From the Blog: Lawn-mower drunks, Juan Encarnación now playing politics, and ancient Cahokian savages

Aug 12, 2009 at 4:00 am
Warning: Lawn Mower Drunks are on the Loose
Yes, the corn is getting high. The cicadas are singing, and rednecks are fueling up on booze and mounting their lawn tractors. Must be socks-and-sandals weather in Missouri.

As if on cue, on August 3 the Joplin Globe in southwestern Missouri reported that police in nearby Carterville arrested a man Friday, July 31, for drunk-driving his lawn mower down the highway. The accused, 47-year-old James Dennis, was hauled into the station where he blew a .094 Breathalyzer score (.08 is the legal blood-alcohol limit to operate a motorized vehicle in Missouri).

Carterville police chief William Cline confirmed to the Globe that the arrest was not all that unusual. "It's fairly common for people who have been revoked or have a DWI (on their record)," he said. "If they have to run to the store, they'll hop on a mower thinking that's all right."

This reminds us of our favorite drunk lawn-mower yarn of recent years.

That incident occurred last October in the little town of Iron Mountain Lake in southeastern Missouri. Police got a call about a man who'd created a disturbance. When they got to his home, police found the suspect driving down the street on his lawn mower towing a trailer full of beer. On his body was a flask, and his blood-alcohol level registered a whopping .115.
— Chad Garrison

Juan Encarnación Now Playing Politics
Juan Encarnación, the former Cardinal right fielder who in 2007 lost much of the vision in his right eye after being struck by a freakish foul off the bat of Aaron Miles, is running for a senatorial seat in his native Dominican Republic.

Encarnación is running on the Dominican Revolutionary Party ticket (Spanish: Partido Revolucionario Dominicano or PRD), against the Dominican Liberation Party (Spanish: Partido de la Liberación Dominicana or PLD). The PLD is the current ruling party, and it is the more right-wing of the two, while the PRD occupies a center-left sort of position.

Encarnación is running in the province of San Juan and has said that only the PRD can rescue the people from a disaster of government that has occurred under the PLD and the current president of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández. 

I'll be honest with you; I know exactly nothing about politics in the Dominican Republic, but it is fantastic to see Juan taking some steps in a positive direction, post-baseball. I can't imagine what it would be like to, in just one day, lose my sight, my career, my passion — everything the way he did. Thankfully, it looks as if he's moving on with his life and trying to do some good in his home country. So good luck to Juan, and I'll try to keep up with this story and let everyone know if his candidacy is a success.

I do worry, though, that even if Juan runs a good campaign, people may think he could have run it a bit harder, and not be happy with him.
— Aaron Schafer

Historical Movies Distort Our History Knowledge
What!? This summer's flop, Year One, was not an accurate portrayal of real historical events?!

Shocking, we know. But could it be that even some of Hollywood's more "authentic" historical films also tend to blur the facts? And could those inaccuracies affect learning?

That's what a new study from Washington University doctoral student Andrew Butler suggests. The study, appearing in the forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, cautions that showing popular history movies in a classroom setting can be a double-edged sword when it comes to helping students learn and retain factual information in associated textbooks.

Butler found that when a film was consistent with information in the text, watching the film increased correct recall by about 50 percent relative to reading the text alone. In contrast, when information in the film directly contradicted the text, people often falsely recalled the misinformation portrayed in the film, sometimes as much as 50 percent of the time.

States Butler: "Although films may increase learning and interest in the classroom, educators should be aware that students might learn inaccurate information, too, even if the correct information has been presented in a text. More broadly, these same positive and negative effects apply to the consumption of popular history films by the general public."
— Chad Garrison

Cahokia Mound Savages? Who knew?
There was an interesting article in Salon on August 6 about a new book called Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi by an archaeologist named Timothy Pauketat.

According to Pauketat, Cahokia wasn't just a random collection of mounds but, rather, at least in the twelfth century, a city of 20,000 people, the largest in what is now the United States. (It would take 600 years for another U.S. city to surpass it. That would be colonial Philadelphia.) Its suburbs, of sorts, stretched across the river, a nice twist on the modern St. Louis/East St. Louis divide.

About two-thirds of Cahokia's original 120 mounds still exist. Earlier archaeologists hypothesized that such an impressive city could not possibly have been built by Native Americans — the most obvious candidates — and must have been constructed by a mysterious, now-defunct tribe of people of European or African origin known as the "Mound Builders" or even visitors from outer space. (This was a popular theory about Mayan and Incan ruins as well.)

But Pauketat has definitive proof that the ancient Cahokians were indeed human beings, in the form of Mound 72.

Let's get to the good stuff now, shall we?

As Andrew O'Herir writes in the Salon article:

Some archaeologists might pussyfoot around this question more than Pauketat does, but it also seems clear that political and religious power in Cahokia revolved around another ancient tradition. Cahokians performed human sacrifice, as part of some kind of theatrical, community-wide ceremony, on a startlingly large scale unknown in North America above the valley of Mexico. Simultaneous burials of as many as 53 young women (quite possibly selected for their beauty) have been uncovered beneath Cahokia's mounds, and in some cases victims were evidently clubbed to death on the edge of a burial pit, and then fell into it. A few of them weren't dead yet when they went into the pit — skeletons have been found with their phalanges, or finger bones, digging into the layer of sand beneath them.

These women, Pauketat hypothesizes, came from mostly female agrarian villages surrounding Cahokia. (Which raises even more questions, most notably: Where did all the men go?) Further investigation into the contents of Mound 72 revealed more corpses, 250 in all, including some men. At the very top of the pile were two men, one wrapped in a beaded cloak in the shape of a thunderbird. It's not clear exactly who he was, but all signs point to him being a Very Important Cahokian and that the other bodies were somehow related to him and his cohort.
— Aimee Levitt