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Do we really need a state dino? I dunno

March 23, 1998

Tim Rowland

"State symbols," says Maryland Del. Joan Pitkin, "are not just frivolous things."

Well, perhaps so in the sense that the item in question, be it a blue crab or a black-eyed susan, has specific inalienable merits based on things like color and flavor.

But not so in the sense that these items had their endearing qualities long before the state of Maryland went out and conveyed the burden of symbolism to them.

People don't eat more blue crabs than they would otherwise because the General Assembly has annointed them as the Maryland State Crustacean. At least I don't think so.

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Conversely, I'm not going to start eating cardinals no matter how many states name it their official state bird.

I'm not going to start eating dinasaurs either, even if the General Assembly approves an initiative to bless astrodon johnstoni as the Maryland State Dinasaur.

The first question that pops up is what do we need another state dinasaur for? We already have Paul Sarbanes.

Apparently though, discoveries of the bones of the astrodon johnstoni, I'll call him johnny, are confined to Maryland. Supporters of the bill call him "Maryland's first citizen. Maryland's first citizen has been extinct for about 65 million years - couldn't handle the tax burden, I suppose.

Seems a long time to wait to bestow glory. But then they're no deader than Shoeless Joe Jackson, whom they're still trying to elect to the baseball Hall of Fame.

Right up front, I'll say that I have no problem with naming johnny our state dinosaur. Why not, if it makes a few people happy. Besides, if the lawmakers are using up their allotted time making state symbols out of things, it means they will have less time to screw up stuff that really matters.

But just pass the bill and be done with it.

Please spare us these committee hearings where every inhabitant of the basement of the science building comes forth with his little dog and T-Rex show in an effort to convince us how crucial this legislation is to our everyday lives.

Advocates say, of all things, that a state dinosaur designation would boost tourism. "This would bring money into the state," said the president of the Washington, D.C.,-based Dinosaur Fund, an agency designed to pay the expenses incurred by velociraptors who are suing Bill Clinton.

How does one measure the economic impact of a creature that no longer exists? What do the tour guides say? "If this were the year 100 million B.C., he'd probably be right about there."

If the bill passes, I hope it isn't too late to get johnny a mention in the new Washington County Tourism Bureau brochure. "Come stand where the astrodon johnstoni stood, maybe."

I know this is supposed to be a interactive civics lession because a lot of little kids have taken interest in the legislation and are following and pushing for the bill's passage.

I don't understand why this is supposed to be a good thing. Just what we need, a whole new generation of lobbyists, all beginning at age 6. Today a state dinosaur, tomorrow a rider on the federal budget bill providing special, multimillion-dollar tax credits for all tobacco executives who have lied about the effects of nicotine under oath.

Although now that I think about it, are we better off with laws drawn up by children or laws drawn up by the Maryland General Assembly?

Are we able to tell the difference?

Seems to me the time might be ripe for an official Maryland State Waste of Time. Good luck narrowing it down to one.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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