Sunday, February 16, 2014

Samoa in Family History


I'm a Mormon, which means, by definition, I like family history.

A while back I discovered puzzilla.org, a FamilySearch certified tool that helps with research into collateral lines.

And through Puzzilla and a handy-dandy cousin chart, I learned that I'm something like second cousins three times removed with one William Karl Brewer, Mormon missionary to the Samoan islands in the early 1920s.

Elder Brewer, or Misi Paine, as the Samoans called him—a reference to his coming from Pinedale, Arizona—tells of his mission experiences in Armed with the Spirit: Missionary Experiences in Samoa.

I wonder how many other alumni of the Samoa Apia Mission are my cousins?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"Why Nutrition Is So Confusing"

Tomatoes were, after all, once widely believed to be poisonous

New York Times journalist and bestselling author Gary Taubes succinctly tells us why.

What Taubes doesn't say, however, is that our current nutrition and agriculture policies are heavily influenced by these "hypotheses treated as facts." (They're also heavily influenced by industry lobbyists, but we'll leave that for another post.)

Why nutrition and agriculture need to be so political in the first place is way beyond me. The law of unintended consequences alone suggests that we should be very careful about creating policies to govern either field on the basis of tentative science, even if there is a scientific consensus established in support of a particular hypothesis.

Samoa in the News

American Samoa's flag
Note: there are no bald eagles to be found in any of the Samoan islands

"Should American Samoans be [US] citizens?"

That's what Danny Cevallos, CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney, asks in a recent article on CNN Opinion.

America Samoa has been a US territory since 1900 and American Samoans are disproportionately represented in the US military and as war casualties.

American Samoans as US Nationals cannot vote in federal elections, though they do have one non-voting delegate to the US House of Representatives, currently Eni Faleomavaega, who can lobby Congress in favor of American Samoa. (For a fascinating description of how this process works, read historian Davis Bitton's biography of Mormon Apostle George Q. Cannon who served as Utah Territory's delegate for four terms between 1872 and 1882.)

Like Cevallos, I don't know if American Samoans will ever be granted automatic citizenship. However—and I don't know if this is even on any American Samoans' minds—rather than granting them US citizenship, I'd like to see American Samoans politically reunited with their fellow Samoans to the west.

There may be some good political reasons why that wouldn't be a good idea, not least of which is China's growing involvement in (formerly Western) Samoa, but it makes good sociocultural sense.

Even that last point is debatable, of course, because the Samoan archipelago doesn't seem to ever have been a single polity governed by a single ruler. The paramount chiefs of ancient Samoa probably didn't have universally recognized sovereignty over all the people in all the Samoan islands. So to give Apia control over historically autonomous Manu Ľa, would be culturally problematic.

At the end of the day the Samoans themselves are best suited to solve this problem, yet, as Cevallos accurately points out, they don't have the power to carry out any decisions they make regarding their governance or citizenship.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

It's Fischer Time!

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT)

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 the perfect analogy (pp. 247-251), which, our hero explains, "consists in reasoning from a partial resemblance between two entities to an entire and exact correspondence."
One must always remember that an analogy, by its very nature, [Fischer continues,] is a similarity between two or more things which are in other respects unlike. A 'perfect analogy' is a contradiction in terms, if perfection is understood as it commonly is in this context, to imply identity.
Which brings us to our example from my recent reading:

". . . [T]he analogy certainly isn't perfect," explained United States Senator Mike Lee, of Utah, to his audience at the National Prayer Breakfast, of his description of "three types of conversations I had with my father, only one of which can properly be analogized to a legitimate prayer."

But we would never fault the good Senator for an imperfect analogy. A good analogy serves its purpose as a heuristic device only, nothing more; and certainly not as a perfect explanation of a thing through the referencing of a different thing.

This is, so far as I can discern, the only flaw in Senator Lee's worthy remarks. They deserve to be read and reread.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Truth Will Prevail

A missionary in the British isles

In 1837, when Mormon missionaries went to England to share their message of a restored church and gospel, "they traveled first to Preston, arriving during elections. As they descended the coach, a banner was unfurled from a window above them, proclaiming, 'Truth Will Prevail.' The missionaries immediately adopted this as the motto of their mission to England."

Despite critics' claims otherwise, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been, from the very start, committed to the truth.

As evidence of this commitment, and that it is not afraid to discuss "difficult" aspects of its history and theology, the Church has been improving its Gospel Topics website, drawing from the very best available scholarship, including the acclaimed Joseph Smith Papers project.

There's an article on plural marriage (or polygamy, as some call it, but more accurately, at least as practiced by Mormons, polygyny) and another on race and the priesthood.

The means by which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon is discussed, as is the intersection of the Book of Mormon and DNA studies.

The different accounts of Joseph Smith's foundational First Vision are examined, and links to all the accounts, compliments of the Joseph Smith Papers, are provided.

And there's even an (exasperatingly obligatory, though well done) article confirming yet again that Mormons are indeed Christians.

Every article is well documented and includes a sidebar containing links to articles and videos for further study.

What I've never understood is how some people seem to hyperventilate about these, and other topics, when they should know that historical records are always incomplete, historical data is subject to differing interpretations, and that the Church's resources are finite and its primary purpose isn't to teach history (even its own).

Moreover, at present "we see through a glass, darkly;" Paul reminds us, "but then [i.e., at some future date] face to face." Faith is, after all, "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

If, as some think, Mormonism "be of men, it will come to naught," as wise Gamaliel said of the ancient Apostles' faith.

"But if it be of God," he warned, "ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God."

Either way, truth will prevail.

And This Is How I Really Feel About Skim Milk