Vampire Weekend cool acoustic set in some house in France

I like their new album a lot. The melodies, while still taut and heavily seasoned with afropop style, seem a little more developed than on their first record, and the songs have a bit more variety. This is a sweet little acoustic set they did in some room in France for a French TV show or something?

< Goddamit can’t get the thing to embed. Check it out here, though. California English, without the autotune, is great. >

Ezra Koenig has gotta be my one of my favorite singers. He pulls off that falsetto/not falsetto, quiet/loud thing on the vocals just perfectly. Love that dude’s voice. So cool that in the video he’s not even using a mike, but rather just singing out to the audience.


Trying terrorism suspects in Federal courtrooms yields superior outcomes

A great article by the Center for American Progress on why we should definitely try terrorism suspects in the United States criminal justice system, rather than in military tribunals. The authors contend that not only are criminal trials more in line with the legal principles of the United States, but they are more effective for obtaining convictions and encouraging cooperation and intelligence gathering from suspects.

The extensive record of criminal courts in successfully prosecuting terrorists stands in stark contrast with the shockingly poor military commissions system. Since 2001—the same period in which military commissions have convicted just three terrorists—criminal courts have convicted more than 200 individuals on terrorism charges, or 65 times more than military commissions. Criminal courts racked up these convictions with none of the uncertainty that still plagues the military commissions system.

A military commission has never handled a case remotely like Abdulmutallab’s—attempted murder and a specific act of terrorism. But a criminal court obtained a conviction in an identical case: Richard Reid’s failed bombing of a transatlantic airliner in December 2001. Reid was also sent on his suicide mission by an Al Qaeda affiliate using explosives concealed in his clothing, only the explosives were in his shoes and not his underwear. Reid even used pentaerythritol, the same explosive material as Abdulmutallab. He is currently serving a life sentence at the Supermax penitentiary in Florence, Colorado.

The article goes on to blow up some of the mythology surrounding suspects’ access to attorneys military v. criminal courts, namely that the

Military Commissions Act[s of 2006 and 2009] require providing defense counsel to detainees facing charges before a military commission. Military commissions also have procedures prohibiting self-incrimination and ensuring that statements from the defendant are made voluntarily. There is virtually no difference between military commissions and criminal courts in the provision and availability of defense counsel.

The whole thing is worth reading.

The Hon. Prof. Jenny B. McCarthy, DDS, MD, PhD is gonna be pissed!

At long last, the highly regarded British medical journal The Lancet has officially retracted “Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitic, and pervasive developmental disorder in children,” by Wakefield et al., aka the famous study “linked” autism (“pervasive developmental disorder”) with receipt of a MMR

Obviously Jenny McCarthy knows more about science than a bunch of stupid scientists!

(Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine in children. The retraction was prompted by Britain’s General Medical Council’s admonishment of Wakefield for unprofessional and unethical practices in regard to the recruitment (he apparently paid children at his son’s birthday party $8 to donate blood) and study procedures (the study involved performing highly invasive techniques such as sedation, MRI scanning, colonoscopy on developmentally-challenged children) involved in the Lancet paper.

Upon actually reading the study, I was incredibly surprised that the Lancet ever allowed it to be published in the first place. Only 12 participants (an absurdly low number for a scientific study) were studied, and all of them had the digestive ailments that Wakefield was looking at. Inconceivably, there was no control group. And out of 12 participants, only 8 had symptoms of autism-spectrum disorders, which were ever-reliably self-reported by parents (or physician-reported; we don’t know the breakdown) as having first become symptomatic within a few months of receiving an MMR vaccine (what a controlled, tight window!). None of the actual science that Wakefield actually presents in the paper has anything to do with a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism – his “results” section is all about the findings of the colonoscopies, MRIs, and other tests, without any scientific or statistical analysis of the presence of autism symptoms in his (selection-biased, small, and uncontrolled) population. Yet this did not prevent Wakefield, or the editors of Lancet, from boldly claiming the the final graf of the paper that “in most cases, onset of [chronic enterocolitis in children that may be related to neuropsychiatric dysfunction] was after measles, mumps, and rubella

Dr. Andrew Wakefield, author of the oft-discredited and now officially retracted paper. May his car get egged and shoe fall upon dog shit.

immunisation,” even though the lack of any sort of scientific evidence for this made him admit that “we did not prove an association between measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described” several earlier in the paper. So essentially, Wakefield opens with a titillating hypothesis about vaccines and autism, is forced to admit that his shitty study design cannot possibly shed any light on whether the hypothesis is correct or not, and then closes by restating his hypothesis as if he’s done some actual science to advance it, which he has not.

And somehow the Lancet published that crap, and only took 12 years and an independent inquiry for them to decide that it was, indeed, crap. So thumbs down to the Lancet. And although I already have mad thumbs down to Jenny McCarthy and the unreasonable crew of idiots blabbing on anti-vaccine messageboards, I’m throwing even more their way for the reckless ignorance of using this terrible study as a touchstone. These people have put thousands and thousands of children at risk for serious morbidity and mortality from measles, mumps and rubella for absolutely no good reason.

P.S. I should note that the Lancet’s official retraction comes after lots and lots of studies discrediting Wakefield’s hypothesis

P.P.S. This article goes into how much of a creep this dude is, e.g. getting a patent on a singular measles vaccine right when he was trumpeting the danger of the MMR vaccine.

Republican authoritarianism

Yesterday, when I was writing about Mitch McConnell’s comments about trying terrorism suspects, I didn’t really focus on his complaints regarding the handling of underwear bomber Umar Adbulmutallab. McConnell claimed that “Larry King would have a more thorough interrogation of one of his witnesses than the Christmas bomber had by the Justice Department,” and other Republicans have gone on about how Abdulmutallab didn’t talk after he was read his Miranda rights, which, as we all know, is absolutely legal in this country. It’s legal even before someone reminds you that the Constitution protects you from testifying against yourself. The GOP, it seems, is perfectly amenable to throwing out not only the 5th amendment, but the years of careful precedent in criminal justice that (once) allowed the United States to legitimately claim the moral high ground on the international stage, a high ground we used to inspire democratic revolts all over the world, and to pressure authoritarian dictatorships into reform, or collapse. Ever since the nebulous “War on Terror” began, Republicans have eagerly embraced those same detestable principles that we as Americans have always stood against, such as torture, indefinite detention, and no guarantee of a fair trial. Yglesias captures it well:

For all the “tea party” talk of freedom, and the right’s general blather about “limited government,” unrestricted violence by the agents of the state is a core priority for the right-wing. The view is that ideally you just detain people indefinitely. If forced, they get a military commission. If you have to have a civilian court, the accused shouldn’t have any rights. People should be tortured as a routine investigative technique. Wars should be routinely against foreign countries that haven’t attacked us. It’s a worldview soaked in violence and authoritarianism, and the relatively narrow question of what venue you try terrorism suspects in is just a small part of it.

Mitch McConnell has a simple mind

Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly points out a conversation between CNN anchor John King and Sen. Mitch McConnell on State of the Union this past weekend:

KING: If you ask the White House about this, it highlights — they say it’s not just the president, it’s not just Attorney General Holder, that General David Petraeus says he believes a public trial at a federal courthouse is the best way to do it so that it’s not an al Qaeda recruiting tool.

That Secretary Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration at the Defense Department, also they believes a trial in the federal court system is preferable to a closed trial in the military commission. And that the CIA operatives leading the fight against these guys in Yemen, in Somalia, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, also believe that if you did it in a closed setting in a military commission it would be a powerful recruiting tool.

If General Petraeus, Secretary Gates, and the intelligence leaders say, do it in court, why do you say that’s a bad idea?

MCCONNELL: I simply disagree and so do the American people.

I’ve got two problems with this statement. First of all, this is not a simple issue. As King makes clear in his question, many people involved in prosecution of the nation’s laws (and wars) – he cites our experts in that field as an example – believe that trying terrorists for their crimes here in the US is the right thing to do. Moreover, if you’ve ever read the Constitution, or if you believe in due process (one of the major foundations of this great country), you would know that at the very least, the case for prosecuting these criminals in civilian courts is compelling, firmly rooted judicial precedent, and definitely procedurally possible. But McConnell, as is typical of Republican obstructionists, just “simply disagrees.” He does continue opening and closing his mouth after this statement, but the words that come out (“blah blah we need to interrogate them, because no criminals ever got caught or provided information to law enforcement before Bush was in office and allowed infinite detention and torture, OMG you GUYS!! they might EsCApE!!!1! ) don’t address why we should violate due process and appropriate precedent, i.e. don’t answer King’s question.

This leads me to my second issue with Senator McConnell’s proclamation: namely, that because the “American people” don’t want terrorist trials in the US, they must be right and he must not think about the issue any more. But the “American people” Sen. McConnell is most likely referring to are regular old office workers, plumbers, store clerks, whatever, and not Senators of the United States of America. While some random Joe Shmoe from Frankfurt might not know about the historical and Constitutional importance of due process and a fair trial when one has been accused of breaking Federal law, the Senate Minority Leader should be able to at the very least, give a coherent argument against it if that’s going to be his official position. McConnell presumably isn’t so empty headed to know that this is a multifaceted and complex issue, but his head is so full of his job security and the Republican insistence that US politics is a zero-sum game that he can’t bring himself to articulate a response to a very direct question. The vast, vast majority of every Congressional delegate’s constituency are not very knowledgeable about the intricacies of politics and law; that’s exactly why we elect representatives who can take the time to inform themselves and make good decisions with that information. McConnell, along with many other politicians on the right and the left, seem to conflate this basic premise of representational democracy with the idea that because your constituents don’t think too much about policy, you shouldn’t think too much about policy either.

Destroying another homophobic lie

Rob Tisinai blows up the old “gay men are molesters” trope. As is typical of the homophobic, anti-equality crowd, their argument is based not on fact or objective reality, but rather on faith: be it faith in hearsay and thoughtless aping of old biases (like the one above), or faith in antiquated religious dicta. The pro-equality side, on the other hand, puts together cogent, coherent arguments like Tisinai’s (which basically boils down to using published studies on pedophilia to show that you really cannot deduce anything from the proclaimed orientation of a pedophile; their senses of sexual attraction are less straight or gay than seriously pathological in general) using facts and reason.

h/t Sullivan.

Sotomayor and race

It seems like Judge Sotomayor will be a great addition to the Supreme Court. I’ve only read a bit about her, but she meets my qualifications for a good appointee, namely:

  1. Smart.
  2. Liberal.
  3. Appointed by a Democratic president.

A pretty ridiculous rubric, I know. But it’s great to watching a more progressive judge get onto the court, whomever it may be, to balance out the very conservative John Roberts and Samuel Alito. And Sotomayor really does seem to be an accomplished and thoughtful longtime civil servant who belongs to be on the bench. Bonus points for being a minority and a women – it makes sense that the demographic makeup of the court should mirror that of the population at large, but it shouldn’t be a priority. 

Of course, a handful of asshole conservatives conservatives (Michael Goldfarb a good example) are all up in arms, claiming that Sotomayor couldn’t possibly be a good nominee, because she is not a white male, and therefore must have been given preferential treatment – via affirmative action, Title IX, and all of the other unfair practices that America uses to give minority women a better chance than white males. Unfair treatment like growing up poor in small apartments in the Bronx and attending large public schools (just like the Bush family experience). 

Andrew Sullivan highlights an interesting call and response between the NYT and the knowledgeable SCOTUSblog. On Friday, the Times’ David Kirkpatrick wrote about how Sotomayor has been active in promoting diversity and Hispanic issues throughout her life. He writes that Sotomayor has

championed the importance of considering race and ethnicity in admissions, hiring and even judicial selection at almost every stage of her career — as a student activist at Princeton and at Yale Law School, as a board member of left-leaning Hispanic advocacy groups and as a federal judge arguing for diversity on the bench,

which certainly seems to imply that her views on race and and benefits of (and challenges of achieving) diversity will weigh in on her judicial opinions and interpretation of the law, which is the issue at stake. Raise up the bogeyman!

Or not, according to Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSblog. Perhaps a good way to get a good idea about how Judge Sotomayor interprets the law (especially around race issues) is to see how she, in fact, interprets the law. Goldstein researched every opinion issued by Sotomayor and her panel regarding race-related cases, and found that

Other than Ricci, Judge Sotomayor has decided 96 race-related cases while on the court of appeals. 

Of the 96 cases, Judge Sotomayor and the panel rejected the claim of discrimination roughly 78 times and agreed with the claim of discrimination 10 times; the remaining 8 involved other kinds of claims or dispositions.  Of the 10 cases favoring claims of discrimination, 9 were unanimous.  (Many, by the way, were procedural victories rather than judgments that discrimination had occurred.)  Of those 9, in 7, the unanimous panel included at least one Republican-appointed judge.  In the one divided panel opinion, the dissent’s point dealt only with the technical question of whether the criminal defendant in that case had forfeited his challenge to the jury selection in his case.  So Judge Sotomayor rejected discrimination-related claims by a margin of roughly 8 to 1.

So while the heavily influential and very serious New York Times postulates and guesses about how race may bias Sotomayor, SCOTUSblog does some actual work, and reasonably concludes that 

… it seems absurd to say that Judge Sotomayor allows race to infect her decisionmaking.

Take that, old media.