Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

For the prior few years, I had been a soldier in the War on Christmas. I have not considered myself a christian since my early teens. I did love all of the Christmas stuff as a kid: going to midnight mass and belting out carols ("Joy To The World", "Oh Come All Ye Faithful", and "Hark The Herald Angels Sing" were favorites) in particular. But, as the Religious Right has kept pushing and pushing -- "the US is a christian nation", etc -- I've felt the need to push back.

So the last few years, I've been celebrating Winter Solstice explicitly. Not that I'm particularly a pagan, but I was an astronomer, and the solstices and equinoxes are astronomical events. I do think that the pagan myths, particularly the Norse ones, are a lot more fun and interesting than the christian and hebrew myths.

But this year, I have figured, screw it. If I know someone's a christian, I tell them "Merry Christmas". So funny tho, the Indians around the neighborhood or working various places, I stick with "Happy Holidays" -- because they probably aren't christians. They are some of the new, multi-cultural americans whose existence conservatives are trying so desperately to deny. I think my newfound tolerance is a result of my generally more relaxed attitude to life since retirement.

One thing though that is Not Right. Christmas, by name, is a religious holiday, and it is the only religious holiday that is s federal holiday. Seems like a 1st amendment violation to me. Hmmm, asking The Google about "christmas federal holiday constitutional" points to this lawyer's blog post. Apparently there was a court case in 1999 that said it was OK -- because there is no requirement to actually do anything or accept anything religious or christian on Christmas. Ha ha, it also mentioned that Thanksgiving being the 4th Thursday in Novemember, is not an endorsement of the Norse god Thor, whom Thursday is named for. Yay, I guess???

Last week, on impulse I got a couple of history books out of the library. BTW, our local public library branch is really nice. Lots of meeting and study rooms, and a bank of 32 public PCs in the back. I skimmed both the books and only read in depth in a few places. The first book was "The Atlas of Past Worlds", by John Manley (1993). This tried to give a sense of what development was going on around the world, rather than just in the famous places. They took 5 locations for the years 2000 and 1000 BC, 1, 1000, and 1500 AD for a total of 25 chapters. I didn't get that much from this. The author is an archaeologist, so a lot of the emphasis was on the physical layout and the types of artifacts found. I think Jared Diamond spoils you for this kind of stuff by providing so much of the "why" of the time and how it integrates into the sweep of history.

The 2nd book I skimmed was "The Encyclopedia of North American Indians", edited by D. L. Birchfield (1997).I don't feel like I learned much new here, except for maybe more of an appreciation for how many different tribes there were. Generally a tribe consisted of up to 10s of villages with 10s of 1000s of individuals living in areas of a few 1000s of square miles. This book and more googling seemed to confirm that in the 18th century at the time of 1st contact with the white invaders, Kentucky was the permanent home of no tribes. It was used as hunting grounds for Shawnee from north of the Ohio River and Cherokee from the southeast. I wonder why that was?

This book, in the entry for "Alcoholism, Indian", also denies that there are genetic differences that limit the ability to metabolize alcohol that are more prevalent among Native Americans. A friend of mine who claims Indian blood would disagree with that, claiming that his Indian blood makes him a lightweight when it comes to alcohol consumption -- 1 or 2 beers and he's done, and the more so as he ages. Hmmm, googling "alcohol metabolism genetic variation" gives among others this article, which says that there are definitely different genetic alleles that give some individuals more ability to metabolize alcohol. So the question I guess is, how are these alleles distributed across ethnic groups? This article addresses this explictly, and says:

Additionally, despite the fact that more Native American people die of alcohol-related causes than do any other ethnic group in the United States, research shows that there is no difference in the rates of alcohol metabolism and enzyme patterns between Native Americans and Whites.
So my friend probably has the slow alcohol metabolizing genes, Indian blood or no Indian blood.

Now on the magazine stack, then on to "The Wealth of Nations". Oh, also signed up for an online course at Columbia University that starts Jan 21: "The Age of Sustainable Development". Interested to see how that goes.

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