Herbal Viagra actually contains the real thing



































IF IT looks too good to be true, it probably is. Several "herbal remedies" for erectile dysfunction sold online actually contain the active ingredient from Viagra.












Michael Lamb at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania, and colleagues purchased 10 popular "natural" uplifting remedies on the internet and tested them for the presence of sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. They found the compound, or a similar synthetic drug, in seven of the 10 products – cause for concern because it can be dangerous for people with some medical conditions.












Lamb's work was presented last week at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting in Washington DC.












This article appeared in print under the headline "Herbal Viagra gets a synthetic boost"


















































If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.









































































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If you are having a technical problem posting a comment, please contact technical support.








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Bangladesh deploys troops as protest toll mounts






DHAKA: Bangladesh deployed troops in the north of the country on Sunday as six more people were killed in fresh clashes over the conviction of Islamist leaders for war crimes in the Muslim-majority nation.

The army was deployed in violence-wracked Shahjahanpur town after more than 5,000 stick-wielding protesters attacked two police stations, forcing police to open fire, they said.

"At least four people were killed in clashes after Jamaat-e-Islami supporters attacked us. The toll could rise," Shahjahanpur district's deputy police chief Moqbul Ahmed told AFP, adding that troops had been deployed to boost security.

Two other people were also killed on Saturday night, including a ruling party student activist who was allegedly hacked to death by suspected Jamaat supporters, police said.

An inter-city train was torched late Saturday in the northwest but there were no casualties, police said.

The death toll in the clashes over the war crimes verdicts has risen to 62 since January 21, including 46 killed in the past four days after Jamaat's vice president was sentenced to death, police said.

Delwar Hossain Sayedee was on Thursday found guilty of murder, religious persecution and rape during the 1971 independence war, triggering violent clashes between rampaging Jamaat supporters and police across the country.

The 73-year-old firebrand preacher was the third person to be convicted by the war crimes tribunal, whose verdicts have been met with outrage from Islamists.

Jamaat says the process is more about settling scores than delivering justice. The party has enforced a nationwide strike on Sunday to protest the verdict and killing of its activists in police "brutalities".

The war crimes trials of a dozen Jamaat and main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leaders have opened old wounds and divided the nation, with the opposition parties accusing the government of staging a witch-hunt.

The government, which says the war claimed three million lives, rejects the claims and accuses Jamaat leaders of being part of pro-Pakistani militias blamed for much of the carnage during the 1971 independence war.

Independent estimates put the death toll from the war in which Bangladesh won its independence from Pakistan at a much lower figure of 300,000 to 500,000.

- AFP/ir



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Rescuers end effort to find body of man presumed dead in sinkhole









SEFFNER, Florida -- Florida rescue workers have ended their efforts to recover the body of a man who disappeared into a sinkhole that swallowed his bedroom while he slept in a suburban Tampa home, and the house will be demolished, a public safety official said on Saturday.


Jeff Bush, 36, who is presumed dead, was asleep when the other five members of the household who were getting ready for bed on Thursday night heard a loud crash and Jeff screaming.


Authorities have not detected any signs of life after lowering listening devices and cameras into the hole.








"Our data has come back, and there is absolutely no way we can do any kind of recovery without endangering lives of workers," said Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokeswoman Jessica Dam.


The sinkhole also has compromised the house next door, officials said Saturday.


Officials planned to let family members, accompanied by firefighters, into the threatened  home for about 20 minutes to gather some  belongings, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokesman Ronnie Rivera told reporters Saturday.


She said demolition of the home would begin early on Sunday.


Bush's body hadn’t been removed by Saturday afternoon and the ground near the home was still "very, very unsafe," Rivera said at a televised press conference Saturday.


"At this time we did some testing and we determined that the house right next to the house that’s actually damaged is also compromised by the sinkhole," Rivera said.


Jeff's brother, 35-year-old Jeremy Bush, jumped into the hole and furiously kept digging to find his brother.


"I really don't think they are going to be able to find him," Jeremy said on Saturday. He "will be there forever."


A small memorial of balloons and flowers for his brother had formed near the house on Saturday morning.


"I thank the Lord for not taking my daughter and the rest of my family," he said.


Jeremy himself had to be rescued from the sinkhole by the first responder to the emergency call, Douglas Duvall of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. When Duvall entered Jeff Bush's bedroom, all he saw was a widening chasm but no sign of Jeff.


"The hole took the entire bedroom," said Duvall. "You could see the bed frame, the dresser, everything was sinking," he said.


Norman Wicker, 48, the father of Jeremy's fiancee who also lived in the house, ran to get a flashlight and shovel.


"It sounded like a car ran into the back of the house," Wicker said.


"There is a very large, very fluid mass underneath this house rendering the entire house and the entire lot dangerous and unsafe," Bill Bracken, the head of an engineering company assisting fire and rescue officials, told the news conference late on Friday.


"We are still trying to determine the extent and nature of what's down there so we can best determine how to approach it and how to extricate," Bracken said.


After suspending the search overnight, it resumed at daylight on Saturday, with engineering consultants trying to determine the extent of the collapse so that a perimeter boundary can be established for setting up heavy equipment for future excavation.


Several nearby homes were evacuated in case the 30-foot wide sinkhole got larger but officials said Friday it only appeared to be getting deeper. Soil samples showed that the sinkhole has compromised the ground underneath a home next door, engineers said Saturday.


The residents of that house were allowed 20 minutes in their home on Saturday to gather belongings. Firefighters and residents formed an assembly line to move items out of the house into SUVs and trucks.


Rescue officials said that in addition to soil samples, they were focusing on engineering analysis, ground penetration radar and other techniques to determine the extent of the ongoing collapse. Listening devices were being used to detect any evidence of life although Bush was presumed dead.


The Bush brothers worked together as landscapers, according to Leland Wicker, 48, one of the other residents of the house.


The risk of sinkholes is common in Florida due to the state's porous geological bedrock, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. As rainwater filters down into the ground, it dissolves the rock, causing erosion that can lead to underground caverns, which cause sinkholes when they collapse.

Reuters





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We Didn’t Domesticate Dogs. They Domesticated Us.


In the story of how the dog came in from the cold and onto our sofas, we tend to give ourselves a little too much credit. The most common assumption is that some hunter-gatherer with a soft spot for cuteness found some wolf puppies and adopted them. Over time, these tamed wolves would have shown their prowess at hunting, so humans kept them around the campfire until they evolved into dogs. (See "How to Build a Dog.")

But when we look back at our relationship with wolves throughout history, this doesn't really make sense. For one thing, the wolf was domesticated at a time when modern humans were not very tolerant of carnivorous competitors. In fact, after modern humans arrived in Europe around 43,000 years ago, they pretty much wiped out every large carnivore that existed, including saber-toothed cats and giant hyenas. The fossil record doesn't reveal whether these large carnivores starved to death because modern humans took most of the meat or whether humans picked them off on purpose. Either way, most of the Ice Age bestiary went extinct.

The hunting hypothesis, that humans used wolves to hunt, doesn't hold up either. Humans were already successful hunters without wolves, more successful than every other large carnivore. Wolves eat a lot of meat, as much as one deer per ten wolves every day-a lot for humans to feed or compete against. And anyone who has seen wolves in a feeding frenzy knows that wolves don't like to share.

Humans have a long history of eradicating wolves, rather than trying to adopt them. Over the last few centuries, almost every culture has hunted wolves to extinction. The first written record of the wolf's persecution was in the sixth century B.C. when Solon of Athens offered a bounty for every wolf killed. The last wolf was killed in England in the 16th century under the order of Henry VII. In Scotland, the forested landscape made wolves more difficult to kill. In response, the Scots burned the forests. North American wolves were not much better off. By 1930, there was not a wolf left in the 48 contiguous states of America.  (See "Wolf Wars.")

If this is a snapshot of our behavior toward wolves over the centuries, it presents one of the most perplexing problems: How was this misunderstood creature tolerated by humans long enough to evolve into the domestic dog?

The short version is that we often think of evolution as being the survival of the fittest, where the strong and the dominant survive and the soft and weak perish. But essentially, far from the survival of the leanest and meanest, the success of dogs comes down to survival of the friendliest.

Most likely, it was wolves that approached us, not the other way around, probably while they were scavenging around garbage dumps on the edge of human settlements. The wolves that were bold but aggressive would have been killed by humans, and so only the ones that were bold and friendly would have been tolerated.

Friendliness caused strange things to happen in the wolves. They started to look different. Domestication gave them splotchy coats, floppy ears, wagging tails. In only several generations, these friendly wolves would have become very distinctive from their more aggressive relatives. But the changes did not just affect their looks. Changes also happened to their psychology. These protodogs evolved the ability to read human gestures.

As dog owners, we take for granted that we can point to a ball or toy and our dog will bound off to get it. But the ability of dogs to read human gestures is remarkable. Even our closest relatives-chimpanzees and bonobos-can't read our gestures as readily as dogs can. Dogs are remarkably similar to human infants in the way they pay attention to us. This ability accounts for the extraordinary communication we have with our dogs. Some dogs are so attuned to their owners that they can read a gesture as subtle as a change in eye direction.

With this new ability, these protodogs were worth knowing. People who had dogs during a hunt would likely have had an advantage over those who didn't. Even today, tribes in Nicaragua depend on dogs to detect prey. Moose hunters in alpine regions bring home 56 percent more prey when they are accompanied by dogs. In the Congo, hunters believe they would starve without their dogs.

Dogs would also have served as a warning system, barking at hostile strangers from neighboring tribes. They could have defended their humans from predators.

And finally, though this is not a pleasant thought, when times were tough, dogs could have served as an emergency food supply. Thousands of years before refrigeration and with no crops to store, hunter-gatherers had no food reserves until the domestication of dogs. In tough times, dogs that were the least efficient hunters might have been sacrificed to save the group or the best hunting dogs. Once humans realized the usefulness of keeping dogs as an emergency food supply, it was not a huge jump to realize plants could be used in a similar way.

So, far from a benign human adopting a wolf puppy, it is more likely that a population of wolves adopted us. As the advantages of dog ownership became clear, we were as strongly affected by our relationship with them as they have been by their relationship with us. Dogs may even have been the catalyst for our civilization.

Dr. Brian Hare is the director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center and Vanessa Woods is a research scientist at Duke University. This essay is adapted from their new book, The Genius of Dogs, published by Dutton. To play science-based games to find the genius in your dog, visit www.dognition.com.


Read More..

Man's Body Recovery Effort Ends; Sinkhole 'Unstable'












Authorities have discontinued the rescue effort for a Florida man who was swallowed by a sinkhole when his home's foundation collapsed and said it is unlikely his body will ever be recovered.


"We feel we have done everything we can," Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrell said at a news conference this afternoon. "At this point, it's not possible to recover the body."


Merell said officials would bring in heavy equipment to begin demolishing the home on Sunday.


"We're dealing with a very unusual sinkhole," he said. "It's very deep. It's very wide. It's very unstable."


Jeff Bush was in his bedroom when a sinkhole opened up and trapped him underneath his home at 11 p.m. Thursday.


Two homes next door to Bush's residence were evacuated today after authorities said they had been compromised by the growing sinkhole.


With the assistance of rescuers, the homeowners will be allowed to enter their home for only 30 minutes to gather valuables, authorities said.


Rescuers returned to the site in Seffner, Fla., early this morning to conduct further testing, but decided it was too dangerous for the family initially affected by the sinkhole to enter their home, which was declared condemned.








Florida Sinkhole Opens Up Beneath Man's Home Watch Video









Florida Man Believed Dead After Falling into Sinkhole Watch Video









Florida Sinkhole Swallows House, Man Trapped Inside Watch Video





While the sinkhole was initially estimated to be 15 feet deep on Thursday night, the chasm has continued to grow. Officials now estimate it measures 30 feet across and is up to 100 feet deep.


The Hillsborough County Fire Rescue has set up a relief fund for all families affected by the growing sink hole.


MORE: How Sinkholes Can Develop


Rescue operations were halted Friday night after it became too dangerous to approach the home.


Bill Bracken, an engineer with Hillsborough County Urban Search and Rescue team said the house "should have collapsed by now, so it's amazing that it hasn't."


RELATED: Florida Man Swallowed by Sinkhole: Conditions Too Unstable to Approach


Using ground penetrating radar, rescuers have found a large amount of water beneath the house, making conditions even more dangerous for them to continue the search for Bush.


Hillsborough County lies in what is known as Florida's "Sinkhole Alley." More than 500 sinkholes have been reported in the area since 1954, according to the state's environmental agency.


Meanwhile, Bush's brother, Jeremy Bush, is still reeling from Thursday night.


Jeremy Bush had to be rescued by a first responder after jumping into the hole in an attempt to rescue his brother when the home's concrete floor collapsed, but said he couldn't find him.


"I just started digging and started digging and started digging, and the cops showed up and pulled me out of the hole and told me the floor's still falling in," he said.


"These are everyday working people, they're good people," said Deputy Douglas Duvall of the Hillsborough County sheriff's office. "And this was so unexpected, and they're still, you know, probably facing the reality that this is happening."



Read More..

Herbal Viagra actually contains the real thing



































IF IT looks too good to be true, it probably is. Several "herbal remedies" for erectile dysfunction sold online actually contain the active ingredient from Viagra.












Michael Lamb at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania, and colleagues purchased 10 popular "natural" uplifting remedies on the internet and tested them for the presence of sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. They found the compound, or a similar synthetic drug, in seven of the 10 products – cause for concern because it can be dangerous for people with some medical conditions.












Lamb's work was presented last week at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting in Washington DC.












This article appeared in print under the headline "Herbal Viagra gets a synthetic boost"


















































If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.




































All comments should respect the New Scientist House Rules. If you think a particular comment breaks these rules then please use the "Report" link in that comment to report it to us.


If you are having a technical problem posting a comment, please contact technical support.








Read More..

Thai tourist industry 'driving' elephant smuggling






BANGKOK: Smuggling the world's largest land animal across an international border sounds like a mammoth undertaking, but activists say that does not stop traffickers supplying Asian elephants to Thai tourist attractions.

Unlike their heavily-poached African cousins -- whose plight is set to dominate Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) talks in Bangkok next week -- Asian elephants do not often make the headlines.

But the species is also under threat, as networks operate a rapacious trade in wild elephants to meet the demands of Thailand's tourist industry.

Camps and zoos featuring elephants tightrope walking, playing football or performing in painting contests employ almost 4,000 domesticated elephants for the amusement of tourists.

Conservation activists accuse the industry of using illicitly-acquired animals to supplement its legal supply, with wild elephants caught in Myanmar and sold across the border into one of around 150 camps.

"Even the so-called rescue charities are trying to buy elephants," said John Roberts of the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation.

Domestic elephants in Thailand -- where the pachyderm is a national symbol -- have been employed en masse in the tourist trade since they found themselves unemployed in 1989 when logging was banned.

Just 2,000 of the animals remain in the wild.

Prices have exploded with elephants now commanding between 500,000 and two million baht ($17,000 to $67,000) per baby, estimates suggest.

The number of baby elephants "coming into the system" is far higher than would be possible "from actual breeding", said Roberts, whose group decided to stop buying elephants seven years ago and now has 26 residents.

"I cannot see a way to buy an elephant which doesn't cause another elephant to be smuggled," he added.

Between 50 and 100 wild baby or young female elephants are sold from Myanmar each year, according to estimates by British charity Elephant Family.

The group's head of conservation, Dan Bucknell, told AFP that while some trafficked elephants may be taken elsewhere, the majority enter the Thai market.

"Thailand is certainly a hub," he said.

Smuggling such a large mammal should in theory require elaborate planning to avoid the police but in reality traffickers just "do it over a normal road", said wildlife trade researcher Vincent Nijman of Oxford Brookes university.

"Elephants can be in a truck or even walk" across the Thai border in front of complicit customs officers and border guards, he said.

Demand is not only threatening the 4,000 to 5,000 wild elephants in Myanmar, but is also hitting populations in Thailand's other neighbour Laos.

Young domestic elephants are exported across the border, furthering the decline of a population of around 480 animals, said Gilles Maurer of the group ElephantAsia.

Laos, known as the "land of a million elephants", only has between 300 and 500 wild pachyderms left and Maurer said that as the domestic population shrinks, "there is a strong risk" that poachers will turn to them.

Last year Thai authorities conducted several raids on elephant camps and seized some 25 animals -- 19 remain under their protection.

"It is likely the 19 seized elephants were smuggled wild animals as their paperwork did not match up," said forest ranger Pradung Jitraon, of Thailand's National Parks department, who participated in the operation.

Activists have welcomed the initiative but are also calling for broader reforms. "The system now is so weak," said Petch Manopawitr of the World Wildlife Fund in Thailand.

Thailand needs "more control, more transparent monitoring of the population, of what they do in terms of new born elephants", he said, calling for a proper database of elephants, using DNA testing or microchips.

Such a system, he added, would allow foreigners to visit elephant camps safe in the knowledge they are not "harming or threatening the wild population".

- AFP/ck



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Blackhawks' streak at 21 with overtime win over Blue Jackets









Chalk one up for the "slug defenseman."

Brent Seabrook's goal in overtime kept the Blackhawks' record-breaking streak alive as they edged the Blue Jackets 4-3 Friday night at the United Center to remain without a regulation loss this season. At 18-0-3, the Hawks keep piling up the points, securing 39 of a possible 42 this season.






Friday night's hero — with a little help from his friends — was Seabrook, who took a pass from Jonathan Toews 3 minutes, 23 seconds into overtime and beat Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason for the game-winner.

"(Toews) is good — he's a hell of a player," Seabrook said, giving credit to his captain. "He usually likes to shoot low and I think Mason was probably thinking he was going to shoot it. (Toews) had a slug defenseman (in me) going down on the off side so he made a great pass. I don't think the Blue Jackets defenseman, Mason or I expected it to come. Somehow he saw me and made a great pass.

"He didn't look at me once and I didn't yell. He's pretty good in those situations so I just let him do his thing. I don't think I shot the puck, it was such a hard pass it hit my stick and just bounced in."

Against a banged up and usually bumbling Blue Jackets squad, the Hawks increased their points streak over the course of two seasons to 27 consecutive games — third-longest in NHL history.

Viktor Stalberg, Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell had goals in regulation and Ray Emery earned the victory in net for the Hawks.

Vinny Prospal, Artem Anisimov and Ryan Johansen scored for the Blue Jackets but it wasn't enough. The Blue Jackets, who entered the game with the fewest points in the league, were without defensemen James Wisniewski, Jack Johnson and John Moore and forwards Derick Brassard and Brandon Dubinsky but fought gamely.

A night after the Hawks opened their victory over the Blues with a Toews goal just 10 seconds into the game, the Blue Jackets struck quickly when Prospal jumped on a big rebound Emery yielded off a Derek Dorsett shot and fired it into the open net with 31 seconds elapsed.

Stalberg later continued his mastery over the Blue Jackets with his 11th goal in his 15th game against them when the winger tapped in a puck in the crease during a scramble.

"We're finding ways to really get it done," Stalberg said. "It's pretty amazing to be a part of a run like this. It seems like it hasn't gotten to our heads at all. We're staying with it … and that's all we can do right now."

The Jackets kept coming and took the lead when Anisimov's shot from the point deflected off the Hawks' Daniel Carcillo and bounded past Emery.

Late in the second, the Hawks' offense kicked into gear. Sharp evened the score at 2-2 when his backhander from the left circle somehow made it through Mason's pads and trickled across the goal line.

Bickell's splendid individual effort put the Hawks ahead just less than a minute later. The winger stripped Anisimov of the puck, skated in two-on-one with Stalberg and rifled a wrist shot from the left dot past Mason to the stick side.

After Johansen tied it midway through the third, the goalies held and the game went to overtime where Toews and Seabrook won it.

"(The Blue Jackets are) a hard-working team," Seabrook said. "They play 60 minutes hard and you have to come to play this team hard every time. There are no easy games in this league and you never can take a night off. I thought we fought hard on the second part of a back-to-back and it was good to get the win."

ckuc@tribune.com

Twitter @ChrisKuc



Read More..

Black Hole Spins at Nearly the Speed of Light


A superfast black hole nearly 60 million light-years away appears to be pushing the ultimate speed limit of the universe, a new study says.

For the first time, astronomers have managed to measure the rate of spin of a supermassive black hole—and it's been clocked at 84 percent of the speed of light, or the maximum allowed by the law of physics.

"The most exciting part of this finding is the ability to test the theory of general relativity in such an extreme regime, where the gravitational field is huge, and the properties of space-time around it are completely different from the standard Newtonian case," said lead author Guido Risaliti, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) and INAF-Arcetri Observatory in Italy. (Related: "Speedy Star Found Near Black Hole May Test Einstein Theory.")

Notorious for ripping apart and swallowing stars, supermassive black holes live at the center of most galaxies, including our own Milky Way. (See black hole pictures.)

They can pack the gravitational punch of many million or even billions of suns—distorting space-time in the region around them, not even letting light to escape their clutches.

Galactic Monster

The predatory monster that lurks at the core of the relatively nearby spiral galaxy NGC 1365 is estimated to weigh in at about two million times the mass of the sun, and stretches some 2 million miles (3.2 million kilometers) across-more than eight times the distance between Earth and the moon, Risaliti said. (Also see "Black Hole Blast Biggest Ever Recorded.")

Risaliti and colleagues' unprecedented discovery was made possible thanks to the combined observations from NASA's high-energy x-ray detectors on its Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) probe and the European Space Agency's low-energy, x-ray-detecting XMM-Newton space observatory.

Astronomers detected x-ray particle remnants of stars circling in a pancake-shaped accretion disk surrounding the black hole, and used this data to help determine its rate of spin.

By getting a fix on this spin speed, astronomers now hope to better understand what happens inside giant black holes as they gravitationally warp space-time around themselves.

Even more intriguing to the research team is that this discovery will shed clues to black hole's past, and the evolution of its surrounding galaxy.

Tracking the Universe's Evolution

Supermassive black holes have a large impact in the evolution of their host galaxy, where a self-regulating process occurs between the two structures.

"When more stars are formed, they throw gas into the black hole, increasing its mass, but the radiation produced by this accretion warms up the gas in the galaxy, preventing more star formation," said Risaliti.

"So the two events—black hole accretion and formation of new stars—interact with each other."

Knowing how fast black holes spin may also help shed light how the entire universe evolved. (Learn more about the origin of the universe.)

"With a knowledge of the average spin of galaxies at different ages of the universe," Risaliti said, "we could track their evolution much more precisely than we can do today."


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Obama Signs Order to Begin Sequester Cuts












President Obama and congressional leaders today failed to reach a breakthrough to avert a sweeping package of automatic spending cuts, setting into motion $85 billion of across-the-board belt-tightening that neither had wanted to see.


President Obama officially initiated the cuts with an order to agencies Friday evening.


He had met for just over an hour at the White House Friday morning with Republican leaders House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic allies, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Vice President Joe Biden.


But the parties emerged from their first face-to-face meeting of the year resigned to see the cuts take hold at midnight.


"This is not a win for anybody," Obama lamented in a statement to reporters after the meeting. "This is a loss for the American people."


READ MORE: 6 Questions (and Answers) About the Sequester


Officials have said the spending reductions immediately take effect Saturday but that the pain from reduced government services and furloughs of tens of thousands of federal employees would be felt gradually in the weeks ahead.








Sequestration Deadline: Obama Meets With Leaders Watch Video











Sequester Countdown: The Reality of Budget Cuts Watch Video





Federal agencies, including Homeland Security, the Pentagon, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Education, have all prepared to notify employees that they will have to take one unpaid day off per week through the end of the year.


The staffing trims could slow many government services, including airport screenings, air traffic control, and law enforcement investigations and prosecutions. Spending on education programs and health services for low-income families will also get clipped.


"It is absolutely true that this is not going to precipitate the crisis" that would have been caused by the so-called fiscal cliff, Obama said. "But people are going to be hurt. The economy will not grow as quickly as it would have. Unemployment will not go down as quickly as it would have. And there are lives behind that. And it's real."


The sticking point in the debate over the automatic cuts -- known as sequester -- has remained the same between the parties for more than a year since the cuts were first proposed: whether to include more new tax revenue in a broad deficit reduction plan.


The White House insists there must be higher tax revenue, through elimination of tax loopholes and deductions that benefit wealthier Americans and corporations. Republicans seek an approach of spending cuts only, with an emphasis on entitlement programs. It's a deep divide that both sides have proven unable to bridge.


"This discussion about revenue, in my view, is over," Boehner told reporters after the meeting. "It's about taking on the spending problem here in Washington."


Boehner: No New Taxes to Avert Sequester


Boehner says any elimination of tax loopholes or deductions should be part of a broader tax code overhaul aimed at lowering rates overall, not to offset spending cuts in the sequester.


Obama countered today that he's willing to "take on the problem where it exists, on entitlements, and do some things that my own party doesn't like."


But he says Republicans must be willing to eliminate some tax loopholes as part of a deal.


"They refuse to budge on closing a single wasteful loophole to help reduce the deficit," Obama said. "We can and must replace these cuts with a more balanced approach that asks something from everybody."


Can anything more be done by either side to reach a middle ground?


The president today claimed he's done all he can. "I am not a dictator, I'm the president," Obama said.






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Mystery ring of radiation briefly encircled Earth









































What were you doing last September? The charged particles that dance around Earth were busy. Unbeknown to most earthlings, a previously unseen ring of radiation encircled our planet for nearly the whole month – before being destroyed by a powerful interplanetary shock wave.












We already knew that two, persistent belts of charged particles, called the Van Allen radiation belts, encircle Earth. The discovery of a third, middle ring by NASA's twin Van Allen probes, launched in August 2012, suggests that these belts, which have puzzled scientists for over 50 years, are even stranger than we thought. Working out what caused the third ring to develop could help protect spacecraft from damaging doses of radiation.












Charged particles get trapped by Earth's magnetic field into two distinct regions, forming the belts. The inner belt, which extends from an altitude of 1600 to 12,900 kilometres, is fairly stable. But the outer belt, spanning altitudes ranging from 19,000 to 40,000 kilometres, can vary wildly. Over the course of minutes or hours, its electrons can be accelerated to close to the speed of light, and it can grow to 100 times its usual size.











Mystery acceleration













No one is sure what causes these "acceleration events", although it seems to have something to do with solar activity interacting with the Earths' magnetic field.












"That's one of the key things the probes are in place to understand," says Dan Baker of the University of Colorado, Boulder. "How does this cosmic accelerator, operating just a few thousand miles above our head, accelerate electrons to such extraordinarily high energies?"












When the Van Allen probes started taking data on 1 September 2012, one of these mysterious events was already under way. "We came in the middle of the movie there," Baker says. But otherwise, he says, "What we expected was what we saw when we first turned on: two distinct belts, separated."












That changed a day later when, to the team's surprise, an extra ring developed between the inner and outer ones. "We watched it develop right before our eyes," Baker says. The new, middle ring was relatively narrow, and its electrons had energies between 4 and 7.5 megaelectronvolts - about the same as in the outer Van Allen belt during an acceleration event.












Although the outer ring displayed its characteristic inconstancy, the new middle ring barely budged for nearly four weeks. Then a shock wave, probably linked to a burst of solar activity, wiped it out in less than an hour on 1 October.











Spacecraft malfunctions













It's not clear where the middle ring came from, Baker says, although it was probably related to the acceleration event. The electrons could have been stripped from the outer Van Allen belt, funnelled back towards the Earth and got trapped in the middle on the way, or they could have been energised from closer to Earth and shot up to higher altitudes.











Figuring out what happened could be important to protecting spacecraft from radiation damage, says Yuri Shprits of the University of California in Los Angeles, who was not involved in the observations but is crafting a theoretical explanation that he hopes to publish soon. "It truly presents us with a very important question, and very important puzzles," he says.













There were no specific spacecraft malfunctions during September that can be directly linked to the new belt, says Shprits. However satellite operators will want to know if such belts are common and if they pose more of a risk.












With no other examples of a transient belt caught so far, it's too soon to answer all those questions, Baker says. "We only have one in captivity," he says. "We're still trying to figure out exactly how it works."












Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1233518


















































If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.




































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Shark fin-hungry China drives "chaotic" fishing in Indonesia






BENOA, Indonesia: Dozens of weary Indonesian fishermen sail into a busy port on the resort island of Bali celebrating their lucrative and controversial haul that is destined to end up at Chinese banquets.

The fishermen show off about 100 shark fins, already sliced off the carcasses, that are ready to be sold to middle-men and then most likely onwards to mainland China or cities around the world with big Chinese populations.

"We don't only look for sharks -- we mainly catch tuna and marlin -- but finding sharks is a good bonus. Their fins are worth a lot and the meat is easy to sell locally," said 33-year-old Warsito, who goes by one name.

Fishermen around Bali sell shark fins fresh off the boat for between US$15 and US$50, helping to satiate an ancient but fast-growing Chinese appetite for soup in which it is the main ingredient.

Shark fin soup was once a delicacy for China's elite, but shark populations have been decimated around the world as the country's 1.3 billion people have grown wealthier and incorporated it into their festivities.

While the Chinese government has banned shark fin soup from state banquets, and some five-star restaurants in Hong Kong and Singapore have dropped it from their menus, a burgeoning middle class in China continues to stoke demand.

Humans kill about 100 million sharks each year, mostly for their fins, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and conservationists are warning that dozens of species are under threat.

Ninety percent of the world's sharks have disappeared over the past 100 years, mostly because of overfishing in countries such as Indonesia, the FAO said.

Conservationists also point out that "finning" -- slicing the valuable fins from live sharks -- is simply inhumane, as the rest of the animal is typically dumped back into the ocean where it bleeds slowly to death.

How to save the shark will be a top concern at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that begins in Bangkok, Thailand, on Sunday.

World authorities will look at restricting trade of certain shark species.

Restrictions would apply to manta rays and five shark species -- the porbeagle, scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead, smooth hammerhead and oceanic whitetip -- and must be approved by two-thirds of member states.

However, experts say laws to restrict trade will mean little unless there are total bans on fishing, with greater efforts needed to control unregulated fisheries.

Indonesia is particularly important because it is the world's biggest fisher and exporter of sharks, with thousands of small-time fishermen such as those in Bali able to operate with impunity.

Management of the Indonesian industry has been "total chaos", Conservation International Indonesia marine programme director Tiene Gunawan said, with no national restrictions on the trade.

In 2010, the Indonesian government designed a national plan of action to better manage the shark fishing industry, but it has so far issued no regulations.

Rampant shark fishing has already affected ecosystems in Indonesian waters, Gunawan said, including the world-famous diving spot Raja Amapat in the region of Papua.

However recent efforts by the provincial authorities there -- emanating from a recognition that there is greater economic benefit in maintaining shark populations -- could be a model for the future.

After authorities in Raja Ampat noticed a surge in boats carrying hundreds of shark fins but no carcasses, the local government banned shark fishing in 2010.

Last week the ban was made into law, creating the country's only shark and manta ray sanctuary. It is also the first in the Coral Triangle, a massive region in Southeast Asia known as the "Amazon of the ocean".

"What they realised, and our studies support this, is that the value of a dead shark is much lower than if we keep it alive for tourism," Gunawan said.

-AFP/fl



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Crawford injured as Blackhawks extend streak to 20









ST. LOUIS — A little adversity never hurt anyone. Especially the surging Blackhawks.

Though their starting goaltender wasn't around to see it, the Hawks continued their assault on the NHL record book with a 3-0 victory over the Blues on Thursday night at the Scottrade Center.






Goalie Corey Crawford made it through the first period but didn't come out for the second after suffering an upper-body injury. That didn't slow the Hawks as they rode backup Ray Emery to extend their streak to 20 games to start the season without a loss in regulation and 26 in a row overall dating to 2011-12.

"We have thick skin," said captain Jonathan Toews, who scored two goals — including one 12 seconds into the game off a terrific passing play from Duncan Keith to Marian Hossa to Brandon Saad and finally to Toews — to help the Hawks improve to 17-0-3. "Whether there's momentum going against us or a call we didn't like or any sort of adversity that might get in our way, we've always been positive and stuck with it. We've been hungry and determined to win every single game."

Andrew Shaw also had a goal and Hossa added two assists to provide the offense, while Emery made 15 saves as the Hawks recorded their third shutout of the season.

Crawford was credited with the victory after making six saves in the first. After the period, he gingerly made his way off the ice and didn't return. Coach Joel Quenneville said Crawford would travel back to Chicago with the team Thursday night and is day-to-day.

"Hopefully, it's just our training staff being cautious and he'll be healthy," Toews said. "In a case like that, we know Ray can step in and take care of the job."

Emery did just that, shutting down a Blues team that was without key offensive players Andy McDonald, Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen. Jaroslav Halak suffered the loss in goal as he couldn't match Crawford and Emery.

"The guys played a really good defensive game," Emery said. "You're kind of surprised when you get to go in in the second. You have to be prepared for that, (but) that's why I'm there."

Hawks penalty killers were again outstanding as the units blanked the league's top power play in four opportunities. The Blues entered the game scoring 30.6 percent of the time with a man advantage but came up empty on five shots against the Hawks.

"Our team game, led by the goalies, was really strong in all zones," Quenneville said. "Penalty killing did a great job against the top power play in the league. Everybody contributed in a comparable way like we've had all year.

"We've had some good games to date, but that might have been the best."

ckuc@tribune.com

Twitter @ChrisKuc



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Scarred Duckbill Dinosaur Escaped T. Rex Attack


A scar on the face of a duckbill dinosaur received after a close encounter with a Tyrannosaurus rex is the first clear case of a healed dinosaur wound, scientists say.

The finding, detailed in the current issue of the journal Cretaceous Research, also reveals that the healing properties of dinosaur skin were likely very similar to that of modern reptiles.

The lucky dinosaur was an adult Edmontosaurus annectens, a species of duckbill dinosaur that lived in what is today the Hell Creek region of South Dakota about 65 to 67 million years ago. (Explore a prehistoric time line.)

A teardrop-shaped patch of fossilized skin about 5 by 5 inches (12 by 14 centimeters) that was discovered with the creature's bones and is thought to have come from above its right eye, includes an oval-shaped section that is incongruous with the surrounding skin. (Related: "'Dinosaur Mummy' Found; Have Intact Skin, Tissue.")

Bruce Rothschild, a professor of medicine at the University of Kansas and Northeast Ohio Medical University, said the first time he laid eyes on it, it was "quite clear" to him that he was looking at an old wound.

"That was unequivocal," said Rothschild, who is a co-author of the new study.

A Terrible Attacker

The skull of the scarred Edmontosaurus also showed signs of trauma, and from the size and shape of the marks on the bone, Rothschild and fellow co-author Robert DePalma, a paleontologist at the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History in Florida, speculate the creature was attacked by a T. rex.

It's likely, though still unproven, that both the skin wound and the skull injury were sustained during the same attack, the scientists say. The wound "was large enough to have been a claw or a tooth," Rothschild said.

Rothschild and DePalma also compared the dinosaur wound to healed wounds on modern reptiles, including iguanas, and found the scar patterns to be nearly identical.

It isn't surprising that the wounds would be similar, said paleontologist David Burnham of the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute, since dinosaurs and lizards are distant cousins.

"That's kind of what we would expect," said Burnham, who was not involved in the study. "It's what makes evolution work—that we can depend on this."

Dog-Eat-Dog

Phil Bell, a paleontologist with the Pipestone Creek Dinosaur Initiative in Canada who also was not involved in the research, called the Edmontosaurus fossil "a really nicely preserved animal with a very obvious scar."

He's not convinced, however, that it was caused by a predator attack. The size of the scar is relatively small, Bell said, and would also be consistent with the skin being pierced in some other accident such as a fall.

"But certainly the marks that you see on the skull, those are [more consistent] with Tyrannosaur-bitten bones," he added.

Prior to the discovery, scientists knew of one other case of a dinosaur wound. But in that instance, it was an unhealed wound that scientists think was inflicted by scavengers after the creature was already dead.

It's very likely that this particular Edmontosaurus wasn't the only dinosaur to sport scars, whether from battle wounds or accidents, Bell added.

"I would imagine just about every dinosaur walking around had similar scars," he said. (Read about "Extreme Dinosaurs" in National Geographic magazine.)

"Tigers and lions have scarred noses, and great white sharks have got dings on their noses and nips taken out of their fins. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, and [Edmontosaurus was] unfortunately in the line of fire from some pretty big and nasty predators ... This one was just lucky to get away."

Mysterious Escape

Just how Edmontosaurus survived a T. rex attack is still unclear. "Escape from a T. rex is something that we wouldn't think would happen," Burnham said.

Duckbill dinosaurs, also known as Hadrosaurs, were not without defenses. Edmontosaurus, for example, grew up to 30 feet (9 meters) in length, and could swipe its hefty tail or kick its legs to fell predators.

Furthermore, they were fast. "Hadrosaurs like Edmontosaurus had very powerful [running] muscles, which would have made them difficult to catch once they'd taken flight," Bell said.

Duckbills were also herd animals, so maybe this one escaped with help from neighbors. Or perhaps the T. rex that attacked it was young. "There's something surrounding this case that we don't know yet," Burnham said.

Figuring out the details of the story is part of what makes paleontology exciting, he added. "We construct past lives. We can go back into a day in the life of this animal and talk about an attack and [about] it getting away. That's pretty cool."


Read More..

Arias Recounts Each Moment of Stabbing, Slashing












Accused murderer Jodi Arias was forced to recount today each detail of how she killed her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, including re-enacting how he allegedly tackled her when she shot him, leaving her crying in her hands on the witness stand.


During hours of dramatic cross-examination by prosecutor Juan Martinez, Arias bawled as he asked her about stabbing, slashing and shooting Alexander on June 4, 2008.


"You would acknowledge that Mr. Alexander was stabbed, and that the stabbing was with the knife, and it was after the shooting according to you, right?" Martinez said in rapid succession.


"Yes, I don't remember," Arias said, covering her face with her hands.


"Do you acknowledge the stab wounds, and we can count them together, were to the back of the head and the torso?" Martinez said, flashing a photo of Alexander's bloodied body onto the courtroom projector. " Do you want to take a look at the photo?"


Arias, burying her face in her hands and shutting her eyes on the stand, mumbled, "No."


Alexander's sisters, seated in the front row of the gallery, also looked away, crying.


Arias, 32, is accused of killing Alexander on June 4, 2008 out of jealousy. He was stabbed 27 times, his throat was slashed and he was shot in the head twice.


Arias claims she killed in self-defense after Alexander had become increasingly violent with her. She could face the death penalty if convicted.


Martinez also forced Arias to demonstrate in court today how she claims Alexander lunged at her "like a linebacker," causing her to fire the gun at him. The pair argued over how exactly Alexander was positioned, and Martinez pushed her to explain what she meant.


"He lunges at me like a linebacker," Arias said.


"Like a linebacker, what does that mean?" Martinez asked.








Jodi Arias Under Attack in Third Day of Cross-Examination Watch Video









Jodi Arias, Prosecutor Butt Heads in Cross-Examination Watch Video









Jodi Arias Maintains She 'Felt Like a Prostitute' Watch Video





"He was low. It was almost like he dove," she said, and trying to explain it further, added, "He was like a linebacker is the only way I can describe it unless I get up to act it out which I'd rather not do."


Catching Up on the Trial? Check Out ABC News' Jodi Arias Trial Coverage


Timeline of the Jodi Arias Trial


"Go ahead and do it," Martinez said. "Just stand. Go ahead."


Judge Sherry Stephens initially cleared the court as Arias demonstrated and then Martinez had her do it again after the jury and spectators were allowed back into the courtroom.


Standing and moving away from the witness box, Arias bent at the waist and spread out her arms and meekly made a slight lunging motion.


According to her testimony, Arias fired the gun as Alexander rushed at her, tackling her to the ground. She said she does not remember how she stabbed or slashed him.


It was a day of dramatics and anger as the prosecution pressed Arias on the details of the killing, with Martinez ending the afternoon of questioning by accusing Arias of lying throughout her direct testimony.


At one point Arias dissolved into tears, unable to answer pointed questions when shown a photo of Alexander's body lying crumpled in the bottom of the stall shower.


After a short pause, Martinez asked dryly, "Were you crying when you were shooting him?"


"I don't remember," Arias moaned.


"Were you crying when you stabbed him?" he said. "How about when you slashed his throat?"


"I don't remember, I don't know."


Martinez pressed on, "You're the one that did this right? And lied about all this right?"


"Yes."


"So then take a look at it," he barked.


Arias did not answer Martinez's question, crying into her hands instead. The judge, after a moment, called for the lunch recess to take a break from the testimony. Arias' attorney walked over and consoled her, telling her to "take a moment."


Until that moment, Arias had given vague answers to Martinez as he asked about the hours leading up to the murder. Arias, 32, has testified that she drove to Alexander's house on June 4, 2008, for a sexual liaison, that she had sex with Alexander and the pair took nude photos before an explosive confrontation ended with her killing him. She claims she doesn't remember stabbing Alexander, but insists it was in self-defense.


Martinez questioned her claims, asking exactly what they argued about and who encouraged whom to take the nude photos. He pointed out that Arias told Detective Esteban Flores of the Mesa police department that she had to convince Alexander to take the nude photos in the shower, but that she testified on the stand that Alexander had wanted them.






Read More..

Quantum skyfall puts Einstein's gravity to the test



































DIVIDING a falling cloud of frozen atoms sounds like an exotic weather experiment. In fact, it's the latest way to probe whether tiny objects obey Einstein's theory of general relativity, our leading explanation for gravity.












General relativity is based on the equivalence principle, which says that in free fall, all objects fall at the same rate, whatever their mass, provided the only force at work is gravity. That has been proven for large objects: legend has it that Galileo did it first by dropping various balls from the Tower of Pisa. Whether equivalence holds at quantum scales, where gravity's effects are not well understood, isn't clear. Figuring it out could help create a quantum theory of gravity, one of the biggest goals of modern physics.

















Creating a quantum equivalent of Galileo's test isn't easy. In 2010 a team led by Ernst Rasel of the University of Hannover in Germany monitored a quantum object in free fallMovie Camera, by tossing a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) – a cloud of chilled atoms that behaves as a single quantum object and so is both particle and wave – down a 110-metre tall tower. Now they have split and recombined the wave – all before the BEC, made of rubidium atoms, reached the bottom. This produces an interference pattern that records the path of the falling atoms and can be used to calculate their acceleration (Physical Review Letters, doi.org/km6). The next step is to do the same experiment on a different kind of atom, with a different mass, to see if the equivalence principle holds.













The BEC can only be split for 100 milliseconds in the tower before hitting the bottom, so to allow tiny differences between the atom types to emerge, the work must be repeated in space, where the waves can be split for longer. By showing that a matter-wave can be split and recombined while falling, Rasel's result is a "major step" towards the space version, says Charles Wang of the University of Aberdeen, UK.












This article appeared in print under the headline "Quantum skyfall tests Einstein's gravity"




















































If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.




































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Yvonne Lim: Making time for love






SINGAPORE: Her eyes glistened with tears when Singapore actress Yvonne Lim spoke about her character Liu Xixi in the upcoming drama "Marry Me", during a recent media event.

In the show, Liu, a successful gynecologist, winds up getting dumped by her boyfriend of 20 years, after she spent too much time on her career and neglected their relationship.

Lim revealed that she became emotional as her character's painful experiences in "Marry Me" reminded her of own.

"I have all these experiences before."

"I spend so much of my time on my work that I end up spending very little time dealing with matters of the heart," said Lim, explaining that she once broke up with a guy over the same issue.

"I remember I was very emotional when I read the script."

"I know how this character feels, why she struggles with her feelings, and why she is in pain, but keeps it bottled up inside."

Lim expressed that Liu is a character many women can identify with, because what happens to her in the show is something that also occurs in real life.

"She is so dedicated to her work that she forgot about her love life and kind of took it for granted.

"I've seen that happen to my girl friends. I have seen that happen to other people. I've heard stories like that before."

"When things drag on for too long, it (the relationship) gets stagnant. That's when things happen," said Lim earnestly.

Still, Lim said she prefers to take her time to slowly get to know someone instead of rushing things, and said she believes in "letting nature take its course".

"You have to find the right partner who is willing to be with you.

"If it happens, it happens. If not, that's the way it is," said Lim with a smile.

"I don't think about it much, though there is still this part of me that hopes for a fairytale ending."

"Marry Me", which also stars Koh Ya Hui and Jesseca Liu, airs every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 8pm on Channel U.

-CNA/ha



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Chicago archdiocese to close 5 schools in cost-cutting move









Budget cuts announced Wednesday by the Archdiocese of Chicago signal that the area's Roman Catholics are entering a period of austerity when there will be less money for their parishes and schools.


The cuts, which were officially announced as Cardinal Francis George and other leaders of the church gathered at the Vatican to select a new pope, include closing five schools, eliminating 75 positions at the archdiocese's headquarters and placing a moratorium on loans to parishes from the archdiocese bank for three years. Other changes include creating stricter guidelines for local parishes applying for subsidies and reducing the number of the agencies in the archdiocese.


George, who spoke publicly about the cuts when asked by reporters in Rome, said they are needed to address the archdiocese's chronic financial problems. The archdiocese has run deficits of more than $30 million annually over the last four years, including being $40 million in the red for the fiscal year ending in June 2012.








All told, the measures will save tens of millions of dollars over the next few years, officials said.


“The expenses have gone up, and the income is pretty well flat,” George said after a news conference in Rome about Pope Benedict XVI's last audience Wednesday in St. Peter's Square. “We tried to ride out the recession without making any changes — and we can't do that. We're giving more grants to parishes and schools that need more money. The budget is not balanced. Not just layoffs, but a lot of other things being done, other ways to use the resources we have.”

The archdiocese sold $150 million in bonds in 2012 that helped it get through a cash-flow problem, but ultimately that wasn't enough, George said. He hopes the cuts will enable the archdiocese to balance its budget in two years.

Although the cardinal's announcement made headlines, the archdiocese's financial situation has been no secret to its priests. Several clergymen said they knew the archdiocese had planned to scale back loans to parishes.

“We have already made adjustments,” said the Rev. Dennis Ziomek of St. Barbara Parish in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood. “We have to be responsible stewards with the money.”

In a letter posted on the archdiocese website, the cardinal thanked parishioners for their generosity and asked them to pray for the employees now out of a paycheck.

At the archdiocese's Pastoral Center headquarters on Wednesday, people funneled in and out of the building during their lunch breaks but declined comment on the layoffs. Before the announcement, staffers received memos asking them to report to their desks early Wednesday.

Of the 75 positions, 55 were full-time jobs. Sixty people were let go, while the remaining posts had been vacant. Those cuts are expected to save $11 million to $13 million annually by fiscal 2015, George wrote in his letter.

Employees who received pink slips will get job counseling, extended health benefits and generous severance packages.

“We're keeping up counseling for helping people find jobs, looking for places where they might look for jobs,” George said.

Along with the layoffs, the archdiocese will reduce the number of capital loans and grants it gives parishes, while creating “stricter criteria” for them to qualify for the financial assistance.

A Parish Transformation initiative in the works for at least two years will also try to save money by laying out measures to provide more financial stability, though the letter did not give details.

Those cuts are expected to save an additional $13 million to $15 million annually by fiscal 2015, the letter states.

By next year, the archdiocese will reduce its aid to Catholic schools by $10 million. It plans to give scholarships to children affected by the five school closings so they can attend nearby Catholic schools. Officials said low enrollment was a key factor for closing the schools: St. Gregory the Great High, St. Paul-Our Lady of Vilna Elementary and St. Helena of the Cross Elementary in Chicago, plus St. Bernardine in Forest Park and St. Kieran in Chicago Heights.

Now, Catholic schools will start relying on scholarships for student financial aid instead of grants from the archdiocese to make tuition affordable, Superintendent Sister Mary Paul McCaughey said.

She pointed to a new partnership with the Big Shoulders Fund, a charity supporting urban Catholic schools, that will help families pay for school with scholarships.

McCaughey did not expect tuition at other Catholic schools to immediately rise because grants from the archdiocese have been reduced. About two-thirds of schools already have posted their tuition rates for the upcoming school year, she added.

“Although things are challenged, I think (Chicago) is a Catholic community that's always supported its schools,” McCaughey said. “I think the support will be there.”

Outside of St. Bernardine Elementary in west suburban Forest Park, one of the schools that will close this summer, Maria Maxham said she was devastated when she heard last month that she'd have to send her children, one in second grade and the other in fourth grade, to a different school.

Maxham, who lives in Forest Park, said she is not sure the two will attend another local Catholic school because some lack what she thought was St. Bernardine's strength.

“There is so much diversity at St. Bernardine, and that's part of what makes it so fantastic,” Maxham said. “It was a special place and a second family for us.”

The school, which has been open since 1915, has about 100 students currently enrolled in its preschool-through-eighth-grade classrooms.

Administrators, teachers and parents were notified of the closing in January, when McCaughey led a meeting at the school and explained the large amount of money that the archdiocese needed to reduce from the schools budget, Principal Veronica Skelton Cash said.

One family left the school shortly after hearing the news, she added.

Cash, who joined the school in the fall, said there was much frustration among staff members afterward. Many believed they would have at least a few years to turn things around.

“I could see a lot of things changing for the better at this school,” Cash said. “The culture of the community is changing, and we were getting more and more inquiries about the school. There was momentum going forward.”

Current employees were given guidance on severance and benefits by the archdiocese's human resources officials, Cash said. Teachers without jobs will also be placed on a priority list for future employment with the archdiocese, she said.

“I'm incredibly disheartened,” said Daniel Kwarcinski, who hopes to find a job at another private school after teaching art for seven years at St. Bernardine. “There's a need for a school like this where we are at.”

In Rome, George said the decisions to let people go and reduce aid were not easy. But he reiterated that the archdiocese's financial situation drove the decision.

“We have to balance the budget, especially if it's precarious,” he said. “The growth being very slow means we can no longer ignore the kinds of deficit situations that have been imposed on us. We have to take action.”


Tribune reporter Manya A. Brachear reported from Rome, with Tribune reporters Bridget Doyle and Jennifer Delgado in Chicago.


mbrachear@tribune.com


bdoyle@tribune.com


jmdelgado@tribune.com



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Why African Rhinos Are Facing a Crisis


The body count for African rhinos killed for their horns is approaching crisis proportions, according to the latest figures released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

To National Geographic reporter Peter Gwin, the dire numbers—a rhinoceros slain every 11 minutes since the beginning of 2013—don't come as a surprise. "The killing will continue as long as criminal gangs know they can expect high profits for selling horns to Asian buyers," said Gwin, who wrote about the violent and illegal trade in rhino horn in the March 2012 issue of the magazine.

The recent surge in poaching has been fueled by a thriving market in Vietnam and China for rhino horn, used as a traditional medicine believed to cure everything from hangovers to cancer. Since 2011, at least 1,700 rhinos, or 7 percent of the total population, have been killed and their horns hacked off, according to the IUCN. More than two-thirds of the casualties occurred in South Africa, home to 73 percent of the world's wild rhinos. In Africa there are currently 5,055 black rhinos, listed as critically endangered by the IUCN, and 20,405 white rhinos. (From our blog: "South African Rhino Poaching Hits New High.")

Trying to snuff out poaching by itself won't work, said Gwin. The South African government is fighting a losing battle on the ground to gangs using helicopters, dart guns, high-powered weapons—and lots of money. (National Geographic pictures: The bloody poaching battle over rhino horn [contains graphic images].)

"Every year they get tougher on poaching, but rhino killings continue to rise astronomically," said Gwin. "Somehow they have to address the demand side in a meaningful way. This means either shutting down the Asian markets for rhino horn, or controversially, finding a way to sustainably harvest rhino horns, control their legal sale, and meet what appears to be a huge demand. Either will be a formidable endeavor."

Hope and Hurdles

The signing in December of a memorandum of understanding between South Africa and Vietnam to deal with rhino poaching and other conservation issues raises hope for some concrete action. Observers say the next step is for the two governments to follow through with tangible crime-stopping efforts such as intelligence sharing and other collaboration. The highest hurdle to stopping criminal trade, though, is cultural, Gwin believes. "In Vietnam and China, a lot of people simply believe that as a traditional cure, rhino horn works." (Related: "Blood Ivory.")

The recent climb in rhino deaths threatens what had been a conservation success story. Since 1995, due to better law enforcement, monitoring, and other actions, the overall rhino numbers have steadily risen. The poaching epidemic, the IUCN warns, could dramatically slow and possibly reverse population gains.

The population growth is also being stymied by South Africa's private game farmers, who breed rhinos for sport hunting and tourism and for many years have helped rebuild rhino numbers. Many of them are getting out of the business due to the high costs of security and other risks associated with the poaching invasions.

Those who still have rhinos on their farms will often pay a veterinarian to cut the horns off—under government supervision—to dissuade poachers, but the process costs more than $2,000 and has to be repeated when the horns grow back every two years. Even then the farmers are stuck with horns that are illegal to sell—and which criminals seek to obtain.

Room for Debate

Rhino killings and the trade in their horns will be a major topic at a high-profile conference, the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which opens in Bangkok March 3. What won't surprise Gwin is if the issue of sustainably harvesting rhino horns from live animals comes up for discussion.

"It's an idea that seems to be gaining traction among some South African politicians and law enforcement circles," he said, noting that the international conservation community strongly opposes any talk of legalizing the trade of rhino horn, sustainably harvested or not. The bottom line for all parties in the discussion is clear, said Gwin: "The slaughter has to stop if rhinos are to survive."


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Arias Prosecutor Too Combative, Experts Say












He has barked, yelled, been sarcastic and demanded answers from accused murderer Jodi Arias this week.


And in doing so, prosecutor Juan Martinez and his aggressive antics may be turning off the jury he is hoping to convince that Arias killed her ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander in June 2008, experts told ABCNews.com today.


"Martinez is his own worst enemy," Mel McDonald, a prominent Phoenix defense attorney and former judge, told ABC News. "He takes it to the point where it's ad nauseam. You have difficulty recognizing when he's driving the point home because he's always angry and pushy and pacing around the courtroom. He loses the effectiveness, rather than build it up."


"He's like a rabid dog and believes you've got to go to everybody's throat," he said.


"If they convict her and give her death, they do it in spite of Juan, not because of him," McDonald added.


Martinez's needling style was on display again today as he pestered Arias to admit that she willingly participated in kinky sex with Alexander, though she previously testified that she only succumbed to his erotic fantasies to please him.


Arias, now 32, and Alexander, who was 27 at the time of his death, dated for a year and continued to sleep together for another year following their break-up.


Arias drove to his house in Mesa, Ariz., in June 2008, had sex with him, they took nude photos together and she killed him in his shower. She claims it was in self-defense. If convicted, Arias could face the death penalty.








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Martinez also attempted to point out inconsistencies in her story of the killing, bickering with her over details about her journey from Yreka, Calif., to Mesa, Ariz., including why she borrowed gas cans from an ex-boyfriend, when she allegedly took naps and got lost while driving, and why she spontaneously decided to visit Alexander at his home in Mesa for a sexual liaison.


"I want to know what you're talking about," Arias said to Martinez at one point.


"No, I'm asking you," he yelled.


Later, he bellowed, "Am I asking you if you're telling the truth?"


"I don't know," Arias said, firing back at him. "Are you?"


During three days of cross examining Arias this week, Martinez has spent hours going back and forth with the defendant over word choice, her memory, and her answers to his questions.


"Everyone who takes witness stand for defense is an enemy," McDonald said. "He prides himself on being able to work by rarely referring to his notes, but what he's giving up in that is that there's so much time he wastes on stupid comments. A lot of what I've heard is utterly objectionable."


Martinez's behavior has spurred frequent objections of "witness badgering" from Arias' attorney Kirk Nurmi, who at one point Tuesday stood up in court and appealed to the judge to have a conference with all of the attorneys before questioning continued. Judge Sherry Stephens at one point admonished Martinez and Arias for speaking over one another.


Andy Hill, a former spokesperson for the Phoenix police department, and Steven Pitt, a forensic psychiatrist who has testified as an expert witness at many trials in the Phoenix area, both said that despite his aggressive style, Martinez would likely succeed in obtaining a guilty verdict.


"When it comes to cross examination, one size does not fit all," said Pitt. "But if you set aside the incessant sparring, what the prosecutor I believe is effectively doing is pointing out the various inconsistencies in the defendant's version of events."






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Newly spotted comet to buzz Mars in 2014



Lisa Grossman, physical sciences reporter

mars-sunset-comet.jpg


A Martian sunset, as seen by NASA's Spirit rover in 2005.
(Image: Mars Exploration Rover Mission, Texas A&M, Cornell, JPL, NASA)


There's a new comet in town, and it is making a beeline for Mars. If projections of its orbit are correct, the icy visitor will buzz the Red Planet in October 2014.


Dubbed C/2013 A1, the comet was discovered on 3 January by prolific comet hunter Robert McNaught at Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. Colleagues at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona found images of the comet in their catalogue that date back to 8 December 2012, giving additional information about its movements.





These observations allowed astronomers to trace the comet's likely path around the sun. The calculated trajectory has C/2013 A1 crossing Mars' orbit on 19 October 2014, according to Australian blogger Ian Musgrave.


That doesn't necessarily mean a collision will occur. The best estimates right now have the comet passing a safe distance of 900,000 kilometres from the Martian surface. Asteroid 2012 DA14 got much closer to Earth last week, skimming by at a distance of 34,400 kilometres. But with so little data in hand, the calculations are not precise. It's possible the comet will miss Mars by as much as 36 million kilometres - or it could smack right into the planet. "An impact can't be ruled out at this stage," Musgrave wrote.


From Earth, we should be able to see the comet and Mars sitting side by side through small telescopes. And from Mars, the comet could be as spectacular as the expected "supercomet" ISON, which will come into view this year and could outshine the full moon.


Assuming the comet's orbit brings it close enough - but not too close - to Mars, the object should be visible either by rovers on the surface or the armada of Mars-orbiting satellites, which have a history of snapping spectacular shots of the Red Planet and its neighborhood.




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Safety concerns cloud S. Korea nuclear drive






GORI, South Korea: South Korea has big plans to become a major nuclear energy player, but they are unfolding at a time when the global industry is under intense scrutiny after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

And its ambitions have not been helped by a series of domestic scandals and forced reactor shutdowns in 2012 that rattled public confidence and exposed a glaring lack of regulatory transparency.

Around US$400 billion is riding on South Korea's ability to sell its technology to potential clients as it aims to take on the United States, France and Russia and grab a 20 percent share of the nuclear energy market.

With around half of the world's 430 reactors due for retirement by 2030, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the next 15 years or so offer the prospect of a sales bonanza.

Spearheading South Korea's global drive is its ARP-1400 reactor. It won a $20 billion deal in 2009 to build four of them in the United Arab Emirates and it aims to export another 80, worth around US$400 billion, by 2030.

It is also planning a domestic energy expansion that would see it build 16 new reactors by 2030. South Korea currently operates 23 nuclear power reactors which meet more than 35 percent of the country's electricity needs.

"Our reactors are safe," Lee Young-Il insisted as he guided a group around an ARP-1400 nearing completion at the Gori nuclear power complex.

"We also have an excellent record of operating the reactors with a comparatively low annual rate of forced outage," said Lee, who heads the complex where South Korea's first commercial reactor came on line in 1978.

But the Fukushima disaster in Japan forced a number of countries to rethink their energy strategy, as public concern placed an even greater emphasis than before on reactor safety.

A survey commissioned by the Economics Ministry and published in November showed only 35 percent of South Koreans considered nuclear power to be safe, sharply down from 71 percent in January 2010.

"You are never free from worry as long as your country depends heavily on nuclear energy," Yangyi Won-Young, head of Nuclear-Free Korea, a coalition of civic groups, told AFP.

"Our nuclear power plants are vulnerable to natural disasters because of lax safety regulations which have been applied to construction, operation and parts," Yangyi said.

In the wake of the earthquake and tsunami-triggered meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, the state-run Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co (KHNP) launched a US$1.0 billion-dollar safety upgrade due to be completed by 2015.

The project involves building higher seawalls around the country's four nuclear power complexes, and equipping plants and reactors -- including the ARP-1400 -- with advanced watertight doors and ventilation systems, as well as new quake sensors.

But the upgrade coincided with a series of shutdowns and scandals in 2012 that triggered a warning from the International Energy Agency (IEA) in November about the need to rebuild public trust.

In May, five senior KHNP engineers were charged with trying to cover up a potentially dangerous power failure at the country's oldest Gori-1 reactor.

Later in the year, the government shut down two reactors at the Yeonggwang nuclear complex to replace components provided with fake quality certificates.

And a third reactor was taken offline at Yeonggwang when cracks were found on control rod tubes during maintenance work.

"Recent incidents at Korean nuclear facilities should serve as a timely reminder to the government that the nuclear regulatory authority must maintain an enhanced profile... and be able to take independent decisions," the IEA said in a report on South Korea's energy policies.

The South has been criticised in the past for a lack of transparency in the nuclear sector -- largely attributed to the regulatory bodies' mixed supervisory and promotional roles.

President Park Geun-Hye, who took office this week, looks set to further muddy the waters with her proposal for the nominally independent Nuclear Safety and Security Commission.

Park wants to affiliate the commission with a newly created super-ministry in charge of policies on science research, information communication technology and atomic energy development.

Scientists, environmentalists and a number of politicians -- including some from Park's ruling party -- say the move would undermine the watchdog's independence and weaken its safety management authority.

"The Republic of Korea is going to be the only country across the globe where regulators and basically developers or promoters might be working all together under the same roof," said Suh Kune-Yull, a nuclear engineering professor at Seoul National University.

"A conflict of interest is inevitable," Suh said.

- AFP/fl



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