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Welcome to the Overnight News Digest (OND) for Thursday, January 30, 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.

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This diary is named for its "Hump Point" video: Almost Home by Moby

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.

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Top News
Uncle Sam's Retirement Largesse Goes Mostly to the Affluent

By Kevin Drum
On Tuesday, President Obama proposed a "starter" retirement account for folks who don't have IRAs or 401(k)s. Like a lot of people, I was pretty unimpressed. Today, Matt Bruenig reminds us of another reason to be unimpressed: we already spend a helluva lot of money on tax-favored retirement accounts, and nearly all of the benefit goes to the well off:
blog_pension_expenditures_quintile
The richest fifth pulled down 66 percent of them, while the poorest fifth pulled down just 2 percent of them....Needless to say, this system of retirement tax subsidies is totally ridiculous and is just another of the submerged ways that we funnel huge sums of money to the rich in this country. If we really want to pump up the retirement savings of the poor, one obvious way to start is to take the next decade's $1.4 trillion of retirement tax expenditures and distribute them in a different way than the manner detailed in the graph above.

. . .

That said, one thing is pretty easy to agree on: our pension system is, and always has been, miserly toward the poor. That's true of Social Security; it's true of old-school pensions; and it's true of 401(k)s. If we want to reform our pension system, we should reform Social Security in a way that increases benefits for the folks at the bottom of the scale who are trying to scrounge a living on $1,100 a month. That probably means cutting benefit growth for those above the median, and it also means phasing in higher Social Security revenues over the next two or three decades. Unfortunately, although that would be the decent thing to do, it might mean that America's best off have to pay slightly more in taxes by the time 2030 rolls around. And we can't have that, can we?

Republicans vote to deny climate change

By John Upton
The House Energy and Commerce Committee wasted a good chunk of time Tuesday on yet more anti-environmental legislation that doesn’t stand a snowflake’s chance in climate-changed hell of becoming law. H.R. 3826, The Electricity Security and Affordability Act, would suspend the EPA’s proposed climate rules for power plants.
. . .

This isn’t the first time House Republicans have rejected amendments stating the reality of climate change. In 2011, House Republicans voted down amendments that called on Congress to accept that climate change is real, man-made, and a human health threat.

. . .

How could the Republicans on the energy committee be so unfathomably stupid as to continue to claim that climate change is some kind of dystopian fantasy, despite all the science to the contrary?

Maybe they aren’t stupid. Maybe there’s another explanation. “In total,” ClimateProgress reported, “the Republicans who voted to deny climate change have accepted about $9.3 million in career contributions from the oil, gas, and coal industries.”

Cell cycle speed is key to making aging cells young again

By (ScienceDaily)
A fundamental axiom of biology used to be that cell fate is a one-way street -- once a cell commits to becoming muscle, skin, or blood it always remains muscle, skin, or blood cell. That belief was upended in the past decade when a Japanese scientist introduced four simple factors into skin cells and returned them to an embryonic-like state, capable of becoming almost any cell type in the body.

. . .

When the cell cycle accelerates to a certain speed, the barriers that keep a cell's fate on one path diminish. In such a state, cells are easily persuaded to change their identity and become pluripotent, or capable of becoming multiple cell types.

. . .

Guo's team studied blood-forming cells, which when dividing undergo specific changes in their cell cycle to produce new blood cells. Blood-forming progenitor cells normally produce only new blood cells. However, the introduction of Yamanaka factors sometimes -- but not always -- help these blood-forming cells become other types of cells. The new report finds that after this treatment blood-forming cells tend to become pluripotent when the cell cycle is completed in eight hours or less, an unusual speed for adult cells. Cells that cycle more slowly remain blood cells.

. . .

The study has other implications than explaining the bottleneck in reprogramming that makes it difficult to produce individualized pluripotent stem cells for research and therapy. Shangqin Guo noted that many human diseases are associated with abnormalities in establishing proper cell identity as well as abnormalities in cell cycle behavior.

20,000 people in Syria's Yarmuk camp face starvation

By (AFP via globalpost.com)
Besieged since June, nearly 20,000 people in Damascus' Yarmuk Palestinian camp are so desperate for food that many eat stray animals, and some women have resorted to prostitution, according to residents reached via the internet.

. . .

While regime and opposition representatives are meeting in Geneva for peace talks and to negotiate aid access for Homs in central Syria, it appears Yarmuk's fate is not being addressed.

PFLP-GC spokesman Anwar Raja blamed the rebels, whom he described as "terrorists," for the camp's plight.

. . .

For his part, Wissam Sbaaneh, a member of the Palestinian Jafra Foundation, blamed the PFLP-GC and the army.

"People are asking for milk powder for children and vaccines. What on earth would the fighters want milk powder for?" said Sbaaneh, mocking a PFLP-GC claim that the civilians are being held "hostage" by the armed opposition.

International
Snowden revelations of NSA spying on Copenhagen climate talks spark anger

By John Vidal and Suzanne Goldenberg
Developing countries have reacted angrily to revelations that the United States spied on other governments at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009.

Documents leaked by Edward Snowden show how the US National Security Agency (NSA) monitored communication between key countries before and during the conference to give their negotiators advance information about other positions at the high-profile meeting where world leaders including Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Angela Merkel failed to agree to a strong deal on climate change.

Jairam Ramesh, the then Indian environment minister and a key player in the talks that involved 192 countries and 110 heads of state, said: "Why the hell did they do this and at the end of this, what did they get out of Copenhagen? They got some outcome but certainly not the outcome they wanted. It was completely silly of them. First of all, they didn't get what they wanted. With all their hi-tech gizmos and all their snooping, ultimately the Basic countries [Brazil, South Africa, India and China] bailed Obama out. With all their snooping what did they get?"

. . .

Members of the Danish negotiating team told the Danish newspaper Information that both the US and Chinese delegations were "peculiarly well-informed" about closed-door discussions. "They simply sat back, just as we had feared they would if they knew about our document," one source told Information.

. . .

Civil society groups from around the world condemned the US. "The UN climate talks are supposed to be about building trust – that's been under threat for years because of the US backward position on climate action – these revelations will only crack that trust further," said Meena Raman, negotiations expert from the Malaysian-based Third World Network.

The EU's Ukraine dilemma

By Paul Ames
. . .

With violence rising and demonstrations spreading across the country, Ukraine's former president Leonid Kravchuk warned Wednesday that the country of 45 million was on "the brink of civil war."

. . .

Although officials from EU members closer to Ukraine's borders and wary of instability on their doorstep have been urging a more active approach, including sanctions, the bloc's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, argues the softer line could be beginning to pay off.

. . .

"Yanukovych needs to be forced into a genuine dialogue,” she added in an interview. “Many of Ukraine’s political elites and oligarchs have considerable financial assets in Europe. These could be frozen. By not taking stronger measures, it sends out a negative signal to those in streets who are protesting under the EU flag."

. . .

While the EU dithers over sanctions, Putin acted forcibly this week to crank up pressure on the Ukrainian opposition, warning that he'll withhold $15 billion in cheap gas and credit desperately needed by Ukraine's battered economy until there's a stable government back in place in Kyiv.

Ukrainian exporters are also reporting their goods are getting held up on the Russia border — a tactic used by Moscow late last year to push Yanukovych into rejecting the EU deal.

Central African Republic: 'Scene of absolute horror'

By (BBC)
About a million people in the Central African Republic - 20% of the population - have fled their homes during months of communal violence after Seleka rebels seized power last March.

In recent weeks there have been more reports of atrocities committed by rival militias in an atmosphere of increasing insecurity.

Peter Bouckaert, director of emergencies for Human Rights Watch, told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme he saw French peacekeepers do nothing while corpses were mutilated at the airport at the capital Bangui on Wednesday. The French defence ministry has not commented.

. . .

There is no more safe part of the city for Muslims. We see them being killed everywhere in Bangui, and Christians as well.

Syrian troops 'deliberately destroy homes'

By (Al Jazeera)
The Syrian government has been deliberately and systematically razing homes, buildings and entire rebel-held neighbourhoods to the ground with bulldozers and explosives, according to a rights group.

A new report, released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday, accused the regime troops of entering opposition strongholds and destroying the buildings.

. . .

The total area demolished is about 200 soccer fields, according to the group, and is seen as punishment for Syrian civilians supporting rebel forces. The demolitions were supervised by military forces and took place in the wake of violence.

. . .

The report said: "Human Rights Watch has not been able to find any government statement or decree explaining the reason for the demolitions in Qaboun. The first wave appears to have been directly related to intensive clashes between government and opposition forces in mid-July, 2012."

USA Politics, Economy, Major Events
Justice Department looks to commute sentences for some drug offenders

By Dan Roberts
America's war on drugs took a major step toward ceasefire on Thursday, as a bipartisan group of senators voted to move forward with the first substantial cut in mandatory minimum sentences, and as the Justice Department made it known that President Obama is looking to commute the sentences of more existing prisoners.

. . .

The support of a number of right-wing Republicans, including Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Ted Cruz – who joined as a last-minute co-sponsor – gives significant momentum to a full Senate vote on the bill, which is mirrored by a House proposal from Republican Raul Labrador and Democrat Bobby Scott.

. . .

The bill, which was introduced by Durbin and judiciary committee chair Patrick Leahy, cuts some mandatory minimum sentences by more than half, gives judges greater discretion to exempt individual cases, and will allow parole hearings to redress a gulf between crack and powder cocaine punishments that has often meant harsher sentences for African-American drug users than white ones.

Conservatives Don't Want You To Eat Pro-Abortion Girl Scout Cookies

By Maddie Oatman
It's time for the annual Girl Scout cookie freak out! This year, it's not due to the palm oil used to produce the treats, nor the group's policy on transgender members: This time, Girl Scouts are supposedly too pro-abortion.

. . .

And in a Facebook post, the organization linked to a Washington Post list of "Seven American Women Who Made a Difference in 2013," including US Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. These links were enough to spur John Pisciotta, who runs Pro-Life Waco, to launch a national boycott. "The Girl Scouts were once a truly amazing organization, but it has been taken over by idealogues of the left, and regular folk just won't stand for it," Pisciotta told Breitbart News. Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly also took up the cause with a full-on panel on the offending tweet.

Ultimately, though, the campaign is about more than a couple of social-media postings: On its website, the "CookieCott 2014" campaign argues that the boycott is a protest of the Girl Scouts' "deep and lasting entanglement with abortion providers and abortion rights organizations." This includes, it claims, promoting role models like Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Hillary Clinton, Amnesty International, ACLU, and the National Organization of Women, and supporting "youth reproductive/abortion and sexual rights" via its membership in the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.

US Congressman Henry Waxman to retire after 20 terms

By (BBC)
Leading Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman has announced his retirement after 40 years in office.

. . .

The California politician formerly chaired the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee and pushed for clean air initiatives.

He also helped craft President Barack Obama's signature healthcare overhaul, the Affordable Care Act or "Obamacare".

. . .

The Democrat, who was also a force in the expansion of Medicaid, a federal health programme for poor Americans, lost his committee chair seat in 2011 after Republicans took control of the House.

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:
I’ve seen Richard Melville Hall, better known as Moby, perform in a live band, acoustically or spinning records, a dozen times.

. . .  Moby’s eleventh studio album Innocents> is on the horizon, the first album he’s done entirely in Los Angeles, the first with an outside producers, and the most collaborative release yet with musicians like Damien Jurado, Cold Specks, and Wayne Coyne lending their voices. He’s recently released the otherworldly video for the Coyne-collaboration, “The Perfect Life” and was happy to talk with PopMatters about his movie career, politics, and what went in to making .

. . .

I read that you do a lot of work with charities. What are some of the more immediate ones that you are a part of?

Well, on the human rights side, I’m working with Human Rights Watch, the ACLU, different domestic violence prevention organizations, and of course trying to work with things like the DNC [Democratic National Committee] and trying to support progressive political candidates. And then I work a lot with different animal rights organizations. I think the Humane Society is probably the organization I work the closest with just because they are so big and they are so effective on a legislative level. They have a lot of money to put behind legislative initiatives, whereas some of the smaller organizations are really well intentioned, but to pass legislation does require a lot of resources.

. . .

Essentially, you would agree that President Obama is not gonna get a lot done in his second term.

Yeah. It’s tricky. There’s a lot that he can do without the House but certainly the House, like their knee-jerk reaction where they block him on anything. The thing that is really galling is that a lot of his initiatives were originally Republican. Like Obamacare was originally a Republican idea. I think that’s one of the reasons he was so confused. He borrowed a lot of the ideas from Republicans thinking that by borrowing their ideas he would get their support. Then he came to them, with stuff that [Senator] Mitch McConnell and [House Speaker] John Boehner had actually drafted, and he came back to them and they rejected their own proposals. It really is just like this insidious tribal racist, right-wing thought where it’s just obstructionism purely for the sake of obstructionism.

. . .

In prior interviews, like the one with The Quietus, your humility has come up. Growing up you did live a humble lifestyle.

Yeah certainly growing up dirt poor in Darien, Connecticut has certainly affected how I perceive myself. It tints my worldview because until I was 18 years old I never met another poor person. My mom and I were on welfare and food stamps. When I first moved to New York, I remember one of the ways I was able to food myself was that my roommates and I had parties. I would wake up early in the morning after the party and fill up garbage bags with the cans and bottles from the party and go to the Food Emporium in Union Square and wait in line with the homeless people to put cans and bottles into the five cent bottle return. And it’s great. I was perfectly happy. Like I like my life now, but I was actually happy waiting in line with homeless people to put cans and bottles into five cent bottle return machine.

Back to what's happening:

Environment and Greening
Gaza warned of looming water crisis

By Matthew Kalman
. . .

Last November, the World Bank completed construction of a wastewater treatment plant designed to prevent pollution of the underground aquifer that provides fresh water to 400,000 people in the northern Gaza Strip, but it stands idle, silenced by political wrangling. Gaza is dependent on Israel for most of its electricity supply but Israel is refusing to provide the extra three megawatts required to power the plant until Gaza's existing electricity bills are paid. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority cannot agree on who should settle the debt.

. . .

Unicef says that more than 90% of the water extracted from Gaza's sole aquifer is unfit for human consumption. More than four out of five Gazans buy their drinking water from expensive, unregulated private vendors. Most of it is contaminated.

"Some families are paying as much as a third of their household income on water," said June Kunugi, Unicef special representative for the State of Palestine.

Frackers banned from New York for at least another year

By John Upton
While neighboring states have allowed oil and gas companies to frack freely in their Marcellus shale deposits, the Empire State declared a statewide moratorium in 2008, saying it needed time to study the impacts to water supplies and human health. The ban has attracted lawsuits from the energy industry, but fracking is so unpopular in New York that dozens of local governments have put their own bans in place, just in case the state’s is lifted.
. . .

Joe Martens, who heads the Environmental Conservation Department, told lawmakers in Albany today that [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo’s proposed $137 billion (ed: 2014) budget doesn’t have any funding for oversight of high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

. . .

Needless to say, the news triggered a fresh burst of histrionics from the energy sector. “The human cost in New York, due to arbitrary delays on this matter, is real,” a New York State Petroleum Council official told Bloomberg.

Human cost? We’re not sure exactly what that means.

Royal Dutch Shell halts Alaska exploration as profits fall

By (BBC)
Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell is stepping up asset disposals as part of a strategy that will see the company "changing emphasis" in 2014.

The changes will involve Shell stopping its exploration programme in Alaska.

. . .

Last week, a US court ruled that a full assessment of the environmental risk associated with the Alaska exploration had not been carried out by the US government.

Shell had spent around $4.5bn exploring for oil off the coast of Alaska since 2005, but has faced strong environmental opposition.

. . .

Mr van Beurden said: "The landscape the company had expected has changed. Factors such as the worsening security situation in Nigeria in 2013, and delays to non-operated projects in several other countries, have altered the outlook.

Hydroponics used to grow salad in tunnels under London

By Tim Smedley
A few hundred metres from Clapham North tube station stands a padlocked gate. Behind the gate is a dark, damp entrance to a spiral staircase leading 33 metres underground. A series of tunnels built as a second world war bomb shelter large enough to fit 8,000 people have remained virtually unused. Until now. At the end of one tunnel comes a pinkish-purple glow from behind white plastic sheeting. The Breaking Bad comparison is obvious. But the produce being grown using hydroponics and LED lights isn't illegal. It's salad. Salad, the taste of which is liked by no less than chef Michel Roux Jnr.

. . .

The project has been in development for the past two years, and has attracted the interest of the mayor of London, naming Dring one of this year's 'London Leaders'. It is, as of today, looking for finance via the crowdfunding website Crowdcube. Only using a small part of one tunnel so far, the space they have leased from Transport for London (TfL) gives them a potential for 2.5 hectares of growing space. The produce including pea shoots, rocket, red lion mustard, radish, tatsoi, pak choi and miniature broccoli will be branded as Growing Underground and aimed at the retail market and high end restaurants.

. . .

If additional heat is needed, there is an obvious local source – diverting thermal flows from the Northern Line. Electricity is currently bought from a renewable energy supplier, but Dring has committed to generating onsite renewables through (above ground) wind and solar, with the intention of being a net exporter to the grid. A costly sump system currently pumps huge amounts of water out of the tunnels, water that the team have had tested and is suitable for growing. Dehumidifiers will also take water from the air expired by the plants, to be recycled. They are even looking into recycled carpet as a sustainable substrate.

. . .

Conventional farming may seem natural, says Dring, but among commercial operations use greenhouses or polytunnels that typically require artificial heating, many also use LEDs in addition to sunlight. Transportation adds a significant cost and carbon footprint to food taken from rural farms to large population hubs such as London. Zero Carbon Foods is barely three miles from Covent Garden market, the wholesaler those same farm lorries are trying to reach. Growing Underground can be there within two to eight hours of being picked, giving it a longer shelf life, transported by electric vehicle.

Science and Health
New Hybrid Solar Device Exploits the Best of Both Worlds

By Geoffrey Giller
. . .

 To overcome the various drawbacks of photovoltaic and solar-thermal systems, a team of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has created a new device that combines elements of both, which they describe in a January 19 paper in Nature Nanotechnology. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.) Their invention is known as a solar thermophotovoltaic device. Whereas other researchers have built them before, the new device is the most efficient one yet, says Evelyn Wang, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at M.I.T. and the paper’s senior author. Despite that advance, though, the device only achieves about 3 percent efficiency. “There is really much more potential in this technology,” Wang says. “This is just a starting point.”

. . .

 Because the carbon nanotubes are such efficient absorbers of sunlight, they don’t waste any of the spectrum, converting nearly all of it into heat energy. And because the sunlight is also transformed into heat, that energy can be stored more easily than the direct electricity that photovoltaic cells produce, Wang says. “You can store the energy using thermal or chemical means,” she adds, such as by using a chemical such as molten salt that liquefies when heated and then gives off that heat when it later solidifies.

 Andrej Lenert, a PhD student at M.I.T. and the lead author of the paper, notes that “anytime you go through this thermal conversion process, it lends itself to the possibility of storing that energy as heat.” This capability allows solar energy stored as heat to later be converted to electricity, say at night or when the sun isn’t shining. Storing electricity from conventional photovoltaic cells requires batteries, which are impractical at rooftop scales and expensive at larger scales.

World's first butterfly bacteria sequenced: Suprising events found during metamorphosis

By (ScienceDaily)
For the first time ever, a team led by the University of Colorado Boulder has sequenced the internal bacterial makeup of the three major life stages of a butterfly species, a project that showed some surprising events occur during metamorphosis.

. . .

The results showed the internal bacterial diversity of the red postman was halved when it morphed from the caterpillar to the chrysalis, or pupal stage, then doubled after the pupae turned into active adult butterflies. The study is important because communities of bacteria inhabiting other insects have been shown to affect host nutrition, digestion, detoxification and defense from predators, parasites and pathogens, said Hammer of the ecology and evolutionary biology department.

. . .

"The main question raised by this research is what these microbes are doing inside caterpillars and butterflies to influence their health and behavior," Fierer said. "Now we know that the dramatic shift that occurs as caterpillars turn into active butterflies is matched by large changes in their microbial communities."

. . .

Also, it appears that red postman caterpillars, which acquire nutrients from leaves they consume, are able to divert more resources toward making compounds that are toxic to some predators, Hammer said. Adult red postman butterflies are filled with the same compounds, which release cyanide when the butterfly is eaten.

Excessive mistrust of others builds from one's own inferiority

By (UPI)
. . .

The study, published in the journal Psychiatry Research, demonstrated making a person's height lower than normal in the virtual reality simulation could make them feel worse about themselves and more fearful that others were trying to harm them.

"Being tall is associated with greater career and relationship success. Height is taken to convey authority, and we feel taller when we feel more powerful. It is little wonder then that men and women tend to over-report their height," Freeman said in a statement.

. . .

These negative thoughts translated into an increase in paranoia towards the other passengers. The participants were more likely to think that someone in the carriage was staring in order to upset them, had bad intentions towards them, or were trying to make them distressed, Freeman said.

How the Architecture of Our Buildings Shapes the Germs Around Us

By Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan
We design buildings to make human lives better—but should we also design them to make bacteria healthier? A new study posits just that, suggesting that the microbial communities that live amongst us are deeply influenced by the design of our buildings. Wait—but aren't microbes bad? Not exactly.

. . .

It turns out that there are incredible complex, sensitive ecologies floating around in our buildings—and they're tightly knit, based on where they occur in space.

So, that's all well and good, but isn't modernity—and modern architecture, in particular—founded on the idea that cleaner spaces make healthier humans? That's the traditional understanding of bacteria, yes. But, as the study notes, that notion is changing very quickly. Many microbes can actually make us healthier in all sorts of ways—and killing them all isn't necessarily the greatest idea.

We might even want to encourage certain microbes, and design is one way to do it. In fact, one of the paper's authors, Jessica Green, suggested just that in a talk last year, entitled "We're Covered in germs. Let's design for that." Green and her team are building on the idea with this new data.

Technology
Finally, a legal challenge to US warrantless wiretapping that beats the Catch-22

By Cory Doctorow
Last October, the Justice Department made a seemingly cosmetic change to its procedures related to NSA surveillance: requiring prosecutors to tell defendants when the evidence against them originated with a warrantless wiretap . . .

. . . Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that you couldn't sue the government over warrantless wiretapping unless you had direct evidence that you'd been spied on. The catch? The only way to get evidence that you'd been spied on was to sue the government, which you couldn't do without evidence.

 The first defendant to be notified that the case against him was built on warrantless wiretaps is an Uzbek human rights activist who lives in Colorado, named Jamshid Muhtorov. Under the new rules, Muhtorov now has the evidence he needs to challenge the government's program of warrantless surveillance -- and that's just what he's doing. The ACLU has taken his case, and have filed a motion challenging the evidence against him.

Cameron says he failed to make case for mass surveillance after Snowden leaks

By Patrick Wintour
. . .

In a two-hour session in front of the select committee on national security strategy, the prime minister said that after the next election parliament would need to develop a cross-party consensus in favour of fresh legislation to modernise the way the intelligence services and police monitored communications data.

. . .

Discussing the communications legislation, Cameron said: "Over time we are going to have to modernise the legislative framework and practice when it comes to dealing with communications data. It is a politically contentious topic. I am not sure we are going to make progress on it in the coming months in terms of legislation, but there may be things short of legislation that we could do.

. . .

He expressed satisfaction that the public was "unmoved" by the Guardian revelations, saying: "I sense the public reaction, as opposed to some of the media reaction, is: 'Look, we have intelligence services because it is a dangerous world and there are people that want to do terrible things.' "

He added: "I am very worried about the damage that Snowden is doing to our security and I would encourage the newspapers that are endlessly dallying in this to think before they act because we are in severe danger of making ourselves less safe as a result.

Cultural
China's love affair with "Country Roads Take Me Home"

By Cory Doctorow
Jeffrey sez, "The nice responses to my essay on 'Hotel California', has emboldened me to send a follow up on the curious life in China of another American song from the 1970s. Namely, the one that finds John Denver waxing nostalgic about West Virginia."

 This is a particularly apt moment to post something about the Chinese love affair with John Denver's music, which I alluded to in passing in that same BOOM article, since the romance began exactly 35 years ago. The starting point for it, which paved the way for Denver touring China later, was his performance of "Rocky Mountain High" at a January 29, 1979, gala held in Deng Xiaoping's honor, during the Chinese leader's famous trip to America in 1979. (This performance can be seen just over a minute into this documentary, which also includes clips of the Harlem Globetrotters playing ball and an American children's chorus singing in Chinese at the same event.)

U.S.-Chinese relations have ebbed and flowed since 1979, a year that opening with ties between the two countries being formally "normalized" (setting the stage for Deng's visit to the U.S.), but the popularity of John Denver and especially his song "Country Roads" across the Pacific has stayed constant. This is demonstrated by the episode of the Chinese version of "The Voice" shown above. . .
Archbishops criticise Nigerian and Ugandan anti-gay laws

By (BBC)
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have written to the presidents of Nigeria and Uganda, after being asked about laws there penalising gay people.

. . .

Nigeria and Uganda have both passed legislation targeting people with same-sex attraction.

. . .

In their letter, the archbishops reiterated their support for a document known as the Dromantine Communique, published in 2005 by the primates of the Anglican Communion.

. . .

"The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us.

"We assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by Him and deserving the best we can give - pastoral care and friendship."

Asia's global travel boom

By (BBC)
. . .

Rapid urbanisation, increased disposable income and a relaxing of travel restrictions have enabled more people to travel and budget airlines are opening up routes from India and other parts of Asia.

. . .

The COTRI China Outbound Tourism Research Institute says the "New Chinese Tourists" are travel-savvy, well-educated and mostly under 45 years of age. COTRI's latest estimate is that Chinese travellers will spend a total $129 billion in the next 12 months, despite a slight slowdown in outbound travel compared with 2011/12.

. . .

Among the most popular destinations for Asian travellers are other Asian countries.

. . .

Travel to the United States has increased dramatically over the past six years from around 397,600 trips a year to 1.4 million, but travel to Japan and the UK has fallen slightly.

. . .

Euromonitor International says the South-east Asian destinations have been promoted aggressively by online travel agents and other via social media websites such as Facebook. Cheap deals meant outbound trips became more affordable to more Indian consumers, many of whom had never previously travelled outside the country.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Does a traitor betray himself? (22+ / 0-)

    Greetings, all.

    "So, please stay where you are. Don't move and don't panic. Don't take off your shoes! Jobs is on the way."

    by wader on Thu Jan 30, 2014 at 04:06:26 PM PST

  •  Happy Year of the Horse! (15+ / 0-)

    Mandarin: Gong Xi Fa Cai/Xin Nian Kuai Le

    Cantonese: Kung Hei Fat Choi

    Hokkien (Fujian/Taiwanese): Kiong Hee Huat Tsai/Sin Ni khòai lok

    Source

    Simplified Chinese: 恭喜发财 新年快乐

    Traditional Chinese: 恭喜發財 新年快樂

    "My friend Vince Lamb often comments that Americans will take all manner of social, economic and political abuse, but will rise up with righteous fury when you disturb their Entertainment."-Michael Varian Daly

    by Neon Vincent on Thu Jan 30, 2014 at 09:31:19 PM PST

  •  better add some height to my avatar (12+ / 0-)
    The study, published in the journal Psychiatry Research, demonstrated making a person's height lower than normal in the virtual reality simulation could make them feel worse about themselves and more fearful that others were trying to harm them.

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013

    by annieli on Thu Jan 30, 2014 at 09:36:18 PM PST

    •  "Cat From Hell" (13+ / 0-)

      There was an episode of Animal Planet's My Cat From Hell where a couple that had moved in together were having problems with the girlfriend's cat attacking everyone and everything, including the boyfriend's dog.

      The solution was getting the cat a "tower" to lay on.

      The host, Jackson Galaxy, reasoned that the cat's problem was that it was always being approached by people towering over it, and that made it uncomfortable. By giving it a place to sit up high, it relaxed the cat and allowed him to feel secure.

    •  A Tale of Two Long-Term Relationships (8+ / 0-)

      The taller woman was near my height and when we argued, it was fast and heated.  Then, over relatively quickly -  makeup was fresh and complete.  We were equals in differences of opinion and airing of such, most times.

      The shorter woman is almost 10 inches shorter than me and she usually initiates attacks, mostly from a proactively defensive, accusatory and mistrusting posture.  The arguments are horrid, go nowhere due to what I openly and repeatedly agonize is an implicit lack of trust that doesn't need to exist, but they reoccur at the same levels of intensity on a relatively regular basis, anyway.  There is almost no makeup - just cumulative, additive bitterness to swallow.  But, it's a marriage and I still don't give up on people too easily.

      Perception of my implicit dominance from our height difference has actually come up a number of times from her perspective, which I try to alleviate by making most everyday things we use and need at accessible heights - step-stools for most of the rest.

      So, I found that study interesting.

      "So, please stay where you are. Don't move and don't panic. Don't take off your shoes! Jobs is on the way."

      by wader on Thu Jan 30, 2014 at 09:54:43 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Double Jeopardy (16+ / 0-)

    From CNN: Amanda Knox found guilty of murder again by Italian court

    An Italian appeals court convicted former exchange student Amanda Knox and her ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito on murder charges Thursday night.
    Prosecutors said the couple had killed Meredith Kercher in November 2007. They were convicted two years later of murder, but those charges were overturned on appeal in 2011.

    A judge said Thursday that Knox, also convicted of slander, was sentenced in absentia to 28 1/2 years in prison. Sollecito's sentence was 25 years.
    Knox, who was at home in Seattle, Washington, said her conviction would bring no consolation to the Kercher family.

    "I am frightened and saddened by this unjust verdict," she said in written remarks. "Having been found innocent before, I expected better from the Italian justice system. The evidence and accusatory theory do not justify a verdict of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. ...There has always been a marked lack of evidence."

    She called the legal proceedings a travesty.

    This is a case where double jeopardy is the least of the problems with the conduct of the Italian investigation and prosecution. It's a case built almost entirely on biases and overreactions to tabloid stories, as well as some dubious police work.

    Here's the series of events that everyone involved can agree to: At some point on the evening of November 1st, 2007 or early morning November 2nd, 2007, Meredith Kercher was brutally murdered, with over 40 cuts and bruises. Midday on November 2nd, Amanda Knox (Kercher's roommate) returned to their home and according to her account noticed the door was ajar, blood in a sink, and unflushed feces in a toilet. Knox claims she suspected there was a burglar and fled the house  to contact one of the other roommates and her boyfriend,  Raffaele Sollecito. Knox and Sollecito returned to the home and noticed that a window had been shattered. Kercher's door was closed and locked. They tried knocking on it and there was no response. Sollecito called the police, and two officers arrived at the same time some of Knox and Kercher's roommates also arrived with some friends. The police allowed all of the people to re-enter the flat (contaminating the crime scene) where a friend of one of the roommates kicked open Kercher's door to reveal her body.

    The question of how that body ended up where it did has been the source of years of controversy.

    • There is not one piece of physical evidence tying Amanda Knox to the murder of Meredith Kercher. According to the theory of the crime offered at trial by public minister Giuliano Mignini, Knox attacked Kercher, repeatedly banged her head against a wall, forcefully held her face, tried to remove her clothes, cut her with a knife, inflicted the fatal stab wound, and then took her two mobile phones and faked a burglary. And after doing all that, there were no visible signs that Knox had been in a struggle. (e.g. scratches, bruises, cuts, etc.). There was no DNA evidence found on Kercher connecting Knox to the crime scene. (e.g. hair, tissue under Kercher's fingernails, etc.)

    Italian Police picture of a part of the crime scene
    • The physical evidence offered by the Italians as connecting Knox's boyfriend, Sollecito, to the crime is alleged DNA found on a knife and a bra clasp. A knife found in Sollecito's kitchen was alleged by the Italians to be the murder weapon, with the evidence being Kercher's DNA on the blade. However, the particular knife was never tested to see whether the blade matched the serration patterns on the body, and an independent report found the assertion of a DNA match to Kercher "unreliable," since the original testing did not follow any of the recommendations of the international scientific community. The Italians offered as proof of Sollecito's connection to the crime a DNA match to Sollecito on Kercher's bra clasp. But again, the Italian's procedures for evidence collection were so piss poor that it wasn't found until 46 days after the crime occurred. The Appeals Court which overturned the original conviction found that it could not be a reliable piece of evidence due to potential contamination.
    • There is also no discernible motive either, except for the Italian prosecutor's assertion that Knox is a sex-and-drug-crazed "she-devil." The only evidence the Italian authorities offered at trial to substantiate that assertion was the fact that Knox owned a vibrator and had been seen with condoms. Also, public minister Mignini has been accused of abusing his office in the past, and making false allegations of satanic rituals connected to homicides. Early in the investigation of this case, Mignini suggested Kercher had been slaughtered during a satanic ritual.
    • The entirety of the Italians' case against Knox comes from their perception of Knox's behavior in the days after the crime, and a statement she signed while being questioned by police. The "confession," in which Knox accused Patrick Lumumba (the owner of the bar at which she worked) of being involved with her in the crime, is the most damning piece of evidence against her. The only problem with the statement is that no lawyer was present and (in violation of Italian police policy) it wasn't recorded. Knox was interrogated for over 53 hours over 5 days, in which she didn't speak Italian well, and it's now known the interpreter supplied by police didn't interpret their questions but acted as a third interrogator suggesting responses to her. And to top it off, the statement was written in Italian. Also, Knox claims she was slapped during the interrogation and refused a lawyer when she asked for one. In the Appeals Court ruling that overturned her conviction, the decision stated:
    "The obsessive duration of the interrogations ... [it's] totally comprehensible that she would find herself in a situation of great psychological pressure -- which to call it stress would reduce it -- which makes one doubt the actual spontaneity of the declaration."
    • There is demonstrable physical evidence tying an assailant to the crime though. DNA evidence and fingerprints at the crime scene matched Rudy Guede, a petty crook that had been accused of several local burglaries. In October 2008, Guede was convicted of murder and sexual assault. However, the Italians claim that Knox and Sollecito acted with Guede to kill Kercher, even though Guede originally denied Knox and Sollecito were involved.
  •  Listening to Moby (12+ / 0-)

    and it is so perfect for a goodnight song. Thank you.

  •  weaponization to commercialization phase (12+ / 0-)

    http://news.discovery.com/...

    Audio Emails Beamed To Your Ears Only

    we already have this it's called NSA/DOD/CIA covert synthetic telepathy
    Personal Area Networks - PAN - Near Field Intra Body Communication,Body Area Networks - BAN - Near Field Intra Body Communication, ElectAura.Net - Near Field Intra Body Communication
    Wearable Book Plugs You Into Characters’ Emotions
    same thing, NSA/DOD/CIA has had PAN/ELECTAURA for a long long time
    NTT researchers recently presented their ElectAura-Net technology, which uses humans' natural electrical fields (those things that mystics and New Agers think of as auras) to move information. They explain how it works in a SIGGRAPH publication:

    ElectAura-Net is a novel indoor broadband networking and positioning system. A wireless(-like) communication is enabled by electric-fields (electric aura) emanated from the human body and the floor.

    The result: the world's first broadband (10Mbps) intrabody communication. ElectAura-Net also provides indoor positioning, which is urgently needed for "ubiquitous" communication.

    ElectAura-Net provides both broadband wireless(-like) networks and a meter-accuracy positioning system for indoor use. It is a kind of "intrabody communication" system that uses electric fields as transmission media, and the human body and floor as an Ethernet cable.

    In this system, a "communication-cell" (carpet size) can be shrunk down to one meter or less, and simultaneous access by many users can be realized. Ordinary intrabody communication systems cannot achieve long-distance communication between components such as body-worn devices and the floor. ElectAura-Net provides extra-high-sensitivity and high-speed capability.

    This is an extension of the Personal Area Network (PAN) research done at MIT in the 1990s by Tom Zimmerman (the subject of his 1995 MA thesis), and later picked up at IBM. That technology exploited the fact that the
    natural salinity of the human body makes it an excellent conductor of electrical current.

    PAN technology takes advantage of this conductivity by creating an external electric field that passes an incredibly tiny current through the body, over which data is carried.
    The current used is one-billionth of an amp (one nanoamp), which is lower than the natural currents already in the body. In fact, the electrical field created by running a comb through hair is more than 1,000 times greater than that being used by PAN technology.

    http://www.media.mit/...

    http://news.zdnet.co.uk/...

    Published: 23 Jun 2004

    Microsoft has been awarded a patent for turning your skin into a power conduit and data bus, and which describes a novel idea for a keyboard that should have most household pets running scared.

    Patent number 6,754,472 describes a method of transmitting power and data to devices worn on the body, and for communication of data between those devices.

    In its filing, Microsoft cites the proliferation of wearable electronic devices, such as wristwatches, pagers, PDAs (worn on people's belts) and small displays that can now be worn mounted on headgear.

    "As a result of carrying multiple portable electronic devices, there is often a significant amount of redundancy in terms of input/output devices included in the portable devices used by a single person," says the filing. "For example, a watch, pager, PDA and radio may all include a speaker."

    To reduce the redundancy of input/output devices, Microsoft's patent proposes a personal area network that allows a single data input or output device to be used by multiple portable devices.

    Personal area networks -- or PANs -- are nothing new. Some, such as Bluetooth, use radio signals, while others use infrared. Some work has been done on near-field intrabody communications -- most notably by IBM's Almaden Research Labs, which at Comdex '96 demonstrated a prototype device that let two people exchange electronic business cards by shaking hands.

    IBM's work, which was led by Thomas Zimmerman, took advantage of the natural salinity of the human body, which makes it an excellent conductor of electrical current. IBM's device, which was the size of a pack of playing cards, used a current of one-billionth of an amp (one nanoamp) -- lower than the natural currents already in the body -- to transmit data at the equivalent rate of an old 2400-baud modem, though speeds of up to 400,000 bits per second were mooted.

    Aside from transmitting data between two people, IBM proposed the exchange of information between personal communications devices carried by an individual, "including cellular phones, pagers, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and smart cards". For example, said IBM in a paper published at the time, upon receiving a page, the number could be automatically uploaded to the cellular phone, requiring the user to simply hit the "send" button. This automation increases accuracy and safety, especially in driving situations.

    Such functionality is today commonly provided by Bluetooth.

    In its filing, which was published on Tuesday, Microsoft says its work addresses wearable devices that are too small to have any kind of interface or even a battery, such as earrings. Its solution uses pulsed AC or DC signals to power the devices -- a 100Hz signal could be used to power one device while a 150Hz signal could be used to power another, said the company, and data signals can be modulated on top of these power signals.

    Furthermore, said Microsoft, the physical resistance offered by the human body could be used to create a virtual keyboard on a patch of skin. And just to make sure it has covered all its bases, the filing concludes with a note that could see the toy poodle haircut catching on: "It will be apparent," it says, "that the body may be that of a wide variety of living animals and need not be limited to being a body of a human being."

    Nancy Pelosi said her GOP colleagues regularly talk disrespectfully about large categories of people; women and their judgment, immigrants and poor people or people who are out of work "there's a real disdain."

    by anyname on Thu Jan 30, 2014 at 09:37:40 PM PST

    •  milliners should stock up on tinfoil now /nt (12+ / 0-)

      Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013

      by annieli on Thu Jan 30, 2014 at 09:40:14 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  2003-2013 (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wader, maggiejean, commonmass, JML9999

      1973-1983-1993-2003-2013

      I've tried tracking the pure science back before Zimmerman to the commericialization phase - still working on it

      Body Network Gains Speed

      Technology Research News (10/29/03); Smalley, Eric

      The ElectAura-Net prototype developed by researchers at Japan's NTT Docomo Multimedia Labs and NTT Microsystem Integration Labs is a wireless indoor Ethernet network that harnesses the bioelectric field of the human body to transmit data at 10 Mbps.

      NTT Docomo Multimedia Labs scientist Masaaki Fukumoto says, "The main aim of the system is to provide [a] new indoor communication infrastructure for [the] coming wearable and ubiquitous [computing] era."

      The prototype network is a combination of transceivers positioned under a tile or carpet floor and transceivers worn or carried on the body; Fukumoto says that a person with such devices can access the Internet simply by standing or walking on the floor.

      Data transmission is facilitated by the oscillation of the electric field surrounding the device, and the intersection of a person's bioelectric field with the transceiver's field triggers an oscillation transfer.

      The transceiver detects oscillations via a sensor originally developed to test circuit boards.

      The ElectAura-Net's data transfer rate overtakes Bluetooth's 1 Mbps radio wave system as well as the Infrared Data Association's 4 Mbps infrared standard.

      "We're developing [a] large-scale floor communications system with automatic map generation and automatic routing," boasts Fukumoto.

      The next step involves miniaturizing the system components and increasing the network's scalability, while University of Washington researcher Kurt Partridge says the technology needs to be made more power-efficient.

      http://www.trnmag.com/...

      Nancy Pelosi said her GOP colleagues regularly talk disrespectfully about large categories of people; women and their judgment, immigrants and poor people or people who are out of work "there's a real disdain."

      by anyname on Thu Jan 30, 2014 at 10:23:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Fluke may run for Waxman's seat (14+ / 0-)

    KPCC: Rep. Henry Waxman announces retirement from Congress

    Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) announced Thursday that he will not seek reelection to the House this fall.

    "In 1974, I announced my first campaign for Congress.  Today, I am announcing that I have run my last campaign," Waxman said in a statement (see below). "I will not seek reelection to the Congress and will leave after 40 years in office at the end of this year."

    Appearing on KPCC's Take Two, Waxman said, "This is a good moment to turn the job over to somebody younger who could develop seniority, take on the task of carrying on some of the fights that I have been involved in and are important to our community in Los Angeles."

    [...]

    Another name that surfaced is attorney and women's rights activist Sandra Fluke. "I’m flattered that I’m being discussed as a potential candidate," she told KPCC. "A number of folks I respect very deeply have reached out today and encouraged me to run.  I am strongly considering running."

    Fluke, 32, became known in 2012 when — as a Georgetown University law student — she testified on Capitol Hill that insurers should provide no-cost contraception. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh later called her a "slut" and a "prostitute" on air, triggering a media firestorm. Fluke, who grew up in Pennsylvania, has only lived in L.A. since finishing law school.

  •  I only know how to play (13+ / 0-)

    one song on the guitar and "Country Roads Take Me Home" is it. My family has gotten rather tired of it through the years.

    Ceiling Cat rules....srsly.

    by side pocket on Thu Jan 30, 2014 at 09:50:37 PM PST

  •  and Rachel Maddox reports the Hunterdon Co (12+ / 0-)

    fired prosecutor-suppressed indictments history for the Christie scandal; which we hope will have legs like a centipede! Hooray. Hallelujah. Hot chachacha.

    honor the treaties. honor the honorable. and, leave us not forget Jotter; one of the great dkos recconteurs..

    by renzo capetti on Thu Jan 30, 2014 at 09:51:05 PM PST

  •  ... (14+ / 0-)
  •  Muhtorov's case (10+ / 0-)

    I really hope he wins his lawsuit against the Feds. Because if he does, then we all do.

    The major breakthrough came thanks to Obama's DOJ. Here's the NYT last October: Federal Prosecutors, in a Policy Shift, Cite Warrantless Wiretaps as Evidence

    The Justice Department for the first time has notified a criminal defendant that evidence being used against him came from a warrantless wiretap, a move that is expected to set up a Supreme Court test of whether such eavesdropping is constitutional.

    Prosecutors filed such a notice late Friday in the case of Jamshid Muhtorov, who was charged in Colorado in January 2012 with providing material support to the Islamic Jihad Union, a designated terrorist organization based in Uzbekistan.

    Mr. Muhtorov is accused of planning to travel abroad to join the militants and has pleaded not guilty. A criminal complaint against him showed that much of the government’s case was based on intercepted e-mails and phone calls.

    The government’s notice allows Mr. Muhtorov’s lawyer to ask a court to suppress the evidence by arguing that it derived from unconstitutional surveillance, setting in motion judicial review of the eavesdropping.

  •  ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2′ Super Bowl Spot (11+ / 0-)


    From /Film:

    The spot is for Marc Webb‘s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but this is just “part one” with part two airing during the game. Don’t worry though. It’s still a solid 30 seconds of web-slinging action.
  •  Thanks wader. (11+ / 0-)

    Shell Oil is removing itself from Alaskan oil exploration. I like self deportation.

    The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.― Neil deGrasse Tyson

    by maggiejean on Thu Jan 30, 2014 at 10:00:47 PM PST

  •  Thanks for the digest, there's a lot to chew on (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    maggiejean, wader, JML9999

    in here as always.

    Pope Francis: the Thumb of Christ in the eyes of the Pharisees.

    by commonmass on Thu Jan 30, 2014 at 10:29:56 PM PST

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