From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Monday, May 4, 2015

Alien life: Pattern recognition

Secret's in the soil?   (Public Domain)
Popular culture has portrayed “life in space" as little green men with big dark eyes.

However, alien life might be a lot more subtle than that.  It might be so different from our preconceived notions that we wouldn’t even recognize it while face-to-whatever.

Jessica Orwig of Business Insider reports that scientists are searching for signs of life that go beyond surface appearances.  Just because life on Earth is carbon-based doesn’t necessarily mean that methane- (or other-) based life forms aren’t thriving in other worlds.

The usual chemical analyses might therefore be quite limited when determining whether life exists elsewhere.  Researchers are instead searching for “a trait that all life forms across the universe would possess…”

This trait might very well involve informational patterns.  On earth, this entails genetic       sequencing.  Living things here “generate specific patterns as they self-replicate and reproduce,” whereas “things that are not living will have only random bits of information that never repeat at regular frequencies.”

Scientists can therefore begin analyzing the soil composition of other planets and moons in order to specifically determine whether there are “repeated sequences” of information to be found.  If such patterns are discovered, then life might very well exist there in one strange form or another.


Copyright May 4, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Germline modification: A slippery slope?

Adam & Eve   (Photo by Selbymay)
With at least four groups of Chinese scientists (and perhaps others around the world) actively “gene editing” human embryos, the ethical debate regarding such experimentation has reignited.

Researchers in the know have warned that such editing not only affects embryos at hand, but also “could have an unpredictable effect on future generations.”

Proponents of this work point out that these effects might be beneficial.  For example, human-based gene editing (aka “germline modification”) could potentially eradicate some deadly genetic diseases.

On the other hand, it could also potentially eradicate genetic traits that future leaders deem unacceptable.  Are humans morally capable of making such profound decisions, or is this a case of biting that apple all over again?  


Copyright May 3, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, May 2, 2015

DALYs: It's not just the years in your life

Like terminal cancer...      (Public Domain)
If a person dies 12 years before the life-expectancy average, and the final four years before death were spent wracked with pain, then how long did that person actually live?

This is not just an idle koan for those who deal daily in DALYs.

Dylan Matthews of Vox explains that DALYs  (aka “disability-adjusted life years”) measure how much disease- or situation-induced disabilities affect both the length and quality of lives.

For example, “a year in prison is half as good as one on the outside.”  It therefore carries approximately “the same disability weight as having terminal cancer.”

Another way of looking at DALYs is this:  “A disease that cuts 10 years off your lifespan and causes 10 years of partial paralysis before that has a higher DALY toll than one that just cuts off 10 years…”

DALYs are currently being utilized to determine where and to what extent altruistic funding should occur.  This sounds terrific, but there is a flip side:  How is it that a broad-brush formula can determine overall quality of life? 

Could a reliance upon DALYs lead to an overly analytical approach concerning such issues?  Are not “heart-based” and/or intuitive decisions also quite valid? 


Copyright May 2, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, May 1, 2015

'Widow's mite' a mighty offering

Bronze Mite, c. 90 B.C.  (Public Domain)
What amounts to a modern-day widow’s mite was recently found within the collection plate at the First United Methodist Church (FUMC) of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Just as the widow’s mite (a “mite” being the “penny” of its day) in Mark 12 and Luke 21 symbolizes the giving of one’s all, so does the $ .18 that was found tucked within an envelope in that FUMC plate.

The envelope read:  Please don’t be mad.  I don’t have much.  I’m homeless.  God Bless.

Rev. Patrick S. Hamrick of FUMC publicized the details of this mighty contribution because he wanted its anonymous donor to know that the church team was greatly “moved by the spirit in which the gift was made.”

Church officials are theorizing that the gift was made by someone who had personally benefited from FUMC’s “long-term commitment to social justice, especially ministries with homeless neighbors.”

Part of this commitment involves a "Muffin Ministry" breakfast each Sunday morning, which serves “an average of 150 chronically and intermittently homeless people.”.


Copyright May 1, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Feeling abandoned? Hawking has the cure

Malik in 2014   (Photo by Kurt Kulac) 
If things aren’t going particularly well for you in this corner of the cosmos, Stephen Hawking says not to worry:  There may be many other universes to choose from.

So if your favorite boy-band singer (husband, wife, BFF… you name it) seems to have ditched you, bear in mind that he (she or it) might be right by your side within a parallel universe.

When Hawking was recently asked about “the cosmological effect of singer Zayn Malik leaving the  best-selling boy band One Direction,” his immediate response was this:  Finally a question about something important.

Hawking then urged heartbroken teenagers everywhere to immerse themselves in theoretical physics, touting such knowledge as the ultimate cure for abandonment issues.

And Hawking should know...

Abandoned by much of his own body, the great scientist has not let that deter him.  Hawking is still going strong in this world (and who knows in how many others) years after his medically-predicted death.


Copyright April 30, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Rosie's riveting arms: Where from?

Michelangelo's Isaiah  (Sistine Chapel)
When Norman Rockwell wanted to symbolize American fortitude during World War II, he chose a riveting model:  young Mary Doyle Keefe from Arlington, Vermont.

Rockwell later wrote to Keefe, calling her “the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen and apologizing for the hefty body in the painting.”

This “hefty body” was not just a figment of Rockwell’s imagination.  It was one that he, and the world at large, was quite familiar with. This was the body of Michelangelo’s Isaiah, famously displayed in the Sistine Chapel.

Now Rosie's not holding the Book of Isaiah, nor is a cherub perched near her shoulder; nevertheless, her bodily resemblance to the depicted great prophet is a striking one.

Wikipedia reports that Rockwell is not the only artist to borrow from Michelangelo’s Isaiah.  The renowned painter Caravaggio is another.

Isaiah might have been proud of the non-idolatrous way in which the Arlington folks related to their local celebrities.  Keefe, who recently died at age 92, had explained:  People didn’t make a big deal about [such] things back then.    


Copyright April 29, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Grave influences: Politics from beyond

Angel of Grief    (Public Domain)
David Clark Scott of The Christian Science Monitor presents this excerpt from Larry Darrell Upright’s recent obituary:  …the family respectfully asks that you do not vote for Hillary   Clinton in 2016.  R.I.P. Grandaddy.

If this obituary truly reflects the wishes of its protagonist, then Mr. Upright may now be one happy “ghost.”

On the other hand, life after death is ideally quite different from life here on earth.  This difference would hopefully be reflected by a marked change in Mr. Upright’s priorities. 

Some key questions:  Does the family really think that their beloved Grandaddy will be peacefully resting with all this politicking going on?  Is that not something better left behind as the mortal coil is shuffled off?

This obituary, rather than serving as a healing balm, has instead been fanning the flames of earthly enmity.  Guestbook responses such as the following seem less than uplifting during sacred transitional times:  God Bless, We would not vote for Hillary if she was the only one running.


Copyright April 28, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved