As your faithful scribe, I welcome you all to another edition of Overnight News Digest.
I am most pleased to share this platform with jlms qkw, maggiejean, wader, rfall, JLM9999 and side pocket. Additionally, I wish to recognize our alumni editors palantir, Bentliberal, Oke, Interceptor7, and ScottyUrb along with annetteboardman as our guest editor.
Neon Vincent is our editor-in-chief.
Special thanks go to Magnifico for starting this venerable series.
Lead Off Story
Xu Zhiyong Trial: Reaction Of Chinese Officials Has Unexpected Impact
It is China's highest profile trial of an activist for four years, and the manhandling of reporters around the Beijing courthouse on Wednesday testifies to its sensitivity.
The indictment of Xu Zhiyong describes him as a ringleader who organised and orchestrated people to disrupt public order. The 40-year-old is certainly the best-known of the eight defendants standing trial this week in connection with the New Citizens' Movement.
The purpose of the justice and transparency movement he co-founded was in large part to encourage people to stand up for themselves and others. "Xu Zhiyong was never the leader of this movement. We are all equal in decision making," said Hu Jia, an outspoken campaigner who has been jailed for his activism.
In a key article laying out its aims in 2012, Xu wrote that the movement sought "to completely destroy the privileges of corruption, the abuse of power, the gap between rich and poor, and to construct a new order of fairness and justice".
Antarctic Travelers Who Got Stuck In Ice Finally Get Home
The 52 scientists and paying passengers who spent more than a week aboard a ship that was trapped in ice off the coast of Antarctica over the holidays are now safely back home in Australia.
From Sydney, correspondent Stuart Cohen tells our Newscast Desk that
"three weeks after being rescued from their stranded research vessel," the members of the exhibition are in the city of Hobart.
Now there's the question of who will pay the $2 million (U.S.) or so that it cost to get the group off the stranded MV Akademik Shokalskiy. According to Stuart, Australian authorities say they're negotiating with insurers of the Russian ship and the University of New South Wales, which chartered the vessel, about covering the costs.
Japan-China Tensions Take Center Stage With Abe In Davos
Tensions between Tokyo and Beijing took centre-stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday as Japan's prime minister called for military restraint in Asia and a senior Chinese academic branded him a troublemaker.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe defended his visit to a controversial shrine to Japan's war dead, which outraged China and South Korea, and took a veiled swipe at China's military buildup in his speech to global business leaders.
Sino-Japanese ties, long colored by what Beijing considers Tokyo's failure to atone for its occupation of parts of China before and during World War Two, have deteriorated in the past two years over a territorial dispute, Abe's visit to a shrine that critics say glorifies Japan's wartime past and a new Chinese air-defense zone.
Asia's two biggest powers each accuse the other of bellicosity. Strategic experts in Davos said their tensions posed the biggest risk of conflict around the world in 2014, along with hostility between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
China's Internet Traffic Was Redirected To A Mysterious House In Wyoming
China's Internet is censored and monitored in various ways, and yesterday something seems to have gone wrong with the system and about 75 percent of China's domain name servers redirected Web traffic through one mysterious house in Wyoming:
Those servers, which act as a switchboard for Internet traffic behind China’s Great Firewall, routed traffic from some of China’s most popular sites, including Baidu and Sina, to a block of Internet addresses registered to Sophidea Incorporated, a mysterious company housed on a residential street in Cheyenne, Wyo. A simple Google search reveals that the address on Thomes Avenue in Cheyenne is not a corporate headquarters, but a 1,700-square-foot brick house with a manicured lawn.
This is not the first time the house in question has popped up in the news. Back in 2011, Reuters revealed that more than 2,000 corporations are registered with this house as their address. Obvious no real corporate headquarters exists there. Instead, the house is covered floor to ceiling with mailboxes. A woman works there answering the phone and sorting the mail. It's the home of Wyoming Corporate Services which is a company whose business is setting up shell companies for people who want to obscure various kinds of financial flows. Their entities include a "company sheltering real-estate assets controlled by a jailed former prime minister of Ukraine."
There are basically two theories as to what was going on here. One is that the surge of traffic was part of some kind of Chinese cyberattack. The other is that it was some kind of malfunction of the Great Firewall. Of course I sure don't know the answer. But you can imagine the goings-on in this house could be of some interest to the Chinese government, since wealthy Chinese people might try to use shell companies to smuggle financial assets out of China and into the United States in order to evade capital controls.
U.S. Military Eyes Afghan Force Of 10,000, Or A Pullout
The Pentagon has proposed to President Obama that 10,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan when the international combat mission there ends after this year, or none at all, senior government officials said Tuesday.
That figure, debated in recent days within the White House, is the midpoint of a range of 8,000 to 12,000 troops — most of them Americans — that has been contemplated for months as the United States and its NATO allies planned for the long mission’s end. Anything less than that, the officials said, would be too few to be able to protect the reduced retinue of diplomats, military and intelligence officials that remain in Afghanistan.
“The proposal is 10,000 or basically nothing, a pullout,” said one official, who has been briefed on the plan but spoke on the condition of anonymity about internal administration deliberations.
Both the intelligence agencies and the State Department, who would have personnel remaining in Afghanistan after 2014, back the Defense Department’s proposal, the officials said. But it has met resistance among some officials in the White House National Security Council, including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who question why the choice has to be 10,000 troops or zero, and nothing in between.
Science and Technology
Bright Supernova Explodes In Nearby Galaxy M82
One of the closest stellar explosions for years has been spotted in a relatively nearby galaxy that is a favourite target for amateur astronomers. The supernova appeared in the galaxy Messier 82, or M82 for short, which lies about 11.4 million light-years away, right on our doorstep in cosmic terms.
Early images show it as a bright blob against the cigar shape of the galaxy, which can be found in the constellation of Ursa Major and which is visible as a smudge in binoculars or a small telescope. Estimates of its brightness put it at a little above 12th magnitude, making it a telescopic target. However, supernova experts say it was discovered early in its explosive outburst and so could reach magnitude 8, which would make it visible in binoculars.
Our map shows the northern sky as it appears from mid northern latitudes at around 9pm local time. The galaxy M82 is easy to find using the familiar star pattern of the Big Dipper (also known as the Plough) which is part of the constellation of Ursa Major. Just imagine a line extended through the stars gamma (γ) and alpha (α)and it will point to where the galaxy lies. (You may see two smudges as M82 appears to lie close to another galaxy, M81).
The image of the supernova [...] was taken by UK amateur astronomer Robin Scagell, remotely using a telescope in New Mexico. The supernova seems to have been discovered on Tuesday night by tutor Dr Steve Fossey and his students, of University College London, when they imaged the galaxy from the university’s teaching observatory at Mill Hill, north London.
Strange Metal Asteroid Targeted In Far-Out NASA Mission Concept
A team of scientists is mapping out a mission to the huge metallic asteroid Psyche, which is thought to be the exposed iron core of a battered and stripped protoplanet. The proposed mission would reveal insights about planet formation processes and the early days of the solar system, its designers say, and would also afford the first-ever good look at an odd class of celestial objects.
"This is the first metal world humankind will have ever seen," team member Lindy Elkins-Tanton, director of the Carnegie Institution for Science's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, told SPACE.com last month at the American Geophysical Union's annual fall meeting in San Francisco. "I think this is an opportunity to do some fundamental science that hasn't been done before."
The 155-mile-wide (250 kilometers) Psyche, which lies in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, consists largely of iron. Scientists think the object is the nearly naked core of a protoplanet whose overlying rock layers were blasted off by massive collisions long ago.
"Psyche thus offers a unique opportunity to learn more about the interiors of planets and large moons, whose cores are hidden beneath many miles of rock. This is absolutely the only core-like object that we know about in the entire solar system." Elkins-Tanton said.
Society and Culture
There’s an interesting phenomenon that you have probably experienced. You get a new haircut and soon notice others with a similar style. You suddenly see a lot more “for rent” and “for sale” signs if you are looking for a new place to live. Grow a mustache or buy a new car, cell phone or computer, and you’re likely to see more just like it the next time you go out.
This is because humans are naturally self-centered. This is not the same as being selfish; rather it is a recognition that we have our own opinions, ideas and beliefs and make sense of the world through our own personal filters. We cannot possibly catalog and contemplate everything we see around us, so our mind unconsciously gives prominence to some things at the expense of others. What passes unnoticed and what we are aware of is largely based on past experience and whatever is on our mind at any given time. We notice things that our naturally self-centered minds are primed to see—things that are relevant to our immediate situation. We seek to understand and organize our own little world based on previous inputs and thus tend to give extra weight to things that validate us and ignore or deny those that don’t. Our minds don’t like to be challenged.
What is true of everyday things is also true when it comes to our perception of current events and trends in society and the world at large. We are aware of what takes place outside our direct personal experience primarily through word-of-mouth or the media, and the Internet in particular.
In a world where we have many choices to make about how we get our news, it is worth pondering how the media we consume may be affecting our personal filters and thus the things we come to believe and act on.
Pardon My French...
Recent discussion about the re-introduction of "programme" in officialdom in Canberra [Australia] makes my blood boil, because our language evolves and is not fossilised or constrained, as is the case with certain other languages and their "overseers".
With regard to French in particular, though, I am reminded of a large notice in a London railway station, greeting the incoming traveller from the Channel Tunnel. It declares "Inaccessible pour les chariots". To the Anglo-Saxon mind spring visions of Boadicea being prevented from driving on to the platform, though we are dealing here with the most mundane of things: no luggage-carts allowed.
Regrettably, French words outside France – in restaurants everywhere, as formerly at court – lend an air of elegance but also snobbery, superiority or haughtiness. As an example, a box of confectionery from France seems sophisticated if the sweets inside are "enrobé" (enrobed), rather than "coated", with chocolate.
To French people there is no issue, but the words have a high-falutin' sound in English because their meaning in everyday English is often different from that in everyday French. "Render unto Caesar…" sounds far grander than "give (rendre) him his due". A proposition sounds more than a suggestion, a spectacle greater than a sight, a voyage more substantial than a journey. To demand is more than to ask (demander), to regard seems more than to look at (regarder), to arrest more than to stop (arreter), just a few to get me started!
Well, that's different...
Ghost Arrests Fetish Priest
The town of Fasen in the Ahanta West District of the Western Region, was on Thursday thrown into a state of pandemonium when the ghost of a 39-year old man allegedly arrested a fetish priest. The ghost of Kweku Musu purportedly manifested itself in a woman, Maame Abome, and arrested Nana Tandoh, the fetish priest, who supposedly shot him spiritually. The Chief of Fasen, Nana Obomu Nketsia, III, confirmed the incident to the Ghana News Agency. He said Oldman Armoo's mobile phone got lost about three months ago and upon several announcements he did not find it, therefore, he reported the theft to a powerful fetish priest, Nana Tandah at Kwamekrom, to deal drastically with the thief.
Interestingly, the chief said, Armoo bought the phone from the fetish priest therefore Nana Tandoh performed all the necessary rituals at his shrine and then preceded to Fasen, where the phone was stolen, and shot a gun three times in the air. The chief said the one who stole the phone then left the phone at the door mat of the owner, Armoo, in the evening. The next day, Armoo went to Kwamekrom and informed the fetish priest about the return of the phone and asked Nana Tandoh to reverse the ritual but he told him it was too late and warned Armoo not to touch the phone. Unfortunately, the chief said, Kweku Musu, died mysteriously last Monday January 13, and when the family of the deceased inquired about the death of their relative from a shrine, it was revealed that Nana Tandoh killed him.
Therefore, the family of the deceased returned to Fasen to bury Kweku Musu on Thursday January 16, however, the ghost of the deceased manifested itself in a woman and went to Kwamekrom and arrested the fetish priest from his shrine. The chief said the ghost dragged the fetish priest, including the gun and a pot to the funeral ground thereby creating pandemonium at the town. Nana Nketsia said the residents of the town then brought the fetish priest to the palace where he confessed shooting Kweku Musu with a spiritual gun. The chief said it took his personal intervention to prevent the fetish priest from being lynched by the angry mob. Nana Obomo said he had asked the family of the deceased to report the case to the police. He said currently, the fetish priest had returned to his shrine at Kwamekrom, however, the gun, bullets and a clay pot had been seized and kept at the chief's palace at Fasen.
Bill Moyers and Company: