Side Trip Off the Fossil Freeway

Well, my darlings, I can’t take you Crusin’ the Fossil Freeway myself, since they don’t allow cameras, but the Burke Museum did have a few things outdoors my intrepid companion and I were able to photograph, so you’ll have a little benefit from my day’s adventure.  And, at long last, I ditched the hairtie, and my intrepid companion snapped a photo of me with my hair down!

The boulder I’m standing next to was hauled off from the North Cascades by a glacier and dragged all the way to Issaquah.  For those who aren’t from the area, that’s a helluva long way.  And so we have this enormous rock that’s all shiny and smooth with grooves in:

The thing’s bright and shiny as a meteor.  It’s pretty awesome.

For more awesome, follow me after the jump.

One of the most entertaining rocks outside the Museum is a bit of gabbro with a pegmatite dike in:

Looks a little like Saturn, don’t it just?

There’s a mini-forest of petrified logs standing there:

Some petrified wood is very stony indeed, but this felt quite a bit like very-hard wood, which is fun to touch. 

Here’s a very Northwestern tableau for ye: Fossil Palm Leaf with Totem Pole:

And a detail from another bit of fossilized palm frond that does a lovely job showing off its base:

And look!  More palm fronds!  It’s a veritable ancient tropical island out here!

Alas, that was about it for fossils, but hey – more interesting rocks!

Click to embiggen and note the lovely patterning on the left, there. 

My intrepid companion’s camera very nearly managed to catch the lovely green color of this one:

And to prepare you for our trip inside, a pile of pahoehoe that looks like dino doings:

So, now that we’ve warmed our engine, let’s go Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway, shall we?  This exhibit combined the bold, wacky art of Ray Troll with the paleontological finds of Kirk Johnson.  It’s an unapologetic, in-your-face exhibit of the evidence for evolution.  In fact, they’ve got a bunch of crates against one wall stamped Evolution Evidence, containing displays of various fossils and stuffed creatures showing that yep, evolution happens, and sometimes has surprises in store.  One particularly memorable bit showed off four birds – a hawk, a kestrel, a jay, and some red bugger whose species I can’t remember just now.  The hawk and the kestrel looked nearly identical, but surprise!  DNA shows the hawk’s more closely related to the jay and the red dude.  Convergent evolution at your service, ladies and gentlemen.

Most stuff was under glass, but they had a few nice touchables out for the kiddies, which worked well for me.  I like to feel my way through things.  And one of the most fun things to heft was a mammoth tooth.  You don’t know how huge these things are until you’ve held one in hand.  Of course, this came right after I saw a program on the Ice Ages with a paleontologist hefting one in his hand.  He was waving a tooth around his head that was actually bigger than his head.  You could use ’em as a doorstop.  That’s some impressive dentition, that is:

Compare this to the mastodon tooth, as the exhibit did:

And, to round out the tour of teeth, they had a smilodon tooth:

Animals in the Pleistocene, my darlings, had ginormous fucking teeth.

Now, you know why the saber-tooth cat had, well, saber-teeth, but here’s why mastodons and mammoths have such different teeth, even though the beasts themselves looked rather similar: mastodons chomped leaves, while mammoths grazed, and the difference between munching non-silica rich foliage and tougher grasses is bigger than you might think.  Additionally, mammoths and mastodons aren’t as close relatives as you might think, as this handy diagram shows:

That’s them, all lonely, having diverged millions and millions of years before the mammoths branched off from the elephants.  Isn’t it neat what we can find out from ancient DNA?

And that was far from all!  The exhibit had a very nice display of modern and fossil leaves, modern and fossil fishes, and so on, showing how things have changed and how they’ve stayed the same – always with a bit o’ snark.  I wish I’d written some of the snark down, because I can’t quote it now.  I just remember laughing, which is rarely the result of intentional humor on the part of museum exhibits.  The creators of this exhibit knew you could have your serious science and a good belly-laugh, too.  One of the particularly funny bits was a set of fossil ammonites (I believe) in a case, and off to the side, a “fossil” cheeseburger, labeled just as seriously as the rest of the specimens.  Ray Troll, it seems, has a slight obsession with cheeseburgers, which explains why I left the exhibit with the “Cheeseburger!” line from that Capitol One commercial running through my head.

The fossil ammonites were wonderful – there were some there the size of a wagon wheel, and nice displays showing how some species’ shells started uncoiling in their last several million years on Earth. 

Photos can’t really capture how extreme that uncoiling got.  You just have to see for yourself.  It’s striking, no doubt.

There were many, many bits of interest, awe, and inspiration, but my absolute favorite specimen was a square of gray shale with trilobites all over it, collected by Charles Walcott himself from Mount Stevens.  Any of you who are familiar with the Burgess Shale will know why I squee’d just a little bit.

So yes, lots and lots of lovely fossils, together with art and humor.  You can explore Ray Troll’s wonderful map of Washington here (don’t forget to look for Bill Rose the Paleo Lumberjack – larger version here).  The exhibit runs through May 31st, if you’re in the area.  If not, stop by the Burke Museum next time you’re around anyway – you can crawl inside a replica of the Blue Lake Rhino cast, measure yourself against a sauropod thighbone, and see a huge number of gorgeous fossils, rocks, and artifacts.  In the gift shop, you can pick up big quartz crystals for a dollar, and magnetic hematite for 50 cents a pop – and if you haven’t played with magnetic hematite, you haven’t had a chance to truly amuse yourself for cheap.  Sure, it’s not real hematite, but who cares?  It’s magnetized!  And if a relative’s been pestering you for magical healing magnetic hematite jewelry that’s hideously expensive, and you haven’t been able to talk them out of woo for their birthday, at least you can get them their woo while supporting science, right?

Not a bad way to spend the afternoon, all in all. 

Dumbfuckery du Jour

A cornucopia of dumbfuckery for ye today, my darlings.

Let us lead with one of the dumbest states in the union, my old home state of Arizona, where the governor has resorted to puppet shows in an attempt to ridicule her critics:

In recent days, the right has been attacking Attorney General Eric Holder and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for criticizing Arizona’s draconian new immigration law without having read the entire text of the bill. Now, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has employed a frog puppet to mock Napolitano and Holder in a newly released campaign video.
While Holder and Napolitano should probably have read the bill, they were, as Andrea Nill writes on the Wonk Room, “likely briefed by someone who had read SB-1070 in detail.” Brewer’s video simply attempts to distract the public from the substantive problems with the legislation.

The last refuge of the xenophobic ignorant is a sock-puppet theater.  Oh, and it turns out Arizona’s law isn’t just very likely unconstitutional, but in violation of international covenants as well.  When my old home state fucks up, they certainly fuck up big.

This year’s an election year, and the Cons have quite the field developing.  We have Rand “Fuck Civil Rights and ADA” Paul, whose dumbfuckery only begins with his confusion over the Civil Rights Act and continues on through a veritable bazaar of inane loony-libertarian beliefs.  But don’t let his burning stupidity blind you to the glow coming off of other candidates, such as Idaho’s Vaughn “Don’t Care What It Is” Ward:

In Idaho, Vaughn Ward is running for the Republican nomination in Idaho’s 1st House district, and has received a fair amount of support from prominent right-wing voices. On Friday, former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Fox News) even made a campaign appearance with him.
But Ward is quickly becoming one of the year’s most embarrassing candidates.

Idaho Republican Vaughn Ward has already come under fire for mimicking other candidates’ policy language on his website, but now the congressional candidate is facing accusations of plagiarizing from another source: President Barack Obama.

In a kickoff speech for his campaign in January, Ward used language that closely followed Obama’s 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention, and a conservative Idaho blog spliced together the two sets of remarks to show their similarities, accusing Ward of cribbing from Obama’s remarks.

After watching the video released by a local far-right activist, it’s hard to deny the fact that parts of Ward’s speech were lifted directly, word for word, from Obama’s 2004 speech. In fact, it seems more than a little bizarre that Ward and his campaign would assume no one would notice — that ’04 convention speech was pretty widely seen. Someone was bound to think, “Wait, that sounds kind of familiar.”
What’s more, Ward seems to keep running into trouble. Last week, he was asked in a debate whether he would vote in Congress to support Puerto Rican statehood, Ward said he opposes “extending statehood to some, to any other country,” adding that he doesn’t care “what country … wants to become part of America.” Told that Puerto Rico is an American territory, not a foreign country, Ward said, “I really don’t care what it is.”

Ignorance and unoriginality!  Quite the combo.  I’m sure he’d be the Teabaggers’ most favoritest candidate if he wasn’t filching bits from Obama’s speeches.  It’s apparent no one ever educated Ward on what a U.S. territory is and why it’s important to understand the difference between one of our own territories and an actual foreign country, but I’d at least have thought he’d be schooled that Obama = Hitler/Mao/Stalin/TheAntichrist.  Just seems strange to me that a far-right nutjob who thinks all Puerto Ricans are filthy furriners would filch from someone so despised by the rabid right wackaloons he’s trying to woo.

And yet, even his weapons-grade stupidity just doesn’t seem quite the match for someone who doesn’t even realize Jack Bauer’s a fictional character:

Chuck DeVore, a California state legislator and Tea Party-backed candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, has a new Web video claiming that “Jack Bauer,” the protagonist of the action-adventure show 24, would support him for Senate. 

I wish I could say I was feeling more confident about solid Democratic majorities being comfortably elected this fall, but I’m not sure – too many voters don’t pay attention to politics, and so those middle-of-the-road conservatives who reflexively vote R might not notice that all the sane Rs have become Ds, and all that’s left with Rs after their names are a bunch of batshit insane fucktards without a lick of common decency or common sense in ’em.  George was right: the Republican party’s in trouble.  I just hope staunch Republican voters realize it in time.

Bonus dumbfuckery o’ the day: Faux News craftily cut out the applause for Obama’s West Point speech.   Fair and balanced in name, but not in game, as always.

And here’s another Faux News Moment that makes me wish I had a clip of Rocko’s Modern Life handy.  Alas, all I can do is point you to the relevant quote:

Filburt Shellbach: Ed! Ed! You have been charged with treason. How do you plead, froggy-lips?
Heffer Wolfe: He looks funny.
Filburt Shellbach: Shut up! Ed, I am your conscience.
Heffer Wolfe: I’m his conscience, too.
Filburt Shellbach: What?
Heffer Wolfe: Don’t say I, say we.
Filburt Shellbach: What?
Heffer Wolfe: We! We!
Filburt Shellbach: All right. Wee-wee!
Heffer Wolfe: [Snickers] You said “wee-wee.” Say it again.
Filburt Shellbach: Wee-wee!

Hey, if AZ’s governor can attack people with frogs, I can hit Faux with a Nickelodeon kid’s show.  At least Rocko is actually funny.

Mount St. Helens Redux

I wish I’d had The Fire Below Us recorded when I did the Mount St. Helens post last week, because it’s led me to some awesome extra stuff.  At the beginning of the program, they play the audio of David Johnston’s last transmission.  I’d never actually heard it before.  He sounds excited and rushed, the consummate geologist doing his job in the most intense of circumstances, an instant before his death.

That got me to searching the intertoobz for a recording, which I didn’t find.  But I did find this amazing audio of the eruption, recorded by a young man in Newport, Oregon who was wise enough to think that maybe those thuds were worth getting on tape.

Then I stumbled across Alan Levine’s post on St. Helens’s anniversary, which contains this astounding photo of a pyroclastic flow, which I’ll let Alan tell you about:

In graduate school, I ended up studying past volcanic activity. I dont recall a decision to be safe and not follow the live eruptions, it just was the flow of my interest at the time. One project I worked on was studying a later, smaller eruption at Mt St Helens in 1980, on August 7. This one was of interest because Rick Hoblitt, another USGS field observer, had captured a series of photos of the front of a pyroclastic flow as it cascaded down a channel of the volcano, and since his camera had a time stamp, he was able to calculate its velocities by location the front of the flow on a map.

You know what, that takes balls of adamantium right there.  I mean, we’re talking about snapping photos of the front of a pyroclastic flow.  Y’know, the stuff that can move at speeds approaching 90 miles per hour and run anywhere from 600-1350 degrees Fahrenheit.  I know that the only reason I’d be snapping such a series of pictures is because I’d be figuring, “I’m dead whether I take cover or not, so why the hell not?  Maybe the film won’t melt, and the folks who find my body will have pics that grant me posthumous fame.”  It would have nothing to do with being cool under pressure and being a consummate professional and all that, and everything to do with mind-numbing, fatalistic terror.  Only, you’d never catch me snapping a series of shots of a pyroclastic flow in the first place because the closest I ever want to get to an explosively erupting volcano is roughly two to three states away, depending on the size of the state.  So the next time I go drinking, I’m raising one for David, and one for Rick’s adamantium balls. 

While we’re at it, let’s have a cold one for Dave Crockett.  He’s the gentleman Cujo mentioned in his comment to that post, who was caught by the eruption and videotaped the ordeal.  Here’s the news report, raw footage and all:

Pretty intense stuff.

And with that, I must away to bed, or else I shall faceplant in the fossils.  I leave you with my sincerest wishes that you not get to witness a volcanic eruption quite that up close and personal unless you really really want to, and then I hope you’re as fortunate as Dave Crockett.

Creationist Sidewalks Must Be Very Dirty

They’ve obviously never hosed mud off of them.  Otherwise, they would understand why streams cut through loosely-consolidated pyroclastic deposits so much more quickly than metamorphic rock.  And they’d know why we laugh so very hard when they try to compare stream erosion in the area of Mount St. Helens with the Colorado’s long saw through the Colorado Plateau.

I feel for the trees that lost their lives so that this drivel could be published.  At least part of that small forest will find a useful new life as post-consumer recycled paper.

What I Did…

…when I was supposed to be working on a post about geology.

No, really, I meant to do the first of many posts about the geology I saw whilst visiting eastern Washington.  But I woke up with this sudden urge to weed through my books for tomes no longer of use which can be traded for fresh meat at Powell’s Books in Portland, and that led to a complete rearrangement of my shelves.  This, my darlings, is no small task in this household.  It took hours.

Then I decided the house needed to be cleaned.  The fact that I practically had to excavate to get to the kitchen counters and that the carpet was covered with little black patches of cat hair that caused it to resemble a spotted leopard made cleaning an obvious necessity.

More hours spent doing that, and by the end of it all, my body ached worse than it did after climbing steep, rocky hills in eastern Washington in the blazing heat.  So I took a nap.  Afterward, I started watching Carmen while I regained consciousness.  I didn’t know opera was still allowed to extol the virtues of cigarettes, but special dispensation is apparently given to the classics.

There’s only so much opera on teevee I can take in a night, so I’ve switched to 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Earthquakes.  One thing I surely never knew about earthquakes was that one of their causes is the melting of ice sheets.  Normally, the ground rebounds slowly and gradually from all that weight (the technical term is isostatic rebound, for those who, like me, take pleasure in knowing such things).  But in some cases, the sudden release of pressure causes earthquakes along weak zones in the crust, and you get things like the Parve Fault in Sweden, which was a helluva big earthquake in its day – probably around magnitude 8.6 or so.  That certainly made my eyes pop.  And, it turns out, it has some relevance to my own dear Puget Sound.

Before I go to bed, I’m probably going to cut all of the nice pictures of Mount St. Helens out of a ridiculous creationist book about same that I picked up off the clearance shelves at Half-Price Books by mistake.  It’s amusing to flip through, watching them desperately try to use a volcanic eruption to prove that the earth really truly is only 6,000 years old.  And the pictures are lovely, so now that I’m done laughing at their inane pseudo-geology, it’s time for the old snippety-snip.  At least then the book will have been of some good use.

None of this has helped me actually write the damned geology post I meant to write today, and tomorrow’s doubtful since I’ll be off playing with fossils at the Burke Museum.  But we shall see.