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Nation & World news briefs: Dec. 23, 2012

Massachusetts

Yet another Senate race on the horizon

Massachusetts voters weary from one of the nation’s costliest and most divisive U.S. Senate races are all but certain to find themselves thrown back into another tumultuous election now that President Obama has nominated Sen. John Kerry for secretary of state.

If confirmed by the Senate, as expected, Democrat Kerry would have to resign the seat he’s held for nearly three decades, meaning a special election that will be the state’s third Senate contest since 2010.

Jockeying already is well under way. The big question is whether Republican Sen. Scott Brown will go for the seat after losing his last month to Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

Boeing tests Wi-Fi with potato sacks

If the wireless internet connection during your holiday flight seems more reliable than it used to, you could have a potato to thank.

While major airlines offer in-flight Wi-Fi on many flights, the signal strength can be spotty. Airlines and aircraft makers have been striving to improve this with the growing use of wireless devices and the number of people who don’t want to be disconnected.

Engineers at Chicago-based Boeing Co. used sacks of potatoes as stand-ins for passengers as they worked to eliminate weak spots in in-flight wireless signals. They needed full planes to get accurate results during signal testing, but they couldn’t ask people to sit motionless for days while data was gathered.

It turns out potatoes – because of their water content and chemistry – absorb and reflect radio wave signals much the same way as the human body does, making them suitable substitutes for airline passengers.

The Vatican

Pope pardons butler in security breach

Pope Benedict XVI granted his former butler a Christmas pardon yesterday, forgiving him in person during a jailhouse meeting for stealing and leaking his private papers in one of the gravest Vatican security breaches in recent times.

After the 15-minute meeting, Paolo Gabriele was freed and returned to his Vatican City apartment where he lives with his wife and three children. The Vatican said he couldn’t continue living or working in the Vatican, but said it would find him housing and a job elsewhere soon.

The pardon closes a painful and embarrassing chapter for the Vatican, capping a Hollywood-like scandal that exposed power struggles and allegations of corruption and homosexual liaisons in the highest levels of the Catholic Church.

Pakistan

Abducted German aid worker seen alive

A German aid worker abducted in Pakistan 11 months ago was seen alive in a video broadcast yesterday urging authorities to fully meet his captors’ demands, warning that otherwise they could kill him within days.

The undated video was broadcast yesterday by Pakistan’s Dunya TV. The German Foreign Ministry said it “knows the case” and is aware of the video.

The Associated Press

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