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Ann Coulter, on a Roll

| Sat Mar. 3, 2007 3:19 PM EST

ann_coulter.jpg At the annual American Conservative Union meeting—attended by the V.P. and all the 2008 Republican candidates but McCain—Ann Coulter gave her latest gaydar reading. John Edwards, like Bill Clinton and Al Gore before him, is a "faggot."

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Age-Old Tradition Felled by Climate Change

| Sat Mar. 3, 2007 2:42 PM EST

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Today's New York Times reports that sugar makers in Vermont—maple syrup farmers, that is—can no longer rely on generations-old traditions to tell them when to tap the trees. Maple season has moved up at least a month and become shorter, sugar makers say. The U.S. used to make 80 percent of the world's maple syrup and Canada, 20. Their roles have now reversed as the maples thrive in the northernmost reaches of their traditional range.

Maple trees not only produce the sweet, delicious sap; they also provide the most exquisite of fall foliage.

What the Bush Administration is Doing About It (Climate Change)

| Sat Mar. 3, 2007 2:41 PM EST

Short answer: Nothing. Actually, that's not fair: Less than nothing. The Department of Energy predicts that, if nothing were done to restrict greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. would produce just under 9 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year by 2020. The Administration claims that if nothing were done, emissions in that year would be closer to 10 billion tons. With Bush's all-voluntary restrictions, emissions will be exactly what the DOE says they would be, anyway. Addressing Bush's plan, David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council told the New York Times, "If you set the hurdle one inch above the ground, you can't fail to clear it." But the better metaphor is digging a one inch trench then setting the hurdle an inch above the ground.

The estimates come from the draft of the United States Climate Action Report, a final version of which was promised for the summer of 2005. Explaining the delay, officials blamed "the recent departures of several senior staff members running the administration's climate research program." (Don't you wonder why they'd quit?) The officials also said "no replacements had been named." Survival of the species on the line and the Bush administration is too busy firing nonpartisan U.S. attorneys to staff the climate research program.

Age-Old Tradition Felled by Climate Change

| Sat Mar. 3, 2007 2:38 PM EST

maple_tree.jpg

Today's New York Times reports that sugar makers in Vermont—maple syrup farmers, that is—can no longer rely on generations-old traditions to tell them when to tap the trees. Maple season has moved up at least a month and become shorter, sugar makers say. The U.S. used to make 80 percent of the world's maple syrup and Canada, 20. Their roles have now reversed as the maples thrive in the northernmost reaches of their traditional range.

Maple trees not only produce the sweet, delicious sap; they also provide the most exquisite of fall foliage.

What the Bush Administration is Doing About It (Climate Change)

| Sat Mar. 3, 2007 2:31 PM EST

Short answer: Nothing. Actually, that's not fair: Less than nothing. The Department of Energy predicts that, if nothing were done to restrict greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. would produce just under 9 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year by 2020. The Administration claims that if nothing were done, emissions in that year would be closer to 10 billion tons. With Bush's all-voluntary restrictions, emissions will be exactly what the DOE says they would be, anyway. Addressing Bush's plan, David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council told the New York Times, "If you set the hurdle one inch above the ground, you can't fail to clear it." But the better metaphor is digging a one inch trench then setting the hurdle an inch above the ground.

The estimates come from the draft of the United States Climate Action Report, a final version of which was promised for the summer of 2005. Explaining the delay, officials blamed "the recent departures of several senior staff members running the administration's climate research program." (Don't you wonder why they'd quit?) The officials also said "no replacements had been named." Survival of the species on the line and the Bush administration is too busy firing nonpartisan U.S. attorneys to staff the climate research program.

Portion Of Ryan White Act Could Remove $60 Million From Prevention Budget

| Sat Mar. 3, 2007 12:32 PM EST

Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, according to his offiicial biography, is dedicated to "improving health care access and affordability, protecting the sanctity of all human life...." Not quite, if you consider his hat trick that could wipe $60 million of the HIV/AIDS prevention program. Coburn added a provision to the recently renewed Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Act that will divert $60 million from the Centers for Disease Control's HIV/AIDS prevention budget over the next three years into a fund for which no state qualifies.

The HIV Early Diagnosis Grant initiative mandates that $30 million of the CDC's prevention budget be set aside each year for states that meet a particular set of guidelines for HIV testing. The problem is that not one state meets these specific guidelines. However, the $30 million will be taken out of the CDC's budget, regardless.

Under the Early Diagnosis Grant program, states could receive money if they provide voluntary HIV testing of pregnant women and universal testing of newborns, and voluntary HIV testing at sexually transmitted infections clinics and at substance abuse treatment centers.

In anticipation of a loss of funds, the CDC has requested an additional $30 million in its 2008 budget. George W. Bush has already cut state and local prevention grants by $21 million since 2003. Laura Hanen, Director of Government Relations for the National Association of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, reports that HIV/AIDS advocates had asked Coburn for a compromise that would allow any unused portion of the $30 million to return to the CDC's prevention budget each year, but he will not budge.

Diana Bruce of the AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth & Families defends Coburn as "a senator who cares a lot about HIV/AIDS" issues, but says that his initiative is misguided. "There already is a massive effort to prevent mother to child transmission ...the CDC has its own prenatal transmission programs," Bruce said.

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Diminished Sense of Moral Outrage Key to Maintaining View That World Is Fair and Just

| Fri Mar. 2, 2007 8:38 PM EST

Researchers from New York University's Department of Psychology report findings in the journal Psychological Science, that people who see the world as essentially fair maintain this perception through a diminished sense of moral outrage.

Psychologists have long studied system-justification theory, which posits that people adopt belief systems that justify existing political, economic, and social situations or inequities in order to make themselves feel better about the status quo. Moreover, in order to maintain their perceptions of the world as just, people resist changes that would increase the overall amount of fairness and equality in the system. Instead, they often engage in cognitive adjustments that preserve a distorted image of reality in which existing institutions are seen as more equitable and just than they are.

Who needs cocktails when you can create blindfolded bliss in your own brain? The researchers constructed a two-part experiment designed to unlock the secrets of pathological optimism.

In the first part of the study--an experiment involving a series of questions and scenarios--the researchers found that the more people endorsed anti-egalitarian beliefs, the less guilt and moral outrage they felt. The reduction in moral outrage (but not guilt) led them to show decreased support for helping the disadvantaged and redistributing resources.

The second part of the experiment was a kind of control. Half the subjects were presented with Horatio Alger, rags-to-riches stories, implicitly endorsing system-justification beliefs. The other half got stories describing the plight of innocent victims, underscoring the unfairness of the system.

The results showed that subjects exposed to the rags-to-riches stories reported less negative affect and less moral outrage than subjects exposed to the innocent-victim essays. As with the first study, moral outrage mediated the effect of system justification on support for redistribution, but general negative affect did not.

Okay, in real speak, it seems that people who can escape reality are good at pretending bad news is the victims' fault. So, can big pharma come up with a cure for Republicanism? Let's dose those tudes with reality.

Seinfeld: "Documentarians Not Funny." Documentarian: "You Too."

| Fri Mar. 2, 2007 7:57 PM EST
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The statute of limitations for post-Oscar bickering is about to run out, so now's the time to get in some last licks. I'm gonna avoid the just-how-tacky-was-Ellen minefield. So let's focus on another bland and unmemorable Oscar presenter—Jerry Seinfeld. Seinfeld seems to have ticked off at least one filmmaker during his presentation of the Oscar for best documentary. John Sinno, a nominee for the great Iraq in Fragments, just wrote an open letter (not online yet, but posted in full after the jump) to the Academy, criticizing Seinfeld for calling his film and the four other nominees "incredibly depressing":

While I appreciate the role of humor in our lives, Jerry Seinfeld's remarks were made at the expense of thousands of documentary filmmakers and the entire documentary genre. Obviously we make films not for awards or money, although we are glad if we are fortunate enough to receive them. The important thing is to tell stories, whether of people who have been damaged by war, of humankind's reckless attitude toward nature and the environment, or even of the lives and habits of penguins. With his lengthy, dismissive and digressive introduction, Jerry Seinfeld had no time left for any individual description of the five nominated films. And by labeling the documentaries "incredibly depressing," he indirectly told millions of viewers not to bother seeing them because they're nothing but downers.

OK. Maybe it was a bad call to get a guy whose comedy is about "nothing" to introduce films that are about capital-S something. But let's be honest—this year's docs were really depressing. But that's why we like documentary films; they're a needed, if downlifting, reality check. And if it makes Sinno feel better, even the documentary about Seinfeld was a downer. If you ever want to see the story of a man with a moribund career and no interior life to boot, check it out.

Washington Post Op-ed on Climate Change As Brought To You By Mad Max

| Fri Mar. 2, 2007 7:38 PM EST

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius' op-ed piece in today's paper discusses a report, "Impacts of Climate Change," composed by futurist Peter Schwartz's consulting group, Global Business Network, for a U.S. government intelligence agency he does not identify. From the GBN:

Climate change is a real and growing problem for the United States and for the world. As urgency around the issue continues to grow, so too does the scientific consensus that changes to Earth's climate will enormously affect the planet's future and the futures of all who inhabit it. Anthropogenic climate change is now widely considered to have the potential not just to cause perturbations in the weather, but also to create major discontinuities in many complex natural and human systems, including ecosystems, economies, human settlements, and even political institutions.

In other words, folks, global warming is not going to annoy just polar bears. Read on, from the WP:

What Schwartz discovers with his stress-testing makes climate change even scarier: The world already is precarious; the networks that maintain political and social order already are fragile, especially in urban areas; the dividing line between civilized life and anarchy is frighteningly easy to breach, as the daily news from Iraq reminds us. We look at the behaviors of butterflies and migratory birds as harbingers of climate change. But what about early effects on human beings? "The steady escalation of climate pressure will stretch the resiliency of natural and human systems," writes Schwartz. "In short, climate change pushes systems everywhere toward their tipping point."

Think you'll escape it? Think you'll coast through it? That's what the residents of New Orleans thought before their own private 9/11 on August 29th, 2005. Again from the GBN:

If a climate change-induced system disruption reduces of the ability of the government to deliver political goods (Katrina being an obvious example), it also reduces political legitimacy and halts economic activity, thus driving local populations to rely upon primary loyalties (families, neighborhoods, religious organizations, gangs, etc.) for daily survival. This dynamic in the political system is often (and will increasingly be) played out in urban settings—physical spaces that require intensive external flows of goods and services to survive, and that are also highly (and increasingly) interconnected and networked via transport and telecommunications infrastructure. Collapsing civil order within urban settings will offer extreme economic rewards in the form of smuggling and black markets; indeed, these may be the only functioning markets, making virtually everyone in these spaces a "bad actor." Those unwilling or unable to profit from the chaos will radiate outward through refugee flows, exporting social conflicts to adjacent locales. Finally, because of the sheer complexity of megacities, they will be very difficult to reorder once destabilized, and may continue in chaos until they depopulate themselves.

Enter the Road Warrior.

Will Arcade Fire Hit #1?

| Fri Mar. 2, 2007 5:31 PM EST

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I can't believe I'm typing this, but it seems entirely possible that Arcade Fire, the iconoclastic Canadian underground indie-rock mega-combo, may ride a wave of publicity to the top of the US charts this Tuesday (3/6) with their sophomore album Neon Bible. They just performed on SNL (also, apparently, doing an off-stage number right after the show just for the studio audience) and they're all the blogs can talk about. They also remain one of two bands who have ever made me, ahem, misty-eyed at a live performance. (Okay, fine: the other was Low. All those other times, I just had something in my eye, really.)

New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones was a little late to the party on the Fire, but makes up for it with a fine article this week. He follows the band around to their recent London shows (lucky!!!) and admires their lo-fi tendencies by saying it's "hard to imagine" them ever using a cordless microphone. I found that reference kind of amusing: capping off the aforementioned tear-inducing performance (at Coachella in 2005), lead singer Win Butler unplugged his mic and threw it in a high arc out over the massive crowd (see that at the end of this video here). It sounds silly now, but it was a heart-stopping moment, capping off probably the greatest live show I've ever seen in my life. I guess that doesn't really count as a "cordless mic," though, does it.

I've heard Neon Bible (like anyone with DSL has at this point), and it's great. There probably aren't any breakout hits (like "Rebellion (Lies)" from their debut album Funeral) but that seems kind of the point: the new songs unroll at their own pace, like hymns, without hurrying to a pop "hook." This is a band who adamantly refuse to license any music (even, apparently, for Oscar-winning, if supremely hacky, directors), and who are so DIY, they can manage to screw up a charity single upload. Nothing against Norah Jones, but if they knock her off the #1 spot, it will be kind of exhilarating.