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Politics
Mitt Romney recently displayed an example of what I termed "false memory syndrome" in Hippo Eats Dwarf. It's the tendency of politicians to have memories of events that never happened to them.

In Romney's case, he recently told an audience how he remembered being at Detroit's Automotive Golden Jubilee, in which his dad served as grandmaster. The problem is, the Golden Jubilee took place on June 1, 1946, nine months before Mitt was born. (link: thestar.com)

Other examples of the phenomenon include French president Nicolas Sarkozy claiming he was present in Berlin in November 1989 and helped knock down the Berlin Wall; Ronald Reagan claiming he witnessed the liberation of the Nazi death camps during World War II -- even though he was never sent to Europe during the war. And Arnold Schwarzenegger saying he was inspired to enter politics after watching the Nixon-Humphrey presidential debate on TV in 1968, even though the debate wasn't televised.
(Thanks, Joe!)
Categories: Politics
Posted by Alex on Tue Feb 28, 2012
Comments (4)
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)
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)
Serbian media reported Thursday that one of their own countrymen, writer Dobrica Cosic, had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. However, he hadn't. Soon after, the Swedish Academy announced the real winner: Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer.

The Serbian media reported Cosic as the winner because they had all received an email, seeming to come from the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, announcing Cosic as the winner. The email linked to a website, nobelprizeliterature.org, that seemed to confirm Cosic as the winner. However, both the email and the site were fakes. (link)

Apparently Cosic is a strong Serbian nationalist. The Economist describes him as, "the intellectual godfather of the Serbian nationalism which played such a decisive role, not just in the destruction of Yugoslavia but in the military drive to create a greater Serbia from its ashes." According to the Montreal Gazette, Cosic writes, "lengthy tomes about the suffering of the Serbs through the ages." The hoax was perpetrated by some people who don't like him. Its basic purpose was to annoy him. The group, describing themselves as a "non-profit, self-organized group of web activists," have now posted this explanation on the site:

The purpose of our activity is to bring to the attention of the Serbian public dangerous influence of the writer Dobrica Cosic, who has been, again this year, proclaimed by some as a serious contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Dobrica Cosic, author and public political figure, active for decades, always close to the highest political power and those who exercise it, from the Communist Party of former SFRY, inspirators of their manifest of Serbian nationalism, infamous Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of sciences, former president of the Milosevic's wartime SR Yugoslavia, to present alliance with reactionary and most dangerous Serbian pseudo-democratic circles in the new era.

We have registered the domain of this obviously hoax site on the 5th October 2011, as a symbolic reminder of that day eleven years ago, when Serbia missed a historic opportunity to create a different and better world. Today again, Serbia turns to war, terror and deadly kitsch of the nineties, violence towards diversity, nationalist conservatism and dishonest orthodoxy. We believe the political activity of Dobrica Cosic is still deeply intertwined with this hazardous value system, which does not cease to threaten us all.

Terrible consequences of decades of Mr. Cosic's political, literary and public activity are felt to this day, both by his own country and throughout the region.

Dobrica Cosic is not a recipient of the Nobel Prize, although the general public in Serbia, and he himself, believed he is for 15 full minutes.

We find some solace in that fact.
Categories: Journalism, Literature/Language, Politics
Posted by Alex on Thu Oct 06, 2011
Comments (0)
The legend of Out-Of-Control Government Expenditures is alive and well. Back in the 1980s, reports of the US government paying $400 for a hammer and $600 for a toilet sparked outrage. And now, late last month, came the news that the Justice Department had paid $16 a piece for muffins at a 2009 conference. But just as the hammer and toilet weren't really as expensive as they seemed, it turns out that the price of the muffins was an artifact of accounting. The $16 included the entire continental breakfast, service, and taxes. Of course, while the government may not be paying premium price for muffins, those bailouts to the bankers did seem a little steep.
Categories: Business/Finance, Politics, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu Oct 06, 2011
Comments (2)
Usually when politicians become the victims of photo retouchers it's because they've become undesirable to someone in power, and so they're summarily removed from the photo. It's far less common for their images to be retouched in order to desexualize them. This is usually the fate of actresses and models. But this is what happened recently to Rathika Sitsabaiesan, a young Canadian MP. Her cleavage was erased from the image of her that appears on the House of Commons website. The National Post reports:

Mark Austin of Old Barns, N.S., discovered the discrepancy this week and passed it to the blog contrarian.ca. He was searching for Ms. Sitsabaiesan’s picture because he and his wife were inspired by her performance in Question Period, and wanted to know more about her. He clicked on the picture with cleavage — still available on Google — and saw it vanish before his eyes as he was linked to the parliamentary webpage.

Sitsabaiesan has not commented on the disappearance of her cleavage. It's quite possible she was the one who ordered its removal.


Before and After
Categories: Photos/Videos, Politics
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 29, 2011
Comments (2)
Status: Real Photos, False Captions

Obama Perry

The political dirty tricks season is upon us again, and so we get the image above, which has recently been circulating around conservative blogs. (Thanks to Gayl for forwarding it to me.) Its intent is obvious: to show that Rick Perry was serious and heroic as a young man, whereas Barack Obama was a bit of a punk.

The pictures themselves are real. The picture of Obama was taken in 1980 by Lisa Jack when both were freshmen at Occidental College in L.A. The picture of Rick Perry is undated, but must have been taken sometime between 1972 and 1977, when Perry served in the Air Force.

Therefore, the captions of the images are incorrect. Obama would have been 19 at the time the photo was taken, whereas Perry would have been between the ages of 22 and 27. So the comparison isn't quite fair. By the time he was in his early 20s, Obama was working as a community organizer in Chicago.

Furthermore, Perry himself was reportedly a bit of a punk while in college. According to a recent article in The Texas Tribune:

On one occasion, Perry put live chickens in the closet of an upperclassman and left them there during Christmas break. “You can just imagine the smell,” Sharp said. “Needless to say, he didn’t mess with Perry again.”

Another more elaborate prank took Perry months to execute. It involved M-80 firecrackers and an acquired knowledge of the plumbing in A&M buildings.

Perry learned that he could drop something down the second floor toilet and get it to come out the first floor toilet. Then he learned M-80s had waterproof detonators — a perfect combination. His accomplice, Sharp, would give the high sign out the window when a potential target wandered into a stall. Perry, from the floor above, would flush the lit firework down.

A fairer comparison might have been to contrast Obama looking laidback in his straw hat and cigarette dangling out of his mouth with Perry exploding a toilet.
Categories: Photos/Videos, Politics
Posted by Alex on Tue Aug 30, 2011
Comments (3)
Through a series of fake press releases and websites, the Yes Men briefly made it appear as if Canada had pledged to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions by 40%. From the Globe and Mail:

Canada's "Agenda 2020" set a goal of a 40-per-cent reduction in emissions from 1990 levels by 2020. It was a dramatic change from the current goal of 3 per cent. It also created a new fund, for which Canada pledged a whopping $13-billion next year, to help developing nations deal with climate change.
"We believe all people will benefit from an equitable climate deal that truly energizes the world economy," read a quote attributed to Mr. Prentice.
The news lit up the Bella Center, the vast Copenhagen convention hall where the climate-change negotiations are taking place. A story popped up on an apparent European affiliate of The Wall Street Journal. In a video on what looked to be a UN site, a Ugandan official congratulated Canada for its change of direction after "holding a loaded gun to our heads."
Soon after, "Canada" renounced the announcement, saying it was a fake. Though this second statement was correct in identifying the first so-called announcement as false, it too was a fake. As were the apparent WSJ article, Twitter account and the UN video.
Lost yet?
The hoax was an elaborate series of fake statements and articles meant to draw attention to Canada's lagging emissions-reduction targets. It left Prime Minister Stephen Harper's staff scrambling to set the record straight.

More details at gawker.com. (Thanks, Joe!)
Categories: Politics
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 15, 2009
Comments (2)
Yesterday the GOP debuted its own URL shortener. Wired.com describes the results:

Almost immediately after it launched yesterday, pranksters began using the service to link to controversial or ironically-intended websites such as the official site of the American Communist Party, a bondage website and a webpage advertising a sex toy in the likeness of Barack Obama. GOP.am started blocking such links apparently at some point Tuesday morning, and the GOP.am homepage is now offline.

Possibly the first branded URL shortener (Google also launched its own URL shortener yesterday afternoon), GOP.am was designed by the R.N.C.’s new media consultants, Political Media, to work somewhat like bit.ly in that it shortens URLs so that they can be more easily exchanged via short messaging services like Twitter.

But unlike bit.ly, GOP.am includes a toolbar at the top of the screen that follows the user as they click through to see whatever page the link goes to, and an animation of Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele walking around on the lower right as if he’s showing off the website — particularly awkward when that website is the alt.com bondage site.

How could they not have foreseen this would be the result if they created a URL shortener that made it look as if the GOP was endorsing any link a user entered?
Categories: Politics, Pranks, Websites
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 15, 2009
Comments (1)
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)
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)
Lorena writes to ask:

You seem to know a lot about hoaxes so....I am doing some
research, and I was asked if the story about Stalin sending black orchids
to Eva Peron's funeral are a hoax. Problem is, I can't even find stories
about it at all. Have you ever heard this?

I'm flattered Lorena thinks I might be knowledgeable enough to have the answer to this, but unfortunately I've never heard the story before and can't find any references to it. In a July 28, 1952 Associated Press article, "Mile-Long Lines View Remains," I found a reference to the flower arrangements at Peron's funeral:

The blonde wife of President Juan D. Peron lay in state in the hall of the labor ministry, in a glass-topped casket of mahogany, draped in white orchids, awaiting a full military funeral tomorrow afternoon. Tons of lilies, roses and carnations packed the hall and overflowed into the streets outside. Crowds of somberly dressed sober-faced mourners were first admitted to the improvised chapel Sunday afternoon and continued in an endless procession throughout the night and morning.

No mention of black orchids or Stalin.

A recent article in the journal International Affairs ["Stalin Meets the Argentine Ambassador," 3(52), 2006, 175-181], discusses a 1953 meeting between Stalin and Leopoldo Bravo, the Argentine ambassador in Moscow. During the course of their conversation Stalin apparently mentioned his interest in Eva Peron:

Other issues were also discussed during the conversation. Stalin was particularly interested in why Peron's wife—Eva Peron—was so popular, was it her personality, or the fact that she was the president's wife. Not an easy question to answer, particularly since Eva had died six months before. The ambassador's reply implied that she was popular for both reasons.

But again, no mention of Stalin having sent black orchids to her funeral.

I should also point out that while there are plants commonly referred to as "black orchids," they're not actually black. They're a dark maroon or brown. There is no such thing as an orchid that is truly black. The Auckland Museum is currently hosting an exhibit, Wonderland: The Mystery of the Orchid. According to them:

A few species of orchids have acquired the name "Black Orchid" by virtue of their very dark intense colour, while not black, which tends to the dark brown and maroon.
One of these is the Australian native orchid, Cymbidium canaliculatum var. sparkesii, a form of C. canaliculatum that has rich intense dark maroon flowers, with a touch of white and dark purple on the labellum. A species of the drier open eucalyptus forest, it grows high in the trees from hollow branches and crevices. The spikes are produced in numbers and bear many deep maroon flowers which are fragrant.
The original "black orchid", Trichoglottis brachiata (or T. philippinensiis var. brachiata), an erect monopodial species that likes to climb, is an entirely different type of orchid from the perching Cymbidium. T. brachiata is native to Borneo, Philippines and Sumatra and the many flowers are produced at the nodes along the stem. Each flower is up to 5 cm across, a rich velvety dark maroon, the lip prominently marked purple. The flowers are fragrant and long lived.
Categories: Politics, Science
Posted by Alex on Wed Oct 21, 2009
Comments (8)
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