Sooty ships may be geoengineering by accident

GEOENGINEERING is being tested - albeit inadvertently - in the north Pacific. Soot from oil-burning ships is dumping about 1000 tonnes of soluble iron per year across 6 million square kilometres of ocean, new research has revealed.

Fertilising the world's oceans with iron has been controversially proposed as a way of sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to curb global warming. Some geoengineers claim releasing iron into the sea will stimulate plankton blooms, which absorb carbon, but ocean processes are complex and difficult to monitor in tests.

"Experiments suggest you change the population of algae, causing a shift from fish-dominated to jellyfish-dominated ecosystems," says Alex Baker of the University of East Anglia, UK. Such concerns led the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to impose a moratorium on geoengineering experiments in 2010.

The annual ship deposition is much larger, if less concentrated, than the iron released in field tests carried out before the moratorium was in place. Yet because ship emissions are not intended to alter ocean chemistry, they do not violate the moratorium, says Jim Thomas of the ETC Group, a think tank that consults for the CBD. "If you intentionally drove oil-burning ships back and forth as a geoengineering experiment, that would contravene it."

The new study, by Akinori Ito of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, is the first to quantify how shipping deposits iron in parts of the ocean normally deficient in it. Earlier models had assumed that only 1 to 2 per cent of the iron contained in aerosols, including shipping emissions, is soluble in seawater, so the remaining 98 to 99 percent would sink to the bottom without affecting ocean life. But Ito found that up to 80 per cent of the iron in shipping soot is soluble (Global Biogeochemical Cycles, As this soot rapidly falls to the sea surface, it is likely to be fertilising the oceans.

In the high-latitude north Pacific - a region that is naturally iron-poor and therefore likely to be most affected by human deposits - ship emissions now account for 70 per cent of soluble iron from human activity, with the burning of biomass and coal accounting for the rest. Shipping's share will rise as traffic continues to grow and regulations restrict coal and biomass emissions.

Can we learn anything from this unintentional experiment? Baker thinks not. "The process isn't scientifically useful," he says, because the uncontrolled nature of the iron makes it difficult to draw meaningful comparisons.

The depositions are unlikely to be harmful at current levels, he says, but "given the uncertainties, I just don't know how much these iron emissions would have to increase before there was demonstrable harm to an ecosystem, or benefit in terms of carbon uptake, for that matter".

This article appeared in print under the headline "Ships inadvertently fertilise the oceans"

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Football: Ronaldo hat-trick eases Madrid past Sevilla

MADRID: Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 20th hat-trick as a Real Madrid player as the Spanish champions cruised to a 4-1 victory over Sevilla on Saturday.

Ronaldo was even involved in the goal he didn't score as he squared for Karim Benzema to open the scoring on 18 minutes before smashing in his first of the evening eight minutes later.

And the former Manchester United man warmed up for Wednesday's meeting with his old club in the Champions League in perfect fashion as he scored twice more from close range in the first 14 minutes of the second-half.

Madrid had to be play the final 24 minutes with 10 men though as Gonzalo Higuain saw a needless second yellow card for a late challenge on Fernando Navarro.

But despite a late consolation goal from Manu del Moral they comfortably held on to cut the gap on Barcelona at the top of the table to 13 points.

Jose Mourinho had taken the chance to rest a number of key players including Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil with midweek's Champions League duties in mind and it was one of those who were handed a rare start in Kaka who shone early on.

The Brazilian had an early effort well held by Beto in the Sevilla goal before only another fine intervention by the keeper stopped Ronaldo converting Kaka's cut-back moments later.

Luka Modric then saw an effort curl just wide but, despite some nice play in possession by the visitors, the opening goal was coming for Madrid and it duly arrived when Benzema was left with the easiest finishes from a yard out after Ronaldo's driven cross had rebounded for the Frenchman off Fernando Navarro.

Kaka then had another shot saved by Beto before Ronaldo took centre-stage to double the hosts' advantage as he cut inside onto his left foot and thumped a rasping shot into the far corner of the net.

Sevilla refused to give in though and had a number of half-chances to pull one back before the break as Federico Fazio headed over when unmarked from a corner before Diego Lopez was forced into a sharp save low to his right by Jose Antonio Reyes.

If it hadn't been for Beto though the Andalusians could have gone in further behind at half-time as the Portuguese keeper just managed to keep out a swerving Ronaldo free-kick before getting down well to hold a Sergio Ramos header.

There was nothing Beto could do 38 seconds after the restart though as poor defending from Fazio allowed Ronaldo to latch onto a long ball and fire low into the corner.

The Portuguese captain soon had his 36th goal of the season as a classic counter-attack from Mourinho's men saw Ronaldo feed Higuain and the former converted the Argentine's low cross at the back post.

Alvaro Morata replaced Ronaldo as Mourinho decided to keep his star man fresh for Wednesday.

However, a fine evening for the champions was soured in the final quarter.

After Higuain had been sent-off, Sevilla had a number of chances and eventually got the goal their efforts deserved when Moral fired an angled drive into Lopez's bottom left-hand corner three minutes from time.

- AFP/jc

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Economy to be Obama's focus in State of the Union

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will focus his State of the Union address on boosting job creation and economic growth at a time of high unemployment, underscoring the degree to which the economy could threaten his ability to pursue second-term priorities such as gun control, immigration policy and climate change.

Obama also may use Tuesday's prime-time address before a joint session of Congress to announce the next steps for concluding the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Obama's State of the Union marks his second high-profile speech to the nation in about three weeks, after his inaugural address Jan. 21 that opened his second term. White House aides see the two speeches as complementary, with Tuesday's address aimed at providing specifics to back up some of the Inauguration Day's lofty liberal rhetoric.

The president previewed the address during a meeting Thursday with House Democrats and said he would speak "about making sure that we're focused on job creation here in the United States of America." Obama said he would try to accomplish that by calling for improvements in education, boosting clean energy production, and reducing the deficit in ways that don't burden the middle class, the poor or the elderly.

While those priorities may be cheered by some Democrats, they're certain to be met with skepticism or outright opposition from many congressional Republicans, especially in the GOP-controlled House. The parties are at odds over ways to reduce the deficit. Republicans favor spending cuts; Obama prefers a combination of spending cuts and increasing tax revenue.

The president said he would address taxes and looming across-the-board budget cuts, known as the sequester, in the speech. The White House and Congress have pushed back the automatic cuts once, and Obama wants to do it again in order to create an opening for a larger deficit reduction deal.

"I am prepared, eager and anxious to do a big deal, a big package that ends this governance by crisis where every two weeks or every two months or every six months we are threatening this hard-won recovery," he said last week.

The economy has rebounded significantly from the depths of the recession and has taken a back seat for Obama since he won re-election in November. He's instead focused on campaigns to overhaul the nation's patchwork immigration laws and enact stricter gun control measures following the massacre of 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., in December.

The president also raised expectations for action this year on climate change after devoting a significant amount of time to the issue in his address at the inauguration.

But the unemployment rate is persistently high at 7.9 percent, economic growth slowed last quarter and consumer confidence is falling, so the economy could upend Obama's plans to pursue a broader domestic agenda in his final four years in office.

Tony Fratto, who worked in the White House during President George W. Bush's second term, said Obama has to show the public that he's still focused on the economy before he can get their full support for his other proposals.

"We're not in a position where he can blame anybody else for the economy now," Fratto said, "Now it's his economy."

Obama is expected to use his address to press lawmakers to back his immigration overhaul, which includes a pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants, and his gun control proposals, including universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons.

Voting rights groups expect the president to call for changes that would make it easier for people to vote.

"I think it's important to be able to do more than one thing at a time," said David Axelrod, who served as senior adviser in the White House and Obama's re-election campaign. "But the economy is an ongoing and significant challenge that you have to keep working on."

While the centerpiece of Obama's address is expected to be his domestic agenda, the president sees a chance to outline the next steps in bringing the protracted war in Afghanistan to an end. He's facing two pressing decisions: the size and scope of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after the war formally ends late next year, and the next phase of the troop drawdown this year.

More than 60,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan.

The president could update the public on cuts to the number of U.S. nuclear weapons, a priority for his administration. Vice President Joe Biden recently told a security conference in Germany that Obama probably would use the State of the Union to discuss "advancing a comprehensive nuclear agenda to strengthen the nonproliferation regime, reduce global stockpiles and secure nuclear materials."

White House allies are nudging Obama's team to move forward on a plan to expand education for children before they enter kindergarten. They are reminding Obama's political aides that female voters gave the president a second term, serving up a 10-point gender gap.

Obama carried 55 percent of female voters, many of whom are looking to the White House for their reward. While groups such as Latinos and gays have seen policy initiatives since Election Day, women's groups have not received the same kinds of rollouts.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a rising Republican star and potential 2016 presidential candidate, will deliver the GOP response following Obama's address to Congress.

The president will follow up his speech with trips across the country to promote his calls for job creation. Stops are planned Wednesday in Asheville, N.C., and Thursday in Atlanta.

Obama's speechwriters started working on the speech shortly after the Nov. 6 election. The process is being led for the first time by Cody Keenan, who is taking over as the president's chief speechwriter.


Associated Press writers Philip Elliott, Robert Burns and Josh Lederman contributed to this report.


Follow Julie Pace at

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Mars Rover Curiosity Completes First Full Drill

For the first time in history, humans have drilled a hole into rock on Mars and are collecting the powdered results for analysis, NASA announced Saturday.

After weeks of intensive planning, the Mars rover Curiosity undertook its first full drill on Friday, with NASA receiving images on Saturday showing that the procedure was a success.

Curiosity drilled a hole that is a modest 2.5 inches (6.35 centimeters) deep and .6 inches (1.52 centimeters) wide but that holds the promise of potentially great discoveries. (Watch video of the Mars rover Curiosity.)

"The most advanced planetary robot ever designed now is a fully operating analytical laboratory on Mars," John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for the agency's Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement on Saturday.

"This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August."

Read: Asteroid to Make Closest Flyby in History

The site of the much-anticipated penetration is a flat section of Mars rock that shows signs of having been underwater in its past.

Called Yellowknife Bay, it's the kind of environment where organic materials—the building block of life—might have been deposited and preserved long ago, at a time when Mars was far wetter and warmer than it is today.

The contents of the drilling are now being transferred into the rover's internal collection system, where the samples will be sieved down to size and scoured to minimize the presence of contamination from Earth. (Watch video of Curiosity's "Seven Minutes of Terror.")

Then the sample will be distributed to the two instruments most capable of determining what the rocks contain.

The first is the Sample Analysis on Mars (SAM), which has two ovens that can heat the powdered rock to almost 2000°F (1093°C) and release the rock's elements and compounds in a gaseous form.

The gases will then be analyzed by instruments that can identify precisely what they are, and when they might have been deposited. Scientists are looking for carbon-based organics believed to be essential for any potentially past life on Mars.

Powder will also go to the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument for a related analysis that looks especially at the presence of minerals—especially those that can only be formed in the presence of water.

Louise Jandura, chief engineer for Curiosity's sample system at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that designing and testing a drill that can grab hold of Martian rock and commence first a percussive shallow drilling and then dig a deeper hole was difficult.

The drill, which is at the end of a 7-foot arm, is capable of about 100 discrete maneuvers.

"To get to the point of making this hole in a rock on Mars, we made eight drills and bored more than 1,200 holes in 20 types of rock on Earth," Jandura said in a statement.

Results from the SAM and CheMin analyses are not expected for several days to weeks.

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After Blizzard, Northeast Begins to Dig Out

The Northeast began the arduous process of cleaning up after a fierce storm swept through the region leaving behind up to three feet of snow in some areas.

By early this morning, 650,000 homes and businesses were without power and at least five deaths were being blamed on the storm: three in Canada, one in New York and one in Connecticut, The Associated Press reported.

The storm dumped snow from New Jersey to Maine, affecting more than 25 million people, with more than two feet falling in areas of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. The Postal Service closed post offices and suspended mail delivery today in New England.

As the storm waned, officials in the hardest hit areas cautioned residents to remain indoors and off the roads to ease the clean-up.

Massachusetts was hard hit by the storm, with more than two feet of snow in Boston and even more in coastal areas. State police and national guard troops helped rescue more than 50 stranded motorists and even helped deliver a baby girl, according to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

Patrick enacted the first statewide driving ban since the 1978 blizzard, which left 27 inches of snow and killed dozens. The ban was to be lifted at 4 p.m. today, the governor said.

However, Patrick cautioned residents to act with extreme caution even after the ban is over.

"Stay inside and be patient," Patrick said.

In Massachusetts a boy reportedly died of carbon monoxide poisoning as he helped his father shovel snow on Saturday, according to affiliate WCVB-TV in Boston.

For residents along the coast, the waning snowfall didn't mean the end of the storm. Storm surges along the Massachusetts coastline forced some residents out of their homes Saturday morning.

"We've got 20-foot waves crashing and flooding some homes," Bob Connors on Plum Island told WCVB. "We have power and heat and all that. We just have a very angry ocean. In my 33 years, I've never seen the seas this high."

Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Blizzard Shuts Down Parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts Watch Video

Blizzard 2013: Power Outages for Hundreds of Thousands of People Watch Video

Blizzard 2013: Northeast Transportation Network Shut Down Watch Video

FULL COVERAGE: Blizzard of 2013

In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy declared a state of emergency and closed all roads in the state. The state police responded to more than 1,600 calls over the last 24 hours and the governor called up an additional 270 National Guard members.

"If you're not an emergency personnel that's required to be somewhere, stay home," Malloy said.

Overnight, snow fell at a rate of up to five to six inches per hour in parts of Connecticut. In Milford, more than 38 inches of snow had fallen by this morning.

In Fairfield, Conn. firefighters and police officers on the day shift were unable to make it to work, so the overnight shift remained on duty.

PHOTOS: Blizzard Hits Northeast

The wind and snow started affecting the region during the Friday night commute.

In Cumberland, Maine, the conditions led to a 19-car pile-up and in New York, hundreds of commuters were stranded on the snowy Long Island Expressway. Police and firefighters were still working to free motorists early this morning.

"The biggest problem that we're having is that people are not staying on the main portion or the middle section of the roadway and veering to the shoulders, which are not plowed," said Lt. Daniel Meyer from the Suffolk County Police Highway Patrol.

In New York, authorities are digging out hundreds of cars that got stuck overnight on the Long Island Expressway.

Bob Griffith of Syosset, N.Y., said he tried leave early to escape the storm, but instead ended up stuck in the snow by the side of the road.

"I tried to play it smart in that I started early in the day, when it was raining," said Griffith. "But the weather beat us to the punch."

Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone said the snow had wreaked havoc on the roadways.

"I saw state plows stuck on the side of the road. I've never seen anything like this before," Bellone said.

However, some New York residents, who survived the wrath of Hurricane Sandy, were rattled by having to face another large and potentially dangerous storm system with hurricane force winds and flooding.

"How many storms of the century can you have in six months?" said Larry Racioppo, a resident of the hard hit Rockaway neighborhood in Queens, New York.

READ: Weather NYC: Blizzard Threatens Rockaways, Ravaged by Sandy

Snowfall Totals

In New York, a little more than 11 inches fell in the city.

By this morning, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said nearly all of the primary roads had been plowed and the department of sanitation anticipated that all roads would be plowed by the end of the day.

"It looks like we dodged a bullet, but keep in mind winter is not over," said Bloomberg.

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Data-wiping algorithm cleans your cellphone

Paul Marks, chief technology correspondent
Mailing your cellphone to a recycling company might make you a few pounds, but it can leave you at risk of identity theft. The deletion techniques recycling companies use are meant for hard discs, and so don't work on the solid-state flash memory used in mobile phones. That means personal data like banking info, texts, contacts and pictures can end up in the hands of, well, anyone the phone ends up with.  
To remedy the problem, British company BlackBelt Smartphone Defence of Skelmersdale, Lancashire claims to have developed a software algorithm that can securely delete data on cellphone memory chips. The trouble with data in a flash memory chip is that it is protected by an on-chip protection algorithm called the wear leveller. This hard-coded routine does its best to ensure the chip's lifetime is maximised so that each memory cell's ability to store charge is not worn out.

"The problem is that the wear-levelling algorithm ends up working
against the data wiping technique used for hard drives, which tries to
overwrite all the data,"
says the company's Ken Garner.
What the firm has done is write their own algorithm, called BlackBelt DataWipe, that works with,
rather than against, the leveller routine to render data
irrecoverable. "It is like having a shredder for personally identifiable
data," says Garner.
However, they don't yet know if their method is proof against sophisticated, nation-state level attacks - which might use electron microscopes
to read the last vestiges of the zeros and ones on a memory chip. "I imagine
if you're GCHQ you'll probably have technology that could get around
this and recover it in some way," says Garner.

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Tennis: Nadal advances to semi-finals in comeback event

VINA DEL MAR, Chile: Rafael Nadal, playing his first event after a seven-month injury layoff, advanced to the semi-finals of the $410,200 Vina del Mar ATP claycourt tournament with a straight-sets triumph on Friday.

The 11-time Grand Slam champion from Spain ousted seventh-seeded countryman Daniel Gimeno-Traver 6-1, 6-4.

Top seed Nadal will face either French third seed Jeremy Chardy or Italian sixth seed Paolo Lorenzi for a spot in the final.

Until this week, Nadal had not played since a shock second-round exit from Wimbledon in June.

A torn tendon and inflammation in his left knee kept the former world number one out of the London Olympics and the 2012 US Open and a virus delayed his return.

Nadal broke Gimeno-Traver's first service game of the match for a 2-0 lead and again in the sixth game before holding to claim the first set after 33 minutes.

In the second set, Nadal broke in the ninth game and then fought off four break points, the only ones he faced in the match, before holding serve in the final game to advance after 84 minutes.

For the match, Nadal connected on 68 percent of his first serves, winning 29-of-44 points on his first serve and 14-of-20 on his second serve.

Nadal, who turns 27 in June, plans to compete in claycourt events at Brazil and Mexico before playing ATP Masters hardcourt events at Indian Wells and Miami and then heading to Europe for clay events in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome ahead of the French Open, where Nadal has claimed the crown a record seven times.

- AFP/de

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Christie seeks to address his weight on own terms

SEA BRIGHT, N.J. (AP) — Chris Christie began the workweek doughnut in hand, playfully embracing fat jokes on David Letterman's couch.

The New Jersey governor was soon describing himself as the "the healthiest fat guy you've ever seen in your life" and sharing private details about his cholesterol and blood sugar with Letterman. And in a flash, the Republican was countering a former White House doctor's suggestion that his weight would present serious health risks if he were elected president.

By design or not, the 50-year-old ended up outlining a personal and political plan for dealing with his weight — in a more concentrated fashion, perhaps, than ever before, and in a matter of days. And he addressed a political vulnerability in his indisputable quest to emerge as a key leader in the Republican Party, if not become his party's 2016 presidential nominee.

"There is a plan" for losing weight, Christie acknowledged, adding: "Whether it's successful or not, you'll all be able to notice."

He has never publicly revealed his weight.

On Thursday, Christie was touring this seaside community as part of recovery efforts from Superstorm Sandy. It was unclear whether the focus earlier in the week about his weight — and his promise to control it — signaled his thinking as it related to a potential run for president or whether it was simply a continuation of the status quo for a man who has struggled with his size for three decades.

Regardless of the answer, the Republican's candor on an issue he long has contended was personal — not political — showed a desire to frame the years-old debate over his outsize girth at a critical time in his political career and as the nation deals with an obesity epidemic. And how he handled questions about his weight amid the flurry of media attention suggested a strategy for dealing with the issue — self-deprecating humor, moments of reflection and a plan for taking responsibility for his health.

There were also moments of anger.

Christie bristled after a former White House physician, Dr. Connie Mariano, told CNN that his weight may present serious health risks for a president.

"I'm a Republican, so I like Chris Christie a lot. I want him to run. I just want him to lose weight," Mariano said Tuesday. "I worry about this man dying in office."

Christie later suggested that the doctor "should shut up" until she gives him a physical and takes his family history. "This is just another hack who wants five minutes on TV," he said.

Not content to castigate the physician on national television or in a news conference earlier in the week, the blunt-speaking Christie phoned the physician.

Mariano told KTVK-TV in Phoenix that the call from the governor was like his press conference, "only louder," adding "he wasn't very nice to me."

Christie confirmed he made the call but declined to comment on the conversation, saying it was private.

After joking with Letterman, Christie struck a more personal tone with reporters: "The idea that somehow I don't care about this, of course I care about it, and I'm making the best effort I can," he said while acknowledging that dieting has been a regular part of his life for 30 years.

The focus on Christie's weight comes as Republican celebrities across the country — and potential presidential candidates — jockey to emerge as leaders of a GOP that lacks a standard-bearer after Mitt Romney's defeat.

Christie's allies, medical professionals and even history suggest that his weight presents both practical and political problems.

Few significantly overweight presidential candidates have succeeded in the modern political era, when television became a major factor in shaping voter attitudes. There are disputed reports that President William Howard Taft couldn't fit in a White House bathtub a century ago, but only a handful of presidents since have been considered obese. President Bill Clinton struggled at times with his weight, but he was substantially slimmer than the New Jersey governor.

Christie is running for re-election and is likely to be challenged by Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono, a fit 59-year-old who runs, swims and works out regularly. He also has kept the door open to a possible White House run.

"I refuse to put it in political terms," said Christie adviser Bill Palatucci. "He's my friend first and foremost. I want to see him lose weight for himself and his family." He and others say the issue is serious for health reasons, if not the public perception that his weight may impede his performance in one of the world's most stressful jobs. But Palatucci also suggested that Christie's weight — particularly his struggle to control it — could ultimately become a political asset.

"In many ways to most New Jersyans, it's an endearing quality. It's why this guy is genuine," Palatucci said. "He readily admits he has a problem that he's been struggling with for 30 years."

So far, there's no sign it has affected his political standing in New Jersey, where registered voters late last month gave him a record-high 74 percent approval rating, according to Quinnipiac University.

Christie also has other — potentially more serious — political liabilities, and whether he takes steps to address them in the coming months could signal his political intentions. His brash manner could alienate voters outside of New Jersey, and conservatives — who make up the presidential primary electorate — are angry over his emphatic praise of President Barack Obama's response to Superstorm Sandy.

"He'll have some challenges within the Republican Party just because he gave Obama a French kiss on the Jersey shore," said Republican operative Hogan Gidley. "But there is also a perception issue for many candidates. Voters base their votes on some very odd things."

Gidley knows well the political challenges facing overweight candidates, having previously worked for Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a former GOP presidential candidate who also struggled with obesity. After facing an ultimatum from his doctor, Huckabee lost more than 100 pounds and wrote a how-to book, "Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork," before launching his presidential bid in 2008.

Christie has never released his medical records — an action customary for presidential candidates — and he bristled when his size came up during the 2009 governor's race.

He is hardly alone in his struggle. More than a third of adults 20 years old and older are obese and another third are overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus doesn't dispute that appearance matters for any national candidate, but he rejects the notion that Christie's size is a liability.

"His struggles that he has talked about actually make him inspirational," Priebus said Thursday. "I think he is extraordinarily smart. I think he's a talented governor. And so he's a little overweight. So what?"


Peoples reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Bill Barrow in Atlanta and news survey specialist Dennis Junius in Washington contributed to this report.

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From Our Vault: Busy Postman on Break, 1951

The United States Post Office announced this week that it intends to stop Saturday letter delivery beginning in August, 32 years after Congress mandated a sixth day of mail service.

First class mail volume has been dropping by about five billion pieces annually since 2007. And the USPS operated almost $16 billion dollars in the red in 2012.

In the 1950s, when this photo was taken, the federal agency was more flush with money. Five hundred thousand employees carried 54 billion items when National Geographic magazine published the article "Everyone's Servant, the Post Office" in July of 1954. Mail volume had doubled since the previous decade, and was growing at a rate of about seven percent a year.

This photo from 1951 didn't make it into that article, landing instead in the National Geographic image archive. Working during the postal boom years, this mailman delivering to houses in Hays, Kansas, likely didn't have time to notice the slight.

National Geographic photographer John E. Fletcher explained the mailman's decision to lunch in a mailbox in a note on the back of the photo.

"He told me that a new regulation from the Washington headquarters of the U.S. Post Office required that postmen while on delivery at noontime must stop and have their lunch at the spot, rather than taking time off to go home and eat," Fletcher wrote.

"This mailman told me that each day his wife would drive to this particular corner and meet him and hand him his lunch box," he continued. "The most convenient spot that he could find to eat his lunch was to open a storage mail box, get himself comfortably seated, and eat his lunch right on the street corner."

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of pieces that looks at the news through the lens of the National Geographic photo archives.

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'Stay Home': Northeast Shuts Down as Blizzard Hits

A blizzard of possibly historic proportions is set to strike the Northeast, starting today and could bring more than two feet of snow and strong winds that could shut down densely populated cities such as Boston and New York City.

A storm from the west will join forces with one from the south to form a nor'easter that will sit and spin just off the East Coast, affecting more than 43 million Americans. Wind gusts will reach 50 to 60 mph from Philadelphia to Boston.

"[It] could definitely be a historic winter storm for the Northeast," Adrienne Leptich of the National Weather Service in Upton, N.Y., said. "We're looking at very strong wind and heavy snow and we're also looking for some coastal flooding."

The snow began falling in New York City shortly before 7 a.m. ET. The snow is expected to mix with some sleet and then turn back into snow after 3 p.m.

Airlines have started shutting down operations between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. at major airports in the New York area as well as in Boston, Portland, Maine, Providence, and other Northeastern airports. More than 4,000 flights have been cancelled on Friday and Saturday, according to FlightAware. Airlines hope to resume flights by Saturday afternoon.

New York City is expecting up to 14 inches, which is expected to start this morning with the heaviest amounts falling at night and into Saturday. Wind gusts of 55 mph are expected in New York City and Cape Cod, Mass., could possibly see 75 mph gusts.

PHOTOS: Northeast Braces for Snowstorm

Weather Forecast: Northeast Braces for Monster Blizzard Watch Video

Winter Storm to Hit Northeast With Winds and Snow Watch Video

Boston, Providence, R.I., Hartford, Conn., and other New England cities canceled school today. Boston and other parts of New England could see more than 2 feet of snow by Saturday.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency Friday afternoon and announced a ban on all traffic from roads after 4 p.m. It is believed that the last time the state enacted such a ban was during the blizzard of 1978.

Beach erosion and coastal flooding is possible from New Jersey to Long Island, N.Y., and into New England coastal areas. Some waves off the coast could reach more than 20 feet.

"Stay off the streets of our city. Basically, stay home," Boston Mayor Tom Menino warned Thursday.

Blizzard warnings were posted for parts of New Jersey and New York's Long Island, as well as portions of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, including Hartford, New Haven, Conn., and Providence. The warnings extended into New Hampshire and Maine.

To the south, Philadelphia was looking at a possible 4 to 6 inches of snow.

Thousands of flights have already been canceled in anticipation of the storm. Amtrak said its Northeast trains will stop running this afternoon.

Bruce Sullivan of the National Weather Service says travel conditions will deteriorate fairly rapidly Friday night.

"The real concern here is there's going to be a lot of strong winds with this system and it's going to cause considerable blowing and drifting of snow," he said.

Parts of New York, still reeling from October's Superstorm Sandy, are still using tents and are worried how they will deal with the nor'easter.

"Hopefully, we can supply them with enough hot food to get them through before the storm starts," Staten Island hub coordinator Donna Graziano said.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said plows and 250,000 tons of salt were being put on standby.

"We hope forecasts are exaggerating the amount of snow, but you never can tell," Bloomberg said Thursday.

Residents of the Northeast have already begun to hit stores for groceries and tools to fight the mounting snow totals.

The fire department was called in to a grocery store in Salem, Mass., because there were too many people in the store Thursday afternoon trying to load up their carts with essential items.

"I'm going to try this roof melt stuff for the first time," Ian Watson of Belmont, Mass., said. "Just to prevent the ice dam. ... It's going be ugly on that roof."

ABC News' Max Golembo and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Robot inquisition keeps witnesses on the right track

MEMORY is a strange thing. Just using the verb "smash" in a question about a car crash instead of "bump" or "hit" causes witnesses to remember higher speeds and more serious damage. Known as the misinformation effect, it is a serious problem for police trying to gather accurate accounts of a potential crime. There's a way around it, however: get a robot to ask the questions.

Cindy Bethel at Mississippi State University in Starkville and her team showed 100 "witnesses" a slide show in which a man steals money and a calculator from a drawer, under the pretext of fixing a chair. The witnesses were then split into four groups and asked about what they had seen, either by a person or by a small NAO robot, controlled in a Wizard of Oz set-up by an unseen human.

Two groups - one with a human and one a robot interviewer - were asked identical questions that introduced false information about the crime, mentioning objects that were not in the scene, then asking about them later. When posed by humans, the questions caused the witnesses' recall accuracy to drop by 40 per cent - compared with those that did not receive misinformation - as they remembered objects that were never there. But misinformation presented by the NAO robot didn't have an effect.

"It was a very big surprise," says Bethel. "They just were not affected by what the robot was saying. The scripts were identical. We even told the human interviewers to be as robotic as possible." The results will be presented at the Human-Robot Interaction conference in Tokyo next month.

Bilge Mutlu, director of the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, suggests that robots may avoid triggering the misinformation effect simply because we are not familiar with them and so do not pick up on behavioural cues, which we do with people. "We have good, strong mental models of humans, but we don't have good models of robots," he says.

The misinformation effect doesn't only effect adults; children are particularly susceptible, explains the psychologist on the project, Deborah Eakin. Bethel's ultimate goal is to use robots to help gather testimony from children, who tend to pick up on cues contained in questions. "It's a huge problem," Bethel says.

At the Starkville Police Department, a 10-minute drive from the university, officers want to use such a robotic interviewer to gather more reliable evidence from witnesses. The police work hard to avoid triggering the misinformation effect, says officer Mark Ballard, but even an investigator with the best intentions can let biases slip into the questions they ask a witness.

Children must usually be taken to a certified forensic child psychologist to be interviewed, something which can be difficult if the interviewer works in another jurisdiction. "You might eliminate that if you've got a robot that's certified for forensics investigations, and it's tough to argue that the robot brings any memories or theories with it from its background," says Ballard.

The study is "very interesting, very intriguing", says Selma Sabanovic, a roboticist at Indiana University. She is interested to see what happens as Bethel repeats the experiment with different robot shapes and sizes. She also poses a slightly darker question: "How would you design a robot to elicit the kind of information you want?"

This article appeared in print under the headline "The robot inquisition"

It's all about how you say it

When providing new information, rather than helping people recall events (see main story), a robot's rhetoric and body language can make a big difference to how well it gets its message across.

Bilge Mutlu of the University of Wisconsin-Madison had two robots compete to guide humans through a virtual city. He found that the robot which used rhetorical language drew more people to follow it. For example, the robot saying "this zoo will teach you about different parts of the world" did less well than one saying "visiting this zoo feels like travelling the world, without buying a plane ticket". The work will be presented at the Human-Robot Interaction conference in Tokyo next month.

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North Korea nuclear test could "tie hands" of South: Ban Ki-moon

UNITED NATIONS: UN leader Ban Ki-moon warned on Thursday that a nuclear test by North Korea could blow up hopes of an eventual reconciliation by "tying the hands" of the South's incoming president.

Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, said incoming South Korean president Park Geun-Hye is "very much committed" to improving relations with North Korea.

"If they conduct this nuclear test, it may be the case that they are effectively tying the hands of the new president of Korea," Ban told a small group of reporters, including AFP.

"It may take a long time before any initiative between North and South can take place to normalise this relationship," he said, adding to international warnings to the isolated North.

Park will take over on February 25 from President Lee Myung-Bak, who warned on Thursday of "serious consequences" if Pyongyang stages the test.

The two sides have been divided since the end of the 1950-53 Korean war, and the 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship and a subsequent missile attack further escalated the rivalry.

A third test of an atomic weapon would be going in "the wrong direction" said Ban, highlighting UN resolutions that imposed tough sanctions after blasts in 2006 and 2009.

The UN Security Council has already threatened "significant" measures if North Korea stages a new breach of the resolutions. Ban said he has been discussing the North's moves "with key countries."

Ban said the Stalinist government should do more to help its people. "The humanitarian situation is dire in DPRK," Ban said, using the acronym of the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

He said nations had not given money to UN humanitarian efforts in North Korea "because of this crisis and the very tense situation on the Korean peninsula."

Ban said he had been forced to use money from the UN's emergency fund to support relief efforts in North Korea, where there is again widespread hunger.

- AFP/de

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NTSB: 787 battery approval should be reconsidered

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government should reassess its safety approval of the Boeing 787's lithium ion batteries, the nation's top accident investigator said Thursday, casting doubt on whether the airliner's troubles can be remedied quickly.

Switching to a different type of battery would add weight to the plane — and fuel efficiency is one of the 787's main selling points.

Boeing received permission Thursday to conduct test flights under limited circumstances with special safeguards — a critical step toward resolving the plane's troubles. The airliners have been grounded for the past three weeks. Boeing needs to be able to test the batteries under flight conditions before a solution can be approved.

The flights will be conducted over unpopulated areas, and extensive pre-flight testing and inspections and in-flight monitoring are required, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating last month's battery fire in a Japan Airlines 787 "Dreamliner" while it was parked in Boston. The results so far contradict some of the assumptions that were made about the battery's safety at the time the system won government approval, said the board's chairwoman, Deborah Hersman.

The NTSB investigation shows the fire started with multiple short-circuits in one of the battery's eight cells, she said. That created an uncontrolled chemical reaction known as "thermal runaway," which is characterized by progressively hotter temperatures. That spread the short-circuiting to the rest of the cells and caused the fire, she said.

The findings are at odds with what Boeing told the FAA when that agency was working to certify the company's newest and most technologically advanced plane for flight, Hersman said. Boeing said its testing showed that even when trying to induce short-circuiting, the condition and any fire were contained within a single cell, preventing thermal runaway and fire from spreading, she told reporters at a news conference.

Boeing's testing also showed the batteries were likely to cause smoke in only 1 in 10 million flight hours, she said. But the Boston fire was followed nine days later by a smoking battery in an All Nippon Airways plane that made an emergency landing in Japan. The 787 fleet has recorded less than 100,000 flight hours, Hersman noted.

The plane that caught fire in Boston was delivered to Japan Airlines less than three weeks before the fire and had recorded only 169 flight hours over 22 flights.

"There have now been two battery events resulting in smoke less than two weeks apart on two different aircraft," Hersman said. "This investigation has demonstrated that a short circuit in a single cell can propagate to adjacent cells and result in smoke and fire. The assumptions used to certify the battery must be reconsidered."

All 787s have been grounded since Jan. 16. With no end in sight, the halt has become a nightmare for Boeing, which has about 800 orders for the craft from airlines around the world. The company's customers were already frustrated that the 787 was more than three years late when the first one was delivered toward the end of 2011.

Boeing loses money on each 787 it delivers, and the cash burn grows with each missed delivery, analysts have said.

Investigators are still trying to determine why the first battery cell short-circuited, but the board's findings appear to raise doubts about the thoroughness of FAA's safety certification of the 787's batteries and whether Boeing can remedy the problems with the addition of a few quick safeguards. The FAA typically delegates testing of new aircraft designs to the manufacturer, while overseeing that the tests meet the agency's requirements. The agency also relies to some degree on the expertise of the manufacturer's engineers, especially in the case of a cutting-edge plane like the 787.

Following the fire at Boston's Logan International Airport, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta ordered a review of the 787's design, certification, manufacture and assembly. That review is still under way.

"We must finish this work before reaching conclusions about what changes or improvements the FAA should make going forward," LaHood and Huerta said in a joint statement Thursday. "The leading experts in this field are working to understand what happened and how we can safely get these aircraft back into service."

But John Goglia, a former NTSB board member and aviation safety expert, said NTSB's findings mean the government will likely require Boeing to re-certify the batteries.

"Certifications aren't exactly painless and quick," he said. "It could be a big, drawn-out thing."

The significance of the NTSB's findings "is if this can happen — and the safety analysis assumed that it would not happen — then the safety analysis is no longer valid," said Jon Hansman, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology aeronautics professor and a member of the FAA's Research and Development Advisory Committee.

Battery experts said Boeing could try to build more safeguards into the battery by using a greater number of smaller cells and putting more insulation between them. Or, they said, the aircraft maker could switch to a different type of lithium ion battery already approved for aviation. Some business jets use lithium ion batteries as their main batteries.

Switching to another type of battery, such as lead-acid or nickel-cadmium battery, is another possibility, but that would involve changing the charging system as well, they said. The new batteries — and, presumably, a revised charging system — would need to be designed and tested by Boeing and approved by the FAA before they could be installed.

Boeing issued a statement saying it is working to address questions about its testing and compliance with certifications requirements, "and we will not hesitate to make changes that lead to improved testing processes and products."

The same day as the emergency landing in Japan, FAA officials ordered the only U.S. carrier with 787s — United Airlines, which has six of the planes — to ground them. Aviation authorities in other countries swiftly followed suit. In all, 50 planes operated by seven airlines in six countries are grounded.

The 787 is the first airliner to make extensive use of lithium batteries. Besides being lighter, the batteries recharge faster and can store more energy than other types of batteries of an equivalent size, and can be molded to fit into odd spaces on planes. The Airbus A350, expected to be ready next year, will also make extensive use of lithium ion batteries. Manufacturers are also looking to retrofit existing planes, replacing other types of batteries with lithium ion.

But lithium batteries in general are more likely to short-circuit and start a fire than other batteries if they are damaged, if there is a manufacturing flaw or if they are exposed to excessive heat.

In 2007, the FAA issued special conditions that Boeing had to meet in order to use lithium ion batteries in the 787, because at that time the agency's safety regulations didn't include standards for such battery systems.

The 787 relies to a greater extent than any previous airliner on electrical systems, as opposed to hydraulic or mechanical ones. The batteries help run those electrical systems and also are used to start a power-generating engine in the rear of the aircraft.

The batteries are made by GS Yuasa of Japan. Japanese aviation investigators probing the cause of the ANA battery failure have also found there was thermal runaway.

Investigators have ruled out mechanical damage or external short-circuiting as possible causes of the initial, internal battery short-circuiting, Hersman said. Investigators and technical experts are now looking for evidence of flaws inside the batteries like pinches, wrinkles or folds, she said.

"We are looking at a number of scenarios," Hersman said, including the state of charge of the battery, its manufacturing processes and the design of the batteries.

"We haven't reached any conclusions at this point," she said. "We really have a lot of work to do."


Freed contributed from Minneapolis.


Follow Joan Lowy at

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Asteroid to Make Closest Flyby in History

Talk about too close for comfort. In a rare cosmic encounter, an asteroid will barnstorm Earth next week, missing our planet by a mere 17,200 miles (27,700 kilometers).

Designated 2012 DA14, the space rock is approximately 150 feet (45 meters) across, and astronomers are certain it will zip harmlessly past our planet on February 15—but not before making history. It will pass within the orbits of many communications satellites, making it the closest flyby on record. (Read about one of the largest asteroids to fly by Earth.)

"This is indeed a remarkably close approach for an asteroid this size," said Paul Chodas, a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Near Earth Object (NEO) program office in Pasadena, California.

"We estimate that an asteroid of this size passes this close to the Earth only once every few decades."

The giant rock—half a football field wide—was first spotted by observers at the La Sagra Observatory in southern Spain a year ago, soon after it had just finished making a much more distant pass of the Earth at 2.6 million miles (4.3 million kilometers) away.

This time around however, on February15 at 2:24 pm EST, the asteroid will be passing uncomfortably close—ten times closer than the orbit of the moon—flying over the eastern Indian Ocean near Sumatra (map). (Watch: "Moon 101.")

Future Impact?

Chodas and his team have been keeping a close eye on the cosmic intruder, and orbital calculations of its trajectory show that there is no chance for impact.

But the researchers have not yet ruled out future chances of a collision. This is because asteroids of this size are too faint to be detected until they come quite close to the Earth, said Chodas.

"There is still a tiny chance that it might hit us on some future passage by the Earth; for example there is [a] 1-in-200,000 chance that it could hit us in the year 2080," he said.

"But even that tiny chance will probably go away within the week, as the asteroid's orbit gets tracked with greater and greater accuracy and we can eliminate that possibility."

Earth collision with an object of this size is expected to occur every 1,200 years on average, said Donald Yeomans, NEO program manager, at a NASA news conference this week.

DA14 has been getting closer and closer to Earth for quite a while—but this is the asteroid's closest approach in the past hundred years. And it probably won't get this close again for at least another century, added Yeomans.

While no Earth impact is possible next week, DA14 will pass 5,000 miles inside the ring of orbiting geosynchronous weather and communications satellites; so all eyes are watching the space rock's exact trajectory. (Learn about the history of satellites.)

"It's highly unlikely they will be threatened, but NASA is working with satellite providers, making them aware of the asteroid's pass," said Yeomans.

Packing a Punch

Experts say an impact from an object this size would have the explosive power of a few megatons of TNT, causing localized destruction—similar to what occurred in Siberia in 1908.

In what's known as the "Tunguska event," an asteroid is thought to have created an airburst explosion which flattened about 750 square miles (1,200 square kilometers) of a remote forested region in what is now northern Russia (map).

In comparison, an impact from an asteroid with a diameter of about half a mile (one kilometer) could temporarily change global climate and kill millions of people if it hit a populated area.

Timothy Spahr, director of the Minor Planet Center at Cambridge, Massachusetts, said that while small objects like DA14 could hit Earth once a millennia or so, the largest and most destructive impacts have already been catalogued.

"Objects of the size that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs have all been discovered," said Spahr. (Learn about what really happened to the dinosaurs.)

A survey of nearly 9,500 near-Earth objects half a mile (one kilometer) in diameter is nearly complete. Asteroid hunters expect to complete nearly half of a survey of asteroids several hundred feet in diameter in the coming years.

"With the existing assets we have, discovering asteroids rapidly and routinely, I continue to expect the world to be safe from impacts in the future," added Spahr.

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Alleged Cop-Killer Has Calif. Region on Edge

The truck owned and driven by suspected cop killer Christopher Dorner during his alleged rampage through the Los Angeles area was found deserted and in flames on the side of Bear Mountain, Calif., this afternoon.

Heavily armed SWAT team members descended onto Bear Mountain from a helicopter manned with snipers today to investigate the fire. The San Bernadino Sheriff's Department confirmed the car was Dorner's.

Dorner, a former Los Angeles police officer and Navy reservist, is believed to have killed one police officer and injured two others early this morning in Riverside, Calif. He is also accused of killing two civilians on Sunday after releasing a scathing "manifesto" alleging grievances committed by the police department while he worked for it and warning of coming violence toward cops.

Heavily armed officers spent much of Thursday searching for signs of Dorner, investigating multiple false leads into his whereabouts and broadcasting his license plate and vehicle description across the California Highway System.

Around 3:45 p.m. ET, police responded to Bear Mountain, where two fires were reported, and set up a staging area in the parking lot of a ski resort. They did not immediately investigate the fires, but sent a small team of heavily armed officers up in the helicopter to descend down the mountain toward the fire.

Christopher Dorner: Ex-Cop Wanted in Killing Spree Watch Video

Engaged California Couple Found Dead in Car Watch Video

Missing Ohio Mother: Manhunt for Ex-Boyfriend Watch Video

The officers, carrying machine guns and searching the mountain for any sign of Dorner, eventually made it to the vehicle and identified it as belonging to Dorner. They have not yet found Dorner.

Late this afternoon, CNN announced that Dorner had sent a package containing his manifesto and a DVD to its offices.

Police officers across Southern California were on the defensive today, scaling back their public exposure, no longer responding to "barking-dog calls" and donning tactical gear outdoors.

Police departments have stationed officers in tactical gear outside police departments, stopped answering low-level calls and pulled motorcycle patrols off the road in order to protect officers who might be targets of Dorner's alleged rampage.

"We've made certain modifications of our deployments, our deviations today, and I want to leave it at that, and also to our responses," said Chief Sergio Diaz of the police department in Riverside, Calif., where the officers were shot. "We are concentrating on calls for service that are of a high priority, threats to public safety, we're not going to go on barking dog calls today."

Sgt. Rudy Lopez of the Los Angeles Police Department said Dorner is "believed to be armed and extremely dangerous."

Early Thursday morning, before they believe he shot at any police officers, Dorner allegedly went to a yacht club near San Diego, where police say he attempted to steal a boat and flee to Mexico.

He aborted the attempted theft when the boat's propeller became entangled in a rope, law enforcement officials said. It was then that he is believed to have headed to Riverside, where he allegedly shot two police officers.

"He pointed a handgun at the victim [at the yacht club] and demanded the boat," said Lt. David Rohowits of the San Diego Police Department.

Police say the rifle marksman shot at four officers in two incidents overnight, hitting three of them: one in Corona, Calif., and the two in Riverside, Calif.

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Today on New Scientist: 6 February 2013

Open Richard III DNA evidence for peer review

A good case has been made that a skeleton unearthed from a car park is that of the last Plantagenet king of England - it's time to share the data

Universal bug sensor takes guesswork out of diagnosis

A machine that can identify all bacteria, viruses and fungi known to cause disease in humans should speed up diagnosis and help to reduce antibiotic resistance

Choking China: The struggle to clear Beijing's air

As pollution levels return to normal in China's capital after a record-breaking month of smog, what can be done to banish the smog?

Genes mix across borders more easily than folk tales

Analysing variations in folk tales using genetic techniques shows that people swap genes more readily than stories, giving clues to how cultures evolve

Sleep and dreaming: Slumber at the flick of a switch

Wouldn't it be wonderful to pack a good night's sleep into fewer hours? Technology has the answer - and it could treat depression and even extend our lives too

Closest Earth-like planet may be 13 light years away

A habitable exoplanet should be near enough for future telescopes to probe its atmosphere for signs of life

Lifelogging captures a real picture of your health

How can lifelogging - wearing a camera round your neck to record your every move - reveal what's healthy and unhealthy in the way we live?

Musical brains smash audio algorithm limits

The mystery of how our brains perceive sound has deepened, now that musicians have broken a limit on sound perception imposed by the Fourier transform

Magnitude 8 earthquake strikes Solomon Islands

A major earthquake has caused a small tsunami in the Pacific Ocean, killing at least five people

Nuclear knock-backs on UK's new reactors and old waste

Plans to build new reactors in the UK are stalling as yet another company pulls out, and there is still nowhere to store nuclear waste permanently

Amateur astronomer helps Hubble snap galactic monster

An amateur astronomer combined his pictures with images from the Hubble archive to reveal the true nature of galactic oddball M106

Nightmare images show how lack of sleep kills

Fatigue has been blamed for some of worst human-made disasters of recent decades. Find out more in our image gallery

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Football: Bengtson lifts Honduras over US

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras: Jerry Bengtson scored in the 79th minute to give Honduras a 2-1 victory over the United States on Wednesday in the North American qualifying final-round opener for the 2014 Brazil World Cup.

The New England Revolution striker knocked in the decider, aided by a blunder from a US defensive unit with relatively few World Cup qualifying caps while American veteran Carlos Bocanegra was watching from the bench.

Juan Carlos Garcia netted a spectacular bicycle kick for Honduras to equalise in the 39th minute after the visitors had seized the lead on a goal by Tottenham's Clint Dempsey in the 36th.

The critical stretch began when Oscar Garcia pushed the ball past US defender Geoff Cameron, who plays for Stoke City in England.

US goalkeeper Tim Howard, who plays for English side Everton, came after the ball but Garcia flicked the ball past him into the empty penalty area where an onrushing Bengtson kicked it home before a sliding Omar Gonzalez could stop him.

Juan Carlos Garcia, a 24-year-old left back, made a spectacular bicycle-kick goal in the 39th minute that pulled Honduras level 1-1 at half-time.

Maynor Figueroa took a centering pass on the chest and deflected the ball into the crowded heart of the penalty area, where Garcia made an incredible somersault and followed with a hammering kick past Howard.

Dempsey put the Americans ahead 1-0 by taking a perfect lob centering pass from Jermaine Jones in full stride while leaping into the air on a run midway through the penalty area.

Without an instant's pause, Dempsey blasted the ball past Honduran goalkeeper Noel Valladares to open the scoring.

Other regional qualifiers on Wednesday find Jamaica at Mexico and Costa Rica at Panama.

The three top teams after Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) round-robin matches will qualify for Brazil. The fourth-place team will face a team from Oceania for another berth.

- AFP/de

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AP sources: House Dems offer own gun control plan

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats will unveil 15 gun control proposals, a package that resembles President Barack Obama's plans and will include a ban on assault weapons.

People familiar with the proposal described the plan Wednesday, a day before House Democratic leaders planned to release it. These people were not authorized to discuss the plan publicly.

The plan was written by a dozen House Democrats led by California Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson.

Two-thirds of group had to back an item for it to be recommended. That means there could be Democratic dissenters for some proposals.

Among the task force's members are Rep. John Dingell, the Michigan Democrat and the House's longest serving member. Dingell has been a strong ally of the National Rifle Association, though he has clashed with them on some issues.

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Humans Swap DNA More Readily Than They Swap Stories

Jane J. Lee

Once upon a time, someone in 14th-century Europe told a tale of two girls—a kind one who was rewarded for her manners and willingness to work hard, and an unkind girl who was punished for her greed and selfishness.

This version was part of a long line of variations that eventually spread throughout Europe, finding their way into the Brothers Grimm fairytales as Frau Holle, and even into Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. (Watch a video of the Frau Holle fairytale.)

In a new study, evolutionary psychologist Quentin Atkinson is using the popular tale of the kind and unkind girls to study how human culture differs within and between groups, and how easily the story moved from one group to another.

Atkinson, of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and his co-authors employed tools normally used to study genetic variation within a species, such as people, to look at variations in this folktale throughout Europe.

The researchers found that there were significant differences in the folktale between ethnolinguistic groups—or groups bound together by language and ethnicity. From this, the scientists concluded that it's much harder for cultural information to move between groups than it is for genes.

The study, published February 5 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that about 9 percent of the variation in the tale of the two girls occurred between ethnolinguistic groups. Previous studies looking at the genetic diversity across groups in Europe found levels of variation less than one percent.

For example, there's a part of the story in which the girls meet a witch who asks them to perform some chores. In different renditions of the tale, the meeting took place by a river, at the bottom of a well, or in a cave. Other versions had the girls meeting with three old men or the Virgin Mary, said Atkinson.


Researchers have viewed human culture through the lens of genetics for decades, said Atkinson. "It's a fair comparison in the sense that it's just variation across human groups."

But unlike genes, which move into a population relatively easily and can propagate randomly, it's harder for new ideas to take hold in a group, he said. Even if a tale can bridge the "ethnolinguistic boundary," there are still forces that might work against a new cultural variation that wouldn't necessarily affect genes.

"Humans don't copy the ideas they hear randomly," Atkinson said. "We don't just choose ... the first story we hear and pass it on.

"We show what's called a conformist bias—we'll tend to aggregate across what we think everyone else in the population is doing," he explained. If someone comes along and tells a story a little differently, most likely, people will ignore those differences and tell the story like everyone else is telling it.

"That makes it more difficult for new ideas to come in," Atkinson said.

Cultural Boundaries

Atkinson and his colleagues found that if two versions of the folktale were found only six miles (ten kilometers) away from each other but came from different ethnolinguistic groups, such as the French and the Germans, then those versions were as different from each other as two versions taken from within the same group—say just the Germans—located 62 miles (100 kilometers) away from each other.

"To me, the take-home message is that cultural groups strongly constrain the flow of information, and this enables them to develop highly local cultural traditions and norms," said Mark Pagel, of the University of Reading in the U.K., who wasn't involved in the new study.

Pagel, who studies the evolution of human behavior, said by email that he views cultural groups almost like biological species. But these groups, which he calls "cultural survival vehicles," are more powerful in some ways than our genes.

That's because when immigrants from a particular cultural group move into a new one, they bring genetic diversity that, if the immigrants have children, get mixed around, changing the new population's gene pool. But the new population's culture doesn't necessarily change.

Atkinson plans to keep using the tools of the population-genetics trade to see if the patterns he found in the variations of the kind and unkind girls hold true for other folktale variants in Europe and around the world.

Humans do a lot of interesting things, Atkinson said. "[And] the most interesting things aren't coded in our DNA."

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Galaxy May Be Full of 'Second Earths'

You may look out on a starry night and get a lonely feeling, but astronomers now say our Milky Way galaxy may be thick with planets much like Earth -- perhaps 4.5 billion of them, according to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Astronomers looked at data from NASA's Kepler space telescope in orbit, and conclude that 6 percent of the red dwarf stars in the Milky Way probably have Earth-like, habitable planets. That's a lot by space standards, and since red dwarfs are very common -- they make up three out of four stars in our part of the galaxy -- we may have a lot more neighbors than we thought.

The nearest of them, astronomers said today, could be 13 light-years away -- not exactly commuting distance, since a light-year is six trillion miles, but a lot closer than most yellow stars like Earth's sun.

Video: Are We Alone? Kepler's Mission

David A. Aguilar/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

"We thought we would have to search vast distances to find an Earth-like planet. Now we realize another Earth is probably in our own backyard, waiting to be spotted," said Courtney Dressing, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center, in announcing the findings today. The results will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

David Charbonneau, a co-author, said, "We now know the rate of occurrence of habitable planets around the most common stars in our galaxy. That rate implies that it will be significantly easier to search for life beyond the solar system than we previously thought."

Red dwarfs are older, smaller and dimmer than our sun, but a planet orbiting close to one could be sufficiently warmed to have liquid water. Dressing and her colleagues cited three possible planets that were spotted by Kepler, which was launched in 2009. One is 90 percent as large as Earth, and orbits its red sun in just 20 of our days.

There is no saying what such a world would actually be like; the Kepler probe can only show whether distant stars have objects periodically passing in front of them. But based on that, scientists can do some math and estimate the mass and orbit of these possible planets. So far, Kepler has spotted more than 2,700 of them in the small patch of sky it has been watching.

There are estimated to be 200 to 400 billion stars in the Milky Way -- which is probably a pretty average galaxy. So the new estimate implies a universe with tremendous numbers of Earth-like planets, far beyond our ability to count.

Pictures: Final Frontier: Images From the Distant Universe

Could they be friendly to life? There's no way to know yet, but space scientists say that if you have the right ingredients -- a planet the right size, temperatures that allow for liquid water, organic molecules and so forth -- and the chances may be good, even on a planet that is very different from ours.

"You don't need an Earth clone to have life," said Dressing.

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Today on New Scientist: 5 February 2013

Engineering light: Pull an image from nowhere

A new generation of lenses could bring us better lighting, anti-forgery technology and novel movie projectors

Baby boomers' health worse than their parents

Americans who were born in the wake of the second world war have poorer health than the previous generation at the same age

New 17-million-digit monster is largest known prime

A distributed computing project called GIMPS has found a record-breaking prime number, the first for four years

Cellular signals used to make national rainfall map

The slight weakening of microwave signals caused by reflections off raindrops can be exploited to keep tabs on precipitation

NASA spy telescopes won't be looking at Earth

A Mars orbiter and an exoplanet photographer are among proposals being presented today for how to use two second-hand spy satellites that NASA's been given

China gets the blame for media hacking spree

The big US newspapers and Twitter all revealed last week that they were hacked - and many were quick to blame China. But where's the proof?

Nobel-winning US energy secretary steps down

Steven Chu laid the groundwork for government-backed renewable energy projects - his successor must make a better case for them

Sleep and dreaming: Where do our minds go at night?

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Passion in US lower house immigration debate

WASHINGTON: US lawmakers debated plans on Tuesday to build a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants who remade their lives in America but found themselves at the heart of a fierce debate.

President Barack Obama and a group of Republican and Democratic senators have submitted plans for reform, but as the House of Representatives took up the issue, there were signs the bipartisan facade is coming under strain.

While from the Democratic side of the aisle, a rising Hispanic-American political star made an impassioned plea to fix a broken system, more senior Republicans warned against pushing too fast for change.

"Immigration is more than a political issue. It's who we are," said Julian Castro, the charismatic young mayor of San Antonio, Texas who had a star turn last year on the stage of the Democratic National Convention.

"Immigrants have made ours the greatest country in the world," he told a packed House Judiciary Committee hearing. "Doing nothing is not an option."

But Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the committee, warned against a "rush to judgment" -- despite concerns among his Republican colleagues that they have lost the support of a generation of Hispanic and Asian voters.

"I think we can all agree that our nation's immigration system is in desperate need of repair and it is not working as efficiently and fairly as it should be," he told the first of several hearings on the issue.

Goodlatte warned his panel "needs to take the time to learn from the past so our efforts to reform our immigration laws do not repeat the same mistakes."

The burst of activity on Capitol Hill marks the best chance in years to craft legislation to tighten border security, improve employment verification and bring some 11 million illegal immigrants out of limbo.

A 2007 effort spearheaded by then-president George W. Bush failed.

Obama and top Republicans are for once in agreement that political and demographic trends have suddenly shifted to offer the best chance for serious reform in a generation.

November's election saw Obama re-elected with 70 percent backing from Hispanic American voters -- many of whom have friends or relatives seeking papers.

It shook Republicans into realizing that their tough stance on immigration had driven Hispanics away from the party, and party luminaries like Senator Marco Rubio have come out strongly in favor of immigration reform.

But differences remain, particularly in the contentious issue of how to accommodate the millions who entered the country without permission, or who came in legally but overstayed their visas.

The issue bubbled over in the hearing room when about eight protesters stood up with fists raised, and chanted "undocumented and unafraid!" for about 30 seconds before walking out.

Castro said a pathway to citizenship, similar to the one proposed by the bipartisan group of senators last month, was crucial in order to bring 11 million undocumented immigrants "out of the shadows and into the full light of the American dream."

Republican Goodlatte pushed back, seeking to carve a possible compromise option short of full citizenship for those who entered illegally or stayed beyond their visa.

"Are there options that we should consider between the extremes of mass deportation and a pathway to citizenship for those not lawfully present in the United States?" Goodlatte asked.

Democratic congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, a former immigration lawyer from California, conceded the system was dysfunctional, but that "partial legalization, as some are suggesting, is a dangerous path."

She argued that merely providing undocumented workers with legal status but no way to work towards full citizenship could create a "permanent underclass," while kicking the undocumented out en masse would trigger economic chaos.

With up to 90 percent of the estimated two million migrant farm workers in the country illegally, "you could do e-verify and find out they're not properly here and American agriculture would collapse."

Obama addressed the immigration issue Tuesday as well, hosting meetings with more than two dozen progressive leaders and business executives.

Steve Case, co-founder of America Online, said he was encouraged by the discussion at the White House.

"The president and his team listened to numerous proposals, outlined many of their own and expressed a desire to build a bipartisan consensus regarding comprehensive immigration reform," Case said.


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AP sources: Pentagon extending benefits for gays

WASHINGTON (AP) — The military is poised to extend some benefits to the same-sex partners of service members, U.S. officials said Tuesday, about 16 months after the Pentagon repealed its ban on openly gay service.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has not made a final decision on which benefits will be included, the officials said, but the Pentagon is likely to allow same-sex partners to have access to the on-base commissary and other military subsidized stores, as well as some health and welfare programs.

Panetta must walk a fine, legal line. While there has been increased pressure on the Pentagon to extend some benefits to same-sex partners, defense officials must be careful not to violate the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. The federal law forbids the federal government from recognizing any marriage other than those between a man and a woman.

An announcement is expected to come in the next several days. Officials discussed the plan on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly speak about internal Pentagon deliberations.

Pentagon press secretary George Little declined to comment. Other officials made it clear that there are still last-minute legal discussions going on to determine the details.

Officials said the military likely will require that some type of document be signed to designate the military member's partner as a legitimate recipient of the benefits. The same-sex partners are also expected to be issued some type of identification card that would give them access to the military installations and programs.

Panetta's decision comes as he nears the end of his tenure as Pentagon chief and on the heels of President Barack Obama's broad call for equal rights for gays during his inaugural speech.

"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," said Obama, who also has supported gay marriage.

Also, just days ago, a woman married to a female Army officer at Fort Bragg was invited to become a full member of the North Carolina base's officers' spouses club after initially being denied. The Marine Corps has also said that any spouses clubs operating on its bases must admit same-sex partners.

Last year, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, introduced legislation that would extend same-sex benefits to spouses of veterans and service members. He argued that with gays serving openly in the military, their spouses should receive the same benefits.

Under his measure, the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs Department would have to recognize any marriage that has been recognized by a state, the District of Columbia, commonwealths or territories. Nine states and the District of Columbia now allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

"Building on the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell,' this is another big step toward full equality in the military. No individual should be deprived of the benefits they have earned simply because of who they have married," Smith said Tuesday.

Advocacy groups called on Panetta to take substantive steps and grant full benefits that are available under the law.

"Considering DADT was repealed well over a year ago, our families have waited far too long for the Defense Department to extend benefits to same-sex military spouses," said Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partner Association, which advocates for gay and lesbian military families. "No military family should suffer because of outdated regulations. For the sake of our families, we hope for substantive action and look forward to hearing from Secretary Panetta on exactly what benefits will be extended."

The repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the military took effect in September 2011, and since then the Pentagon has been reviewing policies and procedures to see what military benefits can be opened to same sex partners without violating DOMA.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of DOMA in June, but advocacy groups have argued that there are a number of administrative steps the Pentagon could take to treat same-sex military couples more fairly.


Lolita C. Baldor can be followed on Twitter at

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