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

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Deep time: Old and older

Map Lichen   (Photo by Tigerente)
It’s amazing just how far a 110 camera plus a child’s curiosity can reach.

In Rachel Sussman’s case, what began as a youthful hobby of photographing storm-tossed trees, eventually developed into a philosophical exploration of deep time.

During a trip abroad as an adult, Sussman “found herself on a remote Japanese island, photographing a 7,000-year-old tree.” This led to the launching of her Oldest Living Things in the World project. 

Paulette Beete of the National Endowment for the Arts explains that Sussman’s project entails internationally-based photographs of “everything from a 3,000-year-old lichen to a 9,550-year-old spruce to an 80,000-year-old colony of aspen trees.”

The subjects of these photographs come under the umbrella of what Sussman calls “deep time.”  Although this phrase means different things to different people, Sussman defines it as a “scale that’s so much deeper than a human life span.”  She often cites Greenland’s map lichens, which grow just one (silly?) centimeter every 100 years, as an example of experiential  “deep time.”

In questioning why this particular year is dubbed “2014” when the planet has existed for far longer than that, Sussman critiques the key role that religion has played in our perceptions of time.  She explains that this religious lens for viewing time is “completely detached from the deep history or big history… of our planet.”


Copyright August 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Napoleon I: Religious opportunism

Napoleon I's Deathbed  (by Horace Vernet)
Napoleon Bonaparte is often praised for his religious tolerance.  This quality was not so much due to faith as it was to opportunism.

Wikipedia explains that although Napoleon was “piously raised and received a Christian education,” he could best be described as a deist who recognized the redeeming social value of religion.

Napoleon I therefore practiced a kind of “When in Rome…” religious philosophy.  Although he allegedly admired the Prophet
Muhammad, Bonaparte nevertheless stated:  It is by making myself a Moslem that I established myself in Egypt.

His “religious tolerance” extended to other traditions, as well.  Bonaparte explained:  It is by making myself a Catholic that I brought peace to Brittany and Vendee…  If I governed a nation of Jews, I should
reestablish the Temple of Solomon.

Bonaparte often emphasized Roman Catholicism (he was crowned Emperor Napoleon I by Pope Pius VII) because he believed that Catholicism’s “splendorous ceremonies and sublime moral[s] better act over the imagination of the people than other religions.”

Although he is said to have privately favored “the Mohammedan religion” because there are “fewer incredible things in it,” Napoleon (ever the opportunist) was “anointed by a priest before his death.”


Copyright August 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, August 29, 2014

Can crushes crush?

The Flirtation  (by Eugene de Blass)
An article titled “Hitched: Is it OK to get crushes… when you’re married?” from Women’s Health thus far elicited 94 comments, many of them emphatic.

After wrestling with her attraction to a banjo-playing “hottie,” married (with toddler) author Korin Miller concludes:  As long as I’m not having crushes on the regular, hiding anything from [husband] Chris, or treating him any differently because of another guy, it’s fine.

Or is it?  Many readers think not.

One warns:  Why even flirt with disaster?  Playing with a crush can lead to cheating, so don’t take the chance.

Another told the sad story of a marital breakup, due to his wife’s crush on her boss’s boss.

Still another claims that the media messes up marriages by convincing people that it’s perfectly normal to have such extra-marital crushes.

Can crushes crush?  In some cases, yes.  Each “spoken-for” person must therefore decide:  Is this a chance worth taking?


Copyright August 29, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Koko and Robin: Two extraordinary beings

Young Gorilla  (Photo by Justin Norton) 
Robin Williams was so universally loved that his death was mourned by more than one species.

When Koko (the female gorilla that “understands spoken English and uses over 1,000 signs to share her feelings and thoughts about daily events, life, love, even death”) overheard her human trainer discussing Williams’ death, she began to show obvious signs of mourning.

In 2001, Williams had been invited by the Gorilla Foundation in California to meet with Koko.  Laura T. Coffey of TODAY reports that when this occurred, “Williams and Koko laughed, tickled each other and hugged like old friends.”  Williams described this encounter with Koko as “mind-altering.”

Koko's enthusiasm for Williams was especially heartening in that Koko hadn’t smiled for six months before then, due to the death of her “childhood gorilla companion, Michael.”  Koko not only smiled while meeting with Williams, but also tried on his glasses, kissed his hand, and “pulled him in for a big hug.”

After hearing of his death, Koko's head was bowed, and her lip was quivering.  Her eyes became filled with sadness.

She, too, was missing the light that was Robin Williams. 


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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Parenthood: Evolutionary kindness

And so it begins...  (Photo by Indrani)
According to her August 2014 Spirit article titled "Chaos Theory," Sheril Kirshenbaum's experience of parenthood has not been without its frenzied moments.

Nevertheless, Kirshenbaum asserts that "when it comes to parenting, scientific evidence proves that the perks for our health and happiness far outweigh the pitfalls."

How is that possible when parenting tends to yield exhaustion of body, mind and bank account?  To answer this question, Kirshenbaum relies upon the reassurances of research findings.

It is now known that oxytocin (the happy hormone) increases significantly for both parents "during the first six months of a child's life."  Not only that, the scent of a new baby "triggers the brain's dopamine response."

The very act of raising a child nurtures altruistic tendencies in parents to the point where their neurological systems change for the better.  Kirshenbaum explains that parental "brains are literally being reshaped from a world primarily consisting of self to one consisting of both self and other."

As parental brains become rewired for altruism over time, the world itself becomes a kinder and gentler place.


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

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Honestly, honesty heals

Says who!    (Public Domain)
Because psychology professor Anita E. Kelly runs a project called The Science of Honesty, she and her team “recruited 72 adults” in order to study the effects of sincerity.

David DiSalvo of Forbes reports that Kelly then divided this pool of adults into “a Sincerity group and a control group.”  Whereas the control group was given virtually no instruction, the Sincerity group was given this specific one:  You must always mean what you say in situations where your statements are to be taken seriously… [but] you certainly can choose to not answer questions…

Over the course of the next five weeks, Kelly and her team carefully observed each group.  Participants were given “periodic polygraph tests and standard measures of health.”  At the study’s end, Kelly reported these “amazing” results:  The Sincerity group not only reported significantly “fewer sore throats, headaches, and nausea,” but also “fewer mental health complaints like feeling tense.”

Kelly was so impressed with these results that she herself tried upping the sincerity ratio.  She afterwards found that she needed far less sleep and had far fewer colds.



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

Monday, August 25, 2014

Lemmings: Not just 'Marching Morons'

Lemming   (Public Domain)
The metaphor of lemmings “marching” en masse to certain death in the sea is, for the most part, a mythological one.

They, like the rest of us, are simply hardwired for survival.  When overpopulation threatens their well-being, (big) bunches of them decide to move on to greener pastures.  Since lemmings multiply quite rapidly, this happens quite often.

During the course of this migration, a body of water sometimes gets in the way.  Lemmings can swim, and in the urgency of the moment may choose to test their aquatic abilities to the max.  This works out well for some; others drown.

This sad-but-true syndrome leads onlookers to believe that lemmings are practitioners of mass suicide.  Actually, they are practitioners of self-preservation; it’s just that some are simply not up to the task.

Nevertheless, the tall tales and jokes persist – perpetuated (of course) by Disney, and even by Apple.  In order to make it appear as though lemmings were deliberately jumping to a certain death, Disney’s White Wilderness staffers launched the critters “off the cliff using a turntable.”

Stereotypes tend to be deadly, especially when launched against such humble creatures as lemmings.


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

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Lawsuit challenges Catholic school firing

Uptown Butte   (Photo by WikiCapa)
Can a Catholic school, or any religious organization for that matter, fire an otherwise-good employee for exercising his or her civil rights?

That is a key question within the lawsuit that an ex-employee filed against Butte Central Catholic Schools in Montana.  The Associated Press reports that this [at the time] unmarried and pregnant teacher, Shaela Evenson, was fired for “violating the terms of her contract, which required her to practice the tenets of the Catholic faith.”

Evenson's lawsuit points out that she “is not Catholic, and the school district and the diocese were aware of that…”  Evenson also alleges that “her firing violated federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination based on pregnancy.”

Case law might be on Evenson’s side of this matter.  Her lawyer, Brian Butler of Cincinnati, has already “won a $170,000 jury award in a similar case in Ohio.”  This previous case indicated that “an employer… cannot require an employee to give up certain civil rights as a condition of employment.”


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

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cole Porter: An atheist in the trenches

Cole Porter    (Public Domain)
It seems that Cole Porter mostly practiced what he didn’t preach.  In other words, he was a confirmed atheist in both word and deed. reports that Porter was “born in 1891 into a barely nominally religious family.”  Although his mother attended church now and then, it was more “to show off her new hats” than it was to show her devotion.

Throughout Porter’s life, he “seldom referred to God, except to deny belief in Him.”  Not one to repent in the trenches, Porter remained an atheist even while struggling with the after effects of a serious accident.

Having had both legs crushed by a horse rolling over them, Porter was in tremendous pain for quite some time.  He bravely pressed on, relying upon his love of music plus the support of family and friends.

Even while Porter was being admitted to the hospital for the very last time, he staunchly refused to add a religious affiliation to the admittance form.  Instead, he told the nurse:  Put down – none.

His final words were these:  “…I don’t know how I did it.”

Maybe God does.


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

Friday, August 22, 2014

Lips to chips: Bagging a conversation

(Photo by Evan-Amos)
It turns out that corn is not the only vegetable with ears.  Potato chips have also bagged their share of conversations.

Larry Hardesty of the MIT News Office reports that “researchers at MIT, Microsoft and Adobe… were able to recover intelligible speech from the vibrations of a potato-chip bag photographed from 15 feet away through soundproof glass.”

Because sound waves cause objects such as potato-chip bags to subtly vibrate, photographers are then able to decipher particular speech patterns via recordings made by high-speed cameras.  This
means that a conversation can be “downloaded” from mere photographs of a vibrating potato-chip bag.

Hardesty points out that even from "video recorded at a standard 60 frames per second,” the following
might be identifiable:  “the gender of a speaker in the room; the number of speakers; and [possibly]…
their identities.”

This means that the average smart phone can pick up telltale conversations long after the speakers have beat it out of town.  Say the wrong thing when the chips are down, and you could instead be munching on bread and water for a long, long time.


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

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Knight in stolen armor shines on

Henry David Thoreau  (Public Domain)
In order to survive as a hermit in the Maine woods for almost three decades, Christopher Knight had resorted to stealing food from homes and camps.

For these infractions of the law, Knight was jailed for approximately seven months.  Augusta Associated Press reports that he is now being prepared for reentry into a society he dislikes.

During an interview for an upcoming GQ article, Knight offered this critique of today’s society:  It’s too loud.  Too colorful.  The lack of aesthetics.  The crudeness.  The trivia.  The inanities.

Nevertheless, the Kennebec County District Attorney has been praising Knight for “working hard to understand what it takes to become part of society again.”

If fitting in means learning to become as loud, crude and inane as the rest of the herd, is this something to be praised?

When Henry David Thoreau was jailed for civil disobedience, his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson allegedly asked him, “What are you doing in there?” Thoreau is said to have replied:  What are you doing out there?

Perhaps all of us “out there” in everyday society should be asking ourselves that very same question...


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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sticky fingers: Guilty as sin?

Are yours sticky?   (Photo by Pereru)
Although nothing in this world of illusory possessions is truly ours, there are some things that the law allows us to come by

Then there are those things that “stick” to our fingers, even though they legally belong to someone else.  Is that stealing?  Depends upon how ethically picky you wish to get…

Take pens, for instance (which many people do).  If a pen is not literally chained to a desk, does this mean that it is up for grabs?  How about sugar packets at a restaurant?  Does
buying a cup of coffee entitle you to free sugar for the rest of the week?

People are also prone to stealing other people’s time.  Joining a “15 items or under” line at the supermarket with a full cart means that you are holding up the rest of the line.  Another common tactic entails rushing to an adjoining cashier the moment he or she opens, which can preempt those who were waiting longer than you.

Let's not even begin to count that which hotel guests consider theirs for the taking.  Erika Rawes of Life Cheat Sheet explains that “more than one-third (35 percent) of hotel guests admit to stealing hotel amenities
like towels and linens.”  The United States was “pretty low on the honesty list” in this regard, “ranking in at No. 23 out of 29 countries.”

As for “borrowing” without returning, how many have done this at one time or another?  Guilty as sin?  It’s never too late to return that Tupperware container.


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

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

When 'selfish' works

Relax & Enjoy!   (Photo by Maurajbo) 
As the airplane is getting ready to roll, travelers are given some safety lessons.

In case of emergency, passengers are warned to put their own oxygen masks on first; it is only then that they will be able to assist others. 

This exemplifies the practicality of what is often derided as “selfishness.”  Alison Goldman of Women’s Health explores a number of other instances “when you should 1,000 percent put
yourself first.”

She challenges the negative connotations that the word “selfishness” often has, and offers the term “selfitizing” to describe those times when putting yourself first yields goodness for all concerned.

For example, pushing the limits on physical health in order to be there for others can result in so much illness on your part that others will then have to “wait on” you. Although there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with needing such help, this is probably not the outcome that you were originally seeking.

There is also the thought-provoking perspective that you too are one of God’s children; therefore, why should your own well-being not be as important as anyone else’s?


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

Monday, August 18, 2014

'Monks' on Mars

(Saint Anthony the Great)
Although flying off to Mars might sound exciting in theory, the reality is much more like the life of a monk than it is like the life of an adventurer.

The Desert Fathers (and Mothers), for example, practiced Christian ascetic living within a stark region of third-century Egypt.  These small monastic communities adhered to strict routines that didn’t leave much worldly wiggle room.

Irene Klotz of Reuters reports on a team of researchers whose lives sound eerily similar to those of the erstwhile Desert Fathers.  These researchers “have been living in a mockup Mars habitat on a Hawaiian volcano practicing isolated living on the Red Planet.”

This team mainly remains within the confines of a 1,000-square-foot dome.  When members do venture forth into the surrounding environment, it is to accomplish specific tasks that are integral to the overall mission.  One member noted:  I haven’t seen a tree, smelled the rain, heard a bird, or felt wind on my skin in four months.

Lest these scientific "missionaries" completely forgo their secular lives,
some non-monastic entertainment is provided.  In addition to the “flavorful mush” that they regularly
consume, these would-be astronauts also enjoy “movies, board games and exercise.” 


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

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Watermelon: Some juicy tidbits

Merchant's Wife  (by Boris Kustodiev)
Watermelon (actually one big “pepo” berry) most likely originated in Africa.

Wikipedia explains that the Pharoah Tutankhamun was buried with some watermelon seeds for his afterlife journey, and the Bible mentions that the Israelites munched on the juicy innards while enslaved in Egypt.

By the 10th century, these fetching berries had made their way to China, a country which “is today the world’s single largest watermelon producer.”

Moorish invaders introduced this fruit to Europe in the 13th century; Europeans introduced it to North America in the 17th
century.  African slaves also spread its popularity throughout the world.

Today watermelons can be routinely found in supermarkets.  Piled on high within bins, they look especially enticing on hot sunny days.  Nevertheless, some end up tasting more like crunchy water than like manna
from heaven.

How to avoid this fate worse than warm soda?  MSN Living offers these juicy tips for picking just the right watermelon:  go for the heavier ones – they are usually the ripest; look for a creamy yellow spot where the watermelon had rested on the ground; and listen for a hollow sound while tapping it.


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

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ebola survivors often shunned

Ebola Virus     (CDC photo)
For those fortunate enough to survive Ebola, the aftermath can be almost as challenging.

Reminiscent of the days when AIDS was new to many, a combination of ignorance and fear (rather than love and compassion) seems to be ruling society’s response to Ebola survivors.

The Conakry, Guinea Associated Press reports on the case of 26-year-old Kadiatou Fanta. Although she has now been given a clean bill of health, Fanta laments:  No one wants to spend a minute in my company for fear of being contaminated.

Not only has her boyfriend refused to spend time with her, but even her medical-school instructors no longer want her in their classrooms.  Fanta has been told that she can now be “graded by telephone.”

If even medical instructors are this prejudiced against Ebola survivors, what are the chances of the average person befriending them?

It seems that a health-education campaign is warranted, and the sooner the better.  The public needs to be reassured that “the Ebola virus is only transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids of the sick, such as blood, saliva, urine, sweat or semen.”  The public also needs to be instructed that survivors with a clean bill of health are no longer in the contagious stages of the disease.

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

Friday, August 15, 2014

Colbert's conservative side

Colbert  (Photo by David Shankbone)
Although the public knows in theory that Stephen Colbert has a conservative side, they don’t often get to see it.

The off-stage Colbert is a devoted Catholic who is extremely supportive of U.S. military veterans.  He also has some sincere advice for youths who are struggling with romantic dilemmas.

The Sideshow reports that during a Rookie Mag Q&A session, Colbert was asked why teenage guys make catcalls and joke about rape.  Colbert explained that they are seeking attention and don’t necessarily “mean to be harmful.”

In response to a 19-year-old female who complained that her father didn’t permit her to sleep at her boyfriend’s house, Colbert suggested that since she is still living under her father’s roof, perhaps she could also be open to accepting her dad’s “relationship advice.”

When a young lady from Mexico City asked Colbert how she could tell whether someone liked her, he gave this thoughtful reply: “ nice definition of love is that another person’s happiness is more important than your own…”


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

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Meet 'Doctor' Limbaugh, the suicide expert

Political Myopia  (Thor Erik M. Hansen)
If you’re contemplating suicide, perhaps you should give a listen to “Doctor” Rush Limbaugh, the self-proclaimed suicide expert.  After listening to his theories, you might laugh so hard that suicide suddenly seems irrelevant.

Ed Mazza of The Huffington Post reports on Limbaugh’s fatuous pronouncement about Robin Williams’ suicide.  According to Rush, Williams killed himself because of “pessimism and darkness, sadness… it fits a certain picture or a certain image that the left has.”

What researchers who actually study the data have found is that “suicide rates tend to be higher in states that vote Republican and have a higher rate of gun ownership.”  An additional study indicated that there are “higher suicide rates in Australia and the United Kingdom when conservative governments are in power.”

Limbaugh also couldn’t resist “diagnosing” Williams’ alleged survivor’s guilt regarding friends Christopher
Reeves, Andy Kaufman and John Belushi.  Limbaugh explained, “Well, that is a constant measurement that is made by political leftists when judging the country.”

If this last statement of Limbaugh’s seems somewhat out in left field, that’s par for the course.  Rush seems
obsessed with viewing most situations through lenses that hardly correct for political myopia. 


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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Asian Catholics: Wave of the future

Santo Nino de Cebu  (Photo by Pinoy916)
Pope Francis seems to think that the Roman Catholic Church has been far too preoccupied with what occurs in Europe and North America, and not focused enough upon what occurs in outlying areas.

David Gibson of The Washington Post reports that Catholicism has been growing faster in Asia “than any place else except Africa.”  Pope Francis will be visiting South Korea next week to participate in “Asian Youth Day, a Catholic jamboree that will draw young people from 29 Asian countries.”

Come January, Pope Francis will visit Sri Lanka and the Philippines.  A trip to Japan is also being considered.  These travel plans are markedly different from those of Pope Benedict XVI, who had never visited Asia during his pontificate.

Because Asian churches are rather distant from the Vatican, they are often more independent than the ones closer to Rome.  Pope Francis has actually encouraged this type of decentralization.

Perhaps “breathing space” is just what the Catholic Church needs in order to re-energize itself.  Rev. William Grimm, a Maryknoll priest based in Tokyo, explains that Asian Christians tend to have “a degree of
commitment that would be heroic in the West.”


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

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams: Heart more than head

(Williams at 2007 USO show)
Although few can deny Robin Williams’ comedic and dramatic genius, it seems that his heart was even more fully developed than his head.

Shortly after his death, accolades to that effect began pouring in.  President Obama stated, “…he was one of a kind.  He arrived in our lives as an alien [Mork] – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit.”  Comedian Steve Martin tweeted that Williams was a “mensch” and a “genuine soul.”  His wife, Susan Schneider lamented, “I lost my… best friend.”

Wikipedia reports on his generous contributions to worthy causes. Williams and his former wife, Marcia Garces, founded “a philanthropic organization to raise money for many charities.”  Along with Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal, Williams also hosted fundraising efforts called Comic Relief.  He performed for U. S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and donated generously to the Red Cross.

On a highly personal level, he was a huge support to his close friend Christopher Reeves.  Reeves and
Williams met while attending Juilliard, and began a lifelong friendship at that time.  After Reeves became a quadriplegic, it was Williams who first bolstered his spirits by pretending to be an eccentric Russian doctor about to perform a colostomy.

Was Williams religious?  The jury’s still out on that one.  Raised an Episcopalian (although his mother was a Christian Scientist), he jokingly described his denomination as “Catholic Lite – same rituals, half the guilt.”  

Christianity has been called a relationship rather than a religion.  What we do know is that Williams’ heart was very often in all the right(eous) places.


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

Monday, August 11, 2014

Supermoon: Diana revealed

Diana of Versailles  (Photo by Sting)
Long before there was a Princess Diana, there was a goddess Diana.  She was not only the goddess of the moon, but also the
goddess of the hunt and birthing.

With stellar genealogy (her twin was the sun god Apollo), Diana was positioned to rise from the get-go.  Her very name is rooted in holy (“divios”) incandescence (“dies”).

Tending to gravitate towards secluded places such as forests and mountains, Diana doesn’t often fully reveal herself.  Nevertheless, she sometimes looms large over the planet, checking in on childbirths and the succession of royalty.

This past weekend was one of those times.  NBC News reports that Diana hogged the Sunday spotlight, shoving aside even the
Perseid meteors.  In fact, she’s been quite the flirt all summer long, with “three full moons in a row” that have looked “bigger and brighter than normal.”

In scientific terms, what makes Diana lately appear so pleasingly plump is that “this month’s lunar perigee [when the moon is closest to the earth]… occurs at around the same time as the official moment of the moon’s full phase.”


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

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Yazidi beliefs: Angels of light

Yazidi Temple   (Photo by Danpanic77)
The Yazidis have been in the headlines lately (and well they should) for being mercilessly butchered and enslaved by Sunni militants in Iraq.

Baghdad Associated Press reports that “hundreds of Yazidi women below the age of 35” are considered slaves by Sunni captors who have “vicious plans” for them.  Approximately 50,000 Yazidis (many of whom are children) have already fled for their lives to the wilderness, where they “remain, trapped and running out of food and water.”  Mass executions of Yazidi men are also taking place.

These persecuting Sunni militants consider the Yazidis to be heretical “devil worshippers.”  Wikipedia explains that Tawuse Malek (aka “Melek Taus, the Peacock Angel”) is the preeminent angel of the Yazidi Heptad of Seven Holy Beings.  Melek Taus is considered by the Yazidis to be “the leader of the archangels, not a fallen

Nevertheless, these Sunnis insist upon equating Melek Taus with Shaitan (aka “Satan”).  Because Yazidi stories tell us that Melek Taus had refused to bow to Adam (just as Satan did, although for very different reasons), the militants have declared that Melek Taus and Shaitan are one and the same.
Yazidis, like the ancient Zoroastrians before them, believe that good and evil are “in the heart and spirit of humans themselves.”  May the light overcome the darkness in Iraq and everywhere.


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

Saturday, August 9, 2014

'Jesus pose' catching on

Sitting's okay too...  (Painting by Carl Bloch)
Although living like Jesus is all-too-rare, posing like Jesus is beginning to catch on.

Jacquelyn Smith of Business Insider makes a convincing case for strutting around with hands “about waist-high, or a little higher, spread out so that each one is about six inches out from your hipbone, with your palms facing up.”

Got that?  It’s not about what you say, but about how you look while saying it.

Here’s how it works: This alleged Jesus pose allegedly “signals openness, and therefore creates trust with audiences.”  On the other hand(s), speaking with arms “protecting” the torso gives listeners the impression that there’s some kind of danger in the room, and they just want to flee from you and your words.

Assuming the Jesus pose, however, is easier said than done.  Public speaking is right up there with
death and divorce when it comes to stress.  In order to pry your arms away from your chest, it is therefore necessary to breathe deeply (and perhaps say three Hail Marys) before beginning your speech.


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

Friday, August 8, 2014

Zonkey see, zonkey do

A Zorse  (Photo by C & D Schmitt)
Visitors at the Taigan zoo in southern Crimea are flocking (herding?) to see the zonkey Telegraph cozy up with his zebra mom.

A zonkey (aka “zebroid”) is a cross between a zebra and a donkey.  In this case, Telegraph’s mother (a lonely maiden) was "introduced" to Telegraph’s father (one lucky lad).

Before you knew it, along came Telegraph.  With his black-and-white striped legs and donkey-like head and body, he’s been a real crowd pleaser.  However, not everyone has been on board with this type of intermingling.

Anna Kachurovskaya of the Moscow Zoo made this pronouncement:  Such things don’t happen in civilized zoos…  This sort of marketing is not justified or scientific… zoos are for preserving wild species, that is one of their most important goals.

Taigan director Oleg Zubkov begs to differ.  He points out that Telegraph’s mom was simply placed in an area that housed “several other hooved animals and she really liked the donkey.”

Thus far, Telegraph doesn’t seem to be complaining either.  Playfully romping, he seems unaware of the controversy surrounding his hybrid roots.   


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

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Selkie selfie: Swimming with the seals

Selkie  (Illustration by Carolyn Emerick) 
When people visit the zoo, they usually stay on their side of the enclosures.  Not so a bikini-clad woman who snuck into the Berlin Zoo’s seal pool for a quick dip, complete with photographs…

The woman accomplished this by waiting until after hours.  Berlin Reuters reports that zoo staff failed to catch her, “but
would have called the police if they had.”

Zoo manager Ragnar Kuehne explained that she “could have been seriously injured if the seals had bitten her.”  Nevertheless,
one Reuters reader defended her actions with this comment:  She went swimming with the seals looking for her selkie… 

Wikipedia explains that selkies (aka “silkies” or “selchies”) are “mythological creatures found in Scottish, Irish, and Faroese folklore.”  Although they live as seals in the water, they “shed their skin to become human on land.”

Some believe that these shape-shifting beliefs stem from the intermarriage of early Scottish settlers with Finnish and Saami women “who were misidentified as selkies because of their sealskin kayaks and clothing.”  Other settlers thought that selkies were “supernaturally formed from the souls of drowned people.”


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

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Sam Harris: We're all living in Israel

Tel Megiddo  (Photo by Joe Freeman)
While making it clear that he certainly doesn’t support everything Israel has been doing, Sam Harris also contends:  The truth is, we are all living in Israel.  It’s just that some of us haven’t realized it yet.

In comparing the ultimate goals of Israel and Hamas, Harris notes an essential difference.  He explains that if the Israelis could have it their way, they would probably choose to “live in peace with their neighbors… continue to build out their high tech sector and thrive.”  Harris then states that groups such as ISIS, al-Qaeda and Hamas instead “want to impose their religious views on the rest of humanity,” and “stifle every freedom that decent, educated, secular people care about.”

Harris concludes that throughout human history there have been those who would readily “destroy the very possibility of human happiness” in order to pursue their own staunch views of Paradise.  When this occurs, it becomes impossible for civilians everywhere “to live peacefully in a secular, pluralistic world…”

In this sense, we are all near the hills of Megiddo.  In this sense, we are all within close range of fundamentalism's not-so-friendly fire.


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

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Othello, Fifi and Fido: Three's a crowd

(Library of Congress Poster)
Sometimes this seems like a dog-eat-dog world, especially if Rover is making eyes at Fifi behind Fido's tail.

A recent study by San Diego psychologist Christine Harris focused upon what is now termed “canine jealousy.”  After dog-owners were asked to “shower affection” on three different objects (“a plush animatronic dog… a plastic jack-o-lantern pail… a children’s book”) in front of their dogs, Harris analyzed the dogs’ responses.

What Harris found is that these dogs exhibited far more agitation when their owners were interacting with the toy dog than when they were interacting with either the pail or the book. Twenty-five percent of them “even snapped at the toy, which barked and whined and wagged its tail, while the owner was playing with it.”

Now this might sound like a far cry from the torments of Othello, but perhaps it is closer than we would like to imagine.  Our all-too-human jealousy might also be lurking within the bosom of a wolf.


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

Monday, August 4, 2014

Star wars: Voight defends Israel

(NASA/ESA Image)
When stars clash, sparks often fly.  Such is the current case between John Voight (aka “Angelina Jolie’s dad”) and Penelope Cruz.

Each of these movie stars has taken a very different stance regarding the violent conflict between Israel and Hamas.  Cruz, along with husband Javier Bardem and other heavyweights of the Spanish film industry, recently penned a letter denouncing Israel’s attacks against Hamas as “genocide.”  This letter did not sit well with Voight, to say the least.

He responded with a letter of his own to The Hollywood Reporter, urging his fellow actors to examine their motives.  Voight expressed great concern that their stance “could incite anti-Semitism all over the world.”  He stated that “Israel has always labored for a peaceful relation with its Arab neighbors.”

Voight then reminded his peers that they have achieved fame and fortune under the auspices of democratic nations.  He questioned whether they could have ever done the same within most parts of the Middle East.  

Voight emphatically concluded:  “You should hang your heads in shame… and ask forgiveness from the suffering people in Israel.”    


Copyright August 4, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Bible in bathroom bin leads to arrest

Chongjin  (Photo by Raymond K. Cunningham)
Those who follow the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) in North Korea may quickly find themselves being hauled off to prison.

James Pearson of Reuters reports that “American tourist Jeffrey Fowle was arrested by North Korean authorities for leaving a bible under a bin in the toilet at a club for foreign sailors…”  This incident occurred in Chongjin, one of North Korea’s most stringent cities.

The English-Korean bible had been discovered by a cleaner who then alerted the authorities.  Because Fowle had left his name, phone number and photograph inside the bible, he was easy to trace as he later stepped through airport customs.

Although Fowle had first stated that this bible had accidentally slipped from his pocket, he later admitted to deliberately leaving it in the bin for “someone to read.”

Pearson explains that North Korea “is ranked as one of the world’s most oppressive regimes” in terms of religious freedom.


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

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Ibrahim visits City of Brotherly Love

Liberty Bell   (Photo by Tony the Misfit)
Although William Penn was granted the Pennsylvania colony by a charter from Charles II of England, the Lenape tribe was already living there.

In order to assure peace for his new “City of Brotherly Love” (the name “Philadelphia” means “Brotherly Love” in Greek), Penn chose to then pay the Lenapes for this land.  

Wikipedia explains that Penn “had experienced religious persecution and wanted his colony to be a place where anyone could worship freely.”  It is therefore only fitting that Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman who had been sentenced to death for refusing to renounce Christianity,
visited Philadelphia en route to her new home in New Hampshire.

The Associated Press reports that during this visit, Ibrahim “was welcomed first by the mayor of Philadelphia as a ‘world freedom fighter’…”  Mayor Nutter then “gave her a small replica of the Liberty Bell…”


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

Friday, August 1, 2014

Little tiger: Tongue got your cat?

(Photo by Bertil Videt)
In downtown Hanoi, ordering “little tiger” might mean that you’re about to eat somebody’s pet cat.

Hanoi AFP reports that cats there are routinely “drowned, shaved and burned to remove all fur before being cut up and fried with garlic.”  Although there is an “official ban” against the “consumption
of cats,” cat thievery is still common.  Pet owners therefore keep a close eye on their feline companions for fear of never seeing them again.

After all, as one Hanoi chef put it:  Eating cat meat is better than eating dog as the meat is more sweet, more tender than a dog.

Besides, why have to choose between eating cats and dogs or keeping them as pets?  One can have the alleged best of both worlds by raising them as pets, then eating them as snacks.  At least that is the going philosophy in some
parts of the world.

Lest these practices seem rather crude, consider this reader’s comment:  …In America we raise and eat pigs, cows, chickens, sheep and any number of other animals.  By all rights, pigs are far more intelligent than dogs or cats…

Since humans are biological omnivores, and can thrive upon a balanced vegetarian diet, perhaps it is time for all cultures to reconsider the heartless killing of our four-legged companions.   


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