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The Darwin Lecture

Chris Brochu's talk on Sue was excellent. Quite young to be such a prominent scientist, or as Christopher summed it up, "He's the China Mieville of paleontology."

His actual preferred field of study is crocodilians, and we missed the more formal lecture on those. Which is unfortunate, since every time the word crocodilian came up he gave out a little cheer. Whereas Sue was once referred to as a several ton alabtross around his neck. Basically, he ended up doing three years of work on the description of Sue's bones for the Field Museum because of timing and luck.

The talk was fairly general, but fascinating and he dispelled a ton of myths about what people "know" about T. Rex's in general and Sue in particular. It turns out we know a lot less than what's actually reported. Science often does. Which is what makes it so damn exciting.

There were lots of kids in the audience, as always, and they're just so cute when they ask questions (and generally pretty informed as well, but those aren't the kind of questions that are fun to put up for perusal). "So, um, if a man was eaten..."

"Could you speak up?"

"So, um, if a T. Rex got a man in its mouth, could it bite him in half?"

"Um, no. He'd certainly be dead, but really more mashed than sliced clean in half." And then a demo with the teeth.

That was from the little girl in front of us with nice blonde hair's brother, which makes me feel really sorry for her.

Kid over to the side with his robust amateur spelunking, fossil-hunting dad. "Um, is it true that a big dinosaur like T. Rex might excrete bacteria that would poison the wound it gave a prey and cause it to die?"

"Yes, I know the paper where you're getting that." (There was a tone here of "Oh, that damn paper again.") Dr. Brochu points to scale T. Rex head on stage. "I don't really think they'd need to poison their prey, do you? I think they could kill it pretty easily. However, a bite from any type of animal, that doesn't brush its teeth, will turn septic. So, yes, if something survived a T. Rex bite the wound would probably turn septic."

A college girl (groan) in the back. "I've seen on TV and stuff that they can't see something that's not moving, is that true?"

"No, that's just in the movies. There are some amphibians that have that trait, but not T. Rexes."

All in all, the paleontologists who visit the Darwin lecture aren't great with kids. They're a little annoyed at having to deal with them and their questions, I think, but I love the fact that the kids are there and, at least for a few more hours, engaged by science. How cool is that?

And Christopher asked a question that got him to tell us that Sue was about 25 years old when she died, which I don't think he intended to.

Some of the most fascinating and complex parts of the talk were about the technology they used to study Sue. There are some pictures of the super-powerful CT scan they had Boeing do over here at National Geographic.

A very nice evening as always, in contrast to...

Spike Lee's talk

It wasn't awful, it just wasn't anything really. It did leave me with the sinking feeling that most college kids aren't that bright and can't speak standard English very well. There were a lot of reasons it wasn't that great. Here are several, where you is Spike Lee.

1. You tell us you give 30 or so of these a year, and it's obvious you're doing it for the money because you're practically checking your watch on how long you promised you'd be there for the 5 grand or whatever. He literally just stopped talking during a story at the end and said, "Let's bring up the lights and take some questions." So, we just hit an hour and fifteen.

2. Do not underscore the above point, and disrespect your audience, by further making it clear without coming out and saying it. "Okay, two more questions on each side."

3. Your opinions might have been controversial ten years ago. Now they aren't and you need something to back them up.

4. You're supposed to be inspiring these damn kids, so be inspiring, damn it! Don't waste everyone's time shuffling around on stage and half-heartedly calling things you disagree with in society, "Crazy."

I could go on, but really, it was so disappointing. Perhaps it's the setting. Certainly, the level of the questions asked would lead one to believe that it's not worth it to get to passionate about the talk itself. But, leaping jehovah, do the kids that ask the questions need to hear something more challenging than this.

A sampling of questions. Three versions of this particular one were asked, I believe. "As an African-American female, how do I break into acting/entertainment industry/music industry?"

He coddled them with his reply (and you just know they were hoping it would be, "Why, you get discovered by Spike Lee at a college q and a session, that's how. Come with me and star in my next movie opposite Denzel."), for the most part, when he should have just said, "You do it like everybody else: work your ass off. Next."

Then there was the kid who decided he was going to challenge Spike Lee on the war. Earlier, Spike had done what was probably the most interesting stuff of the night (sadly) about the war--the hall was overwhelmingly against it, judging by applause, and these are college kids in Ky.; the polls are lies--and how he was sick of the whining that Iraqi troops "weren't fighting fair. They're changing clothes." And he did a little thing about guerilla warfare in American history and how if you think about the amount of firepower the U.S. has that's the only way these people can effectively fight back. Etc. SO, kid who's not nearly as smart as he thinks he is in the blue t-shirt hits the mike and says, "I have a comment."

Stand back. He has a comment, ladies and gentleman.

"About what you said earlier. And I um, just want to um, give my comment and then get your comment on my uh comment. When you were talkin' about propaganda and everything--"

Stop the record. If your argument, what you're taking umbrage at, includes the qualifier "and everything" you should sit down and shut up, because you don't know what you're talking about. But anyway.

"And everything, well about the troops changin' clothes and um that and not fighting fair, you know Geneva Convention. They're changing clothes and waving at American troops and that's not ethical and um, you know, you saying that like you did, well that's one-sided, that's propaganda. I think you're the propaganda and--"

(I am being really kind here, because this was in no way as coherent as what's above, but I can't render it verbatim or it would be unintelligible. The big thing this kid is missing is that Spike Lee is not a journalist, can say any damn thing he wants, and does not have to tell both sides. Plus, this kid is stupid and has not mastered the English language. He and his buddy walked out behind me and high fived as the buddy said, "Dude, when you said Geneva Convention, I was like, he just said Geneva Convention to Spike Lee." (Obviously, they know something about Spike Lee and this code phrase that we don't. Perhaps it activates his secret agent training.)

"Thank you for your comment."

Doesn't address the kid's blather at all.

Then, a girl comes to the mike that actually does have a legitimate issues question for him, but also is horribly timid and not willing or able to state her position. You see, Spike was supposed to speak in Cincinnati not too long ago, but pulled out at the urging of the NAACP because they have urged a boycott by black performers to punish Cincin for not taking race seriously enough. The girl asks why he didn't come and he says:

"Well, the NAACP talked to me about that situation and how the only way we would cause change there was by hitting their bottom line, so I decided not to go. This is the same reason we're eating freedom toast and freedom fries right now, talking about boycotting French companies and pouring French wine and Dom Perignon down toilets. You get people to hear you by hurting their bottom line. Next."

That is the lamest ass answer I've ever heard and does anyone actually believe that we're really hurting the French's bottom line. This really bugs me. Because in Cincinnati, I think the city was forced to take notice when they had several days of rioting, and I don't think that people who need to be there raising issues and stirring up activism not going is changing a damn thing. I don't think that Spike Lee's deciding not to visit hurt anybody's bottomline, frankly. But, maybe that's just me.

The thing was, these kids didn't deserve well thought out answers, because they didn't have well thought out questions. Anyway, it was depressing.

As was the girl next to me who groaned when they shut out the lights and said, "But I have to take notes on this." Then proceeded to write down everything, in the dark, with her perfect little writing even though it was just an ad lib lecture.

The only moment in the questioning that I actually liked came from a 12-year-old kid who just got his first camcorder. "I'm trying to make (muffled) films and how do you do that?"

"What kind of films?"

"Meaningful films. Because the ones I'm making now don't make no sense at all."

The poor misguided youth of America. I like them better when they're smaller and saying um is excusable.


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