Ice Ice Baby

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Arctic sea ice is shown in this NOAA image.

Exactly how much ice is there in the Arctic Ocean?

This may seem to be a fairly straightforward question, but it is amazing how complicated something can become once the media and politicians get involved.  Take, for example, the recent announcement by the National Snow and Ice Data Center that the amount of sea ice in the Arctic (that’s the one at the North Pole) was 30% greater in August 2013 than it was in August 2012.

Normally, this would be considered a rather mundane fact, kind of like statistics on the amount of annual rainfall in Reno, NV. (No offense, Reno!) It may be interesting for some meteorologists – whose sole purpose in life is to tell us whether or not it is going to rain and to look good on T.V. – but not for the general populace. (No offense, meteorologists!) Continue reading

Thank God Heaven Is Not Like America

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The Statue of Liberty welcomes immigrants to New York City and the United States.

Right now, you are probably attempting to guess just how I am going to favorably compare Heaven to America.  Which aspect of American society am I going to say is too sinful, too unfair, or too degraded to measure up?  Or could I perhaps be going a more ironic route, venting my frustration about the current trends of reality television, blood-constricting pants, or “twerking” that I happen to believe will not be present in the great beyond?

Well, let me first say that this is not a plea for my life to be free of Miley Cyrus: a Google Chrome extension has already been created that will go a long way toward achieving that goal.  Neither am I going to be complaining about the uptick in gay marriages, the inability of any of our politicians to get along with the other children in the sandbox, or the state of the roads in Michigan (which are paved with anything but gold).  No, what I intend to talk about is immigration. Continue reading

Mythbusters: SEC Football Edition

SEC BIG 10 Logos

The Southeastern Conference and Big Ten Conference logos are both trademarks of their respective owners. They are part of the Wikimedia Creative Commons collection and are used here for commentary purposes only.

My readers are most likely familiar with the television show Mythbusters, which takes a claim that is generally believed to be true (or at least intensely debated) and puts it to the test.  Today, I am going to do something similar, only with less explosions.  I am going to examine a claim that is often repeated in the world of college football fanatics: that the Southeastern Conference (SEC) has the best teams and/or is the best performing conference.

Full disclosure here: I grew up in the Midwest and am a fan of the BIG 10 conference.  My particular loyalty is to The Ohio State University, but I also want to see the conference do well as a whole.  Whether in its 10, 11, 12, or 14 team form, I would put its history, traditions, and fan loyalty second to none.  Thus, it is not with complete happiness that I have witnessed this ever increasing SEC superiority complex.

Granted, the SEC is a great conference in its own right.  Its fans are equally rabid and its traditions equally hallowed.  Had I grown up in SEC land, I’m sure I would be just as ardent a supporter of that conference as I am of the BIG 10, which is why I am so thankful that God did not assign me to that fate. Continue reading

Can Christians “Get Lucky”?

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The maneki-neko (“beckoning cat”) is thought to bring good luck in Japan. Photo by Kok Leng Yeo

Have you been suffering recently from friggatriskaidekaphobia?  Or perhaps I should refer to it as paraskevidekatriaphobia, the other name by which it is commonly known?  Of course, in this case, the word “commonly” means “those who spend too much time reading Wikipedia”, which I’m sorry to say includes myself.

For those who lead a more balanced life when it comes to Internet usage, I can tell you that both terms refer to the fear of Friday the 13th, that most unlucky of days.  Have you ever wondered why this day is considered to be unlucky?  I did, which was why I looked it up on Wikipedia, and here is what I discovered. Continue reading

Vladimir Putin’s Exceptional Op-Ed

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There’s plenty of space to spare between the United States and Russia. White House photo by Pete Souza

A funny thing happened when I opened my copy of the New York Times today.  Well, actually, that’s not quite true: I, like so many Americans, rarely buy a printed version of the Times or any other newspaper.  Instead, I squeeze what I can out of the handful of free articles I can read online each month.  Apparently, I’m just too cheap to reward journalists monetarily for the fruits of their labors. (However, I am happy to reciprocate by making my own articles available free of any fees or advertisements!)

As I was saying, I opened up the New York Times app on my phone and viewed a most interesting op-ed by none other than Russian President “Vladimir V. Putin”.  (The “V” stands for Vladimirovich, a middle name that more than makes up for its redundancy with its ease of memorization.) The headline reads “A Plea for Caution from Russia” and there is an image of a blackened hand with two black stripes running across it. Continue reading

The Many Wars of John Kerry

Pete Souza

White House photo by Pete Souza

John Kerry finds himself in a familiar position or two on the issue of Syria.

As the Obama administration continues to make its push for a military strike in Syria, a familiar face has emerged at the center of this global diplomatic effort: Secretary of State John Kerry, one-time Democratic presidential candidate, long-time U.S. Senator for Massachusetts, and part-time windsurfer.  No one has been logging more frequent flier miles or hours on camera than Kerry in this push to convince global allies and the American public that Assad’s misdeeds must be punished through military strength.

This is hardly the first time that Kerry has found himself at the center of the debate over a controversial war.  In fact, there are few people who could have been more ironic spokespersons for a Syrian assault than our current Secretary of State. Continue reading

Why Did Jesus Live?

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A stained glass window depicting Christ calming the storm at St. Giles’ High Kirk, Edinburgh, Scotland.

On January 24, 2012, the noted British theologian N.T. Wright spoke at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan as part of the “January Series”.  The title of his lecture was “How God Became King: Why We’ve All Misunderstood the Gospels”.  It was almost a year later that I finally heard a podcast of this talk, which captured my attention almost immediately with a simple question: “Why did Jesus live?”

The point that Wright was trying to make by asking his audience this question was that when most of us consider the purpose of Christ’s incarnation, we tend to focus on his death.  Christmas songs are filled with lyrics declaring that the baby Jesus would one day become the savior of the world by dying for us all.  Indeed, the final days of Christ’s life and his execution are the main focus of all four biblical Gospels, and Church teaching has mirrored this approach throughout history.

This raises the question, if the whole purpose of Jesus’ life was to die, then why did it take around thirty years to get to that point? (Scripture never gives an exact number, but estimates tend to be around this mark.) What was all of that in between time intended to accomplish?  This question made me curious, and I proceeded to create the list you are about to read. Continue reading

Angela Merkel: Mädchen in Flammen

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Photo by Wikipedia user Aleph

Germany’s Chancellor looks set for another victory in this month’s parliamentary elections.  What, if anything, can we learn from her success?

On September 22, Germans will head to the polls to choose who will represent them in the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament.  At the center of attention will be Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor (similar to a prime minister).  As head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the largest party in the Bundestag, Merkel has served as Bundeskanzlerin since 2005, and she is widely expected to remain in that position after the election.

Merkel’s time at the top of German politics has come at a critical period for Europe.  The financial meltdown of 2008 and ongoing Eurozone crisis have placed her at the pinnacle of global power, the head of the most dynamic economy in the European Union.  Although the country’s economic growth did slip into negative territory in 2009 – the result of an international slowdown – it has since rebounded and is looking much better than France, Spain, or Italy. Continue reading

The Russians are Coming

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Photo courtesy of www.kremlin.ru

As President Obama spends the day at the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, trying desperately not to get caught dissing Vladimir Putin on an open mic, it appears that the Russians are planning to send their own delegation in the opposite direction. Moscow is naturally quite interested in the current congressional debate over the possible use of military force in Syria.  The Atlantic has an article up today by Abby Ohlheiser that details reports of lobbying efforts by the Russians on Capitol Hill.

Russian president Vladimir Putin suggested a plan to directly lobby Congress was in the works on Monday, after meeting with Valentina Matvienko and Sergei Naryshkin, speakers for the upper and lower houses of Russian parliament. They apparently proposed the idea to Putin, arguing that they could work U.S. lawmakers towards a more “balanced” stance on Syria.  Continue reading

Gluttons for Punishment?

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An illustration by Albrecht Dürer depicting gluttony, circa 1498

What comes to mind when you hear the word “gluttony”?  My immediate mental image is of a rotund man sitting at a banquet table, turkey leg in one hand and wine goblet in the other, stuffing his face past the point of normal endurance.  My imagination then expands to the Independence Day hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s on Coney Island, sumo wrestlers gorging themselves on trays full of sushi, and frat boys trying to best each other in a drinking contest.  Perhaps I even see a cruise ship drifting through the Caribbean, its eager occupants devouring food and drink 24/7.

These scenarios range from silly to serious, and all of them have to do with the rapid devouring (I use this same word again because no verb in English seems to capture the meaning of gluttony as well as “devour”) of some kind of food or beverage, all of which usually leads to or is a part of bad behavior. But in our culture, such consumption is not considered to be especially bad.  Continue reading