New Year’s Eve Reads

First Night fireworks, Boston

First Night fireworks, Boston

Good Morning!!

Today is the last day of 2013. Tonight at midnight, we’ll bid adieu to another year. I can’t say I’m sorry to see this one go.

There will be lots of celebratory fireworks in cities around to world tonight; the revelry has already begun in New Zealand. USA Today:

New Zealand rang in the New Year with multicolored fireworks erupting from Auckland’s Sky Tower at midnight Tuesday as thousands of cheering revelers danced in the streets of the South Pacific island nation’s largest city.

Early pyrotechnic shows erupted over Sydney Harbor, dazzling hundreds of thousands viewers ahead of the main event in Australia and Dubai will later try to create the world’s largest fireworks show to ring in 2014.

Unfortunately we’ve also seen some scarier explosions in the past couple of days. Yesterday afternoon there was another accident in North Dakota involving the transport of crude oil. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports: Cassleton, N.D. residents flee town after oil train explosion. So far the evacuations are still voluntary and only about 65% of the 2,400 residents of Cassleton have left their homes.

The explosion happened shortly after 2 p.m. Monday after a BNSF grain train derailed and crashed into a crude oil train near Casselton, which is 20 miles west of Fargo, causing tank cars to explode in towering mushroom-cloud flames. No one was injured in the crash….

In the initial hours after the explosion, authorities told residents to stay indoors to avoid the smoke. Later, when residents were urged to evacuate, some drove to Fargo, where a shelter had been set up for them.

BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said the train carrying grain derailed first, then knocked several cars of the oil train off adjoining tracks. BNSF said both trains had more than 100 cars each….

“It was black smoke and then there were probably four explosions in the next hour to hour and a half,” said Eva Fercho, a Casselton resident who saw the fiery aftermath.

The cars were still burning as darkness fell, and authorities said they would be allowed to burn out.

From the Brampton (Canada) Guardian:

The derailment happened amid heightened concerns about the United States’ increased reliance on rail to carry crude oil. Fears of catastrophic derailments were particularly stoked after last summer’s crash in Quebec of a train carrying crude from North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch. Forty-seven people died in the ensuing fire.

The explosions Monday afternoon sent flames and black smoke skyward outside of Casselton, about 40 kilometres west of Fargo. Investigators couldn’t get close to the blaze and official estimates of how many train cars caught fire varied….

Ryan Toop, who lives less than a kilometre away, said he heard explosions and drove as close as about two city blocks to the fire, which erupted on a day when temperatures were below zero.

“I rolled down the window, and you could literally keep your hands warm,” Toop said.

The tracks that the train was on pass through the middle of Casselton, and Cass County Sheriff’s Sgt. Tara Morris said it was “a blessing it didn’t happen within the city.”

No kidding. I’d say that’s a pretty big understatement. Here’s some raw video of the explosion.

In Russia, there are fears that two suicide bombings on Sunday and Monday signal “that a terrorist campaign may have begun that could stretch into the Winter Olympics.” AP via ABC News:

In the wake of Sunday’s bombing at the city’s main railway station and Monday’s blast on a trolleybus, police reinforcements and Interior Ministry troops have been sent into the city, regional police official Andrei Pilipchuk was quoted as telling the Interfax news agency. He said more than 5,200 security forces are deployed in the city of 1 million.

The Health Ministry said three more victims died on Tuesday, raising the toll to 34 — 18 from the station bombing and 16 from the bus. Officials said 65 other people were hospitalized with injuries.

Volgograd authorities have canceled mass events for New Year’s Eve, one of Russia’s most popular holidays, and asked residents not to set off fireworks. In Moscow, festivities were to go ahead but authorities said security would be increased.

There has been no claim of responsibility for either bombing, but they came only months after the leader of an Islamic insurgency in southern Russia threatened new attacks on civilian targets in the country, including on the Winter Games that are to begin Feb. 7 in Sochi.

After their enthusiastic defense of the racism, sexism, pedophilia, and homophobia of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Roberts, you’d think right-wingers would hesitate to attack a mild commentary involving race on MSNBC, but you’d be wrong.

MSNBC Panel Criticized For Segment About Romney’s Black Grandchild (VIDEO). From TPM:

MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry and the panelists on her Sunday morning show drew criticism Monday for poking fun at a Romney family photo that included their adopted African-American grandson, Kieran Romney.

Harris-Perry had the panelists attempt to caption a Romney family photo, which included all of Mitt Romney’s grandchildren.

Harris-Perry joked that Kieran Romney would marry Kanye West’s daughter, North West.

“Could you imagine Mitt Romney and Kanye West as in-laws?” she asked.

Panelist and comedian Dean Obeidallah said the photo “really sums up the diversity of the Republican party.” And actress Pia Glenn started singing “one of these things is not like the other.”

Steve Benen took a look back at the Sunday political talk shows to see what proportion of the guests were from the Democratic and Republican parties. We knew this already, but it’s stunning to see it in a graphic.

The Great 2013 Sunday Show Race

The general impression is rooted in fact: the Sunday shows love Republicans. “Meet the Press,” “Face the Nation,” “This Week,” “State of the Union,” and “Fox News Sunday,” hoping to reflect and help shape the conventional wisdom for the political world, collectively favor GOP guests over Democratic guests every year, but who were the big winners in 2013?

The…chart shows every political figure who made 10 or more Sunday show appearances this year, with red columns representing Republicans and blue columns representing Democrats. For 2013, the race wasn’t especially close – House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) easily came out on top, making 27 appearances this year. That works out to an average of one appearance every 1.9 weeks (or 2.25 Sunday show appearances a month, every month for a year).

sunday show guests

Incredible, isn’t it? Newt Gingrich doesn’t even hold any office and, as Benen points out, “hasn’t served in public office since resigning in disgrace 15 years ago” was in third place in front of Dick Durbin, the supposedly powerful Senate Majority Whip.

According to Mike Konczal of The New Republic, 2013 Was a Bad Year for Wall St. Lobbyists.

Last year, nobody thought that banks would face tougher holding requirements for capital, that regulations of the financial derivatives markets would advance, or that the final Volcker would be a pretty good start instead of an incoherent mess. Yet that is what appears to have happened in 2013. So what caused it? And how it might apply to future political goals?

The successes of 2013 were partially driven by the failures of Wall Street in 2012. The multi-billion dollar trading losses from JPMorgan Chase known as the “London Whale” changed the dynamics for financial reform in a way that took a year to realize. JPMorgan had been leading the charge against reform, arguing that the effort was over-harsh and destructive, and that Wall Street had already cleaned up its act on its own. Indeed, the big concern in 2012 was that Wall Street would convince enough moderate Democrats that Dodd-Frank had gone too far in certain respects, and that Congress would stop regulatory action before it was even completed. This fell apart right alongside the multi-billion dollar losses in JPMorgan’s position. Though various bills to remove parts of Dodd-Frank would pass the House by Republican votes, these efforts failed to generate moderate Democratic votes in the Senate after the Whale trade became public.

Read the rest at the link.

Hey did you know that dolphins like to get high? Read about it at The Independent: Dolphins ‘deliberately get high’ on puffer fish nerve toxins by carefully chewing and passing them around.

In extraordinary scenes filmed for a new documentary, young dolphins were seen carefully manipulating a certain kind of puffer fish which, if provoked, releases a nerve toxin.

Though large doses of the toxin can be deadly, in small amounts it is known to produce a narcotic effect, and the dolphins appeared to have worked out how to make the fish release just the right amount.

Carefully chewing on the puffer and passing it between one another, the marine mammals then enter what seems to be a trance-like state.

The behaviour was captured on camera by the makers of Dolphins: Spy in the Pod, a series produced for BBC One by the award-winning wildlife documentary producer John Downer.

Hey, why is that surprising? Lots of animals probably enjoy altered states of consciousness. Have you ever seen a cat on catnip? What about a big cat?

Finally, I highly recommend these two posts on the NSF/Snowden story by NSFWCORP writers now publishing at Pando Daily, Mark Ames and Yasha Levine respectively.

Snowden’s biggest revelation: We don’t know what power is anymore, nor do we care

Rentacops on desktops: Edward Snowden’s dismissal of Surveillance Valley is wrong, and dangerous

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you following today? Please post your recommended links in the comment thread.

I hope 2014 will be a great year for all of you!!

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Idiots among us: Open Thread

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Evening all…

I guess you can imagine what I’ve been up to the past few days? Well, it took all day Saturday to download all the documents and files from the CSP Sandy Hook School Shooting. Since that time I have been trying to work my way through the mess…

Coming up for air, I found these two items of interest and could not go the rest of the evening without making a post about them. We truly are turning into the Idiocracy society.

Survey: The number of Republicans who believe in human evolution has declined

A growing partisan divide is emerging between Republicans and Democrats on human evolution, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center. Forty-eight percent of self-identified Republicans told Pew in a study released Monday that they believe humans “existed in their present form since the beginning of time.” On the contrary, 43% of Republicans said the opposite, that they believed humans “have evolved over time.”

That is a sizable shift from 2009, the last time Pew asked the question. In that survey, a majority of Republicans – 54% – told Pew they believed in human evolution.

The percentage of Democrats who believe in human evolution, on the other hand, grew in the last four years. Two-thirds (67%) said they believe in human evolution, compared to 27% who said they didn’t.

In 2009, the number of Democrats who said humans evolved over time was 64%.

“I didn’t expect to see that kind of shift,” said Cary Funk, the senior researcher at Pew who oversaw the study. “I think it basically fits with a pattern of growing polarization. And we see that on some other science issues.”

No kidding!!!!!

For Funk, the Republican shift was surprising and led the researchers to check the numbers by controlling the data against racial and ethnic divides between the two parties. Even still, Funk said, the divide on human evolution between Democrats and Republican, as well as the changes in Republican beliefs, persisted.

I mean, when you have idiots out there who think the USA is, are you ready for it….2014 years old, what else would you expect?

Meet The People Who Think America Is 2014 Years Old

According to Twitter, more than a few people believe that the United States was formed 2014 years ago, and that New Year’s Day is America’s birthday. There is so much about this idea that doesn’t make sense. If New Year’s is America’s birthday, is it a different year in different countries? Did you never take any history class or speak to another human being?

Maybe some of these people are joking. PLEASE let them be joking.

Meet The People Who Think America Is 2014 Years Old 2013-12-30 20-23-53

And if you really want to laugh, or maybe cry…go to the link and see the idiots who think the world is only 2014 years old.

But..back to the pew poll results: One-Third of Americans Don’t Believe in Human Evolution | LiveScience

A belief in evolution does not necessarily preclude belief in God, the survey found. Nearly a quarter (24 percent) of Americans agreed with the statement, “a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.”

Pew last surveyed Americans about their beliefs in evolution in 2009, and found that the proportion of believers and non-believers has not changed. Sixty percent of Americans say they believe that humans and other animals have evolved over time. Thirty-three percent say there is no such thing as evolution. [Top 10 Mysteries of the First Humans]

Major religious differences underlie these responses. A majority (64 percent) of white evangelical Protestants disbelieve evolution, compared with 15 percent of white mainline Protestants. Black Protestants are evenly split on the question of evolution.

Among Catholics, Hispanics are slightly less likely to believe in evolution than whites: Fifty-three percent of Hispanic Catholics said humans have evolved over time, compared with 68 percent of White Catholics.

Both white Catholics and white Protestants are similarly likely to see God’s hand guiding evolution if they do believe, with 36 percent of all white mainline Protestants and 33 percent of all white Catholics saying a supreme being guided the evolution of living things. Eighteen percent of all white evangelical Protestants believed the same, with only 8 percent saying that natural processes drove evolution.

Stop the world please! I want to get off!

This is an open thread.


Monday Reads

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 9.35.58 PM

Good Morning!

Well, the year 2014–if that’s how you count years–is upon us. More than anything else, I’m hoping this year goes down as the year the Tea Party goes into the correct bag and we dispose of it.  It’s time to look back with regrets and hope that things change for the better.  Let’s start with the Sleaziest Pols of 2013.  Here’s my pick of the list for ickiest pol this year.

BOB FILNER

Bob Filner is not the first politician to commit sexual harassment. In fact, he’s not even the first politician to serially harass and grope women. But he’s almost certainly the first one to count a former admiral in the U.S. Navy among his victims. Filner spent 20 years in Congress as a relatively obscure Democrat representing much of San Diego. Then, he became mayor of San Diego and the scandal floodgates opened. At least 18 women came forward and Filner was eventually forced to resign as mayor, pleading guilty to one felony and two misdemeanors related to his serial harassment.

Some times things need an explanation.  The Economist always does this with something in its weekly issues.  Here’s The Explainer article in 2013 that I found most compelling.  What makes a language difficult?

Ranking languages on a universal scale of difficulty is itself difficult and controversial. Some languages proliferate endings on verbs and nouns, like Latin and Russian. Such inflection can be hard for learners who are not used to it. Several years ago, two scholars found that smaller languages (those with less contact with other languages) tended to have more inflection than big ones. By contrast, creole languages—which arise between groups that do not share a common language—are thought by scholars to be systematically simpler than other languages, even after they become “normal” languages with native speakers. They typically lack heavy inflection.

But inflection is only one element of “hardness”. Some languages have simple sound systems (such as the Polynesian languages). Others have a wide variety of sounds, including rare ones that outsiders find hard to learn (like the languages of the Caucasus). Some languages (like English) lack or mostly lack grammatical gender. Some have dozens of genders (also known as “noun classes”) that must be learned for each noun. Languages can have rigidly fixed or flexible word order. They can put verbs before objects or even objects before subjects. Yet it is not clear how to rank the relative difficulty of exotic consonants, dozens of genders or heavy inflection. Another recent approach sought to go around the problem by finding languages that had the most unusual features, skirting the question of whether those features were “hard”. Comparing 21 feature parameters across hundreds of languages, they ranked 239 languages. Chalcatongo Mixtec, spoken in Mexico, was the weirdest. English came in place number 33. Basque, Hungarian, Hindi and Cantonese ranked as among the most “normal”. The researchers did not find any larger similarities between “weird” and “normal” languages.

As you know, I’m obsessed with digging up ancient stuff. So, no list of 2013 outliers of mine would be complete without looking at the top archaeological Vintage-New-year-789524finds of 2013 and picking one that fascinated me. One of the most disturbing events in history on my list was the destruction of the Great Library and the absolute purging of all kinds of ancient wisdom during the Crusades and the onset of the spread of dogma by the “Holy Roman Empire”.  I love it whenever we recover something that these self-righteous destroyers ruined.  So, in that spirit, I’m glad some of the ancient writing mediums were reused.  We know have the technology to recover the good stuff that’s buried under the propaganda.

Ancient Philosophical Writings Found Hidden Beneath Medieval Text A group of scientists and historians made an incredible discovery relating to some writings made on parchments that were produced in medieval times. Using cutting-edge technology, the researchers found that the parchment had once contained ancient philosophical writings that had later been washed off and over-written. Using multispectral imaging, scientists were able to recover the original text, shedding new light on the history of philosophical education in the late antiquity. The uppermost layer of text dates to the thirteenth century and comprises the Prophetic Books of the Greek Old Testament. However, through an amazing stroke of luck, it was discovered that beneath this text there had originally been some writing by the well-known ancient Greek writer, Euripides, and an unknown ancient commentary on Aristotle, which dated back to the fifth century. “The discovery of this work is of inestimable value for the history of philosophical education in the late antiquity”, said the discoverer of the manuscript, Dr. Chiara Faraggiana di Sarzana from Bologna University. The research being undertaken, named the Palamedes Project, aims to create a critical edition of the two important manuscripts featuring the newly discovered and unexplored Greek texts, made readable using the latest forms of technology.

71aab7267c62af1e09eecabcae3424e9My choice for best  beat down of an urban myth this year–other than the NYT’s article that should shut the Republicans up on Benghazi— is this one about coffee stunting your growth.  It turns out that there’s no evidence that coffee is bad for a kid’s growth.  That idea was put in our heads by the makers of POSTUM because they didn’t want to lose customers.

Modern concerns about coffee’ health effects in the U.S. can be traced to C.W. Post, an 1800s-era food manufacturer most well known for pioneering the field of breakfast cereal. He also invented a grain-based breakfast beverage called Postum, advertised as a caffeine-free coffee alternative, that was popular through the 1960s (and is still in production).

“Postum made C.W. Post a fortune, and he became a millionaire from vilifying coffee, and saying how horrible it was for you,” Pendergrast says. “The Postum advertisers had all kinds of pseudoscientific reasons that you should stay away from coffee.” Among the “evil effects” of coffee for adults, according to Post: it depressed kidney and heart function, it was a “nerve poison,” it caused nervousness and indigestion, it led to sallow skin.

Even after Post died in 1914, his company’s ads continued their attack on coffee, highlighting its effects on youth in particular and marketing Postum as a kid-friendly hot beverage. Postum’s ads claimed that that coffee should never, under any circumstances, be served to children, for a number of reasons—it made them sluggish, irritable and sleepless, it robbed them of “rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes,” it led to failing grades and, as the 1933 ad above claims, “it hampers proper development and growth.”

Over time, it seems, the belief that coffee is unfit for children—and, specifically, that it stops them from growing—slipped into the country’s cultural consciousness and took root, despite a total lack of scientific evidence.

Happily, Postum is now mostly forgotten, and coffee reigns. Virtually all of coffee’s supposed ills have been debunked—including the idea that coffee stunts growth. On the whole, scientists now believe that the health benefits of drinking two to three cups of coffee per day (a reduced risk of developing dementiadiabetes and heart disease) outweigh the costs (a slight increase incholesterol levels, for instance).

Of course, you might have your own very legitimate reasons for not letting kids drink coffee that have nothing to do with growth. A big concern is sleep, and how crucial it is for developing children—they need more of it than adults, and there’s evidence that sleep disturbances could be linked with childhood obesity—so the fact that coffee packs more caffeine than tea or soda is an issue.

Then there are the more prosaic problems that could result from giving kids coffee. “My biggest concern is that caffeine is addictive,” Pendergrast says. “And there is a lot of evidence that if you’re addicted, and you don’t get your caffeine, you suffer quite exquisite headaches, among other symptoms.”

 Fox says the NYT’s research on Benghazi is wrong.  They’d probably be fighting a faux war on coffee for kids if the ad dollars from Coffee aren’t images (3)so huge these days compared to POST cereal and POSTUM. It’s just really dismaying to see how a media outlet that basically exists to lie to people gets to pass itself off as news.

There were a lot of kewl science events this year.  Some of the Best Space Photos include my one of my favorite science stories this year.  The compelling voyage of Comet ISON that started some where around the time our ancestors were learning to walk upright ended this year in a battle with our Sun.  Comets cemented the Law of Gravity and have contributed to knowing our timing and place in our universe for some time.  ISON may have disappointed some. But, I really got hung up in the last days of ISON.

After Comet ISON made its spectacular hairpin turn around the Sun on Thanksgiving, as seen in online images taken by the SOHO and STEREO spacecraft, it was unclear if enough of the comet had survived for it to become widely visible in the night sky. By the time it exited SOHO’s field of view a few days later, ISON had faded dramatically, even as it became larger and diffuse. Many astronomers believed the comet had disintegrated, melted by the fierce heat of our star and/or ripped apart by tidal forces. Unfortunately, it seems they were right.

ISON was to have been at its best in early December, had it lived up to its more optimistic projections: A beautiful sight with a long tail extending up into the predawn sky. But nothing of substance emerged from the solar glare. Several of the world’s most skilled comet observers reported sightings of a large, faint smudge at the comet’s approximate position around December 8, but no photographs were able to confirm this, and such sightings have ceased. Last week, both the Arecibo giant radiotelescope dish and the Hubble Space Telescope attempted to find remnants of ISON, but they were unable detect anything near the comet’s expected position. All that’s left of ISON is a ghost: an expanding dust cloud, faded into invisibility.

As it is with ISON, so it is with 2013.  There was a lot of gas, speculation, and hooplah that ended.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?  And, any thing that stands out in my lists our any others that you’ve found that grab your fancy?


Sunday, some cartoons…

88a597945bf557d6dce682a2e9c20e9aGood Morning all…

The post I am working on for today is talking longer than expected.

The Newtown doc dump is all-consuming for me, and so many questions come forward. I planned on writing about it today, but the drop is overwhelming…it is not gonna happen any time soon.

So for now I am going to put up some cartoons, since the Friday Nite Lite thread was rather weak, it should be a welcomed relief.

First I wanted to post a couple of links to some of the new information I found on Newtown…

We Already Know What Adam Lanza’s Real Motive Was at Sandy Hook – The Daily Beast

Which brings up connections of Adam Lanza to“materials regarding the topic of pedophilia and advocating for rights for pedophiles.”  It talks about screenplays and stories written by Lanza with plots dealing about love relationships between a 10-year-old boy and a thirty year old man…

The other link is this one:

Despite files released by police, Newtown school shooter Adam Lanza remains enigma | syracuse.com

Where there is some information on Lanza’s love of the game Dance Dance Revolution…and a guy he befriended at a local movie theater. Lanza was 6 feet tall and weighed only 112 pounds…the fridge at his house contained only frozen peas, apples, flax seed, bottled water and what appears to be prune juice. Reports say Nancy Lanza spent time cooking meals for him prior to leaving for New Hampshire? You look at pictures of the kitchen and there is nothing in the cupboards…seems so strange.

Wait, you can read those two articles. I have more observations I am working on in my other post. I just wanted to bring those few things to your attention.

Okay the cartoons.

GOP Warmth – Political Cartoon by Rob Rogers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – 12/29/2013

Cartoon by Rob Rogers - GOP Warmth

Clay Bennett editorial cartoon – Political Cartoon by Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press – 12/29/2013

Cartoon by Clay Bennett - Clay Bennett editorial cartoon

Wing-Nutted – Truthdig

2014 by Political Cartoonist Steve Nease

142404 600 2014 cartoons

abortion law by Political Cartoonist Kap

142408 600 abortion law cartoons

Clay Bennett: Goodbye – Clay Bennett – Truthdig

That last one is perfect, because that is exactly how this past year has made me feel! Yeah, put me in a straightjacket, I’m done!

Think of this as an open thread…


Saturday Quick Hits

Predictions 2014

Predictions 2014

Good Morning!!

I’m really struggling to get going this morning, so I’m going to start you off with a few cartoons and some quick links. I have another post planned for later on today, and I hope you’ll stop by then.

Right wing “Christian” hate was a dominant characteristic of 2013,

so I guess it’s appropriate that the year is ending with an incredibly disgusting and ludicrous example of what some Americans have become.

Duck Dynasty Camoflage

Duck Dynasty Camoflage

The New York Times finally weighed in on the disastrous decision of A&E to revoke their suspension of ridiculous hate monger Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty.

The indefinite suspension of Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the family at the center of the A&E Network’s huge ratings hit “Duck Dynasty,” became definite Friday — at zero episodes. The network announced he would not be suspended after all.

A&E released a statement, noteworthy both for its concessions to the Robertson family’s refusal to accept the suspension as well as its timing — at close of business on Friday of a holiday weekend on the slowest week of the year in the entertainment business.

The bottom line: Phil Robertson will resume work on the show when it begins taping new episodes in the spring.

The network moved to suspend Mr. Robertson on Dec. 18 after comments he made about gay people in a magazine interview. At the time A&E described the comments, which described homosexual acts in crude terms and labeled them a sin, as extremely disappointing and not reflective of the network, which considered itself “champions of the L.G.B.T. community.”

Shame on you, A&E!! And don’t forget the racism, misogyny, pedophilia, religious bigotry, and general overall ignorance in Roberton’s interview. A&E now tacitly supports those “values” as their “core principles.”

Way back in 1968 when I first saw Kubrick’s magnificent 2001: A Space Odyssey, I never could have imagined that the future of the U.S. would be so pathetic and embarrassing. Sigh . . . We’ve left 2001 far behind us, and this is what has become of the dreams of my generation.

The good news, at least about gay marriage, is that the battle is over and the good guys won.

Josh Marshall:

Since the Supreme Court ruling in June, the writing has been on the wall for banning of marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples in the United States. Since June the number of states with marriage equality has jumped from 12 to 18. But last week’s lower court decisions in Utah and Ohio leave little doubt that the political fight over gay marriage is now essentially over and that gay marriage will be the law of the land in every state in the country in the pretty near future.

The fact that gay and lesbian couples are now lining up to get married in Utah of all places – arguably the most conservative state in the country – might tell you this on a symbolic level. But the logic that points to the end of the political fight over gay marriage is more concrete, specific and undeniable.

Utah, rightly, got the most attention. But there were two cases last week. The other one in Ohio dealt with a much narrower question: whether the state had to recognize gay marriages in the issuance of death certificates. But both cases rested on the same essential premise: that if the federal government can’t discriminate against gay couples, states – by definition – cannot either.

As Judge Timothy Black put it in the Ohio case: “The question presented is whether a state can do what the federal government cannot — i.e., discriminate against same-sex couples … simply because the majority of the voters don’t like homosexuality (or at least didn’t in 2004). Under the Constitution of the United States, the answer is no.”

The other huge story of the day (which the mainstream media will probably play down) is that more than a million Americans will lose long-term unemployment benefits today.

Here are some links, and so far I haven’t seen any on Google news from the big media outlets.

The Columbus Dispatch: 1.3 million set to lose U.S. jobless benefits

More than 1 million Americans are bracing for a harrowing, post-Christmas jolt as extended federal unemployment benefits come to a sudden halt this weekend, with potentially significant implications for the recovering U.S. economy. A tense political battle likely looms when Congress reconvenes in the new, midterm-election year.

Nudging Congress along, a vacationing President Barack Obama called two senators proposing an extension to offer his support. From Hawaii, Obama pledged yesterday to push Congress to move quickly next year to address the “urgent economic priority,” the White House said.

For families dependent on cash assistance, the end of the federal government’s “emergency unemployment compensation” will mean some difficult belt-tightening as enrollees lose their average monthly stipend of $1,166.

Jobless rates could drop, but analysts say the economy might suffer with less money for consumers to spend on everything from clothes to cars. Having let the “emergency” program expire as part of a budget deal, it’s unclear if Congress has the appetite to start it anew.

Voxxi: What you should know about the expiration of unemployment benefits This article lists seven reasons why the decision by Republicans to hurt so many American families will be a disaster. Highly recommended.

11KKTV.com Long-Term Unemployed Face Life Without Emergency Benefits

The federal program, which was expanded in 2008 to provide extra income to the long-term unemployed who have exhausted their 26 weeks of state benefits, lapses Saturday because Congress failed to extend the federal program into 2014. For much of the recession, the government not only offered extended benefits beyond those 26 weeks, but also introduced the EUC program to offer up to 99 weeks of assistance in many states.

In the first six months of 2014, 1.9 million additional Americans will use up their state-funded benefits and find themselves without a federal safety net waiting if the program is not renewed. That number will jump to 3.6 million people. According to a report from the White House Council of Economic Advisors and the Labor Department, in October the average length of unemployment was 36.1 weeks – two and a half months longer than state benefits will last with no extension. The long-term unemployment rate is 2.6 percent, roughly one-third of the overall employment rate of 7.3 percent.

“In no prior case has Congress allowed special extended benefits to expire when the unemployment rate was as high as it is today,” the report says.

It’s also been quite a while since anyone was able to receive 99 weeks of benefits, which average about $300 per week. Over the past two years, the average maximum weeks of available benefits has dropped from 85 to 54, or 36 percent, according to Congressional Research Service data.

That’s just sick. In fact it is so far beyond sick, I don’t even know how to begin to characterize it.

Why are the Republicans doing this?

Christmas GOP and Obama

Christmas GOP and Obama

And don’t forget what’s happening to people on food stamps.

Food Stamps Removed

Food Stamps Removed

I wish I had some cheerful news for you. I’ll look around and try to find some. For now, I’d better get this post published before everyone gives up on me!

Have a great day, and please post any links that have caught your eye in the comment thread.


Friday Nite Lite: After Xmas Offering

94e3832fbf345e214a57aa6f7c4e9ac1Good Morning

Hope everyone is doing okay. My uncle is out of ICU, but he still cannot talk and cannot remember his name or birth date. It looks like his stroke has affected the speech and memory centers, as well as some of his motor sensory skills. He has a way to go, recovery wise.

<———– Check it out…this rocket is powered by “Spirit of Christmas” (I don’t see any baby Jesus anywhere on those presents or gifts…do you?)

Hey,  not much on the plate tonight.  Guess the cartoonist are taking the holiday off as well….

Presidential Run by Political Cartoonist Randall Enos

142143 600 Presidential Run cartoons

I don’t know, something about the Christie character running after the cupcake made me laugh. It made me think of the Mr. Gutman aka “Fat Man” in Maltese Falcon, and actor Sydney Greenstreet.

Maltese 6 Gutman

Am I right?

Anyway…UPS delivery delays by Political Cartoonist Dave Granlund

142356 600 UPS delivery delays cartoons

2014 as seen from Syria by Political Cartoonist Patrick Chappatte

142373 600 2014  as seen from Syria cartoons

GOP Inn – Truthdig

This is an open thread.


Friday Reads: Cold Weather Distractions

winter moonlightGood Morning!

I’ve been trying to find some distractions recently.  I’m going through one of those periods where I’d rather hole up and not see what’s going on around me.  I’ll snap out of it once we’re passed 12th night and the carnival season ramps up.  It’s difficult to ignore random parades and continual parties. I love the season up until about the last two weeks when the tourists come and the celebration becomes less personal and a lot more fake.

So, here’s a few things to keep you distracted.

Evidently, some one decided to keep track of bizarre deaths listed in news papers from the Victorian Era. Some of them are really strange.

An equation familiar to anyone who’s sat through a few old episodes of Tom and Jerry. Women + Mice = localised uproar. It’s a sexist old TV trope, of course, but it played out for real in England in 1875, when a mouse dashed suddenly on to a work table in a south London factory.

Into the general commotion which followed, a gallant young man stepped forward and seized the rodent. For a glorious moment, he was the saviour of the women who’d scattered. It didn’t last. The mouse slipped out of his grasp, ran up his sleeve and scurried out again at the open neck of his shirt. In his surprise, his mouth was agape. In its surprise, the mouse dashed in. In his continued surprise, the man swallowed.

“That a mouse can exist for a considerable time without much air has long been a popular belief and was unfortunately proved to be a fact in the present instance,” noted the Manchester Evening News, “for the mouse began to tear and bite inside the man’s throat and chest, and the result was that the unfortunate fellow died after a little time in horrible agony.”

That was a follow up to this weird list of 10 dangerous things found in Victorian and Edwardian homes.

When basic staples like bread started to be produced cheaply and in large quantities for the new city dwellers, Victorian manufacturers seized on the opportunity to maximise profit by switching ingredients for cheaper substitutes that would add weight and bulk. Bread was adulterated with plaster of Paris, bean flour, chalk or alum. Alum is an aluminium-based compound, today used in detergent, but then it was used to make bread desirably whiter and heavier. Not only did such adulteration lead to problems of malnutrition, but alum produced bowel problems and constipation or chronic diarrhoea, which was often fatal for children.

Aren’t you a little more appreciative of government regulations and inspections now? Well, there’s a lot of defunding of basic public goods going on.  Here’s one weird little story.the white hotel

A small town in Oregon has become the victim of so much austerity that it’s police department has become completely dysfunctional. So, they’re relying on private posses now.  That sounds like a town that some one like George Zimmerman would just love.

The North Valley Community Watch (NVCW,) a private volunteer public safety group in northern Josephine County, has announced plans to attempt to “fill the gaps” left in law enforcement, which have come about as a result of recent budget cuts related to the ongoing deficit reduction. The group, of which many of it’s members perform their self assumed law enforcement support roles armed, are expanding on the duties more typically performed by community watch organizations, by actively responding to calls as police might normally. Following the end to federal subsidies which sought to promote timber harvesting while balancing the costs derived from their own environmental regulations, the largely rural Josephine County found itself facing a revenue crisis similar to many going on throughout the nation. After a vote seeking to raise revenues failed, the Sheriff’s office released as statement announcing that it would only be able to respond to “life threatening situations” and went on to advise that those who feared they were in danger to consider relocating. In response, former Sheriff’s Deputy Ken Selig, who lost his position as a result of the cuts, formed the NVCW with friend Pete Scaglioni. In addition to the standard patrols and flier circulations that community watch groups are know for however, Selig and Scaglioni are looking now to take neighborhood watch duties to the next level by creating a “response team” of, sometimes armed, civilian first responders to respond to burglaries and other suspected crimes. While the effort of private citizens to assume public duties in the absence of sworn law enforcement personnel is admirable, many, including County Commissioner Keith Heck, are worried that the forming of private posses like these could lead to “aggressive” behavior and dangerous situations.

charles-burchfield1893-1967street-vista-in-winter-1360520143_bThe Cleveland Public Library has discovered a lost first edition of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”.

Cleveland librarian Kelly Brown had far more modest plans when she first began collecting items for a holiday traditions display at the Cleveland Public Library. But when she began poking around the stacks, she stumbled on a fairly unexpected Yuletide surprise: a first-edition copy of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

The leather-bound book, donated at one point but soon forgotten about, is one of only 6,000 first-run copies printed on Dec. 17, 1843. At the time, it cost a modest 5 shillings. In the last few years, first editions have sold at auction for several thousand dollars.

The newly discovered first edition may have been too valuable to make it into the library’s final display, but curious visitors can go visit the rare book in the library’s special collections department. “The Cleveland Public Library is a library, not a museum, so you actually could come here and sit with it if you wanted to,” Brown told Cleveland’s Fox 8.

The relations between the Japanese and Chinese have not been good recently. Japanese PM Abe has visited a shrine to Japanese soldiers from World War 2 that has them really upset.  It’s also upset the Koreans.  So, what’s the deal?

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine has enraged the Chinese and South Korean governments and ignited – no surprise – a firestorm of protest across Asia. The shrine, which honors more than a thousand indicted war criminals who took part in Japan’s disastrous war in Asia, remains a place of fascination for Japanese rightists, who persist in claiming that Japan’s war in Asia was a war of liberation against Western imperialism.

This claim sounds particularly hollow in China and Korea, which suffered horrifically from Imperial Japan’s invasion and occupation of much of Asia. Yet there has always been a jarring element in official Chinese protests against the Yasukuni Shrine visits. Such visits are condemned as insensitive to the feelings of the Chinese people. But, just as Japanese conservatives are rightly taken to task for refusing to acknowledge the horrors of their country’s colonialist past, so China would do well to expand discussion of its own wartime history at home.

For many decades, under Mao Zedong, the only acceptable version of China’s wartime experience was that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) spearheaded the resistance against the Japanese, honing its armies while preparing one of the world’s most significant social revolutions. Meanwhile, China’s Nationalist (Kuomintang) government under Chiang Kai-shek, weakened by incompetence and corruption, did little to oppose the Japanese.

Yet, in recent years, research from China itself has shown the enormous scale and cost of the war against Japan. Fourteen million or more Chinese were killed from 1937 to 1945, and 80-100 million became refugees. And the invasion destroyed China’s roads, railways, and factories.

But other significant changes also began to occur during that period. As the bombs fell on China’s wartime Nationalist capital, Chongqing, the social contract between state and society became more important. The state demanded more from its people, including conscription and ever-higher taxes; but the people also began to demand more from their government, including adequate food provision, hygiene, and medical care. To understand why the war changed China so profoundly, historians had to move away from treating the 1937-1945 period as a simple story of an inevitable Communist victory.

Thus, in the last two decades, China has started remembering its own war history anew.

That’s the background, here’s the current controversy.

Chinese newspapers rounded on the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, on Friday, describing his visit to the Yasukuni war 1298449441_large-image_charles_burchfield_houses_in_snowy_winter_landscape_1920_023_oil_painting_largedead shrine as “paying homage to devils” and warning that China had the ability to crush “provocative militarism”.

On Thursday Abe visited Yasukuni, where Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal after the second world war are honoured along with those who died in battle. The move has infuriated China and South Korea, both of which were occupied by Japanese forces until the end of the war, and prompted concern from the United States about deteriorating ties between the Asian neighbours.

In an editorial headlined “Abe’s paying homage to the devils makes people outraged”, the People’s Liberation Army Daily said Abe’s actions had “seriously undermined the stability of the region”.

“On one hand, Abe is paying homage to war criminals, and on the other hand he talks about improving relations with China, South Korea and other countries,” the newspaper said. “It is simply a sham, a mouthful of lies.

“Today, the Chinese people have the ability to defend peace and they have a greater ability to stop all provocative militarism.”

In a separate commentary published under the pen name Zhong Sheng, or “voice of China”, the Communist Party’s People’s Daily said: “History tells us that if people do not correctly understand the evils of the fascist war, cannot reflect on war crimes, a country can never [achieve] true rejuvenation.”

burchfield-winter-sun-and-backyards-19471

I decided to feature the artwork of Charles Burchfield.  Some of his paintings of winter scenes are really fanciful.  I’ve always been fascinated by his work.  Many of his paintings of trees and nature look like images of natural cathedrals.

Charles Burchfield was one of the most inventive American artists of the twentieth century. Throughout most of his career, watercolor was his medium of choice, sometimes used in combination with gouache, graphite, charcoal, conté crayon, chalk, or pastel. During Burchfield’s lifetime three major periods in his work were generally acknowledged: an early period dating from roughly 1915 to 1921 when landscape was often treated in metaphysical, fantastic ways; a middle period dating from the early 1920s to the 1940s when realism reigned; and a late period which marked a return to a transcendental, mystical perspective. Some recent scholarship has challenged this view, emphasizing instead qualities evident throughout Burchfield’s entire career: his consistent aesthetic and cultural point of view, his desire to work from familiar surroundings, and the deep personal symbolism of his works, which probed the mysteries of nature in an attempt to reveal his inner emotions.

So, that’s a little bit of the bizarre news from me.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

Oh, and here’s a little music for our Republican Friends:  Fitz and the Tantrums doing “Money Grabber” in honor of them stealing food from children and unemployment insurance from the long term jobless during their sacred Christmas Season.  I’m still looking for the part in the new testament where Jesus said starve the hungry and fuck little children.  I must have a bad copy or something. Oh, and ending benefits will actually cost us more in economic activity than it will save us in deficit spending.   You’re a bunch of mean one’s Republican Grinches!