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59 posts from April 2009

April 30, 2009

The outfit behind Florida's "I Believe" License Plates

Michael Hussey and I have been investigating Faith in Teaching, an obscure non-profit dedicated to putting Christian slogans on state license plates and distributing the proceeds to religious groups.

Ever heard of these people? Floridians, we welcome your tips.

Morning Coffee: Obama says waterboarding is torture

At yesterday's press conference, the president stated unequivocally that waterboarding is torture. Read all about it with your Morning Coffee at UN Dispatch.

Making sense of swine flu

Revere cuts through the constantly changing and sometimes conflicting numbers being bandied about to describe the expanding swine flu outbreak.

Instead of fixating on the latest number of cases suspected in region X or confirmed in region Y, he argues, we should focus on the big picture:

What's the take home message? We should stop fixating on hourly changes in numbers or differences about the sequences and keep our eye on the Big Picture. Right now that picture is still cloudy, but will be coming into sharper focus as new information accrues and is organized. Generally, though, we have a novel virus (in the sense that the human population is immunologically naive to it) that is spreading person to person and seems to have clinical characteristics not unlike usual seasonal influenza. Because of its novelty the number of people it could make sick is potentially far greater than a seasonal virus, however, since there is no naturally acquired immunity we know of at the moment (it may turn out there is some cross reactivity with some other strain from years past but so far we have no evidence of that).

As a Big Picture, it's not the most comforting, whatever the day to day numbers.


One reason it's hard to focus on the big picture is the novelty of our bird's eye perspective on the situation. As Revere notes, this is the first time that we've actually watched a flu pandemic unfold in real time.


April 29, 2009

183 pours, not 183 waterboards

And the award for the least convincing attempt to spin torture goes to....

Joseph Abrams of Fox News who claims that Khalid Sheik Mohammed was not waterboarded 183 times.

No, he says, that's a gross exaggeration. Despite what some pinkos would have you believe, the interrogators just covered his face with a cloth and interrupted his breathing by dousing him with water 183 times, spread over a total of five sessions.

So, they didn't waterboard him on 183 separate occasions, they kept him strapped down in between attempts:

The New York Times reported last week that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, was waterboarded 183 times in one month by CIA interrogators. The "183 times" was widely circulated by news outlets throughout the world.

It was shocking. And it was highly misleading. The number is a vast inflation, according to information from a U.S. official and the testimony of the terrorists themselves.

A U.S. official with knowledge of the interrogation program told FOX News that the much-cited figure represents the number of times water was poured onto Mohammed's face -- not the number of times the CIA applied the simulated-drowning technique on the terror suspect.  According to a 2007 Red Cross report, he was subjected a total of "five sessions of ill-treatment."  

"The water was poured 183 times -- there were 183 pours," the official explained, adding that "each pour was a matter of seconds."

So, U.S. officials who speak to Fox News on background have chosen to count waterboarding attempts by the number of sessions, not number of pours.

It's the equivalent of mentally counting a bag of potato chips as a one serving, no matter how big the bag is.

Moscow forbids gay parades

MoscowPride The city of Moscow is continuing its bigoted ban on gay parades:

MOSCOW, April 29 (RIA Novosti) - Any attempt to hold a gay parade in Moscow next month will be firmly dealt with by the authorities, a City Hall spokesman said on Wednesday.

"There have been no official applications for permission to hold gay parades during the May holidays and all attempts to hold such events will be firmly stopped by the authorities," Leonid Krutakov said.

The head of Gay Russia Project, Nikolai Alekseyev, said earlier that several public gay events have been scheduled for May 16, when the final of the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest is due to take place in Moscow.

Over the past three years, the Moscow city authorities have rejected official applications by organizers seeking permission to hold gay parades, on the grounds that the event would interfere with the rights and everyday lives of ordinary Muscovites.

Mayor Yury Luzhkov has branded gay parades as "Satanic" and vowed never to permit them in his city. Various far-right groups have also threatened to suppress gay pride events. In previous years, pride celebrations in Moscow have been marred by anti-gay violence.

Libertarian laments women's suffrage, rejects democracy

Look what the CATO Institute dragged in...

Peter Thiel, an early backer of Facebook, penned an essay entitled "The Education of a Libertarian" which appeared in CATO Unbound. Thiel opens by asserting that freedome and democracy are incompatible.

But I must confess that over the last two decades, I have changed radically on the question of how to achieve these goals. Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible. By tracing out the development of my thinking, I hope to frame some of the challenges faced by all classical liberals today.

And why are freedom and democracy incompatible? Because women have the vote and poor people understand understand rational self-interest, too:

The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron.


Luckily, Thiel isn't advocating a rollback of women's rights or a violent insurrection. Rather, he proposes that libertarians retreat to the Internet, outer space, and the sea to escape the voting power of women and minorities.  I encourage him to try.

Amanda has a great takedown of Thiel.

April 28, 2009

Sebelius confirmed


Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a Secretary of Health and Human Services. And about time too, what with world tottering on the verge of a global pandemic and all.

Still, we're all grateful that the Republicans took the extra time to make really, really sure Obama's pro-choice nominee is pro-choice.

Flu York City

The CDC says there are 45 confirmed cases of swine flu in New York City, but the Health Department suspects hundreds more, the Village Voice reports.

Over at Effect Measure, Revere continues his outstanding gavel-to-gavel (sniffle-to-sniffle?) coverage of the flu outbreak. Today, he has a handy post on the difference between isolation and quarantine and the reasons why neither will help prevent a pandemic.

Keep washing your hands, folks.

April 27, 2009

What Israeli mercenaries and jazz musicians have in common

Cruise ship gigs! It's all fun and games until they take your passport, or make you fight pirates.

According to Ha’aretz:

Security work aboard cruise ships is very popular among young Israelis just out of the army; the job is seen as a chance to save money and travel at the same time. Hundreds of veterans and reservists of elite Israel Defense Force units, including the naval commandos, are employed in security work on cruise ships and oil rigs in areas subject to pirate attacks.

Newsweek raves for Darcy James Argue's "Infernal Machines"


Darcy James Argue, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

Seth Colter Walls of Newsweek gave Darcy's new album, Infernal Machines, a rave review.

Props to Seth and Newsweek for spotlighting a young artist working outside the commercial mainstream.

Listen to a preview of Infernal Machines on the New Amsterdam Records website. (LINK UPDATED)