Today’s edition of quick hits:

* Scariest thing I’ve seen in a long while: “2011 was the ninth-warmest year on Earth since 1880, according to NASA scientists, and this dramatic warming is captured in this visualization.”

* Syria: “The Obama administration is preparing to close the U.S. embassy in Damascus and evacuate all American personnel by the end of this month amid rapid deterioration of the security situation in Syria, senior administration officials said. The embassy will be shuttered, officials said, unless embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad provides enhanced protection that he has so far been unwilling to authorize.”

* U.S. housing market: “Home sales hit an 11-month high in December and the number of properties on the market was the fewest in nearly seven years, pointing to a nascent recovery in the housing sector.”

* Afghanistan: “President Nicolas Sarkozy of France suspended military training and assistance for Afghan forces on Friday and said he would consider an early withdrawal from Afghanistan after an Afghan soldier shot and killed four French soldiers on a base in eastern Afghanistan.”

* Medical malpractice reform, not surprisingly, is still high on the list of things House Republican leaders would love to tackle in this Congress. But it turns out a group of states’ rights advocates within the House GOP caucus are making the process much tougher than the leadership had hoped.

* Shouldn’t this have been a unanimous decision? “An Alabama death row prisoner should not be prevented from appealing because he missed a deadline after his lawyers dropped his case and failed to tell him, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled by a 7-2 vote Wednesday.”

* A problem that can’t be ignored: “Suicides among active-duty soldiers hit another record high in 2011, Army officials said on Thursday, although there was a slight decrease if nonmobilized Reserve and National Guard troops were included in the calculation. The Army also reported a sharp increase, nearly 30 percent, in violent sex crimes last year by active-duty troops. More than half of the victims were active-duty female soldiers ages 18 to 21.”

* This is the first time Newt Gingrich has run for president of the United States, but in 1970, just a year into his first full-time teaching job, he also sought the presidency of West Georgia College.

* And finally, while I’ve generally recognized President Obama as a man of many talents, I had no idea he actually has a nice singing voice, too.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.