President Obama wants the NSA to seek permission from a secret court before using phone data, but leaves data already culled in the hands of the NSA. Obama’s Friday morning speech sought to balance the concerns of intelligence agencies with more far-reaching proposals from advisors. His remarks came soon after the latest Snowden-provided bombshell about the NSA’s “Dishfire” program. The program collects around 200 million global text messages daily, using a mass untargeted sweep to glean data on location, contacts and financial transactions.
The Presidential Daily Brief
Fifty years ago, the U.S. Surgeon General dropped a bombshell tying cigarettes to serious health problems, and it’s only getting worse. New findings link smokes to liver and colorectal cancer, erectile dysfunction, arthritis and asthma, and even to cleft palates in unborn children. If it seems like the reports keep getting worse, you’re right — changes in the cigarettes themselves since the 1960s are making things worse. Smokers have dropped from 42 percent of the population in 1964 to 18 percent today, but doubts persist over whether the 2020 goal of 12 percent remains reachable.
The latest news on the Syrian conflict indicates further deterioration. The UN official heading up the effort to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons says the process has been slowed by “security concerns” (code for “doing this in a war zone is tough”). The UN also suspects that jihadist rebels in the north committed a series of mass executions that constitute crimes against humanity. But at least leaked documents found by Al Jazeera indicate an end might be in sight — the government has agreed to participate in next week’s peace talks in Geneva.
In pursuing the goal of becoming the primary current events forum for its 1.2 billion users, Facebook has launched long-awaited trending services. Unlike Twitter, Facebook will not use hashtags to track trending topics, instead using an algorithm based on the user’s personal interests, the authority of commenters, users’ engagement, and the timing and rate of a trend’s surge. Time will tell whether Facebook trends prove as alluring to users as Twitter’s often-cryptic #themes.
A federal bankruptcy judge turned down a plan from Detroit to pay a settlement of $165 million to Bank of America and UBS in order to extricate itself from interest rate-swaps with the two banks. The judge saw the attempt as an extension of Detroit’s unimpressive history of financial wheeling and dealing, which was likely to harm the city in the long term. He did, however, approve a $120 million loan so that the Motor City can continue to pay its workers and provide essential services to residents, though it must get the court’s approval first to use the money.
Explosion wounds protesters in Thailand. (NPR).
UN warns ”seeds of genocide being sown” in Central African Republic. (The Guardian).
India’s governing Congress Party names Rahul Gandhi to lead general election campaign. (BBC).
European Commission moves away from climate protection goals. (Der Spiegel).
Google unveils contact lens prototype for diabetics. (USA Today).
Although regulars Leonardo DiCaprio and Meryl Streep received nods for their performances, 2014 may be a year of high-profile Academy slights. Stars including Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey, Emma Thompson and Robert Redford failed to impress voters, as did the academy’s former favorites, Joel and Ethan Coen, who wrote and produced Inside Llewyn Davis. Despite the shower of nominations for Twelve Years a Slave, films like Mandela, The Butler and Fruitvale Station went largely ignored, prompting one reviewer to observe that 2013 could have been “the year of the black movie,” but for the Academy “it turned out to be the year of a black movie.”
A Canadian professor has developed a new technique for identifying purer asphalt for road construction. By removing asphalt with additives and impurities from higher grade material, Simon Hesp hopes to have found a substance that won’t crack under pressure or harsh weather. The first trials of this new technique started in 2009. Hesp says, “it’s certainly standing up very well. No cracks at all.” Meaning, no potholes — normally caused by constant abrasion to fissures by vehicles. If further studies prove successful, this technique could be groundbreaking in all the right ways.
Source: The Star
The Norwegian capital is the fastest-growing city in Europe, and its development has revolutionized the architecture of the former heartland of the Viking world. Nothing illustrates Oslo’s transformation more than the national opera house. A contemporary design that was not to everyone’s liking, the marble and glass exterior exemplifies a bold new aesthetic in Scandinavian architecture. With a price tag of $835 million, the opera house may not be the cheapest addition to the city, but access to the roof is free and offers panoramic views of nearby mountains and fjords.
Inside a complex of tunnels in the Scottish Highlands dating back to World War II, scientists have broken the world record for the longest echo produced in a man-made structure. Trevor Cox, an acoustic engineering professor at the University of Salford, recorded 112 seconds of sonic reverberation in the tunnels after firing a gunshot. The achievement dwarfs the previous record, which stood at just 15 seconds, made by the sound of a door being slammed in the Hamilton Museum, also in Scotland. There are probably no practical implications of this study, but Cox hopes the sound might be included in a musical composition.
Source: The Independent
Bernie Ecclestone, who has been in charge of Formula 1 racing almost as long as Qaddafi was in charge of Libya, stepped down from the sport’s organizing board on Thursday. Ecclestone, a controversial character known for ruling the sport with a (very profitable) iron fist, faces corruption charges in Germany related to F1’s sale to a private equity group. Ecclestone insists his actions were above board and continues to run the day-to-day activities of the organization — which might be thankful for a little off-season buzz, especially since top driver Sebastian Vettel’s victories have been foregone conclusions for years.