Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: MUSEUMS IN COLORADO

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

Spending a few days in Denver on a project, I stopped in to revisit some museums in the area.

Now THAT’S a dinosaur!

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is quite a museum, with a blend of old and new exhibits.  Right now they are hosting the touring Pirates exhibit that was in Chicago when I was last there.  I skipped that, walked past the mummies and the spectacular wildlife dioramas and ran straight to the dinosaurs, of course.  The new addition I noticed there was a spectacular video depicting early Earth, from shortly after its formation through a few hot and cold cycles, or roughly until life began.  I stood and watched it several times.  Mesmerizing.  The exhibit does a nice job of describing evolution and early life, ending with a spookily-realistic sculpture of Lucy, our ancestor.  Be sure to find your way to the observation deck that looks out over Denver, and look for Gary Staab’s new (and massive) Brachiosaurus sculpture that is rearing up on its hind legs next to the parking garage.  Another new feature is an ongoing dig in Snowmass, Colorado, where a treasure trove of Pleistocene fossils are being uncovered.  It’s called The Snowmastodon Project, and despite a labored attempt to make this the “Knut” of the museum marketing world, it’s a very exciting project that can be followed on-line!

The Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum is located on the old Lowry Air Force Base grounds, and features a squeaky-clean hangar populated with some interesting birds (a B-1 Bomber and an X-Wing fighter from Star Wars, for example).  It’s a nice museum, with a room dedicated to the history of the Colorado Air National Guard (that has been flying as a unit since 1923).

Down the highway is the Pueblo Wiesbrod Aircraft Museum, which is packed with the history of the B-24 bombers that flew there in WW2.  The most impressive feature here is the B-29 Superfortress inside the first hangar.  Wow.  Not a bad medium-sized air museum, if you’re in the neighborhood.

The last Denver museum I visited was The Denver Art Museum.  But, to be honest, I only dashed in there to lay eyes upon my favorite painting in their collection (“Childhood Idyll”: by William Adolphe Bouguereau).  I hadn’t been in there since they opened the brand new building that is now the main entrance and, frankly, it gave the impression of more building than any museum could handle.  The older part of the museum seems to have remained much as it was, which is good, I think, with the newer part being reserved for changing exhibitions, large and small.  Denver has a habit, I’ve noticed, of rather self-consciously trying to build itself into major city status through architecture and impossible-to-avoid huge public sculpture, and the new museum building fits in this scheme.  Having said that, it’s a nice art museum that is currently displaying a fine collection of contemporary western landscapes, some of which I found mesmerizing and moving (“Western Horizons: Landscapes from the Contemporary Realism Collection” Through October 21).

t.n.s.r. bob

SERMON: “A Year of Bob!”

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

After 53 “Sermons”, 49 Reviews and 56 Cartoons, it time to wish a Happy First Anniversary to, well, us!  And by “us” I mean the you and me that make up “the church of bob”.   Lets take a moment to look back.

It all began with a "church service" to celebrate Darwin's 200th birthday!

Many of you were there when this whole thing started with the “Happy Birthday Charles Darwin at the Church of Evolution with the not-so-reverend bob” performances in February of 2009 (Darwin’s 200th birthday).  In the months that followed, I pondered what to do with the enthusiasm for that blend of science, reason and entertainment that packed the house for two nights at the Black Box Theater (and brought another hundred folks to the encore at The Rio Grande Theater a month or so later).

It wasn’t until late last year that I came to the idea of first the website, and then the weekly “boblog” of the not-so-reverend bob.  On Sunday, January 3rd, I posted my first on-line “sermon”, and have been posting them every week since.

It’s been a consistent pleasure to write for the “church”, and I’ve been happily surprised to find that I have not run dry on things to “preach” about.  (It helps that I’ve set myself a schedule of reading a new science book every week — a schedule I’ve had to allow to be a bit flexible, depending on the length and density of the book in hand!).  It turns out that the practice of writing and reading every week has accelerated the evolution of my ideas regarding belief, the “meaning” of things, and how I view us humans in a natural and social context (I keep thinking that my thinking will slow down at some point and settle into a more quiet contemplation, but for now I keep chugging along).

And, of course, there have been the many conversations (short and long) with those of you who call me “reverend” when we

The "not-so-reverend bob" contemplates his next sermon...

meet in public!  As the Bible puts it, “Iron sharpens iron”, and each time I talk about this stuff with you, my thinking is sharpened, and my perspective is enlarged.

In short, we have formed a small community here, and I like that.  I’m a social monkey, and I treasure the notion of sharing ideas and discoveries that can be picked up and made useful by other monkeys (be they in my troop or not).

In the wider world, the majority of humans still espouse a bewildering range of irrational beliefs, some fairly benign, some downright dangerous, even as they go about their lives blithely unaware of the benefits of living in an age of science.  In a recent T.V. interview, a new “TEA Party” Congressman stated that he didn’t “believe” in global warming and went on to state that it was part of a “natural cycle” that had been going on for all of earth’s (presumably) long history, concluding with the observation that the land he was then standing on was once a swamp “in the time of the dinosaurs”.  I thought about this for a moment: here is a representative in Washington, D.C. that does not accept science when it comes to climate change, but does accept the findings of climatology, geology and paleontology regarding climatic variation, ancient swamps, plate tectonics, evolution and species extinction (at least on some level, even though I suspect he’d be in the young-earth creationist camp).  To which I want to respond: “Okay, even if climate change is a natural event, shouldn’t we be working to not end up like the extinct Dinosaurs of the now-defunct swamp?”

Ah, we humans are funny critters, equipped with brains that give us glimpses of such greatness as to give us all hope, even as those same brains betray us in ways that remind us we are still flinching, aggressive and fearful animals only recently removed from our “tooth and claw” past.

Just one great book out of the 44 I read and reviewed this year.

Should I call it ironic that current brain science is starting to figure out the how and why of our amazing capacity for irrationality?  I guess I’d call it ironic, because even as brain science employs our highest capacities for reason it is revealing just how tenuous a grasp our cobbled-together mammalian brain has on these “higher” faculties.  Maybe it’s more a paradox, in that we are able to use our mind to figure out just how out-of-our-mind we generally are!

It’s an exciting time to be alive, nevertheless, and I’m glad to be a small part of the discussion and (one hopes) our continuing evolution to a more rational and evidence-based society.

Thank you for a year of your attention, feedback, donations and encouragement.  Happy New Year, and bob bless!

t.n.s.r. bob

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: Two great museums.

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Each time I tour my John Singer Sargent performance across the country, I make a point of stopping at as many interesting museums as I can.  Of course I’m a sucker for any billboard that has a dinosaur on it, but that weakness has led me to two really outstanding museums in places that would normally lead me to expect merely average at best.

I keep talking about two in particular, and thought I should use this forum to introduce you to them should your travels ever take you near them (and since they are both very close to Interstate 40, the chances might be good!).

YOU’RE THE REASON GOD MADE OKLAHOMA?

Battle of the Titans at the Sam Noble MuseumThe first is the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman, Oklahoma.  This place was good when I visited it some years ago, so I was stunned by the massive makeover it went through by the time visited again last year.  Their Hall of Ancient Life is comprehensive and extensive.  One highlight is the skull of a Pentaceratops that was excavated at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, and is the largest dinosaur skull ever found.  If that’s not impressive enough, that skull is now mounted on an entire skeleton (one of the results of the recent “makeover”).  An interesting side note is a bulletin board where school children that visit can leave comments.  Being in the “Bible Belt”, there are always a few chastising the museum for not telling the “truth” about dinosaurs!

Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History is located at 2401 Chautauqua Ave. in Norman, Oklahoma and is part of the University of Oklahoma. The phone number is: 405.325.4712

AMARILLO BY MORNING?

Even more surprising was what I found after a slight detour through Amarillo about a year ago.  Lured once more by a dinosaurDinosaurs in Amarillo!  Oh My! on a billboard, I came upon the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas.  Expecting a lot of bluster about Texas, Cowboys and Oil, I was very surprised to see a tremendous exhibit of fossils, including an impressive series of skulls of extinct bison.  There is a big section on the history of the oil business, to be sure, which is actually worth seeing, as well as a great exhibit on the evolution of local Texas life from the frontier, to Route 66 and beyond.

There are parts of the museum that are clearly very old, and have not been changed much.  But they provide a sort of charming tableau of what was once a modest museum that has now been so clearly guided by a definite vision into a very comprehensive and delightful destination.  I can’t recommend the PPHM enough!  Go for the dinosaurs (it turns out the nearby Palo Duro Canyon is a fossil goldmine for certain eras of life — you’ll find Dimetrodons there!), stay for the indoor oil derrick!

As the museum director says on their website: “From dinosaurs to modern art, from saddles to automobiles, we have it all…”  And I can attest that this is a true statement!

The Panhandle Plains Historical Museum is at 2503 Fourth Ave in
Canyon, Texas.  Phone: 806.651.2244

(If you do go to Amarillo, I can also suggest you skip the “Big Texan” steak house.  Tastier bits to chew can be found along the highway!)

As a side note, a friend tipped me off that the The Albuquerque Museum of Art & History is hosting a special exhibition: Turner to Cézanne, Masterpieces from the Davies Collection, National Museum Wales, May 16 – August 8, 2010.  A rare chance to see some real names on real paintings in New Mexico.  Tickets are only five bucks (added to the three buck entry for NM residents).  What a deal!

The Albuquerque Museum is located at 2000 Mountain Road NW, at the intersection of Mountain Road and 19th Street, directly west of Tiguex Park.  Call 505-243-7255.

t.n.s.r. bob