Friday, June 6, 2008

U.S. Payrolls Fall, Unemployment Rate Climbs to 5.5% (Update3)

By Shobhana Chandra

June 6 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. lost jobs in May for a fifth month and the unemployment rate rose by the most in more than two decades, signaling that the world's largest economy is stalling.

Payrolls fell by 49,000 after a 28,000 drop in April, the Labor Department said today in Washington. The jobless rate increased by half a point to 5.5 percent, higher than every forecast in a Bloomberg News survey, partly because an influx of teenagers into the workforce exceeded jobs available.

Treasuries climbed and the dollar slid after the report indicated the economy will struggle to rebound from the weakest expansion in five years. Continental Airlines Inc. and UAL Corp.'s United Airlines are among companies announcing job cuts this week as businesses grapple with soaring energy costs and slowing demand.

``The labor market is still deteriorating,'' said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at Global Insight Inc. in Lexington, Massachusetts. ``The story is, we're still on the verge of a recession'' and ``at best, the economy is growing very, very slowly.''

Ten-year Treasury yields dropped to 3.98 percent at 9:50 a.m. in New York, from 4.04 percent late yesterday. The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index dropped 0.9 percent to 1,391.69.

Deeper Cuts

Revisions subtracted 15,000 from payroll figures previously reported for March and April.

Economists had projected payrolls would drop by 60,000 after a previously reported 20,000 decline the prior month, according to the median of 79 forecasts in a Bloomberg News survey. The jobless rate was forecast to rise to 5.1 percent.

The Democratic and Republican candidates for president expressed concern about the surge in unemployment and touted their economic proposals to help spur the economy.

``Today's jobs report is deeply troubling,'' Democratic Senator Barack Obama of Illinois said in a statement today. He said the figures underscored the need for his proposed reduction in taxes for middle-income earners. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona urged lawmakers to pass legislation helping to stem home foreclosures.

The unemployment rate, the highest since October 2004, reflected an expansion of the workforce, led by teenagers. The increase in the rate was the biggest since February 1986.

Determining a Recession

A loss of jobs is one of the criteria used by the National Bureau of Economic Research to determine when recessions begin and end. The group, the official arbiter in the U.S., defines contractions as a ``significant'' decrease in activity over a sustained period of time. Changes in sales, incomes, production and gross domestic product are also considered.

Payrolls shrank by 324,000 workers in the first five months of the year. In 2007, the economy generated 91,000 new jobs a month on average.

Factory payrolls fell 26,000 after declining 49,000 in April. Economists had forecast a drop of 40,000. The decrease included a drop of 7,500 computer and electronics manufacturing jobs. Auto factories added 4,400 workers.

General Motors Corp. has said 19,000 workers, or about 26 percent of its union workforce, accepted the latest offer to leave, and most of those will stop working by July 1. Ford Motor Co. will trim salaried-employee costs by 15 percent by eliminating contract workers and not filling open jobs.

Impact of Housing

The protracted housing slump and resulting collapse in subprime lending were also reflected in today's report. Payrolls at builders fell 34,000 after decreasing 52,000. Financial firms decreased payrolls by 1,000, after a gain of 1,000 the prior month.

Service industries, which include banks, insurance companies, restaurants and retailers, added 8,000 workers after increasing by 72,000 in April. Retail payrolls decreased by 27,100 after a drop of 38,700.

Government payrolls increased by 17,000 after a gain of 12,000, indicating the total decline in private payrolls was 66,000.

The number of Americans receiving jobless benefits surpassed 3.1 million in May for the first time in four years, indicating employees that are being let go are having a more difficult time finding new jobs.

Consumer confidence last month sank to the lowest level in more than 15 years as the employment outlook deteriorated, according to a report from the Conference Board, a New York research group.

`Significant Headwinds'

``Households continue to face significant headwinds, including falling house prices, a softer job market, tighter credit and higher energy prices,'' Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said in a speech this week. The second quarter may be ``relatively weak.''

The average work week was unchanged at 33.7 hours and the factory work week also remained unchanged at 41 hours. Overtime decreased to 3.8 hours from 4 hours. That brought the average weekly earnings up by 0.3 percent to $604.58 last month.

Workers' average hourly wages rose by 5 cents, or 0.3 percent, to $17.94. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had forecast a 0.2 percent increase from the prior month and a 3.4 percent gain for the 12-month period.

Declines in employment signal consumer spending, which grew in the first quarter at the slowest pace since the 2001 recession, will keep slowing.

``The customer is clearly under pressure when it comes to higher gas and food prices,'' Thomas Schoewe, chief financial officer at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., told reporters yesterday.

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, and Costco Wholesale Corp. yesterday said sales climbed more than analysts estimated as shoppers sought discounts to offset soaring food and fuel bills.

Airlines are getting throttled by higher fuel costs.

``The airline industry is in a crisis,'' Continental's Chief Executive Officer Larry Kellner and President Jeff Smisek said in a memo to the Houston-based carrier's employees. The reductions ``are necessary to secure our future.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Shobhana Chandra in Washington

Original here

The World's Most Reputable Companies

If there was a clear link between savvy business and popularity, Toyota would be this spring's prom queen.

In the latest study from the Reputation Institute, a private, New York City-based research and consulting firm, the Japanese automaker is ranked No. 1 on a list of the 600 largest companies in the world for having the best reputation. Toyota (nyse: TM - news - people ) was ranked No. 6 last year and in 2006.

There's a notable newcomer in the second spot, one that may not come as a shock. Introducing Google (nasdaq: GOOG - news - people ).

The Mountain View, Calif.-based media company may be a runner-up on the global list, but it is ranked No. 1 on a list of 150 of the largest U.S. companies, followed by Johnson & Johnson (nyse: JNJ - news - people ) and Kraft Foods (nyse: KFT - news - people ). Globally, IKEA of Sweden and Italy's Ferrero rank third and fourth, respectively.

Johnson & Johnson CEO William Weldon said his consumer products company's success hinges on courageous leadership. The Reputation Institute ranks J&J as the fifth most reputable company in the world, a significant jump from its rank of 35 last year.

"I expect leaders to grow their businesses and, at the same time, to make us proud of the ways they grow," he said. "This is the character of true leadership."

Ken Powell, CEO of General Mills (nyse: GIS - news - people ), which was ranked fourth in the U.S. and 11th globally, said, "We continue to build trust in our brands by paying attention to other consumer priorities such as product innovation, health and wellness benefits, and the sustainability of our manufacturing processes. Holding ourselves to the highest standard on ethics and integrity is part of building that trust.”

Showing the biggest reputation boosts from last year are PKN Orlen (energy) of Poland, Sasol (nyse: SSL - news - people ) (raw materials) of South Africa, and the State Bank of India. Nokia (nyse: NOK - news - people ) and Samsung showed the greatest decline in reputation, as ranked by the Reputation Institute.

Reputation Institute co-founder Charles Fombrun said PKN Orlen's positive media coverage and its attempt at expansion have bolstered the company's public image as it emerges as central Europe's largest oil company. The same success applies to the Bank of India with its rapid growth, despite consumers' general distrust of banking worldwide.

In 2006, the Reputation Institute launched its inaugural list of the world's most respected companies. For this year's study, the institute surveyed more than 60,000 respondents during February and March. More than 150,000 separate company ratings were obtained to measure more than 1,000 companies in 27 countries. Respondents voted only on domestic companies.

A standardized measurement system is used to rate the overall health of 600 of the world's largest companies, based on annual revenue and a gross domestic product-weighted system.

Had the list of companies been culled based solely on highest annual revenue, the U.S. would've been over-represented. There are 150 U.S. companies on the list. It also includes 40 companies from Japan, 35 each from China and the U.K., 30 each from France and Germany, and 20 from Russia.

Each company's overall Global Pulse score is based on what the Reputation Institute calls the seven dimensions of reputation: products and services, innovation, workplace, citizenship, governance, leadership and performance. The most influential dimensions are products and services and citizenship.

Top-tier companies and industries received a score higher than 80 in the study. The global mean, or average score, was 64.2. According to the study, the general public tends to rate makers of consumer products, computers and electronics well above the global mean. The results indicate relative appreciation for those customer sectors and suggest a favorable operating environment for companies in these sectors.

The Global 600 are separated into 24 industries. Based on reputation, consumer products (72.75) ranked the highest on national and international scales. The energy industry (51.45) had the worst reputation in the U.S., while telecommunications companies (56.18) had the worst reputation among consumers worldwide.

Original here

Five job interview bear traps

Claire faces up to one of Sir Alan's attack dogs

In a tough job interview even the smoothest candidate can come unstuck. And the interview episode of The Apprentice showcases tactics to test the mettle of prospective employees. How to respond if you find yourself in a job interview from hell?

For many it's the most nerve-wracking thing they ever undergo. An occasion characterised by sweat maps of Africa under the arms, flushed faces, racing hearts and feelings of mortal dread.

The job interview is a tough institution and these five bear traps are among the most painful any candidate can face:


Ever since the ancient Lydians first minted coins and used them to pay shop staff, prospective employees have been embellishing their records in order to get themselves the job.

Bordan Tkachuk
Bordan Tkachuk picks holes in CVs

Bordan Tkachuk, chief executive of Sir Alan Sugar's technology firm Viglen, and one of the interview rottweilers on The Apprentice, is not entirely sure this is a bad idea.

"To a large degree honesty is a good foundation and you are not going to go wrong. But it is a competitive situation - if you stretch the truth and it's within reasonable boundaries it is a chance you take. But it is a chance that pays dividends."

Of course, if you are found out, it can get very hairy. The Apprentice's Lee was caught out by Tkachuk as his CV claimed a two-year stint at Thames Valley University when in fact he had dropped out after four months.

"I asked him several times about his academic qualifications and I gave him more than one opportunity to tell me whether he had in fact completed the course. I was trying to ascertain his integrity. The dates didn't seem to stack up. I had a suspicion. I left the question, spoke to him again, he again confirmed. When I asked him a third time he broke down and said he hadn't."

The end result is the appearance that perhaps this is a person who cannot be trusted.

"The most important thing in an interview is to be authentic, to say the truth," says Simon Mitchell, of leadership consultants DDI. "The worst thing you can have happen to you is to be asked a question where you have to cover up - that's very stressful."


It's not very nice, but it's certainly not unknown for interviews to start with a deliberate attempt to unsettle you by causing you to lose your temper.

Lucinda was put on the back foot

The interviewer is armed with your CV and even a quick glance may provide a pressure point that will cause you to react. A candidate who realises he has raised his voice, when his interviewer has not, may struggle to regain his composure.

"The interviewer will put you under pressure to see how you react. Once you see that it is what they are driving at, try to keep calm," says Mr Mitchell.

For some interviewers, the choice of weapons may be something mildly insulting.

Apprentice Lucinda's grilling started with "frankly, you are unemployable". And Alex was nonplussed to be told early on that he was boring. But some interviewers in the real world may use something a little bit stronger to really spice up the start of proceedings. It is frowned upon in the world of recruitment.

"It is absolutely not the way they should go," says Mr Mitchell. "It is offensive to the candidate, it is bordering on illegal.

"It is legitimate to put people under a certain amount of pressure. There is a line over which it is difficult to see the validity and usefulness of crossing. No badgering and bullying."

While it may be tempting to make a principled stand and stop the interview, the best course of action is to stay clear, calm, realise what your tormentor is trying to do - and no matter how strange it may seem, answer the question as best you can.


A similar tactic is the googly. If inducing sheer rage to test the candidate isn't an option, then confusion, bewilderment and embarrassment may suffice.

Lee does his reverse pterodactyl
In the midst of a dinosaur impression

Upon entry to one of his interviews, the Apprentice's Lee was asked to do a dinosaur impression. After initially demurring, he commenced flapping and squawking.

His interviewer, property developer Paul Kemsley, told him that he shouldn't have agreed to the demonstration. This forced the explanation from Lee: "I wouldn't do a reverse pterodactyl in front of Sir Alan."

Away from the arena of the job market, tales abound of bizarre techniques in Oxbridge interviews. Can one truly concentrate when the interviewer is conducting the questioning sitting cross-legged underneath the table?

Dr Rob Yeung
Don't let yourself be put on the spot
Dr Rob Yeung

But there can be entirely non-surreal tactics and questions that can flummox the unprepared. "When did you last truly fail?" is a tricky one. As is "imagine that tomorrow the UK changed from driving on the left to driving on the right and you are the change co-ordinator, what would you do?"

"Don't let yourself be put on the spot," says Dr Rob Yeung, psychologist and author of Should I Tell the Truth. "Ask for a moment to think about it or if you've not understood ask for it to be repeated or rephrased. It's perfectly acceptable to take 15 or 20 seconds."


When asked the bog-standard question, "tell me what you think about the company?" it's fairly clear that something more than a one-word answer is required. And even running out of steam after 20 seconds is unlikely to impress.

Fear you might have blown it?

It's a bugbear for Mr Tkachuk, who has tripped up more than one Apprentice by asking them to explain what Sir Alan's companies do. "I'm really very interested in their understanding of the company... [I] push it to some depth. It's easy for anyone to do a search on the internet and come up with a few superficial things."

Sadly, unless you're Derren Brown, a wily interviewer is likely to see through the veneer if you really know nothing about the company. The only sure solution is to genuinely prepare.

"Contact the company, ask for some brochures," says Mr Tkachuk. "Do some research on what the company does, who are the key players, who is the competition."


For her Apprentice interview, Claire turned up in a jumper of such bilious luminescence that it was extraordinary that none of the Rottweiler interviewers mentioned it. Alex's problem was his low energy and soft speech. "Big night out?" snarled one attack dog.

Alex's low-key approach was read as hungover

As well as dress, there's body language, the way people shake hands, the way they sit, the tone and pitch of their voice - every mannerism is being scrutinised.

"You only get one time to make a first impression. Within the first 60 seconds you already make an impression," says Mr Tkachuk.

The trick again is preparation. If you're dressed smartly and thought about the way you will interact with the interviewer, this can help smooth your path.

But it's hard to guard against doing something impulsive, as Lee found when he winked at Paul Kemsley at the end of the interview.

"That's what a door-to-door salesman would do," was Mr Kemsley's verdict. Not quite the impression a go-getting entrepreneur might want to give.

Original here

Verizon Agrees to Buy Alltel for $28.1 Billion

Verizon Communications agreed on Thursday to buy Alltel for about $28.1 billion, including the assumption of debt, creating the nation’s largest cellular telephone provider.

The deal catapults Verizon’s wireless business ahead of AT&T Wireless, which falls to No. 2, followed by Sprint Nextel and Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile. The combination of Verizon, based in New York, and Alltel, based in Little Rock, Ark., will create a company with more than 80 million subscribers. Verizon adds coverage in Midwest and the South.

Under the terms of the deal, Verizon will acquire the equity of Alltel for $5.9 billion and assume $22.2 billion in debt. The companies hope to complete the transaction by the end of the year.

“This move will create an enhanced platform of network coverage, spectrum and customer care to better serve the growing needs of both Alltel and Verizon Wireless customers for reliable basic and advanced broadband wireless services,” Lowell C. McAdam, the president and chief executive of Verizon Wireless, said in a statement.

Shares of Verizon Communications were up about 5.4 percent in afternoon trading.

The transaction represents one of the quickest flips in corporate history: Alltel’s owners — TPG, formerly the Texas Pacific Group, and Goldman Sachs’s private equity arm — just completed buying the company last fall for about $27.5 billion.

The deal appears to be driven in part by Goldman Sachs and several of the large banks that financed the original deal seeking a way out of it. Citigroup, Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland and others were never able to sell all of the debt, which was sitting on their own books at a loss.

Verizon and Alltel have been in a merger dance for years. Mr. McAdam and Scott T. Ford, Alltel’s chief executive, have known each other for a long time and have been talking on and off about a combination over the last couple of years, according to a person apprised of the talks before the deal was announced. Rumors surfaced in 2005 that Verizon and Alltel were considering a merger and talks reignited last year, before TPG and Goldman Sachs bid for the company.

Previous efforts to strike a deal faltered in part because of opposition from Verizon’s partner in its wireless business, Vodafone, which owns a 45 percent stake. Roger Entner, a senior vice president at IAG, a market research firm, said that the last time Verizon sought to acquire Alltel, Vodafone rejected the deal because the merger would have diluted its position in the combined companies. The current deal is being financed entirely by debt to avoid diluting Vodafone’s stake, people involved in the discussions said.

Analysts say that Alltel, which has about 13 million subscribers, is a logical fit for Verizon. First, they share the same cellphone technology, called CDMA, and second, Alltel has customers in regions not serviced by Verizon. The person apprised of the talks said there would be layoffs, but they would be largely limited to marketing, finance and other staff functions.

“You have to see it in context of how Verizon is trying to reinvent itself as a wireless versus a wireline company,” said Craig Moffett, a communications analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company. “The more they do, the faster they do it, the better.”

Despite being privately held, Alltel files quarterly earning reports with regulators because it has some publicly held debt. The company reported a net loss of $124.9 million for the three months ended March 31, its first quarter as a private company. Many companies that have been taken private report net losses because of higher debt interest payments.

The price on Alltel’s publicly traded debt rose sharply after CNBC reported the talks on Wednesday afternoon. The company’s loans traded around 98 cents on the dollar, while bonds paying a 7 percent coupon that mature in 2012 shot up 12 cents, trading at about par, according to Standard & Poor’s Leveraged Commentary and Data.

Some analysts have questioned whether Alltel could continue to grow, given its buyout-related debt. The company reported nearly a tenfold increase in interest expense in its first quarter, to $496.5 million, from $46.7 million last year.

“While we believe the results were solid, the results did not address our main concerns about this company, and we continue to believe that the company’s smaller scale relative to its competitors and its high leverage mean that it will be disadvantaged in the long term,” Zhiping Zhao and Anna Basanskaya, analysts at CreditSights, wrote in a research note last month.

But unlike other companies that have been taken private, Alltel continues to pay certain bonds, known as pay-in-kind toggles, in cash rather than by issuing more notes. Issuing notes is sometimes seen as a sign of distress.

The decision by TPG and Goldman to sell their share in Alltel may also suggest what is in store as smaller, independent players find it harder to go it alone. “It makes you wonder what Goldman and TPG see which made them change their minds so quickly,” said Mr. Moffett, the analyst. “In the wireless industry there is no place for independence. It is the land of the giants.”

Michael J. de la Merced contributed reporting.

Original here

Mixing Drugs And Stock Options


Message to executives: Watch what's in that drink.

On Wednesday, a U.S. district attorney for the central district of California indicted Broadcom (nasdaq: BRCM - news - people ) co-founder and former Chief Executive Henry T. Nicholas, 48, and former Chief Financial Officer William Ruehle, 66, on charges of stock-options manipulation. Nicholas was also charged with using and distributing illegal drugs. Nicholas is a self-made billionaire whose wealth Forbes estimates to be around $1.8 billion. Among the charges: Nicholas spiked the drinks of industry executives and Broadcom partners with drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine and methamphetamine.

The charges were made public Wednesday after Nicholas surrendered to special agents from the FBI.

The government alleges that between 1999 and 2005, Nicholas and Ruehle fraudulently backdated millions of stock option grants, failed to record stock-based compensation expenses and falsified documents. Broadcom was forced to restate several years of financial results in January 2007, reporting an additional $2.2 billion in expenses. The restatement was the largest any company has had to make in association with the stock-options scandals that have dogged the industry for the past few years.

"Nicholas and Ruehle were involved in a wide-ranging fraud that resulted in the largest financial restatement related to options backdating in the United States," said U. S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien in a statement.

Mike Li, vice president of engineering at Watercooler, a Web applications developer in Mountain View, Calif., says he's not surprised by the backdating indictment. "A bunch of companies did it, and they're being caught now," he says.

"The drug charges are like ... wow!" Li says. "This guy seems like he's got some issues. Who thinks about spiking the drinks of your technology executives? I am a little bit floored that someone at that level would resort to things like that."

Although government investigators have pursued cases of stock-options abuse in Silicon Valley, the penalties they have won have been relatively modest. The government carried out a high-profile investigation against former investment banker Frank Quattrone, which fizzled. Questions raised about Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs have been dismissed.

Broadcom may be a different story. When Broadcom restated its results in January 2007, the company tried to downplay concerns--and tried to shift blame to former human resources head Nancy Tullos. Last year, Tullos pleaded guilty to charges of obstructing justice and cooperated with the government's investigation of the case.

Legal observers suggested Wednesday that pairing the stock-options charges against Nicholas and Ruele with drug charges (just against Nicholas) was a bit of theatrics designed to hammer home a message. This is a "'talking indictment,'" says John Coffee, professor of law at Columbia University. "It's done to influence the jury and press."

"Broadcom has been implicated publicly in backdating options for a while," says Edward Deibert, a director at San Francisco-based law firm Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin. "Theirs was one of the bigger, more flagrant abuses of the backdating scandal. So an indictment on those issues is not very surprising."

The backdating and drug charges seem like "dissonant, unrelated events," says Deibert. "It could just be a heaping on and making things harsher for him. [The drugs] makes a bigger splash of what [the government] is doing. This is the flashiest indictment so far."

The government seems to have plenty of details to work with. Nicholas' larger-than-life reputation has long been the stuff of gossip within Silicon Valley. In Broadcom's early days, the stories were deftly showcased to portray Nicholas as a hard-charging, passionate executive who pumped iron and subsisted on PowerBars.

As early as 2002, however, company directors began trying to distance Broadcom from Nicholas. A 2004 story in The Wall Street Journal quotes Broadcom's lead independent director as telling Nicholas, "I don't want you to be the CEO anymore. I don't think you're competent to direct people."

Nicholas resigned from Broadcom in 2003, claiming he was trying to salvage a failing marriage. The couple went through a bitter divorce.

The indictment describes how Nicholas used and shared ecstasy, cocaine, and methamphetamine at his homes in Laguna Hills, Newport Coast and Las Vegas. At parties, Nicholas reportedly served up spiked drinks to industry executives and hired prostitutes. Once, while riding in a private plane between Orange County, Calif., and Las Vegas, Nicholas and his colleagues apparently smoked so much marijuana that the pilot of the plane had to don an oxygen mask.

The government charges also include descriptions of multiple invoices to Nicholas for "party favors," that were tablets of ecstasy and other drugs. The government alleges that in June 2002, Nicholas paid a former employee who had detailed knowledge of the executive's drug use $1 million in what was effectively "hush money."

The indictment was certainly getting the attention of executives in Silicon Valley Wednesday. Even tiny start-ups now pay scrupulous attention to any details of stock-option plans, asserts Keith Rabois, vice president of business development at Slide, a San Francisco-based Web applications company.

And for the drugs? "That's crazy!" Rabois says. "That's never happened at any company I'm familiar with, except maybe lacing drinks with caffeine. I can't even fathom that kind of activity."

Tom Van Riper contributed to this report.

Original here

It's solar power's time to shine

Soaring oil and gas prices have finally persuaded US industry and government to get serious about renewable energy -- and solar thermal energy looks particularly promising.

By Jon Markman

The dirty little secret of the energy biz these days is that exploration executives don't want to see $130 oil, $12 natural gas or $4 gasoline any more than we do. For they fear two words that strike terror into the hearts of oilmen everywhere: demand destruction.

Nobody really knows where the tipping point of energy prices is -- that last straw on the camel's back that makes ordinary citizens and business planners decide enough's enough and, en masse, stop using so much -- but it sure seems close. From where I stand in Seattle, it's already here.

It's that moment when a soccer mom decides not to drive across the state in her Chevrolet Tahoe for a youth tournament, letting her daughter carpool with teammates. That moment when a father in Tucson decides to just keep the home windows open in 95-degree heat instead of turning on the air conditioner. That moment when a regional food-products salesman decides to call his customers on the phone, rather than spend $200 on gas to visit them in person.

It's almost as if you can hear the balance tip, conversation by conversation. And once long-held habits begin to change, the effects can be like a dam burst: shocking, widespread and long-lasting. On the consumer side, we can just look at the report out of General Motors (GM, news, msgs) on Tuesday that shows sales of its macho, gas-guzzling trucks were down 37.5% in May compared with a year ago. Now that is what I call demand destruction.

Our Saudi Arabia of sunshine

And yet it's the business side of the ledger that is far more important, as industry uses an order of magnitude more energy than the public. It may have taken a quintupling of oil prices in five years to ring the alarm bells, but the nation's industrial giants and their lackeys in government have finally decided to get serious about renewable energy and not just talk about it in PR campaigns.

Nothing typifies the renewed focus on renewable-energy sources more than solar energy, as authentic, large projects are just now getting under way in California, Nevada and Texas. This makes sense, as the U.S. Southwest is our Saudi Arabia of sunshine -- meaning it has the greatest need for cooling as well as the best stretches of open desert land for collecting, concentrating and distributing rays.

The rap on solar energy has always been that big arrays of photovoltaic cells are too expensive, too hard to maintain and produce a stream of energy that is too variable with the sunlight for intense industrial exploitation and can't be easily stored for use on rainy days. And in many ways, the photovoltaic story is still a challenging one because of a confounding worldwide shortage of the specialized chips that make it work.

But the real focus these days is on a much more low-profile and, let's face it, duller application: solar thermal energy, or STE if you'd prefer the hip shorthand version. You can forget all the fancy electronics and hippie jokes with solar thermal. Stripped to its core functionality, all that STE producers do is reflect sunshine off a mirror to boil a pressurized liquid that turns into bursts of steam that turn a turbine.

Though a California government mandate demanding that the state's utilities generate 20% of their energy from renewable sources by 2010 has been key in getting the ball rolling for solar thermal, the skyrocketing cost of natural gas and coal is really giving this business a spark. Just check the headlines: On Tuesday afternoon, FPL Group's (FPL, news, msgs) Florida Power & Light announced it was asking state regulators to OK a whopping 16% increase in residential bills -- just to keep up, not for added profits.

Science catches up

Florida Power, it turns out, happens to be one of the country's leaders in developing solar thermal energy, as well as wind farms. It's pure economics, not a green dream anymore. Nathaniel Bullard, a senior analyst at think tank New Energy Finance in San Francisco, told me that utilities see STE as their best hedge against fuel price variability.

If you build a natural-gas or coal plant to help you generate electricity for customers, he said, you are a "price taker" in that you have to accept the world-market cost of natural gas, over which you have no control. In contrast, if you build a wind or solar thermal farm, you are exposed to the cost of steel and labor at the time of construction, but you are never exposed to an increase in the cost of wind or sun.

"This is not science fiction anymore -- this is real stuff," Bullard said. Again, it's all business. Once a wind or sun farm has been built, you see, the entrepreneur or developer contracts with an "offtaker," or utility, to provide a certain number of megawatts of electricity at a certain price for the length of the contract.

The problem with solar up until now has been an inability to guarantee a base load, or steady amount of electricity, at all times. But new tweaks of technology from companies such as well-financed Silicon Valley startup Ausra have changed that. Its Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector, which sounds like something Doc Brown might have created in "Back to the Future" with a flip of his flux capacitor, uses some trippy "molten salt" and an ingenious heat storage system to store sunlight for up to 20 hours.

Ausra, which is hellbent to be the Cisco Systems (CSCO, news, msgs) of solar -- which is possible, I suppose, since it is financed by computer networking pioneer Vinod Khosla -- believes that since seasonal and daily patterns of solar rays correlate strongly with electricity use, its inexpensive generation-and-storage system can create enough electricity from a few square miles of Nevada desert to supply half the country with power for electric vehicles. That would be an especially neat trick because it produces virtually no air pollution.

It looks to me that price and need have come together to finally make solar thermal a normal and fast-growing part of the national energy budget. The industry likes to point out that between 1996 and 2005, U.S. utilities built 250 gigawatts of natural-gas-fired plants, now producing a quarter of the nation's total. There's now nothing standing in the way of building another 250 gigawatts of power using pollution-free solar thermal.

Acciona Solar Power, a big Spanish company, has already begun operating a 64-megawatt solar thermal plant near Las Vegas. Solel Solar Systems, of Israel, has built a 550-megawatt solar thermal plant in the Mojave Desert of California and will send most of its capacity to power company PG&E (PCG, news, msgs) of San Francisco. BrightSource Energy, of Oakland, Calif., is building a 400-megawatt solar thermal plant in the Mojave. And Stirling Energy Systems, out of Phoenix, has drawn up plans to build two big solar thermal plants in conjunction with Los Angeles-area utilities.

Most of these companies are private or foreign, and the parts involved are pretty mundane, so thus far there's not a lot for independent investors to buy to take advantage of the boom in solar thermal. But I'll keep looking and keep you posted.

Fine print

To learn more about Ausra, click here. This page explains the technology, which you don't need a doctorate to understand, and this .pdf file provides the history and science behind it. . . . Learn all about the Nevada Solar One project of Acciona here. This page has good photos of the mirror farm. . . . Learn more about Israel's Solel at this site. The FAQ at the site will get you up to speed with such notions that a solar thermal plant 1% the size of the Sahara Desert would fulfill the entire world's energy demand. I don't know if that's true, but it sounds good. You can see the pace of contracts at its press page. . . .

BrightSource Energy is another industry biggie, with $115 million in its latest round of venture financing from heavyweights like Google (GOOG, news, msgs), BP (BP, news, msgs) and StatoilHydro (STO, news, msgs). Click here to learn more. See this page for details on its Power Tower technology, which looks like something right out of a "Star Wars" movie. . . .

It kind of takes your breath away to realize that crude oil went for $40 per barrel as recently as 2004, and that was already considered extremely high. Check out this column from July of that year in which I speculated on the economic depression that would ensue if oil were to double to $80. Whoops. . . . So maybe recent speculation I'm hearing that natural-gas futures could double to $22 over the next two years isn't so outlandish. . . .

There are quite a few songs to put you in the mood of solar thermal stocks, including "Pocketful of Sunshine" by Natasha Bedingfield, "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," by Stevie Wonder and my personal favorite, "Ain't No Sunshine" Bill Withers or Freddie King. For a bit more kitsch, there's always "Good Day Sunshine" by The Beatles, and for those of you who love classic guitar riffs and the stories behind them, you have to check out this short documentary video about the making of Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love."

At the time of publication, Jon Markman did not own or control shares of any company mentioned in this column.

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Exploring The Creation Museum - America's New Mecca of Fanatical Ignorance

If you ask the average Christian what The Bible means to them, you're likely to get a wide variety of answers, but in most cases it's probably a somewhat personal thing. They identify with the stories, they regard the teachings of Jesus as guidelines for their lives, they believe He's their salvation, et cetera et cetera. Most would probably tell you that The Bible is a very important book to them - maybe the most important thing they've ever read. They would tell you it guides their daily lives, provides them hope, sculpts their sense of morality, et cetera, et cetera. What the majority of them would have a very hard time telling you, however, is that The Bible is meant to be interpreted as a literal history book. That every single word of it is a literal truth. Even the most devout Christian will likely tell you that the story of Adam and Eve is merely an allegory - and they'd be right. It's a simple way of conveying the general Christian ideas of God's relationship with man, and the nature of sin. I suppose the original authors of the Old Testament may have believed it to be absolutely true, but to put that in context, the purveying wisdom of the time was that God kept the sun in a boat full of deities who sailed across the sky every day trying to prevent said sun from being eaten by an evil serpent.

Thousands of years later, we've discovered that the sun is in fact a giant ball of gasses, and it doesn't sail across the sky, but merely appears to because our planet is (believe it or not) round, and constantly rotating. We've discovered all of this, and a lot more, very slowly over hundreds of thousands of years through the compounded knowledge of millions of people throughout history pooling their intellectual efforts in a meticulous process known as science. And it works. It works so well it has given us automobiles, electricity, space travel, modern medicine, video games, butt funnels, and the network of computers delivering this website to you right at this moment - all of which were developed in the thousands of years after The Bible was written by a persecuted ancient people desperate for supernatural intervention. Whether its authors were channeling the word of God or not is a debate for another day - but what we know, for a fact, they were not doing, is writing the literal history of the Universe. Well, most of us know that for a fact. The people who believe otherwise call themselves Young Earth Creationists.

Young Earth Creationists are a batshit-crazy sect of religious fanatics at the deep end of Christian fundamentalism, who believe that The Bible is, quote, "the history book of the Universe." They believe every word of The Bible is not only the word of God, but is absolute literal truth, and the only truth in the Universe against which all other truths must be compared. So, of course, a manmade concept like science is a flawed, malleable thing which must be twisted around in order to fit with the words of The Bible. The most brazen of modern Young Earth Creationists (YECs, for short) believe this can be done without compromising religion or science. What, then, does The Bible say about history? Well, among other things, it says that the world is roughly 6,000 years old, dating the dawn of man to a period of time rich with recorded history of the development of urban cultures and early technology. So not merely evolution, but all of our concepts of the earth being millions of years old, the lineage of dinosaurs, the ice age, early man, and the entire history of human civilization - all of that is horribly incorrect, according to the YECs. All of the evidence gathered over thousands of years to support the history of the world has been misconstrued by secular scientists to further the "evolutionist agenda." 99.9 percent of scientists and experts in relevant fields are apparently drastically, drastically mistaken, but a tiny group of blue collar yokels have it all figured out. Riiiiiiight.

YECs are a comically ignorant cult of horrendously misguided fruitcakes, but the problem isn't their ludicrous beliefs. For all I care you can believe that God is a space turtle who shits out the world every morning and eats it again every night, and one day the world will hatch open and the almighty Son of Turtle God will emerge from the placenta of the earth and vomit rainbows onto the true believers before carrying them on His back to the promised land of Turtopia. It's a free country, go nuts. The problem with Young Earth Creationists - and most all flavors of Creationists, for that matter - is that they have a disproportionately loud voice, and believe they need to fight back against the "lies" of science in the public sphere. They've introduced the less-crazy-sounding term "intelligent design," and their greatest achievement thus far has been creating the idea, in the media, in the government, and in the minds of many Americans, that there is a "debate" in regards to evolution. Scientists even fall prey to this, feeling the need to counter Creationist pseudo-science to defend the legitimacy of real science. Creationists are like internet trolls, shouting mindless garbage in caps-lock, baiting people who should know better into engaging them in debate. And like internet trolls, Creationists can never lose, because they've thrown logic and reason out the window so they can fight with their own set of nonsensical rules. But here's the thing: There is no debate. None at all. Evolution vs. Young Earth Creationism is not a debate any more than evolution vs. any of the world's thousands of other wildly varying creation myths. There are plenty of places to inject God into the scientific history of the Universe, if that's your thing, but six thousand years ago is not one of them. The earth was not made in six days. The important thing for rational people to grasp is not that they're on the right side of the argument, but that there isn't an argument to begin with, and we need to stop humoring these fundamentalist looney toons as if they have a place at the table table of civilized discourse, and instead focus on exposing them as the dangerous group of extremists they are. Picking and choosing which aspects of hard-won science you agree with is perilous territory, especially when the people who make our laws start to listen (you can dig a little deeper into my thoughts on all that here if you're so inclined).

With all that in mind, I'd like to take you on a shamelessly intolerant journey through the bizarro world of Young Earth Creationist pseudo-science, as we explore... The Creation Museum.
There's a fine line between faith and stubbornness. One can only imagine how difficult it must be for Young Earth Creationists, clinging devoutly to beliefs so outrageous even their fellow Christians won't back them up. As a Creationist parent, how do you explain to your curious children that their teachers are lying, their books are lying, their movies and TV shows are lying? How do you successfully indoctrinate a developing mind with your true version of history when everyone else seems determined to beat God's word to a bloody pulp and dance on its corpse? Well, the best way is to isolate yourself from common sense, restricting your child to Creationist literature, Creationist schooling, and now, The Creationist Museum.

Ken Ham wants to eat your childrenFor those of you who haven't heard about this yet (and I'm surprised how many people still haven't), The Creation Museum is the crowning achievement of religious stupidity - a shrine of ignorance that only America's chewy center could play host to. It's a $27 million dollar, 60,000 square foot state-of-the-art complex in Kentucky, designed to look and feel exactly like a science/natural history museum. It has elaborate dioramas of animals and nature, audio-visual presentations, animatronic dinosaurs, fossil replicas, diagrams of geological formations, and even a gift shop. But one small detail sets it distinctly apart from other science museums you've probably visited: There is not a single shred of science on display within its walls. Worse still, its very existence is a bold mockery of science itself.

The museum was built and privately funded by a group called Answers In Genesis, whose founder is a skeletal Australian crackpot named Ken Ham. Ham, as you can see in the picture on the left, looks like an evil Abe Lincoln and would seem very much at home eating human fetuses to sustain his life force. He was indoctrinated from birth with strict Creationist ideology, and has devoted his life to spreading the "true word of God" while waging war on evolutionary science, which he believes to be a termite infestation in the wooden foundation of a good Christian society. Ham thinks of evolution as a sort of "gateway drug" into the Godless world of secularism. After all, he argues, if you don't believe in The Bible's account of Creation, what's to stop you from taking liberties with The Bible's other teachings? Start thinking we all evolved from monkeys and pretty soon you'll be snorting crack, aborting babies, and doing all kinds of fag stuff (in other words, my typical friday evenings), and, well, there goes the neighborhood.

Here's an introduction to Ken Ham's Creationist crazytalk - this is a clip from a presentation Ham made for poor impressionable Christian children, doomed to play out their lives inside a dark chamber of ignorance. Watch how cunningly manipulative he is in his simplified discussion of science vs. The Bible:

Notice the condescending way Ham speaks to the children - as if they're pests he must deal with only because it's necessary to further his agenda. After all, no free-thinking adult would ever subscribe to any of this crap, so the lies have to be soaked into spongy pint-sized brains eager to believe anything they're told. That's the chief motivation behind Mr. Ham's pride and joy - the oily skidmark on the underpants of American reason that is The Creation Museum. I was recently in Kentucky on business and was fortunate enough to take a field trip out to this mecca of lunacy - and of course, I documented every step for your enjoyment.

Upon arrival at the museum, I didn't even have to get any farther than the parking lot to understand I was in hostile territory. We're talking Bush-voting, gun-toting, gay-fearing, redder-than-red state Bible Belt fundamentalism here. Nearly every car in the lot was speckled with Jesus fish, right wing slogans, yellow ribbons, and bumper stickers offering scary religious rhetoric. I had wondered if this museum would be a novelty, a quirky roadside attraction filled with as many snickering skeptics as devout fanatics - but it became quickly clear that indeed, this was a place built with passion for the true believers, here to soak up knowledge and explore a version of junk science that finally makes them feel sane in an insane world. It was my friend and I, the black-clad blue state secular heathens, who were noticeably out of place.

Outside the museum gates stands a large bronze dinosaur, setting the tone for one of the museum's main themes. Why dinosaurs? For one, they've been a huge problem for Young Earth Creationists: how can The Bible's creation story be true if there were giant lizards roaming the earth millions of years before mankind? Historically Creationists have sometimes resorted to thinking of dinosaur fossils as "tests of faith" placed by God Himself, but the Creation Museum revels in its acceptance of the ancient behemoths. They're real, they existed, and everything science has taught us about them is true. Well, except for one tiny little thing: Instead of existing a hundred million years ago, T-Rex and pals co-existed with humans when the earth was made six thousand years ago. Yes, dinosaurs and humans lived together, and the Creation Museum has all the "science" to prove it, including its own interpretation of fossil records.
From the very first exhibit, the museum's mission is clear: It knows the real truth, it's joyously unashamed of its beliefs, and it simultaneously welcomes skeptics and comforts believers by presenting a careful counterpoint to every contradicting piece of scientific evidence you could imagine. It does this by picking and choosing the parts of science it agrees with, and filling in the resulting gaping holes in logic with supernatural "just because" reasoning. It's all extremely convincing to its laymen visitors, who already want to believe and have neither the knowledge nor desire to question the faulty research. It's not a coincidence these beliefs appeal largely to uneducated simpletons: Much of the YEC's flawed logic is in line with Kirk Cameron's (hilarious) banana demonstration: Because the scientific reasoning is too convoluted to understand, God must have made it. The easiest way to understand why nature works as efficiently as it does is to just say it was designed that way. Every ounce of it shatters magnificently into pieces under even the gentlest scientific scrutiny, but none of that matters when all logic has been disregarded from step one. There is no way for rationality to win here - it's like trying to prove the sky is blue to someone wearing red-tinted glasses. It's never going to happen, so you might as well just sit back and enjoy sipping on the big fat glass of crazy they've poured for you. And remember: This is not a joke. It's not even a "what if," or a "Bible stories brought to life" type of deal. This is presented as absolute truth, as genuine science, and its hundreds of thousands of followers believe it as fervently as you or I believe in gravity or oxygen or The Force. ...Okay, the last one is just me.

The museum was extremely busy on a weekday afternoon, filled almost exclusively with the stone-washed jeans, tucked-in shirts, and patriotic colors of Wal-Mart brand families, who regarded my friend and me with raised eyebrows and icy stares. They probably thought we were gay, and were afraid they might catch it. They had all come from near and far to show their children the true word of God brought to life like never before, and yes, tots of all ages were prancing excitedly through the exhibits, enthralled with the elaborate set pieces and animatronic creatures. Indeed, one of the first things to see inside the museum walls is an animatronic dinosaur lurking in the bushes amidst man-made structures. A few feet away, a robotic child plays happily, unconcerned about the presence of a vicious reptilian carnivore:
The child is the type of nightmare-inducing hellspawn mutant only someone as creepy as Ken Ham could be pleased with - watch how fucking scary this thing is:

The cohabiting child and dinosaur animatronics are a reminder of the second, far more sinister motivation behind the museum's prominent use of ancient reptiles: kids love dinosaurs. If you have kids, or know kids, or ever were a kid (which seems likely), you know this firsthand. Kids are completely bonkers about dinosaurs, which makes brainwashing them with fundamentalist propaganda that much more difficult when they have to be told dinosaurs never existed. The Creation Museum changes all that, and it uses the fun of dinosaurs as a trojan horse for its dangerous brand of pseudo-science. It's all tailored very carefully to youngsters, and it's incredibly damaging in its presentation of science as a flawed string of fragile theories that can be manipulated as needed to conform to fringe beliefs. When parents indoctrinate their child with these kinds of ideas, and a "science" museum filled with exciting sights and sounds backs it up and answers every lingering question, that child is going to grow up with an extremely warped, frighteningly ignorant perception of the world, and have a very hard time making rational decisions later in life. The museum exists to nourish an unhealthy state of ideological war with the rest of society, and if all of its junior attendees grow up without ever having the opportunity to make their own decisions about religion and faith, then Ken Ham has succeeded marvelously.

No, this didn't make any more sense in the context of the museum.

Anyway, let's follow the museum's journey through the true history of the Universe, as told by The Bible's Old Testament. It all got started when God created the earth in six days. We've all heard that part. He created the land, the seas, all the animals, the birds, the fish, and the dinosaurs, and then, in His own image, He created the first man, Adam. Adam and all of the animals lived in Paradise - but what's any kind of Paradise without naked chicks? So God made Eve out of Adam's rib, and the two of them lived together in the Garden of Eden.

(click to enlarge, in case you hadn't figured that out by now)

They lived in harmony with the animals, including the dinosaurs, because all animals were herbivores in Paradise, and there was no violence, because there was no sin - which also made it perfectly okay for them to be naked all the time. Adam and Eve just hung out all day, naked, eating fruit and playing with their animal friends, and presumably with themselves. They kinda had it made. The only rule was they weren't allowed to eat fruit from this one tree, because, well, they just weren't. It was a bad tree with bad fruit. Seems like a dumb-ass thing to stick in the middle of Paradise, but at least God specifically told Adam to stay the fuck away from the bad fruit tree.

Then one day Satan showed up, in the form of a snake.

I guess security in Paradise was a little lax. Satan liked to hang out in the bad tree and fuck with Adam and Eve, taunting them with his delicious forbidden fruit.

Sure enough, Adam gave in, ate the fruit, and in doing so committed the first sin, thus fucking things up for all the rest of us for all of eternity (THANKS, DOUCHE). God was pissed, kicked Adam and Eve out of Paradise, and God Himself committed the first murder, killing an animal and skinning it to clothe Adam and Eve, because being publicly naked was no longer okay, and that's why Europe has way better beaches than America. The museum illustrates this scene in gruesome detail guaranteed to give children nightmares:
Emphasis mine.

With Paradise gone, everything got shitty. People were mean, they had to work to find food, they had to build shelter. Animals started eating other animals, dinosaurs were now terrible man-eating lizards instead of friendly pets, it rained, people started getting hang nails and paper cuts and diarrhea and bad breath and everything else that sucks about life - all because that cockbag Adam just had to have his fucking fruit.

It seems a tad harsh, punishing all of mankind for one asshole's mistake - but I guess God is like a jealous girlfriend: Her man gives in and tastes that forbidden fruit just once and she'll hold it against him forever. Maybe Dishwalla was onto something.

You know, now that I've been refreshed on the specifics of the whole Garden of Eden thing, I have a few questions I never would have thought of back in Sunday School, for any Creationists who might be reading. I guess I'm just a bit fuzzy on exactly how far the concept of "Paradise" extends:
- Did poop smell different in Paradise?
- Did Adam's balls get itchy in Paradise? Did he ever experience erectile difficulty? Did Eve get her, you know, monthly visitor? None of those things sound like Paradise to me, but The Bible isn't quite clear.
- Before sin entered the world, it was okay to be naked, but was it okay to masturbate? What about butt sex? Creampies? Bukkake? Coprophilia? None of those could be sins if there was no sin yet, right? How about ass-to-mouth? I really just can't see it being called "Paradise" if there's no ass-to-mouth.

Anyway, so humanity carried on for a while post-Paradise, on a steady decline now that it had to deal with murders and famine and herpes. People got so shitty with each other, it seemed, that our feisty Old Testament God wanted a clean slate, so He decided to flood the entire world, killing off everyone except a handful of true believers, led by a guy named Noah. Noah was told by God to build a big fucking boat to survive the flood, which we all know as Noah's Ark. At the Creation Museum, the Ark is presented in historical detail as matter-of-factly as a real museum might present the Apollo 1 or the Enola Gay.

An elaborate life-sized set piece illustrating the Ark's construction is complete with animatronic characters - among them Noah, who apparently wasn't just any Jew, but a cartoon New York Jew (from the future):

The next section of the museum displays models of the completed Ark as Noah loads it with two of each kind of animal in the entire world - including, of course, the dinosaurs:

Dinosaurs, naturally, were still around in Noah's time, and he was able to fit them on the Ark by choosing smaller juvenile dinosaurs. Obviously. But how did he get all these animals from around the world to line up and march calmly, single file, into his Ark? Well, God helped out with that part. Obviously. Creation "science" has a habit of following common sense until it hits a wall, then using divine intervention to explain the rest. How convenient.

So Noah and the animals boarded the Ark, and it rained for forty days and forty nights or whatever, flooding the entire world, leaving all the sinners to drown, but only after getting eaten by tigers, according to this diorama:

When I was looking at this particular display, a mother was standing next to me with her child, no older than two years. She pointed at this gruesome miniature scene and told her impressionable spawn, in a lullaby-soft tone, "Look at all the sinners, they're all dying because they didn't obey God. Look how sad they are! They're all dying! But Noah is okay in the Ark because he accepted God in his heart." Right. Get that toddler primed for a lifetime of God-fearing guilt. That's what a two year old should be thinking about, you fucking twatbag.

The museum spends a lot of time with the flood, because that's the YEC method of explaining more or less everything: fossils, continents, The Grand Canyon, the Ice Age, Mt. Everest, and any other geographic or atmospheric phenomena that would seemingly require thousands or millions of years in order to exist. It's such a perfect explanation for every fossil record ever discovered, that Ken Ham's little butt-pal Buddy Davis wrote a fun song about it - a cheerful little children's tune called "Billions Of Dead Things." Enjoy:

I don't know about you, but I'd find it just a tad morbid to hear my five year old singing songs about all the billions of dead things buried by a flood designed to kill all the sinners. But hey, I am a sinner - and a damned good one at that - so what do I know? Unfortunately, neither the song nor the museum offer any satisfying explain as to why a God who could create an entire planet and populate it with millions of species in less than a week would need such a convoluted plan to get rid of all the sinners.

When the flood was finished, Noah came off the Ark with all his animals, and God told them to "be fruitful and multiply," which meant, of course, that animals should just keep fucking until they rapidly transformed into a wide variety of new species, as illustrated in the diagram below:
You're probably looking at that diagram thinking it looks an awful lot like an animal evolving over millions of years. Um, no. This is a post-flood horse changing over a few thousand years. DUH! It's all explained very clearly in the fine print:

That explains it.

Right. See? Divine intervention. Oh, and what ever happened to dinosaurs? Well, they lived for a while, and then just kind of died out, as recently as four hundred years ago, like any other endangered species. The obvious evidence that dinosaurs were around even after the flood? Dragons! Obviously. Yes, dragon myths around the world were the result of real dinosaurs co-existing with man. They were hunted by King Arthur in Medieval England, and used Flintstones-style in Ancient China:

And there you have it. The real, true, history of the world. And if you don't believe it, well, the museum has a place for you, too. At one point, the Creationist history lesson takes a divisive turn, interrupted with a detour into, literally, "Sin City."

Visitors walk through a dark, eerily-lit alley, wallpapered with magazine articles chronicling the downfall of Christian values at the hands of a modern society that turned its back on God. Sirens wail, trash litters the corners, graffiti covers the walls - it's a fear-mongering, xenophobic red state portrayal of secular, crime-ridden urban wastelands like New York or Los Angeles, meant to embody everything that terrifies America's heartland. Broken windows look into broken secular homes, where screens display all-too-common scenarios of Godless teenagers getting pregnant, drinking, smoking marijuana. Sounds like a hell of a party to me, but apparently it's the work of Satan, and it's all because of the poison of evolutionary science, which is unsubtly illustrated in a laughably melodramatic scene where the giant wrecking ball of "millions of years" is shown smashing into the side of a church:
This is the Jack Chick brand of divisive, spook-show extremist Christianity that I would have been disappointed to see left out of the museum. After all, what's Christianity without a hearty dose of fear? In the cold concrete halls that follow, spooky sound effects of screams and fire accompany projections displaying the horrors of a sinful world: Drug addiction, abortion, natural disasters, Nazis, disease, poverty. Let me reiterate that Hitler and abortion seem to be treated as equally evil in this display. You can see the fear in the wide eyes of young children as they pass through these halls, their developing brains wiring the foundation for a lifetime at odds with anything perceived to be unChristian - science included.

Like all good museums, this one ends by dumping you into a gift shop. Here you'll find hundreds of t-shirts, books, and DVDs chock full of delusional YEC propaganda. The t-shirts weren't as ironically awesome as I'd hoped (Christians aren't exactly famous for their fashion sense), but naturally, I had to pick up a DVD. I found one designed for kids, a combination of lectures and songs presented by Ken Ham himself, carefully designed to cure your little ones of all rational thought. It's called "Dinosaurs, Genesis, & The Gospel," and it doesn't disappoint. You've already seen a couple clips from this idiotic masterpiece, but here's another collection of highlights for your enjoyment:

As fun as it is to laugh in jaw-dropped amazement at the idiotic ranting of a madman, there's a genuine danger in all of this that shouldn't be discounted: These people are fiercely indoctrinating their children, spawning new generations of fanatics who believe themselves engaged in a culture war with the world at large, and want to discredit science and change our laws to get their way. Being in a culture war with drug use and teen pregnancy is one thing, but when you set your cross hairs on science - that which is the foundation of every aspect of our modern lives, and the key to advancing our civilization and preserving our planet - suddenly religious tolerance has reached its limit. As rational people we must not be afraid to call these fanatics crazy - to trivialize them and dump them in the rubbish bin of culture alongside other dangerously deranged fringe groups. Young Earth Creationism, or even Intelligent Design, deserve not to be engaged in debate, not to be heard in government, but rather a spot in society's looney bin alongside Scientology, the Klu Klux Klan, NAMBLA, neocons, Juggalos, moon landing hoax conspiracy theorists, adult babies, and the RIAA. But don't think for one second I'm advocating the removal of a museum like this. Religious freedom is an important right, and as you can tell, I love indulging in some good ol' fashioned nutty religious pageantry - I just want to make sure that we, as a society, never ever allow this to gain any acceptance as a valid alternative to hard-won science.

On the way out of the museum, you can get your picture taken in front of a green screen, and purchase a souvenir photo of yourself inserted into one of several scenes from The Bible world history. Naturally, my friend and I chose the dinosaur scene. Here we are, reenacting the daily struggles of our ancestors:
For as wordy of an article as this is, it's all kind of summed up right there, isn't it?

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