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True Rainbow Colors Shining Through

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 4:48 PM PDT

cyndi_lauper.jpgMTV and the gay TV network Logo are sponsoring a concert tour to drum up support for gay rights. After all, you've been drumming along to gay bands' tunes for years. Think Erasure ("Sexuality"!), the Indigo Girls, and Rufus Wainwright. These groups will perform, but the tour's headliner is long-time friend-of-the-gays Cyndi Lauper, whose song "True Colors" gives the tour its fitting name. The 15-city tour kicks off in Las Vegas on June 8 and ends in Los Angeles on June 30. (June is Gay Pride month.) Other performers include gay icons Debby Harry and Margaret Cho and lesbian favorite The Gossip. She bop, I bop, you bop!

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The Religious Times, They Are A-Changin'

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 3:41 PM PDT

Here's a nice trend: religious diversity in Congress is increasing. This past November, Minnesota elected the nation's first Muslim to Congress. Now Pete Stark, a congressman from California first elected in 1973, is the nation's first openly nontheist lawmaker. In a response to a question from the Secular Coalition for America, Stark acknowledged recently that he does not believe in God. He's the first federal-level lawmaker in American history to say this publicly.

Anywhere from 8-15% of Americans don't believe in God, according to surveys and census data. Thus, "If the number of nontheists in Congress reflected the percentage of nontheists in the population," says the director of the Secular Coalition, "there would be 53-54 nontheistic Congress members instead of one."

Spotted on The Plank.

Coulter's Remark a PR Ploy?

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 3:37 PM PDT

coulter.gif When I blogged briefly earlier this month about Ann Coulter's most recent use of discriminatory epithets (in a room filled with big-ticket Republicans), many of the comments scolded me for mentioning her at all. There's a whole movement, it seems, of folks pushing media outlets to turn Ann into the bigot who dare not speak its name. They claim that Coulter is the shock-jock of conservatism, saying whatever will win her the most attention.

Score one for them. Coulter has a new book coming out.

Movie Big Success! War Good! Freedom Not Free! Hey, Do You Work Out, Bro?

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 2:40 PM PDT

mojo-photo-300.jpg
All weekend, the Drudge report breathlessly screamed the headline, as if putting it in a big enough typeface could prove W. right and destroy the liberal peacenicks forever: BOXOFFICE BLOODBATH!!!!! That's right, it was a massacre in the cinema, and I don't mean like when Divine asked "who wants to die for art" in "Female Trouble." I mean "The 300," the latest in a long tradition of things whose name is a dramatic combination of a number and a "The." The movie broke some box office records this weekend, and, if I may join in the thematic word play, pillaged over 70 million smackeroos from the chain wallets of our nation's slack-jawed youths. What does it all mean? Isn't America supposed to be weary of warmongering, tired of knuckleheaded pseudo-freedom fighters, sick of meaningless video game-style violence? Sure. We're over Applebee's and fast cars too. H. L. Mencken, you just have to keep being proven right, don't you. Oh, you.

I haven't seen the damn movie, but I have seen a blog post referencing a dramatically-lit "feature" from Men's Health on the manly exercise habits of one of the stars. Lift tires, make muscles big for movie! Also the snarky reviews in the liberal media have been pretty entertaining. Hilarious, even. Is this the only way I can enjoy anything these days: by scrounging around in the sarcastic reactions to it? Well, no-one ever lost money overestimating my desire to look at rippling torsos on the internet or read witty put-downs of popular culture.

Iraq's Refugee Crisis, Nobody Spared

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 1:30 PM PDT

The refugee crisis in Iraq is dire and affects everyone, as is evident from Elizabeth's post below and this feature in our current issue. Newsweek reports today that the mass flight of Iraqis from their homeland has dwindled the educated class as well. "The exodus has...hollowed out Iraq's most skilled classes—doctors, engineers, managers and bureaucrats," the article reads. This is not entirely new news but has obvious future adverse effects for the rebuilding of a nation. Back in January, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that according to the U.N., 40 percent of Iraq's middle class had fled its country. "Most [were] fleeing systematic persecution and have no desire to return," the article read.

What's most interesting is that this statement regarding the middle class' desire never to return directly contradicts what the U.N. has been claiming most recently; that most refugees want to return to their homeland once the fighting stops. But of course, as I wrote here, many believe the U.N. only uses this as an excuse for the U.S.'s "miserly" asylum quota. And, miserly, it is. Regardless of the escalating crisis in the country, the United States continues to more or less ignore it, placating the situation with negligible assistance. A Refugees International rep., interviewed for the Newsweek article, echoed what I, and many others, have been saying for the past few months. The United States will continue to downplay this crisis, because in order to deal with it on the appropriate scale, it would have to admit how bad the situation actually is; that people in Iraq are dying to leaving their country because it is so unsafe for them. And admitting this would mean admitting the Iraq war has been lost -- something this administration, believe it or not, is still not willing to do.

African Dust Cooled 2006 Hurricane Season

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 12:35 PM PDT

Right-coasters and south-coasters can thank African dust for a quiet hurricane season in 2006. A little puff from just the right place in the Sahara cooled the pyrotechnics of storm formation. The Mother Jones piece "The 13th Tipping Point" (Nov/Dec 2006), explained just how Saharan dust is one of the critical global-warming tipping points keeping our world in balance—and likely to screw things up right royally if it falls out of balance.

From the MoJo article:

Global warming is expected to shrink the Sahara by increasing rainfall along its southern border. A greener Sahara will emit less airborne desert dust to seed the Atlantic and feed its phytoplankton, to suppress hurricane formation, and to fertilize the CO2-eating trees of Amazonia. Hardly a neighborhood on earth will look the same if Africa tips.

And the latest news from Sciencemag.org:

Meteorological signs were unanimous in foretelling yet another hyperactive hurricane season, the eighth in 10 years. But the forecasts were far off the mark. The 2006 season was normal, and no hurricanes came anywhere near the United States or the Caribbean.

Now two climatologists are suggesting that dust blown across the Atlantic from the Sahara was pivotal in the busted forecasts. The dust seems to have suppressed storm activity over the southwestern North Atlantic and Caribbean by blocking some energizing sunlight, they say.

But, unremarked by forecasters, an unusually heavy surge of dust began blowing off North Africa and into the western Atlantic at the 1 June beginning of the official hurricane season. Two weeks later, the surface waters of the western Atlantic began to cool compared with temperatures in the previous season.

Climatologists William Lau of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and Kyu-Myong Kim of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in Baltimore argue in the 27 February issue of Eos that the arrival of the thick dust and the subsequent cooling were no coincidence. The dust blocked some sunlight and cooled the surface, they say. That cooling went on to trigger a shift toward less favorable conditions for the formation and intensification of storms in the western Atlantic, they argue. As a result, no storm tracks crossed where nine had passed the previous season.

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Ancient Carvings of Nude Females Promote Wild Scientific ASSumptions

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 12:02 PM PDT

Okay, so maybe carvings of female figurines 15,000 years old reveal the preferred body shape for women was curvy with prominent buttocks. Or maybe, as the social anthropologist says, these were spiritual images (can't they be the same thing?). But, jaysus, does anyone else ever get annoyed that no one ever even once seems to consider the possibility that maybe women carved these things?

From New Scientist magazine:

Romuald Schild of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw and colleagues have uncovered 30 flint female figurines from an ancient hunting site near the village of Wilczyce in central Poland. Hunter-gatherer men whittled these voluptuous female figures in their spare time.

Preserved in ice, the figurines were part of a haul of over 10,000 artifacts, including animal bones, beads made from Arctic fox teeth, and bone needles. The site is thought to have been an autumn or winter camp for a hunter-gatherer tribe.

All of the figurines were headless and had hugely exaggerated buttocks. Perhaps strangely, given their allure today, few of the figures had breasts.

This bottom-heavy shape ties in with northern European stone carvings and cave engravings of women from a similar period.

However, the figurines may have expressed more than just men's desires. "It is hard to say if this body shape was a social preference or if it represented a spiritual image," says Nanneke Redclift, a social anthropologist at University College London.

Republican Senator Jon Kyl to Block U.S. Attorney Legislation

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 10:19 AM PDT

Last Tuesday, Senator Jon Kyl made a short appearance at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the prosecutorial independence of U.S. Attorneys, during which four of the fired prosecutors appeared to testify. The Republican member of the committee was there to show his objection to a bill put forth by Dianne Feinstein to overturn a provision slipped into the Reauthorization of the Patriot Act last year. The provision allows for the Attorney General to have unfettered power in appointing interim U.S. Attorneys, allowing them to remain in their position for the remainder of the president's term. Historically, interim USAs needed Congress approval after 120 days in office. The new provision drastically increased executive power over appointing USAs and has been a hot issue during the investigation of the eight fired U.S. Attorneys. On Friday, Alberto Gonzales agreed to relinquish his absolute power and said the Bush administration would not stand in the way of the new law proposed by the Senate to tighten restrictions for appointing USAs.

TMPmuckraker reports today that Kyl is not going to give up so quickly and plans, despite the fact that the administration has caved to Senate pressure, to block Feinstein's bill. The senator from Arizona has already blocked the bill once.

Iraqi Allies "A Population at Risk"

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 9:32 AM PDT

Last night 60 Minutes ran a piece on the forgotten Iraqi fighters of this war, not the insurgents nor the Iraqi Security Forces, but the translators, the drivers, the guides, the civilians who signed up to work with the US Army early on, and are paying for it with their lives and security now.

In our current issue, on newsstands now, David Case looks at this very issue, reporting that only 291 Iraqis have been granted refugee status in the United States since the war's beginning, and "meanwhile the line outside the UNHCR's gates gets longer every week, and the wait for an interview stands at five months." Read the whole thing, here.

Several (disguised) Iraqis, who have had to flee the country, spoke to 60 Minutes, expressing their frustration, and fear. One man whose leg was shattered in an explosion two years ago when he was working with the Mississippi National Guard said he was told by the State Department that he knew "the danger when you work with the U.S. Army" when he asked for support in leaving the country.

Retired Major General Paul Eaton, who was in charge of training the Iraqi army in 2003 and 2004, called on the President and Congress "to admit that a population is at risk. At risk because they have thrown their lot in with us." By 60 Minutes' tally at least 100,000 translators have worked for the armed forces in Iraq. "Add their families and you're well over a half a million people at risk. How many of them have been allowed to immigrate to the United States? About ten."

This, and the total of 291 Iraqi refugees, is in stark contrast to the 131,000 Vietnamese allowed into the United States in 1976, under Gerald Ford. In just 8 months. The Bush administration, on the other hand even after congressional hearings on refugees in January, has decided to let in 7,000 this year, which, with 2 million Iraqis already displaced is next to nothing.

Hagel-Huckabee Not Happening -- YET!

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 9:31 AM PDT

So, blergh. Chuck Hagel's big announcement about whether he was running for president turned out to be Hagel telling America, "I'm punting." What a waste of everyone's time and CNN's cameras. Here's the relevant quote from Mr. I-Can't-Make-Up-My-Mind.

"I'm here today to announce that my family and I will make a political decision on my future later this year."

Whatever, dude. I was all set to facetiously pimp your candidacy. If you want to read some of what Hagel had to say -- he did speak about his life story, his voting record, what America needs now, blah, blah, blah -- take a look at this story from a local Omaha news station.