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November 2009
The Belgian man believed to be in a coma for 23 years, but recently found to be conscious, has been big news for the past few days. But now problems are emerging with the story. No one doubts that he's sentient, since MRI scans have confirmed this. But his ability to communicate is being questioned. Skeptics are questioning whether the statements attributed to him really are his, or do they come from his "facilitator" (a woman who holds his hand to help him type on a keyboard)? Doctors are also questioning how someone could be so profoundly isolated for so long, and yet still be so sane and coherent. From Wired.com:

“If facilitated communication is part of this, and it appears to be, then I don’t trust it,” said Arthur Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Bioethics. “I’m not saying the whole thing is a hoax, but somebody ought to be checking this in greater detail. Any time facilitated communication of any sort is involved, red flags fly.”

There's also an ongoing discussion of the case in the hoax forum.
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 25, 2009
Comments (17)
Greg writes:

Found this online - warning about fake chicken eggs, but it seems that eggs are too inexpensive to generate a profit by faking.

Absolutely right. This email hoax about Chinese food counterfeiters mass producing fake eggs has been circulating for a number of years. There are posts debunking it on Boing Boing (2006), Consumerist (2007), and Hoax-Slayer (2007).

What I find to be the most illogical part of the fake egg story is the claim that the counterfeiters are going through an elaborate process to make the inside of the egg look real (i.e. the egg yolk and white). But really, why bother? The shell is all that the consumer would see when buying the egg, so isn't that the only part a counterfeiter would care about?
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 25, 2009
Comments (14)
Two weeks ago I linked to a BBC article by Clive Coleman about the case of the carbolic smoke ball. He must be doing a series on interesting legal cases, because he's back with a great article about the legal case of the snail found in ginger beer. Quick summary — In 1928 May Donoghue claimed to find a snail in her bottle of ginger beer. Her complaint eventually helped bring about modern consumer protection laws in the UK. The catch: "to this day, no-one knows for sure if there ever really was a snail in May Donoghue's bottle of ginger beer."

I should add this case to my list of Gross Things Found in Food.
Categories: Food, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 20, 2009
Comments (2)
Earlier this year Barbara Frale made headlines by arguing that the Shroud of Turin was hidden for over 100 years by the Knights Templar. Now she's back, claiming to have found writing on the Shroud that identifies the figure as Jesus Christ. From startribune.com:

Frale, a researcher at the Vatican archives, said Friday that she used computers to enhance images of faintly written words in Greek, Latin and Aramaic scattered across the shroud.
She asserts the words include the name "Jesus Nazarene" in Greek, proving the text could not be of medieval origin because no Christian at the time, even a forger, would have labeled Jesus a Nazarene without referring to his divinity.

Thanks to Cranky Media Guy for forwarding me the link. I can't top his comment: "She also found a tag reading 'Dry Clean Only.'"
Categories: Religion
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 20, 2009
Comments (6)
Mass: We Pray claims to be a new video game that allows you to simulate going to church, without ever leaving home. Shacknews.com reports receiving a press release from Prayer Works Interactive, the maker of this purported product. An excerpt follows:

Mass: We Pray is the first of many worship-themed games in development for Prayer Works Interactive. Just like with any videogame, families can use a television as a monitor to play. Then, they can use the CROSS, a proprietary, wireless, cross-shaped controller to participate in 24 unique and exhilarating rituals. Make the Sign of the Cross, sprinkle Holy Water, take Collection and even give Holy Communion. Every motion and nuance of a blessing or ritual is detected in three dimensions and replicated on-screen.

Can this be real? As often with claims of a religious nature, Poe's law rears its head. (The real religious stuff is often so crazy that it's indistinguishable from the spoof stuff). But let's review some of the typical signs that a website is a hoax:
  1. The site makes a claim that seems outrageous or absurd.
  2. It advertises a product, but doesn't actually allow you to buy it.
  3. It's registered anonymously, and no business address is provided.
  4. Although you can't buy the main product, you can buy a related t-shirt or mug.
  5. Google ads (or other unrelated ads) are posted to profit from traffic to the site.
An outrageous or absurd claim? Check. You can't buy Mass: We Pray, but the company claims that on Friday, Nov. 20 you'll be able to pre-order it. (Let's wait and see if they hold true to that promise.) The website is also registered anonymously through Domain Discreet, and Prayer Works Interactive offers no business address.

That's three signs of being a hoax. So my guess is that Mass: We Pray is probably fake. But the real test, of course, will be to wait and see if they ever offer this thing for sale.

Below is a video demonstration of the game.



Update: On November 20 Mass: We Pray was revealed to be a hoax. (No surprise there!) The pre-order link, which previously had been dead, became clickable, leading to an ad for the video game Dante's Inferno.

(Thanks, Bob!)
Categories: Advertising, Religion, Websites
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 19, 2009
Comments (9)
From the Salt Lake Tribune:

According to charging documents, the couple agreed to sell another man six Andy Warhol art pieces for $100,000 in February 2008. The man was told that the subject of the art was Mathew Baldwin, purportedly one of the brothers in the family of actors. The pieces were signed and dated 1996.
After giving the couple a down payment of $25,000, the man took the art to an appraiser in California. The appraiser informed the man the art was fake because there was no Mathew in the famous Baldwin family. He also pointed out that the signatures were forged because Warhol died in 1987, charging documents state.

The fact that the buyer didn't bother to check if there really was such a person as "Mathew Baldwin" before forking over $25,000 to the couple makes him almost dumber than they are.
Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 19, 2009
Comments (6)
Maybe this guy is wearing an asbestos robe. From the Times of India:

When even a match stick singes the skin, is it possible for a human being to lie on fire for four hours, fully clothed and emerge unscathed, body and robe? Even fall asleep in the process? Ramababu Swamiji, 80, from Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu,ostensibly did precisely that on Sunday morning when he slept on a homa fire and prayed for the well-being of the society, say his devotees at the Ghanagapur village in northern Karnataka.

And here's some video of the guy. It looks like he's lying next to the fire, not directly on it, but at one point you can see his robe catch fire.

Categories: Paranormal
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 19, 2009
Comments (5)
Another film about a famous hoaxer is in the works. Julian Temple plans to make a movie about the art forger Elmyr de Hory. From reuters:

The British filmmaker will take on the story of art faker Elmyr de Hory, who created and sold forgeries of paintings by the likes of Picasso and Matisse to collectors around the world between the 1940s and 1960s.
De Hory, a Hungarian native, told his story to the equally notorious hoax biographer Clifford Irving (played by Richard Gere in "The Hoax" in 2007) for the book "Fake!" Additionally, Orson Welles made a documentary about him, "F For Fake."
Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 19, 2009
Comments (3)
November 17 was the 20th anniversary of the Czech "velvet revolution." One of the events that triggered it was the spread of a rumor alleging that mathematics student Martin Smid had been beaten to death by police. Smid, however, was very much alive, and he still is. To this day, he has no idea how his name got attached to the rumor. From agonist.org:

After a bloody crackdown on a non-violent student march in Prague on November 17, 1989, a woman falsely claimed that the riot police had beaten to death her friend, a 19-year-old mathematics student named Martin Smid.
Reports of the alleged death spread like wildfire, rousing ordinary people from their lethargy and igniting the peaceful coup that brought back democracy to Czechs and Slovaks.
Twenty years later, the motivations of the women's false claim - and the role of journalists in spreading it - remains clouded in mystery.

There's more about the Martin Smid rumor at radio.cz.
Categories: Death
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 19, 2009
Comments (5)
The St. Louis Zoo hasn't had much luck keeping its polar bears alive. From riverfronttimes.com:

The zoo's last polar bear, Hope, was euthanized in April when veterinarians found it had cancer. In May 2005 another polar bear, named Churchill, ate a fatal helping of cloth and plastic inside its bin and died while undergoing stomach surgery. Five weeks later, a polar bear named Penny died at the zoo from infection. Turns out, she had two dead fetuses inside her uterus, though zoo officials didn't know she was pregnant.

Their solution has been to install a family of robotic polar bears in the empty polar bear exhibit. In 100 years, after global warming has caused mass extinctions, maybe zoos will consist primarily of robotic animal simulacra!
(Thanks, Joe!)
Categories: Animals, Technology
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 18, 2009
Comments (8)
According to The Telegraph, politicians and industry experts have been shocked (shocked!) to learn that magazines occasionally photoshop pictures of babies:

The practice came to light in a BBC documentary, My Supermodel Baby. In footage of a photo shoot for the magazine, the casting director explained how the photograph of baby model Hadley Corbett, five months, was airbrushed: "We lightened his eyes and his general skin tone, smoothed out any blotches and the creases on his arms," he said. "But we want it to look natural."

Honestly, this seems like a non-issue to me. It's not like doctoring baby pictures is a new thing. Remember Baby Adolf?
Categories: Birth/Babies, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 18, 2009
Comments (5)
CNET UK has come up with a list of "the eight most brainless tech rumours ever." They are:
  • Hoverboards are real
  • The large hadron collider will kill us all
  • X-ray is a hoax
  • Home taping to kill music
  • Apple will buy Nintendo
  • Google to buy CNET
  • Y2K Bug will kill us all
  • Bill Gates is the antichrist
An odd list. They've omitted classics such as killer cell phone calls, cell phones explode gas stations, sunlamps cook internal organs, the Nokia speed trap detector, and (of course) penis-melting zionist robot combs.
Categories: Technology, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 18, 2009
Comments (3)
I posted two months ago about underwater billboards that Ivar Haglund supposedly placed at the bottom of Puget Sound back in the 1950s in order to advertise his restaurant to submarines. Some suspected a hoax, and it turns out they were right. From the Seattle Times:

That story about those Ivar's underwater billboards at the bottom of Puget Sound, supposedly anchored in the mid-1950s?...
Fake, fake, fake.
The documents were faked on a computer. The billboard was a wooden prop, says Bob Donegan, president of Ivar's Inc. The only thing real about it was the barnacles stuck to it...
It was a great marketing campaign. Donegan says about $250,000 was spent on the hoax and the follow-up TV and radio ads and real highway billboards. The hoax was reported Oct. 23 in the industry publication Nation's Restaurant News. Donegan says he wasn't to reveal the hoax until after the ad campaign ended this month, but decided to come clean when the industry publication called.

(Thanks, Robert!)
Categories: Advertising
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 13, 2009
Comments (4)
From wired.com:

Wikipedia is under a censorship attack by a convicted murderer who is invoking Germany’s privacy laws in a bid to remove references to his killing of a Bavarian actor in 1990.
Lawyers for Wolfgang Werle, of Erding, Germany, sent a cease-and-desist letter demanding removal of Werle’s name from the Wikipedia entry on actor Walter Sedlmayr. The lawyers cite German court rulings that “have held that our client’s name and likeness cannot be used anymore in publication regarding Mr. Sedlmayr’s death.”

Occasionally I receive requests from people I've posted about, in regard to some hoax or fraud they committed in the past. They want me to remove or anonymize their name, because any google search for them immediately brings up MOH as the top link. They complain that it's become impossible for them to escape the stupid thing they did in their past. Depending on what they did (for instance, if it was a prank or petty crime), and how long ago they did it, I will consider anonymizing their last name by reducing it to a single letter. After all, I think people do deserve a second chance, and I don't want to be the one responsible for single-handedly casting a shadow over the rest of their life. But in the case of murder I think it's going too far to expect to have the slate wiped entirely clean.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 13, 2009
Comments (11)
There's an urban legend about an unfaithful husband who strikes up an online relationship with a woman. He finally arranges to meet her, only to discover that his online lover is his wife. The BBC reports a story that's similar to this, but much seedier:

A suspicious wife posed as a teenager online to catch her husband propositioning girls in a chatroom, Cardiff Crown Court has heard...
The court heard that mother-of-two Mrs Roberts became suspicious about the amount of time her husband was spending in his study and of a message which popped up on their computer while he was out.
While Roberts was chatting online in his study, Mrs Roberts used a different computer in the living room at their home in Pantygog, Bridgend, and pretended to be a schoolgirl.
Roberts propositioned the "girl", unaware he was chatting to his wife, the court was told.
Categories: Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 13, 2009
Comments (11)
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