ThinkFast: May 30, 2006

Afghanistan is suffering its “worst street violence since the fall of the Taliban,” a “full-blown anti-American riot” that broke out after a major car accident involving a U.S. vehicle. Slate sums up the subsequent murky details: “A crowd gathered and started throwing stones — or the truck pulled a hit-and-run and later was blocked by a crowd. Five Afghans died in the accident — or they were shot to death, by either U.S. or Afghan troops.”

Another reason to worry about global warming: more and itchier poison ivy.” Ivy grows “faster and bigger” as carbon dioxide levels increase.

The death toll from Indonesia’s latest earthquake tops 5,400, with 6,500 more survivors badly injured, and 200,000 displaced. The United Kingdom has pledged the largest amount in international assistance, $7.4 million. The United States has pledged just $2.5 million.

75: The number of Guantanamo Bay detainees staging a hunger strike, up from three, according to U.S. officials. The spike reflects “increasing defiance among men who have been held for up to 4 1/2 years, most without charges and with little contact with the outside world.”

The State Department has transferred Michael Zorick, “formerly Somali political affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kenya,” to a post in Chad after Zorick spoke out against the administration’s support of Somali warlords. “He really decided to take up the battle,” one diplomat said. “He realised very well what he was doing.”

Privatization problems: “Several major U.S. cities that have hired private companies to run their water systems have had problems with pollutants, bad water and corruption,” a Los Angeles Times report shows.

Peter Piot, who heads the United Nation’s HIV/AIDS program, warned that the disease “shows no sign of letting up after 25 million people have died a quarter-century into the epidemic.” “Intervention is very low,” Piot warned, “for many critical populations in many countries. We need to really intensify the response to AIDS.”

“Although patients seldom know it, many patient groups and drug companies maintain close, multimillion-dollar relationships while disclosing limited or no details about the ties.” The American Diabetes Association, for example, “privately enlisted an Eli Lilly & Co. executive to chart its growth strategy and write its slogan.”

And finally, Lex Luthor’s approval ratings are set for a nosedive. Comic books are now “tackling topics such as terrorism, war, and civil liberties as a heavy dose of 21st-century reality seeps into their alternate universe.” For example, “Superman and archvillain US President Lex Luthor tangled in 2003 over plans to invade the imaginary Middle Eastern country of Qurac, which was linked to weapons of mass destruction.”

What did we miss? Let us know in the comments section.