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June 2006
Status: True
I warn in Hippo Eats Dwarf that "Unsolicited e-mail is not a reliable source of information—about anything" (Reality Rule 7.4). This is especially true of all those random health-related claims that circulate via email warning of flesh-eating bananas, poisonous perfume, toxic tampons, etc. So it's refreshing to find an example of a health-related email warning that's actually true.

On May 7, Seattle's KOMO 4 News ran a segment about Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC), a deadly form of cancer that most women are totally unaware of. IBC doesn't present with typical symptoms (there's no lump), and it can't readily be detected with a mammogram. Instead women and doctors alike often mistake IBC's symptoms for rashes or insect bites.

The KOMO news segment soon inspired an email warning to start circulating. One version of the email, as reported on urbanlegends.about.com, reads:
The Silent Killer...Very IMPORTANT
Ladies, you MUST watch this video...this is not a joke...please read and watch. It's a form of Breast Cancer that I honestly had never even heard of. Stay healthy!
Please show this to other women you know, or print it out for them to read.
Within less than two months, this email had spread far and wide. So far that KOMO now reports that:
As of Thursday morning, amazingly, the video has been accessed a total of 10 million times, and has helped shed light on the important subject to several news agencies across the nation and world. We continue to hope the video helps provide important life-saving information and helps bring more awareness to a subject that not many people knew about.
It's cool that an email warning is actually serving a useful function, for once. But I think the advice that most unsolicited information received via email is garbage should still stand.
Categories: Email Hoaxes, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 30, 2006
Comments (3)
Status: Fake
image A (foreign language) video clip is going around that shows a talk-show host interviewing a man and a woman. When the man starts speaking, the interviewer cracks up. The more the man speaks, the more the interviewer laughs. It's a funny video, because the guy's laughter is highly contagious. But was this a real interview? No. The clip comes from a Belgian comedy TV series called In De Gloria. Apparently the faux interview is about medical mishaps. The woman is paralyzed because of a surgical error, and the man's voice was altered by a throat operation that went bad.
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 30, 2006
Comments (39)
Status: Social Experiment
image A couple of people have asked me if I know anything about eon8.com, a mysterious website that features a clock counting down to July 1 (tomorrow). Unfortunately I don't know anything about it. Though I guess we'll all find out what it is tomorrow, unless we just get another cryptic clue once the clock reaches 0.

According to Wikipedia, the leading theories are that it's a) an alternate reality game, b) some kind of distribution system for computer viruses (unlikely, I think), or c) a viral marketing scheme (perhaps a viral created by EON Productions to promote their next film, Casino Royale).

I can't think of anything else 'eon 8' would refer to. The poet WB Yeats developed an elaborate system of occult theory which held that history progresses through various spiritual eons each of which has their own special character. But I'm highly doubtful that the eon8 website is a reference to Yeatsian theosophy.

The domain registration info is also a dead end. It was registered via Domains by Proxy back in December 2005.

My hunch is that it probably will turn out to be option c: a viral marketing scheme.

Update: The eon8 site is now loading very slowly, if at all.

Update 2: You can check out an investigation of eon8 at http://eon8theinvestigation.ytmnd.com/.

Update 3: With the countdown completed, the secret behind eon8 has been revealed. It was a social experiment created by a 23-year-old web designer named Mike from Florida. He wanted to find out "the reactions of the internet public to lack of information." He discovered that a lot of people thought it might be a terrorist site (because of the ominous map it displayed with red dots over major population centers). Others, as I noted above, speculated it might be some kind of viral marketing scheme. Mike says that he's disappointed so many people assumed the site had evil intentions, but that reaction doesn't seem very illogical to me. After all, if you encounter someone that is obviously hiding something, why would you assume their intentions are benign? Also, looking at it from the perspective of social psychology, the site violated the norm of openness that exists on the internet. This would explain why it generated a hostile reaction from some. Groups always try to punish those who violate their norms.
Categories: Websites
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 30, 2006
Comments (13)
Status: Strange News
image Inside the Amarnath Cave, located in Indian-administered Kashmir, can be found the ice Shiva Linga, one of the holiest objects in the Hindu faith. Basically it's a large, naturally occurring, phallus-shaped ice stalagmite. Hundreds of thousands of Hindus make the pilgrimage to visit it each year, despite a high amount of terrorist activity in that area. (Wikipedia has an entry about it.) But this year the pilgrimage has been marred by allegations that the Shiva Linga has been faked. The BBC reports:
Governor SK Sinha - who is also the chairman of Amarnath Shrine Board - said on Thursday that he had asked a retired high court judge to investigate allegations that a man-made stalagmite was placed in the cave after the naturally occurring one failed to materialise. The BBC's Altaf Hussain in Srinagar says that this has been blamed on a shortage of snow combined with the wrong temperatures. Our correspondent says that a naturally-occurring ice stalagmite has now begun to appear, but it is far smaller than in recent years.
Now that the Shiva Linga has gone fake, I figure it's only a matter of time before it starts appearing on grilled cheese sandwiches.
Categories: Places, Religion
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 30, 2006
Comments (3)
Status: Hoax
Via David Emery's Urban Legends blog I read about a Nostradamus prophecy now doing the email rounds which predicts a World Cup victory for Spain (never mind that Spain is no longer in the running):

At the end of the sixth month of 2006,
The King of Spain will cross the Pyrenees with his army.
The legions of Beelzebub await the battle on the central European plains.
Destruction and defeat will fall on the evil-doers.
The Holy Grail will be returned to Spain.


Nostradamus wrote no such thing. And as David points out, the World Cup final is in July, not June. But more importantly, when I was in Vegas over the weekend I placed a $20 bet on England to win, so I'm glad this prophecy has already proven false. Maybe what the prophecy really means is that The Da Vinci Code movie will open in Spanish theatres in June. (Can this be true?)

Of course, Nostradamus is famous for his sports-related prophecies. His most famous quatrain foretold the death of Henry II during a jousting contest (if you believe his supporters):

The young lion will overcome the old one,
On the field of battle in single combat:
He will burst his eyes in a cage of gold,
Two fleets one, then to die, a cruel death.


It sounds like gibberish to me. But then, all of Nostradamus's quatrains sound like gibberish to me.
Categories: Future/Time
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 29, 2006
Comments (18)
Status: Evil prankster
I've had obnoxious, noisy neighbors who have made me fantasize about using all kinds of noise-making devices in retaliation. (Instead I sent a letter to their landlord, and a month later they were gone.) But this guy, Brian Pemberton, took the harassment of his neighbor to an entirely new level:
victim Kathyrn McKay became a virtual prisoner in her own home in Baildon after Pemberton monitored her movements with a security system and triggered a "farting machine" to make loud noises every time she went out. He would press his naked backside against a window and expose himself to her and her young daughter while his laughing wife pointed. The father-of-two, who knew Mrs McKay had an eating disorder, would also make vomiting noises with the practical joke machine that she could hear inside her home...
Pemberton would shout out of the window that Mrs McKay was fat and ugly, and also taped offensive notices to the windows of his house and caravan including one that said: "Are you fat? Try Weight Watchers." She was also kept awake by loud banging on her bedroom walls at all hours of the day and night, which Pemberton claimed was made by his disabled daughter when she needed help in the night. Pemberton also terrorised Mrs McKay's daughter and on one occasion drove his car at her while she was on her bike. He doused fireworks in their garden with a hose as they tried to celebrate Bonfire Night. He was also accused of taping her phone calls and shouting out their personal information in the street.
It doesn't sound like his neighbor ever did anything to inspire this behavior from him. He simply took an irrational dislike to her. He was sentenced to 20 weeks in prison, which he has successfully appealed. He's also promised to move. I would hate to be his new neighbor.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 28, 2006
Comments (12)
Status: Real (though probably glued together)
Kathy forwarded me these pictures of sculptures made entirely from cans. She notes that: "It says 'stacked can art' but I can't see how some of these are not glued together. How could they stand up that well, unless they got glued together?"

I agree. There's no way glue hasn't been used in some of these sculptures. Particularly the one of the butterfly, in which a few of the cans appear to be totally unsupported. The sculptures were created for the Canstruction Contest, which is a contest sponsored by the Society for Design Administration for the Design and Construction Industry. According to the contest blurb:
Competing teams, lead by architects and engineers, showcase their talents by designing giant sculptures made entirely out of canned foods. At the close of the exhibitions all of the food used in the structures is donated to local food banks for distribution to pantries, shelters, soup kitchens, elderly and day care centers.
So they say that the sculptures are made entirely out of canned foods, but they don't claim that no glue was used. Therefore I'm assuming that glue is permissible. Many more examples of Canned Art can be viewed at the Canstruction Slideshow.

image image
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Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 28, 2006
Comments (20)
Status: Strange experiment
image An experiment described in a recent issue of the journal Biology Letters reveals a simple way to make people behave more honestly: display a picture of watching eyes. Melissa Bateson, a biologist at Newcastle University, conducted the experiment on her colleagues, without their knowledge, using the communal coffee pot in the departmental lounge as the set-up. She found that when she placed a picture of a pair of beady eyes above the coffee pot, contributions to the 'honesty box' (the box in which people are supposed to deposit money to pay for the coffee they've drunk) were three times higher than when she displayed a picture of flowers. Bateson explains that:
The effect may arise from behavioural traits that developed as early humans formed social groups that bolstered their chances of survival. For social groups to work individuals had to co-operate for the good of the group, rather than act selfishly. "There's an argument that if nobody is watching us it is in our interests to behave selfishly. But when we think we're being watched we should behave better, so people see us as co-operative and behave the same way towards us," Dr Bateson said.
In other words, we behave better if we think we're being watched, even if we're only being watched by fake eyes. It could be named the 'Big Brother Is Watching You' effect.
Categories: Psychology
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 28, 2006
Comments (6)
Status: Strange forms of deception
In Hippo Eats Dwarf I define 'Secondary Virginity' as: "Virginity regained by abstaining from sex for a time." But apparently many Muslim women in Europe are using other means of regaining their virginity. The Associated Press reports:
[Dr. Nathan] Wrobel is one of an unknown number of gynecologists in France who are willing to repair hymens, the membrane usually broken by the first act of sexual intercourse. He was one of the few doctors willing to talk about it. Wrobel says women come to him having convinced themselves that the procedure will somehow reverse the irreversible. "They tell me, 'I'll be a virgin again. You will make me a virgin,' which in reality is totally false. … It's a secret we share." Other doctors issue false virginity certificates or offer such tricks as spilling a vial of blood on the sheets to fool families into believing the bride has passed their purity bar.
Hymen repair struck me as a rather peculiar operation, and I wondered if it was real or just some kind of medical scam. But some quick research reveals that it is a real procedure, according to Hanne Blank, author of Virgin: The Untouched History:
if you're asking whether it is possible to surgically alter your hymen so that it looks like a picture in a textbook and no one would be able to tell by looking at your hymen that you'd ever had penetrative sex, the answer is that yes, some plastic surgeons will perform plastic surgery on your vaginal opening to make it appear to have a uniform, "pristine" hymen.
However, as the Wikipedia entry about Hymens points out, the condition of a hymen is a very poor indicator of a woman's sexual history:
the hymen is a poor indicator of whether a woman has actually engaged in sexual intercourse because a normal hymen does not completely block the vaginal opening. The normal hymen is never actually "intact" since there is always an opening in it.
Categories: Body Manipulation, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 28, 2006
Comments (21)
Status: Strange News
Nigerian travellers have been warned by their government to watch out for conmen while in Britain:
Fraudsters in Britain might pour tomato juice or other substances on your dress and then offer to help remove it, robbing you in the process, the information ministry warned in its first-ever travel advisory obtained by Reuters on Thursday. The conmen, who are mainly white, but also include east Europeans and north Africans, might also pretend to pick up an object from under a potential victim's seat to distract his attention while he robs him, it added. "Nigerian travellers are hereby warned not to carry large amount of money on their body and ensure that their air tickets, passports, expensive wrist-watches as well as trinkets are securely hidden," the advisory said.
The advisory seems sensible enough, though given Nigeria's reputation for crime it seems a bit like the pot calling the kettle black. The Reuters article points out that, "Nigeria itself has seen a sharp rise in violent crime since President Olusegun Obasanjo was elected in 1999, ending 15 years of military rule. Africa's top oil producer, ranked by Berlin-based sleaze watchdog Transparency International as the world's seventh most corrupt country, is also famous for junk mail scams."

Big Gary (who forwarded me the article) wonders who are the other six most corrupt countries, if Nigeria is number seven. As best I can find out, the other six would be (starting with the most corrupt): Chad, Bangladesh, Turkmenistan, Myanmar, Haiti, and Equatorial Guinea. This is from the 2005 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (on which Nigeria was actually ranked #6, not #7).
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Places
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 28, 2006
Comments (7)
Status: Hoax photo challenge
Divester.com offers a series of images of sharks and challenges their readers to guess whether they're real or fake. About half of the images have been posted here before, but that still leaves half that should be new. Here are a few of the ones I hadn't seen before.

image image image


They are, from left to right: fake, fake, and probably fake real. The diver attacked by a shark is from a Weekly World News cover. The girl swimming with sharks is an image created by Australian photographer Mike Berceanu (it's a composite of a number of different images), and the one of the shark approaching a kayaker just looks too good to be true (though there's no firm evidence that it is fake), but it's real. It appeared in the September 2005 edition of Africa Geographic.
Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Sat Jun 24, 2006
Comments (19)
Status: Magic trick
image On YouTube there's a video of magician Criss Angel taking the old "sawing a woman in half" trick a step further. He actually pulls a woman in half, whereupon her upper half crawls away in horror while her legs remain behind wriggling. I, like many other people, have been trying to figure out how he does this trick. All I can conclude is that it's achieved by clever editing of the camera footage. (Which, if true, would make it less a magic trick than a special effect, but entertaining nonetheless.) My reasoning is that the (half of a) woman who crawls away at the end is probably not fake. She's likely a woman who, in real life, has no legs. But this cannot be the same woman who initially walks to the table and lies down on it. (No, I don't think she was using robotic legs, or anything like that.) They are two different women. Which means that at some point the camera must have been turned off, and the one woman replaced the other on the table. This also suggests that everyone in the crowd were actors. That's my theory. But I'm actually hoping it's wrong, because it would be cool if he could have done this without turning the camera off at some point. (Thanks to Captain DaFt for the link.) (And I could have sworn I once posted about another Criss Angel trick in which he crawled through a glass window pane, but for the life of me I can't find the post about this.)

Update: Archibold pointed out that Snopes has a page about this video in which they point out that Ricky Jay has written about a similar early version of this trick in Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women. Sure enough, he has. Participating in this early version of the trick was Johnny Eck, a legless & thighless man who starred in the movie Freaks. So I was right about the woman at the end of the video actually being a legless woman. But this leaves the question: was the woman standing in the crowd also the same legless woman? If so, that's amazing. If not, then I still have no idea how a switch could have been made without the camera being shut off. But I've now got to assume that it's a real trick and no camera tricks were employed.
Categories: Body Manipulation, Magic, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Sat Jun 24, 2006
Comments (114)
Status: Fake Band
image A new band called Hope Against Hope managed to cultivate an enthusiastic online fanbase, and leveraged this popularity into an invitation from Alan McGee (a music industry exec famous for discovering Oasis) to play at the trendy Death Disco club.
What neither Hope Against Hope's fans nor Alan McGee knew was that the band was fake. It didn't exist. So how did they all get fooled? Simple. Because although the band wasn't real, it did have a myspace profile. The Independent reports on the hoax:
The set-up was simple. Q magazine persuaded the office work experience student and two of his mates to pose as the ironically named Hope Against Hope. With their Fred Perry shirts and skinny jeans, the band certainly looked the part. A "rough" demo was supplied, courtesy of a musician friend, and the results downloaded on to the website. Within four weeks, Hope Against Hope had not only built a devoted fan base but convinced the music guru Alan McGee, one-time member of Tony Blair's Creative Industry Taskforce, discoverer of Oasis and manager of the Libertines, to sign them up for his ultra-trendy Death Disco club.
The Guardian also reports on the hoax, focusing on how the old practice of artificially creating "buzz" has now extended into cyberspace. (Well, people have been using the web to generate publicity for as long as it's been around, so it's really nothing new.) What I've concluded from this Hope Against Hope hoax is that Hippo Eats Dwarf obviously needs a myspace profile. Or better yet, I should create a profile for Hilda, the hippo who swallowed the dwarf.
Categories: Entertainment
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 23, 2006
Comments (14)
Status: Mystery
A few weeks ago the body of a beluga whale was found far inland, 1000 miles away from the ocean, washed up on the bank of the Tanana River in Alaska. No one seems to have any clue how the thing got there. Sylvia Brunner, a researcher at the University of Alaska Museum of the North speculates that
"The whale could have died in the river last fall and frozen.... On the other hand, the whale could have entered the river this spring seeking fish heading for the ocean. After dying, it could have begun 'cooking from inside out, with all that blubber layer.'"
But given the unlikeliness of a whale traveling that far inland, researchers did consider the possibility of a hoax, though they were pretty quick to rule this out. Link Olson, a curator at the museum, noted that:
Perpetrating a hoax along a remote section of river with the body of a whale was highly unlikely... "If you were ever close to a dead marine mammal, even for a few hours, you would know why no one in their right mind would do that."
Unless it was a crazed prankster like Porky Bickar who airlifted the thing in, just to mess with people's minds. Or, another possibility, the whale is a rare subspecies of beluga: the Upland Beluga, similar to the better known Upland Trout, a type of fish that nest in trees and are scared of water.
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 22, 2006
Comments (7)
Status: Parody
imageOperationEMU.com offers up "Statements, theories and artifacts related to the alleged 1974 NASA experiment during which an entire Hollywood film crew, contracted by the government, disappeared in a remote section of Nevada." This seems to be the jist of what the site alleges happened: The Hollywood film crew was there to help stage a training exercise for the NASA-led Operation EMU (which stands for Operation Experimental Mitigated Universe). Operation EMU itself was some kind of NASA project to prepare for alien contact. And somehow a group of Meemaw Indians performing a solstice ritual were involved in this.

Sound a little bizarre? I think that's the intention. The site was created by B. Brandon Barker to promote his novel, for which he's shopping for a publisher. (The article about him in the Baltimore Sun should definitely help his chances with that.) Barker says that he designed his novel to be a parody of "pretentious sci-fi films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and the cult of alien-life true believers" (Hey, I like 2001: A Space Odyssey!). The strange thing is that although Barker's plot is pure fiction, some people now believe elements of it to be real. At least, according to the Baltimore Sun:
Some apparently think Operation EMU is for real. "It seems only logical that there are cover ups of major proportions that aren't discovered," forum member Robyn Zimmerman of Michigan writes in response to an e-mail query. Forum member John Nesbit, a 52-year-old crawfish farmer in Martinsville, La., used to be an Air Force mechanic and was stationed at Nellis in the early 1970s. He claims to have first-hand knowledge of Operation EMU. "I get less dubious the older I get," says Nesbit. "I did know about Operation EMU, but it was a NASA training thing. That's what we were told. Only much later did it come out that it was broader than that, that they were training the military to fight aliens. ... The film crew thing, that's documented."
Shades of Alternative Three there. If you create a hoax about a government cover-up, some people will inevitably insist that revealing it as a hoax is part of the cover-up.
Categories: Conspiracy Theories, Extraterrestrial Life, Websites
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 22, 2006
Comments (7)
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