Data In Darkness
April 12, 2021
The Good News
- Fauci: US May Start to Return to Normal by End of the Summer (Yahoo)
- ‘White Lives Matter’ rallies flop as hardly anyone shows up (NBC)
“I’ve come to learn there is a virtuous cycle to transparency and a very vicious cycle of obfuscation.” — Jeff Weiner
“Transparency is all about letting in and embracing new ideas, new technology and new approaches. No individual, entity or agency, no matter how smart, how old, or how experienced, can afford to stop learning.” — Gina McCarthy
Putin (And Keepin’) The Truth Under Wraps
(Sergei Bobylev via Getty Images)
President Vladimir Putin has claimed – both to the world and to his citizens – that Russia has managed the virus better than most other countries. A recent New York Times analysis reveals that the reality is much worse than Putin is letting on.
Since the pandemic started to spread worldwide, Russia has focused much more on the public-relations and economic factors involved in managing the pandemic than on fighting the virus itself. The country implemented a strict two-month lockdown in the spring of 2020, but has largely lifted restrictions since last summer in order to boost the economy and public morale.
By the end of 2020, Russia had reported a total of about 57,000 Covid-19 deaths. For reference, that’s 39 deaths per 100,000 residents, as opposed to 96 per 100,000 in the US. However, in that same period, approximately 362,000 more people died in Russia than expected based on previous years’ averages. It’s possible that not every death in that dubious discrepancy of 300,000 was from Covid-19. But, with the Kremlin hiding information and many hospitals marking the cause of death for patients in coronavirus wards with ambiguous titles like “viral pneumonia, unspecified,” it’s difficult to know the truth.
By covering up the true Covid-19 death rate, President Putin kept much of the Russian populace in the dark about how dangerous the virus is and how important it is to get a vaccine. At the end of 2020, Putin boasted that Russia’s economy had suffered less than that of many other countries, likely because Russians were free to fill up nightclubs, restaurants, theaters, and bars – even in the fall and winter, when the rest of Europe introduced strict lockdowns.
By the fall, Russian scientists were able to develop one of the most well-regarded vaccines in the world, but so far the government’s focus has been on using Sputnik V to garner geopolitical favors, rather than on vaccinating its own population.
The low official toll and lack of clear coronavirus reports coming from the Kremlin have created distrust of the government’s messaging among the public. Last October, most Russians reported in a poll that they did not believe the government’s tally of cases – half of those residents believed the tally was too high, the other half believed the tally was too low. Another poll, taken in February, found that 60% of Russians reported they were not planning to get the Sputnik V vaccine, created in Russia. Most respondents also believed the coronavirus was a biological weapon. (NYT, $)
A Dark Day For Iran’s Nuclear Research
(Atta Kenare via Getty Images)
- Iran reported a blackout at its underground Natanz atomic facility, deeming it an act of “nuclear terrorism” and heightening tensions in the region. Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, stopped short of directly blaming anyone for the occurrence.
- “We still do not know the reason for this electricity outage and have to look into it further,” Behrouz Kamalvandi, civilian nuclear program spokesman, said. “Fortunately, there was no casualty or damage and there is no particular contamination or problem.”
- Israel has been suspected of initiating the attack as well as other assaults on Iran’s nuclear progress. Iran has also blamed Israel for the killing of a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier. Israel has not claimed any of the attacks, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly has described Iran as the major threat faced by his country in recent weeks. (NPR)
Beijing Boasts, Then Backpedals, On Vaccines
- Authorities in China aren’t known for their transparency. But that’s exactly what they showed this week, when they announced that Chinese vaccines “don’t have very high protection rates.” They also reported that the government is considering mixing the vaccines to give them a boost.
- Experts say that mixing vaccines might boost effectiveness, but the jury’s still out. Researchers in Britain are currently studying combinations of Pfizer-BioNTech and the AstraZeneca vaccine to see if the mixture improves protection rates.
- Mixing with another vaccine might be a difficult public-relations move for Beijing after all their efforts to sow doubt about the effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was made using the previously experimental mRNA process. (Politico)
Additional World News
- After Going ‘Free of L.G.B.T.,’ a Polish Town Pays a Price (NYT, $). A town motto probably can’t help… but it can definitely hurt.
- Rare European vultures being poisoned by livestock drug (Guardian)
- Indigenous Party, Not on the Ballot, Is Still a Big Winner in Ecuador Election (NYT, $)
- Volcano On St. Vincent Could Experience Larger Eruption (NPR)
- Tech Giant Alibaba Fined $2.8 Billion By China Over Monopolistic Practices (NPR). Is it ironic for authoritarians to be anti-monopolistic?
- Yemeni journalists call for release of colleagues held by Houthi rebels (Guardian)
- Saudi Arabia’s Yemen blockade is starving millions. Democrats want Biden to stop it. (Vox)
- ‘Tell Us if He’s Dead’: Abductions and Torture Rattle Uganda (NYT, $)
- Colombia’s cartels target Europe with cocaine, corruption and torture (Guardian)
Passing The Hat For The Proud Boys
- Millions of dollars have been raised for far-right causes and groups on Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo according to a recent data breach. Groups such as the Proud Boys, which have been banned from raising funds on other platforms, were included on the list of charitable organizations on the site, and previously anonymous high-dollar donors were also revealed — some of whom have incredible wealth, power, and in some cases, public responsibility.
- Some of the anonymous donors included individuals who had previously made donations to Donald Trump’s campaigns and to the Republican Party. Following the Capitol riots, the Proud Boys raised hundreds of thousands for various causes before being banned on other platforms. Some consider the GiveSendGo campaigns “particularly insidious” because they presented themselves as crowdfunding under the guise of religion-based charity.
- Reports from researchers at Simon Fraser University have stated that the far-right crowdfunding on GiveSendGo was only a small part of a network of over 50 other crowdfunding sites that have allowed donations to similar groups and movements. (Guardian)
Courting With SCOTUS Reform
- After rampant speculation that President Biden would perhaps expand the Supreme Court to give it an ideological balance following the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, the White House announced on Friday that reform of the highest court in the land will require bipartisan consensus. Biden signed an executive order to set up a commission that will study the ramifications of court reform — including packing the bench with extra judges or traditional removing lifetime appointments.
- “The Commission’s purpose is to provide an analysis of the principal arguments in the contemporary public debate for and against Supreme Court reform, including an appraisal of the merits and legality of particular reform proposals,” said the White House. “The topics it will examine include the genesis of the reform debate; the Court’s role in the Constitutional system; the length of service and turnover of justices on the Court; the membership and size of the Court; and the Court’s case selection, rules, and practices.”
- The commision will be headed by former White House counsel Bob Bauer and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Cristina Rodríguez. It will also feature prominent legal scholars working alongside former federal judges and advocates for reform. In total, the commission is made up of 36 members, who vary in race, ethnicity, and political ideology — all of which were priorities for the Biden administration when considering an executive action to alter the makeup of the Supreme Court. (NPR)
Additional USA News
- Army officer sues Virginia police over violent traffic stop (CBS)
- Maryland Lawmakers Override Vetoes On Sweeping Police Reform (NPR)
- More Colleges Say They’ll Require Students To Have COVID-19 Vaccines For Fall (NPR)
- Supreme Court sitting on abortion, gay rights controversies for now (USA Today)
- ‘Putin-style democracy’: how Republicans gerrymander the map (Guardian)
- 4 Alleged ‘Boogaloo’ Members Charged With Obstructing Probe Into Police Killings (NPR)
- National debt: critics cry hypocrisy as Republicans oppose Biden spending (Guardian)
- As vaccinations keep rising, so do Covid-19 hospitalizations among those who aren’t vaccinated (CNN)
- ‘Suddenly I’m breathing’: hope as Haaland takes on crisis of missing and murdered Native Americans (Guardian)
Because Of Winn-Dixie… The ADA Is On Trial
- Since the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, the law has spurred countless crucial innovations that have made it easier for Americans with disabilities to navigate the physical world: from bumpy curb cuts to low-grade ramps to restrooms with handlebars. However, the digital world still lags far behind the physical one in its accessibility. This week, a federal appeals court dealt that accessibility another blow.
- In 2017, Juan Carlos Gil, a blind Florida man, sued Winn-Dixie, a grocery store chain with locations across the South, over a feature on the store’s website that allows customers to order prescriptions online without coming into the store. Unfortunately, Winn-Dixie’s website is incompatible with the screen-reading software Gil uses to surf the web, rendering the website effectively useless to him.
- Gil prefers to order prescriptions online because it’s easier and because ordering in person as a blind man made him “uncomfortable because he did not know who else was nearby listening.” Unable to file prescriptions online and infuriated by the website’s inaccessibility, Gil stopped patronizing Winn-Dixie, where he’d been shopping for 15 years, and sued them under the ADA.
- The trial court ruled in Gil’s favor, but the appeals court reversed the decision in a 2-1 ruling under the argument that the ADA applies to physical spaces, not websites. The dissenting judge countered that customers like Gil were clearly not offered equal service and that the online prescription feature was a service of the physical store, but the majority maintains such a sweeping interpretation of “services” would be far too broad.
- There are opportunities for appeal, either to a larger group of judges in the Eleventh Circuit or to the US Supreme Court. As more and more services move online – especially this year, during the pandemic – cases like Gil’s will be crucial in expanding the accessibility of the digital world. (ArsTechnica)
- Every cow’s favorite particle: New Measurements of Muons Might Rewrite Particle Physics (Smithsonian Magazine)
- Llukalkan Aliocranianus Dinosaur Discovered In Argentina (NPR)
- Oh Look, LinkedIn Also Has a 500M User Data Leak (Wired)
- Early findings show new drug could be ‘gamechanging’ for brain cancer treatment (Guardian)
- These shapeshifting streetlights are slow tech at its finest (Fast Company)
- The solution to California’s rampant sea urchin problem is to eat them. I gave it a try (Guardian)
- What DMX’s Poetry of Death Did for Hip-Hop (NYT, $)
- Netflix’s big bet on global content could change how we see the world (Fast Company). Broadening our horizons without ever leaving the couch.
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