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July 2006
Status: Undetermined (I refuse to give him the benefit of the doubt)
image Ken Lay was reported dead on Wednesday. The medical examiner ruled the cause of death to be severe coronary disease. But almost as soon as word of his death hit the internet, the conspiracy theories started. Scott Adams summed up what many were thinking in his Dilbert Blog:
Does it seem suspicious to you that ex-Enron CEO Ken Lay died right before they could put his guilty ass behind bars? I wonder how many doctors you need to bribe to fake your own death. Is one enough? Or is there some special double-checking that the police do if the guy is heading for prison? I’m sure there’s a body, but I wonder if it’s his. I have a bad feeling that some pizza delivery guy’s last words to his coworkers were “Hey, I have a delivery to that Enron guy’s house! Wish me luck!”
Reality Rule 16.1 from Hippo Eats Dwarf seems appropriate here: For some, death is merely a career move.

The timing of Lay's death is what makes it so suspicious. It's not just that he died before serving any time. He died before the appeals process was completed and before being sentenced. Therefore, his convictions could be erased, severely complicating efforts to seize his assets. As the New York Times reports:
Mr. Lay's death effectively voids the guilty verdict against him, temporarily thwarting the federal government's efforts to seize his remaining real estate and financial assets, legal experts say. "The death of Mr. Lay in all likelihood will render the government's hard-fought victory null," said Christopher Bebel, a former federal prosecutor based here who specializes in securities fraud...
Any life insurance policies bought by Mr. Lay may also be shielded from federal seizure efforts since state laws normally cover such payments. While jurors found Mr. Lay guilty, his death may also complicate any efforts to go after life insurance proceeds, even if the original policies were acquired with ill-gotten gains.
In other words, Lay picked the perfect time to die. Of course, this doesn't mean he faked his death. It just makes his death seem awfully convenient for him (if he's still alive) and his family. (There's also a theory that he was murdered... or perhaps he could have committed suicide by using drugs to induce heart failure. I believe there are drugs capable of doing this.)

Lay isn't the first multi-millionaire to be suspected of faking his death. In 1932 billionaire Swedish businessman (and mega-swindler) Ivar Kreuger apparently committed suicide by shooting himself. But a rumor soon spread that he had actually faked his death and fled to Indonesia. Supposedly Kreuger's tobacconist later received from Sumatra a large order for custom-made Havana cigars. The tobacconist said that Kreuger was the only person who would have known how to place that order.

There's also the case of Michael de Guzman, geologist for Bre-X, and perpetrator of one of the greatest mining frauds in history. In March 1997 de Guzman supposedly committed suicide by jumping from a helicopter into the Indonesian jungle. But his corpse could never be positively identified, and last year one of his widows claimed that he had recently sent her money. So he might very well still be alive. Perhaps he's hiding out somewhere in an Indonesian resort with Ken Lay.

Oh, and this photo of Ken Lay's tombstone that's doing the rounds is obviously fake (1964-2006??? That would have made him 42). Last year the same picture was used to represent Johnnie Cochran's tombstone.
Categories: Death
Posted by Alex on Sun Jul 09, 2006
Comments (17)
Status: Weird, but real
image Christophe Thill sent me a link to Huggable Urns (they're teddy bears that hold cremains) along with the message: "This has to be a hoax? Right? Right?" Sorry, Christophe. I don't think so. The Huggable Urns look real enough, and if you click on the 'Buy Now' button on the products page, it takes you to a PayPal payment page, which is usually a good sign that a product is real.

Actually, although the huggable urns seem a bit ghoulish and tacky, they're not that bad an idea. They're better than many alternatives. For instance, my mother-in-law's ashes have been sitting in a plastic urn above the washing machine in our garage for the past two years. We just can't figure out what to do with her. So there she sits. And the award for the worst thing to do with someone's ashes has to go to Sandi Canesco of Australia. I write about her in Hippo Eats Dwarf. She had her husband's ashes injected into her breast implants. She said that "that way I'd never really have to part with him at all." I guess you could say that Sandi has her own unique version of Huggable Urns.
Categories: Death
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 07, 2006
Comments (20)
Status: Urban Legend
image A recent ad for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes shows a blond-haired kid dancing around singing "They're going to taste great!" I think this is a British ad. At least, I've never seen it here in America. And all the references to it I've found occur in the British press. For instance, David Whitehouse writes in the Guardian:
Pity the poor Kellogg's marketing department... all they wanted to do was make an advert in which a chirpy young scamp would skip his way through the streets of a suburban town attracting other children like a Pied Piper with a silly ditty about his breakfast. So, they set out to hire an angelic young choirboy with a voice so beautiful it could shatter the beaks of songbirds. Then disaster struck. It appears that, on the way to the shoot, this choirboy's balls dropped with quite monstrous results. They wanted Aled Jones, but they got Mick Jones. And what we're left with is a jingle being sung by a boy at the exact moment his voice breaks, in a tone so monotonous it appears to be operating at a frequency which toys with people's bowels. It is, quite simply, the worst soundtrack to an advertisement ever. His voice is so oppressively dull that prolonged listening is like having every orifice systematically packed full of wet bread by a politician with no facial features.
Evidently this is the kind of ad that people love to hate. And this dislike has inspired a rumor that the kid in the ad is dead. (Google 'Frosties Kid' and you pull up page after page of rumors of his death.) There are two versions of the rumor:

1) That the kid committed suicide on account of the bullying he received since the ad aired.
2) That the kid was a cancer patient whose dying wish was to star in a Frosties ad.

I don't know who the Frosties Kid is in real life. So I can't prove that he's alive. But there's absolutely no evidence to support the claim that he's dead. Plus, the 'Frosties Kid Is Dead' rumor seems to be a new variation of the 'Death of Little Mikey' rumor (which alleged that Mikey, of the Life Cereal commercials, died after eating Pop Rocks). So I think it's safe to assume that the Frosties Kid is still alive. (Thanks to Dave Tolomy for telling me about the rumor.)

Update: As Dead-Eric noted in the comments, Scott Mills of BBC Radio 1 recently discussed the 'Frosties Kid Is Dead' rumor on his show. Mills received the following official statement from Kelloggs about the rumor:
"The current advertisement has been well received by the vast majority of our customers. We would also like to take this opportunity to confirm that the lead boy within the advertisement is well and continues to live in his native South Africa."
You can listen to an mp3 clip of this portion of the Scott Mills show here.
Categories: Advertising, Death, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 07, 2006
Comments (102)
Status: Real
Here's another site to add to my ongoing list of unfortunate The site explains that OMFG stands for 'Official Meeting Facilities Guide.' They claim to be "the industry’s leading meeting planning print directory for the most active meeting professionals." They seem to have no clue that OMFG is more commonly used as an acronym for a different phrase ('Oh My F***ing God'). But having this URL probably generates a fair amount of traffic for them, so maybe it was an intentional choice. Plus, it's an easy URL to remember. (Thanks to Kathy for the link.)
Categories: Websites
Posted by Alex on Thu Jul 06, 2006
Comments (8)
Status: Real
image Supposedly this is a picture of a Russian nuclear sub cruising by a beach somewhere in Russia. I've noticed this picture posted on a number of blogs, but the info about it comes from However, no source for the photo is indicated. Is it real? I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be. Here in San Diego it's quite common to see nuclear subs cruising past, especially if you're at Cabrillo Point or Coronado. I imagine the same must be true in Russia.

Update: For comparison, here's a photo I took about two weeks ago of an American submarine cruising off Cabrillo Point, San Diego. In my picture you can see sailors standing on top of the sub as it comes into harbor. Interesting that there are no sailors standing on the Russian sub, especially since it seems like a nice day when the photo was taken.

Update: Stone (in the comments) found a Russian site with more pictures of this sub at the beach, which leads me to conclude that the picture is real because it's unlikely that someone faked an entire series of pictures. According to the machine translation of the Russian site, the pictures were taken at Severodvinsk on the White Sea.

image image image
Categories: Military, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Thu Jul 06, 2006
Comments (30)
Status: Prank
Recently Big Ben's chimes have been silenced as repairs are made to it. Apparently this has inspired policemen at Westminster to revive the BBC's 1980 April Fool's Day joke. The BBC Reports:
Policemen at the Palace of Westminster are notorious for their mischievous sense of humour when it comes to dealing with tourists. For example, they once nominated a camera-shy constable as the "official" PC to be photographed by visitors eager to be snapped with a British bobby. But the latest wheeze takes the biscuit. Apparently when tourists ask why Big Ben has been silenced for work on the famous bell, they are told: "Because it's going digital."
(Thanks to Andrew Nixon for the link)
Categories: April Fools Day, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 05, 2006
Comments (6)
Status: Hoax
image Yahoo News! reports on a hoax website,, created by a Dutch design student, Raoul Balai. It pretends to be an ad agency that offers advertising space on the bodies of prostitutes. It also offers to place ads on zoo animals. Big Gary points out that this is basically a variation on the old 'advertise on my forehead... or other body part' stunt. (Imagine brothel patrons or zoo goers having to wear body-ad blockers.) Yahoo News! reports:
"I was getting sick and tired of advertising everywhere," Balai told reporters. "But I don't want to preach, and I thought satire would work better." Far from taking his ideas as a joke, an Amsterdam zoo had its lawyer threaten Balai with a defamation suit after his website depicted fish from the zoo bearing the brand name of a frozen fish company. Prospective customers phoning his fake agency are kept on hold and bombarded with sales pitches until they give up.
I've been trying to check out Balai's site, but it won't load. The increased traffic from being mentioned on Yahoo News! must be the reason.
Categories: Advertising, Websites
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 05, 2006
Comments (4)
Status: Beauty Product Scam
image Chinese women are reportedly flocking to buy Bolibao ('Stay Fit' in English), a pill that, according to its manufacturer, can transfer body fat from a woman's hips to her breasts. Therefore it supposedly slims your hips and boosts your bra size at the same time. It's being heavily marketed on Chinese TV despite the fact that a) it doesn't work, and b) it causes a variety of negative side effects. The brazenness of the scam is pretty remarkable. The Shanghai Daily reports:
A lot of customers were attracted by the advertisements and bought the pills, which cost about 900 yuan (US$113), for one treatment period. But later, hundreds of customers complained to the company because the pills didn't have any effect. A woman, whose alias is Beibei, said she had some acne on her face after using the pills for a month, but her breasts size didn't increase. When she called the company, the salesperson congratulated her and said the acne was a sign that her breasts would soon begin to grow, as a second "growth spurt." The salesperson even persuaded her to buy another box to consolidate the effect. Beibei spent 3,000 yuan in total on the "magic" pills, but it only left her with sore breasts and caused her an internal secretion disorder. Beibei said the models in its advertisements moved her because they had obvious changes after taking the pills. But the study showed that the models were all hired by the company for 30 yuan a day and their images were graphically modified.
The organization Corporate Social Responsibility in Asia further reports that:
The advertising claim is incredible: it will move fat from thighs and stomach to the breasts and thus make them bigger! Unfortunately for consumers who believe this sort of thing, the product does nothing of the sort. In fact, it more likely than not simply leads to vomiting.
You can see an ad (in Chinese) for this stuff here.
Categories: Body Manipulation, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 05, 2006
Comments (4)
Status: Prank
I probably shouldn't be amused by this. After all, it could cause someone to really damage their toes:
TWO people in Berlin are nursing bruised toes after kicking footballs that have been filled with CONCRETE. German cops are hunting the prankster who has been filling the balls with cement and leaving them around Berlin along with signs saying: "Can you kick it?" Six of the concrete stuffed footballs have been found so far, all chained to fences. A police spokesman said: "So far two young men, a 21-year-old and a 23-year-old, have been treated for injuries to their feet after kicking the footballs. We think they could have been left by someone who is sick of the World Cup and are investigating the matter as the balls seem to be deliberately designed to injure."

Categories: Pranks, Sports
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 05, 2006
Comments (9)
Status: Undetermined
image The Alvin Sun-Advertiser reports on a rare hybrid found by a local gardener — a tomato-cucumber. They're calling it a 'Cumato':
Mario Rodriguez may have made history. According to Rodrigues, he found a specimen on a cucumber plant that was situated close to his tomato vines, Rodriguez plucked the interesting vegetable that looked like a normal tomato (right) but was attached to one of his cucumber plants. He has yet to name the hybrid and there is apparently no record of such a plant.
Unfortunately the photo of Rodriguez holding the cumato is pretty bad. You can't see any details of the rare vegetable. I also want to know if he's cut it open. What's inside of it? Is it simply a tomato, or is it a combination of both? For now I'm skeptical of this. (Thanks to 't' for the link)
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Sat Jul 01, 2006
Comments (31)
Status: Real
When I posted last week about the surgical procedure of hymen repair (and how it's used to fake the appearance of virginity) some people commented that the practice was so widely known that it scarcely warranted inclusion on the site. These same people will doubtless also be familiar with the Cameroon practice of 'breast ironing', but it's new to me, so I'm guessing it'll be new to some other people as well.

According to the BBC, breast ironing:
"involves pounding and massaging the developing breasts of young girls with hot objects to try to make them disappear. Statistics show that 26% of Cameroonian girls at puberty undergo it, as many mothers believe it protects their daughters from the sexual advances of boys and men who think children are ripe for sex once their breasts begin to grow. The most widely used instrument to flatten the breasts is a wooden pestle, used for pounding tubers in the kitchen. Heated bananas and coconut shells are also used."
It sounds extremely unpleasant, but the BBC notes that there hasn't been any medical research into the medical effects of it (though doctors warn that it could cause serious damage), so I wonder if it actually prevents tissue growth. And if so, is it only a temporary effect or permanent? I suppose that if you damage the tissue enough it will stunt growth, but I would think that heavy exercise would have a greater effect and be a lot healthier (thin, athletic girls such as ballet dancers and competitive swimmers are known to start puberty later).
Categories: Body Manipulation
Posted by Alex on Sat Jul 01, 2006
Comments (17)
Status: Real
image The bicycle-eating tree is probably familiar to most residents of Washington, since it's located on Vashon Island, Washington (and won a 1994 contest to select the most unusual places or events in the Washington-Oregon area), but it's new to me. Apparently someone, decades ago, left their bicycle leaning against the tree, and as the tree kept growing it enveloped the bike and now lifts it seven feet off the ground. I think it's amazing that a) the tree actually grew around the bike instead of pushing it over, and that b) in all that time no one ever moved the bike. The bicycle-eating tree has been featured in Ripley's Believe It Or Not, and also inspired a children's book by Berkeley Breathed, Red Ranger Came Calling. Breathed used to live on Vashon Island. (via CaliforniaTeacherGuy)
Categories: Places
Posted by Alex on Sat Jul 01, 2006
Comments (48)
Status: Real
image Museum of Hoaxers helped make last week's Real-or-Not Challenge at it's most popular yet. So we're now getting a special heads-up (pun intended) each time they post a new Real-or-Not challenge. Their latest photo shows a shark in all its "bug-eyed, needle-tooth glory." I would vote real, but that's just my personal, non-expert opinion. Maybe it's a trick. I'll post the answer here (not in a new post) when it's revealed.

Update: It's real. This is a photo of a crocodile shark. It's a small shark with large eyes for hunting in deep waters.

Related Post: Shark Photos
Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Sat Jul 01, 2006
Comments (16)
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