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"


















































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Obama calls for replacing sequester with balanced approach






WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama urged Congress on Saturday to replace automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester with what he called "a balanced approach," which combines "smart" cuts with reforms.

The appeal came the day after the president, complying with the law, signed an order bringing arbitrary cuts worth US$85 billion into force as well as a report by his Office of Management and Budget detailing the cuts to each agency.

Obama has called the sweeping cuts, stemming from a 2011 debt ceiling agreement, "dumb".

The across-the-board cuts were triggered automatically following the failure of efforts to clinch a deal with Republicans on cutting the deficit.

But in his weekly radio and Internet address, he argued there was still time to find a smarter solution to the nation's debt problem.

"I still believe we can and must replace these cuts with a balanced approach - one that combines smart spending cuts with entitlement reform and changes to our tax code that make it more fair for families and businesses without raising anyone's tax rates," Obama said.

He said the budget deficit, now exceeding US$1 trillion, can be reduced without laying off workers or forcing parents and students to pay the price.

"A majority of the American people agree with me on this approach - including a majority of Republicans," the president argued. "We just need Republicans in Congress to catch up with their own party and the rest of the country."

Under the sequester, 800,000 civilian employees of the Defence Department will go on a mandatory furlough one day a week and the navy will trim voyages. The deployment of a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf has been cancelled.

Defence contractors may be forced to lay off workers and some federal health spending could be hit.

Cuts will also be made to special needs education and preschool for less well-off children. National parks could close and wait times could hit four hours at airport customs posts.

But the president insisted that despite public bickering, Republicans and Democrats actually had more in common than they were willing to let on.

"I know there are Republicans in Congress who would actually rather see tax loopholes closed than let these cuts go through," Obama said. "And I know there are Democrats who'd rather do smart entitlement reform than let these cuts go through. There's a caucus of common sense. And I'm going to keep reaching out to them to fix this for good."

- AFP/xq



Read More..

Redflex execs out as scandal grows in red light camera firm









The president, chief financial officer and top lawyer for Chicago's red light camera company resigned this week amid an escalating corruption scandal that has cost Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. its lucrative, decadelong relationship with the city.


The resignations came as Redflex said it was winding down a company-funded probe into allegations of an improper relationship between the company and the former city transportation manager who oversaw its contract until 2011, a relationship first disclosed by the Tribune in October. A longtime friend of that city manager was hired by Redflex for a high-paid consulting deal.


The company recently acknowledged it improperly paid for thousands of dollars in trips for the former city official, the latest in a series of controversial revelations that have shaken Redflex from its Phoenix headquarters to Australia, the home of parent company Redflex Holdings Ltd.








Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration banned the company from competing for the upcoming speed camera contract and went further last month by announcing that Redflex would lose its red light contract when it expires in June. The Chicago program, with more than 380 cameras, has been the company's largest in North America and is worth about 13 percent of worldwide revenue for Redflex Holdings. Since 2003 it has generated about $100 million for Redflex and more than $300 million in ticket revenue for the city.


In an email addressed to all company employees, Redflex Holdings CEO and President Robert T. DeVincenzi announced the resignations of three top executives in Phoenix: Karen Finley, the company's longtime president and chief executive officer; Andrejs Bunkse, the general counsel; and Sean Nolen, the chief financial officer. Their exits follow those of the chairman of the board of Redflex Holdings, another Australian board member and the company's top sales executive who Redflex has blamed for much of its Chicago problems.


"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," said DeVincenzi, who took over as CEO of the Phoenix company. "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 also held town hall meetings in Arizona to unveil reforms, including new requirements to put all company employees through anti-bribery and anti-corruption training, hiring a new director of compliance to ensure that employees adhere to company policies and establishing a 24-hour whistle-blower hotline.


The resignations and a second consecutive halt to public trading of the company's stock are the latest in a string of events that followed Tribune reports last year regarding 2-year-old internal allegations of corruption in the Chicago contract that the company previously said were investigated and discounted.


The scandal now enveloping the company centers on its relationship to former Chicago transportation official John Bills, who retired in 2011 after overseeing the company's contract since it began in 2003.


A whistle-blower letter obtained by the Tribune said Bills received lavish vacations directly on the expense report of a company executive and raised questions about improper ties between Bills and a Redflex consultant who received more than $570,000 in company commissions.


Bills and the consultant, a longtime friend, have denied wrongdoing.


The company told the Tribune in October that its investigation into the 2010 letter found only one instance of an inadvertent expenditure for Bills, a two-day hotel stay at the Arizona Biltmore expensed by the executive. Redflex lawyer Bunkse told the newspaper that the company responded by sending the executive to "anti-bribery" training and overhauling company expense procedures.


But after additional Tribune reports, the company hired a former Chicago inspector general, David Hoffman, to conduct another investigation. Hoffman made an interim report of his findings to company board members this month. That report prompted the company officials to acknowledge a much deeper involvement with Bills, including thousands of dollars for trips to the Super Bowl and White Sox spring training over many years.


The chairman of the company's Australian board of directors resigned, trading on company stock was temporarily suspended and the company acknowledged that it is sharing information with law enforcement.


Trading was halted again this week pending more details about the company's latest actions.


dkidwell@tribune.com





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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..

Sequester: What Will Happen, What Won't Happen












When it comes to critical elements of the sequester timeline, not much is known -- because federal agencies have been tight lipped.


Asked when specific effects will be felt, officials at three federal departments declined to discuss the timing of sequester cuts and their consequences. Some departments were waiting for President Obama's Friday night sequester order and subsequent guidance they expected to receive from the Office of Management and Budget before talking about what would and wouldn't happen and when.


Read more: 57 Terrible Consequences of the Sequester


"There's no calendar of dates for specific actions or cuts on specific dates," Department of Health and Human Services public affairs officer Bill Hall told ABC News. "Again, these cuts need to be applied equally across all agency programs, activities and projects. There will be wide variation on when impacts will occur depending on a given program."


Some cuts won't be felt for a while because they have to do with government layoffs, which require 30 days notice, in most cases.


For instance, the Federal Aviation Administration won't begin layoffs until at least April 7, one FAA official estimated.


But some cuts don't involve furloughs, and could conceivably be felt immediately.


The Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on the timeline of layoffs to cybersecurity contractors and first responders funded through states, as well as limited Coast Guard operations and cuts to FEMA disaster relief.


The Department of Housing and Urban Development said it could not comment on cuts to housing vouchers, rent assistance for AIDS patients, maintenance for housing projects.






Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Imag











Sequestration Deadline: Obama Meets With Leaders Watch Video











Sequester Countdown: The Reality of Budget Cuts Watch Video





The Department of Health and Human Services declined to discuss the specific timing of cuts to Head Start services, low-income mental-health services, AIDS/HIV testing, and inpatient substance-abuse treatment.


Read More: Automatic Cuts Could Hurt on Local Level


So even as the sequester hits, we still don't know when some of its worst effects will be felt.


Here's what we do know:


What Will Happen Saturday


      Air Force Training. At a briefing Friday, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter warned that "effective immediately, Air Force flying hours will be cut back."


More from Carter, via ABC News' Luis Martinez: "What does that mean for national security? What it means is that as the year goes on, apart from Afghanistan, apart from nuclear deterrence through two missions we are strictly protecting, the readiness of the other units to respond to other contingencies will gradually decline. That's not safe. And that we're trying to minimize that in every way we possibly can."


      Closed Doors at the Capitol. ABC News' Sunlen Miller reports that Capitol Police issued a memo announcing it would have to close some entrances to the Capitol, writing: "At this time it is anticipated that the U.S. Capitol Police will be required to close some entrance doors and exterior checkpoints, and either suspend or modify the hours of operation for some of the U.S. Capitol Complex posts located inside and outside of the CVC and Office Buildings."


      Capitol Janitor Furloughs. After President Obama warned that janitors at the Capitol will be furloughed, ABC News' Sunlen Miller reported that was not entirely true: The Senate sergeant at arms, Terrance Gainer, told ABC News that no full-time salaried Capitol Police officers would face furloughs or layoffs at this time. They will, however, see a "substantial reduction in overtime," Gainer told ABC News.


      Delayed Deployment for USS Truman Aircraft Carrier. This has already happened, the Associated Press reported Friday morning: "One of the Navy's premiere warships, the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, sits pier-side in Norfolk, Va., its tour of duty delayed. The carrier and its 5,000-person crew were to leave for the Persian Gulf on Feb. 8, along with the guided-missile cruiser USS Gettysburg."






Read More..

'Good' and 'bad' skin bugs dictate who gets spots



































The secret to clear skin may lie in the cocktail of strains of a common bacterium that lives on your skin.











Propionibacterium acnes bacteria are abundant in the pores on everyone's face. They have been implicated as a cause of pimples, but why they aggravate spottiness in some people but not others has been a mystery.













The discovery that there are "good" and "bad" types of P. acnes offers a clue. It also opens up the possibility of developing treatments customised to the flora of an individual's skin.












The condition affects 85 per cent of teenagers and 11 per cent of adults, and as anyone with acne can testify, existing treatments such as antibiotics have limited effectiveness and can make skin dry out or cause redness and peeling.











Strains sequenced













A team led by Huiying Li of the University of California, Los Angeles, has analysed bacteria from the nose skin of 49 people with acne and 52 controls. "Not all P. acnes strains were created equal," says Li.











Of the thousands of P. acnes strains the researchers identified, the most common 66 were investigated in depth by completely sequencing their genomes. Of these, 63 strains were found in people with and without acne, but two appeared to be linked to acne, and one to healthy skin.













One of the "bad" strains was uniquely found on spotty skin; the other was also found in 16 per cent of samples from people without acne. The "good" strain was hardly found in people with acne but was present in a fifth of those with clear skin.











Rogue genes













Uniquely, the "bad" strains had extra groups of genes derived from viruses. These rogue genes can potentially aggravate acne and include one which binds the bugs unusually tightly to human cells. Because spots are caused by our immune system going into overdrive in response to the presence of P. acnes, resulting in inflammation, this "tightness" gene "means it can trigger a stronger immune response", says Li.












The "good" strain, meanwhile, lacked these genes. Instead, it had genetic components enabling it to recognise and destroy the rogue genes, which means it doesn't cause the skin to become inflamed and spots don't erupt.












Since not all the individuals with clear skin had the "good" strains and not all with acne had the "bad" ones, other factors – such as the tendency of the immune system to over-react or an individual's genetic make-up – might dictate whether good or bad strains grow on skin. In other words, the experiment does not demonstrate what came first – the bad strains of bacteria or the acne, a point raised by researchers not involved in the work.












"Whether the strains are cause or effect is not addressed by this study," says Martin Blaser of New York University. "Nevertheless, this is an important first step in understanding the role of P. acnes in disease."











Probiotics for acne













Li says further investigations are under way in the same people to find out how the balance of good, bad and neutral strains changes over time. She is hopeful that it might be possible to develop creams customised to each person's unique cocktail of skin bacteria to prevent or treat acne.












"Good strains might be used as probiotics to stop skin blemishes before they start, much like yogurt contains good strains of bacteria to fight off bad bugs in the gut," she says.












Another possibility might be drugs that kill only the bad strains. At present, acne is treated with antibiotics that kill all bacteria on the skin, including harmless ones that helpfully prevent nasty strains from taking hold. Exclusively killing the bad strains would be more beneficial, says Li.












Journal reference: Journal of Investigative Dermatology, doi.org/kng


















































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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Italy's lefti-wing leader suggests loose alliance to end deadlock






ROME: Italian left-wing leader Pier Luigi Bersani on Friday held out the prospect of forming a minority government based on a loose alliance in parliament following inconclusive elections, as Europe puts on pressure for a quick solution.

"I am calling it a government of change, which I would take the responsibility of leading," the Democratic Party leader said in an interview with La Repubblica daily, warning that Italy's "governability (is) at risk".

"Like all governments, it will ask for the confidence of parliament," he said.

But Bersani rejected out of hand the possibility of a grand coalition arrangement with Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right forces, after a new anti-establishment party upset the traditional balance of power between Italy's right and left by winning big in the polls early this week.

Bersani said the government he is proposing would have key objectives, including easing austerity measures, creating jobs, helping the poorest and cutting government costs -- echoing at least some of the demands made by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

But since a Democratic Party-led coalition did not manage majorities in both houses of parliament, the new government would depend on the support of other parties in the upper house -- an arrangement that analysts have warned would prove "highly unstable" at a time when Italy is facing an acute economic crisis.

Stefano Folli, editorialist for Il Sole 24 Ore business daily, said it would "hand over the government" to the whims of the populist Five Star Movement.

Most analysts say there will have to be new elections within months to resolve the impasse.

It is unclear whether the Five Star Movement would support Bersani after its leader, former comedian Beppe Grillo, said his movement "is not going to give a vote of confidence to the Democratic Party or to anyone else".

Not everyone in his movement agrees with this rejection, however.

The party captured a quarter of the vote with a campaign that mixed advocacy on environmental causes and grassroots local issues with a crusade against political sleaze, drawing many austerity-weary Italians to its ranks.

The party has spooked Europe with its promise to hold a referendum on the euro and cancel Italy's debts, prompting European leaders to urge Italy to stick to its fiscal commitments and form a government as soon as possible.

A deputy from German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) called on Friday for Italy to leave the euro if it could not stick to EU rules after its inconclusive election.

"If one can't succeed in persuading the people of a country that they have to stick to the commitments they have themselves signed up to in terms of how the common currency works, then you can't demand new elections from outside, but the country must return to its own currency," said Klaus-Peter Willsch.

Markets were jittery in trading on Friday, with the Milan index plunging 1.58 percent -- the worst performer among major European stock markets.

The technocratic cabinet of outgoing premier Mario Monti, who won praise abroad for his budget discipline and economic reforms but became increasingly unpopular at home, will stay in place until a new government is formed.

A centrist coalition led by Monti came in fourth place, garnering far too little support to be able to cobble a majority in alliance with the left.

Bersani meanwhile ruled out another possibility -- the formation of an emergency coalition with his long-time arch-rival Berlusconi -- saying: "The hypothesis of a grand understanding does not exist and will never exist".

The scandal-tainted Berlusconi on Friday made an appearance at his appeal trial in Milan against a tax fraud conviction linked to his business empire.

A verdict in the case is expected later this month, along with a ruling in another trial in which Berlusconi is a defendant on charges of having sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of office while he was still prime minister.

Italy's new parliament must convene by March 15 at the latest under the rules of the constitution. After parliament meets, formal negotiations can begin with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on a new government.

Guglielmo Meardi, a professor at Warwick Business School in Britain, said Italy was "used to parliamentary instability... and should stay on the rails until the autumn, when fresh elections could be held."

- AFP/al



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Washington stares down start of sequester cuts









NEW YORK, March 1 (Reuters) - The U.S. government hurtled today toward making deep spending cuts that threaten to hinder the nation's economic recovery, after Republicans and Democrats failed to agree on an alternative deficit-reduction plan.


The $85 billion in across-the-board “sequestration” cuts were expected to cause airport delays, disrupt public services and result in lower pay or layoffs for millions of government workers.


Locked in during a bout of deficit-reduction fever in 2011, the time-released cuts can only be halted by agreement between Republican lawmakers and the White House.

That has proved elusive so far.

Both sides still hope the other will either be blamed by voters for the cuts or cave in before the worst effects - like air traffic chaos or furloughs for tens of thousands of federal employees - start to bite in the coming weeks.

Barring any breakthroughs in the next few hours, the cuts will begin to come into force at some time before midnight on Friday night. The full brunt of the belt tightening, known in Washington as “sequestration,” will take effect over seven months so it is not clear if there will be an immediate disruption to public services.

President Barack Obama meets top leaders of Congress at the White House at 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT) to explore ways to avoid the unprecedented, across-the-board cuts totaling $85 billion.

But expectations were low for a deal when the Democratic president huddles with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top U.S. Republican, and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

Democrats insist tax increases be part of a solution to ending the automatic cuts, an idea Republicans reject.

“We should work together to reduce our deficit in a balanced way - by making smart spending cuts and closing special interest tax loopholes,” Obama said on Thursday.

Congress can stop the cuts at any time after they start on Friday if the parties agree to that. In the absence of any deal at all, the Pentagon will be forced to slice 13 percent of its budget between now and Sept. 30. Most non-defense programs, from NASA space exploration to federally backed education and law enforcement, face a 9 percent reduction.

The International Monetary Fund warns that the cutbacks could knock at least 0.5 percentage point off U.S. economic growth this year and slow the global economy.

The prospect of weaker growth and a jump in unemployment caused by the cuts was being seen by some in the markets as making it more likely the U.S. Federal Reserve will need to maintain its ultra lose monetary policy for longer.

“The market is of the view that if there's a fiscal tightening which causes a significant negative impact on economic prospects and the labor market, then the Fed will have to respond,” said Ian Stannard, head of European FX strategy at Morgan Stanley.

Financial markets have also had a long time to assess the potential impact of the cuts on growth and believe it is not tantamount to a recession trigger.

“There is no immediate and visible impact to the economy so markets are not seeing it as a tail risk,” said Ayako Sera, a market economist at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank in Tokyo.








DISEASE RESEARCH, WEAPONS HIT


If the cuts were to stay in place through September, the administration predicts significant air travel delays due to layoffs of airport security workers and air traffic controllers.


Some Pentagon weapons production could grind to a halt and the budget cuts would ripple through the sprawling defense contracting industry.


Meat inspections could get hung up, medical research projects on cancer and Alzheimer's disease canceled or curtailed and thousands of teachers laid off.


Instead of these indiscriminate cuts, Obama and Democrats in Congress urge a mix of targeted spending cuts and tax increases on the rich to help tame the growth of a $16.6 trillion national debt.


Republicans instead want to cut the cost of huge social safety nets, including Social Security and Medicare, that are becoming more expensive in a country with an aging population.


Meantime, Obama is edging closer to having to enforce the meat-axe approach.


By midnight, he is required to issue an order to federal agencies to reduce their budgets and the White House budget office must send a report to Congress detailing the spending cuts. In coming days, federal agencies are likely to issue 30-day notices to workers who will be laid off.



STILL TIME ON THE CLOCK

The question now appears to be how long the budget cuts will be allowed to happen. If budget cuts last only a few weeks, it is plausible they could have a marginal impact on growth and on employment. This is because some budget cuts won't translate into immediate spending cuts.

The Defense Department, for example, will probably not begin furloughing some 800,000 civilian workers until late April, after which these workers will work one day less per week. Budget cuts for capital spending could also be delayed.

The CBO estimates that only about half of the $85 billion in budget cuts planned from March through September would translate into lower spending during that period.

Once the furloughs and other spending cuts take hold, though, workers will feel the pinch, especially the 2.8 million people employed by the federal government.





Read More..

Scarred Duckbill Dinosaur Escaped T. Rex Attack


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

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

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

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

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

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

A Terrible Attacker

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

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

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

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

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

Dog-Eat-Dog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mysterious Escape

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

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

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

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

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


Read More..

Sequester Set to Trigger Billions in Cuts











Nobody likes the sequester.


Even the word is enough to send shivers of fiscal panic, or sheer political malaise, down the spines of seasoned politicians and news reporters. And today, the sequester will almost certainly happen, a year and a half after its inception as an intentionally unpalatable event amid the stalemate of the debt-limit crisis in 2011.


Automatic budget cuts will be triggered across federal agencies, as President Obama will be required to order sequestration into effect before midnight Friday night. The federal bureaucracy will implement its various plans to save the money it's required to save.


Now that the sequester will probably happen, here are some questions and answers about it:


1. HOW BIG IS IT?


The cuts were originally slated for $109 billion this year, but after the fiscal-cliff deal postponed the sequester for two months by finding alternate savings, the sequester will amount to $85 billion over the remainder of the year. Over the rest of the year, nondefense programs will be cut by nine percent, and defense programs will be cut by 13 percent.


If carried out over 10 years (as designed), the sequester will amount to $1.2 trillion in total.


2. WHAT WILL BE CUT, SPARED?


Most government programs will be cut, including both defense and nondefense spending, with the cuts distributed evenly (by dollar amount) over those two categories.




Some vital domestic entitlements, however, will be spared. Social Security checks won't shrink; nor will Veterans Administration programs. Medicare benefits won't get cut, but payments to providers will shrink by two percent. The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), food stamps, Pell grants, and Medicaid will all be shielded from the sequester.


But lots of things will get cut. The Obama administration has warned that a host of calamities will befall vulnerable segments of the population.


3. WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE SO BAD?


Questions persist over whether or not it really does.


The sequester will mean such awful things because it forces agencies to cut things indiscriminately, instead of simply stripping money from their overall budgets.


But some Republicans, including Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, have suggested that federal agencies have plenty of flexibility to implement these cuts while avoiding the worst of the purported consequences. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal accused President Obama of trying to "distort" the severity of the sequester. The federal government will still spend more money than it did last year, GOP critics of sequester alarmism have pointed out.


The White House tells a different story.


According to the Office of Management and Budget, the sequestration law forces agency heads to cut the same percentage from each program. If that program is for TSA agents checking people in at airports, the sequester law doesn't care, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano can't do anything about it.


Agency heads do have some authority to "reprogram" funds, rearranging their money to circumvent the bad effects. But an OMB official told ABC News that "these flexibilities are limited and do not provide significant relief due to the rigid nature of the way in which sequestration is required by law to be implemented."


4. WHEN WILL THE WORST OF IT START?


Not until April -- but some of the cuts could be felt before then.






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SingPost sets up S$10m fund to help low-wage employees






SINGAPORE: SingPost is setting up a $10 million "Inclusivity Fund", which will benefit its low-wage workers.

Over 70 per cent of the fund will go to helping the workers cope with the rising cost of living. This will include retention awards and enhancements to their wages.

Part of the fund will also go into training to help them upgrade their skills.

Staff with school-going children can also stand to benefit from bursaries and scholarships.

The fund will be disbursed over five years and benefit some 3,400 workers.

The company will also be investing about S$30 million to enhance its delivery and improve processes.

- CNA/xq



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Chicago archdiocese to close 5 schools in cost-cutting move









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


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


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








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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


mbrachear@tribune.com


bdoyle@tribune.com


jmdelgado@tribune.com



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Why African Rhinos Are Facing a Crisis


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

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

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

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

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

Hope and Hurdles

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

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

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

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

Room for Debate

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

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


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Benedict Pledges 'Obedience' to New Pope












In his farewell remarks to colleagues in the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, the first pontiff to resign in nearly 600 years, promised "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his eventual successor.


Benedict, in a morning meeting at the Vatican, urged the cardinals to act "like an orchestra" to find "harmony" moving forward.


Benedict, 85, is spending a quiet final day as pope, bidding farewell to his colleagues and moving on to a secluded life of prayer, far from the grueling demands of the papacy and the scandals that have recently plagued the church.


His first order of business was a morning meeting with the cardinals in the Clementine Hall, a room in the Apostolic Palace. Despite the historical nature of Benedict's resignation, not all cardinals attended the event.


With their first working meeting not until Monday, only around 100 cardinals were set to attend, the Vatican press office said Wednesday. Those who are there for Benedict's departure will be greeted by seniority.


Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, thanked Benedict for his service to the church during the eight years he has spent as pontiff.


Pope Benedict XVI Delivers Farewell Address










In the evening, at 5:00 p.m. local time, Benedict will leave the Vatican palace for the last time to head to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence outside Rome. Before his departure, the German-born theologian will say some goodbyes in the Courtyard of San Damaso, inside the Vatican, first to his Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and then to the Swiss Guards who have protected him as pontiff.


9 Men Who Could Replace Pope Benedict XVI


From there it is a short drive to a heliport for the 15-minute flight via helicopter to Castel Gandolfo, just south of the city. Benedict will not be alone on his journey, accompanied by members of the Pontifical Household such as two private secretaries, the head of protocol, his personal physician and his butler.


Once Benedict lands in the gardens at Castel Gandolfo, he will be greeted a group of dignitaries, such as the governor of the Vatican City state Giovanni Bertello, two bishops, the director of the pontifical villas, and the mayor and parish priest. Off the helicopter and into a car, Benedict will head to the palace that he will call home for the coming months. From a window of the palace, Benedict will make one final wave to the crowd at the papal retreat.


It is there, at 8:00 p.m., that Benedict's resignation will take effect once and for all. Once the gates to the residence close, the Swiss Guards will leave Benedict's side for the last time, their time protecting the pontiff completed.


Pope Benedict's Last Sunday Prayer Service


For some U.S. Catholics in Rome for the historic occasion, Benedict's departure is bittersweet. Christopher Kerzich, a Chicago resident studying at the Pontifical North American College of Rome, said Wednesday he is sad to see Benedict leave, but excited to see what comes next.


"Many Catholics have come to love this pontiff, this very humble man," Kerzich said. "He is a man who's really fought this and prayed this through and has peace in his heart. I take comfort in that and I think a lot of Catholics should take comfort in that."






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We need a piece of Mars to continue search for life


































THERE'S no need to cry over spilt chemicals. Thanks to an accident inside one of its instruments, NASA's Curiosity rover has detected the presence of a substance called perchlorate in Martian soil (see "Curiosity's spills add thrills to the Mars life hunt").












Not exactly earth-shattering, you might think. But it adds a new twist to the most controversial chapter in Martian history: did the Viking landers detect life?













This is a question that has divided the Viking missions' researchers for almost three decades. One group has resolutely stuck to its guns that the landers detected signs of life. Equally adamant is a second group who say they absolutely did not – a view that has always been the official version of events.












The unexpected discovery of perchlorate supplies a legitimate reason to reopen the debate. Perchlorate is an oxidising agent that destroys organic molecules. Its presence could finally explain the disputed results.












The episode highlights another important issue. Curiosity is a sophisticated machine, but there is only so much soil chemistry we can do from millions of kilometres away. A sample return mission must be a priority.












This article appeared in print under the headline "We need a piece of Mars"


















































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Rehabilitative care innovation can alleviate manpower crunch: govt






SINGAPORE: The government said the use of technology not only accelerates the rehabilitation process of patients, but also helps ease manpower shortages in healthcare.

The latest in "rehab innovations" for those with disabilities are on display at the inaugural Rehab Tech Asia exhibition in Singapore.

The showcase includes a robot arm which allows users who are paralysed in their upper bodies to do daily functions, such as drinking a glass of water.

Laurie Piquet, director of rehabilitation development at KINOVA, said: "When we demonstrate this to users, often the first comments that we have are, 'that's the first time I'm drinking a glass of water by myself'."

The innovation from Canada is compatible with any powered wheelchair and can be controlled by a joystick or through neck movements.

A special wheelchair also improves mobility by making it easier for users to climb stairs and cross pavements.

Other than technology for patients to use, there are also devices for caregivers.

"The Body Up", distributed by Lifeline, is a transfer assist device for bed-ridden patients. The contraption can be used to lift a patient who weighs less than 120kg.

With a growing demand for special needs care, those in the field of rehabilitation said such technology can alleviate problems of manpower shortage.

Dr Kong Keng He, senior consultant at department of rehabilitation medicine at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, said: "It is still very hospital-centric. The patient goes to the hospital to get treatment. I think it will be better off to make it more patient-centric. Deploy this treatment, whether it is rehabilitation, back to the community. And it's always possible for community centres, day rehabilitation centres to acquire these equipment and to have patients to receive their therapy there."

Minister of State for Health Dr Amy Khor agreed, saying the high cost of some technology may be offset by productivity gains in the long run.

She said: "Where it is viable and applicable, I think we should adopt them because it's helpful in terms of improving, accelerating the rehabilitation experience as well as in terms of better use of manpower, improving productivity, and this is something we need to look at. Where it is still costly, I think technology will develop and we will have to continue to monitor this."

With the recent enhancements made to the Senior's Mobility and Enabling Fund, Dr Khor said the subsides should encourage the elderly to go for rehabilitation services within the community.

On how the fund will be disbursed to help home care patients, especially those who are not in touch with intermediate- and long-term care providers, Dr Khor said the Agency for Integrated Care will work with the operators to help spread awareness of the fund. The agency will also work with the grassroots organisations and Community Development Councils to publicise the fund among needy residents.

- CNA/xq



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Kelly rolls in Democratic primary, takes aim at NRA









Former state Rep. Robin Kelly easily won the special Democratic primary Tuesday night in the race to replace the disgraced Jesse Jackson Jr. in Congress, helped by millions of dollars in pro-gun control ads from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's political fund.


A snowstorm and lack of voter interest kept turnout low as Kelly had 52 percent to 25 percent for former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson and 11 percent for Chicago 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale with 99 percent of precincts counted.


Kelly will formally take on the winner of the Republican primary in an April 9 special general election in the heavily Democratic district. In the GOP contest, less than 25 votes separated convicted felon Paul McKinley and businessman Eric Wallace.








Kelly framed her win as a victory for gun control forces.


"You sent a message that was heard around our state and across the nation," Kelly told supporters in a Matteson hotel ballroom. "A message that tells the NRA that their days of holding our country hostage are coming to an end.


"To every leader in the fight for gun control ready to work with President (Barack) Obama and Mayor (Rahm) Emanuel to stop this senseless violence, thank you for your leadership and thank you for your courage," she said.


Halvorson told supporters to rally around Kelly as the Democratic nominee. But Halvorson also made it clear she believed her biggest opponent was the mayor of New York, whose anti-gun super political action committee spent more than $2.2 million attacking her previous support from the National Rifle Association while backing Kelly.


"We all know how rough it was for me to have to run an election against someone who spent ($2.2) million against me," Halvorson said at Homewood restaurant. "Every 71/2 minutes there was a commercial."


Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC was the largest campaign interest in the race and dominated the Chicago broadcast TV airwaves compared to a marginal buy by one minor candidate.


Beale also called Bloomberg's influence "the biggest disservice in this race."


"If this is the future of the Democratic Party, then we are all in big trouble," Beale said.


Bloomberg, an Emanuel ally in the fight for tougher gun restrictions, called Kelly's win "an important victory for common sense leadership on gun violence" as well as sign that voters "are demanding change" in a Congress that has refused to enact tougher gun restrictions, fearing the influence of the NRA.


But as much as Bloomberg sought to portray the Kelly win as a victory over the influential NRA, the national organization stayed out of the contest completely while the state rifle association sent out one late mailer for Halvorson.


Be it the TV ads or a late consolidation toward Kelly in the campaign, the former Matteson lawmaker made an impressive showing with Democratic voters in suburban Cook County, where the bulk of the district's vote was located, as well as on the South Side.


Despite the size of the field, Kelly got more than half of the votes cast in the two most populated areas of the district. Halvorson won by large percentages over Kelly in Kankakee County and the district's portion of Will County, but those two areas have very few votes.


The special primary election, by its nature, already had been expected to be a low-turnout affair — an expedited contest with little time for contenders to raise money or mount a traditional campaign.


Adding to the lack of interest was the fact that there were no other contests on the ballot in Chicago and most of the suburban Cook County portion of the district. Few contests were being held in Kankakee County and the portion of Will County within the 2nd District.


Turnout was reported to be around 15 percent in the city and suburban Cook. More than 98 percent of the primary votes cast in Chicago were Democratic, as were 97 percent of those cast in suburban Cook.


On the Republican side, the unofficial vote leader was McKinley, 54, who was arrested 11 times from 2003 to 2007, mostly for protesting, with almost all of the charges dropped. In the 1970s and '80s, McKinley was convicted of six felony counts, serving nearly 20 years in prison for burglaries, armed robberies and aggravated battery. He previously declined to discuss the circumstances of those crimes but has dubbed himself the "ex-offender preventing the next offender" in his campaign.


Records show McKinley also owes $14,147 in federal taxes, which might explain his answer at a forum when asked if he would cut any federal programs. "Certainly," he said. "The IRS."





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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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Pope Thanks Crowd in Final Public Appearance












On his final full day as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI thanked a huge crowd for respecting his historic decision to step down and told them that God will continue to guide the church.


"The decision I have made, after much prayer, is the fruit of a serene trust in God's will and a deep love of Christ's Church," Benedict said to cheers in his last public words as pope.


Benedict, 85, is the first pope to resign in 600 years. He told the crowd today that he was "deeply grateful for the understanding, support and prayers of so many of you, not only here in Rome, but also throughout the world."


Pope Benedict's Last Sunday Prayer Service


Under sunny skies on this late February day, hundreds of thousands of people, some waving flags, some banners, flocked to Vatican City to see Benedict make a final lap around St. Peter's Square. Throughout his eight-year papacy, Benedict has conducted a weekly audience from St. Peter's. Before delivering his last papal address today, Benedict waved to the festive group of supporters as he toured the square in his glass-encased popemobile.


The city of Rome planned for more than 200,000 people to head to the Vatican for today's event. Streets around St. Peter's were blocked off to cars as pedestrians from around the world headed to the square.








The Conclave: Secret World of Picking the Pope Watch Video











Papal Appearance: Faithful Flock to Saint Peter's Square Watch Video





9 Men Who Could Replace Pope Benedict XVI


The conclave to elect Benedict's replacement will start next month at a date yet to be determined. Benedict issued a decree known as a "motu poprio" that will allow cardinals to convene the conclave sooner than the March 15 date that would have been mandated under the old rules.


Benedict today asked the faithful to pray for him and for the new pope.


"My heart is filled with thanksgiving to God who ever watches over his church," Benedict said.


The German-born Benedict, who had appeared frail at times in recent months, seemed more energized in his remarks today. He has said he will devote more time to prayer and meditation after he leaves the papacy.


Benedict will meet Thursday with his cardinals in the morning and then flies by helicopter at 5 p.m. to Castel Gandolfo, the papal residence south of Rome. Benedict will greet parishioners there from the palazzo's balcony, his final public act as pope.


Then, at 8 p.m., the exact time at which his retirement becomes official, the Swiss Guards standing outside the doors of the palazzo at Castel Gandolfo will go off duty, their service protecting the head of the Catholic Church finished.


In retirement, Benedict will continue to wear white and will be called "Pope Emeritus," or the "Supreme Roman Pontiff Emeritus" or "Your Holiness," the Vatican announced Tuesday. Benedict will ditch his trademark red shoes, opting for a pair of brown shoes given to him on a trip to Mexico. But he will still reside on Vatican grounds in a former nunnery.


Benedict's final days as pope have been marked by controversy. For nearly a week now Italian newspapers speculated that Benedict really resigned because of a dossier he was given detailing a sex and blackmail scandal in the Catholic Church. The Italian media news reports do not state any attribution.


It turns out a dossier does exist. The Vatican spokesman Monday underscored that the contents of the dossier are known only to the pope and his investigators, three elderly prelates whom the Italian papers have nicknamed "the 007 cardinals."


But the dossier itself will remain "For the Pope's Eyes Only."






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China takes steps to clean up 'cancer villages'









































The Chinese government has acknowledged the existence of "cancer villages": areas where rates of cancer are unusually high, probably because of industrial and agricultural contamination of drinking and irrigation water.












The reference to the cancer clusters was in China's first ever five-year plan for environmental management of chemicals, released on 20 February. The Chinese media, translating parts of the report, said it links water pollution to "serious cases of health and social problems like the emergence of cancer villages in individual regions".












The term has caught on over the past few years as the media in China and elsewhere reported on apparent cancer hotspots. It gained prominence in 2009 when a journalist plotted 40 of them on a Google Map. Some reports have suggested there might be more than 450 such clusters.












According to recent data, deaths from cancer in China increased by 80 per cent between 1970 and 2004. The disease now accounts for 25 per cent of deaths in cities and 21 per cent in rural areas. However, people in China have an 18.9 per cent risk of getting cancer before the age of 75, compared with 29.9 per cent for people in the US and 26.3 per cent in the UK.












One "typical cancer village", as it was called by researchers from Dezhou University in Shandong province who studied it in 2008, had between 80 and 100 deaths from cancer over five years in a population of only 1200.












But proving a link between pollution and cancer requires more detailed evidence, says Tim Driscoll, an epidemiologist at the University of Sydney and science adviser to Cancer Council Australia. However, Driscoll also says it doesn't really matter – if there is dangerous pollution anywhere, it should be cleaned up.












And that is the plan. China's Ministry for Environmental Protection has drawn up a list of 58 chemicals that will be tracked with a registry, including known and suspected carcinogens and endocrine disrupters. Before the end of the 2015, they will subdivide the list into chemicals to be eliminated and those to be reduced.











Big shift













Creating a plan to eliminate some chemicals is a big shift, says Yixiu Wu, a Greenpeace East Asia campaigner based in Beijing, who says even committing to controlling these chemicals would have been a step forward.












The ministry's acknowledgement of the problem is "really important and it is another reflection of the government's shift towards more transparency in pollution information," says Sabrina Orlins from the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a non-profit body in Beijing.












"Increased environmental information leads to increased public awareness where people can have the chance to exert pressure on big water polluters to adopt clean-up measures and be more accountable," she says.












That accountability is where the five-year plan is lacking, says Wu. "It is still a question whether the government is willing to release all the information about the factory locations and their environmental risk," she says. "It is very important for people who are living nearby."












Wu says the motivation to develop the plan comes from an increasing awareness of the human cost of pollution as well as the country signing up to several international conventions designed to curb pollution.


















































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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Keppel secures contracts worth S$200m from repeat customers






SINGAPORE : Keppel Offshore & Marine (Keppel O&M), a unit of Keppel Corp, said its subsidiaries have secured two contracts worth a combined value of S$200 million from repeat customers.

In a filing with the Singapore Exchange on Tuesday, Keppel Corp said its Brazil subsidiary, Keppel FELS Brasil, secured a contract with MODEC and Toyo Offshore Production Systems to integrate the topside modules of a Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) unit.

Integration works for the FPSO will take place from the third quarter of 2014 to the third quarter of 2015.

The project will be carried out at BrasFELS, Keppel FELS Brasil's yard in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

In Singapore, Keppel Shipyard won a contract from SBM Offshore to build an internal turret for a newbuild FPSO. Work on the project is scheduled to complete by the third quarter of 2014.

Keppel did not provide a breakdown of individual contract values.

- CNA/ms



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