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Remember George Bush's Mission Accomplished speech from May 2003 on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln? The one in which he announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq. I wrote about it in Hippo Eats Dwarf as an example of Political Theater, or a "Potemkin Photo Op": a stage-managed event, created solely for media consumption, that offers a misleading picture of reality.

Now it has also become an example of historical revisionism. If you check out the video of the event on the White House's website, you'll notice something strange. The Mission Accomplished banner has vanished from it. Apparently the White House has now embraced the historical policy of the Soviet government, as seen in The Commissar Vanishes. If something or someone becomes politically awkward, simply vanish it. (via

UPDATE: Well, it looks like we got hoaxed. The black strip along the bottom of the screen appears to be a 'scrolling news' banner, as used by TV news sources, and if you compare the angle of the videos, the 'hoax' one is shot from a different angle - one too low to show the mission accomplished banner. This is not a case of historical revisionism.
- Flora
Categories: History, Military, Politics
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 07, 2006
Comments (19)
imageBull on Roof
Chumuckla Elementary School found a lifesize fibreglass bull on the roof on Monday. The bull belongs to a local ranch owner, and is worth more than $1000.

£1/4M Compass is £50 Fake
A compass, said to have been used by Lawrence of Arabia in his adventures and sold for £254,000 at Christie's auction house along with a watch and cigarette case, could be worth no more than £50.

Kaczynski stands in for Kaczynski
Polish President Lech Kaczynski has stepped in to replace his identical twin Jaroslaw, Poland's prime minister, at a European Union summit meeting in Finland.
Categories: History, Identity/Imposters, Miscellaneous, Politics, Pranks
Posted by Flora on Tue Oct 24, 2006
Comments (10)
He's 137 years old today (October 16). The Washington Post reports:
On Oct. 16, 1869, workers in Cardiff, New York, dug up what they thought was a 10-foot-tall petrified man. The Cardiff Giant was big, all right -- a big hoax. A year earlier, George Hull paid $2,600 to have the giant made, then buried on a farm. Even after Hull admitted the hoax, people wanted to see it. They still do: The Cardiff Giant has been displayed in Cooperstown, New York, since 1948.
Of course, I have much more info about "Old Hoaxy" in the Gallery of Hoaxes. I still think I must be the only person who's ever gone to Cooperstown, New York just to see the Cardiff Giant, without ever bothering to set foot in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Categories: History
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 16, 2006
Comments (6)
Was Robin Hood Welsh?
American historian claims Robin Hood was Welsh, not English. Also that his real name was Bran. "He claims Robin would not have been able to hide out in Sherwood Forest because it would have been too small and well chartered." The Nottingham City Council says: "We laugh at this suggestion."

Pastor Indicted For Faking Raffles
We've learned not to trust internet lotteries. It looks like church lotteries are going the same way: "Rev. Robert J. Ascolese... would call out the names of fictional people as grand prize winners, then pocket the money or divert it to pet charitable projects. Either way, it meant nobody had a real chance to win."

Fake John Meets Fake Cop
An undercover cop solicits a prostitute, who then (falsely) claimed to be a police officer. She even pulled out a two-way radio and asked for reinforcements. "We believe these people were going to rob people or extort money," the police said after arresting her.

Man Fakes Son's Illness By Keeping Him Thin
Michael Bradway claimed his son had cystic fibrosis and managed to raise $38,000 from sympathetic relatives. He "put the child on a severe diet to make him thin." What is wrong with the human race that it produces people like this?
Categories: Con Artists, History
Posted by Alex on Mon Sep 25, 2006
Comments (6)
Fake Steve Irwin Death Videos
Unsurprisingly, several videos have popped up on YouTube portraying Steve Irwin's death. They're pretty unconvincing.
(Thanks, Nai Art.)

IT Skills in Return For Gropes
The mirror of a now deleted post from Craigslist, the title really says it all. I particularly liked: "I have a lot of tech knowledge in my life and regrettably no boobs."
(Via BoingBoing, thanks Cranky Media Guy.)

Building Using Recycled Paper
"Papercrete [is] a mixture of Portland cement, sand, and recycled newspapers/magazines, which can be used as a building material."
Looks reasonable to me.
(Thanks, Sharruma.)

Australopithecus Afarensis Discovered in Ethiopia
The bones of the 3.3 million-year-old girl have finally been recovered from a block of sandstone originally discovered in 2000. She has now eclipsed 'Lucy', found in 1974, as the girl lived more than 100,000 years earlier.
(Thanks, Tah)
Categories: Animals, Death, History, Miscellaneous, Sex/Romance
Posted by Flora on Thu Sep 21, 2006
Comments (8)

Murdered goat turns into man
Here's an original alibi: What I killed was a goat, Officer. Then that goat magically transformed into my brother. I'd like to see this excuse appear in an episode of CSI.

Man, 29, passes for toddler
Mark Coshever flew from Britain to Amsterdam using his two-year-old daughter's passport. Airline staff never noticed. He must have a babyface.

Fifth grader generates glass pieces from her head
"The phenomenon started when Sarita fainted one day after which she began to bleed from the forehead and a sliver of glass came out. However, the wound healed soon after that, leaving no scars." She's a sure bet at the school talent show.

Blind man claims Hitler paintings are fake
It's not the controversy I'm interested in as much as the idea of a blind art critic. He decided the pictures were fake by getting "somebody to write the signatures from the Jeffery’s paintings on a bit of paper, with my hand gently leaning over theirs."

Germany's Declaration of Surrender for sale
Chuck Loesch claims to have the first official declaration of Germany's surrender. And he's trying to sell it on eBay for $100,000. It's a teletype message that reads "Germany has just uncoditoinally surrendered." (Spelling mustn't have been their strong suit.) Just one problem. The message is dated April 28. Germany surrendered on May 7.
Categories: Art, Body Manipulation, History
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 20, 2006
Comments (15)
Sheep Rescued from Tree
Firemen were called to rescue a sheep, later nicknamed 'Tarzan', from seven metres off the ground.
(Thanks, Gerrit.)

Oldest New World Writing Discovered
A stone slab discovered in Mexico in the 1990s shows the oldest example of New World writing, new evidence suggests.
(Thanks, Dave.)

Pierce Your Ride
As far as I can tell, a non-hoax website selling vehicle piercings. They look pretty cool, and I have to say that, if I drove, I wouldn't mind them on my car...
(Thanks, Big Al.)
Categories: Animals, History, Technology
Posted by Flora on Fri Sep 15, 2006
Comments (10)
The Scotsman has published an article on a number of slightly bizarre (well, very bizarre) myths about Scotland, ranging from Jesus holidaying in the Hebrides to Jerusalem actually being Edinburgh. Mostly avoiding the Da Vinci Code furore, the newspaper has given each theory their own marks out of ten on the probability scale.

0/10 - This whole theory seems as thin as extra-thin, thin crust pizza, that has been cooked very thin. It is hard to believe that the ancient Scots were busy sailing around the world sharing religion and genes when back home everything seems so, well, primitive. Wouldn’t Scotland have been a very different place if we were indeed being subject to such a wealth of world culture?

(Thanks, Dave.)
Categories: History, Places, Religion
Posted by Flora on Thu Aug 10, 2006
Comments (6)
Status: Seems to be real
image A guy was out digging in an irish bog recently when, purely by chance, he found a book buried in the mud. Turns out that it could be a book of psalms over 1000 years old. Pat Wallace, director of the National Museum of Ireland, points out that this discovery was highly fortuitous:
"There's two sets of odds that make this discovery really way out. First of all, it's unlikely that something this fragile could survive buried in a bog at all, and then for it to be unearthed and spotted before it was destroyed is incalculably more amazing."
The book is probably real. It would be difficult to fake something that old. (There was recently a discussion about faking old manuscripts in the forum.) But it did strike me as odd that "The book was found open to a page describing, in Latin script, Psalm 83, in which God hears complaints of other nations' attempts to wipe out the name of Israel." This seems to tie-in neatly with recent political events. Though I'm going to chalk it up as a coincidence. After all, the odds of any random psalm mentioning Israel are pretty good.

Update: Well, it looks like it was all a mistake. The National Museum of Ireland has issued a statement saying that while Psalm 83 was the psalm they said was visible, this doesn't mean what people immediately thought it meant:
"The above mention of Psalm 83 has led to misconceptions about the revealed wording and may be a source of concern for people who believe Psalm 83 deals with 'the wiping out of Israel'," the museum said in its clarification. The confusion arose because the manuscript uses an old Latin translation of the Bible known at the Vulgate, which numbers the psalms differently from the later King James version, the 1611 English translation from which many modern texts derive.
"The Director of the National Museum of Ireland ... would like to highlight that the text visible on the manuscript does not refer to wiping out Israel but to the 'vale of tears'," the museum said. The vale of tears is in Psalm 84 in the King James version. "It is hoped that this clarification will serve comfort to anyone worried by earlier reports of the content of the text," the museum said.
Categories: History
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 26, 2006
Comments (13)
Status: True (kind of, though I wouldn't use the word 'foretold') offers a list of the Top 15 Strangest Coincidences. It's an interesting list (Thanks for the link, Kathy!), and as far as I can tell all the coincidences they list are basically true. Or, at least, they've all been widely reported, and I haven't been able to find any false statements in them yet. (I didn't analyze all of them that closely.)

But one coincidence I found particularly interesting, that I hadn't read about before, involved an American writer named Morgan Robertson who in 1898 wrote a novella titled Futility. It told the story of a massive ocean liner named the Titan that hits an iceberg while crossing the Atlantic and sinks. Fourteen years later, in real life, the Titanic hits an iceberg while crossing the Atlantic and sinks. Very weird.

The coincidence was definitely not lost on Robertson who immediately had his story republished after the Titanic sank, with the new title Futility and the Wreck of the Titan. Apparently he tweaked the republished story a little bit to make the similarities even more striking. (He altered the dimensions of his fictional boat to make it more like the Titanic.) But the biggest similarity of all (Titan vs. Titanic) he didn't need to tweak. That was legitimately in the original story (which can be read here).

This coincidence is discussed on skepticwiki, which points out that the story is often used by believers in the paranormal as evidence of premonition. But as they point out:
"The most startling coincidence above all is the similarity in names between Titan and Titanic. In 2003, Senan Moloney wrote an article for the online resource Titanic Book Site where he finds three occasions before the writing of "Futility" where a ship named Titania sank at sea, and one of these bore certain similarities to the eventual Titanic disaster. It could be that, inspired by this disaster (or all three) Morgan Robertson chose to base his ocean liner's name on their names."
Still, it is a very striking coincidence. But sometimes strange coincidences do happen. That doesn't make them paranormal.

In fact, leaves off its list what I find to be the most amazing coincidence in history: that when the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620, one of the first native Americans they met not only spoke fluent English, but had actually lived in England for a number of years and had crossed the Atlantic numerous times. (He was more cosmopolitan and well-traveled than they were.) To me this is just amazing that out of the entire huge continent the Pilgrims managed, by sheer luck, to find the one guy, Squanto, who spoke English. It's like traveling halfway across the galaxy, landing on a planet, and discovering that the inhabitants speak English. (Of course, that happens in Star Trek all the time.) And without Squanto's help the Plymouth Colony probably wouldn't have lasted through the winter, and American history itself might have taken a very different course. But it was just a coincidence. Nothing supernatural about it (though the Pilgrims definitely viewed it as an example of divine favor).
Categories: History
Posted by Alex on Thu Jul 13, 2006
Comments (27)
Status: Probably a hoax
image Last week the London Times printed a photo that, so it claimed, was the only known photograph of Mozart's widow (Constanze), taken in 1840 at the home of Swiss composer Max Keller when she was 78 years old. (She's supposedly the woman on the far left.) However, the photo has generated controversy online, where a number of scholars have labeled it a hoax.

The Sounds & Fury blog cites Agnes Selby, author of a biography of Constanze Mozart, who writes that:
this is certainly not Constanze but someone's aunt. The whole story was concocted by Keller's grandson... There is absolutely no way she could have traveled to visit Maximillian Keller during the period when the photograph was taken. Contrary to the statements made in the newspaper, Constanze had no contact with Keller since 1826. There is no evidence that she had corresponded with him or visited him.
This is followed up by a message from Dr. Michael Lorenz of the University of Vienna's Institute of Musicology who points out that a) this 'newly discovered' photo has been circulating around since the 1950s and has long been thought to be a hoax, and b) "It was simply not possible in 1840 to take sharp outdoor pictures of people as long as the necessary exposure time still amounted to about three minutes. The first outdoor portraits of human beings originate from the 1850s and the picture in question definitely looks like an amateur snapshot from the 1870s."

However, this latter claim (about the technology for outdoor group-photo taking not existing in the 1840s) is contested by Dan Leeson.

But overall, it doesn't seem that there's any real evidence to suggest the woman in the picture is Constanze Mozart. So this should probably be listed as a hoax.
Categories: History, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 12, 2006
Comments (5)
Status: Scholarly debate
Last weekend Philadelphia celebrated the anniversary of Benjamin Franklin's electric kite experiment (in which he flew a kite during a thunderstorm and proved that lightning was a form of electricity). They did so despite the fact that many believe the experiment was a hoax... that it never happened. The Philadelphia Inquirer provides a summary of this debate.

The main proponent of the electric-kite-hoax theory is Tom Tucker, author of Bolt of Fate: Benjamin Franklin and his Electric Kite Hoax. (I noted the publication of his book back in 2003 when it first appeared in print.) Tucker points out that a) "Franklin did not publicize the kite flight until four months later, and then only with a passing mention in the Pennsylvania Gazette"; b) Franklin would have been very stupid to perform such an experiment because it could very easily have killed him; and c) Franklin was a known trickster and a great self-publicist who would not have been above taking credit for something he never did. Defenders of Franklin argue that all of Tucker's evidence is circumstantial. Personally, I'm inclined to believe the hoax theory. I think that Franklin would have been too smart to try such a deadly experiment. But, of course, it's the kind of thing historians can argue about until they're blue in the face. Ultimately there's no definitive evidence to prove that Franklin did or did not perform the experiment.

Update: Since Captain Al pointed out that the kite experiment wouldn't be deadly with some simple safety modifications, let me clarify exactly what Tucker's argument is. Tucker notes that Franklin had been sending the British Royal Society reports about his electricity experiments, but that these reports were being marginalized, mainly because the members of the RS regarded him as an uncouth American. So Tucker suggests that Franklin, frustrated at how he was being treated, sent the RS a report of the deadly electric kite experiment as a joke. It was basically the scientific equivalent of giving them the finger... suggesting that they go fly a kite in a thunderstorm. Franklin knew, and the RS members knew, that doing so could be fatal. But when the report reached France, people there took it seriously. So Franklin, knowing a good PR opportunity when he saw it, played along and began claiming that he really had done the experiment. That's the jist of Tucker's argument.
Categories: History, Science
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 21, 2006
Comments (26)
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