, among those schools that have sororities but no sorority houses, is that women used to be required to live on campus. Once that rule was lifted, it was cheaper for sorority members to live on campus in dorms, so the houses were never built.

If you get hit by a campus bus the school will give you free tuition: Unlikely, but if you're lucky, maybe an insurance payout would cover the cost of tuition.

Students whose roommates commit suicide receive automatic straight A’s: A guy in my college class committed suicide. His roommate didn't get automatic straight A's. I don't think anyone ever has.

"Beer before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before beer, in the clear": Repeated at every campus party, though it has no basis in fact. The corollary to this UL is that if you sip beer through a straw, you'll get drunk quicker. This one I'm not sure about.

And a few that they left out:

The Sinking library: every campus has a library that's supposedly sinking, because the engineer who designed it forgot to include the weight of the books.

The ten-minute rule: If the professor hasn't shown up in the classroom within ten minutes of the start of the class, everyone gets to leave. I don't think this is official policy anywhere.
Categories: Places, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu Jan 19, 2006
Comments (33)
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