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

Monday, June 30, 2014

Daddy played bass: Kids tapped feet

(Jens Anton Schmidt)
If you were lucky enough to have a father who played bass, you may well remember its infectious qualities.

Charles Q. Choi of Live Science reports on the reason why “bass notes lay down beats in music worldwide.”  These lower tones dominate rhythmically because of some “innate aspects of human biology.”

Although scientists don’t currently know exactly why this is so, they suspect that “this effect might originate in the cochlea…”  Parts of the brain are also integrally involved with the processing of rhythm.

This "bass effect" is thought to develop quite early in a child’s life.  However, there may also be factors that are “more dependent on learning and experience.” 


Copyright June 30, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Smokey the Buddha Bear turns 70

Smokey and Friends   (USDA photo)
Those who view Smokey the Bear as merely a seven-decades-strong icon seem unaware of his eternal Buddha nature.

Poet Gary Snyder was obviously not one to overlook such spiritual essentials.  He was able to peer deeply within the true
raison d’etre of Smokey, afterwards sharing these pearls of insight with all sentient beings:  Once in the Jurassic about 150 million years ago, the Great Sun Buddha… showed himself in his true form of SMOKEY THE BEAR.

Snyder's "Smokey the Bear Sutra" goes on to explain that this ursine manifestation of divine truth revealed itself in the following ways:  wielding a shovel “that digs to the truth beneath appearances,” standing on hind legs that show “he is aroused and watchful,” wearing
the work overalls of oppressed “slaves and laborers,” plus a broad-brimmed hat that is “symbolic of the forces that guard the wilderness.”

And, oh - his belly!  By its very roundness and fullness, Smokey’s bountiful midsection indicates “his kind nature and that the great earth has food enough for everyone who loves her and trusts her.”

Snyder concludes this Smokey Sutra by assuring those who recite it faithfully an infinite amount of “ripened blackberries to eat and a sunny spot under a pine tree to sit at.”


Copyright June 30, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The elephant and the mouse: Aesop update

Aesop (by Diego Velasquez)
Some might recall the fable in which an elephant (or lion, take your pick) spares the life of a mouse.  When the great beast is afterwards bound to a tree by hunters, the tiny mouse gnaws at the rope and sets it free.

It seems quite improbable that an elephant and a mouse would have that much in common; however, truth turns out to be even stranger than fiction.

Laura Zuckerman of Reuters reports that “a new mammal” has been discovered in the wilds of western Africa.  This mammal looks like a “long-nosed mouse,” but is actually “more closely related genetically to elephants.”

Dubbed the “elephant shrew,” its scientific name is Macrosciledes micus.  This creature only weighs about an ounce, and is little more than half a foot long.

Nevertheless, it symbolizes the miracles that can occur when elephants and mice (or anyone, for that matter) lay aside their differences and form unlikely friendships.


Copyright June 28, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, June 27, 2014

Science: A work in theoretical progress

Scientific Observations in 1673  (PD)
When most laymen hear the term “scientific proof,” they assume that it means something fairly certain.

However, today’s “fairly certain” can easily become tomorrow’s laughable matter.  Annalee Newitz of io9 quotes these words from physicist Sean Carroll: I would say that ‘proof’ is the most widely misunderstood concept in all of science.

Carroll explains that most people interpret such “proof” to mean “strong evidence for something.”  However, what Carroll calls the “technical definition” of scientific proof is
simply this:  …a logical demonstration that certain conclusions follow from certain assumptions…

With this latter, less certain-sounding type of proof, it’s no wonder that scientists tend to “hem and haw” when confronted with life’s BIG questions.

Carroll nevertheless concludes that “science is so successful” because it “never really proves anything, but simply creates more and more reliable and comprehensive theories of the world…”

These theories may be deemed successful in terms of worldly usefulness, but will they ever be able to get beyond their own underlying assumptions?


Copyright June 27, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Be good, be kind, be nice, be you and have fun

Report Cards (Photo by Aaron Manning)
NBC News reports that these are the words spoken by Carter Gaddis to his two young sons each morning.  Imagine how much better the world could be if every parent said this to every child on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, such is not the case.  A recent survey of school-aged children indicates that parents care far more about children’s achievements than they do about children’s relationships.

As a result, “kids think much less about being nice than they do about getting an A on a test, winning a swim meet, or being best camper.”

Celebrations often occur when children ace report cards, but how often is their kindness acknowledged in such a reinforcing fashion?

Rick Weissbourd, who conducted this study at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, concludes that parents are “hyper-focused” on their own kids, and are not as concerned about their children’s relationships with others.

Weissbourd also points out that “the irony is… relationships are probably the most important aspect of happiness.”


Copyright June 26, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Aslan poll: Would Jesus approve of modern Christianity?

Reza Aslan  (Photo: Roanoke College)
Reza Aslan is no stranger to controversy.  His book Zealot: The
Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth has already stirred public
opinion every which way.

Now he has raised the following question via an I Side With poll
If Jesus suddenly came back to earth today, would he approve or disapprove of modern Christianity?

Questions such as this one have certainly been asked before. Other versions include these:  “If Jesus suddenly came back to earth today, would he be crucified all over again?  Would he be banned from most churches?  What would he do about today’s modern dilemmas (WWJD)?”

These questions, as well as those about the historical Jesus, have no easy answers.  Results of this poll were categorized according to political affiliation, ethnicity, economic bracket, educational level, and geographical location.  All in all, the overwhelming majority of responses came up on the “Jesus would disapprove of modern Christianity” side.

Many of the additional public comments were quite insightful.  They include the following:

He [Jesus] would disapprove of “Christians” who use“Christianity” to put down other people.

Too vague.  Define "Modern Christianity."

I have been reading all of these comments and realizing some people are convinced they know it all and some are just confused…

I think that Jesus would hate that everyone is trying to disprove Christianity on technicalities and word plays…

Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship with Jesus.


Copyright June 25, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Bill's better bananas: Orange you glad?

Banana Spirit  (by Xavier Romero-Frias)
Although Bill Gates’ plate seems mighty full, there is apparently still room on it for bananas.

Not just any old less-than-perfect bananas, but genetically modified ones that put nature’s own to shame…

Here’s how it works: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation threw nearly $10 million towards the creation of “a pro-vitamin A-enriched banana” that will allegedly provide “poor and subsistence-
farming populations with nutritionally rewarding food.”

People who are used to slicing raw beige banana flesh into their breakfast cereal might be dismayed to note that these cooked GMO “cousins” look somewhat orange.  Not to worry, this change of hue simply reflects the added pro-vitamin A.

Natural News reports that the scientist in charge of this slippery endeavor is James Dale, Director for the Center for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities in Queensland, Australia.  Regarding this project, Dale has confidently stated:  We know our science will work…

The question remains:  “Work” in what overall sense?  Would the Hindus who consider nature’s bananas to be blessings agree?  How about the Malay and Thai people who believe in spirits that inhabit wild banana plants?


Copyright June 24, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, June 23, 2014

Huichol artwork: One bead at a time

Huichols (Photo by Tomas Castelazo)
According to the Dance of the Deer Foundation website, much of the Huichol artwork “requires patience unknown to the modern world.”  It includes elaborate beaded figures such as eagles, deer and jaguars that are lovingly created “one bead at a time.”

This level of patience is reflected in the overall culture of the Huichol people.  Their pre-Columbian tribal lifestyle deep within Mexico’s Sierra Madre region insures that the Huichol are
interdependent with both one another and their natural surroundings.

The men collect firewood, fish and farm – while the women collect water, cook and “create the sacred artwork.”  The Huichol's overall focus is on “keeping the balance of nature” in order to survive and thrive – both physically and spiritually.

Although Huichol shamanism “honors all of creation,” it especially attends to “the spirit of nature.”  Huichols believe that within each and every one of us lies “a miniature universe, a mirror of both the natural and spiritual worlds.”  Their shamanism teaches how to harmonize these two planes of existence.

The Huichol cosmology has been orally transmitted from generation to generation.  The Dance of the Deer Foundation is committed to preserving these Huichol creation stories, partly by documenting them.


Copyright June 23, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Natural and organic: Double jeopardy?

'Natural' Beaver Dam  (Photo by Burtonpe) 
In answer to a Jeopardy-style question "What is natural and/or organic?” - the correct response might indeed be “Everything on Earth.”

In her io9 article titled “10 Scientific Ideas that Scientists Wish You Would Stop Misusing,” Annalee Newitz quotes entomologist Gwen Pearson concerning the misuse of the term “organic”: …food is all organic, because it contains
carbon, etc. 

Pearson then reminds us that not all “natural and organic” substances are healthful to humans, just as not all synthetic and manufactured ones are toxic.

Although the term “natural” is often juxtaposed with the term “organic,” synthetic biologist Terry Johnson points out the vagueness of such usage.  “Natural” technically entails the distinguishing of “phenomena that exist only because of
humankind from phenomena that don’t…”

Unfortunately, this definition of “natural” implies that humans are distinct from nature, and that what they produce (as opposed to, say, what a cow produces) is somehow “un- or non-natural.”

Both Pearson and Johnson suggest that terms such as “natural” and “organic” have become so catch-all as to now be practically meaningless.


Copyright June 22, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Honey Bee Bee: Sweetest star of all

Honey Bee  (Photo by Maciej Czyzewski) 
The sweetest stars in the United States are not those on TV sets or in movie theaters.  They are instead the tiny critters that tirelessly
carry pollen to where it is most needed.  Why if it weren’t for bees’ “knees,” billions of dollars would be lost from the overall economy.  

The White House Press Office recently published a fact sheet titled “The Economic Challenge Posed by Declining Pollinator Populations.”  This sheet emphasizes that honey bees alone “account for more than 15 billion dollars through their vital role
in keeping fruits, nuts, and vegetables in our diets.”

In view of the alarming decline in bee populations, “President Obama issued a memorandum directing U.S. government agencies to take additional steps to protect and restore domestic populations of… honey bees, native bees…” and other pollinators such as butterflies and bats.

Bees have been prized throughout the ages, sometimes to the point of being worshipped.  The Mayans considered honey to be the food of the gods, and paid homage to Ah-Muzen-Cab (aka “the Bee God”).

The Minoan-Mycenean goddess Potnia was known as “The Pure Mother Bee.”  Her priestesses were named “Melissa” (meaning “Honey Bee” in ancient Greek).  King-god Zeus was said to have been raised on honey rather than milk.  Even while presiding over Mount Olympus, he continued to relish honey’s virtues. 


Copyright June 21, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, June 20, 2014

New dinosaur: Is that an oxymoron?

Mercury (by Hendrick Goltzius) 
Being that dinosaurs have been extinct for about a gazillion years, seeing the phrase “new dinosaur” within many a recent headline has been somewhat disconcerting.

This “new dinosaur,” also known as “Mercuriceratops,” has “winglike horns on its skull,” reminiscent of the Roman god Mercury’s winged helmet. But that’s where the resemblance ends…

Whereas Mercury was able to flit about, his two-ton namesake was decidedly earthbound.  As it lumbered around foraging for plants approximately 77 million years ago, this reptilian vegetarian was also looking for something else.

Dylan Stableford of Yahoo! News reports that old Mercuriceratops was scrounging around for a mate, and relying upon its elaborate headgear to do the trick.  After all, what lonely dinosaur in its right mind could resist the “bizarre, butterflylike protrusions” on either side of Mercuriceratops' thick skull?

Mercury, for all his Olympian shenanigans, couldn’t have done much better.  In fact, he needed a net to catch the love of his life, the floral nymph Chloris.  How pathetic is that, even by human standards?


Copyright June 20, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Nature vs. nurture: What's on first?

(Photo by Christopher Michel)
When wondering which came first, the chicken’s cooped-up behaviors or the egg’s genetic influences, people often assume that nature and nurture are two separate things.

In her io9 article titled “10 Scientific Ideas that Scientists Wish You Would Stop Misusing,” Annalee Newitz offers this quote from evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk:  …ALL traits, all the time, are the result of input from the genes and input from the environment.   

Zuk then gives an example of identical twins who were raised in two different environments and therefore speak two different languages.  Although the speaking of these different languages implies entirely learned behaviors, the speaking of any language at all requires a genetic predisposition toward doing so.

Nature vs. nurture may therefore best be viewed as a continuum rather than as a controversy.


Copyright June 19, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Michael Douglas admits marital mistake

Douglas circa 1975   (Public Domain)
It’s all too easy to take one’s spouse for granted.  However, it’s a lot harder to admit doing so.

When Michael Douglas became guilty of neglecting his marriage to Catherine Zeta-Jones, it began falling apart.  This
finally led to a split between them.

Sometimes it takes almost losing someone to rediscover what you’ve had.  Hindustan Times reports that Douglas now admits having taken Zeta-Jones for granted.

Douglas stated, "When you are younger you care what other people think…  You waste a lot of energy on strangers to make a good impression.”

This can lead to a turning away from one’s family.  Douglas said that the hardest part is owning up to this.  He explained, “First you have to admit that you made a mistake, then dealing with it is easy.”

And dealing with it is what both Douglas and Zeta-Jones (it’s never just one person’s responsibility) have been doing…  They are now back together, putting in the effort that it takes to make things work harmoniously.


Copyright June 18, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Man in the Moon: How'd he get there?

(Public Domain)
Long before there was a man on the moon, there was a Man in the Moon.  Speculation as to how he got there has been going on
ever since.

Wikipedia presents several age-old theories.  As far as European cultures were concerned, this Moon Man was just plain no good. He was labeled a sheep-thief by the Romans, and a hedgerow-thief by the Germans.  Worse yet, Christians had him pegged as
“the man caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath and sentenced by God to death by stoning in the Book of Numbers…”

Mr. (or Mrs.) Moon hasn’t fared that much better in the Far East.  According to Chinese lore, “the goddess Chang’e is stranded upon the moon after foolishly consuming a double dose of an immortality potion.”  Oh, and she is not alone.  A small group of moon rabbits have been assigned to keep her company.

Since our Man in the Moon has been thought to be a bit of an alcoholic (you’d drink too if you were up there that long), a few English taverns were named “The Man in the Moone.”

Fame and misfortune aside, there still had to be some way for Him to have gotten as far as the moon’s doorstep. reports on some recent research which indicates that the Moon Man’s facial features are the outcome of “heat radiating from the young Earth.”  That is why He only hangs his heavy hat on the side of the moon that faces Earth.


Copyright June 17, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, June 16, 2014

100 million planets: Pretty good odds

Milky Way   (Photo by Steve Jurvetson)
For those hard-line thinkers who are finding it difficult to conceive of complex life on other planets, here are some (mind’s) eye-opening statistics:  There are perhaps 100 million planets in the Milky Way alone that could support such life.

Barry Eitel of All Voices reports on a new study which indicates that because “multiplanetary systems abound in the universe, the prospect that life occurs redundantly throughout the cosmos is gaining widespread support.”

Researchers from this study have proposed a system called the Biological Complexity Index (BCI), designed to “quantify life outside our planet.”  This index “ranks planets and moons by basic, first-order characteristics detectable with available technology.”

Because researchers have thus far determined that approximately 1.7% of “the extrasolar planets known to date have a BCI above that of Europa,” by extrapolation “the total of such planets could exceed 100 million in our galaxy alone.”

Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, is thought to have a subsurface ocean that perhaps hosts complex life forms.  Although not all complex life is necessarily intelligent life (“complex life” generally referring to organisms more complicated than microbes), intelligent life is certainly a possibility to consider.

This group of researchers (which includes scientists from Cornell University, the University of Texas, the University of Puerto Rico and Washington State University) therefore believes “it is highly unlikely that we are alone in the universe.”

Do the math…


Copyright June 16, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Philadelphia volunteers 'toad' the line

Golden Toad   (Public Domain)
Humans aren't the only species to make incredible journeys.  MSN reports that every spring, tiny Philadelphia toadlets migrate from their birthplace in an abandoned reservoir, across a busy road, and over to their natural habitat in the woods.

After a passing motorist noticed this phenomenon, volunteers were given permission to set up temporary roadblocks in order to help insure the toadlets’ safety.  These volunteers even scoop toadlets into cups in order to “ferry” them across the street.

It is heartening to see that human/toad relationships have come a long way since the days of John Milton, who portrayed Satan as a toad within his famous work, Paradise Lost

European folklore has also been less than complimentary about these cute little critters, often depicting them as deadly fodder for witches’ brews.  

Note this famous recipe excerpt from Shakespeare’s Macbeth:   “Round about the cauldron go; In the poison’d entrails throw.  Toad that under cold stone  Days and nights has thirty-one… Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.”    


Copyright June 15, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Mila Kunis: Year of Yes

Mila Kunis  (Photo by Gage Skidmore)
For Mila Kunis, this has intentionally been the Year of Yes.  “Yes” to a wedding, “Yes” to a baby, and “Yes” to whatever gifts life has to offer…

Things weren’t always this affirmative for Kunis.  As she explained during a recent Marie Claire interview, “I was really good at saying no.  I decided I was just going to say yes to whatever opportunity that came, no matter how crazy.  And it changed my

This is an example of what Dr. Wayne Dyer calls “The Power of Intention.”  During an interview with Valarie Griebel of Successful
Living, this “father of motivation” explained his Taoist philosophy.

Dyer stated, “Most people’s mistake in trying to apply the law of attraction is they want things; they demand things.  But God doesn’t
work that way.  It’s all about allowing.”

In other words, it's all about saying “Yes” to the Universe, rather than striving to limit and manipulate it.  


Copyright June 14, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, June 13, 2014

Pope Francis: What sports could be

San Lorenzo 1923    (PD-AR-Photo)
Although we've all heard the clich├ęs about good sportsmanship, they are not often based in reality.  Thus, we are left with a sports world that honors unbridled ego more than it does fair play.

Enter Pope Francis - a long-term fan of the Argentine football team, San Lorenzo de Almagro...

Fox Sports reports that, as the World Cup is upon us, the Pope has issued this message:  Let soccer be a showcase for teamwork and solidarity, not an exhibition of racism and

Pope Francis then specifies three ways in which a sport as feisty as football can become a shining example:  “…train and work hard to reach goals… fair play and teamwork… respect and honor opponents.”

In a televised video, the Pope then concluded:  “Sports is not only a form of entertainment… but also – and above all… a tool to communicate values that promote the good that is in humans…”


Copyright June 13, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The tortoise and the scare

A Giant Tortoise   (Photo by Childzy)
"Slow and steady wins the race," especially if you’re a tortoise on the “run.”

Such was the case with Spike, an 80-pound Valentine’s Day gift from a New Mexico husband to his tortoise-loving wife.

Seventeen-year-old Spike (just a kid, tortoises are known to live well over 100 years) was growing tired of his yard-based life.  It’s not that he didn’t appreciate his newfound family, but rather that his curiosity had grown beyond what a fence (or a shell) could contain.

So when the gate was accidentally left ajar, Spike “decided to make a break for it.”  He lumbered off down the road, and had traveled half a mile before being apprehended by Animal Control.

This story has a happy ending, at least for Spike’s adoptive family.  He is now safely behind their fence posts once again.

As for Spike?  Perhaps he has mixed feelings.  Perhaps he is recalling the good old days when tortoises were considered divine.  Kurma, half-man and half-tortoise, was said to have been the second Avatar of Vishnu.  The Greek god Hermes was also tortoise-linked.  

Let's face it - hanging behind a picket fence seems a far cry from these heavenly ties...    


Copyright June 12, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Neurotheology: Aha moments

Thalamus (Red Arrow)   (Image from AxelBoldt)
We’ve often heard the expression “No brain, no gain,” but does that also hold true for spiritual progress?

The relatively new field of neurotheology is bent upon solving that conundrum. The Atlantic recently ran an article by Lynne Blumberg titled “What Happens to the Brain During Spiritual Experiences?”  The answer somewhat depends upon the type of spiritual experience it is.

Dr. Andrew Newberg, a pioneer in “the neurological study of religious and spiritual experiences,” has thus far viewed approximately 150 brain scans of spiritual practitioners.  These
practitioners included nuns, charismatics, mediums and meditators.  He also studied the brain scans of atheists.

Spiritual techniques that involve repetitive concentration on prayers or mantras “tend to activate the frontal lobes…”  Those that involve a surrender of will, such as channeling or glossolalia, instead tend to activate the thalamus.

While interviewing meditators about their subjective spiritual experiences, Newberg also observed that “everyone defines God a little bit differently even when they belong to the same religion.’

Copyright June 11, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Alexander Imich: A remarkable life

Ganzfield Telepathy Experiment  (PD)
Dying at the ripe old age of 111 was just one of the remarkable things that Alexander Imich had done.

According to The New York Times, this Upper West Side resident had lived in many other places – some of them not by choice.

Born into a well-to-do Jewish family from Poland, Imich later fought the Bolsheviks during the Polish-Soviet War.  He managed to escape the Holocaust, but wound up in a Soviet gulag.  Having survived that, he then made his way to the United States.

Imich had earned a doctorate in chemistry from Jagiellonian University of Krakow.  After immigrating to America, he also pursued his decades-long interest in the paranormal.

While in his nineties, he edited an anthology titled Incredible Tales of the Paranormal, “documented
accounts of poltergeist, levitations, phantoms, and other phenomena.” 

Before transitioning out of this world, Imich had said:  The compensation for dying is that I will learn all the things I was not able to learn here on Earth.


Copyright June 10, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, June 9, 2014

Shimon Peres: Behind every good man

Shimon Peres (Photo by David Shankbone)
Shimon Peres, Israel’s former prime minister (twice) and current president (at age 90), had also been married to the love of his life for 67 years.

Although a faithful and loving wife to Shimon all those long years, Sonia Peres had vastly preferred a private life to a public one.  Her absence from official ceremonies led some people to dub her the “anti-first lady.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, her stated reason for not attending most political functions was the following:  I married a dairy farmer.  This was an allusion to their
beginning years as a married couple in a “socialist kibbutz collective.”

Back then, “they lived in a tent, then in a building with a tin roof that blew away in the wind.”  At the time, Shimon only
owned “two pairs of pants, two shirts, and one pair of shoes.”

Sonia retained these stark tendencies until her 2011 death at age 87.  Refusing to allow her husband’s position to determine her own choice of lifestyle, she “turned down the use of a chauffeur, did her own shopping and carried her groceries.”

Haaretz reported that when Mrs. Peres died, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated:  In her quiet and modest life, Sonia represented good-heartedness and turned into a symbol and example of modesty and love of man.   


Copyright June 9, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Study hard, sleep it off

(Photo by Tom O Fitz)
Sleeping during class probably won’t win you many brownie points. 
However, sleeping after class might.

Rebekah Marcarelli of HNGN reports on the results of a neuroscientific study from New York University’s Langone Medical Center.  These results indicate that “sleep helps neurons form very specific connections on dendritic branches that may facilitate long-term memory.”

Dr. Wen-Biao Gan, Professor of Neuroscience and Physiology, compared this phenomenom to the sprouting of new leaves on tree branches.  To carry this analogy a bit further, a “leafier” brain may, in fact, be a more adept brain.

Researchers have long known that “leafing and loafing” are interconnected in some way, but they haven’t known exactly how.  This study is beginning to answer some of those “how” questions.


Copyright June 8, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Dear Albert: Einstein to us

Young Albert  (Public Domain)
The man whom the world knew as an absolute genius turned out to be just another fool in love.

Thus spaketh Alan Alda in his recent play Dear Albert, “a reading of the letters written by Einstein to his wives and other women… ”

Although Einstein’s scientific quest was to pare down (up?) the cosmos to its lowest (highest?) common denominator, his personal life can best be described as “chaotic.”

As a young man, Albert exchanged love letters with his then-wife, “the brilliant and determined” Mileva Maric.  Passionate terms of endearment were interspersed with “scientific discussions” and “mathematical equations” throughout this correspondence.

Love (alas) turned to laundry, and “Dear Albert” began to demand such things as “clothes… kept in good order” and “three meals regularly” in his room (no less).

Exit Mileva, enter Cousin Elsa (and perhaps her daughter).  It seems that Albert was far more faithful to physics than he was to women, but even there he had some issues.

Bahar Gholipour of Live Science points out that Einstein had repeatedly been convinced of finding his true theory at last, only to later renounce it for another.      


Copyright June 7, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, June 6, 2014

Mitochondrial mix: Is three still a crowd?

Human Ovum    (Public Domain)
Due to what Catholic Online is calling “an immoral misuse of science,” it could soon be possible for a child to have three biological parents.

This advanced in vitro fertilization (IVF) process utilizes “eggs from two different women and one man’s sperm” in order to minimize the amount of genetic defects.  Because “one in every 6,500 babies is born with serious mitochondrial disease,” scientists are hoping that healthy mitochondrial material from the additional woman’s egg can pare down this ratio.

Nevertheless, the Catholic Church is firmly against such a procedure.  Believing that the “gift of reproduction” should not be meddled with in this manner, the Church is also concerned about any resulting “spare embryos” (which are considered tantamount to “the taking of human embryonic life”).

Ethical questions that are being asked about this new procedure are similar to the ones that were initially asked about IVF, and often center upon the issue of “playing God.”   There is also concern about the potential social engineering of “designer babies.”


Copyright June 6, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Leonard Pitts Jr.: Faith not force

Leonard Pitts, Jr.  (Photo by Anna Hanks)
It seems that practically every day we hear stories about how one group tries to force its faith upon another.  However, we don’t hear them told quite as adeptly as Leonard Pitts, Jr. does.

In his recent Miami Herald article “Faith cannot be coerced,” Pitts gets right to the heart of the matter.  In telling about the
plight of Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a Sudanese Christian who is sentenced to be whipped then hung for refusing to renounce either her marriage or her religion, Pitts makes it perfectly clear that her captors are not actually motivated by faith.

He offers these two classic definitions of faith:  “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (from The Bible), and “taking the first step, even when you don’t’ see the whole staircase” (from Martin Luther King, Jr.).

He compares this with the kind of “theological bullying” that so often occurs, then asks this vital question:  Can faith ever truly be faith if it is imposed by force of law or threat of violence?

Pitts then states that those who feel they must resort to force in order to spread “faith” are showing their lack of trust in “what they profess to believe.”  For if the power of faith truly exists, then it does not need violence in order to proliferate.


Copyright June 5, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The goat and the burro: A modern-day 'fable'

(Photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos)
Although this is a true tale, the love it portrays is fabled.

'Tis the story of Mr. G the goat and Jellybean the burro. They had lived together all of their lives under challenging circumstances.  Bay Area’s KTVU reports that they “were living in squalor” at the “home of a hoarder.”  Animal welfare
authorities seized all the animals from this home and took them “to a variety of animal care facilities.”

Unfortunately, Mr. G was sent to one facility, and Jellybean to another.  This decision was made without full knowledge of the deep interspecies bond that these two friends had shared.

It soon became apparent to the folks at Mr. G's new abode (the Animal Place in Grass Valley,
California) that he was seriously depressed.  For four days he just lay in the corner of his stall, refusing all food and drink.

Drastic situations call for drastic measures.  A three-day project was undertaken in which Jellybean was transported to the Animal Place in order to save his friend’s life. 

As soon as Mr. G heard Jellybean “being unloaded from the animal trailer,” he perked right up.  He rushed to Jellybean’s side, and began excitedly following him around.  Within 20 minutes, he was eating again.

Who says animals don’t have valid feelings? 


Copyright June 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Shandong sins: Commission and omission

Sins on the side...   (Public Domain)
When most people go to McDonald's, they expect to wolf down a burger and be done with it.

However, Beijing Reuters reports that a woman was recently murdered at a McDonald’s in the Shandong province of China.  Worse yet, this attack occurred while onlookers sat quietly by without trying to intervene.

Even worse, the state media later described these attackers “as being members of the Church of Almighty God religious movement.”   Murder in the name of God seems particularly deplorable.

Details of the attack were captured on video, and were afterwards shown on China Central
Television.  Social media comments have indicated public shock – not only regarding the attack itself, but also regarding the lack of response from onlookers.

One Weibo user wrote:  If I stay quiet today, who will help me cry for help when I suffer from misfortunes in the future?


Copyright June 3, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, June 2, 2014

Good devil/bad devil: When motives are mixed

(Photo by Edal Anton Lefterov)
While Joe Cornell was working in a Salvation Army lot “as part of a substance abuse rehabilitation program,” he happened to see that a “bag of cash” had fallen from the back of a Brinks armored car.  

After picking this bag up from the ground, Cornell noticed that it was “stuffed with hundred dollar bills.”  At this point, his head began spinning.

Reuters reports that Cornell said:  Everything was going through my mind, the good devil/bad devil thing.  After “crying and shaking” a bit, he made a decision to turn the bag in.

What made the “good devil” win this round?  Someone struggling with a history of substance abuse – or anyone for that matter – might have easily grabbed the cash and run.

Cornell later explained his mixed motives.  On the one hand, returning the cash was simply the “right thing to do.”  On the other hand, “there are cameras everywhere now,” and Cornell was afraid he’d be caught.  The dreaded consequences?  “You’d be doing federal time,” he said. 


Copyright June 2, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Mental-health lobbying: Guns and double-edged swords

(Photo by DrHaggis)
A recent Christian Science Monitor article by Francine Kiefer reports that mental-health legislation is sometimes viewed as a way to get around the gun-rights lobbies.

Kiefer points out that “two draft mental-health bills are getting a fresh look in the House” in the aftermath of the mass killings by Elliot Rodger.  One, introduced by Democrat Mike Thompson of California, “marries mental health with preventing gun violence.”  It entails “provisions for involuntary commitment and family involvement in the mental-health treatment of other adult family members.”

These provisions raise serious questions about individual “civil rights, especially privacy.”  Should a balanced approach to gun control include such a double-edged legislative sword?

Mental-health issues are often (some might say always) at the root of mass killings.  Their prioritization is therefore warranted for that reason, and not as a political ploy.  However, to simply compound one serious issue (the indiscriminate use of guns) with another (the curtailing of individual civil rights) seems neither effective nor wise.

Copyright June 1, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved