The Fiction of Owen Thomas

Henry's Interview Corner


A Beagle Dreams of Finally Getting Some Answers

Nick Longrich

(Interviewed August 3, 2013)

H:   Mr. Longrich, welcome to Henry’s Interview Corner.

NL:   Aaaah. Dicere canis lupis familiaris.

H:   Say what?

NL:   You’re a talking Beagle.

H:   Right. And you’re a talking paleontologist.

NL:   Yes, I am. Where do I pick it up?

H:   Pick what up? You’re being interviewed.

NL:   I am?

H:   Well why did you think you were here?

NL:   I won a free flat screen television. I got this certificate…

H:   Oh. That.

NL:   You mean I didn’t win a free flat…

H:   Look, would you have come all the way out here otherwise? A dog’s got to be resourceful. Not everyone likes to be interviewed. Sit, sit. This won’t take long.

NL:   But…

H:   Now, Mr. Longrich, let me read to you the opening paragraph of a Reuter’s article that caught my eye recently.

NL:   Um. Okay.

H:   It reads as follows: “Researchers have named a newly discovered, prehistoric lizard ‘Obamadon gracilis’ in honor of the 44th president’s toothy grin. The small, insect-eating lizard was first discovered in eastern Montana in 1974, but a recent re-examination showed the fossil had been wrongly classified as a Leptochamops denticulatus and was in fact a new species, researchers told Reuters on Tuesday. Obamadon gracilis was one of nine newly discovered species reported on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In naming the new species, scientists from Yale and Harvard universities combined the Latin ‘Obamadon’ for ‘Obama’s teeth’ and ‘gracilis,’ which means slender. ‘The lizard has these very tall, straight teeth and Obama has these tall, straight incisors and a great smile,’ said Nick Longrich, a paleontologist at the school in New Haven, Connecticut.”

NL:   Yeah. So?

H:   So? Slender teeth? You’re talking about the leader of the free world here.

NL:   We did not mean any disrespect. We were…

H:   No? You’ve just likened our president to a delicately toothed extinct lizard from Montana that eats bugs and smiles like a Cheshire cat.

NL:   Well, I think…

H:   It’s not just anatomically insulting, it’s politically color-blind. You may as well call Rick Perry a dim-witted, three-nippled sloth from Connecticut knowing full well that only two of those things are true.

NL:   I can assure you that at the time Obamadon was wriggling over the earth, one hundred forty-five million years ago, Montana had no particular political stripe.

H:   Please don’t insult my readers. Montana has never voted Independent.

NL:   No…I…

H:   Never.

NL:   …

H:   Ever.

NL:   Okay.

H:   You supported Hilary in the 2008 primary.

NL:   Yes.

H:   Funny how it never occurred to you to name this thing Hilisaurus. I smell a conflict of interest.

NL:   We actually considered Clintondon, but it just didn’t sound right. We also rejected Romneydon. Obamadon just kind of rolls off the tongue.

H:   Oh, I get it, like drool.

NL:   No. Not like drool. Stop trying to turn this into an attack on the President. It’s not like this is the first time the taxonomy of extinct organisms has borrowed from the world of politics.

H:   Really?

NL:   We do it all the time.

H:   Like what?

NL:   Well, for starters, try Megalonyxx jeffersonii, a plant-eating ground sloth named after our third president.

H:   Oh.

NL:   We just named five species of freshwater perch after President Obama, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Jimmy Carter and Theodore Roosevelt.

H:   So you’ve saddled Obama with a lizard AND a fish. You can’t tell me that’s not political.

NL:   I’m telling you, it’s not political in the least. Paleontology is hard science. We couldn’t give a flying fig about politics.

H:   Really?

NL:   Really. We leave that kind of childishness to the entomologists.

H:   You mean to suggest that entomologists are lacking in taxonomic objectivity?

NL:   You tell me. In 2005 the entomologists named three new species of North American slime-mold beetles. Care to guess?

H:   Well, there’s like five people on Jersey Shore, so that’s not right. Is it unscientific to name all three species of slime mold beetle after Charlie Sheen?

NL:   Wrong. They named them: Agathidium bushi, agathidium cheneyi and agathidium rumsfeldi.

H:   No shit?

NL:   Honest to God. Don’t let your kid be an entomologist. Those guys never grow up.

H:   To use the mantle of science for that kind of vicious maligning is, well… it’s kind of shocking.

NL:   As fellow scientists, I can tell you that we paleontologists were very disappointed.

H:   I mean what did the poor slime mold beetles do to deserve that?

NL:   I know, right?

H:   Stupid entomologists.

NL:   Yeah. … So, about my flat screen television…

H:   Oh, right. Close your eyes and count to a hundred.

NL:   A hundred?

H:   In Latin.

NL:   Ûnus…duo…três…quattor…

Next Guest: Al Jazeera


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