A Bit More Catching Up

July 18, 2007

Good morning from Starbucks on Medford! I’ve been here long enough that the staff has be doing chores. Guess I could always try my hand at being a barista again (if Suzanne and Nicole would let me the cabin long term ūüėČ It’s a good day at Starbucks; new music rotation (was getting quite tired of Sir Paul and some ethno-punk-reggae mix) and I got a free drink for wrenching the top off of a reluctant vanilla bottle.

¬†I’ll spare you all the ongoing struggle with the field mice at the cabin. I’ve caught 2 and found 3 dead. Not sure what has cause the proliferation of murine invaders. Ironically I was almost a distant immunological cousin to one of these creatures. During my heart surgery five years ago I agreed to paticipate in the testing of a murine (mouse)¬†antibody in preventing the formation of micro-embolism in patients on the heart/lung machine. Blinded trial so no one knew whether I was made a mouse “blood brother” or not. However, six months after the trial I was tested for the presence of the murine antibody in my blood stream. Future exposures to mouse products could result in a serious allergic reaction (like I need more stuff to go wrong). The results were revealed to me and…no antibodies for me. Guess that’s why I have little sympathy for the vermin under my bed (although as I said…they are kinda cute).

Back to DC for a moment: How I managed to see as much as I did in the Washington Mall area still surprises me. Some of my looking was by zoom lense but I did manage to walk half of the Mall from the Smithsonian castle to the WWII Memorial and back. Stops along the way included the Museum of Natural History (hotbed of “evil’ lutionary activities including actual¬†fossil extractions and extensive dating efforts), the Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery, the National Archives, the Washington Monument, and the World War II Memorial. Unfortunately I did not get to see Mi Lyn’s Vietnam Memorial masterpiece. My legs barely got me back to the Mall Metro stop before the showers started.

The Natural History Museum, of course, was very impressive although I have overdosed on the wealth of data and evidence for the self evident process of evolution in organic systems. The evolution that struck me most keenly was found not among hundreds of multi-million year old fossils but stately presented in true ephemeral grace in the Hall of Charters in the Archive’s rotunda. The wait was short, 30 minutes, considering the national treasures to be viewed. All the “big boys” where there; the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence along with personal “working copies of the constitutional documents” used by Washington in his role as chairman of the Convention. Lighting and age preventing any actually reading of most of the documents (this didn’t stop people with mini-video cameras from shooting sans flash for minutes at a time…a nice book of all the documents was available in the gift shop for less than $10) but I can assure you of two things: John Hancock’s name is really big on the bottom of the Declaration and the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights really does say “make¬†no law” regarding an establishment of religion.

One final observation concerning my fellow visitors; there were a number of foreign visitors of a variety of lands and languages. I was particularly taken with an adoptive German father talking passionately with his adopted Asian daughter in german over a particulary striking piece of work in the Sculpture Garden. There was one¬†fact that was so evident that to not mention it would be like not seeing the Washington Monument from the edge of the Elipse. I could count the number of African American visitors on one hand in the Archives, fewer still in the Sculpture Garden, and a handful more in the Natural History Palace (mostly as part of a family group of mixed races and ethnicities). This was in almost absolute contrast to the security staffs of the Museum and of the Archives which were exclusively African American on the shift for which I was present. Is there a question to be asked here? And a possible answer? It could all be a matter of coincidence and timing. Perhaps some folks were worn out from the Folk Festival on the Mall from the previous week. Or is race still so divisive in the Nation’s Capitol that the best that we have to share is unapproachable by those most in need of a clear understanding of the “rules of the game” codified in the documents in the Archive and the world view enshrined in all the other repositories of achievement and art. This question is worth thinking about for awhile and any comments are most welcome.

On a somewhat related note: the Archive has the complete documents from the arrest and arraignment of Rosa Parks. I have a postcard for¬†Ms. Brown¬†showing the bus layout and Ms. Park’s seat. The simple diagram makes this historical watershead so very tangible and even personal.

I only skimmed¬†the obvious bits¬†of the Capitol. A shoddy reconnisence at best. Many trips will be needed just to complete a simple inventory of treasure to sample. I’ll be back and, thanks to Steve and Kathryn, I’ll probably have a great place to stay.

More, as alway, later. Carrsville next. Now who can find that on a map?

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A Late Night Update

July 10, 2007

Hot day in Medford Lakes and a hotter one tomorrow. Makes for nocturnal reading, writing, and (sadly) eating. Being healthy with a little hummus and pita break. I was finally able to track down a new memory card for the camera and salvage a few photos from NYC. Unfortunately about 25 shots¬†were lost including some great ones of the Brooklyn Bridge. A good enough excuse to go back for another visit, I say! Those photos, of the Hayden Planetarium, a single selection from the celebrated Central Park, and a woman cooking was all that survived the battery flame up during my Water Taxi ride in NYC and are posted on the photo site. I suspect I am the culprit; opening and closing the camera lens to protect the lens from river spray overheated things a bit. I’ve learned my $19.95 lesson!

More travels upcoming: Beltsville Maryland and DC, southern Virginia and my brother’s tree farm, and quick visits to Baltimore and Richmond over the next week. Am looking forward to seeing friends in Beltsville. He (Steve)¬†works for NASA and she (Kathryn) is a physical therapist and my goddess daughter’s god mother. Will try to interest Steve in working on an educational grant to design a secondary education course to specifically teach evolution as a science elective rather than just as a part of a biology class (where, surprisingly, it gets low billing and is often muddled and mis-handled). Another possibility is to design in school “science academies” in climate change and space exploration. Might try to interest that famous astronomer, Jeremy Perkins, in a bit of that project!

I promise more pictures (and a little less politics) during the coming week!

Editor’s Note: I stand corrected. Uncle Steve and Aunt Kathryn no longer live in Beltsville MD. They have moved up the real estate ladder and now reside in Silver Springs. Seems they slipped out of town a few years back. This, of course, explains why my Xmas cards to them have been returned the last two years! Time to update the address book.


Dangerous Idea, Part 2

June 15, 2007

Hello from 4th and Vine in downtown Cincinnati. I’m in need of extra caffiene to get through part 2 of my reflections on the “Creation Museum” in Petersburg, KY (a project of Answers in Genesis). Yes, I did lose some sleep over this one. I recall saying that I was going to try and have a balanced approach to this issue of creation pseudo-science. And by balance I meant an attempt to be open and sympathtic to the holders of these views. As there is no controversy or scientific clash over any of the core issues of either evolution or the basic mechanics of the scientific method, there is nothing to “balance.” Creation science, and it’s driving dogma of Intelligent Design, are religious and, yet¬†again, ¬†political “creations” that are gathering thunderclouds on an approaching¬†horizon. After my encounters yesterday, I now found it very difficult to be generous of intent.

Thirty years ago, as an aspiring philosopher working his way through the gems of Scholastic Theology, I accepted the Argument¬†from Design as an interesting but ultimately flawed methodology for proving the existence of an all powerful god. Scholasticism and the urgent struggle with dancing angels on the tips of pins gave way to Francis Bacon and the beginnings of real empiricism and scientific method. No more metaphysical relativism. Facts and facts and more facts, forcing us forward to define clear statements of verifiable reality, in a language that trancended individual biases and preoccupations. And yes, Charles Darwin was an accomplished practioner of this method. His works remain, even with the missing tools of genetics, massive taxonomical databases, and plate techtonics, an intellectual and rational response to all of creation psuedo-scientism. He wins this debate before it even starts so I’ll leave the particulars to others (see links and citations below for some great readings to provide to your local school board and science teachers).

You see, the Creation Museum isn’t about science, or truth, or even the origin of life. It’s a neatly wrapped box, with ribbons on tunnels and baubles of “interactive” experiences, targeted at the ancient segments of the human brain. It’s about branding a frighten emotional response into the minds of true believers in order to separate them from the godless world and the vast majority of decent people who live in it.¬†Think Waco or Jim Jones with lots of money and political leverage. This world of ours is in decay and hellbent on hell. All pain is the result of the orginal fall from grace combined with our refusal to accept the unwavering word of god. When judgement comes, in the very near future, those “left behind” will not just be bereft of god’s countenance. They will suffer unspeakable pains at the hands of the “final Adams” who will mete out god’s judgement.

There is little if any real evidence on display. 90% of the exhibits are carefully crafted video feeds, spewing forth simultaneously from multiple screens, claustrophobic hallways of rapid news reel and TV news feeds or second rate dioramas of prehistoric and biblical scenes. The “tunnel of time,” an arch walkway of perhaps 20 feet, is a laughable black tunnel wth lots of last year’s twinkly holiday lights suggesting the perfection of the celestial firmament. The anomatronic dinosaur, spotted shortly before the fall of man due to Eve’s seduction by the serpent,¬†is simplistic by current science museum standards.

The museum patron has little if any control over the exhibits or the flow of the experience. Images of all things Nazi Germany are a special favorite¬†of the video walls,¬†flashing a sense of fear and doom into the passive limbic system. All good displays channel viewers through the sometimes complicated presentations. The better¬†exhibits, like the previously mention Illinois State Museum “Changes” exhibit in Springfield, offer multiple options and plenty of light and¬†air.¬†This museum funnels viewers through dark and shrinking warrens with all exit doors closed or blocked by smiling creationist docents attired in faux field fossil dig fashions. No deviation from the proper path is encouraged and¬†one older visitor had to be helped out of the exhibits by “security” staff after¬†she became disoriented trying to find an exit to a bathroom.

Let me not forget the “security” or Creation Museum Protection Services officers. When I pulled through the gates of the Museum estate I was greeted by a large Kentucky State Police Trooper in full gear, K-9 dogs included. At least, he really looked like a State Trooper in two-tone beige/brown uniform, round brim “smokey bear” hat and utility belt. At closer inspection (like right up close so I could see the Answers in Creation corporate logo on his shoulder), he was just one of a number of Protection Officers prepared to protect the Museum from…what? When was the last time you went to a public museum that had guard dogs and fake State Troopers as parking attendants? This alone speaks volumes about the indoctrinal techniques of the Museum sponsors. Fake police, overkill security, frightening intimations¬†of impending doom, mind numbing video displays (recall the training segments from the short-lived James Cameron TV sci fi series, Dark Angel?), and “Stepford Staff” of true blue tour guides. To top it off, they even had a special “Men in White”¬†theatre segment¬†to explain the real deal of how the universe works. I skipped this¬†part of the exhibit. I recall there being some type of mind erasing tool wielded by Tommy Lee Jones in the “Black” movies and I wanted no part of the Creationism version.

Just as this Museum has nothing to do with science it also has nothing to do with the search for truth. The opening exhibit presents a video of two “colleagues” on a dig discussing how their different starting points explain their different interpretation of the facts of fossils and the massive geological record of physical upheaval and organic evolution. The hatless, t-shirt wearing NON-WHITE scientist explains in a halting voice that he “believes” these fossils are millions of years old because the theory of evolution tells him so. His older, WHITE, creationist associate, decked out in proper head gear, safari vest, and real scientist work boots explains how the Bible more clearly documents the entombment of these poor creatures in the GREAT FLOOD that was god’s justifed response to the wickedness of man. Is not the pot calling the cultural kettle black? I’m certain that this “same facts, different starting point” is as close to a simple definition of relativism as you can get. Shame on those creation scientists for waffling on the absolute nature of truth.

And, finally, speaking further of the relative nature of truth…INCEST! The exhibit actually tries to explain how Cain come up with a wife in Genesis by asserting that, since we all decended from the same parents, we all marry a relative in some small way. And, at this point in biblical history, God had not made incest a sin so it was perfectly okay to marry your sister or propogate with your daughters (forget not Lot). And there seems to have been a dispensation for Noah and his brood. I believe Caligula made this same argument along with the Marquis de Sade.

Do not take these people lightly. They hold these beliefs as firmly as gravity holds my mass to the surface of this planet. At the very least, hide your daughters. What we all should do, more productively, is watch our town councils and schools boards very closely for signs of creationist encroachment. Do not let an opportunity pass to insist that creationism is religious dogma, not science, not good public policy, and not good education. There is no “other side” to represent, no “controversy” to teach. Inspect textbooks and the stands of political candidates. We have three candidates lusting for presidential office who hold firm to the creationist mythology. Is the closet empty?

I need to end this rant. Below are some useful web resources. I’ve included the web site for the Creation Museum out of fairness. The site is free. Admission to the Museum was $19.95 (it was $9.00 for the Churchill Down’s Museum and the movie was much better!).

Future reading and surfing:

http://www.nytimes.com/pages/science/sciencespecial2/index.html

http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/home.php

http://www.creationmuseum.org/


Another Dangerous Idea

June 14, 2007

Hey from Sharonville, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati off of route 75 North. I’m snug in a Hilton Garden Suites and thinking seriously of hiding until my trip to the ballpark tomorrow night. I have to confess that, while the drive from Louisville was pleasant and without mishap, the visit to the alleged “museum” of the Creation in Petersburg was very upsetting. In fact, I would have to say that the experience was frightening given the mix of religion, psuedo-science, and hidden politcal agenda that was so skillfully propogated to a fairly unquestioning group of visitors.

Seriously, I am so distressed by this experience that I really need to sort out my thoughts on all the issues before I try to construction a commentary.¬†One thing I will say…do not dismiss these people. The developers of this edifice are committed to more than just presenting a “disrespected” religion/scientific belief in a more positive light. They mean to spread a doctrine of religious absolutism that labels¬†EVERYONE who fails to see the god revealed truth of creation as perpretrators and facilitators of evil, drug addiction, sexual excess, nazism, socialism, gay everything, moral decay, child porn, disease epidemics, and religious tolerance (yes, religious diversity and tolerance is a very bad thing for these folks).

And death for all these unfortunate unbeliever may not be too severe a divine necessity. After all, god has done it before. The last time I felt this intense an emotional response was after a visit to the concentration camp at Dachua. There is something vile about this place nestled in the green farmlands of northern Kentucky. Something wicked this way comes. More tomorrow.


Off to the Pontoon Races

June 6, 2007

Greetings from Indianapolis! Home of, of, of…I’ll take suggestions. Actually it is home to my sister, her husband and their two kids. It’s a lovely town with a bit of a crime problem. Coming from St. Louis I can’t be too uppity. I’m on the west side of Indy, on a man-made lake with very nice homes, boat docks, and pontoon boats. More on the pontoon boat later.

I arrive in Indiana, allowing for the time zone change, around 6 PM local time. Indiana has joined the temporally civilized and added daylight savings time to their collective lists of spring chores. I never got the hang of Indiana time and I’m sure my sister will be glad to¬†no longer hear me ask “What time is it now in Indiana?”

Parting thoughts on Springfield: highly recommended. Nice people that seem to manage real life in a historical setting. The Illinois State Museum was a pleasant surprise. Dedicated to all things Illinois, the Musuem has recently open an interactive exhibit on geological, ecological, and biological change of time beginnng 500 million years ago. Illinois like many parts of the US midwest lack fossils from the Jurassic period, the time of the big dinosaurs. Due primarily to tremendous geoligical activity after the big beasties bought it in the Yucatan rock incident 65 million years ago, the Museum none the less had an exceptional display of Pennsylvanian era fossils, a coal and peat making display, and great stuff from the last Ice Age (blamed appropriately, I think, on Wisconsin).

In a rather small area, the “Changes” exhibit packs interactive Q&A, touchie-feelie stuff the the kids (yeah, okay, I felt up the beaver pelt too), and life size staff 2-D models that gave a very personal feel to the instruction. And, if you fail to look up you will miss 20% of the exhibit. Overhead, a giant “ribbon of life” documents physically the time scale of the evolution of life on earth. Much cooler than the usual “time-line” although they did utilize a “thermometer”type of time marker for all the the exhibits to help you stay in the proper moment. And there were dozens of native artifacts, including an extensive collection of tools essential to the once thriving economic life of the Illinois River tribes. A really great exhibit that will require future visits.

I wonder what I’ll find in Petersburg?

Anyway,¬†I won’t ¬†leave you in suspense any longer about the pontoon boat. I got to my sister’s house just in time to aid my brother-in-law in a minor crisis. They have decided to sell their 24 foot pontoon excusion boat to concentrate on the speedier stuff in the family collection (paddle boat, tubes, jet ski). Unfortunately, the boat developed a starter problem while at the marina about five miles from the family dock. The only option was to take one of the other boats, head off to the marina, lasso the crippled pontoon boat, and tow it home. As the cliche goes…easier said than done.

The ride to the marina was pleasant, the weather cooling and breezy. It struck me that it was the second time in 4 days that I was out on the water. That equals the number of times I’ve spent one a boat in the last 20 years! Hooking up with the pontoon boat took some serous creativety with knots and nooses. No one ended up in the drink fortunately and the tow back to the home cove went surprisingly well considering…considering the constant vigilance for oncoming wakes of speed boats and skiers. In spite of the rocking and rolling, the cruise went well. I’m thinking of adding First Mate to my list of career options!


I woke up in Havana

June 5, 2007

“It’s a special edition of Today…” I clicked on the TV while I was making coffee in the Red Roof bathroom (my own stash, french press, french roast, hot pot. I came prepared with the real essentials!) and found the Today Show live from Havana, Cuba. Did Castro die? Did we finally wake up and liftthe silly embargo? No. Matt Lauer and company got in on letters of transit as “news” people. A lot of Americans were hanging about, apparently on medical¬†reviewsor special missions. A few probably came in illegally from Canada, Mexico, or the rest of the world. Big fine for traveling to Cuba illegally: $250,000 fine and 10 years in prison. There was a couple from St. Louis in the crowd, duly interviewed by Matt, so they could announce that “they” were pregnant. Talk about irrefutable evidence of a crime! Could be a prison baby in the making here if these folks don’t have a good excuse.

I’m still in Springfield but headed for Indianapolis to spend a few days with my sister Mary, her husband David, and nieces Amy and Mandy. Mandy is all grown up and off at college so I’ll be enlisted into “Team Amy,” the touring theatrical, dancing, singing phenomenon that is my sister’s daughter. No beauty queen nonsense here. Serious song and dance and maybe, just maybe, some serious shot at the Great White Way. Amy is very¬†talented and committed. I hope to get her to teach me how to dance while I’m there (To Dream the Impossible Dream…)

One more stop before I hit route 36 East for Decatur and on to Indy. The Illinois State Museum. They have amassed a major collection of animal and plant fossils from the ancient belly of North America. I definitely want to catch them before they become illegal. Now I promise to be balanced on this issue. Look for a special report from Petersburg, KY in a few weeks.