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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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



Read More..

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.





Read More..

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..

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.








Read More..

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



Read More..

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



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."


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.








Sequestration Deadline: Obama Meets With Leaders Watch Video











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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.






Read More..

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.




































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.


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White House backs gay marriage in Supreme Court brief






WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama's administration threw its weight behind gay marriage on Thursday, urging the Supreme Court to strike down California's ban on same-sex unions.

The court is set to examine the issue on March 26, when it will study the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, a measure approved by a 2008 referendum that outlawed gay marriage in the most populous US state.

In a separate brief to the court concerning another case, the administration has asked justices to declare the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act -- a law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman -- unconstitutional.

The Justice Department filed the latest brief in support of moves to have the California measure overturned, arguing that it violates the 14th Amendment to the Constitution that guarantees citizens equal rights.

"The government seeks to vindicate the defining constitutional ideal of equal treatment under the law," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

"Throughout history, we have seen the unjust consequences of decisions and policies rooted in discrimination," he warned.

"The issues before the Supreme Court in this case... are not just important to the tens of thousands of Americans who are being denied equal benefits and rights under our laws, but to our nation as a whole."

The filing by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli is more narrowly focused on the California ban, and does not seek a ruling that would apply nationwide.

The administration's brief noted that seven other states -- Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island -- have measures that grant same-sex couples rights similar to those of married couples, while restricting marriage to heterosexual unions.

Those states would be affected by the California ruling.

The California law "provides to same-sex couples registered as domestic partners all the legal incidents of marriage, but it nonetheless denies them the designation of marriage, Verrilli wrote.

Therefore, "the exclusion of gay and lesbian couples from marriage does not substantially further any important governmental interest," he added.

Gay marriage opponents have seized upon the same similarities to claim there is no discrimination, saying California provides essentially the same rights and obligations of marriage to same-sex domestic partners.

Nine states and the US capital Washington currently allow gay marriage. The states include Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington.

The federal government is not a party in the case, but its friend-of-the-court brief marked a victory for gay rights groups challenging the California law.

The White House's support had been expected since Obama shifted his stance on the same-sex marriage question before his re-election last year.

"President Obama and the solicitor general have taken another historic step forward consistent with the great civil rights battles of our nation's history," said Chad Griffin, head of Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group.

"The president has turned the inspirational words of his second inaugural address into concrete action by urging our nation's highest court to put an end to discrimination against loving, committed gay and lesbian couples."

Obama last month made the first-ever direct reference to gay rights in an inaugural address, saying: "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law.

"For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."

- AFP/ck



Read More..

Collins believes Bulls taking right approach with Rose









Even Doug Collins got swept up in the Derrick Rose hysteria on Thursday.

"I thought for sure he was going to play (Thursday night)," the 76ers' coach said. "Got hurt against Philadelphia, come back against Philadelphia, game on TNT. I could just see him running out with the Adidas commercial."

Instead, Rose's participation got limited to another lengthy, sweaty pregame workout featuring several dunks that drew oohs and aahs from the early-arriving fans. Collins battled serious knee injuries in his playing career and thinks the conservative approach is the right one.








"The Bulls have a tremendous investment in Derrick," Collins said. "You want to make sure this young guy is ready to go. We take a guy like Adrian Peterson and we see him rehab and play football and you sort of expect everybody to have the same timetable. Knees are different. Every player is different. Everybody's game is different.

"Derrick is an explosive player. He plays in the lane. He's landing in a lot of congestion. He's going to have to be very confident when he plays about being able to explode off that leg and come down in a crowd.

"(Chairman) Jerry Reinsdorf and the Bulls organization aren't short-sighted people. They have a franchise they feel has a chance to be good for a long, long time. And Derrick is the guy who's going to make that special. So I totally understand."

All aboard: All signs point to the Bulls winning a four-team race and signing Lou Amundson to a 10-day contract on Saturday, bringing their roster to the maximum 15 players. Amundson, who was waived by the Timberwolves on Feb. 8, would be big-man insurance while Taj Gibson remains sidelined with a sprained MCL in his left knee. The Heat, Celtics and Knicks also are in the mix for Amundson.

The Bulls have just enough below the hard salary cap of $74.307 million to sign Amundson for the remainder of the season if they choose. He then would be eligible for the playoffs.

Over seven seasons with six teams, the 6-foot-9 forward has averaged 3.8 points and 3.6 rebounds.

Layups: Marquis Teague turned 20 Thursday. … Collins, on the widespread reaction to his heart-on-his-sleeve postgame news conference after the 76ers' sixth straight loss on Tuesday: "Yeah, I guess I was trending."





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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."


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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.






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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"




















































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Japan says three Chinese ships in disputed waters






TOKYO: Japan's coastguard said three Chinese surveillance ships were in the territorial waters of disputed islands in the East China Sea on Thursday.

The three marine surveillance ships entered the 12-nautical-mile territorial zone off Uotsuri, one of the islands, shortly after 7:00 am (2200 GMT Wednesday), the Japan Coast Guard said in a statement.

Beijing claims the Japanese-controlled islands, called the Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyus in China.

The move was the latest in a series by Chinese government ships since Tokyo nationalised three islands in the chain in September, in what it said was merely an administrative change of ownership. The action sparked fierce protests in China.

- AFP/ck



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White House, Republicans dig in ahead of budget talks

Speaker of the House John Boehner tells Scott Pelley in a "CBS Evening News" interview that a budget deal is now out of his hands.









WASHINGTON—






  Positions hardened on Wednesday between President Barack Obama and Republican congressional leaders over the budget crisis even as they arranged to hold last-ditch talks to prevent harsh automatic spending cuts beginning this week.




Looking resigned to the $85 billion in "sequestration" cuts starting on Friday, government agencies began reducing costs and spelling out to employees how furloughs will work.

Expectations were low that a White House meeting on Friday between Obama and congressional leaders, including Republican foes, would produce any deal to avoid the cuts.

Public services across the country - from air traffic control to food safety inspections and education - might be disrupted if the cuts go ahead.

Put into law in 2011 as part of an earlier fiscal crisis, sequestration is unloved by both parties because of the economic pain it will cause, but the politicians cannot agree how to stop it.

A deal in Congress on less drastic spending cuts, perhaps with tax increases too, is needed by Friday to halt the sequestration reductions, which are split between social programs cherished by Democrats and defense spending championed by Republicans.

Obama stuck by his demand that Republicans accept tax increases in the form of eliminating tax loopholes enjoyed mostly by the wealthy as part of a balanced approach to avoiding sequestration.

"There is no alternative in the president's mind to balance," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

Obama wants to end tax breaks for oil and gas companies and the lower "carried interest" tax rate enjoyed by hedge funds.

But Republicans who reluctantly agreed to raise income tax rates on the rich to avert the "fiscal cliff" crisis in December are in no mood for that.

"One thing Americans simply will not accept is another tax increase to replace spending reductions we already agreed to," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

In one of the first concrete effects of the cuts, the administration took the unusual step of freeing several hundred detained illegal immigrants because of the cost of holding them.

Republicans described that move by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as a political stunt aimed at scaring them into agreeing to end the sequestration on Obama's terms.

The issue looked like it might become more controversial on Wednesday when The Associated Press reported that the Homeland Security Department official in charge of immigration enforcement and removal had announced his resignation on Tuesday just after news of the immigrants' releases came out.

But ICE said the report was "misleading." The official, Gary Mead, told ICE weeks ago of his retirement in April after 40 years of federal service, a spokeswoman said. Earlier, Carney denied the White House had ordered the immigrants' release.

Friday's White House meeting will include McConnell and the other key congressional leaders: Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and House Speaker John Boehner, the top U.S. Republican.

'BELATED FARCE'?

The chances of success were not high.

One congressional Republican aide criticized the White House for calling the meeting for the day the cuts were coming into effect. "Either someone needs to buy the White House a calendar, or this is just a - belated - farce. They ought to at least pretend to try."

Read More..

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.








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









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









Jodi Arias Admits to Killing Man, Lying to Police Watch Video





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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Pope readies for final audience on resignation eve






VATICAN CITY: Pope Benedict XVI will hold the last audience of his pontificate in St Peter's Square on Wednesday on the eve of his historic resignation as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

Tens of thousands of pilgrims are expected at the Vatican to bid a final farewell to an 85-year-old pope who abruptly cut short his pontificate by declaring he was too weak in body and mind to keep up with the modern world.

The Vatican says 50,000 people have obtained tickets for the event but many more may come and city authorities are preparing for 200,000, installing metal detectors in the area, deploying snipers and setting up field clinics.

No parking has been allowed in the zone since 10:00 pm Tuesday, and cars were to be barred entirely from 7:00 am on Wednesday.

The weekly audience, which is exceptionally being held in St Peter's Square because of the numbers expected, is to begin at around 10:30 am (0930 GMT) and usually lasts around an hour with a mixture of prayers and religious instruction from the pope.

Benedict will be the first pope to step down since the Middle Ages -- a break with Catholic tradition that has worried conservatives but kindled the hopes of Catholics around the world who want a breath of new life in the Church.

Rome has been gripped by speculation over what prompted Benedict to resign and who the leading candidates might be to replace him.

Rumours and counter-rumours in the Italian media suggest cut-throat behind-the-scenes lobbying, prompting the Vatican to condemn what it has called "unacceptable pressure" to influence the papal election.

Campaign groups have also lobbied the Vatican to exclude two cardinals accused of covering up child sex abuse from the upcoming election conclave.

The Vatican has said Benedict will receive the title of "Roman pontiff emeritus" and can still be addressed as "Your Holiness" and wear the white papal cassock after he officially steps down at 1900 GMT on Thursday.

Just before that time, the Vatican said Benedict will be whisked off by helicopter to the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo near Rome where he will begin a life out of the public eye.

Benedict will wave from the residence's balcony one last time before retreating to a private chapel and, as he has said, a life "hidden from the world".

On the hour he formally loses his powers as sovereign pontiff, the liveried Swiss Guard that traditionally protects popes will leave the residence.

The shock of the resignation and its unprecedented nature in the Church's modern history has left the Vatican sometimes struggling to explain the implications and Benedict's future status -- from the banal to the theological.

Some Catholics find it hard to come to terms with the idea that someone who was elected in a supposedly divinely inspired vote could simply resign.

The Vatican has said Benedict will lose his power of divine infallibility -- a sort of supreme authority in doctrinal matters -- as soon as he steps down.

The Vatican has also explained that the personalised gold Fisherman's Ring traditionally used to seal papal documents -- a key symbol of the office -- will be destroyed by a special cardinal, as is customary in Catholic tradition.

Benedict has also chosen to swap his trademark red shoes for a brown pair given to him by artisans in Mexico during a trip last year.

Starting next week, cardinals from around the world will begin a series of meetings to decide what the priorities for the Catholic Church should be, set a start date for the conclave and consider possible candidates for pope.

The conclave -- a centuries-old tradition with an elaborate ritual -- is supposed to be held within 15 to 20 days of the death of the pope, but Benedict has given special dispensation for the cardinals to bring that date forward.

Cardinals have been flying in from around the world including US prelate Roger Mahony, a former archbishop of Los Angeles stripped of all church duties for mishandling and covering up sex abuse claims against dozens of priests.

A total of 115 "cardinal electors" are scheduled to take part after another voter, British cardinal Keith O'Brien said he would not be taking part after allegations emerged that he made unwanted advances towards priests in the 1980s.

- AFP/ck



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Kelly out to early lead in race to replace Jackson in Congress









Former state Rep. Robin Kelly is out to a big lead in tonight's special primary election to replace disgraced former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. in Congress.


With 55 percent of precincts reporting, Kelly had 57 percent to 19 percent for former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson and 11 percent for 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale.


The total number of votes isn’t expected to be large, however, as a storm that brought a wintry mix of snow and slush depressed turnout in the 2nd Congressional District contest.








Chicago election officials reported that as of 1:45 p.m., turnout was about 11 percent among sampled city precincts. The figures included ballots cast today and early and absentee voting.


"This puts us on course for turnout in the mid-teens," said Jim Allen, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, in an e-mail. "This is to be expected with a special primary and special election. It is shaping up to be among the lowest turnouts in recent decades."


There are primaries for both political parties in the South Side and south suburban district, but the territory is so heavily Democratic that whoever emerges from the crowded Democratic field is expected to easily win the April 9 special general election.

Today's voting follows weeks of candidate forums, an accelerated campaign schedule and a flurry of TV ads from the mayor of New York. While the top-tier candidates among the 14 Democrats vying for the primary nomination are known, there also are some big unknowns. Voter turnout, already anticipated to be very low, could be exacerbated by nasty weather.

The results of early voting held between Feb. 11 and Saturday demonstrated a lack of interest in the contest, despite its ramifications in deciding who will represent voters and their disparate interests in the vast district.

A majority of the district's Democratic voters live in suburban Cook County, with an additional one-third from the South Side. The district also includes parts of eastern Will County and all of Kankakee County, and together the two regions make up slightly less than 10 percent of the Democratic vote.

In suburban Cook, 4,459 early votes were cast, with 98 percent of those voters taking Democratic ballots. Of the 11 suburban early voting locations, Matteson Village Hall, in Kelly's hometown, had the most with 1,601 voters.


In Chicago, 98 percent of the 2,768 early voters cast Democratic ballots. Only 63 early votes were cast for Republicans.

In Will, 246 voters cast early ballots, all but 40 of them Democratic votes. Kankakee County officials reported 699 early ballots, with 533 voting Democrat and 166 Republican.

"I just think if it was a regular race, then they'd look a little bit different," Kelly said of the low early voting totals. "I also think because (the special primary) came so close to the November election that there's some (voter) fatigue."

But in a large field of candidates and questionable turnout, a nomination for Congress could be decided by mere hundreds of votes. Even as forecasters sounded warnings of a Tuesday smorgasbord of wintry weather, candidates sought to energize core supporters to help get out the vote.

In an email to supporters, Kelly's campaign pleaded for volunteers to help get voters to the polls and asked for money for its get-out-the-vote field operation.


Halvorson acknowledged the early voting numbers were "paltry" and that voter turnout would be a "huge" factor Tuesday. Halvorson said she believed turnout could be driven by the district's history of scandals — including last week's guilty plea by Jackson on federal charges of illegally converting about $750,000 in campaign cash to personal use.

"I think this race has gotten so much attention and people are so angry about what the 2nd Congressional District has had to deal with over the years that they're going to take a special interest to make sure they are going to vote for someone who is completely different than what they've seen," said Halvorson, of Crete.

Halvorson also has been the target of the most extensive advertising in the contest, more than $2.2 million worth of TV and mail attacks by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's super political action committee, centered on her past National Rifle Association support. Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC is backing Kelly.

Beale said the low number of early ballots puts all the more importance on Election Day field efforts. He said that well-established organizations in the six city wards in the district could serve as an advantage for his campaign.

"It's just slow across the board, and that just goes to show it is going to be a very low turnout," Beale said of the early votes. "We're just making sure we're targeting our core, solid voters, and we're going to get them out to the polls and be victorious Tuesday night."

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A History of Balloon Crashes


A hot-air balloon exploded in Egypt yesterday as it carried 19 people over ancient ruins near Luxor. The cause is believed to be a torn gas hose. In Egypt as in many other countries, balloon rides are a popular way to sightsee. (Read about unmanned flight in National Geographic magazine.)

The sport of hot-air ballooning dates to 1783, when a French balloon took to the skies with a sheep, a rooster, and a duck. Apparently, they landed safely. But throughout the history of the sport, there have been tragedies like the one in Egypt. (See pictures of personal-flight technology.)

1785: Pioneering balloonist Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and pilot Pierre Romain died when their balloon caught fire, possibly from a stray spark, and crashed during an attempt to cross the English Channel. They were the first to die in a balloon crash.

1923: Five balloonists participating in the Gordon Bennett Cup, a multi-day race that dates to 1906, were killed when lightning struck their balloons.

1924: Meteorologist C. LeRoy Meisinger and U.S. Army balloonist James T. Neely died after a lightning strike. They had set off from Scott Field in Illinois during a storm to study air pressure. Popular Mechanics dubbed them "martyrs of science."

1995: Tragedy strikes the Gordon Bennett Cup again. Belarusian forces shot down one of three balloons that drifted into their airspace from Poland. The two Americans on board died. The other balloonists were detained and fined for entering Belarus without a visa. (Read about modern explorers who take to the skies.)

1989: Two hot air balloons collided during a sightseeing trip near Alice Springs, Australia. One balloon crashed to the ground killing all 13 people on board. The pilot of the other balloon was sentenced to a two-year prison term for "committing a dangerous act." Until today, this was considered the most deadly balloon accident.

2012: A balloon hit a power line and caught fire in New Zealand, killing all 11 on board. Investigators later determined that the pilot was not licensed to fly and had not taken  proper safety measures during the crash, like triggering the balloon's parachute and deflation system.

2012: A sightseeing balloon carrying 32 people crashed and caught fire during a thunderstorm in the Ljubljana Marshes in Slovenia. Six died; many other passengers were injured.


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