Sunday, December 21, 2008

Elitist Liberals Visit The Creation Museum

I am not particularly unusual in wanting to be there when history is unfolding. Last month I was excited about playing a tiny, tiny role in Obama's victory over John McCain. A few weeks ago, I went to the Creation Museum with my wife, two friends, and 3 of the friends' kids: one a junior in high school, another a seventh grader, the other ten years old. A bunch of smirky liberal-types making a trip to mock the Creation Museum was definitely not an historic event, but it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, we can look on the existence of such an embarrassing abomination in our nation as a 'high water mark' for the fundies' efforts to take over the show. Yeah, high water mark, Noah, ha ha.

I may be completely wrong about that. I hope not. What I do know is we wanted to see this thing for ourselves, and since it is merely a few hours away, it was no big problem to fit a visit into a Saturday. The museum is located near where Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky meet, and Kentucky was the big loser here, as it is located within that state. There's some question as to whether the locals are happy about it, as evidenced by the bullet holes in a sign near the Museum (see above. Notice the Stop sign is unscathed).

Our first impression: it is a rather large building, and the grounds with the topiary christmas-light adorned dinosaurs are extensive. The parking lot was maybe half full. There were security guys out front directing traffic, assisted by their bloodhound. A couple times during the day we saw security running through the museum, but I have no idea why. It was spooky and vaguely totalitarian.

Inside there was sticker shock when confronted by the ticket cost, which is about $20 a person, but we coughed it up. I'm sure some will be horrified I gave money to these folks, but I did it for science, so cut me some slack. The Amish or Mennonite people in front of us had no trouble with the admission, and we saw other patrons sporting beards or bonnets (but never both) throughout the day, so it appears to have caught on with that demographic, as well as with Ohio State graduates. We sure saw a lot of OSU sweatshirts that day.

Our first encounter with the generally helpful and friendly staff was with a guy named Steve. He told us the place was really only half finished; there were big things in the works. My wife said 'so, you're evolving?' and he said 'yeah', and told us about a soon-to-come attraction that was secret, but he could tell us it involved a man and a boat. We did the math, and I know that you, the reader, can too. We inquired about the 'Live Nativity' at 2pm. He told us the one at 2pm had no drama, but there was one at 6pm 'with drama'. It involved traveling to Bethlehem with a Roman Centurion so you could be taxed, and on the way you could see the baby Jesus and the manger and all that.

We got tickets not only for the museum but for something called 'created cosmos' in the Planetarium. More on that later. Near the ticket counter was a planetarium which apparently was involved in the space program somehow. It seemed rather random as it wasn't part of a bigger exhibit and didn't seem to have much to do with dinosaurs or floods, but it looked pretty sciencey I suppose.

We didn't have to walk far before encountering the first of many animatronic exhibits. A girl with a sly smirk fed a squirrel a carrot while a dinosaur who was clearly a carnivore hung out nearby, and across from them an Apatosaurus munched on some greens and made roaring noises. Here's a picture of the happy milieu:

To give you a better idea of the 'Uncanny Valley' quality of a lot of the humans, here's a close-up:

This was the first of many times I was really happy I'd left my 5-year-old daughter in the care of her grandparents.

Near this area we got schooled as to the many ways Adam's sins messed up life for everybody, causing everything from a switch from a strict vegetarian diet to Meat-Lovers Mania to the sudden transformation of once-harmless frogs to poisonous frogs:

This is in direct contradiction to the claims of a later room, where the theme is 'designed to _______'. Designed to swim. Designed to fly. Designed to cause bloody diarrhea and death. Just kidding about the last one - Ebola is not featured in the creation museum. We are to believe animals with teeth obviously 'designed' to tear flesh from bones used these teeth for vegan diets before Adam sinned.

After these insults to intelligence and common sense (the kids, particularly Alex, repeatedly remarked that the museum made them angry because some of the assertions made were so dazzlingly stupid), we went to an exhibit about the Grand Canyon. The main point of this exhibit seemed to be that no, it did not take millions of years to create the Grand Canyon, because sometimes when there's flooding a ditch can be created in a few hours. This was illustrated via a looping video which was about 40 seconds long. We watched it a few times because we wondered if we were missing something, but we weren't. There was nothing there. Repeating loops of audio or video were used rather liberally throughout the museum. It felt a bit like brainwashing.

Next we saw an exhibit about a fundie paleontologist and his Asian heathen friend. The Asian heathen is a recurring theme of the Creationists - a book in the gift shop tells the story of a young Christian girl whose Asian friend develops leukemia - caused, of course, by Adam's sin. The point here, such as it is, is that the two 'scientists' draw different conclusions because they have 'different starting points'. The Asian guy uses the scientific method, and the creationist says all the fossilized animals died in the flood because that's what it says in the Bible. Why he bothers getting dirty when he already knows all the answers is a question this exhibit doesn't answer.

It's not really clear what the point of this exhibit is. At the typical natural history museum, there are awesome skeletons of real dinosaurs, not mannequins representing imaginary paleontologists, let alone real ones, but again, this is not your typical museum, it is like a museum but without any of the science.

Later, we see a vision of what happens when the world 'turns its back on God'. Apparently, it looks like the alley of a big city, only, as my wife pointed out, 'without the urine smell'. She jokingly suggested I could fix that, but I did not. This city featured a preacher's idea of what graffiti looked like, and instead of fliers for bands, articles about Terry Schiavo and 'Gay Teens' were plastered on the walls. Apparently the theory of Evolution makes teens gay. At the end of this section, there's a bit showing pictures of Asian(?!) soldiers, a woman screaming, and audio of a Hitler speech, so Evolution is responsible for Hitler, too. Apparently the creationists aren't too up on Godwin's Law, and several signs like this suggest technology in general vexes them:

At least they have a sense of humor about it.

There was generally too much reliance on signage throughout the museum. Some rooms contained nothing but sign after sign regurgitating text from the Bible or the various ad hoc paste-on hypotheses young Earth creationists have used to paper over the gaping holes in their view of the Universe. As a museum, it really lacked the visual appeal and inspiration I got from the favorite haunts of my nerdly youth: Indianapolis' Children's Museum was chock-full of hands-on exhibits to demonstrate concepts and let a youngster experience them directly, Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry had A REAL GERMAN U-BOAT YOU CAN GO INSIDE!, the Field Museum of Natural History featured huge, honest-to-goodness dinosaur skeletons, and the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum had its assortment of air and spacecraft. Those were places that told young me it was an unbelievably rich and wonderful, unfathomably old world I lived in, not a world that serves merely as a bothersome stop on the way to a Disneyland in the sky. The world those museums showed me was a world where, while we knew a lot, there was no shortage of unanswered questions, not a world where if you asked questions you put your immortal soul at terrible risk. I felt really bad for kids who, unlike the youngsters we'd brought along with us, get dragged to this place on a regular basis because their parents bought an annual pass.

The 'Created Cosmos' show at the Planetarium was also cognitive-dissonance inducing. After walking around for a few hours, it was great to sit back in the chairs, but the show was somewhat blurry. I later noticed the lens was dirty - this blunted the dazzling effects of the Cosmos. The show discussed the nearly unfathomable scale of the Universe, and interestingly enough didn't gloss over the fact that the Earth is not the center of the Universe, or even the Galaxy. Several facts are raised as 'big trouble for secular Astronomers', without much elaboration - more a sign the makers of the film had a sorry lack of understanding of how science works than anything else. There were observations that were 'big trouble' for the 'secular Newtonian theories of Physics', but fortunately his books weren't all burned, instead Einstein's Theory of Relativity explained many of the problems with Newtonian Physics, which is still fine and dandy at sub 1/10 the speed of light.

What really caused the dissonance for me was the assertion that 'here, in this corner of one of many galaxies, is the jewel of God's creation' - that's right, Earth. Everything else, all that empty space, all those galaxies? Something for the chosen people to look at at night, something they could use for navigation. Somehow, we are also to believe godless heathens like myself, fully aware of the grand scale of the universe and our tiny insignificant place in the grand scheme of things, both time and space wise, 'only believe in ourselves' or 'worship ourselves', yet here I was being expected to have some kind of orgasm of self-importance because the whole universe is all about little old me. I suppose after this I, too, was angry.

After that show, we all went out and checked out the gardens featuring topiary dinosaurs and a live Nativity scene (the baby Jesus was fake, which is good because it was so cold), and when Joseph asked what brought us to Bethlehem and my wife said 'the path' to his befuddlement, it made me laugh a bit, and the sheer absurdity of the whole place made me think maybe, just maybe reason will win out over ignorance in the end. If not, the world is going to turn into a big city alley that smells like piss, I fear.

I leave you with a delightful image of Adam hanging out in the Garden of Eden with all the animals of the world, including a penguin! WTF is a penguin doing there? God put him there, you Theologodummy!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Python 3.0 and making it happen on MacOSX

Python 3.0 was released last week to much commentary both pro and con. I would place myself in the pro column, for reasons best articulated here: Let’s talk about Python 3.0. The story about the monkeys beating up each other is one you'll want to file away for use someday, in the event you haven't already heard it.

The big deals seem to be the all Unicode all the time, dammit, text and extensive restructuring of little annoyances and things the Python people wish they had done differently, knowing now what they do. The fact that it's admittedly 10% slower than v2 is driving some people nutty. To others, the idea of stepping back and restructuring Python so that the foundation is more sound is a worthwhile effort, especially to those of us watching the Perl saga unfold, with no schadenfreude at all in my case (I still think Perl is awesome. Perl is the language used to build the web, and in fact the universe). Having read a very long and acrimonious discussion thread re: why the hell is Perl 6 taking so long written in...2004, one of the big takeaway points was that Perl 5 had reached a point where the limit had been reached as far as building on it and tweaking it and so forth. Having not plumbed the internals of Perl 5, I can only say the guy saying 'the internals of Perl 5 are a disaster' appears to know his topic really well.

So anyway if you'd like to try out Python 3.0 and like me are a MacOSX user, there's some immediate annoyance in your future. You've got to build the thing from source, not a terrible thing, but a DMG installer would be nice. Additionally, caution is necessary if you are just wanting to install alongside 2.x, as is the case unless you are completely mad. This article provides helpful guidance. It's all well and good, unless like me you have been just using the python that 'came with' and never went through the business of getting Darwinports installed, installing readline, and so on and so forth. After a bit of Googling, this article over on zopyx proved most helpful, and now I'm up and running.

In the event Google brought you here because of similar woes, now you should have what you need.