Never pass up a chance to sit down or relieve yourself. -old Apache saying

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Houston Votes

So, Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott appears deeply involved in Republican efforts to suppress the vote.  Details of a 2010 raid on Houston Votes are just now being released, but it appears most of the records have been destroyed.  

A Republican involved in voter suppression?  Is it hot in Houston in the summertime?

Abbott’s Houston raid didn’t end with arrests, but shut down voter drive

On an overcast Monday afternoon, officers in bulletproof vests swept into a house on Houston’s north side. The armed deputies and agents served a search warrant. They carted away computers, hard drives and documents.

The raid targeted a voter registration group called Houston Votes, which was accused of election fraud. It was initiated by investigators for Attorney General Greg Abbott. His aides say he is duty-bound to preserve the integrity of the ballot box.


A close examination of the Houston Votes case reveals the consequences when an elected official pursues hotly contested allegations of election fraud.

The investigation was closed one year after the raid, with no charges filed. But for Houston Votes, the damage was done. Its funding dried up, and its efforts to register more low-income voters ended. Its records and office equipment never were returned. Instead, under a 2013 court order obtained by Abbott’s office, they were destroyed.

The previously unreported 2010 raid coincided with agitation by a local tea party group and Lewis’ testimony in the trial of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. Lewis had filed a complaint against DeLay that, in large part, led to his indictment on corruption charges.

Friday, August 29, 2014


What Are Those Strange Things You See Floating In Your Eye?

Have you ever noticed a strange little worm-like speck drifting aimlessly about in your field of vision? These annoying little squiggly lines, or “cobwebs,” are called floaters and are experienced by around 70% of people. So what are they?
Floaters are actually shadows cast by objects suspended in the clear, gel-like substance that makes up the majority of the eye’s interior. This substance is called vitreous and helps to maintain the eye’s round shape. After passing through the lens, focused light has to pass through the vitreous in order to reach the retina at the back of the eye. It’s mostly composed of water but also contains proteins and various other substances.
Floaters are normally merely proteins of the vitreous gel that have clumped together. These stringy clusters of proteins block light and therefore cast a shadow on the retina. These floaters usually appear as transparent circles or tadpoles and stay permanently in your eye.
Sometimes, small hemorrhages in the eye can cause floaters as red blood cells enter the vitreous. This can occur if the gel pulls on blood vessels located in the retina. These floaters might take on a smoky appearance and disappear as the blood is absorbed.
Lastly, floaters can be caused by shrinkage of the vitreous gel that occurs naturally as we age. As the vitreous pulls away from the retina, bits of debris can enter the gel and become floaters. These usually look like cobwebs.
Floaters are particularly pronounced if you gaze at something particularly bright, such as a piece of white paper or a blue sky. You’ll notice that they move as your eyes move and appear to zoom across your eye as you try to look at them directly.
Floaters are usually just an annoyance that people get used to, but sometimes they can hamper vision and therefore require surgery. This procedure involves removing the vitreous and replacing it with a saline liquid. 
I Fucking Love Science

Thursday, August 28, 2014

cynical genius?

I think Obama gives the Republicans too much credit, as usual.  Cynical, yes.  Genius?  Only in the ironic tense.  

NEWPORT R.I. — Obama, raising money for Democratic candidates as Republicans aim to take over the Senate in the fall, on Friday blamed some Republicans for a calculated effort to undermine faith in government by opposing policy compromises.

"There has been a certain cynical genius to what some of these folks have done," Obama said at the second of three fundraisers he attended.

"What they’ve realized is, if we don’t get anything done, then people are going to get cynical about government and its possibilities of doing good for everybody," he said in Purchase, New York. "And since they don’t believe in government, that’s a pretty good thing." 

I expect to hear strong denials soon from the Republicans, "We are NOT geniuses!"

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

10 weed myths

Public attitudes about marijuana here in the U.S. have turned around quickly.  Almost as fast as the attitudes about same-sex marriage.  This gives hope to other issues, such as atheist rights in America, or immigration.  

Top 10 Myths About Marijuana

from ProgressTexas

No, it absolutely is not. No one has died from marijuana, unlike alcohol. This myth is particularly annoying because it creates other myths - including the gateway myth, addressed below.

MYTH: We Need More Studies About the Impact of Marijuana 
Numbers don't lie - check out the facts about marijuana studies, and about death totals, for yourself.
Vaporizers. Edibles. Capsules. There are many ways to ingest marijuana. Yet the myth continues every time a TV station covers a marijuana story with B-roll of people smoking massive blunts - instead of a medical patient taking a capsule.
There is no link to lung cancer in light or moderate users - and in fact, some studies show that medical marijuana may even protect against cancer. Here's a nice summary of 20 medical studies finding that marijuana can help fight brain, breast, lung, prostate, blood, oral, liver, and pancreatic cancer.
The exact opposite, actually, according to raw data from the Colorado Department of Transportation. Check this out from the Washington Post, "Since marijuana legalization, highway fatalities in Colorado are at near-historic lows."

5. MYTH: Marijuana Has No Legitimate Medical Purpose
Recently, Dr. Sanjay Gupta doubled-down on medical marijuana due to its positive health impacts. We've written about the impact of medical marijuana on the health of Texas before. Even the American Cancer Society recognizes its positive impacts and wants the U.S. to stop classifying marijuana as a dangerous drug that lacks a safe medical purpose so there can be more medical research and advances.
4. MYTH: Marijuana Regulation Increases Crime Rates
We've also covered this one before - an incredible study by Dr. Robert Morris of UT Dallas examined crime data for homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft. Examining 16 years of crime data across all 50 states, "none of the seven crime types increased with the legalization of medical marijuana." Government data from Denver from the first six months of 2014 found the same trend.
3.  MYTH: Marijuana Regulation Increases Teen Use
There's plenty of existing research that refutes the myth. We know that pot use among teens has dropped in Colorado this year. The most recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that, "Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that the legalization of medical marijuana caused an increase in the use of marijuana among high school students." (WSJ: "Don't Blame Legal Medical Marijuana for Increased Teen Use"

MYTH: Marijuana is a Gateway Drug
"Claims that marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs are as fanciful as the “Reefer Madness” images of murder, rape and suicide." - NY Times, July 2014. The NY Times took this position for good reason - alcohol, not marijuana, is the gateway drug. And if you want to read some history about it, this is a handy guide
1.  MYTH: Texas Will Never Pass Marijuana Laws
In a University of Texas / Texas Tribune poll, 77% of Texas voters support some form of marijuana regulation. A separate PPP poll from 2013 found that a majority of Texans support all kinds of marijuana regulation. Rick Perry and Wendy Davis support decriminalization (Abbott doesn't). One of the only things the U.S. House of Representatives showed bipartisan agreement on, in 2014, was a law telling the DEA to stop raiding medical marijuana shops in states where it is legal. Earlier this year, we endorsed medical marijuana and continue to promote an honest conversation on marijuana regulation in Texas.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

voting is easier?

It seems like all we hear about are continued GOP efforts to restrict the vote: curtailing early voting hours; making photo ID's required at the polls, etc, etc.

Turns out some states are doing the opposite. That is, making it easier for people to vote.

Obviously the GOP has no shame.  They see their white privilege draining away with the increase in minority populations and voters.  It won't work GOP.  If you really want to broaden your appeal beyond bigoted and racist white people, cut the shit and make it easier for people to vote, then quit being such assholes.

Easier said than done, I guess

Where Voting is Now Easier

At a time when many states are making it harder to vote, 16 states have provided some good news over the last year by deciding to go in the opposite direction. In various ways, they have expanded access to the polls, allowing more people to register or to vote more conveniently. The list,compiled by the Brennan Center for Justice, includes these states:

• Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Virginia and West Virginia. They created online registration systems, a big improvement over unreliable and inconvenient paper systems.

• Colorado and Louisiana. They will allow 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister when they apply for a driver’s license. Colorado also added Election Day registration, and it is encouraging mail-in voting without an absentee excuse.

• Maryland. It will allow same-day registration during early voting, which was expanded from six to eight days.

• Delaware. It will allow most felons to vote immediately after completing their sentences.

Some of these improvements took place in Republican-led states, a development that is all the more striking because many of the other states that are trying to keep people from the polls — 15 will have new restrictions on voting in November — are mostly controlled by Republicans.

These restrictions include voter ID laws, which are going into effect this year in 11 states, and cutbacks on early voting, which have taken place in eight states since 2011. One of the most pernicious ways to limit voting is to make it harder to register, as 10 states have done. Some limit voter registration drives, while others require documentary proof of citizenship, which many American citizens lack.

In all cases, these restrictions will make it harder for minorities and the poor to vote, which is the point, since proponents of such laws are trying to reduce the turnout of probable Democratic voters. A study last year by researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, found that states with a higher minority turnout were more likely to limit voting, and that the number of restrictions is related to the proportion of Republicans in power in a state.

That these laws persist demonstrates the need for Congress to repair the Voting Rights Act, which was stripped of its ability to prevent discriminatory election changes in the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision. As a recent report by the National Commission on Voting Rightsnotes, several of the new restrictions had previously been blocked by the Justice Department under its pre-clearance power in the act, which is no longer enforceable. Augusta, Ga., had tried to move local elections from November to the earlier date of the primaries, knowing that minority turnout would be far lower. The Justice Department blocked that move in 2012, but after the court decision, Augusta moved the date. Texas, meanwhile, put its new voter ID requirement, which had been blocked, into effect after the decision.

Making things worse, a federal judge last week refused to block North Carolina’s voting law, probably the most restrictive in the country, which was also passed after the Supreme Court decision.

Before that decision, the Justice Department’s powers were largely limited to a group of states and localities, mostly in the South, that had shown a history of racial discrimination in voting. Restrictions, though, are popping up all over the country: 34 states now have voter ID laws.

Congress needs to quit seeing voting in partisan terms and make it a fundamental right that cannot be limited by states trying to block access to the polls.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

MC Hawking

What would you get if you crossed Stephen Hawking with a rapper?

MC Hawking!

There's a bunch of them!  Go there.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

the Skimm

What is the Skimm?  It's a pretty good way to keep "current."

theSkimm is the daily e-mail newsletter that gives you everything you need to start your day. We do the reading for you - across subject lines and party lines - and break it down with fresh editorial content.

Here's a snip from Aug 22



After video surfaced earlier this week of American journalist James Foley being beheaded by an ISIS militant, the US has a new to-do list: stop ISIS.


James Foley was kidnapped by militants in Syria nearly two years ago. Earlier this summer, a US Special Ops team was sent into Syria to try to save him and other Americans, but failed. Last year, ISIS reportedly demanded a $132 million ransom from the Foley family and the GlobalPost -- a news organization where Foley worked as a freelance journalist. While other hostages were released, the Foleys started raising money and communicated with ISIS enough to feel confident their son was still alive.


Well, yesterday US Sec. of Defense Chuck Hagel said ISIS is more of a threat than al Qaeda. So that's just great. He also said that the US has to be "clear-eyed" about longer-term involvement in the Mideast. Then, another US official got more specific, saying ISIS can't be stopped without also hitting Syria with airstrikes.


Read that last sentence above again. This is bigger than an isolated group in an isolated area, and this week's tragic events have moved the US's involvement up a notch. To what level, we don't know.


ISIS, ISIL, the Islamic State. These all refer to the same group, whose goal is to create a caliphate (think: giant Islamic state throughout the Mideast) President Obama uses the term 'ISIL' -- the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (an old term referring to a lot of territory in the Mideast) -- because the group's aspirations for its Islamic state go beyond just Iraq and Syria.

Friday, August 22, 2014

You Have Been Watching

Nobody skewers religion, God and Jesus like the Brits.  Hopefully the U.S. will follow in their footsteps.  Again.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

liberal reminders #3

Part 3 of a series, (excerpted from Alan Colmes' book Thank the Liberals)

A Little Help to Fight the Right 

When Congress has been challenged on legislation that's moved the country forward, the courts have mostly upheld those laws.  Over time, they've overturned bad laws and reversed bad decisions. Marbury v. Madison in 1803 affirmed the court's right to overturn unconstitutional laws.

Lawrence v. Texas overturned Bowers v. Hardwick which had made consensual gay sex, even in the privacy of one's own home, illegal.  The Lawrence decision paves the way for marriage equality.  The Racial Integrity Act of 1924 was overturned by Loving v. Virginia, which made it illegal for interracial couples to get married elsewhere and settle in that state.

When Lily Ledbetter was told by the Supreme Court she couldn't sue for equal pay because the statute of limitations had run out, Congress got to work and gave women more leeway to sue employers who deny them equality.

Other liberal decisions focus on protecting individual rights and include things like an indigent's right to counsel, the right to remain silent when arrested, and the right not to have your home invaded by authorities if anyone in the residence objects.  The state can't use illegally obtained evidence against you, and can't put a GPS device on your car to track your movements without a warrant.

The landmark Brown v. Board of Education ended school desegregation.

Griswold v. Connecticut protects our right to privacy, made birth control legal, and led to legalizing abortion in Roe v. Wade.

Larry Flynt's right to mock Jerry Falwell and Joey Johnson's right to burn the flag were upheld, proving the First Amendment is there to protect even the most reprehensible speech.

In Boumediene v. Bush it was determined that detainees get constitutional protection, even if they're not on U.S. soil, such as at Guantanamo Bay.

Over time, as Congress legislates progress, the judicial branch tends to affirm it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

food for thought

Time to toss out some pics I've collected over the last couple of weeks.  Politics, religion, but no sex.  Hey, where's the sex?

The GOP is trying to maul Obama over the amount of vacation time Obama takes, which of course pales in comparison to Congress itself and past Presidents.  The GOP is hilariously wrong so often, it sometimes seems like they make stupid comments on purpose.  They just can't help it.  Stupid is as stupid does.

And of course the GOP has to attack Obama for what is going on in Iraq these days.  It's amazing how often the GOP is wrong.  Why any self-respecting person would support the GOP is beyond me.

Here's a good one.  Louisiana Republicans surely must be some of the dumbest Republicans EVER.  And racist to boot.

A good friend of mine recently moved partly to Michigan from Texas, while lambasting the notorious Texas Republicans.  Looks like Michigan Republicans ain't much better.

Bernie Sanders is considering a run for President.  Can you imagine an open Socialist being President?  Might be a good idea.  If he runs as a Democrat, he's got my vote over Hillary.

Here's another GOP meme that is wrong wrong wrong.  "Raising the minimum wage will kill jobs!"  Wrong again, assholes!

The day would not be complete without a little religion-bashing.  Grow up, America!  Toss the crutches away!  It really doesn't take that much brainpower to see through the Bible.

My hero, Carl Sagan, that pot-smoking scientist. 

And a little good news.

I understand that there is no statute of limitations on war crimes.  Sleep well, George.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

NYT on weed

In case you missed it, the New York Times recently ran a big series on marijuana, even going so far as to advocate legalization.  Most of those articles are shown below, and the titles are all clickable.  Join the parade!

Repeal Prohibition, Again
The federal government should follow the growing movement in the states and repeal the ban on marijuana for both medical and recreational use.
Let States Decide on Marijuana
It's time for the federal government to step aside.
The Injustice of Marijuana Arrests
The costs of criminalization: billions of dollars spent on
law enforcement and lives destroyed by harsh penalties.
An ad for the 1930s film The Federal Marijuana Ban Is Rooted in Myth and Xenophobia
An atmosphere of hysteria in the 1930s took hold and shaped a national policy that lives on today.
What Science Says About Marijuana
While marijuana is not harmless, it is less dangerous to human health than alcohol and tobacco.
Rules for the Marijuana Market
States will have to be nimble as they work to protect consumers in a new and evolving market. They can start by learning from the mistakes made after Prohibition.
The Public Lightens Up About Weed
Americans have moved to a decidedly libertarian stance on marijuana, and younger people are left wondering why anyone ever made such a fuss about it.
High in the Rockies, a Chill Marijuana Debate ​
In Colorado, one town might embrace cannabis stores while another posts a keep-out sign. But on one thing they agree: leave your stoner humor at home.
Evolving on Marijuana
Highlights from the Editorial Board's changing view of marijuana over six decades.

Monday, August 18, 2014

We Are As Gods

Except, as an atheist, we are not like Gods, we are like humans, continually terraforming and altering our home planet to suit our needs and wants.  If that makes us like Gods, that doesn't really speak too well of the Gods.  They were always over-rated already.

A Start-Up Provides a Picture of Our Shape-Shifting Planet

The techno-futurist Stewart Brand has said “we are as gods” for the way humans have profoundly changed how the planet works. Now a start-up in San Francisco is offering fresh evidence.

The start-up, Planet Labs, has posted a gallery of images of Earththat illustrate how much people affect the planet, and how rapidly we move, crop, build on and otherwise reshape our world.

“The first thing you notice is the beauty,” said Will Marshall, chief executive of Planet Labs, speaking of his company’s photos, taken at an altitude of 600 kilometers, about 370 miles. “Then you compare them to older images, and you see that something has changed — a river has been moved, there are new buildings, a reservoir has been built or drained.”

The effects of drought over a year at a reservoir in Lake County, Calif.Credit USGS/NASA Landsat and Planet Labs

More at Original.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Fierce Comics

Echoing Mark Morford here: "Where are the right-wing equivalents to Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, etc, etc?"  {crickets}

Who can explain the disparity?

Fierce comics at the end of the world
Did you hear the one about Rusty Rockets – AKA Russell Brand – taking down Fox News’ ultra-doltish Sean Hannity, for the latter’s insufferable, bullying interview style and awesomely insulting treatment of particular guests who won’t say what he wants them to say – not to mention Hannity/Fox’s own corrosive, intellectually offensive comprehension of the issues of the day?

Did you see how Brand’s homespun video, part of the lanky British comic’s low-key “The Trews” YouTube series, went viral to the tune of 2.5 million hits (and counting) and not just because of the obvious moronics of its target, but also because Brand was somehow able, in a few short minutes, to meaningfully synopsize the current Gaza nightmare in ways no journalist or newspaper has yet quite had the nerve to do? Astonishing, really.

Russell, getting more brilliant by the casual, offhand post
Russell Brand, getting more brilliant by the casual, offhand post. Click to watch him take down Hannity

How about John Oliver, former Daily Show correspondent and HBO’s new and ultra-likable, sardonic Brit with a thing for arcane data points and long diatribes about global economics, who recently slapped major media outlets (NYT, The Atlantic, all of BuzzFeed) upside the head for their increasingly shameless dependence on “native ads,” those sneaky, destructive articles that look, smell and read like actual journalism but are actually sponsored content – giant ads masquerading as articles – and fully 50 percent of readers can’t really tell the difference?

Oliver is fresh out of HBO’s gate with his new show, Last Week Tonight, but he’s already gaining fast traction for his affable-but-piercing tirades – all sorts of surprisingly gratifying rants that are, somehow, even lengthier and cover even more wonderfully arcane topics than Jon Stewart magically converts, four nights a week, into comic gold.

Oliver is merely the latest in what’s become a hugely impressive, heartening line of whip-smart satirists tackling complex political and socioeconomic topics, when no one else seems willing or able, not merely by making them entertaining and funny as hell, but also by doing the impossible: making them relevant and accessible.

And here’s the best part: they all seem to do it while largely not sucking up to any corporate parent, or by pretending to be beholden to decaying notions of “journalistic independence.” What a thing.

Don’t forget Bill Maher, who’s been doing his “McLaughlin Group on acid” round-table shtick – first on Politically Incorrect, then later on Real Time – for more than 20 years. Maher is, by far, the most smarmy and crass of the bunch. But, like Stewart, he’s also smart as hell, surprisingly insightful and wickedly funny; no one does a better job of skewering the absurdities of God and country with a sly grin and a rogue’s banter.

Funny thing is, Maher doesn’t even call himself a liberal. Or a libertarian. What he is, is hyper intelligent, informed, world wary, savvy to all shallow political gamesmanship. This is why most people – especially conservatives – think he must be a liberal. Because if there’s one thing Republicans hate, it’s a shrewd, biting intelligence that thinks major pharmcos are criminals, Christianity is a cruel joke and congress is full of intellectual cowards.

John Oliver's Last Week Tonight. The newest addition to the must-watch arsenal of satire
John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. The newest addition to the must-watch arsenal of essential satire

It’s a hell of a thing, this comic-as-truth-teller phenom, this trend of popular shows satirizing not only politics and the news, but how the news is covered, by what sort of blowhards and journalistic incompetents. Mark Twain would be proud.

Stephen Colbert, of course, made the right-wing blowhard persona into an art form, pitch perfect and savagely indistinguishable – save for the dazzling humor – from the bloviated spew of the king of all right-wing demagoguery, Bill “Papa Bear” O’Reilly.

But really, all true props for this phenomenon belong to Jon Stewart. It’s Stewart who almost singlehandedly reinvented the culturally astute, satiric news show and made into something absolutely vibrant and essential, the thing you simply must watch if you want to be truly informed in the relentlessly crammed Information Age.

It’s been 15 years since Stewart took over the Daily Show and immediately swapped out Craig Kilborn’s cute news parodies with a format few imagined would ever hook millions of apathetic Millennials – a razor-sharp, wildly entertaining, news-driven comedy show that, despite Stewart’s claims to the contrary, is actually more informative and engaging (and well researched) than nearly any straight news outlet you can name.

(BTW, I’m very much looking forward to the day a female joins this tragically all-male list. At the moment, my vote goes to Amy Schumer, genius-level funny with acting chops to match, in possession of a seriously fierce understanding of cultural trends and sexual politics. Her current sketch show doesn’t much tackle politics or media, but give her a few more seasons. She could be a fantastic hostess).

The master
The master

Have you noticed something? How there exists no openly conservative, right-wing equivalent to any of these progressive, brainy comedy creations? How there is no show anywhere on the planet, including on Fox News, that features a dedicated right-winger slinging whip-smart blasts of irony to gleeful audiences with fearless abandon – someone willing, as Stewart et al most certainly are, to tackle all political ineptitude, left, right and center?

Why do you think? Why are Republicans, by and large, not the slightest bit funny beyond flagrant sexism, dick jokes and “You know you must be a redneck” inbred gags? Why do they largely avoid all satire, nuanced humor, self-deprecation and savage irony like a plague of scary locusts?

I think I just answered my own question. The conservative worldview is simply far too black/white, good/evil simplistic, polarizing, limited, antagonistic. It is generally anti-science, anti-nuance, anti-intelligence, anti higher-education, anti-humanitarian, and anti self-reflection. All of which makes true satire not merely anathema to the conservative mindset, but also completely incomprehensible. And largely terrifying. No wonder.

But I think there’s another reason these shows – and brilliant comics like Russell Brand (his Morning Joe appearance from June of last year remains essential viewing, btw) – are so successful at appealing to Generation Facebook (and at winning 18 Emmys, 2 Peabodys and a Grammy, as the Daily Show has done), and it was Oliver himself who pointed it out in the episode mentioned above.

Here’s why: Thanks to Fox News’ “truthiness,” “native ads” and grossly sponsored infotainment like BuzzFeed, major media is increasingly seen as duplicitous, untrustworthy, unable to deliver an honest story without bias or corporate corruption. It’s a Catch-22, really – no one wants to pay for real journalism anymore, so media is forced to whore out its newsroom to brands and sponsors, which results in even more mistrust and defection, as the sacred, long-standing wall separating the news division from marketing vanishes and corporations increasingly take over the medium and the message.

What’s a smart, jaded, intellectually curious Millennial (or aging liberal, or educated human) to do? Who can you trust to tell you the reasonably unvarnished truth, in a way that’s not only informative and accurate, but appeals to your bleak, sardonic, the zombies-are-coming world-wary fatalism?

That’s right: to the satirists. To the badass, fearless comics, the only people not driven by policy, corporate sponsor or political agenda, but simply by a desperate need to highlight the most barefaced ironies, joys and scandals of life so as to make you laugh. And think. And maybe, just maybe get a little more engaged.
Not a bad trend at all, really.