Sunday, October 31, 2010


It has been requested that I re-post a couple of articles/blogs that I have written about the interrelationships between science and faith, and particularly evolution and creation. So, here is the first one.  At Pepperdine, I taught a course on Science and Religion, and wrote an article for the Perspectives Section of Pepperdine Magazine. Here is the Introduction by Dean Rick Marrs and the article - and you can read the comments here.

In the premiere issue of Pepperdine Magazine, Provost Darryl Tippens offered a cogent and compelling case for academic freedom in a Christian university. He rightly noted that universities are most true to their calling when they engage issues that matter with respectful dialogue and measured reason.

For the past several years, scientists at Seaver College have been at the forefront of undergraduate research, helping students explore the mysteries of our glorious universe, participating in much of this work through generous support from agencies such as the Templeton Foundation, an organization dedicated to integrating the disciplines of science and religion. We also have been blessed to have outstanding scientific thinkers, such as John Polkinghorne and Kenneth Miller, visit our campus to speak about their faith and how it integrates with their research.

This fall Seaver College will host an international symposium titled “Why Darwin Still Matters.” The symposium will bring leading scientific minds to our campus to address key issues surfacing at the intersection of science and faith. In the following essay, Dr. Douglas Swartzendruber, professor of biology and interim associate dean at Seaver College, sensitively presents several of the salient issues involved in a discussion that continues to intrigue people of faith—the integration of faith and scientific (in this case evolutionary) theory.

Rick Marrs, Dean, Seaver College

“Do you believe in evolution?” This question arises in educational institutions, churches, presidential debates, the media, and around the kitchen table. Most often “the question” comes not in the context of science, but rather as a prelude to a discussion of matters of faith. It is asked by students, parents of potential students, alumni, and friends. Similarly, colleagues at secular institutions have asked, “Can evolution be taught at Pepperdine?”

Embedded in both of those questions is the presumption that one cannot accept both evolution and faith in God the Creator. To me and many of my colleagues who are both scientists and followers of Jesus, this is a false dichotomy that forces individuals to the misconceived notion that one must choose either science or faith. For many young people, a cognitive dissonance develops while they try to integrate their faith and their growing understanding of the natural world. Too often, they reach a crisis point in their faith because of the seemingly contradictory truths of their faith and of their understanding of science. We are most fortunate that one of Pepperdine’s affirmations is “that truth, having nothing to fear from investigation, should be pursued relentlessly in every discipline.” This is a profound encouragement for us to decipher the myriad truths that are found in the sciences, theology, humanities—indeed in all disciplines.

I welcome “the question” because it presents an opportunity to engage discussion of science and faith and to highlight two critical points.

First, the question itself is misdirected, because evolution is not a belief system. Although some philosophers would argue that scientific knowledge is one type of belief system, it is pragmatically different from other belief systems that are not based on independent verification or falsification. Like gravity, atoms, plate tectonics, and all fundamental scientific paradigms and theories, evolutionary theory is about observable knowledge of the world of biology, and it is the unifying concept for all of the biological sciences. Asking about belief in evolution is akin to asking about belief in light. Light has paradoxical characteristics of particles and of waves, and thus any theory of light must explain all of the observed characteristics of light. Likewise, evolutionary theory is currently the best explanation that unites and makes sense of all of the knowledge we have about the living world, present and past.

Second, we must recognize that science is one of several ways of knowing—scientific knowledge is based on observation, postulation, experimentation, peer review, independent verification, and progressively deeper understanding. At one time many scientists, and thus many others, understood that the earth was the center of the solar system. However, as observations and experimentation progressed, the earth-centered paradigm yielded to the sun-centered paradigm. In Darwin’s era, the paradigm for explaining biological diversity was based more on theology than on scientific observation and research. It is unfortunate that Darwin’s opus, titled On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life is usually shortened to simply The Origin of Species. This has led many people to incorrectly conclude that Darwin’s theory addresses ultimate biological origins, which would thus conflict with a belief that God is the originator of all life. Thus, when polls ask the improper question “Do you believe in evolution?” only 39 percent say yes, and 51 percent say that God created humans in their present form within the past 10,000 years. The poll responses reflect the false dichotomy of having to choose between science and faith and also indicate that there is an inappropriate influence of religious understanding on scientific understanding. Paraphrasing Saint Augustine, who warned against such confusion more than 1,500 years ago: “It often happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about eclipses of the sun and moon, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It can be ruinous for our community if the non-Christian should hear a Christian speaking in error on these matters.” —After De Genesi ad literam [AD 408].

Augustine argued that if our Biblical interpretations conflict with established science and our Godgiven intellectual capabilities, we should re-examine our interpretations. If we ignore the truths of science, how can we possibly convince anyone of the truths of scripture and of our faith in God?

I have the great privilege of working with Pepperdine colleagues who accept and teach that God created a universe that is knowable, and that our increased knowledge of the natural world does not decrease one iota of our faith in Creator, Redeemer, and Guide. Likewise, I have prominent colleagues such as Darrel Falk, Karl Giberson, and Francis Collins who are leading the proclamation that one can be a scientist and an evangelical Christian. Each has written a book describing his journey toward integrating his faith with his science, accepting that God is present in all of creation, and incorporating a theistic understanding of evolutionary biology. At Pepperdine, we are fortunate to be able to pursue truths in all disciplines and to have the intellectual freedom to pursue the goal of integrating our scientific knowledge with our faith in God.

Friday, October 29, 2010


Well, it is the time of year when Zombie stories proliferate.  However, this one about a University of Colorado English class is in a league of its own [from the Boulder Daily Camera]:

A curdling scream rushes down the hall in the basement of the University of Colorado's Visual Arts Complex.  The door to classroom 1B88 slowly creeps open and inside are several students armed with Nerf shotguns fending off a horde of zombies (students dressed in slashed T-shirts with blood-red corn syrup dripping from their mouths).

"Direct hit," one of them yells. "Good job."

But it's still not enough to keep the zombies from pretending to eat the flesh and brains of a group of remaining humans. These students are participating in their weekly dose of the living dead, courtesy of CU's newest English literature class called "The Zombie."

CU junior Ashley Wood painted oozing scars and dark circles around her classmates' eyes before class Wednesday, mimicking the horrific creatures they've been studying since August.  "As English majors, we love to read," said Ashley Wood, who is enrolled in The Zombie. "But now we are loving what we have to read even more. It's a fun and interesting class and that just makes us work even harder."

This week may have been the most interactive installment of Stephen Jones' class with a special demonstration.  "Our goal is to address the possibility of human aggression and pressure situations and train them on how to react and survive that kind of trauma," said Jack Boru, martial arts instructor and international zombie hunter. "It's important to have them participating, so hopefully they'll remember the practiced response and be able to use that again if they ever need to."

Jones, an English professor and horror author, is teaching the contemporary literature class, which will return for its second semester next fall due to popular demand from students.  The course objectives listed on the syllabus states that students will "become conversant in all things zombie. To know their history, their culture, their plight, and, in doing so come to not only understand them as a species, as a genre, but also to gain at least a suspicion of how might survive the zombie apocalypse."  Jones has already taught similar classes on "the slasher" and haunted houses and has plans for a vampire and a werewolf course, which may be offered during Maymester this spring.  Jones released his eighth horror novel Friday, a zombie tale titled, "It Came From Del Rio." He said writing helps him fully understand the genre and, hopefully, makes him a more comprehensive teacher. Besides sharing how to survive a zombie apocalypse, Jones said he hopes to teach students about current events in the context of the popular monster.

"We're analyzing and engaging in literature just like any other class in the department," Jones said. "But instead of focusing on the past, we're talking about current works and watching trends happen right in front of our eyes."

But not everyone is convinced that zombies are a fundamental part of literary education.  CU Regent James Geddes said this and similar classes should be evaluated and removed for lack of educational value to help the university cut unnecessary costs.  "Based on current financial concerns facing the Boulder campus, we should begin a process to identify core curriculum courses that need to be taught and a second tier of courses that are necessary to enriching our students' education," Geddes said. "Then we need to evaluate the third tier of courses, those that are not vital to a student's education. I would be discriminating about these sorts of classes, which may lack academic value."  Geddes said the regents are already evaluating the university's core curriculum in hopes of cutting unnecessary requirements.

"There is no genre of literature more vital than contemporary," Jones said. "This is what students are engaging in, reading, experiencing and we should consider that a significant part of their literary education."  CU junior Kimberley Willey said the university should be supporting well-rounded students and part of that is studying pop culture, which right now includes zombies.

"It's no different than the critics who are trying to get rid of music programs on the East Coast," Willey said. "College shouldn't just be about academic learning but creative learning, too."

Personally, I think that one of the Camera readers summed all of this up pretty well:  "If these students are our future, we might as well start learning how to speak Mandarin." 

Thursday, October 28, 2010


At the most recent Aschliman clan gathering in Indiana, my musician niece Anna Montgomery and I worked out a decent renditon of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah - at least the relatives liked it :-)  There are quite a few versions of the song on YouTube, but here is one of my favorites, sung by kd lang.  Another great version is by Epsen Lind, Askil Holm, Alejandro Fuentes and Kurt Nilsen, World Idol winner - it has approximately 29,000,000 views and embedding has been disabled.  Nilsen is amazing.  You can find the video here.

Here are the complete lyrics, and you will note the KD leaves out three verses and also changes a few words.

Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah


Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

There was a time you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
It’s not a cry you can hear at night
It’s not somebody who has seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Partly because I am quite maladroit at Spanish, and partly because Jared Diamond is on my list of 'Famous' Folks [October 3, 2010], I am posting an interesting article by Professor Diamond from the journal Science:

The Benefits of Multilingualism

Jared Diamond

Geography Department, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1524, USA.

Multilingualism—the ability to understand and speak several languages—is exceptional in the United States but common elsewhere, especially in small-scale traditional societies. For instance, once while I was camped with some New Guinea Highlanders conversing simultaneously in several local languages, I asked each man to name each language in which he could converse. It turned out that everyone present spoke at least 5 languages, and the champion was a man who spoke 15. What are the cognitive effects of such multilingualism? Recent studies (1–5) show that children raised bilingually develop a specific type of cognitive benefit during infancy, and that bilingualism offers some protection against symptoms of Alzheimer's dementia in old people.

Bilingual education is politically controversial in the United States. Even immigrants whose native language is not English often believe that their children should learn only English and will be confused by learning two languages simultaneously. Until the 1960s, research appeared to show that bilingual children acquired language more slowly than monolingual children and achieved smaller vocabularies. But other variables correlated with bilingualism in those early studies, such as schooling and parental socioeconomic status, confounded their interpretation. More recent studies, comparing subjects matched for those other variables, have found bilinguals and monolinguals to be largely similar in cognition and language processing (6–8).

The clearest difference identified by these studies involves an advantage that bilinguals have over monolinguals, rather than a disadvantage. Our minds are assaulted by varied sights, sounds, and other external sensory inputs, plus thoughts and proprioreceptive sensations (which make us aware of the relative positions of our own body parts) (see the figure). To succeed in doing anything at all, we must temporarily inhibit 99% of those inputs and attend to just 1% of them, and the appropriate choice varies with the circumstances. That selective attention involves a set of processes, termed executive function, that reside in the prefrontal cortex and develop especially over the first 5 years of life (9).

Multilingual people have a special challenge involving executive function. Monolinguals hearing a word need only compare it with their single stock of arbitrary phoneme (sound) and meaning rules, and when uttering a word they draw it from that single stock. But multilinguals must keep several stocks separate. For instance, on hearing the phonemes b-u-rr-o, a Spanish/Italian bilingual instantly interprets them to mean either "donkey," if the context is Spanish, or "butter," if the context is Italian. Multilinguals participating in a multilingual conversation, like my New Guinea Highland friends or shop assistants in Scandinavian department stores, switch frequently and unpredictably between their stocks of phoneme/meaning rules. As a result, multilinguals have constant unconscious practice in using the executive function system.

Recent studies assess this ability by assigning to subjects game-like tasks designed to be confusing, either because the task rules change unpredictably, or because the task presents misleading cues that must be ignored (1–3, 7, 8). For instance, children are shown cards depicting either a rabbit or a boat, colored either red or blue, with or without a star. If the card has a star, the children must sort cards by color; if a star is absent, they must instead sort cards by the object depicted. It turns out that monolingual and bilingual subjects are equally successful if the rule remains the same from trial to trial (e.g., "sort by color"), but monolinguals have more difficulty than bilinguals at accommodating to a switch in rules. Although success at these games won't by itself make one rich or happy, our lives are full of other misleading information and rule changes. If bilinguals' advantage over monolinguals in these games also applies to real-life situations, that could be useful for bilinguals.

While this superior executive function has been reported for bilinguals of all ages, results for the youngest and the oldest subjects are of particular interest. Kovács and Mehler (4, 5) tested confusing game tasks on "monolingual" infants and "crib bilingual" infants—i.e., infants reared from birth to hear and eventually to speak two languages, because mother and father speak to the infant in different languages. It might seem meaningless to describe infants who cannot speak as monolingual or bilingual. Actually, infants learn to discriminate the sounds of the language or languages heard around them and to ignore sound distinctions not heard around them. For instance, Japanese infants lose, and English infants retain, the ability to discriminate the liquid consonants l and r, which the Japanese language does not distinguish.

How can one test responses to speech by those preverbal infants? Kovács and Mehler (4, 5) devised a clever protocol in which infants looked for pictures of a puppet appearing on the left side of a computer screen. The infants were conditioned to anticipate the puppet by first hearing a nonsense trisyllable (e.g., "lo-lo-vu"). Within nine trials, both monolingual and bilingual infants learned to look toward the screen's left side when they heard that trisyllable. But when Kovács and Mehler changed the rules and made the puppet appear on the screen's right side after broadcasting a different trisyllable, the "bilingual" infants unlearned their previous lesson and learned the new response within six more trials. In contrast, the "monolingual" infants couldn't learn the new response even after nine trials. Evidently, shifting frequently and unpredictably between hearing two parental languages made "bilingual" infants better able to cope with other unpredictable rule changes.

Do these findings suggest that bilinguals have an advantage over monolinguals in negotiating our confusing world of changing rules, and not merely in the task of discriminating lo-lo-vu from lo-vu-lo? You readers may demand evidence of more tangible benefits before you commit yourselves to babbling in two different languages to your infant children. Hence, you may be more impressed by recent results suggesting a protective effect of lifelong bilingualism against symptoms of Alzheimer's disease (10). Among hundreds of elderly Canadian patients with a probable Alzheimer's diagnosis, bilingual patients showed their first symptoms at an age 5 years older than did monolingual patients matched in other respects. Canadian life expectancy is 79, hence a 5-year delay for people in their 70's translates into a 47% decreased probability that they will develop Alzheimer's symptoms at all before they die.

How might this be? A short answer is the aphorism, "Use it or lose it." Exercising body systems improves their function; not exercising them lets their function deteriorate. That's why athletes and musicians practice. It's also why Alzheimer's patients are encouraged to play brain-challenging games like bridge or to solve Sudoku puzzles. But bilingualism is arguably the most constant practice possible for the brain. Whereas even a Sudoku fanatic can spend only a fraction of a day on Sudoku puzzles, bilinguals impose extra exercise on their brain every minute of their waking hours. Consciously or unconsciously, the bilingual brain constantly has to decide: Shall I think, speak, or interpret sounds spoken to me according to the arbitrary rules of language A or language B?

There are other unanswered questions. If one extra language offers some protection, do two extra languages offer more protection? If so, is the relationship between protection and number of extra languages linear, sublinear, or supralinear? For example, if bilinguals get 5 years of protection from their one extra language, do Scandinavian shop assistants speaking five languages also get just 5 years of protection, or do they get 5 x 4 = 20 years of protection? If you, alas, were not raised as a crib bilingual, will learning a second language in school let you catch up? Do bilinguals' advantages in coping with rule changes and confusing cues extend beyond trivial game tasks to real-life situations, such as school success and understanding other peoples' mental states? What neural mechanisms underlie bilingualism's reported protection against Alzheimer's symptoms? These questions will be of theoretical interest to linguists, and of practical interest to parents wondering how best to raise their children.


· 1. E. Bialystok, Dev. Psychol. 46, 93 (2010). [CrossRef] [Web of Science] [Medline]
· 2. E. Bialystok, X. Feng, Brain Lang. 109, 93 (2009). [CrossRef] [Web of Science] [Medline]
· 3. E. Bialystok, M. Viswanathan, Cognition 112, 494 (2009). [CrossRef] [Web of Science] [Medline]
· 4. A. M. Kovács, J. Mehler, Science 325, 611 (2009).[Abstract/Free Full Text]
· 5. A. M. Kovács, J. Mehler, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 106, 6556 (2009).[Abstract/Free Full Text]
· 6. E. Bialystok, Bilingualism and Development (Cambridge Univ. Press, New York, 2001).
· 7. S. M. Carlson, A. N. Meltzoff, Dev. Sci. 11, 282 (2008). [CrossRef] [Web of Science] [Medline]
· 8. A. Costa, M. Hernández, N. Sebastián-Gallés, Cognition 106, 59 (2008). [CrossRef] [Web of Science] [Medline]
· 9. T. Shallice, From Neuropsychology to Mental Structure (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1988)
· 10. E. Bialystok, F. I. Craik, M. Freedman, Neuropsychologia 45, 459 (2007). [CrossRef] [Web of Science] [Medline]


Rankings can be fun, interesting, informative and/or meaningless.  Rankings can be completely objective or subjective, and are often some combination of the two.  When an entity is ranked high, e.g. a university in the US News & World Report of the Best Universities, the rankings "affirm" whereas if the ranking is not so high, the "subjective nature" of the ranking is emphasized.  So, here are some Boulder rankings that you can compare with your town:

Brainiest Cities in America, Number 1, The Daily Beast
Best Places for Startup Companies, Number 1, BusinessWeek
America's Foodiest Towns, Number 1, Bon Appetit
Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, Number 1, USA Today
Top 10 Recreation Cities, Number 1, 
Most Unmarried Cities in Colorado, Number 1, Boulder Daily Camera
Healthiest Towns in US, Number 2, Men's Health
Lowest Body Mass Index, Number 2, Gallup
Best 10K Races in the USA, Bolder Boulder Number 2,
Ten Best Cities for the Next Decade, Number 4, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Top 10 Earth Friendly Cities, Number 4,
Top 100 Places to Live, Number 9,
Top 25 Destinations in the US, Number 19,
Another interesting tidbit - a Wall Street Journal Blog named Carson City, Nevada, as Boulder's doppelganger.  For the time being, we will stay in Boulder.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010



The 2010 TIME 100 - Top Thinkers

Dr. Douglas Schwartzentruber & Dr. Larry Kwak

First, I want to thank all of you who sent along congratulations to me for being so highly recognized by Time Magazine.  Second, whenever anyone says to my parents "You must be very proud of your son" they smile and respond "Yes we are."  Third, you will note that it is Schwartzentruber, not Swartzendruber!!  Duh.  So, alas, the younger Dr. S. with the longer name is the honoree.  Interestingly we both have ties to Goshen, Indiana, we both have done considerable work in cancer [he in clinical medicine and melanoma, me in experimental pathology and breast cancer], and we seem to see each other occasionally in Goshen.  Our oldest son is also named Douglas, and here is a picture of the three Doug S's.


If you go to the Google map of northern New Mexico, you will see that there are two distinctly different routes from Taos to Española.  Just southwest of Taos, in Ranchos de Taos, NM 68 continues SW and follows the Rio Grande gorge through Embudo, Velarde, and Alcalde into Española.   By heading south out of Ranchos de Taos on NM 518 and then on NM 75 and 76, you are on the "High Road to Taos" scenic route.  To go this way takes quite a bit more time, but it is most worthwhile - the scenery and the small towns of Vadito, Peñasco, Chamisal, Trampas, Ojo Sarco, Truchas, Cordova, Rio Chiquito, Chimayo, and La Puebla are all interesting.  In Ojo Sarco, we saw a sign for a local potter, and we decided to stop and browse.  We have been looking for individual table settings by different potters [and idea that we got from Ron and Jane Wisner], and we found a very nice set.  Since many of the NM towns have Spanish names that are readily translatable, e.g. truchas = trout, we asked the locals about ojo sarco.  We knew that ojo = eye, but we did not know how sarco would be translated - in biology, sarc refers to "fleshy" and often is related to connective tissues, and so "fleshy eye" did not make too much sense!  What we learned is that ojo sarco refers to the nearly transparent ice-blue eyes that are common in huskies and some other dogs.  Muy interesante, sí?

Sunday, October 24, 2010


While there are not too many things that I miss about Goshen, one would be the community/congregational singing.  Regardless of your theological bent, there is something special about 1000+ folks singing a cappella in multiple-part harmony.  Here is a clip of a favorite hymn sung at the Sauder Music Hall on the campus of Goshen College - best if played through good speakers or earphones.  Lyrics provided below for sing-along!

Be Thou my vision, oh Lord of my heart
Nought be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best thought by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light

Be Thou my wisdom, be Thou my true word
I ever with Thee and Thou with me Lord
Thou my great Father, thy child may I be
Thou in me dwelling and I one with Thee

Be Thou my battle shield, sword for the fight;
Be Thou my dignity, Thou my delight;
Thou my soul's shelter, Thou my high tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, oh power of my power

Riches I need not, nor man's empty praise
Thou mine inheritance now and always
Thou and Thou only first in my heart
High king of heaven my treasure Thou art

High king of heaven, when victory is won
May I reach heaven's joys,  oh bright heaven sun
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall
Still be my vision, oh ruler of all


We had two objectives in mind when we headed up to "The Hill" - to visit with our long-time friends, Mark and Pauline, and to look for obsidian.  We succeeded on both counts!  After coffee and bagels in downtown Los Alamos, we headed to North Mesa.  Pauline had packed some snacks and a lunch, so we headed up into the Jemez, through the burn area of 10 years ago, for an obsidian-hunting hike.  We noted some hunters, which made us a bit wary, but soon we happily learned that the season was muzzle-loading-only and that there were no deer to be found.  In fact, one hunter had given up on deer and was also off to hunt obsidian  The weather was wonderful, the conversations were great, the hike was invigorating, and we found a fair amount of shiny black volcanic glass.

The Rock Hounds

Saturday, October 23, 2010


The second part of our NM trip was spent in Santa Fe.  The original town name is La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asís, or the Royal Town of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi.  We stayed at the Inn at Loretto which is adjacent to the famous Loretto Chapel.  The Chapel is noted for its amazing staircase:

Loretto Chapel staircase

"When the Loretto Chapel was completed in 1878, there was no way to access the choir loft twenty-two feet above. Carpenters were called in to address the problem, but they all concluded access to the loft would have to be via ladder as a staircase would interfere with the interior space of the small Chapel.

Legend says that to find a solution to the seating problem, the Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man appeared at the Chapel with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work. Months later, the elegant circular staircase was completed, and the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks. After searching for the man (an ad even ran in the local newspaper) and finding no trace of him, some concluded that he was St. Joseph himself, having come in answer to the sisters' prayers.

The stairway's carpenter, whoever he was, built a magnificent structure. The design was innovative for the time and some of the design considerations still perplex experts today.

The staircase has two 360 degree turns and no visible means of support. Also, it is said that the staircase was built without nails—only wooden pegs. Questions also surround the number of stair risers relative to the height of the choir loft and about the types of wood and other materials used in the stairway's construction."

Interestingly, the chapel has be "decommissioned" by the Catholic church, there is now a $3.00 charge to get in, and a primary use seems to be weddings.  Sad.
The Inn at Loretto
The Inn is only a block from the central plaza, so we were able to walk to everthing that we wanted to see or do - exploring the galleries, marveling at the lovely Native American handcrafts at the Governor's Palace, walking along Canyon Road, dining at La Posada de Santa Fe and the Ore House, and wandering through 109 East Palace
"Everybody knows J. Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Teller and many of the military minds that directed the effort to develop the atomic bomb. Nobody outside of Los Alamos knew Dorothy McKibben. McKibben who ran 109 East Palace was like the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of this war time "Hamlet"-like drama; she viewed the action not from the heart of the research but from the outside at the gateway where she issued security passes, helped new personnel settle in, dealt with complaints about water pressure, food supplies, etc. She knew everything and nothing about the community she helped as she wasn't privy to the secret goal of the Los Alamos community."

Thursday, October 21, 2010



Kudos if you already know the meaning of salmagundi.  I use it not to describe a salad, but more generically to refer to the disparate assembly of websites that are listed on this blog as "Some Interesting Websites."  Although the order of the list is alphabetical, it is appropriate that the bookends of the list are BioLogos Foundation and Why Evolution is True.  Founded by Francis Colliins, former Human Genome Project director and current Director of the National Institutes of Health, the BioLogos Foundation "explores, promotes and celebrates the integration of science and Christian Faith" whereas Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True website and book would be generously considered "anti-religious."  Since my personal perspective does not align perfectly with either BioLogos or Coyne, why read Falk and friends or Coyne and his acolytes?  First - most contributors are pretty smart folks.  Second - they ask some very pertinent questions about the relationships between science and religion.  And third - they challenge me to think about what it means to be an atheist, agnostic, deist, theist or follower of Jesus.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Last year, Pepperdine's Keion Bell dunked over five of his teammates, and the YouTube video went mini-viral with over 1,155,000 views. 

So this year he had to top that.  Watch as he dunks over seven folks, as my friend Sam Lagana narrates and Willy the Wave gets in on the action.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010



On our trip, I bought a hat with this design.  The Zia is on the New Mexico State flag and on the NM license plates, which I believe are the only US plates that actually have USA printed on them.  The Zia Indians of New Mexico regard the Sun as a sacred symbol. Their symbol, a red circle with groups of rays pointing in four directions, is painted on ceremonial vases, drawn on the ground around campfires, and used to introduce newborns to the Sun. Four is the sacred number of the Zia and can be found repeated in the four points radiating from the circle. The number four is embodied in:

* the four points of the compass (north, south, east, and west);

* the four seasons of the year (spring, summer, autumn and winter);

* the four periods of each day (morning, noon, evening and night);

* the four seasons of life (childhood, youth, middle years and old age); and

* the four sacred obligations one must develop (a strong body, a clear mind, a pure spirit, and a devotion to the welfare of others).  



Meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus.

Remember the nonviolent movement seeks justice and reconciliation -- not victory.

Walk and talk in the manner of love; for God is love.

Pray daily to be used by God that all men and women might be free.

Sacrifice personal wishes that all might be free.

Observe with friends and foes the ordinary rules of courtesy.

Perform regular service for others and the world.

Refrain from violence of fist, tongue, and heart.

Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Nuestra familia vivió en Nuevo México desde 1974 hasta 1980.  Nuestro segundo hijo y nuestra hija nació en Los Álamos.  Disfrutamos volver al norte de Nuevo México para visitar el campo, los pueblos y nuestros amigos.  Aquí hay algunas fotos de nuestra visita en octubre.

We took the "long way" to Taos.  After a nice breakfast buffet in Castle Rock, we headed south on I-25 to Colorado Springs and then west on US 24 toward Buena Vista.  There was a bridge out near Florissant, and the detour to the south was quite lovely.  After getting back on US 24 west, we soon headed south on US 285 through Poncha Springs, and then south of Villa Grove, we took CO 17 [the Gunbarrel Highway - straight as an arrow] into Alamosa.  There, CO 17 rejoins US 285 and continues south into New Mexico.  At Tres Piedras, US 64 heads east, crosses the Rio Grande Gorge, passes the funky Earthship community, and joins NM 522 south into Taos.  We quickly found the Dream Catcher Bed and Breakfast which is about a 10 minute walk to the plaza, but it is very much a quiet, country-type of place.

Rhonda and Jake

It seems like most everywhere we go, Rhonda finds a canine friend!  Some of you may remember Rhonda and Chueco in Argentina  [see the blog about Estancia Los Patos on September 5, 2006].  Jake is an excellent B&B dog, greeting new guests, hanging out on the patio, hopping onto laps if invited, and appearing to be depressed when folks departed.

Jake the Cavachon - a Bichon/King Charles Cavalier Spaniel

On Sunday evening, we headed to the Adobe Bar - we heard there would be live music, and on arrival, we got quite lucky and found a good table.  We sampled some of the appetizers, and when we asked about the evening's music, our waitress said that it is hard to describe, but that we would enjoy it.  And indeed we did - the group was the Taos Gospel Choir.  This youtube video is not recent, but it gives a taste of the style - lots of swinging a capella, and now and then, a bit of keyboard and electric guitar.  The director/keyboardist is the only professional in the group; everyone else sings for the joy.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


I will be the first to admit that I have never been an avid book reader.  Rhonda reads more books in a month than I read in a decade.  My rationalization for this is that to be a good teacher and a competent research investigator, a lot of technical reading is required - textbooks, journals, conference proceedings, etc.  Since I have retired from full-time work, there is now a bit more time for non-professional reading activities.  In the last few months, I have actually finished three books! 

The first one is Yearning Wild:  Exploring the Last Frontier and the Landscape of the Heart by R. Glendon Brunk.  I knew Dick from our younger days in Goshen, Indiana.  Dick was a bit older than me, and we younger fellows at College Mennonite Church thought that he was pretty cool, and the girls did also because he was quite handsome.  Another of my long-time friends encouraged me to read the book, and I found it engaging and enjoyable.  Interestingly, later in life, Dick decided he no longer wanted to be a "Dick" and changed over to his middle name, Glendon.  Dick passed away on May 13, 2007, in Santa Fe, NM.  Here is a blurb from Publishers Weekly:

"This engaging memoir by a professor of creative writing and environmental studies at Prescott College tells the story of a young man growing up and a land becoming tamed. Brunk, who drove west the moment his high school graduation ceremony ended, eventually arrives in the wilds of Alaska in 1968. Newly married and ready to be a "real" man, he lives his "Jack London notion of life": hunting, fishing, building his own log cabin and beginning to race sled dogs. Over the next 12 years, Brunk becomes one of the world's top sled dog racers; he experiences fatherhood and later divorce. But after winning the world championship of sled dog racing in 1980, Brunk sells his dog team and leaves Alaska's shrinking wilderness behind, heeding a voice that "kept prodding, kept insisting that something else needed doing." The nomadic Brunk then embarks on a seven-year odyssey around Africa, South America and Asia. He thrives on the "open, reckless engagement with the world," spends his 40th birthday camped out in the Serengeti, "in love with life, with the myriad possibilities of it all," and eventually comes to embrace simplicity and challenge Western notions of success. Finally, largely in response to a plea from his daughter, Brunk decides to return to North America and "life without bears," and to commit himself to protecting the Alaskan wilderness he loves. Although occasionally unpolished, at its best Brunk's prose is direct and heartfelt. This is a stirring memoir from one man who heard the call of the wild and answered it."

The second book is also by a long-time friend, Clair Miller.  We attended Goshen College together in the 60's and when drafted, headed different ways - Clair to Vietnam and me to Civilian Public Service in Denver.  Clair's book is Forgotten Brother, a fictional but realistic account of a Vietnam POW and his quest for freedom.  Once the plot is set, I found it to be a real page-turner.

The third book is The Naked Anabaptist: The Bare Essentials for a Radical Faith by Stuart Murray.  It is a thoughtful, enlightening and challenging look at Christendom and anabaptists past, present and future.  Here is what Shane Clairborne has to say:

"The Anabaptists are beginning to make more and more sense to a world that is increasingly aware of the emptiness of materialism and the ugliness of militarism. Anabaptist logic is rooted in the wisdom of the cross of Jesus, which Scripture says confounds the wisdom of this world. It seems the world is poised for a new Anabaptist movement, and The Naked Anabaptist may well be the spark that lights the fire."

I found all three books to be worth the time.

Sunday, October 03, 2010


A good friend and colleague at Pepperdine, Lee Kats, keeps a list of 'famous' people he has met [not just seen] and at a minimum, exchanged greetings and a few words.  Although Lee has a couple of US Presidents on his list, I took his suggestion to compile my own list.  Even though it is a fairly meaningless exercise, not to mention determining what constitutes 'famous' - here it is, with apologies to those I know who consider themselves famous and are not on the list ;-)

Francois Jacob, Nobel Prize, Physiology and Medicine
James Watson, Nobel Prize, Physiology and Medicine
Tom Cech, Nobel Prize, Chemistry
Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize, Economics
Wallace and Joe Coulter, Coulter Principle; Coulter Electronics
Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize; National Academy of Science
Ed Larson* Pulitzer Prize; Author
Jonathan Weiner, Pulitzer Prize; Author
Peter Arnett, Pulitzer Prize; Journalist; Author
John Kaplan, Pulitzer Prize; Photographer
Amy Goldstein, Pulitzer Prize; Journalist
Mei Fong, Pulitzer Prize; Journalist
Steve Stecklow Pulitzer Prize; Journalist
John Polkinghorne, Templeton Prize; KBE; Author
Christopher Parkening* Grammy; Classical Guitarist
Glen Campbell, Grammy; Musician; Television Host
Flea, Grammy; Bass Player, Red Hot Chili Peppers
Arnold Schwartzenegger, California Governor; Actor
Edward G. Rendell, Pennsylvania Governor
Francis Collins* National Academy of Science; Head, Genome Project/NIH
Roger Beachy* National Academy of Science; Virology
Beatrice Mintz* National Academy of Science; Genetics
Clement Markert* National Academy of Science; Biochemistry
David Talmage * National Academy of Science; Immunology
Harold Agnew, National Academy of Science; Enola Gay Chase Plane
Stephen Gould, National Academy of Science; Author
Hilary Kaprowski, National Academy of Science; Virology
Lee Hood, National Academy of Science; Molecular Biology
Ted Puck, National Academy of Science; Genetics
Gail Martin, National Academy of Science; Developmental Biology
Larry Gold, National Academy of Science; Molecular Biology
Norm Pace, National Academy of Science; Microbiology
Neal Lane* Presidential Science Advisor; Head of NSF
Bill Brinkley* Institute of Medicine; Cell Biology
Ron Sega* Space Shuttle Astronaut
Ken Starr* Judge, Solicitor General, Independent Prosecutor
Doug Kmiec* Reagan and Bush White House; Constitutional Law
Bruce Herschensohn* Nixon White House
Gordon Gee* President, Ohio State, Vanderbilt, Colorado, Brown
Darrel Falk* President, The BioLogos Foundation
Victor Davis Hanson, Author; Syndicated Columnist
Alan Lesher, President, AAAS
Susan Love, Author, Breast Cancer Research Advocate
Chris Matthews, Television Host; Author
Gwen Ifill, Television Host
Bill Ayers, Former Weatherman
Mike Ditka, Pro Football Player; Coach; Commentator
Reggie Miller, Pro Basketball Player; Commentator
Paul Westphal* Pro Basketball Player; Coach
Marv Dunphy* Volleyball Coach; National; Olympic
Robert Turner, Harlem Globe Trotters
Victor Ortiz, Professional Boxer
Jefferson Wagner* Zuma Jay; Marlboro Man; Malibu Mayor
Martin Sheen, Actor
David Duchovny, Actor
Taye Diggs, Actor
Dick Van Dyke, Actor
Gary Busey, Actor; Musician
Gavin McLeod, Actor
Jake Busey, Actor
Jeremy Piven, Actor
Scotty Brown* Million Dollar Listing; Realtor; Musician
Monty Moran* CEO, Chipotle
Michael Hammer, Rich Guy
Steve Hilton, Rich Guy

*Denotes a first-name acquaintance

US Ambassador to Argentina
British Ambassador to Hong Kong
Argentina Ambassador to Hong Kong
Mexican Ambassador to Hong Kong
Saudi Arabia Ambassador to Hong Kong
Hungarian Ambassador to Hong Kong

Friday, October 01, 2010


I just returned from a trip to Indiana - the fourth Saturday of September is the day for the Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Central Committee Relief Sale at the Goshen Fairgrounds, and the weekend has become a traditional time for a gathering of the Sam and Anna Plank Aschliman clan, my mother's side of the family.  With eleven children and who-knows how many cousins, grand-children, great-grand-children, in-laws and outlaws, it can be a big crowd.  I believe that this year's head count was 75.  I flew in on Wednesday, and left on Tuesday, and as they say, "I spent a month in Goshen last week."  Ha!  It was actually quite pleasant.

Probably the main event of such visits is eating - had broasted chicken at New Paris; cinnamon rolls, ham salad, fresh tomatoes and sausage at Ed & Mary's; cinnamon roll, pulled pork sandwich, eggs and sausage, and strawberry-rhubarb pie with homemade ice cream at the fairgrounds; Slugger's barbeque chicken, ham, and many, many desserts at the Aschliman gathering; and no doubt gained weight!  This should make you hungry:

Slugger's BBQ Chicken

My parents are 94 and 92 and are doing remarkably well, all things considered - still get around fairly well, drive themselves locally, reasonably sharp, etc.  Here is a picture from their 70th wedding anniversary:

Mary & Ed

On the return trip, I drove a small U-Haul truck with some furniture from Rhonda's late parents, Abe & Ruth Willems.  I did not have my camera to take pictures of interesting signs, so I will just give the context and text:

Large official interstate sign at an exit in the middle of Illinois: ATTRACTIONS [it was blank]

Sign on fence at a desolate-looking farm:  Oil Leases Available - Call 800-Dry-Hole