Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lie Detectors

Ken Alder, The Lie Detectors: The History of an American Obsession (New York: Free Press, 2007), p. 128.

[P]olice examiners regularly wring confessions by putting suspects on sham devices with contemporary flash. In the 1930s a high school principal in Newark, New Jersey, got students to confess to a mock lie box; and a policeman in New York City used a towel and a ticking alarm clock to get a youth to admit filching $10 from his parents. [...] In the 1980s cops were extracting confessions by putting a suspect's hand on a photocopy machine filled with paper printed with the word "LIE!"[*] In our era of cognitive science, cops have taken to placing the suspect's head in a colander with wires attached. Naivete of this sort among criminals may elicit a chuckle -- it got a big laugh in the U.S. Supreme Court -- but the joke is double-edged. Though some suspects may be duped into confessing to a mechanical placebo, cops and prosecutors are also locked in a self-fulfilling prophesy: deciding the fate of suspects on the basis of a doubtful test.

* David Simon, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991), 204. For recent practice and the laugh, see U.S. v. Scheffer, 523 U.S. 303 (1998), oral argument 11/3/97, at

United States v. Scheffer (No. 96-1133) -- Oral Argument

Argument of Michael R. Dreeben


Mr. Dreeben: -- In investigations, the polygraph is an extraordinarily productive interrogation tool.

An enormous amount of confessions are given when a suspect either fails a polygraph or believes that a polygraph is about to smoke him out.

I have to say that in that sense there are examiners who believe that it is entirely reliable in this respect, and that it's a great interrogation tool because it's accurate.

There are other people who will say that, well, it's a great placebo.

There is a story of a police interrogation in a State system where the police put a colander on a suspect's head and wired it up to a Xerox machine, and then pressed a button that produced a picture, a little copy that said, you're lying, every time the suspect answered.


The suspect confessed.


So if a suspect believes that the polygraph is accurate and is about to catch him, then it will be very useful to do that.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Red Mercury in Border Beacons

Kenya Broadcasting Corporation
24 April 2009

PC refutes claims over Kenya-Uganda boundary interference


Rift Valley PC Hassan Noor Hassan has described as "absolutely false" reports that Ugandan soldiers had destroyed beacons marking the boundary between Kenya and Uganda in Pokot North District.

Hassan said what was said to be uprooted beacons were border markers that had toppled over due to soil erosion or that had been destroyed by vandals in the mistaken belief that they contained "treasure".

Treasure hunters have been known to demolish beacons in search of the elusive red mercury said to constitute part of the pillars to aid in aerial surveys. [...]

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wedding Dress Preservation Boxes

Dear Abby [Syndicated advice column]
2 February 2009

[Twenty-one years after the dry cleaners returned her supposedly cleaned wedding dress in a sealed box, a woman finally opens the box and finds it empty. "Please pass this on as a warning to future and current brides to check their wedding boxes!"]

Dear Abby [Syndicated advice column]
23 April 2009


[More preservation box horror stories about what "appears to be a dirty little secret in the dry-cleaning industry."]

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sewing Machines Contain Red Mercury (Saudi Arabia)

14 April 2009

Sewing machine frenzy in red mercury hoax

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi police are investigating the origins of a hoax that had hundreds of people believing that old sewing machines may bring fortune because they contained an elusive, and probably mythical, substance known as red mercury. [...]

Saudi Gazette
14 April 2009

Red mercury’ rumors gain ground

By Abdullah Al-Maqati

DHULUM – Rumors that Singer sewing machines contain the so-called “red mercury” substance has sent prices skyrocketing around the Kingdom, with individuals flocking to markets to pay up to SR200,000 for a single machine. [...]

Saudi Gazette
16 April 2009

Paying the price for red mercury mania

By Abdullah Al-Maqati

[...] Financial losses have not been the only upshot of the rumors. Friendships have also fallen by the wayside, and fights over sewing machines have sparked family disputes. [...]

Arab News [Jeddah, Saudi Arabia]
17 April 2009

Source of Singer hoax remains a mystery

Arab News

JEDDAH: The feverish search for Singer sewing machines driven by a superstitious notion that they possessed mysterious powers to fulfill every human wish has lost its tempo as the common man is slowly realizing that it is another ploy to dupe the naive public, particularly in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. [...]

Saudi Gazette
19 April 2009

Divorce and bounced check is what they got

By Khalid Al-Jabri and Abdullah Al-Qarni

MADINA/AL-KHARJ – Even as the red mercury in Singer sewing machines rumors are dying down, the effects on the country’s social fabric are coming to light, though slowly. [...]

Arab News
22 April 2009

MP calls for anti-swindle law as ‘Singermania’ hits Bahrain

Arab News

MANAMA: Umm Ghanim is a 57-year-old grandmother who plans to say goodbye to her old, faithful Singer sewing machine now that “Singermania” has crossed the border from Saudi Arabia into Bahrain. [...]

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Eye of an Ox

West Australian Times
12 November 1863, p. 3

Our Back Parlour

[...] An English photographer lately took a photograph of the eye of an ox a few hours after death; and on examining the impression through the microscope distinctly perceived depicted on the retina the exact delineation of the stones with which the slaughter-house was paved, being the last object which affected the vision of the animal on bending down its head to receive the fatal blow. The consequence deduced from this somewhat apocryphal story is, that if the eyes of a murdered man be photographed a few hours after death the likeness of the murderer will be found on his retina, that being the last object he can have seen during the death struggle. [...]

[See also Veronique Campion-Vincent, "The Tell-Tale Eye". Folklore (1999)110: 13-24.]

1922 Pennies Contain Gold

The Canberra Times [Australia]
24 January 1935, p. 2


Brighton lately witnessed the final scenes of an amazing hoax. A rumour was started at East Grinstead, Sussex, that a Brighton bullion dealer was offering 2s for 1922 pennies because they contained a small percentage of gold.

Scores of people carrying bags and sacks laden with 1922 pennies arrived at Brighton, and tramped for hours in search of the dealer before they could be convinced that they had been hoaxed. One man, a farm labourer, had changed nearly £1 from his week's wages into 1922 pennies and carried them 20 miles in a sack to Brighton.

Plastic Bottle Caps Collected

Staten Island Advance [NY]
11 April 2009

Hoax cons kindhearted students
Kids at several Island schools collect bottle caps for charity only to learn that its a scam


[...] Students at PS 46 in South Beach were thrilled when they learned that for every 1,000 plastic bottle caps they sent to a charity, a child with cancer would get chemotherapy treatment. In fact, they set up collection buckets right away. [...]

The students at PS 46 aren't the only ones on Staten Island to have fallen for the hoax; collection boxes were spotted at St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School in Huguenot, St. Clare's School in Great Kills and several doctors' offices. [...]

Free Condoms for Diaper Customers

New York Times
13 April 2009

The Hidden Side of Everything

Complementary Condoms

By Daniel Hamermesh

[...] An acquaintance of mine reported the perhaps-apocryphal story that a major discount store is offering any customer who buys diapers in three different sizes a free package of condoms. [...]

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Was Marilyn Monroe a Size 16?

The Times [London]
11 April 2009

Was Marilyn Monroe a size 16?

Sara Buys

There has been much debate about Marilyn Monroe’s vital statistics. [...] Contrary to received wisdom, she was not a voluptuous size 16 – quite the opposite. While she was undeniably voluptuous – in possession of an ample bosom and a bottom that would look at home gyrating in a J-Lo video – for most of the early part of her career, she was a size 8 and even in her plumper stages, was no more than a 10. I can tell you this from experience because a few weeks ago, I tried to try on her clothes. [...]

[See also Richard Roeper, Hollywood Urban Legends (2001), pp. 89-92.]

Friday, April 3, 2009

UMass Legends

The Daily Collegian [University of Massachusetts]
2 April 2009

Toilets, circles, Scooby at center of UMass urban legends

Maggie Freleng and Joe Stahl, Collegian Staff

[Walking through the campus's Grade Circle will be "detrimental to your grades." Laxatives are added to the food to combat food poisoning. The characters in the cartoon show "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!" were based on stereotypical students from the Five Colleges.]

Obama Still a Muslim

Pew Research Center for the People & the Press
1 April 2009

No Decline in Belief That Obama is a Muslim
Nearly One-in-Five White Evangelicals Think So

More than two months into Barack Obama's presidency, as many people incorrectly identify him as a Muslim as did so during the 2008 campaign. When asked about Obama's religious beliefs, 11% say he is a Muslim. In October, 12% said Obama is a Muslim, which was unchanged from earlier in the campaign. [...]

Rattlesnakes Introduced to Knox County, Ohio

Mount Vernon News [OH]
3 April 2009

Miller dispells rattlesnake rumors; fishing starting strong

By Joe Huddleston

[...] Brent Theophilus of Mount Vernon asked the question of “Are rattlesnakes making a comeback in Knox County?” He stated that a friend saw someone he thought to be a ranger in the Bladensburg area introducing rattlesnakes to the area as part of a conservation effort. Knox County Wildlife Officer Mike Miller, when presented with the question, quickly dispelled the notion. [...]

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Blowing up Don Cherry

Date: Thu, 02 Apr 2009 12:00:26 +0000
From: popbitch
Subject: Snouts and horses

02.04.09 ISSUE 441

>> Jazz is the old/new rock and roll << Celebrity Parasites: the smack fluffer

The jazz great Don Cherry had a special nurse in his dying days. He'd pretty much used up all his available veins, so her job was to blow smack up Don's arse through a blow pipe. She apparently said it was one of the easiest jobs she'd ever had.