April 16, 2007 and the Problem of Pain

Deep Creek near Thomas Amis House and Inn near Rogersville TN. Click image to enlarge

This is a far more weighty subject than anyone should jump into casually. So forgive me for doing just that, in a way, with a brief morning post.

For so many families, the sting of this day remains sharp and deep. And many still feel the weight of the evil that befell so many innocents at Virginia Tech at the hand of an unbalanced shooter.

I happened across this essay/sermon by Philip Yancey, who shortly after the event, addressed the students and faculty on campus after having just suffered his own near-death pain and injury in an accident.

Where is God When it Hurts?

His understanding expressed in this text of how a universe exists in which God is both good and omnipotent AND evil and pain exist might be helpful to some who make the effort to read it through.

Christians ask the same question, but like Yancey, find sufficient understanding, though “through a glass, darkly” for this life. And with that understanding, they don’t shake their fist at God (like more than a few of our friends) for creating a world where free will leads to lies and deceit, anger and vengeance, suffering and injustice.

As C S Lewis describes such a world, a knife could be used to spread butter on bread, but should it be used to threaten injury, it would turn into a blade of grass.

We live in a consequential world. And in it, perhaps the most astounding fact is that love and beauty abounds. And life is precious. And something is most definitely broken here.

 

Saved by The MetaGenomics of Dirt

Below are some annotated bits from an article in Wired that describe the early successes in the battle to find weapons against the increasingly numerous and increasingly virulent microbes that are resistant to all known antibiotics.

We worry about the Russians or the Chinese or the North Koreans or Dr Strangeloves in power around the world, when all along, if the human population suffers the Malthusian reduction many fear, it will most likely come from invaders far too small to see.

HOW DIRT COULD SAVE HUMANITY FROM AN INFECTIOUS APOCALYPSE

The culprit, pan-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae, is not the only superbug overpowering humanity’s defenses; it is part of a family known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae. The carpabenems are drugs of last resort, and the CDC considers organisms that evade these antibiotics to be nightmare bacteria.

So it’s difficult to envision a future that resembles the pre-antibiotic past—an era of untreatable staph, strep, tuberculosis, leprosy, pneumonia, cholera, diphtheria, scarlet and puerperal fevers, dysentery, typhoid, meningitis, gas gangrene, and gonorrhea.

But that’s the future we are headed for.

This is not the coming plague. It’s already upon us, and it spells the end of medicine as we know it.

That’s why Brady and others turned to metagenomics—the study of all the genetic information extracted from a given environment.

Brady came to realize that he did not need to trek to some pristine or remote ecosystem to explore the world’s biodiversity. The requisite material for building new drugs could be found much closer to home.

The more we use antibiotics, the less effective they become; the more selective pressures we apply, the more likely resistant strains will emerge.

Think about this the next time you stand quietly in the park or in the forest or meadow near your house. Reach down and gather a teaspoon full of everyday soil in your palm, and realize there are likely to be some 3000 different microbes nestled in the hollow of your hand.

Here is enough genetic information to solve many of humanity’s problems–if only we ask the right questions. And move with sufficient speed to do the work in advance of the inevitable and urgent need.

Snows of Narnia

If every snowflake is different, then every snowfall must be too.

This one was unique. It was the last snow to fall before my personal odometer turns to a new zero.

And so I am trying to pay attention to the details. And the details of this snow were worth attending.

I confess I used PixelBender oil paint filter to attenuate the branching snow shapes just a little; it impressed me as a scene out of a fairy tale–maybe Chronicles of Narnia, and so I rendered the image to bring that out a bit. [click to enlarge image ]

SomeWhere

From Bethlehem Church Road, Floyd County Virginia. Click image to enlarge.

And SomeWhen.

Finding the pot of gold means a bit of good luck. And keeping your eyes open. And having a camera in your pocket 24/7. And stopping in the rain to step out of your car in the middle of a county road to save the moment.

I once reflected on the place of photographs in my life:

“Film became a way to preserve present moments in a clear resin of recall. Every photograph set a benchmark in time, held a unique instant in the emulsion of memory, captured in perfect synchrony that vertical line of precise moment that intersects the coordinates of particular place.”

It may be maudlin and saccharine, but Kodak moments anchor us in person, place, space and time. And I am thankful to have had more than my share of them.

And a bit more of the reflection on time (from What We Hold in Our Hands):

“No two photographic markers were the same, and there was no going back. With my lens, I fished from the moving stream of time as days flowed through the faces I knew, past the places I loved, leaving the lived, the known moments bobbing on its glassy surfaceÑdeeper down, farther back, receding Doppler-like across a realm that I could photograph, could know just once, just now.

I have spent decades more behind the camera, no longer wishing I were older, happy for the past, but savoring photographic instants in the present when one face or one flower, one sunset, yet another family pet or one more grandchild’s candle-covered birthday cake fills the viewfinder and moves on downstream.”

 

Water Matters: Kids Care

I suppose I have been conditioned to expect disappointment when facing the recently-uncommon opportunity to speak to college-aged students.

On more than one occasion, the apathy and disrespect of classes at “real colleges” has left me saddened and discouraged, knowing that at least these groups of young people will not be the ones to pick up the torch in the struggle to save what is left of our planet.

So I was pleasantly surprised last night to find 20 students from the University of Delaware engaged, sincerely interested, respectful and mature.

The topic for their spring break was “water issues in the Blue Ridge of Virginia” and they elected to spend their time at this task–not for the credit or to avoid dysfunctional families or any of the other reasons I have heard for NOT going to the beach with the rest of their classmates in March. These students came to learn, and I have not had any other group of students–including at Radford University or Virginia Tech where I have guest-lectured–as attentive and appreciative.

You can find the link to the Prezi program (slide show thingy) along with links to some of the topics contained therein, at this MilaNote page.

 

Progressive Life in the Slow Lane

Or maybe not so slow after all?

This might not matter much to many, but those who use the Internet for work or study or research, the difference between waiting five minutes to download a 45 minute documentary on a topic and waiting 1.7 seconds adds up over a week when you do this countless times a day.

So as hard as it is to realize it is really gonna happen, Goose Creek Press will soon operate at GIGABIT download, 500mbps upload speeds.

Go to FastMetrics to see a bigger version of the graph above from that site.  Most households in Floyd County connect at 3mbps I think. Some less than that.

And thanks to Citizens Coop for making this happen. In my lifetime. If they hurry! Come on, folks, deferred gratification is not something I want anything more to do with after turning the corner on 70 before long.

 

 

Water: the Medium of Life

When we explore other planets and wonder if life could have existed there, it is not carbon or silicon or even amino acids we look for at first. We look for water.

Without it, so far as we know, life is not possible. This is not to say that biotic entities cannot survive in dormancy for long periods–hundreds of years or longer–in a dehydrated state. Tardigrades are champs at this.

But for the most part, access to water is the limiting factor for land creatures and all aquatic–salt or fresh–plants and animals.

Closer to home, it turns out that forests are pretty good at finding available water, even from fissures underground. And given Floyd County’s fractured rock, the fact that this can be a source of survival water during times of drought gives a bit of comfort. [click image for source article/ Berkeley News. ]

I will be meeting with some spring-breaking students from U of Del next week at Apple Ridge here in FloydCo to have a discussion about water in the Blue Ridge, and this is one of the things we will talk about.

And given my current need to stay focused and not get too sidetracked, if and when I blog, it will generally be from stuff I already have on hand related to what I am working on at the time. So fire me.