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August 2008
Reuters has posted an article claiming that some Olympic volleyball players are wearing glasses with no lenses during games. It's all about money, of course:

beach volleyball players at the Olympics took to the court wearing frames with no lenses. "The lenses fog up because of the humidity, so you can't wear the glasses without popping out the lenses," U.S. men's volleyballer Phil Dalhausser told reporters on Monday. High humidity is a regular feature of the weather in Beijing at this time of year. Several beach volleyball players wear glasses at night to reduce the glare of floodlights or protect their eyes from flying sand but the frames serve no other purpose than sponsorship.

I haven't seen any pictures of these frames-but-no-lenses athletes, but the story makes sense if the athletes are obliged to wear the glasses because of a sponsorship deal.
Categories: Sports
Posted by Alex on Thu Aug 14, 2008
Comments (4)
Most people, when they lose their dog, put up flyers around the neighborhood. When Dov Charney, founder of American Apparel, lost his dog recently, he placed two billboards at Sunset and Alvardo in LA to let people know. The billboards showed his dog, HedKayce, dressed in American Apparel fashions.

This made everyone suspicious that the billboard was some kind of publicity stunt. In fact, there were rumors that his dog may have been missing since April.

But as of yesterday, the billboard has been altered to say "Found Dog." So that's the end of the story, I guess. But it still doesn't mean it wasn't a publicity stunt.
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Thu Aug 14, 2008
Comments (4)
On Friday Aug 15 a press conference is scheduled in Palo Alto to present evidence suggesting that the corpse of a Bigfoot has been found in Georgia. DNA evidence and photo evidence will be presented. (Thanks to everyone who emailed me about this.)

I'd just like to go on record before the press conference to predict that it's going to be a hoax. Bigfoot hasn't been found. Why? Because if a Bigfoot species existed in North America, it would have been found long ago. To remain hidden this long, the Bigfoot species would need to have supernatural abilities.

The evidence that's been leaked so far in support of the Bigfoot Body consists of a photo of what looks like a Bigfoot costume stuffed into a freezer.

Already the "Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization" is claiming that "The Georgia *Bigfoot Body* story is a hoax orchestrated by a veteran media hoaxer named Tom Biscardi."

See my list of Bigfoot Hoaxes for some of the history of Sasquatch shenanigans.
Categories: Cryptozoology
Posted by Alex on Thu Aug 14, 2008
Comments (49)
Desperate for free porn
A man entered an adult novelty store, told the clerk that he was a detective with the Longmont Police Department's "age verification unit," and demanded that the clerk provide him with pornographic videos so that he could verify the ages of the actors in them. The Longmont Police have no age verification unit. The clerk turned him away, and then the manager called the real police. (Thanks, Bob!)

Cheesecake Box Bomb
A man entered a movie rental store, placed a box on the counter, and told a clerk it was a bomb that he would detonate unless he was given cash. The clerk refused and the man fled. The "bomb" was an empty cheesecake box.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Tue Aug 12, 2008
Comments (4)
1) The school child who walked at the front of the Chinese team during the opening ceremonies (he was a survivor of the Sichuan earthquake) was carrying an upside-down Chinese flag. Why is debatable. Maybe it was an innocent mistake, or maybe it was a coded message of "great distress" (as upside-down flags mean in nautical convention). Whatever the reason, the Chinese media cropped the upside-down flag out of the photos they showed Chinese audiences.

2) The opening ceremonies included a massive fireworks display. But what was shown to television audiences was a pre-recorded, computer-generated shot of fireworks. This was done because of "potential dangers in filming the display live from a helicopter." I've seen plenty of televised fireworks displays, but I've never heard that excuse before.

[Update: According to stuff.co.nz, the fake fireworks occurred during the sequence when firework "footprints" were going off in a series over the city of Beijing, tracked from a helicopter and leading right up to the stadium. When I watched the ceremony, I remember the NBC commentators noting that the sequence was a computer generated graphic. This is more understandable to me. When I read the yahoo sports article, I got the impression that it was the fireworks directly over the stadium that had been faked.]

3) The ceremonies concluded with a dramatic torch-lighting stunt. As this was happening, a projection of the Microsoft "blue screen of death" mysteriously appeared on the roof of the stadium. Some programmer's mistake, apparently. This really happened.

And a fourth item to note (Thanks, Nick): the little girl who sang "Ode to the Motherland" was lip-synching. The AP reports:
Lin Miaoke's performance Friday night, like the ceremony itself, was an immediate hit. "Nine-year-old Lin Miaoke becomes instant star with patriotic song," the China Daily newspaper headline said Tuesday. But the real voice behind the tiny, pigtailed girl in the red dress who wowed 91,000 spectators at the National Stadium on opening night really belonged to 7-year-old Yang Peiyi. Her looks apparently failed the cuteness test with officials organizing the ceremony, but Chen said her voice was judged the most beautiful.
"The national interest requires that the girl should have good looks and a good grasp of the song and look good on screen," Chen said. "Lin Miaoke was the best in this. And Yang Peiyi's voice was the most outstanding."
Categories: Photos/Videos, Sports, Technology
Posted by Alex on Tue Aug 12, 2008
Comments (6)
It's been the feel-good story in the news during the past few days: 93-year-old Lorna Page was living in a retirement home small apartment until she secured a large advance for her thriller, A Dangerous Weakness. Amazingly, it was her first book! The money has allowed her to buy a five-bedroom house, and she's invited some of her friends from the living in a retirement home to come live with her.

But Ray Girvan of Apothecary's Drawer Weblog asks a good question. Where did this huge advance come from, given that AuthorHouse is a self-publishing firm? They don't pay huge advances. Instead, authors pay them to get published.

The Making Light blog reaches this conclusion: Someone is fibbing.

Correction: Ray pointed out to me that "The newspapers didn't say she *herself* moved out of a care home. They said she moved from an apartment into a larger house, and plans to use it to move her friends out of care home." So I've corrected the above text.

Actually, reading the article more carefully (and reading between the lines a bit), I'm guessing that what happened was that Lorna Page moved into the larger home using money she already had, but she's hoping she'll strike it rich from the book and that she'll be able to use the proceeds to pay off the house. The poor woman obviously has no idea how little writers make.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Tue Aug 12, 2008
Comments (7)
Police responded to an emergency call to find 26 cheerleaders stuffed inside an elevator:

The group of 14- to 17-year-olds was inspired to test an elevator’s maximum capacity while attending cheerleading camp at the university, The Dallas Morning News reported. When the elevator stalled en route from the fourth to the first floor, several girls panicked. The girls “managed to wiggle a few cell phones free to call for help,” the paper reported. Police and fire crew responded, but it took an elevator repairman 25 minutes to extricate the squad.

The fad of telephone booth stuffing (which this stunt evidently was inspired by) peaked in 1959 in the States. It was followed a few years later by a fad for stuffing people into Volkswagens. (Info from the Bad Fads Museum.) I didn't know kids today still did stuff like that. They're lucky it didn't end up as a case file on the Darwin Awards.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Mon Aug 11, 2008
Comments (8)
Customers at Apple's online iPhone store recently had the opportunity to buy a program called "I Am Rich." True to its name, it cost $999.99.

The program, created by Armin Heinrich, a German software developer, displayed a large red ruby on the iPhone's screen. And that's it. Nothing else. The product description read:

"The red icon on your iPhone always reminds you (and others when you show it to them) that you were able to afford this. It's a work of art with no hidden function at all."

Eight people actually purchased the program before Apple removed it from the site. One of them complained that he bought it thinking it was a joke, only to discover a charge for $999.99 on his credit card.

This program walks the fine line between a prank and a scam. The concept is kind of funny, but Heinrich is apparently keeping the money that people paid. I wouldn't find that funny if it was my money.
Categories: Pranks, Scams, Technology
Posted by Alex on Mon Aug 11, 2008
Comments (13)
The story of the Montgomery County (Texas) Bulletin Plagiarism scandal, so far:

1) A reader pointed out to Slate.com writer Jody Rosen that an article he had written about Jimmy Buffett had been plagiarized by Mark Williams, a writer for a small weekly Texas paper, the Montgomery County Bulletin.

2) Rosen contacted the editor of the Bulletin, Mike Ladyman, who pretty much blew him off.

3) Rosen did some more investigating and realized that Mark Williams had plagiarized almost EVERYTHING he wrote for the Bulletin. And a substantial amount of the rest of the content of the Bulletin also came from plagiarized sources.

4) Rosen published an article in Slate about what he had found.

5) Mike Ladyman, in response, decided to cease publication of the Bulletin.

It's interesting to read the statements of Ladyman and Williams. They truly seem to feel they're the injured parties in all of this. (Cognitive dissonance at work.) Ladyman, for instance, complains that Rosen didn't handle the process "professionally." And Williams sarcastically congratulates Rosen for "breaking an already fragile soul."

There seemed to be some question about whether Mark Williams was actually a real person, or an alter ego of Mike Ladyman. However, Williams talked to NPR's On the Media, so apparently he is real. (Thanks to Joe Littrell!)
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Sun Aug 10, 2008
Comments (8)
Killer whales do eat penguins, but I'd say this has been photoshopped. For a start, if you look closely it appears that the killer whale already has something in its mouth.

I have no information about who created the photo or where the original images came from.

Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Sat Aug 09, 2008
Comments (16)
The Associated Press reports that the FBI has started cracking down on a widespread insurance scam in which hospitals fill up their beds with homeless people posing as patients, and then charge government programs for the costs.

Hospitals in Los Angeles and Orange counties submitted phony Medicare and Medi-Cal bills for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of homeless patients — including drug addicts and the mentally ill — recruited from downtown's Skid Row, state and federal authorities allege.
While treating minor problems that did not require hospitalization, such as dehydration, exhaustion or yeast infections, the hospitals allegedly kept homeless patients in beds for as long as three days and charged the government for the stays.

Put that together with this report from Jan 2008 which described how hospitals frequently employ fake patients in order to spy on doctors and check out whether they're doing what they should be. The problem is that sometimes the real patients in the emergency room are stuck in line behind the fake patients.

And let's not forget the 2006 case of the Norwegian doctor who invented case studies of 900 fake patients to pad out his study of whether aspirin could reduce the risk of oral cancer.

The conclusion: Fake patients are obviously an important, under-appreciated part of the modern health-care industry. (Thanks, Joe)
Categories: Health/Medicine, Scams
Posted by Alex on Fri Aug 08, 2008
Comments (2)
The internet was already home to dogcondoms.com, which I posted about back in 2005. But for someone out there, one version of the joke was not enough, because there is now also doggycondoms.com (registered in May 2008).

It's the exact same joke, just more elaborately fleshed out.

It looks like it's the creation of the humor website DailyContempt.com, which is also responsible for a slew of other hoax sites including (but not limited to) puppybeef.com, puppyprofits.com, and childtrader.com (which I posted about a few months ago).
Categories: Animals, Sex/Romance, Websites
Posted by Alex on Fri Aug 08, 2008
Comments (1)
Visitors to New York's Coney Island amusement park now have the opportunity to try the "Waterboard Thrill Ride." As the sign outside proclaims, "It don't Gitmo better!" According to Reuters:

A man with a black hood pours water on the face of a prisoner in an orange jumpsuit strapped to a table... The scene using robotic dolls is an installation built by artist Steve Powers to criticize waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique the United States has admitted using on terrorism suspects, but that rights group say is torture...
The public can peek through window bars and feed a dollar into the slot to bring the robotic dolls into action.

It reminds me of the Abu Ghraib Prison Fantasy Camp, which was the creation of our very own Cranky Media Guy.

More broadly, it fits into the theme of Reality Tourism, other examples of which that I've posted about in the past include the "Khmer Rouge Experience Cafe" in Cambodia that served customers the watery gruel that people ate in the Killing Fields.

There's also "Communism: The Theme Park": An amusement park planned for outside Berlin where people could experience life under communism. As well as a nazi command post in Poland that was turned into a theme resort.

And last but not least: Croatian Club Med, where tourists who wanted to experience life in a hard-labor camp were issued convict uniforms and given the opportunity to pound large stones with a sledgehammer and haul the pieces on their back to quarries around the prison.
Categories: Art, Hate Crimes/Terror, Places
Posted by Alex on Fri Aug 08, 2008
Comments (4)
That's the claim recently made by the Italian paper La Stampa, as reported in The Telegraph:
According to yesterday's front page of La Stampa, an article entitled "The Lunch Time Swingers" suggests an estimated 500,000 Italian couples are swapping partners at private sex clubs. Thousands more are taking part in the activity in a more informal fashion, doing it in car parks, specially designated beaches, and even cemeteries. The article said wife swapping had increased everywhere "at a rate that makes you dizzy", primarily thanks to the internet... While 500,000 members meet in 200 private clubs across the country to swap, they believe that figure is only the start, and the real figure is closer to two million, a quarter of Italy's eight million sexually active citizens.

Their source for this information is "a Rome-based body called The International Federation for the Protection of Rights and Freedom, or Federsex, for short."

I can't find any information about this organization, nor about how it might have obtained these figures. My suspicion is that it pulled them out of thin air.

Sexual behavior lends itself to wild rumors. For instance, back in 2003 the British media worked itself into a lather over the idea that there was a "Dogging" craze sweeping the country, which involved people having sex in public places. And what about the 2006 report from the Japan Family Planning Association which claimed that 7.9% of Japanese men aged 40-45 were virgins?
Categories: Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Wed Aug 06, 2008
Comments (5)
Back in January 2008 Variety published a rumor, citing unnamed sources, that Britney Spears had agreed to play a killer lesbian stripper in Quentin Tarantino's next movie, a remake of Russ Meyer's 1965 film Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!.

Seven months later, there's no indication this rumor is true. For instance, there's no listing of such a project on IMDB.

Nevertheless, the rumor is circulating again. It was reported recently in The Telegraph and on popcrunch. It appears that the January rumor is simply being reported again, with no attempt to check the facts.

Taken together with the recent rumor that Spears was to star in a (nonexistent) movie titled The Knoxville Carjacking Party, it seems that there's a deep unmet desire out there to see Spears starring in a slasher movie.
Categories: Celebrities, Entertainment
Posted by Alex on Wed Aug 06, 2008
Comments (9)
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