Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"You keep using that word . . . "

And so, for the second time in just over a month, I invoke the profound wisdom of The Princess Bride to introduce a post.

Over at The Week, writer Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry discusses our misunderstanding and misuse of the word science.

Really, it seems, we are victims, to one degree or another, of scientism: "a naive gullibility towards science as the ultimate source of all knowledge, denying the uncertainties thereof."

It's very tempting to think of ourselves as scientific when we read and hear and see the effects or results of science, most likely through venues of pop science, without ever really doing science.

There's an astronomically huge difference between the two.

I have three science degrees, have read countless peer-reviewed journal articles, have even been part of some interesting experiments either as subject, lab assistant, or principle researcher.

But at present, I don't do science. I merely observe. And that primarily through secondary and tertiary sources.

And so I watch myself all the more closely lest I fall prey to any of the false, vain, and foolish science-in-name-only ideas currently en vogue. Science falsely so called, as the Apostle termed it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

In Which I Discover that the US Navy Wants Me Dead

"But not you, tubby!"

I went in to a Navy recruiter station today to see what it would take to enlist. For a while now I've wondered what it would be like to be a military linguist, or, in the Navy's case, a Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive). So I thought I'd see if they'd take me.

I know I'm a little overweight, but I don't think the recruiter thought so. That is, until I told him how much I weigh. Then he wanted to put me on a scale to make sure I wasn't messing with him.

Apparently for my height of 72 inches, the most I can weigh and join the Navy is 201 pounds. I haven't weighed that little since before my mission to the Samoan islands almost 15 years ago.

I need to lose 84 pounds. You do the math.

The recruiter measured my neck (17.5 inches) and waist at the navel (45 inches) and estimated my body fat at 30%.

Which means, assuming his estimation is any good, at 285 pounds, my body caries 85.5 pounds of fat.

In other words, I would have to get my body fat down to virtually 0%—that is, lose the mass of a largish child—to be just at the max enlistment weight. Hence the title of this post.

But in reality, the max body fat percentage I can have is actually 22% (until I'm 39, then it jumps up to a whopping 23%), which, if I didn't lose any muscle mass, would put me at 255 pounds, a mere 54 pounds over my max enlistment weight.

Do you think they'd let me in if I was nearly 60 pounds overweight but met their body fat requirement (and, of course, the other fitness standards)?

Or would the Navy's apparent prejudice against the naturally muscular carry the day?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Samoa in the News

Cocos nucifera, the Samoan tree of life

When the West went through a tropical oils scare back in the day (I think it was in the 80s or 90s), Samoa, which was likely a major coconut oil producer at the time, took a big hit to its economy.

(Incidentally, I used to live near a coconut oil refinery located in the Vaitele area of ʻUpolu. This makes me an expert on the subject along the lines of Phil Conners being naturally talented at the piano because his father was a piano mover.)

But it looks like things are on the upswing for Samoan farmers, who have the added benefit of being able to farm organically.

I can't imagine it being too hard to grow coconuts organically, though. Apart from the Asiatic rhinoceros beetle, which I think has reached Samoa, the coconut tree seems to have few problems doing what it does best: produce coconuts. Abundantly.

So much so, that a traditional blessing for a new bride in Samoa is may the coconut tree produce much fruit. It would seem that prospective grandparents worldwide are almost universally eager to have as many grandkids as possible as soon as possible, Samoa not excepted.

Anyway, I hope the Samoans will never lose their traditions of farming the land and fishing the seas for at least a portion of their daily sustenance. And if it takes a focus on organic farming to ensure the survival of their culture, all the better.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"Are you looking for a job?"

I've been looking for a regular full-time job since I graduated two and a half years ago. So far, no luck.

So I went to a job fair a number of weeks back to see what it had to offer. Talk about an exercise in futility!

As a walked down the aisles between booths for banks and burger joints, temp agencies and tourist attractions, I increasingly felt that I was in the wrong place. After all, I'm trained in the exercise sciences with an added specialization in nutrition. I also happen to teach Samoan language as an adjunct faculty member at the local university.

But I'm willing to make a career change. I'm versatile. I'm at least of marginal intelligence.

What clinched it for me, though, were the multiple instances when I'd make eye contact with some bright, shiny, smiling face stationed at a booth and the first words out of said bright, shiny, smiling face were, "Are you looking for a job?"

I just don't think I could work for a company that staffs a job fair with recruiters who don't automatically intuit my reasons for attending it.


Monday, September 15, 2014

"The Earth is Full"

From dust to lush in 20 months!

It seems sometimes these days that all we hear about are the negative impacts humans have on the environment.

But one thing that I think is becoming increasingly clear is that the environment, so called, appears to be at its very best precisely when deliberate human intervention is the greatest.

The idea that the peoples of the ancient world had, as a best case scenario, little to any impact on the environment, or, worst case, precipitated the complete ecological collapse of the places they lived, appears to be more myth than fact.

"Sifting through the evidence," writes author Charles C. Mann, in 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, "it is apparent that many though not all Indians were superbly active land managers—they did not live lightly on the land."

"Indians," he writes, "worked on a very large scale, transforming huge swathes of the landscape for their own ends."

The Amazon Rainforest, for example, rather than being the epitome of virgin forest untouched by humankind, is one of the largest gardens in the world.

The soils in the rainforest are notoriously infertile, a strange paradox given the lush, dense vegetation for which the rainforest is known. The natives figured out a way to introduce large quantities of carbon, in the form of charcoal, and other organic matter, including microorganisms, to create what's called Indian dark earth, or terra preta, a type of soil that's virtually infinitely more fertile than the surrounding soils.

We're only now beginning to understand how to make terra preta ourselves.

Apart from Mann's explosion of the "idea that native cultures did not or could not control their environment," in the past year or so I've come across some remarkable examples of humans deliberately improving their environments, sometimes in unexpected, even paradoxical ways.

I'll share some with you for your consideration and, in some cases, viewing pleasure.

Grazing animals gets a bad rap for ruining the land, ruining the water, and, with bovine methane production, increasingly ruining the air. One of these problems, desertification, is rapidly destroying grasslands worldwide.

Yet paradoxically, the work of biologist Allan Savory, and farmers Joel Salatin, of Polyface Farms, and John Neumeister, of Cattail Creek Lamb, show that proper grazing practices can significantly improve the health of land, even reversing the deleterious effects of desertification. The latter two have their work featured in the documentary films Food, Inc., and Ingredients, respectively. Dr. Savory has a remarkable TED talk you can watch below.

And Jadav Payeng and Shubhendu Sharma have both shown the world in their own ways that the reclamation of land through reforestation is well within the reach of ordinary human beings.

These represent, I suspect, the tip of the proverbial iceberg of what is taking place worldwide, showing that far from being a parasitic species, Homo sapiens is very much intended to be as the Hebrew account of Genesis makes us out to be: gardeners with a stewardship over the earth that doesn't preclude our intensive use of the earth and its resources. So long as we are wise stewards, as one verse of scripture explains, "the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare."

Saturday, September 13, 2014

My Night on Aunuʻu

"Let the Work Begin" by Clark Kelley Price, which depicts the arrival of Joseph and Florence Dean, and four-month-old son Jasher Harry, to Aunuʻu in the Samoan islands in June of 1888

Sometime on either the 17th, 18th, or 21st of June, 1888, depending on whom you consult for the date, Joseph and Florence Dean, missionaries belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, officially opened a mission to the Samoan islands and commenced their work of proselytizing the natives.

The Deans were assisted by one Samuela Manoa, a native Hawaiian, who years before had gone to Samoa under the direction of Walter Murray Gibson, the crafty interloper who made a lot of trouble for the Latter-day Saints in the Hawaiian islands, and who ingratiated himself with King David Kalākaua, eventually becoming one of the king's officers.

Apparently, the Deans' great-great-grandson is currently serving his own mission in Samoa and was recently able to go to Aunuʻu island off the eastern coast of Tutuila in American Samoa, where his forebears initially settled to establish the mission, to celebrate their arrival there. (In later years, the mission headquarters would move to ʻUpolu, the most populous of the Samoan islands, then and now, where it remains today, at present located just next to the temple, not far from Apia.)

The Deans' great-great-grandson, Elder Anderson, who is currently serving in the Samoa Apia Mission. The title of the commemorative plaque says, "The morning of the Restored Gospel in Samoa." In this case, taeao doesn't refer to a run-of the-mill-morning, but to an "important, memorable, or auspicious occasion," i.e., the dawning of a new era. 

During my own mission to Samoa, I once went to Aunuʻu. It's a beautiful island situated not more than a mile off the coast of Tutuila. The only way to the diminutive island, which may have served at one point in its history as a sort of penal colony, as suggested by its name, is to catch one of the few daily ferries from ʻAuʻasi.

The boat ride to Aunuʻu
The interior of Aunuʻu is swampy, and the mosquitoes there are the stuff of legend (if not now, then certainly once this post goes viral, with a nod to this and this post referring to other parts of Samoa).

As my companion and I, in the company of the local congregation's missionary leader, settled down for the night on the tile floor of one of the rooms in the tiny chapel, we realized that we had forgotten to bring mosquito nets, an absolute necessity when sleeping in the open air, as we soon would be.

To our everlasting chagrin, all the stores were also closed so we could purchase neither mosquito nets nor repellent coils. Instead, we resigned ourselves to a night of fitful sleep and constant battle with the murderous mozzies.

The mission leader we were with rubbed it in by going home to grab his own mosquito net to sleep in. After a long while, however, he returned empty handed, saying that when he'd found his net, he also found an old lady, presumably a family member, sleeping in it.

We took a certain wicked pleasure in his misfortune of having to share our fate through the night.

Suffice it to say, none of us slept well.

The next day I was so tired that, by the time we returned back to neighboring Tutuila island, my Samoan language ability had tanked. I couldn't get anything to come out right, at one point blurting out, to my great embarassment, a Tongan-ish fakalatalata (instead of the Samoan faʻalatalata; faka- and faʻa- being functionally equivalent prefixes in Tongan and Samoan, respectively).

I hope Elder Anderson, the Deans' great-great-grandson, had a more pleasant stay on Aunuʻu remembering the great work that his ancestors began so many years ago.