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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)

Gnome Liberation Front Strikes Again
On Nov. 1 79 garden gnomes were liberated by the Garden Gnome Liberation Front in France. The gnomes were later found along the bank of a stream "in some underbrush with a banner that read, 'gnome mistreated, gnome liberated.'"

Fake Priests in Japan
The BBC has an article about the growing popularity of using fake priests at Japanese weddings: "The fake Western priests are employed at Western-style weddings to give a performance and add to the atmosphere. These are not legal ceremonies - the couples also have to make a trip to the local registrar." Apparently it's becoming quite a big business. I also wrote about this in Hippo Eats Dwarf, so it's not exactly new news.

New Kidney Turning Man into his Wife
Ian Gammons received a kidney transplant from his wife. Now he claims that the kidney is slowly causing him to adopt her personality traits: "Now the 51-year-old Briton is never happier than when baking scones or "wandering round the shops and looking for bargains", he says. He has even begun to share his wife's love of dogs, an animal he despised before receiving the kidney a year ago."

Uri Geller Claims Remote Viewing Helped US Find Hussein
Of course, we all know how credible Uri Geller is, so when he says something like this it immediately commands our respect. Remember his appearance on the Tonight Show?

New Political Dirty Trick: Robocalls
The GOP is being accused of making robocalls: tape-recorded phone messages that appear to be made by their Democratic rivals. The strategy is to make voters so disgusted by getting all these automated calls, often receiving them late at night, that they'll decide to switch their vote to the candidate not making those calls, i.e. the GOP.
Categories: Gnomes, Military, Paranormal, Politics, Religion
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 07, 2006
Comments (13)
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 BrainShrub.com)



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)
imageA video posted on YouTube, supposedly created by a 29-year-old guy from California calling himself Toutsmith, showing a caricature of Al Gore boring a group of penguins by lecturing them about global warming, has been revealed to be a creation of lobbying firm DCI Group, one of whose clients is Exxon Mobil Corp.

The fraud was exposed, surprisingly, by the Wall Street Journal. It's not clear to me exactly how they did it, since I haven't been able to access their article, but from what I can piece together they sent the creator of the video an email, and he must have responded to them. This gave them his IP address, which they promptly traced to the DCI Group.

As all the articles about this have been pointing out, the video is an example of "astroturf": The creation of a fake grassroots campaign. The London Times lists a few other recent examples of astroturf:
• In 2001 Microsoft was suspected of being behind a deluge of readers’ letters sent to newspapers complaining about the US Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit against the software company

• Last year an organisation called Working Families for Wal-Mart was set up to voice the opinions of people who believe the superstore chain is helping ordinary families of America. Most of its funding came from Wal-Mart

• Even environmental groups have been Astro Turfed. The harmless- sounding Save Our Species Alliance was accused of being a front for timber lobbyists to weaken the Endangered Species Act. It is headed by a veteran PR man and the former president of the Oregon Forest Industries Council
However, the penguin video also seems to be an example of Subviral Marketing, which refers to the practice of companies creating viral content which they then deny any association with. (See the Fake Puma Ad.) So maybe this video represents the creation of a new hybrid: Subviral Astroturf.
Categories: Photos/Videos, Politics
Posted by Alex on Mon Aug 07, 2006
Comments (7)
Status: Weird news
The picture on the left shows the former group photo of Cary, North Carolina's town council. Then representative Michael Joyce resigned. Instead of taking a new group photo, the city simply deleted Joyce from the photo. The new photo is on the right (and you can also check out the photo on the town's website). There's nothing wrong with this. I suppose it was easier to do than getting everyone together for another photo. Still, it seems a bit like something out of The Commissar Vanishes. At least he was "disappeared" from the photo only after he resigned. It would be kind of creepy to notice yourself vanishing from official group photos while you're still working there. Incidentally, anyone interested in filling Joyce's position can get a $10,859.34 annual salary, plus a travel allowance of $8,100.

image image
Categories: Photos/Videos, Politics
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 31, 2006
Comments (9)
Status: Real
image I don't like to make fun of people's appearances (doing so disturbs my soft, liberal sensibilities), but when I saw this picture of Ann Coulter I thought that it was either photoshopped, or she had the strangest looking hand I've ever seen in my life. In fact, I would hesitate to even use the words 'hand' to describe that thing at the end of her arm. Instead, the phrase 'raptor claw' seems like it might be more appropriate. The thing is almost as long as her forearm! But a quick check on anncoulter.com (which, I assume, is her website) reveals that the picture is posted there. Which means that it must be real. Freaky. I think I'm going to be having nightmares about this. (Via US Magazine)
Categories: Photos/Videos, Politics
Posted by Alex on Sun Jul 09, 2006
Comments (39)
Status: Strange News
I note in Hippo Eats Dwarf that if you fake your death, you need to remain dead, which means staying under the radar. Ronald Wayne Blankenship hasn't followed that advice. Instead, after allegedly faking his death backin 1990, he's now decided to run for sheriff in Jefferson County... which is a good way to bring himself to the attention of the police who now want him to come in and have his fingerprints checked. Blankenship, meanwhile, is maintaining his innocence, insisting that he's not the same Blankenship who once faked his death:
Ronald Wayne Blankenship, a candidate in the runoff for the Democratic nomination for Jefferson County sheriff, says it's coincidence that a man with a criminal past shares his name and birthdate. It's strange but true, he says, that both he and a man who faked his own death in 1990 are married to women named Judy Ruth Green Stonecipher Blankenship...
Blankenship says he is not the man described in police reports and court documents. "Do you know how many Ronald Blankenships there are?" he asked. "That's why I started going by Ron."
Well, this guy's explanation seems totally believable. grrr But what's really strange is that he received 25.9% of the votes. (Thanks to Joe for the story)
Categories: Death, Politics
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 15, 2006
Comments (11)
Status: Undetermined
image Do you believe God belongs in government? Do you believe President Bush is doing The Lord's Work? If so, then step up and buy a BushFish car magnet. There's been speculation that this is some kind of parody, along the lines of BushIsLord.com. It does seem a little over the top. But I'm guessing that the creator of these things doesn't care whether people interpret them as a parody, or as a serious statement, as long as they buy plenty of them. (And yes, as far as I can tell, purchases really can be made via the site... though I wasn't about to actually buy one to make sure.)

On Daily Kos there's been speculation that BushFish is a satire based on the fact that some of the photos of BushFish on car bumpers seem to have been photoshopped. I'm not seeing this. In fact, it seems to me that it would be more work to photoshop a BushFish onto a bumper than it would be to simply slap one onto a bumper in real life and take a picture of it.

Personally I think that if anyone feels a burning need to buy a Bush Fish, they should buy one of the aquatic kind instead.
Categories: Politics, Religion
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 01, 2006
Comments (16)
Status: Joke ballot
Reuters reports on a case of a dead guy who was temporarily in the running for Italy's president:
With no hope of immediately electing a president, lawmakers have been throwing away votes for the past two days while party leaders negotiate a consensus candidate. A secret ballot has allowed them to get creative. For one elector, the political deadlock offered a rare chance to vote for Padre Pio, a 20th century mystic monk who had the stigmata -- bleeding wounds in the hands and feet similar to those of Christ -- and was made a saint in 2002. The speaker of Italy's lower house of parliament immediately annulled the ballot paper. Padre Pio died in 1968.
For a second I thought this was some kind of allusion to Napoleon Dynamite. But that's Vote for Pedro, not Vote for Padre Pio. The similarity is coincidental, I'm sure. (Thanks to Big Gary, who has a knack for finding these 'dead guy running for office' stories.)

Related Post:
Apr. 9, 2006: Dead man runs for New Orleans Mayor
Categories: Death, Politics
Posted by Alex on Wed May 10, 2006
Comments (5)
Status: Fake
image A video on stillfree.com shows a guy (Mark Ecko) spraying graffiti on Air Force One. This involves him avoiding armed guards, climbing over fences, and then sprinting across the tarmac to write "Still Free" on the plane's engine. The video is well done, but fake. As a disclaimer on the site reads: "You, the viewer of the preceeding are hereby advised that the video does not depict a real event. It is intended for the sole, limited and express purpose of entertainment and to induce you, the viewer of the video, to think critically about freedom of expression and speech and the government's responses to the same."
Categories: Photos/Videos, Politics
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 18, 2006
Comments (27)
Status: Joke campaign
Twenty-five people are campaigning to be mayor of New Orleans. One of them is legendary rhythm-and-blues musician Ernie K-Doe. His wife insists that he deserves to be mayor because "He gets the job done. The guy has soul." He also happens to be dead, which, I suppose, makes him perfect for the job (resistant to corruption-- especially if he was embalmed). Unfortunately he's not actually on the ballot, so his supporters will have to stage a write-in campaign. Though he could be a beneficiary of ghost voting, a practice not unknown down there in Louisiana. (Thanks, Big Gary)
Categories: Death, Politics
Posted by Alex on Sun Apr 09, 2006
Comments (0)
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