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Welcome to the Overnight News Digest (OND) for Tuesday, April 15, 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: In The Aeroplane Over The Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel

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
Air pollution over Asia influences global weather and makes Pacific storms more intense

By (ScienceDaily)
In the first study of its kind, scientists have compared air pollution rates from 1850 to 2000 and found that anthropogenic (human-made) particles from Asia impact the Pacific storm track that can influence weather over much of the world.

. . .

"The climate model is quite clear on this point. The aerosols formed by human activities from fast-growing Asian economies do impact storm formation and global air circulation downstream. They tend to make storms deeper and stronger and more intense, and these storms also have more precipitation in them. We believe this is the first time that a study has provided such a global perspective."

. . .

The Pacific storm track represents a critical driver in the general global circulation by transporting heat and moisture, the team notes. The transfer of heat and moisture appears to be increased over the storm track downstream, meaning that the Pacific storm track is intensified because of the Asian air pollution outflow.

"Our results support previous findings that show that particles in the air over Asia tend to affect global weather patterns," Zhang adds.

Food banks see 'shocking' rise in number of users

By Brian Milligan
. . .

The Trussell Trust said a third were given to repeat visitors but that there was a "shocking" 51% rise in clients to established food banks. It said benefit payment delays were the main cause.

. . .

The government said there was no evidence of a link between welfare reforms and the use of food banks.

. . .

Some 83% of food banks reported that benefits sanctions - when payments are temporarily stopped - had resulted in more people being referred for emergency food.

. . .

The clergy from all major dominations, who include Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan and several senior Church of England bishops, describe the increase in the use of Trussell Trust food banks as "terrible", in a letter to the government.

. . .

"There is no robust evidence that welfare reforms or benefit administration are linked to increased use of food banks," said a spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

New York police scrap Muslim spy unit

By (Al Jazeera)
New York's police department has disbanded an undercover spying operation against Muslims which rights groups said was baseless and unfairly targeted people solely because of their religion.

Civil liberty groups on Wednesday welcomed the disbandment of the "Demographics Unit" while the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, said the disbandment would allow police more opportunity to "go after the real bad guys".

. . .

"In the future, we will gather that information, if necessary, through direct contact between the police precincts and the representatives of the communities they serve."

Police officials and the former New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who left office in January, had defended the programme as vital to anti-terrorism efforts.

Mayor De Blasio, who criticised the unit while running for office, said the disbandment was a "critical step forward in easing tensions between the police and the communities they serve, so that our cops and our citizens can help one another go after the real bad guys.''

Chinese growth slowest for 24 years

By (
China's annual economic growth slowed to its lowest for nearly a quarter of a century between January and March to 7.4% from 7.7% in the previous three months.

Although it beat market expectations for growth of 7.3%, the data released on Wednesday will add to concerns that China's powerhouse growth is easing off.

. . .

Beijing is trying to guide China to slower, more sustainable growth based on domestic consumption rather than trade and investment following a decade of explosive expansion.

Abu Ghraib prison is closed, Iraq says

By Ed Adamczyk
Abu Ghraib prison on Baghdad’s outskirts, site of a notorious prisoner abuse scandal, is closed because of fears it could be overrun by Sunni insurgents, the Iraq government said Tuesday.

. . .

The prison has a long history of abuse, under Saddam Hussein, during the occupation of Iraq by U.S. troops, and, human rights advocates say, under the present leadership. Critics accuse Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki with filling prisons, including Abu Ghraib, with young Sunni men -- many, advocates claim, are innocent of insurgency.

. . .

It is unclear if Abu Ghraib has been permanently closed, or if prisoners will return if the Sunni uprising is suppressed.

The EU hesitates to act over Ukraine

By Paul Ames
. . .
On Monday, foreign ministers from the 28 European Union countries filed out of a day-long meeting in Luxembourg to assure journalists that the bloc's position was "clear" and "strong" in response to the takeover of government buildings in several Ukrainian cities by armed units loyal to Russia.

. . .

Despite condemning Russia's actions, Fogh Rasmussen again stressed that NATO has no plans for any military intervention to defend Ukraine.

Instead, the alliance is working on strengthening the defenses of its eastern members, particularly Poland, Romania and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. They are all concerned spillover from the Ukraine crisis could threaten their territory.

. . .

Divisions with Europe are also holding back economic sanctions that could inflict real pain on Russia's already struggling economy by cutting off access to Western financial markets, curtailing energy exports that keep the state budget afloat, or restricting Russian arms sales.

USA Politics, Economy, Major Events
Mary Fallin signs ban on minimum wage increase in Oklahoma

By JC Sevcik
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) signed a bill into law Monday that passes a statewide ban on raising the minimum wage and prohibits cities from legislating to establish mandatory employee benefits like vacations or sick leave.

. . .

Fallen said, "Mandating an increase in the minimum wage would require businesses to fire many of those part-time workers. It would create a hardship for small business owners, stifle job creation and increase costs for consumers.”

"And it would do all of these things without even addressing the goal of reducing poverty,” she added.

But a major paper published last year, covered by the Washington Post found that economists agree that raising the minimum wage actually reduces poverty.

The U.S. Government: Paying to Undermine Internet Security, Not to Fix It

By Julia Angwin
. . .

The United States spends more than $50 billion a year on spying and intelligence, while the folks who build important defense software — in this case a program called OpenSSL that ensures that your connection to a website is encrypted — are four core programmers, only one of whom calls it a full-time job.

In a typical year, the foundation that supports OpenSSL receives just $2,000 in donations. The programmers have to rely on consulting gigs to pay for their work. "There should be at least a half dozen full time OpenSSL team members, not just one, able to concentrate on the care and feeding of OpenSSL without having to hustle commercial work," says Steve Marquess, who raises money for the project.

Is it any wonder that this Heartbleed bug slipped through the cracks?

. . .

The federal government spent at least $65 billion between 2006 and 2012 to secure its own networks, according to a February report from the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. And many critical parts of the private sector — such as nuclear reactors and banking — follow sector-specific cybersecurity regulations.

But private industry has also failed to fund its critical tools. As cryptographer Matthew Green says, "Maybe in the midst of patching their servers, some of the big companies that use OpenSSL will think of tossing them some real no-strings-attached funding so they can keep doing their job."

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:
. . .

Soon after the celebrated release and tour behind Neutral Milk Hotel's last album, In the Aeroplane over the Sea , Mangum seemed not only to have ducked the spotlight, but perhaps to have stepped inadvertently into some negative-matter black hole. Those of us here in Athens, Georgia knew he was hanging out with friends, shooting the shit and pursuing odd and sundry projects the way most of us do. Yet, to the bulk of his admirers, Mangum's movements remained a mystery. The Internet buzzed with queries and speculations from curious and concerned fans, but Mangum remained doggedly elusive to the public eye. This is the first interview he has consented to in more than three years.

Neutral Milk Hotel, composed of Mangum, Julian Koster, Jeremy Barnes and Scott Spillane, had already accumulated a large following by the time In the Aeroplane over the Sea , their second album, was released in late 1997. But Aeroplane elicited a response from listeners that made a palpable wave in the music world. The album inspired a profound emotional response in people; many a cynical music critic wrote of being moved to tears by its baroque beauty and raw honesty.

. . .

Pitchfork: You said you went through a time when you weren't writing, or felt like you couldn't sing anymore.

Jeff: I went through a period, after Aeroplane , when a lot of the basic assumptions I held about reality started crumbling. I think that before then, I had an intuitive innocence that guided me and that was a very good thing to a certain point. But then I realized that, to a large degree, I had kept my rational mind at bay my whole life. I just acted on intuition in terms of how I related to life. At some point, my rational mind started creeping in, and it would not shut up. I finally had to address it and confront it. I think most intelligent people, at a younger age than I have, begin to question some of the fundamental assumptions our society promotes. But me, I just rejected it without even considering it.

I feel like we're so limited by the context at which we look at life. The way we look at who we're supposed to be and how we're supposed to love... everything. I feel like that, in and of itself, is a project of a lifetime: the problem of how to break out of the limiting context that is imposed upon us by the educational system, by the church, by our parents... As a kid I rejected it without even thinking about it. Now that I'm a little older, I see how deeply destructive it really is. Even our concepts about romantic love, I think, are destructive; treating people as property is destructive; being jealous of other people is destructive. You know, being jealous is a perfectly natural thing to feel, so it's not about suppressing jealousy, but learning to come to terms with it and to recognize its destructiveness and then to transform it. I'm not saying that I've overcome anything, but I've definitely seen the blinding truth of how imperative it is that we have to overcome these problems.

Back to what's happening:
Environment and Greening
Why It's a Big Deal That Half of the Great Lakes Are Still Covered in Ice

By Stephanie Garlock
Over the winter, as polar vortices plunged the US Midwest into weeks of unceasing cold, the icy covers of the Great Lakes started to make headlines. With almost 96 percent of Lake Superior's 32,000 miles encased in ice at the season's peak, tens of thousands of tourists flocked to the ice caves along the Wisconsin shoreline, suddenly accessible after four years of relatively warmer wintery conditions.

. . .

And as the Great Lakes slowly lose their historically large ice covers over the next few months, the domino effects could include lingering cold water, delayed seasonal shifts, and huge jumps in water levels.

. . .

More than 200 million tons of cargo, mostly iron ore, coal, and grain, travel across the Great Lakes throughout the year. Even a little ice can make a big dent on this total. Only three shipments of coal were loaded up during March–69 percent less, by volume, than last year. Shipments of iron ore from the northern reaches of Minnesota were so low that the US Steel plant in Gary, Indiana, had to scale back production significantly in early April.

. . .

Though water level changes even over a several year period are normal, the rebound from record-low water levels is going to be a relief from the hand-wringing of the last few years. But it will likely be a temporary one. A hot summer with little precipitation could mute the effects of the icy winter. And, even if the lakes have more water this year, 2014 could be nothing more than a blip as climate change continues to wreak havoc. "We don't know, as this winter really exemplified, what's going to happen," Gronewold says. "If we're going to have three more severe winters, or flip back to three more winters like we've had the past few years."

In fight for gender equality in Africa, clean water plays a key role

By Olga Khvan
An average woman in Africa spends about 60 percent of her day fetching water for her household. The chore not only forces women to walk miles to the nearest water source—which is highly likely to be contaminated—but it also prevents them from using that time to pursue educational or job opportunities instead.

Providing better access to clean water, therefore, can result not only in improved health, but also in gender equality, according to Saran Kaba Jones, the founder and executive director of FACE Africa, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit dedicated to improving water quality in remote parts of the continent.

. . .

“Our upbringing teaches us that women have to take the backseat,” said panelist Agatha Amata, the CEO of Nigeria-based Inside Out Media, a production company that offers documentaries, talk shows, dramas and other media-related services. “That is the African upbringing, but it’s changing very quickly.”

. . .

FACE Africa, in fact, started out as an education initiative, but its mission changed once Jones realized that access to education was majorly inhibited by lack of access to clean drinking water. Since 2009, the organization has funded and supported water, sanitation and hygiene projects in rural Liberia that have benefitted more than 10,000 people with the help of partners like Chevron, the Voss Foundation, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, Chase Community Giving and more.

Science and Health
We're over the hill at 24, study says

By (ScienceDaily)
It's a hard pill to swallow, but if you're over 24 years of age you've already reached your peak in terms of your cognitive motor performance, according to a new Simon Fraser University study.

. . .

"After around 24 years of age, players show slowing in a measure of cognitive speed that is known to be important for performance," explains Thompson, the lead author of the study, which is his thesis. "This cognitive performance decline is present even at higher levels of skill."

. . .

The findings, says Thompson, suggest "that our cognitive-motor capacities are not stable across our adulthood, but are constantly in flux, and that our day-to-day performance is a result of the constant interplay between change and adaptation."

Thompson says this study doesn't inform us about how our increasingly distracting computerized world may ultimately affect our use of adaptive behaviors to compensate for declining cognitive motor skills.

Despite the Risks, and Because of Them, the FDA Should Permit Recycling Medical Implants

By Arthur L. Caplan
. . .

In his spare time the good doctor calls funeral homes to see if anyone with a pacemaker has died. He asks the deceased relatives for permission to take the device before burial or cremation, removes it, cleans it, checks the remaining battery life and then finds someone who is heading to India to smuggle the soon-to-be recycled devices into that country.

Why is what he is doing illegal? Shouldn't it be a standard part of health care to reuse any and all medical devices obtainable from the dead either in this country or overseas?

Well, it is true that medical equipment companies are not thrilled about reusing expensive medical equipment. Selling you a new one is more profitable then recycling a used one. Still, when it comes to products such as automobiles, vacuum cleaners, houses and furniture, there are plenty of customers for previously used, older things. Why not pacemakers and other medical equipment?

The answer is risk. Americans won't accept more than a tiny iota of risk in their medicines and medical devices. Reused pacemakers carry very real risks of transmitting infections or of failing for various reasons connected to cleaning and reusing them. We won't put up with that and have told the FDA, through our legislators, not to do that.

Google applies for contact lens camera patent

By Lars Rehm
. . .

In January Google announced its smart contact lens project and now has filed a patent application for a micro camera module to go inside the smart lenses. The application describes how the lenses could use two or more cameras to help people with vision deficiencies cross a street safely by analyzing image data of oncoming obstacles. The data could also be used to send an audio alert to a smartphone to indicate when it's safe to cross.

While the potential medical applications of the patent are certainly very welcome, there is no doubt the ability to take pictures of an object or person simply by looking at them will raise privacy concerns if the concept ever turned into a consumer product. . .

The Limits of Social Engineering

By Nicholas Carr
. . .

One of big data’s keenest advocates is Alex “Sandy” Pentland, a data scientist who, as the director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, has long used computers to study the behavior of businesses and other organizations. In his brief but ambitious new book, Social Physics, Pentland argues that our greatly expanded ability to gather behavioral data will allow scientists to develop “a causal theory of social structure” and ultimately establish “a mathematical explanation for why society reacts as it does” in all manner of circumstances. As the book’s title makes clear, Pentland thinks that the social world, no less than the material world, operates according to rules. There are “statistical regularities within human movement and communication,” he writes, and once we fully understand those regularities, we’ll discover “the basic mechanisms of social interactions.”

. . .

What’s prevented us from deciphering society’s mathematical underpinnings up to now, Pentland believes, is a lack of empirical rigor in the social sciences. Unlike physicists, who can measure the movements of objects with great precision, sociologists have had to make do with fuzzy observations. They’ve had to work with rough and incomplete data sets drawn from small samples of the population, and they’ve had to rely on people’s notoriously flawed recollections of what they did, when they did it, and whom they did it with. Computer networks promise to remedy those shortcomings. Tapping into the streams of data that flow through gadgets, search engines, social media, and credit card payment systems, scientists will be able to collect precise, real-time information on the behavior of millions, if not billions, of individuals. And because computers neither forget nor fib, the information will be reliable.

. . .

Even if we assume that the privacy issues can be resolved, the idea of what Pentland calls a “data-driven society” remains problematic. Social physics is a variation on the theory of behavioralism that found favor in McLuhan’s day, and it suffers from the same limitations that doomed its predecessor. Defining social relations as a pattern of stimulus and response makes the math easier, but it ignores the deep, structural sources of social ills. Pentland may be right that our behavior is determined largely by social norms and the influences of our peers, but what he fails to see is that those norms and influences are themselves shaped by history, politics, and economics, not to mention power and prejudice. People don’t have complete freedom in choosing their peer groups. Their choices are constrained by where they live, where they come from, how much money they have, and what they look like. A statistical model of society that ignores issues of class, that takes patterns of influence as givens rather than as historical contingencies, will tend to perpetuate existing social structures and dynamics. It will encourage us to optimize the status quo rather than challenge it.

How the Source Family Turned "Sex, Drugs, and Rock n' Roll" Into a Cult

By Mario Aguilar
It's been nearly 40 years since Jim Baker died after diving off a cliff in Hawaii, but members of the utopian community he founded still call him Father. In recent years, they've gone about resurrecting the memory of the cult, and its weird philosophy which melded the decadence of 1960s pop culture with weird spirituality.

Like a long-forgotten band, the Source Family, and the experiment's leader have seen a renaissance in recent years. In 2007, Isis Aquarian, who still uses her cult-given pseudonym, published a history of the group, complete with loads of photos, newspaper clippings, and a bundled CD containing music recorded by the cult's official band, Yahowha 13. Since then, the band has gotten back together, and last year the community was the subject of a documentary that feels more like a rock n' roll history than the story of the rise and fall of a utopian dream. In large measure, that's because of the sheer volume of archival footage and photos shot at Baker's command. (The Source Family documentary is currently available for free to Amazon Prime subscribers or for a $5 HD rental.)

. . .

But what I find more interesting is Yahowa 13, the Source Family's psychedelic rock band, which churned out nine records of free-wheeling sonic experimentation—not to mention endless reels of improvised madness. Told in general terms, you'd have trouble distinguishing the cult of Jim Baker from the cult of any rock star. He was a talented and charismatic megalomaniac who cultivated a legion of young groupies that followed him around. They all do a bunch of drugs, have crazy sex, and roll around in his money.

Even Baker's death sounds like the work of a reckless rock star at the end of his chain. After feeling increasing external pressure from Californians worried they might have another Manson Family on their hands, the Source Family abandoned their restaurant in 1974 and moved to Hawaii where Baker's hold on the community started to unravel. On August 25, 1975, Ya Ho Wa lead his followers up a hill, where they all watched him dive off a cliff on hang-glider. He had no idea what he was doing, and crashed onto the beach below. Nine hours later, Baker died and without him, the group he assembled couldn't sustain itself.

Syria crisis: Uplifting letters of hope

By Tom Heyden
Young Somali refugees living in the world's largest refugee camp, in Kenya, have sent letters of encouragement to Syrian refugee children who have also had to flee their homeland.

. . .

Care International, the aid agency that provides many basic services at the camp, organised the pen pal exchange and delivered the handwritten letters to Syrian children at the Refugee Assistance Centre in Amman, Jordan.

They offer messages of solidarity, encouragement and advice to their "dear brothers and sisters".

Indian media: Controversial book

By (BBC)
. . .

Former coal secretary PC Parakh, in his book Crusader or Conspirator? Coalgate and other Truths, gives some intricate details on a scam related to allocation of coal fields, reports say.

According to state auditors, India suffered losses worth $33bn (£20bn) by allotting coalfields at below-market rates in the years up to 2009, making it one of the biggest scams to afflict the country.

. . .

The release of the two books has given "ammunition" to the main opposition Bharatiya Janta Party to attack the Congress amid the ongoing elections, the India Today website says.

The BJP has demanded answers from the Congress party and the Gandhi family over the allegations in the two books, The Indian Express reports.

Indian transgenders granted legal status

By (Al Jazeera)
India's highest court has recognised the existence of a third gender that is neither male nor female in a landmark judgement hailed by the transgender community.

. . .

"Transgenders are citizens of this country and are entitled to education and all other rights," said Radhakrishnan, who headed a two-judge bench on the case.

The case was filed in 2012 by a group of petitioners including prominent eunuch and activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi seeking equal rights for the transgender population under the law.

. . .

The decision comes after the same court last December reinstated a ban on gay sex, in a shock ruling that sparked accusations it was dragging the country back to the 19th century.

Meteor Blades is known to offer an enlightening Evening Open Diary - you might consider checking that out tonight if you haven't already.
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