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Party Ben's Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things - LA Edition

| Sat Apr. 7, 2007 6:39 PM EDT

Okay, I'm sorry, the big list is a day late, but sometimes when you're in Los Angeles, heavy drinking gets in the way of blogging. I've only been in town a few short hours, so in fact this Top Ten will have little to do with this pubescent metropolis, and actually, there's still a couple things to mention from my trip last week to New York. Sorry, LA; New York still wins.

10. Community Service, Indie 103.1, Fridays 10pm – 12 midnight
Alright, here's one cool thing in LA. Scott Kirkland and Ken Jordan, otherwise known as the Crystal Method, have become possibly America's most knowledgeable purveyors of progressive breaks. Their Friday night show manages to push the envelope with new sounds while keeping it friendly with the goofy, geeky banter of the hosts

9. The Ponys - "1209 Seminary" (from Turn the Lights Out on Matador)
Robert Christgau seemed to kind of dis the new Ponys album (but, wow, it still gets three stars, like everything else in Rolling Stone) and while I don't think this Chicago four-piece is necessarily rewriting the rule book, their Sonic Youth-y alt-rock reminds me of why I got into radio in the first place

8. Paul Wall "I'm Throwed" (from Get Money, Stay True on Atlantic)
While this doesn't compare to the majestic "Sittin' Sideways," the Houston rapper is still making weird, weird tunes. Is that a car alarm? What is that? How do I get to be a hip-hop superstar so I can use, like, truck-backing-up noises for a smash hit single?

7. Mark Ronson "Stop Me" (from the forthcoming album Version)
This UK DJ and producer has made a name by covering current hits in quirky, often soulful styles, and while this version of the Smiths' 1987 swan song won't replace the original, it does recontextualize it as a kind of "new standard," reminding us of how spine-tinglingly brilliant the Smiths were even as they were falling apart. "I still love you/Only slightly less than I used to" – God almighty, and this is like a third-tier Smiths song!!

6. Charlotte Hatherley - "I Want You to Know" (from the forthcoming album The Deep Blue)
If you ask me, Ash were one of the most underrated bands of the last 15 years. Thanks for asking. Now their guitarist emerges from the background with a sound that's slightly more mature, somewhere between Belly and the Pixies. Nice

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Natural Wonders Of The World Face Destruction from Climate Change

| Sat Apr. 7, 2007 2:39 PM EDT

Ten of the world's greatest natural wonders face destruction if the climate continues to warm at the current rate. The endangered wonders, warns the World Wildlife Fund, include the Amazon, Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs, Chihuahua Desert in Mexico and the US, hawksbill turtles in the Caribbean, Valdivian temperate rainforests in Chile, tigers and people in the Indian Sundarbans, Upper Yangtze River in China, wild salmon in the Bering Sea, melting glaciers in the Himalayas, and East African coastal forests. "From turtles to tigers, from the desert of Chihuahua to the great Amazon – all these wonders of nature are at risk from warming temperatures," says Dr Lara Hansen, Chief Scientist of WWF's Global Climate Change Programme. "While adaptation to changing climate can save some, only drastic action by governments to reduce emissions can hope to stop their complete destruction." --Julia Whitty

Good Behavior, Religiousness May Be Genetic

| Sat Apr. 7, 2007 2:25 PM EDT

A new study shows that selfless and social behavior is not a product of religious environment. After studying the behavior of adult twins, researchers found that, while altruistic behavior and religiousness tend to appear together, the correlation is due to both environmental and genetic factors. The Journal of Personality, via Blackwell Publishing, reports that the popular idea that religious individuals are more social and giving because of behavioral mandates set for them is incorrect. According to study author Laura Koenig, religiousness occurs beside altruistic behaviors because there are genes that predispose them to it. "There is, of course, no specific gene for religiousness, but individuals do have biological predispositions to behave in certain ways," says Koenig. --Julia Whitty

Weird Weather Watch: Apocalypse, Soon

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 8:23 PM EDT

The Los Angeles Times reports that the same U.N. body that released the sense-knocking report in January, released a second part of the study, which enumerates the likely consequences of global warming, if it continues at its current pace.

Not good news, people. Not at all:

North America can expect more hurricanes, floods, droughts, heat waves and wildfires, the report said, and the coasts will be flooded by rising sea levels. Crop production will increase initially as the growing season gets longer, but climbing temperatures and water shortages will ultimately lead to sharp reductions...

Africa will suffer the most extreme effects, with a quarter of a billion people losing most of their water supplies. Food production will fall by half in many countries and governments will have to spend 10% of their budgets or more to adapt to climate changes…

Rising temperatures and drying soil will replace the moist rain forest of the eastern Amazon with drier savannah, eliminating much of the habitat that now supports the greatest diversity of species in the world.

At least 30% of the world's species will disappear if temperatures rise 3.6 degrees above the average levels of the 1980s and 1990s...

Honestly, I don't know what to say, and will just repeat to you what Al Gore says at the end of An Inconvenient Truth: Stop driving, and start making environmental regulations your top political—and personal—priority.

Massive Climate Change in the American Southwest

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 8:10 PM EDT

Read about this and other weird weather phenomena on our environmental blog, The Blue Marble.

Weird Weather Watch: Massive Climate Change in American Southwest

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 8:08 PM EDT

The Nation, the New York Times, and other reputable papers reported this week that the American Southwest is not experiencing a drought, as previously thought, but rather shifting to a significantly drier climate on a permanent basis. As a consequence of human activity, temperatures will increase by as much as 9 degrees (and if you've ever been to Phoenix, you can imagine how hot that will really be). Think major water problems, species extinction, likely large-scale human migrations, and certain animal migrations.

So see New Mexico while you still can. It's exquisitely beautiful, even to this water-loving Yankee.

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It's a Gay World After All

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 7:51 PM EDT

disney.jpg
Disney has at last opened their Disney "Fairy Tale Weddings" to same-sex couples. Which means a gay or lesbian couple can now too arrive at their ceremony in a glass coach pulled by four dappled-gray mares, and they can even have Mickey and Minnie Mouse in attendance.

Folks at Disney apparently had a change of heart after last month asserting that a Florida marriage license was mandatory for the Disney World ceremonies that can also take place at the "It's a Small World Mall" and that come complete with a "fairy godplanner."

"We believe this change is consistent with Disney's longstanding policy of welcoming every guest in an inclusive environment," Disney Parks and Resorts spokesman Donn Walker said earlier today. "We want everyone who comes to celebrate a special occasion at Disney to feel welcome and respected."

Yeah, that, and Disney is looking at the bottom line. The Fortune 500 company seems to have finally realized that there is cash money to be made from opening their $8,000 and up wedding operation up to a relatively affluent population. Cameron brings home this economic argument in our current issue:

If half the same-sex couples now living together were to get married (the rate seen in Vermont and Massachusetts) and were to spend a quarter of what straight couples do, it results in a wedding-industry boon of $2 billion.

Cha-ching.

Unclear what the fallout will be from the right. The Southern Baptist Convention enforced a boycott of Disney for years for its "gay agenda," which includes providing health benefits to same-sex partners of employees, and the airing of a primetime show on its ABC network featuring, gasp, Ellen!

The convention dropped its boycott in 2005; but now that Mickey and Minnie will be cheering on gay marriage? We'll see what happens.

It's the Strategy, Stupid

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 7:47 PM EDT

al_sadr.jpg I blogged in February that insurgents' discovery of chlorine bombs was an especially ominous turn in Iraq—optimistic assessments of the "surge" notwithstanding—because the bombs have far higher death tolls than standard I.E.D.'s.

Today the sixth chlorine bomb in 2 months exploded in Anbar province. A chlorine-laden truck bomb in Ramadi killed 20 and wounded at least 30.

The only believable good news regarding the surge was a drop in the death toll between mid-February and mid-March. In reality, the drop was likely due to Moktada al-Sadr's order that his Mahdi Army militia cease resisting the Americans by violent means.

Even though the military hasn't come right out and told the press that al-Sadr is responsible for the surge's apparent success, they know he is. Last week, the military released a key aide to al-Sadr, which the Sacramento Bee called "a sure sign U.S. officials are working hard to keep al-Sadr's support for the Baghdad security plan." Al-Sadr has called for a demonstration against the American occupation on April 9 and ejected two associates who met with Americans, but he has continued to say that his followers should not resist the security surge by violent means.

So why is the U.S. killing civilians and militiamen in al-Sadr's home turf of Sadr City? Earlier today, U.S. and Iraqi forces raided residential neighborhoods there. They killed 4 and wounded 3 militiamen. But they didn't stop there. After distributing pamphlets encouraging people to cooperate with security forces, American helicopters fired missiles that wounded 15 civilians. The New York Times reports, "American forces later fired on a Toyota sedan, killing all three passengers inside. And two students were killed by mortar when Americans fired on a college residence by mistake, Iraqi police said."

What? What kind of perverse incentive is that to retain the (albeit lukewarm) cooperation of the Sadrists? Predictably, a representative of al-Sadr's group—which is big and powerful—expressed anger and confusion. Haydar Al Natiq, of the Sadr office in Diwaniya, told the Times, "This operation is unjustified and will stir up the situation in the time where a peace conference was supposed to be held between the Sadrists and the security forces."

Why Christians Hate Gays, Blackwater USA is Even Creepier than You Thought, and You Shouldn't Buy Bolthouse Farms (All in One Ha

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 5:22 PM EDT

We throw around the term "religious right" so often that sometimes I wonder if it's not as much a bugaboo as the "homosexual agenda." But then I read articles like Sarah Posner's today on AlterNet. Posner profiles an organization called the Alliance Defense Fund. The ADF is a legal organization created in 1994 with support from all the other players in what is actually a small, well funded, clique. Contributing to ADF were James Dobson of Focus on the Family, D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries, and Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ.

Last year, ADF received more than $21 million in charitable donations. Major donors included:

-- the Covenant Foundation (which, in turn, is financed by James Leininger, the "sugar daddy" of the Texas religious right);

-- the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, whose vice president, Erik Prince, founded the Blackwater USA military-security firm; and

-- the Bolthouse Foundation, a nonprofit arm of Bolthouse Farms, the California natural-foods company whose products are often seen at leftie natural foods stores.

The ADF is to the Christian right what the ACLU is to the left. It has trained more than 900 lawyers, who must then perform extensive pro bono legal work for Christian causes. It happily provides free legal services to the (well funded) groups that created it. Its causes? Pro-life, anti-gay, and "religious freedom." ADF has been particularly ingenious in its definition of religious freedom. The group invented the motif of Christian victimhood that fuels everything from claims of a "war on Christmas" to religious groups' "rights" to public funding.

ADF successfully argued in Rosenberger vs. The Regents of the University of Virginia that public bodies which fund non-religious groups "discriminate" against religious groups if they do not fund them. The case did serious damage to the wall of separation between church and state and, as Posner says, "elevated ADF's mythology of the victimized Christian to a legal precedent." The precedent is especially damaging because ADF is now using it to claim that preventing Christians from discriminating against gays and lesbians is actually discrimination against Christians and a violation of their religious freedom.

And there you have it: That's why Christians are on a crusade against gay people. Not because they are actually a serious threat, but because they provide a test case to see how much the religious right can get away with in the name of religious freedom.

States Aim to Reform NCLB

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 4:49 PM EDT

The non-partisan National Governors Association this week asked the federal government for more control over the notorious 2002 education referendum, No Child Left Behind.

Governors hooked up with state superintendents and state school board members just as NCLB comes up for renewal this year.

The law says that all public schools nationwide must meet proficiency standards by the 2013-14 school year. Since it became law in 2002, no school has completely met that requirement. In short, the association is asking for more flexibility to intervene at underperforming schools (currently the federal government can implement school takeovers), alternative assessments for special education students, and more leeway in defining who is a "highly qualified teacher."

A month ago, President Bush told Indiana school children and educators that he wants public schools to personalize and individualize education for each student. He also said he refuses to water down the law.

But its the devilish little details of this law that will determine the face of public education for the next six years. And like they have done with climate change, where there are similarly high stakes, states no longer trust the feds to handle things and are ready to deal with the details themselves.

—Gary Moskowitz