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If I were going to draw up a list of the top ten hoaxes of 2006 (which I'm not because I don't have enough time), the Great Belgian Breakup Hoax would definitely have to be included in the list, sneaking in right before the end of the year. As has been widely reported, on Wednesday many people were briefly led to believe that Belgium had ceased to exist. An AP story summarized what happened:
Suddenly and shockingly, Belgium came to an end. State television broke into regular programming late Wednesday with an urgent bulletin: The Dutch-speaking half of the country had declared independence and the king and queen had fled. Grainy pictures from the military airport showed dark silhouettes of a royal entourage boarding a plane. Only after a half hour did the station flash the message: "This is fiction."
The Belgian TV station apparently perpetrated the hoax in order to stir up debate about the future of the country. Since the news was being reported straight-faced by a reputable news source, many viewers believed it.

Oddly, this is not the first time we've seen a hoax like this. Back in 1992 the London Times reported essentially the same news, as a joke, on April Fool's Day. It made #90 on my list of the Top 100 April Fools Hoaxes of all time:
The London Times reported in 1992 that formal negotiations were underway to divide Belgium in half. The Dutch-speaking north would join the Netherlands and the French-speaking south would join France. An editorial in the paper then lamented that, "The fun will go from that favorite parlor game: Name five famous Belgians." The report apparently fooled the British foreign office minister Tristan Garel-Jones who almost went on a TV interview prepared to discuss this "important" story. The Belgian embassy also received numerous calls from journalists and expatriate Belgians seeking to confirm the news. A rival paper later criticized the prank, declaring that, "The Times's effort could only be defined as funny if you find the very notion of Belgium hilarious."
Actually, when put that way, there does seem to be something amusing about the notion of Belgium. Though I don't know exactly why this is.

Nevertheless, amusing as Belgium might be, it seems safe to say that it still does exist. So I won't be needing to add it to my list of nonexistent places.
Categories: Places, Politics
Posted by Alex on Sat Dec 16, 2006
Comments (29)
There's word of a Bruce Lee theme park being built in China. Nothing particularly weird about that, and no reason not to believe it's true. Here's the weird part:
According to local reports, the park will be patrolled by Bruce Lee “mannequin robots”, radio-controlled from within a giant statue of the late star.
Also, there's going to be a rollercoaster "that emits the martial arts actor’s signature grunts and screams on high-speed bends." Sounds kind of cool. I'm guessing that the part about the mannequin robots somehow got lost in translation. In reality, they'll probably have people dressed up as Bruce Lee receiving orders via radio headsets. (Thanks MadCarlotta)
Categories: Entertainment, Places
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 29, 2006
Comments (9)
Gerrit forwarded links to radar maps showing some extremely unusual cloud activity over the Netherlands. I managed to visit the radar sites myself in time to see the unusual clouds. However, the maps have since updated and are no longer showing the same activity. But I can vouch that, for a while, they really were displaying the sudden appearance of a mysterious ring of clouds around the Netherlands. Screenshots of the radar image have been posted here and here. Has anyone checked that the Netherlands are still around?

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Categories: Photos/Videos, Places
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 27, 2006
Comments (28)
Man Bites Panda
A drunken tourist climbed in with Gu Gu the panda at Beijing zoo. When the startled panda bit him, he bit it back.
"I bit the panda on its back but its fur was too thick," Mr Zhang recalled.
He went on: "No one ever said they would bite people. I just wanted to touch it."

Jerusalem - There's No Such City!
According to a mistranslated sightseeing brochure, at least. The pamphlet, translated from Hebrew, should have read "Jerusalem - there's no city like it!".

Dog With Knicker Obsession Gets Surgery
Deefer, a Bull Mastiff has eaten at least ten pairs of knickers over the last year. Embarrassing surgery was required recently when the last two pairs became lodged in Deefer's intestine, costing his owners more than £1,000.

Sudanese Man is Forced to 'Marry' Goat
When Mr Tombe was caught having sex with his neighbour's goat, he was taken to a council of elders, who ordered him to pay a dowry of 15,000 Sudanese dinars, and gave him the goat. The neighbour is quoted as saying "They said I should not take him to the police, but rather let him pay a dowry for my goat because he used it as his wife."

(Thanks, Accipiter.)
Categories: Advertising, Animals, Places
Posted by Flora on Fri Sep 22, 2006
Comments (17)
image When I came across this page descriping puppet lending libraries—one in Boston and another one in New York— I thought it had to be a joke. Especially given the New York puppet library's location: inside a memorial arch. But apparently these are real. A google search brings up quite a few articles about the New York puppet library, including this one from Time Out New York Kids:
A different kind of lending library makes its home in Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza Arch. A small flock of birds occupies the fourth-floor landing inside the Grand Army Plaza Arch. One flight below, a grinning cat keeps watch over the spiral staircase. Walk down, and you'll see a swarm of insects and four sweet-faced ponies. There are usually eight ponies, but four are out on loan. Welcome to the New York Puppet Library.
It's nice to know there's a place to go if you ever need to borrow a puppet.
Categories: Places
Posted by Alex on Fri Aug 25, 2006
Comments (5)
The following pictures of an extreme roller-coaster have been circulating around via email. Yes, the roller-coaster is real. It's the Top Thrill Dragster at the Cedar Point Amusement Park in Ohio. On their website they've got some cool point-of-view videos of the ride in action.

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Appended to the pictures of the rollercoaster is this next one, with the caption: "And this last picture says it all..."

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I'd be willing to bet that isn't really a picture of someone who just rode the Top Thrill Dragster. It's probably just a random picture that someone tacked on.
Categories: Photos/Videos, Places
Posted by Alex on Sun Aug 20, 2006
Comments (16)
Teddy Tour Berlin, run by Karsten Morschett and Thomas Vetsch, cater for those who can't themselves afford to tour the German capital, but want the next best thing.

Expatica.com reports that customers send their teddies and the payment details to the company, who then take the bears around sites such as Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Olympic Stadium, and remnants of the Berlin Wall.

At each site, the visiting teddy is photographed in a snappy pose.

"They aren't photo-montages either," Morschett stresses. "We actually take the teddies to these places and pose them as stylishly as possible, just as their owners would want us to do."

If you want to send your ursine friend to Berlin, it will set you back between $25 and $150 for the deluxe tour.

Morschett and Vetsch say they both admire teddies as "a kind of soft art form" and that they take pains to ensure that their travelogue photos are stylish and not simply vacation snapshots.
Categories: Exploration/Travel, Photos/Videos, Places
Posted by Flora on Wed Aug 16, 2006
Comments (10)

Mr. KentuckyFriedCruelty.com Changes Name
Last year Christopher Garnett officially changed his name to "Kentucky fried cruelty.com". (It was a PETA publicity stunt.) Now he's had enough and is changing it back. Anyone feel like changing their name to "Museum of Hoaxes.com"? I'll give you a free book if you do. (Thanks, Beverley)

Thames Town, China
image The cobbled streets, Georgian houses, and Tudor-style pub might make you think you're in England. But you're really in Thames Town, a faux British village being constructed in China. I've heard of faux English towns in Korea also, but the Korean ones are used for English-language instruction.

Imitation French Fries
In response to a ban on fried food in school cafeterias, some Arizona schools are now serving "imitation fries." Or so claims the headline of the article. In reality, they're just fries that have been baked rather than fried. I don't think that really makes them imitation fries. Baked fries can taste pretty good, especially the curly ones seasoned with chili powder.

Religion-Related Fraud Worsens
Scams targeting churchgoers are on the rise. One passage from this article caught my eye: "Leaders of Greater Ministries International, based in Tampa, Fla., defrauded thousands of people of half a billion dollars by promising to double money on investments that ministry officials said were blessed by God." Instead of Sunday school, maybe churches should offer classes in critical thinking. Just an idea.
Categories: Food, Identity/Imposters, Places, Religion
Posted by Alex on Tue Aug 15, 2006
Comments (19)
If you park your car on Percy Road in Gosport, don't expect to be able to start it again. Residents of this road claim that "unknown forces" are preventing their cars from starting. They have to push their cars a few yards up the road before they'll start:
Wayne Dobson, 38, first discovered the problem when he came home from work, parked up as usual and tried to use his remote immobiliser to lock his V-registered Land Rover Freelander, but got no response.
When he later tried to start the car, he found it was completely dead. However, when he pushed his car a few yards up the road, it started again without complaint. After talking to his neighbours, he discovered they had experienced exactly the same problem. Mr Dobson said: 'It's all a bit Mulder and Scully. It's just these few car lengths outside our houses, and it started only at the end of last week. None of us can think of anything that would cause it.'
To me the problem is so obvious. Inner earth dwellers must be directing an electromagnetic pulse beam at exactly that spot, thereby causing any electrical system, such as a car starter, to become inoperative. What else could it be? Well, maybe it's just coincidence that their cars haven't been starting. But that theory isn't nearly as interesting. (via Fortean Times)
Categories: Places
Posted by Alex on Tue Aug 15, 2006
Comments (13)
image Lucille Pope's oak tree has sprung a leak. Water is pouring out of it at the rate of a tenth of a gallon every minute, and no one knows where the water is coming from.

It all started back in April when a little sap started oozing out of the tree. The sap progressed to a dark stain, that eventually turned into a steady trickle of water. Lucille Pope thinks it's some kind of miracle tree, and that the water has special healing properties. However, her son Lloyd says "I ain't with that superstitious stuff ... There's no crying Mary here." (Good for him.) However, the specialists from the local water board are baffled. It doesn't seem to be a leaking pipe since Mrs. Pope's water bill isn't going up. Hydrologist George Rice said:
"I've never seen anything like this before. If you wanted to dream something up I'd say that somehow water pressure underneath is forced through some kind of channel in the tree. But that's still very unlikely."
I can't imagine how this phenomenon could easily be faked, so I doubt it's a hoax. I'm going with the underground spring that somehow forced its way up through the tree theory.
Categories: Places
Posted by Alex on Fri Aug 11, 2006
Comments (34)
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: Real place (fake beach)
A couple of people have sent me these pictures of an artificial dome-covered beach.... located a few yards away from a real beach! Yes, it's a real place. This is Ocean Dome, located outside of Myazaki in Japan. Its motto is "Paradise within a paradise." David Boyle, author of Authenticity: Brands, Fakes, Spin and the Lust for Real Life (which is a pretty good book, by the way), has an article about it on his website. He speculates that it's possibly the most artificial place on earth. Here's a short clipping:
Ocean Dome is bigger than many ocean liners - over 1,000 feet long - and has space for 13,500 tons of salt water and 10,000 people, without the mild inconvenience of real salt water, real crabs, real seaweed or fish... It was pleasantly warm, but it felt faintly like a gymnasium - and they always remind me of exams. Also, the palm trees were too perfect to be real. The fruit behind the counter turned out to be plastic, and the backdrop was painted with small clouds and a deep blue sky as the Pacific view outside probably should have been... I wondered if it ever occurred to James Michener or Oscar Hammerstein, writing Tales of the South Pacific just after VJ Day, that their imaginary island would one day make it into a Japanese theme park.

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Categories: Photos/Videos, Places
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 31, 2006
Comments (10)
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