Friday, January 31, 2014

Vitamin D and Calcium Absorption

Vitamin D

Have you heard? Vitamin D enhances calcium absorption. That's why our milk, rich in the latter, is fortified with the former.

But what is probably less known is that the vitamin D in a cup of milk is not aiding the absorption of the calcium in the same cup.

I'm not exactly certain on the timelines involved, but rhetorically speaking, at least, it's the vitamin D in yesterday's milk that helps us absorb the calcium in today's.

It's because vitamin D in the diet must be modified in the liver and then in the kidney before it's biologically active.

And, yes, vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so there really is no good reason to drink vitamin D-fortified skim milk.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

It's Fischer Time!

Seriously, what was Lucasfilm thinking?

It's that time again! You know, when I relate something I read online to something I learned about in David Hackett Fischer's Historians' Fallacies.

In today's episode, we consider the fallacy of fictional questions (pp. 15-21), where otherwise serious people examine what might have been had pivotal episodes in history had different outcomes.

Fictional questions, also called counterfactual questions, are actually pretty fun to engage in, and perhaps that's what makes them so tempting to "answer." We can show much erudition on a topic, and ponderously deep thinking, by showing how things might plausibly be had past events just happened a little differently.

For instance, what would the world be like today had the Nazi's won, or imperial Japan, or the Soviets? Or "what if the South had won?" as was posed on a Khan Academy discussion board, "What do you think would have happened?"*

Our hero David Hackett Fischer would say that it's impossible to answer such questions empirically because all historical "evidence" for what might have happened if, say, the South had won the Civil War is necessarily taken from the world in which the South lost.

Enter Boston Globe journalist Alex Beam, who excitedly discusses
one of [his] favorite counterfactual scenarios: Suppose Romney, the first Mormon to be a major party presidential nominee, had won the White House? Would the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have welcomed his ascendancy? Or dreaded it, for subjecting a difficult-to-fathom religion [. . .] to unwelcome scrutiny?
Well, what if? No doubt everyone is dying to know.

(Just in case you don't read Beam's article, he thinks a Romney presidency would have ultimately been an unpleasant experience for Mitt's fellow Mormons. I'm not so sure I agree.)

"There is nothing necessarily fallacious in fictional constructs," notes Fischer, "as long as they are properly recognized for what they are and are clearly distinguished from empirical problems."

Fictional questions, Fischer continues, "prove nothing and can never be proved by an empirical method."

And so, we might conclude, fictional questions are best reserved for the venue where they are most useful: Fiction.

*My own favorite fictional questions include, but are not limited to, what if George Lucas hadn't written and directed Episodes I-III? or what if Jar Jar Binks had never been created? or what if Darth Maul hadn't been killed at the end of Episode I? or what if Hayden Christensen hadn't portrayed Anakin Skywalker as such a wuss? or what if Disney decided to scrap Lucas's Episodes I-III entirely and instead allowed J. J. Abrams to truly reboot the franchise? These are, you can tell, very serious questions, whose answers are excruciatingly tantalizing to consider with as much erudition and ponderously deep thinking as we're capable of. Your thoughts are welcome in the comments.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Samoa in the News

The manumea

When I posted last about the preservation efforts to save the manumea, or little dodo, I didn't know that conservationists were worried that Samoa's national bird was actually extinct.

But apparently, that is what they were thinking. At least until recently when one of the research team fairly serendipitously spotted one of the birds on the big island of Savaiʻi.

(Image: Pacific.Scoop)

Are You Rich?

Rare, but still legal tender. Ask for them at your local bank.

This woman's answer may surprise you.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Samoa in the News

The independent nation of Samoa, formerly known as Western Samoa, will be establishing a Samoan Language Commission to ensure the perpetuation and deliberate teaching of the now official Samoan language.

(Can someone more familiar with language policy tell me why it would take so long for a nation like Samoa to establish its native language as its official language?)

I'm interested in what kinds of texts will be produced to teach what is still largely an oral tradition. I'm also curious as to whether the official policy will be to emphasize or largely ignore the diacritical marks that ensure proper pronunciation.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Samoa in Church History

More early Mormon missionaries to Samoa

Every missionary to Samoa must learn to contend with the mosquitoes. I've written previously about my own experience with dengue fever, a mosquito-borne sickness. Apparently, things haven't changed for over a hundred years.

Mormon missionary Henry L. Bassett tells of traveling to the "west end of the island of Upolu," where he and his traveling companion "stopped en route at many villages and were welcomed everywhere."

Unfortunately for Misi Paseta, as Bassett undoubtedly was called in Samoan, "this district was so Namuia (so numerous mosquitoes) that it was persecuting in its severity."
In my zeal to protect myself I only added to my discomfort. To provide against my tainamu mosquito netting) [sic] working loose from where it was tucked under my sleeping mat, I put several stones to hold it down, but alas for my inexperience, I had used lava rocks that had blow-holes in them like holes in Swiss cheese, which holes were the hiding place for the pesky mosquitos reposing therin, [sic] only to appear rampant upon my retirement to rest or to study the language so necessary in teaching the natives the plan of Salvation. I only learned of my folly regarding the mosquito episode when I saw the natives smiling at the amusing side of it. Although I could not smile with very good grace I 'saw the point'—or might say many of them.

Image courtesy of the Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 

Sunday, January 12, 2014


We called him Pa

I just found out that my grandpa died this evening. It wasn't entirely unexpected since he was 91 years old, but it still caught me by surprise. He was one of the last of his generation, called by some the greatest generation.

Pa's family moved out west to Idaho from Tennessee in 1929, seeking asylum for his sister Dot who was suffering from tuberculosis. En route they stayed two nights at the extra house of a man living on a mountain. He gave them a Belgian Police dog which they later had to "dispose of" due to distemper.

I once asked Pa about the Great Depression. He said they would bundle together willow sticks to make firewood. When the railroad ties were replaced, his father would float them down the river with Pa's older brother, Lake, and Pa would take them out at their property (or close to it). They burned the old ties to keep themselves warm.

The day after the attack at Pearl Harbor in 1941, he went down with some of his buddies and enlisted in the United States Navy. He spent the next four years in the Caribbean and South Pacific, experimenting on torpedoes and working in the engine room of a small ship that took diesel and air fuel to the front lines.

"I damn near sunk the ship," Pa once told me. The prop's screw casing was leaking and needed repacking, but the crew didn't want to take the ship into dry dock. Pa pumped the fuel or water to the bow of their 140 some foot fuel freighter, sinking the bow while exposing the screw of the propeller. Other than that, Pa didn't have anything to do with the repairs.

"I never got to Samoa, though our ship went there after we'd gone home." But Pa did get to see Bora Bora (from the ship), Guadalcanal, Bougainville, and Green Island.

How Pa loved telling us grandkids stories of his days in the Navy, and we loved listening to him tell them. There we'd sit with a root beer, or pistachios, or crackers and cheese, or cookies, which Grammie always had in ample supply, or perhaps we'd all be sitting together playing Pinochle, and we'd listen to Pa's stories for hours. And it didn't even matter that we'd heard the stories before.

Pa taught me how to work. Nearly every summer Saturday all through my teen years I and one of my brothers would go and mow Pa's lawn. He took a special pride in the state of his lawn and took the lead in putting in new flower beds or taking out bushes, in showing us how to weed whack or fertilize or adjust the sprinklers. He paid us handsomely in cash, Pinochle, and stories of the war.

"Pa, what was your father like?" I asked him back in 2009 on one of my last visits home.

A short pause. And then, "He was a fine father."

I could tell he really meant it.

"He was the best carpenter I knew."

His father passed away back in 1980. I have a hunch that they are enjoying their first moments together in over 30 years.

And I bet Pa's going to like getting to know the best Carpenter I know.

Samoa in Church History

"I have never fasted, studied and prayed so hard, but the language does not come easy to me."

So wrote Joseph H. Merrill, early missionary to Samoa, only four and a half months into his mission.

At a mission conference on 4 October 1891, Elder Merrill was "appointed to labor with Elder Edward Wood at Saleaula on the island of Savaiʻi." They labored there together for the next three months.

Early in 1892 when Elder Wood was "released to go home . . . he was very fluent in the language," laments a depressed Elder Merrill.
I accompanied him to Fagaliʻi [Merrill writes] where he would leave for home. He asked me what he could do for me. I told him that seeing he wouldn't be using his language at home, I wished it were possible for him to leave it here with me. He assured me he would if he could.
Apparently, Elder Wood did the next best thing. "He arranged for a chief to take good care of me on my return for I was a new missionary and couldn't speak the language as yet."
On my return to Saipipi Chief Tuala took me to his home and cared for me. After dinner the chief wanted to talk about the Gospel and asked many questions. I could understand only a few words, but could not answer him intelligently. He then busied himself with making rope and fish line etc. I felt that I would give anything if I could talk to him and answer his many questions. After a long silence he looked up and said, in Samoan, 'Well, shall we talk or shall we sleep?' I understood him perfectly. My heart felt as though it would burst for joy. It seemed that I was in midair instead of sitting on the mats. Answering in Samoan I said 'We will talk.' And we did till the morning. He called me a deceiver, a falsifier. Th[e] family awoke astonished at my speaking so fluently . . . The gift of the language was given to me that night.
Elder Merrill then relates how he walked back to Saleaula from Saipipi and greeted some village children in Samoan, calling them by name. The frightened children ran away, telling their parents and another missionary, Elder Carpenter, that Merila, as they called him, "is coming and he speaks just like Mr. Wood."
They marveled at my gift of the language. It was indeed the gift of tongues. I could talk to them and explain the gospel but when they asked me about the war, I could not have the words to talk to them.
I knew now for a surety that the language would be at my command in my missionary work. I bear testimony that it came then as a Gift of Tongues, my prayers for the language were answered and indeed I had been blessed with the language as Bro. Wood used it.

Monday, January 6, 2014

It's Fischer Time!

It's that time again! You know, when I relate something I read online to something I learned about in David Hackett Fischer's Historians' Fallacies.

In today's episode, we point you to an article by National Review writer Charles C. W. Cooke. In it, Cooke points out the pitfalls of prediction, or extrapolation, or prognostication, or, . . . you get the point.

The Antarctic ice shelf hasn't disappeared, as predicted.

The Arctic summer ice hasn't vamoosed, as predicted.

We haven't entered into another ice age, as predicted.

And so on and so forth, ad nauseam.

(Just to be clear, the politics of global warming is, emphatically, not what this post is about.)

Nope, before we get ourselves sidetracked from the task at hand, let me refer you to a humorous passage by Mark Twain as quoted in Historians' Fallacies.
The Mississippi between Cairo [in Illinois] and New Orleans was twelve hundred and fifteeen [sic] miles long one hundred and seventy six years ago. It was eleven hundred and eighty after the cut-off of 1722. It was one thousand and forty after the American Bend cut-off. It has lost sixty-seven miles since. Consequently, its length is only nine hundred and seventy-three miles at present.
Now if I wanted to be one of those ponderous scientific people, and 'let on' to prove what had occurred in the remote past by what had occurred in late years, what an opportunity is here! Nor 'development of species,' either! Glacial epochs are great things, but they are vague—vague. Please observe: In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the lower Mississippi has shortened itself two-hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oölitic Silurian Period, just one million years ago next November, the lower Mississippi River was upward of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

xkcd: Extrapolating.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Samoa in Church History

Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson at his estate in Samoa
Mormon missionary to Samoa, Henry L. Bassett, also relates a humorous, albeit embarrassing, instance of fashion failure:
I continued on toward Apia but was almost ashamed to go through the town because my hat that I had worn while away so long at Lalovi was very soiled as a result of the many rains it had encountered.
To my chagrin I met Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson and wife, and Lloyd Osborne, his stepson. I turned my head and hurried by, screening myself with umbrella lest they might see and recognize me.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Bountiful Harvest Awaits You in 2014

The prophet Alma in the Book of Mormon compares the word of God to a seed and observes that if planted in fertile soil and carefully tended and nourished it would grow up into a healthy tree that bears lots of life-giving fruit.

If we were to extend the analogy to the entire text of the Book of Mormon and planted it, seed-like, into fertile academic soil, what might the result look like?

Well, the people at have, in essence, examined that very question and the results are staggering. Their Book of Mormon study aids page "is designed to help those who are studying the Book of Mormon locate articles that relate to the passages they are studying," and it's chock-full of enlightening, faith-building information.

The seed, now a mature tree, has borne, is bearing, and no doubt will continue to bear prolifically.

Now Joseph Smith, purported translator of the Book of Mormon, also claimed that an angel named Moroni visited him in 1823 and told him, among many other things, that his name would be both good and evil spoken of throughout the world. That prophecy has come true, of course, but the same could be said of the Book of Mormon. It has its own detractors who no doubt have produced a large corpus of writings critical of this foundational book of scripture, making the Book of Mormon one of the most talked about books of all time.

Latter-day Saints aren't left without answers to said criticisms, however. A large portion of the work by LDS scholars has been produced in response to those very criticisms, providing, to use Peter's phrase, a reason for the hope that is in us.

Ultimately, the Book of Mormon itself demands that its veracity be a matter of faith borne of revelation:
. . . Ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things [i.e., the Book of Mormon] are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. (Moroni 10:4)
With the beginning of a new year, perhaps you'd like to find out for yourself whether the Book of Mormon is all that it's cracked up to be. It's my own experience that a careful, prayerful study of the Book of Mormon is richly rewarding, producing, as it were, delicious fruit for a lifetime.