Category: Science

California Science Center sued over documentary attacking evolution

December 29, 2009 |  5:11 am

Darwin It may not have the dramatic sweep of "Inherit the Wind," but a local court case involving a documentary film that addresses the origins of life on Earth has bigwigs in the museum world talking.

The California Science Center, located in Los Angeles' Exposition Park, has been sued for allegedly canceling an October screening of a documentary that criticizes Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

A group called the American Freedom Alliance has sued the L.A. museum, claiming that the center violated both the 1st Amendment and a contract to rent the museum’s Imax theater when it nixed the screening of “Darwin’s Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record.” 

The AFA, which sued the museum in L.A. Superior Court, is seeking punitive damages and compensation for financial losses, as well as a legal declaration from the court that the science center violated the United States Constitution and cannot refuse the AFA the right to rent its facilities for future events.

"Darwin's Dilemma" explores fossil records that some say point to the appearance on Earth of animal-like organisms without the evolutionary steps Darwin had predicted.

Also dragged into the legal mess is the Smithsonian Institution, which counts the California Science Center as one of its affiliates. Though not a defendant, the Smithsonian is mentioned prominently in at least one document that is now an exhibit in the lawsuit.

The AFA alleges that the California Science Center improperly bowed two months ago to pressure from the Smithsonian, as well as e-mailed complaints from professors at USC and others.

The American Freedom Alliance is an L.A.-based group that one of its officials describes as a nonprofit, nonpartisan "think tank and activist network promoting Western values and ideals."

Click here to read Mike Boehm's full story.

-- Mike Boehm and David Ng

Photo: Charles Darwin. Credit: Associated Press

Monster Mash: Shroud of Turin controversy; Green Day revisits hit single; new curator at Whitney

November 20, 2009 |  8:59 am

Turin -- Real or fake?: A researcher claims to have discovered text that authenticates the Shroud of Turin. (Forbes)

-- Back in the studio: The rock band Green Day is recording a new version of its hit song "21 Guns" with the cast of the stage musical "American Idiot." (Playbill)

-- New job: Scott Rothkopf will leave his position as senior editor of Artforum to become a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. (New York Times)

-- Tooting his horn: Composer Edward Elgar ("Pomp and Circumstance") was apparently a terrible trombone player. (The Independent)

-- High-tech: Two instruments that were aboard the Hubble Space Telescope go on display at the National Air and Space Museum and are scheduled to tour California. (BBC News)

-- Antitrust: Ambassador Theatre Group’s purchase of Live Nation’s UK theaters is being investigated by Britain's Office of Fair Trading. (The Stage News)

-- For the kids: Oxford will be getting a new children's museum dedicated to the art of storytelling. (The Guardian)

-- Art in motion: New York's Metrocard becomes art, sort of. (New York Times)

-- And in the L.A. Times: Times music critic Mark Swed reviews Philip Glass's latest opera; theater critic Charles McNulty reviews "Equivocation" at the Geffen Playhouse.

-- David Ng

Photo: an image of the Shroud of Turin. Credit: Ellen Jaskol / For The Times

Chita Rivera, Sidney Poitier receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

August 13, 2009 | 11:07 am

Chita Rivera President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor to Tony Award-winning actress-singer-dancer Chita Rivera, Oscar-winning actor Sidney Poitier and 14 other "agents of change" on Wednesday at a ceremony at the White House.

The award is the nation's top civilian honor.

Rivera, who originated the role of Anita in "West Side Story," won the Tony Award for best actress in a musical for 1993's "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and 1984's "The Rink." The 76-year-old actress last appeared on Broadway in 2005 in her autobiographical show "Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life."

"Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero knows that adversity comes with a difficult name," Obama said of the actress, the first Latina to receive the Medal of Freedom. She was  honored for "breaking barriers and inspiring a generation of women to follow in her footsteps."

Poitier, 82, received an Academy Award in 1962 for leading actor for his portrayal of a former GI in "Lillies of the Field," the first African American man to receive an Oscar. He was nominated for a Tony Award for his role as Walter Lee Younger in the 1960 Broadway production of "A Raisin in the Sun." Poitier, the White House said, "left an indelible mark on American culture"  and "would advance the nation's dialogue on race and respect."

Also honored were Nancy Goodman Brinker, founder of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure; Pedro Jose Greer Jr., founder of Camillus Health Concern and St. John Bosco Clinic in Florida; physicist and mathematician Stephen Hawking; Jack Kemp, the 1996 Republican vice presidential nominee, who died this year at age 73; Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts; tennis star Billie Jean King, 65; civil rights leader Rev. Joseph Lowery, 87; Joe Medicine Crow, 95, the last living Plains Indian war chief; Harvey Milk, slain gay activist and San Francisco supervisor;  former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, 79; Mary Robinson, 65, the first female president of Ireland; geneticist and cancer researcher Janet Davison Rowley; South African archibishop Desmond Tutu, 78; and Bangladeshi economist and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Muhammad Yunus, 69. (Update: An earlier version of this report omitted Sen. Edward Kennedy from the list of recipients)

-- Lisa Fung

Photo: Chita Rivera receives the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press

Astronomy and the arts: Griffith Observatory plans concert under stars

July 28, 2009 | 12:01 am


With a full moon as backdrop, the Griffith Observatory will play host Oct. 4 to an outdoor concert by the 67-piece Symphony in the Glen, the first of what organizers say will be an annual "Cosmic Conjunction" program "to link astronomy and the arts."

Organizers said it will be the first time in the observatory's 74-year history that a full symphony orchestra has performed on the lawn of the famed Griffith Park site.

LN HEADSHOT 001 The program will feature compositions that "reference the sky and cosmos," said E.C. Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory since 1974. It will conclude with the world premiere of "Observations," a piece by Arthur B. Rubinstein, conductor of Symphony in the Glen, with narration by Leonard Nimoy, a longtime supporter of the observatory who has his own connections with the cosmos courtesy of a little space drama called "Star Trek."

The concert will be repeated at 10 a.m. Oct. 6 for schoolchildren at the Greek Theatre -- an encore that Nimoy finds especially pleasing. "This is one very important step to filling the gap left by the cuts in science education in our schools," the actor said in a statement.

The event, running from 6 to 8:30 p.m. with dinner included, is designed as a fundraiser for Friends of the Observatory, a nonprofit support group. Ticket information is available from Friends of the Observatory at (213) 473-0807 or

-- Lee Margulies

Observatory photo: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

Leonard Nimoy photo: Friends of the Observatory

Schwarzenegger wants state to hand off its role in L.A. science center

May 16, 2009 |  1:33 pm

CaliforniaScienceCenter In his emergency drive to slash state spending, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hopes to save as much as $20 million annually by ending the state's involvement in the public-private partnership that runs the California Science Center in Exposition Park.

The proposal comes at the tail end of a laundry list of cost-saving and cash-generating tactics the governor issued this week in response to falling revenues and a widening, multibillion-dollar deficit. Also on the list is the sale of the neighboring Los Angeles Coliseum.

The idea of ending the state's role at the science center is in its embryonic stage, said Amanda Fulkerson, spokeswoman for the State and Consumer Services Agency that encompasses the science center and the neighboring California African American Museum, a smaller institution that has been affected by overall budget cuts but is not part of Schwarzenegger's load-shedding bid.

"I can't tell you definitively if anyone is interested in taking ownership or how much it will save us," Fulkerson said. The proposal, she said, had been "floated internally" by Schwarzenegger's administration but had not been discussed with officials of the California Science Center Foundation, the state's partner in running and funding the 245,000-square-foot exhibition hall. A new World of Ecology wing is under construction and scheduled to open next year, but Schwarzenegger's 2009-10 budget calls for delaying its opening an additional year to save $5 million.

Continue reading »

Tarantula tempura? Sweet and sour silkworms? It's the Bug Fair!

May 13, 2009 | 12:00 pm


Now in its 23rd year, the Bug Fair is one of the most popular events at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. The event, running Saturday and Sunday, is expected to draw 20,000 people with its interactive booths and live demonstrations.

One of the biggest (and ickiest) attractions of the fair is sure to be the Insect Chef demonstrations. This year's menu of edible bugs will either make you hurl -- or salivate with delight.

Six different entrees will be served up, each utilizing a specific insect as its main ingredient. Chef David George Gordon will prepare scorpions, tarantulas, silkworms, grasshoppers and more.

The menu comprises popular insect entrees so that as many people as possible can partake, according to Brent Karner, an insect specialist at the museum.

All attendees are invited to join in on the entomological feast, though having an iron stomach is a definite must.

Keep reading for the full menu of tasty bugs...

Continue reading »

Monster Mash: Breaking news and headlines

February 18, 2009 |  8:36 am

Helen_mirren-- Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company opens 2009-10 season with Helen Mirren in "Phedre."

-- What's next for Orange County high school students whose production of "Rent" was banned? "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

-- Architect Thom Mayne talks about his design for the Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Caltech.

-- League of American Theatres and Producers' annual Broadway demographic survey finds the most popular method of purchasing tickets was online; tourists purchased 65% of the nearly 12.3 million tickets sold.

-- New Smithsonian Institution chief Wayne Clough shares his vision for the troubled organization.

-- Talk show host Jerry Springer set to give 'em the old razzle dazzle in West End production of "Chicago."

-- Designer Giorgio Armani donates $1 million for arts programs in New York schools.

-- Caryl Churchill's new play, "Seven Jewish Children," accused of anti-Semitism.

-- Spanish artist's Damien Hirst suicide sculpture stirs controversy at art fair in Madrid.

-- Will Eddie Izzard return to Broadway in Dario Fo's "Accidental Death of an Anarchist?"

-- Lisa Fung

Photo: Helen Mirren at last year's Academy Awards ceremony. Credit: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times

New Smithsonian chief sees technological future

February 17, 2009 |  3:45 pm

Wayne_clough_2When Wayne Clough, right, the new secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, delivered his installation address in Washington, D.C., last month, he spoke about new technology as a key to the troubled organization's future.

"We need to make our collections, talented scholars and other resources accessible worldwide by providing additional platforms and vehicles for educating and inspiring large audiences," he said. "Our job is to authenticate and inform the significance of the collections, not to control access to them. It is no longer acceptable for us to share only 1% of our 137 million specimens and artifacts in an age when the Internet has made it possible to share it all. In doing this, the relevance of the Smithsonian to education can be magnified many times over."

Seven months into his new job, the former president of Georgia Institute of Technology faces many challenges. As successor to Lawrence M. Small, who resigned last year amid charges of financial abuse and irresponsible governance, Clough must restore faith in the Smithsonian, which gets about 65% of its $1-billion annual budget from the federal government. At the same time, he must revitalize and update a gargantuan institution that runs 19 museums, nine research centers, the National Zoo and research projects around the world.

On a recent trip to Los Angeles to meet with Smithsonian associates and supporters, Clough took a break to talk about what's going on at his new professional home.

For more for on the subject, read the story here or in Wednesday's Calendar section.

-- Suzanne Muchnic

Photo credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times   

L.A.-spawned spaceflight saga is launched in Portland

January 5, 2009 |  4:41 pm

A scene from L.A.-spawned Apollo space saga at Portland Center Stage

If anyone doubts the difficulty of creating a play with beyond-stratospheric ambitions, consider that it took the United States' space program a bit more than eight years to send a crew to the moon after President Kennedy's initial 1961 challenge to achieve that feat -- and it has taken nearly as long for L.A. director and playwright Nancy Keystone to bring "Apollo," her epic about spaceflight, to the launching pad for its first complete staging.

The countdown ends Jan. 16 at Portland Center Stage in Oregon, when the fully realized "Apollo" will have its premiere. The play's first two sections, then dubbed "Apollo [Part 1] -- Lebensraum," premiered in 2005, as part of the inaugural season of the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. By then, Keystone already had started pushing the work's envelope, expanding it under a grant secured by the Portland theater, where she has directed four other plays since 2000, including her own adaptation of Sophocles' "Antigone."

The result will be a 3-1/2 hour, three-act evening encompassing "Lebensraum," "Gravity" (a new title for what in L.A. was the second act of "Lebensraum"), and the brand-new "Liberation."

The 12-member cast embodies dozens of roles, including escaped 1850s slave Dred Scott, Jules Verne, Mickey Mouse, Adolf Hitler and George Wallace; four of the actors are holdovers from the L.A. production.

The show at the Douglas dealt with the wonder of advances in rocket science -- and the moral rot beneath the surface due to key roles played by German refugees who helped drive the American space effort -- having previously learned their craft on the V2 rockets that the Nazis built with slave labor and that rained on Britain during World War II.

Continue reading »

Monster Mash: News and Headlines

November 21, 2008 | 10:34 am

-- The arts community reacts to recently reported financial woes at MOCA. The Times' Mike Boehm talked about the issue yesterday with Larry Mantle on KPPC-FM 89.3 (here's the link to the audio). And a public discussion Sunday will tackle the topic.

Dudamel_and_shaham -- Gustavo Dudamel, who takes over as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009, surprised violinist Gil Shaham last night by showing up at Lincoln Center during a PBS broadcast performance of "Live From Lincoln Center" to present Shaham with the 2008 Avery Fisher Prize.

-- Crime novelist Patricia Cornwell has donated $1 million to Harvard University to establish a conservation scientist position to further the examination of art materials.

-- Quebecois theater artist Robert LePage -- who is appearing with Ex Machina in "The Blue Dragon" through Saturday at UCLA's Freud Playhouse -- will team up with dancer Sylvia Guillem and choreographer Russell Maliphant to create a new show called "Eonnagata" to be part of the 2009 season at London's Sadler's Wells Theatre.

-- The Cleveland Museum of Art will turn over ancient artifacts and an early Renaissance cross to Italy, Italian officials announced Wednesday.

-- Writer Irving Brecher, who penned jokes for Milton Berle and scripted Marx Brothers movies, has died in Los Angeles at age 94. Read our obituary.

-- Diane Haithman

Photo: Gustavo Dudamel (left) presents Gil Shaham with the 2008 Avery Fisher Prize. Credit: Henry Grossman / Avery Fisher Artist Program


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