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8/19/08 - Disagree

Duke Dog
Originally uploaded by genteen.
An article on CNN includes Duke among 100 schools whose presidents/chancellors will press for legislation to reduce the legal drinking age from 21 to 18. Their reasoning is that underage drinking is associated with risky and dangerous behavior.

Guess what? They're right. However, after living in this environment for several years myself, I can say that it's a de facto lack of enforcement by the university and spurning of the law by students that leads to risky and dangerous behavior. My experience was that underage drinking was largely ignored by the administration and university (but not city) police, and worse, winked at by RAs in underage dorms.

Lowering the legal age won't solve any of the behavioral problems associated with alcohol abuse on college campuses, it simply lets the administration off the hook.
I've been playing basketball at the gym most of the summer and had about a week of injury-free playing before today. I had a well-balanced, nay, dominant day on the court, until 12:45 when I jumped to intercept a long pass by the other team and took the basketball full speed in my pinkie before hitting the deck. (I hit the deck a lot.) When I stood up I noticed that my finger wasn't oriented properly and wouldn't move, so I asked if anyone knew how to pop it back into place. Unfortunately (Fortunately?) no one knew how, or at least they all had the good sense not to try. I've never dislocated anything, and although I once practiced reducing shoulder dislocations in first aid class, I wasn't entirely convinced that my finger required the same complex series of akido-esque moves.

I went to the front desk and asked to speak to someone who could pop my finger back in place, but they were in the same situation - not allowed to touch me. After signing the requisite forms, they gave me ice, called campus police for a ride to the hospital, and watched as I tried to put my t-shirt back on (yes, we still play shirts-n-skins). A police officer arrive 15 minutes later, just as I had given up on him and was on my way back to the office to ask for a ride from a co-worker. My finger didn't hurt per se, but it was curiously immobile, and I couldn't foresee driving myself to the hospital in the stick shift.

The hospital wanted to take x-rays, and not in a position to advise them otherwise, I consented, although I really just wanted someone to pop it back in for me. The technician was a student-in-training at the local community college. I laid my hand on the x-ray table and he stared at it for a moment before asking, "Can you tell me exactly which finger is hurt?"

"The one shaped like the letter 'Z'" I replied. I didn't ask him to pop it back into place.

Later, the physician on duty came and told me it was an ordinary dislocation, and that she could now realign the joint (i.e. pop it back into place). She asked if I wanted anesthesia, which made me somewhat nervous. "Why, will it hurt?" I asked.

She replied in the affirmative. "Just go ahead and pop it back into place," I said.

"I'll try, but if you yell I'll stop and give you anesthesia," the physician replied.

"How about you go ahead, even if I do yell, and pop it back into place?" I suggested.

She agreed that would probably be the simplest thing to do, and three seconds later my finger was popped back into place. Disappointingly, there was no popping sound. The physician was spirited away to another patient before I even asked to see the x-ray (having been spared from serious injury my entire life, I'd never had x-rays of anything other than my teeth before). Shortly thereafter, the family stopped by to pick me up, and that was that.

*POP!*
11/15/07 - Another Gripe
It's funny to me that the Mormons keep appearing as a theme on this blog. Really, the only times I write about the LDS church are when 1) it makes a statement that causes me some personal offense or 2) I'm visited by its representatives who make a statement that causes me some personal offense. While the missionaries haven't found me at our new home yet (I'm convinced I'm on some sort of priority list based on their visits to no other houses than mine in my old neighborhood), theme 1 made an appearance in the news last week.

A November 9 Salt Lake Tribune article made the Native American newswire (yes, there is one, and it's here) revealing a change to the introduction of the upcoming edition of the Book of Mormon (BoM). The original text, added by an LDS President in 1981 explained what happened to the people described in the BoM and read:
After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.

The new edition will read:
After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.

This change was made in response to overwhelming genetic evidence brought to the table in recent years confirming the migration of Native American ancestors from northern Asia and not the ancient Near East, as the BoM suggests (or used to suggest given the new edition). Genetics research from the recent Genographic Project and about 6,000 other studies show that Native Americans are closely related to modern day native inhabitants of Siberia and Mongolia. Conversely, Native Americans and people of the Near East (i.e. Isrealites) have overwhelmingly different genetic markers.

I care about all of this because Mormon missionaries visiting my home seem to go giddy with delight when I tell them I am a Native American. We hold a special place in their Cosmos, even if it is based on false allegation. From the missionaries' reaction, I can see why Mormonism is so attractive to Native Americans, particularly those of us whose precolombian oral traditions are lost, or who are not as well-studied in the Bible as we believe that we are. It offers an imaginary version of history that sounds like Christianity and makes us feel special by drawing a connection between us and the Biblical world.

Previously, whenever I brought up the issue of genetic evidence against Israelites migrating to America as purported by the BoM, the missionaries would inevitably defer to an 'X Files' argument that the evidence was 'out there' just waiting to be discovered. Early on, they dismissed the genetic evidence as tentative or incomplete, but as studies such as the Genographic Project covered more and more of North and South America, later missionaries to my door began to recognize that this argument could not last forever, but maintained that, as I recall, Israelite DNA will turn up one day soon in the jungles of Central America or the Amazon.

Finally the official Mormon position has changed, but not utterly. Instead of dropping the preposterous idea altogether that my ancestors fought pitched battles across Missouri on elephant-back against armor-clad Israelites, the wording has been changed to "among the ancestors..." for the precise reason that the genetic, archaeological and textual evidence may never be found to support Joseph Smith's wild fantasies about precolumbian America.

By changing the wording of the introduction, the LDS leadership is hedging its bets, but it is also revealing a fundamental difference between the historicities of the BoM and the Bible. We've found Jericho. The walls of Babylon have been excavated. I don't believe the Bible because its historicity has been validated, but truth is in the world when faith and observation collide. When they don't, when what I believe and what I observe don't agree, then something is wrong. Most likely, it is my interpretation of the observations from the world around me. Do I interpret a roundly bad day to mean that God hates me? Do I interpret an alignment of constellations to mean that good fortune is around the corner? In both cases, no.

If my system of belief hinges on whether or not ancient Israelites migrated to the New World (and whether or not they admit it, the Mormon faith does hinge upon this because it speaks to the integrity of Joseph Smith and the BoM) and all evidence speaks to the contrary (i.e. that no Israelite civilization existed at the scale described in the BoM because there is genetic and paleontological evidence to the contrary and no supporting archaeological evidence whatsoever), things are not in accord. What that belief system says about the history of North and/or South America cannot be the interpreted result of any existing evidence. For what it's worth, this is even fundamentally different from the Evolution/Creation issue (I'll address this another time). The options are to continue looking for confirming evidence (something contrary to all existing evidence), or to modify doctrine to address inconsistencies. Mormons seem to be doing both; BYU scholars are digging in Mesoamerican soil for archaeological evidence and conducting genetics tests to find an elusive, undiscovered marker. Again, the only reason I write this is because as a Native American I was offended by Mormon cosmology placing my ancestors in their imaginary drama. Instead of admitting that this long-held position was not true (which I would prefer but they can't do because it would undermine LDS theology), the doctrine has been changed so that either way, evidence or no evidence, the story holds. If doctrine is true (the introduction was written by a living LDS prophet in 1981), it shouldn't need revising.

Daily Affirmation
Originally uploaded by genteen.
I was relieved to receive this affirmation from my computer while copying files today.
As if you didn't have enough paranoia to deal with this summer from terrorists, hurricanes, and poisonous toothpaste:
7/5/07 - Decorum
It's almost as if my favorite comic strip keeps following me through life:

IMG_1344
Originally uploaded by genteen.
Today we packed the car for a day trip to Grandfather Mountain, only 15 miles from our new house in Boone. About 6 miles from home, the engine spontaneously overheated, whereupon we decided to call it a day and head home. Little did we realize that it would take us two and a half hours to cover those 6 miles... Around noon we pulled into our driveway after short bursts of driving punctuated by long waits for the engine to cool. It wasn't the morning we had planned, but it was an adventure nonetheless.

One of the places we stopped for half hour was a construction site on the side of the highway. Laurel absolutely loved playing in the dirt. She scratched in the dirt with sticks and bare hands for 10 minutes, nonstop.

During all of these breaks, I had time to mull over all of the possible things that could be wrong with the engine's cooling system. It turns out my first hunch was correct... Our day was unexpectedly altered and our car's engine nearly destroyed by a failed thermostat. Later that afternoon, I installed a new $9.00 thermostat (flushed the radiator while I was at it), and things were right as rain.

Interestingly, our car has a failsafe feature that is supposed to prevent permanent engine damage due to overheating. When it gets too hot, two cylinders begin pumping air instead of combusting. Essentially, our 2500 lb wagon turns into a 2500 lb air-cooled, two-stroke rickshaw. Supposedly, it can drive some distance in this mode before giving a 30 second total shut-down warning. We stopped the car as soon as the temperature approached red, so we never experienced this, but the thought of waiting for it reminded me of not pushing the button on LOST.
6/16/07 - Thanks!
A big thanks to everyone who drove up from Charlotte yesterday to help us unload the trailer. Things couldn't have gone better, and I even had a chance to try barbecued Hawaiian chicked pizza (yum?).
This morning on NPR's Morning Edition, NASA administrator Michael Griffin responded to a recent Wired Article criticizing the space agency's apparent priorities. Specifically, Steve Inskeep asked Griffin whether it was wise for NASA to cut back so drastically on climate change research (the so-called 'Mission to Earth') in favor of a multi-billion dollar moon base, and whether Griffin himself thought that climate change was a pressing issue.

I don't have Griffin's exact response (the audio won't be up on NPR's website for another hour), but he basically said that while he acknowledged the existence of climate change and our role in affecting it, he wasn't sure it was really a problem. His basic sentiment was, "Who are we to say whether the changes caused by our fossil fuel burning are good or bad?" and "We may have caused it, but we can't do anything about it now."

These are very interesting comments, and articulate what much of the science community has seen happening to NASA in the past few years. I'm think that a moon base would be really cool, and that we would benefit from derivative technologies (much as we benefitted from technologies derived from previous space missions), but the more important question is whether discovery of the next tupperware and PTFE is worth ignoring the increased risks of flood, drought, famine, pestilence, etc associated with human-induced climate change. The frustrating thing is that NASA admits these are problems - after all, their data and research form a large part of the mosaic of evidence for manmade global warming - yet says it's going to focus on something that is, if at all, only peripherally related.

To be fair, I'm not unbiased. Work like mine is funded by NASA, and money spent on a moon base is money not available for earth observation. Nevertheless, I question the wisdom of tending to distant, peaceful frontiers when there are big problems at home. And anyway, until recently, earth observation was one of NASA's primary directives. Griffin said that he didn't mind changes in the scope of his agency; he said that he completely supported decisions made for him by the President and Congress. Fair enough, but if they're making his decisions, what, exactly is his job?

Claiming that climate change may or may not be bad for us is a modification of the older position that climate change wasn't happening. Scientists who used to decry global warming as a myth now support the position that Griffin echoed this morning. For what it's worth, these scientists are only a handful, and hold a position opposite that of every major scientific society in the US.

IMG_3132-1
Originally uploaded by genteen.
Graduating. No wonder it's been so quiet around here.
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