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Welcome to the Overnight News Digest (OND) for Tuesday, March 18, 2014.

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: Slip Away by Clarence Carter

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
UN: Thousands killed and abused in S Sudan

By (Al Jazeera)
Politically-fueled ethnic violence in South Sudan since mid-December has led to the brutal killing and abuse of thousands of civilians and sparked a government campaign to vilify the United Nations and harass UN personnel, the UN peacekeeping chief has said.

. . .

Ladsous urged the Security Council to condemn what he called a campaign against the UN peacekeeping mission - which is sheltering 75,000 of approximately 800,000 people displaced by the ongoing violence - and to demand that Kiir condemn it and instruct government officials and his party to stop it.

The anti-UN campaign has brought the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid "almost to a standstill," which is extremely critical as the rainy season will begin soon, he said.

. . .

South Sudan's U.N. Ambassador Francis Deng attributed the ``negative outcry'' against the U.N. mission known as UNMISS "to the trauma, frustrations, pain and anger caused by the devastating violence that broke out on December 15.|

Stephen Hawking Urges Explorers to Visit Other Planets

By Megan Gannon and LiveScience
Ambitious plans to carry humans far beyond Earth were at the forefront of the Explorers Club Annual Dinner here Saturday night (March 15), as astronauts, entrepreneurs and physicist Stephen Hawking celebrated the wonder — and necessity — of space exploration.

. . .

"Sending humans to other planets … will shape the future of the human race in ways we don't yet understand, and may determine whether we have any future at all," Hawking told an exclusive audience at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, which included Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, rocket-builder Elon Musk and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (who also founded a somewhat secretive spaceflight company called Blue Origin).

. . .

During the upcoming mission, SpaceX will test out Falcon 9's landing legs, bringing the rocket down for a "soft landing" in a ocean, in a step toward making the launch system reusable.

. . .

For decades, Chang-Diaz has been working on a plasma rocket called VASIMR, which theoretically could send astronauts to Mars in a speedy 39 days. Aldrin himself presented the award, joking that he has some competing ideas about getting to Mars (namely, a cycler that could perpetually ferry people back and forth from Earth's orbit to the Red Planet's realm).

Spying is Bad for Business

By Antonio Regalado
Following a one-day summit in Brasilia this February, negotiators from Brazil and Europe reached a deal to lay a $185 million fiber-optic cable spanning the 3,476 miles between Fortaleza and Lisbon. The cable will be built by a consortium of Spanish and Brazilian companies. According to Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, it will “protect freedom.” No longer will South America’s Internet traffic get routed through Miami, where American spies might see it.

. . .

Analysts including Forrester Research predict billions in losses for U.S. Internet services such as Dropbox and Amazon because of suspicion from technology consumers, particularly in Europe, in the wake of Snowden’s revelations. “The Snowden leaks have painted a U.S.-centric Internet infrastructure, and now people are looking for alternatives,” says James Lewis, director of the strategic technologies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

This is hastening the trend to secure networks, to isolate them, or even to disconnect. In this report, we visit a small energy company for which a network cable might as well be Medusa’s hair (see “Cyberspying Targets Energy Secrets”). The company is so frightened that it keeps its best ideas on computers quarantined from the Internet. Retrograde technology is winning money and resources. Following the Snowden revelations, Russia’s secret service reportedly placed an order for $15,000 worth of typewriters and ribbons. They said paper was safest for some presidential documents.

. . .

If the Internet and its components cannot be trusted, how will that affect business? Consider the case of Huawei, the Chinese company that last year became the world’s largest seller of telecom equipment. Yet its market share in North America is paltry, because the U.S. government has long claimed that Huawei’s gear is a Trojan horse for China’s intelligence services (see “Before Snowden, There Was Huawei”). Now American firms like Cisco Systems say their Chinese customers are turning away for similar reasons. After all, the Snowden documents suggest how vigorously the NSA worked to insert back doors in gear, software, and undersea cables—in some cases via what the agency called “sensitive, cooperative relationships with specific industry partners” identified by code names.

. . .

There’s even a shift under way in consumer technology. Consumers have been rushing to download texting apps like Snapchat, where messages disappear. They are posting on anonymous message boards like Whispr and buying “cryptophones” that scramble their calls. Spy-shop stuff is going mainstream. Phil Zimmerman, a famous privacy advocate, helped create one of the cryptophones, the $629 Blackphone, launched in February at the big mobile communications conference in Barcelona, Spain (see “For $3,500, a Spy-Resistant Smartphone”).

Amazon inhales more carbon than it emits, NASA finds

By (ScienceDaily)
A new NASA-led study seven years in the making has confirmed that natural forests in the Amazon remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they emit, therefore reducing global warming. This finding resolves a long-standing debate about a key component of the overall carbon balance of the Amazon basin.

The Amazon's carbon balance is a matter of life and death: living trees take carbon dioxide out of the air as they grow, and dead trees put the greenhouse gas back into the air as they decompose. The new study, published in Nature Communications on March 18, is the first to measure tree deaths caused by natural processes throughout the Amazon forest, even in remote areas where no data have been collected at ground level.

Fernando Espírito-Santo of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., lead author of the study, created new techniques to analyze satellite and other data. He found that each year, dead Amazonian trees emit an estimated 1.9 billion tons (1.7 billion metric tons) of carbon to the atmosphere. To compare this with Amazon carbon absorption, the researchers used censuses of forest growth and different modeling scenarios that accounted for uncertainties. In every scenario, carbon absorption by living trees outweighed emissions from the dead ones, indicating that the prevailing effect in natural forests of the Amazon is absorption.

. . .

NASA monitors Earth's vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

Scottish independence is winning over uncommitted, says SNP

By Severin Carrell
Margie Maxwell is no Scottish nationalist. But she is Glaswegian, and intensely loyal with it. It never occurred to her she would vote for independence. But then the threats were made, to shipyard jobs on the Clyde, to Scotland's right to keep the pound and to her country's economy.

"I fully want independence now. They've had their chance," she said.

. . .

Across Scotland, town halls, community centres and pubs have hosted packed public meetings. Many who go are non-nationalist voters, people who usually back Labour, the Scottish Greens, the Liberal Democrats or no party at all. Some listen, arms crossed, not always convinced; many applaud.

. . .

The same polls show support for independence is highest amongst voters in marginalised, working-class areas. In February, Ipsos Mori found that a majority of voters in the most deprived wards would vote yes, at 47%, with 41% voting no. By comparison, only 20% of those in the least deprived areas will vote yes.

. . .

That data identifies the key point for Yes Scotland and the wider independence movement: to win, their supporters and activists need to convert hundreds of thousands of undecided voters to get past the 1.5m mark needed to win – and those are people who do not vote SNP. A majority of Scots favour more devolution, not independence.

Poland wrestles with the legacy of a secret CIA torture site

By Jason Overdorf
. . .

Surrounded by a dual row of high chain-link fencing topped with razor wire, it's the only sign of life at the base, which serves as a training center for the Polish intelligence agency somewhere within.

This is where America's Central Intelligence Agency allegedly tortured suspected terrorists during its hunt for Osama bin Laden between 2002 and 2005. According to information leaked by CIA officers to the Washington Post, the CIA purportedly paid Poland's intelligence service $15 million for the use of the villa — or another one like it hidden in the woods behind the fence — as a secret “black site.”

. . .

“For the majority of Polish politicians and Polish society, the devotion to our relationship with America is constant,” says political analyst Jacek Zakowski. “But the question is what kind of America. Is it the America of Guantanamo? Or is it the America of freedom of religion?”

. . .

Despite government delays and interference, the investigation into Stare Kiejkuty trundles on, even as other countries accused of hosting black sites, such as Lithuania and Romania, have killed off any such efforts, says Julia Hall, Amnesty International's expert on counterterrorism and human rights.

But now events in Ukraine may ensure that American support for Polish security will outweigh concerns about the legality or morality of US actions.

Cameroon lawyer wins award for defending gay rights

By (BBC)
A lawyer in Cameroon has been recognised for her work to promote gay rights in Africa with an award from Amnesty International.

. . .

The 69-year-old lawyer became the first black woman to be called to the bar in Cameroon in 1969.

She vowed to continue her work despite being sent death threats and warnings from government officials that she could face imprisonment.

The campaign for gay rights in Africa has been hit in recent weeks by a new law in Uganda which allows life imprisonment for acts of "aggravated homosexuality" and also criminalises the "promotion of homosexuality".

USA Politics, Economy, Major Events
Reince Priebus is Playing Smart Politics. Maybe Democrats Should Try It Too.

By Kevin Drum
. . .

Ed Kilgore thinks Priebus should cut the crap. If Democrats lose five or six Senate seats, that won't be a tsunami. It will be perfectly normal given the electoral map, the six-year itch, and the usual Democratic turnout problem in midterms.

Maybe so. But that's pretty obviously not the game Priebus is playing. He's not analyzing, he's working the refs. He wants to build momentum and make Republicans look unbeatable. He wants to look like a winner. He wants to get Republicans to turn out in big numbers this November.

Democrats, by contrast, are already acting like whipped curs, moaning about the map and the itch and the turnout. They lose a special election by two percentage points and all is lost. Incumbents start dropping like flies. The press, smelling weakness, piles on. Democratic voters, acting like the normal human beings they are, get discouraged and figure that things are hopeless. So they don't contribute, they don't campaign, and they don't bother voting on Election Day.

Two-thirds of Republicans think the media exaggerates climate change

By John Upton
Major media outlets in the U.S. are doing a piss-poor job of covering climate change. But even when they do cover it, many of their audience members don’t believe them.

. . .

As you might expect, there’s a big partisan divide on the question. More than two-thirds of Republicans think the media exaggerates, while nearly half of Democrats believe the seriousness of climate change is actually underestimated by the media.

. . .

Many Americans are also clueless about the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. Just 60 percent of Americans polled realize that most scientists agree global warming is occurring, while 29 percent think most scientists are unsure. In fact, 97 percent of climate scientists agree that humans are causing climate change.

Nevada deputy who took $50,000 from a man ordered to return it

By Mark Frauenfelder
In September 2013 Tan Nguyen was pulled over by Nevada Deputy Sgt. Lee Dove for driving 78 MPH in a 75 MPH zone. Deputy Dove asked Nguyen for permission to search the car and Nguyen consented to the search. (Big mistake. . .) Deputy Dove found $50,000 in Nguyen's briefcase and confiscated it. . .

This story has a happy ending. Nguyen sued the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office and got his $50,000 back, plus $10,000 to pay his lawyer. The Humboldt County District Attorney issued a laughably stupid statement that tried to deflect the blame from the sheriff's department over to the liberal media elite, which had "unfairly criticized the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office as the Sheriff's Office was acting in accordance with the law as they understood it and was not responsible for any procedural defects following the seizure of assets."

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:
With a deeply masculine baritone voice that let a hint of vulnerability and anguish peek through, Clarence Carter was one of the most distinctive rhythm ‘n’ blues singers of the 1960s.

. . .

In the early days, did you think that being blind was going to hold you back?

Clarence Carter: Not really. Most of us who are blind are going to tell you that most of the time, it’s an inconvenience.
And that’s the truth. It’s according to a person’s perception of being handicapped. If you’re handicapped because you can’t drive a car, then you’re handicapped, but I just think that’s an inconvenience. I just happen not to be able to see to be able to drive a car.

I know how to drive one, because I taught both of my brothers how to drive, and I taught my daughter how to drive. All in my car.

. . .

Why Muscle Shoals?

Clarence Carter: Once I was into the music, and I had a band, I wanted to do some recording. Well, I figured, ain’t nobody going to discover me here in Montgomery. If an artist came to Montgomery and they didn’t have a band, the club owner would hire my band. I played for Otis Redding, I played for John Lee Hooker, I played for Gene Chandler, a whole bunch of ‘em.

I had heard about FAME Studios, so I just got on the telephone and asked the operator to connect me. I called and asked how much would it cost to get time to cut two songs? They told me, and I went up there.

The purpose in the back of my mind, though, was “I want to meet the man that owns this place.” I figured “If I go up here, I believe we sound good enough that he’s going to want to come and say hello or something.” So I just took a chance.

And sure enough, he came from his office because his engineer rang the office and said “You need to hear these boys.” That was my first meeting with Rick Hall.

. . .

Where’d you get that emotional singing style?

Clarence Carter: That’s just the way I did it. When I had Calvin playing with me, when we were together, I used to let him do most all of the singing because I really didn’t think I sang that well. I liked to play the guitar.

Finally, I did start to do a little singing and I noticed that people enjoyed it. I said “Well ... durn! I might be able to sing sure enough!”

Back to what's happening:
Environment and Greening
Ten eco-friendly funeral ideas

By Tess Riley
Fancy meeting your maker wrapped up in banana leaf, burying your loved one in a woollen eco-coffin or watching your pet's ashes grow into a rosebush? For anyone interested in living a greener lifestyle, it's time to start thinking about your death-style too.

. . .

2. Cut the gas

Dealing with ashes aside, an alternative to cremation comes in the form of resomation, which uses alkaline hydrolysis instead of fire to break down the body chemically, reducing a funeral's greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 35%, according to Sustain. The sterile, DNA-free liquid that results is returned to the water cycle while the accompanying bone ash remains go in an urn to give to loved ones. The process needs to be regulated before it can take place, it is currently available in some US states and the company is awaiting the outcome of an approach to the UK government.

. . .

5. Wood you believe it?

For those keen to stick to more traditional coffins, you don't have to resort to mahogany, which is often used to make high-end wood caskets despite the fact that it comes from an endangered rainforest tree. Instead, it's possible to opt for coffins made from sustainably sourced wood, such as the Reflections coffin, which is made from 80% waste wood and 20% FSC-certified wood, with a biodegradable cotton lining.

. . .

10. If all else fails, turn yourself into vinyl

Some choose to leave an environmental legacy in their wills. Others, however, may go a little off piste. For music lovers, for example, there's an option to have your remains pressed into a vinyl with And Vinyly, which offers "a range of packages for people, parts of people and pets". Not convinced? Check out their homepage blurb: 'When the album that is life finally reaches the end, wouldn't it be nice to keep that record spinning for eternity?' It might not be the greenest option on here, but if you've managed to tick off all of the above ...

Scientists tell Americans: This climate change thing really is a big deal

By John Upton
. . .

The American Association for the Advancement of Science kicked things off on Monday by publishing a 20-page report entitled What We Know. The gist: We know that global warming is real, risky, and demands a serious response — “the three Rs of climate change.”

“We’re trying to provide a voice for the scientific community on this issue so that we can help the country, help the world move this issue forward,” AAAS CEO Alan Leshner said during a call with reporters on Tuesday morning. “If we don’t move now we are at tremendous risk for some very high impact consequences, many of which are laid out in the report.”

. . .

Renowned climate scientist Michael Mann – a member at large of AAAS’s atmospheric sciences division but not a member of the new climate panel — lauded the initiative. “AAAS is the largest non-governmental scientific membership body in the world, so them taking such an affirmative role in the societal debate over climate change, and what to do about it, is significant,” Mann told Grist.

“The crux of the matter is that, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that exists that, (a) climate change is real, (b) it is caused by us, and (c) it poses a grave threat to society if we do nothing about it, the public still thinks that there is a ‘debate’ on each of those elements,” Mann said.

Insect learns to love genetically engineered corn designed to kill it

By Mark Frauenfelder
Seed companies and farmers didn't follow scientists' recommendations about growing a type of corn that had been genetically engineered to produce its own pesticide, and now the beetle they were battling has developed an immunity to the corn and is gorging on it with abandon. This type of corn (Bt corn) accounts for three-quarters of all corn grown in the US.
By the turn of the millennium, however, scientists who study the evolution of insecticide resistance were warning of imminent problems. Any rootworm that could survive Bt exposures would have a wide-open field in which to reproduce; unless the crop was carefully managed, resistance would quickly emerge.

. . .

But the scientists’ own recommendations — an advisory panel convened in 2002 by the EPA suggested that a full 50 percent of each corn farmer’s fields be devoted to these non-Bt refuges — were resisted by seed companies and eventually the EPA itself, which set voluntary refuge guidelines at between 5 and 20 percent. Many farmers didn’t even follow those recommendations.

Science and Health
Fierce 2012 magnetic storm just missed us: Earth dodged huge magnetic bullet from the sun

By (ScienceDaily)
. . .

According to University of California, Berkeley, and Chinese researchers, a rapid succession of coronal mass ejections -- the most intense eruptions on the sun -- sent a pulse of magnetized plasma barreling into space and through Earth's orbit. Had the eruption come nine days earlier, it would have hit Earth, potentially wreaking havoc with the electrical grid, disabling satellites and GPS, and disrupting our increasingly electronic lives.

. . .

The researchers determined that the huge outburst resulted from at least two nearly simultaneous coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which typically release energies equivalent to that of about a billion hydrogen bombs. The speed with which the magnetic cloud plowed through the solar wind was so high, they concluded, because another mass ejection four days earlier had cleared the path of material that would have slowed it down.

. . .

One reason the event was potentially so dangerous, aside from its high speed, is that it produced a very long-duration, southward-oriented magnetic field, Luhmann said. This orientation drives the largest magnetic storms when they hit Earth because the southward field merges violently with Earth's northward field in a process called reconnection. Storms that normally might dump their energy only at the poles instead dump it into the radiation belts, ionosphere and upper atmosphere and create auroras down to the tropics.

Strongest evidence yet of two distinct human cognitive systems

By (ScienceDaily)
. . .

The age-old question of whether humans have discrete cognitive systems operating on different levels that are more or less conscious, more or less available to introspection, and so forth, has been debated for years.

. . .

"For instance, when you select a cereal named 'Chocoholic' from the store shelf," he says, "consider why you are doing so. Is it a deliberate, explicit choice, or is it possibly an implicit-procedural chocolate reaction, one triggered by processes, memories and so on, of which you are generally unaware?"

. . .

Smith et al. even found that, facing a task that could only be learned implicitly, participants with blocked feedback turned futilely to conscious strategies that were inadequate, because this was all they could do when implicit category learning was defeated.

. . .

Smith says it is fascinating to consider where in cognitive evolution the roots of the explicit-declarative categorization system lie. He and his colleagues have found the beginnings of this system in non-human primates like rhesus macaques and capuchin monkeys. Interestingly, though, thus far pigeons have shown no evidence of having distinguishable explicit and implicit systems.

90 million older U.S. adults may be able dump reading glasses

By (UPI)
Uri Polat of the Eye Institute at Tel Aviv University in Israel and colleagues explained presbyopia causes vision to degrade with age, affecting virtually everyone more than 50 years of age. It has multiple negative effects on the quality of vision and the quality of life, due to limitations on daily activities such as reading, sewing or working on the computer.

A pair of reading glasses are usually the treatment for presbyopia and laser surgery is also an option, but Polat and colleagues demonstrated perceptual learning -- repeated practice on a demanding visual task -- resulted in improved visual performance in presbyopes, enabling them to overcome and/or delay some of the disabilities imposed by the aging eye.

. . .

Due to the limitations of the study and the lack of randomization, the researchers suggested a large randomized trial might be useful to confirm the benefits.

Gut bacteria turn dark chocolate 'healthy'

By Michelle Roberts
Bacteria in our stomach ferment chocolate into useful anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for the heart, scientists have said.

. . .

The scientists believe adding fruit to chocolate could boost the fermentation.

. . .

Meanwhile, the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute plans a big trial of a chocolate pill for heart disease.

. . .

Christopher Allen, of the British Heart Foundation, said: "Though flavanols are found in dark chocolate, this doesn't mean we can reach for a chocolate bar and think we're helping our hearts. Flavanols are often destroyed by processing and by the time a chocolate bar lands on the supermarket shelf it will also contain added extras such as sugar and fat."

Hungarian law bans photos taken without consent

By David Schloss
. . . a new law in Hungary that took effect on March 15th will make it illegal to take a photograph of someone without their express permission.  

The new civil code covers anyone in the frame, which means that in theory, photographers will have to seek permission from anyone in the foreground or background whether they are the subject or they are incidental to the shot, as long as they are identifiable in the photo.

. . .

Perhaps the biggest problem is the potential for a crackdown on reportage in the country, since in theory under the new law it would be legal for police or other security officers to prevent photography where non-approved subjects might be included. Imagine a protest where photographers have their gear confiscated by police because they're violating this civil code, and you can see why the law has Hungarian photographers upset.

NY Is Cracking Down on High Frequency Trading Tech That Runs the NYSE

By Robert Sorokanich
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman vowed today to crack down on the technology that gives high frequency traders an unfair advantage in the market. And that's a very good thing for regular humans with money in the marketplace.

Attorney General Schneiderman specifies some of the services that trading venues offer high speed trading organizations. Some exchanges offer co-location, letting high-frequency traders house their computer servers in the same facility as the trading venue. Others provide extra bandwidth, ultra-fast connections, or dedicated high-speed switches. All of this comes with an exorbitant price tag, and good luck trying to get yourself or your stock broker in on the game.

. . .

It's not just an unfair advantage for high frequency trading houses. These systems perform far too many transactions far too fast for any human to monitor, meaning the market can plunge maniacally before anyone takes notice. The textbook example was the "flash crash," where automated trading drove the Down Jones down 600 points in six minutes, the biggest one-day drop in the market's history.

. . .

Bloomberg reports that Schneiderman's office is in discussions with Nasdaq and NYSE executives. The attorney general's staff is also investigating "dark pools," the less-regulated private trading venues where large investors conceal their trading from parasitic traders.

Robot writes LA Times earthquake breaking news article

By (BBC)
The Los Angeles Times was the first newspaper to publish a story about an earthquake on Monday - thanks to a robot writer.

Journalist and programmer Ken Schwencke created an algorithm that automatically generates a short article when an earthquake occurs.

. . .

Other news organisations have experimented with algorithm-based reporting methods in other areas, particularly sports.

The generated story does not replace the journalist, Mr Schwencke argued, but instead allows available data to be quickly gathered and disseminated.

Cairo University chief blames woman's dress for sexual harassment

By Patrick Kingsley
The head of Egypt's leading state university has provoked furious condemnation for claiming that an on-campus sexual harassment case was the fault of its female victim, and saying that she may be punished.

. . .

Nasser told OnTV, a private Egyptian network: "The girl took off her abaya inside the university and appeared with those clothes – which was a reason for what happened … we don't require a uniform here but clothes should be within the tradition of our society."

. . .

Although Nasser said that the incident was a one-off, sexual harassment is endemic throughout Egyptian society. In the past 18 months many more people have begun to mobilise against it, but sexual harassment still remains an accepted part of Egyptian life. According to a UN survey, 99.3% of Egyptian women reported being sexually harassed, with 91% saying they felt insecure in the street as a result.

Women are frequently blamed for harassment, while the crime is not properly defined under Egyptian law, which makes prosecuting perpetrators difficult. When women try to file complaints under more general harassment and assault laws, their cases are not taken seriously by police, and only there have only been a handful of convictions.

Michelle Obama's visit to China will highlight contrast in styles of first ladies

By Jonathan Kaiman
. . . when Michelle Obama, 50, arrives in China on Thursday to meet her 51-year-old Chinese counterpart Peng Liyuan, the two will also make a fascinating study in contrasts. If Obama's narrative is one of resilience, Peng's is one of restraint. While Obama's celebrity is a time-honoured tradition, Peng's is an uncomfortable experiment, a near-unprecedented PR move by a notoriously stern-faced regime.

. . . Obama's personal narrative – one of "someone [from] a disadvantaged economic background from a minority group" making it to the top – would send a powerful message on its own, Rhodes said. "That alone I think speaks to things like respect for human rights that are interwoven into the DNA of the US."

Peng scaled the heights of fame long before her husband, President Xi Jinping. She spent two decades as a nationally renowned folksinger, known for belting out patriotic tunes on elaborate television specials. She began to dodge the limelight in 2007, to give precedence to Xi's political career.

. . .

While Sasha and Malia Obama frequently appear in the US press, Peng's 21-year-old daughter Xi Mingze, who pseudonymously enrolled at Harvard University in 2010, is shrouded in a cloak of official secrecy. Even the notoriously prying Mail on Sunday was unable to discover much about her in a 2012 profile – "she's a bookworm, very quiet and studious", an acquaintance told the paper. She's under constant protection by bodyguards, and she rarely parties.

. . .

"In the US, women enjoy equal rights as men in politics," said Shen Dingli, a professor of international relations at Fudan University in Shanghai. "But in Chinese traditional culture, we have a saying: 'a woman without talent is virtuous'." While female Chinese business leaders are common, he said, women barely appear at the highest levels of the country's political elite – only two rank among its 25 top officials.

How Ben & Jerry's brought maverick ideas to mainstream business

By Brad Edmondson
The story behind Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream and its 35-year struggle to achieve "linked prosperity" started with a simple but radical idea that everyone and everything the company touched should benefit from its profits. The sale of the ice cream makers to Unilever in 2000 therefore was a surprise twist to those who knew the two founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield.

. . .

Ben & Jerry's was among the first to adopt progressive management practices that are now well known. In 1991, it was probably the first publicly traded company to offer benefits to the same-sex partners of employees. In the mid-1990s, it introduced social auditing to American business. It financed a campaign against bovine growth hormone that saved countless family farms. And because they were first, Ben & Jerry's did these things the hard way.

. . .

Cohen was under incredible pressure to sell. But as the clock ticked, he kept pushing for specific, enforceable contract provisions. In the sale agreements, Unilever gives the independent board the right to veto changes in ingredients, new products, and marketing materials. Unilever agrees to fund an independently audited annual report of Ben & Jerry's social performance. It gives the independent board the lead role in designing Ben & Jerry's social mission activities. It agrees to pay all Ben & Jerry's employees a living wage, and it gives board members the power to sue, at Unilever's expense, if that promise is ever broken. It also agrees to spend significant sums on the social mission, to continue making extremely generous annual contributions to the Ben & Jerry's Foundation, to increase these budget lines as the company's sales increase, and to keep these promises forever. The agreement has lots of numbers in it, and it runs well over 70 pages, and that is mostly because of Cohen.

. . .

Today, although the relationship between the two companies is far from perfect, Ben & Jerry's has become a global leader in corporate social responsibility. All of the ingredients the company uses are fairly traded and free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Its dairy farmers follow strict environmental standards that get stricter every year, with Ben & Jerry's helping the farmers cover the cost of meeting these standards. The movement for marriage equality, which Ben & Jerry's helped start, now seems unstoppable in the US.

The growth of gay retirement homes

By Aidan Lewis
As gay rights advance across the US, there is one group that feels it has long been neglected and isolated - the elderly. But that may now be changing, with a series of retirement housing projects opening to serve the gay community.

. . .

A number of commercial, market-rate projects succumbed to the financial crisis, but there are now three affordable or low-income housing developments that cater to gay retirees in the US. The first, Triangle Square, opened in Hollywood in 2007, shortly before the recession. Spirit on Lake eventually followed last year, and the John C Anderson apartments in Philadelphia received its first residents in January. Three other blocks are scheduled to open in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago this year and next.

. . .

"If you think about the folks who supported a whole society that was extremely discriminatory, that is the population that is in the nursing homes now," says Worthington, citing the case of a lesbian couple in Oregon who were told they would have to pretend to be sisters if they moved into a retirement home.

. . .

While campaigners have focused on issues including gay marriage and rights in the workplace, the elderly LGBT community feel their concerns have often been ignored. That's especially true for gay men, says Quail. "It's a very ageist community. It's better to be young and pretty, and I'm not either."

. . .

Whereas the those already in their 70s or 80s may have lived in relative isolation, "the baby boomers have lived more openly and they expect to be treated with respect and they will push for it".

India: Widows break with tradition and celebrate Holi

By (BBC)
Widows in the Indian city of Vrindavan are joining in the city's colourful celebration of the springtime festival Holi for the first time, it appears.

. . .

"I held a pichkaari [water gun] today after years. I just didn't want to stop," says Kakoli Mundal, a widow originally from the state of Bengal. Vrindavan is considered to be a holy city in India and attracts many widows. But they are often marginalised in Indian society, and do not traditionally participate in the festival.

. . .

Holi is a festival of colours that marks the beginning of spring, and is associated with the Hindu god Krishna.

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