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August 2013
October 1964: The work of pranksters. A car boxed in by brick walls on a foot bridge of the North Branch of the Chicago River in the 5000 block of North Spaulding. Source: Chicago Daily News.

Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Thu Aug 29, 2013
Comments (2)
A fairly old meme, but it was new to me. Image via

Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Wed Aug 28, 2013
Comments (3)
I found this photo in the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society. It shows a Mr. O'Mahony (of Pipestone, Minnesota) proudly showing off a "mammoth hail stone" — size: 6" x 6" x 8" and weighing 5½ lbs.

A note attached to the photo reveals that the hailstone was a fake:

Mr. O'Mahony was the victim of a hoax. This large chunk of clear icebox ice was dropped through a skylight in a public building where it was found and assumed was fell from the sky during as a huge hail stone.

The instigator of the creative prank confessed many years later - after he grew up and became a prominent citizen in Pipestone County. Hail ice is milky colored and not clear.

If this hailstone had been real, its dimensions would have made it the largest ever recorded. But according to NOAA, the record goes to a stone discovered in South Dakota after a storm on July 23, 2010, measuring 8 inches in diameter and weighing nearly 2 pounds.
Categories: Science
Posted by Alex on Tue Aug 27, 2013
Comments (0)
Well, this is one of the lamer Nessie photos I've ever seen. Not even a head poking above the water! The video is even worse than the photo.

Hello Nessie, it must be that time of year...
Daily Mail

An amateur photographer has captured an eerie photo from the shore of Loch Ness which could encourage those who believe in tales of a monster living beneath the surface of the lake. The image was taken by David Elder at Fort Augustus, at the south-west end of the 23-mile-long body of water in northern Scotland. It shows a long bow wave apparently caused by some sort of disturbance on the surface of the loch.

Categories: Nessie
Posted by Alex on Mon Aug 26, 2013
Comments (1)
Back in 1960, a story got around about a TV viewer in the South who thought he saw a black man kissing a white woman on a popular TV show. So he wrote to the sponsor of the show to complain. The sponsor acted quickly to calm the man and assure him that they would never sponsor a show on which such an act occurred. They flew an account executive down to see the man and held a private screening for him, to demonstrate to him that the actor in question was actually white. His local station had accidentally broadcast the show at a high contrast ratio, making the actor appear darker than he really was.

When Paul Krassner, editor of the counterculture publication The Realist, heard about this, he was outraged. To him, it epitomized the corporate urge to be bland and inoffensive so as to never lose a customer, even when offending a racist would have been the morally courageous stance to take.

It's worth noting that it's not clear whether the story of the account executive and the racist viewer is true. Krassner insisted it was, but he never provided a source for the tale, nor any specific details. So it's possible he was reacting to an urban legend. Nevertheless, the story inspired him to take action. He decided a hoax was in order.

Source: Saturday Review - May 7, 1960

His idea was to convince a TV network and its sponsors that they had offended a whole bunch of people, but give them no idea how they had done so. He imagined all the account executives sitting around fretting about what they might have done that was so bad, frantically rescreening their TV shows to pinpoint the source of the offense in order to avert a mass boycott of their sponsors' products.

To pull this off, Krassner first selected what he felt was the most bland and inoffensive show on TV — Masquerade Party. It was a show hosted by Bert Parks on which a celebrity came on disguised in a costume, and then a panel of other celebrities had to guess who he or she was.

(left) Paul Krassner; (right) Bert Parks

He then asked his readers to all write in to the show and its sponsors and complain about some imaginary offensive thing that had occurred on one of the shows. Everyone, he instructed, should focus their complaints on the same specific episode airing Friday night, April 1st (1960) on NBC, 9:30 E.S.T. — making it an April Fool's Day prank.

"Use your own wording," Krassner said. "But don't mention anything specific." The idea was to be indignant but elusive. It was important that the account executives not know what they had done to offend so many people! He referred to it as a "stereophonic hoax" because the complaints would be coming from multiple sources, as if in stereo.

The readers of The Realist eagerly embraced the plan.

Soon after the show aired, John G. Fuller reported in his "Trade Winds" column in the Saturday Review that he had heard that Masquerade Party had received several hundred complaint letters, and that "the sponsors are still screening and rescreening the kinescope to find out just what went wrong."

Krassner provided a more detailed report on the success of the hoax in the June 1960 issue of The Realist. His article, in its entirety, is below.

Case History Of a TV Hoax

Well, boys and girls, as you remember, in our last episode, the Realist was about to crash Masquerade Party with letters from our readers complaining about something "offensive" on their show.

John G. Fuller wrote about the hoax in his column in the Saturday Review:

"Alarmed at the hypersensitivity of most TV sponsors to often unwarranted public criticism ... [the Realist] urged ... readers to pick out an innocuous and frequently inane network show on a certain date, and to write the sponsors about some vague and indescribable thing that happened on the show. The letters were to be indignant, but elusive; critical, but undefined."

He reported that more than a hundred Realist readers wrote in to the show, the sponsors, the ad agencies, etc.

Let us now review four case histories.

Case #1: Bob Calese. He wrote in to co-sponsor Hazel Bishop: "In view of what happened on Masquerade Party Friday night, I can assure you that no woman in my family will ever use any of your products again as long as I live. You know what I mean!"

The next day his wife, Phyllis, got a call from the producer of the show. She said that her husband wrote the letter and that she had no idea what it was that upset him so.

The producer said he'd call back. Bob knew he couldn't possibly carry off the situation without breaking up, so they decided that Phyllis wold take the call and say that he was furious, wouldn't even discuss it with her, didn't want to be bothered by them ever again, and that she'd seen him in these blind rages before and nothing could be done.

Actually, on the night of the show, the Caleses were attending a forum on the subject, "The First Amendment and the U.S. Supreme Court." And even if they had been home, they wouldn't have watched the show. They don't have a TV set.

Case #2: Paul I. Lewis. He was able to carry off the situation without breaking up. Following is the telephone conversation which ensued between a Masquerade Party distaffer and him.

She: You sent us a letter stating that something on our show offended you. Your letter was vague and we have no idea what it was that you found so offensive; could you please be more specific?

He: What do you want me to say?

She: Well, Mr. Lewis, you wrote the letter so you must know what it was that bothered you.

He: Did you watch the show?

She: Mr. Lewis, I happen to work on the show. I know everything that goes on and I don't know of anything that could have been wrong or offensive on Friday's program.

He: Oh. Well, then if you work on the show, I guess you would know everything that went on. You mean you didn't catch it?

She: Catch what, Mr. Lewis? Will you kindly be more specific. You wrote us the letter and it was very vague. I'm calling you to ask you questions and instead you are asking me questions. Now will you tell me what you found that was salacious on our show. We feel that we put on good clean and wholesome entertainment with Masquerade Party and when we get a letter such as yours we want to discover what was considered offensive.

He: I feel that it was fairly obvious. You must have received many letters commenting on it. Perhaps they have been more specific.

She: No, Mr. Lewis. In fact, yours was the only (sic!) letter we received of this kind.

He: Well, if mine was the only letter, I guess it would appear to be a crackpot complaint, If only one viewer saw fit to write to the show I guess this would make him either wrong or just a nut.

She: Our show is viewed by millions of people, Mr. Lewis, and no one has ever called our show salacious or blue as you did in your letter.

He: Then I guess we can conclude that it was a crackpot letter. Why are you people so concerned with just one letter when you have millions who do not complain about what material is used on the show?

She: Mr. Lewis, please stop asking me questions. I have called to find just what it was that moved you to write this slanderous letter. We are concerned with each of our viewers and we feel that your letter made a strong accusation. We feel that you have a responsibility to your letter.

He: What responsibility is that?

She: The responsibility for standing behind what you wrote?

He: Oh, I'll stand by everything I write. What was it you considered slanderous?

She: You said our show was salacious, used blue material that was unfit to be brought into the homes of the viewers. You called our show lewd and dirty.

He: I did not use that last phrase in my letter.

She: You said salacious, Mr. Lewis, and that is what it means. You should look the meaning of the word up before you sit down to write a letter of this kind. Do you often sit down and write letters of this kind?

He: I do know the meaning of the word — and, no, I do not write letters of this kind.

She: then why did you write one this time?

He: I explained that in my letter.

She: Mr. Lewis, you are still being vague. Just what was it that bothered you?

He: The incident on the show.

She: What incident?

He: Perhaps you missed it.

She: I missed nothing. I know everything and every word that was used on the show. I explained to you that I work on the show and I watch the show and I know everything about the show. Now will you please just tell me what it was that prompted you to say we used blue material on our show?

He: Since I'm the only one who wrote a letter, maybe I misinterpreted what I saw. A few friends of mind commented on the incident and I decided to write my opinion on the matter.

She: Did your friends find the same fault with the show?

He: Yes.

She: I found nothing wrong on the show, Mr. Lewis, yet you and your friends did. Would you please tell me exactly what it was that bothered them and you.

He: You want me to say it over the phone?

She: Why not? It was on the show. Millions of people saw it and no one seemed offended ... There was certainly nothing said that could be considered salacious or blue or immoral.

He: That would be a matter of opinion. It would depend on the viewer's moral values as to how he would interpret what he saw and heard.

She: I understand that, Mr. Lewis. But I would like to know how you interpreted what you saw and heard.

He: My letter covered that.

She: Mr. Lewis, are you going to tell me the exact words that you found offensive?

He: I think it would be wise not to.

She: All right, Mr. Lewis. We do not consider our Masquerade Party a salacious or immoral show. The next time you decide to write us a letter of this kind, please be more specific or do not bother to write at all. (Click!)

He: 'Bye.

Mr. Lewis (who, incidentally, once won a free trip to Cuba and turned it down because he disapproved of the Batista regime) received a call the next week from an Allstate Insurance agent. Having read in an article by Al Morgan in Playboy that Allstate wouldn't allow a suicide to take place on Playhouse 90, he told the agent that he wouldn't even consider buying insurance from Allstate until there was a suicide on a Playhouse 90 production sponsored by them. The agent said he would take it up with his superiors.

Case #3: Steve Farr. He wrote to co-sponsor Block Drug Company, promising to stop using Poli-Grip. Actually, he has his own teeth. But he doesn't have a telephone, and so instead of a call, he received this letter from the manager of NBC's Department of Information:

"Dear Mr. Farr:
"This is to acknowledge your critical appraisal of a recent Masquerade Party program.
"It is a matter of genuine concern to us that you found this program objectionable.
"We will most certainly note your sensitive expression of criticism and relay it to the Manager of our Continuity Acceptance Department.
"Thank you for the interest which prompted you to write."

A month later, Mr. Farr was standing in City Hall Park, protesting a hoax by the government on him—the Civil Defense Drill.

Case #4: A young subscriber from Merion, Pa. — identity withheld on request. He wrote a letter to "The Green Mint, Nytol People" with a ball-point pen. Note that right smack in the middle, there is a sentence fragment — a complete non sequitur — just for the hell of it.

"Dear Gentlemen:
"I am a teenager and my parents have tried to raise me as a decent, god-fearing person and have tried to keep me and my mind pure. We often used to watch Maskkeraid Party and we thought it was a dandy show. But once in a while those people got on their big-city high horse and said some pretty bad things. Of course my parents were upset and turned the sound off so I wouldn't be perverted. I blushed too. But we still thought the show was tops and right good.

"Gramps and Nana used to like the show alright too. And they were much riled when they heard those things too but jiminy crickets they still liked to watch it until last night. Well, last night you went a might too far. My parents just told me to go straight upstairs and they were just going to switch off the show completely. They did this mainly because I asked them too because they're pretty broad-minded on such matters. I was never so embarrassed in my life. I have heard some pretty filthy low-down tacky things but nothing like last night.

"I always used to wash by mouth out with Green Mint because I think Dick Clark is a pretty swell fellow and a really cool guy and he said he liked Green Mint and wanted me to use it too. I did. It can therefore be seen that whenever a country adopted repressive measures. I aint no egghead intellectual but once in a while I stay up real late studying for a subject in a test in school and I couldn't go to sleep so I used Nytol because everybody said I should because it was good for me. But never again. Do you hear, NEVER AGAIN. I'm not going to help support the corrupting of minds that might be corrupted and don't know what's going on like me. I had it last night. Maskkeraid Party shouldn't be allowed on the air.

"Sincerely yours ...

"P.S. I just poured all the Green Mint in the toilet and flushed it away. NEVER AGAIN!!! I am going to tell everyone I know never to use your products again. Just who do you think you are?"

The producer called up, long distance!

"I was out," the young subscriber wrote to us, "but my mother seemed to suffice ... Although I made it clear in the very first line of the letter that I was not an adult, the sponsors had failed to made this clear when they communicated their distress to the producer (on the first call, unlike second, he did not have a copy of the letter in front of him). Therefore, the first few minutes of the conversation were taken up in establishing that I was not my mother's husband but only a teenager.

"The producer then went on to say that the sponsors didn't understand my letter — what was I so upset about? — and that I was the only person who complained. Mother replied that I rarely watched television at all and that she didn't know anything about it. She further told him that I didn't use Green Mint or Nytol; and she told me that on hearing that piece of information, the producer seemed to lose a great deal of interest.

"He called up again the next morning and asked my mother what my reaction was to the news of the first phone call. She told him that I had laughed. He made sure again that I was just a teenager and did not buy either of the products. he then read her the letter. She was embarrassed. 'No, no, no, my son doesn't speak that way at hom. Why, he's a National Merit Finalist. ... '"

* * *

It was precisely because Masquerade Party is the epitome of inoffensiveness that we chose it for our hoax.

Take, for instance, the show's emcee, Bert Parks. We'd be willing to bet 20 to 1 that he smiles even while defecating. Apparently, though, this is exactly what the mass audience wants. As a matter of fact, Henry Morgan mentions in next months' "Impolite Interview" that I've Got a Secret gets letters asking them to fire him because he doesn't smile enough.

Understand, then, that the name Bert Park is used here as a generic term for an occupational disease. You can easily substitute Ralph Edwards, Kathryn Murray, Jack Bailey, Arlene Francis, Bud Collyer, Loretta Young, Ed Sullivan — yes, that's right, Ed Sullivan: on his St. Patrick's Day show,he bowed to Catholic pressure and deleted a Sean O'Casey segment.

The point being that there is more than one way of smiling into a TV camera.

Playwright O'Casey, you see, is a living symbol of irreverence. In an essay on "The Power of Laughter," he once wrote:

"Laughter tends to mock the pompous and the pretentious; all man's boastful gadding about, all his pretty pomps, his hoary customs, his wornout creeds, changing the glitter of them into the dullest hue of lead. The bigger the subject, the sharper the laugh.

"No one can escape it: not the grave judge in his robe and threatening wig; the parson and his saw; the general full of his sword and his medals; the palled prelate, tripping about, a blessing in one hand, a curse in the other; the politician carrying his magic wand of Wendy windy words; they all fear laughter, for the quiet laugh or the loud one upends them, strips them of pretense, and leaves them naked to enemy and friend.

"Laughter is allowed when it laughs at the foibles of ordinary men, but frowned on and thought unseemly when it makes fun of superstitions, creeds, customs, and the blown-up importance of brief authority. ..."

And so, televised 'humor' is for the most part limited to situation comedies — which are in reality nothing but castrated sermons with a laugh track — and the panel shows.

Betsy Palmer, who has risen in the panel show hierarchy from Masquerade Party to I've Got a Secret, crystallizes the philosophy of that institution thusly:

"The thing on a panel show is, you have to seem as if you're having fun. That's what it's all about, you know. The guessing bit doesn't matter al all."

The prevailing theory in the television industry is that every letter received represents 50,000 that weren't sent — and commercial backers of a medium certainly don't want to alienate their market. The Realist's hoax in effect satirized the frightened state of mind that propagates this theory.

Accordingly, we'd like to sugest now a few constructive 'hoaxes' in which Realist readers may want to participate.

1. CBS Views the Press was a courageous radio program which was pressured off the air. Jack Paar has eulogized it. Paar, however, criticizes the press only when he is involved, directly or indirectly. Let's call his bluff and request that a qualified journalist appear once a week on his show with a special "Tonight Views the Press" feature.

2. If you have seen Joyce Brothers' show, you have probably been aware that it is devoted to the dissemination of pseudo-liberal advice in a most unspontaneous format. Dr. Albert Ellis is a willing would-be antidote to her conventionality. Channel 13 (NTA) is the most likely late-night spot for him. If you have felt rapport with Dr. Ellis' rationality (issues #16 and #17) — and if NTA is seen in your area — write.

3. There are those afternoon children's programs which exploit family relationships in their commercials ("And be sure to ask your Mommy nicely"). Letters with specific grievances about this might have more effect than you think.

We discussed this with syndicated political cartoonist John Fischetti. He has two sons, age 8 and 10. A few years ago, they pestered their mother for Pie-O-My pudding cake, and she finally gave in and bought it — and it was absolutely awful; no one in the Fischetti household could eat it. On another occasion, there was a very dramatic and misleading film of an animated space station. The kids thought they were going to get something like it; instead, it turned out to be a piddling plastic toy.

Twice sold — twice burned.

The kids are now quite disillusioned with advertising, and when an announcer makes his claims, they'll say, "That's a lot of baloney." To what extent this alienation of the future market is typical, is purely speculative.

But the implications are indescribably delicious.
Categories: April Fools Day
Posted by Alex on Mon Aug 26, 2013
Comments (2)
Nairobi singer Moses Kamunya (aka Maleek) posted on facebook that his daughter had died. Sympathetic friends then sent him money to help with the funeral costs. But when people showed up at the mother's house for the funeral, (the mother being the Maleek's former girlfriend), she hit the roof because her daughter was still very much alive. Maleek now explains that "the devil had misled him." However, he doesn't seem quite ready to return the money.

Apparently Maleek is fairly well known in Nairobi for a song titled "Who's Gonna Help."

City singer 'kills' his child on Facebook

A city singer has admitted he collected Sh300,000 by claiming on Facebook that his daughter had died. Furious friends told The Nairobian that Moses Kamunya aka Maleek lied to them that his four-year-old girl had died and he needed contributions for the hospital bill and funeral expenses.
Categories: Scams
Posted by Alex on Fri Aug 23, 2013
Comments (0)
Cadbury only made a half-hearted attempt to disguise that this clip is really an ad for their "Bournville" chocolates, which they're promoting with the tagline "Not So Sweet." Halfway through the clip, a small train chugs through the scene, and painted on its side is, "Bournville -- Not So Sweet."

Categories: Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri Aug 23, 2013
Comments (0)
Strange thing for a US congressman to have been claiming. Especially since, according to reports, Fifty Shades of Grey isn't even in the prison library at Guantanamo.

Guantanamo Fifty Shades of Grey claim denied by lawyer
BBC News

A lawyer for a detainee at Guantanamo Bay's highest-security section has rubbished reports that Fifty Shades of Grey is a favourite read among inmates. A US congressman made the claim last month after visiting Camp 7, saying it showed the inmates were "not exactly holy warriors".
Lawyer James Connell says guards this week gave a copy of the erotic novel to his client, possibly as a joke. But 9/11 accused Ammar al-Baluchi had no interest in the book, he said.
Categories: Books, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Thu Aug 22, 2013
Comments (0)
Glad they got this cleared up. Satanists on the loose might have scared away the tourists.

Pony 'killed by Satanists' died of natural causes
Plymouth Herald

A pony found mutilated on Dartmoor in what was claimed could be a Pagan ritual died of natural causes, according to Devon and Cornwall police. A pony was found near Plymouth with organs and features missing or placed outside its body in July this year - leading to fears it could have been deliberately killed and arranged as part of a ritual. Police say their investigation has concluded, and that the animal died of natural causes. They say the mutilation was down to wild animals.
Categories: Religion
Posted by Alex on Thu Aug 22, 2013
Comments (0)
It can be found in Harlingen, Texas. A mesquite tree was recently struck by lightning, and now some people are saying the resulting stump looks like the silhouette of the Virgin Mary. But others say it looks like "a gnome with a peak hat." [The Monitor]
Categories: Pareidolia
Posted by Alex on Thu Aug 22, 2013
Comments (2)
Call this the Cameroon Monkey Scam. The scammers bait victims online with the promise of a budget-priced monkey. Only $50. So you send in your money. But then, oh, by the way, you also need to pay for a cage, as well as a monkey license, and shots. By the time it's all over you've spent hundreds of dollars. A Battle Creek, Michigan woman fell for the scam. Finally she went to the police who told her, sorry, you've lost your money and you're not getting a monkey. [wzzm13]
Categories: Scams
Posted by Alex on Wed Aug 21, 2013
Comments (1)
"Every white person needs a black friend," tells us. And if you don't have a black friend already, they've got you covered. For a reasonable fee, they'll provide a black friend who's willing to "give you a hug, fist bump, high-five or whichever you prefer," and will also attend "your favorite white concert" with you.

The joke here seems obvious enough that there's no need to prove the site is a hoax. But if you really want to prove it to yourself, try placing an order for one of these black friends.

There's a phone number listed on the site, in the top left corner. I googled it, and found a page (scroll down to the bottom of it) that links it to the organization "NRA News Now." Though I didn't call the number to verify this (too late in the day). Maybe I will tomorrow. If it is the number of NRA News Now, perhaps it's meant as a joke — to have all kinds of random people calling the NRA News asking for Black Friend Connect.

Black Friend Connect reminds me of the "Black People Love Us!" site, from way back in 2001 (but which is still online!).

Though my favorite "rent a friend" hoax site remains "Rent a German" — just because I like its slogan, "Rent a German... and smile!"
Categories: Websites
Posted by Alex on Wed Aug 21, 2013
Comments (0)
A 71-year-old pensioner recently claimed to have caught a photo of the "Beast of Trowbridge" — a large black panther that supposedly roams wild in Wiltshire. The photo was genuine, but it wasn't taken in Wiltshire. Nor was the pensioner the photographer. Turns out it was actually taken in Lapeer County, Michigan and posted online six years ago. []

Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Aug 21, 2013
Comments (1)
From Europe comes a good example of the absent-minded engineer urban legend. The most common variant of this legend, which seems to be repeated on almost every university campus, is that the library is sinking, because the engineers forgot to include the weight of the books when designing the building.

The version that recently reared its head in the European press is that the Edificio Intempo skyscrapers currently under construction in Spain, which will be Europe's tallest residential towers when completed, won't have elevators on the top 27 storeys because the engineers forgot to design them in. The story, as repeated in newspapers such as El Pais, is that the buildings were originally going to be 20 storeys high, but developers later decided to make them 47 storeys, but "neglected to allow the extra room required by a lift ascending over twice as far." So whoever lived on the 47th floor would have to climb a lot of stairs!

Rafael Ballesta, sales manager for the towers, has described the allegation as "ridiculous": "We are constructing the highest residential skyscraper in Europe so how is it possible to build without elevators?" And reporters who have now visited the construction site have confirmed that there are indeed elevators going all the way up. []
Categories: Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Aug 21, 2013
Comments (1)
Back in April 2012 I posted about the Dream Park El Janoob Zoo in the Gaza Strip, which was displaying taxidermied animals, because it couldn't afford living ones.

Now we have the People's Park of Luohe in Henan, which has been thinking along similar creative lines. Instead of a lion in the African Lion cage, they've got a Tibetan mastiff dog in there. It does look vaguely similar to a lion, if you squint. However, it barks. Other substitutes include two rodents in the snake's cage, a white fox in the leopard's den, and a common dog in the wolf's pen.

But this isn't being done because of a lack of funds. The zoo explains that the actual animals have been sent to a breeding facility and swears they'll be back soon. And in the meantime, they promise to change the signs outside the cages to more accurately represent what's actually on display inside of them. [South China Morning Post]

Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Tue Aug 20, 2013
Comments (1)
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