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January 2012
On Jan. 11, TMZ posted a photo of the sign outside the Beulah Hill Baptist Church, which apparently bore a nice message inspired by the recent birth of Beyonce's baby: "BEYONCE HAD HER BABY. SATAN IS ON EARTH."

<# some text #>


According to TMZ, the pastor at that church told them that vandals had placed the message there, and that it had been taken down promptly.

However, the pastor, Rev. Curtis Barbery, is denying he ever told TMZ this. He gave an interview to the Fayetteville Observer in which he insisted the sign hadn't been vandalized and that the photo was a fake. He said, “It’s never been on our sign because our sign stays locked and the same phrase has been on it since Thanksgiving. Only one man has the key to it.”

But TMZ continues to insist the photo is real (though they won't say how they got it), and that the pastor DID tell them the sign was vandalized.

Most people seem to be inclined to believe the pastor, not TMZ. Mainly because it's so easy to photoshop fake messages onto signs. To illustrate the point, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution posted this photo on their blog:

Categories: Birth/Babies, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 23, 2012
Comments (5)
hawk
Back in 2009, bird watchers in New Zealand began reporting sightings of a red harrier hawk. There was speculation it was a new species. But in 2010 a hawk was found dead (hit by a car) that had been spray-painted red. So bird watchers realized there was no new species. There was just someone going around spray-painting birds.

Suspicion eventually focused on dairy farmer Grant Michael Teahan after a video was uploaded to youtube showing Teahan beside a bird trap covered in red spray paint.

Teahan denied the allegation, but last week a judge decided Teahan was lying. He'll be sentenced later this month.
Links: stuff.co.nz, Hawkes Bay Today.
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 23, 2012
Comments (3)
MadCarlotta sent me an interesting video:



The premise of the video (which has over 1 million views) is that people around the world are hearing eerie groaning sounds that seem to rise up from the ground and echo through the sky. My first thought was that it sounds like the noise my tankless water heater makes on cold days. So if anyone in La Mesa is hearing eerie noises echoing through the neighborhood, I'm the culprit.

Is the 'strange sounds' video a hoax? Seems to be. Some of the youtube comments point out that you can hear the exact same bird noises at three separate moments (in segments supposedly shot in different parts of the world): at 0:47, 10:35 and 13:38. Which suggests the audio has been dubbed over the video.

A whole slew of similar videos can be found on youtube. So whoever is behind this has put some work into making it seem as if there's all kinds of people hearing these sounds. But the entire 'strange sounds' movement seems to trace back to a single site: strangesoundsinthesky.com, which launched in Sept. 2011. The guy posting on strangesoundsinthesky.com identifies himself only as "Jay Man," and the site itself was registered anonymously through Domains By Proxy. Hoaxers always love anonymity.

I don't know why someone is trying to make people believe that the "sounds of the apocalypse" are being heard around the world. The obvious suspect would be that it's a marketing campaign of some kind. I'm sure we'll find out in time.
Categories: Paranormal, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Sat Jan 21, 2012
Comments (28)
At least 10 people in Vancouver who bought iPad 2s have reported opening up the packaging only to discover it contained a slab of modeling clay, not an iPad. It's an old strategy for thieves to conceal their crime by replacing the item in the box with something of lesser value. Reminds me of the case from 2006 of the Hawaiian boy who opened an iPod box on Christmas Day, only to discover it contained a package of meat. Link: Yahoo!
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Scams, Technology
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 20, 2012
Comments (1)

Kenneth Shong
I think I'll add a degree from Carlingford University to my resume. I'll list it alongside my degree in Loch Ness Monster studies from Bigfoot U.

Carlingford was a fake university -- a diploma mill -- created by con artist Kenneth Shong, while he was in prison on forgery charges. He was getting his fellow inmates to enroll there, having convinced them it was real. Though one inmate became suspicious of "'poor business practices and unresponsiveness' in relation to the school returning his grades and giving further lessons."

Shong made a website for Carlingford, to make it seem slightly more legitimate. I found an archived copy of the site on the wayback machine. The site boasted that Carlingford taught students, "the ability to think creatively and critically" -- just not critically enough to realize they were being conned.

More astute critical thinkers might have noticed the site included a short rant about how the accreditation process is a scam (and therefore why Carlingford wasn't accredited) -- which is the kind of thing you don't usually find on the websites of legitimate universites:

The word 'accreditation' is a concept that only exists in the US. It is mostly a concept to make money (to be accredited, you have to pay an agency to do so), and there are 7 major accrediting agencies in the US. No other country in the world uses this term or concept.

Prison officials cottoned on to Shong's scheme around 2007. But it was only a week ago that he went to court to face a charge of fraud -- immediately after he had finished serving his sentence on the forgery charges. Links: Daily Mail, Green Bay Press Gazette.
Categories: Con Artists, Education
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 20, 2012
Comments (2)
Add this to the 'Things on Roofs' file: Police in Houston, Texas received reports of a tiger sitting on the roof of an abandoned hotel. The animal was causing a bit of a traffic jam as drivers stopped to look at it. But upon investigation, it turned out to be a toy tiger. I'm assuming it was the work of a prankster, who's now out a pretty nice stuffed animal. Link: BBC News.

Categories: Animals, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Thu Jan 19, 2012
Comments (7)
About two weeks ago a story hit the news wires about a car that landed on the roof of a house in Fresno, CA. The story goes that Benjamin Tucker stole the car, was driving fast, but lost control as he was going round a corner and hit some landscaping rocks, causing the car to become airborne. And it flew through the air until it landed on the roof of a nearby house.


The autoshopper blog points out that this chain of events is highly improbable:

Let’s put together some relevant facts for the sake of reason. The speed limit was 30 MPH, which suggests really high speeds might be difficult to attain on a small community road. The apartment received no major interior or structural damage. It also seems insanely improbably that small landscaping rocks would cause a car to receive more than a few feet of lift. Ergo, the current official explanation is a bit difficult to stomach.

So could the story of the car that landed on a roof possibly be a prank, or a hoax? Well, putting cars on top of buildings is a classic prank. For instance, back in 2006 I blogged about a car-on-a-roof senior prank. But I haven't seen anything related to this current story to suggest it was a prank. Apparently the driver leapt out of the car once it landed on the roof, fell to the ground, and broke his leg. So if it was a prank, the joke was on him.

Unless some other details emerge, I'm going to have to go with the car getting up there by accident, as unlikely an event as that might have been.






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Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 18, 2012
Comments (8)
The Irish Times describes a real-life Museum of Hoaxes -- the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris:

As chief curator Claude d'Anthenaise explains, it's an experimental museum that likes to baffle the visitor. "I wanted to create a museum where the visitor would feel constantly disconcerted and lose his bearings – just like someone walking in nature," he says. "In a wild setting, you're confronted with all sorts of things you don't understand. You're not on your own territory."

So "totally insignificant, even repulsive" objects have been deliberately placed alongside art of the highest quality. Visitors often have to search out explanations for displays. There are hoaxes, traps and false leads. For example, a fake appeau – a device used to imitate the sounds of animals – is presented in what looks like a serious, scientific collection.

"In the hunting trophy collection, there's an animal that is actually an artistic creation. It's like a wild boar's head, which is completely imagined but plausible, all white, and it follows the visitors with its eyes. We can even make it talk as they pass. Sometimes the security guard will turn it on.

"Suddenly the visitor is confronted by this animal which is not fully dead. It invites him to challenge the entirety of the collection. He says to himself, 'if this is an invention, maybe other things are too'. So he observes them differently.

It sounds a lot like the Museum of Jurassic Technology in LA.
Categories: Education, Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 18, 2012
Comments (0)
In recent days, a photo of Mitt Romney that appears to show him getting a shoe shine as his private jet waits has been spreading around the internet. It's been popular with anyone who doesn't much like Romney because it seems to capture the swanky lifestyle he enjoys as a 0.001 percenter.

romney shoeshine

But, in reality, this photo is a case of 'real picture, false caption'. The picture dates to 2008 and actually shows Romney sitting for a security check before boarding a plane in Denver, Colorado. The guy in the red jacket is waving a security wand over Romney's shoe. Not giving him a shoe shine.

Of course, the scene still depicts the lifestyle of the one-percent, because most of us don't get personalized security checks on the tarmac in front of our plane. Instead, we have to remove our shoes and wait like cattle in long security lines. Link: NPR.org
Categories: Photos/Videos, Politics
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 18, 2012
Comments (1)
<# some text #>
Mark Hayward
A pile of dirt may not be worth much money. But a pile of dirt that was once beneath Yankee Stadium could potentially have more value. Especially if that dirt was packed into key chains and other corporate gift items and then sold at a big markup in sporting goods stores.

That was the pitch Mark Hayward used to convince a victim to give him $35,000 -- as an investment in this Yankee dirt scheme. As far as I can tell (the news report isn't really clear) Hayward never had the dirt in question. Eventually the victim got suspicious. And now Hayward is facing charges of first-degree larceny. Link: ctpost.com.
Categories: Business/Finance, Con Artists, Sports
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 18, 2012
Comments (0)
Supporters of Vladimir Putin have been caught in a flat-footed attempt at character assassination. Wanting to smear blogger Alexei Navalny, who's been a fierce critic of Putin's government, they created a picture showing Navalny meeting with the exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky. The implication was that Berezovsky was funding Navalny. Then Putin's supporters published the picture in one of the party newspapers.

But the picture was a clumsy fake. The original, undoctored version of the photo soon emerged, as well as numerous parody versions. Links: BBC, Daily Mail.


The doctored version


The original version

Some newspapers are commenting that the stunt recalls how Soviet authorities routinely used to doctor photos for political purposes. Which is true -- see "The Commissar Vanishes." But the stunt reminds me most of an American hoax from 1950 -- The Tydings Affair -- in which a fake photo showing Senator Millard Tydings chatting with the head of the American Communist Party was circulated by Joseph McCarthy, causing Tydings to lose an election. The Tydings and Navalny photos are similar both in their general composition and in their strategies of guilt-by-association.

tydings
Categories: Photos/Videos, Politics
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 18, 2012
Comments (2)
If you've got a spare $285,000, you can buy a piece of a famous art hoax: one of the fake Modigliani sculptures found in the city of Livorno in 1984. It's up for sale on eBay. I've noticed it up there for a couple of weeks, so evidently people aren't rushing to bid on it, even though it comes with free shipping.


The backstory, briefly: There was a legend in the Italian town of Livorno that when Modigliani left there in 1906, at the age of twenty-one, he dumped a bunch of sculptures in a canal in a fit of depression. So in 1984, on the 100th anniversary of his birth, the town decided to dredge the canal to see if any Modigliani sculptures were still down there. To their surprise, they found three sculpted heads, in Modigliani's style. But their excitement was shortlived, because a few weeks later the heads were revealed to be a hoax. Two separate groups were responsible. Three university students had made one of the heads, and a dockworker, Angelo Froglia, had made the other two. Fuller versions of the story here and here.

The head now on sale is one of the two made by Froglia. The eBay seller says it was bought from Froglia's companion after death. The other two Modigliani heads are owned by the City of Livorno.

This auction confirms my long-felt belief that to really have a Museum of Hoaxes, stocked with genuine artifacts from the history of hoaxing, would require a boatload of cash.
Categories: Art, eBay
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 17, 2012
Comments (0)

(via reddit)
Categories: Pareidolia, Religion
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 16, 2012
Comments (4)
Video created by filmmaker Jesse Rosten:

Categories: Fashion, Videos
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 16, 2012
Comments (2)
Charlotte McDonald of the BBC News debunks a persistent rumor that there are more doctors from Malawi in Manchester than there are in Malawi itself. Apparently the rumor has been repeated by a variety of sources including "the authors of an international study of health workers, and the head of Malawi's main nursing union."

However, the rumor isn't true. She estimates there are approximately 265 doctors in Malawi (which isn't a whole lot for a country of 15 million), but there are only 7 Malawian doctors in Manchester, which has a population of half-a-million.

Even if you look at the ratio of doctors to people, Malawi wins out. There's one doctor for every 56604 people in Malawi. And there's one Malawian doctor for every 71428 Mancunians.

McDonald interviewed Malawian doctor and social historian John Lwanda who theorized that the rumor dated back to 1981, when the Malawi ministry of health held a meeting in Manchester. Someone might have commented that there were more doctors from Malawi in Manchester during the meeting than there were in Malawi itself. And so the rumor was born.

I wonder if the persistence of the rumor also has something to do with the alliteration of Malawi and Manchester. It makes the phrase sound catchier, which might encourage people to repeat it.
Categories: Health/Medicine, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 16, 2012
Comments (1)
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