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Welcome to the Overnight News Digest (OND) for Tuesday, December 31, 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: Auld Lang Syne by (cast of Akira Kurosawa’s "Scandal")

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
2013 was a good year for climate science, but a mixed bag for climate policy

By Dana Nuccitelli
As 2013 comes to a close, a review of the key climate events of the year reveals some interesting new research and effective myth debunking, but little net progress in terms of addressing the problem through policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Beginning with the good news, the myth of the global warming 'pause' – which has helped policymakers justify delaying action to address climate change – was thoroughly debunked in 2013. A paper published by Kevin Cowtan and Robert Way showed that, in addition to the myth being a clear case of cherry picking short-term noise in the data, global surface temperatures have actually risen about two and a half times faster over the past 15 years than previously estimated. The short-term 'pause' was mostly an artifact resulting from a lack of temperature station coverage in the Arctic, where global warming is happening fastest.

. . .

A brand new study by Sherwood et al. (2013) tackles the question of how cloud cover will change and interact with global warming as the climate continues to change. The cloud feedback question is one of the largest remaining uncertainties in future climate predictions, so this is an important new paper. Unfortunately it finds that clouds will act to amplify global warming, suggesting that the planet will warm at least 3°C in response to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which also suggests at least 4°C global surface warming by 2100 if we continue with business as usual policies.

With regards to those policies, 2013 was a bit of a mixed bag. Australia elected a majority government that has pledged to eliminate its carbon tax. In Canada, the government has paid lip service to climate change while muzzling its scientists and doing everything possible to increase its emissions through maximum development of the tar sands.

. . .

Overall, 2013 was a productive year in terms of reducing the consensus gap and debunking the 'pause' myth. Climate policies were a mixed bag, with some steps backwards and some steps forward. Climate media coverage was likewise a mixed bag, with continued false balance and inaccurate reporting from the politically conservative media, also seeping into the BBC. The New York Times eliminated its environment desk, but The Guardian stepped in to fill the gap with its new Environment Blogs.

Lights out for incandescent bulbs

It's time to pull the plug on America's most popular light bulbs. Starting Jan. 1, 2014, the 60 watt and 40 watt incandescent light bulbs will be phased out as part of a 2007 energy efficiency law requiring bulbs meet higher efficiency standards.

. . .

And a bigger price tag. A 60-watt incandescent light bulb is only $0.60. A compact fluorescent light, or CFL, is $3.50, and a single light LED is $18, but high-efficiency bulbs last longer and are cheaper to operate. You would need 30 incandescent bulbs to last the 20-year lifetime of one LED. Operation costs for those two decades would be almost $200 for the incandescent bulbs, while the LEDs would cost just $21.

. . .

If you are a big fan of the incandescent bulbs, you can still buy them in the new year. The law only requires the 60-watt and 40-watt incandescence not be manufactured in or be imported to the U.S., but stores can still sell whatever they have in stock.

Experts say upgrading just 15 of these old bulbs in your home could save you about $50 a year.

Guantanamo: Three Uighurs to be sent to Slovakia, 155 detainees remain

By Alexander Besant
The United States released the last three ethnic Uighurs from its military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on Tuesday.

. . .

Those Uighurs who possessed other citizenship found homes, whereas 22 others with Chinese citizenship faced a much more difficult situation.

. . .

"Slovakia deserves a lot of credit because they were willing to do what large countries like the United States, Canada and Germany were unwilling to do, which was to resist diplomatic pressure from China and the stigma of Guantanamo," Wells Dixon, a lawyer with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, told the Associated Press.

. . .

Only a handful of the remaining prisoners have been charged with terrorism offenses with another 80 cleared for release - 60 of which are from Yemen.

ACLU sues US government over NSA spying

By (BBC)
. . .

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wants to find out what happens to data on Americans the NSA scoops up.

. . .

In a separate development, New York District Judge William Pauley dismissed on 27 December a lawsuit filed by the ACLU in June, which claimed that the way the NSA tracked million of calls contravened the US constitution.

In his ruling, Judge Pauley said there was no evidence that the "bulk telephony data" collected by the NSA was used for anything other than "investigating and disrupting terrorist attacks". The ACLU said it would appeal against the ruling.

. . .

In a speech given to the Chaos Communications Congress in Hamburg, Mr Applebaum said the NSA had managed to put back doors into products made by Cisco, Dell, Apple, HP, Huawei and Juniper Networks.

Conservative Editor Who Was Hospitalized Without Health Insurance And Had To Rely On Donations Is Still Against Obamacare

By Xenos
A few months ago, I wrote about how a guy named Caleb Howe, an editor for, was hospitalized with a failing liver. As bad as that was, the situation was even worse because it turned out that Caleb didn't have health insurance. His boss, Erick Erickson, set up a fund to help his family pay their bills. A blogger on Daily Kos named Semdem then set up another fund as well.

 Well, the good news is that Caleb seems to be okay now, and was back on the twitter, twittering away. So I decided to ask a question I had for him months ago:

@CalebHowe Glad you're okay from your recent medical problems Caleb. But I do want to ask if your experience changed your opinion on O-care?
 — ReadingIsForSnobs (@RIFSnobs) December 29, 2013
His response:
@RIFSnobs I don't think so. Not my first run-in with the healthcare industry frankly.
 — Caleb Howe (@CalebHowe) December 29, 2013
. . .

 The funny thing about all this is that it's exactly because of people like Caleb that Obamacare was needed to begin with. Aside from the aforementioned mooching, now Caleb will actually be able to get health insurance without being discriminated again for pre-existing conditions (and in his case, that was a pretty big one).

Talks in Northern Ireland on political violence end with no resolution

By (UPI)
Marathon talks in Northern Ireland on issues such as sectarian parades and national flags ended early Tuesday with no agreement, officials said.

Richard Haass, who served as special U.S. envoy to Northern Ireland under President George W. Bush and returned to the process recently at the request of the provincial government, said he believes progress has been made, the Irish Times reported, though the Obama administration later expressed disappointment. Haass presided over lengthy discussions that lasted through the weekend and were ended shortly before 6 a.m. Tuesday.

. . .

The prime ministers of Ireland and Britain, Enda Kenny and David Cameron, both said they were disappointed by the failure to reach agreement, as well.

There has been a recent uptick in political violence in the form of demonstrations and riots by Protestant loyalists and bombings and shootings by dissident Republicans. The cycle began in December 2012 when the Belfast City Council approved a law limiting the number of days the British flag would be flown at City Hall.

The Number of People Killed in Covert Drone Strikes is Down 50 Percent

By Adam Clark Estes
. . .

The Council on Foreign Relations just updated its running tally of deaths caused by covert drone strikes in non-battlefield settings, dating from its first report, in November 2002, until the end of this year. The chart brings together estimates from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the New America Foundation, and the Long War Journal. Encouragingly, the estimated number of deaths in 2013 is roughly half what it was last year.

. . .

So the good news is that the United States is killing fewer people with robots. The bad news is that drones are actually now killing slightly more civilians. The worse news is the same as it's been since 2002: We're killing people on the other side of the planet using semi-autonomous machines, and many of these victims are unsuspecting civilians.

Bear in mind that these are all estimates. In fact, the U.S. government is famously oblivious as to how many people—both insurgents and civilians—it is killing with drone strikes. While the death count is dropping, U.S. leaders have vowed to keep the drone program running until they've killed all the terrorists, apparently also without any oversight as the program is so hush-hush. Even if things aren't quite as bad as they were in, say, 2010—when 831 people were killed in drone strikes—they're still pretty damn bad.

Syria crisis: Ships return as chemical removal slips

By Anna Holligan
Norwegian and Danish ships waiting to remove Syria's chemical weapons are returning to port in Cyprus, signalling a key deadline will not be met.

Bad weather, shifting battle lines and road closures are being blamed for the delay.

. . .

The deadline is the first milestone of a deal to rid Syria of its chemical weapons arsenal by the middle of 2014.

. . .

Failing to meet this ambitious target, our correspondent adds, will demonstrate the difficulties involved in operating in a country with constantly changing frontlines - even with an international mandate and co-operation from President Assad.

Why is Egypt's government targeting Al-Jazeera?

By (BBC)
Following the arrests of journalists working for Al-Jazeera in Cairo, writer Hugh Miles looks at why the broadcaster has become a target for the Egyptian authorities.

. . .

It has aired round-the-clock coverage of the pro-Morsi protest movement, hard-hitting testimony from survivors of the Rabaa massacre in which hundreds of Brotherhood supporters were killed, and exclusive interviews with the handful of Islamist leaders who have managed to escape the ongoing security crackdown, such as at the start of this month with al-Gamaa al-Islamiya leader Assem Abdel-Maged.

. . .

During the Hosni Mubarak era, the information ministry used a variety of ingenious methods to try to silence Al-Jazeera, including preventing it from using Egyptian government studios, blocking its satellite feed, detaining its correspondents and forcibly deporting its family members.

. . .

Several of Al-Jazeera's key figures, such as Sheikh Yusuf al Qaradawi, the religious thinker and presenter of one of Al-Jazeera's most popular shows, are long standing members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

USA Politics, Economy, Major Events
Federal Judge largely upholds NY state ban on assault rifles

By Marina Lopes
. . .

The New York Safe Act, approved in January 2012, expanded the state's assault weapons ban to include semi-automatic weapons with characteristics of assault weapons, added background-check requirements and put limits on ammunition.

The law, which was approved one month after a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that killed 20 children and six adults and forced a national discussion about gun rights, was one of the toughest gun control laws in the country.

U.S. District Judge William Skretny, a federal judge in Buffalo, rejected the claim brought by the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association in a lawsuit filed in April that the law violated the second amendment right to bear arms.

. . .

At the bill-signing ceremony in January, Cuomo said it was nonsensical to permit the use of high-capacity magazines that could give killers the ability to fire multiple rounds in quick succession.

Medicare Moves to Tighten Oversight of Prescribers

By Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber
Ten years after Medicare’s vaunted prescription drug program was signed into law, the Obama administration and Congress are re-evaluating whether it does enough to stop inappropriate prescribing and fraud by physicians.

. . .

In particular, Medicare has told senators that it plans to begin referring physicians with troubling prescribing patterns in the program, known as Part D, to their states’ medical boards for possible disciplinary action. That was one of the solutions proposed by a group of experts consulted by ProPublica earlier this year.

Medicare’s failure to keep watch over Part D has enabled doctors to prescribe massive quantities of harmful medications, has wasted billions on needlessly expensive drugs and has exposed the program to rampant fraud, ProPublica found. More than 36 million people have drug coverage from Medicare at a cost to taxpayers of $62 billion last year.

. . .

Unlike other parts of Medicare, Part D is entirely run by private insurance companies, which are paid by the government to process the bills. These insurers, however, have access solely to the prescriptions for their members – not to a provider's prescriptions across multiple health plans. Only Medicare can see everything a provider orders.

Free preventive services for 25 million on Medicare

By (UPI)
. . .

A report by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said more than 25.4 million people covered by original Medicare received at least one preventive service at no cost to them during the first 11 months of 2013, because of the Affordable Care Act.

. . .

In the first 11 months of this year, more than 3.5 million beneficiaries with original Medicare took advantage of the annual wellness visit established by the Affordable Care Act -- a significant increase from the 2.8 million who used this service by this point in the year in 2012.

. .

Before the Affordable Care Act, Medicare recipients had to pay part of the cost for many preventive health services. Studies showed these out-of-pocket costs made it difficult for many to get preventive care. For example, before the Affordable Care Act, a person with Medicare could pay as much as $160 for a colorectal cancer screening -- today this important screening and many others are covered at no cost to beneficiaries with no deductible or co-pay, Tavenner said.

Tax and Spy: How the NSA Can Hack Any American, Stores Data 15 Years

By Jason Mick
. . .

The National Security Agency (NSA) this week admitted that it’s collecting American's metadata via bulk warrants from secret courts.  But it claims that it isn't collecting anything else.  We now have ample evidence -- thanks again to leaker Edward Snowden -- that suggests that claim is false.

. . .

 Alarmingly, multiple sources -- including Mr. Appelbaum -- are reporting that sources within the intelligence community have revealed that the collected data from TURMOIL is stored for 15 years.

. . .

 That means that every American's data is sitting in a treasure trove, just waiting to be compromised or exploited by criminals or future political regimes.  The NSA says it only temporarily stores the metadata it collects from American networks and does not spy on Americans.

. . .

 Most of this data also passes through foreign servers, as the NSA uses (perhaps for legal reasons) foreign servers for much of its attacks on U.S. citizens.

. . .

 In its data collection efforts, the NSA reportedly regularly monitors and cracks password-protected citizen networks using the growing army of domestic drones or a surveillance van, using powered antennas to boost faint signals.  Basically, according to Mr. Applebaum, the NSA is only limited by budget in its data collection, and it's been quite clever in making sure even budget does not stop it from harvesting most of the world's meaningful data.

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:
. . .

The few minutes they share on a balcony after refreshing themselves from the trip to the mountains gives a pair of spurned paparazzi the opportunity to snap a quick photo of them together. They resent Ichiro for not giving them an interview or an opening to meet with Miyako themselves, and their grudge (not to mention the chance of turning a quick buck) leads them to fabricate from out of that slim piece of evidence the insinuation – published broadly and advertised sensationally – that something much more illicit (by 1950 standards, anyway) went on behind the scenes.

Given Kurosawa’s obvious disgust and contempt for what seems to us like a comparatively mild culture of celebrity gossip and exploitation, one shudders to think what he would make of the lurid commercialization of people’s intimate affairs that we take for granted today. Even though a 21st century pop star, or for that matter a member of their entourage, would hardly be bothered by the particular allegations leveled at Ichiro and Miyako by the publishers of Amour magazine, it’s still easy to relate to the anger shown by Ichiro as he sees others profiting at his expense by reporting things that never happened.

. . .

. . . The clip above, while entertaining, also seems a bit shameless in its appeal to nostalgia and the desire for camaraderie most of us share.

Still, it’s a great scene in my book, simultaneously winsome in its undaunted optimism and a back-handed slap at the Americanization of Japan, a phenomenon that Kurosawa didn’t view positively but was in many respects helpless to do much about except call attention to what was happening.

Through the character of Hiruta, Kurosawa is reaching out to his peers in postwar Japan, challenging them to reckon with the moral compromises they made over the course of those difficult years, and reminding them that it’s not too late to make the right decision and seize whatever opportunities for redemption they can find.

. . .

Nevertheless, in this time when we see the transgressions of Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp coming more clearly into the light, and with the sad passing of singer Amy Winehouse, whose struggles with addiction were partially fueled by the sick symbiosis between her fame and the tabloid press that perversely celebrated her pathetic decline, Scandal stands relevantly on it own, a tale that needed to be told then, and still speaks to us today.

Back to what's happening:
Environment and Greening
Elephant deaths rise in Tanzania after shoot-to-kill poachers policy is dropped

By David Smith
Elephant deaths in Tanzania have risen dramatically since the government abandoned a shoot-to-kill policy against poachers, officials admit.

. . .

Nyalandu said that, with the operation on hold, the government would appeal to foreign donors to help Tanzania's wildlife department and ranger service. "Those to be approached include the European Union and Asian countries," he was quoted as saying in media reports. "Asian countries are reportedly the main consumers of elephant tusks and byproducts."

. . .

The international trade in ivory was banned in 1989 but it has been dubbed the "white gold of jihad" by activists who say it is funding armed rebel groups including al-Shabaab, the militia behind the siege of the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, that left at least 67 people dead.

. . .

Last year a Tanzanian MP said poaching was out of control with an average of 30 elephants killed for their ivory every day. Media reports have alleged that some MPs and other officials are involved in and benefiting from the lucrative ivory trade.

Mass-transit commuters getting screwed by the taxman in 2014

By Ben Adler
Try this thought experiment: You have two forms of transportation, one of which moves each individual in a separate metal box costing around $20,000 and resulting annually in 40,000 accidental deaths. It also spews massive amounts of CO2 and other pollutants. The other mode of transportation collects anywhere from 30 to 300 people at a time, saving energy and money, reducing traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, and resulting in far fewer fatalities. It also uses land more efficiently, thanks to the absence of big, ugly storage facilities for the expensive metal boxes, and promotes health because people have to walk to and from designated stops rather than being transported door to door.

. . .

This is the same problem plaguing the wind energy tax credit, which is also due for expiration, as are an array of various tax benefits. Expiring tax credits can be continued with a bill known as an “extenders package.” Senate Democrats are pushing an extenders bill. As you might expect, the stumbling block has been opposition from Republicans.

Historically, Republican support for an extenders package could be ensured by the fact that it was attached to the annual fix to prevent the Alternative Minimum Tax from hitting millions of middle-class families. Thanks to the fiscal cliff deal passed a year ago, the AMT has been permanently fixed. So the political pressure to pass the extenders package has been reduced.

Science and Health
Going from Good to Great with Complex Tasks

By Ozgun Atasoy
. . .

 In a fascinating paper, Brain researchers Eitan Globerson and Israel Nelken started with the observation that piano playing involves a very complex sequential motor task. The task is often executed in speeds that do not allow cognitive control of individual muscle movements. Through practice, pianists learn to execute fast and complex motor tasks with little cognitive control. Once this is achieved, it is possible to play in a disengaged way with little cognitive involvement. However, Globerson and Nelken suggest another way. Instead of focusing on individual finger movements or not focusing on anything, pianists may focus on higher-level mental events, such as the character of a longer musical phrase. This allows constant engagement with the music making and deliberate control without disrupting the mechanics of playing. Globerson and Nelken argue that this may dramatically improve performance.

. . .

  Experts have long been aware of the power of focusing on higher-level mental processes. In 1924, Russian pianist and piano teacher Josef Lhevinne wrote the book Basic Principles in Pianoforte Playing, which later became a classic. In his discussion of memory, he wrote, “the thing to remember is the thought, not the symbols. When you remember a poem you do not remember the alphabetical symbols, but the poet’s beautiful vision, his thought pictures. … Get the thought, the composer’s idea; that is the thing that sticks.”

 Higher-level cognitive control is capable of changing the motor action in a beneficial way. When a pianist decides to play a passage in an expressive fashion, for instance, this high-level command changes the character of playing through initiating a sequence of associated motor movements. There is experimental evidence that suggests that performance in highly automatized tasks can be improved by increasing the level of engagement. Musicians in symphony orchestras are typically asked to play the same pieces many times over the course of their careers. The playing of these pieces becomes mostly automatic; and the job satisfaction of orchestra players is typically dismal. Psychologists Ellen Langer, Timothy Russell, and Noah Eisenkraft recently asked a symphony orchestra to record, under different experimental conditions, the finale from Brahms’s Symphony No. 1. A local community chorus listened to and rated the recordings. The musicians were either asked to replicate a previous fine performance or to offer “subtle new nuances” to their performance. Musicians enjoyed the latter performance more; and the majority of the listeners preferred the recording of the latter performance.

Mission to test laser communications across space distances a success

By (UPI)
NASA says tests using spacecraft in orbit around the moon confirm the potential of using lasers to communicate across space.

The Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration mission was designed to show laser communication is possible from a distance of almost a quarter-of-a-million miles, the space agency said.

. . .

It also demonstrated the ability to "hand-off" the laser connection from one ground station to another, just as a cellphone performs a hand-off from one cell tower to another, they said.

The LLCD can download a gigabyte of data in less than 5 minutes, the researchers said, something that would take several days using LADEE's on-board radio system.

Fuel Cells in Data Centers Could Double Efficiency

By David Wogan
. . .

 Data centers consume a tremendous amount of energy—they account for roughly 2 percent of total electricity use in the U.S., by one estimate. But Microsoft researchers may have found a way for tech companies to reduce their energy usage without sacrificing the dependability of their infrastructure. The solution, they say, lies in fuel cells, devices that convert chemical energy from fuel into electricity. By integrating fuel cells directly into server racks, data centers could double their efficiency, the researchers predict.

. . .

 Placing fuel cells as close to data servers as possible would curb many of the efficiency losses that come from transmitting electricity over long distances. And underground gas lines supplying fuel cells would be more resilient during storms than overhead power lines.

 In one scenario, fuel-cell assemblies would dot the data center, each powering a few racks of servers. The challenge is finding the optimal balance among reliability, cost and efficiency. “It's the classic Goldilocks issue: not too hot, not too cold,” says Sean James, senior research program manager for Microsoft's Global Foundation Services. Hooking up too many servers to one fuel cell means more problems if that cell malfunctions, but hooking up too few servers increases the number and cost of the fuel cells needed. Another hurdle: data move fast, and fuel cells react rather slowly. Demand on a given server can spike in milliseconds, but fuel cells take several seconds to adjust to the increased load.

Apple insists it did not work with NSA to create iPhone backdoor program

By Dominic Rushe
Apple has denied any knowledge of a National Security Agency tool to hack into iPhones after newly-released documents showed the tech giant’s bestselling phone was targeted by the spying agency.

Documents released Monday showed the NSA had worked on software that would allow it to remotely retrieve virtually all the information on an iPhone including text messages, photos, contacts, location, voice mail and live calls.

. . .

The spyware is one of the tools employed by the NSA's ANT (Advanced or Access Network Technology) division to gain backdoor access to various electronic devices. According to Applebaum, the NSA claims a 100% success rate on installation of the program.

Apple, along with its peers, has consistently denied working with the NSA unless it has been legally compelled to do so. The NSA documents, first obtained by whistleblower Edward Snowden, have revealed that the NSA has developed the capability to hack other companies, including Google and Yahoo, without their knowledge.

Power from the people: Human energy will fuel NYC’s New Year’s Eve ball drop

By Emily Atkin
A 11,875-pound geodesic sphere, covered in 2,688 Waterford crystals, illuminated by 32,256 LED bulbs, powered completely by human energy.

That is what the venerated Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball will look like this year, according to a Friday press release from the Times Square Alliance. The human energy will come from six stationary Citi Bike bicycles set up in Midtown, that people were invited to ride this weekend to generate kinetic energy for the ball.

. . .

Though it seems New York City will have the only ball powered by bikes this year, it is not the only city that has taken steps to make its New Years’ celebration more energy efficient. Grand Rapids, Michigan will use about 80 percent electricity for its New Year’s Eve ball drop on Tuesday by using LED bulbs, according a Monday press release from Consumers Energy, which is supplying the bulbs.

That ball will use a little more than 24 kilowatt hours of electricity during the six hours it will be lit, compared to 116 kWh in past years. The press release notes that the electricity savings could power 115 videogames for the same amount of time, or light 18 average Michigan homes for a day.

Federal Court: No suspicion needed for laptop searches at border

By Mark Frauenfelder
A US Federal Court sided with the "DHS Civil Rights/Civil Liberties Impact Assessment of its electronics search policy, concluding that suspicionless searches do not violate the First or Fourth Amendments. The report said that a reasonable suspicion standard is inadvisable because it could lead to litigation and the forced divulgence of national security information, and would prevent border officers from acting on inchoate 'hunches,' a method that it says has sometimes proved fruitful," said the ACLU in a statement following the decision.
Don’t Want Your Laptop Tampered With? Just Add Glitter Nail Polish

By John Borland
. . .

Security researchers Eric Michaud and Ryan Lackey, making a presentation at the Chaos Communication Congress on Monday, highlighted the power of nail polish – along with metallic paints and even crappy stickers – to help people know when their machines have been physically tampered with and potentially compromised.

. . .

The idea is to create a seal that is impossible to copy. Glitter nail polish, once applied, has what effectively is a random pattern. Once painted over screws or onto stickers placed over ports, it is difficult to replicate once broken. However, reapplication of a similar-looking blob (or paint stripe, or crappy sticker) might be enough to fool the human eye. To be sure, the experts recommend taking a picture of the laptop with the seals applied before leaving it alone, taking another photo upon returning and using a software program to shift rapidly between the two images to compare them. Even very small differences – a screw that is in a very slightly different position, or glitter nail polish that has a very slightly different pattern of sparkle – will be evident. Astronomers use this technique to detect small changes in the night sky.

By taking the picture with a cellphone that is kept with you at all times, you can be reasonably sure the original picture hasn’t been tampered with or replaced. In order to guard against typical user forgetfulness, the experts recommend using a two-stage remote verification system. Such a tool would require that two pictures match exactly, for example, before allowing the user to log in to a potentially vulnerable system such as a VPN.

Giant rubber duck bursts in Taiwan

By (BBC)
A giant yellow rubber duck on display in a Taiwanese port has burst in unexplained circumstances.

The 18 metre (50 foot) inflatable duck suddenly collapsed on Tuesday, only 11 days after it had been put on display in the port at Keelung.

Organisers are unsure as to the cause of its demise, but one theory is that it was attacked by eagles.

New year celebrations welcome 2014

By (BBC)
. . .

People in Auckland, New Zealand, were among the first to celebrate. In Australia, hundreds of thousands gathered for a spectacular firework display around Sydney's Harbour Bridge.

. . .

Dubai - in the same time zone as Moscow - aimed for a world record with a fireworks extravaganza stretching along 30 miles (50km) of seafront.

. . .

In the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, an estimated 100,000 people sang the national anthem in the city's Independence Square in support of further integration with Europe.

. . .

As midnight struck across western Europe, Berlin and Paris were among the capitals staging spectacular displays.

. . .

It's not just about fireworks - Japanese people traditionally visit shrines and temples to pray for their families at New Year

. . .

Cape Town in South Africa planned a free concert with lasers, fireworks and a special 3D tribute to former President Nelson Mandela, who died on 5 December.

New York will mark the new year with the traditional New Year's Eve countdown and ball drop over Times Square, while Rio de Janeiro is once again expecting more than two million people to pack its Copacabana beach.

'Traditional masculine values' are evolving, not dying

By Ally Fogg
I thought I had heard enough febrile, hyperbolic pronouncements on modern masculinity to get me through any year, but I had not counted on Camille Paglia. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the maverick libertarian feminist pondered the implications of the feminisation of society and the devaluing of traditional masculine values. "What you're seeing is how a civilisation commits suicide," she declared.

Paglia is not a lone Cassandra. Hanna Rosin and Christina Hoff-Sommers have written on The End of Men and The War on Men and Boys respectively. This year, Diane Abbott warned of a crisis of masculinity that is seeing her young male constituents in Hackney corrupted by hardcore pornography and "a Viagra and Jack Daniels culture". From North America to Europe to Oceania, masculinity is being prodded, pathologised, diagnosed and bemoaned by voices from across the political, cultural and social spectrum. The great irony is that the overwhelming majority of these voices are female.

. . .

The sledgehammers and stilettos of a gendered society impact upon, and are wielded by, every man, woman and child. Women – and feminists in particular – have spent centuries developing the vocabulary to discuss the myriad ways in which their lives are affected by gender constraints, and, crucially, they have carved the space in which to host those discussions. Men, too often, mutter into our pints and change the subject. This goes a long way to explaining why men vastly outnumber women in the figures for hazardous alcohol and drug abuse. It is why so many men in psychological crisis end up in a police cell rather than a GP's surgery. At the sharpest end, it may be why men are around three times more likely to take their own lives than women.

. . .

All this leaves hanging a central question of whether examining, debating and discussing masculinity will actually do anything to change the habits and behaviours of men themselves or society's expectations and obligations. The supposed crisis of masculinity is largely a crisis in economics and employment, education and social policy, health and social service delivery. Those are not issues that can be solved with an introspective healing circle. Identifying and addressing those problems means changing how we behave as men, and towards men. If that means the end of civilisation as we know it, then perhaps it is a model of civilisation that needs to go.

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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Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

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