Smart takes
March 8, 2014
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If there was still any question as to whether Russia is in total control of Crimea, Andrew Higgins reports for The New York Times that planes headed for Kiev no longer even depart from the domestic terminal.

Higgins' article also serves as an excellent history lesson on Crimea in general and conflicted city Sevastopol in particular. He found residents divided over whether to return to their Russian roots through a March 16 referendum, or remain loyal to Ukraine:

Victoria Krupko: "We're returning home. We've waited a long time for this."

Viktor Negarov: "In reality, Sevastopol is a city of losers. People here don't like to hear this, but that is the reality of our history … I don't know how to fix this. Nearly everyone has been brainwashed." [The New York Times]

Read Higgins' entire story here.

Foreign affairs
8:59pm ET
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In Israel, four women have won their suit against the city of Beit Shemesh, which would not take down signs calling for women to wear "modest" clothing on the streets.

The signs are illegal, but this is the first time a court has ruled against one, The Guardian reports. Judge David Gidoni said the signs were "hurtful, degrading, and discriminatory," and "delivered a mortal blow to the rights of women in the city." The municipality must pay each woman 15,000 shekels, or $3,813. The city says that the signs were put up without permission, but they are afraid violence will break out if they remove them.

The population of Beit Shemesh is 45 percent ultra-Orthodox Jewish, and signs call for women to stay out of certain buildings and walk on the other side of the street. One billboard stated it was "forbidden to walk on our streets in immodest dress, including slutty clothing worn in a religious style." Plaintiff Miriam Zussman said she has been spit on and called names while wearing skirts below the knee, long-sleeved shirts, and covered hair. "It is quite shocking," she told The Guardian.

placebo effect
8:04pm ET
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The placebo effect is well known, but researchers from the University of Cincinnati decided to test the theory that patients would respond better to a placebo that they thought had an enormous price tag.

A meta-analysis found that placebos used in clinical trials of Parkinson's treatments improved symptoms by an average of 16 percent, the Los Angeles Times reports, and the University of Cincinnati team decided to study 12 patients with "moderately advanced" Parkinson's in a clinic trial of "a new injectable dopamine agonist." With Parkinson's, patients lose brain cells that make dopamine, something this drug could combat.

The participants were told that they were taking two versions of experimental drugs that worked the same but were made differently, with one costing 15 times more than the other. They were actually given the same exact saline solution. The results showed that both improved motor function compared with a base line test, but those who took the $1,500 dose placebo had an improvement that was nine percent greater than the $100 per dose placebo. "Patients' expectations have an important role in the efficacy of medical therapies," the researchers wrote. The results were published Wednesday in the journal Neurology.

greek life
7:30pm ET
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University of Virginia sorority sisters were ordered by their national chapters to stay away from fraternity brothers' parties this weekend, The Washington Post reports. The mandate comes after a now-discredited Rolling Stone article on sexual assault in Greek life prompted a close look the school's safety and culture.

Saturday is fraternity Bid Night. Different sorority chapters told members they'd risk suspension, fines, and other penalties for attending parties that night. Some chapters were told to avoid fraternity gatherings in general, not just Bid Night parties.

An online petition against the mandate started earlier this week read:

Instead of addressing rape and sexual assault at UVa, this mandate perpetuates the idea that women are inferior, sexual objects. It is degrading to Greek women, as it appears that the [National Panhellenic Conference] views us as defenseless and UVa’s new fraternal policies as invalid. Allowing the NPC to prevent us from celebrating (what used to be) a tight-knit community, sends the message that we are weak. []

Some sororities are planning mandatory in-house retreats Saturday to avoid violating the rule, The Post reports.

This just in
6:43pm ET

In simultaneous attacks on Thursday, militants hit more than a dozen army and police targets in the Sinai Peninsula, killing at least 25 soldiers and one policeman and wounding more than 60.

At least one car bomb went off outside a military base at the same time mortars were fired, bringing down buildings and burying soldiers underneath the debris, The Associated Press reports. The attacks took place in the Northern Sinai provincial capital el-Arish, the town of Sheik Zuwayid, and the town of Rafah, bordering Gaza. An Army spokesman blamed the Muslim Brotherhood, but the Islamic State affiliate in Egypt took responsibility on Twitter, the SITE Intelligence Group reports.

uber drama
6:31pm ET
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A New Delhi woman who said she was raped by an Uber driver filed a U.S. federal lawsuit against the car service Thursday, Reuters reports.

The woman, who is not named, called Uber "the modern day equivalent of electronic hitchhiking," in the lawsuit. "Buyer beware — we all know how those horror movies end."

In the lawsuit, the woman asks for an overhaul of the company's safety practices and for unspecified damages.

India is Uber's largest international market, going by cities covered, according to Reuters. India banned the San Francisco company from operating last month after allegations and arrest of the driver, but Uber restarted services there last week.

5:54pm ET
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The New York Police Department is creating an anti-terror strike force, Commissioner Bill Bratton announced Thursday. The 350-cop unit will focus on "disorder control and counterterrorism protection capabilities," he said.

The squad, which is expected to recieve funds from New York City as well as federal Homeland Security grants, will be trained in high-tech weaponry. They'll handle a variety of situations, like protests, Charlie Hebdo-esque terrorist attacks, and lone-wolf attacks, CBS New York reports.

Science says
5:24pm ET
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Pick a scientist at random, and she'll almost always say climate change is real and influenced by humans.

Pew Research found 87 percent of scientists in the American Association for the Advancement of Science will say so. By contrast, only half of U.S. adults surveyed believe the same thing. The rest believe, in almost equal measure, either that climate change is real but natural, or that there is no solid evidence to support the existence of climate change.

Pew covered other topics in science as well. Take evolution: 98 percent of AAAS scientists say humans evolved over time, yet only 65 percent of the general population is on board.

To see where else the public disagrees with science, check out Pew's full report.

TV Violence
4:18pm ET

Brandishing a pistol with a silencer and declaring himself part of a "hackers' collective," a man threatened his way into Dutch television broadcaster NOS Thursday evening, demanding airtime to broadcast a personal message.  In dramatic footage recorded in a virtually empty news studio, the attacker was arrested by police:

Before the gunman's arrest, he described himself as part of a group "hired in by intelligence agencies," and produced a letter claiming there were "eight heavy explosives placed in the country, containing radioactive material."

During the incident, staff were evacuated from the building and the evening's news broadcast was canceled.

the wonderful world of disney
3:58pm ET

Disney has crowned another princess. Elena, the Princess of Avalor, will debut in the Disney Junior series Sofia the First before spinning off into her own series:

In a statement, Disney described Elena as " a confident and compassionate teenager in an enchanted fairy tale kingdom inspired by diverse Latin cultures and folklore." The character will be voiced by Aimee Carrero, who was born in the Dominican Republic.

This just in
3:57pm ET
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After weeks of debate, the Senate on Thursday passed a measure to approve the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The bill passed on a largely party-line vote, 62-36, and heads to the House, where it is also expected to pass.

Debate over the measure dragged throughout January as lawmakers considered a host of potential amendments, including one from Democrats that sought to declare humans are to blame for global warming. President Obama has said he will veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

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