Odds & Ends

Odds & Ends

Joshua Lee
5 min read
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Dateline: Saudi Arabia

Earlier this month, a dozen contestants in Saudi Arabia’s camel beauty pageant were disqualified when officials learned that trainers
used Botox to enhance the creatures’ looks. Reports published in Saudi media allege that a veterinarian performed plastic surgery on the camels before the beauty contest held at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival. The doctor allegedly injected Botox into the animals’ lips, snout and jaw to enlarge their heads and faces as well as surgically altering their ears. According to experts, breeders have been known to use hormones and physical manipulation to alter the physical appearance of their camels, seeking to make their heads larger and cause their to lips droop more—features that are rewarded in contests. According to pageant regulations, any trainer found to be using artificial means to enhance their animal’s appearance will be disqualified from the competition immediately and will not be allowed to return for five more pageants. It is unclear whether any Saudi animal abuse laws were violated in this recent round of disqualifications. More than $31.8 million in prizes were reportedly awarded to pageant winners this year.

Dateline: United States

In a response to the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality rules, Burger King
released an ad explaining the issue to its customers using burgers. Last week, fast food giant Burger King released a video that appeared to show actual customers being pranked by the restaurant’s employees. In footage collected by a hidden camera, servers offer to sell the chain’s flagship sandwich, the Whopper, at different rates, depending on the speed—measured in “making burgers per second”—at which they are delivered. The “Slow MBPS Whopper” was listed at $4.99, the “Fast MBPS Whopper” was listed at $12.99 and the “Hyperfast MBPS Whopper” was said to cost $25.99. Diners who chose to purchase the “slow” whopper were told they had to wait for their burger, even though they were able to see the fully-prepared sandwich sitting behind the counter. Many customers were upset by the time their food was delivered, and expressed frustration during their exit interviews, which are included in the clip. The fictitious change in Burger King’s pricing policy was made to illustrate what internet service providers will be able to do now that the FCC has repealed net neutrality laws. According to Fernando Machado, Burger King’s global chief marketing officer, the company believes “the internet should be like Burger King restaurants, a place that doesn’t prioritize and welcomes everyone.”

Dateline: Internet

Tech experts are warning that a craze for creating fake videos that
replace pornographic actresses’ faces with those of famous celebrities has more serious implications for society as a whole. In December, Motherboard reported on a Reddit user going by the name of “deepfakes” who allegedly uses open-source machine learning algorithms to create marginally convincing fake videos which exchange the faces of pornographic actresses with the likenesses of Scarlett Johansson, Taylor Swift, Gal Gadot and others. According to deepfakes, the software used to create the videos is based on multiple open-source libraries and uses AI to analyze input and teach itself how to complete a specific task—like creating fake porn films. Since that report, the practice has become incredibly popular, even spawning an app that allows novice users to create their own fake videos. Although most of the creations using the technology have so far involved pornography, users have also utilized the software to make videos that are even more disturbing to those in the tech industry, including one that swaps the face of Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri during a political speech with that of Hitler. Another video recreated a scene from the recent Star Wars film Rogue One, digitally inserting the face of the late Carrie Fisher using only machine learning tools. Some industry professionals are warning that the repercussions of such a technology becoming inexpensive and easy to use could become detrimental to a culture already inundated with fake news. Others, however, say it will have no more cultural impact than Photoshop has, and experts will easily be able to distinguish between real and fake videos.

Dateline: Japan

A popular service in Japan offers its clients the chance to
cry with a “handsome” man who will wipe away their tears. The practice is called rui-katsu or “tear-seeking,” and involves bringing oneself to tears by watching a film made specifically to induce sadness in them while a “handsome weeping boy” encourages them to cry. Once the client is crying, the man will then comfort them and gently wipe their tears away. According to founder Hiroki Terai—who claims to have researched the benefits of therapeutic weeping over a number of years—crying is relaxing and can relieve stress. Terai reportedly includes a “handsome weeping boy” in the treatment because clients’ emotions are heightened when in the presence of someone they are attracted to. The service seems to be especially popular with women.

Compiled by Joshua Lee. Email your weird news to josh@alibi.com.

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