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40 Percent of Deaths Linked to Environment

| Tue Sep. 11, 2007 2:53 PM EDT

Hmmm... Maybe it's not so bad to drink Dr. Pepper after all. A recent Cornell University study has found that nearly half of deaths worldwide are caused or exacerbated by environmental pollution, including water pollution.

David Pimentel, the Cornell professor of ecology and evolutionary biology who conducted the research, links 62 million deaths each year to organic or chemical pollutants, placing these factors alongside long-known killers such as heart disease.

Increasing rates of Malaria, E. coli, Salmonella, AIDS, and Tuberculosis all are linked to environmental degradation, according to Pimentel. "In the United States alone, 76,000 people are in the hospital each year, with 5,000 deaths, just due to pollution of air, food, or water," he said. "Cancers are increasing in the U.S., and AIDS is on the rise."

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Free Fruit for U.K. Kids Contains Pesticides (Wait, U.K. Kids Get Free Fruit?)

| Tue Sep. 11, 2007 2:39 PM EDT

When I learned that most free fruit for schoolchildren in the U.K. contains residue from pesticides, I didn't know quite how to react. I mean, pesticides in food is always bad news for sure. Yet I can't help but think that free fruit for kids is a pretty good idea (and one that we haven't managed to pull off in the U.S.).

Then again, maybe I'm wrong. From a Child Health News article on the topic:

Critics say the scheme was always unlikely to work because making fruit and vegetables available at school break time has no place in a culture in which healthy food is considered 'uncool' and they say stories abound of children forlornly wandering around the school playground with a bucket of fruit, trying to dispose of it.

Conclusion: Even if the free fruit were organic, it would still need some serious PR work.

Appeals Court Set to Hear "Wardrobe Malfunction" Case

| Tue Sep. 11, 2007 2:07 PM EDT

Wardrobe Malfunction
Hey, did anyone hear about this thing? I don't remember it getting much coverage. Back in 2004, I guess one of Michael Jackson's sisters and a Mouseketeer were at the World Series and did a whole song and dance routine where their clothes exploded? It sounds awesome. Honestly, why doesn't the media report on this stuff? It's all "blah blah, indepth reporting on the war and our government's lies." Yawn. Well, apparently this "wardrobe malfunction" is still working its way through our nation's court system: today, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia will hear the case of the exposed bazonga.

The FCC originally fined CBS $550,000 for the incident, which, if upheld, would be the largest fine ever against a television broadcaster. CBS appealed, saying that they "did not plan the sole part of the performance the FCC says made it indecent, the 'costume reveal'." Right. It seemed like an, er, open-and-shut case, but these days, the FCC's indecency standards are coming under increasing attack, reports Reuters: two courts in New York have rejected the government's policies on indecent speech, specifically, "fleeting expletives." Now there's a good name for a band.

While the issues work through the courts, the FCC has sat on its hands, or maybe everybody's just watching their mouths: there have been no proposals of fines since March of 2006. You're telling me we could have been ripping each other's clothes off on TV for the last 18 months? Fleeting expletive!

Polar Bears Mostly Extinct by 2050

| Tue Sep. 11, 2007 11:56 AM EDT

Sad news. A recent U.S. Geological Survey claims that 2/3 of the world's polar bears will be extinct by 2050 due to Arctic warming. Ice up North is melting so fast that the large predators likely won't have enough ice on which to hunt and breed during the summers. The Secretary of the Interior has suggested making polar bears a "threatened" species under the Endangered Species Act, entitling the animals to federal protections. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is giving a final recommendation on the bear's addition to the list to the Interior in January 2008. The Interior's suggested protection of the polar bear, though not finalized, is an encouraging move, given the Bush administration's history of active opposition to wildlife conservation.

Though the polar bears are disappearing, there is hopeful news on the other side of the globe. In a steamy Indian rainforest, tigers have been spotted 30 years after they were assumed extinct in the area. A local official estimates there are now about 20 of the big cats living in the wet, mountainous region of Maharashta. India is home to about 1,500 tigers, half of the world's tiger population.

Scientific Proof That Liberals Are Not Smarter

| Tue Sep. 11, 2007 3:46 AM EDT

MoveOn.org seems to remove its contact details after running one of the most idiotic ads in recent political history.

Scientific Proof That Liberals Are Smarter

| Tue Sep. 11, 2007 2:33 AM EDT

Ok, so not proof exactly, but man we are really smart. And I'm not talking about knowing geography or spelling or history. I'm talking about the alphabet. We know it, while conservatives are apparently blinded by ideology. In certain situations their rigid brains cannot distinguish among different letters of the alphabet, a major study has found, and this explains why they can't tolerate ambiguity and conflict as well as liberals.

"Political orientation is related to how the brain processes information," reports the UCLA and NYU study, as detailed in the LA Times:

Participants were college students whose politics ranged from "very liberal" to "very conservative. They were instructed to tap a keyboard when an M appeared on a computer monitor and to refrain from tapping when they saw a W.

M appeared four times more frequently than W, conditioning participants to press a key in knee-jerk fashion whenever they saw a letter.

And conservatives were by far the worst knee-jerkers, routinely mistaking a W for an M, or vice versa when the weightings were changed. This has happened before. Mole hill or WMD? Morass or winnable? Melting ice or wacko science? In all seriousness, Frank J. Sulloway, a researcher at UC Berkeley's Institute of Personality and Social Research, told the Times that the results could explain why Bush demonstrated a single-minded commitment to the Iraq War and why "liberals could be expected to more readily accept new social, scientific or religious ideas."

This study is by no means the first to suggest that one political persuasion or another is more fit for duty in the battle of ideas. A few years ago I wrote about a University of Texas study that found residents of Houston suffer from a quasi-clinical condition known as "war fever." But this newest study at least takes the political debate back to the ABCs. Now if only conservatives could go back to kindergarten. . .

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Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things - 9/10/07

| Tue Sep. 11, 2007 1:00 AM EDT

In this week's edition: very low bass noises, very high singing, very old school samples, and very weird music from the desert. I'm also very late putting it together, so I'm too tired to try and elucidate a theme from my random picks as usual; if anybody can see one (other than, er, 'pretension"), let me know.

Gram Rabbit10. Gram Rabbit - "Something Fuzzy" (from RadioAngel and the RoboBeat, out 11/13 on Royal Order)
(Listen at their MySpace)
This Joshua Tree-based combo, led by the charismatic Jesika von Rabbit, are known for their quirkiness, but this track finds them a little calmer and more focused. The electro backing buzzes along under Ms. Rabbit's whispered vocals, and then new guitarist Ethan Allen comes in with a straightforward melody, and the song opens up, like driving over a hill into a desert valley.

Kanye West9. Kanye West feat. Chris Martin - "Homecoming" (from Graduation, out tomorrow on Island Def Jam)
(Grab an mp3 at Goodnight and Go)
Okay, okay. Yes, we're all tired of Coldplay, but on this track, Chris Martin just seems to give up and become Phil Collins, and actually it kind of works. In fact, this is basically Genesis' "That's All" with a beat. Anyway, Kanye delivers some heartfelt lines in an ode to his hometown of Chicago, feeling guilty for leaving, and the track's strange mix of emotions proves why Kanye's such a compelling figure in contemporary music, tantrums and all.

Mock & Toof8. Mock & Toof - "K Choppers" (from the Death From Abroad 12" on DFA)
Songs on DFA records, whether they're hits from LCD Soundsystem or random 12" singles, share a common thread: an understanding that the depths of disco contain a limitless sonic pallette, and that even a simple track, crafted with care, can be revelatory. Case in point: "K Choppers;" it doesn't do much, except build a kind of spooky, spacey mood over 6 minutes, kind of like a more mellow "Night on Disco Mountain." And that's enough.

Grit Boys7. Grit Boys feat. Trae & Tum Tum - "I'm Fresh" (single on Mo Betta Grooves) (Listen on their MySpace or iTunes)
I don't care what they're saying, I don't care what they stand for, I don't care about anything. Alls I know is this song's got a single bass note that slides down a whole octave until resolving itself at a throbbing, speaker-killing frequency, somewhere between whale stomach rumble and earthquake. You don't really get the full effect from the poor-quality MySpace version, and you probably can't hear it on computer speakers, but the next time you're on iTunes and connected to a system with some bass, just give it a try. Boooooowwaaaaammmm.

Thurston6. Thurston Moore - "Wonderful Witches" (from Trees Outside the Academy, out 9/18 on Ecstatic Peace)
(grab an mp3 here)
What separates a Thurston Moore song from a Sonic Youth song? Kim stays home? Is that it? Well, judging from this track, he's a little looser, which makes sense. "Witches" has a shambolic, and oddly quiet feel to it, although it manages to squeeze some great riffs, a feedback freakout, and a big guitar solo into its 2 minutes and 26 seconds.

MoveOn, Anbar, and Lantos: Final Thoughts on the Petraeus and Crocker Hearing

| Mon Sep. 10, 2007 9:53 PM EDT

There's not much I can add to Bruce's excellent piece on the Petraeus/Crocker hearing, but I'll throw some things out.

• It looks like MoveOn.org's full-page ad in the New York Times calling Petraeus "General Betray Us" backfired. The Republicans repeatedly used it to make Democrats look like awful people who hate those in uniform, even though the Democrats joined the Republicans in slathering praise all over Petraeus all day long.

• General Petraeus started his testimony by saying, "This is my testimony… I wrote this testimony myself." He was aware that people suspect him of carrying water for the administration.

• As the point man for political activity (as opposed to military activity) in Iraq, Ambassador Crocker had a much harder time pointing to successes than did Petraeus. He compared the debates and fights ongoing in the Iraqi government with earlier U.S. debates over civil rights and states' rights. We shouldn't ask if the Iraqis have resolved these debates, he said, but instead ask if the way they go about debating shows "seriousness." Talk about a tough sell.

• After explaining how local leaders and citizens had turned against al Qaeda in Anbar, Crocker said "Shia extremists are also facing rejection." He is trying to argue, while still remaining cautious, that Anbar's success is going to be recreated elsewhere.

• Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) criticized Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki for his close ties to Iran. Isn't this counterproductive to Lantos' goals of building support for withdrawal? Lantos is more or less admitting that if we leave now, Iran will sweep in, a strong argument for staying the course. Lantos didn't favor pushing Maliki out immediately, nor did he support waiting around until Maliki is pushed out Democratically. So what did he think would happen with Iran if we withdraw?

I was pondering the subject until I heard Lantos say this: "We need to send Maliki's government a strong message, loud and clear. Removing a brigade is nothing more than a political whisper." So that's the solution – force Maliki to reform his ways by withdrawing troops (more than a brigade, as Petraeus suggests) and showing him America's commitment to Iraq isn't open-ended. But withdrawal won't pressure Maliki to reform his ways; it'll leave him happier than before, because it will allow him to strengthen the Shiites hold on power and allow his benefactors in Iran to increase their influence in the region.

Perhaps the Dems should drop this talking point? I'm probably too deep in the weeds here. Just thinking out loud.

• Finally, Crocker should win an award for coining the euphemism of the year: "post-kinetic environments." That is, neighborhoods that have been destroyed by firefights and bombings. As in, "I lost my fruit stand. It was unluckily located in a post-kinetic environment."

50 Cent vs. Kanye: The Oasis vs. Blur of Our Time?

| Mon Sep. 10, 2007 7:27 PM EDT

50 Cent & Kanye West
It's being called the "hip-hop story of the year": both Kanye West and 50 Cent have albums coming out tomorrow, and which one of them ends up on the top spot will determine, I dunno, the future of mankind or something. The whole thing is starting to seem like a little bit of a setup, especially since the two rappers were willing to put aside their differences to pose for the cover of Rolling Stone. That photo kind of makes me want to see them make out, just a little, like the sweatier Hall & Oates cover Idolator pointed out as an apparent inspiration. Anyway, Fiddy is annoying as a personality but great as a rapper, of course, and as Sarah Silverman said in one of the few barely-funny lines in her opening monologue last night, it's "so cute he's still alive." But obviously, you've got to root for Kanye, the underdog: Daft Punk! Takashi Murakami! Three weeks ago, I would have said there was no chance Kanye would take the #1 spot, but with "Stronger" staying strong at iTunes, and the publicity from his MTV performances and antics, perhaps there's been a shift in the zeitgeist.

It's all reminiscent of The Battle of Britpop, although nowhere near as culturally relevant: back in 1995, arch-rivals Oasis and Blur released singles on the same day, with Blur lead singer Damon Albarn moving the release date of "Country House" up a week to coincide with the release of Oasis' "Roll With It." Back then, Oasis were the Northern working class heroes to Blur's Southern art-school experimenters, and it seemed like the entirety of England (and Anglophiles everywhere) lined up on either side. Blur won the battle easily (outselling Oasis 274,000 to 216,000), but in retrospect, it sure seems like Oasis won the war: the next month, their album (What's the Story) Morning Glory went on to become the 3rd best selling UK album of all time, and the following year, the band played two history-making shows at Knebworth for over 250,000 people, while Blur petered out. Of course Damon Albarn is more succesful than ever with Gorillaz these days, so it all kind of works out.

If Kanye is Blur (artsy, pretentious) and 50 is Oasis (street-level, boastful), it's possible the outcome might be similar: Kanye wins this battle, via a random alignment of his stars, but looking back, 50 Cent will still be seen as defining his generation of hip-hop. Alternately, a Kanye win might signal the downfall of violent, controversial, cash-obsessed party rap, and the return of the progressive hip-hop sound of the 80s and early 90s. Or maybe they'll both get beaten by Animal Collective, who will ride the success of today's 9.3-rated Pitchfork review to a nation-conquering #1 debut. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to ride my unicorn to Narnia where Dennis Kucinich is president.

House Armed Services Committee Kept in Dark on War Planning

| Mon Sep. 10, 2007 6:22 PM EDT

During today's Petraeus-and-Crocker congressional showcase, Representative Solomon P. Ortiz (D-Texas) asked the esteemed witnesses what they felt about increasing our diplomatic engagement with the Middle East's regional powers. Ortiz supports our initial efforts at diplomacy, but would like to see vastly more of it used in the region.

General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker signaled their approval, but Ortiz stopped them short to follow up: are we engaging players in the region diplomatically, he asked. I know you support it, he said, but are we actually doing it?

I called Ortiz up to ask why a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee doesn't know if the United States is using diplomacy as part of our war effort. He told me it has to do with the administration and the secrecy it has repeatedly used, often with no good reason, over the last six years. Perhaps they are supplying the House Foreign Affairs Committee with more information on the subject, he said, but they certainly aren't giving us any.

Ortiz has been in Congress a long time. Elected in 1982, he's served with four presidents. He said he has a hard time remembering one who was less inclined than George W. Bush to treat Congress as a separate but equal branch of government.

So if any Republicans give you the old line about Republicans running government more efficiently, tell them that the House Armed Services Committee doesn't know the extent to which we are using diplomacy in the Middle East. That should fix their misconception.