Awesome Pics of Underwater Volcano Erupting

Via the ever alert P.Z. Myers, there's an underwater volcano erupting off the coast of Tonga and Boston.com has an excellent photo spread. Check it out as well as their whole collection under The Big Picture heading.

Here's an AP video:

And an MSNBC quickie

This ranks right up their with the Chaiten Volcano Lightning Storm pic.


Obama Really Does Like America

Yesterday, the American Legion blasted President Obama for proposing to charge veteran's private health insurance for treatment of their service related injuries:
The American Legion Strongly Opposed to President's Plan to Charge Wounded Heroes for Treatment
The leader of the nation's largest veterans organization says he is "deeply disappointed and concerned" after a meeting with President Obama today to discuss a proposal to force private insurance companies to pay for the treatment of military veterans who have suffered service-connected disabilities and injuries. The Obama administration recently revealed a plan to require private insurance carriers to reimburse the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in such cases.

"It became apparent during our discussion today that the President intends to move forward with this unreasonable plan," said Commander David K. Rehbein of The American Legion. "He says he is looking to generate $540-million by this method, but refused to hear arguments about the moral and government-avowed obligations that would be compromised by it."

Discussion has exploded in the blogosphere, driven in no small part by the talking heads on AM radio dials across the country. To listen to them, you'd think Obama will also require you to bring your own weapon and buy your cammies before joining the military. But what's the real story?

Obama increased the Veteran Administration's budget 15% to $113 billion to cover an additional 500,000 service members. That's the largest dollar and percentage increase ever requested by a president for the veterans. This includes helping those who live in rural areas so they don't have to drive hundreds of miles to get the treatment they need. It also includes measures to expand coverage of mental health. Vets cannot concurrently receive retirement benefits and disability benefits. Obama's plan will gradually lift that restriction. Overall, his plan is great for veterans and it addresses many of the concerns they've voiced about VA health care.

First, no decision has been made. Second, this is something that was under consideration. The administration floated it and heard the response from the veterans. It won't make it to the hill. But you can see how this all came about - the President wants to cover more people but has to figure out how to pay for it while the economy is falling down around him. So if this isn't acceptable, he'll have to find another way - which will likely be having Medicare pay for the VA's treatment of Medicare-eligible vets for treatment of non-service connected injuries/illnesses.

The upshot is that the various veterans organizations like his plan with the exception of this one particular proposal. That's understandable, but you don't get that sense from this article. The talking heads of the far right have devolved the discussion into Barrack Hussein Obama's hatred of America and its heroes. Is there any wonder they've lost credibility with the general public? Is this the strategy the plan to gain votes from the independents?

A better (i.e. unbiased) article can be found here.


Happy Pi Day!

Happy Pi Day world! But remember, it doesn't give you a license to be irrational.


Udder Insanity!

I've heard about claims like this...always figured this nuttiness was an urban legend. Turns out, some people really do think this way.
A rancher in Las Animas County, Colorado made a shocking and gruesome discovery over the weekend. He found a mutilated cow by the Purgatoire River.
Duran has a theory about what happened. "We have other life out there and I think that's what it is," said Duran.

Duran says he thinks aliens abducted the cow, carved it up and then dropped it back by the river. He doesn't have proof, but claims to have seen some strange sights in the Colorado skies above his ranch. "Like a round circle in the air," said Duran. "I've watched them and then they just disappear," he said.



A Classic for Skeptics

If you've neither seen nor heard, then behold Tim Minchin and his piano:

(thanks Dr. Zach)


The Rasmussen 'Approval Index'

I just sent the following email to the awesome folks at FiveThirtyEight.com who were perhaps the most reliable source of polling analyses during the run up to the November elections. Maybe it's not "folks" - maybe it's all Nate Silver, in which case he's doing yeoman's work in crunching numbers. And if you didn't know, I like numbers. Just put me in a room with a spreadsheet and I'll be a happy camper.


The right wing Power Line blog has a post called "Regressing Towards the Mean" in which they attribute some significance to the President's "approval index" - i.e. the difference between Strongly Approve and Strongly Disapprove, based on Rasmussen Reports. There are a couple of interesting points to note about the Rasmussen polls:

1) There is a consistent 98-99% response rate for approve/disapprove (A/D). They don't seem to have a Don't Know/No Answer category. A quick survey of most other polls listed at Real Clear Politics puts this at odds with most other polls which have a total A/D response between 80-90%.

2) Rasmussen has also consistently given lower approval ratings and higher disapproval ratings than nearly all other polling agencies. You need only compare past spreads to see that Rasmussen is something of an anomaly when it comes to A/D polling.

So my question is how significant is the Rasmussen approval index and, given the following quote from Power Line, is it really evidence that Republicans should rely on?

The Democrats are trying to follow a "100 days" strategy reminiscent of Roosevelt, in which they will enact a far-reaching transformation of the American economy at the outset of the Obama administration. This approach is based in part on the calculation that Obama's personal popularity and the reluctance of many to attack him (consider the kerfuffle over the New York Post cartoon about the stimulus bill) will help them to ram through Congress a program that contains radical elements that are not supported by the American people. The evidence suggests, however, that Obama does not have such a powerful influence with voters, and that Republicans should not hesitate to do their utmost to block the Democrats' ambitions or to criticize Obama where appropriate.


America's 3rd Largest Religion

...is no religion. And it's growing in popularity. According to today's U.S. Today article which is currently running in the U.S. (today):
So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists. In a nation that has long been mostly Christian, "the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion," the report concludes.
These levels now qualify as epidemic proportions. Branded as a Christian nation, America is slowly giving up that fad. And guess what? We're all still moral creatures. Funny that, eh?