Special thanks go to Magnifico for starting this venerable series.
Lead Off Story
Ukraine President 'Agrees Truce' With Opposition
Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych says he has agreed a truce with opposition leaders, after at least 26 people died in protests this week.
A statement on the presidential website said they had agreed to start "negotiations" aimed at ending the bloodshed of the last two days.
They also agreed to try to stabilise "the situation in the state in the interests of social peace".
Earlier today, the president sacked the head of the armed forces.
No reason was given for the dismissal of Col Gen Volodymyr Zamana, who was replaced by the commander of Ukraine's navy, Admiral Yuriy Ilyin, by presidential decree.
Venezuela Opposition Leader Leopoldo Lopez Surrenders, Urges Protests
Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez turned himself in to authorities Tuesday to face what he calls trumped-up homicide charges, after urging supporters to stay in the streets and protest peacefully against the government.
Lopez is accused in the deaths of three people during a Feb. 12 demonstration against government inaction over soaring crime and inflation rates. Clashes between the protesters and government supporters left the three dead and more than 60 injured, with each side blaming the other.
Lopez's arrest was called baseless by human rights groups and some government figures. Disturbances were reported Tuesday in parts of Caracas, the capital, and other cities, including the northern industrial town of Maracay.
Speaking to supporters in the capital, Lopez said he would not flee Venezuela or go into hiding "because it would show we have something to hide."
Rather, he said he had decided to give himself up to "a corrupt justice system" and continue the fight for political change.
The Hellish Descent Of The Central African Republic
An escalating cycle of bloodshed has left tens of thousands dead and entire communities displaced in the Central African Republic. Peacekeeping forces have so far failed to stop the terror.
The death records of the Bangui morgue in the Central African Republic read like a chapter out of Dante’s Inferno: page after page of people killed by machetes, torture, lynchings, shootings, explosions and burning. The overwhelming stench makes it impossible to stay there for long. On really bad days only the number of dead is recorded – not their names nor the causes of death – before the bodies are buried in mass graves.
The morgue is a terrible symbol of the toll of communal violence in the Central African Republic (CAR), which has raged for months and claimed tens of thousands of lives, displacing even more. Recently, the Séléka, a predominantly Muslim group of fighters that seized Bangui, the capital, and toppled the CAR’s government in early 2013, have lost some ground – although they continue to terrorise wherever possible. In response Christian forces known as anti-balaka (balaka means ‘machete’ in Sango, the local language) have stepped up attacks against Muslim civilians in places where the Séléka no longer holds the sway it did a few months ago.
In hopes of quelling the situation, international peacekeeping forces are now in the country, and a new president, Catherine Samba-Panza – a former mayor of Bangui nicknamed Madame Courage –was installed in mid-January. She has promised that the country’s security forces will be reorganised to protect Muslims as well as Christians. But so far the violence has continued unabated. On January 29 two Muslim men were hacked to death and their bodies mutilated near Bangui’s international airport as onlookers cheered and filmed the scene.
U.S. Military Denounces Afghanistan’s Planned Release Of More Prisoners
American military officials in Afghanistan complained on Tuesday that Afghan authorities had ordered the release of more prisoners whom the Americans consider to be dangerous insurgents, and said their release would violate agreements between the Afghan and American governments.
The contentious releases, and the unusually public campaign being waged against them by the American military, are indications that the two countries have concluded that they cannot quietly resolve their major differences over the issue.
Sixty-five detainees now have release orders, out of a group of 88 still held at the former American military prison at Bagram, the American military said it had learned, according to a statement sent to reporters.
None of the 65 had been released by Tuesday evening, but Abdul Shakor Dadras, who signed the release orders, said that all 65 were ready to be freed “within a couple of days.” Mr. Dadras is the head of an Afghan government board examining the detainees’ cases.
An American military spokesman, Lt. Col. William Griffin, said “there certainly is a possibility” that the 65 would be released soon. “It could happen at any time. Unfortunately, that appears to be the case.”
Native Americans Vow A Last Stand To Block Keystone XL Pipeline
Faith Spotted Eagle figures that building a crude oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast would bring little to Indian Country besides more crime and dirty water, but she doubts that Native Americans will ever get the U.S. government to block the $7 billion project.
“There is no way for Native people to say no – there never has been,” said Spotted Eagle, 65, a Yankton Sioux tribal elder from Lake Andes, S.D. “Our history has caused us not to be optimistic. . . . When you have capitalism, you have to have an underclass – and we’re the underclass.”
Opponents may be down after a State Department study found that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would not contribute to global warming. But they haven’t abandoned their goal of killing what some call “the black snake.”
In South Dakota, home to some of the nation’s poorest American Indians, tribes are busy preparing for nonviolent battle with “resistance training” aimed at TransCanada, the company that wants to develop the 1,700-mile pipeline. While organizers said they want to keep their strategy a secret, they’re considering everything from vigils to civil disobedience to blockades to thwart the moving of construction equipment and the delivery of materials.
“We’re going to do everything we possibly can,” said Greg Grey Cloud of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, who attended a two-day conference and training session in Rapid City last week sponsored by the Oglala Sioux Tribe called “Help Save Mother Earth from the Keystone Pipeline.” He said tribes are considering setting up encampments to follow the construction, but he stressed that any actions would be peaceful. “We’re not going to damage anything or riot or anything like that,” he said.
Science and Technology
Clouds Seen Circling Supermassive Black Hole
Astronomers see huge clouds of gas orbiting supermassive black holes at the centres of galaxies. Once thought to be a relatively uniform, fog-like ring, the accreting matter instead forms clumps dense enough to intermittently dim the intense radiation blazing forth as these enormous objects condense and consume matter.
The international team reports their sightings in a paper to be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Evidence for the clouds comes from records collected over 16 years by NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, a satellite in low-earth orbit equipped with instruments that measured variations in X-ray sources. Those sources include active galactic nuclei, brilliantly luminous objects powered by supermassive black holes as they gather and condense huge quantities of dust and gas.
By sifting through records for 55 active galactic nuclei Alex Markowitz, an astrophysicist at the University of California, San Diego and the Karl Remeis Observatory in Bamberg, Germany and colleagues found a dozen instances when the X-ray signal dimmed for periods of time ranging from hours to years, presumably when a cloud of dense gas passed between the source and satellite.
The clouds they observed orbit a few light-weeks to a few light-years from the centre of the active galactic nuclei. One, in a spiral galaxy in the direction of the constellation Centaurus designated NGC 3783, appeared to be in the midst of being torn apart by tidal forces.
Neonicotinoid clothianidin adversely affects insect immunity
and promotes replication of a viral pathogen in honey bees
Large-scale losses of honey bee colonies represent a poorly understood problem of global importance. Both biotic and abiotic factors are involved in this phenomenon that is often associated with high loads of parasites and pathogens. A stronger impact of pathogens in honey bees exposed to neonicotinoid insecticides has been reported, but the causal link between insecticide exposure and the possible immune alteration of honey bees remains elusive. Here, we demonstrate that the neonicotinoid insecticide clothianidin negatively modulates NF-κB immune signaling in insects and adversely affects honey bee antiviral defenses controlled by this transcription factor. We have identified in insects a negative modulator of NF-κB activation, which is a leucine-rich repeat protein. Exposure to clothianidin, by enhancing the transcription of the gene encoding this inhibitor, reduces immune defenses and promotes the replication of the deformed wing virus in honey bees bearing covert infections. This honey bee immunosuppression is similarly induced by a different neonicotinoid, imidacloprid, but not by the organophosphate chlorpyriphos, which does not affect NF-κB signaling. The occurrence at sublethal doses of this insecticide-induced viral proliferation suggests that the studied neonicotinoids might have a negative effect at the field level. Our experiments uncover a further level of regulation of the immune response in insects and set the stage for studies on neural modulation of immunity in animals. Furthermore, this study has implications for the conservation of bees, as it will contribute to the definition of more appropriate guidelines for testing chronic or sublethal effects of pesticides used in agriculture.
Society and Culture
NHK Chief Tells Board 'Comfort Women' Remarks No Big Deal
The controversy swirling around NHK shows no sign of simmering down, with Chairman Katsuto Momii reportedly playing down the explosive nature of the remarks he made at his first news conference in January over the wartime brothels used by the Imperial Japanese military.
Some media outlets reported Wednesday that during an NHK board of governors meeting Feb. 12, Momii said, “What’s wrong with my comments and I have already recanted them. . . . You would understand my intention if you read the transcript” of his first news conference, when he said all countries in wartime have had systems similar to Japan’s forced prostitution.
The media reports said Momii’s comments at the board meeting were in response to a governor who asked how he would deal with the situation if more viewers refuse to pay their NHK fees, which are supposed to be paid by everybody who owns a TV.
Asked about this issue by an opposition lawmaker during Wednesday’s session of the Upper House Internal Affairs Committee, Momii refused to confirm or comment on the media reports.
Malala Meets With Syrian Refugees In Jordan
[Transcript From Video]
It's a warm welcome for Pakistani teenage activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Malala Yousafzai as she meets with Syrian refugees in Jordan Wednesday. Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban in October 2012 for campaigning for girl's education.
MALALA YOUSAFZAI, SAYING: "My message to the world is that they should take it serious, and they should never remain silent, because these children need our help. If we forget them, and if we say that they are far away, it wouldn't affect us, so it's not true, because if we don't stop war, it will spread. If we don't stop terrorism, it will spread, and it can affect every person in this world." She stresses the importance of education for this generation of Syrians.
MALALA YOUSAFZAI, SAYING: "The fact is that if we do not focus on their education, then these children, because of the violence that they are suffering from now, then they can become violent in future. So we should treat them with love, and in a friendly environment, so that tomorrow they would be good human beings, and they would be nice to society." More than 140,000 people have died in almost three years of conflict in Syria. The UN estimates that more than 650,000 Syrian refugees are in Jordan and that number is expected to increase significantly this year.
Well, that's different...
An Artist Dyes Clothes And Quilts With Tuberculosis And Staph Bacteria
Walk into Watermans, a theatre and arts exhibition space in West London, and you'll come across a series of intriguing installations: early 20th century medical artifacts, a dress colored with natural dyes that were used as early (and relatively ineffective) treatments for tuberculosis and dozens of tiny lungs made out of felt and tacked to the wall, each infused with dust (once believed to cause TB) and the DNA of killed Mycobacterium tuberculosis (the microorganism that actually causes the dreaded disease).
The exhibition, "The Romantic Disease," is an artistic exploration of our relationship with tuberculosis, touching on topics such as early superstitions surrounding infection, the eventual development of effective antibiotics and the latest research into the bacterium's genome. For the artist, Brighton-based Anna Dumitriu, creating an art installation that involved culturing pathogenic bacteria and incorporating them—either symbolically or literally—into clothing and textiles is nothing new.
"They are such a rich vein of artistic inspiration," she says. "Everywhere you look, there are bacteria and other microorganisms, even if you can't see them."
Dumitriu, who's created a number of different projects that combine textile design and bacterial cell cultures, first got interested in microbiology as a child, when she learned about the Great Plague in school. Then, about a decade ago, she began thinking about how the press continually presented new findings on bacteria as terrifying, overlooking the fact that many strains of these microbes are essential for the healthy functioning of the human body.
Dumitriu started her first project, Normal Flora, in 2004, partly in response to watching the BBC show "How Clean is Your House?"—which involves the sampling of bacteria from people's houses to convey how dirty they are—and wanted to visually communicate the fact that bacteria naturally cover every surface we touch and reveal more about their intricate behaviors. To do so, she worked with a microbiologist to culture bacteria from her own house, then decorated pieces of furniture and other household objects with blown-up images of the bacteria originally found on them, rendering the invisible microbes visible. She also embroidered chairs and engraved cutlery with bacteria-inspired designs.
Bill Moyers and Company:
David Simon, creator of The Wire and activist Lawrence Lessig,