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Welcome to the Overnight News Digest (OND) for Sunday, December 13, 2012.

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.

Our Editor of boundless energy, earnest opinion and soothing bathtub marathons, jlms qkw, is swapping Sunday and Tuesday publishing slots with me this week.


This diary is named for its "Hump Point" video: Soir au Village by Manu Dibango

News below Aunt Flossie's hairdo . . .

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
Iran unable to get life-saving drugs due to international sanctions

By Julian Borger and Saeed Kamali Dehghan
Hundreds of thousands of Iranians with serious illnesses have been put at imminent risk by the unintended consequences of international sanctions, which have led to dire shortages of life-saving medicines such as chemotherapy drugs for cancer and bloodclotting agents for haemophiliacs.

Western governments have built waivers into the sanctions regime – aimed at persuading Tehran to curb its nuclear programme – in an effort to ensure that essential medicines get through, but those waivers are not functioning, as they conflict with blanket restrictions on banking, as well as bans on "dual-use" chemicals which might have a military application.

. . .

European officials are aware of the potential for disaster reminiscent of the debacle of the UN oil-for-food programme imposed on Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and discussions are under way in Brussels on how to strengthen safeguards for at-risk Iranians. The US treasury says its office of foreign asset control is seeking to reassure banks that they will not be penalised for financing humanitarian sales.

. . .

Naghdi, the head of Darou Pakhsh, which supplies about a third of Iran's pharmaceutical needs, said he can no longer buy medical equipment such as autoclaves (sterilising machines), essential for the production of many drugs, and that some of the biggest western pharmaceutical companies refuse to have anything to do with Iran.

Gas That Triggers Ozone Destruction Revealed

By (ScienceDaily)
Scientists at the Universities of York and Leeds have made a significant discovery about the cause of the destruction of ozone over oceans.

. . .

The scientists quantified gaseous emissions of inorganic iodine following the reaction of iodide with ozone in a series of laboratory experiments. They showed that the reaction of iodide with ozone leads to the formation of both molecular iodine and hypoiodous acid. Using laboratory models, they show that the reaction of ozone with iodide on the sea surface could account for around 75 per cent of observed iodine oxide levels over the tropical Atlantic Ocean.

. . .

Professor John Plane, from the University of Leeds’ School of Chemistry, said: “This mechanism of iodine release into the atmosphere appears to be particularly important over tropical oceans, where measurements show that there is more iodide in seawater available to react with ozone. The rate of the process also appears to be faster in warmer water. The negative feedback for ozone should therefore be particularly important for removing ozone in the outflows of pollution from major cities in the coastal tropics.”

Most adults don't wash hands long enough

By (UPI)
Seventy-five percent of U.S. adults don't increase their hand-washing habits during flu season and most don't wash long enough, a survey indicates.

. . .

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing for at least 20 seconds and suggests singing "Happy Birthday" twice to allow enough time to remove and rinse off germs.

The survey also found 70 percent of U.S. adults said they always washed their hands after using a public restroom, 29 percent said they sometimes skipped washing hands and 1 percent said they never washed after using a public restroom.

Ecuadorean tribe will 'die fighting' to defend rainforest

By Jonathan Watts
In what looks set to be one of the most one-sided struggles in the history of Amazon forest conservation, an indigenous community of about 400 villagers is preparing to resist the Ecuadorean army and one of the biggest oil companies in South America.

. . .

Mari Muench, who is originally from London, said the community decided at two meetings late last year to reject a financial offer from the oil firm because they were concerned about the long-term environmental impact of mining.

They recently learned, however, that the chief of the village has signed a contract giving the go-ahead for the oil exploration, even though they say he was not authorised to do so.

. . .

"It makes me feel sad and angry. Sad because we are indigenous people and not fully prepared to fight a government. And angry because we grew up to be warriors and have a spirit to defend ourselves. I wish we could use this force to fight in a new way, but our mental strength is not sufficient in this modern world. If the laws were respected we would win. But our lawyers have sent them letters and they won't even talk to us in Quito."

. . .

The members of the Kichwa indigenous group are custodians of swaths of the most biodiverse areas in the world. Their land is close to the Yasuni national park. Scientists say a single hectare in this part of the Amazon contains a wider variety of life than all of North America.

Academics Are Tweeting Out PDFs of Journal Articles in Memory of Aaron Swartz

By Eric Limer
There's been a pretty big outpouring of grief following Aaron Swartz's suicide, even from those who didn't actually know him. And the trend is continuing. Many researchers and academics are now tweeting links to PDF files of their papers as a tribute.

. . .

There's yet to be any consolidated archive of the links or PDFs, but chatter on Twitter suggests that there are multiple parties trying to organize one. The hashtag is now getting over 500 tweets per hour, so rounding up all those links could prove to be difficult, but even with no hub of articles (yet), the tribute is making a splash.

Italian diplomat attacked in Benghazi

By (UPI)
Unknown gunmen in Benghazi, Libya, shot at the car of the Italian consul general as he was leaving the consulate, officials said. No one was injured.

. . .

The attack came amid the ongoing investigation into the Sept. 11 assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

De Sanctis said security at the Italian consulate was enhanced following the attack at the U.S. consulate, but the building is not heavily fortified and is relatively open to the public.

Russia: Tens of thousands protest US adoption ban

By Samantha Stainburn
Up to 20,000 protesters demonstrated in Moscow today against Russia’s new law banning Americans from adopting Russian children, the Associated Press reported.

Signed by President Vladimir Putin on Dec. 28, the law is seen as retaliation for America's passing of the Magnitsky Act, which denies visas for Russians accused of human rights violations as well as freezes their US assets, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.

. . .

It also addresses long-brewing resentment in Russia over the 60,000 Russian children who have been adopted by Americans in the past two decades, 19 of whom have died.

. . .

“Nobody cares for these children, and no one needs them,” Liza Kulkova, a protester from Klin, Russia, who volunteers at an orphanage, told Bloomberg Businessweek. “This is my first protest, and I don’t think it will make a difference but I came anyway. These kids are a living tragedy, and it’s outrageous to use them for a political end.”

Egypt court orders retrial for Mubarak

By (Al Jazeera)
An Egyptian court has accepted an appeal by ousted president Hosni Mubarak and his former interior minister Habib el-Adly, allowing them to be retried over the killings of protesters in the 2011 uprising.

Judge Ahmed Ali Abdelrahman told the court on Sunday he had accepted the appeals by Mubarak, el-Adly and the prosecution. The decision cancelled all previous rulings by the Cairo criminal court.

No date has been set for the start of their retrial. The defendants will remain in jail because they still must face separate trials.

. . .

Mubarak and el-Adly were sentenced to life in prison in June last year in a court ruling that held them responsible for the deaths of protesters killed by security forces.

USA Politics, Economy, Major Events
NRA says Dem threats boost gun sales

By (UPI)
The president of the National Rifle Association denied the NRA was stirring up fears over U.S. gun control in order to increase sales by its members' companies.

. . .

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., was not convinced. He told CNN the powerful lobbying group was "not your father's NRA" and directly profited from gun sales through a "rounding up" program in which the purchase price is rounded up to the nearest dollar.

Murphy predicted the NRA would pull out all stops to block legislation curbing assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, which the U.S. public favored.

Uncertainty Looms For Pentagon In Obama's Second Term

By (All Things Considered)
. . .

Looming sequestration cuts of massive proportions, coupled with a U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan are adding to the boiling partisanship over nominating Chuck Hegel as defense secretary. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that some of the biggest challenges for the Department of Defense come from inside U.S. borders.

. . .

The U.S. defense budget has more than doubled since 2001, Adams says, to roughly $650 billion, with a large part of that due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He says the lesson learned in those conflicts, from a military spending standpoint, was that the U.S. will not use forces for long-term, sustained counterinsurgency operations.

"I think there is a fundamental change in the reality in how the military might be used, which is in much smaller units, in much smaller areas [and] for very temporary periods of time," he says. "All of that says to me it is perfectly safe and sustainable to bring down the size ... quite sharply in the process of doing a build-down."

Hagel's nomination as secretary of defense, Adams says, suggests caution by the administration about how we use the military, as well as a lowering of the defense budget.

Platinum Coins and Banana Republics

By Kevin Drum
A couple of days ago Greg Sargent emailed to ask me why I was so opposed to the $1 trillion platinum coin as a way of evading the debt ceiling. After all, a lot of liberals argue that Republicans are threatening to turn the United States into a banana republic by refusing to allow our bills to be paid, so why shouldn't Democrats respond in kind? I think it's worth sharing my answer:
Fighting banana republic with more banana republic is far more dangerous than coin supporters think. It's one thing for Republicans to go crazy. It's another for craziness to essentially become institutionalized. When liberals stop fighting this kind of stuff, we really are on our way to banana republic-hood.
. . .

The answer to the debt ceiling nonsense is to force Republicans back into some semblance of responsibility and prudence. In the long term, it's the only way we survive. Barack Obama appears to understand that.

Flowers Foods agrees to buy Wonderbread from Hostess Brands

By Samantha Stainburn
Flowers Foods Inc., the parent company of Tastykake snacks, has agreed to buy Wonderbread and other assets from Hostess Brands Inc. for $390 million, the New York Times reported.

Hostess Brands filed for liquidation in late November and has some 30 brands and 36 plants to unload, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Flowers will be a “stalking-horse” bidder in an auction that will begin on Feb. 28, the New York Times reported.

HP CEO Meg Whitman's $15 million paycheck

By Kaitlin Funaro
2012 was a good year for HP's CEO Meg Whitman. In her first full year as the top boss of Hewlett-Packard, Whitman took home nearly $15.4 million in compensation.

. . .

For the second year in a row, Whitman has taken only $1 in salary.

She will also receive $1.7 million in performance-related bonuses, more than $7 million in stock awards and $6.4 million in options, reports Business Insider.

. . .

Shares of the computer-maker declined 39 percent in the past year after five straight quarters of declining sales.

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:
. . .

Il fait ses débuts musicaux en grattant d'abord la mandoline, puis en apprenant le piano. Lors d'un séjour dans un centre de colonie réservé aux enfants camerounais résidents en France, il rencontre Francis Bebey, un peu plus âgé que lui, qui est un fan de jazz. Armstrong et Sidney Bechet sont pour lui, les deux figures emblématique du jazz noir-américain. Les deux jeunes gens forment à cette occasion un petit groupe où chacun s'essaie à la pratique de son instrument favori.

. . .

En 1960, il est embauché dans une boîte bruxelloise, les Anges Noirs que les politiciens et intellectuels zaïrois fréquentent assidûment. En effet, nous sommes dans l'effervescence des négociations d'indépendance et la ville est devenue un carrefour d'influences.

. . .

A l'occasion de la Huitième coupe d'Afrique des Nations, grand événement footballistique qui se déroule à Yaoundé en 72, Manu compose un hymne dont la face B du 45 tours n'est autre que le plus gros tube africain de tous les temps, "Soul Makossa".

. . .

Devant l'évidence du succès américain, Decca prend contact avec Atlantic et négocie une tournée d'un mois dans le pays de l'Oncle Sam dont dix jours de représentation au célèbre Appollo d'Harlem. Nous sommes en 73. Si l'Amérique était un fantasme pour Manu et ses musiciens, elle devient réalité en quelques jours. La notoriété du musicien est importante et son succès, énorme. Les noirs-américains voient là l'expression de leur terre originelle.

Les médias français comprennent enfin que cet instrumentiste difficilement classable est un artiste de talent et son passage à Paris à l'Olympia à la fin de l'année 73 est un triomphe. . .

Back to what's happening:
Environment and Greening
Top tip if you're going out in Beijing: don't breathe

By Tania Branigan and agencies
When it comes to air pollution, the long-suffering residents of Beijing tend to think they have seen it all. But this weekend, instruments measuring the levels of particulate matter in the city's famously noxious air broke all records.

. . .

Breakneck economic growth, reliance on coal, dramatic expansion of car ownership and the widespread flouting of environmental laws have all contributed to China's air pollution problems. But the intensity of the current problem appears to be weather-related. The monitoring centre said the heavy pollution had been trapped by an area of low pressure and warned that the problem was likely to continue until Tuesday.

. . .

Zhou added: "For Beijing, cleaning up will take a whole generation but other regions don't even have any targets to cut coal burning. I bet the pollution here is mainly from those surrounding regions."

The US embassy said the highest pollution level it recorded was 755, corresponding to a PM2.5 density of 886 micrograms per cubic meter. The US Environmental Protection Agency says passing 300 on its air quality index would trigger a health warning of "emergency conditions".

Climate change measures: Report praised politicians

By Roger Harrabin
Politicians are doing more to combat climate change than they are given credit for, according to a report.

It says 32 out of 33 countries surveyed have introduced, or are producing, significant climate-related laws.

. . .

But Globe president John Gummer, the former Environment Secretary, says progress on a national level gives some cause for optimism.

. . .

Sceptics will point out that many of the legislative changes have been introduced because it makes business sense to waste less energy.

. . .

What's more these changes are way off the pace scientists say is needed to stave off potentially dangerous climate change. The World Bank warned recently that temperatures might rise by a catastrophic 4C (7F) above pre-industrial levels, given the rate of political progress.

Media stirs hornet's nest in Guangzhou

By Sreeram Chaulia
At a time when there is a chorus to regulate and control the news media in established democracies like the United Kingdom and India, a converse drama is ensuing in authoritarian China through a mini-revolt of journalists in Guangdong province against excessive government interference and skewing of reportage.

Unlike in free societies, where some sections of the media are being accused of sensationalism, irresponsibility and larger-than-life kingmaker roles in politics, the problem in single-party ruled China is the classic one of a censorship state that has never allowed print and audio-visual media to express themselves honestly and objectively.

. . .

The media persons who decided to take the courageous step of marching in public and writing open letters demanding the resignation of the censorship boss are well aware of the risks to personal safety and security for locking horns with authorities in a closed polity like China. But they were driven to such desperate measures by subtle changes are occurring in Chinese society, viz what the rebellious Southern Weekly's daredevils have summed up as an "era of greater openness".

Science and Health
What Did Our Ancestors Look Like? Hair and Eye Color Can Be Determined for Ancient Human Remains

By (ScienceDaily)
A new method of establishing hair and eye colour from modern forensic samples can also be used to identify details from ancient human remains, finds a new study published in BioMed Central's open access journal Investigative Genetics. The HIrisPlex DNA analysis system was able to reconstruct hair and eye colour from teeth up to 800 years old, including the Polish General Wladyslaw Sikorski (1881 to 1943) confirming his blue eyes and blond hair.

A team of researchers from Poland and the Netherlands, who recently developed the HIrisPlex system for forensic analysis, have now shown that this system is sufficiently robust to successfully work on older and more degraded samples from human remains such as teeth and bones. The system looks at 24 DNA polymorphisms (naturally occurring variations) which can be used to predict eye and hair colour.

How Tadpoles Re-Grow Their Tails: Implications for Human Healing

By (ScienceDaily)
. . .

In an earlier study, Professor Amaya's group identified which genes were activated during tail regeneration. Unexpectedly, that study showed that several genes that are involved in metabolism are activated, in particular those that are linked to the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) -- chemically reactive molecules containing oxygen. What was unusually about those findings is that ROS are commonly believed to be harmful to cells.

. . .

The publication of Professor Amaya's study comes just days after a paper from the Nobel Prize winner and co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, James Watson, who has suggested antioxidants could be harmful to people in the later stages of cancer.

Professor Amaya comments: "It's very interesting that two papers suggesting that antioxidants may not always be beneficial have been published recently. Our findings and those of others are leading to a reversal in our thinking about the relative beneficial versus harmful effects that oxidants and antioxidants may have on human health, and indeed that oxidants, such as ROS, may play some important beneficial roles in healing and regeneration."

Patent on abuse-resistant drug to expire

By (UPI)
The patent on an abuse-resistant type of OxyContin will expire in April, leading to worries that generics will flood the Kentucky market again, activists said.

The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal said the new version of the pill turns into a gummy substance if an addict tries to crush it for injection.

But activists said when it disappears from the market in April, generic drugs with no abuse-resistant technology will likely take its place.

Embryonic Stem Cells Make Damaged Artery Functional Again

By Tiffany Kaiser  
. . .

 A team from the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, led by John L. VandeBerg, Ph.D., took embryonic stem cells from baboons to produce a fully functional artery.

 To do this, the team extracted cells that line the surface of a part of an artery and replaced them with cells that were derived from embryonic stem cells. Both ends of the arterial segment were then connected to plastic tubing inside a bioreactor, which encourages cells to grow.

 Fluid was then pumped through the artery under pressure to mimic blood, and a different fluid was then used to soak the outside of the artery. Only three days later, the inner surface began to regenerate, and after two weeks, the inside of the artery was completely restored to a functional state.

Smartphone OS war heats up

. . .

The two 500-pound gorillas squatting in the smartphone OS room are of course Google with its Android OS and Apple with its iOS. Between them the two companies control nearly 90 percent of the smartphone OS market.

The remaining 10 percent is fought over by Microsoft's Windows Phone, Blackberry 10 from RIM, Nokia's proprietary Symbian OS, various other Linux-based versions (Android is also based on Linux), Palm OS, the aforementioned Firefox OS and a few other minor players.

. . .

Android and iOS both enjoy the advantage of well-developed corporate ecosystems that allow sharing of data among the companies' various services and between handsets running the same software, and both have thriving app offerings, the AppStore for Apple and Google Play.

So it remains probable the average customer dealing with a major wireless provider is going to end up with one of the two, and will more than likely be unaware of the availability of other options.

Will 2013 Continue The 7-Year Downward Trend In American Driving?

By Justin Horner
Predictions and prognostications are the stuff of the New Year–and why should driving trends be any different?  Will 2013 see a continuation of what has now been a nearly 90 month drop in population-adjusted Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT)?

. . .

Total US driving hit its peak in 2007. Since then, average annual VMT growth has been -0.5%, while average annual population growth has been 0.8%.  Per capita VMT in August 2012 was about the same as it was in 2004;

. . .

The post-1950 VMT surge was accompanied by historically unique workplace trends and income growth. A growing number of women workers needed to drive to get to work, and  family incomes grew steadily, particularly from low to middle income levels.  Neither of these trends is likely to continue in America going forward: women are already fully present in the workforce, and as incomes climb over middle income levels, they have been shown to instigate less VMT (and even correlate with VMT decline);

. . .

Technology, mobile phones, the internet…all have been quite logically connected to decreasing the need to drive, be it to work, shopping or a friend’s house. Unfortunately, there is as yet little empirical evidence establishing just what this impact can be.   While the impacts of telecommuting are relatively well explored, we don’t know whether 10,000 new smartphones or laptops means, say, 100,000 fewer trips.  Yet one thing is for sure: mobile technology is not going away. And many point to American young people’s “love affair with tech” as a reason they are choosing to drive less.

Parents told to beware children running up huge bills on iPad and iPhone game apps

By Mark King
Parents are being warned to be vigilant with their iPhones and iPads, following increasing reports of children running up bills of hundreds of pounds while playing games such as Playmobil Pirates, Coin Dozer and Racing Penguin.

. . .

Under current rules, after users have entered their password to buy a product, there is a 15-minute window during which they need not supply their password again when making further purchases. It means if a parent downloads an app and then lets their child use that app immediately, the child can make as many in-app purchases as they like for the next 15 minutes before being prompted for the password again.

"App developers are not often altruistic," said Spencer Whitman of app protection firm AppCertain. "They often include in-app purchases hidden behind the free price tag. Either they offer a small amount of play, then charge for continued use; offer in-app purchases for more in-game content such as extra areas of play or upgrades; or they constantly interrupt game play to ask for in-app purchases."

. . .

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "It's far too easy for children to run up huge bills on phone apps when most default settings allow 'in-app purchases' without asking for a confirmation or password. If your child has run up a huge bill without your knowledge, contact the app store or manufacturer, as you may be eligible for a refund."

San Antonio’s Launching the First Completely Bookless Public Library

By Eric Limer
Books, who needs 'em? Libraries? Not anymore they don't. The first public, bookless library is coming to San Antonio soon and, possibly, to a (dystopic?) future near you.

The new book-free library, called "BiblioTech," is intended to open in the fall and is part of a an entire bookless public library system planned for the entire county of Bexar. And it's not "bring your own device" either. The library will actually lend out e-readers (of an unspecified brand) for two weeks at a time. There will also be computers and the like, but no books, and presumably no card catalog (!) either.

Academic libraries have been experimenting with booklessness for a while now, but San Antonio is the first to charge towards that goal with a brand new system of libraries that are going to be bookless from the start. . .

MIT Is Launching an Internal Investigation To Determine Its Possible Role In Aaron Swartz’s Suicide

By Eric Limer
It's no secret that a factor in Aaron Swartz's recent suicide was likely the charges being pressed against him by in part by MIT over the whole JSTOR incident. While JSTOR backed off, MIT tacitly backed the U.S. attorneys who continued to push, hard. Now, after being criticized in a statement by Swartz's friends and family, MIT has announced its intention to go back and investigate the legal action internally.

. . .

With regard to the impending investigation, Reif states:

I have asked Professor Hal Abelson to lead a thorough analysis of MIT's involvement from the time that we first perceived unusual activity on our network in fall 2010 up to the present. I have asked that this analysis describe the options MIT had and the decisions MIT made, in order to understand and to learn from the actions MIT took. I will share the report with the MIT community when I receive it.
Today is 12th annual ‘No Pants Subway Ride Day’

By Howard Portnoy
. . .

Global No Pants Subway Ride Day, in contrast, has been around for only a dozen years. The 2013 iteration of the event is scheduled for today, January 13, and will occur in some 60 cities worldwide, ranging from Adelaide to Atlanta, Bankgok to Buenos Aires. The website Improv Everywhere, which organizes the event, has the skinny on participating cities (as with the Polar Bears, New York appears to be the hub), along with the history:

The mission started as a small prank with seven guys and has grown into an international celebration of silliness, with dozens of cities around the world participating each year. The idea behind No Pants is simple: Random passengers board a subway car at separate stops in the middle of winter without pants. The participants do not behave as if they know each other, and they all wear winter coats, hats, scarves, and gloves. The only unusual thing is their lack of pants.
GNPSRD is not to be confused with No Pants Day, which takes place the first Friday in May, or National Go Topless Day, an annual protest created in 2007 that permits women to get something off their chest – namely clothing.
Optimism in short supply on streets of Tehran as sanctions grind Iran down

By (Tehran Bureau correspondent, in partnership with the Guardian)
Haji Mohammad sells tobacco at an arcade in Shahrak-e Gharb, a well-to-do neighbourhood in north-east Tehran. He earns about 2m rials (£100) a month, which used to be enough to support a modest life with his wife. But since the west tightened sanctions against Iran last year, the elderly couple have struggled to survive.

. . .

The value of Iran's currency plummeted after the imposition of new sanctions against the Islamic republic's nuclear programme (video), exacerbating already high inflation rates. Beef, which used to cost 120,000 rials a kilo a year ago, is now more than 200,000. A bag of rice has nearly doubled to 70,000 rials. A can of beans and mushrooms is 32,000 – more than twice what it was last January.

. . .

Sanctions are biting at both ends of the socioeconomic scale. Marzieh, a 25-year-old English teacher at a private children's centre, said she had been forced to curb her designer fashion habit. "I've given up my fancy ways," she said. "I can't afford designer clothes or watches. I can't even buy decent shampoo any more. My hair is ruined."

Foreign products, which many urban Iranians prefer to anything domestically manufactured, are increasingly scarce. Those that are available are now priced out of reach of many more women.

Faced with rampant unemployment, more graduates are considering their prospects abroad – even as those opportunities are closing down. Studying in the west has long been the favoured route for the brightest, but fewer foundations and universities are willing to support Iranian students since the advent of sanctions. "No one wants their money in Iranians' hands," said one board member at a prominent US foundation.

Kumbh Mela festival: Preparing for millions

By (BBC)
The 55-day Maha or Great Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad is expected to be the biggest religious gathering of humanity on Earth, with up to 100 million pilgrims bathing in the holy waters in January and February.

The "mega mela" takes place every 12 years at the confluence of the Ganges and the Yamuna rivers - and the mythical Saraswati. The mudflats of the delta are transformed into a tent city, with the thronging masses visible from space (as the above satellite image from a smaller Kumbh Mela in 2007 shows).

. . .

But even before the mela gets fully under way, the hospital has been getting around 1,500 patients a day since it opened on 15 December - mostly pilgrims or people from neighbouring areas taking advantage of the free medical treatment.

. . .

Although many pilgrims bring their own food, the authorities have stocked four warehouses to supply subsidised "ration" or "fair price" shops, which are authorised to sell cheap wheat flour, sugar, rice and fuel.

. . .

The food is being sold at prices generally reserved for families deemed to be living below the poverty line, says local government official Himanshu Mishra.

. . .

More than 30,000 police officers will provide security during the Kumbh Mela, which is expected to see 11 million pilgrims bathe at Sangam on the first day.

Meteor Blades is known to offer an enlightening Evening Open Diary - you might consider checking that out tonight if you haven't already.
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