On a recent rainy Tuesday, I paid a visit to some fossilized bits of dinosaur and one of the people who discovered the bits.

“Bits” here being used advisedly: These bits were small compared to the critter they came from, but pretty doggone big to the rest of us.

The dinosaur debris belonged to one or more individuals of a species called Alamosaurus sanjuanensis, brought out of the New Mexican desert by Robert Sullivan, senior curator in paleontology and geology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Sullivan has spent his summers for the past 30 years working the dinosaur bone-yards in the blank spots on the map to the northwest of Santa Fe and Albuquerque. It is hot, hard work, and the teams are small, only two or three people from each sponsoring group, in this case, The University of Montana’s Museum of the Rockies, and the State Museum of Pennsylvania. That means that only a small number of fossils per season can be dug out of their surrounding stone, prepared, and carried out in knapsacks or on stretchers. It’s got to be something you believe in.

 I am trying to remember how we ever really believed in dinosaurs until the movie Jurassic Park came out. And yet, we did. Even when all we had to rely on were drawings and paintings in National Geographic, the clunky “claymation” monsters in bad science-fiction films, and, of course, our own fevered imaginations, we believed.

I’m no spring chicken, and dinosaurs thundered around in my imagination as long ago as I can remember, without benefit of full-size, full-color, bellowing digital versions of the creatures. I have to guess that people working in the field today spent time as children looking out over a pasture or into a murky forest and imagined vast shadows moving, shaking the ground with each step.

Maybe they still do, looking up from editing research papers, imagining they just caught a shudder of vibration running through the heating ducts, a furtive rustle in the shrubbery outside.

Computer Generated Imagery in films like Jurassic Park brought dinosaurs to life, starting with the first film in 1993, and several times since in sequels with increasingly lame plots and acting. Well, for the humans, anyway. The acting on the part of the digital dinosaurs seemed top-notch, at least in my book.

With the advent of CGI, the monsters moved with a spontaneity that made one want to sit astride their lumbering backs, or run away squealing. On the other hand, I wonder if seeing them so apparently real has damaged our ability to imagine them. I hope not. We believed, back in those technologically deprived days, because we needed to. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was a need to believe in vast and dramatic lives in a time so distant it implied a hope in a world after our own. Maybe, for those of still children and feeling insignificant and powerless, it was good to populate our spirits with beasts so big as to be undeniable, unstoppable, and inexpressively awesome.

Alamosaurus is a pretty big deal. For one thing, it’s simply just damned BIG. Two of the recovered pieces are vertebrae, one from back around the beastie’s hips, the other from the lower part of its long, long neck.

The remaining piece is a little less than half of an Alamosaurus’ thigh bone. It’s nearly four feet long, meaning that this bone, from knee to hip, was eight feet long and more than a foot thick.

Bob wouldn’t speculate on the animal’s size because this particular type – long-necked and –tailed herbivore that ambled around on four legs – came in a variety of models that might have enough variation to make scientific guesses about its length, weight, etcetera, just that…guesses.

Even so, the University of Montana put out a graphic showing an estimated comparison between a generalized Alamosaurus and a typical full-grown human male. The other silhouette is a representation of one of the vertebrae found at the New Mexico site.

Feel humbled? You should. The Alamosaurus was one of the biggest creatures ever to walk on land, though there was another, similar herbivore, Argentinosaurus, which was slightly larger. Full-grown, Alamosaurus was more-or-less the length of an Amtrak passenger car.

Nobody has yet found the skull of an Alamosaurus, so nobody can say for sure what it looked like. It likely had a brain the size of a tangerine, so if it were around today it could probably run for public office.

There are a lot of reasons we can be grateful that the real dinosaurs are long gone, I suppose. On the one hand, I really do enjoy picturing one lumbering through the field across the road from my house, chomping and belching its way through the soybeans.

On the other hand, I think keeping something the size of a city bus out of my tomato patch would be a major pain.

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A Queasy Bit of Genius

December 2, 2011

By T.W. Burger

I have to admit that a teeny part of me thinks there is somebody absolutely brilliant behind all this.

 

Americans destroying what it is to be American in order to protect America from people who would destroy what it is to be American.

 

I mean, WOW. It’s like MAD magazine on crystal meth.

 

On Tuesday the U.S. Senate, which, I’m beginning to think, may be the terrorist organization we really need to worry about, voted to keep in place a controversial section of the defense spending bill that would allow the indefinite detention of any terrorism suspect, including American citizens.

 

I can really see the attraction, to be honest. There are, plain and simple, really scary people out there. Some of them are just plain crazy, and some of them are crazy but think they are acting on behalf of Allah, or Jesus, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, for all we know. Like it or not, they’re out there, walking around, watching the world through the warped lenses of their assorted lunacies, and perfectly happy to go to glory on behalf of their own delusions, if they can just take some of us – preferably a whole lot of us – along for the ride.

 

Well, that’s the picture that’s hung on the side of legislation like this, anyway, a poster to convince us that we must do everything in our power to quell the threat against us.

 

No matter the cost.

 

That last part is not even in the fine print. It is not even mentioned.

 

Of course, we are really pretty vague about whom that threat actually comes from. The terror-of-the-moment is anybody who worships Allah, and there are some good reasons for that. On the other hand, back in World War II, We The People locked up a lot of innocent folks – 110,000 Japanese-Americans and about 16,000 German-born citizens and immigrants for much the same reason we want to lock up people who go to the wrong place of worship on the suspicion that they may be jihadists.

 

Of those Germans, perhaps one in 10 was members of the Nazi Party. Eight were actually suspected of espionage.

 

Eight.

 

I spent an afternoon walking around what was left of the Manzanar Japanese internment camp in Southern California some years back. It had just been handed over to the National Park Service, but nothing had been done to pretty it up. I was OK until I found the cemetery. A number of the graves were very small, only a few feet long, with toys, trinkets, and folded blankets placed over them, by people, perhaps, who are not simply shrugging their internment off as a temporary inconvenience.

 

Guess what happened to their jobs and property while they were gone.

 

In any case, the long internment of so many without due process, based in large part on the way they looked or talked or cooked their sausage has been a matter of some shame to the U.S. Apparently, it has not be so much of a shame that we have been cured of heading in that direction again.

 

Perhaps the fact that our detention camps are not, strictly speaking, on American soil helps make our updated detentions seem more humane, or at least less un-American.

 

Sixteen Democrats, among them Pennsylvania’s own Robert Casey, joined the usual foam-at-the-mouth crowd to vote against amending the legislation to remove the section on authorizing indefinite detention. It gave me the same sensation I had when I once was convinced there was a snake in my sleeping bag.

 

To be sure, there are not very many people locked up at the nominally illegal military prison in Guantanamo. At last count, there were perhaps 170 or so people who are adjudged to be too dangerous to let go, but who for one reason or another cannot be tried under whatever legal rules they are still sticking to down there.

 

OK, so these are arguably really bad people. I’m sure they honestly hate us. If they didn’t hate us when they were thrown into that hot, humid dog-run years and years ago, they do now. Maybe it’s hard for some of us to feel sympathy.

 

But think about it.

 

The renewed authorization would make it possible, LEGALLY possible, to snap you up and haul you away for as long as they want, even for the remainder of your natural life, without ever allowing you to be charged, to have your day in court, without ever speaking to a civilian attorney. And all because somebody somewhere with the right title on his or her door decided you were a threat to national security, based on an informant, an astrological forecast, or the reading of chicken guts. Doesn’t matter. A paper gets signed and you are gone.

 

There are people who like this bill, obviously, who think it’s just the thing for combating the newest crop of boogie-beings that haunt our dreams.

 

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it contains the “indefinite detention” language in it, and hooray for him. The really stupid thing about it is that throngs of people who hate anything as long as Obama is for it, would, when not drinking that particular Kool-Aid, be whooping his praises for standing up for the Constitution that is supposed to protect us from this kind of tail-tucked hogwash.

 

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© 2011 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.

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