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|•||Happy Birthday, Hulitoons! 05/23/2013|
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Status: Marking an anniversary in hoax historyThe million little biographical lies of James Frey have been getting all the attention in the press this week, but as the Devon Western Morning News reminds us, this month marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of a memoir whose lies were far greater: The Third Eye by T. Lobsang Rampa (aka the Plumber from Plympton). Rampa claimed to have grown up in Tibet (born into a wealthy Tibetan family), to have studied in Lhasa to become a lama, and then to have undergone a mysterious operation to open up the "third eye" in the middle of his forehead. This operation supposedly gave him psychic powers. But in reality, Rampa wasn't a Tibetan monk. He was actually Cyril Henry Hoskins, son of a plumber from Plympton, England. He hadn't even been to Tibet. As the Western Morning News puts it:
it is probable that his globetrotting was mostly restricted to commuting from his home in Plympton to Wadebridge, where he was born and later worked as a clerk and occasional fisherman.
When confronted with the facts about his past, Rampa admitted he had been born Hoskins, but explained that his body had been taken over by Rampa's spirit. Skeptics might say that Rampa/Hoskins was full of it. But happily, thanks to Oprah Winfrey, we now know that it doesn't matter if a memoirist lies about their past, as long as their "underlying message of redemption" is inspiring to readers. By this new standard, I think Rampa just might be off the hook.
Status: RealDaniel Folk writes in with this question: I was watching TV not too long ago and saw a little advertisement about a restaurant in New York that only has TV dinners (Swanson, Lean Cuisine, etc...) on their menu. Supposedly it is a real upscale restaurant and these TV dinners are outrageously priced ($40 - $50). I tried to do a quick Google search for this restaurant but with no success. Have you heard about this restaurant and do you know the name of it?
I've never heard of such a thing (nor has my wife, who's a devoted viewer of the Food TV channel), and I couldn't find anything in a Google search either. Honestly, it sounds like an urban legend. After all, why would someone want to go to a restaurant and pay $40 for a frozen TV dinner? But on the other hand, there are restaurants out there with weird gimmicks (such as that restaurant where meals are served in total darkness), so I wouldn't say that it's definitely not real. Anyone heard of such a place?
Update: Maegan found a restaurant called Ike, located on Second Avenue in the East Village, that serves Swanson's TV dinners, at twice the price you'd pay for them in the store ($6, though not $40-$50). So I've changed the status on this to 'Real'. (It should also be noted that the restaurant doesn't only serve TV dinners.)
Status: Has to be a hoaxA Chinese paper, the Dahe Daily, reports on a curious incident involving a man who can't be photographed. Ye Xiangting went to the local police station to get his photo taken for an ID card. This is what happened:
He sat in front of the camera, but no image of him would show up in the photo. The staff checked the camera very carefully, but found no problems. He retook photos of Ye Xiangting, but no photos of Ye Xiangting was found on the computer images.
But wait, it gets weirder:
They took images of Ye Xiangting with other people. They were stunned when the other people showed up in the computer images, but not Ye. Ye Xiangting seemed to have "disappeared" from the photos. In the end, the staff had to give up.
Personally, I have a different problem with ID cameras. They always seem to catch me with a stupid expression on my face. It's uncanny.
Status: Gnome NewsOn January 26th, the second Australian Gnome Convention will be held in Glenbrook Park. Gnomes and their carers are invited. The gnomes can socialize in the Gnome Dome, while the humans converse elsewhere. Why Australia? The site explains: "Whilst not native to Australia, Gnomes are reportedly migrating from Europe and Britain to make a new start in 'new lands' where the impact of pollution is less." So if you've lost a gnome recently, maybe it's headed for Australia.
Status: TrueApparently the U.S. Government is prepared to do everything it takes to prepare our troops for battle. This includes hiring amputees to play wounded civilians in war games. They're bussed down to Fort Polk, La., where the soldiers-in-training must also contend with fake Arab civilians, "smoke-making machines and an intercom system that pipes in 'recordings of screaming women, crying babies, barking dogs and other sound effects throughout the whole city,' and, coming soon, the simulated smells of "vomit, burning rubber, burning bodies, those kinds of things."
I was impressed by this account of one scene that occurred during the simulated warfare:
A Humvee and a convoy of trucks were attacked with a fake rocket-propelled grenade, causing a fake explosion that caused Cole Young, 71, who lost a leg in an oil pipeline accident, to lie on the ground with fake blood spurting from his amputated leg. A soldier came to give Young some fake first aid. But when he saw that Young's hand was under his poncho, working his blood-spurting machine, the soldier yelled, "He's got a (bleep) wire!" and started firing laser bullets into Young's chest. That caused the other fake civilians to start screaming, ``Murderers!" That distracted the soldiers, enabling a bunch of fake insurgents to sneak up and wipe them all out — "mowing down the troops as effortlessly," Tower writes, "as they might a herd of grazing cows.''
Which is, alas, not unusual: Time after time, Tower reports, the fake insurgents massacred the American troops in these games.
Grandma would no doubt say that the silver lining in that news is that the games are just ... well, games. In the real war in Iraq, America is kicking insurgent butt, says President George W. Bush.
Status: TrueBig Gary forwarded me this urban-legendesque story about the mummified body of Johannas Pope, who was "found in a chair in front of her television set 2 1/2 years after her death." Apparently she had been left there by her family, who were honoring her wish that she not be buried. They had kept the air conditioner running on full blast, thereby slowing the process of decay. Must have had a huge electricity bill.
Coincidentally, also in the news is the story of Mirko Sartori, who kept the mummified body of his mother sealed up in his bedroom wardrobe so that he could keep receiving her pension check. He evidently was a bad son, since he didn't let her watch TV.
Update: The story of Johannas Pope gets even weirder. Apparently she didn't want to be buried because she believed she was going to come back to life. And apparently her family agreed with her, because they honored her wish, to the extent of engaging in an elaborate deception for 2 1/2 years to prevent people from finding out there was a dead body upstairs in their house: "Friends and relatives who visited were told Pope was upstairs, ill, Owens [the county coroner] said. Some yelled "hello" up the stairs."
Status: Odd news reportI find this a bit hard to believe. According to this news report "Almost a third of young Britons have passed off a ready-made meal as their own creation in order to impress someone, according to a survey by the Department of Health on Monday." Sure, it's common to joke that something is homemade when it's not, but usually it's easy to tell the difference between ready-made and homemade. The same survey also found that "one in 10 had never cooked a proper meal for themselves because they 'don't know how'." I find that easier to believe.
Status: HoaxOver in the forum, the 'flaming rodent of doom' thread discusses a story that was reported last weekend about a man who threw a mouse onto a pile of burning of leaves, only to have the mouse run out of the leaves and back at the house, setting the entire structure on fire. Served the guy right, most people thought. But the story also sounded a little too weird to be true. And sure enough, Charybdis just posted a link to an update (which I thought deserved a place here on the front page of the site) in which the guy whose house burned down swears that isn't what happened. He says the mouse was already dead when he threw it on the fire and the wind blew the flames towards his house:
Capt. Jim Lyssy of the Fort Sumner Fire Department said the rumor probably got started because there was "a little too much excitement" at the time of the fire. Mares lost everything -- and has no insurance -- but the mouse story still makes him smile. "I started laughing, and I'll be laughing from now on," he said. "It's silly."
Status: Partially true, partially fakeDipankar Mitra sent me this graphic which is circulating via email, warning of a "Potential new risk from mobile phones." He notes that it's accompanied by a caption that reads:
Please use left ear while using cell (mobile), because if you use the right one it will affect brain directly. This is a true fact from Apollo medical team. Please forward to all your well wishers
He asks, "Do let me know if it is real or hoax..."
Well, the caption is definitely a hoax. I have no idea what the Apollo medical team is. (When I google the term I just pull up references to this email.) And the suggestion that it would somehow be safer to use your left ear rather than your right is absurd.
However, the graphic and the information in it are not a hoax. The illustration was created by the Graphic News agency back in 2002. (Click 'Graphic Search' on their site, then do a keyword search for the term 'blood-brain barrier', and you'll pull up the graphic.) The information it describes comes from a study published in the May 2002 issue of the scientific journal Differentiation. Researcher Darius Leszcynski did find that when human endothelial cells were exposed to the maximum level of radiation allowed under international safety standards for mobile phones, a stress response could be observed in the cells. But he also noted that most mobile phones emit much less radiation than the levels used in the experiment. So there's probably no imminent danger of damaging your blood-brain barrier by using a mobile phone.
Status: Undetermined (but the Smoking Gun presents a convincing argument)It seems to be quite the week for literary hoaxes. First there were the new revelations in the JT LeRoy case, and now The Smoking Gun is now accusing author James Frey of inventing many of the details in his autobiographical novel, A Million Little Pieces. The book tells the story of Frey's past as a drug-addict and criminal. But the Smoking Gun alleges that, "The 36-year-old author, these documents and interviews show, wholly fabricated or wildly embellished details of his purported criminal career, jail terms, and status as an outlaw 'wanted in three states.'" They concede that the guy was a drug addict and spent time in rehab, but insist that his life has not been as colorful as he's made it out to be. As a police sergeant whom they interview about Frey says: "Seems Mr. Frey has quite an imagination. He thinks he's a bit of a desperado. He's making a bunch of crap up."
I haven't read A Million Little Pieces, and I don't think I will. Confessional novels by former drug addicts going on about how bad they used to be (but how they're now reformed and don't want anyone else to do what they did) always strike me as being annoying, preachy, and a bit full of themselves.
Status: FakeObviously photoshopped, but interesting nonetheless. Looking at it too long may cause a sensation of whirling and loss of balance. I found it at Mason Inman's blog. (I have no idea where he found it).
Status: RealIchneutron sent me a link to this picture of Cy, the Cyclops Kitten on Yahoo Photos. According to the info on Yahoo, Cy was born in Redmond, Oregon, on Dec. 28, 2005 with only one eye and no nose. He lived for one day. The other cat in the litter (there were only two) was born normal. The photo is by Traci Allen. There's no reason to think the photo isn't real. The condition is known as Cyclopia. Messybeast.com gives this description of it:
The eyes are fused into a single enlarged eye that is placed below the nose (the nose may or may not form, if it forms it resembles a proboscis). Much of the face may be missing, such that the eye and proboscis (if present) are placed near the crown of the skull... Severe cases of cyclopia result in stillbirth or in death within a few hours of birth.
The four-eyed kitten, however, remains a hoax.
Update: I notice that quite a few people are calling hoax on this picture. But I'm keeping it listed as real. After all, it's a known form of mutation, and the photo has a source.
Update 2: And the photoshops of Cy have begun.
Update 3 (April 8, 2006): Cy's owner has sold him to the Lost Museum, a creationist museum opening soon in Phoenix, NY.
Status: Evidence is mounting that he's a hoaxLast October I posted about the writer JT LeRoy, and the suspicion that he was an elaborate hoax: that his books had actually been written by a woman named Laura Albert, and that the person who appeared in public as LeRoy was an actor. Today the New York Times has revealed more evidence that seems to confirm this theory. The person who has been appearing in public as LeRoy seems to be Savannah Knoop, the half sister of Geoffrey Knoop (who's the guy that supposedly helped rescue the teenage LeRoy). The Times found an image of Savannah Knoop online, and people who have met LeRoy confirm that she is he. Take a look:
The Times also notes that there's "a mounting circumstantial case that Laura Albert is the person who writes as JT Leroy. Pressure to admit the ruse has been building on Ms. Albert since October, when New York magazine published an article that advanced a theory that she was the author of JT Leroy's books." They note that all the money paid to LeRoy appears to go to Albert or her family members. They also note that LeRoy wrote a travel article for the Times about a trip to Disneyland Paris, but (after looking at pictures of Albert) employees at Disneyland have confirmed that the person who was traveling as LeRoy was actually Albert.
So it seems pretty clear that LeRoy is a hoax.
The question is, does it matter? Defenders of LeRoy have been arguing that if people enjoy the books, the identity of the author shouldn't matter. This is a lot like the excuse that P.T. Barnum always offered, that it doesn't matter it people are fooled, as long as they're entertained. Critics are responding that it does matter because readers have been manipulated into caring about someone who doesn't exist. I suspect that the critics are going to win the day in this case, because the phony LeRoy has gone too far and people feel like they've been used. So LeRoy will probably go the way of Milli Vanilli. We'll have to wait to see if readers file a class-action suit against LeRoy.
Status: Real device (whether it worked is undetermined)Students of the history of meteorology may be aware of the Tempest Prognosticator of Dr. George Merryweather, but it was news to me. The Tempest Prognosticator was a device invented in the mid-nineteenth century that allowed the forecast of storms, via leeches. Apparently there's been some debate about whether this contraption actually existed, but author Paul Collins, on his blog, confirms that it did. In fact, it was displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Here's how it worked:
The "Tempest Prognosticator" consisted of twelve pint bottles of white glass, round the base of a circular stand, at the top of which was a bell surrounded by twelve hammers. Each bottle was connected with one of the hammers through a metal tube in its neck, containing a piece of whalebone and a wire, to which was attached a small gilt chain. Here is the inventor’s description of how the Prognosticator works: "After having arranged this mouse trap contrivance, into each bottle was poured rain water, to the height of an inch and a half; and a leech placed in every bottle, which was to be its future residence; and when influenced by the electromagnetic state of the atmosphere a number of leeches ascended into the tubes; in doing which they dislodged the whalebone and caused the bell to ring."
Paul Collins also reports that some guy has built a working replica of the Prognsticator, and has it on display at the Barometer World Museum in Devon, England. No word on whether it actually worked.
Status: PseudoscienceLast night ABC News had a segment about a study being funded by the National Institutes of Health to determine if prayer can help cancer patients heal faster. Or more specifically, whether a stranger's prayers can help a patient heal faster. (The people running the study have invented the bs term 'distant healing' to make what they're studying sound more legitimate.) My jaw was on the floor as I was watching this. I couldn't believe the government had been suckered into paying for it. I suppose the NIH will next be funding studies of voodoo dolls. But unfortunately, ABC didn't spend a lot of time debunking the study. In fact, if you didn't know better, you might have got the impression from their segment that this was a perfectly scientific study, although they did give a critic a few seconds to make a quick point.
The woman running the study, Marilyn Schlitz, sounds like a real piece of work. She's head of something called the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Since she's a firm believer in the power of prayer, it's a good bet that her study will find that prayer does, indeed, have an effect. Never mind that a study conducted by Duke University has already determined that patients show no improvement in their condition when people pray for them. In an interview with SFGate.com, Schlitz desperately tries to duck this inconvenient fact, suggesting that "One study cannot prove or disprove a particular hypothesis." Oh, really? (Unless the study produces results she likes. Then, I'm sure, she would feel it was definitive.) Plus, in an effort to make what she's doing sound more secular, she suggests that she's not studying prayer, per se, but whether one person's "compassionate intention" towards another person, even if those two people are separated by thousands of miles and don't know each other, can have positive medical benefits. But it seems to me like we already have sufficient evidence to answer this. When celebrities (like George Harrison, for instance) are hospitalized, hundreds of thousands of people around the world pray for them. These prayers don't seem to do squat. Shouldn't that be proof enough that prayer has no therapeutic value?