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December 2006
imagePac-Man Hits The Road
Wright County sheriff Gary Miller was amused to see that, where Highway 55 has painted ovals on the road to show drivers how far apart they should be, some anonymous artist had added a Pac-Man.

Man Made to Wear 'I AM A LIAR' Sign
Having lied to the police about having been abducted, Craig Breuwet was made to walk up and down a busy street wearing a sign stating 'I AM A LIAR', rather than facing trial.

Fake $1,000 Water Bills
A suburban NY village, frustrated at those residents who dodge the water meter checks, have started sending out fake water bills to non-responsive inhabitants.
Categories: Art, Business/Finance, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Flora on Sat Dec 23, 2006
Comments (6)
According to a new website, Santa Claus is no longer welcome in the town of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. The website, claims that, in line with the Illegal Immigration Relief Act passed in July, "the town intends to keep Santa out this Christmas because he represents the illegal immigration the town council believes increases crime and burdens local services."

The controversial July laws state that any businesses or landlords who hire or rent rooms to illegal immigrants will face penalties. A lawsuit has been brought against the town regarding this, and is due to be heard in early 2007.

The website discusses why Santa is clearly an undocumented worker, and liable under the ruling:

•Santa is not an American nor is he legally recognized for residency or occupational purposes in this country. Oblivious to this fact, millions of Americans delight in inviting him into their homes and allowing him to work unsupervised every year. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to his costume and demeanor.

•Santa does not work alone, but employs hundreds to thousands of elves in what are clearly described as sweatshop or slave labor-type conditions. This takes jobs away from honest and hard-working Americans who play by the rules.

Unsurprisingly, this is a satirical site to draw attention to what many see as an outrageous new law.

(Thanks, Joe.)
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Websites
Posted by Flora on Sat Dec 23, 2006
Comments (14)
The Wisconsin Historical Society has just posted a large collection of tall-tale postcards online, along with some accompanying history. Definitely worth checking out. Highlights include galleries devoted to two early masters of the tall-tale genre, William H. Martin and Alfred Stanley Johnson. It's also possible to buy reproductions of these prints through their website.

The only thing I find regrettable is that their site is full of all kinds of warnings threatening people not to use any image from the site without first obtaining written permission from them. If an image is public domain (as many of these tall-tale postcards are, since they were published before 1923), then can the Historical Society actually set conditions on their usage? It seems to me that would be like a publisher selling Shakespeare's works along with a warning that their permission must be obtained before any play is actually performed.
Categories: Folklore/Tall Tales, History
Posted by Alex on Thu Dec 21, 2006
Comments (13)
image Back in the early 1960s Stanley Milgram conducted a famous experiment at Yale University. Volunteers were told that it was designed to test the effect of punishment on learning. Would a person learn a list of word pairs better if they were punished every time they got an answer wrong? The volunteer was instructed to deliver an electric shock to the learner every time one of his answers was wrong. The shocks increased in intensity for every wrong answer. Of course, the experiment wasn't actually about the effect of punishment on learning at all. It was really designed to see how long the volunteers would obey the authority of the researcher. Would they continue to give electric shocks to the learner even when it appeared that doing so would kill the learner? Over sixty percent of them went ahead and gave the shock. They were led to believe that they had killed or seriously injured the learner (who was actually just an actor).

Milgram's experiment is one of the most famous experiments of all time. But it provoked a lot of controversy about whether it was ethical. Often the volunteers were reduced to nervous wrecks as they struggled over whether to continue obeying the researcher, or to refuse to do so. No review board would ever approve such an experiment today.

Mel Slater, a Computer Science researcher at University College London, has announced a possible way around these ethical concerns. He replicated Milgram's experiment using a virtual learner. LiveScience reports:
When the virtual woman gave an incorrect answer, the participants were told to give a virtual 'electric shock' that buzzed to her, increasing the voltage each time she gave an incorrect answer... Over time, she responded with increasing discomfort and protests, eventually demanding the experiment stop. Near the end, her head would slump forward and she became unresponsive... 17 gave all 20 shocks and three gave 19 shocks, 18, 16 and 9 shocks were given by one person each. When volunteers were asked whether they had considered aborting the experiment, nearly half of those who could see and hear the virtual woman indicated they had because of their troubled feelings about what was happening. In addition, their heart rates indicated that participants reacted as though the situation was real.
I don't know. I'm having a hard time buying that a virtual learner could ever substitute for a real, living, breathing learner. However you parse it, thinking you've killed a virtual character is not the same as thinking you've killed a real person. It's like saying Milgram could have used mannequins instead of real people. It just wouldn't have been the same.
Categories: Psychology, Science
Posted by Alex on Thu Dec 21, 2006
Comments (28)
Last year a plastic baby Jesus was stolen from the nativity scene outside the home of the Leising family in Buffalo, New York. The Leisings were devestated, feeling that Jesus should have been off-limit from pranks. But recently Baby Jesus reappeared on their doorstep, along with a book titled "Baby Jesus Chronicles" that showed all the adventures he had been on during the past year. He had been camping, made brownies, went on a bike ride, had a few drinks, etc. Mrs. Leising commented, "They didn't go anywhere real expensive and spend a lot of money on Jesus, but they showed him a really good time." So now all is forgiven. This year Jesus is back in their nativity scene.

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Categories: Gnomes, Pranks, Religion
Posted by Alex on Thu Dec 21, 2006
Comments (6)
A number of incidents involving animal throwing have been reported in West Point, Miss., leading one to the conclusion that the sport is the new fad for those to whom cow-tipping is just too passé.

Mayor of Lebanon Sends Chain Letter
The Mayor of Lebanon was not available to comment after he discovered that the Make-A-Wish chain letter that he sent to 33 other businessmen was a hoax.

Woman Sues Over Fake Avocado Dip
A Los Angeles woman has filed a lawsuit against Kraft, claiming that what they label as guacamole... well, isn't.
Categories: Animals, Food, Literature/Language, Pranks, Urban Legends
Posted by Flora on Wed Dec 20, 2006
Comments (14)
If I were going to draw up a list of the top ten hoaxes of 2006 (which I'm not because I don't have enough time), the Great Belgian Breakup Hoax would definitely have to be included in the list, sneaking in right before the end of the year. As has been widely reported, on Wednesday many people were briefly led to believe that Belgium had ceased to exist. An AP story summarized what happened:
Suddenly and shockingly, Belgium came to an end. State television broke into regular programming late Wednesday with an urgent bulletin: The Dutch-speaking half of the country had declared independence and the king and queen had fled. Grainy pictures from the military airport showed dark silhouettes of a royal entourage boarding a plane. Only after a half hour did the station flash the message: "This is fiction."
The Belgian TV station apparently perpetrated the hoax in order to stir up debate about the future of the country. Since the news was being reported straight-faced by a reputable news source, many viewers believed it.

Oddly, this is not the first time we've seen a hoax like this. Back in 1992 the London Times reported essentially the same news, as a joke, on April Fool's Day. It made #90 on my list of the Top 100 April Fools Hoaxes of all time:
The London Times reported in 1992 that formal negotiations were underway to divide Belgium in half. The Dutch-speaking north would join the Netherlands and the French-speaking south would join France. An editorial in the paper then lamented that, "The fun will go from that favorite parlor game: Name five famous Belgians." The report apparently fooled the British foreign office minister Tristan Garel-Jones who almost went on a TV interview prepared to discuss this "important" story. The Belgian embassy also received numerous calls from journalists and expatriate Belgians seeking to confirm the news. A rival paper later criticized the prank, declaring that, "The Times's effort could only be defined as funny if you find the very notion of Belgium hilarious."
Actually, when put that way, there does seem to be something amusing about the notion of Belgium. Though I don't know exactly why this is.

Nevertheless, amusing as Belgium might be, it seems safe to say that it still does exist. So I won't be needing to add it to my list of nonexistent places.
Categories: Places, Politics
Posted by Alex on Sat Dec 16, 2006
Comments (29) has compiled a list of classic and contemporary celebrity rumours.

Many, many people love a good gossip about celebrities, and celebrity rumours are often used as a way to make oneself feel better - "They may be rich and attractive. They may be loved by millions, but..."

We've covered celebrity rumours ourselves before (check out our 'celebrities' category), but this list seems to be pretty comprehensive, covering everything from the Richard Gere gerbil rumour to the celebrity death hoaxes which keep floating around. Royalty to Z-listers, sexual rumours to identity rumours... the obvious truth is that if you make your living in the public eye, it's very likely that at some point, someone will be making up extravagant stories about you.

To read more about celebrity death hoaxes, try our page on False Death Reports
Categories: Celebrities
Posted by Flora on Thu Dec 14, 2006
Comments (15)

Baby Nessie Fossil Found in Antarctic
Found on an Antarctic island. Rather far away from Scotland. "The five-foot-long animal would have resembled Nessie, the long-necked creature reported to inhabit Scotland's Loch Ness."

Let blind hunters use lasers
Texas legislation will allow blind hunters to use laser sights that will guide them as they aim at the animal. This sounds very weird to me. Why would a blind person even want to hunt? What's the point? I'm just not seeing it. (Thanks, Big Gary)

Talking doll calls three-year-old "a slut"
A California mother claims her daughter's Little Mermaid Shimmering Lights Ariel doll said "You're a slut." Mattel, the doll's manufacturer, is doubtful, but has offered to replace the doll. This reminds me of the case of the "Who wants to die" talking Elmo.

NASA deals blow to lunar real estate industry
NASA has announced plans to build a base on the moon, and it doesn't care if anyone claims to own the land it's building on. But I'm sure this won't slow down the 'Buy land on the moon' industry, since there will always be some sucker willing to buy lunar property.
Categories: Cryptozoology, Exploration/Travel
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 12, 2006
Comments (18)
We set up the Christmas tree in the house a few days ago, and in a flash of inspiration I figured, why not have some hoax-themed ornaments. So I created a few. All that was required was printing the pictures on card paper and cutting them out. I created a whole bunch. (I was procrastinating.) Pictured below (clockwise from top left) are the jackalope, fur-bearing trout, Bigfoot, Cottingley fairy, Nessie, and Touristguy. Nessie and Bigfoot kept fighting, so I had to move them apart. Now Bigfoot keeps wandering around and hiding behind the tree. I can tell already that he's a troublemaker.

The one flaw with the tree is that it's real. Next year I'll need to get a fake tree just for the hoax ornaments.

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Categories: Folklore/Tall Tales
Posted by Alex on Fri Dec 08, 2006
Comments (15)
Normally UFOs are shown flying around in the sky, such as in this (very fake looking) footage of a recent UFO seen in China (thanks, Kathy). But Christopher emailed a link to these photos of a UFO recently seen in Brazil that was hitching a ride on the back of a truck. The text explains:
Possible crash involving a disk-shaped object is reported in Brazil. Brazilian UFO Magazine’s consultant witnesses the transportation of a strange disk-shaped object in the Brazilian state of Bahia On Saturday, November 25th... Despite the strangeness of that scene, the object was uncovered and totally exposed. “Even with so many cars coming on the opposite way (going to Salvador) and the other ones behind the truck, very few people seemed to care about that scene”, Baqueiro says.
So presumably, whatever government agents were transporting this crashed UFO couldn't even be bothered to throw a tarp over it. I love it.
Categories: Extraterrestrial Life
Posted by Alex on Thu Dec 07, 2006
Comments (29)
Over at the Proceedings of the Athanasius Kircher Society, a clip was posted from the 1960s "shock-umentary" Mondo Cane (meaning "World of Dogs"). The film was a collection of all kinds of examples of bizarre human behavior from around the world. In this scene the Melanesian custom of wife fattening is shown. The narration (in spanish in the clip) says:
We are at Tabar, the largest island of the Bismarck Archipelago, where, by tradition, the most beautiful women of the tribe are locked up in strong cages similar to those we've seen in Strasbourg to fatten geese and they get filled with tapioca until they reach at least 120 kilos. Then, they will be offered as wives to the village's dictator, Utame Alunda, famous all over the islands for his physical power and his odd personality. The fattening process goes from 3 to 6 months, meanwhile, Utame Alunda didn't remain idle. These are some of his most recent children, that he loves to show to the foreigners in this dance, as a proof of his virility. This is his last spouse: eight children and one hundred thirty kilos. This is his favorite wife. Ten children and 150 kilos. And this is the great chief Alunda: 27 children and 34 kilos.
There's been some discussion over at the Athanasius Kircher Society about whether this is real. As far as I can tell, it is. The maker of Mondo Cane was accused of staging footage, and taking customs wildly out of context, but most of the material was true. After all, there's no shortage of bizarre human behaviors in the world. And, as far as I know, Melanesian culture did, in the past, include the custom of wife fattening. The BBC has an article about wife-fattening in current day Mauritania. Different part of the world, but same idea. Warning: the clip shows some bare-breasted island women, in case that's a problem for anyone at work or elsewhere. Nothing you wouldn't see on the National Geographic channel, however.

Categories: Body Manipulation, Food
Posted by Alex on Thu Dec 07, 2006
Comments (17)
imageOn Tuesday 7th November, a postal ballot for the US Mid-term elections was received in Fort Lauderdale. What set this particular ballot apart from all the others was the 1918 Inverted Jenny stamp affixed to the envelope, along with two stamps dating back to the 1930s, and one dating to WWII.

The Inverted Jenny stamps are a run of stamps on which the biplane is printed upside down, and they are extremely rare. Only 700 were produced and, of them, only 100 have ever been owned by members of the public.

Broward County Commissioner John Rodstrom believed the stamp could fetch around $500,000. As the sender was anonymous (also meaning that the ballot was disqualified), and the stamp was used to send a letter, it is now officially government property.

However, at the beginning of December, expert philatelists examined the stamp, comparing it to a genuine Inverted Jenny and a fake. In unfortunate news for John Rodstrom, it’s not an original. The philatelists noted a number of telltale flaws in the stamp, including an incorrect number of border perforations, the stamp's thickness and its colour.

There is a thread about this topic in the forum.
Posted by Flora on Wed Dec 06, 2006
Comments (20)