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Welcome to the Overnight News Digest (OND) for Tuesday, April 19, 2011.

OND is a regular community feature on Daily Kos, consisting of news stories from around the world, sometimes coupled with a daily theme, original research or commentary.  Editors of OND impart their own presentation styles and content choices, typically publishing near 12:00AM Eastern Time.

Creation and early water-bearing of the OND concept came from our very own Magnifico - proper respect is due.


This diary is named for its "Hump Point" video: Garden Party by Ricky Nelson

Please feel free to browse and add your own links, content or thoughts in the Comments section.

Any timestamps shown are relative to each publication.


Top News
NATO does not need US for Libya: Biden

By (AFP)
US Vice President Joe Biden said in an interview published Tuesday that NATO can handle Libya without US help, saying Washington's efforts are better focused on places like Pakistan or Egypt.

"If the Lord Almighty extricated the US out of NATO and dropped it on the planet of Mars so we were no longer participating, it is bizarre to suggest that NATO and the rest of the world lacks the capacity to deal with Libya -- it does not," Biden told the Financial Times.

. . .

His comments came after the US Defense Department said the US military had flown more than 800 sorties over Libya since handing control of the air campaign's operations to NATO.

. . .

Biden argued that Washington had to decide whether to spend resources "focusing on Iran, Egypt, North Korea, Afghanistan [and] Pakistan", or give Libya more attention, stressing: "We can't do it all."

Obama urges push for immigration reform

By (AFP)
President Barack Obama held talks Tuesday with former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, among others, on US immigration reform, and urged a fresh push for legislation.

Obama made clear "the only way to fix what's broken about our immigration system is through legislative action in Congress," the White House said in a statement on the meeting, noting that reform "both strengthens security at our borders while restoring accountability to the broken immigration system."

The US leader meanwhile expressed "deep disappointment" at the stalling of the DREAM Act in the US Senate after passing in the House of Representatives in December.

. . .

Former New York and Los Angeles police chief Bill Bratton, who attended the meeting along with a number of representatives of the business, law enforcement, faith communities as well as former and current elected leaders, said Obama had called on them to help push for movement on the issue.

Jury Convicts Executive in Mortgage Fraud Case

. . .

Lee Farkas, the former chairman of Taylor, Bean and Whitaker Mortgage Corp., was found guilty on all 14 charges stemming from a seven-year, multibillion-dollar fraud scheme that led to the collapse of his firm and Colonial Bank. Mr. Farkas, who owned airplanes, several homes and dozens of cars, could spend the rest of his life in prison.

. . .

Over nearly two decades, Mr. Farkas transformed the sleepy Ocala, Fla.-based firm into the largest non-bank mortgage lender in the country. At its height, it was the fifth largest originator of loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration, and was one of the top sellers of mortgages to Freddie Mac.

Mr. Farkas was "the mastermind of one of the largest bank fraud schemes in history," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, in a call with reporters after the verdict. "His shockingly brazen scheme poured fuel on the fire of the financial crisis."

Prosecutors touted the conviction by a jury in federal court in Alexandria, Va., one of the few criminal cases the Obama administration has brought against senior executives involved in the mortgage-market bust.

BP's Back in the Electoral Game

By Kate Sheppard
Three hundred and sixty-four days after the explosion that caused the largest oil spill in US history, BP is back in action in electoral politics. The Hill reports that the company has made generous contributions to a number of House lawmakers and congressional campaign committees, with all but one of those donations going to Republicans . . .

In the wake of the spill, BP's federal contributions basically stopped; the one check the company did cut to a House member was refused. BP did, however, make some contributions to state-level candidates. But a year after the spill, it's apparently acceptable to take BP's campaign cash once again.

Parents' worry about kid vaccines grows

By (UPI)
A significant amount of U.S. primary care physicians' time during well child visits is spent discussing child vaccine safety with parents, researchers say.

Dr. Allison Kempe, professor of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, who is director of the Children's Outcomes Research Program at The Children's Hospital, reports a national survey indicates a majority of physicians think parents' level of concern about vaccines has either greatly or moderately increased in the last five years.

The study, published online ahead of print in the May issue of American Journal of Preventive Medicine, finds in a typical month, 79 percent of physicians report at least one vaccine refusal; 8 percent report refusals for more than 10 percent of children; and 89 percent report at least one request to spread out vaccines.

USDA moves to let Monsanto perform its own environmental impact studies on GMOs

By Tom Philpott
Last August, Federal Judge Jeffrey White issued a stinging rebuke to the USDA for its process on approving new genetically modified seeds. He ruled that the agency's practice of "deregulating" novel seed varieties without first performing an environmental impact study violated the National Environmental Policy Act.

The target of Judge White's ire was the USDA's 2005 approval of Monsanto's Roundup Ready sugar beets, engineered to withstand doses of the company's own herbicide. White's ruling effectively revoked the approval of Monsanto's novel beet seeds pending an environmental impact study, and cast doubt upon the USDA's notoriously industry-friendly way of regulating GM seeds.

. . .

How has the Obama USDA responded to Judge White's rebuke? By repeatedly defying it, most recently in February, when the agency moved to allow farmers to plant the engineered seeds even though the impact study has yet to be completed. Its rationale for violating the court order will raise an eyebrow of anyone who read Gary Taubes' recent New York Times Magazine piece teasing out the health hazards of the American sweet tooth: the USDA feared that the GMO sugar beet ban would cause sweetener prices to rise. Thus the USDA places the food industry's right to cheap sweetener for its junk food over the dictates of a federal court.

'Effeminate' boys in Malaysia sent to 'anti-gay' camp

By (BBC)
Sixty-six Muslim schoolboys in Malaysia identified by teachers as effeminate have been sent to a special camp for counselling on masculine behaviour.

They are undergoing four days of religious and physical education.

An education official said the camp was meant to guide the boys back "to a proper path in life".

Gay rights groups have criticised the measure, saying it promotes homophobia in the Muslim-majority country where gay sex is still illegal.

Libya: 'mission creep' claims as UK sends in military advisers

By Ian Traynor in Brussels and Richard Norton-Taylor
The British government has come under intense pressure over its response to the crisis in Libya as ministers prepared to dispatch a team of military officers to advise rebels fighting Muammar Gaddafi's forces and the RAF stepped up air strikes.

Nato commanders said the alliance was extending Nato's targets in Libya to include small satellite communications systems and telephone exchanges in strikes described by defence officials as marking a clear "shift" in targeting policy. MPs expressed deep concern about mission creep.

The UN appealed for a ceasefire in Misrata, saying at least 20 children had been killed in attacks by government forces on rebel-held parts of the city, but senior Nato officers admitted air strikes could do little on their own to prevent a worsening crisis there.

22 Zeta suspects held in Mexico mass graves probe

By (AFP)
Twenty-two suspected Zetas drug gang members have been held in the latest arrests over the killings of 145 people found in mass graves this month in northeast Mexico, the justice ministry has said.

The arrests brought the total to 55 detained, including 16 police officers and a suspected ringleader, for alleged involvement with the mass graves found in San Fernando, Tamaulipas state, near the US border.

. . .

Tamaulipas state has suffered an explosion of violence for more than a year blamed on battles between the Zetas -- a gang formed in the 1990s by ex-elite soldiers -- and their former bosses, the powerful Gulf cartel.

Israeli public figures to sign document supporting Palestinian state

By Ilan Lior
Dozens of public figures will stage a protest tomorrow afternoon in front of Independence Hall on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard, where David Ben-Gurion declared Israel's statehood in May of 1948. Participants, including 16 Israel Prize winners, said they will express support for the declaration of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders.

The protesters also plan to sign their own written declaration to this effect, and will invite members of the general public to join them in signing the document.    

. . .

Sponsors of the event insist it will not be a token protest, but rather part of a larger process that will lead to a legitimate alternative to Israel's current policies.

Ecuador President Rafael Correa loses indigenous allies

By Irene Caselli
. . .

In a country where a quarter of the population is indigenous, he was the first president to be officially invested according to indigenous traditions.

. . .

The deterioration of Mr Correa's relationship with his erstwhile indigenous allies was summed up by an incident in June 2010.

Ecuador was hosting a summit on minority rights in Latin America.

. . .

But Ecuador's main indigenous organisations were not invited to take part in the summit in Otavalo - an important indigenous town.

Nigeria election: Thousand flee after riots

By (BBC)
. . .

Thousands of people have fled their homes in northern Nigeria after riots prompted by the election of incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan.

The Red Cross told the BBC some 16,000 has been displaced in six states across the north where some residents slept in police stations for safety.

. . .

His main rival, Gen Muhammadu Buhari, a northerner, told the BBC the violence was sad, unwarranted and criminal.

Syria to lift decades-old emergency law

By (Al Jazeera)
Syria's government has passed a bill lifting the country's emergency law, in place for 48 years, just hours after security forces fired on protesters.

Tuesday's move is a key demand of pro-reform demonstrators who have been holding protests across the country for weeks.

. . .

According to the country's official SANA news agency the government also abolished the state security court, which handled the trials of political prisoners, and approved a new law allowing the right to peaceful protests.

However the interior ministry also passed a law that says citizens must obtain permission to demonstrate, the agency said, hours after the ministry imposed a total ban on political gatherings.

USA Politics, Economy, Major Events
Sen. Brown refusing to name alleged abuser

By (UPI)
U.S. Senator Scott Brown says people urging him to name a camp counselor who allegedly sexually abused him "have no clue" about dealing with such an episode.

The Massachusetts Republican made the allegation about being abused by a counselor while attending a Cape Cod summer camp as a 10-year-old in his book, "Against All Odds."

But Brown has steadfastly refused to identify the camp where the alleged abuse occurred, the former counselor he alleges abused him or to provide authorities with information for a possible prosecution, The Boston Globe reported Tuesday.

Koran-burning pastor plans Mich. protest

By (UPI)
Terry Jones, the Koran-burning Florida pastor, says Detroit-area police and prosecutors are trying to silence him by demanding a $100,000 bond.

Jones plans to visit Dearborn, Mich., which has one of the biggest Muslim populations in the country, on Good Friday, The Detroit News reported. Prosecutors filed a motion Friday requesting he put up a "peace bond" and saying he could cause a riot "complete with discharge of firearms."

The Dearborn police said he should put up $100,000 to cover the cost of overtime, Jones said. He called the move unconstitutional and said he does not plan to pay.

Drilling Oversight Agency Faces 'Troubling' Obstacles

By Brian Naylor
. . .

Investigations before and after the Gulf spill found the agency quite friendly with those it regulated. In Louisiana, oil companies offered football tickets and hunting trip invitations to MMS inspectors.

Michael Bromwich has worked to end that culture of coziness. "The fact that I was brought in to take over this job, I think, signaled to people in the agency that whatever was allowed before — [is] not going to be allowed anymore."

. . .

Bromwich agrees. "We have barely 60 inspectors to cover 3,000-plus facilities in the Gulf of Mexico," he says. "If it weren't so troubling, it would be laughable."

Congress did approve more money for the agency in the last budget — just about half of what the administration requested.

MAP: Has Your State Banned Sodomy?

By Tim Murphy
Last week we reported on the debate in the Texas state legislature over whether to repeal to the state's ban on "homosexual conduct." It's been eight years since the Supreme Court officially knocked down anti-sodomy laws as unconstitutional in Lawrence v. Texas, but Texas' state legislature has thus far refused to remove the law from the books—in large part because most Texas Republicans still support it. In 2010, the state GOP made defense of the anti-sodomy statute part of its platform, calling for the state to effectively ignore the the law of the land: "We demand that Congress exercise its authority granted by the U.S. Constitution to withhold jurisdiction from the federal courts from cases involving sodomy." Gov. Rick Perry, meanwhile, dismissed the Lawrence decision as the product of "nine oligarchs in robes" (never mind that it was a 6–3 decision).

But Texas isn't the only state that's still legislating bedroom activity. . . Here's a map:


Family's saga highlights kinks in immigrant detention system

By Kelsey Sheehy
Logan Guzman likes to pretend he's a superhero. One week he's Spiderman. The next he's Batman. Whichever hero he embodies, the 4-year-old's goal is always the same: He wants to save his father.

 Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained Logan's dad, Pedro Guzman, 30, in front of the family's Durham, N.C., home on Sept. 28, 2009. Logan and his mother, Emily, could only look on.

 . . .

 Nearly 19 months later, Pedro Guzman is still in immigration custody after multiple requests for release on bond were denied. He has two misdemeanor marijuana-possession charges from 1998 on his record. Because of that he's considered a flight risk. So he waits.

Opponents of climate bill far outspent environmentalists, according to Climate Shift data

By Joseph Romm
The data suggest opponents of the bill far outspent environmentalists during the climate bill debate of 2009 and 2010:

8-to-1 on lobbying in 2009
4-to 1 (or more) on advertising in 2009
8-to-1 in donations to candidates and Congress members in 2010 cycle
10-to-1 on independent election expenditures in 2010

I am basing those numbers on a reanalysis of data in Matthew Nisbet's discredited "Climate Shift" report.

This reanalysis, which I'll present below, was done with the help of Dr. Robert Brulle. Brulle is a leading social scientist whom Nisbet had specifically asked to review his financial analysis -- and who ultimately withdrew his name from the study in large part because Nisbet's claims that enviros held the spending edge were "contradicted by Nisbet's own data." . .

. . .

The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard described my first post as "Killing a false narrative before it takes hold." Since Nisbet's report is beyond uncitable, my goal here is provide analysis that will stand as one of the most credible analyses to cite until someone publishes a journal article.

Fossil fuel industries kill and injure an awful lot of their workers

By Daniel J. Weiss
On the one-year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster and the Massey coal mine explosion in West Virginia, we are reminded how dangerous our dependence on fossil fuels can be. A large cost of our reliance on these energy sources is the death or injury of workers in these industries. Transitioning to cleaner energy technologies such as solar and wind is safer for workers as well as better for public health, economic competitiveness, and the environment. We can take steps to make fossil fuel industries less dangerous while we transition to cleaner energy.

The toll of fossil fuels on human health and the environment is well documented. But our dependence on fossil fuels exacts a very high price on the people who extract or process these fuels. Every year, some men and women who toil in our nation's coal mines, natural gas fields, and oil rigs and refineries lose their lives or suffer from major injuries to provide the fossil fuels that drive our economy.

. . .

No workplace can ever be risk free. But efficiency and renewable energy technologies promise fewer worker injuries, illnesses, and deaths while generating power more cleanly and protecting public health. Let the transition begin. In the meantime we should adequately fund OSHA, push for comprehensive, centralized data collection and analysis to hold fossil fuel industries accountable, and strengthen unions. All these steps would go a long way toward protecting fossil fuel workers.

God Hates Verizon.

By sara with camera
After a customer service call gone wrong, I was very angry and couldn't seem to get a grip on it.  I called Katherine and the plan was born.  Most anyone who has lived in Topeka awhile knows about the angry corner: 17th & Gage.  That's where (or across the street at 15th & Gage) Westboro Baptist Church holds their week-day 15 minute protests.  You've seen the signs.  God hates this and God hates that.  I decided that it would be cathartic and funny if I could join in with a God Hates Verizon sign.  So I did (I got about 10 minutes of protest in before the cold got to me).


'Wikileaks' soldier Bradley Manning moved to new prison

By (BBC)
. . .

At a press conference at the Pentagon on Tuesday, defence department general counsel Jeh Johnson said Pte Manning would be moved imminently to a pre-trial jail at Fort Leavenworth, in the Mid-western US state of Kansas.

Mr Johnson and other military officials said the Fort Leavenworth jail - which was opened in January - was better equipped to handle long-term pre-trial stays than the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Virginia.

Among other things, the Fort Leavenworth jail has better mental health support and, should officials permit it, better exercise facilities and more opportunities for interaction with other detainees, officials said.

Michigan Emergency Manager Robert Bobb Issues Layoff Notice to All Detroit Public School Teachers

By E.D. Kain
We’ve discussed Rick Snyder’s “Emergency Financial Manager” bill in this space previously. Now it’s time to take a look at what happens when a law like this is put into practice. In Detroit, a city that has faced decline now for several decades, Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb has issued a layoff notice to all 5,466 public school teachers.

. . .

What we have in Detroit is an Emergency Manager appointed by the previous governor who was facing a challenge from the School District which was frustrated by his top-down approach to school reform. That challenge was effectively crushed by the passage of Public Act 4. This same Emergency Manager was a graduate from a foundation that promotes corporate school reform and also pays around a third of his six-figure salary. The Emergency Manager has the power to break union contracts, layoff teachers, and open charter schools that benefit the same foundation that is so heavily invested in the Emergency Manager’s career.

This is nothing short of a coordinated effort between the billionaire foundations pushing school reform and Tea Party conservatives intent on slashing benefits and ending collective bargaining rights. Public schools are under assault by the forces of privatization, and public school teachers face benefit and salary cuts while the very rich are promised tax cuts. Similar efforts are underway in Florida and Wisconsin.

S&P adds own footnote to crisis

By Chan Akya
At long last, the inevitable has come to pass. Standard & Poor's, the rating agency, on Monday affirmed the credit ratings of the US but revised downward the country's outlook from stable to negative. Essentially, the move makes it likely if not altogether probable that the US will lose its prized credit rating of triple-A over the next two to three years. . .

Specifically, the question gnawing at the core of the market is the one about who exactly is affected by any S&P downgrade of the US sovereign. Is it China, with its $1 trillion of US government bonds? Of course, that is indeed one victim and one that I have long commented upon in this column. The symbiotic relationship between China and the US - supplier and borrower - has been long documented by other authors.

This is however, not the whole story. The biggest buyer of US government bonds over the past two years hasn't been China or any Middle-Eastern nation, but rather the US Federal Reserve. Yes, the same agency which is the repository of all currency printing activities in the US.

Welcome to the "Hump Point" of this OND.

News can be sobering and engrossing - at this point in the diary, an offering of brief escapism:

Random notes related to this video:
As a child, Nelson starred with his parents on The Ozzie And Harriet Show and became a teen idol as a singer in the '50s. He had a string of hits, but by the mid '60s he was no longer in demand as The Beatles were dominating the American music scene. In 1971, he played a show with other stars from the '50s at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He was expected to play his hits, but when he played his newer material, the crowd booed him badly. This experience unnerved the former teen idol and prompted him to write this song, which became his first US Top Ten hit since 1963's "For You." After that show, Nelson stopped playing nostalgia shows. He died in a plane crash in 1985 at age 45.

Back to what's happening:

Environment and Greening
EPA gives mixed report on greenhouse gas

By (UPI)
. . .

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that the six main components in greenhouse gas declined 6.1 percent in 2009 compared with the previous year. The figures, the most current data available, are the lowest since 1995.

 The report attributed the decline in 2009 to the impact that the global economic meltdown had on fuel and electricity consumption.

The report found, however, that overall emission increased more than 7.3 percent from 1990-2009.

The Root: One Year After BP, The Coast Isn't Yet Clear

By Brentin Mock
. . .

The hundreds of reporters who descended on the Gulf last summer to tell the story of the disaster have cleared out. But there's a new, darker meaning to the phrase "the coast is clear." Coastal land loss has plagued the Gulf for decades — long before the BP disaster — making more vulnerable the fish, shrimp, crabs and birds on which the Gulf Coast's tourism and economy depend. This also exposes Gulf Coast families to higher poverty and despair.

Much as the Katrina floods compelled America to pay attention to the decades of neglect and economic inequality in New Orleans, the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout brought into focus the legacy of degradation and pollution that has troubled Gulf waters for generations. The rotten-pie tar balls dotting the beaches are just another of many entries in a history of injuries.

. . .

Encalade talked about how fishermen and the oil and gas industries have co-existed for decades, with faith that both would work safely and responsibly. But with many of the fishermen in his neighborhood and across the Gulf Coast believing that BP has failed to adequately compensate them, Encalade's faith appears to be eroding as fast as the wetlands. For years, he has watched oysters die off from overpowering freshwater diversions and overfishing. "We don't have degrees in marine biology down here, but we see what's happening," Encalade told us.

Plans for tough European rules on oil spills come under attack

By Fiona Harvey
European plans to crack down hard on oil companies with a series of measures to prevent a spill in EU waters like that of BP's Gulf of Mexico disaster, are under attack from the UK and other national governments, the Guardian has learned.

The measures, backed by the EU's energy chief Günter Oettinger, require companies to use a higher standard of equipment, pay for damage for which they are not liable now, and prove they have enough funds to clear up after any accident, before they can be licensed to drill.

. . .

Green campaigners welcomed the tougher stance from the European commission, but warned that the proposals were under attack. Richard George, an oil campaigner for Greenpeace, said: "If these regulations pass they'll be a good first step towards ensuring that oil companies are held responsible for their spills. The concern right now is that national governments, with the UK at the forefront, are working hard to water down these proposals at the behest of the oil companies. David Cameron needs to get behind efforts to prevent a Deepwater Horizon-style disaster in European waters."

Google Invests in World's Largest Wind Farm

By Tiffany Kaiser  
Aside from running the successful Android operating system and the world's most popular search engine, Google has been making some environmentally conscious efforts as well. Just last week, the web giant invested $168 million in the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System located in the Mojave Desert in California.

Now, Google is investing $100 million in the Shepherds Flat Wind Farm in Arlington, Oregon. It will be joining this project with Caithness Energy, which is the project developer, and GE, an early investor and turbine manufacturer as well as an operations and maintenance supplier. Other investors include Tyr Energy and Sumitomo Corporation of America.

. . .

"This project is exciting to us not only because of its size and scale, but also because it uses advanced technology," said Rick Needham, Director of Green Business Operations for Google in The Official Google Blog. "This will be the first commercial wind farm in the U.S. to deploy, at scale, turbines that use permanent magnet generators - tech-speak for evolutionary turbine technology that will improve efficiency, reliability and grid connection capabilities. Though the technology has been installed outside the U.S., it's an important, incremental step in lowering the cost of wind energy over the long term in the U.S."

Anonymous Hacker Threatens System Security Breach at U.S. Wind Facility

By Tiffany Kaiser  
. . .

An anonymous hacker posted a threat to the Full Disclosure security mailing list on Saturday, claiming that he/she planned to break into wind turbine systems as revenge for an "illegitimate firing" from Florida Power & Light.

The hacker's name attached to the post was "Bgr R," and the person is a former employee at Florida Power & Light. According to an e-mail interview with Bgr R, he (or she) found a weak spot in the Cisco security management software used at Florida Power & Light. This vulnerability was used to hack into the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, which control the turbines.

. . .

With this control, Bgr R could have shut down the 200-megawatt facility or damaged its hardware. Bgr R's intention was to embarrass Florida Power & Light, and to show people "how they really work on SCADA security."

Science and Health
Cluelessness and sexism embarrass the American College of Surgeons

By Orac
. . .

The surgeon in question is Dr. Lazar Greenfield. Dr. Greenfield can rightly be called one of the giants of surgery. Ever hear of the Greenfield filter? Yes, it's that Dr. Greenfield, who in 1968 invented a metal filter that could be placed in the inferior vena cava and stop clots from traveling to the lower extremities and into the lungs in the form of often fatal pulmonary emboli. Who knows how many lives were saved by Greenfield's invention, deceptively simple in concept but difficult in engineering? Greenfield's contributions to vascular surgery didn't stop with the invention of the inferior vena cava filter, either. An utterly brilliant man, Dr. Greenfield has authored nearly 200 peer-reviewed scientific papers, 55 book chapters, and 8 books. His textbook of surgery is one of the major surgical texts used by many medical schools and residencies.

The Michigan connection is that Dr. Greenfield became Chairman of the Department of Surgery in 1988, the year I graduated from medical school. . . in 2004 Dr. Greenfield stepped down to become Emeritus Professor of Surgery, a role in which he continues to teach and do research to this day. This year, he reached one of the ultimate professional pinnacles in surgery, being elected to be the incoming president of the American College of Surgeons, the largest and most influential surgical organization. Given that Dr. Greenfield is 78, it appeared that he was finishing his career on a high note.

Then, as editor, he decided to write a truly bizarre Valentine's Day-themed editorial for Surgery News. So offensive was the editorial considered among women that the entire issue of GSN was pulled from the web and Dr. Greenfield was forced to resign as editor. What caused such a ruckus? Dr. Greenfield apparently thinks that semen is a mood-enhancing antidepressant . . .

Our 'Toxic' Love-Hate Relationship With Plastics

By (Fresh Air from WHYY)
We all know that plastics are common in modern life, but science journalist Susan Freinkel says they are really literally everywhere — in our toothbrushes, hair dryers, cell phones, computers, door knobs, car parts — and of course in those ubiquitous plastic bags we get it seems every time we buy anything.

The bags are made from polyethylene, the most common type of plastic in use today. By one estimate, Freinkel says, the amount of polyethylene produced in America every year is nearly equal to the combined mass of every man, woman and child in the country.

Freinkel's new book, Plastic: A Toxic Love Story chronicles the rise of plastic in consumer culture, and its effects on the environment and our health. She notes that plastics have had enormously beneficial impacts — like making blood transfusions safe and common. But scientists are now also finding that phthalate chemicals from IV bags and other plastics are leaching into the fluids we take into our bodies, and the effects of that are just now being understood.

Peppermint activates 'anti-pain' in colon

By (UPI)
Peppermint activates an "anti-pain" channel in the colon, soothing inflammatory pain in the gastrointestinal tract, researchers in Australia say.

. . .

"Our research shows that peppermint acts through a specific anti-pain channel called TRPM8 to reduce pain sensing fibres, particularly those activated by mustard and chili," Brierley says in a statement.

"This is potentially the first step in determining a new type of mainstream clinical treatment for irritable bowel syndrome."

You Might Be Able to See the ISS in the Sky This Week

By Casey Chan
he International Space Station is always circling the Earth but isn't always exactly visible to us. In the daytime the Sun drowns it out, at night the Earth shadow usually covers it. This week though, you'll be able to see the ISS streaking across the evening sky.

How do you tell? Well, it's going to be the brightest object up there other than the Moon (and maybe UFOs).

Virus and low sunlight 'raises multiple sclerosis risk'

By (BBC)
Low levels of sunlight coupled with glandular fever could increase the risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS), say researchers.

There are many suspected risk factors for MS and the disease is known to be more common away from the equator.

The study, in Neurology, suggested that low levels of sunlight could affect how the body responds to infection.

The MS Society said the study, based on hospital admissions data in England, added weight to existing evidence.

Homomorphic Encryption

By Erica Naone
Craig Gentry is creating an encryption system that could solve the problem keeping many organizations from using cloud computing to analyze and mine data: it’s too much of a security risk to give a public cloud provider such as Amazon or Google access to unencrypted data.

The problem is that while data can be sent to and from a cloud provider’s data center in encrypted form, the servers that power a cloud can’t do any work on it that way. Now Gentry, an IBM researcher, has shown that it is possible to analyze data without decrypting it. The key is to encrypt the data in such a way that performing a mathematical operation on the encrypted information and then decrypting the result produces the same answer as performing an analogous operation on the unencrypted data. The correspondence between the operations on unencrypted data and the operations to be performed on encrypted data is known as a homomorphism. “In principle,” says Gentry, “something like this could be used to secure operations over the Internet.”

With homomorphic encryption, a company could encrypt its entire database of e-mails and upload it to a cloud. Then it could use the cloud-stored data as desired—for example, to search the database to understand how its workers collaborate. The results would be downloaded and decrypted without ever exposing the details of a single e-mail.

Jack Chapman obituary

By Patrick Dowling
Jack Chapman, who has died aged 87, was one of the most distinguished engineers of his time. He studied many high-profile structural failures including, in the 1960s, the collapses of the Ronan Point tower block in Newham, east London, and the Sea Gem offshore oil rig, in the North Sea. He also examined the sinking of the British ship the Derbyshire in the South China Sea in 1980. The results of these and other investigations led to design improvements in the next generation of structures.

One of Jack's major contributions was his understanding of the complex interaction between steel and concrete in composite construction. This led to the formulation of rational design rules for shear connectors (such as headed weld studs) between the two materials.

Jack revelled in the challenge of finding simple solutions to the most complex engineering problems. He could get to the heart of the matter quickly, devise a simple analytical model to study behaviour, verify his results experimentally, and then produce a solution which could be used in practice.

These 2D Glasses Make 3D Movies Watchable Again

By Brian Barrett
It's honestly gotten to a point where it's almost impossible to find a two-dimensional version of a major 3D movie release. For those of us just want our eyeballs back? 2D Glasses are here, they're real, and they're ready to flatten whatever Hollywood throws at 'em.

But how, you're asking yourself, as you frantically check your bank account to ensure you've got the ten bucks (including shipping!) you'll need to buy a pair of these spectacular specs. How do they work? Well, like so:

. . .

2D Glasses block the same image with both lenses, so each eye gets the same picture resulting in a 2D image and an elimination of eyeball strain.

Nearly 3,000 New Walt Whitman Papers Discovered

By (ScienceDaily)
As a clerk in the U.S. Attorney General's Office in the 1860s and 1870s, Walt Whitman had a firsthand view of the legal, cultural and ideological challenges facing the nation after the Civil War. That experience, most believe, shaped his later works of poetry and prose.

Now, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln researcher has discovered nearly 3,000 previously unknown Whitman documents from that era -- a trove of information that sheds new light on the legendary poet's post-war thinking, as well as on Whitman's published reflections on the state of the nation that soon followed.

"This was an age of high hopes but also big problems, and Walt Whitman was there in the thick of it," said Kenneth Price, Hillegass University Professor of American Literature at UNL, who recently uncovered the documents in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. "He was not a passive observer; he was participating, on a daily basis, in issues that were shaping what the nation would be like after the war."

Women Press For A Voice In The New Egypt

By Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson
For the first time in Egyptian history, a woman is running for president.

Buthayna Kamel's candidacy in elections expected later this year is the result of the youth uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak and his ruling party.

Still, many Egyptian women say they feel shut out of the new government that is emerging. They worry that unless they take bold steps, women will end up with less political clout in the new Egypt than they had under Mubarak.

. . .

The 49-year-old talk show host turned presidential candidate is on the campaign trail. She recently held a town hall gathering outside the main library in Egypt's famous southern city of Luxor. Not long ago, a gathering for people to vent their frustrations about the government — let alone discuss Kamel's presidential aspirations — would have been impossible.

James Gleick: What Defines A Meme?

By David Pescovitz
Smithsonian Magazine has posted a fantastic excerpt from James Gleick's new book, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. In this piece, he presents a popular yet fresh introduction to the concept of the "meme," crediting Richard Dawkins, of course, but also going back years before The Selfish Gene, to French biologist and Nobel laureate Jacques Monod, who said that ideas have "spreading power." "Ideas cause ideas and help evolve new ideas. They interact with each other and with other mental forces in the same brain, in neighboring brains, and thanks to global communication, in far distant, foreign brains. And they also interact with the external surroundings to produce in toto a burstwise advance in evolution that is far beyond anything to hit the evolutionary scene yet." He continues with several fascinating examples of memes . . . and lands on Twitter as a powerful meme incubator. From Smithsonian:
Inspired by a chance conversation on a hike in the Hong Kong mountains, information scientists Charles H. Bennett from IBM in New York and Ming Li and Bin Ma from Ontario, Canada, began an analysis of a set of chain letters collected during the photocopier era. They had 33, all variants of a single letter, with mutations in the form of misspellings, omissions and transposed words and phrases. “These letters have passed from host to host, mutating and evolving,” they reported in 2003.

. . .

 Still, most of the elements of culture change and blur too easily to qualify as stable replicators. They are rarely as neatly fixed as a sequence of DNA. Dawkins himself emphasized that he had never imagined founding anything like a new science of memetics. A peer-reviewed Journal of Memetics came to life in 1997—published online, naturally—and then faded away after eight years partly spent in self-conscious debate over status, mission and terminology. Even compared with genes, memes are hard to mathematize or even to define rigorously. So the gene-meme analogy causes uneasiness and the genetics-memetics analogy even more.

Malaysia obesity campaign targets students

By Jennifer Pak
Malaysia's government has announced it will record the body mass index of students on report cards as part of a campaign to fight obesity.

The Malaysian health minister says the country has the highest percentage of obese citizens in Southeast Asia.

Teachers now have to measure students' body weight and height to see if they have a healthy amount of body fat.

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