In this time of bitter partisan division, here is at least one small cause for rejoicing:
The governor of Massachusetts — a Republican in a Democratic state — last week signed a bipartisan bill that sprinted through the Legislature with overwhelming support from both parties. The measure filled a deep hole in the state’s very identity — by designating a state dinosaur.
The lucky vertebrate is, or was, Podokesaurus holyokensis, known as Podo for short. He was a fleet-footed, sharp-toothed, rottweiler-sized lizard who lived more than 100 million years ago near, of course, Holyoke.
Massachusetts thus joins a dozen other states with official dinosaurs. The trend began in the 1990s, when the first of six “Jurassic Park” movies appeared. The latest, “Jurassic World Dominion,” hits theaters on June 10.
Dinosaurs have been fascinating us for ages, as any parent can tell you. The beasts are characters in films, books, comics. Also in stuffed toys, advertising campaigns, popular museum exhibits and, lately, auction houses.
The skeleton of a scary Deinonychus — mistakenly passed off as a Velociraptor in “Jurassic Park” films — went under the gavel Thursday night at Christie’s (expected price: $4 million to $6 million). That auction house set the old-bones record two years ago, when a Tyrannosaurus rex went for $31.8 million. It went to a new museum in Abu Dhabi.
Incredibly enough, two-legged dinosaurs still walk the earth, though their era may be stumbling to a close. Changes in the political climate have been threatening them for years. Now they may be facing what paleontologists call a “mass extinction event.”
I refer, of course, to abortion, a subject I hate to talk about. Complex and emotional, it’s probably the most divisive issue in American life right now. Mere mention of it risks alienating family, friends and readers.
So, let’s talk about dinosaurs. They could be found in nearly every part of the U.S and the world during their Jurassic heyday, about 201 million to 145 million years ago. Some were vegetarians, others were meat-eaters. Many, the precursors to today’s birds, had feathers. Bruhathkayosaurus, at 80 tons and 115 feet long, was likely the largest; Epidexipterix, about 10 inches stem to stern, the smallest.
But nearly all of them met a relatively abrupt end in the late Cretaceous era, about 66 million years ago. (That’s 65.7 million years before humans appeared.) There are many theories about what happened, though a large meteor strike is currently the favorite among paleontologists.
Another meteor has just landed. On the same day last week that Podo got elevated, somebody leaked the draft of a Supreme Court opinion that would overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision establishing abortion rights for all American women. The draft advocated returning the issue to the states, 26 of which have declared intentions to end the practice.
Jubilant “pro-life” forces are now pushing for a nationwide ban on abortion, as well as criminalization of miscarriages and limits on morning-after pills, female travel to abortion-friendly states and even contraception.
Despite the court’s apparent reversal, it is easy to forget that the U.S. in the past 50 years — like the world for its entire existence — has been evolving. Women have gotten used to having educations, careers, control over their bodies and their lives.
Anyone who tries to take away that progress will likely get stomped as flat as that annoying lawyer in the outhouse was in the first “Jurassic Park” film.
Men largely support that development (the evolution, not the lawyer thing — though I admit I cheered when I saw it). After all, quite a few men have wives and daughters, sisters, girlfriends or co-workers — women whose dreams and even lives are now at risk.
In polls, most Americans say they don’t want to go back to abortion’s Jurassic era. That prospect is shaping up to be key issue in November’s midterm elections.
Nobody really knows why the dinosaurs perished. In addition to the meteor theory, there are scenarios involving climate change and volcanic eruptions. Whatever happened, it’s clear that dinosaurs were unable to evolve in the face of changing circumstances.
Thus, when that big extinction event came, they perished even though better-adapted creatures — birds, snakes, frogs — survived. That’s how nature works. Also, politics.
Nobody really knows what killed Podo, either. He perished eons before the extinction event. Was it old age? A larger predator? Bad lifestyle choices? His skeleton held no clues. Interestingly, that too perished — in a 1917 fire — making him the rare dinosaur to become extinct twice.
We do know that Podo transited from prehistory to history in 1910, when his fossil was unearthed by a Mount Holyoke College geologist named Mignon Talbot.
A woman, of course.