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Welcome to the Overnight News Digest (OND) for Tuesday, October 15, 2013.

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: It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine) by R.E.M.

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
Supreme Court will hear challenge to EPA’s power-plant rules

By John Upton
. . .

We’ve written at length about the Obama administration’s efforts to clamp down on power plant emissions. The EPA’s proposed rules would make it difficult to operate dirty coal-fired plants and would help slow down global warming. But the decades-overdue rules don’t delight everybody: They have pissed off some powerful and deep-pocketed polluters.

Conservative states, big business and fossil fuel groups have lined up to challenge the rules in court, arguing that they are far-reaching and intrusive. They say the court’s 2007 Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency ruling only directed the federal government to regulate tailpipe emissions under the Clean Air Act — and that it fell short of granting the EPA the authority to regulate “stationary” power plant emissions.

. . .

. . .
“The regulations the court has agreed to review represent the Obama administration’s first major rule making to address the emissions of greenhouse gases from major stationary sources across the country,” said Richard J. Lazarus, who teaches environmental law at Harvard. “At the same time, the court declined to review E.P.A.’s determination that greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles endanger public health and welfare and therefore has left intact the government’s current regulation of motor vehicles emissions to address climate change.”
Plummeting morale at Fukushima Daiichi as nuclear cleanup takes its toll

By Justin McCurry
Dressed in a hazardous materials suit, full-face mask and hard hat, Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, left his audience in no doubt: "The future of Japan," he said, "rests on your shoulders. I am counting on you."

Abe's exhortation, delivered during a recent visit to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, was only heard by a small group of men inside the plant's emergency control room. But it was directed at almost 6,000 more: the technicians and engineers, truck drivers and builders who, almost three years after the plant suffered a triple meltdown, remain on the frontline of the world's most dangerous industrial cleanup.

. . .

Tepco's unshakable belief in its ability to complete the decommissioning operation rules out any meaningful co-operation, even with Japanese government officials. "Tepco has always wanted to do its own thing," said Akihiro Yoshikawa, a Tepco employee of 14 years who recently left the company. "It doesn't want the government stepping in and telling it what to do; it just wants the government's money."

Yoshikawa said the spirit of resilience his former colleagues had displayed in the aftermath of the accident had turned to despondency amid mounting criticism at home and abroad, forcing younger workers to leave and older ones to take early retirement. "They felt like they were being bullied, even though they were putting their lives at risk," he said.

Ada Lovelace Day 2013: from nerd cabaret to womenifying Wikipedia

By Suw Charman-Anderson
. . .

Eugenie Clark’s story is just one of hundreds of stories about the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths that have been shared as part of Ada Lovelace Day. When I started the day five years ago, my goal was to collect these stories not only to inspire girls to study the STEM subjects, but also to provide support to women pursuing careers in these usually male-dominated fields.

Ada Lovelace is the ideal figurehead for this project: She was the world's first computer programmer, and the first person to realise that a general purpose computing machine such as Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine could do more than just calculate large tables of numbers. It could, she said, create music and art, given the right inputs. The Analytical Engine, she wrote, “weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves".

This daughter of “mad, bad and dangerous to know” Lord Byron achieved this distinction despite the fierce prejudices of the 19th Century. Her tutor Augustus De Morgan echoed the accepted view of the time when he said that maths problems presented “a very great tension of mind beyond the strength of a woman’s physical power”.

. . .

Ada Lovelace Day is not only about raising Ada’s profile, but also shining a spotlight on the achievements of all women in STEM, both historic and modern. It’s about drawing inspiration from all women, not just the famous ones, and supporting women at every stage of their career, from the choice of what to study at school and university through to often challenging professional milestones.

Hundreds dead in Nigeria detention, Amnesty says

By (BBC)
. . .

Hundreds of people have died in detention facilities in north-east Nigeria as the army tries to crush an Islamist militant rebellion there, according to Amnesty International.

. . .

A senior Nigerian army officer told Amnesty that at least 950 people had died in military custody during the first half of this year.

. . .

About 50 students were shot dead earlier this month in their hostel, in an attack blamed on Boko Haram.

. . .

Amnesty has called for an urgent investigation, but those who follow events closely in Nigeria will know that such an investigation is highly unlikely to happen, our correspondent says.

Congolese surgeon awarded civil courage prize

By (Al Jazeera)
Denis Mukwege accepted the 2013 Civil Courage Prize, awarded by the New York-based Train Foundation, on Tuesday for his work at the Panzi Hospital, which he founded in 1999 in the capital of the war-torn province of South Kivu.

. . .

Eastern Congo's mineral riches have been exploited for years by a myriad of armed rebel groups and militias who have used violence to control the region's mines.

. . .

Mukwege said in his speech that rape is probably "history's oldest and least condemned crime" and said that struggles over the metals used in cell phones have contributed to the loss of 5 mllion lives in his country.

. . .

Last year, Mukwege in a speech at the United Nations, lashed out at the international community for its inaction on his country's civil war.

USA Politics, Economy, Major Events
Obama-Hating Oath Keepers Aim to Form Paramilitary Units

By Michael Mechanic
Oath Keepers, the anti-government group profiled by Justine Sharrock in our March/April 2010 issue, just got a little creepier. The group recruits active and former military members, cops, and other law-enforcement types who claim they are worried about government tyranny, but seem to be equally driven by a deep loathing of President Obama. At their gatherings, members take an oath that they will disobey "unconstitutional" orders. What's unconstitutional is pretty much left up to the individual—even if, like it or not, this isn't how our democracy operates.

. . .

Rhodes, who has been somewhat measured in the past, is now straying into serious wack-job territory. The group's rhetoric is also pretty disingenuous, given Oath Keepers' tight relationship with the tea party movement, whose faction in Congress is the one holding a gun to America's head and threatening to put the economy at serious risk. (It's perhaps also worth noting that American civilians already pack far more heat than the government does.)

. . .

And Oath Keepers are preparing to do something about it. Dickson writes:

By creating civilization preservation teams now, Rhodes argues, Americans will be ready to fight back if and when that scenario plays out. These proposed 12-to-14 person groups are modeled after the U.S. Army's Special Forces "A Team," with two communications experts, two medical experts, two engineers, two "strategic food reserve" specialists, and four-to-six "scouts" to be trained specifically in tracking, search and rescue, wilderness survival, rifle shooting and, of course, combat.
White House garden wrecked thanks to shutdown

By (UPI)
In the two weeks since the government shutdown began, one of the unexpected, if mostly symbolic victims of the federal worker furlough has been the beloved White House Kitchen Garden.

. . .

White House gardeners are not allowed to harvest crops, nor are they allowed to weed or pick up vegetables that have fallen off their vines and have begun to rot on the ground, according to Obama Foodorama, the official administration blog for food and nutrition initiatives.

. . .

The garden is the symbolic center of first lady Michelle Obama's signature initiative, the Let's Move! program to combat childhood obesity. During normal operation, the first lady would often invite children to help tend to the garden and harvest its crops, but those sessions, like all of her public events, have been canceled during the shutdown.

Government shutdown leaves immigrants in limbo

By (BBC)
For many refugees, the government shutdown means they may have missed their chance to see a judge - a once-a-year opportunity. . .

All hearings at the immigration courts are cancelled during the shutdown - except individuals who are detained. The cancelled hearings include those for asylum seekers and survivors of torture, who in most cases have already been waiting for years.

. . .

Eventually, the shutdown will be over. Yet as attorney Vanessa Allyn, who works for an organisation called Human Rights First, explained: "That means that we will go back to a dramatic backlog".

"More resources are put into arresting and removing people," she said. "But the courts that have to process these cases are overloaded with work and do not have enough resources."

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:
. . .

"It was catastrophic, honestly," Ray said in a recent interview on the making of the video for the song, which appeared on R.E.M.'s 1987 album "Document."
. . .

"I got picked on. It was a lot of negative attention," Ray remembered.

. . .

Ray's starring role in the video - which, of course, landed him on MTV - somehow turned the rigid hierarchy of high school inside out, or upside down, or sideways, or something.

"I was a poor white trash kid in high school, and all of a sudden, I had more popularity than the popular kids," Ray said. "Popular kids don't like to lose their popularity, especially to white trashy kids. It just made it rough."

. . .

While his role in the R.E.M. video didn't really have anything to do with his own music career, Ray is fronting Music Hates You, a band good enough to earn Best Punk/Hardcore Band and Best Live Band honors in the local 2006

Back to what's happening:
Environment and Greening
Readers to papers: Stop publishing letters that deny climate reality

By John Upton
The L.A. Times recently won national attention and praise for spelling out its policy of refusing to publish the claims of climate deniers.

. . .

Forecast the Facts, a project that aims to improve the quality of coverage of climate change in the press, launched a petition calling on the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal to refuse to print letters that deny basic science.

“The Los Angeles Times has adopted a policy of refusing to publish letters that deny climate change, and you should follow suit,” the petition states. “End climate change denial in your newspaper.”

Moose are dropping dead around North America

By Alexander Besant
The population of moose around the US has decreased in many states, including by a 70 percent drop in Minnesota in 2006 and about a 35 percent drop in New Hampshire.

. . .

Ticks are serious problems in moose and occur more strongly when snow melts early and when there is less snow in general. They latch on to the animals and drain them of blood until they die.

Brain worms, which they catch from deer, could also be fueling the decline, as well as tree parasites, which thrive in warm weather.

Climate change has also been posited as a cause as shorter winters and more humidity are bad for the animal's immune system.

Extreme weather can be the 'most important cause of poverty'

By Matt McGrath
New research suggests that extreme weather events will keep people poor in many parts of the world.

. . .

"We've often heard that ill health is the biggest cause for impoverishment," said Dr Tom Mitchell, the ODI's head of climate change.

"But in the data, in drought prone areas, the biggest cause is the drought - in areas exposed to these hazards, they are the key causes of impoverishment."

. . .

Part of the problem is that donor countries are not prioritising aid at the countries that need it most, in terms of disaster risk reduction.

Science and Health
Glowing Antibiotics Reveal Bacterial Infections

By Sara Reardon
Despite surgeons’ best efforts, bacteria often manage to sneak onto medical implants such as bone screws, where they can cause severe infections. Research published today in Nature Communications suggests that using fluorescent antibiotics could reveal such infections before they become too severe.

. . .

 Niren Murthy, a biomedical engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, says that the approach is interesting, and that a new way to detect infections is badly needed. Only some bacteria will bind to vancomycin, so physicians will be able to narrow down the cause an infection and thus how to fight it.

 But Murthy says that it is not clear whether the fluorescent vancomycin molecules will be bright enough for a scanner to detect them deep in a living human body, especially if not many bacteria are present.

Astronomers Find Clues to Decades-Long Coronal Heating Mystery

By (ScienceDaily)
Drs. Michael Hahn and Daniel Wolf Savin, research scientists at Columbia University's Astrophysics Laboratory in New York, NY, found evidence that magnetic waves in a polar coronal hole contain enough energy to heat the corona and moreover that they also deposit most of their energy at sufficiently low heights for the heat to spread throughout the corona. The observations help to answer a 70-year-old solar physics conundrum about the unexplained extreme temperature of the Sun's corona -- known as the coronal heating problem.

. . .

To understand the coronal heating problem, imagine a flame coming out of an ice cube. A similar effect occurs on the surface of the Sun. Nuclear fusion in the center of the Sun heats the solar core to 15 million degrees. Moving away from this furnace, by the time one arrives at the surface of the Sun the gas has cooled to a relatively refreshing 6000 degrees. But the temperature of the gas in the corona, above the solar surface, soars back up to over one million degrees. What causes this unexpected temperature increase has puzzled scientists since 1939.

Two dominant theories exist to explain this mystery. One attributes the heating to the loops of magnetic field which stretch across the solar surface and can snap and release energy. Another ascribes the heating to waves emanating from below the solar surface, which carry magnetic energy and deposit it in the corona. Observations show both of these processes continually occur on the Sun. But until now scientists have been unable to determine if either one of these mechanisms releases sufficient energy to heat the corona to such high temperatures.

Sea level in the 5th IPCC report

By stefan
. . .

Understanding of past sea-level changes has greatly improved since the 4th IPCC report. The IPCC writes:

Proxy and instrumental sea level data indicate a transition in the late 19th to the early 20th century from relatively low mean rates of rise over the previous two millennia to higher rates of rise (high confidence). It is likely that the rate of global mean sea level rise has continued to increase since the early 20th century.
. . .

However, the higher projections of the new IPCC report do not result from including semi-empirical models. Remarkably, they have been obtained by the process models preferred by IPCC. Thus IPCC now confirms with its own methods that the projections of the 4th report were too low, which was my main concern at the time and the motivation for publishing my paper in Science in 2007. With this new generation of process models, the discrepancy to the semi-empirical models has narrowed considerably, but a difference still remains.

. . .

For the past six years since publication of the AR4, the UN global climate negotiations were conducted on the basis that even without serious mitigation policies global sea-level would rise only between 18 and 59 cm, with perhaps 10 or 20 cm more due to ice dynamics. Now they are being told that the best estimate for unmitigated emissions is 74 cm, and even with the most stringent mitigation efforts, sea level rise could exceed 60 cm by the end of century. It is basically too late to implement measures that would very likely prevent half a meter rise in sea level. Early mitigation is the key to avoiding higher sea level rise, given the slow response time of sea level (Schaeffer et al. 2012). This is where the “conservative” estimates of IPCC, seen by some as a virtue, have lulled policy makers into a false sense of security, with the price having to be paid later by those living in vulnerable coastal areas.

Neuroscience: Through the eyes of a mouse

By Monya Baker
. . . Since the 1960s, researchers have used cats and monkeys to uncover important clues about how the brain turns information from the eyes into images recognized by the mind. But to investigate that process at the cellular level, researchers must be able to manipulate and monitor neurons precisely — difficult in cats and monkeys, much easier in mice. If mice and primates turned out to process visual stimuli similarly, Niell thought, that discovery could unleash a torrent of data about how information is extracted from stimuli — and even, more generally, about how the brain works.

. . .

The most obvious difference is size: the entire mouse brain is one-fiftieth as big as the part of the macaque brain devoted to vision alone. A macaque's primary visual cortex has more than 1,000 times as many neurons as a mouse's, and a much greater fraction of the macaque brain is devoted to vision (see 'Eye to eye'). Primates have plenty of neurons in dozens of visual areas with targeted purposes, such as recognizing faces and tracking motion. By contrast, the visual regions identified in mouse brains are “tiny little patches of cortex”, says Movshon; they extend for micrometres and millimetres, rather than centimetres. The areas are simply too small for the extensive, regional communication observed in primate visual areas, he says. “They can't work the same way.”

. . .

That is part of the aim of the initiative by the Allen Institute for Brain Science to map the mouse visual cortex and visual processing areas. The goal, says Clay Reid, who co-leads the project, is to start at the bottom, building up to big questions about how the brain works. Reid and his team plan to catalogue the cell types and connections in the mouse's visual area, and to monitor what happens as the animals look at, and respond to, a stimulus. Then the team will see how responses change when particular neurons are suppressed or activated. Such experiments are about more than just vision. “We are doing it to try to understand principles of cortical computation and the relationship between cortical activity and behaviour,” says Reid. Armed with some clues to those processes, scientists will be able to test these hypotheses in other animals.

Scientists Figured Out a Way to Cheat Newton's Third Law

By Adam Clark Estes
Ever since the late 17th century, it's been understood that to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. That's Newton's Third Law of Motion. But a group of German scientists recently came up with a trick that appears to break that law, one that lets light accelerate all by itself. And it could bring us faster electronics in the process.

. . . To get around these basic rules of physics and quantum mechanics, our friends the German scientists used photons to create something called effective mass. This is what a particle seems to have when it's responding to forces, and there is such a thing as negative effective mass. So the scientists sent a series of laser pulses through a two loops of fiber-optic cable—one bigger than the other—that connect at a contact point. As the pulses are traveling through the different-sized loops at slightly different times, they share photons creating an interference that gives them effective mass, some positive and some negative. In this so-called optical diametric drive, the pulses accelerate in the same direction. Cool, huh? Complicated, but cool.

Needless to say, the idea of laser pulses that accelerate continuously bears big implications for anything that uses fiber optic cables. This method could make computers, communications networks, and so forth to get faster and more powerful. . .

Zoomable Holograms Pave the Way for Versatile, Portable Projectors

By (ScienceDaily)
Imagine giving a presentation to a roomful of important customers when suddenly the projector fails. You whip out your smartphone, beam your PowerPoint presentation onto the conference room screen, and are back in business within seconds. This career-saving application and others like it are the promise of a new generation of ultra-small projectors. Now researchers from Japan and Poland have taken an important step toward making such devices more versatile and easier to integrate into portable electronic devices.

. . .

In order to achieve a lensless zoom, Shimobaba, his colleagues from Chiba University, and Michal Makowski from the Warsaw University of Technology in Poland turned to holography. Holography is a way to produce images by using the interference pattern of two laser beams to encode and later display the image. By their nature holograms operate without lenses. It is possible to represent a holographic image with numbers and formulas and then calculate how that image can be magnified.

. . .

Currently the footprint of the holographic zoom system is about 160x80x40 millimeters, and Shimobaba believes the researchers can easily shrink it even further. "Currently we use commercial parts," he said. "However, if we customize the components we believe we can develop the smallest projector [to date] because our technique is in principle the simplest." He estimates that the technology could be commercialized in the next five to ten years.

Ford Looks to One up the Volt, Teams Launches New Joint Battery Lab With U of M

By Jason Mick
Not to be outdone by General Motors Comp.'s (GM) $20M USD expansion of its Global Battery Systems Laboratory in Warren, Mich., Ford Motor Comp. (F) and the University of Michigan (U of M) -- one of the nation's top ranked research colleges -- have announced an $8M USD battery lab of their own.

. . .

 This is important for the state of Michigan, too.  Previous investments have been focused on battery production, and now our state becomes a research core for batteries. The University of Michigan benefits, because the best and brightest from car companies, suppliers and academia will come here. In turn, that will attract the best students. We need to nurture the next generation of battery scientists, and it helps Ford that the campus is less than 40 miles from Dearborn.

. . .

 Overall the industry has expressed mixed feelings about the EV transition with some vocally speaking outright blasting it (mostly on the luxury/sports car end), some like Chrysler/Fiat S.p.A. (BIT:F) calling it a low priority, and still others like Nissan/Toyota/Ford/GM/Tesla making it a top PR point of pride.  But ultimately the CAFE standard in the U.S. may force even the holdouts to begrudgingly electrify.  Even with fresh transmissions and a shift towards lighter engines, it may be very difficult to bump gasoline vehicles to the levels the federal government wants without some form of electrification, so it might be wise to at least get a steady start now, as Ford is doing.

Tiny, wireless pacemaker due to be launched in Europe

By (BBC)
. . .

Conventional pacemakers require a patient to be cut open and a pocket created in the body to house the pacemaker and associated wires.

Such wires are regarded as the component of pacemakers most likely to fail. The pocket created for the pacemaker is also liable to infection.

By contrast the Nanostim pacemaker is delivered via a catheter inserted through the femoral vein near the groin.

. . .

Other device makers are also planning to go wireless. The Wireless Cardiac Stimulation system has been developed by US start-up EBR Systems and UK-based tech firm Cambridge Consultants and uses a tiny wireless electrode no bigger than a grain of rice powered by an ultrasonic pulse generator, inserted lower down in the chest.

Teaching kids by getting out of their way

By Cory Doctorow
Sergio Juárez Correa teaches at José Urbina López Primary School in Matamoros, Mexico -- a violent, terribly impoverished border town. His school is often referred to as "a place of punishment." But when he encountered the educational ideas of Sugata Mitra (who famously installed computers in slums for illiterate street-kids to use, and found that they'd taught themselves to use them and were educating themselves), he rebuilt his teaching around leaving his kids alone as much as possible. His classroom became one of the highest-scoring groups in the Mexican educational system.

 Moreover, one of Correa's students, a young girl named Paloma Noyola Bueno, demonstrated extraordinary talent and appears to be some kind of savant with incredible potential. That's pretty amazing and heart-warming, but what gets me as the parent of a school-aged kid (and as a sometime teacher) is the demonstrated efficacy of letting kids drive their own education with their own curiosity and passion.

. . .

“One peso is one peso,” he said. “What’s one-half?”

 At first a number of kids divided the coins into clearly unequal piles. It sparked a debate among the students about what one-half meant. Juárez Correa’s training told him to intervene. But now he remembered Mitra’s research and resisted the urge. Instead, he watched as Alma Delia Juárez Flores explained to her tablemates that half means equal portions. She counted out 50 centavos. “So the answer is .50,” she said. The other kids nodded. It made sense.

Asia’s parents suffering 'education fever'

By Yojana Sharma
. . .

Families cut back on other household spending "across the board," said Michael Seth, professor of Korean history at James Madison University in the US and author of a book on South Korea's education zeal. "There is less money to spend on other things like housing, retirement, or vacations."

. . .

The education obsession is so all consuming that the South Korean government has unsuccessfully tried to curb it, concerned about family spending on extra-curricular lessons and cram schools for ferociously competitive exams.

. . .

This is particularly an issue as record numbers of students graduate, seven million this year, and an overseas degree no longer has the status it had in the past. Many graduates languish in non-graduate jobs.

But it is not easy to dampen education fever. In South Korea as in other East Asian countries, "it is deeply embedded in the culture. It's also based on reality that there is no alternative pathway to success or a good career other than a prestige degree, this was true 50 years ago, and it's just as true today".

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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