Everybody Walk the Dinosaur

A new dinosaur was recently found in the desert region of Argentina. This has been the latest fossilized remains found of anything in Patagonia in the last few years, assuming that we do not count those who “disappeared” during, oh, I don’t know, the years of 1974-1990.

This dinosaur, of which there is an almost complete skeleton, certainly more than has been found of Nicole Richie, is thought to be an entirely new species. Scientists describe it as having a “neck very large in diameter” and being “strong and huge” which, alas, pretty much describes every single dinosaur I’ve ever ran into, usually along with other vivid descriptors such as “large, forceful teeth that can easily snap you in half” and “could crush you mercilessly like a balsa wood diaphragm.”

The funniest thing about this entire discovery is the name of the new dinosaur, which is the appalling “Futalognkosaurus dukei.” (It’s certainly no “brontosaurus,” eh?) Its name is derived from a native language meaning “giant chief of lizards” (it makes it sound like he sat around at local council meetings debating property tax reform or something…though come to think of it last time I went to a local council meeting there were several dinosaurs on the board), and the second part is named for (wait for it) the corporation that funded the dig; namely, the Duke Energy Corporation. That’s right, he may be eighty million years old, but he’s got a commercial endorsement to his name. Brilliant.

Ever since I was a child, I held a unique fascination with dinosaurs that bordered on the kinda gay. Now lots of kids love dinosaurs, but these fascinations usually are limited to trying to work up enough excitement at the only cool part of the museum. For my part, I had all kinds of dinosaur stuff, such as stuffed animal dinosaurs, dinosaur cartoons, dinosaur lunch pails, dinosaur 401(k), everything. And this was pre-Jurassic Park, when a kid that was into dinosaurs meant they may have had a future career as a paleontologist, not that they went to a matinee and wanted to run around the yard in a set of velociraptor shoes made in China, where, I hasten to point out, few dinosaurs lived due to the unfavorable exchange rate at the time.

Of course, dinosaurs are much more popular now; thanks to big-budget movies and a Discovery Channel that has yet to make Shark Week every week, dinosaurs are a standard children’s theme, along with random NASCAR drivers and PSPs. And it’s not hard to come up with a reason why kids (and adults, for that matter) are fascinated by dinosaurs—they’re huge, colorful beings that emit equal parts authority and senseless violence. Much like many other children’s interests, such as train engines and Bobby Brown.

And that’s, I think, the mystique of the dinosaur: we’re fascinated by them because we have concrete evidence that these creatures were huge, sadistic, things, able to destroy the strongest and sturdiest buildings that 4,000 years of human progress has been able to design, yet they’ve all managed to find a truly amazing and mystifying way to take a powder.

The classification of this particular dinosaur is notable for three things. One is that they have him pegged as a plant eater, which I find amusing for some reason. It’s hard enough to make humans vegetarians; I just can’t fathom a dinosaur plodding around the mists of prehistory with a makeshift placard proclaiming that meat is, indeed, murder. I don’t care whether you’re a roid raged T-Rex or a docile stegosaurus, you’re going to be more Type-A than Enron. (Apt comparison, too, since Enron made their money buying and selling dinosaurs before they started making stuff up and then giving a painful birth to Sarbanes-Oxley. Thanks a lot, dinosaurs!)

The second is the insistence that the dinosaur is part of the “titanosaur.” I don’t know if it’s because of the sheer number of names required for all the species of dinosaurs, or the fact that paleontologists are just incredibly unimaginative, but it seems like a lot of these names were basically created by handing a five-year-old a photo of the dinosaur in question and then calling it a day. There are dinosaurs called the supersaurus, the megaraptor, and gigantosaurus, and I can only assume there is a awesomesaurus and a spongebobsaurus as well.

The third is the fact that the scientists made a point of stating that the dinosaur died of “unknown causes.” As if being embedded under several yards of dirt for several dozen million years wasn’t enough. Maybe they need to call in CSI: Bedrock.

Paleontology is one of the few last wonderfully useless trades in the world. Oh, sure, sure, scientists and guidance counselors will wax eloquent about the great finds that contribute to the culture and history of mankind, but we all know it’s just a bunch of grown men and women who should know better beg for cold cash from unsuspecting trust funds so they can hotfoot it to exotic places and shift around the dirt long enough in the hopes of finding a big ole dino bone akin to that huge rib Fred tries to cram in the Flintstonemobile. Anyone who tells you different is either a liar or a jealous ornithologist.

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