Zebrafish made to grow pre-hands instead of fins

PERHAPS the little fish embryo shown here is dancing a jig because it has just discovered that it has legs instead of fins. Fossils show that limbs evolved from fins, but a new study shows how it may have happened, live in the lab.

Fernando Casares of the Spanish National Research Council and his colleagues injected zebrafish with the hoxd13 gene from a mouse. The protein that the gene codes for controls the development of autopods, a precursor to hands, feet and paws.

Zebrafish naturally carry hoxd13 but produce less of the protein than tetrapods - all four-limbed vertebrates and birds - do. Casares and his colleagues hoped that by injecting extra copies of the gene into the zebrafish embryos, some of their cells would make more of the protein.

One full day later, all of those fish whose cells had taken up the gene began to develop autopods instead of fins. They carried on growing for four days but then died (Cell, DOI: 10.1016/j.devcel.2012.10.015).

"Of course, we haven't been able to grow hands," says Casares. He speculates that hundreds of millions of years ago, the ancestors of tetrapods began expressing more hoxd13 for some reason and that this could have allowed them to evolve autopods.

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Britain looks to Chinese tourists for Christmas cheer

LONDON - With their shelves spilling over with festive goodies, London's department stores are working hard to attract Christmas shoppers -- but Chinese visitors are the particular target of a charm offensive.

Hotels, retailers and the government are stepping up efforts to woo big-spending Chinese visitors in a bid to bounce back from Britain's longest recession in half a century.

Congee and dumplings are on the breakfast menu at enterprising hotels, major London stores have installed Chinese bank card terminals, and Mandarin-speaking staff are on hand to help out with the Christmas shopping.

Britain is courting Chinese travellers not only because they are a rapidly growing market -- they made an estimated 70 million overseas trips in 2011, up 20 percent in just a year -- but because they are serious shoppers.

"My goodness, they spend," said Patricia Yates, director of strategy for the VisitBritain tourism authority.

"The average Chinese visitor spends about three times as much -- 1,600 pounds (US$2,600, 2,000 euros) -- as the average visitor to Britain," she told AFP.

"So they're very welcome by the retail industry at the moment, who have seen domestic demand soften."

Purveyors of luxury goods in particular have welcomed affluent Chinese visitors with open arms.

The renowned Harrods department store, in London's exclusive Knightsbridge district, now has 70 Mandarin-speaking staff and more than 100 China Union Pay terminals allowing direct payment from Chinese bank accounts.

A Harrods spokeswoman said jewellery and watches, fashion and fine wines were top of the shopping list for many Chinese customers.

"They seek out the very latest, limited edition and exclusive products," she told AFP.

Beneath the twinkling Christmas lights on London's central shopping artery Oxford Street, too, Chinese shoppers were on the lookout for designer items.

"We think London is the capital of fashion," said Harry Gao, a fashion student from the eastern Chinese city of Wenzhou, who was wrapped up against the drizzle in a fur coat and gold trainers.

"Lots of famous designers are from the UK. It's lots of fun."

A record 149,000 Chinese visitors came to Britain last year, bringing some 240 million pounds to the struggling economy.

But Britain's share of the coveted Chinese market is poor compared to several competitors in mainland Europe including France, which welcomed nearly a million tourists from China last year.

"We know that our European rivals do much better than us," Yates admitted. "We really want to break the Chinese market."

The complex British visa system is frequently blamed for the shortfall.

While Chinese tourists can visit 26 European countries on a single "Schengen" visa, a trip to Britain requires a separate visa involving lengthy forms in English as well as additional costs.

Interior minister Theresa May confirmed Wednesday that the government is looking at expanding online applications and making some visa forms available in Mandarin, as well as introducing an express service for premium travellers.

Meanwhile, the government is throwing 8 million pounds at luring an additional 233,000 Chinese visitors a year by 2020, and VisitBritain sent its biggest-ever delegation to Shanghai last month to drum up business.

Over a Chinese breakfast of congee (rice porridge), steamed buns and warm soya milk at London's Landmark Hotel, marketing manager Yan-Ping Mew said he has had "very good feedback" since the meal became available to guests earlier this year.

The hotel also recommends smartphone apps to help Chinese guests navigate London and allocates them room numbers traditionally seen as lucky, such as those on the third or eighth floor.

"The Chinese tend to be slightly more superstitious," Mew explained.

He added that while many Chinese guests come to London to shop, they also want to see the sights and, in some cases, visit prospective universities for their children.

Yates also insisted that Britain had more to offer than shopping.

"There's the history and tradition of our royal family with palaces that you can go and see, great museums that have world-class treasures," she told AFP, adding that the London Olympics had been "an amazing showcase".

- AFP/ir

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Gunman broke in, shot some victims twice

The family of Nancy Lanza, the mother of elementary school shooter Adam Lanza, issued a statement of grief and condolence about Friday's massacre through local law enforcement in Kingston, N.H. (Dec. 15


The gunman behind the Connecticut elementary school massacre stormed into the building and shot 20 children at least twice with a high-powered rifle, executing some at close range and killing adults who tried to stop the carnage, authorities said Saturday.

He forced his way into the school by breaking a window, officials said. Asked whether the children suffered, Chief Medical Examiner Dr. H. Wayne Carver paused. "If so," he said, "not for very long."

The terrible details about the last moments of young innocents emerged as authorities released their names and ages — the youngest 6 and 7, the oldest 56. They included Ana Marquez-Greene, a little girl who had just moved to Newtown from Canada; Victoria Soto, a 27-year-old teacher who apparently died while trying to hide her pupils; and principal Dawn Hochsprung, who authorities said lunged at the gunman in an attempt to overtake him and paid with her life.

The tragedy has plunged Newtown into mourning and added the picturesque New England community of handsome Colonial homes, red-brick sidewalks and 27,000 people to the grim map of towns where mass shootings in recent years have periodically reignited the national debate over gun control but led to little change.

Faced with the unimaginable, townspeople sadly took down some of their Christmas decorations and struggled Saturday with how to go on. Signs around town read, "Hug a teacher today," ''Please pray for Newtown" and "Love will get us through."

"People in my neighborhood are feeling guilty about it being Christmas. They are taking down decorations," said Jeannie Pasacreta, a psychologist who was advising parents struggling with how to talk to their children.

School board chairwoman Debbie Leidlein spent Friday night meeting with parents who lost children and shivered as she recalled those conversations. "They were asking why. They can't wrap their minds around it. Why? What's going on?" she said. "And we just don't have any answers for them."

The tragedy brought forth soul-searching and grief around the globe. President Barack Obama planned to visit Newtown on Sunday. Families as far away as Puerto Rico planned funerals for victims who still had their baby teeth, world leaders extended condolences, and vigils were held around the U.S.

"Next week is going to be horrible," said the town's legislative council chairman, Jeff Capeci, thinking about the string of funerals the town will face. "Horrible, and the week leading into Christmas."

Police shed no light on what triggered Adam Lanza, 20, to carry out the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, though state police Lt. Paul Vance said investigators had found "very good evidence ... that our investigators will be able to use in painting the complete picture, the how and, more importantly, the why." He would not elaborate.

However, another law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said investigators have found no note or manifesto from Lanza of the sort they have come to expect after murderous rampages such as the Virginia Tech bloodbath in 2007 that left 33 people dead.

Lanza shot to death his mother, Nancy Lanza, at the home they shared, then drove to the school in her car with at least three of her guns, forced his way in and opened fire, authorities said. Within minutes, he killed 20 children, six adults and himself.

Education officials said they had found no link between Lanza's mother and the school, contrary to news reports that said she was a teacher there. Investigators said they believe Adam Lanza attended Sandy Hook Elementary many years ago, but they had no explanation for why he went there Friday.

Authorities said Adam Lanza had no criminal history, and it was not clear whether he had a job. Lanza was believed to have suffered from a personality disorder, said a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Another law enforcement official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Lanza had been diagnosed with Asperger's, a mild form of autism often characterized by social awkwardness. People with the disorder are often highly intelligent. While they can become frustrated more easily, there is no evidence of a link between Asperger's and violent behavior, experts say.

The law enforcement officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the unfolding investigation.

Richard Novia, the school district's head of security until 2008, who also served as adviser for the school technology club, of which Lanza was a member, said he clearly "had some disabilities."

"If that boy would've burned himself, he would not have known it or felt it physically," Novia said in a phone interview. "It was my job to pay close attention to that."

Amid the confusion and sorrow, stories of heroism emerged, including an account of Hochsprung, 47, and the school psychologist, Mary Sherlach, 56, rushing toward Lanza in an attempt to stop him. Both died.

There was also 27-year-old teacher Victoria Soto, whose name has been invoked as a portrait of selflessness and humanity among unfathomable evil. Investigators told relatives she was killed while shielding her first-graders from danger. She reportedly hid some students in a bathroom or closet, ensuring they were safe, a cousin, Jim Wiltsie, told ABC News.

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Space Pictures This Week: Frosty Mars, Mini Nile, More

Photograph by Mike Theiss, National Geographic

The aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, illuminates the Arctic sky in a recent picture by National Geographic photographer Mike Theiss.

A storm chaser by trade, Theiss is in the Arctic Circle on an expedition to photograph auroras, which result from collisions between charged particles released from the sun's atmosphere and gaseous particles in Earth's atmosphere.

After one particularly amazing show, he wrote on YouTube, "The lights were dancing, rolling, and twisting, and at times looked like they were close enough to touch!" (Watch his time-lapse video of the northern lights.)

Published December 14, 2012

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Conn. Victim's Father Remembers 'Loving' Daughter

ht emilie parker wy 121215 wblog Emilie Parker: Sandy Hook Victim Would Have Comforted Classmates, Dad Says

(Image credit: Emilie Parker Fund/Facebook)

Emilie Parker, the little girl with the blond hair and bright blue eyes, would have been one of the first to comfort her classmates at Sandy Hook Elementary School, had a gunman’s bullets not claimed her life, her father said.

“My daughter Emilie would be one of the first ones to be standing and giving support to all the victims because that’s the kind of kid she is,” her father, Robbie Parker said as he fought back tears, telling the world about his “bright, creative and loving” daughter who was one of the 20 young victims in the Newtown, Conn., shooting.

“She always had something kind to say about anybody,” her father said.  ”We find comfort reflecting on the incredible person Emilie was and how many lives she was able to touch.”

Emilie, 6, was helping teach her younger sisters to read and make things, and she was the little girls would go to for comfort, he said.

“They looked up to her,” Parker said.

READ: Complete List of Sandy Hook Victims

Parker moved his wife and three daughters to Newtown eight months ago after accepting a job as  a physician’s assistant at Danbury Hospital. He said Emilie, his oldest daughter, seemed to have adjusted well to her new school, and he was very happy with the school, too.

“I love the people at the school. I love Emilie’s teacher and the classmates we were able to get to know,” he said.

ap shock newton shooting sandy hook lpl 121214 wblog Emilie Parker: Sandy Hook Victim Would Have Comforted Classmates, Dad Says

      (Image Credit: Alex von Kleydorff/AP Photo)

The family dealt with another tragic loss in October when Emilie lost her grandfather in an accident.

“[This] has been a topic that has been discussed in our family in the past couple of  months,” Parker said. “[My daughters ages 3 and 4] seem to get the idea that there’s somebody who they will miss very much.”

Emilie, a budding artist who carried her markers and pencils everywhere, paid tribute to her grandfather by slipping a special card she had drawn into his casket, Parker said.  It was something she frequently did to lift the spirits of others.

“I can’t count the number of times Emilie would find someone feeling sad or frustrated and would make people a card,” Parker said. “She was an exceptional artist.”

The girl who was remembered as “always willing to try new things, other than food” was learning Portuguese from her father, who speaks the language.

ht emilie parker 2 121215 wblog Emilie Parker: Sandy Hook Victim Would Have Comforted Classmates, Dad Says

(Image Credit: Emilie Parker Fund/Facebook)

On Friday morning, Emilie woke up before her father left for his job and exchanged a few sentences with him in the language.

“She told me good morning and asked how I was doing,” Parker said. “She said she loved me, I gave her a kiss and I was out the door.”

Parker found out about the shooting while on lockdown in Danbury Hospital and found a television for the latest news.

“I didn’t think it was that big of deal at first,” he said. “With the first reports coming in, it didn’t sound like it was going to be as tragic as it was. That’s kind of what it was like for us.”

CLICK HERE for full coverage of the Sandy Hook shooting.

Parker said he knows that God can’t take away free will and would have been unable to stop the Sandy Hook shooting. While gunman Adam Lanza used his free agency to take innocent lives, Parker said he plans to use his in a positive way.

“I’m not mad because I have my  [free] agency to use this event to do whatever I can to make sure my family and my wife and my daughters are taken care [of],” he said. “And if there’s anything I can do to help to anyone at any time at anywhere, I’m free to do that.”

ht emilie parker 3 121215 wblog Emilie Parker: Sandy Hook Victim Would Have Comforted Classmates, Dad Says

(Image credit: Emilie Parker Fund/Facebook)

Friday night, hours after he learned of his daughter’s death, Parker said he spoke at his church.

“I don’t know how to get through something like this. My wife and I don’t understand how to process all of this,” he said today. “We find strength in our religion and in our faith and in our family. ”

“It’s a horrific tragedy and I want everyone to know our hearts and prayers go out to them. This includes the family of the shooter. I can’t imagine how hard this experience must be for you and I want you to know our family … love and support goes out to you as well.”

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CERN becomes first pure physics voice in UN chorus

Lisa Grossman, physical sciences reporter


(Image: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)

If CERN observes the proceedings of the United Nations, will it change the outcome?

The international particle physics laboratory, based near Geneva, Switzerland, has been granted observer status in the General Assembly of the United Nations, CERN officials announced today. 

The lab joins environmental groups and public health agencies as the first physical sciences research organization in the ranks of UN observers. Observer status grants the right to speak at meetings, participate in procedural votes, and sign and sponsor resolutions, but not to vote on resolutions.

In some ways, CERN's addition seems a natural move - and a long time coming.

The facility was founded in 1954 under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Its initial mission was to provide collaborative projects for researchers from Allied countries and former Axis countries after the second World War.

Arguably the lab's most high-profile project, the Large Hadron Collider, made headlines worldwide this year when it revealed detection of a new particle that appears to be the elusive Higgs boson.

"Through its projects, which bring together scientists from all over the world, CERN also promotes dialogue between nations and has become a model for international cooperation," CERN states in a press release. The lab says it may use its new status with the UN to help shore up scientific education and technological capabilities in developing countries, particularly in Africa.

But just as observing a quantum particle can change its state, can CERN's involvement truly collapse the UN's wavefunction and trigger better global science and technology policies? Only time will tell.

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Hundreds hold vigil after US school massacre

NEWTOWN, Connecticut: Hundreds of people attended a mass Friday night at a church in Newtown, Connecticut, paying tribute to the victims of the elementary school massacre that left at least 27 dead.

The church was so packed that dozens of people crowded outside the St. Rose of Lima Catholic church -- just a mile from the Sandy Hook elementary school where the tragedy took place.

"This is a kind of community, when things like that happen, they really pull together," Monsignor Robert Weiss said as he closed the special service he convened after hearing news of the slaughter.

"As so many people don't have extended family, friends become very important. And you see evidence of that tonight," he added.

As Weiss spoke, many outside the church stood in silence, still in shock over the attack by the heavily armed young gunman who killed 26 people, including 20 small children, before dying.

Some lit candles and others joined hands in a large circle and sang Christmas songs.

David Connors, father of triplets, all of whom were at the school during the shooting, brought his children to the Mass.

"It's hard. I've never imagined a thing like that could happen here," he told AFP, though he said the children, two boys and a girl, were doing well.

When the gunshots began, they "heard noises. But they were in a separate part of the building" and were evacuated to a fire station near the school, he explained.

For Ray Horvath, a retiree who volunteers at the Connecticut Department of Education in Newtown, the mass was comforting, even though he is not religious.

"It's nice to see the concern of all these people," he said, fighting tears.

"I wish I was a person of faith because it would sustain me, but I don't have it."

- AFP/lp

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Witness inside school: 'I've got bodies here'

A man killed his mother at their home and then opened fire Friday inside an elementary school, massacring 26 people, including 20 children, as youngsters cowered in fear to the sound of gunshots reverberating through the building and screams echoing over the intercom.

The 20-year-old killer, carrying at least two handguns, committed suicide at the school, bringing the death toll to 28, authorities said.

The rampage, coming less than two weeks before Christmas, was the nation's second-deadliest school shooting, exceeded only by the Virginia Tech massacre that claimed 33 lives in 2007.

"Our hearts are broken today," a tearful President Barack Obama, struggling to maintain his composure, said at the White House. He called for "meaningful action" to prevent such shootings, saying, "As a country, we have been through this too many times."

Police shed no light on the motive for the attack. The gunman, Adam Lanza, was believed to suffer from a personality disorder and lived with his mother, said a law enforcement official who was briefed on the investigation but was not authorized to discuss it.

Panicked parents looking for their children raced to Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, a prosperous New England community of about 27,000 people 60 miles northeast of New York City. Police told youngsters at the kindergarten-through-fourth-grade school to close their eyes as they were led from the building so that they wouldn't see the blood and broken glass.

Schoolchildren -- some crying, others looking frightened -- were escorted through a parking lot in a line, hands on each other's shoulders.

Law enforcement officials speaking on condition of anonymity said that Lanza killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, then drove to the school in her car with at least three guns, including a high-powered rifle that he apparently left in the back of the vehicle, and shot up two classrooms around 9:30 a.m.

A custodian ran through the halls, warning of a gunman on the loose, and someone switched on the intercom, alerting people in the building to the attack -- and perhaps saving many lives -- by letting them hear the hysteria going on in the school office, a teacher said. Teachers locked their doors and ordered children to huddle in a corner or hide in closets as shots echoed through the building.

Authorities gave no details on exactly how the attack unfolded, but police radio traffic indicated the shooting lasted only a few minutes. State police Lt. Paul Vance said officers arrived instantaneously, immediately entered the school, searched it completely and found Lanza dead.

In addition to the 20 children, six adults were killed at the school; the principal was believed to be among the dead. A woman who worked at Sandy Hook Elementary was wounded.

A law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity said investigators believe Lanza attended the school several years ago but appeared to have no recent connection to the place.

At least one parent said Lanza's mother was a substitute teacher there. But her name did not appear on a staff list. And the law enforcement official said investigators were unable to establish any connection so far between her and the school.

Lanza's older brother, 24-year-old Ryan, of Hoboken, N.J., was being questioned, but a law enforcement official said he was not believed to have had a role in the rampage. Investigators were searching his computers and phone records, but he told law enforcement he had not been in touch with his brother since about 2010.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the unfolding investigation.

At one point, a law enforcement official mistakenly identified the gunman as Ryan Lanza. Brett Wilshe, a friend of Ryan Lanza's, said Lanza told him the gunman may have had his identification. Ryan Lanza apparently posted Facebook page updates Friday afternoon that read, "It wasn't me" and "I was at work."

Robert Licata said his 6-year-old son was in class when the gunman burst in and shot the teacher. "That's when my son grabbed a bunch of his friends and ran out the door," he said. "He was very brave. He waited for his friends."

He said the shooter didn't utter a word.

Stephen Delgiadice said his 8-year-old daughter heard two big bangs. Teachers told her to get in a corner, he said. "It's alarming, especially in Newtown, Connecticut, which we always thought was the safest place in America," he said. His daughter was uninjured.

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Space Pictures This Week: Frosty Mars, Mini Nile, More

Photograph by Mike Theiss, National Geographic

The aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, illuminates the Arctic sky in a recent picture by National Geographic photographer Mike Theiss.

A storm chaser by trade, Theiss is in the Arctic Circle on an expedition to photograph auroras, which result from collisions between charged particles released from the sun's atmosphere and gaseous particles in Earth's atmosphere.

After one particularly amazing show, he wrote on YouTube, "The lights were dancing, rolling, and twisting, and at times looked like they were close enough to touch!" (Watch his time-lapse video of the northern lights.)

Published December 14, 2012

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Conn. Shooter Adam Lanza: 'Obviously Not Well'

Adam Lanza of Newtown, Connecticut was a child of the suburbs and a child of divorce who at age 20 still lived with his mother.

This morning he appears to have started his day by shooting his mother Nancy in the face, and then drove her car to nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School, armed with two handguns and a semi-automatic rifle.

There, before turning his gun on himself, he shot and killed 20 children, who President Obama later described as "beautiful little kids" between five and 10 years of age. Six adults were also killed at the school. Nancy Lanza was found dead in her home.

A relative told ABC News that Adam was "obviously not well."

Family friends in Newtown also described the young man as troubled and described Nancy as rigid. "[Adam] was not connected with the other kids," said Barbara Frey, who also said he was "a little bit different ... Kind of repressed."

State and federal authorities believe his mother may have once worked at the elementary school where Adam went on his deadly rampage, although she was not a teacher, according to relatives, perhaps a volunteer.

Nancy and her husband Peter, Adam's father, divorced in 2009. When they first filed for divorce in 2008, a judge ordered that they participate in a "parenting education program."

Peter Lanza, who drove to northern New Jersey to talk to police and the FBI, is a vice president at GE Capital and had been a partner at global accounting giant Ernst & Young.

Adam's older brother Ryan Lanza, 24, has worked at Ernst & Young for four years, apparently following in his father's footsteps and carving out a solid niche in the tax practice. He too was interviewed by the FBI. Neither he nor his father is under any suspicion.

"[Ryan] is a tax guy and he is clean as a whistle," a source familiar with his work said.

Police had initially identified Ryan as the killer. Ryan sent out a series of Facebook posts saying it wasn't him and that he was at work all day. Video records as well as card swipes at Ernst & Young verified his statement that he had been at the office.

Two federal sources told ABC News that identification belonging to Ryan Lanza was found at the scene of the mass shooting. They say that identification may have led to the confusion by authorities during the first hours after the shooting. Neither Adam nor Ryan has any known criminal history.

A Sig Sauer handgun and a Glock handgun were used in the slaying and .223 shell casings – a round used in a semi-automatic military-style rifle -- were also found at the scene. Nancy Lanza had numerous weapons registered to her, including a Glock and a Sig Sauer. She also owned a Bushmaster rifle -- a semi-automatic carbine chambered for a .223 caliber round. However, federal authorities cannot confirm that the handguns or the rifle were the weapons recovered at the school.

Numerous relatives of the Lanzas in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, as well as multiple friends, are being interviewed by the FBI in an effort to put together a better picture of the gunman and any explanation for today's tragedy.

"I think the most important thing to point out with this kind of individual is that he did not snap this morning and decide to act out violently," said former FBI profiler Mary Ellen O'Toole. "These acts involve planning and thoughtfulness and strategizing in order to put the plan together so what may appear to be snap behavior is not that at all."

With reporting by Pierre Thomas, Jim Avila, Santina Leuci, Aaron Katersky, Matthew Mosk, Jason Ryan and Jay Shaylor

MORE: 27 Dead, Mostly Children, at Connecticut Elementary School Shooting

LIVE UPDATES: Newton, Conn. School Shooting

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Today on New Scientist: 13 December 2012

Violent beauty at the end of an Alaskan glacier

You can almost hear the crash of ice on water in this stunning image of an ice sheet calving off the Chenega glacier in Alaska

Overeating now bigger global problem than lack of food

The most comprehensive disease report ever produced confirms that, for the first time, there is a larger health problem from people eating too much than too little

In search of the world's oldest cave etching

Strange markings on the walls of a cave in Australia's vast Nullarbor Plain could have been a tactile code for ancient Aboriginal flint miners

Higgs boson having an identity crisis

Six months on from its announcement, the mass and decay rates of the particle thought to be the Higgs boson are proving hard to pin down

Go forth and print: 3D objects you can print yourself

We pick our favourite objects to 3D-print, including a mathematical cookie cutter, a wormhole and a New Scientist holiday tree ornament inspired by fractals

Laser drills could relight geothermal energy dreams

High-powered lasers that can drill through igneous rocks may make reaching oil and geothermal sources much easier

Robots should be cleaning your home

Tech investor Dmitri Grishin explains why the time is right for sleek, versatile robots that will be our everyday helpers rather than factory equipment

Welcome to the personal drone revolution

Sophisticated, affordable drones could soon be so commonplace that they will become our personal servants, says Michael Brooks

Finding dangerous asteroids, before they find us

Near-Earth Objects: Finding them before they find us by Donald Yeomans is a fascinating tour guide of the asteroids we should worry about

World's loneliest bug turns up in Death Valley

A microbe that survives deep below Earth's surface without the sun's energy has reappeared, in California

Search for aliens poses game theory dilemma

The complex question of whether to risk contact with ET may be navigable with a new spin on the "prisoner's dilemma"

'Robot ecosystem' in sight as apps get a cash boost

The first company dedicated to investing in consumer robotics stakes $250,000 on robot apps

First results from James Cameron's trip to the abyss

It's not Pandora, but the Mariana trench holds life just as strange as that in James Cameron's film Avatar

UK government urged to consider relaxing drug rules

A parliamentary report calls for a fresh programme of research to monitor the effects of European drug legalisation

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China shares up over 3% on data, policy hopes

SHANGHAI: Chinese shares were up more than three per cent in afternoon trade on Friday on fresh signs of an economic recovery and hopes new policies will emerge from a key government meeting, dealers said.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index jumped 3.02 per cent, or 62.24 points, to 2,123.72.

British banking giant HSBC said on Friday its preliminary purchasing managers' index (PMI) hit a 14-month high of 50.9 in December, compared with a final reading of 50.5 for November.

"The PMI data confirmed that the domestic economy has turned for the better. The index was also pushed up by expectations for policies from the economic work conference," Zheshang Securities analyst Zhang Yanbing told AFP.

China is expected to hold its annual economic work conference over the weekend to lay out policies for next year, state media reported.

- AFP/xq

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Alvarez fires back at '60 Minutes'

After days of scathing reviews of her "60 Minutes" interview on false confessions, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez fired off a letter to the venerable news program calling its Sunday report "one-sided and extremely misleading" and vowing to set the record straight.

The segment titled "Chicago: The False Confession Capital" featured two infamous Chicago-area cases in which teenage boys allegedly confessed to brutal murders but were later exonerated when DNA excluded them as the killers.

In her letter, addressed to CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager, Alvarez called the story "an offensive display" and accused reporter Byron Pitts of using only snippets of a 6-month-old interview to distort her record and make it appear she was still trying to prosecute the cases.

"Had I known that this story would completely distort my position and intentionally omit critical facts, I would never have agreed to your interview," Alvarez wrote.

One particularly damaging portion of the interview involved the Dixmoor Five case in which five men were convicted as teens of the 1991 rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl whose body was found on a path. DNA linked a serial rapist to the crime and undermined confessions from the teens. They were cleared in 2011 after spending years in prison.

Alvarez explained in the interview that one possible explanation for the DNA was necrophilia — that the rapist had sex with the girl after she'd already been killed.

That answer — which was roundly mocked in blogs and news critiques — was misconstrued, Alvarez said in the letter. She wrote that the necrophilia theory was used at trial years before she had any involvement in the case.

"I have never advanced that theory or argument, but simply responded, when asked by Mr. Pitts, that we can't say with certainty what had occurred," Alvarez wrote. "This story was not designed to inform, it was designed to undermine me and mislead the public."

Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for Alvarez, said the reaction to the piece has been vitriolic. "She's gotten hate mail, things you couldn't even publish," Daly said.

CBS News representatives did not return phone calls seeking comment.


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Global Checkup: Most People Living Longer, But Sicker

If the world's entire population went in for a collective checkup, would the doctor's prognosis be good or bad? Both, according to new studies published in The Lancet medical journal.

The vast collaborative effort, called the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2010, includes papers by nearly 500 authors in 50 countries. Spanning four decades of data, it represents the most comprehensive analysis ever undertaken of health problems around the world.

It reveals that, globally, we're living longer but coping with more illness as adults. In 1990, "childhood underweight"—a condition associated with malnutrition, measles, malaria, and other infectious diseases—was the world's biggest health problem. Now the top causes of global disease are adult ailments: high blood pressure (associated with 9.4 million deaths in 2010), tobacco smoking (6.2 million), and alcohol use (4.9 million).

First, the good news:

We're living longer. Average life expectancy has risen globally since 1970 and has increased in all but eight of the world's countries within the past decade.

Both men and women are gaining years. From 1970 to 2010, the average lifespan rose from 56.4 years to 67.5 years for men, and from 61.2 years to 73.3 years for women.

Efforts to combat childhood diseases and malnutrition have been very successful. Deaths in children under five years old declined almost 60 percent in the past four decades.

Developing countries have made huge strides in public health. In the Maldives, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Iran, and Peru, life expectancy has increased by more than 20 years since 1970. Within the past two decades, gains of 12 to 15 years have occurred in Angola, Ethiopia, Niger, and Rwanda, an indication of successful strategies for curbing HIV, malaria, and nutritional deficiencies.

We're beating many communicable diseases. Thanks to improvements in sanitation and vaccination, the death rate for diarrheal diseases, lower respiratory infections, meningitis, and other common infectious diseases has dropped by 42 percent since 1990.

And the bad:

Non-infectious diseases are on the rise, accounting for two of every three deaths globally in 2010. Heart disease and stroke are the primary culprits.

Young adults aren't doing as well as others. Deaths in the 15 to 49 age bracket have increased globally in the past 20 years. The reasons vary by region, but diabetes, smoking, alcohol, HIV/AIDS, and malaria all play a role.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic is taking a toll in sub-Saharan Africa. Life expectancy has declined overall by one to seven years in Zimbabwe and Lesotho, and young adult deaths have surged by more than 500 percent since 1970 in South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

We drink too much. Alcohol overconsumption is a growing problem in the developed world, especially in Eastern Europe, where it accounts for almost a quarter of the total disease burden. Worldwide, it has become the top risk factor for people ages 15 to 49.

We eat too much, and not the right things. Deaths attributable to obesity are on the rise, with 3.4 million in 2010 compared to 2 million in 1990. Similarly, deaths attributable to dietary risk factors and physical inactivity have increased by 50 percent (4 million) in the past 20 years. Overall, we're consuming too much sodium, trans fat, processed meat, and sugar-sweetened beverages, and not enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fiber, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Smoking is a lingering problem. Tobacco smoking, including second-hand smoke, is still the top risk factor for disease in North America and Western Europe, just as it was in 1990. Globally, it's risen in rank from the third to second leading cause of disease.

To find out more and see related charts and graphics, see the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which led the collaboration.

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Health-Exchange Deadline Looms

All of the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," doesn't go into effect until 2014, but states are required to set up their own health care exchanges or leave it to the federal government to step in by next year. The deadline for the governors' decisions is Friday.

The health insurance exchanges are one of the key stipulations of the new health care law. They will offer consumers an Internet-based marketplace for purchasing private health insurance plans.

But the president's signature health care plan has become so fraught with politics that whether governors agreed to set up the exchanges has fallen mostly along party lines.

Such partisanship is largely symbolic because if a state opts not to set up the exchange, the Department of Health and Human Services will do it for them as part of the federal program. That would not likely be well-received by Republican governors, either, but the law forces each state's chief executive to make a decision one way or the other.

Here's what it looks like in all 50 states and the District of Columbia:

20 states that have opted out -- N.J., S.C., La., Wis., Ohio, Maine, Ala., Alaska, Ariz., Ga., Pa., Kan., Neb., N.H., N.D., Okla., S.D., Tenn., Texas and Wyo.

Charles Dharapak/AP Photo

Obama Denounces Right-to-Work Laws at Visit to Auto Plant Watch Video

Washington, D.C., Gridlocked as Fiscal Cliff Approaches Watch Video

Several Republican governors have said they will not set up the exchanges, including Chris Christie (N.J.), Nikki Haley (S.C.), Bobby Jindal (La.), Scott Walker (Wis.), John Kasich (Ohio), Paul LePage (Maine), Robert Bentley (Ala.), Sean Parnell (Ark.), Jan Brewer (Ariz.), Nathan Deal (Ga.), Tom Corbett (Pa.), Sam Brownback (Kan.), Dave Heineman (Neb.), John Lynch (N.H.), Jack Dalrymple (N.D.), Mary Fallin (Okla.), Dennis Daugaard (S.D.), Bill Haslam (Tenn.), Rick Perry (Texas), and Matt Mead (Wyo.).

3 States Out, but a Little More Complicated -- Mont., Ind. and Mo.

The Montana outgoing and incoming governors are both Democrats, but the Republican state legislature rejected the Democratic state auditor's request to start setting up a state exchange. So a federal exchange will be set up in Montana as well.

The Indiana outgoing and incoming governors are both Republicans and outgoing Gov. Mitch Daniels deferred the decision to governor-elect and U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, who said his preference is not to set up a state health care exchange, paving the way for the feds to come in too.

In Missouri, Gov. Jay Nixon is a Democrat, but Prop E passed on Nov. 6, which barred his administration from creating a state-based exchange without a public vote or the approval of the state legislature. After the election, he sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services saying he would be unable to set up a state-based exchange, meaning the federal government would have to set up its own.

1 State Waiting for the White House -- Utah

Utah already has a state exchange set up, a Web-based tool where small-business employees can shop and compare health insurance with contributions from their employee. In a letter Republican Gov. Gary Herbert sent to the White House Tuesday, he asked for its exchange, called Avenue H, to be approved as a state-based exchange under the Affordable Care Act as long as state officials can open it to individuals and larger businesses.

Norm Thurston, the state's health reform implementation coordinator, says authorities there "haven't received an official response" from the White House, but "we anticipate getting one soon."

There are some sticking points that don't comply with the exchanges envisioned by the Affordable Care Act and Utah would like to keep it that way.

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UK government urged to consider relaxing drug rules

JUST say yes to considering relaxed drug controls, urged a panel of UK parliamentarians this week - but Prime Minister David Cameron has rejected the calls.

Many countries have loosened their penalties for drug use, including the Czech Republic and Portugal, which introduced a "de-penalisation" strategy in 2000. Citizens caught in possession avoid criminal records but must attend drug advice sessions. Last month, the US states of Colorado and Washington voted to legalise the recreational use of cannabis.

The UK report calls for the effects of these legal moves to be monitored. "Drugs policy ought to be evidence-based as much as possible," it concludes. "We recommend that the government fund a detailed research project to monitor the effects of each legalisation system."

The report notes that 21 countries have now introduced some form of decriminalisation. But the government's response has been lukewarm. "I don't support decriminalisation," said Cameron. "We have a policy which actually is working in Britain. Drugs use is coming down."

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China 'lacks leverage' over N. Korea: state media

BEIJING: Beijing lacks leverage over North Korea and will block moves for strong new sanctions for fear of weakening its position further, Chinese state media said Thursday following Pyongyang's rocket launch.

China is the North's sole major ally, considered the nation with the most influence over Pyongyang, and after Wednesday's rocket flight US officials urged it to intervene.

But in an editorial Thursday the state-run Global Times said: "China's ability to influence countries in the region is limited... The real problem is China's strength is not sufficient to influence its neighbour's situation."

"NK move shows China's lack of leverage" read its headline.

China voiced "regret" over the launch but state press said it could not support strong further measures against Pyongyang for fear of weakening its relationship.

A bellicose Western reaction risked driving North Korea into a corner with potentially devastating results, editorials said.

"That is why China should not take a cooperative stance with the US, Japan and South Korea in imposing sanctions on North Korea," the Global Times said.

"China will veto radical resolutions made by the three countries. At the same time North Korea should pay for its actions."

It acknowledged fears in the region should North Korea eventually be able to arm a ballistic missile with a nuclear weapon.

The reaction to the launch "is almost the same as that of North Korea's nuclear test", the paper said, and "a vicious circle" of escalation could lead to Japan abandoning its pacifist constitution and threaten peace in Northeast Asia.

The situation was "subtle, complex and dangerous", said the People's Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, urging calm and a return to the six-party talks on North Korea hosted by China and including Russia, the United States, South Korea and Japan.

"The reaction by the Security Council should be prudent and measured," the paper added.

One columnist in Global Times, which often takes a nationalist stance, suggested that China should seize the opportunity to establish a regional security framework.

The country is embroiled in territorial disputes with Japan over islands in the East China Sea, and several littoral states over the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety.

"Now it's high time to establish a political and security mechanism," wrote Ding Gang. "China is a big power in the region.

"China itself will certainly be confined by the mechanism, but the credibility it acquires will be more important. "The mechanism will not only regulate North Korea, but also the Philippines and Vietnam."

- AFP/ck

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Quinn, Emanuel assail court's concealed carry decision

Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday indicated he would like to see assault weapons banned in Illinois as lawmakers this spring revise state law to allow some form of concealed carry to comply with a court ruling that tossed aside a long-standing ban on allowing people to carry weapons.

Meanwhile, at City Hall, Mayor Rahm Emanuel blasted Tuesday's federal appellate court decision as "wrongheaded" as he offered legal help to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan as she weighs an appeal.

Judges gave the General Assembly six months to make changes, and the Democratic governor suggested the new rules will have to restrict who can get a permit to carry a gun.

"We have to have reasonable limitations so people who have clear situations where they should not be carrying a gun, for example, those with mental health challenges, those who have records of domestic violence, we cannot have those sorts of people eligible to carry weapons, loaded weapons, on their person in public places" Quinn said.

National Rifle Association lobbyist Todd Vandermyde said the governor is "being very pragmatic in his approach" on concealed carry. Though Vandermyde expected gun rights groups to hold firm on a variety of points, he said his group wanted to "work for a reasonable solution and policy on right to carry."

Quinn also pressed for an assault weapons ban, saying Illinois residents "overwhelmingly support that."

"I want to say today, and I'll say every day, we need to ban assault weapons in our state of Illinois. We aren't going to have people marching along Michigan Avenue, or any other avenue in the state of Illinois, with military-style assault weapons, weapons that are designed to kill people."

An assault weapons ban has been elusive in Springfield because of geographical differences of opinion. Opponents point to the fact that Chicago had a gun ban for decades, even as criminals obtained guns and shot people.

For his part, Emanuel noted his efforts while working for former President Bill Clinton to require background checks for gun buyers and ban semi-automatic assault weapons.

"We fought against the National Rifle Association. They had not been beaten in 30 years in the United States Congress, and we beat 'em," Emanuel said.

"I think this opinion by the 7th Circuit Court is also wrongheaded," he added.

Emanuel said he has offered to make city Law and Police department resources available to the Illinois attorney general. Meanwhile, the city is reviewing its gun registration ordinance to see if it needs modification in light of the court ruling.

Tribune reporter Ray Long contributed.



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Hubble Discovers Oldest Known Galaxy

The Hubble space telescope has discovered seven primitive galaxies formed in the earliest days of the cosmos, including one believed to be the oldest ever detected.

The discovery, announced Wednesday, is part of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field campaign to determine how and when galaxies first assembled following the Big Bang.

"This 'cosmic dawn' was not a single, dramatic event," said astrophysicist Richard Ellis with the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Rather, galaxies appear to have been formed over hundreds of millions of years.

Ellis led a team that used Hubble to look at one small section of the sky for a hundred hours. The grainy images of faint galaxies include one researchers determined to be from a period 380 million years after the onset of the universe—the closest in time to the Big Bang ever observed.

The cosmos is about 13.7 billion years old, so the newly discovered galaxy was present when the universe was 4 percent of its current age. The other six galaxies were sending out light from between 380 million and 600 million years after the Big Bang. (See pictures of "Hubble's Top Ten Discoveries.")

Baby Pictures

The images are "like the first ultrasounds of [an] infant," said Abraham Loeb, a specialist in the early cosmos at Harvard University. "These are the building blocks of the galaxies we now have."

These early galaxies were a thousand times denser than galaxies are now and were much closer together as well, Ellis said. But they were also less luminous than later galaxies.

The team used a set of four filters to analyze the near infrared wavelengths captured by Hubble Wide Field Camera 3, and estimated the galaxies' distances from Earth by studying their colors. At a NASA teleconference, team members said they had pushed Hubble's detection capabilities about as far as they could go and would most likely not be able to identify galaxies from further back in time until the James Webb Space Telescope launches toward the end of the decade. (Learn about the Hubble telescope.)

"Although we may have reached back as far as Hubble will see, Hubble has set the stage for Webb," said team member Anton Koekemoer of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. "Our work indicates there is a rich field of even earlier galaxies that Webb will be able to study."

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McAfee Lands in Miami: I'm Free

Software mogul John McAfee has been released from detention in Guatemala City and has landed in Miami.

Immediately upon landing, according to passengers on the plane, McAfee's name was called and he was whisked off the aircraft. Federal officials escorted the 67-year-old Internet antivirus pioneer through customs spirit him out a side door, out of the view of reporters, according to Miami International Airport's communication director, Greg Chin.

It was not clear whether officials intended to help McAfee avoid the inevitable media circus or wanted to question him. However, he has not been charged with committing a crime in Guatemala or Belize, where the authorities have sought to question him about the murder of his neighbor.

McAfee's departure from Guatemala came earlier today.

"They took me out of my cell and put me on a freaking airplane," he told ABC News. "I had no choice in the matter."

McAfee said, however, that Guatemalan authorities had been "nice" and that his exit from the Central American country was "not at all" unpleasant.

"It was the most gracious expulsion I've ever experienced," he said. "Compared to my past two wives that expelled me this isn't a terrible trip."

McAfee said he would not be accompanied by his 20-year-old Belizean girlfriend, but is seeking a visa for her. He also said he had retained a lawyer in the U.S.

Guatemala's National Police/AP Photo

John McAfee Arrested in Guatemala Overnight Watch Video

Software Founder Breaks Silence: McAfee Speaks on Murder Allegations Watch Video

When he was released earlier today, McAfee told the Associated Press, "I'm free. ... I'm going to America."

McAfee, who had been living in a beachfront house in Belize, went on the run after the Nov. 10 murder of his neighbor, fellow American expatriate Greg Faull. Belize police said they wanted to question McAfee about the murder, but McAfee said he feared for his life in Belizean custody.

He entered Guatemala last week seeking asylum, but was arrested and taken to an immigration detention center. He was taken to the hospital after suffering a nervous collapse and then returned to the detention center. The U.S. State Department has visited McAfee, who is a dual U.S.-British citizen, several times during his stay in Guatemala.

During his three-week journey, said McAfee, he disguised himself as handicapped, dyed his hair seven times and hid in many different places during his three-week journey.

He dismissed accounts of erratic behavior and reports that he had been using the synthetic drug bath salts. He said he had never used the drug, and said statements that he had were part of an elaborate prank.

Investigators in Belize said that McAfee was not a suspect in the death of Faull, a former developer who was found shot in the head in his house.

McAfee told ABC News that the poisoning death of his dogs and the murder just hours later of Faull, who had complained about his dogs, was a coincidence.

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Today on New Scientist: 11 December 2012

Out-of-season's greetings from the Arctic frost flowers

Season's regards from an icy meadow in the Arctic, but it's no winter wonderland and please don't dash out into it

How hacking a mosquito's heart could eradicate malaria

Watch how a double-pronged trick helps mosquitoes remain healthy while carrying disease, a process that could be exploited to eliminate malaria

New drug lifts hard-to-treat depression in hours

A new class of drugs that changes the way neurons interact in the brain can rapidly lift people out of depression

E. O. Wilson and poet laureate on altruism and mystery

Leading evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson and former US poet laureate Robert Hass discuss free will, wilderness and the mysterious origin of the arts

Souped-up immune cells force leukaemia into remission

Genetically engineered white blood cells have been shown to have a strong impact on leukaemia after just three months

War of words: The language paradox explained

If language evolved for communication, how come most people can't understand what most other people are saying?

AC/DC's Highway to Hell sent via a drone's laser beam

A dose of rock music proves that a drone's reconnaisance data can be sent via reflected laser beam instead of radio

'Biology is a manufacturing capability'

Soon we'll be able to engineer living things with mechanical precision, says Tom Knight, father of synthetic biology

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China raps N. Korea over rocket launch

BEIJING: China on Wednesday rapped North Korea over its long-range rocket launch, demanding North Korea comply with UN resolutions against using ballistic missiles, the official news agency Xinhua said.

"Pyongyang should... abide by relevant UN Security Council resolutions... which demands the DPRK not to conduct 'any launch using ballistic missile technology' and urges it to 'suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile programme'," Xinhua said in a commentary.

China, North Korea's sole major ally and its biggest trading partner and aid provider, is seen as one of the few nations with any influence over the regime in Pyongyang and had previously expressed concerns over the launch.

Over the past decade, Beijing has repeatedly called for calm as North Korea tested nuclear weapons and carried out ballistic missile tests, despite wide condemnation from the international community, including the United States.

Following Wednesday's launch, Xinhua again urged all sides to exercise restraint.

"All parties concerned should stay cool-headed and refrain from stoking the flames so as to prevent the situation from spiralling out of control," Xinhua said.

"In place of bellicose rhetoric and gestures, they need to take concrete actions to foster a conducive milieu for dialogue and return to the negotiating table as soon as possible."

Xinhua also called for the resumption of long-stalled six-party talks over the North's nuclear programme, which are chaired by China and take in both Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia.

"For years, the situation on the peninsula seems to have entered a reinforcing loop of misunderstanding, mistrust and animosity. The only viable way begins with trust-building," the agency added.

However, it said that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea -- the North's official name -- had "the right to conduct peaceful exploration of the outer space".

North Korea insisted the mission was not a banned intercontinental missile test but was designed to place a scientific satellite in orbit, and said it had achieved all its objectives.

"In international relations, as in life, the best way to make an enemy of a country is to treat it like one," Xinhua said. "This rule of thumb is also true with making friends."

- AFP/ck

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3 dead, including gunman, in Portland, Ore., mall shooting

A masked gunman wearing camouflage opened fire Thursday in a busy Portland mall, leaving the gunman and two others dead and forcing the mall's Santa Claus and hundreds of Christmas shoppers and employees to flee or hide among store displays.

Austin Patty, 20, who works at Macy's, said he saw a man in a white mask carrying a rifle and wearing a bulletproof vest. He heard the gunman say, "I am the shooter," as if announcing himself. A series of rapid-fire shots in short succession followed as Christmas music played. Patty said he ducked to the ground and then ran.

His Macy's co-worker, Pam Moore, told The Associated Press the gunman was short, with dark hair. Witnesses said he started firing just outside Macy's in the food court of Clackamas Town Center.

Brance Wilson, the mall Santa, said he heard gunshots and dove for the floor. By the time he looked up, seconds later, everyone around him had cleared out. Merchandise was scattered in some stores as he made his way to the door.

"Santa will be back," Wilson said. "It's not going to keep Santa away from the mall."

Police said they have tentatively identified the gunman but would not release his name or give any information on a possible motive. Officials said a woman was also shot and was in serious condition at a Portland hospital.

"We have a young lady in the hospital fighting for her life right now," Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts at a news conference late Tuesday.

Clackamas Town Center is one of the Portland area's biggest and busiest malls, with 185 stores and a 20-screen movie theater. It would remain closed at least through Wednesday, Roberts said.

Shaun Wik, 20, from Fairview, said he was Christmas shopping with his girlfriend and opened a fortune cookie at the food court. Inside was written: "Live for today. Remember yesterday. Think of tomorrow."

As he read it, he heard three shots. He heard a man he believes was the gunman shout, "Get down!" but Wik and his girlfriend ran. He heard seven or eight more shots. He didn't turn around.

"If I had looked back, I might not be standing here," Wik said. "I might have been one of the ones who got hit."

Kira Rowland told KGW-TV that she was shopping at Macy's with her infant son when the shots started.

"All of a sudden you hear two shots, which sounded like balloons popping," Rowland told the station. "Everybody got on the ground. I grabbed the baby from the stroller and got on the ground."

Rowland said she heard people screaming and crying.

"I put the baby back in the stroller and ran," Rowland said.

Holli Bautista, 28, said she was shopping at Macy's for a Christmas dress for her daughter when she heard pops that sounded like firecrackers.

"I heard people running and screaming and saying 'Get out, there's somebody shooting,'" she told the AP.

She said hundreds of shoppers and mall employees started running, and she and dozens of other people were trying to escape through a department store exit.

Tiffany Turgetto and her husband were leaving Macy's through the first floor when they heard gunshots coming from the second floor of the mall. They were able to quickly leave through a Barnes & Noble bookstore before the police arrived and locked down the mall.

"I had left my phone at home. I was telling people to call 911. Surprisingly, people are around me, no one was calling 911. I think people were in shock."

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Best Space Pictures of 2012: Editor's Picks

Photograph courtesy Tunç Tezel, APOY/Royal Observatory

This image of the Milky Way's vast star fields hanging over a valley of human-made light was recognized in the 2012 Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition run by the U.K.’s Royal Observatory Greenwich.

To get the shot, photographer Tunç Tezel trekked to Uludag National Park near his hometown of Bursa, Turkey. He intended to watch the moon and evening planets, then take in the Perseids meteor shower.

"We live in a spiral arm of the Milky Way, so when we gaze through the thickness of our galaxy, we see it as a band of dense star fields encircling the sky," said Marek Kukula, the Royal Observatory's public astronomer and a contest judge.

Full story>>

Why We Love It

"I like the way this view of the Milky Way also shows us a compelling foreground landscape. It also hints at the astronomy problems caused by light pollution."—Chris Combs, news photo editor

Published December 11, 2012

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Gunman 'Tentatively' Identified in Oregon Shooting

A masked gunman who opened fire in the crowded Clackamas Town Center mall in suburban Portland, Ore., killing two individuals before killing himself, has been "tentatively" identified by police, though they have not yet released his name.

The shooter, wearing a white hockey mask, black clothing, and a bullet proof vest, tore through the mall around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, entering through a Macy's store and proceeding to the food court and public areas spraying bullets, according to witness reports.

Police have not released the names of the deceased. Clackamas County Sheriff's Department Lt. James Rhodes said authorities are in the process of notifying victims' families.

The injured victim has been transported to a local hospital, where she is "fighting for her life," according to Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts.

PHOTOS: Oregon Mall Shooting

Nadia Telguz, who said she was a friend of the injured victim, told ABC News affiliate KATU-TV in Portland that the woman was expected to recover.

"My friend's sister got shot," Teleguz told KATU. "She's on her way to (Oregon Health and Science University hospital). They're saying she got shot in her side and so it's not life-threatening, so she'll be OK."

Christopher Onstott/Pamplen Media Group/Portland Tribune

911 Calls From New Jersey Supermarket Shooting Watch Video

Witnesses from the shooting rampage said that a young man who appeared to be a teenager ran through the upper level of Macy's to the mall food court, firing multiple shots, one right after the other, with what is believed to be a black, semi-automatic rifle.

More than 10,000 shoppers were at the mall during the day, police said. Roberts said that officers responded to the scene of the shooting within minutes, and four SWAT teams swept the 1.4 million-square-foot building searching for the shooter. He was eventually found dead, an apparent suicide.

"I can confirm the shooter is dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound," Rhodes said. "By all accounts there were no rounds fired by law enforcement today in the mall."

Roberts said more than 100 law enforcement officers responded to the shooting, and at least four local agencies were working on the investigation, including the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which is working to trace the shooter's weapon.

READ: Guns in America: A Statistical Look

Roberts also said that shoppers, including two emergency room nurses and one physician who happened to be at the mall, provided medical assistance to victims who had been shot. Other shoppers helped escort individuals out of the mall and out of harm's way, he said.

"There were a huge amount of people running in different directions, and it was chaos for a lot of citizens, but true heroes were stepping up in this time of high stress," Roberts said. "E.R. nurses on the scene were providing medical care to those injured, a physician on the scene was helping provide care to the wounded."

Mall shopper Daniel Martinez told KATU that he had just sat down at a Jamba Juice inside the mall when he heard rapid gunfire. He turned and saw the masked gunman, dressed in all black, about 10 feet away from him.

"I just saw him (the gunman) and thought, 'I need to go somewhere,'" Martinez said. "It was so fast, and at that time, everyone was moving around."

Martinez said he ran to the nearest clothing store. As he ran, he motioned for another woman to follow; several others ran to the store as well, hiding in a fitting room. They stayed there for an hour and a half until SWAT teams told them it was safe to leave the mall.

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Doha summit launches climate damage aid

The latest summit to stop climate change, held in Doha, Qatar, over the past two weeks has been roundly slammed. Little was agreed to curb greenhouse gas emissions and the latest modelling, carried out by the Climate Action Tracker consortium shows global averages temperatures are still set to rise by at least 3 °C above pre-industrial levels.

There was one breakthrough: developing countries won a promise from developed ones that they would compensate them for losses and damage caused by climate change. The deal offers the promise of large amounts of climate aid. But first, science will have to catch up with politics.

All countries will suffer from climate change. There will be consequences even if humanity slashed its emissions and stopped temperatures rising more than 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, the stated goal of the UN negotiations. In actual fact, with emissions rising faster than ever, a 3 or 4 °C rise is likely this century.

The consequences will be manifold. Deserts will spread and lethal heatwaves become more frequent. Changes in rainfall will bring droughts, floods and storms, while rising seas will swamp low-lying areas, obliterating valuable territory. Food production will fall.

Before Doha kicked off, the charities ActionAid, CARE International and WWF released a report arguing that rich countries should compensate poor countries for such damages. Tackling the Limits to Adaptation points out that climate change will cost countries dearly, both economically and in less tangible ways such as the loss of indigenous cultures.

Two-pronged approach

So far, climate negotiations have taken a two-pronged approach to the problem. On the one hand, they have sought to create incentives or imperatives to cut emissions. On the other, they have established a pot of money for poor countries to pay for measures that will help them fend off the unavoidable consequences of climate change – such as sea walls and irrigation systems.

That, according to some, leaves a third element missing. Helping those who suffer the consequences of climate change is a moral obligation and must be part of any treaty on climate change, says Niklas Höhne of renewable energy consultancy Ecofys. The idea of climate compensation has been around since the early 1990s, when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was negotiated.

In Doha, a coalition including China, the Alliance of Small Island States and the G77 group of developing countries pushed for it to revived.

They proposed a scheme that would decide when countries had suffered climate harms, and compensate them. It would be a form of insurance, and the greatest international aid scheme ever. The idea gained momentum after Typhoon Bopha struck the Philippines last week, and that country's negotiator Naderev "Yeb" Saño broke down in tears during a speech. And, although developed nations had little incentive to agree, the conference concluded with a promise to set something up next year.

Compensation poses a fundamental challenge to climate science, which still struggles to work out if trends and events are caused by greenhouse gases or would have happened anyway. "We can't say that an individual event was caused by climate change," says Nigel Arnell of the University of Reading, UK. "What we can do is say that the chance of it happening was greater."

Systematic tests

Some climatologists are now running systematic tests to decide whether extreme weather events are caused by climate change. They run climate models with and without humanity's emissions. If the odds of a particular event are different, it suggests it was at least partially driven by emissions. By this measure, the 2003 European heatwave and 2011 Texas drought were both made more likely by human emissions.

But this science is in its infancy. We can confidently attribute large-scale trends and temperature changes, says Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. But changes in rainfall, and short-term events like hurricanes, are harder because we do not really understand them. Trenberth speculates that superstorm Sandy would not have flooded the New York subwaysMovie Camera without climate change, but says it's not possible to prove.

Arnell says that might prove unworkable. Gradual changes – such as rising sea levels, melting glaciers and ocean acidification – are easy to attribute to climate change but their consequences difficult to cost; sudden events are easy to cost but difficult to attribute.

There may be another possibility. Rather than examining individual events, climate models could predict the extra climate-related costs each country would experience, allowing regular payouts. "That would be a way round it," says Arnell. Delegates at next year's conference will have to consider these questions.

Positive step

Harjeet Singh of ActionAid in New Delhi, India, calls the Doha deal "a positive step forward". But it is only an agreement in principle: no money was committed, and even a promise to do so in the future was left out of the final text. Edward Davey, the UK's secretary of state for energy and climate change, said it was "far too early" to talk about committing money. "We aren't saying there should be compensation," he said.

Singh says the developed world would save money by cutting emissions now, rather than letting temperatures rise and then paying compensation. Small island states were keen to get an agreement on loss and damage because emissions cuts are going so slowly, making dangerous climate change almost certain. The Doha agreement is a first step towards dealing with the consequences of that failure.

On 'other business'

Aside from agreeing to make compensation available for loss and damage, the Doha summit achieved little. Nearly two decades ago, the world's governments set out to agree a binding deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Doha included some baby steps towards a deal in 2015, but that is not guaranteed and in any case will come too late to stop dangerous climate change. Only Lebanon and the Dominican Republic made new emissions pledges.

The talks were bogged down in rows over financing. In a deal that was separate to the adaptation fund, developed countries had promised in 2009 to deliver $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor nations prepare for climate change. Between 2009 and 2012 they allocated $10 billion a year. In Doha they refused to say how they would scale that up, simply promising to "continue" – leaving developing countries unsure if or when they would get more.

The Kyoto protocol was renewed until 2020, but its global effect is likely to be limited. Its value is partly symbolic, to show that binding agreements can be reached, and as one of many small and medium-scale projects to cut emissions.

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China bank lending rises in November

SHANGHAI: Chinese banks boosted lending in November from October, official figures showed Tuesday, as Beijing seeks to preserve the budding recovery in the world's second largest economy.

Chinese banks extended 522.9 billion yuan ($83.9 billion) in new loans last month, up from 505.2 billion yuan in October, the central bank said in a statement.

But the figure was below market expectations of 550 billion yuan, according to an average forecast of 15 economists polled by Dow Jones Newswires.

China has been encouraging bank lending to bolster economic growth, which has slowed for seven straight quarters and hit a more than three-year low of 7.4 per cent in the third quarter, hurt by weak demand overseas and at home.

Policymakers have cut interest rates twice this year and trimmed the amount of cash banks must place in reserve three times since December 2011 as they try to encourage lending and pump up growth.

The government over the weekend released a series of figures showing continued strength in the domestic economy, but lower-than-expected trade data for November released on Monday underlined the fragility of the recovery.

Economists said the central bank will continue to maintain its relatively loose monetary policy but some ruled out the likelihood of immediate cuts in interest rates and banks' reserve requirements.

"We expect the government to sustain the current policy stance which could be featured as marginally pro-growth without big-bang stimulus," Lu Ting, China economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said in a research note.

- AFP/ck

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