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November 2009
On the December cover of W magazine, Demi Moore's left hip doesn't line up with the rest of her leg. (look right above the 'R' in Moore.) It would seem that a photo editor must have screwed up. According to jezebel.com:

Although W has a history of using master retoucher Pascal Dangin for its celebrity covers and fashion editorials, the magazine's rep says that the retouching was done in-house by Alas and Piggott's staff. We contacted Demi's rep, too, but haven't heard back.

(Thanks, Joe!)
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 13, 2009
Comments (9)
According to legend, the ghost of Babinda Boulders in Australia lures young men to their death. (I think Babinda Boulders is also called Devil's Pool.) A recent visitor to the site took a photo in which a "ghost face" appeared. Or so she claims. I can't see anything. Can you? Link: Cairns.com
Categories: Paranormal, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 13, 2009
Comments (9)
It's a widely repeated factoid that dust consists primarily of human skin. For instance, one can find this piece of information in the first paragraph on the wikipedia page about dust. But Paloma Beamer, a dust expert at the University of Arizona, disputes this claim. From NPR.org:

Beamer says there are really only two places dust can come from: outdoors and indoors. We are an important part of the process of getting the outdoor stuff indoors. We bring it with us when we enter a house — through "soil particles that come in on your shoes," says Beamer, or tiny particles suspended in the air when we open the door and walk in.
Then there's the indoor component of dust. "Like pieces of your carpet fiber or your furniture, your bedding, or anything like that that starts decaying," she says. Then there are organic contributors. "Skin flakes and the dander off your pets, and other insects or bugs that might be in the home."
Now, as anyone who's looked under a sofa knows, there's dense dust and there's fluffy dust.
"A lot of the fluffy things, I think, tend to do more when you get a lot of fibers. In my house, it comes from cat hair," Beamer says.
Beamer's interest in dust stems comes from her effort to measure people's exposure to toxic substances. In a recent paper in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, she calculates the proportion of dust that's from indoor sources, compared with the amount from outdoor sources. She figures that one-third comes from indoor inorganic sources like carpet fibers. "Two-thirds comes from both soil tracked in, and the outdoor air particles," Beamer says.

I'm inclined to think Beamer is right. I find it hard to imagine that the volume of dust in my house comes primarily from the dead skin cells of my wife and I.
Categories: Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 11, 2009
Comments (19)
Fox News reminds me of William Randolph Hearst. They're no longer even trying to be subtle about falsifying the news. In particular, the latest from Fox News reminds me of something Hearst's New York Mirror did back in 1932. Here (in the words of Curtis MacDougall) is the 1932 incident:

In 1932 the New York Mirror ran a picture allegedly of hunger marchers storming Buckingham Palace in London. It was revealed that the scene actually was of a 1929 crowd gathered anxiously during the illness of King George V.

And here's what Fox News did recently, in the words of the Huffington Post:

The tea party protests continued last week, as Congresswoman Michele Bachmann held an anti-health-care-reform rally on the steps of the Capitol. While she estimated that 20,000-45,000 people attended the event, the Washington Post reported it was actually more like 10,000.
Still, that is a sizable number of Americans exercising their right to free speech and assembly, and that warrants news coverage. But Sean Hannity and his team did more than cover the event. They not only inflated the number in attendance with their words, but actually used footage from a heavily-attended protest this summer to make this health care rally appear more popular. Hannity even pointed out that this was a huge crowd for a Thursday, when the protest footage they used was from a Saturday.
Jon Stewart and his team caught this discrepancy and ran with it, pointing out neither the color of the leaves nor sky in the tacked-on video matched that of the actual footage.
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 11, 2009
Comments (32)
I'm a little late with this, but better late than never. From The Boston Phoenix:

An odd press conference took place last week in Post Office Square as a man claiming to be an executive at a soft-drink giant touted “a new era for Coca-Cola,” in which its Dasani bottled water will be labeled “Deception.” Of course, it wasn’t actually a Coca-Cola executive or a real press conference (despite the fake journalists asking fake questions), but activist street theater perpetrated by the guerrilla prankster collective the Yes Men.
The mock press conference, part of Boston-based Corporate Accountability International’s (CIA) Think Outside the Bottle campaign, protested Coca-Cola’s refusal to state Dasani’s origin — public water sources — on its labels, as Pepsi and Nestlé have done with their bottled-water brands.
“This is a classic case of deception,” said Mike Bonanno (a/k/a Igor Vamos), in town that day with main cohort Andy Bichlbaum (né Jacques Servin) for the opening of The Yes Men Fix the World at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. “They don’t want people to know that they’re drinking tap water because it’s pure profit. Basically, they’ve figured out such a great scam that they don’t want it to end.”
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 10, 2009
Comments (7)
He claims he was at the Berlin Wall, helping to knock it down. He even posted a picture of himself there on his Facebook page. But skeptics are saying he couldn't have been there at that time. It may be a case of political "false memory syndrome," like Reagan swearing he was present at the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, even though he never was sent to Europe during the war. From the Daily Mail:

In 1989, Sarkozy was 34 and a top official in France's conservative RPR party.
As such, his movements were already being well-documented - a fact which appears to have escaped his memory.
Even without the council records, critics have attacked his story as dubious.
For a start his claim that he ‘decided to leave Paris’ on the morning of November 9th 1989 because he wanted ‘to take part in the event which was looming’ sounded unlikely.
Journalist Alain Aufray, of Liberation newspaper, said : ‘Nobody in Paris, not even in Berlin, could tell that the Wall was going to fall... ‘Radios and televisions in West Germany had began to describe what was happening at 8pm... It was not until 11pm that Berliners in the west began to gather infront of the border.’ By this time, Sarkozy says he was already attacking the Wall, along with Alain Juppe, another future convervative prime minister, and Fillon.
Categories: Politics
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 10, 2009
Comments (5)
Apparently, it's golf balls. From cnn.com:

It seems the simple plastic golf ball is increasingly becoming a major litter problem. The scale of the dilemma was underlined recently in Scotland, where scientists -- who scoured the watery depths in a submarine hoping to discover evidence of the prehistoric Loch Ness monster -- were surprised to find hundreds of thousands of golf balls lining the bed of the loch. It is thought tourists and locals have used the loch as an alternative driving range for many years.

It would be kind of sad if Nessie died choking on a golf ball.
Categories: Cryptozoology, Nessie
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 10, 2009
Comments (8)
MSNBC has posted a list of the "10 most heinous hoaxes on the Net." Though in the intro they admit they added in "a handful of amusing ones." Here's the list (minus their descriptions): I don't think "Bigfoot's body" counts as a true internet hoax. Sure, people discussed it on the internet, but it was also discussed on TV, radio, and in newspapers. As for heinous internet hoaxes, a few of the ones they missed include Manbeef.com, Marry Our Daughter, and Lcpl. Boudreaux’s Sign
Categories: Websites
Posted by Alex on Mon Nov 09, 2009
Comments (1)
Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker discusses whether the internet promotes the spread of bizarre rumors by encouraging "group polarization":

People’s tendency to become more extreme after speaking with like-minded others has become known as “group polarization”...

“Views that would ordinarily dissolve, simply because of an absence of social support, can be found in large numbers on the Internet, even if they are understood to be exotic, indefensible, or bizarre in most communities,” Sunstein observes. Racists used to have to leave home to meet up with other racists (or Democrats with other Democrats, or Republicans with Republicans); now they need not even get dressed in order to “chat” with their ideological soul mates.
“It seems plain that the Internet is serving, for many, as a breeding group for extremism, precisely because like-minded people are deliberating with greater ease and frequency with one another,” Sunstein writes. He refers to this process as “cyberpolarization.”
Put the Web’s filtering tools together with cyberpolarization and what you get, by Sunstein’s account, are the perfect conditions for spreading misinformation. Who, on liberal blogs, is going to object to (or even recognize) a few misstatements about Sarah Palin? And who, on conservative blogs, is going to challenge mistaken assertions (or, if you prefer, lies) about President Obama?

The article implies that the internet has led to an increase in group polarization, extremism, and crazy rumors. But is this actually true? I'm not sure. The article describes all the crazy rumors that have circulated online about Obama, but crazy rumors have flourished in every era of history.
(Thanks, Gary!)
Categories: Technology, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Mon Nov 09, 2009
Comments (8)
Indian doctor Geeta Shroff is claiming to have helped many patients, thought incurable, by injecting them with embryonic stem cells. However, she hasn't submitted any of her work to scientific review, leading to suspicions that something fishy is going on. From timesonline.co.uk:

Dr Shroff has refused to publish her research and to submit it to peer review — a practise regarded widely as a cornerstone of good science. Instead, she has patented her technique, a route more familiar in business than medicine.
Doctors say that without safety trials and randomised clinical studies, her treatments are unverifiable and potentially dangerous.
There has been no research published, for instance, to rule out placebo effects. “If somebody spends thousands of pounds, it’s pretty hard to convince them it’s not money well spent,” said Anthony Mathur, a cardiologist at the London Chest Hospital working on stem-cell research.
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Sat Nov 07, 2009
Comments (0)
Cabbage Stump Night (or merely Cabbage Night) appears to be an American variant of northern England's Mischief Night, celebrated on the night before Halloween. Once again, it's something I had never heard of before. From newburyportnews.com:

Cabbage Stump Nights are not well chronicled. New Jersey apparently had its "cabbage night'' when cabbages were hurled at houses, but ours bettered that because cabbages do not fit small hands for throwing...
Cabbages have a distinctive and proper root for Cabbage Stump Night because it is the rubbery equivalent of a Little League baseball bat — pliant, easy to grasp and packing a mighty wallop.
Proper celebration of Cabbage Stump Night was to make a stealthy advance upon a peaceful household, beat the bejabbers out of the side of the house or the front door and skedaddle as fast as you could in the getaway. The alternative to escape was to receive a belt in the behind from the householder.
There would be no damage to the house because of the softness of the root, but the racket inside the house was a shock wave.

There's a few more details about it in the Dictionary of American Regional English.
Categories: Celebrations
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 06, 2009
Comments (4)
A man who caught a 14-foot (4.2-meter) python in a Florida drain pipe was charged with perpetrating a hoax after wildlife officers discovered he owned the snake and put it in the pipe in order to stage the capture. Justin Matthews, a professional animal trapper, later admitted that he had "staged the event to call attention to a growing problem of irresponsible pet ownership," the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said on Thursday.

Link: Yahoo! News
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 06, 2009
Comments (0)
Photo-fakery expert Hany Farid has confirmed, after a two-month analysis, that the famous photo of Lee Harvey Oswald posing in his backyard with a rifle was not a fake. From unionleader.com:

Farid said over the years, he's received dozens and dozens of requests to analyze the photo. What helped him decide to take on the project was a recent study he worked on looking at how the human brain processes images.
He used a computer program Facegen, to build a virtual 3D model of Oswald's head. Once that was completed, he added in the background features of the photo. Through a series of computations, he figured out where the camera had to be, the trajectory of the sun and where Oswald was in relation to the camera...
Farid said given the technology available 46 years ago, there is no way someone would have been able to get the internal and external elements of the photo just right in order to fabricate not only the one photo, but two others in the series.

I have a blurb about the "backyard photo" in the hoax photo archive. As far as I know, there was no longer any real controversy about the authenticity of the photo, except among a handful of conspiracy theorists. But what helped start the controversy, back in 1964, was that when magazines published the image, they retouched it in various ways. As a result, there were a number of versions of the image in circulation, with differing details, and this created suspicions.
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 06, 2009
Comments (3)
This sounds like it might be a case of "black propaganda":

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) on Thursday condemned a fake campaign ad circulating under his name that implies President Barack Obama is a communist...
The 30-second ad begins with a clip of President Barack Obama's speech to students on the first day of school this year. Red-colored text scrolls across the screen that says "Community Activist," a message that morphs into "Communist Activity."
The image then changes from Obama to clips of Red Army parades featuring infantrymen, tanks, and rockets...

The end of the ad contains Wilson's campaign logo and says "paid for by Joe Wilson for Congress."

Link: thehill.com
Categories: Politics
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 06, 2009
Comments (1)
What you get for trying to be a hero nowadays:

A man was attacked and robbed after he jumped into a lake believing a boy was drowning, only to find it was a dummy.
The dog walker was approached by a "distressed" couple in Foxes Forest, Portsmouth, who said their son had been attacked by a swan in nearby water.
When the 48-year-old jumped into the lake and discovered the dummy he saw the man going through his coat pockets.

Link: BBC
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 06, 2009
Comments (0)
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