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March 2008
Margaret Soltan makes an interesting observation on her blog about all the recent memoir hoaxers. She writes:

Consider these author photos of a few (there are many more) recent memoir hoaxers. 
What do they have in common?  They all say:  Look directly at my big sad eyes.  I have deeply suffered.
Perhaps we can ask legitimate writers to assume a different pose.  That way we can identify the hoaxers.

The authors shown are, from left to right, Margaret Seltzer, Norma Khouri, Helen Demidenko, and James Frey.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 05, 2008
Comments (4)
One week after Misha Defonseca confessed that she didn't really grow up with wolves, as she claimed in her memoir of her childhood in war-torn Europe, another literary hoax has surfaced.

Love and Consequences, by Margaret B. Jones, purports to be a non-fiction memoir of the author's life "as a half-white, half-Native American girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles as a foster child among gang-bangers, running drugs for the Bloods."

In reality, as the NY Times reports: "Margaret B. Jones is a pseudonym for Margaret Seltzer, who is all white and grew up in the well-to-do Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, with her biological family. She graduated from the Campbell Hall School, a private Episcopal day school in the North Hollywood neighborhood. She has never lived with a foster family, nor did she run drugs for any gang members. Nor did she graduate from the University of Oregon, as she had claimed."

Seltzer offers the usual excuse: It's true in a vague, metaphorical sense. The things she describes really do happen. They just didn't happen to her.

Seltzer was outed by her older sister who saw an article about her in last week's NY Times. I predict there's going to be some awkward Thanksgiving dinners for that family in the future.

Seltzer's publisher has cancelled her book tour and is recalling all copies of the book.
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Tue Mar 04, 2008
Comments (9)
Many of you have probably already seen the "puppy being thrown over a cliff" video that's been all over the internet in the past week. If you haven't, here it is, but be warned. It's disturbing. The Honolulu Advertiser offers this description of it:

Two Marines are seen in combat gear smiling as one holds a white-and-black puppy by the scruff of its neck. The dog seems to be about 8 weeks old and is motionless as it is held.
"Cute little puppy, huh?" says one Marine as he smiles broadly.
"Oh so cute, so cute, little puppy," says another in a child-like voice.
The Marine holding the puppy is then seen throwing the animal overhand into a desert-like gully below. The animal yelps until it thuds to the ground at the bottom of the gully.
"That's mean," one Marine says afterward.

When I first saw the video I felt it confirmed that there are some pretty sick people out there. But I didn't see anything that would make me suspect the video was fake. Nevertheless, a lot of people have been arguing that it's not real. For instance, see this youtube video. And more here.

The skeptics are suggesting that the puppy was already dead, and that the sounds of it yelping were dubbed in. But I think this is a case of being overly skeptical. That puppy looks alive to me. It's not making any noise initially because it's being held by the scruff of its neck. If you scruff a cat or dog it's going to become very quiet and submissive. It's an instinctive behavior.

The Honolulu Advertiser reports that the Marine Corps is investigating the video. The Marines have released a statement: "The video is shocking and deplorable and is contrary to the high standards we expect of every Marine... We do not tolerate this type of behavior and will take appropriate action." (Thanks, Nettie)
Categories: Animals, Gross, Military, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Mar 04, 2008
Comments (40)
Russia's Federal Guard Service (the Russian equivalent of the American Secret Service) has apparently placed an ad on a government website for 3200 "white, female, laboratory mice... between sixteen and eighteen grams" to be delivered by the end of the year. This ad has generated a flurry of international media speculation. Why, everyone wants to know, does the Russian Guard Service want these mice?

One theory is that the mice will be used for experiments -- perhaps to test substances such as the radioactive poison polonium210. This seems plausible.

However, the mainstream media is leaning toward the theory that the mice will be fed to the falcons used to keep crows away from the Kremlin. This doesn't make any sense to me at all. Why specially order white, female lab mice if you're just going to feed them to birds?

Emil Steiner of the Washington Post's OFF/beat news writes: "The story seems too ridiculous to be real. And yet almost everyone writing about it seems to take at face value that the guard wants these mice." Steiner also raises the question of why the Guard Service would have placed a public ad in the first place. Surely it has the means to discreetly find 3200 mice.

I'm guessing we might never know the answer to this mystery.
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Tue Mar 04, 2008
Comments (4)
The International Rising Tide network has declared this April 1, 2008 to be Fossil Fools Day. It's urging pranksters to target the fossil fuel industry on April 1st. They write: "Find a fossil fool in your community and pull a prank that packs a punch."

Some of the pranks they suggest:

Consider such tactics as blockading the entrance to a gas station, locking down to gas pumps, or having a die-in in front of the gas station. It is quite easy to gain access to the roof for a banner drop with the use of a extension ladder. It should also be noted that all gas stations have safety shut off buttons that will shut off gas pumps in case of an emergency, which are generally located on the outside of the station...

Research what agribusinesses are located in your town and target their offices or facilities with creative civil disobedience such as banner hangs, office demos, blockades, or creative street theater.

People in Sweden and France have developed a creative means of protest against gas guzzling SUVs. They simply let the air out of the tires, rendering them immobile. Thousands of tires have been deflated immobilizing hundreds of vehicles which has generated much media attention and awareness on global warming. The act is pretty simple and does not involve property damage. All one does is take off the valve cap and place a small pebble on top of the valve and screw the cap back on. If the pebble is placed correctly, it will press down on the air valve when you screw down the cap, thus releasing the air. To our knowledge there is no law against releasing air from car tires, though we aren’t going to guarantee it’s without risk.
Categories: April Fools Day
Posted by Alex on Tue Mar 04, 2008
Comments (10)
A lot of people have posted this video to youtube in the past month, but no one identifies where the clip comes from. My question is: How was the shot created? The table looks like it's tilted to help the balls roll towards the pockets. Also, I'm assuming the egg is not real.

Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos, Sports
Posted by Alex on Tue Mar 04, 2008
Comments (5)
About two weeks ago it was announced that a U.S. grad student, Clay Moulton, won second place in a "Greener Gadgets Conference" competition for inventing a floor lamp powered by gravity.

The concept was that a person would place a weight (about ten pounds) at the top of a four-foot column. Over the course of the next four hours, the weight would descend down the column, causing a rotor to spin that would produce a gentle light (about the strength of a 40 watt bulb).

Moulton's concept generated a lot of interest on blogs, but also a lot of skepticism. People who crunched the numbers insisted the thing could never work. It was outputting way more energy than was being put into it. But it seemed as if Moulton had actually built a prototype, and it did work -- and he had won an award for it. So the skeptics were kept at bay.

The skeptics were right. The thing would never work. Moulton has now admitted he hadn't built a prototype. It was just pie-in-the-sky theorizing. It would only work if super-efficient LEDs were invented at some point in the future. Or if you used a ten-ton weight. Moulton has offered to concede the second place prize.

The Gravity Lamp seems typical of so many of the inventions you read about that promise to save the world's energy problems. Somehow they never pan out. (via
Categories: Technology
Posted by Alex on Mon Mar 03, 2008
Comments (10)
Rumors have been floating around suggesting that Bungie Software might be coming out with a new game called Lego Halo. It would be the same as the Halo series, except everything would look like it was made out of lego. The rumor is based on a scan of an article from an upcoming issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly which describes this game.

There really is a Lego Star Wars game, so there's a precedent for this concept. However, Lego Halo appears to be a hoax. Gaming Today reports:

"it’s fake. As proof, I’m not pointing to the fact that the whole article in general has a “too ridiculous to be true” nature to it. No, I’m simply pointing to the fact that it’s EGM’s April issue, where they’ve always been known to throw in an April Fool’s joke or two."
Categories: April Fools Day, Technology
Posted by Alex on Mon Mar 03, 2008
Comments (3) launches with a splash screen that says, "Going to the bathroom used to be... Boring... Quiet... A loss of productivity. Introducing the Air Poo™. Poonovation. Available Summer 2008."

Basically the Air Poo is a high-tech toilet. It has a heated seat, a "multi-touch flusher" that allows you to choose between a light or heavy flush, an iPod Dock to listen to music, an integrated surround sound system, and a MacBook Air docking slot.

The MacBook Air docking slot is the only feature that confuses me. What is the purpose of docking your laptop as you go to the bathroom? If someone was going to be using the toilet for a while, surely they would want to use the laptop, not slide it away into a slot to dock it. [Update: I understand now. You dock it while you're not using the toilet, and then undock it and use it while you're on the can.]

The Air Poo reminds me a lot of Microsoft's iLoo, which debuted back in 2003. The iLoo was a hoax that Microsoft later confusingly claimed wasn't a hoax (but which most people assumed actually was a hoax).

I'm guessing the Air Poo is a hoax. The fine print at the bottom of the site says "Site by LOLZ LLC". LOLZ LLC is an ad agency. They probably dreamed up the Air Poo as a mock product to show potential clients their sense of humor, and their ability to create online buzz.
Categories: Technology
Posted by Alex on Mon Mar 03, 2008
Comments (1)
The big news in the world of hoaxes, revealed last week (and already posted in the forum), was the revelation that Misha Defonseca's best-selling, non-fiction memoir of growing up in war-torn Europe turns out to be fiction. (Thanks to everyone who forwarded me links to the news.)

Defonseca's memoir, Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years (also titled Surviving with Wolves), describes how when she was a young child her Jewish parents were seized by the Nazis, forcing her to wander Europe alone until she was adopted by a pack of wolves in the Warsaw ghetto.

The reality is that she wasn't actually adopted by wolves. Nor did she wander Europe. She was raised by her grandparents. Nor is she Jewish.

Defonseca offered the well-worn excuse of literary hoaxers: she considers the tale to be true in a metaphorical sense. She says, "This story is mine. It is not actually reality, but my reality, my way of surviving." This excuse is used so often that bookstores might soon have to start separating books into a third category: fiction, non-fiction, and non-fiction in a metaphorical sense.

Defonseca's hoax was exposed by Sharon Sergeant, a genealogical researcher, who became suspicious and did some research into Defonseca's past.

This is not the first hoax holocaust memoir. In fact, the holocaust is quite a popular subject for literary hoaxers. Jerzy Kosinski claimed his 1965 work The Painted Bird was a non-fiction memoir of his childhood experiences during the Holocaust. It's now considered to be fiction.

And in 1993 Helen Demidenko won the Vogel Literary Award for her book The Hand That Signed the Paper, which described, so she said, her family's experiences in the Ukraine during the Holocaust. Later she admitted that her family never lived in the Ukraine. They were from Britain. And her real name was Darville, not Demidenko.
Categories: History, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Mon Mar 03, 2008
Comments (19)
Does anyone reading this happen to speak Swedish? I'm looking for someone who could help me translate some material relating to SVT's famous "instant color TV" april fool's day hoax that took place in 1962. SVT has a page with a paragraph discussing the hoax. And the same page links to a video of the hoax itself. I'm hoping to be able to come up with an English transcript of the hoax. Anyone willing to help me out with this, I'd be happy to send them a free signed copy of my latest book. I'll ship it all the way to Sweden, if need be.
Categories: April Fools Day
Posted by Alex on Sat Mar 01, 2008
Comments (16)
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