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242556.  Mon Dec 10, 2007 11:19 am Reply with quote

A couple have been sent to prison for just over four years each after conning a number of family and friends out of almost $1 million:

Stacey Finley, 34, persuaded her targets -- described by federal prosecutors as "solid, middle-class, educated citizens" -- that she was a CIA agent and could use her agency contacts to have medical scans conducted by satellite. Finley said the scans would reveal hidden medical problems, and that CIA agents would then enter their homes and administer secret medications while they slept.

268637.  Thu Jan 31, 2008 9:04 am Reply with quote

On the subject of fakes or falsehoods, it seems that many of the headstones in Boston's graveyards now have no bearing on where the person they commemorate is buried.

In her 1894 work Customs and fashions in old new england, Alice Earle writes:

The early graves were frequently clustered, were even crowded in irregular groups in the churchyard
Still, this neglect and oblivion is just as satisfactory as was the officious "deed without a name" done in orderly Boston, where, in the first half of this century, a precise Superintendent of Graveyards and his army of assistants—what Charles Lamb called "sapient trouble-tombs"—straightened out mathematically all the old burial-places, levelled the earth, and set in trim military rows the old slate headstones, regardless of the irregular clusters of graves and their occupants.

And there in Boston the falsifying old headstones still stand, fixed in new places, but marking no coffins or honored bones beneath; the only true words of their inscriptions being the opening ones "Here lies"

The City of Boston website also mentions that, as well as pleasing "nineteenth-century aesthetics", the headstones were rearranged to accommodate "the modern lawnmower."

284994.  Tue Feb 26, 2008 6:24 am Reply with quote

I like this story, because it’s one of those debunked debunkings ... or it might be, anyway.

It comes in three parts: most people know the first, many know the second, and that makes the third worth discussing.

1. Marlon Brando famously declined to collect his Best Actor Oscar (for The Godfather, which, I must admit, I have never managed to watch past the twentieth minute) in 1973. He sent as his proxy an Apache woman named Sacheen Littlefeather, wearing native dress, who delivered a fiery (or, in some accounts, rambling) speech about the rights of American Indians.

2. It was subsequently revealed that Littlefeather was not an Apache at all - she was Maria Cruz, an unemployed Mexican actress who had, amongst her other professional achievements, won the Miss American Vampire contest in 1970. This is the generally accepted view of the matter, and has been for some years. But ...

3. There is a website which claims to be that of Ms Littlefeather, in which she says that her father was indeed an Apache/Yaqui (her mother was French/German/Dutch); that she was, indeed, an actress (but Californian, not Mexican); and - most importantly - that she was and is a lifelong and prominent campaigner for American Indians’ rights. (These basic facts are confirmed elsewhere).

In other words, the famous Oscars Night fake wasn’t a fake - the world was conned into thinking it so by a disinformation campaign. Also, the “rambling speech” which so many remember (link to False Memory Syndrome) was a few seconds long ... true, Brando had written a 15-page speech for Littlefeather (which seems a little patronising!) to read out, but the producer threatened to cut off her sound if she attempted to read it. She made a very brief statement, and later read out the full version to a press conference.

Apparently, no-one knows what happened to the actual statuette. One story is that Roger Moore - who was the presenter of the award - was so shocked by what was happening, that he absent-mindedly took the Oscar with him when he left.

S: Sunday Telegraph 24 Feb 08.

Links: False Memory Syndrome; Films.

285270.  Tue Feb 26, 2008 12:10 pm Reply with quote

Bezoar stones are concretions found in the guts of various ruminants - such as goats and gazelles - in various parts of the world, notably some Indian islands. In 17th century England they were used as universal antidotes to poisons and plague and cures for depression, and were therefore of great value; the British east India Company prized them alongside diamonds, ambergris and musk. Inevitably, a market appeared in fake bezoars.

Apparently, this is where the legal ruling of “caveat emptor” comes from - from a fake bezoars case in 1603: Chandelor v Lopus in the Exchequer court. The court ruled that it was up to the buyer to check the quality of the goods before he bought them. (Which seems bloody harsh; what was he supposed to do? Catch the plague?)

Robert Boyle included bezoars in his experiments to determine specific gravities, trying to find a way to tell real ones from counterfeit.

S: London Review of Books, 7 Feb 08

286582.  Thu Feb 28, 2008 10:14 am Reply with quote

Some Egyptian tombs had fake doors that served as portals for communicating with the dead.


289045.  Mon Mar 03, 2008 5:45 am Reply with quote

One fake or fraud we surely can’t omit is the legendary Battle of Orgreave, during the miners’ Big Strike of 1984-85. In brief, to refresh your memories:

Police and pickets clashed outside a steel coking plant in South Yorks.

The miners were astonished at the ferocity of the violence they were dealt by amphetamine-soaked police - it was more like a war than an industrial dispute - but they were even more astonished when, from their hospital beds, they watched the telly ...

The BBC TV news that night ran footage which seemed to show miners launching an unprovoked, violent attack on the police. This piece of film changed the history of Britain: as propaganda it was enormously effective, disastrously undermining public support for the strikers.

Paranoid leftwing conspiracy theorists immediately claimed that the BBC had run the film backwards - to show the miners attacking, instead of being attacked. All sensible grown-ups laughed at such a hilarious idea.

20 years later, the BBC admitted that it had run the film backwards.

BUT - you needn't worry, because it wasn't a conspiracy. The BBC explained that a teenager on a youth training scene had been left in charge of the video machine that night. It was an error, you see. Which explanation entirely satisfied the grown-up, broadsheet-reading classes ... who presumably didn't stop to ask themselves why the BBC hadn't given it two days after the event, instead of two decades.

Sources: None but my memory. I can’t find anything about this on the internet. I suspect that’s because of a conspiracy, though no doubt local representatives of the “my-daddy-says,” fidimplicitary intelligentsia will try to pass it off as all down to my substandard googling technique.

Links: Films, False Memory

289239.  Mon Mar 03, 2008 10:16 am Reply with quote

Rail privateer National Express “claims huge sums of money in agricultural subsidies from the European Union for not growing crops.”

S: Morning Star, 7 Nov 07.

290780.  Wed Mar 05, 2008 9:56 am Reply with quote

A computing student at the Californian Institute of Technology has invented a tool called WickiScanner, which enables a search of edits to Wikipedia by reference to IP addresses.

This has revealed numerous edits carried out by governmental and other bodies to Wiki entries. Some might be described as sinister - others as bizarre or comical:

Diebold, which makes the notoriously corrupt voting machines for US elections, has been found to have removed “details of its more controversial practices.”

Exxon, the National Rifle Association, and the Church of Scientology (or to be exact, people with access to their computers) also edited articles about them to remove some of the more embarrassing facts.

The Israeli government removed criticism of its apartheid wall, and replaced it with an attack on the “racist” United Nations.

The Vatican removed a reference to Gerry Adams’s prints being allegedly found on a car used in a murder in 1971.

The CIA, very strangely, knocked a day off the age of singer Richard Marx, added “scurrilous rumours to the profile of an obscure R&B singer” and inserted “a reference to the illuminati to a publisher's page.”

The BBC was also involved: it (or someone using one of its computers) changed L to N in the spelling of President Bush’s middle name, “Walker.” Well done, BBC!

S: Morning Star, 18 Aug 07

291335.  Thu Mar 06, 2008 8:28 am Reply with quote

Amongst the fakes and frauds, I thought a run-through of false grounds for war might be instructive - the Gulf of Tonkin, and so on.

Here’s one they made earlier: the 1812-15 war between Britain and the USA (that’s the one, incidentally, in which the peace treaty was signed on Christmas Eve, but some of the fighting was so remote that the word didn't reach everybody until the following April).

The Americans fought under the slogan “Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights”. The latter referred to allegations that the Royal Navy was impressing American sailors into its service. However, the evidence for this, published by President Madison in January 1812, was a pretty classic example of the “dodgy dossier,” in which many of the names of the supposed pressees were duplicated.

S: London Review of Books, 21 Feb 08, reviewing “Fusiliers” by Mark Urban, and “1812” by Jon Latimer.

293161.  Mon Mar 10, 2008 7:59 am Reply with quote

Continuing a short series of Fraudulent Excuses for War (see above):

You may remember a few months ago, the US government claiming that its warships off the coast of Iran were being “threatened” by Iranian speedboats. (Something arse-backwards about that concept, surely??).

Critics of US foreign policy immediately suggested that this incident had been faked, in order to bring about a “Gulf of Tonkin” resolution allowing Bush to go to war with Iran.

The White House claimed that the speedboats radioed to the warships: “I am coming toward you. We will explode in two minutes.” Tape of the incident reveals the “threat” to be made in an absurd, comical voice.

The Navy Times now reports that there is a notorious heckler (or hecklers) on CB radio in the Straits who regularly broadcasts bizarre, obscene or threatening messages to ships. He (or this phenomenon) is known as “the Filipino Monkey”.

As more than one commentator has put it: “We have just come close to war based on a prank call.”

S: Morning Star, 1 Feb 08

Last edited by MatC on Wed Mar 12, 2008 8:32 am; edited 1 time in total

293319.  Mon Mar 10, 2008 11:57 am Reply with quote

Government guidelines on safe drinking (21 units of alcohol per week for men, and 14 for women) were just “plucked out of the air” - according to a member of the committee that did the plucking.

Professor Richard Smith was on the committee in 1987 which was set up to determine safe drinking limits, which have “shaped health policy in Britain for more than 20 years.” He now admits that the figures have no scientific basis at all.

S: What’s Brewing magazine, 12/07

(And as it happens, the government’s senior adviser on the smoking ban has admitted that he doesn’t believe in passive smoking; almost all such experts admit this in private - what is rare is that this one has done so in public:

293785.  Tue Mar 11, 2008 6:26 am Reply with quote

A few months ago, Lord Alton - the Catholic peer - arguing against donor-assisted births for infertile couples, told a story which briefly made headlines: about a pair of twins who were adopted at birth, separated, met in later life, got married, and had to have their marriage annulled when their blood relationship was discovered. Alton solemnly informed the House of Lords that the identities of the couple were being kept secret “for legal reasons.”

To anyone of even slight intelligence it was pretty obvious that this story wasn’t true - so it’s no surprise that every news editor in the country printed it as gospel. Indeed, it was reported uncritically around the world; eg,

The BBC’s news department - staffed these days mainly by rejects from the Sunday Sport - did what it always does when faced with any pronouncement by a member of the Establishment: reported it as fact, without making even the tiniest attempt to check it.

Naturally, it turned out to be rubbish ... a classic piece of FOAFlore, which everyone had heard from everyone else and no-one had any actual details of.

In retrospect it was all rather implausible as they would have realised that they were both adopted and shared the same birthday - surely sufficient incentive to check their birth certificates? It was thus no surprise to learn that the leading family judge, Sir Mark Potter, had never heard of their case.

- Daily Telegraph, 21 Jan 08


It’s quite frightening - or amusing, depending on your degree of cynicism, I suppose - how gullible famous people are when it comes to foafs; I’ve got a small file of them, from the Prince of Wales upwards, coming out with saloon bar stories, the nuttier the better, which they have obviously entirely fallen for. The frightening bit is that because the stories have these famous names attached to them, the mainstream media suddenly promote them from “daft story my mate heard down the pub” to FRONT PAGE 100% TRUE NEWS.

294843.  Wed Mar 12, 2008 12:16 pm Reply with quote

There’s been a lot of public talk about food adulteration recently (the very thing that prompted the creation of the first co-ops, of course, which now account for more business world wide than do multinational companies or plcs), partly because of a new book: “Swindled: from poison sweets to counterfeit coffee - the dark history of food cheats” by Bee Wilson, which as far as I can tell from various reviews, puts forward the idea that we live now in a world of “legalised consumer fraud,” brought about largely by free market ideals.

Her thesis, if I've got her right, is that we’re no better off as consumers today than we were 150 years ago - we’ve been through the good times, of government regulation, and we’ve come out the other side. Where the Victorians has bread made of things other than flour, we have chicken made of things other than chicken.

“Nineteenth century British bakers were unregulated by the state unlike their European colleagues. They were free to do as they wished, but free to starve, too, if they didn't undercut their neighbours. Therefore almost every loaf of bread, at any price, contained alum.”

Milk was cut with water, sweetened with carrot juice, thickened with flour and coloured with yellow dye. Tea was made of sloe leaves and copper. Vinegar was flavoured with sulphuric acid. Custard contained laurel leaves. Coffee contained flour, acorns, and dried vegetable powder.

In the USA, after the Civil War, “battery cows” were invented: the cows were housed in “battery conditions,” next to breweries, fed on the brewer’s waste; “they supplied a thin, nutritionless liquid.”

Regulation became easier when it was discovered that the cells of different foodstuffs could be identified by microscope. The Lancet investigated 2,500 foodstuffs, and named and shamed the producers. As a result, Crosse & Blackwell removed copper from their pickles, poisonous red dye from anchovies, and began to market its goods as “pure.” Heinz removed coal-tar and benzoic acid from its ketchup, just in time for the US Pure Foods Act of 1906. Food manufacturers began to see “purity” as the great new marketing technique.

The writer claims that ersatz foods - made necessary by WW2 - although hated at the time, after the war came to be seen as “modern” and more desirable than purity, which was old fashioned.

In the US in 1952, a government committee said that food additives and new food technology had produced “the most abundant and varied diet” in history. However, in 1967, the US ranked 37th amongst nations for life expectancy, and it was found that almost all children under 12 had iron deficiencies. Concerns about rampant obesity also began then.

S: Sunday Telegraph, 3 Feb 08.

Links: Food, Free Enterprise, Fat, Factory Farming

295214.  Thu Mar 13, 2008 7:11 am Reply with quote

A “Billy and Charley” is a fake mediaeval coin or other artefact, made in Shadwell in Victorian times; these days, they’re quite collectable in their own right.

In the 1850s, discoveries made when dredging, and doing other work around the Thames and the Seine, sparked crazes amongst the middle classes of London and Paris for collecting antiquities. Any mediaeval piece found by a mudlark or by a dockside or riverside labourer was immediately sellable to one of the new hobbyists. Before long, supply lagged behind demand ...

William Smith and Charles Eaton, a pair of smart cockney geezers, had an answer to that. They made moulds of fake mediaeval artefacts (pilgrim badges, coins, figurines and so on), and cast them first in lead and later in brass. Having tested these on the market, they confirmed their theory that the collectors were mostly ignorant enthusiasts, who couldn't tell real from fake, so they went into business on a large scale.

Neither Billy nor Charley could read or write English - let alone Latin. The result was that their fakes were comically “wrong”: they simply carved nonsense phrases into their moulds, along with randomly chosen dates, written in anachronistic Arabic numerals. No-one seems to have noticed.

They set up a network of dealers to handle distribution, while they got on with manufacturing an estimated 5,000-10,000 items. They were caught when their workshop was burgled, and one of their moulds was stolen and publicised. They escaped jail, possibly because they were able to lay all the blame on the distributors - Billy and Charley were merely making fakes, and selling them to distributors (who knew they were fakes), not to the collectors (who didn't).

S: Treasure Hunting magazine, Oct 07.

295229.  Thu Mar 13, 2008 7:38 am Reply with quote

S: Treasure Hunting magazine

One of the things I enjoy most about working on this show is the picture one gets of Mat's interests, based on what he reads.


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