Posted by: GeekHiker | May 12, 2009

Geeky On Multiple Levels

Last weekend I hit a couple of levels of geekdom on the same day.

Saturday I headed up with a friend to the Reagan Library up in Simi Valley.  No, not because I’ve decided to give up my liberal ways and become all things Republican, but because they had a special exhibit going on that I wanted to see before it closes in June.

Presidential libraries are in interesting thing, at least judging by the two I’ve been to.  They’re a mix of historical record (being the repository of the papers and documents of a presidential administration) and hero-worship (being funded by private, and largely partisan, supporters of said administration).

It was in high school that I visited the FDR Library in upstate New York while on a family vacation, finding it filled with displays of the deeds of his four terms.  Much attention was given to things like the CCC and WPA; little, as I recall, to places like Manzanar, not surprisingly.

I’d last ventured to the Reagan Library about 10 years ago, when they had a display of Cold War spy gear from both the US and Russia.  Cabinets filled with tiny cameras, decoding machines, and poison-tipped umbrellas.  The remainder of the library was dedicated to the life and times of President Reagan.  They were quite flattering, but still interesting as Reagan is really the first president I remember in a “concrete” way.

(I’d probably remember Carter more, and have certainly been admiring of his deeds in his post-presidential life but, frankly, I was probably too busy playing with my Star Wars toys.)

The displays today have been completely redone and so didn’t match my memories at all.  The galleries are expanded, and a new extension leads out to the previous incarnation of Air Force One, housed in its own building.  The plane sits mounted on pedestals two stories over the ground floor (on which sits a Marine One), and you even get to walk through the plane.

I don’t care what your political party is, that’s pretty cool.

The remainder of the displays were interesting and, surprisingly, less partisan than I remember them being before.  Ten years ago, for example, the displays essentially credited Reagan for “ending” the Cold War; today the text says that he “contributed to the ending” of the Cold War.  A subtle difference, perhaps, but certainly a slightly more accurate picture.

Though there’s no way to escape without hearing the words “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” multiple times.

* * *

The special exhibit I’d gone out to see was an original sheepskin parchment copy of the Magna Carta.  The exhibit itself is pretty small, just three rooms, but enough to give you a good history of the document and it’s origins, as well as how it laid the groundwork for documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.  The museum even gives each visitor a copy of the complete text when you enter.

The Magna Carta

The Magna Carta

At the end of the exhibit is the document itself: dimly lit by blue lights in a case.  The penmanship is exquisite: each letter precisely drawn, each capital serif done with flourish.  It reminded me that such penmanship is, doubtless, a dying art in our day of e-mail, texting and, dare I say it, blogs.

Not that I can claim to have done my part: my own penmanship is bloody horrible.

I can’t help but to think of how profound that simple piece of flattened sheepskin is.  That the ideas in it, written so long ago to address the greivences of a relatively small group (the barons) against the King, essentially redefined the idea that government is for the people, not the reverse.  It wasn’t written for serfs, farmers and the poor, yet it was referenced by those who wrote our Declaration, the First Amendment, and even up to the Constitution of South Africa.

And it’s hard not to think of the situation. The last sentence of the document starts “Given by our hand in the meadow that is called Runnymede…”  Think of that.  The King of England and his subjects, meeting in a grassy meadow in England, drawing up a document that would impact the next few hundred years of history.

History is so much more interesting than names, dates, and places.

If you want to see it yourself, the document will be on exhibit until June 20th, 2009. (link)

* * *

(Possible Star Trek spoilers ahead, be warned)

After the museum I went to see the new Star Trek movie.

I rather enjoyed it, though it was a far cry from the Star Trek of my youth, watched every afternoon on Channel 40 from 5 to 6 pm, right before dinner.

For one thing, it’s a heck of a lot more buff and sexy now.

Still, the story was serviceable, the effects were good, the new Enterprise didn’t look too bad, and Leonard Nimoy stopped by.

I think the biggest problem that I had with the film wasn’t with the new Kirk, but rather with Spock.  On many levels, Zachary Quinto’s performance as Spock is very good: he certainly understands the nuances of a character that’s built around internal conflict.

My problem is that, in my humble opinion, Spock gets a little too in touch with his human side a little too quickly, especially revealed towards the end, calling Kirk by his first name (always a big no-no for the logical and protocol-abiding Spock) and succumbing to vengeance.  Not to say that the vengeance wasn’t warranted, but I still think Spock would have taken the more logical course, though it would have torn him up inside.

Still, beyond those quibbles, I have no problem with the film, and certainly no problem with the re-imagining of the series in general.  Heck, I’ve always thought it would have been more fun to keep Indiana Jones going with new actors in the role, a la James Bond.

Ah, well, just one geek’s opinion…



  1. The Wife and I have been to the Reagan Library three times and we consider ourselves liberal leaning independents. We always have found something interesting there.

    I can let the whole Spock thing slide a bit since he’s still young and doesn’t have full control yet (Spock smiled in the very first Star Trek Pilot). What bothers me is the villain, Nero. He wastes a lot of time that he could have used to guarantee his victory.

    Still an okay movie though.

  2. I can’t believe you saw the Magna Carta. That’s pretty freaking amazing. I need to get out the Reagan Library – I’ve heard from others that it’s pretty neat.

    I think I’m going to see Star Trek this Sunday with my dad. Glad to know it was relatively good (especially by geek standards!) 🙂

  3. Don’t know the “original” Spock — I love the new Spock!!! But I kept seeing Sylar (but a good one — wait, is there a “good” Sylar?!). Should I go ahead and watch the original series, or will I be vastly disappointed by the crude (instead of “cool”) props (instead of “effects”)?

  4. OH that sounds awesome!! (the magna carta. I’m pretty ambivilant about Star Trek) I saw the Book of Kells in Dublin and just about peed my pants from excitement. I’d probably have to invest in some depends undergarments to see the magna carta!!

  5. You say “buff and sexy” like it’s a bad thing?

    I’m glad you wrote this entry. I held off on asking you how the museum trip was because I thought you might be planning to write about it. And you wrote about it so evocatively. I wish I could see the Cold War spy gear. So cool!

  6. I am so jealous that you saw the Magna Carta! I get all geeky over historical documents. I made my friends go see the Book of Kells with me when we were in Dublin. They did not display the requisite amount of awe.

    Your trip sounds great. I love your writing in this post.

  7. Homer-Dog – It is an interesting place, but did you know admission’s up to twelve bucks? LOL – Nero evidently never read the Evil Overlord list!

    Mel Heth – There’s still plenty of time. Have fun at the movie.

    K – Hmmmm… as long as you’re willing to let the cheesyness of the 60’s slide a bit, you might find it fun.

    Hebba – Yeah, I don’t think they’d be keen with pee all over the floor in the exhibit… 😉

    MrsChuckBartowski – only in that it seems everything has to be buff and sexy these days. I’m waiting for the young, buff, and skinny remake of Grumpy Old Men now. Glad you liked the post.

    Dingo – Were you traveling with Hebba? I guess now I have to get to Ireland…

  8. Ooooooh, to see the Magna Carta! And get a copy of the text!

    Thinking of pretty penmanship like that made me change to calligraphy for my daily journaling 🙂

    Am I letting the geekette out?

  9. Narami – Wanna come and visit to see it? And, heh, I rather like that geekette side of you. 🙂

  10. i can’t get excited about the magna carta, but walking around an old air force one would rock.
    i LOVE me some BSG but i draw the line at star trek, old or new, buff and sexy or not.

  11. re: Penmanship is a dying art. I’ve wondered if we will be one of the last generations that would recognize each other’s handwriting.

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