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August 2006
Kathy Johnston sent along a link to these pictures of artistic urinals created by urinal sculptor Clark Sorensen. (I would love to be able to tell people at cocktail parties that my job was a 'urinal sculptor'.) Yes, they're real urinals, although I don't know if they're actually installed and being used anywhere. Check out more examples of Sorensen's art at clarkmade.com. I think a fake fly would be the ideal addition to his urinals.

image image image image
Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Wed Aug 09, 2006
Comments (6)

image Card Trick
YouTube video of a well performed card trick. I think it's a version of the "ambitious card" trick, in which one card keeps coming to the top again and again. I don't know how it's done, but I'm guessing it involves double-lifting cards and using a false shuffle to keep certain cards at the top (or bottom).

Tom Dundee Condoms Banned in Thailand
Thai authorities have banned a line of condoms named Tom Dundee, since Dundee in Thai means "Good Penetration," a phrase that they regard as "ambiguous, boastful and provocative." Big Gary notes: The only interesting thing about this story is that country singer Tom Dundee's real name is Puntiva Poomiprates, but "Dundee" is the name the authorities thought was "too suggestive."

Dalai Lama Moon
People throughout India and Tibet have been reporting seeing "the reflection of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the halo of the moon." The Dalai Lama's office would not confirm whether he was really the man in the moon.

Fake Fish
The St. Petersburg Times visited 11 restaurants featuring grouper on their menu, and found that 6 of them were surreptitiously serving cheaper fish instead. "One Palm Harbor restaurant charged $23 for "champagne braised black grouper" that actually was tilapia." This doesn't surprise me at all. As I noted in Hippo Eats Dwarf, snapper is another often-faked fish. PoynterOnline writes that the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory found, after testing samples from random vendors, that "80 percent of the red snappers tested have been mislabeled.
Categories: Food, Photos/Videos, Religion, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Tue Aug 08, 2006
Comments (4)
The Miami New Times have reported on the publicisation of the lives of crack cocaine users through Headliners Productions' range of Crackheadz Gone Wild DVDs. Crackheadz Gone Wild Miami will be the fifth such film.

Debatable is the motives behind these films:
Producers of the Miami version, who say their aim is to publicize the problem so it can be solved, have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from the commercial release of the New York volumes. And though the company does not stage any of the on-camera antics nor supply drugs, critics say addicts are being exploited. On a recent Fox TV report, drug abuse counselors dubbed the genre "craxploitation."

The guys who run Headliners Productions deny this claim - having previously spent time in prison on drug charges, they now work as counsellors and donate 'a portion' of their profits from the DVDs to an anti-drug counselling centre. They say that:
"We actually talk to [addicts]. We want to find out how they got like that. We're trying to show that everywhere, all these inner cities [have] the same [problems]."

Although the Miami edition isn't out yet, Crackheadz Gone Wild New York is still available through their website and, unlike most hoax websites, there's actually a method to buy them.

(Thanks, Cranky Media Guy.)
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Flora on Tue Aug 08, 2006
Comments (3)
Flora and I have decided on a more efficient way to post links that really don't need (or don't deserve) an entire post of their own. We'll just dump them together in a "quick links" post whenever we accumulate a bunch of them. Should mean more stuff gets posted. Here's the first such set of links:

image Square Watermelon
Soon to be on sale in Britain. Really. "Boxes are placed around the growing fuit which naturally swells to fill the shape." Buy two and get a bonsai kitten free! (Thanks, Lou)

Reuters admits altering Beirut photo
Bloggers spot repeating symmetrical patterns in Beirut smoke. Cry photoshop.

Amazon Milk Reviews
Amazon now selling groceries. I suspect some of these user reviews for "Tuscan Whole Milk" might not be completely serious. (via Metafilter)

Tom Cruise Can't Throw a Baseball
YouTube video offers slow-motion analysis of the scene in War of the Worlds where Tom Cruise throws a baseball. Or rather, pretends to throw a baseball.

The Ring Prank
Annoying online prank inspired by "The Ring." Enter your friends phone number and email address in the online form. Your friend will receive an email with a link to "The Ring" video. Once they watch the video, they'll then receive a phone call with a computer-generated voice telling them "You will die in seven days." The best way to get revenge on someone who does this to you is to fake your death after seven days. They'll feel guilty then.

Popularity Dialer
Mobile phone application allows you to pre-plan excuses to escape from unpleasant meetings. "Via a web interface, you can choose to have your phone called at a particular time (or several times). At the elected time, your phone will be dialed and you will hear a prerecorded message that's one half of a conversation. Thus, you will be prompted to have a fake conversation and will easily fool those around you." Reminds me of Escape-a-date. (via Boing Boing)
Categories: Food, Journalism, Photos/Videos, Pranks, Technology
Posted by Alex on Mon Aug 07, 2006
Comments (18)
image I think what follows is an example of the truism that "we are most gullible when we are most skeptical."

When United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001, a woman named Val McClatchey, who lived nearby the crash, managed to get a picture of the cloud of smoke from the crash rising above the trees. Her photo, which she subsequently titled 'The End of Serenity,' became quite famous, but now conspiracy theorists are suggesting that it's a fake:
Mrs. McClatchey's fame has recently taken a sour turn. The real estate agent has recently become a target of bloggers calling themselves "9-11 researchers," who are seeking to prove that the U.S. government was complicit in the attacks that brought down the Twin Towers, pierced the Pentagon and crashed United Airlines Flight 93. The smoke plume doesn't line up right, they say. It is too large in the frame. The smoke is characteristic of an ordnance blast, not a jet fuel fire, further evidence that the government shot down Flight 93. They analyze wind direction, debris patterns and camera trajectories, all in the service of the theory that the crash was faked. They have visited Mrs. McClatchey's office and called her at home, posting satellite maps of her property and accusing her of digitally altering her photo to insert a fake smoke plume. The bloggers have picked apart her story, highlighting inconsistencies in different news accounts and questioning her motives. Others have described her as "surly," "hostile," "irate" and "defensive." People have called her at home, accusing her of being anti-American and of "holding the photo hostage." On a simple Google search, Mrs. McClatchey's name now pops up in the same sentence as "total fraud."
Good grief. Why would the photo be a fake? The woman really did live near the crash, and she doesn't seem to have possessed the kind of skills needed to create a sophisticated photo forgery. Plus, the FBI examined the photo and vouches for its authenticity.

It's an interesting phenomenon when people became so suspicious that they start seeing evidence of fakery everywhere. It goes to show that doubting everything can be just as bad as believing everything.
Categories: Hate Crimes/Terror, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Mon Aug 07, 2006
Comments (23)
Following on from the woman who auctioned the rights to name her baby - leading to a child named Golden Palace Benedetto - and the sudden fads for offering bodies as billboards, comes buyjake.com.

Traci Hogg has decided that her son is cute enough to be used as a billboard. For a certain fee ($100,000 if you want a year long contract), she will dress him in logoed clothes. As she says herself: "When I'm taking him places, everyone seems to notice him and notice what he's wearing. They always say he wears the cutest outfits, and I thought, someone should be paying me to put their logo on him. He gets so much attention."

Jake must be pretty used to this sort of thing by now - his mother auctioned him off for commercial work on Ebay when he was 5 months old. Critics say that Traci seems eager for fame, an opinion she vehemently denies.

Well, he's a cute enough kid, but will this work?
Prices are pretty high for this and, with only one offer (far below asking price) for one month's advertising, it doesn't seem too hopeful just yet.
Categories: Advertising
Posted by Flora on Mon Aug 07, 2006
Comments (15)
imageA video posted on YouTube, supposedly created by a 29-year-old guy from California calling himself Toutsmith, showing a caricature of Al Gore boring a group of penguins by lecturing them about global warming, has been revealed to be a creation of lobbying firm DCI Group, one of whose clients is Exxon Mobil Corp.

The fraud was exposed, surprisingly, by the Wall Street Journal. It's not clear to me exactly how they did it, since I haven't been able to access their article, but from what I can piece together they sent the creator of the video an email, and he must have responded to them. This gave them his IP address, which they promptly traced to the DCI Group.

As all the articles about this have been pointing out, the video is an example of "astroturf": The creation of a fake grassroots campaign. The London Times lists a few other recent examples of astroturf:
• In 2001 Microsoft was suspected of being behind a deluge of readers’ letters sent to newspapers complaining about the US Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit against the software company

• Last year an organisation called Working Families for Wal-Mart was set up to voice the opinions of people who believe the superstore chain is helping ordinary families of America. Most of its funding came from Wal-Mart

• Even environmental groups have been Astro Turfed. The harmless- sounding Save Our Species Alliance was accused of being a front for timber lobbyists to weaken the Endangered Species Act. It is headed by a veteran PR man and the former president of the Oregon Forest Industries Council
However, the penguin video also seems to be an example of Subviral Marketing, which refers to the practice of companies creating viral content which they then deny any association with. (See the Fake Puma Ad.) So maybe this video represents the creation of a new hybrid: Subviral Astroturf.
Categories: Photos/Videos, Politics
Posted by Alex on Mon Aug 07, 2006
Comments (7)
In Sri Lanka millions of people have been flocking to temples, and causing massive traffic jams, after the local media reported that images of the Buddha were emitting "miracle rays." I'm not sure what miracles these rays are supposed to have caused (or is it their mere existence that's miraculous), but apparently you need to stare real hard before you're able to see them, and the rays only come out of colored Buddha pictures:
A white line could be seen running along the point where Buddha's saffron robes met the lighter shade of the right open shoulder after gazing into the image for a few minutes. This was explained by experts as an optical illusion and not a miracle.
Or maybe it'll turn out to be monks with laser pointers.
Categories: Religion
Posted by Alex on Mon Aug 07, 2006
Comments (0)
Yesterday Marie Stopes International, a sexual and reproductive health agency, sponsored Europe's first Masturbate-a-thon. (There's been a similar event in America for a number of years.) Participants got people to pledge a certain amount of money for every minute spent masturbating and/or every orgasm achieved. As Marie Stopes admits, it's basically a publicity stunt. But the part I find interesting are the rules which ban fake orgasms. They warn quite bluntly: "NO FAKING ORGASMS! Do not waste our time." They claim to have highly trained monitors who can spot the fakes. But how good could the monitors really be? I note in Hippo Eats Dwarf that neuroanatomist Gert Holstege of the University of Groningen has discovered that fake orgasms can be detected by a PET scanner. The scanners detect the increased activity in the periaqueductal gray matter of the brain when a woman orgasms. If there's no increased activity, it can be assumed the orgasm is fake. However, I doubt the Masturbate-a-thon is hooking participants up to PET scanners to weed out the fakes. It also surprises me that they're not worried about the use of local anaesthetics, which, it seems to me, would be a more obvious way to cheat and greatly lengthen times. (Unless I missed the section of their website where they warn against this.)
Categories: Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Sun Aug 06, 2006
Comments (2)
Status: First-person accounts
Reports of BEK phenomena are becoming increasingly widespread on the net.
Stories about these creepy adolescents with entirely black eyes and a threatening manner have been cropping up in first-person reports ever more frequently since 1998, when journalist Brian Bethel first wrote about his experience with BEKs.

These accounts follow a regular pattern:
Most accounts occur at the individual's home. There is a knock on the door and on the other side, waiting patiently, is a kid of roughly 12 to 17 years of age. Their dress is usually common for the time and they seem rather normal. But then the sudden fear and the sense of wrongness sinks in. And then of course, there are the eyes.

Seemingly, they repeatedly ask to be let in, and often mention that they must be invited. None of the reports I have found deal with what happens if someone is persuaded...

So who (or what) are they? Providing you believe the stories, current theories span everything from ghosts and vampires to aliens or pranksters.
Categories: Paranormal
Posted by Flora on Sun Aug 06, 2006
Comments (78)
I attended an episcopalian high school, which meant that I had to sit through a chapel service every day. Thankfully the services were never fire-and-brimstone stuff. These were Episcopalians, after all. Instead, they were most often like general-interest lectures. But one service in particular has stuck in my mind, during which whoever was giving the service described an unusual experiment involving the relationship between rats and God. I think the experiment might be an interesting addition to my next book, so I'm trying to track down details about it. But so far I've been unsuccessful. So I'm hoping that one of the Museum of Hoaxes readers might know something about it.

The experimenters, so it was said, wanted to test empirically if the universe tends more towards benevolence (good) or malevolence (evil). So they attached two sets of wires to some rats. One wire delivered a painful shock. The other wire triggered a pleasure-center in the rat's brain and made them feel good. The researchers then programmed a computer to randomly activate these wires over a period of time. The activation of the wires was supposed to be totally random, but when the researchers measured which wire got turned on more often, they discovered that it was the pleasure wire. From this they concluded that there must be a benevolent force in the universe (i.e. God) that favors pleasure over pain.

Now, I can see many flaws in the design and conclusions of this experiment. Not least of which is that a benevolent God would never have made the rats suffer by making them endure the experiment in the first place. But that's not the point. The point is that it's a very odd experiment... if it ever really did occur. Or is it just one of those urban legends that circulate through the church community. Anyone know any details?
Categories: Science
Posted by Alex on Sat Aug 05, 2006
Comments (17)
image The Guardian has a review of a new biography of the notorious art forger Han van Meegeren. The biography, by Frank Wynne, is titled I Was Vermeer: The Legend of the Forger who Swindled the Nazis. Van Meegeren, who was driven to a career in forgery by anger at being ignored by the art establishment, ended up becoming fantastically wealthy from his career in deception, before his downfall:
Though he made a fortune from his forgeries, in the end owning some 15 country houses and 52 other properties, including hotels and nightclubs, his downfall came when he was arrested in 1945 for selling a Vermeer to Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering. When, finally, he admitted that the painting was, in fact, a forgery, the resulting court case turned into a media circus, a forum in which van Meegeren thrived. Here, at last, he got the revenge he thirsted for. As the judge said in his summing-up: 'The art world is reeling and experts are beginning to doubt the very basis of artistic attribution. This was precisely what the defendant was trying to achieve.'
I believe that an authentic van Meegeren fake is now worth a huge amount of money. There's actually a lot of demand for authentic fakes by well-known forgers (i.e. fakes that have a history of actually having fooled people). This, of course, has inspired a second-tier of forgers to create fake fakes.
Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Sat Aug 05, 2006
Comments (1)
Two things to announce. First, I've got a deal to write another book. But it's not another book about hoaxes, so it will be a bit of a new direction for me. It'll be a book about unusual scientific experiments. The kind of experiments that make people say, "Did they really do that?" Experiments such as Stanley Milgram's electric-shock experiments, Ewen Cameron's brainwashing experiments, Louis Jolyon West's "elephant on acid" experiment, as well as some more light-hearted ones.

I've known about the deal for a while, but I only received a final contract this week, so I didn't want to jinx it by publicly announcing it prematurely. However, because I'll need to focus on writing the book, I won't be able to blog as regularly. Which leads to the second announcement.

I've asked Flora, whom many of you know and love already as "Boo", to help me out and blog here with me, and thankfully she's said yes. So the blog should actually improve, instead of fading away, as I work on the book. And yeah, I'll probably still be posting every day, but I won't feel as guilty this way if I miss a day or two.

Because Flora already has such a huge presence on this site (as the organizer and host of the first ever Museum of Hoaxes international get-together back in May, as a tireless moderator keeping the comments free of spam, as one of the most active posters in the forum, and because she's a great writer and much funnier than I am, and a great artist as well) she seemed like the obvious person to ask. She should be able to start posting as soon as I'm able to teach her all the quirks of the blogging software.

Update: I forgot to add that Flora lives in Scotland, so you need to imagine everything she writes being said in a Scottish accent.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Fri Aug 04, 2006
Comments (31)
Status: News
Microsoft has accused a Norwegian journalist of fabricating, out of thin air, an interview with Bill Gates. Bjoern Benkow, the journalist in question, claimed that he interviewed Gates while onboard a commercial flight. Gates apparently didn't share any interesting secrets with the guy, only that "rival search engine giant Google (nasdaq: GOOG - news - people ) has "been smart," that he never carries more than a "dime" in his pocket and that he occasionally places $1 bets with his wife, Melinda."

Still, Microsoft insists the whole thing is bogus. Which makes one wonder how the journalist thought he could get away with this. Maybe he figured that Bill Gates would never read a Norwegian newspaper. Or wouldn't care enough to deny the interview, even if he did read it. Kind of like Clifford Irving figured that Howard Hughes would never emerge from self-imposed exile to deny that Irving had interviewed him.
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Fri Aug 04, 2006
Comments (4)
Status: Weird and disturbing practical joke
The Israeli army has been phoning homes in Lebanon to warn the people inside that a bomb is about to drop. This is odd, but true. But even odder is that this practice has now inspired Palestinian practical jokers. Hurriyet reports:
Palestinians turned the "hello, a bomb is coming" phone calls into a prank joke amongst themselves. The prank has become so popular in recent weeks that the main Palestinian prosecutor's offices have forbidden "hidden" numbers on cell phones, to keep people in Gaza from calling and scaring each other. Reports say that many people in Gaza have turned off their cell phones, and disconnected their land lines, to keep from being pranked by those imitating the Israeli army forces.
That's a pretty bad joke, but from the point of view of social psychology it's probably an attempt to gain some sense of control over a desperate situation through the use of comedy.
Categories: Military, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Fri Aug 04, 2006
Comments (1)
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