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September 2008
A very strange astronomical rumor is circulating:

Coming October 17, 2008 the sun will rise continuously for 36 hrs (1.5 days). During this time the US countries will be dark for 1.5 days.
It will convert 3 days into 2 big days. It will happen once in 2400 yrs. We're very lucky to see this. Forward it to all your friends.

This rumor appears to have come from India, so it means to say that the sun will rise for 36 hours over India, and the Americas will be dark for the same amount of time. Not that this makes the rumor any less nonsensical. The only way for this rumor to come true would be if the earth stopped rotating. Let's all hope that doesn't happen.

David Emery has already debunked this. He found that, "During a one-month period from mid-August to mid-September 2008, over 15,000 postings containing the phrase 'the sun will rise continuously for 36 hours' appeared on the Internet." He also theorizes that "the perpetrator(s) of the hoax put a great deal of effort into disseminating it."
Categories: Email Hoaxes, Science
Posted by Alex on Mon Sep 29, 2008
Comments (48)
This rumor is going around:

BoA to close credit cards for approximately 60% of customers?

"I work in Credit Department at BoA (Senior Level Credit Analysist Boa Bldg 3rd fl, Char, NC). We just received memo indicating that all BoA credit cards are being closed as of 10/1. Credit score and income do not matter, all accounts are closed as of 10/1." Executive VP Bank of America

"This is true, but not as bad as he/she says. We are closing accounts, but only ones with credit scores under 750. We will reopen cards within a year as long as crisis lessens." - J.mcmanus / VP Credit Dept BOA

The news is sourced to iReport.com. If true, it would be another sign of the deepening financial crisis on Wall Street, but Bank of America doesn't have any info about this on their website, so my guess is that the rumor is false.
Categories: Business/Finance
Posted by Alex on Mon Sep 29, 2008
Comments (29)
Apparently John McCain's campaign has access to the same time machine used by the Chinese journalists at Xinhua News who reported the launch of the Shenzhou VII spacecraft (including the astronaut's dialogue) hours before it happened. (See previous post.)

McCain's campaign has been running an ad in the Wall Street Journal's online edition declaring that "McCain Wins Debate," which is a bold assertion considering that the debate will only happen tonight.

Link: Washington Post

Categories: Advertising, Future/Time, Politics
Posted by Alex on Fri Sep 26, 2008
Comments (6)
China recently launched its third manned mission to space. Oddly, the Xinhua news agency reported the launch hours before it occurred. This would be understandable -- news agencies routinely prepare copy about major stories in advance of the event itself -- but the article included detailed dialogue between the astronauts:

"One minute to go!' 'Changjiang No.1 found the target! ...
"The firm voice of the controller broke the silence of the whole ship. Now, the target is captured 12 seconds ahead of the predicted time ...
"The air pressure in the cabin is normal!
"Ten minutes later, the ship disappears below the horizon. Warm clapping and excited cheering breaks the night sky, echoing across the silent Pacific Ocean."

Xinhua explained that the story had been posted early "due to a technical problem." Must be a glitch in their time travel machine. Link: news.com.au
Categories: Future/Time, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Fri Sep 26, 2008
Comments (2)
Strange "educational" stunts perpetrated by school authorities appear to be a growing trend. We had:

1) The Fake Attack at an Elementary School. (Students were told there was a gunman loose in the area in order to teach them how to respond in case a gunman ever really was loose in the area.)

2) Your classmate has died -- but not really. (Students were told that one of their classmates had died in a drunk-driving accident in order to teach them about the evils of drunk driving.)

But a stunt recently played on kids at Edgware school goes to the top of the list for weirdness. The Harrow Observer reports:

Children from an Edgware school were made to believe aliens had landed in their playground by teachers and police.
After spending this morning bewildered by the unusual hoax, pupils from Stag Lane School in Collier Drive, quizzed police officers brought on to the site during a press conference to make the event seem more realistic. Forensic examiners had earlier analyzed an 'alien claw' they had 'found' on the site.
The aim of the day was to stimulate the children's minds and help develop their story writing skills.
After lunch the pupils were informed by the school's headteacher Elena Evans that it was all a stunt.
Categories: Extraterrestrial Life, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Fri Sep 26, 2008
Comments (6)
An article in SFGate.com describes how the owners of FieldReport.com devised what they thought was a sure-fire way to generate interest in their literary site. They decided to offer a "$250,000 prize for whichever short nonfiction piece received the highest ranking from the site's users by Jan. 1, 2009. A series of $1,000 qualifying prizes would be awarded in the months leading up to the quarter-million-dollar payout."

Problem is, no one believed them.

"We got this dead-face, 'My-god-you-guys-must-be-Nigerian-scammers' reaction," he said...

In a neat ironic twist, one of their few early adopters who was a serious contender for the prize money appeared to be a Nigerian scammer.

The contributor in question uploaded a few stories and suddenly, Petty said, "we noticed we had lots and lots of reviewers coming from Nigerian IP addresses. In the early days of the site, it was possible for an individual who created 20 accounts to influence the ratings pretty easily."

Personally, I still wouldn't believe this offer is real -- not until the cash is placed in someone's hands.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 25, 2008
Comments (1)
Margriet Oostveen describes in Salon.com how she composed phony letters-to-the-editor on behalf of the McCain campaign:

The assignment is simple: We are going to write letters to the editor and we are allowed to make up whatever we want -- as long as it adds to the campaign. After today we are supposed to use our free moments at home to create a flow of fictional fan mail for McCain. "Your letters," says Phil Tuchman, "will be sent to our campaign offices in battle states. Ohio. Pennsylvania. Virginia. New Hampshire. There we'll place them in local newspapers." ...

"We will show your letters to our supporters in those states," explains Phil. "If they say: 'Yeah, he/she is right!' then we ask them to sign your letter. And then we send that letter to the local newspaper. That's how we send dozens of letters at once."

This is called "astroturf" (i.e. an artificial grassroots campaign). It's a popular campaign strategy. Basically a variation on the fake testimonial technique in advertising.

Some notable moments in the history of Astroturf:

• In 2003 democrats noticed similar letters in support of President Bush's economic policies appearing in papers such as the Boston Globe, the Cincinnati Post, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The letters all began with the line: "When it comes to the economy, President Bush is demonstrating genuine leadership." The letter was traced back to a Republican website, gopteamleader.com, that had posted it and was encouraging readers to print it out and send it to local papers.

• In 1997, when the Justice Department was suing Microsoft for violating antitrust laws, Utah's attorney general noticed he was receiving numerous pro-Microsoft letters peppered with similar phrases such as "strong competition and innovation have been the twin hallmarks of the technology industry." Upon closer investigation, he discovered that some of the letters came from people who were dead. It turned out Microsoft was composing the letters and then sending them to individuals who had expressed positive sentiments about Microsoft in phone polls. The individuals were instructed to sign the letters and forward them to their attorney general. But unfortunately for Microsoft, some of the individuals had died in between being polled and receiving the letter. Their family members, thinking the letter was some kind of official document, had signed the letter and forwarded it on with a note explaining the situation, thereby exposing the whole scheme.

(Thanks, Bob and Joe!)
Categories: Advertising, Politics
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 25, 2008
Comments (4)
Pranksters at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign recently added the Eye of Sauron to the McFarland Memorial Bell Tower. The tower looks like it was designed to host it. The Daily Illini reports that those responsible for placing the Eye on the tower remain unknown.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 24, 2008
Comments (7)
Recently the Delray Beach Public Library arranged an exhibition of photographs taken by 71-year-old Milt Goldstein. The pictures were taken immediately following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and showed rescue workers searching for victims. Goldstein told anyone willing to listen how he had gained access to ground zero by buying an NYPD hat and jacket from a vendor on Canal Street. Goldstein was offering to sell individual pictures for prices ranging from $200 to $350.

But it turned out that the pictures hadn't been taken by Goldstein. He had simply collected them together from sources such as the Associated Press, the military, and other government agencies. When Goldstein's hoax was exposed, the library cancelled the exhibition.

But it seems the news didn't reach Atlantic Ave magazine in time, which features an article by Milt Goldstein in its current issue. (pdf link to the magazine.) In the article, Goldstein writes:

I saw the second plane approach and I started to take pictures of the events that followed. The rest of my story is in my photos. I took a few pictures 3 days after the tragedy from the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. I also took many more on the Saturday, immediately following the tragedy... It is only recently that I recovered my pictures from my daughter and decided to share them with others.

What he should have said was, "it is only recently that I downloaded the pictures from the internet..."

The thumbnail shows Goldstein posing with "his" pictures.
Categories: Hate Crimes/Terror, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 24, 2008
Comments (5)
Chinese food inspectors have issued a warning to those planning to buy caterpillar fungus: Many samples of caterpillar fungus have been replaced by fakes. These fakes "not only miss their medicinal function, but could even be poisonous."

According to Wikipedia, caterpillar fungus is one of the most prized ingredients in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine:

it is used as an aphrodisiac and as a treatment for a variety of ailments from fatigue to cancer. It is regarded as having an excellent balance of yin and yang as it is apparently both animal and vegetable (though it is in actuality not vegetable, but fungal).

So my guess is that the "real" stuff does basically nothing.
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 24, 2008
Comments (1)
The Guardian reports that Natasha McElhone is slated to play Dr. James Barry in an upcoming film to be titled Heaven and Earth. Barry was the nineteenth-century British woman who disguised herself as a man in order to become a doctor. (See my post from earlier this year.)

The film is apparently focusing on the rumored romance between Barry and Lord Somerset:

James Purefoy, recently seen as Mark Antony in the TV series Rome, will play Lord Somerset, a diplomat who sacrifices his career to safeguard Barry's secret. The story opens in 1825 in the South African Cape, where Somerset is governor of the garrison colony facing a rebellion. The skill of the new surgeon, known as James Miranda Barry, soon attracts his attention, but the attraction between the two must be suppressed in an era when any hint of homosexual activity would have led to execution. Once Somerset discovers Barry's true identity, they embark on a dangerous affair. Barry's hidden gender remains protected, while the governor is eventually disgraced. The film, which also stars actors Sean Pertwee and Mark Strong, goes on to chart the dramatic resolution of this love story.

(Thanks, Joe!)
Categories: Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Tue Sep 23, 2008
Comments (1)
I stumbled across this site, weirdfragrances.com (I'm not linking directly to them, so I won't boost their google rank), that promises to send you a free sample of cologne. In return you simply provide them with your email and mailing address, and promise to later answer a few questions about the fragrance. You can choose from a variety of offbeat scents such as Grease Monkey, Burning Rubber, or Ash Tray.

Is it a legit offer? I would guess not.

First, it strikes me as odd that the site is registered anonymously through domains by proxy. Why would a legitimate company be trying to hide their identity?

Second, a quick google search reveals people posting on forums about how they submitted their info but never received anything except spam. So it appears to be a spam trap.
Categories: Business/Finance, Websites
Posted by Alex on Tue Sep 23, 2008
Comments (2)
The following cease-and-desist letter, supposedly written by Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart to John McCain, has started doing the rounds. Warning: NSFW language!



Is it real? Well, the Wilsons did email out a statement asking the Republican campaign not to use their music, and in a phone interview, after the Republicans used their music anyway, Nancy Wilson said, "I feel completely f--ed over."

However, the article above seems to be satire. It comes from Seattle's The Stranger newspaper and ran as their "New Column" feature, which usually is a spoof piece. (Thanks, Big Gary!)
Categories: Music, Politics
Posted by Alex on Tue Sep 23, 2008
Comments (5)
Yesterday the film critic Roger Ebert posted an article to his website that reads very much like an endorsement of creationism. It starts:

Questions and answers on Creationism, which should be discussed in schools as an alternative to the theory of evolution:

Q. When was the earth created?
A. Archbishop James Usher, working out a chronology from the Bible, calculated in 1654 that the earth was created on the night of October 23, 4004 B.C. Other timetables reach back as far as 10,000 years.

The article contains nothing that would indicate satire, so it already has people scratching their heads, wondering what the deal is. Ebert was never known to have creationist leanings. In fact, he's openly criticized creationism before, such as in this article from 2005 in which he writes: "Evolution is indeed a theory. Creationism is a belief, not a theory."

I'm guessing it must be some kind of attempt to provoke debate. Either that or he's gone off his rocker. (Thanks, Bob!)

Update: Ebert has revealed that his creationism article was meant to be satirical. He scolds his readers for not realizing this, claiming that we as a culture are losing our sense of irony.

Ebert doesn't seem to appreciate what makes a good hoax, which is that people should fall for it at first, but recognize in hindsight how ridiculous it was. Ebert's hoax fails this test because even in hindsight his article doesn't seem ridiculous. Unfortunately, people really do believe that crap.
Categories: Religion
Posted by Alex on Tue Sep 23, 2008
Comments (14)
What I've added during the past week to the Hoax Photo Database:

U.S. Army Releases Doctored Photographs
Bob Owen of the San Antonio Express-News noticed that these two photos released by the U.S. Army of soldiers recently killed in Iraq were almost identical, except for the soldiers' face, name, and rank.

Oswald's Backyard Photo
This photo of Lee Harvey Oswald posing with a rifle in his backyard is one of the most hotly debated photos in history. Conspiracy theorists continue to argue that it's fake, though government photo experts insist it's real. I agree with the government experts, but whatever the case, the photo definitely was retouched by newspapers upon initial publication.

Giant Human Skeleton
This image of the "skeletal remains of a human of phenomenal size," supposedly unearthed in Saudi Arabia, has been circulating online since 2004.

Francis Hetling's Victorian Waifs
In 1974 London's National Portrait Gallery exhibited photographs of Victorian waifs supposedly taken during the 1840s by a previously unknown photographer, Francis Hetling. Four years later the photos were revealed to be a hoax created by the artist Graham Ovenden.
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Mon Sep 22, 2008
Comments (0)
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