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Chatter: What we're hearing

Need to know: A powerful earthquake in northwest China killed at least 400 people, injured 10,000 and left many others buried under debris, Chinese state media reported. GlobalPost's Kathleen E. McLaughlin raises the question of whether the quake will test the government's willingness to allow free flow of information.

Want to know: The phenomenon of microfinancing — giving small loans to poor people — once a cause celebre, has grown so popular that its proponents are now deeply concerned over the direction it has taken. Drawn by the prospect of hefty profits from even the smallest of loans, a raft of banks and financial institutions now dominate the field, with some charging interest rates of 100 percent or more.

More than 300 olive trees were uprooted and two cars set alight in the West Bank village of Huwwara on Wednesday, with  morning. A military official said the army suspected settler violence against Palestinians as payback for a government order to freeze Israeli construction in the West Bank.

For the first time in decades, there has been a significant drop worldwide in deaths from pregnancy and childbirth.

Obesity has overtaken smoking as the leading cause of premature death and illness in Australia.

Programs in several European countries are helping to convert trash into clean energy, thereby reducing their energy costs and reliance on oil and gas and also benefiting the environment. By contrast, no new waste-to-energy plants are being planned or built in the United States.

Dull but important: Iran is ignoring questions from the international community about its nuclear program, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told an audience at Brookings Institution at the end of a two-day summit on nuclear security summit meeting. He also described Kyrgystan as being "on the verge of a civil war."

Meantime, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says that he has sent a letter to Obama, the contents of which will be made public in the near future.

Just because: A volcanic eruption in southern Iceland partially melted a glacier and forced hundreds to evacuate the area.

President Obama will outline a revamped space policy on Thursday aimed at speeding development of a new heavy-lift rocket, increasing the number of human spaceflight missions, creating 2,500 new jobs and ultimately voyaging to Mars.

Wacky: A learner driver in Oxford, England, managed to flip her instructor's car on to its roof on her second lesson.

http://www.globalpost.com/notebook/general/100414/chatter-what-were-hearing