June 26, 2013

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post in praise of the naked mole rat, an exceedingly odd little creature with seemingly super powers when it comes to health and longevity.  Well, scientists have recently discovered why these things don’t get cancer, something that could lead to treatments in human beings. (more…)

October 18, 2011

Scientists have sequenced the genome of a strange little creature, the naked mole rat.  Why?  Because it never gets cancer, lives an unbelievably long life without mental decline, and has many other amazing powers that may hold clues for human health.

Mole rats are hairless, buck-toothed rodents four inches long that live in underground colonies in arid sections of Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea. Their social structure is the mammalian equivalent of an ant colony. There’s a queen who takes two or three male consorts and is the only female to reproduce. She lords over the rest of the realm — which can be as large as 200 animals — so that the other females cease ovulating and the males give up.

Mole rats can survive in environments low in oxygen (as little as 8 percent as opposed to 21 percent in the atmosphere) and laden with ammonia and carbon dioxide. Unlike other mammals (but like reptiles), they have a hard time regulating their body temperature. They have to move toward the warmer upper reaches of the burrow or huddle with their brethren when they get cold.

But their most unusual features are extreme longevity and apparently complete resistance to developing cancer.

Naked mole rats can live more than 25 years; mice live about four. Buffenstein said she has never found a malignant tumor in a mole rat in her 30-year-old colony, which has 2,000 animals. In a recent experiment, a group of mole rats had patches of skin painted with a chemical carcinogen at a dose 1,000 times stronger than what causes skin cancer in mice. None developed tumors.

A study published in 2009 found that naked mole rats had a molecular anticancer mechanism not present in mice or people. But a first look at the species’ full complement of 22,561 genes shows that’s just the beginning.

There are changes in genes involved in maintaining telomeres, the “tails” of chromosomes that determine how long a cell lives. There are changes in genes involved in marking damaged proteins for destruction. There’s an increase in “chaperone” genes that keep proteins folded into their right shapes. There are genes that appear to let the animals maintain stem cells in their tissues longer than other rodents.

The study looked at 54 human brain genes that become less or more active as a person ages. In the mole rat, 30 of those genes remain stable throughout life, and two others change their activity in a direction opposite to what occurs in human brains.

Mole rats have 96 gene families unique to the species. Interestingly, they and humans also share 178 gene families that neither mice nor other rats have.

via Naked mole rat genome may point way to long, healthy life – The Washington Post.



December 27, 2017


Continuing our look back at 2017, we turn our attention to developments in religion.  A poll of religion journalists has given us another Top Ten list of the top stories in that realm.  But it’s an odd list, though revealing in its own way.  Most of the items have to do with Donald Trump, as if he has some kind of religious significance!  I’ll give the list and offer some comments.

From ‘Trumpvangelicals’ top religion journalists’ poll | Religion News Service and Religious News Association:

1. Trumpvangelicals.  That is, the phenomenon of evangelicals and other conservative Christians supporting and having a voice in Donald Trump’s presidency.  The secularist left finds it hilarious that Christian conservatives who once went by the name “moral majority” are among the most reliable backers of a thrice-married casino magnate with a history of womanizing who says he has never asked for God’s forgiveness because he has never done anything that needs forgiving.  For the left, this just confirms that Christian conservatives don’t really believe in any of that morality stuff and that all they care about is gaining political power.

But maybe there is a different explanation.  Perhaps the Trump alliance shows that the Christian right is neither hypocritical nor dead.  Maybe it has matured.  Perhaps the Christian right has turned away from identity politics, in which voters line up behind someone like them (which Democrats have started to depend on), for the more pragmatic tactic of realpolitik, voting for the candidate who will advance your interests.  Evangelicals started their serious political involvement by voting for the born-again Jimmy Carter and continued in that vein with various Republicans, but with little to show for it.  Trump, on the other hand, though not one of the tribe, is advancing the pro-life cause, setting religious freedom policies, and appointing culturally-conservative judges.

2.  White supremacists march in Charlottesville, Va.  I suppose the religious angle to that event is the neo-Nazi torchlight anti-semitism.  But there were far more expressions last year of anti-semitism from the academic left.  The Charlottesville march, though, was supposedly in support of Trump.

3.  Muslim travel ban. The story is that Trump doesn’t like Muslims.  So why didn’t he ban Muslims from all of the other Islamic countries?  Why did he just ban the Muslims from a small handful of countries involved with terrorism?

4.  Trump moves U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.  Why is this a religion story?  Because it offended Muslims who consider Jerusalem to be one of their holy cities?  Because it pleased end-times Christians and radical Jews, both of whom want to rebuild the Temple and re-establish the Levitical laws and sacrifices so that the Messiah will come?  But I didn’t read any mainstream news treatments about that.  And the U.S. action, which hasn’t happened yet, didn’t make Jerusalem the capital.  Israel had already done that after the Six Day War in 1967.  The U.S. moving its embassy doesn’t make Jerusalem any more the seat of Israel’s government than it already was.  But this was the work of Trump, so it must be a religion story.

5.  Atrocities against the Muslim Rohingya.  The Buddhist state of Myanmar has been carrying out a genocidal ethnic cleansing campaign against its Rohingya minority group, which are Muslims.  Over six thousand have been massacred, villages have been destroyed, with 500,000 fleeing to Bangladesh.  This is a new picture of Buddhism to Westerners.  Christians are not responsible for this story.  Neither is Donald Trump.

6.  Church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas.  A militant atheist spouse-abuser goes into a small Baptist Church towards the end of a worship service and starts shooting, killing 26 worshippers of all ages and wounding 20.  This was the deadliest church shooting in history.  It sparked discussion not of a growing hostility to religion but of gun control (even though private citizens with guns stopped the killer).  The lack of gun control was blamed on Trump.

7.  Judge Roy Moore’s Senate campaign.  Again, secularists love hypocrisy narratives.  Judge Moore, famous for his refusal to take down monuments of the Ten Commandments, turned out to have a history of pursuing and in some cases molesting under-aged teenaged girls.  In perhaps a test case of my hypothesis in my comments above, some Christian conservatives supported him anyway for the pragmatic reason of keeping a Republican majority in the Senate.  But other Christians held on to their traditional moral criteria, leading to Moore’s defeat.  Now a liberal Democrat represents the arch-conservative state of Alabama.  Surely, though, this is more of a political than a religious story.  Coverage somehow turned  Moore’s campaign into another Trump story, though Trump opposed Moore in the primary.

8.  The appointments of Neil Gorsuch and other conservative judges.  By Donald Trump.  Again, is this a religious story, as such, just because religious people are glad to have another conservative on the Supreme Court and have high hopes for   pro-life judges?

9.  National Football League protests.  Why is this a religious story, except to the extent football has become the national religion?  The Religious News Service, in announcing the list, said that some of the players refusing to honor the flag–by kneeling?  I thought that was a religious gesture of offering extreme honor!–were motivated by their religious beliefs.  I did learn that the player, Colin Kaepernick, who started the protests–in support of Black Lives Matter–was a Lutheran, though I don’t recall reading about national anthems in the Book of Concord.  The protests seem to have hurt NFL ratings and shaken the national faith in football.  And some pundits have connected it to a larger protest of Donald Trump.  So the Trump connection must have helped this story make the list.

10.  The 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  I’m glad this story made the cut!  As a Lutheran, it was gratifying to see our top theologian getting so much press.  And yet, so much of it missed the point of Luther’s emphasis on the Word of God and on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This would have been a good occasion also to discuss other elements of his theology, such as the distinction between Law and Gospel, his Theology of the Cross, and his view of the Sacraments.  But most of the stories on Luther were about his cultural influence, often getting that wrong too by presenting Luther as the precursor of the Enlightenment, Modernism, and even Secularism!

So, what repeated themes do we see in these top stories?

Six of the 10 are about Donald Trump.  Two more, in their journalistic coverage were indirectly tied to President Trump.  Only two–the Rohinga genocide and the Reformation anniversary–were completely Trump-free.

None of the 10 had anything to do with actual religious leaders.  Nothing about Pope Francis, despite the many controversies and provocative changes that the Pope was involved in this past year.

Is Trump the leader of American religion?  At least according to those who don’t think much of either Trump or American religion?

Half of the top stories involved not so much religion as real or perceived hostility to religion.  And two more of the stories indicated the journalists’ own hostility to religion.

There are no stories in the top 10 list about religious freedom or attempts to curtail it.  Nothing about sexual morality, neither the heralds of change in the culture’s acceptance of LGBT issues nor the heralds of the pendulum starting to swing the other way in the rise of severe consequences for “sexual misconduct” (a story which made #1 in the secular news top 10!).

What other religious developments happened in 2017 that should have made this list?


Photo of President Trump at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem by Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv (DSC_3714OSD) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


November 15, 2017


American conservatism is in jeopardy.  If people who say they are conservatives vote for candidates who violate conservative principles–for example, “family values,” moral integrity, fidelity to the constitution, etc.–conservatism is proven to be a sham, just as the progressives claim.

So says John Daniel Davidson in The Federalist.  He discusses the Judge Roy Moore debacle, showing that the Senate candidate now accused of child molestation has never really been a conservative.

His defiance of the court order to remove the Ten Commandments monument and his defying the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling by forbidding Alabama courthouses to obey it might have shown that he was on the right side of the culture war.

But he disobeyed the law.  He defied the Constitution by repudiating the authority of the judicial system.  That is not being conservative.

Nevertheless, many conservatives are supporting Judge Moore even in the face of the child molestation charges, which are growing in their credibility as evidence emerges.  Social conservatives, including Christian conservatives, hold to a high standard of sexual morality.  Or do they really, if they are willing to make an exception for Judge Moore?

If political and social conservatives don’t really believe in political and social conservatism, why should anyone take their beliefs seriously?

Progressives keep saying that conservative ideals are nothing more than rhetoric, just a smokescreen for getting power.  Some conservatives act like they are trying to prove that the progressives are right.

From John Daniel Davidson, Long Before Assault Allegations, Roy Moore Betrayed Conservatism, in The Federalist:

Progressives tend not to believe that conservatives are sincere about their opposition to abortion, or gay marriage, or much of anything that conservatives profess. For most Democrats, conservative policy positions are all cynical ploys to secure an advantage at the expense of some minority group or other. When conservatives put forward regulations on abortion, they’re not really concerned about protecting the unborn but controlling women. When they oppose the expansion of the welfare state, they’re not really concerned about limiting government expenditures but punishing the poor. When they talk about protecting religious liberty, they’re really talking about discriminating against gay Americans.

The revelation of Moore’s alleged sexual misdeeds and crimes are repugnant enough on their own, and should cost him the election. But to the extent that he continues to receive significant support from Alabama conservatives, the accusations will have consequences beyond this one election. Much like the support Moore received earlier in his career, his supporters are sending the message that social conservatives are hypocrites: they don’t care about family values or morality or even basic decency, all they care about is power. Every time Republican voters embrace a non-conservative like Moore, that message gets harder to refute.

The threat to American conservatism is not that it will lose elections.  That happens, but conservatism can survive to fight another day.  But if conservatives stop abiding by conservative principles, then conservatism will cease to exist.




March 31, 2015

Political thinkers are pondering recent claims that we are in the midst of an epic  transition that will rival the industrial revolution, wondering what difference these changes will make politically.  The projections deal with technology but also demographics, as whites will soon become an aged minority in the United States.

So far the political implications being heralded are that the midwest will fade in political clout in favor of growing ethnically-diverse states.  And that Republicans need to reach out to immigrants.  But if we are going through a change bigger than the industrial revolution, there is surely more to it than that!

After the jump, an excerpt and a link to a much-talked about article in Politico, followed by an excerpt and a link to Peter Wehner’s discussion of what this needs to mean for Republicans.  But then I will weigh in on what these political analyses are missing. (more…)

April 3, 2008

Cow-human cross embryo lives three days:

HUMAN-cow embryos have been created in a world first at Newcastle University in England, hailed by the scientific community, but labelled “monstrous” by opponents.

A team has grown hybrid embryos after injecting human DNA into eggs taken from cows’ ovaries, which had most of their genetic material removed.

The embryos survived for three days and are intended to provide a limitless supply of stem cells to develop therapies for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and spinal cord injuries, overcoming a worldwide shortfall in human embryos.

Notice how this story IMMEDIATELY goes to the sob-story justification that generating such unnatural creatures and then killing them will have such great benefits by and by. The reporter, though, admits later in the story that this experiment, in fact, did NOT produce any stem cell lines.

Such cruel and unnatural experimentation, I believe, is the true Tower of Babel of our times. Instead of the spiral ramps of the Babylonian ziggurats, we are building spirals of DNA molecules.

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