A Detective Story from Yucatan, about Dinosaurs & Disaster

© Joe Tucciarone/ /Science Photo Library/Corbis

Illustration © Joe Tucciarone/ /Science Photo Library/Corbis; and National Geographic

We all love well-told stories.  I’ve long been aware of this one since taking a geology class in college many years ago, but rarely have I found it told as well as it has been by this author, writing in Nautilus.  (Pity they’ve blocked use of the gorgeous asteroid-impact illustrating their article.)  

At a language school where I volunteer here in Mexico, I’ve been using this story in coaching English pronunciation.  Yes, it has some big science words, but we don’t let that detract from the excitement of the telling, which has so much going for it, namely:  a geologist of Hispanic lineage whose father (and collaborator) was a Nobel physicist; local angle (the impact site is a 40-minute drive to the beach); brilliant use of scientific methods and thought experiments; deep resistance from other scientists who believed in gradualism rather than abrupt and cataclysmic events; and the key to learning — curiosity, combined with a tenacity to ask and pursue the right questions.  This account may not be an Indiana Jones nail-biter, but it certainly hasn’t put my students to sleep!   

The Heat Returns, but: “Mad Dogs and Englishmen Go Out in the Midday Sun”

Foto: NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory

Foto: NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory

Lest we forget, the season of doing things early in the day is soon upon us.  April and May are said to be the hottest months in Yucatan.  So here is a video reminder, with lyrics, sung by the original author:

Mad Dogs and Englishmen
(Noel Coward)

In tropical climes there are certain times of day
When all the citizens retire,
     to tear their clothes off and perspire.
It's one of those rules that the biggest fools obey,
Because the sun is much too sultry and one must avoid
     its ultry-violet ray --
Papalaka-papalaka-papalaka-boo. (Repeat)
Digariga-digariga-digariga-doo. (Repeat)
The natives grieve when the white men leave their huts,
Because they're obviously, absolutely nuts --

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
The Japanese don't care to, the Chinese wouldn't dare to,
Hindus and Argentines sleep firmly from twelve to one,
But Englishmen detest a siesta,
In the Philippines there are lovely screens,
     to protect you from the glare,
In the Malay states there are hats like plates,
     which the Britishers won't wear,
At twelve noon the natives swoon, and
     no further work is done -
But Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

It's such a surprise for the Eastern eyes to see,
That though the British are effete,
     they're quite impervious to heat,
When the white man rides, every native hides in glee,
Because the simple creatures hope he will
     impale his solar topee on a tree.
Bolyboly-bolyboly-bolyboly-baa. (Repeat)
Habaninny-habaninny-habaninny-haa. (Repeat)
It seems such a shame that when the English claim the earth
That they give rise to such hilarity and mirth -

Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
The toughest Burmese bandit can never understand it.
In Rangoon the heat of noon is just what the natives shun.
They put their scotch or rye down, and lie down.
In the jungle town where the sun beats down,
     to the rage of man or beast,
The English garb of the English sahib merely gets a bit more creased.
In Bangkok, at twelve o'clock, they foam at the mouth and run,
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen, go out in the midday sun.
The smallest Malay rabbit deplores this stupid habit.
In Hong Kong, they strike a gong, and fire off a noonday gun.
To reprimand each inmate, who's in late.
In the mangrove swamps where the python romps
     there is peace from twelve till two.
Even caribous lie down and snooze, for there's nothing else to do.
In Bengal, to move at all, is seldom if ever done,
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.