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; Friday March 21 2014; Monarch Roundup

Sometimes it only takes a simple one page email letter to tell it like it is. This one, from the Natural Resources Defense Council popped up in my inbox just yesterday, and it took me maybe thirty seconds to act, to add my name to the petition of protest.

Monarch butterflies are in crisis, and we must take immediate action to protect them!

Less than 20 years ago, an astounding 1 billion monarchs migrated to Mexico for the winter. This year, a mere fraction of that — just 33.5 million — made the journey.

Why? In large part it’s because industrial agriculture is killing off the native milkweed on which monarchs depend with a new generation of potent herbicides.

Tell the EPA to adopt tough new restrictions on the weed killers that are wiping out monarchs!

By placing commonsense limits on Big Ag’s rampant use of herbicides like glyphosate — marketed as Roundup by Monsanto — the EPA could dramatically increase the monarch’s chance for survival.

But the EPA is unlikely to do that unless it hears from hundreds of thousands of us!

Monarchs can’t live without milkweed — it is the only plant on which they lay their eggs.

What’s at stake here? One of the most astounding and extraordinary migrations on the planet — a true natural wonder.

Each year, as they have for countless generations, North American monarchs undertake an epic journey, flittering upwards of 3,000 miles across the U.S. and Canada to just a relative few wintering grounds, including Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains.

But as industrial agriculture has ramped up its use of genetically engineered crops resistant to weed killers like glyphosate, it has also dramatically escalated its use of herbicides — and monarch populations have plunged.

This is the ninth year in a row that the population of monarchs wintering in Mexico has fallen below its long-term average, and this year it hit an all-time low.

Please tell EPA the time to act is now!

Thank you for joining NRDC at this critical moment in our fight to save the monarchs.

Sincerely,

Frances Beinecke
President
Natural Resources Defense Council 

So: a common agricultural herbicide (Monsanto’s Roundup) is very likely a major player in the apparently impending destruction/extinction of the Monarch Butterfly. Good old Monsanto. From herbicides to pesticides to genetically modified seeds, the destruction of the biosphere continues unabated . . . because there’s a lot of money in it. And nothing else matters, dontcha know.

I do hope that everyone who reads this will (a) sign the petition, and (b) spread the word far and wide. It’s time that we find the means to destroy something other than butterflies. As for Monsanto? — great place to begin the undoubtedly interminable process of destroying the destroyers. Gotta start somewhere, though.

0718-Butterfly and shadow on sunflowers

OPEN THREAD

 

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 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.

Sunday Roast: Gravity Glue

Michael Grab balances rocks into beautiful shapes.  He calls it Gravity Glue.

“…I am referring to meditation, or finding a zero point or silence within yourself. Some balances can apply significant pressure on your mind and your patience. The challenge is overcoming any doubt that may arise.”

I think this would be useful in life, outside of your rock balancing efforts.

This is our daily open thread — Breathe.

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; Friday, January 24, 2014; The Poetry of Earth (part II)

“The poetry of earth is never dead.”
(John Keats, 1817)

A long time ago, the English poet William Wordsworth  wrote, in “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey,” a most able synopsis of the ideal relationship between mankind and the balance of earthly life:

 To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
 The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.  And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man
A motion and a spirit that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.  Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye, and ear, — both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognize
In nature and the language of the sense
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my hearth, and soul
Of all my moral being.

One has to wonder, sometimes, what has happened in this, our ‘modern’ era, to Wordsworth’s “joy Of elevated thoughts”? A glance around at each day’s news headlinesat politics both at home and globally, at scientific data and the discussions based thereupon — offers little reassurance that “The anchor . . . of all . . . moral being” still has any root at all “In nature” much less in “the language of the sense.” Today about all that seems to count, at least for our species, is acquisition of money and power.

I’m not at all certain as to just how many different and distinct species inhabit this little backwater planet we call earth, but I’m guessing ‘tens of millions’ would at least reach ballpark status. And in a sensibly run situation, each and all species would most likely remain viable for a good long time, susceptible far more to global changes brought about by astronomical events than to any sort of localized ‘eat or be eaten’ thesis. In fact, one of the more significant mass extinctions happened some 65 million years ago when a sizable asteroid smashed into the earth, tossed all sorts of dust, smoke, and other debris into the atmosphere, modified the climate, and slammed the door on the dinosaurs, among numerous other life forms, in result. Extinction by natural phenomena is nothing new.

Then came humans. Homo sapiens, as we’ve named ourselves. Not sure just when it was that we popped up. Six thousand years ago, if you believe the believers; maybe a million years ago, give or take a hundred thousand or two, if you believe science. Not that it really matters all that much, given that it’s looking pretty certain that we as a species are well past the halfway mark of our existence, given how diligently we work with all our clever tools to modify the global climate sufficiently to force another mass extinction. Lucky for us there’s all that fossilized carbon left beneath the surface by all the life forms that disappeared in the last mass extinction; it appears, in fact, to be more than enough to ‘fuel’ (sotospeak) the next one.

Oh well, what the hey, I’m too old to worry about it all that much; my fate will likely already be a historical footnote by the time the mass die-off commences. Still, there are the young folks, and, well you know, the millions of other species, many of which will be at risk simply because of the idiocy implicit in our one species.

What went wrong?

I checked with poet Walt Whitman; he offered this little bit of wisdom back in 1855 as part of the preface to his masterwork, Leaves of Grass. He speaks my mind, and he somehow managed to do it some 87 years before I even showed up!

Animals

I think I could turn and live with animals,
they are so placid and self-contained

I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,

Not one is dissatisfied,
 not one is demented with the mania of owning things,

Not one kneels to another,
nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,

Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth

Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men – go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers or families – re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body.

Sounds like some of the best advice anyone could ever offer to not only you and me, but also to the entire of our species (even including such sapiens marginals as, say, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, et al. et al. . . . the list is endless). And seriously, just how is it that life-on-earth’s most “intelligent” species is the species engaged in a process previously left solely to galactic processes? What went wrong?

I tried to answer that question a decade or so ago. I used a total of 140 syllables in my so called Paradox of Humakind: Superior Inferiority effort and while I’m not at all sure I overturned every stone in the process, what the heck, right?

Brash vanity ordains that Mankind be
Superior to all other life on Earth,
And curious source of this Mythology
Derives from Bible’s unintended mirth.
Thus bold is he who advocates the case
Of Genesis errant, where metaphor,
As whimsical devise, cannot replace
Realities which each confirm the Core
Of Life: that every living form appeals
To Duty greater than itself alone.
A single moment’s intellect reveals
One Truth, as if inscribed in tempered stone:
Each bird and beast, each flowered weed, each tree
Expounds on Man’s Inferiority!

So today, thanks to human consumption of fossil fuels and with climate change well underway courtesy of atmospheric CO2 levels approaching historic levels — with the Arctic ice cap rapidly melting and thereby allowing the release of the even more climate-altering (permafrost-embedded) methane, and with efforts on the part of science and thinking people to do whatever is necessary to halt and reverse the process dismissed as some sort of collaborative tom-foolery by industrial and political power centers — we have managed to contrive a potential mass extinction episode with the potential equivalence of the asteroid collision some 65 million years ago.  Bring on the Keystone XL Pipeline! More War! Invade Syria! Nuke Iran! Yeah! Benghazi Benghazi!!

So. Where is the sapiens these days, the intellect, the intelligence? What of “The anchor . . . of all . . . moral being”? Wordsworth drew that concept as he apparently pondered the messages he gained from his juxtaposition between the natural world and the world of Tintern Abbey in Wales, an ancient church founded in 1131 by Cistercian Monks who adhered to the Benedictine philosophy that insisted upon a moderate path between individual and institutionalized theses. Tintern Abbey stands in ruins today, as it has for several centuries. One cannot help but wonder if the words “in ruins” are not also applicable these days to most ‘Western’ religious practice, given that today’s major and most murderous conflicts are, after all, between the three major “God” -based belief systems of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And so the question persists: wherein and in whose hands lies the fate of the human species, indeed of the planet itself?

Brings to mind yet one more piece of compelling poetry, this one written by Philip Appleman sometime in the latter half of the twentieth century. It’s titled Last-Minute Message for a Time Capsule, and its message carries an all too familiar ring of truth.

I have to tell you this, whoever you are
that on one summer morning here, the ocean
pounded in on tumbledown breakers,
a south wind, bustling along the shore,
whipped the froth into little rainbows,
and a reckless gull swept down the beach
as if to fly were everything it needed.
I thought of your hovering saucers,
looking for clues, and I wanted to write this down,
so it wouldn’t be lost forever -
that once upon a time we had
meadows here, and astonishing things,
swans and frogs and luna moths
and blue skies that could stagger your heart.
We could have had them still,
and welcomed you to earth, but
we also had the righteous ones
who worshipped the True Faith, and Holy War.
When you go home to your shining galaxy,
say that what you learned
from this dead and barren place is
to beware the righteous ones.

Are we genuinely the ‘masters’ of our own fate? Of the fate of the planet’s biosphere? Based on current information, we may well prove to NOT be that much better an option than another collision with a giant asteroid! Here’s a better idea: re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem . . .Thanks Walt. If we can get THAT done it will be further evidence that Keats might have been correct after all when he wrote, “The poetry of earth is never dead.”


OPEN THREAD

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, 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.

Sunday Roast: It’s finally acting like Fall

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^^^Not my photo!^^^  I found it on weather.com  :)

Over the last two days, it’s finally been acting like Fall around here.  Sure, the temps were lower — thank FSM! — but while the leaves had turned color, the leaves were sticking in the trees as if they were glued.

Yesterday, the temps dropped just low enough overnight to get the leaves falling in the wind.  Fall is not my favorite season, but there’s something relaxing about watching the leaves falling out of the English walnut trees outside my windows.  Ahhhh….

Oh yeah, and it’s my birthday today.  54 years old!  :)

This is our daily open thread — what does Fall look like in your world?

Sunday Roast: Lake McDonald

L1030104

Photo by Zach Meier

Early morning on Lake McDonald in Glacier Park.  It was sooooo quiet.

I’m glad we went to Glacier this last week, because certain areas in the park are closed a couple of weeks early because of bear activity.  We saw an adolescent Black Bear in the road, but he was a smart bear, and ran back into the woods as soon as he saw us.

Happy first day of Fall!!!

This is our daily open thread — Chat among yourselves.

Watering Hole: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 – Rain, again?

Colorado has been pounded with rain, rain, and more rain which is causing massive flooding.  Many residents have lost their homes and cars.  Another major casualty of these floods is the oil and gas industry.

The Denver Post had this to say:

As Front Range floodwaters continued to drain into the swelling South Platte River Saturday, authorities scrambled to evacuate stranded residents from homes and deal with a broken oil and gas industry pipeline.

Fracking water that leaks into the environment causes contamination with cancer causing chemicals which cannot be easily removed.

Oil and gas industry crews have been monitoring wells drilled into the flood plain east of Greeley in Weld County.

One pipeline has broken and is leaking, Weld County Emergency Manager Roy Rudisill. Other industry pipelines are sagging as saturated sediment erodes around the expanding river.

Industry crews “are shutting in the lines, shutting in the wells,” Rudisill said.

In a statement, Gary Wockner, of Clean Water Action, said “Fracking and operating oil and gas facilities in floodplains is extremely risky. Flood waters can topple facilities and spread oil, gas, and cancer-causing fracking chemicals across vast landscapes making contamination and clean-up efforts exponentially worse and more complicated.”

Here are a few pictures from the Boulder area.

This is our Open Thread.  Speak Up!

The Watering Hole, Monday, September 16th, 2013: Monday Medley

As you are all aware, I love going to The Weather Channel online — not just to find out the local forecast, but for their unusual variety of photo galleries and and links to other interesting and frequently educational stories and news.

Today’s crop includes:

- updates on the Voyager 1 probe (and be sure to scroll down for links to space photos from NASA’s Spitzer telescope, and photos of a newborn star from a Chilean telescope.)

- Photos of recent tornadoes, including (but not limited to) several photos taken last week from Kenosha, Wisconsin.

- Photos of lightning storms – check out two in particular that I liked, one called “Lightning Under the Stars” and one called “Fire In The Sky.”
Lightning_weather_Wallpaper_hflv9

- Photo gallery of the “10 Longest Bridges In the U.S.

- Photo gallery of “12 Spectacular Castles of the World

The Bojnice Castle in Bojnice, Slovakia

The Bojnice Castle in Bojnice, Slovakia

This is our Open Thread. Enjoy the views!

The Watering Hole, Monday, August 26th, 2013: “…Chad Everett?”

Way back when Comedy Central was just starting out as The Comedy Channel, The Higgins Boys and Gruber was one of the fledgling comedy shows (along with Short Attention Span Theater, hosted by a very young Jon Stewart, and Mystery Science Theater 3000* aka MST3K, with the inimitable Joel Hodgson.)   [*FYI, good news for MST3K fans at this link.]

One of the sketches on The Higgins Boys and Gruber that Wayne and I always remembered – well, besides the “Sex Survey” sketch – was their game-show spoof “$99,000 Pyramid.” They’re down to the last category in the Pyramid, and the clock is ticking down while one contestant is giving the other clues like “stars”, “suns”, “comets”, etc. The clock runs out while the contestant sputters without an answer. The host says to the disappointed contestant, “Now wait, before you turn around…what if I said…Chad Everett?” The contestant, who obviously had a light bulb go on inside his head, nods and responds with the correct answer, “Things in the Universe?

[...smooth segue...]

So here’s a fabulous photo of another one of those “Things in the Universe”, the “Cinderella’s Slipper Galaxy”, part of a ‘space photo of the day‘ series [scroll down past the picture on the link for hundreds more amazing photos, as well as commentary about the photo] from wired.com. Slate’s Phil Plait wrote about it back on April 2nd, and apparently one of Plait’s Twitter followers suggested the “Cinderella’ Slipper” name.

Cinderella's Slipper Galaxy--Image: ESA/Hubble & NASA, M. Hayes

Cinderella’s Slipper Galaxy–Image: ESA/Hubble & NASA, M. Hayes

I like what Phil Plait says at the end of his article:

“I find it fascinating that the Universe is so accommodating to our inquisitive nature. It leaves clues everywhere about itself, and all you need to learn about it is a bit of math and physics, technology, and above all curiosity. With those features in combination, the entire cosmos can be revealed.”

This is our daily open thread — talk away now, don’t be shy!

The Watering Hole, Monday, August 5, 2013: Of Two Minds

Over the past seven years there have been at least sixteen studies done on the differences, if any, between the brains of self-described conservatives and those of self-described liberals. The results show many substantial differences, not simply in physiology but in the framework within which we view things. The studies began with a Sept 2006 report which showed Continue reading

The Watering Hole, Friday July 26, 2013; That Other World . . . ‘Out There’

Heard a “joke” the other day, courtesy of a charter member of the Front Range’s assemblage of Wingnuttistanians. It went like this:

“Did you know that under Obamacare, the price of aspirin is going to skyrocket because of an unbelievable tax on the stuff?”

“No, hadn’t heard that. Why a huge tax on aspirin?”

“Simple. Because it’s white, and it works.”

My intent for the last week has been to make this post a statement on the racism that’s currently contaminating a substantial portion of this country’s population. I’ve plowed through article after article, post after post, on various related topics including the aftermath of the Zimmerman “trial,”  more Scalia nonsense, the ignition of the voter suppression firestorm currently raging across North Carolina, Texas, and Florida all thanks to the “contributions” to voter suppression by the US “Supreme” (yeah, right) Court, and last but not least, an article entitled The Racist Roots Of The GOP War On Obama.

Wading through each and all of those swamps caused me to feel unclean, so I said hell with it, I’ll wait awhile on the matter, wait for the crud to wash off (assuming that’s even possible). So instead of dealing with right wing disease and grime, I decided instead to focus on that other world: that world “out there” where honor stands tall, where intent is never driven by greed or lust, that world inhabited by Critters . . . where humans appear only as occasional (and mostly uninvited) guests.

Dug through some of my old photo archives accumulated over the last few years and selected the following examples of innate ascendency of spirit. No need to caption or identify most of the participants, their identity is probably fairly obvious. With maybe one exception (I’ll save it for last).

Meanwhile, hope you enjoy the voyage, the momentary sojourn in that ‘other world,’ that sprawling paradise in which WINGNUTTISTANIANS can only ever be unwelcome intruders.

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Beetle at Butterfly Cienega

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Tucson Dove

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere. As John Keats once noted, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty; that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Indeed, indeed. And examined through a slightly different prism:

How sad that eyes so seldom see
Earth’s beauties, which abound,
For beauty known turns wisdom free
In measures that astound.

And if ‘tis fact that beauty be
As truth, except in name,
What, then, is served but perfidy
When bird or beast is slain?

Yet minds of men seem safely free
Of senses which perceive;
Not truth nor beauty do they see –
For them must wisdom grieve.

Oh, and one last shot, added only to show that in Nature, even the most icy and cold-hearted SOB out there anywhere — though it may seem to at least superficially resemble the soul of any given Wingnuttistanian — the final truth is that, as opposed to wingnuts, its beauty is embedded, and persists.

Keats was, of course, right.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd no, that is NOT the physical manifestation of a wingnut’s nonexistent soul. It’s a Colorado icicle. Truth. :grin:

Open Thread. All Critters Welcome.

The Watering Hole, Monday, July 22nd, 2013: “Someone’s Got a Case of The Mondays”

Yes, even though I’m writing this on Sunday night, I’ve already got “a case of the Mondays.” The cumulative effect of the idiocy, racism, and total regression of our country into savage barbarism has caused me to become overwhelmed by depression, anger, hatred, frustration, despair and hopelessness. I’m at the point where I can’t even form a coherent rant. So I’ll just put up a photo or two that might help soothe the soul of others who are suffering from a “case of the Mondays.” Forgive me if I’ve used any of these before.

Looking west across Hudson River

Looking west across Hudson River

Fading Sunset Reflection

Fading Sunset Reflection

Skyfire Sunset

Skyfire Sunset

This is our Open Thread. Go ahead, talk amongst yourselves.

The Watering Hole, Monday, July 1st, 2013: Creatures Great and Small

First, a look at some strange underwater life, including such oddities as the “Christmas Tree Worm”, which comes in a wide array of colors.

Assorted Christmas Tree Worms (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Assorted Christmas Tree Worms (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Next, although the title of the article is “What the Heck Is That? Animals You Didn’t Know Existed”, I believe that most of us nature-lovers will recognize at least some of these unusual animals, such as the Aye-Aye from Madagascar or the Proboscis Monkey.

Aye-Aye foraging at night (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Aye-Aye foraging at night (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Proboscis Monkey (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Proboscis Monkey (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Once you finish checking out the “What the Heck Is That?” article, directly below it (under the heading “More on Weather.com: Meerkats and other Baby Animals) is a photo gallery of baby animals, from meerkats (loads of them) to baby rhinos, various primates, tapirs, capybaras, coatis, and tons more.

Baby Brazilian Tapir (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Baby Brazilian Tapir (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Last, here’s a happy-ending story about an unusual trio of formerly-abused animal friends.

This is our Open Thread. Enjoy Nature’s wonders at The Zoo!

The Watering Hole, Monday, June 3rd, 2013: Lows and Highs

As is my wont, I found today’s offerings while trying to research a totally different topic. Let’s start with the lows (after all, it is Monday):

First up: The Atlantic Cities website has an interactive map of the world, where you can pick any area, zoom in, and watch a time-lapse video of changes over thirty years’ time. The human infestation of our poor planet continues apace. (sigh)

In other ‘low’ news, Darrell Issa is still wasting oxygen (as well as taxpayers’ money and valuable legislative time) on Obama conspiracy theories, in this particular case the IRS/Tea Party story. (On a slight ‘high’, at least Candy Crowley made an attempt to introduce Issa to reality.) And, almost lower than Darrell Issa himself, right-wing trolls, i.e.:

spammeister1 [yes, "spammeister1" is really the troll's screen name]
“And the nobama admin IS the most corrupt in the history of our once great republic. Issa, being experienced, saw that from the beginning even tho , as u say, he as of yet had no actual proof. but look at the corruption in the admin now. CROOKS!!!! LIARS!!!!! FOOLS!!!!!”

(The Spammeister had more to say later, but I won’t inflict more of his brand of ‘stupid’ on you.)

Then there’s this literary masterpiece:

jojomon1
“really Kevin you really believe that liberal bs more then 50 where denied and no liberal org where even look at and that s really the kind of government you want well you make my point for me liberals or the new communist party”

And, this plum:

Sheila Firmin · Top Commenter
“Candy can not be trusted to be fait or balanced….she is an Obama shill…..asskissing arm of the administration.”

[eyes rolling]

On a somewhat lighter note, but still in the ‘low’ category, we have…Cicadas: I’ve heard that this year there’s supposed to be a plague of cicadas. For anyone who’s curious about whether human development can prevent cicadas from emerging from their 17-year cycle, this article on The Atlantic Cities website has the answer. Short version, probably not – but at least I learned a bit more about cicadas than the fact that they come in cycles.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Now for your ‘highs’ today: Here’s 13 different bird’s eye views from around the world, courtesy of cable cars. Enjoy! (unless you’re afraid of heights, of course.)

This is our Open Thread. Go ahead, talk amongst yourselves!

The Watering Hole, Monday, May 27th, 2013: Untitled*

*I could not possibly honor the day anywhere near as well as frugalchariot’s Memorial Day post does, so I will not even try. To anyone who missed it, take the time, it’s a must-read.

Instead, I thought that I would check the local on-line newspapers in the hopes of finding some fodder. I went to the Opinion page of the Poughkeepsie Journal. One title looks promising: “Energy Policy is National Security Issue: Column” “by Merrill Matthews, USA Today.” As I read it I noted the author’s right-wing point of view, and wondered where he was going with it. After some discussion of Russia, Iran and Venezuela, with their “totalitarian regimes” and great big gobs of oil and natural gas, Mr. Matthews came closer to his point. An excerpt:

“Many energy-dependent countries would like to be free of that oil and gas stranglehold to pursue their on[sic] foreign policy interests and alignments. The good news is that the old paradigm is shifting; the better news is that we can accelerate those changes. [emphasis mine]

For one thing, the oil and gas production boom, especially in the U.S., has dramatically increased energy supplies and pushed down prices. That means that some of the “energy captives” now have options available to them, including coal, they may not have had in the past, helping to break the stranglehold.

But this shift is not necessarily permanent; much of it depends on expanded U.S. production, made possible by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and the ability to export some of that energy.

Which takes us to the better news: how to accelerate the current trend. The U.S. must move forward with plans that will turn cheap and abundant natural gas into liquefied natural gas (LNG) for export. We are only now building the liquefaction facilities to undertake this venture on a large scale, and the private sector is investing the money to make it happen — as long as the Obama administration will allow it. [emphasis mine]

The ability for the U.S. to extract and export energy is a national security issue. Energy self-sufficiency, which could be attainable in a decade or so, would mean that U.S. foreign policy wasn’t held hostage to energy policy.”

Not one word about wind, solar, hydroelectric, nothing about renewables at all. Still oil and gas, with a side of coal. At this point I’m wondering who this dinosaur is and, more to the point, who’s paying him. At the end of the “Column”, there it is:”Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar at the Institute for Policy Innovation.” Hmmm, that name rings a bell, IPI, yup, ding-ding-ding! The conservative think-tank and member of ALEC which was, as per sourcewatch, “founded in 1987 by Congressman Dick Armey to “research, develop and promote innovative and non-partisan solutions to today’s public policy problems.”” Yeah, right. Dick Armey is as slimy and partisan as they come, and cannot help but leave his oily fingerprints on everything he touches.

Moving on…I guess I should have known better than to try the “Online Extra: Obama Scandals Overlap and Drain his Authority” – it turned out to be a rancid piece of pink slime meat by George Will. I couldn’t read the whole thing, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t subject you to some of it:

“Liberalism’s agenda has been constant since long before liberals, having given their name a bad name, stopped calling themselves liberals and resumed calling themselves progressives, which they will call themselves until they finish giving that name a bad name.”

[Fuck you, George, I'm still proud to call myself a liberal.]

“The agenda always is: Concentrate more power in Washington, more Washington power in the executive branch and more executive power in agencies run by experts. Then trust the experts to be disinterested and prudent with their myriad intrusions into, and minute regulations of, Americans’ lives. Obama’s presidency may yet be, on balance, a net plus for the public good if it shatters American’s trust in the regulatory state’s motives.”

It gets worse after that, and should only be read by someone with an iron stomach.

After noting that John Stossel was another featured columnist, and that other links were to pieces such as “Michelle Malkin: Top Obama donor a fox in health records hen house”, “Slippery slope to accepting atheist Boy Scouts”, and “Punchlines: Prom Season for Obama”, I gave up entirely on the Poughkeepsie Journal.

Palate cleanser: here’s a Blue-Footed Booby (one of my all-time favorite bird names) from National Geographic:

Blue-Footed Booby, photo by Tim Laman, courtesy of National Geographic

Blue-Footed Booby, photo by Tim Laman, courtesy of National Geographic

This is our Open Thread. Go ahead, talk amongst yourselves!