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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Romney says 2012 race was 'roller coaster'






WASHINGTON: In his first interview since losing his 2012 White House bid, Mitt Romney likened his experience as a presidential candidate to an unpredictable and bumpy roller coaster ride.

"We were on a roller coaster, exciting and thrilling, ups and downs. But the ride ends," Romney said, according to advance excerpts of the interview set to air on "Fox News Sunday."

"And then you get off. And it's not like, 'Oh, can't we be on a roller coaster the rest of our life?' It's like, no, the ride's over."

Romney appeared with his wife Ann for the interview, the first either has given since the November 6 election that granted President Barack Obama his second term.

Ann Romney acknowledged that the transition from being surrounded by huge crowds and Secret Service agents around the clock to a far lower profile has been an "adjustment."

"We came and stepped forward to serve," she added.

"It was really quite a lot of energy and a lot of passion and a lot of people around us and all of a sudden, it was nothing.

"But the good news is, fortunately we like each other."

Romney, who has not had any major public appearances since his election loss, is set to speak in two weeks at a key conservative gathering, the Conservative Political Action Conference.

The former Massachusetts governor has been laying low since his defeat, popping up occasionally in photographs on social media sites that apparently depict him shopping or filling up his tank at the gas station.

When Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts left Congress to become secretary of state earlier this year, it opened up a race in his home state to fill his seat. Speculation swirled that Romney's oldest son Tagg might throw his hat in the ring, but he quickly ruled it out.

Romney aides have also rebuffed suggestions that his wife might consider running for the post.

- AFP/jc



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Red light camera firm admits it likely bribed Chicago official









Chicago's embattled red light camera firm went to City Hall on Friday in its latest effort to come clean, acknowledging for the first time that its entire program here was likely built on a $2 million bribery scheme.


By its sheer size, the alleged plot would rank among the largest in the annals of Chicago corruption.


An internal probe of Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. and a parallel investigation by the city's inspector general — prompted by reports in the Chicago Tribune — have cost the company its largest North American contract and all of its top executives.








On Friday the company announced the resignations of its president, its chief financial officer and its top lawyer. The head of Redflex's Australian parent company conducted town hall meetings at the headquarters of its Phoenix-based subsidiary to tell employees there was wrongdoing in the Chicago contract and that sweeping reforms were being instituted to win back the company's reputation.


In separate, private briefings with the city inspector general and with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's top lawyer, Redflex attorneys acknowledged it's likely true that company officials intended to bribe a Chicago city official and that they also plied him with expenses-paid vacations.


The company's outside investigator, former city Inspector General David Hoffman, found that Redflex paid $2.03 million to a Chicago consultant in a highly suspicious arrangement likely intended to funnel some of the money to the former city transportation official who oversaw the company contract, according to sources familiar with the investigation and the Friday briefings to city officials.


The arrangement among the city official, the consultant and Redflex — first disclosed by a company whistle-blower — will likely be considered bribery by law enforcement authorities, Hoffman found.


Without subpoena power, it was not possible to check personal financial records of the city official or the consultant, who refused to cooperate, according to the sources familiar with Hoffman's findings. But Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor, said that under applicable law, authorities could consider the arrangement to be bribery even if the payments were not made, the sources said.


The bulk of the consultant's fees — $1.57 million — were paid during a four-year period beginning in 2007, the years the program really expanded in Chicago, Hoffman found.


In addition, the city transportation official was treated to 17 trips, including airfare, hotels, rental cars, golf outings and meals, the sources said. Most of those expenses were paid by the company's former executive vice president, Hoffman found. That official was fired late last month and blamed by the company for much of the Chicago problem.


But Hoffman found that Redflex's president also had knowledge of the arrangement that would have made any reasonable person highly suspicious that it was a bribery scheme, the sources said.


Hoffman also found that Redflex did not disclose its knowledge about the improper arrangement to City Hall until confronted by the Tribune in October. Even then, Hoffman found, company officials lied to Emanuel's administration about the extent of the wrongdoing.


Redflex's Australian parent company was expected to post a summation of Hoffman's findings in a Monday filing with the Australian Securities Exchange that will include the resignations announced to employees Friday.


"Today's announcement of executive changes follows the conclusion of our investigation in Chicago and marks the dividing line between the past and where this company is headed," Robert DeVincenzi, president and CEO of Redflex Holdings Ltd., said in a statement to the newspaper. "This day, and each day going forward, we intend to be a constructive force in our industry, promoting high ethical standards and serving the public interest."


The company will also announce reforms including installing new requirements to put all company employees through anti-bribery and anti-corruption training, hiring a new director of compliance to ensure employees adhere to company policies, and establishing a 24-hour whistle-blower hotline.


The actions mark the latest changes in the company's evolving accounts of the scandal.


Officials at the firm had repeatedly dismissed allegations of bribery in the Chicago contract since they were made in a 2010 internal complaint obtained last year by the Tribune. In October the Tribune disclosed the whistle-blower letter by a company executive and first brought to light the questionable relationship between former city official John Bills and the Redflex consultant, Marty O'Malley, who are longtime friends from the South Side.


Bills and O'Malley have acknowledged their friendship but denied anything improper about their handling of the Redflex contract.


"Totally false, but I appreciate you calling me," Bills told the Tribune on Friday when informed of the Hoffman findings. O'Malley did not return calls.


In the four-month investigation, Hoffman and his team conducted 58 interviews and reviewed more than 37,000 company documents including email traffic among company officials, sources said. Hoffman concluded that company officials used poor judgment and a serious lack of diligence in investigating the allegations contained in the whistle-blower memo.





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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.


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US Seeks to Confirm Report of Terror Leader's Death












American military and intelligence officials said today they are attempting to confirm a report from the Chadian military of the death of al Qaeda leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the alleged mastermind of the deadly attack on an Algerian natural gas facility in January.


If the new report is confirmed, Belmokhtar's death would be a significant victory against a growing al Qaeda threat in northern Africa.


Belmokhtar's killing was announced on Chadian national television by armed forces spokesperson Gen. Zacharia Gobongue, who said Chadian troops "operating in northern Mali completely destroyed a terrorist base."


"The [death] toll included several dead terrorists, including their leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar," he said.


However, an unidentified elected official in Mali told The Associated Press he doubted Belmokhtar had actually been killed and said he suspected the Chadian government of pushing the story to ease the loss of dozens of Chadian troops in operations in northern Africa.






SITE Intel Group/AP Photo











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Belmokhtar is known as Mr. Marlboro because of the millions he made smuggling cigarettes across the Sahara, but in the last few months the one-eyed terrorist leader has become one of the most sought after terrorists in the world. The attack on the plant near In Amenas in eastern Algeria left dozens of Westerns and at least three Americans dead.


Belmokhtar had formed his own al Qaeda splinter group and announced he would use his wealth to finance more attacks against American and Western interests in the region and beyond.


The U.S. has badly wanted Belmokhtar stopped and actively helped in the search by French and African military units to find him, as well as another top al Qaeda leader who was reported killed yesterday.


After the Chadian announcement, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said Belmokhtar's death, if confirmed, "would be a hard blow to the collection of jihadists operating across the region that are targeting American diplomats and energy workers."


Steve Wysocki, a plant worker who survived the attack in In Amenas thanked "military forces from around the world," especially the Chadian military, for bringing "this terrorist to an expedient justice."


"My family and I continue to mourn for our friends and colleagues who didn't make it home and pray for their families," Wysocki told ABC News.


The CIA has been after Belmokhtar since the early 1990s, Royce's statement said.


ABC News' Clayton Sandell contributed to this report.



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.








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Obama orders US$85b in budget cuts






WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama ordered $85 billion in budget cuts Friday that could slow the US economy and slash jobs, after blaming Republicans for refusing to stop the "dumb" spending cuts.

Obama complied with his legal obligations and initiated the automatic, across-the-board cuts in domestic and defence spending, following the failure of efforts to clinch a deal with Republicans on cutting the deficit.

- AFP/fa



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Union breaks Quinn, gets raises for state workers in deal









SPRINGFIELD – After months of insisting state workers should not receive wage increases, Gov. Pat Quinn has struck a tentative deal with Illinois’ largest employee union that will bump their pay while also requiring them to pay more for health care coverage.

Under the three-year agreement, which must still be voted on by union members, roughly 35,000 employees would forgo raises this fiscal year but receive a 2 percent pay increase in fiscal 2013 and another 2 percent boost in 2014.

Some workers would also receive “step increases” in those years, which are wage hikes given to employees during the early stages of their careers.

Veteran employees would receive a “longevity increase” of $25 extra a month.

It’s unclear how much the pay raises would cost the state.

Quinn’s office and a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees declined to discuss specifics until workers have a chance to review the proposal next week, but the increases were laid out in a memo sent to members by union executive director Henry Bayer.

In addition to the proposed wage increases, the Quinn administration has agreed to honor raises that thousands of union members were supposed to receive under a previous contract.

Quinn blocked the raises, arguing that lawmakers did not set aside enough money to cover the costs. A court has since ordered Quinn to pay up.

Paying all the back wages owed may prove tricky, however, as Quinn and the union must ask lawmakers to approve the money to cover the costs.
 
Bayer wrote that the deal is “an agreement that beats back a barrage of attacks on the rights and benefits of union members.”

Quinn and the union had been locked in negotiations for more than 15 months, the longest that such talks have stretched in state history.

The battle quickly grew contentious, with angry workers confronting Quinn during his annual trip to the State Fair last summer as well as at various events around the state over the last year. As talks stretched on, the union warned employees to prepare for a possible strike.

Quinn had argued that the state could not afford pay increases, but backed off as pressure mounted.

During an appearance in Chicago on Friday, Quinn hailed the agreement as “a good one for workers who work so hard for the common good, and the taxpayers of Illinois who are our No. 1 trustees we have to be accountable to.”

In exchange for the raises, workers will be asked to pay more for their health care.

Individuals will pay an extra 1 percent of their salary, while families will be charged more depending on the number of dependents. Co-pays and deductibles also will increase.

The biggest cost saver will be the elimination of free health care premiums for an estimated 78,000 retired workers, an expense that runs taxpayers roughly $800 million a year.

How much each retiree will pay will depend on how much they receive in pension benefits. The more they receive, the more they would pay.

Tribune reporters Ray Long and Bridget Doyle contributed.

mcgarcia@tribune.com
Twitter @moniquegarcia



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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."


Read More..

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.








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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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