Archive for March, 2005


March 22, 2005

Papercasting: this is certainly easier to follow than podcasting. I can imagine that it suffers from the same basic affliction: most people’s handwriting is hard to read just as most people’s voices are not great in recordings.


Big Talk

March 17, 2005

There’s been a lot of controversy lately up north because of Snow Bowl’s decision to use snow machines at the prominent Flagstaff, Arizona ski resort. The purpose of such machines is to even out the unpredictable fluctuations in snow density. In previous years, snow has been spotty and the tourism industry has suffered accordingly. As the nearest ski resort to Phoenix, months without snow have tremendous impact on both the resort and the local economy.

What sort of controversy might arise from such an action? Turns out that one of the mountains of Snow Bowl is sacred to the Navajo tribe. The president of the Navajos—I would think he’d call himself chief or something less non-Indian—is calling the Forest Service’s decision “genocide.” Here’s where things get a little hazy: it’s not “demeaning” to have skiers traipsing on your sacred mountain but spraying frozen waste water periodically is “systematic and planned extermination of an entire ethnic group.”

I know politicians are prone to hyperbole. Their rhetoric is generally overstated and overblown. But I’ve never heard one of them bandy about the term “genocide” as casually as Mr. Shirley has. The mountain in question isn’t even located on reservation land and is, as far as I can tell, unoccupied. All of the articles I’ve read on this subject make no mention of U.S. Forest Service or Snow Bowl stormtroopers slaughtering innocent Indians en masse. I would think it would be newsworthy, so I have to assume that it isn’t happening.

I’ve studied Indian history with a prominent historian of the Navajos. My entire graduate history career has been spent listening to apologists for nineteenth-century American activities. I am not ignorant of Indian matters. That being said, I do not understand how anyone can take Indian religious convictions seriously when they imbue natural features with untouchable sacredness. The claim to sacredness is the result of an oral tradition and is not secured by any legal protections.

How can a mountain have intrinsic value that trumps any explicit property rights? It’s ludicrous: these sorts of claims and environmentalism are the only two areas of American society where such a premise is embraced. It’s telling that the parallels between the two qua movements are so significant. They share the same basic ends and often the same means. They also wield power and influence far in excess of their numbers. Their views are appeased and their cows are sacred. It’s really unfortunate because they’re both operating on the same flawed fundamental premise: that civilization must be stopped and preferably rolled back.

Big Brothers

March 16, 2005

The British government has an agency called the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority that regulates infertility treatments of all kinds. It has the power to determine whether or not a British citizen may receive treatments to help produce a child. As someone who has suffered through infertility, I can say that the thought that we would have had to petition a government body to be able to go through the years of trying to conceive is utterly repellent.

The story of a couple’s rejection is telling. They had a son with a rare form of anemia and they wanted to use medical advances to find an embryo that matched their son exactly. They pleaded with the HFEA and were rejected on moral grounds. The reasoning, given in the linked article, was that in choosing one embryo to develop over another, they were condemning the remaining embryos to an unspeakable, prolonged, and agonizing death. They actually just called it death—I was being sarcastic with my description since we’re talking about a collection of cells not yet implanted in a uterus.

So they did what most people do in countries with socialized medicine when faced with insurmountable obstacles for medical treatments: they went to America. The mother went to Chicago and came back to the United Kingdom with twins. They were literally their older brother’s only hope.

Two years later, the brother is now doing well and appears to have been cured of the rare disease that doctors thought would have killed him by 30. He no longer has to have twice-weekly blood transfusions.

What about the so-called “designer baby” that was conceived to help him? Is he a horrible mutant with some internal stuff missing? Did he have to undergo painful surgeries when he was less than a week old? No, the lifesaving stem cells that were used to cure his older brother were harvested from his umbilical cord. For those of you unfamiliar with anatomy and the wonders of birth, the umbilical cord is cut from the placenta and is discarded normally.

The outrage and government fiat was done in the name of protecting cells that are essentially the flotsam and jetsam of delivery. The parents wanted more kids and, most importantly, they didn’t want the kids they already had to die. The child who was at one time attached to this umbilical cord is loved and treated like any other member of the family. He’s not some byproduct of a medical procedure: he’s a kid who will get to live his whole life knowing his big brother.

Speaking of big brothers, can you imagine some bureaucrat telling you that you couldn’t do the exact same thing to save your child? “I’m sorry, sir, but you’ll just have to enjoy your son’s remaining years.” Thankfully, there is still relative freedom in America but what if the fundamentalists in our midst have their way and shut down embryonic research over here. Where would we go from here?

[UPDATE: Ronald Bailey has an essay on the wider implications of such things.]

Google Dock

March 16, 2005

Google X: a version of the home page for the Mac OS X owners. Note to Windows users: it’s the Dock-like rollover tab replacement.

[UPDATE: Here’s the background story.]

[UPDATE (6/22/2008): They’ve long since taken the official version down, but here’s a mirror.]

Bandwidth Theft Part Two

March 7, 2005

Geesh. Regular readers may remember last month’s prank on some punk kids stealing my bandwidth by using an image of my daughter. If you don’t feel like reading that, I’ll summarize: I replaced the picture they were expecting with a picture of a morbidly—and that’s being generous—obese woman mooning the camera. I had a great laugh knowing that the image has been displayed several hundred times since then.

Apparently, some other people at enjoyed my prank and decided to use that picture in other people’s comments. Of course, they couldn’t be bothered to host the file themselves. Their mistake!

It’s time to up the ante, so they’re getting goatse! If you don’t know what that is, consider yourself lucky. It’s a not-morbidly-obese gentleman doing what the lady was doing, except with a twist of anus spreading. I’m serious: don’t click if you don’t want to puke a little bit in your mouth. Of course, it’s not safe for work.

Here are the offending posts decorated by yours truly. I warned you.

P.S. Again, Leandra, I’m very sorry.

[UPDATE: Oh, and to anticipate a question: I don’t know where to go from here.]

Dam Shame

March 5, 2005

I had my own weeping Indian moment Friday afternoon on my lunch break.

I hiked down to the Salt River like I often do: down 48th Street, over the railroad tracks, and then over the Grand Canal. As usual, the place was abuzz with activity since it is the future location of the maintenance and storage yard of Valley Metro’s light rail line. Construction is progressing pretty rapidly.

So rapidly, in fact, that they’ve completely demolished the Joint Head Dam itself and removed the link between the control structure and the Grand Canal. That was very difficult to see since it’s one of my favorite places to visit. I scoured the remaining area, taking in every detail I could so that I would have my memories should they decide to tear down the rest.

It’s astounding to me that the Joint Head Dam should be destroyed. Looking at the map in the PDF above, it looked like there was a Historical Preservation Overlay District and I just assumed that the dam itself was part of that. I guess it wasn’t.

As a historian, this isn’t surprising to me. Phoenix, like its namesake, was built on the ashes of a previous civilization and the general attitude towards the past has reflected that. It’s gotten better in recent times, to be sure, but it’s still woefully lacking. The obliteration of the Joint Head Dam was just the first time I’ve really encountered this attitude on a personal level.

Major Outage

March 4, 2005

I apologize to anyone who tried to access this site yesterday and today. My current—soon to be former—host seems to have misrouted my domain for some unknown reason. All the files were in the right places, but the domain entry was pointing somewhere else. Very strange.