Skeptoid’s Dunning: The Story of a Man Who Hoodwinks Unskeptical Skeptics*

It’s a very good thing other folks have written things about Brian Dunning’s wire fraud shenanigans, because you won’t find anything about it on his site. Not even his it’s-my-fault-only-kinda-not-and-everybody-was-doing-it-and-it-didn’t-really-make-me-any-money-and-who-cares-about-eBay-never-mind-the-other-affiliates-I-probably-ripped-off-and-anyway-I-once-helped-some-people-who-got-stuck-and-hey-listen-to-my-podcast-while-I’m-in-prison! letter. In fact, if you’re only a Skeptoid fan, you may not really know anything about what’s going on, especially since he or someone in his organization has set up the Twitter feed to neverever let on that anyone’s talking about him being a big fat fucking fraudster:

This lovely little screenshot our own Jason Thibeault got shows that the Twitter feed widget's set to exclude words like -cookie -ebay -fraud -cookies -criminal -jail -prison - y'know, all mentions of Brian Dunning's fraudulent ways. Can't have the rubes - I mean, skeptics - finding out!

This lovely little screenshot our own Jason Thibeault got at Skeptoid.com shows that the Twitter feed widget’s set to exclude words like -cookie -ebay -fraud -cookies -criminal -jail -prison – y’know, all mentions of Brian Dunning’s fraudulent ways. Can’t have the rubes – I mean, skeptics – finding out!

I’ve not paid much attention. Brian Dunning means jack diddly shit to me – I never even knew his podcast existed before it came out that he’d been defrauding eBay out of a lot of money. Clever people doing stupid things to rake in illicit dollars doesn’t surprise me a bit. And the brigade of screaming howler monkeys constantly attacking some of my favorite atheists, combined with a bunch of Big Names turning out to be horrible people, has given me a certain immunity to crushing disappointment. Skeptics can be just as bad as the rest of humanity, news at 11. Brian Dunning’s story is an old, tired one: making his way in the world by hook, but mostly by crook, and not owning his crimes in the end.

But due to the fact that people I like are being trodden on by self-declared Skeptics™ who cannot believe their own Hero is a criminal jackass, I figured I’d go ahead and signal boost. And hey, one or two of you may have missed the news that Brian Dunning is a big fucking fraudster, someone you cannot trust, because he is willing to lie to your face, even in his supposed mea culpa. Skeptics deserve better. Skeptics should be better. So read up on this ratfucker, so that when he returns after his 15 or so months in the Big House, he doesn’t sucker you in.

Fraudster skeptic Brian Dunning’s shell game

The Worst Thing Brian Dunning Has Done for Skepticism

Brian Dunning Sentenced to 15 Months in Prison for Fraud

A Critical Analysis of Brian Dunning’s Explanation

The virtual radio silence on Brian Dunning’s fraud

Why won’t you “skeptics” let Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning put his misdeeds into the memory hole!?

The sophistry and revisionist history in Skeptoid Brian Dunning’s statement 

And, as a reminder that even as a skeptic (minus the fraud) he fails, just one example of Brian Dunning doing it rong:

Brian Dunning’s DDT Fail

Surely the skeptic community is not so hard-up for skeptic entertainers that we can’t boot fraudsters out.

Brian Dunning, wire fraudster. Image courtesy DarylNickerson via Wikimedia Commons.

Brian Dunning, wire fraudster. Image courtesy DarylNickerson via Wikimedia Commons.

*I don’t mean you, if you liked his podcast but, when news broke of his perfidy, carefully considered the evidence against him, and waited to see how the trial shook out before coming to a conclusion, and are not, now he’s convicted and sentenced, trying to tell yourself he’s a really great guy who just happens to have maybe done some shady things to a big rich company, so no big. You’re not unskeptical if you didn’t catch on from the very first podcast. You’re only unskeptical if you’re now trying to spin the facts in this con artist’s favor.

Attention Brian Dunning’s Loyal Fan Club: Yes, he committed a serious crime. Yes, he deserves to go to jail. Yes, you really are a rotten skeptic if you think his actions are defensible, but a psychic’s claims they can talk to your-dead-relative-whose-name-begins-with-j-no-wait-maybe-a-w are not. Yes, you are a sucker if you read that “explanation” of his and didn’t have every this-asshole’s-got-a-thick-wool-sack-and-is-coming-at-my-eyes-with-it-whilst-preparing-to-reach-for-my-wallet alarm. And yes, it is a fact that you won’t be allowed to whine all over the comments here. Go elsewhere.

Interlude with Cat Eating Bacon Jerky

You knew bacon jerky was inevitable, right? Here is Misha enjoying some with me while we read our newest creationist textbook.

Image shows Misha sniffing a bit of bacon jerky I'm holding out for her.

Misha getting her jerky on. It’s BACON!

Turns out she adores the stuff, so I’ll have to get more. Look, 20 year-old kittehs get what they want. Well, aside from my attention when I’m sleeping, no matter how loud she yowls directly in my ear. Damn cat. I think it’s because I haven’t been filling her porch kibble bowl due to rainy weather. She thinks food on the porch is far tastier than food inside. I’m sure there’s a scientific reason for it.

In case you’re dying of anticipation: yes, A Beka’s newest earth “science” text is as whacked as SPC. Only difference is that it’s got more room to expand on ridiculous ideas, and they’ve corrected a few of the glaringly-wrong facts that made SPC’s geology chapter snigger-worthy. You’ll see what I mean shortly.

Now off to continue grinding through ES4. And possibly feed the cat moar bacon.

White America Has Outlawed Existing-While-Black

That’s the only conclusion I can come to after a day spent reading about 18 year-old unarmed black kid Mike Brown’s murder by a white cop with a god complex. It’s 2014, and we’re still a society in which black parents have to explain to their kids how not to get killed by the police, and a society in which a black man can get executed for selling untaxed cigarettes, a black woman for opening her door to police, a young black man for lying face-down as the police compelled him to., and a black man can’t be assaulted by a white one without getting pepper-sprayed and detained. Meanwhile, white people can carry assault rifles wherever they wish, and even brandish them at police without getting shot instantly, but a black man can’t carry a BB gun in Wal-Mart without getting executed by police. An unarmed black teenager gets murdered by a policeman, and a white pundit wants to know why President Obama won’t offer the murderer condolences for having given in to the impulse to destroy an innocent human being.

Are we happy, white Americans? This is the country we’ve made. Remember all that tough-on-crime talk that’s kept us electing people who’ve promised more cops with more powerful weaponry? Remember how we all panicked after 9/11 and decided it was okay if our police were turned into paramilitary units? And how we’ve put all this heavy weaponry in the hands of white people who disproportionately target black people?

I want you to look at what’s happening in Ferguson, to the people who are peacefully protesting a black teenager’s murder.

An unarmed black protestor retreats from police, who have enough firepower to reduce him to random chunks of meat. Image credit: Whitney Curtis, NYT

An unarmed black protestor retreats from police, who have enough firepower to reduce him to random chunks of meat. Image credit: Whitney Curtis, NYT

This country was founded on the premise that citizens should be able to express their displeasure to their government. The Constitution enshrines the right to protest:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

States are as bound by that Constitution as the Federal government. And yet, in Ferguson, a young black man with his empty hands raised to the sky, petitioning his government for redress of a very serious grievance, is met with overwhelming force. In America, if you are a black person protesting the shooting of an unarmed black teenager, the First Amendment does not apply. You will be silenced with military hardware.

As for freedom of the press, well, they are free to get arrested in McDonald’s and slammed into things by the arresting officers when they do not respond instantly to conflicting commands.

This is the world we’ve made.

Some of you may like it. You’re not likely to be targeted. You don’t have to walk out your front door with the possibility of getting shot to death by the police on your mind. You think the black people you’ve discriminated against and had your proxies brutalize and robbed of any hope of a future deserve everything the police dish out. You like the tough-on-crime rhetoric that lets you enjoy your drugs in peace while black kids have their slender chance at a decent life ruined over a little bit of pot. You can break the law in a thousand minor ways without being murdered by a cop, but will look for any tiny misdeed on the parts of the black folk executed by law enforcement. You think this society is just, that the police are in the right, and those who are suffering deserve their suffering. You think that everything the police do is justified if people who have suffered endless injustice are backed into a corner, and have no way out except to lash out. You condemn them for anything you can, just so that you won’t have to confront the uncomfortable fact that you’re part of a system that crushed them, and then sent riot police to attack them when they had the temerity to protest the brutality visited upon them.

I have nothing to say to you. I will not waste my time digging for that shred of humanity that may be left in you.

For those of us who just didn’t pay attention, who let our fear get the better of us, who didn’t realize the horrific scope of the problem because we never get pulled over for driving while white, stopped and frisked for being white in public, and are treated with at least a patina of respect by police officers who know they can’t get away with casual brutality toward white people, I think it’s well past time we wake the fuck up, and start doing something about the things we’ve allowed to happen in this country. It can start right now, with a signature on this petition, asking for a full investigation into the shooting death of Michael Brown. Sign it now.

And then listen to the stories pouring out, the anger and the pain.

Listen.

Image is a drawing of Mike Brown, with the caption, "I am Mike Brown and my life matters."

Mike Brown. Image courtesy dignidadrebelde via Flickr.

In Solidarity w/Ferguson sick of your colorblind bullshit

White America:

Michael Brown.

The young man was on his way to college the next day.

Yet he was brutally executed by fascist police state thugs in occupied territory and left to bleed in the street like a dog.

He did everything that white America claimed he should do to keep from being branded a savage and was murdered in cold blood.

This Is Why We’re Mad About the Shooting of Mike Brown

As a black person in America, it’s getting exhausting to still have to explain, in the year 2014, your right to exist in this country. To explain that you are a human being whose value sits no lower than anyone else’s. To explain our basic humanity. And perhaps worst of all, to explain exactly why we are outraged.

We shouldn’t have to explain why it’s not acceptable for unarmed teenagers to be gunned down by the police.

Things To Stop Being Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By Police

Talking to people on Twitter about Mike Brown and what’s happening in Ferguson right now, I’ve noticed (again) how easily folks get distracted when Black people are murdered by the police. It seems as though every detail is more interesting, more important, more significant—including looting of a Walmart in Ferguson, which a local Fox news station focused its entire coverage on—than the actual life that was taken by police.

So, to get folks back on track to focus on what matters most here—the killing of yet another unarmed Black teenager—I’ve compiled this list of 6 Things To Stop Being Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By the Police.

Even atheists have sacred cows

Trayvon Martin was just walking home with skittles and a fucking iced tea. He was killed for nothing, bc of a racist scumbag who should be in prison. I’ve walked to the store at night before. I’ve worn a brightly colored tee shirt, and shorts. I’ve carried my cellphone and wallet at all times. Why? Because in the back of my mind, I have to worry about the possibility that someone will want to shoot me because I’m a person of color. Nevermind that I don’t own a gun, and don’t want to. Nevermind that I’ve never been in a fight in my life. Nevermind that I’m not an aggressive person prone to violence. Nevermind that I have a hard time hurting a roach, let alone another human being. No, nevermind all that. There are people out there that wish I were dead, or would take the opportunity to kill me for nothing.

[snip]

Perhaps you’ve even heard of Ezell Ford, a 24 year old black man who was killed by police while he was walking along 65th street, some TWO HUNDRED blocks north of where a shooting had been reported. He was lying on the ground and obeying police orders when he was killed by police.

He died on August the 13th. oh look.

That’s today.

you all going to be paying attention when the next unarmed black man dies to police on the 15th? you gonna remember their names when there’s another black person lying dead in the street, killed by police on the 17th? are you going to remember eric garner’s name?

The Mellow Monkey on Even atheists have sacred cows

Racial profiling, disproportionate sentencing including the application of the death penalty, police brutality and murder, institutionalized discrimination, systemic inequality in matters of health and quality of life, changes in voting laws and redistricting to try to minimize Black votes, disproportionate rates of being the victims of violent crimes, involuntary sterilizations and contraceptives with serious side-effects offered without proper counseling, high maternal and infant mortality, children disappearing into the foster care system instead of being placed within their own communities, etc.

Some things have gotten better since We Charge Genocide, but mostly they’ve just gotten a little less official.

Midwestern Police Trying New ‘Shoot All Black People’ Approach

Here are a couple stories in which police officers shot people, and race was most certainly not a factor, because race is never a factor now that Barack Obama is President/Dictator for Life. We begin with the tragic death of a man named John Crawford, who was shot by police officers in an Ohio Walmart for the crime of shopping for a BB gun while black. While Crawford was busy exercising his Second Amendment rights, two other shoppers, April and Ronald Ritchie, decided they ought to inform the local police that a scary black man was carrying a gun in a store where guns are sold.

NAACP Should Already Know That The Politics Of Respectability Cannot Save Black People’s Lives

This is not the same as every race’s intraracial crime (yes, every fucking race has intraracial crime; every race does not face anti-Blackness [or settler colonialism, which connects to this history] and this particular historic structure of violence, however) nor would be prevented by the politics of respectability. Black people in America do not have the power of the police or the State. We cannot “earn humanity” through behavior, dress, or even beliefs. We are dehumanized as Black people based on who we are, the fact that we are Black, not based on what we do. A lack of “respect” for the city (one already under investigation for profiling and racist policing long before Michael was executed) didn’t kill Michael Brown. A long legacy of anti-Blackness and violence in that city, in this country, in our history is why he is dead.

Silence is Not an Option

I don’t care if Mike Brown was going to college soon. This should not matter. We should not have to prove Mike Brown was worthy of living. We should not have to account for the ways in which he is suitably respectable. We should not have to prove that his body did not deserve to be riddled with bullets. His community should not have to silence their anger so they won’t be accused of rioting, so they won’t become targets too.

America Is Not For Black People

Officers have tanks now. They have drones. They have automatic rifles, and planes, and helicopters, and they go through military-style boot camp training. It’s a constant complaint from what remains of this country’s civil liberties caucus. Just this last June, the ACLU issued a report on how police departments now possess arsenals in need of a use. Few paid attention, as usually happens.

The worst part of outfitting our police officers as soldiers has been psychological. Give a man access to drones, tanks, and body armor, and he’ll reasonably think that his job isn’t simply to maintain peace, but to eradicate danger. Instead of protecting and serving, police are searching and destroying.

If officers are soldiers, it follows that the neighborhoods they patrol are battlefields. And if they’re working battlefields, it follows that the population is the enemy. And because of correlations, rooted in historical injustice, between crime and income and income and race, the enemy population will consist largely of people of color, and especially of black men. Throughout the country, police officers are capturing, imprisoning, and killing black males at a ridiculous clip, waging a very literal war on people like Michael Brown.

Protesters use hands-up gesture defiantly after Michael Brown shooting

Yet again, the protesters took to the sidewalks and streets, facing a row of police guarding the St. Louis County prosecutor’s office. “Hands up!” they chanted, their arms aloft. “Don’t shoot.”

“This is how the boy died!” Kendrick Strong, 42, hollered at police officers Tuesday morning. “This is how the boy died! With his hands up in the air!”

[snip]

The hands-up — a sign of surrender and submission black men and boys here say they learn early on when dealing with police — has been transformed into a different kind of weapon.

Police in Ferguson Fire Tear Gas on Protesters Standing in Their Own Backyard

Standing in his backyard along with a few friends and family was 24-year-old Rich West. And after seeing the police deploy tear gas as they marched down the empty street, West and his friends felt like protesting.

“You go home! You go home!” they chanted. As the police come closer, they all put their hands up.

Once again, the police officer with the megaphone ordered the protesters to go home.

“We’re in our yard!” they responded.

At one point West walked to his fence with his hands high up in the air.

“This my property! This my property!” he shouted, prompting police to fire a tear gas canister directly at his face.

Be Proud Americans Still Know How to Riot

Whether you identify positively or negatively with the term or the idea, whether you feel that uprising is an appropriate reaction to state violence or whether you prefer the term rebellion instead, the act of the riot is a historical one as necessary to democracy as any form of civil or uncivil disobedience.

Hey, Step Back with the Riot Shaming

One of Martin Luther King Jr.’s lesser known quotes ‘riot is the language of the unheard’ keeps me grounded here. In fact, did you know that MLK and many other non-violent black activists employed armed guards in the 60s?

Besides, all of this talk about ‘violence’ this and stereotypes that is just so unhelpful. Let’s maybe talk about the fact that in cases like this police deliberately censor footage gathered, in some cases arresting photographers for fear of sparking unrest. You know why that is? Because they understand what most riot shamers don’t: if you corner injured people, there is no where to go but against.

Ferguson P.D. Would Like All Y’all Black People To Hush Up And Be ‘Respectful’ Now, Ya Hear?

When your town is two-thirds black, your police force is almost exclusively white, and you’ve taken to the streets in tanks like it’s fucking Fallujah, you need to hush your cracker mouth about “respect.”

Rachel Maddow on the record of racial disparity in Ferguson

The white establishment is absolutely terrified that they may have gone just slightly too far by murdering a young black boy who was unarmed and whom witnesses claim was 35 feet away from the police officer who murdered him. And they’re expressing this terror by creating a paramilitary presence to gas and attack and try to frighten the living bejeezus out of the people who dare say “yeah, murdering that boy WAS a little too far over the line, thanks.”

Inaji on Even atheists have sacred cows

You also think the stomp of boots, rumble of tanks, teargas, rubber bullets, big damn guns and real bullets can’t ever come marching to you. Because you don’t want to understand what happened yesterday. That day when a police force went rogue military and shut down a town is a day I thought I would not see. I didn’t think I’d live to see that happen, but I have. And what I have lived to see is fucking terrifying. It should scare the hell out of every single person in the U.S., regardless of class, colour, or location.

Go look at what the police are doing there.

Never think it can’t happen here.

It’s time for the police to be de-militarized, time for this country to truly confront its problem with racism and racial injustice, and time for us to demand the brutality stops.

Start today.

Cryptopod: Home Sweet Hornet-Made Home

I went for butterflies, and came back with some sort of hornet, probably. Or mebbe a beehive. Dunno. All I know is, it was a big blob in the tree branches that got my attention.

Image shows a tree-top with a blob of something hanging in the branches.

Cryptopod I

Up til then, I hadn’t had much luck. I’d come over to the Seattle Times building because it’s close, and there’s a park, and I’ve had good luck seeing butterflies there in the past. I yearned for butterflies. There haven’t been that many in the places I’ve been this summer. Nor dragonflies, although the backyard is full of them. They don’t land on my porch railings often. When they do, it’s always when I don’t have a suitable camera handy. So I popped down to the park when I needed walkies, and had a lovely encounter with a fluttery white butterfly that zipped back and forth past me for a while, but didn’t ever land. No photographs, but plenty of happy.

On the way back, I noticed a great blob hanging in the branches of one of the trees, and decided to investigate.

Closer image of the nest, showing the swirly-lumpy structure and the lighter and darker brown streaks.

Cryptopod II

How beautiful! And no, I wasn’t worried about getting stung – the thing was up fairly high, and there weren’t many little critters flying about. I figured if I didn’t poke ‘em with a stick, we’d be copacetic. And we were. The few crawling about on the nest didn’t mind my presence a bit.

Close-up image showing the full nest with crypotopds on it. They're hard to see, but they don't appear to be yellowjackets.

Cryptopod III

I love the patterning – it reminds me just a bit of liesegang banding, although this is clearly life-made. From what little reading I did on the subject, it appears that this is made of chewed-up bark. But we’ll know more if one of you are able to identify these critters.

Another full view showing a few critters on the nest.

Cryptopod IV

Because of the distance and the branches in the way, it was hard to get any shots of these house-building cryptopods. And it was really hard to see from a distance – I couldn’t even tell until I looked at the zoom that there were any there. But I got a couple of shots that may aid in identification.

Image shows the hive-makers haging out on the hive. They are fairly large, black, with a white band across their heads and what look like white patches on their butts.

Cryptopod V

As far as I can tell from a desultory internet search, this kind of hive looks like a yellow jacket hive. But these don’t look like yellow jackets – too much black and no yellow.

Another close-up of the hornets or wasps or whatevers.

Cryptopod VI

I have no idea. But I like them better than the bee that’s been buzzing round my place at least once a day, all curious about what I’m doing and wanting to get all up in my business. I had to eventually whap it with a duster dealie to make it go away. The duster dealie doesn’t hurt it a bit, just tells it to get gone. And it does – until the following day. These guys, on the other hand, were very mellow, and had a “we’ll stay up here as long as you stay down there” philosophy.

Image shows the nest surrounded by branches.

Cryptopod VII

I took one last, lingering look, and then headed back toward home. I didn’t get far, though, before running in to a herd of bright-orange butterflies dining on clover flowers. They were completely adorable and delayed my departure by some time.

Image shows a clover flower with a small orange butterfly on it.

Cryptopod VIII

I love these moments in urban nature.

Parícutin: “Save Me From the Dangers in Which I am About to Die”

Dionisio Pulido suddenly found himself having a very bad day.

A few moments before, he had been living an ordinary life, clearing brush from his land while his helper plowed and his wife and son watched the sheep graze. Aside from the earthquakes that had driven the presidente of San Juan Parangaricutiro to send a delegation to a larger town in search of answers, and the fact that a pit on his land had just split open, life was fine.

Now, he was feeling thunder. That’s the word he used, “felt.” We usually think of thunder as a thing you hear: when you feel it, when it’s that loud and insistent, the sensation travels right through you, setting your organs dancing and your teeth on edge. We can extrapolate from what Sr. Pulido said that his teeth and organs were very likely the same. The trees seemed to feel it, too: he and his wife saw them trembling and swaying.

The new volcano broke forth in the valley of Quitzocho-Cuiyusuru, which lay between Cerro de Jaratiro (left), Cerro de Cainiro (far center), and Cerro de Canicjuata (right). Paricutin village lies near the foot of Cerro de Canicjuata. The fields of San Juan Parangaricutiro are in the foreground. Taken from Ticuiro, near San Juan Parangaricutiro, at 5:30 P.M. Paricutin Volcano. Michoacan, Mexico. February 20, 1943. Published as plate 16-B in U. S. Geological Survey. Bulletin 965-D. 1956.

The new volcano broke forth in the valley of Quitzocho-Cuiyusuru, which lay between Cerro de Jaratiro (left), Cerro de Cainiro (far center), and Cerro de Canicjuata (right). Paricutin village lies near the foot of Cerro de Canicjuata. The fields of San Juan Parangaricutiro are in the foreground. Taken from Ticuiro, near San Juan Parangaricutiro, at 5:30 P.M. Paricutin Volcano. Michoacan, Mexico. February 20, 1943. Published as plate 16-B in U. S. Geological Survey. Bulletin 965-D. 1956. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

Sr. Pulido was going to speak to his wife about this remarkable turn of events, but when he turned toward her, he saw the ground in the fractured pit, swollen two meters or more (over 6 feet). A fine gray smoke rose from a crack in the pit. It increased in intensity, with a loud whistling, hissing sound that wouldn’t stop, and the field began to stink of sulfur. Across the pit, about 100 meters (328 feet) away, Paula Pulido saw the smoke, smelled the sulfur, heard what she described as a “whistle like water falling on live coals or hot embers.” She watched pine trees 30 meters (98 feet) from the pit catch fire. She called out to her husband as the ground rose like “confused cake” above the fracture, then disappeared, seeming to swallow itself.

It’s about this time that Sr. Pulido’s nerve broke, for which one can’t blame him. He couldn’t get to his wife, but he did try to save his oxen, terrified fingers fumbling at their yoke. He cried out to the local saint. “Save me from the dangers in which I am about to die,” he pleaded, and found a measure of calm. He ran to save his family, his workers, but couldn’t find them: turned back to save his oxen, but they were gone. So was the water from the spring near the fissure, gone suddenly away in the noise and the sulfur-scented smoke as the ground consumed itself.

Paricutin volcano at the time of its initial outbreak, showing the positions of the various features and eyewitnesses as seen by Sra. Aurora Cuara.

Paricutin volcano at the time of its initial outbreak, showing the positions of the various features and eyewitnesses as seen by Sra. Aurora Cuara. 1. Direction of Toral’s plowed furrow. 2. Position of Dionisio Pulido. 3. Position of Demetrio Toral. 4. Vent of the volcano. 5. Depression along the fissure. 6. The original fissure. 7. Piedra del Sol. 8. Path taken by Aurora Cuara. 9. A secondary crack of fissure. 10. Position of Paula Rangel de Pulido. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

 

From the path to San Nicolás, Aurora Cuara watched a fissure split the earth, and a wall of earth rise a meter (just over three feet) high. She watched the fine gray dust rise like smoke, and it frightened her, but she climbed the boundary rock for a better view anyway. She was only fifty meters (164 feet) from the fissue, and saw it throwing sparks and dust. She also saw Sr. Pulido, fresh out of family, companions and oxen, mount his horse and flee. She followed suit.

This is the thing about the birth of a cinder cone: it’s somewhat violent and definitely terrifying, but eminently survivable. Sr. Pulido found family, companions and oxen all safe and well in the village of Parícutin when he arrived. And when he told his remarkable story to the chief of the Parícutin subdivision and the presidente of San Juan Parangaricutiro, a delegation formed, full of people willing to investigate this new and interesting (never mind explosive) thing. They headed off to Sr. Pulido’s field, arriving around six in the evening, a mere hour and a half after the earth had begun its pyroclastic display. Luis Ortíz Solorio observed the fissure, and saw it had developed a hole about a half-meter (almost 2 feet) in diameter, from which “smoke” rose and rocks were tossed to modest heights.

Paricutin volcano at 6 p. m., February 20, 1943, showing the appearance of the vent and its surroundings as seen by Juan Anguiano E.

Paricutin volcano at 6 p. m., February 20, 1943, showing the appearance of the vent and its surroundings as seen by Juan Anguiano E. 1. Small mounds of gray ash. 2. The fissure that opened. 3. The pit from which vapors issued. 4. The fractnre that opened while Anguiano and Martinez watched the vent. 5. Anguiano and Martinez. 6. Other members of the Parangaricutiro party. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

He decided he’d gone quite close enough.

Juan Anguiano Espinosa and Jesús Martínez made a closer approach, as close as they could manage. The ground, they said, was “jumping up and down” rather than swaying like one would expect with an earthquake. The scent of sulfur choked them. Dust and sparks flew; small stones hurtled five meters (16 feet) into the air, while in the vent, sand “boiled,” looking, they thought, much like sand churned by the water of a rising spring. And the sounds they heard reminded them of water, too: water boiling in a large jug, like floodwater dragging boulders in a stream. The fissure formed a trench, and the ground had slumped around the hole in a strip twenty meters (almost 66 feet) long and twelve meters (39 feet) wide. Along that slump, the ground had cracked, and along that crack, half-meter (around 3 feet) piles of the fine gray dust had accumulated. Anguiano, a man with the instincts of a geologist, scooped up a sample with his handkerchief. He found it warm, and the two small stones he also collected were hot. To him goes the honor of the first samples taken from Parícutin.

He almost didn’t make it back to town with them. From his safe distance, Solorio saw the earth fracture about six meters (almost 20 feet) from the vent. He shouted for Anguiano and Martínez, who jumped back just in time. The ground fell in, the vent widened to two meters (6.5 feet) and the column of smoke grew as the vent spat little stones “like incandescent marbles and oranges.”

Paricutin, Mexico This slide taken in 1943 shows a spectacular view of an eruption of Paricutin at night. Glowing projectiles and pyroclastic fragments outline the conical shape of the volcano. The eruption consisted mostly of spheroidal bombs, lapilli, glassy cinder, and glassy ash formed by disintegration of the cinder.

Paricutin, Mexico This slide taken in 1943 shows a spectacular view of an eruption of Paricutin at night. Glowing projectiles and pyroclastic fragments outline the conical shape of the volcano. The eruption consisted mostly of spheroidal bombs, lapilli, glassy cinder, and glassy ash formed by disintegration of the cinder. Image and caption courtesy R.E. Wilcox, U.S. Geological Survey via Wikimedia Commons.

They hurried back to San Juan Parangaricutiro to report. After hearing their description, the priest consulted the church’s book on Vesuvius. After reading up on that volcano, they were all pretty certain they’d just seen one. And they could still see it, even from there: the column of smoke was now visible, and at ten that night, Aurora Cuara stood and watched while the baby volcano hurled incandescent bombs, which she could see through the screen of trees between town and fissure. A little over an hour later, Parícutin began roaring. It hurled its stones vigorously; lightning began dancing through its eruption cloud. This was a sight the townfolk would grow quite used to in the coming years, before Parícutin forced them to leisurely flee.

When Aurora Cuara passed near the newborn volcano on her way back from checking on her husband in San Nicolás the next day, she found a little round hill of stones and sand where the hole had been. Rocks hurtled up from its center, some quite large, and some exploding in mid-air. And she saw a fire slowly flowing from its base. Later, she would learn this fire was lava, the beginning of the flows that would destroy Sr. Pulido’s field and the surrounding towns, and change all of their lives forever.

Paricutin, 1943, not long after its birthday. The nine-year life of this little cinder cone was closely studied by geologists, and has allowed us to study the life span of a cinder cone from birth to extinction. Image credit K. Segerstrom, U.S. Geological Survey

Paricutin, 1943, not long after its birthday. The nine-year life of this little cinder cone was closely studied by geologists, and has allowed us to study the life span of a cinder cone from birth to extinction. Image credit K. Segerstrom, U.S. Geological Survey

 

Previous: Parícutin: “Here Is Something New and Strange”

References:

Foshag, William F. and Gonzalez, Jenaro R. (1956): Birth and Development of Paricutin Volcano Mexico. US Geological Survey Bulletin 965-D.

Luhr, James F. and Simkin, Tom, Editors (1993): Paricutín: The Volcano Born in a Mexican Cornfield. Phoenix, Arizona: Geoscience Press.

Fundamentals of Fungi: Blue-Gray Beauties

Remember way back to those first heady days of freedom after giving ye olde daye jobe the old heave-ho, when B and I celebrated by taking a last-minute trip down the Washington-Oregon coast? Good times, good times! Especially when I stumbled across this beauty at Cape Disappointment which is sure to delight all lovers of fine fungi – and may inspire the next blockbuster horror movie flick.

Image shows some crinkly-edged flat blue-gray fungi poking through stringy green moss.

Fungi I

So there it was, poking through the green moss on the bank of the trail. And it may not look like much in the above photo, but believe me – it’s loving the camera.

Fungi II

Fungi II

Pacific Northwest coastal forests are pretty shady places, and this was an overcast day, but you can still see a gorgeous interplay of filtered light and dark shadow on these beauties.

Fungi III

Fungi III

Of course the little curled-up bits at the end that look like screaming, toothy mouths is a bit disturbing, but still. That fine wavy-frilly shape at their ends, the way they swing out like a flamenco dancer’s skirts, put me more in mind of Spanish dancing than imminent horror movie.

Fungi IV

Fungi IV

Makes me want to go design a dress, actually. Maybe if I fail at this writing gig, I’ll remake myself into a costume designer. Wouldn’t be a bad old life. I would just have to find rich clients who like looking like a fungus. That shouldn’t be at all hard, right?

Eh, maybe I’ll stick to writing. But don’t be surprised if you see me doing some fungus-inspired scarves on the side!

Kudos in advance to the first person who can tell us what this fantastic fungi is.

New Photos of Mount Rainier! Plus Super-Cute Critters

It’s been a long but fruitful day, my darlings. B and I took a little trip to Mount Rainier for you. We hadn’t yet hit the Sunrise VC, you see, so we decided it was about damned time we went. Can you believe I’ve been going to Rainier for years and have never been to top of that road? Scandalous! Now remedied.

Here’s the mountain peeking at some lovely andesite columns you will get to know very well later on:

Image shows gray andesite columns poking toward the road on the right, with a shoulder of Mount Rainier and the jagged crags of Little Tahoma in the distance.

Mount Rainier, Road, and Columns.

Now. I’m going to set the non-geologists in the audience a question: what are the columns telling you about the valley at the time of this lava flow? No cheating by looking up stuff on Mount Rainier, kiddos. But you can go look at Callan’s handy guide to columns wot he made just for us. You can totally get this from just this photo:

Images shows a bunch of gray andesite columns pointed at us.

Here we’re standing direct across the road, with the valley behind us, looking the columns dead in the tops of their darling little heads. Nose of an indeterminate blue sedan for scale.

Right, now you’ve had a challenge, you shall get your cute! This poor little dude was so conflicted.

Image shows a little striped rodent sitting on a somewhat flat rock in an I'm-Very-Tempted manner.

Conflicted ground squirrel or possibly chipmunk, I am terrible at identifying these cute fuzzy things BECAUSE THEY ARE BIOLOGY NOT ROCKS AND I DO ROCKS OKAY?

On the one hand, there was this humungous clump of grass with delicious ripe seeds and it really really wanted them so bad, only there were these people standing there, and it was a little afraid, but it wanted those seeds soooo bad. It spent a moment thinking about it, and dashed up and down a bit, and rushed the seeds and rushed away, and then decided “Sod this for a game of larks” and went and hid, so we left it to get its lunch in peace.

Now, we were up there specifically to look at Emmons Glacier, because I’ve been up the White River Valley it is responsible for, and would have gotten to one of its old moraines if Cujo and I hadn’t been stopped by the small but significant fact that the trail bridge over the river had washed out. So we went down to the Emmons Glacier Vista overlook thingy and had a nice look, and it was really gorgeous.

Image shows Mount Rainier's summit, Little Tahoma, Emmon's Glacier, and a gorgeous glacial valley with a glacier-fed river and lake. Also, much green, because PNW.

A view of Emmons Glacier, and the valley, and river, and a wee little turquoise-colored lake that I could probably identify if I wasn’t too tired at the moment.

Unfortunately, it was a bit hazy, and hot as hell, or we might have gotten better photos. Still. We got some good ones, and yes, someday, you will get more. But if you embiggen this one, you’ll be able to see some snazzy glacial features. Tell me all you can find, if you feel like digging!

We attempted the trail up Sourdough Ridge, but that’s all in bright sunshine, and did I mention is was at least 80 bloody degrees? And I’m not used to high altitudes and heat anymore. So we decided to tackle that in cooler times, and possibly when the air is clearer. We went down to Sunrise Point, where there’s a short-ish side trail to Sunrise Lake.

Image shows Sunrise Lake, a beautiful round pool surrounded by tall trees and mountains. The water is so still you can see the pines clearly reflected in it, even from hundreds of feet above.

Sunrise Lake is a lovely blue-green gem set at the bottom of a glacial valley surrounded by majestic, glacier-carved peaks. Alas, it is down in a valley…

This trail is mostly in shade with a wonderbar cool breeze. Trouble is, it is also a long way down to the lake. Down, of course, translates to up on the way back. But it was worth it. We got to see lots of pretty nature, and the lake, and there was this bird you will squee over when I show you it later this week, and, on a scree slope, this wee little rabbit-like thing running across the rocks with a big sprig of leafy something in its mouth. See if you can spot it in the shot of the slope I took.

Images shows a slope of platy gray rocks surrounded by the usual alpine greenery. There's a little critter on it. Very hard to see.

Wee beastie is somewhere on this scree, I promise you.

Really hard to spot, innit? Alas, I had the camera turned off to conserve battery when the little bugger first darted out, and by the time I had it on, our wee beastie had dashed further downslope. Take it from me, it was cute as the dickens, especially with its bit of greenery clutched in its mouth. Here’s a crop of the above image, and if you can identify they wee beastie from just this blurry pic, I will be very surprised. Also, I will suggest you become a cryptozoologist, because why not?

If you look at the gray rock at the very bottom center, then at the green bush right in front of it, then in front of that bush, you will see a timorous little brown fellow holding very still on the scree and clutching its little sprig.

If you look at the gray rock at the very bottom center, then at the green bush right in front of it, then in front of that bush, you will see a timorous little brown fellow holding very still on the scree and clutching its little sprig.

After the beastie and the birdie, we hauled our sorry butts back up that slope, and I can tell you my lungs haven’t ached like that for ages. Like a bellows, they were. I need to spend less time lounging with the cat and Christianist textbooks, and more time on mountains. So it’s a good thing B has decided we should go back to Mount Rainier before our current pass runs out. Weather permitting, we’ll be up there again at the end of the week. Then, depending on what the weather looks like, we’re off to either the Olympics or over the mountains to Ross Lake. Well, weather and our own energy levels permitting, I should say.

And I can definitely recommend sunset as seen from Highway 410 from outside of Sumner, looking over the Puget lowland toward the Olympics. Oh, my, yes. Alas, we were unable to stop and obtain photos, so I shall just have to ask you to imagine jagged black peaks against a salmon-orange sky, with the dark night blue above and the deep pools of shadow in the valley below, with city lights sparkling merrily, and a huge orange full moon rising over the hills behind. So, so wonderful.

Parícutin: “Here Is Something New and Strange”

Imagine a pastoral scene, seventy years ago in Mexico. On a sunny February day, a woman and her son watch over their flock of sheep from the shade of oaks; her husband strides across his fields toward a pile of branches that need burning, while his helper completes a furrow. The oxen begin to turn; a brand-new volcano begins to erupt.

Paricutín. Image courtesy Karla Yannín Alcázar Quintero via Wikimedia Commons.

Paricutín. Image courtesy Karla Yannín Alcázar Quintero via Wikimedia Commons.

Later, some would say that Demetrio Toral “plowed up the volcano.” That used to mean something different, pre-Parícutin. The Itzícuaro Valley nestles among many volcanoes. Cinder cones abound. Some are breached and eroded; some are conical with flat-floored craters. Within those last, farmers of the region grew maize. In a land filled with old lava flows, some of them malpais – badlands where no hoofed animals could drag a plow even if there had been adequate soil to drag it through. The Tarascan (Purépecha) natives crossed the rough vesicular basalt to the doughty trees growing there, harvesting their timber and backpacking it out to pack animals beyond the flows. Older flows that had developed soils were cultivated. Benches and cliffs: that’s the terrain those flows formed, and if anyone there knew a bit about volcanoes, they could read the stories of previous eruptions in them.

Five villages that would later be destroyed occupied flat bits of the valley near springs and seeps. Villagers tilled their soil and worked their forests, selling any excess products in the regional market towns farther on. They had a church in San Juan Parangaricutiro, a tall and stately stone structure, which housed the image of a saint, and a library with a book that would help them comprehend what was about to break their peace.

Outside, a world war raged: inside the valley, aside from some occasional interpersonal conflict, life went on much as it had for hundreds of years. No one knew that way of life would end rather abruptly in February of 1943. Sure, there had been a lot of earthquakes, but no one thought much of them: they lived in a seismically lively region, and those quakes didn’t shake them psychologically (at least, not until mid-February, when their frequency and intensity escalated rather dramatically).

And there was that pit on Dionisio Pulido’s farm.

It had been there a long time. Señora Severina Murillo had played around it as a girl, fifty years before. It was maybe five meters (16 feet) in diameter, and maybe a meter and a half (5 feet) deep. It made strange noises, underground noises, sounds like rocks falling. The kids found it warm, and their sticks never reached the bottom. Storm waters drained through it in the winter, and sometimes there would be a mist, but it was never hot, not so Sr. Pulido noticed. He’d stash his yoke and plow there, sometimes, when he didn’t feel like hauling them all the way back to Parícutin village. He and his brother would sometimes try to fill in the hole, but no matter how much material they threw in to it, they could never fill it. A depression had formed around it the previous August. But no one thought much of it.

***

Quitzocho-Cuiyusuru valley and surrounding area before the outbreak of Parícutin volcano as reconstructed from observations of early volcanism. 1, Quitzocho; 2, Cuiyusuru; 3, Pastoriu; 4, Uricua Llostiro; 5, Tancítaro; 6, Cebo; 7, Camiro; 8, Piedra del Sol; 9, Sherecuaro; 10, Parícutin Arroyo; 11, Parangaricutiro-Parícutin boundary-passes in front of foreground and follows ridge along Cebo and Tancftaro. Road from Camiro hill, San Nicolas, and Teruto follows left boundary of sketch, Uruapan-Parícutin road follows front boundary.

Quitzocho-Cuiyusuru valley and surrounding area before the outbreak of Parícutin volcano as reconstructed from observations of early volcanism. 1, Quitzocho; 2, Cuiyusuru; 3, Pastoriu; 4, Uricua Llostiro; 5, Tancítaro; 6, Cebo; 7, Camiro; 8, Piedra del Sol; 9, Sherecuaro; 10, Parícutin Arroyo; 11, Parangaricutiro-Parícutin boundary-passes in front of foreground and follows ridge along Cebo and Tancftaro. Road from Camiro hill, San Nicolas, and Teruto follows left boundary of sketch, Uruapan-Parícutin road follows front boundary. Fig. 109 from USGS Bulletin 965-D. Image courtesy USGS.

At the beginning of 1943, the earth began to shake, and the local folk heard noises deep in the ground. Residents of the largest town, San Juan Parangaricutiro, didn’t feel much until February 5th. The earthquakes, some larger than a 3 on the Mercalli scale, were accompanied by subterranean sounds, and townfolk quickly recognized a pattern: the louder the sound, the stronger the tremor. Celedonio Gutiérrez, who would later become an observer for the geologists who flocked to the area, noted, “They followed each other almost every minute. If they were delayed, the noise or the tremor was stronger.” And by February 20th, they’d become so strong and frequent that everyone was worried the church would collapse. They sent a messenger to Uruapan, one of the larger market towns, that morning, asking its presidente for advice. No one knew quite what to do.

The presidente of San Juan Parangaricutiro wasn’t sure how to confront all the shaking, but he told a newspaper he thought he knew what might be causing it: he thought there would be a “new volcanic outbreak.” Spot on, that man.

***

While officials worried, Sr. Pulido went about his work. Presidente Cuara-Amezcua hadn’t predicted the volcanic outbreak’s precise location, and he had no reason to think anything of the pit, which was being its usual self: slightly depressed, definitely unfillable, but otherwise ordinary. It would soon be time for the spring sowing, and seismic shenanigans or no, the field needed preparing. His helper, Sr. Toral, tended to the plowing while Sr. Pulido, his brother, and another helper cleared branches.

Oxen plowing near Lima. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Oxen plowing near Lima. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

In the afternoon, Sr. Pulido headed over to the trees where his wife, Paula, and his son were tending their grazing sheep. He asked her if anything new had occurred, considering the seismic show they’d been subjected to for the past two weeks.

She’d noticed “noise and thunder underground,” she said, and as she said it, Sr. Pulido heard it, too: “like thunder during a rainstorm,” he’d tell geologists later. “But I could not explain it, for the sky above was clear and the day was so peaceful…”

He left Paula at four that afternoon and headed off to burn the branches he and his brother had cleared from the field. He noticed that a fissure had opened in the old pit. It began at his feet, passed through the hole, and went on toward the Cerro de Canicjuata, one of the old local volcanoes. Here is something new and strange, he thought. He poked about a bit, trying to figure out when it had opened, and noting its depth (around half a meter, or about 1.5 feet), before losing interest and returning to his branches.

From the trail to San Nicolás, Aurora Cuara saw him dropping the last branches and weeds onto the pile. She watched Sr. Toral complete a furrow with the plow, passing right over the place where the earth would momentarily split apart. Toral began turning the team; Paula Pulida heard a whistle; Sr. Pulido felt a thunder.

Parícutin was born.

To be continued…

Paricutin, Mexico This slide taken in 1943 shows a spectacular view of an eruption of Paricutin at night. Glowing projectiles and pyroclastic fragments outline the conical shape of the volcano. The eruption consisted mostly of spheroidal bombs, lapilli, glassy cinder, and glassy ash formed by disintegration of the cinder. Image and caption courtesy USGS via Wikimedia Commons.

Paricutin, Mexico This slide taken in 1943 shows a spectacular view of an eruption of Paricutin at night. Glowing projectiles and pyroclastic fragments outline the conical shape of the volcano. The eruption consisted mostly of spheroidal bombs, lapilli, glassy cinder, and glassy ash formed by disintegration of the cinder. Image and caption courtesy USGS via Wikimedia Commons.

Next: Parícutin: “Save Me From the Dangers in Which I am About to Die”

 

References:

Luhr, James F. and Simkin, Tom, Editors (1993): Paricutín: The Volcano Born in a Mexican Cornfield. Phoenix, Arizona: Geoscience Press.

 

Previously published at Scientific American/Rosetta Stones.

Ohai! I’ve Added a Spiffy New Mount St. Helens Page!

Remember the Prelude to a Catastrophe/The Cataclysm series? Yes? No? Never heard of it? Well, no matter your answer, I’ve got just the page for you! I’ve stuck all the links to date up on their very own page. The last few links aren’t yet live because I haven’t brought those posts over from Rosetta Stones quite yet, but they’ll be appearing here over the next few weeks. Or you could get enterprising and just search the title.

Image shows a cat winking with its mouth open. Caption says *wink*

But wait! Der’s moar! I’ll have new posts in the series coming up sometime this fall. There’s so much more to explore about this eruption and its aftermath. And then, when that’s finished, there’s a whole lot more we’ve learned over the past few decades – we won’t be done with this volcano for a long while yet.

So I really do hope you enjoy reading about it…

Mount St. Helens in May of 2014.

Mount St. Helens in May of 2014.

I R Scholarly Cat. This Iz Srs Criticisms.

Damn cat. When she isn’t stealing my lounge chair, she’s stealing my work:

Image shows Misha lying down on the Bob Jones University Earth Science 4th edition textbook, her paws around my pen.

All ur debunking creationist drivel r belong to me.

This is because I went to get cushions for the chair she’s making me use, I’m pretty sure.

There’s a glimpse of how things are coming along, though – that notebook you see stuck within the pages of that shit-pile of a textbook represent the beginning of my debunkapalooza for the chapters on geology. Which I’m doing out-of-sequence, because I’m trying to get all this stuff read before I babble at you about it during FtBConscience. I’ve done A Beka’s Science of the Physical Creation geology chapter already. Yeah, it’s pretty bad. Yes, I’m expecting ES4 to be worse – especially since it goes on for nearly the entire length of the entire A Beka book. And on Tuesday, I should get the more recent edition of A Beka’s drivel, granting the delivery dude doesn’t deliver to the wrong apartment again. Ima try to keep up a decent posting schedule, too, but this shit takes forever to get through, and so I may have to skimp a bit here and there. Also, too, it’s summer field season, and we have some places to go and geology to see before the endless gray returns. But at least you know I’m stocking up plenty o’ posts for the winter, eh?

We’ll also be finishing up with Mount St. Helens – lots to go, believe it or not! It’ll be a bit, but if you want to brush up on the series, the link to the spiffy new page is here. I’ll be bringing over the last few posts about the trees soon, too. That should whet your appetite, eh?

All right, one more o’ the wee beastie interrupting my work, and I’ve gotta get back to it.

Misha's shifted to behind the pen, looking as if she expects me to pick it up and get busy, with her still atop the book.

Why aren’t you werking, mummy?