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

Friday, October 31, 2014

Thinking for success: Harvard tips

(Photo by Zhen-Huan Lu)
If you can play the piano but just don’t, your ability for that skill is outweighing your disposition to practice it. 

Thus spaketh Shari Tishman, a Harvard education scholar. She also points out that this discrepancy between ability and inclination can extend into our thinking tendencies.

Drake Baer of Business Insider explains that people who potentially can see both sides of an issue often don’t bother to.
Making full use of your thinking abilities therefore means having both the ability and the inclination to do so.

Baer lists Tishman’s recommended core “thinking dispositions.”  Tishman’s ideal intellectual scenario would include a thinker who is open-minded, zestfully curious, able
to clarify and conceptualize, disposed toward setting goals and executing plans, careful and precise, assessing and evaluative, and reflective of his or her own thinking patterns.

Baer concludes:  “Thinking about your thinking dispositions – rather than how innately smart you are” helps to cultivate a “growth mindset.”


Copyright October 31, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, October 30, 2014

John C. Maxwell: Bucket-list books

Henri Nouwen  (Photo by Frank Hamilton)
Pastor John C. Maxwell is himself a prolific writer.  Having led numerous churches, he has authored numerous books on leadership.

Wikipedia lists the following Maxwell titles:  Becoming the Person Others Will Want to Follow, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership and The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader.
Altogether, Maxwell has written more than 60 such books.

Because his own books have “sold more than nineteen million copies,” and some have been “on the New York Times Best Seller List,” it is interesting to note which authors Maxwell
particularly cherishes.

He has made this easy to determine by publishing a “bucket list” of personal favorites. Authors within this select group include C. S. Lewis (Screw Tape Letters), Scott Peck (The Road Less Traveled), Henri Nouwen (Life Signs), Jack Welch (Jack: Straight From the Gut), Rick Warren (Purpose Driven Life) and James Allen (As a Man Thinketh).

And, oh yes – among the many other listings, there are seven by Maxwell himself… 


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

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

'People's Tree': Nature's sacrifice

U. S. Capitol   (Photo by Martin Falbisoner)
With more than a touch of irony, the soon-to-be U. S. Capitol Christmas Tree will be cut down in the name of ecology.

Aptly named “The People’s Tree” (if it were instead “The Forest’s Tree,” it could go on living in its natural habitat for years to come), this “whopping 80-foot plus white spruce” will be torn from its home in Chippewa National Forest, Minnesota on October 29th. explains that this sacrificial tree will then slowly wend its way through numerous states in order to “showcase” Minnesota’s “natural beauty…”

Once it gets to Washington, D. C., it will also be showcasing the traditions of a particular faith.  If other faiths were equally showcasing their traditions in this pronounced a manner, the pluralistic demographics of the United States would be more fairly represented.


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

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Stephen Hawking: a Facebook first

Hawking in Zero Gravity   (NASA photo)
Facebook just got a whole lot wiser.  Live Science reports that famed physicist Stephen Hawking recently made his very first entry on to that popular site.

So what would this genius choose to share with the world by way of a Facebook introduction?  The answer comes as no surprise – Hawking characteristically dove right into his favorite topic.

First sentence:  I have always wondered what makes the universe exist.

Final sentence:  Be curious, I know I will forever be.

Wow, and wow again.

Nevertheless, Hawking’s down-to-earth practicality was also very much featured within an accompanying Facebook video.

While explaining why he himself didn’t take part in the recent ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, Hawking stated:  Because I had pneumonia last year, it would not be wise for me to have a bucket of cold water poured over me.


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

Monday, October 27, 2014

Muslims flee Myanmar

Mandalay Mosque   (Photo by Wagaung) 
Rohingya Muslims, a persecuted minority within the “Buddhist nation” of Myanmar, are fleeing the country in vast numbers.

Although the essence of Buddhism is compassion for all sentient beings, mobs which call themselves Buddhist have been attacking the Rohingya.  Aljazeera reports that this persecution “has left hundreds dead and 140,000 trapped in camps.”

The Rohingya, who emigrated to Myanmar from “neighboring Bangladesh generations ago,” mostly “live in the northern tip of the Rakhine state.”  Authorities there have recently embarked upon “an aggressive campaign” to categorize the Rohingya as “illegal migrants.”  Those refusing to take part in this “verification” process have been “confined… beaten or arrested.”

Due to ongoing violence against the Rohingya, the United Nations has labeled this group “one of the most persecuted religious minorities in the world.”

And that’s saying a lot.


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

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Priests and Nun: Making joyful noises

Tap Shoes   (Photo by Calliopejen1)
It’s refreshing to see members of the clergy simply tap dancing around, rather than tap dancing around important issues. 

During an April 2014 fundraiser at North American College, which Trisha Thomas of the Associated Press calls “the elite American seminary up the hill from the Vatican,” two seminarians were filmed tap dancing for the masses. 

The Rev. David Rider of Hyde Park, New York first “warmed up the crowd,” until he was “pushed aside” by the Rev. John Gibson of Milwaukee’s “fast-footed Irish dance.”  They continued this fleet-footed dueling for some time, much to the audience’s delight.

Not everyone, however, was delighted.  Some have criticized them for daring to dance “under a crucifix and a painting of Pope Francis.”  Rider’s reply?  We would just refer them to the Bible, where the Lord tells us to live with joy.

Sister Cristina Scuccia is also in the habit of making joyful noises.  She’s done a cover of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” and has won last June’s “The Voice of Italy” competition.  She, too, has elicited mixed feelings from the faithful.

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

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Hitler coffee: Hot as you-know-what

Latte Art  (Photo by Mortefot from Flickr) 
With a hellish display of advertising gone wrong, a “leading Swiss supermarket chain” has been “distributing mini-containers of coffee cream bearing portraits of Adolph Hitler…”

The Geneva Associated Press reports that the company, Migros, is now calling this an “unforgivable blunder,” and is blaming it on an “internal failure.”

Whatever that means…

At any rate, Migros is now wiping Hitler’s likeness off the face of its shelves, and “is breaking all ties with Karo-Versand, the small Swiss company that designed the collectible series.”  (The series also includes likenesses of Mussolini, lest Hitler become lonely.)

Not everyone was against these Hitler additives.  Some were delighted to see him get creamed all over again.


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

Friday, October 24, 2014

Diwali season: Gold sales up

Diwali Lights  (Photo by Lisa.davis)
As Diwali begins, many will be greeting it with golden accoutrements.

Swansy Afonso and Pratik Parija of Bloomberg report that “India is the largest gold buyer after China.”  This fondness for the precious metal “has lasted for centuries.”  Indians have
considered gold to be “a symbol of wealth or a form of investment.”

During the Diwali season, gold sales within India typically soar.  Festivals and weddings have pushed the demand up to “850 to 950 tons this year, as compared with 974.8 tons in 2013.” The gold is used in festival jewelry,
as well as in “the bridal trousseau” and marital gifts.

Whereas other gifts tend to fade away, gold continues to be worth its weight.  As Lynette D’Souza, a dentist from Goa, recently stated:  Years from now, they will still have the gold.  It is an investment.   


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

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Renee Zellweger: Look of peace

Zellweger in 2010  (by David Shankbone)
There was a time that Renee Zellweger’s art seemed more important than her life.  Those were the days when her weight
would yo-yo as roles demanded. Many praised her for this type of dedication.

Nowadays, Zellweger looks quite different.  Some paparazzi types are constantly bleating, “What happened to her face?”

According to Zellweger, “growing into myself” is what happened.  Zach Johnson of E! Online reports that she “did work that allows for being still, making a home, loving someone, learning new things, growing as a creative person…”

Zellweger further claims that “living a different, happy, more fulfilling life” is what her face is currently reflecting.  Her friends have agreed that she looks “peaceful” and “healthy.”

Choosing peace over chaos certainly seems wise. It might even be the very best facial in the world.


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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mormons air 'clean laundry' on YouTube

(Photo by Eloquence)
After years of undergoing rude remarks about the “white, two-piece cotton” undergarments that are “worn daily by devout adult Latter-day Saints,” the Mormon Church has decided to
post an explanation of such on YouTube.

Brady McCombs of the Associated Press reports that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has posted a four-minute video that compares these “temple garments” to “holy vestments worn in other religious faiths…”  The video shows Jewish prayer shawls, Buddhist saffron robes, Roman Catholic nuns’ habits and priests’ collars.  It also airs publicly (for perhaps the first time) what the Mormon temple garments
consist of.

Stark and simple, these undergarments resemble a modest white “T-shirt and shorts.”  They are worn beneath everyday clothing as a reminder of the wearer’s “commitment to God” to live a “good,
honorable” life.

Jana Riess, a Religion News Service writer who blogs about Mormonism, hopes that this video will offset sensationalism by persuading “gawkers that there’s nothing to see here, folks.”

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Marital wisdom: 73 years' worth

(Photo by Dmitri Markine)
When Barbara Cooper talks marriage, she knows whereof she speaks.  That’s because she and her husband had 73 years’ worth of success with it.

MSN Lifestyle therefore presents "9 Secrets From a 73-Year Marriage” – excerpts from Cooper’s book titled Fall In Love For Life.  Her primary theme is this:  “…never be too tired or too busy to feel love for your partner.”

This love can be expressed in a number of key ways.  One essential tip is to refrain from blurting out harsh words. Cooper reminds readers that the word “danger” includes the word
“anger.”  She suggests “admitting you are losing your cool,” then asking, “…so can you just humor me and help me get over it?”  This can help to dissipate the initial irritation.

When your spouse comes through the door, do you drop what you’re doing and focus upon a hearty greeting?   This is such a simple thing to do, and yet it can rekindle connections time and again.  Staying present for a loved one is the greatest gift you can offer.

Cooper claims that it’s unrealistic to expect a partner (or any humans, for that matter) to meet all of your desires.  The truth is that needs (and/or desires) will never be fully satisfied anyway…

Cooper then offers this good news:  You can actually live quite comfortably without having all of your needs met.  Therefore, cultivate what you’ve got rather than chasing after the so-called “perfect” mate(s).


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

Monday, October 20, 2014

Thync and Grow Calm

Cranial Nerves  (Image by Dwstultz)
Soon-to-be gone are the days of wine and roses.  Soon-to-be here are the days of Thync and Grow Calm (or energetic, take your pick).

If you’re one of those many slackers who has not yet heard of Thync, Brad Stone of Bloomberg Businessweek
Technology has some brain-zapping news for you.

Stone recently allowed himself to be lured into the windowless recesses of “Thync, a secretive startup in Los Gatos, California.”  Once there, he experienced the results of targeting the cranial nerves with “specifically calibrated levels of electricity.”

Stopping thankfully short of electric-shock therapy, this treatment began to dissolve the “familiar knot of stress” in Stone’s stomach.  At “the intersection of neuroscience and consumer electronics,” this procedure may soon help “call up our focus, our calm, and creativity when we need it.”

So there you have it – the Power of Positive Thyncing…


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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

'Innies' rule!

Audrey Helpburn   (Public Domain)
Belly buttons aren't the only things that are “innies” or “outies.”  People are, too.

Hillary White of Pop Sugar points out that introverts are “full of extraordinary talents and abilities,” even though they are “often perceived as shy or socially awkward.”

One main difference between human innies (introverts) and outies (extroverts) is their way of interacting with people.
Whereas extroverts seem energized by broad social interactions, introverts seek fewer and deeper personal connections.

Nevertheless, introverts have excellent leadership qualities. The following are some of the ones that White describes:
self-determination (innies don’t need much hand-holding when it comes to getting the job done), oratory strength (their public speeches tend to be passionate and well-prepared), and
creativity (less concerned about public disapproval, introverts are able to embrace the unusual).

Some examples of famous introverts that White gives are Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg and Audrey Hepburn.    


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

Saturday, October 18, 2014

RIP wear: Grief on display

Bandanas   (Photo by Steven Depolo) 
It used to be that basic black was the color of funeral garb.  Either that, or basic brown, beige or gray…

These days, custom-made RIP shirts, jackets and bandanas are all the rage. Mary Wisniewski of Reuters reports that younger people are especially “proud to display their grief and that they love and miss somebody.”

This striking clothing often includes slogans such as “Long Live the King” and “Rest In Peace.”  It often bears “the deceased’s photo, his birth and death dates,” poems, rhinestones, and other adornments.

Mourners not only wear these articles to the funeral itself, but also on other special occasions such as the deceased one’s birthday.   For kids coping with gun violence and murder, these expressions of grief can go a long way toward healing.

One such RIP slogan reads:  If it ain’t no hope for the youth, it ain’t no hope for the future.   


Copyright October 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, October 17, 2014

Marriage: Combat complacency

Dance Contest   (Photo by Nathaniel C. Sheetz)
A marriage without conflict can be a marriage of complacency.

Although the myth exists that all conflict erodes a union, that just isn’t so.  MSN Lifestyle explains that hashing things out is a whole lot better than holding
back festering resentments.  “As long as you both know how to apologize and move on fast,” anger can be “a
perfectly healthy emotion.”

Of course, there are other ways than sparring to keep the marital embers glowing.  “To help keep apathy from creeping into your relationship,” it’s good to have new adventures together.  This doesn’t necessarily mean skydiving off cliffs, but it does mean mixing things up a bit.

If you’ve always reserved Saturdays for routine tasks such as housekeeping and shopping, perhaps it’s time to go for a bike ride instead.  If you’ve always gone to a certain restaurant, perhaps it’s time for a picnic in the park.  Even a bit of variety can make time together feel more exciting.

Although "major secrets are not okay in a long-term relationship,” minor surprises can be exhilarating.  Taking dance lessons on the side so that you can do your partner proud at that big event can help put the zing in the thing.


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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

White-faced bear comes a calling

(Photo by Arturo de Frias Marques)
When Ruby Kaleak got the dispatch call last week, she couldn’t quite believe it.   After all, it’s not every day that a polar bear comes to visit.

Kaleak, whose part-time job is “polar bear patrol” within an Alaskan village, rushed to the scene.  Anchorage Associated Press reports that she came face-to-face with an enormous white bear that was “feasting on a drum of seal oil in the entryway” of an 81-year-old woman’s home.

This story had a happy ending for all concerned.  The bear had its fill before escaping into the wild, and no humans were harmed.

Although this particular white-faced bear was driven by hunger (“as ice has receded to deep water beyond the continental shelf, more bears are remaining on land to look for food”), legendary white-faced bears had different motives.

Amy Sillup gives this explanation: Aleut lore tells of a white-faced bear that “walks the woods as a spirit bear, reminding people to take from nature only as much as they need.”  Had folks only heeded this advice long ago, today’s polar bears might be a lot less hungry.


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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ding-dong, the bell is gone

Close-up of Brass   (by Strangerhahaha)
It’s kind of hard to lose a 2,300-pound brass church bell; nevertheless, one that’s been around for the past 150 years has
now gone missing.

The bell had rested securely for most of the past century and a half within a Gloversville, New York church.  When this church was demolished three years ago, the bell was removed to what the Associated Press calls “an undisclosed location.”

It appears that the location in question wasn’t undisclosed to everyone. 

Police have therefore been searching “local scrap yards and antiques dealers” for clues.  They suspect that “more than one person” used “heavy equipment” to haul the bell away.


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

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Deconversion: Sometimes healthy, sometimes not

Waco Siege   (FBI photo)
The aftereffects of leaving a religion (aka “deconversion”) are sometimes healthy, and sometimes not.

John Fortenbury of The Atlantic presents examples of both in his article titled “The Health Effects of Leaving Religion.”  Although many who leave religions that they no longer feel in sync with experience feelings of liberation, others go through long periods of anxiety, depression, alienation and even suicidal tendencies.  These negative effects are often strongest for recent deconverts.

Psychologist Darrel Ray, who founded an organization called Recovering From Religion (which is specifically geared toward connecting “nonbelievers with therapists and each other”), states that it “generally takes depressed deconverts two to three years for their health to bounce back.”

Psychologist Marlene Winell originated a term called “religious trauma syndrome (RTS),” which she defines as “struggling with leaving an authoritarian, dogmatic religion and coping with the damage of indoctrination.”  She sees this syndrome as being akin to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Fortenbury concludes that the type of aftereffects very much depend upon whether or not the religious experience had been perceived as positive or negative.  He also emphasizes that the intensity of many such aftereffects indicates just how powerful a force religion can be.


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

Monday, October 13, 2014

Bakken boom: Fractured fields, broken dreams

Bakken Drilling   (Joshua Doubek)
It seems as though the North Dakota oil country has become the new Wild West.  People seeking a better life are migrating there - many finding only fractured fields and broken dreams.

This disillusionment has led to a local revival of itinerant preaching.  Maryann Eidemiller of The Washington Post reports that Sven Hauge and some fellow members of the Christian Motorcyclists Association have been holding worship services for the “man camps” there.  So far “he’s seen half a dozen men commit to following Jesus,” which Hague describes as “awesome” rather than “big.”

Hague and his team are not the only evangelists in that area.  Robert Newberry, “a self-described former bad dude” turned preacher, came up from Missouri to “let people know that God is here and he loves them.”   Newberry feels that his “rough-and-tumble” background has helped him to understand the challenges that these oil workers are dealing with.

Then there's Jim Konsor from South Dakota who sought monetary assistance for the workers from the Dakotas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. He asked for $100,000 and received $270,000.

The local churches have also stepped up their services.  They are struggling to accommodate the men’s work schedules, as well as their pressing needs for such basics as “money for gas.” 


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

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Bahais in Florence: South Carolina, not Italy

(Florence Post Office - 1938) 
Most people would guess that the main religion within the state of South Carolina is Christianity.  However, most would not guess that the second largest religion within that state is the Baha’i Faith.

Melissa Rollins of SC Now reports that the Baha’i Faith is “a monotheistic religion founded in 1844 in Iran.”  One of its main tenets is that God gave revelations to teachers of many different faiths.  Therefore, the sacred texts of the Abrahamic religions, Buddhism and Hinduism are all
revered, along with the Baha’i scriptures themselves.

The Baha’i Faith also teaches that sin “is anything that works against world unity and peace.”  Heaven and hell are defined in terms of “proximity to God.”  Although all religions are embraced, interpretations of them may vary greatly.

The Florence-based Bahais meet in members’ homes “on the first day of each month.” These months, however, differ from Gregorian ones.  Rollins explains that “Baha’is follow a 19-month calendar, with 19 days in each month.”

The Baha’i presence, largely because of its profound respect for all races, has been in South Carolina for the past 100 years.  The late great Dizzy Gillespie, a South Carolina native, was a well-known Baha’i from 1968 until his death in 1993.


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

Saturday, October 11, 2014

E-Cat's pajamas: Good-bye fracking

A Cold-Fusion Device  (Stevenkrivit)
Although fracking is touted as a contemporary solution to energy shortages, it is actually already outdated.

The (cold) wave of the red-hot future seems to be fusion. Sebastian Anthony of Extreme Tech describes a “device that purports to use cold fusion to generate massive amounts of cheap, green energy.” 

This E-Cat device, developed by Andrea Rossi, has already been verified by “six (reputable) researchers from Italy and Sweden.”

The E-Cat uses “hydrogen-loaded nickel,” plus additives such as lithium, as fuel.  Low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR) are said to “fuse nickel and hydrogen atoms into copper, releasing oodles of energy.”

Just how much fuel is needed for this energy to be obtained?  Researchers have noted that just “1 gram of fuel” was inside the E-Cat that they observed.

With ratios like this, the E-Cat could potentially release “maybe a million times more energy than gasoline.”  Which would make the need for fossil fuels as dead as their prototype organisms…


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

Friday, October 10, 2014

Funeral foods: Comfort and ease

Bundt Cake    (Photo by Katrin Morenz)
The two qualities that reign supreme within the many funeral-food traditions are comfort and ease.

Foods that temporarily stuff the gaping emptiness include vegetables with rice (Chinese), cheesy hash browns (Mormon), custard pies (Amish), casseroles (Midwest),
bundt cakes (Minnesota), chow mein noodles (Hawaii), jambalaya (New Orleans), ham biscuits (American South), and frogmore stew (South Carolina low country).

Ease of preparation and serving counts for everything at times like these.  Epicurious of MSN Living reports that the Amish “funeral pie… can be made in advance and requires no refrigeration.”  Minnesota bundt cakes are “easy to freeze and store for families.”  And what can be simpler than chowing down on Hawaiian noodles?

Tradition often dictates how these meals will unfold.  The Jews have a Seudat Havara’ah (“Meal of Condolence”), and the Chinese avoid meat during mourning. The “funeral repast” follows a Southern
burial.  This repast is a “semi-formal dinner, featuring multiple courses of local specialties… paired with simple desserts.”   

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

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Columbus' bloody moon

Bloody Moon  (Public Domain)
It seems quite ironic that a 2014 blood moon (lunar eclipse that makes for a copper-colored view) took place shortly before Columbus Day.

Five hundred and ten years ago (in 1504) Christopher Columbus wanted to appear god-like to the indigenous people of what is now Jamaica.  Wikipedia explains that “he and his crew were eating a good deal of the inhabitants’ food,” and Columbus had hoped to plunder even more of it by convincing the natives that he was divine.

Due to readings from astronomical tables and local clocks, Columbus knew that a lunar eclipse was about to occur. Columbus then convinced the natives that it was he who had made the moon disappear.  He threatened to withhold it indefinitely if they didn’t hand over their food.

This strong-arm tactic unfortunately worked.  It worked so well that Columbus became a master at coercing, robbing, torturing and killing natives throughout the New World.     


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

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Lama Marut: Somebody to nobody

(Emily Dickinson, another 'nobody')
There’s a lot going on at Lama Marut’s website:  photos, podcasts, advertisements, tweets, videos, likes and followers (all presumably of, by and for no one).

That being said, there’s also a lot to think about (and perhaps agree with) within these offerings. 

For example, one podcast advises listeners on how to be “a little less somebody, and a little more nobody” (i.e., how to be a little less egocentric). 

One such tip involves going to the Salvation Army for wardrobe items.  In this way, you’re consciously wearing somebody else’s clothing rather than your “own.”

Next, take the money you’ve saved by shopping at the SA, and pop it into somebody else’s parking meter.  If no one’s watching while you do this, all the better.

Lama Marut explains that you have to train yourself to be ordinary because “we all want to be special.”
Therefore, try tailoring your conversation and style to blend in with people you’re fraternizing with, and try fraternizing with people who seem different from what you think you are.

Marut claims that we’re all fundamentally alike:  all beings just want to be happy and avoid suffering.  “There’s a common equality for all of us… [which is] much more important than the superficial differences.”

So why try so hard to be special?


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

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Goldfish: Zoroastrian symbols

Haft Sin Table   (Photo by Babak Habibi)
Nowruz, perhaps the holiest of all Zoroastrian holidays, occurs annually at the spring equinox.  This celebration is thought to have been initiated by Zoroaster himself, and
also marks the beginning of a new year.

As part of the Nowruz festivities, there are seven major table settings known as Haft Sin.  Wikipedia lists the symbolism of these settings as follows:  mirror (Sky), apple (Earth), candles (Fire), rose water (Water), wheat or barley sprouts (Plants), goldfish (Animals), and painted eggs (Humans and Fertility).

It may seem strange that goldfish are chosen as representatives of all animals, but their qualities lend credence to that role.  Wikipedia explains that they had been highly regarded in parts of Europe during the early 1600s because of their “metallic scales,” which symbolized “good luck and good fortune.”  First-year marital anniversaries were often honored by the giving of goldfish “as a symbol for the prosperous years to come.”

Goldfish are also known for their “strong associative learning abilities,” as well as for their “social learning skills.”  Unlike some other aquatic species, goldfish tend to be “friendly” towards one another.   The only times they become aggressive with each other is when food supplies are scarce.

Their vision and intelligence is acute enough for goldfish to “distinguish between individual humans,” and to gravitate towards their owners.  They will often display “begging” behaviors as their owners approach.

Just recently, surgery was successfully performed on a tumor-laden Australian goldfish.  Reuters reports that this fish, George, is now “expected to live another 20 years.”   


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

Monday, October 6, 2014

Selfies infiltrate Hajj

Buzz Aldrin's 1966 Space Selfie  (PD)
Making a pilgrimage to Mecca is supposed to be all about worshipping Allah.  Nevertheless, some all-too-human Hajj participants are taking the opportunity to include a few selfies while there.

Carol J. Williams of Los Angeles Times reports that young Hajj pilgrims have been snapping “photos of themselves kissing the Grand Mosque’s black stone or taking self portraits with other sacred venues in the background.”

Arab News goes so far as to call this practice “selfie fever,” and states that this “touristy behavior” has been condemned by “scholars and other pilgrims.”  These opponents consider
selfies to have somewhat “ruined the spirit of modesty and devotion expected during the Hajj.”

A certain amount of technology has been welcomed by Hajj planners, who see it as “infusing new elements of protection and comfort into the annual event…”  Hajj history has unfortunately included some “deadly stampedes, numerous cases of heat stroke and extremist violence.”

To offset potential dangers, this year’s Hajj has included an expanded and disability-friendly Grand Mosque circumambulation area, facial recognition software, closed-circuit cameras, airport medical screening, translation-equipped cellphones, and giant umbrellas.  


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

Sunday, October 5, 2014

'Hammerin' Hank' had the right idea

Hank Greenberg (Library of Congress)
When it came to setting priorities, baseball’s “Hammerin’” Hank Greenberg certainly knew how to hit a home run.

Described by Wikipedia as being “the first Jewish superstar in American team sports,” Greenberg garnered national attention in 1934 by refusing “to play on Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays, even though the Tigers were in the middle of a pennant race” at the time.

As Aviva Kempner points out in an article for The Washington Post, today’s baseball leaders could use a strong dose of such sensitivity.  The 2014 Nationals’ playoff game occurred right on Yom Kippur.

Kempner reports that today’s Tigers - along with their rivals, the Orioles – “were saved by a friendlier scheduling of games and have the day [Yom Kippur] off.” The Tigers currently have two Jewish players on board:  “baseman Ian Kinsler and manager Brad Ausmus.”  The “Nationals’ roster” currently has “no Jewish players.”

The scheduling of Nationals' playoff games during such a sacred day as Yom Kippur indicates, at best, a profound lack of sensitivity to this minority religion.  Imagine the outcry if these games were to be scheduled on Good Friday, Easter or Christmas Day…  


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

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Mecca's mega-makeover

Circumambulating the Kaaba (Mardetanha)
For Muslims the world over, the heart of Mecca is the Kaaba. 

The Quran attributes the construction of the original Kaaba to Abraham and Ishmael.  Islamic scholars estimate that this occurred circa 2130.  The Kaaba would thus be the oldest mosque in history, “more than a millennium older than Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem.”

Old-timers in today's Mecca remember the days when the neighborhood around the Kaaba consisted mostly of old homes, small businesses, historic sites and rocky hills.  In recent times, hills have been leveled and replaced with towering luxury hotels.

Although some say that this makeover was necessary in order to accommodate more and more Hajj pilgrims, others say that capital gain is the real driving force.  The five-star hotels attract wealthy
clients, who in turn shop at the international-chain stores that now also abound nearby.

The deliberate destruction of holy sites within the neighborhood has been attributed to the influence of Wahhabism, “the strict, puritanical interpretation of Islam that the Al Saud rulers elevated to the country’s official doctrine.”  Wahhabism teaches that such sites “should be destroyed to avoid veneration of anything other than God.”


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

Friday, October 3, 2014

In the Garden... State Parkway

(Public Domain)
Perhaps because “we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden,” a toll collector for the New Jersey Garden State Parkway had been in the habit of saying “God bless” to those who passed by her booth.

Word got back to her supervisor, and Cynthia Fernandez was told to quit saying those words to the customers because motorists might find them offensive.

Todd Starnes of Fox News reports that “Ms. Fernandez said not one person complained.”  Fernandez furthermore pointed out to her supervisor that there was “not one line” in the employee handbook regarding “God bless” statements.

Fernandez has therefore “filed a lawsuit against the Garden State Parkway claiming her former boss violated her First Amendment rights.”  She also resigned from her toll-collector position and is “babysitting until she can find a new job.”


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

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Monarch migration: Royal genes

Migrating Monarchs (by David R. Tribble)
The 3,000-mile migration that many monarchs undertake has often been called “miraculous.”

These fluttering "souls" (as named by Aristotle) seem far too flimsy to be that flighty.  How is it that they can survive such an arduous journey?

Will Dunham of Reuters explains that scientists have “pinpointed a single gene related to flight muscle efficiency that plays a major role in the monarch butterfly’s migration.” This research entailed comparing “the genetic blueprint of migratory monarchs to those that do not

The orange coloring of monarchs also plays an important part in their amazing survival.  It scares away potential predators by alerting them that monarchs “taste awful and are toxic to eat thanks to chemicals from the milkweed plants that nourish them in their larval state.”

Millions of monarchs have been migrating thousands of miles for millions of years.  Humans seeking miracles might just want to meditate on that.


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

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Planet Earth: Overly full, or half empty?

(Photo by Mntneerjay)
Because humans have basically overrun the planet, other species have declined by more than half since 1970.

John Helprin of the Geneva Associated Press reports that a recent study by the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) indicates a 52-percent drop in “wildlife populations between 1970 and 2010.”  The study blamed “human threats to nature” for this sharp decline.

According to WWF International Director General Marco Lambertini, the “chief threats” to wildlife populations include hunting, fishing, “deterioration of natural habitats… global
warming, invasive species, pollution and disease.”

A massive human effort to protect the natural environment is therefore needed.  Those in the know feel that there is “still hope,” but that this hope rests upon “focused conservation
action, political will and support from industry.”


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