And Talking of Dinosaurs

Ah, lunchtime. A time to read the papers… and to think of the past… and the present…

  • From the “I Always Thought The Name Was Redundant” Department: There’s a fascinating article in the LA Times about a major trove of fossils unearthed near the La Brea Tar Pits. This appears to be the largest known cache of fossils from the last ice age, and includes a nearly intact skeleton of a Columbian mammoth — named Zed by researchers, as well as loads of smaller fossils of tree trunks, turtles, snails, clams, millipedes, fish, gophers and even mats of oak leaves. Now, it’s no surprise that they found something: they are excavating under the old May Company garage in the Park La Brea area, right near La Brea Pits. What is interesting to me is how they are doing things, because they are in a rush to build a new underground parking garage for the adjacent art museum: Instead of having paleontologists spend days to weeks carefully sifting through the soil at the site of a dig, they are treating the areas like big trees: Carefully identifying the edges of each deposit, the paleontology team dug trenches around and underneath them, isolating the deposits on dirt pedestals. After wrapping heavy plastic around the deposits, workers built wooden crates similar to tree boxes and lifted them out individually with a heavy crane. The biggest one weighed 123,000 pounds. In 3½ months, working seven days a week, they removed the entire collection two years ago and delivered them to the museum. For some of the deposits, they had to wear oxygen tanks with full gas masks because of unusually high levels of hydrogen sulfide escaping from the soil. The only exceptions to the crating process were the mammoth named Zed and a horse skull. Because they were separate from the other assemblages, they were partially excavated and encased in plastic casts for cleaning in the museum — the conventional technique for recovering fossils. There are now 23 crates available for the conventional slow approach.
  • From the “And Speaking of Dinosaurs, Take I” Department: Yes, there is a theme today. In our first class of modern dinosaurs, I present: wealthy cities. According to the LA Times, it seems they are discovering they aren’t immune from the recession. They are seeing significant decreases in sales tax revenues and property tax revenues. Beverly Hills now projects a $24-million drop in tax revenues over the next 16 months, representing 15% of the general fund budget. Santa Monica has a budget gap that could swell to $10 million next year. Newport Beach has seen a drop in luxury car sales resulting in an anticipated $3.5-million budget gap. There are vacancies on Rodeo Drive, pink slips abound, and conspicuous consumption is dead. We’re seeing a shift in mentality folks to what our parents (or for you youngsters, your parent’s parents) had from the depression: save, don’t spend. Think about what that means for getting people to spend our way out of the recession.
  • From the “And Speaking of Dinosaurs, Take II” Department: Our second class of modern dinosaurs: Pontiac and Saturn. Yup, GM has a proposal to shred shed brands, and it looks like Pontiac and Saturn are on the chopping block, together with Saab and Hummer. This is a significant change for GM, which loved its myriad brands like Gollum loved his ring. They may try to spinoff Saturn (but to who… and would it survive). Both brands had their caches… well, Saturn did once when it first came out, but now it is just rebadging. The Pontiac name may become a mini-brand, probably just a sub-line within Chevy or Buick. The NY Times also has a nice car-blog entry remembering Pontiac, when it was actually something unique and muscular, before the brand jumped the shark.
  • From the And Speaking of Dinosaurs, Take III” Department: Our third class of modern dinosaurs are the extinct stores. Ever wonder where their customers go, after the store is gone? The usual answer is: Wal-Mart. The attitude seems to be “If I can save that much money, I’ll live with the lack of selection or customer service”. In a recession, do you blame them? Other stores are trying to position themselves, but not seeing the profits they expected: Best Buy (grabbing Circuit City folks), Bed Bath and Beyond (going after Linen & Things), and Kohls (going after Mervyns).
  • From the “Censoring and Dinosaurs” Department: There are two interesting cases of self-censorship in the news… and both have some connection to dinosaurs. The Mayor of Television (mayor_of_tv) is reporting that TV Land is adjusting episodes of Sanford and Son (a dinosaur of a TV show) where Red Foxx (who never had a clean mouth) was using the “N-Word”. What’s next? Archie Bunker? That was the point of the show. In more local censorship, the LA Times Culture Monster Blog (lat_cultrmnstr) reported that a Corona Del Mar High School production of the student edition of the musical “Rent” (which has already been censored) has been cancelled. One report says it was due to gay characters, but the principal and staff at Corona Del Mar high school deny that, just claiming there was still unidentified “objectionable material”. By the way, want to know what the replacement is? “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”. Talk about dinosaurs!

    By the way, since we’re talking Orange County and high schools, I should note some things never change: two Orange County HS students (Beckman HS in Irvine) are accused of hacking grades. Specifically, they allegedly used a stolen password to change their grades in the school’s computer system, apparently using the password information of a teacher they had befriended to log onto the system. Last year, two seniors at Las Flores’ Tesoro High School were charged with a combined 73 felony counts for purportedly breaking into their school at least six times to steal tests, hack into school computers and change grades.

Theatre Note: In some recent posts, I’ve been talking about The Wedding Singer at Rep East. Well, it appears that an upcoming National Tour of the show has resulting in the rights for Rep East being cancelled. They are voting on a new spring musical at their website, and I encourage those in the area to vote. My thinking on the potential shows: Little Shop is being done by too many high schools, including Van Nuys HS in the same time period. Singing in the Rain was recently done by Cabrillo, and I don’t think Rep East has the space to top that. Forbidden Broadway might work, but it is more of a revue of potentially older shows (unless they have the latest version) and I don’t think would draw. Debbie Does Dallas might not work well up in Santa Clarita. That leaves Great American Trailer Park Musical and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Forum is one of the weaker Sondheim musicals (although funny), and better suited to the Canyon Theatre Guild at the other end of the block. That leaves Trailer Park, which hasn’t been done in Southern California before (giving them a premiere, which Wedding Singer would have been) and has great music. You can probably guess how I voted.