The Watering Hole, Monday, April 14th, 2014: For Reals?

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“Believe it or Not: ‘Heaven is for Real’ a Community Conversation-Starter.” This intriguing headline in the local Southeast-Brewster Patch e-newspaper caught my eye yesterday. (I’ll get back to that later.) Until I read the article, I was unaware of both the book, and now a movie, based on a supposedly true story relating a young boy’s experience during emergency surgery. The boy just happens to be the son of a pastor.

[DISCLAIMER: My mind's personal jury is still out on the issue of near-death experiences and the like. There's so much uncharted territory in the human brain, there could be a section that might be labeled "Here there be visions."]

From an article in the Christian Post:

Heaven Is For Real opens in theaters on April 16 and tells the story of the Burpo family, whose son Colton experienced a vision where he traveled to heaven and met Jesus when he was just 4 years old. [Wait - he met Jesus when Jesus was 4 years old? Damn, I wish people knew how to write clearly!]

The details Colton shared with his father about heaven include the fact that people do not age there. Todd Burpo decided to break this down from a theological standpoint.

“Adam and Eve were created to never die and once they sinned the punishment for sin was death so they started aging,” he explained. “We know in heaven there is no sin [we DO?] so if you go to a place where there is no sin, why would the consequence of sin be there?”

If you scroll down past the crap-ads, there’s a video and other related links (if you’re interested.) Fun comments after the article, too. For instance:

ArmoftheLORD 3:45 PM on April 11, 2014
If you want to learn about heaven or Noah learn how to read the bible for your sake. The bible interprets itself and therefore not subject to anyones subjective flight of fantasy. Jesus does not ride a rainbow horse.”

Tammy Roesch 7:46 AM on April 12, 2014
ArmoftheLORD – Excellent post! This story is so contrary to the Bible….but sadly….many people fall for the unbiblical things it teaches, because that is what they want to believe…rather than studying the Bible for themselves and finding out the truth….

ArmoftheLORD 10:21 AM on April 10, 2014
garbage in garbage out. The bible is the final authority on the life after life afterlife not Tod Burpo

Bob Wierdsma (Moderator) 6:08 PM on April 10, 2014
ArmoftheLORD – Of course. But Jesus still is the way which Todd confirmed

["Of course." Really? Amazing how they're so SURE of their "facts."]

From Wikipedia regarding the original book, “Colton also claimed that he personally met Jesus riding a rainbow-colored horse and sat in Jesus’ lap, while the angels sang songs to him. He also says he saw Mary kneeling before the throne of God and at other times standing beside Jesus.” Wiki mentions a bit more in their section about the upcoming film: “He talked about looking down to see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family didn’t know what to believe. In Heaven, Colton says he met his miscarried sister whom no one had ever told him about and his great-grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born. He shared supposedly impossible-to-know details about each. Colton went on to describe the horse that only Jesus could ride, about how “reaaally big” God and His chair are, and how the Holy Spirit “shoots down power” from heaven to help people.”

Now back to the Southeast-Brewster Patch:

“[The movie] tells the story of Burpo’s son, Colton, who said he left his body during an emergency appendectomy around age 4 and visited Heaven. His parents, Todd and Sonja, believed the story after Colton described details about his great-grandfather and miscarried sister about whom he didn’t know…

Besides meeting family members who had passed, talking with angels and seeing Jesus ride a multicolored horse, Colton shared this about the community in Heaven:

“It’s a lot like Earth in many ways, but everybody there would help you out just because they wanted to help you out and not because of their own interests,” he said. “So that’s a pretty good community.”

My favorite comment after this article, with all of its misspellings, etc.:

Joe Rubalcava April 13, 2014 at 04:59 PM

“J Michael you do not understand God word very well. I Not trying to be critical just want to enlighten you and some of the orthers. God created every one, but all are not his children. To be a child of God in the old Testament you had to except God by faith. Since Jesus Christ in the new Testament, you must except Jesus Christ as you Lord and Savior, to be come a child of God, just not his creation. The only way to have the Holy Spirit with in you , is to except Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, read John 17 : 6 – 8 1 Corinthians 2: 9- 16 the Holy Spirit is your helper to gives you the knowledge of God word. With out the Holy Spirit in you, yo can read the Bible but you will not get much of any true understanding of what you read. Michael you were right when you said God has unconditional love of everyone all the way to you death bed, but if you do not except his free gift to except him as you Lord an savior and die in that state he will not except you at that point and you will suffer eternal separation from him. Those who did except his free gift and excepted him as Lord and savior will have everlasting life with him. God said he hopes no one would parish, and that why he gives you all the way until right before you death to except him, but he will not force anyone to except him, he give you the free will to do it or not, and if you don’t you will not at that point be excepted by him. You made a comment that God does’ t need a middleman, and your right, but he does use them. The Holy Spirit to teach you and give you understanding if you ask him, once you have excepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and earthly men as pastors and priest and just some ordinary every day people who believe in God, to keep reminding you why you need to turn to God and except Jesus Christ. I hope this might be able to give some clarity to what some may not understand about God’s ways and word.”

(In an aside: On the sidebar on The Christian Post website, I discovered that there is an annual “State of the Bible Survey” – who knew? I have no idea who The American Bible Society spoke to in their latest “State of the Bible Survey”, but one ‘statistic’, if accurate, could be scary: “56% of America remains Pro-Bible.* *People who believe the Bible is the actual or inspired Word of God with no errors.”)

This is our daily open thread–what’s on YOUR mind?

The Watering Hole, Monday, April 7th, 2014: Torture

Over the past month or so, there’s been a lot of talk about the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the previous administration’s CIA torture program (oh, excuse me, “enhanced interrogation techniques”.) Chair of the Committee Senator Dianne Feinstein has accused the CIA of accessing Congressional computers and deleting memos and other evidence. Last week brought the news that Senator Feinstein is pushing to have the results of the report made public, in order to “ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted…”

Cue the attacks, specifically on FauxNews: First, former CIA Director Michael Hayden questions Senator Feinstein’s possible “motivation for the report” is “emotional.” An excerpt from the ThinkProgress article:

“Citing specifically Feinstein’s line about not using such techniques again, Hayden told Fox News Sunday host Chis Wallace, “Now that sentence that, motivation for the report, Chris, may show deep emotional feeling on part of the Senator. But I don’t think it leads you to an objective report.”

A surprised Chris Wallace asked,

“…You’re saying you think she was emotional in these conclusions?” Hayden did not respond specifically to Wallace’s question, but rather said simply that only portions of the report had been leaked but it did not tell the whole story.”

Despite whatever Hayden believes the “whole story” to be, the portions that have been leaked seem to be quite detailed and very damning, as discussed in this March 31st article from WaPo.

“Officials said millions of records make clear that the CIA’s ability to obtain the most valuable intelligence against al-Qaeda — including tips that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011 — had little, if anything, to do with “enhanced interrogation techniques.””

It does not seem possible that Hayden’s “whole story” could in any way mitigate the fact that torture was systematically used, both here and abroad at “black sites”, supposedly in the name of our “security.”

From the Washington Post article on Hayden’s “emotional” characterization:

“Former CIA and National Security Agency director Michael Hayden suggested Sunday that Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) might have compromised the objectivity of a report on CIA interrogation techniques because she personally wants to change them…Hayden suggested Feinstein feels too strongly about the issue on an “emotional” level.”

Feinstein struck back at Hayden’s comments later Sunday by calling her committee’s forthcoming report “objective, based on fact, thoroughly footnoted, and I am certain it will stand on its own merits.”

In a statement, Feinstein noted that the committee’s investigation began in 2009 and the report’s conclusions “came from documents provided by the CIA and the result is a comprehensive history of the CIA program. The only direction I gave staff was to let the facts speak for themselves.”

“I believe last week’s 11-3 vote to declassify the report demonstrates that both sides agree that Americans should see the facts and reach their own conclusions about the program,” she added.

Raw Story tells it slightly differently:

“Yeah,” Hayden replied dismissively, noting that a Washington Post columnist had reported that “Sen. Feinstein wanted a report so scathing that it would ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation would never again be considered or permitted.” [Emphasis mine, in that I have been unable to find to which "Washington Post columnist" Hayden is referring, nor any such reporting that Senator Feinstein had directed how "scathing" the report should be.]

“That motivation for the report may show deep emotional feeling on the part of the senator,” Hayden opined. “But I don’t think it leads you to an objective report.”… ““You’re asking me about a report that I have no idea of its contents,” Hayden admitted.

[The notion that Hayden has "no idea of" the report's "contents" seems pretty ludicrous; regardless of his professed ignorance, it didn't stop him from attacking the Senator for one moment.]

Raw Story also provides us with cyborg former Vice-President Cheney’s reaction, which also sparked an invitation from Senator Angus King (I-ME) to have Cheney waterboarded:

“The accusations are not true,” Cheney told college television station ATV last week. “Some people called it torture. It wasn’t torture.”

“If I would have to do it all over again, I would,” he insisted. “The results speak for themselves.”

Sorry, the report’s results do speak for themselves:

“A report that has been completed by the Senate Intelligence Committee, however, has found that the CIA misled the government and misstated the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation program. The report concluded that the CIA lied when it said it had gotten “otherwise unobtainable intelligence that helped disrupt terrorist plots and save thousands of lives.”

“I was stunned to hear that quote from Vice President Cheney,” Senator King explained. “If he doesn’t think that was torture, I would invite him anywhere in the United States to sit in a waterboard and go through what those people went through, one of them a hundred and plus-odd times.”

And finally Cheney’s spawn, Liz, reliably shouts “Benghazi!” Again from Raw Story:

“Fox News contributor Liz Cheney on Sunday argued that a United States Senate report on Bush-era torture was “political” and that lawmakers should spend more time investigating President Barack Obama’s role in failing to prevent terrorist attacks in Benghazi.

“If you’re going to say that we should not have conducted the enhanced interrogation program, if you’re going to say that we shouldn’t have waterboarded three terrorists, then you’ve got to say that you’re willing to accept the consequences of that,” the former vice president’s daughter said on a Sunday morning Fox News panel. “You’ve got to be willing to say how many American lives would you have been willing to put at risk because you didn’t want to waterboard Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.”

“Fox News political analyst Juan Williams quipped that Liz Cheney was the “good daughter,” but the American people had a right to know what the CIA was doing in their name, and if the techniques were effective.

“I want to start by agreeing with Juan,” Liz Cheney shot back. “That we need more congressional oversight… of Benghazi, for example.”

She added that the Senate did not produce a “fair report” because it was “written entirely by Democratic staffers.”

“The Republicans wouldn’t participate!” Williams replied. “People not only wouldn’t cooperate, [the CIA] tried to spy on the U.S. Senate.”

Liz Cheney concluded by saying that she had “missed Juan” during her absence from Fox News for a failed Senate run in Wyoming.

[Yeah, how'd that work out for ya, Lizzie? Finally found out that no one in your home state likes you?]

A couple of the commentors on that Daily Kos thread could have helped Juan Williams bitch-slap that she-devil:

JW: I got a better idea Liz, why don’t we focus on the 22 embassy attacks that happened under your daddy’s watch.

bplewis24:

[Quoting Liz Cheney] “If you’re going to say that we should not have conducted the enhanced interrogation program, if you’re going to say that we shouldn’t have waterboarded three terrorists, then you’ve got to say that you’re willing to accept the consequences of that,”…Yes. I am fully willing to accept the consequences of that. Reports tend to tell us there are no real consequences of it, but even if there were, that’s the “sacrifice” I’m willing to make in order to live in a civilized world.

I think that I would just go with what Sheppard Smith once blurted out “emotionally”: “THIS IS AMERICA AND WE DON’T FUCKING TORTURE!”

This is our daily open thread–what’s on YOUR mind?

The Watering Hole, Monday, March 24th, 2014: Mixed Emotions

This past weekend’s reading brought an odd range of emotions:

HUMILITY: Geography is not my strong suit. When I was growing up, the continent of Africa was nearly always referred to as “the dark continent”, or “darkest Africa.” However, the amazing maps in “8 Maps That Will Change The Way You Look at Africa” help to shed light on “the dark continent” and its place in the modern world. Some of the maps are truly mind-boggling.

INCREDULITY: Why is David Vitter still a Senator? How was he not so shamed in his constituents’ eyes that not only did they not demand his immediate resignation when his diapered-DC Madam sexual habits were made public, they reelected him? And why is Vitter showing his face in public claiming that “…the Koch brothers are two of the most patriotic Americans in the history of the Earth…God bless the Koch brothers. They’re fighting for our freedoms.”? Steve Benen on The Maddow Blog can at least answer the the last question.

BETRAYAL: This one’s personal. My love-hate relationship with my beloved/cursed New York Jets is finally tipping over toward the ‘hate’ side. This weekend, the Jets announced their acquisition of former Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, and their release of hapless quarterback Matt Sanchez. My sense of betrayal has nothing to do with Sanchez–he sucked most of the time, but I wish him well. On the other hand, I wish that Michael Vick, of dog-fighting-ring/dog killer fame, would have his throwing arm mangled by a pit bull. Just enough to keep that scum out of football forever. In the meantime (well, when football season starts), I will boycott the Jets until that inhumane piece of shit is gone.

Damn, it's just a toy

Damn, it’s just a toy

Finally, to take that nasty taste out of your mouth:

CONTENTMENT: Although the story is five years old, it’s still heartwarming, and reinforces my opinion that animals are far better than humans. Mankind should really try to emulate Mother Nature.

In 2009, a fire in the Santa Barbara area had firefighters rescuing wildlife, including young animals separated from their mothers. The unlikely pair shown ended up together after their rescuers ran out of crates.
Rescued Fawn and Bobcat kittenfawn and bobcat kitten

This is our daily open thread–what’s on YOUR mind?

The Watering Hole, Saturday, March 15th, 2014: Strange Views

I had never heard of the Wellcome Image Awards before, but when I saw “Stunning Science Pictures”, I had to check them out. According to the accompanying article,

“The 13th Wellcome Image Awards took place on March 11, 2014, and recognized some truly remarkable feats in scientific image creation. The contest honors “the creators of the most informative, striking and technically excellent images” that have been recently added to the Wellcome Images collection. Wellcome Images are part of UK-based charitable foundation the Wellcome Trust, who are dedicated to achieving improvements in human and animal health.”

Some of the images really are “Stunning”; others range from (what I would call) ‘delightful,’ to ‘disturbing,’ to ‘gross,’ to ‘frightening.’ Here’s a sampling of the 19 images:

Astrantia Flowers (image credit: Wellcome Collection/Dr. Henry Oakley)

Astrantia Flowers (image credit: Wellcome Collection/Dr. Henry Oakley)

I like the description of the image above: “Photograph of flowers from the plant Astrantia major. This particular variety is called Hadspen Blood, and is also known as Masterwort, Gentleman’s Melancholy [my personal favorite], Hattie’s Pincushion, Mountain Sanicle or Black-root Sanicle.” [emphasis mine]

"Wiring of the human brain:  Bird's-eye view of nerve fibers in a normal, healthy adult human brain."  (Image credit:  Wellcome Collection/Zeynap M Saygin)

“Wiring of the human brain: Bird’s-eye view of nerve fibers in a normal, healthy adult human brain.” (Image credit: Wellcome Collection/Zeynap M Saygin)


"Miniature marine organism:  Light micrograph of a miniature organism found in the sea, part of a group called Foraminifera." (image credit: Wellcome Collection/Spike Walker)

“Miniature marine organism: Light micrograph of a miniature organism found in the sea, part of a group called Foraminifera.”
(image credit: Wellcome Collection/Spike Walker)


Zebrafish embryo: "A scanning electron micrograph of a four-day-old zebrafish embryo" (image credit::  Wellcome Collection./Anne Cavanagh and David McCarthy

Zebrafish embryo: “A scanning electron micrograph of a four-day-old zebrafish embryo”
(image credit:: Wellcome Collection./Anne Cavanagh and David McCarthy

That is one very surprised-looking zebrafish embryo!

Since you may view them with a different ‘eye,’ judge for yourselves: here’s the complete 19-image slideshow, definitely view them full-screen.

This is our daily open thread–go ahead and talk about, well, anything!

The Watering Hole, Monday, March 10th, 2014: Jehovah: IMHO, Not Much of a God

This is going to be a bit long, but once I read it I knew that I had to share it with you. What follows is a section entitled “Why Does God Allow Suffering?” of one of the tracts that the Jehovah’s Witnesses dropped off last weekend. The tract itself is titled “Does Death End It All?” For your examination, in its entirety:

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

“The following is a typical conversation that one of Jehovah’s Witnesses might have with a neighbor. Let us imagine that a Witness named Michelle has come to the home of a woman named Sophia.”

HOW DOES GOD FEEL ABOUT OUR SUFFERING?

Michelle: Hi, Sophia. I’m happy I found you at home.
Sophia: Me, too.
Michelle: The last time I was here we discussed how God feels about our suffering. You mentioned that this is something you have wondered about for a long time, especially after your mother was injured in a car crash. By the way, how has your mother been doing?
Sophia: She has good days and bad days. Today, she’s doing OK.
Michelle: I’m glad to hear that. It must be a real challenge to keep your head up in a situation like this.
Sophia: It is. Sometimes I wonder how much longer she will have to suffer.
Michelle: That’s a natural response. You may recall that at the end of our last visit, I left you with a question about why God has allowed suffering to continue if he has the power to end it.
Sophia: Yes, I remember.
Michelle: Before we consider the Bible’s answer, let’s review a few of the points we covered last time.
Sophia: OK.
Michelle: For one thing, we learned that even a faithful man in Bible times wondered why God allows suffering. Yet, God never scolded him for asking about it, nor did God tell him that he simply needed more faith.
Sophia: That was a new thought to me.
Michelle: We also learned that Jehovah God hates to see us suffer. For example, the Bible says that when his people were going through distress, “it was distressing to him.” [here footnoted "See Isaiah 63:9"] Isn’t it comforting to know that God feels for us when we suffer?
Sophia: Yes, it is.
Michelle: Finally, we agreed that considering the vast amount of power our Creator possesses, surely he has the ability to step in and end suffering at any moment.
Sophia: That’s what I don’t understand. Why does God let all these bad things happen when he has the power to stop them?

WHO WAS TELLING THE TRUTH?

Michelle: We can start to find the answer to your question by turning to the first book of the Bible, Genesis. Are you familiar with the account of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit?
Sophia: Yes, I learned that story in Sunday school. God said not to eat from a certain tree, but they went ahead and ate from it anyway.
Michelle: That is correct. Now, let’s focus on the events that led up to Adam and Eve’s sin. Those events have a direct bearing on the question of why we suffer. Would you please read Genesis chapter 3, verses 1 through 5?
Sophia: OK. “Now the serpent was the most cautious of all the wild animals of the field that Jehovah God had made. So it said to the woman: ‘Did God really say that you must not eat from every tree of the garden?’ At this the woman said to the serpent: ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden. But God has said about the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden: ‘You must not eat from it, no, you must not touch it, otherwise you would die.’ At this the serpent said to the woman: ‘You certainly would not die. For God knows that in the very day you eat from it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and bad.’”
Michelle: Thank you. Let’s examine these verses for a moment. First, notice that a serpent spoke to the woman, Eve. Another part of the Bible shows that it was really Satan the Devil who was speaking to her through the serpent. [here footnoted "See Revelation 12:9.] Satan asked Eve about God’s command regarding a certain tree. Did you notice what God had said the penalty would be if Adam and Eve ate from it?
Sophia: They would die.
Michelle: Correct. Then, with his very next words, Satan made a major accusation against God. Notice what he said: “You certainly will not die.” Satan was calling God a liar!
Sophia: I never heard that part of the story before.
Michelle: And when Satan called God a liar, he raised an issue that would require time to settle. Can you see why?
Sophia: Hmm. I’m not sure.
Michelle: Well, maybe I could illustrate the point this way. Let’s say that one day I approach you and claim that I’m physically stronger than you are. How could you prove me wrong?
Sophia: I suppose with some sort of a test.
Michelle: Yes, exactly. Maybe we would choose a heavy object and then see which one of us was able to lift it. Actually, proving who is stronger is pretty straightforward.
Sophia: I see your point.
Michelle: But what if instead of saying that I’m stronger, I claimed to be more honest than you? That’s a different matter, isn’t it?
Sophia: Yes, I suppose so.
Michelle: After all, honesty is not something like strength, which can be proved with a simple test.
Sophia: No.
Michelle: Really, the only way to settle the challenge would be to let enough time pass for others to observe the two of us and see who really is more honest.
Sophia: That makes sense.
Michelle: Now, look again at this account in Genesis. Did Satan claim to be stronger than God?
Sophia: No.
Michelle: God could have quickly proved him wrong. Instead, Satan claimed to be more honest than God. In effect, he said to Eve, ‘God is lying to you, but I’m telling you the truth.’
Sophia: Interesting.
Michelle: In his wisdom, then, God knew that the best way to settle the challenge would be to allow time to pass. Eventually, it would become clear who was telling the truth and who was lying.

AN IMPORTANT ISSUE

Sophie: But as soon as Eve died, didn’t that prove that God was telling the truth?
Michelle: In a sense, it did. But there was more to Satan’s challenge. Look again at verse 5. Do you notice what else Satan told Eve?
Sophia: He said that if she ate of the fruit, her eyes would be opened.
Michelle: Yes, and that she would become “like God, knowing good and bad.” So Satan claimed that God was withholding something good from humans.
Sophia: I see.
Michelle: And that too was a major challenge.
Sophia: What do you mean?
Michelle: By his words, Satan implied that Eve – and by extension, all humans – would be better off without God’s rulership. In this case too, Jehovah knows that the best way to address the challenge would be to let Satan try to prove his point. So God has allowed Satan to rule this world for a time. That explains why we see so much suffering around us–it’s because Satan, not God, is the real ruler of the world. [here footnoted, "see John 12:31, John 5:19.] But there is good news.
Sophia: What’s that?
Michelle: The Bible teaches these two beautiful truths about God. First, Jehovah is there for us when we suffer. For example, cosider the words of King David, as recorded at Psalm 31:7. David experienced a lot of suffering during his lifetime, but notice what he was able to say in prayer to God. Would you please read the verse?
Sophia: OK. It says, “I will rejoice greatly in your loyal love, for you have seen my affliction, you are aware of my deep distress.”
Michelle: So even though David experienced suffering, he found comfort in knowing that Jehovah saw everything he went through. Do you find that comforting–the thought that Jehovah is aware of everything, even our painful emotions that other humans may not fully understand?
Sophia: Yes, I do.
Michelle: The second beautiful truth is that God will not allow our suffering to go on indefinitely. The Bible teaches that he will soon bring an end to Satan’s wicked rulership. And he will completely undo all of the bad things that have happened, including the things that you and your mother have suffered. May I come back next week and show you why we can be sure that God will soon end all suffering?
Sophia: That sounds good.”

Okay, my immediate response to this whole thing is:

- Sophia is amazingly gullible;
- Michelle’s words and examples are hardly irrefutable proof of anything;
- Since Eve did NOT die when she ate the forbidden fruit, it would appear that Satan was right, God IS a liar; and
- It’s a poor excuse on God’s part that he can’t intervene in human suffering because, for some strange reason, God is letting Satan have a turn at ruling the world.

This is our daily open thread–your thoughts?

The Watering Hole, Monday, March 3rd, 2014: Who Are You Gonna Believe?

On Saturday morning, I was visited again by my (in my opinion as one who had barely woken up) way-too-perky Jehovah’s Witness ‘friend’ from previous visits. (I’m sincerely sorry that I cannot remember her name.) After a fairly brief chat, I was given some new leaflets. The Witness had picked these out particularly for me, based on our last discussion during which I had professed my belief in science vs religion. The leaflet that I decided to start with is entitled “Was Life Created?” An excerpt from the introductory page, prefaced by the question “What do you believe?”:

“Many religious fundamentalists believe that the earth and everything on it was created in six 24-hour days, just a few thousand years ago. Some atheists would have you believe that God does not exist, that the Bible is a book of myths, and that all life is the product of random undirected events.”

Now, right there, I have issues with the statement about atheists: first, note the difference in the wording between the two sentences, i.e., “Many religious fundamentalists believe…” as opposed to “Some atheists would have you believe…” The implications that a) the beliefs of religious fundamentalists/literal Creationists are somehow more valid and earn more respect than the beliefs/non-beliefs of atheists, and b) that atheists want to force people to abandon their religion (whatever flavor it is) seem pretty obvious to me. This inference is made again a little further down the intro page, under the heading, “What is the purpose of this brochure?”:

“It is not the purpose of this material to ridicule the views either of fundamentalists or of those who choose not to believe in God.”

Again, carefully worded, “those who choose not to believe in God”, as if we picked the wrong side, or refused to join their club. They won’t “ridicule the views…of fundamentalists” (even though elsewhere in the introduction it states that religious fundamentalism and atheism are considered to be “opposing ideas”) simply because the fundamentalists believe in a god and his bible. And obviously, by “God” they mean only the god of the Old or New Testament, not the Muslim’s Prophet or any of the other major non-Christian religions of the world.

The intro wraps up with:

“Will you trust the claims of those who say that there is no intelligent Creator and that the Bible is unreliable? [YES!] Or will you examine what the Bible actually says? Which teachings are worthy of your trust, your faith: those of the Bible or those of evolutionists? Why not review the facts?”

The “facts” that are subsequently presented to advance the “intelligent Creator” argument are, oddly enough, all discovered through scientific research: how the planet Earth is in the ideal location to sustain life [sure, life as WE carbon-based oxygen-breathing life forms know it]; how the Earth’s tilt is just right, along with the planet’s speeds of rotation and orbit, to create the ‘ideal’ for human habitation: four seasons and 24-hour days. Also presented as “evidence” of an intelligent Creator are the size of our moon and its distance from the Earth [and here the JWs make Bill O’Reilly look like the idiot that he is, by mentioning that the planet’s tides are affected by the moon); along with the laws of nature and science, i.e., the cycle of precipitation, photosynthesis, your basic Earth Science curriculum, and the multitude of species of animals. All of these scientific laws are indication to the JW’s that a divine hand was involved.

If, as believers such as the JWs think, humans were made in god’s image, I think that that god has a lot of explaining to do. Humans are the only species that is capable of completely ruining the beauty and wonder of our planet’s unique ecosystems, as well as our own sources of food and water. What god would make a species such as ours?

Instead of (and possibly in answer to) the question being “What do you believe?”, I believe that the question should be “What do you KNOW?”

This is our daily open thread–feel free to air your thoughts on, well, anything, including but not limited to Jehovah’s Witnesses (or any other religious group), etc.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, February 22nd, 2014: We Have Our Own Local Scandal

Okay, it’s not on a par with Governor Chris Christie’s ever-spiraling George Washington Bridge scandal, nor is it anywhere close to Governor Pat McCrory’s Duke Energy woes, but it’s our scandal, so…

This one involves State Senator Greg Ball (R-NY40), who is no stranger to embarrassing controversies, whether it’s his stance on torture, or his “girlfriend” issues. This time, though, Senator Ball (who is, BTW, a “friend” of Sean Hannity and Fox News) may have committed Joe Biden’s nemesis: PLAGIARISM.

It seems that Senator Ball’s recently proposed legislation, which would prohibit any of New York’s “aquariums or sea parks” from exhibiting killer whales, contained language that appears to be lifted from at least one other source (and possibly a second.) What’s funny/silly/crazy about this is that one source was a teenaged student whose post on this subject originally appeared on The Huffington Post. Naturally, HuffPost has the goods on Ball’s latest pecadillo. Here’s an excerpt regarding the pertinent wording in the proposed bill:

From Senator Ball’s bill:

“In the United States, dolphin and marine animal parks, like SeaWorld, have become a part of an $8.4 billion industry. Accustomed to living in the ocean, and having an infinite amount of space to swim in, dolphins and whales are actually faced with several health problems that shorten their life span and cause insanity when they are place [sic] in captivity.”

From 17-year-old Donald Rapier’s original guest post on HuffPost:

“In the United States, dolphin and marine animal parks, like SeaWorld, have become a part of an $8.4 billion industry. Accustomed to living in the ocean, and having an infinite amount of space to swim in, dolphins and whales are actually faced with several health problems that shorten their life span and cause insanity when they are placed in captivity.”

Senator Ball is blaming a staffer, who has since been fired. This did not prevent City & State, a website devoted to NY politics, from naming Senator Ball to the “Losers” half of their “Winners and Losers” list/poll for this past week. And while this is certainly not the most serious scandal in the world, I trust that the “plagiarist” label will stick to Senator Ball for decades to come, just like it did to Vice-President Joe Biden.

Yeah, right, who am I kidding? This scandal will never plague State Senator Ball in the future, because IOKIYAR.

As an aside: Along Route 22 near the Pawling/Patterson town line, there’s been a billboard up for (what seems like) a couple of years, picturing head-shots of Senator Ball with his beloved Weimaraner. At some point in time, someone ripped off Ball’s entire face, leaving a big blank with some hair. The dog’s picture remains intact. I wish I knew who did it – it had to be deliberate – so that I could thank them for the laugh I get every time I notice it.

This is our daily open thread–discuss whatever you want!

The Watering Hole, Monday, February 17th, 2014: Pick an Issue?

I’m sure that I’m not the only one among us Critters and Zoosters who received this email survey from Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) asking, “What should Congress focus on in 2014?”

Which issue matters most to you in 2014?

__Keeping Our Promise to Seniors by Protecting Social Security & Medicare

__Strengthening Our Manufacturing Economy

__Raising the Minimum Wage

__Protecting Women’s Health and Freedom

__Tax Reform That Rewards Hard Work

__Working to Lower Healthcare Costs

__Supporting Small Business Startups

__Investing in Innovation, Science, Research and Technology

Other:

I went with “Other”, more or less:

While most of the above are important issues in my view (“Protecting Women’s Health and Freedom” and “Investing in Innovation, Science, Research and Technology” in particular), I believe that the single most important issue that impacts the future of this country is EDUCATION. We need children who are taught critical thinking, in order to have the ‘Innovation, Science, Research and Technology’ in which to invest. Stressing the basics in: reading (especially reading comprehension); spelling (because words are spelt the way they are for good reason); vocabulary (because words mean what they mean due to their evolution through history); math skills; and the basics in the sciences and technologies, are all paramount. Investing in the future means investing in schools, teachers, and (most importantly) young citizens’ minds.

Really, with all of the problems that our country faces, there are so many important issues to be addressed that it’s impossible to say which is MOST important. And some issues which I would have thought were important are not even on the list, i.e, gun control, environmental issues (climate change, fossil fuel pollution of several sorts, etc.), our failing infrastructure…(sigh) I could go on, but you get the idea.

How would you respond to Senator Baldwin’s survey?

This is our daily open thread–you can answer the survey if you wish, or talk about whatever you want!

The Waterless Watering Hole, Monday, February 3rd, 2014

A few recent articles got me started connecting several dots, which then began forming an unsettling picture. Read along, and let me know what you think.

First, according to this ClimateProgress article from January 31st, what was once the largest lake in the Middle East, Lake Urmia in northwestern Iran, has reportedly lost 95% of its water. While Lake Urmia is a saltwater lake, and not essential for agriculture or drinking water, such a huge reduction in size is more than alarming. From the article:

“Dam construction recently increased throughout the country, to provide both badly needed electricity and water supplies for irrigation. But that’s also diverted massive amounts of the freshwater that formerly flowed into Lake Urmia. Other major rivers throughout the country have gone dry, and the dust from the riverbeds and the salt from Lake Urmia’s dried basin are now a form of pollution unto themselves. Major cities around the country — including the capital of Tehran, home to 22 million — are making contingency plans for rationing. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani recently named water as a national security issue, and demonstrations and riots over water supplies have already erupted.”[emphasis mine]

“According to a 2012 study by the United Nations, 65 percent of the decline can be chalked up to climate change and the diversion of surface water cutting inflow to the lake. Another 25 percent was due to dams, and 10 percent was due to decreased rainfall over the lake itself.

A long drought in Iran ended two years ago, but the recent boost to rainfall has not been able to offset the other effects on the lake. Average temperatures around Lake Urmia rose three degrees in just the past ten years. In Pakistan, which sits along Iran’s southeast border, climate change has reduced snowmelt and river flow. That’s led to domestic political strife, and to a strained relationship with India over dams along the Indus River — Pakistan’s main source of freshwater.”[emphasis mine]

A commenter on the thread then led me to this Guardian article from November, concerning Hongjiannao Lake, China’s largest freshwater lake:

“Data released by local meteorological agencies on Thursday and reported by Chinese state media, shows the lake has now shrunk by almost one-third since 2009…”

Then there was this article by Graham Land entitled “Asia’s Disappearing Lakes”, with its alarming opening paragraphs:

“One of the worst environmental disasters in living memory is the near vanishing of the Aral Sea in Central Asia. What was once one of the world’s four largest lakes, containing some 1.5 thousand islands and covering 68,000 square kilometres (26,000 miles), by 2007 the Aral Sea was only 10% of its previous size and divided into four lakes.

What happened to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan’s inland sea was not the result of normal changing weather patterns. The fate of the Aral Sea is a story of human intervention, contamination and local climate change.”

Next, Brad Plumer interviews Francesca Femia of the think-tank Center for Climate and Security in this Washington Post article. Ms. Femia states that, during the period between 2006 and 2011, “…up to 60 percent of Syria’s land experienced one of the worst long-term droughts in modern history.”

“This drought — combined with the mismanagement of natural resources by [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, who subsidized water-intensive crops like wheat and cotton farming and promoted bad irrigation techniques — led to significant devastation. According to updated numbers, the drought displaced 1.5 million people within Syria…They all moved into urban areas — urban areas that were already experiencing economic insecurity due to an influx of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees.”

Ms. Femia added, “…we’re not making any claim to causality here. We can’t say climate change caused the civil war. But we can say that there were some very harsh climatic conditions that led to instability.” Later in the interview, Ms. Femia says that it was a 2011 NOAA report “showing that a prolonged period of drying in the Mediterranean and the Middle East was linked to climate change” that brought the conditions in Syria to her attention. [I mention this simply because I find it ironic that a NOAA report is taken so seriously outside of the U.S., while so many of our "exceptional Americans" are dumbfuck climate change deniers who wouldn't trust a NOAA report if god it/him/herself read the report to them.]

We’ve all read the recent stories about the toxic spill in West Virginia that contaminated the water supply for 300,000 people. (And they’re still peeling more eye-watering layers off this onion of a story.) We’ve seen the photos and news reports showing West Virginians driving to designated water-supply centers for their ration of clean water–which didn’t appear to be enough for families to bathe, drink, cook, and somehow wash clothes with. At one point, Wal-Mart had to call in the local police to help protect a delivery of bottled water.

Now imagine if the Keystone XL pipeline is given the go-ahead, and eventually there’s a spill that contaminates the Ogallala Aquifer. Instead of 300,000 people being without clean water, it would be 3,000,000 – all vying for relief deliveries of fresh water.

I could go on, but I think you catch my drift: if mankind, and the United States in particular, continues to ignore global climate change, refuses to enforce current environmental regulations, continues to rely heavily on finite and filthy fossil fuels, and refuses to consider stricter pollution regulations, then clean drinking water will become more scarce, and more valuable. If scarcity of water is fueling riots and protests in other parts of the world, imagine what could happen in the United States: with so much of our citizenry being over-armed and paranoid, how soon would the shooting start? And, if even Iran is already considering water to be “a national security issue”, eventually the inept fools who occupy Congress might finally get it through their thick skulls that clean water is essential to life as we know it, and is therefore more important than oil. So, when do you think the first War for Water would start? Or maybe it would be referred to as WWW: World Water War?

Not that I think that all of this may happen within my lifetime, but as Rachel Maddow used to say, “Somebody talk me down!”

This is our daily open thread–talk about whatever you want!

The Watering Hole, Saturday, January 25th, 2014: Animals, Birds and Kites – Oh My!

As always, The Weather Channel is great for more than just checking the forecast. Since I’m suddenly standing in for Wayne, today’s thread is going to explore a few recent articles from TWC:

First, from “A Race Against Time: Photos Capture Animals Before They Disappear”, by Michele Berger:

“Joel Sartore has ambitious plans: To photograph all 10,000 or so animals currently in captivity before they go extinct. Over the course of nine years, this National Geographic photographer has made great progress, capturing some 3,300 animals to date. Still, he thinks getting the remaining creatures will take the rest of his life — and he’s ok with that because he believes in this project.

It’s called Photo Ark, and Sartore sees it as both a snapshot of our time and as a call to action.” … “We really need to show people that this is a tragedy and it is the issue of our time,” he said. “It is folly to think that we can doom half of all species to extinction and think it won’t harm humanity.”

Among the animals included in the 15-photo slide show is the adorable Coquerel’s sifaka:

Coquerels sifaka (from the Bronx Zoo Gallery)

Coquerels sifaka (from the Bronx Zoo Gallery)

Next, we’re going to the birds with “Stunning Bird Portaits from Around the World”, also by Michele Berger. The 41 photos by Andrew Zuckerman include representations of such oddities as:

~ The Silkie Bantam Chicken, “…one of the few breeds with five toes instead of four.”

Silkie Bantam Chickens (photo courtesy keepingchickens.com)

Silkie Bantam Chickens (photo courtesy keepingchickens.com)


~ The Wattled Curassow:
Wattled Curassow (source psms29-com)

Wattled Curassow (source psms29-com)


~ The Lilac-Breasted Roller
Lilac-Breasted Roller

Lilac-Breasted Roller


~ And the Twelve-Wired Bird of Paradise
Twelve-Wired Bird of Paradise

Twelve-Wired Bird of Paradise

Finally, apparently I was unaware of the recent week-long international kite festival in parts of India, but there’s a photo gallery of 40 pics to prove it. (Some Bollywood actor is the subject of too many of the photos, but the kites are unusual.)

This is our daily open thread–if you’re somewhere freezing like Wayne and I, stay warm today!

The Watering Hole, Saturday, January 18th, 2014: Warning: Cuteness Ahead

I’m substituting for Wayne, as he has to go to work today and went to bed early last night. So, be warned: today is going to be a “Way Too Much Cuteness” day. Consider it a palate cleanser to start off your Saturday (or end it, if you show up late.) I’d be interested to know which is your favorite, and why? Plus, since I only included very brief descriptions under each photo, please feel free to make up a caption (or captions) for any or all of the following photos (all of which were downloaded free through bing images):

Ducklings

Ducklings


Lemurs

Lemurs


More Lemurs (Is it me, or does the one on the bottom of the pile have an opposable thumb?)

More Lemurs (Notice the opposable thumb/big toe?)


Loon mom and downy chick

Loon mom and downy chick


Panda mom and baby

Panda mom and baby


Pudu deer and fawn (world's smallest deer)

Pudu deer and fawn (world’s smallest deer)


Wombat baby

Wombat baby


Cheetah mom and cub

Cheetah mom and cub


I just called this one "Party Mice"

I just call this one “Party Mice”

This is our daily open thread–enjoy yourselves today!

The Watering Hole, Monday, January 13th, 2014: Just for Fun

I thought I’d start the week off with some just-plain-silly stuff. It started when, on a couple of totally unrelated threads at Think Progress recently, mention was made of the New York Daily News newspaper. One commenter, in response to another who was using the NYDN as a source for some ‘evidence’, said “The NY Daily News is probably the closest thing to a rag sheet that is published on a daily basis in NYC.” So I says to myself, “hmmm, wonder where Weekly World News is published?”

Well, according to Wikipedia, WWN is no longer published:

“The Weekly World News was a largely fictional news tabloid published in the United States from 1979 to 2007, renowned for its outlandish cover stories often based on supernatural or paranormal themes and an approach to news that verged on the satirical. Its characteristic black-and-white covers have become pop-culture images widely used in the arts. It continues to exist as a website.”

I abandoned my search for lesser rags published in New York City (WWN had been published in Florida, anyway–why am I not surprised? Sorry, Florida!) and headed straight for the WWN website. A couple of “articles” from Friday included a few with sideways pokes at New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (and had nothing to do with the GWB!):

First, did you know that the “God particle” was discovered in New Jersey?

“…Physicists have been trying to find the “God particle” (the Higgs boson) for over forty years, so it’s no real surprise that they finally did it. But what IS a surprise is it was found it in an abandoned bank depository in Camden, New Jersey. And it was found by singer-actress, Taylor Momsen…”

““Of course the universe began in New Jersey,” said Governor Chris Christie. “Everyone who lives here has known it all their lives. That’s why so many want to live here. They may not know it, but they are drawn to the universal source. It’s official now – New Jersey is the center of the universe.”

I’m sorry, but you’ll just have to read the rest for yourselves.

This one, titled “Hugging Banned in New Jersey” pokes fun at New Jersey, RWNJs, and Christie:

“We are a no hugging state,” Governor Chris Christie reportedly told reporters yesterday. “If we catch anyone hugging it will be a $100 fine for the first offense, $250 or the second offense and $1,000 for the third. After that, it’s jail.”

“…Christie got the idea from Matawan school district that decided that middle school children shouldn’t hug each other. “It’s not normal or natural,” said school superintendent John Jacobus. “If kids hug, then the next thing you know there having babies and we can’t have that happen in our school.”

“…Governor Chris Christie isn’t budging and it’s not because he “can’t” budge, he just doesn’t want to go back on his decision. “Hey, that’s the new law, get used to it.”

If you wish (proceed at your own risk), you can also check out the “World’s Biggest Butt”, read up on “The Moonshine Diet” (“You can flush out fat fast without pesky dieting or exercise, on the flabulous new Moonshine Diet!), or find out why the “End of the World [was] Postponed.”

Bat Boy, of course, is probably the most famous character(?) from WWN.

"Bat Boy" (photo courtesy of wikipedia/Weekly World News)

“Bat Boy” (photo courtesy of wikipedia/Weekly World News)

They even put together a Bat Boy “ancestral tree” – from wiki:

“According to the Weekly World News, the discovery of Bat Boy’s family tree on a genealogy chart recently stunned evolutionary scientists who used to think the famed imp was a pitiful, one-of-a-kind mutant – but now believe he belongs to a race of creatures who have interacted with humans for at least 400 years. In the tabloid’s account, the chart itself was written on vellum and found in the same Ozark Mountains cave where Dr. Ron Dillon, a biologist, rescued Bat Boy after he was trapped by a falling rock in 1992 (it should be noted, however, that the Ozark Mountains are nowhere near West Virginia). Carbon dating revealed the chart to be over a hundred years old.”

One Bat Boy “article” from April of 2013 teases with “BAT BOY UNCOVERED…Mitch McConnell discovered Bat Boy at a convenience store in Wisconsin.” However, most of the article references a “Mitch O’Connell, not the mutant-but-not-in-the-same-species-as-Bat-Boy Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Turtle/Human Hybrid.) It has not yet been determined whether Bat Boy and Governor Rick Scott (?-FL) share the same DNA; Governor Scott is known to have refused to provide a urine sample for testing.

Hard to tell 'em apart, huh? (photo courtesy of totallylookslike.com)

Hard to tell ‘em apart, huh?
(photo courtesy of totallylookslike.com)

For a few more laughs, check out this Bat Boy photoshop contest at freakingnews.com. And on the WWN website, the brief video montage of “Bat Boy: Going Mutant” “Breaking News” posted by Frank Lake in June of 2013 is fun, too.

This is our daily open thread–try to have a good laugh today!

The Watering Hole, Monday, January 6th, 2014: Odds and Ends

First, the weather: Here in southeastern New York, just a few days after two separate storms brought us 6+ inches of snow apiece, all that’s left of the snow are a few small scattered patches. Sub-frigid temps have given way to, well, right now it’s 55 degrees, according to my computer. Despite overnight temps in the mid-to-upper 40s, a band of freezing rain (which I could hear during one of my ‘up’ phases at around 3:00am) passed through during the night. Tonight, we’ll be dropping back to sub-freezing again. We’ve got some pretty strong wind gusts right now – the wind actually opened our front door a few minutes ago! And in the meantime, other parts of the country will be experiencing killer record-low temps and wind chills. Think warm thoughts, folks!

Second, our neighboring Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT): ICYMI from TP a few days ago, Senator Murphy spent a day with a local homeless man, and his account of the day and the Catch-22 in which so many homeless people are caught up in should be plastered across the country. (Senator Murphy is also one of the few senators who spent a week trying to live/eat on $4.50/day.) Every state should have at least one of their two senators be a hands-on, down in the trenches with the 99%, guy like this. I’m glad that he’s only 40, and should have a good long career as a true public servant ahead of him.

Lastly, to perhaps lift the spirits a bit, here’s The Weather Channel’s Top 100 photos of 2013. Enjoy!

This is our daily open thread–how is the weather affecting you? Speak up, about this or anything else on your mind.

The Watering Hole, Monday, December 23rd, 2013: Less Than 48 Hours ’til Christmas…

At this point before Christmas during most years, I’ve got everything done with just a few exceptions. This year, however, I still haven’t done any of this:
christmas-ornament-01
~ or this ~
christmas-wrapping-paper-1024x919
~ or this ~

Wrapped Presents

Wrapped Presents


~ or this ~
Baked Cookies

Baked Cookies

Good thing I don’t have to cook Christmas dinner!

This is our daily open thread–how are your Christmas preparations going?

The Watering Hole, Monday, December 16th, 2013: This Day in History

Many famous people were born on December 16th, including:

Catherine of Aragon
Ludwig Van Beethoven
Jane Austen
King Leopold I of Belgium
George Santayana
Noel Coward
Margaret Mead
Arthur C. Clarke
Philip K. Dick
Match Game panelists Patti Deutsch and Joyce Bulifant
Bill Hicks (still miss ya, Bill!)

Some not-so-famous people were also born on December 16th:

Elizabeth “Bessie” Cook, nee Burlington (a.k.a. Grandma)
Jane Elizabeth Sechny
RUCerious

Looks like I’m in very good company!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

HAPPY BIRTHDAYS!

This is our daily open thread–go ahead, talk amongst yourselves while I go back to bed!

The Watering Hole, Monday, December 9th, 2013: Minimum Wage Scrooge

Yes, I still occasionally read parts of Newsmax and Moneynews, just so that you won’t have to. You’re welcome.

The Moneynews email subject that caught my eye this time was “Fast-food Workers Rally for Higher Minimum Wage.” I wanted to see how they would spin this issue. Surprisingly, it didn’t seem to be skewed, with the one notable exception.

“Fast-food workers in hundreds of U.S. cities staged a day of rallies on Thursday to demand higher wages, saying the pay was too low to feed a family and forced most to accept public assistance.

The protests escalated a series of actions at several Walmart stores on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, seeking to draw attention to workers at the lowest end of the wage scale.

The description of fast-food workers, once viewed mainly as teenagers looking for pocket money or a first job, has changed. Today’s fast-food worker is typically over 20, often raising a child, and 68 percent are the primary wage earners in their families, according to a report by the University of Illinois and the University of California, Berkeley.

About 100 workers in Chicago marched along Michigan Avenue with a large costumed Grinch, chanting: “We can’t survive on $7.25.” Protesters want the hourly U.S. minimum wage raised to $15 from $7.25.

In Kansas City, Missouri, Kizzy Sanders, 30, an employee at a local Popeye’s restaurant, joined about 100 protesters picketing fast-food restaurants in freezing temperatures.

“I love my job, I love the people I work with, but the $7.70 I make does not cut it,” said Sanders, a mother of three. “It doesn’t pay my bills, I can’t buy my kids anything for Christmas. I can’t even celebrate Christmas.”

Thursday’s protests were organized by groups such as “Fast Food Forward” and “Low Pay is Not OK” that have the support of labor union giant Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 2 million members including healthcare, janitorial and security workers.”

“Despite the involvement of organized labor, the protests are focused on wages, not unions, for the moment, said John Logan, a labor studies professor at San Francisco State University’s College of Business.

“The immediate goal is to focus national attention on the impact of poverty-level wages on employees and the negative impact of poverty-level wages for the public and the economy,” Logan said.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau and public benefit programs show 52 percent of fast-food workers relying on at least one form of public assistance, between 2007 and 2011, according to the report from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Illinois.”

“Because the current minimum wage, on an inflation-adjusted basis, lags behind those of decades past, the purchasing power of minimum-wage earners has diminished.

Increasing the minimum wage, however, would not reduce poverty, said Michael Saltsman of the Employment Policies Institute, because employers will compensate by reducing staff and workers’ hours. Instead, they should expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides a small-wage supplement for low-income families in the form of a tax refund, he said. A 2012 study published by the Employment Policies Institute found that states that increase the Earned Income Tax Credit by 1 percent saw a 1 percent drop in state poverty rates.
[Emphasis mine.]

“Others disagree. Christian Dorsey, director of external and governmental affairs for the Economic Policy Institute [the progressive organization with which Employment Policies Institute wants us to be confused], said tax credits should not let employers skimp on wages.

“Businesses have a responsibility to pay workers enough to keep them out of poverty,” Dorsey said. “The idea that we would simply not look at wages is passing off the problem to someone else.”

Yes, Employment Policies Institute, one of soulless lobbyist Rick Berman’s stable of “non-profits.”

Charity Navigator is a website which provides “information and ratings on charities”. Here’s an excerpt from their review of Employment Policies Institute:

Charity Navigator has become aware of the following information in connection with this charity:

During our analysis of this charity’s FYE 2011 Form 990, the document revealed that more than half of the Employment Policies Institute Foundation’s functional expenses were paid to its CEO Richard Berman’s for-profit management company, Berman and Company. The document revealed that, out of total expenses of $2.10 million, $1.17 million were paid to Berman and Company for staff[ing] and operat[ing] the day-to-day activities” of the charity.

Sourcewatch, too, provides lots of information regarding the tangled web of EPI and other Berman & Co. ‘non-profits.’ It’s a sweet, and profitable, arrangement for Berman & Co.

A quick glance at some of the ‘studies’, ‘press releases’ and ‘letters to the editor’ touted on Employment Policies Institute’s home page pretty much sums up whose side they’re on in the employer vs worker fight. And while Berman’s EPI should still be nursing their bruises after the recent thrashing given by Chris Hayes to one of Berman’s minions (who was unable to answer the simple question “how many economists do you have on your staff?”), instead, his “think-tanks” continue to crank out ludicrous reasoning for keeping workers from getting ahead.

It all comes back to what Bill Maher said several weeks ago: “Do you want smaller government with less handouts, or do you want a low minimum wage? Because you cannot have both.”

This is our daily open thread–don’t be shy!

The Watering Hole, Monday, December 2nd, 2013: Happy As A Pig ‘n’ Sh!t

First, here’s the Happy Pig:

Happy Pig

Happy Pig

Now, here’s the Shit: I received another pamphlet from our friendly neighborhood Jehovah’s Witnesses. Luckily for you, gentle readers, I have not had the chance (or inclination, yet) to read the whole thing, so I’m limiting this to a few excerpts based on the topic of the pamphlet’s blow-in:

“Can the dead really live again?”

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS[**] “There is going to be a resurrection.” – Acts 24:15, New World Translation[**]
WHAT THAT CAN MEAN FOR YOU
-Comfort when loved ones die – 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4
-Freedom from a morbid fear of death – Hebrews 2:15
-A real hope of being reunited with your dead loved ones – John 5:28, 29

CAN WE REALLY BELIEVE WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS? Yes, for at least three reasons:
-God is the Creator of life. The Bible calls Jehovah God “the source of life.” (Psalm 36:9, Acts 17:24, 25) The One who gave life to all living creatures is certainly capable of restoring life to someone who has died.
-God has resurrected humans in the past. The Bible reports eight instances of humans – young, old, male, and female – who were brought back to life on earth. Some had been dead for a short while, but one had been in a tomb for four days! –John 11:39-44
-God is eager to do it again. Jehovah hates death, he views it as an enemy. (1 Corinthians 15:26) He has “a yearning” to conquer that enemy, to undo death by means of the resurrection. He longs to bring back those who are in his memory and to see them live on earth again.–Job 14:14, 15.

Who will go to heaven, and why? Millions long for life in heaven. Jesus said that his faithful apostles would live there. Before he died, he promised to prepare a place for them with his heavenly Father.–Read John 14:2. Why will people from earth be resurrected to life in heaven? What will they do there? Jesus told his apostles that they would be kings. They will rule over the earth.–Read Luke 22:28-30; Revelation 5:10.

~~~ and the last one, I promise ~~~

Do all good people go to heaven? In most lands, only a few people are rulers. Since Jesus resurrects people to heavenly life so that they can rule over the earth, we would expect those chosen to be few. (Luke 12:32) The Bible says exactly how many will rule with Jesus.–Read Revelation 14:1. Those going to heaven will not be the only ones rewarded. Faithful subjects of Jesus’ Kingdom will enjoy life without end in a restored paradise on earth. (John 3:16 [or, as Wayne and I call it "Johnny on the Spot" - one so often sees cardboard signs with just "JOHN 3:16" held up toward the camera at televised baseball, football, and other sports competitions.]) Some will enter Paradise by surviving the destruction of the present wicked system of things. Others will enter by resurrection.–Read Psalm 37:29; John 5:28, 29

[**] Since the JWs use their own Bible “translation”, I suggest that, if you’re interested, go to biblegateway.com, you can choose which bible flavor you want to see each one’s translation of a particular quotation. Since the choices do NOT include the “New World Translation” indicated above, the links that I used were the American Standard Version. Just keep in mind that the JWs believe that every word in their re-written/re-translated version of the ‘original’ bible (both of which were likely written solely by enterprising males) is factually true, simply because the bible that they wrote says it is.

BTW, I copied (re-typed) the inconsistent all-caps, boldfaces, references, etc., exactly as they were printed in the ‘literature.’

Now you can go back and look at the cute pig again.

This is our daily open thread–please feel free to air your thoughts on pigs, Jehovah’s Witnesses (or any other religious group), etc.

The Watering Hole, Monday, November 25, 2013: Monday Mix, FB Edition

Every once in a while I give in and check my Facebook notifications/updates/whatever. Here’s some odds and ends that I felt worth sharing:

A friend who used to work with us posted the first photo, from a Facebook site called Earth Porn. The second photo is from the same site. Check out the site, they have some awesome photos.
alaskan sunset Winter Sunset – Alaska (USA) photo by Ron Perkins

Japanese Maple Tree, Oregon, USA Photo by Peter Lik

Japanese Maple Tree, Oregon, USA Photo by Peter Lik


On the humorous side, our old friend Jim Wolf (Jim Wolf359 from TP) posted this:
How to Cook A Turkey (from Pampered Chef)

How to Cook A Turkey (from Pampered Chef)


Last, I’m proposing a Caption Contest for this shot of Richard Nixon, which was posted by an FB friend who I met at TP. The links that were provided didn’t seem to have anything to do with the actual photograph, so I have been trying to source it, but I can’t find it anywhere.
???

???

This is our daily open thread–got any captions, thoughts, rants, etc.?

The Watering Hole, Monday, November 18th, 2013: Profit Contest to Photo Contest

Even though most of the people who need Obamacare have not yet taken advantage of it, other interests are poised to board the Obamacare money train. The Wall Street Journal’s Howard Gold is encouraging investment in the health care industry. A few snippets:

“This diverse sector, which includes red-hot biotechnology, Big Pharma, medical device makers, hospitals, health insurers, and other services, is profiting from structural shifts far beyond the changes brought in by the Affordable Care Act…In fact, health care stocks may have entered a new secular bull market, which is why you should take some profits on cyclicals and other market-sensitive stocks and reinvest the money into this group.”

“We’re clearly in a favorable environment,” said Andy Acker, manager of Janus Global Life Sciences fund since 2007. “I think this is a question of when this gets resolved, not if,” Acker said. “Millions of people will sign up for health care.”

In an earlier (March 2013) article from conservative moneynews.com, entitled “How Companies are Cashing in on Obamacare”, author Michael Kling wrote:

“Although its critics say Obamacare will increase business costs, some companies are cashing in on the healthcare reform law…CNNMoney reviewed six companies that might reap huge benefits from Obamacare.

Take, for instance, Health Recovery Solutions, a New York City-based start-up that helps hospitals avoid Medicare penalties for readmitting patients. To decrease preventable return visits by Medicare patients, Obamacare levies high cuts to Medicare reimbursements to hospitals that have a certain percentage of these return visits.

Health Recovery Solutions furnishes tablets full of educational videos and information patients can use to care for themselves. Using the tablet, patients send information, such as medications they are taking, to the hospital care team for review.

Eligible, another start-up, takes care of the complex wiring insurers need to quickly answer customer questions about coverage and eligibility, one of the many Obamacare requirements.

GoHealth offers an online tool that enables people to compare health care insurance plans. Consumers can use the platform to enroll in plans or just compare plans before contacting an insurance broker.

QuantiaMD offers a website where doctors can offer presentations, hold private discussions with each other and hold virtual consultations. Pharmaceutical and insurance companies and hospitals sponsor the content on the site.

Obamacare limits the proportion of premium revenue insurers can spend on salaries, overhead and marketing. That’s where Connecture comes in. The Brookfield, Wisc., company provides software that helps insurance companies cut costs through automation. It also helps states with technology needed to create insurance exchanges, another Obamacare requirement.

Another company getting involved with the state exchanges is hCentive, which has built a platform the exchanges can use.

Many of the companies saw their sales jump after the elections. Healthcare companies were not sure Obamacare would be enacted, and state officials were not sure they would still be required to create exchanges by this October…“Many states were waiting to decide to set up their own exchanges — they kept thinking maybe this wouldn’t happen,” Sanjay Singh, an hCentive partner, told CNNMoney.

“they kept thinking maybe this wouldn’t happen” No, they kept HOPING this wouldn’t happen. Because despite their hatred of all things Obama-related, despite all of the conservative hyperbole about “job-killing”, “bankrupting businesses”, “the end of freedom as we know it”, “it’s socialist Obama’s anti-capitalism agenda”, etc., ad nauseum; and despite the 40+ failed efforts by Congressional Republicans to kill Obamacare, every single one of those nay-sayers HAD to realize, deep down, that Obamacare is a boon to the private, capitalistic, for-profit healthcare “industry.” (spit!)

Okay, since you were all good enough to put up with the above drivel, here’s your justly-deserved palate-cleanser…

It’s that time of year again: the National Geographic Photo Contest is open, but only ’til the end of November. I know quite a few of our Critters and Zoosters who should submit a few entries! Here’s last year’s “Nature” category winner, photographed by Ashley Vincent:
busaba-indochinese-tiger_62797_600x450
Here’s two ways to view some or all of the current entries: The Atlantic picked 39 of the photos, and you can just scroll through them. Note that you can also switch from 1024 pixels to 1280 (I chose 1280.) Or you can go directly to the National Geographic 2013 Photo Contest webpage, where there are links to the photos entered to date, as well as links to 2012 winners and other photo galleries. Here’s one of the 2013 entries, by Sam Morris:

Photo Copyright Sam Morris, 2013 National Geographic Photo Contest entry

Photo Copyright Sam Morris, 2013 National Geographic Photo Contest entry

This is our daily open thread, what do you have to say today?

The Watering Hole, Monday, November 11th, 2013: Amazing Space

8 New Photos from Chandra Observatory

8 New Photos from Chandra Observatory (photo composite courtesy of NASA)

A few weeks ago, NASA released eight new photographs taken by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, a telescope launched in 1999. According to information from the Chandra website:

“This collection of images represents the thousands of observations that are permanently stored and accessible to the world in the Chandra Data Archive (CDA). This sample showcases the wide range of objects that Chandra has observed during its over 14-year mission, including the remains of exploded stars, cosmic nurseries where stars are being born, and galaxies both similar to our Milky Way and those that are much different. In each of these images, the Chandra data are blue or purple and have been combined with those from other wavelengths.”

The Chandra “Photo Album” offers hundreds of other amazing views into space courtesy of the Chandra telescope. A website that I ran across has more technical information on Chandra’s X-Ray photography, as well as more photos from other space-traveling and land-based telescopes. Images such as these, along with the glorious wonders opened to our view by the Hubble telescope and other sources, give me a vestige of hope that there is, somewhere in all that vastness, at lease one race of intelligent beings who are living in harmony with each other and their planet. I’d hate to think that Terran humans are the pinnacle of Nature’s creations.

This is our daily open thread, say anything!

The Watering Hole, Monday, November 4th, 2013: Bellies Up!

After mulling over possible topics for today’s thread, I decided to dispense with the craziness out there (Rand Paul’s chickenshit non-challenge to a duel with Rachel Maddow was tempting, but…) and just start the week off with:

CUTENESS!

Baby Panda (not my photo)

Baby Panda (not my photo)

surrender to cuddles

Fluff's big belly (photo by Jane E. Schneider)

Fluff’s big belly (photo by Jane E. Schneider)

Spotted-bellied Fern (photo by Jane E. Schneider)

Troi's belly before...

Troi’s big belly before…(photo by Jane E. Schneider)

Troi's belly now (photo by Jane E. Schneider)

…Troi’s big belly now (photo by Jane E. Schneider)

This is our daily open thread — I hope that so much cuteness will help to start Monday off in a cheerful way.

The Watering Hole, Monday, October 28th, 2013: Bill Maher: “You Cannot Have Both”

This past Friday night’s “Real Time with Bill Maher”‘s panel consisted of Michael Moore, a surprisingly quiet Al Sharpton, Valerie Plame, and Richard Dawkins. And while the group had some interesting discussions, the best part of the show came in Bill’s soliloquy at the end of the show. Crooks and Liars has the video, but I have borrowed their transcript, here:

MAHER: “Now, when it comes to raising the minimum wage, conservatives always say it’s a non-starter because it cuts into profits. Well, yeah. Of course. Paying workers is one of those unfortunate expenses of running a business… you know, like taxes, or making a product.

If you want to get rich with a tax-free enterprise that sells nothing, start a church.

You might think that paying people enough to live is so self-evident that even crazy people could understand it, but you would be wrong.

Michele Bachmann is not only against raising the minimum wage, she’s against having one at all. She once said “if we took away the minimum wage… we could virtually wipe out unemployment because we would be able to offer jobs at whatever level.”

Put that in your brain and smoke it. You could hire everyone if you didn’t have to pay them. And naturally, Ted Cruz agrees. Ted Cruz thinks it’s a good thing that when his Cuban father came to America he was paid $.50 an hour to work as a dishwasher, before becoming Charo.

When did the American dream become this pathway to indentured servitude? This economic death spiral where workers get paid next to nothing, so they can only afford to buy next to nothing, so businesses are forced to sell cheaper and cheaper shit?

Walmart employees can only afford to shop at Walmart. McDonalds workers can only afford to eat at McDonalds. And Hooters waitresses have to wear shirts they grew out of years ago.

Even if you’re not moved by the “don’t be such a heartless prick” argument, consider the fact that most fast food workers, whose average age by the way now is 29, we’re not talking about kids, are on some form of public assistance. Which is not surprising. When even working people can’t make enough to live, they take money from the government in the form of food stamps, school lunches, housing assistance, day care. This is the welfare that conservatives hate.

But they never stop to think, if we raised the minimum wage and forced McDonalds and Walmart to pay their employees enough to eat, we the taxpayers wouldn’t have to pick up the slack.

This is the question the right has to answer. Do you want smaller government with less handouts, or do you want a low minimum wage? Because you cannot have both.

If Col. Sanders isn’t going to pay the lady behind the counter enough to live on, then Uncle Sam has to, and I for one am getting a little tired of helping highly profitable companies pay their workers.”

Bravo, Bill – hear, hear!

O/T: Today my mum would have turned 93 – Happy Birthday, Mum, wish you were here.Scan10002

This is our daily open thread, got anything on your mind that you’d like to discuss?

The Watering Hole, Monday, October 21st, 2013: Mixed Nuts

First, Foreign Policy Magazine got a little ‘spacy’ towards the end of the shutdown, with author Michael Peck penning a pair of fantasy articles titled “The Empire Shuts Down” and “One Starship to Rule Them All”

Next, this piece from moneynews.com, features the always-wild-looking “economist” Jim Cramer prognosticating – and perhaps precipitating, if anyone pays attention to him – the shakiness of the dollar. An excerpt:

As the world laughs at Washington’s antics, CNBC’s Jim Cramer says smart money should look for any possible means to flee the dollar.

The United States is “a laughing stock around the world, maybe worse than Italy in some ways when I look at benchmarks,” he said on Squawk Box. “We have obviously lost the faith of a lot of countries.”

If there is a way to take your money out of this country, Cramer suggests putting it in Germany. If he were in the shoes of China, Kuwait, Brazil or Japan, “I would do it immediately,” he claimed.

Third, from Newsmax.com, Amy Woods has a piece on another peanut gallery member: “Sen. Coburn: ‘We’re Drunk’ on Government Spending.” Here’s a bit:

“Special-interest groups, and not the tea party, caused the 17-day government shutdown, Sen. Tom Coburn said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“We didn’t do anything except create a big mess in Washington, and I’m not so inclined to think it was the tea party as much as it was outside interest groups and a few individuals within our party that took advantage of that situation,” Coburn said. All the bickering about the Affordable Care Act distracted Americans from the fact the government spends too much, he added.

Next, an October 19th article from Alternet brings us “Right-Wing Lunacy Never Sleeps: 10 Nutty, Vile and Absurd Utterances From the Fringe This Week.” In this round-up, Justice Antonin Scalia reaffirms his racism, Tony Perkins babbles some nonsense about Democrats wanting a theocracy, Glenn Beck and Pat Buchanan continue to howl in the wilderness, and more.

Finally, also courtesy of Newsmax, the other gum-flapping self-important Limbaugh, David, proves that he is just as delusional as his louder brother in “GOP Poised for Post-Shutdown Comeback”:

“Obamacare represented not only one of many policy setbacks under Obama but also the ever-acquisitive government’s consumption of another one-sixth of the formerly capitalist and robust American economy.”

[That's a load of horseshit, David, enough with the fake "government takeover of healthcare" bogeyman. Last I looked, the U.S. is still a capitalist nation, and the last time we had a "robust American economy" was under a Democrat, President Bill Clinton.]

“Then Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee ratcheted it up a notch, going to the Senate to call Obama out on his destructive agenda and promising to do everything they can to defund and derail Obamacare. Cruz’s 20-plus-hour floor speech was a seminar in the eloquent communication of conservative principles.”

["...eloquent communication of conservative principles"? 'Green Eggs and Ham'? I don't think that David Limbaugh (or his louder brother, for that matter) watched the entirety of Cruz's rambling and sometimes incoherent "seminar."]

“Just as my brother, Rush, gave millions of conservatives hope through his radio show by validating the legitimacy of their beliefs, Cruz, Paul, and Lee let us know that we have people in office fighting for us, as well.

“I reject the conventional wisdom that Cruz and his warriors hurt our cause by increasing the likelihood of our defeat in 2014. To the contrary, they enhanced our cause by energizing the base and fighting. And they laid serious gloves on Obama; his approval rating has never been lower. They also gave him an opportunity, which he fully embraced, to demonstrate his mean-spiritedness, his pettiness, and his dishonesty for all to see.

“The shutdown was not the disaster he promised any more than sequestration has been; he was hyper-partisan and gratuitously punitive during the ordeal; and his egregious misrepresentations about Obamacare were manifesting themselves throughout.”

[Sorry, but to Rush Limbaugh, the word "hope" is part of a punchline, certainly not something that Rush ever gave to his Rushbots. You can "reject conventional wisdom" all you want, but that doesn't mean that conventional wisdom, in this case, is wrong. Obama's approval rating is currently around 50%, according to a recent Rasmussen poll; on the other hand, according to the Gainesville Times, a new poll puts Congress's approval rating at an all-time low at 5%. I'm not sure exactly what planet David Limbaugh, along with the other mixed nuts listed above, inhabits, but it must be a particularly miserable place to dwell.]

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