Archive for November, 2009

Sydney Iceberg – #89 of 100 Top Hoaxes

Today I’m going to take the easy way out, and just quote the entire hoax from one of my favourite websites, the Museum of Hoaxes.

Number 89 on my countdown is the Iceberg that graced Sydney harbour in 1978 (The ’70s must have been a great decade for hoaxes):

On April 1, 1978 a barge appeared in Sydney Harbor towing a giant iceberg. Sydneysiders (as residents of Sydney are known) were expecting it. Dick Smith, a local adventurer and millionaire businessman (owner of Dick Smith Foods), had been loudly promoting his scheme to tow an iceberg from Antarctica for quite some time. Now he had apparently succeeded.

Smith said that he was going to carve the berg into small ice cubes, which he would sell to the public for ten cents each. These well-traveled cubes, fresh from the pure waters of Antarctica, were promised to improve the flavor of any drink they cooled. The cubes would be marketed under the brand name ‘Dickciles.’

A radio station reporter kept up a live broadcast from the iceberg (christened the Dickenberg 1) as it made its way into the harbor. Excitedly the entire city waited to catch a glimpse of the curiosity. Boaters who traveled out to meet the berg were given complimentary cubes.

Then it began to rain.

The water washed away the firefighting foam and shaving cream that the iceberg was really made of, exposing the white plastic sheets beneath. In this degraded condition the Sydney Iceberg sailed proudly on, floating past the opera house and city skyline. Boaters who now joined the procession were still given free cubes… though the cubes actually came from the onboard beer refrigerator.

See a list of hoaxes counted down so far after the jump.

Continue reading ‘Sydney Iceberg – #89 of 100 Top Hoaxes’

Debate: Atheism is the New Fundamentalism

I just finished watching this debate live online, and it was a lot of fun!

I had a bit of a hard time following the actual debate because I was also reading the #iq2atheism Twitter feed at the same time, but I’m going to post my brief take on the debate now, and when the recording of the debate is posted I’ll try to go into more detail. (follow me on Twitter @EnlightningLinZ)

The motion was “Atheism is the New Fundamentalism”.

Arguing for the motion: Richard Harries (former bishop of Oxford), and Charles Moore (former editor of the Daily Telegraph)

Arguing against: Professors Richard Dawkins and A C Grayling

The arguments for the motion were pathetic. They didn’t even argue for the motion. They didn’t define fundamentalism, nor did they provide examples to show why they think atheists are fundamentalists. Instead, it was just a run of ad hom attacks against Dawkins and atheists in general, as well as several uses of Godwin’s Law.

Grayling was a teddy bear, whose main point was that he was also a-pixie and a-father Christmas, but only needs to speak on his a-theism because of the influence of religion in the world. How is that fundamentalist?

Dawkins was, unless I missed it, the only one to actually define “fundamentalism”, and with his definition alone destroyed the motion. I can’t remember exactly what the definition he used was at this point (should have taken notes!), but I’ll be sure to talk about that in my follow-up post on the debate.

Dawkins made his case very effectively, but there were a couple of moments that stood out in the twitter feed.

One was his quoting of Vic Stenger: “Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.”

The second was his response to the question “Are you saying that there may be a God?”…

Dawkins: “There may be a leprechaun.” Which prompted me to do this…

Republic of San Serriffe – #90 of 100 Top Hoaxes

On April 1, 1977 (yeah yeah, another April Fool’s hoax, so sue me!), The Guardian featured an 8-page special report on a country called San Serriffe:

The San Seriffe was reported as a two-island nation in the Indian Ocean, with a population of over 1.7 million people. It was probably surprising for many people to learn about this place that they had never heard of before, but itbecomes clear that this is a ruse the more you learn about the place…especially after you see a map of it.

According to Henry Morris: “Many readers will be justifiably unacquainted with the tiny and little-known Republic of San Serriffe. I never heard of it myself until I saw the “Special Report” in the April 1, 1977, issue of The Guardian, one of the major English newspapers. A copy of this issue was send to me by an English friend with no explanation other than “I think you’ll find this interesting.” I was at first puzzled as it looked like any ordinary newspaper and I couldn’t imagine why he’d gone to the expense of air-mailing a copy of a now week-old newspaper. After some perusal, I finally begun to think there was something odd about the eight-page Special Report which was in a center section. The report dealt at length with the Republic of San Serriffe, a country whose existence I was previously unaware of. The power of print is such, that a report like this in a big-city newspaper establishes instant credibility. I couldn’t understand why I’d never heard of this country before. My suspicions were soon aroused by the names of various cities shown on map of this country which was included (see above map). these names were all terms connected with printing – places like Garamondo, Bodoni and Erbar – all names of printer’s type faces; Caissa Superiore (Upper-case), and Caissa Inferiore (lower-case), referring to the printer’s type-case arrangement. I finally realized it was colossal printer’s April Fool’s Day joke – the greatest I’d ever seen, and done as only the English can do such thing. Even the advertisers had gone along; Kodak, for example, had an ad that read: “If you have color photos of San Serriffe we’d like to see them.” In fact there is no such country and even the name is a play on words, “san serif” being a style of type without serifs.”

See a list of hoaxes counted down so far after the jump.

Continue reading ‘Republic of San Serriffe – #90 of 100 Top Hoaxes’

Eruption of Mount Edgecumbe – #91 of 100 Top Hoaxes

Mount Edgecumbe is a dormant volcano near Sitka, Alaska, which was the subject of an April Fool’s Day hoax.

The volcano hasn’t erupted in almost 4,000 years, but in 1974 prankster Porky Bickar flew hundreds of tires into the crater and lit them on fire, tricking locals into thinking that the volcano was active again.

The Museum of Hoaxes reports:

Six years later when Mount St. Helens erupted a Sitka resident wrote to Bickar to tell him, “This time you’ve gone too far!”

See a list of hoaxes counted down so far after the jump.

Continue reading ‘Eruption of Mount Edgecumbe – #91 of 100 Top Hoaxes’

Indian Rope Trick – #92 of 100 Top Hoaxes

This next hoax is more of a cool magic trick than a hoax, but it was presented as true in an 1890 Chicago Tribune story as a way to sell more papers.

The Indian rope trick has many variations, but essentially it involves someone throwing a rope into the sky, and instead of the rope falling to the ground it apparently hovers vertically (and unsupported, as pictured below) in the air so that a boy can climb it. Some version have the boy climbing out of sight, and in some versions body parts will be dropped from where the boy disappeared.

There are several videos of the trick on YouTube, but here’s one with my favourite magicians, Penn and Teller, witnessing the trick themselves. It appears as though the person who posted this video doesn’t realize that it’s a trick…in this case it looks to me to be pretty obvious that the “rope” is really a pole disguised as a rope being pushed up from underground through the basket.

See a list of hoaxes counted down so far after the jump.

Continue reading ‘Indian Rope Trick – #92 of 100 Top Hoaxes’

Nacirema Tribe – #93 of 100 Top Hoaxes

Body Ritual Among the Nacirema Tribe

By Sir Horatio Galbraith

Nacirema culture spends a considerable portion of the days in ritual activity.  The focus of this activity is the human body, the appearance and health of which loom as a dominant concern in the ethos of the people.  While such a concern is certainly not unusual, its ceremonial aspects and associated philosophy are unique.

The fundamental belief underlying the whole system appears to be that the human body is ugly and that its natural tendency is to debility and disease.  Incarnated in such a body, man’s only hope is to avert these characteristics through the use of the powerful influences of ritual and ceremony. Every household has one or more shrines devoted to this purpose.

While each family has at least one such shrine, the rituals associated with it are not family ceremonies but are private and secret.  The rites are normally only discussed with children and then only during the period when they are being initiated into these mysteries.  I was able, however, to establish sufficient rapport with the natives to examine these shrines and to have the rituals described to me.

The focal point of the shrine is a box or chest.  In this chest are kept the many charms and magical potions without which no native believes he could live.  These preparations are secured from a variety of specialized practitioners.  The most powerful of these are the medicine men, whose assistance must be rewarded with substantial gifts.  However, the medicine men do not provide the curative potions for their clients, but decide what the ingredients should be and then write them down in an ancient and secret language.  This writing is understood only by the medicine men and by the herbalist who, for another gift, provides the required charm.

The charm is not disposed of after it has served its purpose but is placed in the charm–box of the household shrine.  As these magical materials are specific for certain ills, and the real or imagined maladies of the people are many, the charm–box is usually overflowing.  The magical packets are so numerous that people forget what their purposes were and fear to use them again.  We can only assume that the idea in retaining all the old magical materials is that their presence in the charm–box, before which the body rituals are conducted, will in some way protect the worshipper.

In the hierarchy of magical practitioners, and below the medicine men in prestige, are specialists whose designation is best translated “holy–mouth–men.”  The Nacirema have an almost pathological horror of and fascination with the mouth, the condition of which is believed to have a supernatural influence on all social relationships.  Were it not for the rituals of the mouth, they believe that their teeth would fall out, their gums bleed, their jaws shrink, their friends desert them, and their lovers reject them.

In addition to the private mouth–rite, people seek out a holy–mouth–man once or twice a year.  These practitioners have an impressive set ofparaphernalia, consisting of a variety of augers, awls, probes, and prods.  The use of these objects in the exorcism of the evils of the mouth involves almost unbelievable ritual torture of the client.  The holy–mouth–man opens the clients mouth and, using the above mentioned tools, enlarges any holes which decay may have created in the teeth.  Magical materials are put into these holes.  If there are no naturally occurring holes in the teeth, large sections of one or more teeth are gouged out so that the supernatural substance can be applied.  In the client’s view, the purpose of these ministrations is to arrest decay and to draw friends.  The extremely sacred  and traditional character of the rite is evident in the fact that the natives return to the holy–mouth–men year after year, despite the fact that their teeth continue to decay.

It is to be hoped that, when a thorough study of the Nacirema is made, there will be careful inquiry into the personality structure of these people. One has but to watch the gleam in the eye of a holy–mouth–man, as he jabs an awl into an exposed nerve, to suspect that a certain amount of sadism is involved.  If this can be established, a very interesting pattern emerges, for most of the population shows definite masochistic tendencies.  It was to these that Professor Linton referred in discussing a distinctive part of the daily body ritual which is performed only by men.  This part of the rite involves scraping and lacerating the surface of the face with a sharp instrument.  Special women’s rites are performed only four times during each lunar month, but what they lack in frequency is made up in barbarity.  As part of this ceremony, women bake their heads in small ovens for about an hour.  The theoretically interesting point is that what seems to be a preponderantly masochistic people have developed sadistic specialists.

The medicine men have an imposing temple, or latipso, in every community of any size.  The more elaborate ceremonies required to treat very sick patients can only be performed at this temple.  The supplicant entering the temple is first stripped of all his or her clothes.  In every–day life the Nacirema avoids exposure of his body and its natural functions.  Bathing and excretory acts are performed only in secrecy where they are ritualized as part of the body–rites.  Psychological shock results from the fact that body secrecy is suddenly lost upon entry into the latipso.  A man, whose own wife have never seen him in an excretory act, suddenly finds himself naked while he performs his natural functions into a sacred vessel.  This sort of ceremonial treatment is necessitated by the fact that the excreta are used by a diviner to ascertain the course and nature of the client’s sickness.  Female clients, on the other hand, find their naked bodies are subjected to the scrutiny, manipulation and prodding of the medicine men.

In conclusion, mention must be made of certain practices which have their base in native esthetics but which depend upon the pervasive aversion to the natural body and its functions.  There are ritual fasts to make fat people thin and ceremonial feasts to make thin people fat.  Still other rites are used to make women’s breasts larger if they are small, and smaller if they are large.  General dissatisfaction with breast shape is symbolized in the fact that the ideal form is virtually outside the range of human variation.  A few women afflicted with almost inhuman hypermamary development are so idolized that they make a handsome living by simply permitting the natives to stare at them for a fee.

Reference has already been made to the fact that excretory functions are ritualized, routinized, and relegated to secrecy.  Natural reproductive functions are similarly distorted.  Intercourse is taboo as a topic and scheduled as an act.  Efforts are made to avoid pregnancy by the use of magical materials or by limiting intercourse to certain phases of the moon.  Conception is actually very infrequent.  When pregnant, women dress so as to hide their condition.  Parturition takes place in secret, without friends or relatives to assist, and majority of women do not nurse their infants.

Our review of the ritual life of the Nacirema has certainly shown them to be a magic–ridden people.  It is hard to understand how they have managed to exist so long under the burdens which they have imposed upon themselves.

Sound familiar?

Try spelling Nacirema backwards.

See a list of hoaxes counted down so far after the jump.

Continue reading ‘Nacirema Tribe – #93 of 100 Top Hoaxes’

American Cannibal – #94 of 100 Top Hoaxes

In 2006 a new documentary came out that followed a couple of aspiring filmmakers as they struggled to get a project off the ground. Eventually the pair sells out to make a reality TV series…with disastrous results…

At least that’s what they want you to think…

To be truthful I don’t know that this is a hoax, as the filmmakers haven’t come out and said so, but come on, it has to be! Spoilers ahead, so if you’re planning on seeing American Cannibal, stop reading now!

The filmmakers, Perry and Michael, team up with a TV producer with questionable morals to come up with a survivor-style reality show in which they would push the contestants to their limits. They want to see how far people are willing to be pushed for reality TV fame, even if that means cannibalism.

The whole think gets shut down, though, when an “accident” puts a halt to production. At the end of the film one of the contestants gets injured, and it’s all very mysterious. You see very little, no close-ups, and you don’t get a clue as to what kind of injury it is. The contestant is a thin young woman, so the assumption is that she collapsed after having been deprived of food for too long. At least that’s the assumption I made. After the accident the rest ofAmerican Cannibal shows Perry and Michael feeling guilty and trying to figure out from the girl’s family if she’s okay.

As soon as I finished watching I hit Google to see if I could find out what happened to this girl. Is she even still alive?

I quickly came across this video, which shows her accident from a different perspective, showing that the accident was no accident. It appears to show another contestant flipping out and punching or knifing the girl in the face.

But was it a set up? Why was the picture so grainy, and why wouldn’t the filmmakers have any idea what happened to the girl? Why isn’t this girl’s family or the other contestants on the show speaking out against them? Something’s not right here. American Cannibal‘s website says this about the girl:

Q: What happened to the girl?

MN: The girl on “The Ultimate Ultimate Challenge/Starvation Island” appeared to be badly injured and we looked into that further than is shown in the film.  One of the producers spoke to her not long ago, and apparently she’s okay.

PG: This question comes up a lot and although the movie is about the human cost of reality-entertainment, it’s not about a contestant or her injury and we’re not interested in exploiting it.  However her injury does highlight the public frenzy for real-life drama Ð the media love a damsel in distress, and the public seems to want to know about it –

MN: Particularly when she’s busty and blonde and white.  Laci Peterson, The Runaway Bride, Natalie Holloway, the Aruba girl, Jessica Lynch.

PG: If there’s more to the story, or even if there isn’t, surely several newspapers will find room on their pages to talk about it.  Extra ink if she’s dead and/or nude.

They’re leaving a lot open to speculation, which makes me think that this is all for publicity. After the film premiered at Tribeca the New York Times reported this:

But is it true? An e-mail message that I was sent claims it is not.

“The big secret is that this ‘provocative’ and ‘penetrating’ documentary is not a documentary at all. The whole thing was staged,” said the message, from someone using the name “mistermovieguy,” which circulated last week. The author of the message, who did not respond to e-mailed questions — suggested that he or she had worked on the film and could say with certainty that “it’s all made up.”

The men who made “American Cannibal,” Perry Grebin and Michael Nigro, say that the e-mail message suggesting their movie is a hoax is itself a sham. But they managed to be both earnest and cagey about their documentary when I met them over lunch at a coffee shop in Midtown Manhattan on Friday.

“I am not out to prank anyone,” said Mr. Grebin, who used to work in television news. “We hope that people will be engaged by the blurry line of what is real and what may or may not be.

“We created scenarios in which events unfolded, over which we did not have control, which is very consistent with the documentary tradition,” he said.

“We don’t want to lie, but we want people to peel back the layers of the onion,” said Mr. Grebin. “Nobody really wants to look at truth; they want to see the circus, so we gave them a circus. We used elements of reality TV to make a movie about reality TV.”

So is “American Cannibal” reality, reality television, a comment on reality television or an outright hoax?

If there isn’t a satisfactory answer, perhaps it is because all reality seems to have quotation marks, asterisks, parentheses and a herd of question marks around it…

I love this hoax (or non-hoax) because it’s still a mystery, and it’s a whole lot of fun trying to figure it out! There’s a lot of fun speculation out there, I recommend doing some creative Googling after seeing the movie. Enjoy!

See a list of hoaxes counted down so far after the jump.

Continue reading ‘American Cannibal – #94 of 100 Top Hoaxes’

Great Comics Switcheroonie – #95

Number 95, like many of the hoaxes that will appear on this list, happened on April Fool’s Day.

On April 1, 1997, syndicated comic strip writers conspired to confuse readers by swapping characters. From the Baby Blues Scrapbook:

A couple of years ago, Rick and Jerry had the idea to have the cartoonists in the papers switch with other cartoonists and draw each others strips. Rick sent out letters to find out if any of the cartoonists would be interested. He was surprised at how many thought it would be fun to do!

In order to be as efficient as possible and to save precious time, Rick decided to computerize the responses with some new software he found. Naturally, with such high-tech help, the entire process of matching cartoonists up with one of their top ten choices ended up taking roughly five times longer than it would have if we’d used a handful of index cards and a bulletin board. The matching-up process also would have taken much less time if we had simply let everyone draw their first choice of strips. And, in retrospect, it might have been funnier to open the paper on April 1st and see forty-six different versions of Dilbert.

Anyway, after a few weeks of agony (mostly for Rick since all of this was on his computer), the mishaps were complete and we sent out the assignments with careful instructions for the cartoonists to follow, and much of the next few weeks were taken up with fielding phone calls re-explaining the whole thing to cartoonists who don’t read careful instructions.

After a ton of telephone interviews, (thanks to all the cartoonists who took time out of their schedules to help field some of these), the Switcheroonie went off without a hitcheroonie. The results were funny, readers got an unexpected treat, and the comics got a little publicity for a change. All in all, not a bad outcome.

After many hours of organizing and numerous reminder phone calls, the great 1997 Switcheroonie was printed in newspapers all across the United States on 1997 April Fool’s Day. The responses were varied. Most people thought it was a great gag to do on 1997 April Fool’s Day. No syndicates were harmed by this stunt.

Here are some examples. Enjoy and Happy Friday!

See a list of hoaxes counted down so far after the jump.

Continue reading ‘Great Comics Switcheroonie – #95′

Well to Hell – #96

I’m strapped for time so I’m going to phone it in a bit with today’s hoax and just quote the entire thing from the awesome snopes.com. I did take the time to make an amusing accompanying picture though!

The Hoax:

Geologists working somewhere in remote Siberia had drilled a hole some 14.4 kilometers deep (about 9 miles) when the drill bit suddenly began to rotate wildly. A Mr. Azzacov (identified as the project’s manager) was quoted as saying they decided that the center of the Earth was hollow.

Supposedly, geologists measured temperatures of over 2,000 degrees in the deep hole. They lowered super sensitive microphones to the bottom of the well, and to their astonishment they heard the sounds of thousands, perhaps millions, of suffering souls screaming.

It seems that an innocent article in Scientific American got completely embellished to turn a well with some interesting geologic activities into a pit of dead souls. According to snopes, some Christian groups use this as proof that there’s a hell. Pfft!

(Again, I apologize for my poor job at this one!)

See a list of hoaxes counted down so far after the jump.

Continue reading ‘Well to Hell – #96′

Ivar’s Underwater Billboards – #97

In late August this year, a Seattle salvage crew pulled a rusted up billboard from Elliott Bay, advertising Ivar’s Clam Chowder for $.75 a bowl. Ivar’s president Bob Donegan claimed that it was a campaign started by the original owner, Ivar Haglund, who intended for the billboards to advertise to submarines in the future. Donegan said that Ivar’s would honour the price listed on the billboard, and sold t-shirts, held contests, etc, all while he waited to see if the billboards were authenticated.

Well, it turns out that Donegan was pulling the strings the whole time. He had placed the billboards and hired the salvage crew as a gag to sell more Chowder!

See a list of hoaxes counted down so far after the jump.

Continue reading ‘Ivar’s Underwater Billboards – #97′


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