August 2018

Line in the Sand: Our Top News Stories Tonight at 8PM!

Author: Barry Kaufman & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Opinion A: Barry Kaufman
The media, during those dry spells in between presidential tweets, has recently been enraptured with the many, many evils that await anyone foolish enough to share their DNA with Ancestry.com. If you believe what you read, the second Ancestry.com had their hands on your DNA, they were turning around and selling that sweet chromosomal gold to the highest bidder.

Personally, I have an intimate knowledge of my DNA, and I have no idea what anyone would want with it. Someone could run it though some kind of fancy genotyping equipment, I suppose, and deduce through workups of my various genetic markers that I was prone to obesity. Or they could open a packet of Doritos, literally, anywhere in my zip code and note how quickly I appear asking if they were going to eat all of those.

I’d be more upset about them selling it, but I really don’t hold my DNA in that high regard. I’d go so far as to say my DNA owes me several million dollars, as it’s the primary reason I never became a professional athlete.
The timing of this media assault on Ancestry.com was especially interesting to me, since it coincided with a visit from my brand-new great aunt, a person I would have no idea existed if it weren’t for Ancestry.com.

It all started with a Christmas gift a few years ago. My mom had started researching our genealogy, so my brothers and I all kicked in for an Ancestry.com subscription. What she found out over the years was eye-opening. She also managed to trace our lineage back to a small town outside of Glasgow called Stewarton, where a relative of mine named Thomas Miller first departed for America. He was killed by police in Brooklyn a few years later for being too drunk. Which explains our family motto, which translates from Latin to, “If you’re too drunk for Brooklyn, you’re too drunk.”

My mom has even started living part-time in Stewarton, in the same block of flats where Thomas Miller used to live. Through her research, she’s made dear friends with distant relatives who live there. One of them, Ian, has even been bestowed that highest of Kaufman honors: a completely arbitrary nickname. We call him Thor, despite him asking us very politely not to. It’s how we welcome you into the family. They all call me Chuck. I have uncles whose real names I didn’t learn until I was an adult. It’s a thing.

But things really got interesting when my mom sprung for me to have my DNA tested. And by interesting, I mean a little horrifying if you think about it. I’d always assumed I was of Scottish ancestry, what with all the Scottish ancestors and all. It’s not like you have to go way back to find a connection; my great, great grandfather was born over there. Even on my dad’s side, which is largely German, there is a ton of Scot.

Turns out, a ton of my DNA is Viking. Which is kind of neat as long as you don’t think too hard about why. Vikings are famous for two things, and I didn’t get their DNA from pillaging. That was unpleasant to discover, to say the least. But it was not all severe implications that are hard to bring up in a humorous column; some of what I found was pretty cool.

Turns out a not insignificant portion of my DNA is Spanish and Greek, with a hint of Middle Eastern thrown in. I don’t know my nameless Mediterranean forebearers, but I’d like to thank them for a lifetime of awesome tans.
But my mom made the greatest discovery of them all when her DNA matched up with someone she’d never met in New York. They got to talking, and it turned out she was a half-sister to my grandma. I won’t go into the specifics, because it’s not my story to tell. Suffice it to say, this was someone with whom I shared blood, and neither of us knew the other existed until we all decided to put our respective DNA on the auction block.

This new relative came to visit during that week period when the media was obsessed with painting Ancestry.com as unscrupulous haploid smugglers. It was interesting timing, not just because of all the media hoopla at the time, but because we had lost my grandma, her half-sister, not long before. Nana had a long fight with cancer, but she’d kept that smile until the very end. I still see it when I think of her, the way the corners of her mouth would pull up her laugh lines, the way she’d crinkle her eyebrows together. I still see it, and I can’t help but smile back at just the memory of her.

And then this amazing stranger with my grandma’s DNA showed up, and she fixed me with that same smile. And for a moment, just for a moment, it was like having a little piece of my Nana back again. I didn’t tell her that at the time, and it could be she’s finding out about this now. But it nearly brought me to tears when I saw it.

Our DNA contains a lot of information—some things we’d like to know, some we’d rather not. For me, that smile still exists somewhere in the world, carried on a double helix and arranged among amino acids. If Ancestry.com can give me that smile back, it can take my crummy DNA.

___________________________

Opinion B: Courtney Hampson

Greetings Earthlings.

I’ve stopped watching and reading most news, save for a few minutes of the Today Show in the morning and maybe a glimpse of the NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt one night a week. Oh, and when The Bachelorette is in the middle of her Bahamas trip and Colton just revealed his big secret to her and then the president breaks in to announce his Supreme Court nominee, I watch the news then too, because what choice do I have? But for the most part, much like Facebook (flashback to the May issue), the news has become a non-stop stream of politics and opinions that exhausts me.

So, when Barry asked me what I thought of the “space force,” I had no idea what he was talking about, to which he replied, “What? How?” The rest of the conversation went something like this:

Barry sends link to NY Post article, which says, “President Trump on Monday said he was directing the Pentagon to create a ‘Space Force’ as an independent branch of the U.S. military to ensure the safety of U.S. spacecraft and astronauts as traffic in the cosmos increases. ‘This is a giant step toward inspiring future generations and toward reclaiming America’s proud destiny in space,’ Trump said in a statement announcing the plan, which he had talked about before.”

Me: Oh, my God. Well, the reason I didn’t know is that I turn off any mention of politics.
Barry: Then you’re missing out on some of the prime crazy of this administration so far.
Me: So scary.
Barry: Well, that kind of cowardice is why you probably won’t cut it in the Space Force.

Have I mentioned that I love Barry’s humor?

Suddenly I am conjuring scenes from Independence Day and Bill Pullman’s character as President Whitmore, former fighter pilot and Gulf War veteran, who takes on killing aliens with Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith. And then my mind fast-forwards to the twenty-third century and Captain Kirk’s adventures.

But, those were fiction, right?

So, I was struggling a bit to understand the needs for a Space Force, and I needed answers. I couldn’t get in touch with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, but luckily CBS News chief White House correspondent Major Garrett did. And Bridenstine told him, “Space has become congested, contested and in some cases hostile. And it has become very dangerous.”

While NASA is America’s civil space agency, it has no involvement in the security aspects of space. But, according to Garrett, Bridenstine’s role on the National Space Council makes him particularly interested in funding to improve space security and exploration.

“We can’t do what we want to do with American taxpayer dollars exclusively … it’s too expensive.” Bridenstine said. “So, we need commercial partners that are willing to invest their own money for their own purposes and we need international partners. And I will tell you, there is no shortage of international partners willing to go with us to Mars.”

Wait. Mars? We’re going to Mars? We’re concerned about traffic on Mars? Mars feels like an unnecessary layover for a country that wants to launch an attack, cyber or otherwise, on the United States.

According to Garrett’s interview with Bridenstine, countries who are hostile toward America are taking measures to interrupt U.S. technology in space. “Our very way of life is dependent on space. The way we navigate. The way we communicate. Over-the-horizon communications. The way we produce food. The way we produce energy. The way we do disaster relief. In fact, the way we do banking in the United States of America, if we lose the GPS signal, there are no interbank transfers. That means there will be no milk in the grocery store. Our way of life shuts down.”

Okay. This makes sense—kind of. But I am still not sure where Mars fits in, and honestly, I am going to give up trying to figure it out. I have much more important questions for which I seek answers currently—like, why do moms let their teenage daughters wear thongs to the beach? And, why do tourists still struggle with parking meters at the beach? And, why won’t Hilton Head Island create a beach parking pass for Blufftonians? These are things on my August radar for which I need answers, not the Space Force.

Nanu Nanu.

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