Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Oct 23, 2018 in Stuff You Should Know

Senator Warren’s DNA Test Controversy

The ongoing feud between Donald Trump and Senator Elizabeth Warren, a progressive Democrat from Massachusetts and perhaps a 2020 presidential rival, took an unusual turn last week. Warren has long claimed to have Native American heritage. Trump has repeatedly called her a liar for this, as well as giving her derisive nicknames such as “Pocahontas.” Last summer at a political rally, he even promised to donate one million dollars to whatever charity Warren chooses if she could prove her Native American ancestry.

So last week, Warren called his bluff. And sure enough, the DNA test she took proves that she does have Native American heritage, though 95 percent of her genome comes from Europe. The geneticist who administered the test suggests that Warren probably had one Native American ancestor, roughly six to ten generations ago.

Trump immediately denied ever promising to donate to the charity. Then Warren made sure to emphasize that she does not lay claim to any tribal identity as a result of the test, nor has she ever used her Native American heritage for personal or professional gain. Nevertheless, she has unexpectedly received a lot of criticism from both sides of the political aisle for taking the test.

Many are troubled by the fact that Warren is claiming to represent a group of people without having shared their experience. She has also been criticized for failing to meet with Native American leaders. Some also say that she has allowed a dangerous and outdated conversation about race to continue–that race is a measurable, biological category. In other words, she is inadvertently promoting the idea that biological differences between races do exist, which is a potentially damaging point of view. Native Americans such as the Cherokee Nation have strongly criticized Warren for claiming a link to their culture.

What Do You Think? How far back can you trace your ancestry? To the best of your ability, make a list of the countries or regions of the world where your ancestors come from. How does your ancestry shape your idea of who you are and how you identify yourself?

Remembering Matthew Shephard

Washington National Cathedral, Washington D.C

Washington National Cathedral (1893), built in the 14th-century English Gothic style is located in Washington D.C.

Have you heard of Matthew Shepard? In October 1998, he was a 21-year-old college student in Laramie, Wyoming. He was also gay. On the night of October 12, he left a bar with two men who were pretending to be gay, but who really wanted to lure Shepard away and attack him. Shepard later passed away from his injuries. His death became the inspiration for many works of art, including The Laramie Project (one of the most-produced plays in the United States), and it also prompted an anti-hate crime law called the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was passed in 2009 under President Obama.

Now, on the twentieth anniversary of his death, Shepard’s ashes will be interred at Washington National Cathedral on October 26. The Episcopal National Cathedral is the final resting place for roughly two hundred influential Americans, such as Helen Kellar and President Woodrow Wilson. Following a public Service of Thanksgiving and Remembrance, which will be streamed online, Shepard’s remains will be interred in the cathedral crypt during a private ceremony.

Shepard’s ceremony will be presided over by the Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay priest to be consecrated a bishop in the Episcopal Church. The National Cathedral has long been a supporter of LGBTQ equality and considers it to be one of the most important civil rights issues of our time.

 Dig Deeper The Shepard family is gathering messages of love, hope, and support. If you like, you can leave yours at this link.

Is Digital Mining Dangerous?

Have you heard of Bitcoin? It’s just one form of cryptocurrency–digital money which isn’t generated by the government. Instead, it is produced by computers that perform certain transactions. The value of cryptocurrency varies widely. For example, in December 2017, Bitcoin hit a high of over $19,700. Now, it’s worth about $6,300. But that’s still a huge amount of money. As a result, cryptocurrency miners are racing to set up facilities full of supercomputers which often run 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the sole purpose of generating the currency.

Unfortunately, these facilities, which spring up very quickly, can be a huge strain on local resources. This struggle is exemplified by the current situation in Wenatchee, Washington, a small town known for its apple orchards. Wenatchee is an ideal location for cryptocurrency mining for two reasons: first, it’s located in a chilly climate, which helps with the heavy cost of cooling the computers; and second, dams on the nearby Columbia River provides a great source of cheap electricity. But for local residents, the mining is also a cause for concern. For one thing, the humming sound of all of the supercomputers and the industrial-strength fans needed to cool them can create noise pollution. Worse, these facilities obviously consume a great deal of electricity. When the local infrastructure can’t keep up, electrical wires can literally melt down. This is especially hazardous in places like Wenatchee, where the very real threat of wildfires is at the forefront of peoples’ minds.

Mining towns have all responded differently to the cryptocurrency phenomenon. For the time being, Wenatchee, for example, has placed a legal suspension on the currency mining.

Dig Deeper Based on what you’ve learned about American history, in what ways is the current cryptocurrency mining craze similar to the gold mining rush of the 1840s?

Gender X

Should the government tell individuals what gender they are, or should individuals be able to tell the government? This is the question at the heart of a new piece of legislation signed last week in New York City. As of January 1, 2019, individuals who were born in New York City will have the right to change the gender listed on their birth certificate from male or female to X, a gender-neutral third category.

Why? For gender nonconforming people (individuals who don’t identify as male or female, or non-binary transgender people), it can be very tricky when their identity documents don’t match who they are. Many transgender people also see strict male and female categories as a form of discrimination that forces them to label themselves in a way that they don’t agree with.

In many places, it is a requirement that a person undergoes sexual reassignment surgery and a legal name change in order to change their gender designation on their birth certificate. New York City did away with those requirements in 2014, and now, by adding a third gender-neutral category on birth certificates, they have made it even easier for people to honor the identity that best suits them. All the person has to do to change their certificate is make a personal statement; no document from a doctor is required. New Jersey, Washington, California, and Oregon have also instituted a third category on their birth certificates, but New York City is the first city to do so.

Dig Deeper Did you know that several states offer a gender-neutral option on driver’s licenses? Using Internet resources, identify at least three of these states.