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May 2008
On May 15th thousands of people around the world went to their local grocery store to panic buy carrots. They were members of the facebook group called "On May 15th 2008, everybody needs to go out and panic buy carrots." From northernnews.com:

What started out as a prank Facebook group called "On May 15th 2008, everybody needs to go out and panic buy carrots," with just a handful of the creator's friends as members, has exploded online and now has 231,000 worldwide supporters on the popular social networking site. British teen Freya Valentine, the creator of the group, admits the response has overwhelmed her. "It started off as a joke between a couple of friends, so we were surprised when we got 40 members, but it kept going up and up and now everybody seems to know about it. It's mad," she said in an e-mail interview. "All I can say is I never knew that the group would get to this size, and I hope that the carrots don't get wasted and they're actually used,"Valentine said.

The group created a website: http://www.panicbuyers.co.nr/. It's now almost a week later, and some members of the group are talking about whether May 15th should be turned into an annual Panic Buy Carrots Day. Others are trying to figure out what to do with all the carrots they bought. My vote would be carrot cake. Lots of it.
Categories: Food, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Tue May 20, 2008
Comments (9)
If you're tired of your kid, why not swap him or her for another? Childtrader.com makes this possible. From the site:

Child Trader is now the nations 4th largest child exchange network and as such, has brought happiness to more than 1623 American households who otherwise had very few options in creating a more loving family and home life when realizing their child wasn’t the right fit for them.
Child Trader Child Exchange Network isn’t about not loving childing [sic]. Its about finding a family that can love them more.
Get started today with this exciting new way to love your children.

You can view the profiles of kids available for trade. For instance, Jacob (pictured) is described as, "Not a particularly impressive boy. He hasn’t much been into sports, but he does have a great smile and likes to sit around the house, so he is very quiet."

I'm willing to go out on a limb and declare this a hoax. I'm not even going to do any research into who the site is registered to, etc., because it's obviously a joke. In other words, you're stuck with your kids, even if you don't like them. It's not legal to swap them for another.

Links on the child trader site indicate it was created by the same person responsible for two other spoof sites: medicaladoptions.com (adopt a kid who is a perfect match for an organ transplant you need), and puppyprofits.com (make money from illegal dog fighting).

Childtrader.com does, at least, highlight that children aren't always a constant source of joy to their parents. It reminds me of a study conducted in 1931 by Dr. Mandel Sherman of the Child Research Centre in Georgia. Sherman asked thirty-two parents to keep track in notebooks of all the ways their children annoyed them. He found that there were 2,124 ways in which children annoyed their parents. The most common source of annoyance was disobedience, but other annoyances included being too slow, too quick, and spending too much time primping.
Categories: Birth/Babies, Websites
Posted by Alex on Thu May 15, 2008
Comments (15)
In an email with the subject "Giant Fish - Caught in Malaysia? Apparently...," Joshua Penley asks: "What the HELL is this?!!?!?!?!?!?!?!"



This sounds like a question for Big Gary, the museum's Deputy Curator in Charge of Fish. I would simply note that the guys in the photos don't look particularly Malaysian, making it a case of "real picture, fake caption."

The bottom picture reminds me of a picture of a (fake looking) sea monster, taken in 1906 on the beach at Ballard, Washington and now part of the Library of Congress's collection:

Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Thu May 15, 2008
Comments (18)
An ethics panel commissioned by the Swiss government has determined that the arbitrary killing of plants is morally wrong. From The Weekly Standard:

A "clear majority" of the panel adopted what it called a "biocentric" moral view, meaning that "living organisms should be considered morally for their own sake because they are alive." Thus, the panel determined that we cannot claim "absolute ownership" over plants and, moreover, that "individual plants have an inherent worth." This means that "we may not use them just as we please, even if the plant community is not in danger, or if our actions do not endanger the species, or if we are not acting arbitrarily."
The committee offered this illustration: A farmer mows his field (apparently an acceptable action, perhaps because the hay is intended to feed the farmer's herd--the report doesn't say). But then, while walking home, he casually "decapitates" some wildflowers with his scythe. The panel decries this act as immoral, though its members can't agree why.

The author of the Weekly Standard article appears to have some kind of conservative agenda. (He's a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, which makes him suspect in my book.) However, the basic facts about the Swiss ethics panel appear to be correct. The text of the panel's report, titled The Dignity of Living Beings with Regard to Plants, can be downloaded as a pdf file.

From my point of view, what makes this interesting is that it represents the fulfillment of a satirical prophecy. Back in 2004 I posted about the spoof Society for the Protection of Plants. It only took four years for the satire to become true.
Categories: Food, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Wed May 14, 2008
Comments (16)
Posted recently on Yahoo! News: "A farmer tends organic tomatoes at a greenhouse in Langfang, Hebei province, near Beijing, China, February 6, 2007."

It's not photoshopped. It's an example of forced perspective. (via Snapshots from my world)

Categories: Food, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Mon May 12, 2008
Comments (4)
The models in Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign (whose tagline was "we believe real beauty comes in many shapes, sizes and ages") may have benefitted from some "digital plastic surgery." From The Telegraph:

Pascal Dangin, a celebrated retoucher of fashion pictures, claimed the Dove women were far from au naturel. In an interview with New Yorker magazine, Mr Dangin, who runs Box Studios in New York, a company which retouches photographs and does regular work for Vogue, and the fashion companies Dior and Balenciaga, said that he had manipulated the photographs heavily. When asked about the four-year-old campaign, he said: "Do you know how much retouching was on that? But it was great to do, a challenge, to keep everyone’s skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive."

Dove's ad agency is denying it, insisting that they have no record of Dangin working on that campaign.
Categories: Advertising, Body Manipulation
Posted by Alex on Mon May 12, 2008
Comments (25)
Two former Junior High teachers have been giving each other the same donut as a gift for 37 years. From sj-r.com:

In 1971, Mrs. Ross, longtime language arts teacher at the junior high, brought a doughnut to school to enjoy on her break in the teacher’s lounge. She and Mr. Nelson already enjoyed teasing each other, but on this day, Mr. Nelson took things to another level.
He hid Mrs. Ross’s doughnut. And then the doughnut disappeared. Did he eat it?
“I hid the doughnut but I did not eat the doughnut,” swears Mr. Nelson. “Someone else may have eaten it, but I did not.”
Be that as it may, the doughnut disappeared, and he was correctly identified as the thief. Mrs. Ross then bought another doughnut, glazed, and gave it to Mr. Nelson so that he would no longer have to resort to doughnut thievery.
“I thought he should have a doughnut of his own,” she says. “I think I bought it at a dime store.”
That is where things stood until Mrs. Ross’s next birthday, or maybe it was Christmas, they can’t remember which — this was 37 years ago after all, so we will give them a break. Mr. Nelson put the doughnut in a box, gift wrapped it and gave it to Mrs. Ross.
It has been passed back and forth ever since...
This tradition eventually became legendary at the Chatham school. Mr. Nelson sometimes directed one or two of his students to go down the hall to Mrs. Ross’s room with the gift box, hoping she wouldn’t realize who it was from until it was too late. The doughnut sometimes turned up in either teacher’s school mailbox.

Mr. Nelson currently has the donut in his freezer. He's plotting when and how to give it to Mrs. Ross, who is now 93 years old and living in a retirement community.
Categories: Food, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Mon May 12, 2008
Comments (6)
You have missed your chance to bid on an "Air guitar owned by JFK":

Extremely rare oppurtunity
up for auction is the only air guitar known to have been owned by US president

JFK President kennedy was under constant stress from political rivals and upsets, so its only natural he would have taken up playing air guitar

Many silent and melancholy impromptu jam sessions haunted the air in Kennedy's office as US president

it was discovered recently in a cold storage unit in its case

the atmospheric conditions left the case with some of the usual imperfections found in aging vintage sound equipment, but the guitar itself (a red solid-body electric resembling a Mustang) is as it was in kennedys hands

Kennedy entertaining premier Khruschev in a moment of naive peacefulness with his faithful air guitar.


(Thanks, Joe! via wonkette)
Categories: eBay, Music
Posted by Alex on Mon May 12, 2008
Comments (8)
Charlotte Paru writes in an email:

"Please let's leave the dead be."

A fascinating comment turned up on a new web site by Nicole Zapruder, who has been "communicating with the dead since she was 4 years old." People aren't disputing her ability; they're asking her not to share the technique on the internet.
http://www.talktothedead.org/
"All peoples of earth posess this natural ability," Nicole counters, adding that her site comes with a detailed warning. ("Do not contact any dead person who may have negative feelings toward you...")

Nicole Zapruder's technique of talking with the dead involves something called the "Grey Walter - Berger Construct." Based on the video on the site, this entails looking into a stroboscopic light while a guy with a British accent repeatedly says "Look into the light."

But based on the high number of references the site makes to the recent movie The Orphanage, I'm guessing the entire site is, in fact, guerrilla marketing for that movie. So I'm playing right into their hands by posting about it, but I like horror movies, so I'm willing to give them some free publicity.
Categories: Paranormal, Websites
Posted by Alex on Mon May 12, 2008
Comments (4)
Eighty-three people have been rounded up by federal officials in Florida and accused of participating in sham marriages. A company called All Kind Services was staging fake weddings, complete with props, so that the couples could have photographs of their "wedding day" to show officials. From the Orlando Sentinel:
The four-tiered cake the newlyweds were about to cut was plastic. The glasses and plates on the reception table were empty. And the bride wore casual shoes under her wedding gown. Those were among the clues that caught the attention of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials after they searched the offices of Winter Garden-based All Kind Services U.S.A. in August 2005. In a back room were the cake, the fake reception hall and a rack with several wedding dresses.
"The cake is the first clue," said Mark Garrand, assistant special agent in charge of ICE in Orlando. "It's not real. The glasses [on the table] are not filled. And the running shoes are a nice touch, too." Investigators soon realized that the photos and props were identical in many of the 25 marriage cases they were probing.

(Thanks, Joe)
Categories: Scams, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Sat May 10, 2008
Comments (3)
A novel twist on the money-multiplying scam. From Reuters:

A Vietnamese man in Norway lost around 35,000 dollars after he was led to believe that mixing the cash with a special liquid would double its value, Norwegian media reported Saturday...
The victim of the con, who was not identified, was reportedly told by the Frenchman to leave a mixture of real cash with blank bills to marinate in a special liquid overnight, and the next morning he would have double the amount of cash at his disposal.
But when he showed up the next morning to collect his prize, both the cash and the suspected con-artist, whose name was not revealed, had disappeared.

I've never heard of con-artists employing a marinade to grow money, but "money-making machines" used to be a popular scam. Carl Sifakis describes this scam in Hoaxes and Scams:

[Count Victor Lustig] became the leading practitioner of the so-called money-making machine. He told suckers he had invented a process that permitted him to feed plain paper into a machine and turn it into currency so perfect that no one could tell it from the real thing. There was good reason for this, since the "counterfeit" that spewed out of the contraption was real money. The success of the outrageous swindle was in its telling. Lustig sold the machine over and over again to such diverse characters as businessmen, bankers, gangsters, madams and even small-town lawmen.
Categories: Scams
Posted by Alex on Sat May 10, 2008
Comments (8)
FairDeal Homeopathy promises it won't lie to its customers. They only guarantee that their remedies are "as effective as all other homeopathic remedies."

They also won't promise that their products can help you if you're ill. Although they do note that if you believe in their remedies they might help, because of the placebo effect. But they caution that if you're "actually ill" you shouldn't expect their products to cure you. "Homeopathy of any sort," they note, "is not a medical treatment, neither is it a substitute for evidence-based medicine and proper medical opinion."

On the testimonials page you find comments from "Miss Emily B. Leiver" and "Mr C. Lumsey." At which point it becomes obvious that the entire site is a parody. (Thanks, Terry!)

Update: I just received this email.

Dear Sir,
I just happened across your website entry on FairDeal Homeopathy.
I actually developed the site for the guys at FairDeal, and can assure you
that while the site is very unlike all other homeopathy websites, the firm
itself is anything but a hoax, and does sell homeopathic remedies* (payment
by PayPal only, dispatch to UK only) to anyone who wishes to buy one.
I'm sure the guys will be grateful if you could clarify this in your entry.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need any more information, or
if you wish to get information "from the horse's mouth" as it were, you can
contact FairDeal direct on info@fdhom.co.uk
Best regards,
Richard Lockwood.

*remedy is in no way meant to imply curative properties, guaranteed as
effective as all other homeopthic products


To which I replied:

Thanks for your email.
So let me see if I understand. FairDeal Homeopathy will sell people something. Customers will receive a product in the mail. But FairDeal tells their customers straight up that the product is basically a bottle of water.
Is that an accurate summary?
-Alex

And received this response:

Hi Alex,
Almost.  Their remedies are in pill (lactose tablet) form sourced from the UK's biggest supplier of homeopathic products.  They are identical to any other homeopathic remedy you can buy; they're just a lot more honest about what they do. 
Best regards,
Richard.

So I suppose FairDeal Homeopathy is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it is real, in so far as it will sell people something.
Categories: Health/Medicine, Websites
Posted by Alex on Sat May 10, 2008
Comments (10)
Cranky Media Guy wants to know "Who in the press can we implore to PLEASE MAKE THIS NONSENSE STOP?"

He's referring to the most recent finding of a holy potato. From thelocal.de:

A potato destined for the fryer has become a holy relic to some Berliners after a woman cut it open only to find an image of a cross inside.
Birgül Balta, 49, was cutting potatoes for French fries at her home in Berlin's Charlottenburg district when the cross-shaped cavity inside one of the spuds stopped her cold.
"There was a strange sort of crackling sound like pressure was being released. When she opened it she found that - two perfect crosses," Balta's husband, Robert White, told The Local.

Of course, I assume Cranky knows the answer to his question. There is no one we can appeal to. The nonsense will never stop. Ever.

Related post: some other holy spuds
Categories: Pareidolia, Religion
Posted by Alex on Thu May 08, 2008
Comments (11)
Becky Miller, Mayor of Carrollton in Texas, claims that she once sang backup for Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Browne, and was once engaged to Don Henley. Problem is, none of these people have ever heard of her.

She also claims that her brother was killed in Vietnam. However, her father says that her brother is still alive in Maryland and was never in the service.

And Western Kentucky University can't find any record of her attendance, despite her insistence that she was a student there.

Clearly Mayor Miller is developing a bit of a credibility problem, so it's a good thing she's in politics. She should go far. (Thanks, Joe)
Categories: Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Thu May 08, 2008
Comments (11)
I've previously posted about the issue of placebo walk buttons -- that is, the widespread suspicion that the walk buttons at intersections don't have any effect on traffic lights. (There's also a separate theory that you can control the traffic lights by pushing the button in a special way.)

An article on canada.com addresses the issue of placebo buttons at some length. They insist the idea of placebo buttons is a myth (at least for the city of Victoria), and they interview a traffic planner to discover what really happens when the button is pushed:

Brad Dellebuur, city transportation planner, says pushing the button sends a signal to the intersection's traffic controller that a pedestrian is present and enters the "walk" signal into the system's cycle.
"If you don't press it, some intersections won't give a walk signal," Dellebuur says. The traffic light timing is also determined by the amount of vehicular traffic, which is picked up by sensors imbedded in the road.
In other words, pushing the button won't make the light change right away, or within a certain time from when the button is activated. You'll still have to wait, but a shorter period as the traffic light interval is shortened.
If you don't push the light, the pedestrian walk signal still comes on, but, for instance, after 60 seconds instead of 40.

Of course, many people insist on pushing the button even if it's already been pushed, in which case it isn't having any effect. Why do they do this?

It's not just distrust that makes people push a crosswalk button that has probably been pushed already. It's also ritual, says Jim Gibson, social psychologist at UVic, and very much like pushing an elevator button that is already illuminated.
"It's part of crossing the intersection," Gibson says. "We want to cross, and pushing the button first is part of that ritual.
"We go on automatic pilot because ritual behaviour saves our brains from having to think about activities that are very routine."

(via Legends & Rumors)
Categories: Psychology, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu May 08, 2008
Comments (11)
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