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

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

UCDs: Crowded galaxies

M60-UCD1    (Photo from Hubble Telescope)
If you’ve ever been to Times Square on New Year’s Eve, then you surely know what human crowds are like.

Intensify that to the nth degree, and you might have some idea of what star crowds are like.

George Dvorsky of io9 reports that astronomers have now discovered a “new class of freakishly dense,compact galaxies.”

The stellar density within these “Ultracompact Dwarfs” (UCDs) is up to “a million times greater” than it is within our own night sky.

In the brightest-known UCD, named M85-HCC1, the typical distance between stars is 100 times less than the distance between stars in Earth’s galactic neighborhood.

One explanation for such extreme density is that UCDs  were once part of larger galaxies.  Scientists theorize that their “fluffy outer parts” were somehow stripped away (perhaps by even bigger nearby galaxies), leaving only the denser parts behind. 


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

Kobe and Phil: Working it through

Kobe Bryant  (Photo by Steve Lipofsky)
In the spirit of Lennon and McCartney’s “We Can Work It Out” (McCartney’s flexibility plus Lennon’s toughness), Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant slowly learned to get along.

Jackson recalls that in the beginning of their relationship, he could often feel Bryant’s hatred for him.  USA Today Sports reports that Kobe was especially angry when Phil called him “uncoachable.”

In a classic power struggle, young Bryant resented Jackson’s authority.  Jackson explained to ESPN:  He [Kobe] wanted more freedom and I wanted him to be more disciplined.

Eventually, the two worked through many of their differences.  Jackson gave Bryant “more of a license to do his thing,” as long as it stayed within agreed-upon limits.

The result?  The team then won “two more championships.”  Just goes to show how powerful mutual understanding can be.


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

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Hawking: 'There is no bigger question'

Yuri Milner (Photo by Debray Riveros)
For some, life is all about the BIG questions.  The “must know” inquiry for famed physicist Stephen Hawking is whether or not life exists in other pockets of the Universe.

Spurred on by recent knowledge about potentially life-supporting worlds, Hawking now finds it “quite likely” that “humans are not alone.”

Gregory Katz of the Associated Press reports that Hawking is teaming up with fellow physicist “Russian-born billionaire Yuri Milner” in order to diligently search for alien life.

Their $100-million project will “combine vast computing capacity with the world’s most powerful telescopes.”  Although these scientists will be intently listening for detectable radio signals,
they themselves will not be broadcasting any messages.

This one-way communication flow is largely due to Hawking’s precautions against alerting possibly-hostile races to our existence.  If such beings are advanced enough to receive our messages. they may also be advanced enough to plunder our fertile planet.

Nevertheless, the need to know apparently outweighs the fear of finding out.  Hawking has emphatically stated:  We are alive.  We are intelligent.  We must know.       


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

Monday, July 27, 2015

Trump a Presbyterian who 'loves God'

Trump in February 2015   (Photo by Gage Skidmore)
At a recent Iowa Family Leadership Summit,
presidential candidate Donald Trump was asked about his religious beliefs.

With characteristic outspokenness, “The Donald” blurted his way through some answers.  Emphatic about being Presbyterian and loving God, Trump was less firm on the subject of divine forgiveness.

When specifically asked whether he had asked God for forgiveness, Trump replied, “I am not sure I have.  I just go on and try to do a better job from there.  I don’t think so.”

Although falling short of Calvinistic ideals, Trump’s answer was certainly not the worst of all possible responses.  Besides, it was soon to be revised.

Charisma Reports states that Trump followed through with this explanation:  …when I drink my little wine… and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness.  I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed.  OK?

To which we say: "Just OK?  Why not A-OK?"


Copyright July 27, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Kateri 17: Radical truth

Saint Kateri, circa 1690  (PD)
Diogenes can finally lay down that lantern.  Sincerity is sure to abound at the upcoming 17th Annual Kateri Peace Conference.

The 2015 theme for this always-engaging conference is “Truth Tellers: Radical Honesty in the Age of Deception.”

Living in denial has not only messed up our modern times, but also most of human history.  Repeating the same old war-mongering lies does not make them truer, just deadlier.

By either believing these lies, or refusing to believe alternative truths, society is condemning itself to a world of constant violence.  It’s well past time to break that cycle.

The keynoters at this conference know firsthand whereof they speak.  They have literally given body, mind and heart to the belief that non-violence is not just the goal, but also the means.

These conference leaders include Sister Megan Rice, Reverend Felicia Parazaider, Kay Olan, John Amidon, Michael Walli, Maureen Aumand, Matthew Hoh, Robert Shetterly, Nick Mottern and Medea Benjamin.

Kateri 17 will be held at The National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine in Fonda, New York.  This sacred spot is where Saint Kateri Tekakwitha spent some of her blessed youth.


Copyright July 26, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Internet addiction: Signs and solace

Caught in the Web...     (Photo by Chen-Pan Liao)
According to a PBS documentary titled “Web Junkie,” it is estimated that “roughly one in 10” South Korean children are hooked on the Internet.  There are “similar patterns” in China.

CNN reports that there is a growing concern within the United States that this phenomenon is “something more complicated than simply a social problem.”  While the DSM-5 diagnostic debate rages on, more and more Americans seem to be engaging in “compulsive” Internet behavior.

Especially in childhood, the brain is vulnerable to “habits of excessive use.”  Parents report that their kids become “restless, angry or depressed” when unable to pursue “online or gaming” activities.

Children report that parents are so immersed in their own phones and screens that family disconnect is rampant.  One youth noted:  My dad tells me not to drive and text, but he does it.

Science has confirmed that “early or excessive use of screens and digital devices affects us neurologically.”  Some users are now seeking solace in “cognitive behavior therapy, wilderness programs, insight-oriented therapy or treatment centers.” 


Copyright July 25, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, July 24, 2015

Kepler 452b: Future shock?

Kepler 452b    (NASA artist's conception)
Investigating Kepler 452b could be a bit like scanning the final chapters of our human saga.

According to the AFP, recently-discovered Kepler 452b circles “its star at the same distance as the Earth orbits the Sun.” However, its closest star happens to be 1.5 billion years older than ours.

If we wish to know what could happen to Earth in the distant future, we might as well closely study Kepler 452b.  As stars enter their latter phases of existence, they throw off more and more of their heat. 

Planetary recipients of this extreme heat can therefore stand to lose all of their surface water through evaporation.  Good-bye water, good-bye water vapor, good-bye us.  It could end up to be that directly proportional.

But not to worry...  We still have a billion years or so to beat these odds.

Copyright July 24, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Mini-Sabbath: The pause that refreshes

(Photo by Eliel Hoseph Schafler)
Although many think of Sabbath as a day (or even as many months of sabbatical leave), Rev. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones views Sabbath as a “sacred pause.”

This is not just any kind of a pause, but the almost-indiscernible space that occurs “between a thought and a reaction to a thought.”

Recognizing and heeding this space can result in the “liberating” ability to refrain from reacting “to every thought or feeling or conflict” that arises.

Biofeedback methods can come in handy when attempting to choose a “mini-Sabbath” over an instant reaction.  Bozzuti-Jones recommends the following technique:  Simply breathe in slowly on a count of 3
and out again on a count of 6 with ten repetitions.

Such a refreshing practice can yield these spiritual benefits:  “to encounter God, to connect to… true self, to choose love over fear, to sort out the good and the life-giving.”

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Jane Lynch: Disorder? Really?

'One for solitude...'  (Painting by Vincent van Gogh)
Henry David Thoreau once said:  had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.

Jane Lynch, on the other hand, dubs herself a victim of “social anxiety disorder.”  Why?  Partly because she self-admittedly has “just two real friends” (not to mention a host of “second-tier” buddies).

Perhaps Thoreau occupied one of his own chairs, which would mean that he had room enough left over for just one real friend (do the math). 

But let’s give it the benefit of the doubt here; perhaps Thoreau stood tall all the while, thus freeing up chairs for two real friends.

When it comes to social anxiety diagnoses, Thoreau's latter person-to-friends ratio (1:2) would have made him Lynch’s disordered equal.  Thoreau's former 1:1 ratio would have edged him toward social chaos.

Such is the terrain of psychological labeling.  Perhaps neither Lynch nor Thoreau is actually disordered.  Perhaps they are simply discriminating. 

Or brutally honest.  After all, how many real friends does anybody have?


Copyright July 22, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pluto's rear appendage

Pluto   (NASA photo)
Most “dogs” have tails, and Pluto is no different.

In this dwarf planet’s case, the tail is not some wagging appendage, but rather “a frigid cloud of ionized gases trailing an estimated 48,000 to 68,000 miles behind Pluto.”

Business Insider reports that this trail has been    shaped from Pluto’s atmosphere by solar wind.  The atmosphere is easily lured away because the dwarf planet’s gravity is so much less than Earth’s.

This tail, unlike furry ones, is not solid.  Neither is it liquid or gas (any longer).  It is now plasma, which is thought to be “the most common state of matter in the universe.” 

The plasma state can occur when electrons that were previously part of gas particles are now freely circulating.  The free-wheeling electrons within Pluto’s cosmic tail had been discharged from its atmospheric via the bombardment of solar energy.


Copyright July 21, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 20, 2015

Vertical farms: Inner-city solutions

Aeroponic Lettuce   (NASA photo)
If you can farm within the concrete heart of New Jersey, then you can farm just about anywhere.

Such is the philosophy of AeroFarms, a company that just “broke ground on the world’s largest vertical farm, housed in a former steel mill.”

This building is located in Newark, New Jersey, a city not generally known for its eco-friendly initiatives.  Newark, in fact, is more often known as a murder capital of America.

So why this unlikely alliance?  Business Insider reports that AeroFarms has already been farming in downtown Newark, in partnership with the Phillips Academy Charter School.  This successful endeavor has led to “a lot of good will and community feedback…”

Newark is just outside of New York City.  Despite its one-in-four poverty rate, this struggling metropolis is being hailed as “the next Brooklyn.”  So where there's (green) life, there's hope.

Vertical farming involves growing crops with roots in air rather than soil.  LEDs substitute for sunlight, and plants are sprayed with nutrients.

Benefits of such farming methods include the following:  Healthy foods can be grown near where they’re eaten, thus avoiding the need to ship.  Up to 30 crop turns per year are possible, as opposed to limited growing seasons.  All this results in “up to 75 times greater productivity per square foot than traditional farming.”     


Copyright July 20, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Ant-Man no greater than ants

Ants in Amber    (Photo by Brocken Inaglory)
Why concentrate upon the powers of a fictional Ant-Man when actual ants are just as amazing?

Did you know, for example, that ants can carry up to 50 times their own body weight?  Debbie Hadley of explains that their muscle-to-size ratio is greater than that of larger creatures, including humans.

Ants began farming about 50 million years before humans did.  Their agricultural methods include the use of manure fertilization and mold-growth inhibitors.  

Ants have figured out how to get the dirty work done by enslaving members of their own species.  In addition, they are masters at wheeling and dealing.  Ants “herd” aphids in order to share in their sweet-sap wealth.  They protect certain plants “in exchange for food and shelter.”

Ants have been around for way longer than humans, and there are way more of them than there are of us.  Because “there are at least 1.5 million ants on the planet for every human being,” their total biomass is roughly equal to ours.

So forget Ant-Man and look out for ants.  The latter have been able to “outwit, outlast, and outplay humans” for millennia.


Copyright July 19, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Intergalactic colander: Spaghetti anyone?

Eternally hung out to dry?  (Photo by Nnaluci)
Because people in black holes would allegedly resemble spaghetti, it seems only fitting that the Universe is now being dubbed an “intergalactic colander.”

Andrew Tarantola of Engadget reports that NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuStar) is capable of detecting black holes via “the high-energy X-rays they emit.”

Thanks to NuStar, scientists have now been able to peer through “thick blankets of dust or gas” and view “five previously unknown supermassive black holes in the centers of various galaxies.”

Due to the presence of these five, researchers have been extrapolating that there are “huge” numbers of black holes across the entire Universe.  Thus, a colander metaphor seems fitting.

According to the spaghettification theory, if you slipped feet-first into one of the “colander’s” black holes, gravity would pull way more on your toes than on your scalp.  You would then be possibly stretched to smithereens.   

Copyright July 18, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, July 17, 2015

Goshen: A name with biblical roots

Goshen, Indiana    (Public Domain) 
Cities and towns throughout the world are named “Goshen” in honor of that biblical land. 

Wikipedia explains that the “Land of Goshen” was “the place in Egypt given to the Hebrews by the pharaoh of Joseph.”

Joseph had been sold by his Israelite brothers into Egyptian slavery, but had amazingly become vizier (second in command) to the pharaoh since that time. 

With forgiveness in his heart, Joseph then welcomed the sons of “Israel” (aka “Jacob,” his and their father) to settle in this fertile region of Egypt.  This invitation was a life-saver for the Israelites, due to a seven-year “severe famine” in Hebron.

Goshen was not only fertile, it was “the best land in Egypt” at the time, “suitable for both crops and livestock."  The Israelites thrived there, so much so that they became “populous in number.”

Unfortunately, the Egyptians began to fear the growing strength of these Israelites in their midst, and eventually enslaved them.  This is an all-too-familiar scenario that has tragically repeated throughout history.

God, however, triumphs over human weakness.  Centuries later, Moses led the Israelites from Goshen back to their true Promised Land.


Copyright July 17, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Conservation officer 'guilty' of conserving?

Newborn Cubs   (Photo by USFWS)
Last time we checked, to conserve something meant to protect it from harm or destruction.

Conservation Officer Bryce Casavant was therefore living up to his title by refusing to obey this destructive supervisory order:  to
euthanize two bear cubs that hadn’t posed a threat to anyone.

AFP reports that the mother of these cubs had been “captured and killed… after she was discovered eating salmon in the freezer” of a Canadian home.  The cubs, however, had never been “in the house or trailer.”

Casavant therefore brought the young bears to a wildlife refuge, an act of conservation which resulted in “his suspension without pay.”

Thousands of supporters are now attempting to also conserve Casavant’s job.  A petition for him to be reinstated has been signed by 42,000 concerned citizens. 

Comedian Ricky Gervais has been encouraging his 9,000,000 Twitter followers to “reinstate this honourable man.”  No joke.


Copyright July 16, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Pluto: What's in a name?

Pluton   (by Henri Chapu)
It turns out that Pluto, “god of the Underworld,” has a mighty big heart after all.

Long thought to be one and the same as dreaded Hades, Pluto is actually a kinder gentler version.  After abducting Persephone (not the gentler part), he became quite the loving husband (monogamous even, in stark contrast to his Mount Olympus brethren).

As Lord of the Dead, he cares for souls in the Afterlife (as opposed to simply destroying them). However, Pluto is also very much concerned with the perpetuation of life.  He is therefore strongly associated with abundance and fertility.

So that’s what Pluto’s allegedly been doing here on Earth for millenia.  Who knew that he also had a peachy valentine of a vacation home billions of miles away?

Here’s hoping that these latest Plutonian revelations will only further the friendship between Pluto and his human “subjects.”  If not, life on Earth could become pure Hades.

Copyright July 15, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Pluto: Size matters

Pluto    (New Horizons photo taken 7-13-15)
Pluto used to be the “Pizza” in “My Very Energetic Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.”  (Diehard romantics may prefer “My Velvet Eyes Make Johnny Stay Up Nights Proposing”).

Pluto is no longer considered to be Pizza, and is no longer bent on Proposing.  At this point, Pluto is just a little old dwarf planet.  Which goes to show, size does matter.

All is not lost, however.  Pluto just moved up a notch “in girth.”  According to Irene Klotz of Reuters, scientists have now discovered that Pluto is “some 50 miles (80 km) wider than previous predictions.”

Although this newfound swelling of Pluto’s belly may not be vast enough to win back “Pizza” status, it is still large enough to matter. It means that “Pluto consists of slightly more ice and a little less rock than predicted,” which provides important information about how the solar system was formed.


Copyright July 14, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 13, 2015

Clyde Tombaugh: A UU founder's findings

Tombaugh and Homemade Telescope (PD)
Closer and closer, rounder and rounder, what’s a dwarf planet without a founder?

As the New Horizons spacecraft hurtles toward Pluto, it carries with it an ounce of astronomer Clyde Tombaugh’s cremated remains.  This seems only fitting, as it was Tombaugh who first discovered the existence of this faraway world.

Turns out that Pluto wasn’t all that he founded.  Right here on Earth, Tombaugh also helped to found the Unitarian Universalist Church of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Kimberly French of UUWorld reports that Tombaugh and his wife had previously “visited Unitarian churches in Kansas.” After the Tombaughs moved to Las Cruces in 1955, they teamed up with students from the University of New Mexico to form a new church.

Here are two of the church’s guiding principlesA free and responsible search for truth and meaning.  Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.   

These two principles seem particularly compatible with the life that Tombaugh led.  In 1929, he diligently began a search for predecessor Percival Lowell’s “Planet X.”  Only about a year later, he remarkably “found a tiny dot, orbiting very close to Lowell’s prediction.” 

This “dot” was the heavenly body we now call Pluto.  Just as Tombaugh long ago welcomed Pluto, Pluto is now about to welcome Tombaugh.  As they say in the solar system, “What goes around comes around.”


Copyright July 13, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Osculation: X marks the spot

 (Photo by Walter Lo Cascio)
Ever wonder why people kiss?  It’s not just a passing phenomenon.  MSN Lifestyle reports that “90-some percent of all human cultures throughout history have engaged in some form of kissing behavior.”

Vedic Sanskrit texts that date back 3500 years mention kissing.  The Bible’s “Song of Songs,” circa 900 B.C., prominently features this lip-locking practice.

Science has theorized that kissing couples subconsciously seek “information that may affect the course of their lives.”  Researchers have found that kissing transmits information about the immune system and genetic makeup of an individual.

Perhaps that is why humans are not the only ones to engage in outright kissing or “kiss-like behavior.”  Bonobos “kiss often and passionately.”  Wolves “lick faces.”  Birds commonly make “facial contact” with one another.

The kiss remains an important part of wedding ceremonies.  Back in Roman times, kisses were used to legally seal contracts.  The marriage contract was one such kissable deal.

For the ancient Greeks, “X” symbolized Christ.  People back then would often kiss the written “X” to show their devotion.  “X” therefore became closely associated with kisses, and is now often used to sign off on cards and e-mails.   


Copyright July 12, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Omar Sharif: Religious leanings

Sharif in 2013   (Photo by Georges Biard)
Christian, Muslim, Jew…  Omar Sharif has been called all of these, and none of these.

Born Michael Chalhoub into a Christian family, Sharif later converted to Islam after falling in love with wife-to-be Faten Hamama.

In 2002, Sharif told an interviewer:  Shirts I change several times a day, but I only changed religion once.  He then confided that he had embraced Islam out of love for Hamama.

Sharif went on to explain that he “was not particularly a believer,” and that “it is absurd” for people to “kill by the flags or national anthems.”

Five years later, however, Sharif stated the following:  “I am a man who believes in God, I love him, I fear him…” reported that Sharif claimed to have faith
in Islam, describing it as “the religion that I followed and loved since 1954…”

In 2012, Sharif appeared to have another change of heart.  Albawaba reported that he then “converted from Islam to the Jewish mystic Kabbalah sect.”  After attending “a number of religious meetings held for European Jews,” Sharif felt moved in this new direction.

Sharif had summed up his religious history with these words:  I believe in God and I believe in religion, but I believe religions should belong to you.    


Copyright July 11, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, July 10, 2015

Chips no longer down for some lucky lab animals

RFID Chip & Rice Grain  (Public Domain)
Although lab technicians have poked and prodded at captive animals for years, many would welcome a kinder and gentler research alternative.

Arjun Kharpal of CNBC reports that this alternative might now exist.  Harvard University’s Wyss Institute designed a Human Organs-On-Chip Project which mimics conditions within the human body.

The first such device, called lung-on-a-chip, includes “human lung and blood vessel cells,” as well as “white blood cells” and “bacteria cells.”  These are contained within “a small block of plastic with microchannels running through it” (a design similar to that of a smartphone chip).

When infectious bacteria of various kinds are added to this “chip,” researchers can then study how the human cells react. This methodology can help to offset the need for deliberately infecting lab animals with pathogens.

A Harvard press release stated:  “They [the ‘chips’] stand to significantly reduce the need for animal testing by providing a faster, less expensive, less controversial and accurate means to predict whether new drug compounds will be successful in human clinical trials.”


Copyright July 10, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, July 9, 2015

War on terror: Terrible for monkeys

(USDA photo)
Although “95 percent of the drugs used on
humans after promising results in animal
testing fail,” this hasn’t slowed the agonizing
testing of monkeys any.

Lauren Walker of Newsweek reports that   research primates “have been exposed to a slew of deadly bacteria and viruses, sometimes without pain relief…”  All this in the name of “biodefense research following 9/11.”

For example, “long-tailed macaques were made to inhale a lethal amount of anthrax.” Those in the “untreated control group” were simply “left to die.”

Thousands of monkeys have been forced into this cruel experimentation.  Some researchers remain unconvinced that such testing is either “appropriate or reliable.”


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Shark attacks: More people, more bites

Outnumbered...    (Photo by NOAA)
With shark attacks on the rise in North Carolina, people have been blaming the sharks.  “Maybe there are just too many of them,” humans tend to think.

The truth, however, might be far more disturbing.  Research studies suggest that shark populations throughout the world have actually sharply declined.  It is humans instead who are overpopulating the planet mercilessly.

This is isn’t to say that humans therefore deserve to be wiped out by sharks.  It is, however, to say that humans should turn to themselves when pointing fingers and seeking solutions.

People have been responsible for a great many shark deaths.  Between the hunters who covet meat and fins and the “irresponsible fishing practices” that trap thousands of sharks each year, hammerheads and their brethren don’t seem to stand a chance.

The removal of sharks from this planet is no panacea.  Scary as they might be, sharks play a vital role in balancing ocean life. 

Oceans… the very cradles of life as we know it.  Do we really want to mess with that?   


Copyright July 8, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Billy Joel: Just not sure

'Dr. Billy'     (Photo by Newkai)
The Piano Man is once again in the headlines, having walked down the aisle a fourth time.

Billy Joel has also made headlines for his religious views, and/or lack thereof.

Some (including Joel himself) have deemed him to be an atheist.  Yet that seems only partially true.  

Joel has been known to embrace aspects of “cultural” Judaism (his genealogical heritage), Roman Catholicism (“Only the Good Die Young” references), Evangelical Protestantism (baptized at age 12), karma (“that’s how things seem to work out”), and agnosticism (“I’m not sure about a life after this”).

His religious influences have been many, for and against.  While growing up in a culturally-Jewish household, Joel accompanied his Catholic friends to Mass.  Joel’s mother then took his sister and him to an Evangelical church, where Joel was later baptized. reports that Joel’s grandfather, “a staunch atheist,” was “the most inspiring presence” in the young lad's life.  Joel has called him a “well-read Englishman… the only self-fulfilled soul I’ve ever known.”

Since declaring himself an atheist, Joel has nevertheless referred to “spiritual planes that I’m aware of that I don’t know anything about and that I can’t explain.”

“I don’t know” seems to be the operative phrase here…


Copyright July 7, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 6, 2015

Spice up your life with Pepper

Jolly Jalapenos  (Photo by TilmanBaumann)
Have you ever felt as though nobody cares?

Those who replied, “Every moment!” might wish to consider adding Pepper to their sorry lives.

Pepper is not only an ideal companion for salt, but may also be an ideal buddy for you.  CNN explains that he (she? it?) is a “humanoid robot… so hot that he sold out within a minute.”

So hot?  Oh my! 

Pepper’s a bit on the small side by adult-human standards:  “… just under four feet tall, and weighing 61 pounds.”  However, it is rightfully said that good things come in small packages since Pepper’s raison d’etre is allegedly to “make you happy.”

Pepper has the programmed ability (which many humans lack) to read people’s emotions and   respond compassionately.  Although not (yet?) perfect, Pepper’s emotional IQ will continue to expand as he benefits from “collective wisdom gained from collective cloud data.”

In Japan, Pepper's price has been compared to that of a “pet dog.”  No contest there:  Pepper doesn’t bark, bite or mess the carpet.


Copyright July 6, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Wild chimps: Hitting the strong stuff

Whoopee!   (Photo by Delphine Bruyere) 
Although swinging from tree to tree in the tropical jungles of Guinea seems exotic to us, for chimps it’s just another day at the office.

Therefore, some extracurricular “relief” is in order.  For these primates, such relief may very well come from the fermented sap of raffia palm trees.

This sap has about a three-percent alcohol content, enough to leave the average chimp feeling pretty darn good (especially after drinking a bottle of wine’s worth).

Fox News reports that “a 17-year study of chimpanzees in Guinea” has shown them to exhibit “visible signs of inebriation” after “voluntarily consuming alcohol” in the wild.

These resourceful consumers have found clever ways to party on, “using torn-off leaves to dip into and soak up fluid and transfer it into the mouth.”


Copyright July 5, 2015 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Deflecting asteroids: Nuclear nudging

(White) Asteroid Belt    (Public Domain)
Gone are the days when the nudging of invasive objects was primarily accomplished with elbows. 

These days, the stakes are far higher than those of a school-bus dispute.  These days, the objects are asteroids and the nudges are nuclear.

Ed Mazza of The Huffington Post reports that NASA and the National Nuclear Security Administration are working “on a planetary defense plan to deflect a potential doomsday asteroid so it doesn’t strike Earth.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson of New York’s Hayden Planetarium warns that there are “swarms” of these rocky threats “orbiting between Mars and Jupiter” (a little too close for comfort, apparently).

Why it wasn’t that long ago that Russia was greeted with a “500-kiloton airburst” from the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor.  A century before that, Siberia had been hit by an asteroid “that wiped out some 800 square miles of forest.”

Then there’s the saga of David and Goliath.  Many recall that little David destroyed huge Goliath with just one spot-on “asteroid.”

So why just “gently nudge the asteroid out of harm’s way” rather than blow it to smithereens?  The law of karma seems to apply here:  What goes around might very well come back around.  And chunks of exploded asteroids can exact quite a bit of revenge on nuke-happy Earthlings…


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

Friday, July 3, 2015

Human rights: Who's on first, U. S. or China?

Henry "First in war..." Lee III   (Public Domain)
In a tit-for-tat battle over who's got the better (or, more pointedly, worse) human rights record, results from the U. S. and China seem far too close for comfort.

Whereas the United States has long accused China of violating rights in an abysmal manner, China has replied with scathing critiques of America’s own record. 

China’s State Council Information Office recently stated that the United States not only brazenly violates the rights of those in foreign lands, but is also “haunted with spreading guns and frequent occurrence of violent crimes” among its own citizens.

China further asserted that U. S.  “repression and coercion were routine” against Americans who challenged the status quo, and then praised its own success “at lifting millions out of poverty.”

This race to the bottom might be comical if it weren’t so tragic.  “First in war” does not always mean “first in peace.”  Nor does it always mean “first in the hearts of countrymen.”


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

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Brain-to-text mind reading

Hawking in 2006  (Public Domain)
According to Levi Sharpe of Popular Science, it is now possible for a computer algorithm to “associate speech sounds… with different firing patterns in the brain cells.”

What this literally becomes is a system that can “translate brain activity into written words” (in other words, a type of computerized mind reading). 

This remarkable system works best when its electrode grid is placed directly on the brain, rather than on the scalp.  It also needs to be highly customized because “every person’s brain is so unique.”

Whereas ALS-sufferer Steven Hawking has been using an external device “to pick out words on a screen for a computer to read,” this new brain-to-text technology would make it possible to more directly
“speak” what’s on his mind.


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

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Cameroon's 'King Solomon'

Vanity of vanities...  (by Isaak Asknaziy) 
Although King Solomon was known for his wisdom, he was also known for his folly.  One such latter example was his seemingly insatiable desire for women.

Perhaps 700 wives and 300 concubines just weren’t enough.  Solomon allegedly then added the Queen of Sheba to his list of female “conquests.”

To add insult to injury, many of these women were subsequently blamed for Solomon’s own idolatry.  Because some were from foreign lands, they were said to have lured Solomon away from Yahweh (as though this mighty king had no will of his own).

Fast forward to 2015 AD:  King Solomon is long gone, but blatant polygamy is not.  With almost 100 wives and 500 children, Cameroon’s King Abumbi II is well on his way to emulating Solomon’s eye for the ladies.

In his "defense," Abumbi had a “mere” 30 or so wives before inheriting 72 more from his dad.  And the kids?  Abumbi also inherited the huge responsibility of caring for his wives' children.

The king and his often well-educated queens uphold their traditions proudly.  Abumbi’s third wife explained:  …the elderly wives remain to hand down the tradition to the younger wives, and also to teach the king… because the king had been a prince, not a king.    


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