Tragedy flushes out myths and superstition
Urban myths, superstition and misinformation about last week's terrorist attacks have been flying as fast as typing fingers can launch allegation and counter-allegation into cyberspace.
An urban-myth-busting Web site at www.snopes.com has the best summary of the rumours swirling the globe, from two photographs of the devil's face appearing in a cloud of smoke from the exploding World Trade Centre towers to conveniently doctored quotes from Nostradamus 'predicting' the catastrophe.
There's even the apparently amazing confluence of numbers relating to the event (along the lines of the date of the attack: 9/11-9+1+1) which all add up to 11, and a story about a man who apparently surfed down from the carnage in New York on the tonnes of cascading debris.
Local indignation was been vented relating to an email circulating Hong Kong about an impassioned defence of America called 'America, the Good Neighbour', purported to have been published in a Toronto newspaper following the tragedy.
The piece, which describes Americans as 'the most generous and possibly the least appreciated people on all the Earth', hit a chord with thousands after the attacks. Just as it did when it was first broadcast by Canadian television commentator Gordon Sinclair in 1973 in response to criticism directed toward America for its role in Vietnam.
Another rumour held that television footage broadcast by CNN of Palestinians cheering the catastrophe had actually been shot a decade earlier, when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1991.
According to a reply posted on a chatroom called Jim Romenesko's MediaNews Letters, apparently from CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan, the allegations were 'baseless and ridiculous'.
'The videotape was shot Tuesday in East Jerusalem by a Reuters TV crew and included comments from a Palestinian praising Osama bin Laden, who was not a Gulf War player,' Mr Jordan wrote.
On a spookier front, the 'Nostradamus prophecy' says: 'From the sky will come a great King of Terror . . . the sky will burn at 45 degrees.' It goes on: 'In the city of York there will be a great collapse, two twin brothers torn apart by chaos while the fortress falls the great leader will succumb, third big war will begin when the big city is burning (sic).'
According to a knowledgable type, the closest match a search of the Nostradamus database turned up came from Century 6, Quatrain 97: 'At 45 degrees the sky will burn, Fire to approach the great new city: In an instant a great scattered flame will leap up. When one will want to demand proof of the Normans.'
The other similarity came from Century 10, Quatrain 72: 'The year 1999, seventh month, From the sky will come a great King of Terror: To bring back to life the great King of the Mongols, Before and after Mars to reign by good luck.'
So if the French, the Mongolians and the Martians turn out to have been involved, they could be on to something.
Sad timing: Yesterday there was a reminder of what - in normal times - would have been a superb promotional coup for Hong Kong's prevailing 'world city' orthodoxy.
At the launch of a Brand Hong Kong Star Ferry, Chief Secretary for Administration Donald Tsang recalled two 'successful Brand Hong Kong promotions' during his recent trip to the US.
Mr Tsang did not mention that one of them was the launch of the Brand Hong Kong logo all over New York's famous Circle Line ferry on the day before the disaster. Even if people do notice the increasingly familiar purple, red and yellow dragon plying the harbour for the next two months, how many will be inspired to jump on a plane and visit now?
Numbers: Listeners to RTHK 2's Morning Suite show this week jostled for mooncake vouchers trying to guess 'which number wife' Osama bin Laden's mother was. Host Candy Cher Suk-miu said it was not meant to insult polygamous people, Muslim or otherwise. 'I just wanted people to pay attention to that country because that country is not too good because the men have many, many wives,' Ms Cher said. 'Is is a fact that she is the 10th wife of his father. We just wanted to find out the facts.'