03 October 2015

I Resent Learners of Fictional Languages

Let me start by saying that I understand learning a fictional language is a hobby. Many people have hobbies that don't seem to have any particularly useful purpose. I'm sure I have hobbies that some would judge to be a waste of time, and I certainly have plenty of knowledge (including knowledge of fictional worlds) that many would judge to be useless.

Nevertheless, I resent learners of fictional languages. I resent those who learn fictional languages not because I believe their pursuits are harmful, but because they clearly have aptitudes that could be put to exceptionally greater uses.

01 October 2015

Unsecured and Freely Available Guns Kill People

Unsecured and freely available guns kill people. It's a scientific fact.
  1. Crazed people commit acts of violence around the world. There are few places, however, where crazed people have freer access to firearms than the United States. Firearms allow violent and mentally unstable people to become far more dangerous.
  2. Gun accidents have killed hundreds and thousands of Americans, and many many fewer would have died if guns weren't so ubiquitous and unsecured here. An average of 62 children under age 14 have died every year due to gun accidents for the past several years in the U.S., most of them in their own homes, most of them because adults did not secure their firearms.
  3. Studies show that suicides are far more likely to be completed if there unsecured guns in the person's home. Just a lock on the gun case makes suicide less likely to happen—and no, you can't say "Well, a suicidal person will just find another way," because suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts don't work that way.
It's a disgrace to humanity that so many Americans can't face up to these facts and admit that something must be done. Doubtless, thousands more people will die from guns in attacks, accidents, and suicides in the United States before anything will change.

13 August 2015

Who Are the Monks and Nuns of the 21st Century?

Today I finished rewatching the miniseries Pillars of the Earth (based on the great book by Ken Follett) with my wife, and afterward I was struck by the following idea:

In medieval western Europe, monasticism was an important part of many communities, and a large number of people lived as monks and nuns. Today, however, monasticism is virtually nonexistent in much of western Europe, and most everywhere else plays a much smaller role in society with a much smaller number of adherents, at least as a percentage of the population. 

Are there institutions and vocations that hold a prominent place in our world today that will similarly shrink from view centuries from now? There must be. In a sense, I am wondering—who are the monks and nuns of the twenty-first century?

I don't have an answer to this question; I just thought it was interesting to consider. Who knows what sort of shifts in our social structures and career paths might occur centuries from now, or what organizations and professions that we have utter faith in today might lose that support in the future? Please let me know if you have ideas!

Young monks in Myanmar (Burma), a place where monasticism is still relatively strong (image source)
Please note: I do not at all mean to disrespect present-day monks and nuns with this post. I am well aware that there are still people in Christendom (to use the medieval term) who join religious orders. I simply find it noteworthy that monasticism faded so much as a critical component of European society, and wondered what a future parallel would be.

07 August 2015

Three Days of Stockholm Tunnelbana Travel

I have a thing with metro and tram systems. My fascination really grew serious in Strasbourg, where I ended up visiting all of the tram stations within the first month of my college semester there. I then turned my focus back onto the metro in Washington, D.C., and I created a map to track my travels on it during my senior year at Georgetown.

A few weeks ago my wife and I went on our honeymoon (nearly a year after our wedding) and visited Sweden, Norway, and Iceland together. Our first stop was Stockholm, and we bought ourselves 72-hour passes for unlimited travel on the Stockholms Lokaltrafik network. Mostly, we used the Tunnelbana ("tunnel rail") metro system. Here's the map of where we went:

three days' travel on the Stockholm Tunnelbana

Stockholm is a beautiful city, and using the Tunnelbana was an awesome way to get around it. The map above may not look that impressive, but I think we definitely got our money's worth from the 72-hour cards, and saw much of the center of the city, as well as some of the outskirts. I hope we'll get the chance to go back and see even more!

05 August 2015

Safeway O Organics Tea Irony

My wife and I love the O Organics peach oolong tea from Safeway, and we have for a few years now, but this passage on the new label for the tea is pretty rich:

"Doesn't it feel good to know where your food comes from?" Yes, definitely—but there's absolutely no information on the label as to where this tea or its ingredients come from! You just reminded your customers that they like having more information, O Organics and Safeway, but then you gave us none of it. What a disappointment.

26 June 2015

Panic vs. Tolerance: Gay Marriage, the Confederate Flag, and Wade Hampton

the rainbow flag of the LGBT movement
Some Americans are panicking right now. Some are panicking about gay marriage becoming legal across the country, which just happened today. Some are panicking about the Confederate Battle Flag losing its official status and being taken out of stores, which has been happening at a rapid pace over the past week. Quite a few are probably panicking about both. Some Alaskans are even panicking about our governor deciding to rename Alaska's Wade Hampton census area, named for a slave-owning South Carolina Confederate who had nothing to do with Alaska.

I'm not just exaggerating, either: I know these people are panicking because they're making extreme comments about the state of our country, the decline of our democracy, and the downfall of society. One of these people is even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

At the root of this panic is a fundamental issue that everybody struggles with: tolerance and open-mindedness. People are panicking because they're struggling to accept (or refuse to accept) ways of life and perspectives different than their own.

14 June 2015

Two Types of Newcomers to Ketchikan

I've been living back in my hometown of Ketchikan as an independent, out-of-college adult for two years now. In that time, my wife and I have gotten to know a fair number of newcomers to Ketchikan: The town has a pretty high turnover rate for a large portion of residents, whether they work for the Coast Guard, the hospital, in the visitor industry or elsewhere. After some observation and though, I feel I can place most newcomers to Ketchikan in two markedly different categories:

1.  There are those who figure out that Ketchikan is a very limited place, a place that won't give them the opportunity to fulfill their goals and aspirations. They plan out how much time they expect to spend here, and then enjoy that time as best they can before they quickly leave and move on with their lives.

2. There are those who figure out that Ketchikan is an incredibly exceptional place, a place that allows them to live a lifestyle they love, perhaps even that they never knew they wanted. They enjoy discovering all the opportunities for fulfillment the community has, and quickly become locals along with the rest of us.

Perhaps newcomers to any community could be sorted into categories like this, but I think it's rather remarkable how I seem to know so many people who have either had their fill of Ketchikan right away or completely fallen in love with it. As for my wife and I, we're open to moving somewhere else to advance our careers or have new adventures, but both of us love Ketchikan, and we know it'll always be our home.

This is Connell Lake, which my wife and I recently hiked along
and camped next to—just another Ketchikan experience.

07 May 2015

Totem Heritage Center Timeline of Native History

I wrote up the following timeline for the Totem Heritage Center, an awesome museum in Ketchikan that preserves some of the oldest Tlingit and Haida totem poles in the world. I wrote the original version in 2012 when I first worked at the Heritage Center. Now I've been rehired for this summer, and this is my updated version.

Early 1700s — Haida move north into Lingít Aaní (Tlingit country), begin living on southern Taan (Prince of Wales Island)
1741 — The Alexei Chirikov expedition sees Tlingit, the first European encounter of Northwest Coast people
1774 — Juan Perez leads the first Spanish expedition north of California, likely bringing smallpox to Haida Gwaii and Taan.
1774-1834 — Fur trade ongoing between Natives and Europeans in Southeast Alaska
1793 — George Vancouver circumnavigates and names Revillagigedo Island
Late 1700s — Members of the Taant’a Ḵwáan (Tongass Tribe) move to Dàasaxakw (Village Island)
1830s — Members of the Taant’a Ḵwáan move to Kadúḵx̱uka (Tongass Island)
Mid-1800s — Taant’a Ḵwáan occupies both Dàasaxakw and Kadúḵx̱uka
1835-1838 — Smallpox epidemic decimates populations across the Pacific Northwest
1860s — Many Taant’a Ḵwáan move from Dàasaxakw to Kaduḵx̱uká
1862 — Another smallpox epidemic hits with extreme virulence
1867 — United States purchases Russia’s claim to Alaska for $7.2 million
1868 — U.S. army outpost and customs house established at Kadúḵx̱uka
1876 — Canadian Indian Act outlaws potlatches and winter dances
1887 — Cannery built at Ketchikan, New Metlakatla founded on Annette Island by Tsimshian from Canada
1890s — Haida move from Ḵasaʼáan (Old Kasaan) to New Kasaan
1890-1920 — World museums compete frenetically to take hundreds of poles from Alaska and British Columbia
1892 — Chief Skowal dies in Ḵasaʼáan
1893-1894 — Taant’a Ḵwáan relocates to Ketchikan and Saxman
1894 — Saxman founded by Sanyaa Ḵwáan people from G̱àash (Cape Fox Village) and by Taant’a Ḵwáan
By 1900 — Taant’a Ḵwáan diminished 80% since 1800, largely due to disease
1900 — Ketchikan incorporated as a city
1904 — Fifteen Tlingit and Haida poles are displayed at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, then relocated to Sitka
1910 — Alaska becomes a territory with an elected legislature
1912 — Alaska Native Brotherhood founded
1924 — United States citizenship extended to all Native Americans
1929 — American Legion Post brings several old poles to Ketchikan
Mid-1930s — Several totem poles are moved from Ḵasaʼáan to New Kasaan
1938-1942 — Totem Bight State Historical Park built
1939 — Saxman Totem Park established
1940 — Ketchikan Indian Community (KIC) incorporated
1945 — Territorial legislature passes Anti-Discrimination Act, the first of its kind put into law in the United States
1951 — New Indian Act removes Canadian prohibition of potlatches
1969-1971 — Totem Retrieval Project brings abandoned villages’ poles to Ketchikan
1971 — Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act signed into law
1973 — Cape Fox Corporation created
1976 — Totem Heritage Center opened

Please leave a comment if you have any thoughts, questions, or corrections!

For past posts about the Totem Heritage Center, read the following:
Coming Home to Ketchikan, Alaska
Fun Words in Lingít (Tlingit)
An Indigenous/Non-Indigenous or Western/Non-Western Art Dichotomy?
Done as a Tour Guide - For Now