Wild World of Humbugs

The Wizard (covering up with the curtain): The Great Oz has spoken. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain….the…Great…er…Oz has spoken.

Dorothy (pulling aside the curtain and reprimanding): Who are you?

The Wizard: (stuttering) I, I, I am the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz.

Dorothy: You are!? I don’t believe you.

The Wizard: I’m afraid it’s true. There’s no other Wizard except me.

Scarecrow: You humbug.

Tin Man: Yeah.

The Wizard: Yes. That’s exactly so. I’m a humbug.

Humbugs have been around for a long, long time. But since the word humbug itself isn’t used much these days, this passage from the 1939 Wizard of Oz movie has likely been the first … and maybe only … exposure most have had to the term.

I think this is a shame, because the term (and all it implies) is more relevant to our world of the 21st century than it ever has been! And there hasn’t been a good term invented that can replace it for clarity and comprehensive application.

Back before TV, back before radio, back before telephones, back before photocopy machines and digital cameras and the computer software to alter photos easily, a person who was a humbug had to put a lot more effort into his humbuggery than is necessary these days.

The most historically famous humbug was PT Barnum, circus promoter and master con-artist of the 19th century. One biography of Barnum is even titled King of Humbugs. This wasn’t a put-down–it is a title Barnum gave to himself!  Barnum was a master at coming up with elaborate hoaxes to deceive the masses, and was proud of it. But it took him a lot of money and often weeks or months or years to pull off many of his famous deceptions, and spread the news of them widely.

If Barnum lived today, the Internet, email, and digital photography would make his efforts so much more efficient. But then again, we don’t need an expert like Barnum any more to pull off widespread humbugs. Any 15 year old kid with a Net connection and a computer can, with a little bit of creativity, create a humbug within a few hours, and within a few hours more hoodwink more people than Barnum ever personally humbugged in his whole life.

I decided a while back that if any 15 year old kid could do it, why not a 65 year old grandma? So herewith, I give you my entry into the world of humbuggery—my very own Cybermarket Tabloid, the Irrational Enquirer!

I didn’t even have to mess with finding irrational stories to include in my tabloid. The headlines above were all related to stories I have received in my email inbox, breathlessly forwarded to me by well-meaning friends who were sure I’d want to know about these astounding “facts.”

I’ll be sharing a number of Irrational Enquirer stories in upcoming StarrTrekking blog entries, including the ones on the cover of this issue. For this blog entry, let’s start with the Legend of the Killer Tsunami

The Rest of the Story

As a former life-long resident of northern Michigan, and someone who has driven past Mackinaw City, Michigan, in the depths of bitterly cold Michigan winters numerous times, you can imagine my interest in this email that made the rounds one recent winter, explaining this amazing photo.

 Frozen Wave Phenomenon on Lake Huron.

Michigan has had the coldest winter in decades. Water expands to freeze, and at Macinaw [sic] City the water in Lake Huron below the surface ice was supercooled. It expanded to break through the surface ice and froze into this incredible wave.

This wave phenomena [sic] is seen in Antarctica, but in Michigan? Yes, it’s been quite a winter!

And more photos of this phenomenon from different angles came along with the explanation.

I’m sure the reaction of many people among the hundreds of thousands who no doubt received a CCMail with these photos was … “Wow! That’s amazing!” For, of course, “Seeing is believing,” isn’t it? And the details are so explicit. Surely no one would make up such an outlandish tale if it weren’t true.

But when I went out to the Web to find more about these amazing photos, I found the following posted on a number of sites, next to the same collection of photos.

Ice Wave in Lake Michigan

And they complain about global warming…………

Amazing pictures up around Sturgeon Bay. Wisconsin has had the coldest winter in decades. Water expands to freeze, and at Sturgeon Bay the water in Lake Michigan below the surface ice was super cooled. It expanded to break through the surface ice and froze into this incredible wave.

There have been pictures of this wave phenomena in Antarctica, but in Sturgeon Bay? It’s been quite a winter!

This explanation, along with the same set of photos, was making its way around the Net via email CC lists at the exact same time. I assume that large numbers of people who received this “Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin” version were equally impressed and reacted with “Wow! That’s amazing!” For, of course, “Seeing is believing…”

If seeing is believing is still true in the Internet Age, I am certainly being asked to believe a lot … for have a look at these other CCMails that accompanied the same exact set of photos.

Antarctica Wave – pretty awesome

The water froze the instant the wave broke through the ice. That’s what it is like in Antarctica. Water freezes the instant it comes in contact with the air. The temperature of the water is already some degrees below freezing. Just look at how the wave froze in midair?


Antarctic wave

A volcano erupted 400 feet below the ice in Antarctica. The melted water froze in the shape of a wave the instant it broke through the ice and came into contact with the frigid air.

So there you have it—absolutely identical waves created in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Antarctica, either by “supercooled water expanding to freeze” breaking through ice and freezing in an instant, or volcanically heated water shooting up through ice and … freezing in an instant. Viewed by the same tourist with a pink neck scarf!

He … or is it she? … certainly gets around!

On other websites and forums the same pictures were described as a “frozen tidal wave” or “frozen tsunami.” And they were always accompanied by that same hapless tourist who  avoided tragedy by arriving long after the event.  You can see a full set of the 18 pictures on the Hoax Slayer website.

If you weren’t sure when you first saw the pictures, hopefully you realize by now—all of these tall tsunamic tales are pure baloney…no matter how specific the geographic or scientific details offered seem. Here is a clear explanation from the urbanlegends.com site about the matter.

The photographer, astrophysicist Tony Travouillon, confirmed via email that the pictures were actually taken near the Antarctic coastal base of Dumont D’Urville in 2002.

They patently do not show “a wave frozen in mid-air.” One can discern wave-like features, to be sure, but those “waves” are clearly the weathered facades of massive, solid blocks of ice which could not have frozen instantaneously, contrary to what is claimed.

The phenomenon captured in the images, Travouillon says, is called a blue iceberg. The ice is bluish because it is denser and contains fewer air bubbles than the more reflective white ice visible nearby. The tinting can be the result of an accumulation of marine (saltwater) ice on the bottom of a floe which has tipped over, revealing its translucent, polished underside, Travouillon explains. Or, according to other sources, it can be the result of an iceberg partially melting and refreezing. Still other sources cite as a possible cause the extreme compression undergone by ice originating from deep inside a glacial mass.

In any case, the “blue bergs” of Antarctica are gorgeous natural phenomena in their own right and deserve to be appreciated for what they really are.

You can see more details on the formation of blue icebergs on the Hoax Slayer site.

It’s too bad that pictures of such fascinating and beautiful natural phenomena can’t be shared by people without the pseudo-scientific baloney attached to them. In many cases the actual facts about the pictures are very interesting in themselves.  It would only take a couple of minutes to research the validity of the descriptions in such emails before passing them on. Of course, if you’d do that, you would likely find, as I have over the 15 years I’ve been on the Net, that only a very, very tiny percentage of such emails pan out to be “as advertised.” The vast majority have been humbugs.

Why not “Just Say No” to blindly passing on CC mails full of patently bogus descriptions of unusual pictures? Otherwise, you just may find your email featured in a future issue of the Irrational Enquirer!



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One Response to Wild World of Humbugs

  1. Pingback: Wild World of Humbugs | Currently StaRRing …

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