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February 2008
Here's another photo series I found in an old issue of Life Magazine (April 26, 1937). I had to kill some time in the UCSD library this morning, which is why I was looking through old magazines. The photos were titled "South Carolina Negroes Play 'Fireball Dodging'".

Here are the captions for the five photos (complete with the racist language characteristic of the 1930s):

1) A new game invented by the Negroes of South Carolina is called "Fireball Dodging." Balls are made of burlap.
2) The balls are then drenched in kerosene. In preparation for a game several dozen such balls are made.
3) When night comes the burlap balls are set afire. The players spread out in a field and start throwing them.
4) "Fireball Dodging" is played chiefly by field hands on the cotton plantations. The object of the game is to hit someone else and to avoid getting hit yourself.
5) This darkie is losing. "Fireball Dodging" was uncovered by a Universal movie cameraman who made these pictures for a short called "Stranger than Fiction."

These photos were presented as a factual news item, but I have a hard time believing that anyone ever really played "fireball dodging." After all, the potential for incinerating one of your friends seems a little high. I can't find any references to it, except for this one article. My guess is that either the cameraman dreamed up this game, and arranged for some guys to pretend to play it, or the field hands were pulling the wool over the cameraman's eyes.
Categories: Sports
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 22, 2008
Comments (12)
I found this series of photos in an old issue of Life Magazine (Dec. 7, 1936). It was titled "Tricks of Paris Season" and had this caption:

Patrons of a Paris nightclub are being entertained with this spectacle of one man swallowing another's head. M. Nicol pries open M. Martin's mouth, lowers his head, rams it in until the spectators see it disappear. Only the cold sober feel cheated by this act.

I assume the method of the trick is obvious enough not to require explanation.

Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 22, 2008
Comments (3)
Everyone dreams of finding a painting by Van Gogh or Picasso in their attic. In Lawrence Nicastro's case, what he found -- so he thought -- was a rare picture of Marilyn Monroe posing as a naked hitchhiker. The BBC reports:

He and his wife Phyllis then spent four months researching the photograph. Mr Nicastro suspected it had been left by a customer at his service station in New York city in 1962. The couple brought in Monroe expert Chris Harris, who confirmed it was a genuine, exciting find. Harris scheduled a news conference to unveil the image but allowed some journalists a sneak preview. They suggested the photographic treasure was in fact a shot of Madonna from her graphic 1992 book, Sex.

This isn't a hoax, of course, unless you count that guy who called himself a Monroe expert, but couldn't tell the difference between Marilyn Monroe and Madonna. I'm no Monroe expert, but I can see the difference right away.

I found the picture of Madonna posing as a hitchhiker after a bit of googling. I'm just assuming it's the same picture that confused the expert. Click here for a larger version (still with the pink cover-ups, so that it's safe for work).
Categories: Celebrities, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Thu Feb 21, 2008
Comments (14)
Remarries, to be exact. From Yahoo! News:

Sheila Smith's husband, Bob, had to go away on business and couldn't make the Valentine's Day recommitment service at Grove City United Methodist Church. So friends brought a life-size inflatable doll to serve as a stand-in. They dressed Blow-up Bob in dress pants, a shirt and tie, and taped on a head-shot photo of the real Bob Smith.

There's definitely an emerging trend of cardboard or inflatable spouses. Usually it involves military spouses who are stationed abroad.

For instance, back in Dec. 2005 I posted about the Husband Mannequin -- Suzy Walker's stand-in for her husband serving on the USS West Virginia.

Then in Sep. 2006 there was a story going around about Flat Daddys and Flat Mommys -- cardboard cutouts of deployed service members that the military was providing to families. (There are posts about it in both the main blog and the forum.)

I'd be curious to know how old this practice is. Did women back in World War II create husband mannequins?
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Thu Feb 21, 2008
Comments (4)
Sorry if I caused anyone vertigo. I decided to move the sidebar over to the left side of screen since, visually, I think it makes more sense to have it lined up beneath the museum banner. Nothing else has changed.

It should only take a few moments to regain your bearings.

Update: Ignore what I said above.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Wed Feb 20, 2008
Comments (22)
Long-time forum regular LaMa (aka Marco Langbroek) has made it onto the news in the Netherlands! Thankfully, it's not for anything bad. He was interviewed in his capacity as an amateur satellite tracker (in Dutch a "satellietspotter") about that satellite the pentagon is planning to shoot down. Marco writes:

Been on the Dutch 10 pm TV news by our National broadcaster NOS today. Had a cameraman and reporter visiting me for that early this evening.
It concerns an item about the spy satellite USA 193 that the US navy is going to knock from the sky with a missile. I am one of the amateur satellite trackers who has been tracking this thing.
The broadcast can be seen here:
The (short) item starts at 2m30s in the record, and my (even shorter) appearance in it at about 3m25s. It shows me behind my desk in my home giving my take on what I think is the real reason behind this exercise, and then it shows me doing some (mock) observations from my home.
As it is in Dutch, you won’t understand a word though…

Marco's right. I didn't understand a word. But it looked to me like he knew what he was talking about. And that's what's important.

But now I'm dying to know -- what is the real reason they're shooting that thing down?
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Wed Feb 20, 2008
Comments (18)
A series of photos of a ship being capsized by a large wave and then righting itself is doing the rounds. (That's a bit of a pun.) The photos are real. According to an article in the Mad Mariner (mirrored here), they were taken in California's Morro Bay Harbor by Gary Robertshaw on Dec. 4, 2007. The boat is a Coast Guard vessel on a training mission. From the Mad Mariner:

In a sequence of 10 photographs, reprinted here with Robertshaw's permission, a towering wave tosses the boat high atop its crest, and then swallows it entirely. And for a few breathtaking frames, the vessel, dubbed "unsinkable” by the Coast Guard, disappears in the roiling surf. Just as Robertshaw began to worry the boat wouldn't resurface, it popped up... A Coast Guard spokesman in Long Beach said no one aboard the boat was hurt that day, although the crew did take a beating. The wave that battered the boat was estimated to be 22 to 25 feet high. "Everybody was alright," the spokesman said. "That boat's made to roll."
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Feb 20, 2008
Comments (7)
Tom Bell, in the Agoraphilia blog, asks an interesting question. Why does children's fiction promote credulity as a virtue?

Children's fiction employs this trope so often that it fits a formula. A wise character tries to convince the protagonist that something wonderful will happen if only he or she will earnestly believe an improbability. Consider, for instance, how Yoda tells Luke to cast aside all doubt if he wants to levitate his x-wing from the swamps of Dagobah. "Do, or do not. There is no try," Yoda explains. Following the usual script, Luke resists, courting disaster, before he finally embraces faith and wins its rewards.

Bell notes an obvious explanation -- that religious and political leaders would like to see young people raised to believe without question. But Bell then suggests an alternative explanation. Maybe it's because children's literature depends upon the suspension of disbelief, and therefore children's authors need to promote gullibility as a virtue.

Looking at the question historically (which, after seven years of grad school is how I tend to approach questions like this), I would say it might have something to do with the sentimentalization of childhood which, in western culture, began to occur during the 18th and 19th centuries. Of course, this just raises the question of why our culture began to sentimentalize childhood. I honestly don't know, but it sure has helped Disney make a lot of money.
Categories: Literature/Language, Psychology
Posted by Alex on Wed Feb 20, 2008
Comments (27)
Two weekends ago I got a chance to meet John Baker -- better known in the Hoax Forum as the moderator Tah. He was in San Diego with his family on vacation. We had lunch and then took the ferry across San Diego harbor. I had a great time.

John's back home now and emailed me this snapshot of the two of us posing in front of the San Diego skyline. (I'm the short one — and I'm six-feet tall!) Our wives and John's daughter are out of view behind the camera.

The only negative is that it was early February so I, thinking it would be chilly down on the water, had come dressed in black jeans and a sweater. It turned out to be 80 degrees that day, so I had shed the sweater by the time this picture was taken. But I was still pretty hot.

I've now met all the forum moderators in person, except for MadCarlotta, Maegan, and Myst (who hasn't been around in ages). I can confirm that they're all the nicest, most intelligent group of people you could imagine.

John also sent a picture of what he suggests might be Nessie in the bay. He notes, "Anne [his wife] seemed to think it was just two seals looking for fish, but I know better!"

Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Wed Feb 20, 2008
Comments (12)
Following the release of a company's quarterly earnings report, analysts get a chance to participate in a conference call with the company's management. When I briefly worked in a pr firm, years ago, I had to listen to quite a few of these calls. I thought they were usually mind-numbingly dull. But it sounds like someone has figured out a way to have some fun with them. The Wall Street Journal Reports:

At least seven times just the past three weeks, a mystery caller has cleverly insinuated himself into the normally well-manicured ritual of the quarterly calls. As top executives of publicly traded companies respond to securities analysts’ questions about their balance sheets, he impersonates a well-known analyst to get called upon. Then, usually declaring himself to be “Joe Herrick of Gutterman Research,” he launches into his own version of analyst-speak.

“Congratulations on the solid numbers — you always seem to come through in challenging times,” he said to Leo Kiely, president and chief executive officer of Molson Coors Brewing Co., on February 12, convincingly parroting the obsequious banter common to the calls. “Can you provide some more color as to what you are doing for your supply chain initiatives to reduce manufacturing costs per hectoliter, as you originally promised $150 million in synergy or savings to decrease working capital?”

The question is: Is Herrick a prankster who's trying to mock the corporate-speak of conference calls, or is he just a nutcase who's obsessed with grilling CEOs about corporate efficiency?

Giving weight to the nutcase theory is that Herrick's questions don't seem designed to be humorous. They're excessively focused on obscure details, but they are serious questions. One CEO speculates that he's "'some minion' at a consulting firm trying to do clandestine research on companies’ use of Six Sigma techniques." So if Herrick is intending to poke fun at corporate-speak, he's doing so in a very, very deadpan way.

The Wall Street Journal article has a link in a sidebar to an audio file of Herrick's exchange with the management team of Molson Coors Brewing. So you can listen for yourself and try to figure out just what Herrick is up to. (via Art of the Prank)
Categories: Business/Finance, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed Feb 20, 2008
Comments (5)
This poster for "S. Watson's American Museum of Living Curiosities", which dates from 1885, can be found at the British Library site. All the exhibits seem like pretty standard stuff for a 19th-century museum: the stoutest lady in the world, the two-headed marvel, snake charmer, etc. It's the "Australians" exhibit that puzzles me. They don't really look like Australians. Are those outfits something that Aussies often wear?

Categories: Advertising
Posted by Alex on Wed Feb 20, 2008
Comments (10)
A recent paper (available as a pdf file) by Vincent Hayward in Brain Research Bulletin lists more than twenty types of tactile illusions that can be experienced using very simple equipment available in any hardware store. Some of the descriptions of the illusions unfortunately are rather technical, but here's a summary of a few of them:

The Aristotle Illusion: Cross your fingers and touch your nose. You may feel two noses. (It didn't work for me.)

The Comb Illusion: Lay your finger on top of the teeth of a comb. With your other hand, run a pencil back and forth against the teeth. You should feel "the sensation of a raised object moving on the finger when, in fact, since the teeth have a constant length, the skin is sheared but indentation is invariant along the line."

The Curved Plate Illusion: Move a plastic card or match box back and forth across the pad of your finger. It should feel straight. But if you see-saw the object up and down as you move it across your finger, it should feel curved.

(via Developing Intelligence)
Categories: Science
Posted by Alex on Mon Feb 18, 2008
Comments (9)
Fake blind man caught driving
A 70-year-old Italian man had been claiming to be blind for 40 years in order to get an invalid's pension. He was caught when police stopped him in his car at a routine road check. When they checked his record, they noticed it listed him as being 100 percent blind. (Thanks, Joe)

Underwear on face fails to disguise
"A robbery suspect tried to hide his face with a pair of underwear but the disguise didn't fool witnesses."

Fleeing husband spotted in film
45-year-old shop owner Martino Garibaldi took £37,000 out of his family's savings and ran away with his mistress. "Unfortunately for Garibaldi an eagle-eyed friend happened to be watching the Italian comedy Natale in Crociera (Christmas on a Cruise) and saw Garibaldi and his mistress in the background during one of the scenes. His wife was informed and when she found out that the movie was filmed in the Dominican Republic she managed to trace him."
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Mon Feb 18, 2008
Comments (2)
Detectives in Sarpy County, Omaha are warning local stores of a new shoplifting technique being used by a group of women. The women enter a store, fill up a cart with items, and then walk out. If stopped, they claim that they're giving birth. KETV reports:

Detectives said that on Dec. 13, three women walked into the Bellevue Wal-Mart, filled a cart with items, then started to leave. Surveillance video shows a store officer stopped them at the door and asked for a receipt. That's when one of the women said she was going into labor, according to Detective Fran Gallo of the Bellevue Police Department. "All three were heavyset. The loss-prevention officer couldn't tell if this person was pregnant or not. She offered to call for a squad for her, but they said no," Gallo said. The women swore at the officer, then left the store with more than $1,000 in items, Gallo said.

Apparently they tried the same thing at a second Wal-Mart, but didn't get away with it there.

It reminds me of that Jane's Addiction video for "Been Caught Stealing". Though in the video a guy, pretending to be a woman, hides items in a fake belly. The Omaha women brazenly walked out the door with the stolen goods. (Thanks, Joe)
Categories: Birth/Babies, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Mon Feb 18, 2008
Comments (6)
Mariam Amash, who lives in the village of Jisr a-Zarka in Israel, claims that she is 120 years old. Her claim recently surfaced when she applied for a new Israeli identity card.

She might be telling the truth. Apparently she has a birth certificate issued by Turkish authorities, who ruled Jisr a-Zarka back in 1888 when Amash says she was born. She also has eleven children, the eldest one being in her late 80s. So assuming that her children aren't lying about their ages, Amash would have to be at least over 100 years old.

If Amash really is 120, that would make her the oldest person in the world. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the current record holder is 114-year-old Edna Parker of Indiana.

The reason to be skeptical about her claim is because of the phenomenon of age exaggeration. Elderly people often lie about their age, pretending to be older than they really are. They usually do this because claiming extreme age is a way to gain social status. In Amash's case, it seems kind of odd that she would have eleven children, if she only had her first child when she was in her mid 30s (which the age difference between her and her oldest daughter suggests).

Researchers have been fooled by the age exaggeration phenomenon before. The most famous case occurred in the Ecuadorian town of Vilcabamba, located high in the Andes. The town gained fame during the 1970s because it appeared to be the home of 23 centenarians, which statistically was unheard of. Even one centenarian among a population that small would have been extraordinary. It turned out that basically all the elderly people in the village were lying about their ages. When researchers carefully examined the birth records, they realized there wasn't a single person over 100 in the village. The average age of the people claiming to be over 100 was 86. The plans to build a longevity research center in the village had to be scrapped.
Categories: Death, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Mon Feb 18, 2008
Comments (2)
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