Aliens and Strangers

The surface of Mars as seen by the Mars Pathfinder vessel. Official NASA photo

The surface of Mars as seen by the Mars Pathfinder vessel. Official NASA photo

I will come right out and admit it: I am not an expert when it comes to scientific topics. I took all the science courses that I needed to in order to graduate from high school and get my college degree, and I got decent grades in all of them, but that should not be confused with the kind of serious credentials required to speak authoritatively on scientific issues. Nevertheless, I have found that the older I get, the more I tend to contemplate the mysteries of the universe, and by that I mean the entire universe.

One day, when my brain decided to make such a diversion from the “right side” to the “left side”, I found myself contemplating the possibility of alien life, as in life that exists in the universe but not on planet earth. It was then that I thought to ask my husband the question, “If alien life was discovered on another planet, would it make you doubt your Christian faith?” Continue reading

The Queen of England’s Budget Crisis

The oh-so-shiny Imperial Crown of India, part of Queen's Elizabeth's Crown Jewels. Flickr photo by Pietro & Silvia.

The oh-so-shiny Imperial Crown of India, part of Queen’s Elizabeth’s Crown Jewels. Flickr photo by Pietro & Silvia.

I woke up this morning to what can only be described as a sign of the apocalypse: The Queen of England is out of money!  How can this be?!

Yes, in case you missed it, the British House of Commons’ public accounts committee has just released a report in which it states that the Queen’s reserve fund has dwindled from £35 million in 2001 to a measly £1 million today.  While many UK government departments have been making sweeping cuts as part of the coalition government’s austerity drive over the last few years, Her Majesty’s household has only managed to trim its expenses by 5%. Continue reading

2014 Olympic Figure Skating Preview and Medal Predictions

The Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi, Russia, where the 2014 Olympic figure skating events will be held.  Flickr photo by Atos International

The Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi, Russia, where the 2014 Olympic figure skating events will be held. Flickr photo by Atos International

I have now published an analysis of where I was right and where I was wrong, as well as a few general comments about the competitions. You can read the new post here.

Last fall, I posted an article looking at the potential medalists in the ladies’ figure skating competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  It was rather a diversion from the usual topics I cover on this site, but given my better-than-average understanding of the sport, I decided it was worth a try, if only so I could have a little bit of fun.  Who would have thought that the article would become the most read in the history of this site?  Not me!  It was a welcome surprise, much like seeing one of the U.S. pairs teams skate a clean program. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

In part because of the obvious level of interest, I am making a return to the subject with just over two weeks before the start of the Olympics on February 6.  There has been almost a full season of competitions since my original article, so there are plenty of updates to share.  This time, I will be covering all five figure skating disciplines: men’s singles, ladies’ singles, pairs, ice dancing, and the first-ever team competition at the Olympics.  Without further ado, let’s get a move on! Continue reading

The Missing Link in the Affordable Care Act

President Obama signs the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010, surrounded by Democratic supporters (except, perhaps, for the boy in the front, who seems a bit too young to have a definitive political ideology). White House photo by Pete Souza.

President Obama signs the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010, surrounded by Democratic supporters (except, perhaps, for the boy in the front, who seems a bit too young to have a definitive political ideology). White House photo by Pete Souza.

The creators of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) overlooked one essential link in the unbroken chain of historical health care service in America: the important role of the insurance salesperson. Call him/her what you will, but here we will use the term salesperson or sales representative.

For the purposes of this article, let us think of the health care chain as containing five main links: 1) patient, 2) sales representative, 3) insurance company (or other payer), 4) health service provider, and 5) patient care.

In the Affordable Care Act (hereafter “ACA”), the second link is either weak or missing. The creators of the ACA have made a fatal mistake by trying to go around the sometimes maligned and unappreciated lowly insurance salesperson. To their credit, they have made lame attempts to furnish substitutes — namely the website (which is a joke), the Navigators, and others. Continue reading

Update: Oscar Nomination Reactions

"The Wolf of Wall Street" did better than pretty much anyone expected.  Movie poster copyright Paramount Pictures, used for commentary purposes only.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” did better than pretty much anyone expected. Movie poster copyright Paramount Pictures, used for commentary purposes only.

 

For those of you who read my Oscar nomination predictions for this year and were curious to know how I did, I thought I would provide a brief rundown of how things went. I was 4/5 in every category, except for Best Picture, where I correctly predicted all nine nominees. Because the number of Best Picture nominees cannot be known for sure ahead of time, I provided a total of ten predictions, so one of them was incorrect. However, since I did predict all of the ones that were nominated, I think we should consider this one a perfect 9/9, no?

As for who will win the big award, today’s announcement changes nothing. It is still a three-way race between American Hustle, Gravity, and 12 Years a Slave.

Full list of nominees from Variety. Continue reading

L’affaire du Président, or President Hollande is a Naughty Boy

800px-Julie_Gayet_at_the_2007_Deauville_American_Film_Festival-01, Wikipedia Mireille Ampilhac

French actress Julie Gayet, the latest object of President Hollande’s affection, is shown here at the 2007 Deauville American Film Festival. Wikipedia photo by Mireille Ampilhac

Today I am going to write about something taking place in France.  Have I lost you already?  I only ask because I know that many Americans are either thoroughly apathique or completely hostile when it comes to our French collègues.  I’ve heard the usual complaints: they live in a nanny state, they don’t believe in working, they hate Américains, they are complete cowards in all their military campagnes, and they have a preference for the kind of cheese that looks like a science experiment gone wrong.

Perhaps the thought of reading an entire article about France fills you with disgust.  Perhaps you are still unwilling to give the French credit for “freedom fries” more than a decade after the fact. (There is actually an ongoing dispute about whether deep fried potato strips originated in France or modern day Belgium.) Perhaps you think that the term “Francophile” is synonymous with “socialist”.

Allow me to reassure you by insisting that this is not really a French story at all: it is an age old tale about a politician caught in a sex scandal, full of the kind of details that are sure to reinforce your cynicism, while at the same time making you feel superior to other members of the human race.  Are you interested now?  I hope so, because that is about the best sales pitch I can give. Continue reading

Oscar Nomination Predictions

The red carpet rolled out in front of the Kodak Theatre (now the Dolby Theatre) for the 2009 Academy Awards. Flickr photo by  Greg Hernandez ("Greg in Hollywood")

The red carpet rolled out in front of the Kodak Theatre (now the Dolby Theatre) for the 2009 Academy Awards. Flickr photo by Greg Hernandez (“Greg in Hollywood”)

It is that time of year again: the time for Hollywood to engage in its annual orgy of self-congratulation.  The Oscar nominations are set to be announced this coming Thursday, January 16, at a time early enough in the morning for all the nominated actors and actresses to insist –

“Oh, I was sound asleep when my agent called me to tell me the good news!  I was so surprised!  This is such an honor!  Not that I think you can really compare art.  I mean, there were so many amazing films this year.  It’s an honor just to be mentioned among these other men/women. I suppose I’ll have to find something in the closet to wear…” Continue reading

Are Allah and Yahweh the Same?

Allah medallion Hagia Sophia Wikipedia Adam Kliczek

The name Allah appears form on this medallion inside the Hagia Sophia mosque/church/museum in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo by Wikipedia user Adam Kliczek (CC-BY SA 3.0)

Today, I want to address a question which I have often heard put to myself or others, one that seems to cut to the heart of the world’s two largest religions, Christianity and Islam.

Is Allah the same as Yahweh?

Allah, the God to whom Muslims pray five times a day, whom they hold as the only true God, and around whom their religious lives are centered.  Yahweh, the God of the ancient Israelites whose name is spelled with the consonants YHWH in Hebrew.  Are these two supreme beings one and the same? Continue reading

For Japan and China, a Dispute Worthy of Voldemort

Yasukuni Shrine Wikipedia Fg2

The Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on a rainy day. Photo by Wikipedia user Fg2

I had a nice post prepared for today that was going to deal with a controversial issue in the religious world, but I have decided to put it aside and instead address a controversy that is currently brewing in the world of international relations.  One might even say it takes place in the fantasy world.

Let me first state a well known fact: China and Japan do not get along.  Subjects of disagreement between them include the fact that one is Communist and the other is a Western-style democracy, one is a major U.S. ally and the other more of a U.S. competitor, both are economic powers going after some of the same markets, a controversial chain of islands is claimed by both of them, they each have capable and expanding military forces, and one of them has a bunch of cute pandas while the other does not. (Ok, that last one isn’t really a source of tension.) Yet, all of these factors tend to take a backseat to a list of historical grievances that have proved to be infinitely hard to forget. Continue reading

Fixing American Government in 2014

DSC03734

The White House, October 2013

As we begin the year 2014, I find myself reflecting on the political situation in the United States, and I must say that it is a bit depressing.  Our political parties cannot seem to agree on much of anything, our bureaucracy is a model of inefficiency, and there does not seem to be much positive change on the horizon.  Is there anything that could really fix this situation?

Well, with a new year, hope springs eternal, and though I have no expectation that any of the following suggestions will be implemented this year (or any other year), I am going to go ahead and make them anyway in the hope that it might spur some positive discussion.  Love them or hate them, here are five things that I think would help to improve our federal government. Continue reading