Penn Not Going to Make Big Deal About Chinese Repression of Academic Freedom

The Daily Pennsylvanian reports about concerns on Penn campus about  Xia Yeliang, a professor at Peking University’s School of Economics who recently lost his contract with that university, purportedly because of his pro-democracy work in that country. Why is this Penn’s concern? Because it is a “partner university” with Peking, with close ties to Wharton School, the School of Dental Medicine and Penn Nursing.

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Well This Sucks: There Is Probably No Life on Mars

A big, big, big new study out of Science will seriously depress those of you weaned on Star Trek and Have Spacesuit Will Travel. After a year of observation, the NASA Mars rover Curiosity has turned up exactly no evidence of methane on the red planet, one of the surest signs of…life. A decade ago, scientists got really excited when they recorded massive amounts of methane floating on Mars. Excitement was building. Curiosity was dispatched. But now it turns out a lot of that methane just came from earth.

While the absence of methane does not rule out the possibility of present-day life on Mars — there are plenty of microbes, on Earth at least, that do not produce methane — it does return the idea to the realm of pure speculation without any hopeful data to back it up.

That won’t stop India from sending its own methane-troller to Mars next month. The dream lives. If not actual organic matter. [NY Times]

Despite Anti-LGBT Law, Philly Won’t Cut Ties with Russian Sister City

Wait, Philly has a sister city in Russia? Yes. And as it happens, Nizhny Novgorod is not only the fifth-largest city in the country, but the city that paved the way for the anti-LGBT law that’s now in place nationwide. A couple weeks ago, City Council, along with various progressive advocates, called for the city to end the relationship. This week, according to the Philly Gay News, it announced that it won’t.

“Ending our sister-city relationship with Nizhny Novgorod would sever our ability to support their LGBT community today and in the future. It would also invalidate 21 years of work that would likely never be repaired,” said the mayor’s spokesman Mark McDonald.

People are going to cry bullshit, but he’s got a point. Not only would ending the relationship make it near-impossible for Philly to lobby/work constructively with Nizhny Novgorod in the future, but it might instill something of a martyr complex in the city, which would be counterproductive. As TNR’s Julia Ioffe wrote regarding a potential U.S. boycott of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, “Boycotting them gives them a sense of wounded pride and artificial importance.” Whether Philly should “troll” the city instead, as Ioffe suggested the U.S. do to Russia, is another question altogether.

[PGN]

Bank of America Intern Dies After Working 3 Days Straight

Correlation is not causation, of course. But still, this looks bad.

A 21-year-old who was interning at a London investment bank has died after reportedly working 72 hours in a row…One anonymous poster on website the wallstreetoasis.com site said: “He was found dead in the shower by his flatmate. Intern at BAML [Banking of America and Merill Lynch] who went home at 6am three days in a row.”

Whatever happened, seems like a good topic for the newly launched…Intern Magazine. If you’re planning on boycotting Bank of America and/or Merrill Lynch for harsh labor practices, maybe just don’t go to a South Jersey TD Bank just yet. [The Independent]

Whoa. The Pope Basically Out in Favor of Gay Rights

This is big. Asked a question yesterday about the alleged “gay lobby” that protects priests in the Vatican, Pope Francis gave what is undoubtedly the most progressive papal response ever regarding gay rights.

When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem … they’re our brothers.”

Speaking to reporters at the end of an eight-day trip to Brazil, Francis was similarly open to the idea gay priests and clergy, while reinforcing the Church’s condemnation homosexual acts; Pope Benedict XVI, by contrast, signed a 2005 document that decreed gay men could not become priests. It’ll be fascinating to see if Philly Archbishop Charles Chaput responds in any way. He’s been an outspoken opponent of gay marriage–and he’s got a weekly column. But this is the leader of the Catholic Church we’re talking about, a man with a direct line to God. [NCR]

This post has been updated.

Allyson Schwartz Breaks with Philly Dems to Vote Against “Snowden Amendment”

This week, a bipartisan piece of legislation that would have banned the NSA’s practice of collecting phone records without a warrant–the “Amash amendement” was defeated narrowly in the House of Representatives, 217-205. How did Philly vote? Bob Brady and Chaka Fattah voted “yes,” along with a host of other liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans. (Republican Justin Amash, the amendment’s sponsor, was elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave.) Gubernatorial candidate Allyson Schwartz, who has a more progressive reputation than party boss Brady, however, voted no. Here’s her explanation.

I strongly believe that we must aggressively intercept terrorists’ communications, track their whereabouts, disrupt their plans and eliminate threats. I opposed Rep. Amash’s amendment because it did not achieve the critical balance between national security and civil liberties.

She let down many of her progressive supporters with the vote, but I’m not sure Schwartz is really on Obama and the NSA’s side here. Remember, she’s running for governor of a culturally conservative state, half of which is probably convinced she’s a abortion-loving radical feminist monster anyways. If (and when) she gets the party nomination, I don’t see a lot of Democrats refusing to vote for her because she’s pro-spying. [CP]

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