Need to know:
They did it. They actually did it. North Korea launched a long-range rocket early this morning, successfully taking something – they say a satellite – into space.
The launch took almost everyone by surprise, coming two days after Pyongyang signaled a "technical deficiency" in the rocket's engine and gave itself until Dec. 29 to complete the launch. Just yesterday, reports from South Korea suggested that North Korean engineers had taken the rocket apart in order to work on the fault.
And yet there it was this morning, on South Korean, Japanese and US radar. Pyongyang is jubilant. Everyone else is fuming. Just how fuming, we'll soon find out: Japan has called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, which is expected later today.
Want to know:
The US now formally recognizes Syria's newly formed opposition bloc, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, as "the legitimate representative of the Syrian people," according to President Barack Obama.
It's still unclear what that acknowledgment will mean in practical terms; not weapons, we're told, at least not for the moment. But it puts the coalition at the top of the White House's list of "good rebels" – which is probably a more comfortable place to be than the "bad rebels" sheet, made up of alleged Al Qaeda affiliates and designated terrorists like Jabhat al-Nusra.
The coalition is expected to get an even bigger boost to its credentials today, when the 70 countries that make up the Friends of Syria group collectively recognize it at their upcoming meeting in Morocco.
Dull but important:
Egypt's constitutional referendum has officially begun, even as the opposition demands that it be called off.
Egyptians living abroad cast the first ballots today, three days before voting is due to begin at home. But it's still not clear when the controversial referendum will take place (rumors say it will be spread over two days, this Saturday and the next), who will supervise it (many judges are threatening to stay away in protest), or whether the opposition will launch a boycott (they want it scrapped altogether, so are still undecided whether to boycott or vote no).
Yesterday, thousands of President Mohamed Morsi's opponents demonstrated in Cairo to call for the referendum to be cancelled – while just as many of his supporters marched to insist it go ahead. The army has summoned both sides to take part in unity talks today in a bid to resolve the crisis; it's still not clear who, if anyone, will turn up.
Goodbye Ravi Shankar, Indian sitar maestro and "the godfather of world music."
Shankar passed away last night at a hospital in California. He was 92.
He'll be remembered for his playing, which was virtuoso, for his compositions, which were prolific and diverse, and for his collaborations, which were often surprising. (Not many people can claim to have worked with John Coltrane, Yehudi Menuhin and Philip Glass; even fewer to have taught George Harrison sitar.)
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Shankar a "national treasure." We'll just go ahead and call him an international one.
Strange but true:
It can't have escaped your notice that today is Dec. 12, 2012, or as we like to call it – dun dun DUN! – 12/12/12.
If all that freaky repetition has you stockpiling weapons and hoarding canned goods, we urge you to put the crossbow down and read our list of what else today might augur, other than, y'know, doom.
Get married! Get rich. Do math. And remember that this is the last fully repetitive date that any of us will see in our lifetimes – so if nothing else, you'll never have to read another article about what Mayans did or didn't say about them ever again.