2013 Smart Guide: Curiosity to reach Mars mother lode









































Read more: "2013 Smart Guide: 10 ideas that will shape the year"











NASA'S Curiosity rover is about to have its cake and eat it too. Around September, the rover should get its first taste of layered sediments at Aeolis Mons, a mountain over 5 kilometres tall that may hold preserved signs of life on Mars.












Previous rovers uncovered ample evidence of ancient water, a key ingredient for life as we know it. With its sophisticated on-board chemistry lab, Curiosity is hunting for more robust signs of habitability, including organic compounds - the carbon-based building blocks of life as we know it.













Observations from orbit show that the layers in Aeolis Mons - also called Mount Sharp - contain minerals thought to have formed in the presence of water. That fits with theories that the rover's landing site, Gale crater, was once a large lake. Even better, the layers were probably laid down quickly enough that the rocks could have held on to traces of microorganisms, if they existed there.


















If the search for organics turns up empty, Aeolis Mons may hold other clues to habitability, says project scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The layers will reveal which minerals and chemical processes were present in Mars's past. "We're going to find all kinds of good stuff down there, I'm sure," he says.











Curiosity will explore a region called Glenelg until early February, and then hit the gas. The base of the mountain is 10 kilometres away, and the rover can drive at about 100 metres a day at full speed. The journey should take between six and nine months, but will include stops to check out any interesting landmarks. After all, some of the most exciting discoveries from Mars rovers were a result of serendipity.













"It's a discovery-driven mission," Grotzinger says. "We picked this site because we wanted to go to Mount Sharp. But we'll kind of follow our nose, and see where it leads us off on side trails."




















































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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India's trauma turns to anger at gang-rape killing






NEW DELHI: Horror at a deadly gang-rape that appalled India has turned to anger in New Delhi, where a leaden-footed government is accused of being out of touch and out of ideas in handling its latest crisis.

On Sunday evening, as dusk descended on an area of the Indian capital where protesters have assembled daily since the December 16 rape of a 23-year-old medical student, a group ran through the crowd with an effigy.

It depicted Sheila Dikshit, the 74-year-old chief minister of New Delhi blamed by many for failing to prevent Delhi becoming known as India's "rape capital".

The victim was repeatedly raped and violated with an iron bar on a bus before being thrown off the moving vehicle. She suffered horrific injuries and died on Saturday.

"Tomorrow it could be my sister or me," Soumya Tandon, a 26-year-old marketing executive, told AFP. "I take a bus from near my office and every day my mother is worried if I will reach home safely. Why should we live in constant fear?"

Under the watchful eye of hundreds of riot police, Dikshit's effigy was burnt to cheers, underlining the ugly mood among young urban voters who are increasingly vocal in denouncing their leaders as too old and too complacent.

"We are the future of this nation, they need to connect with us," said 32-year-old Mayuri Goswami, a chartered accountant carrying a banner that read "Time to engage, not disconnect. Wake up, leaders".

"They need to involve us more, try and understand our emotions and anger," he said.

Dikshit, who once said a female journalist murdered in Delhi should not have been so "adventurous" as to be out on her own late at night, is not the only target amid a chorus of calls for change.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, an 80-year-old former academic who struggles to connect with voters, called for "dispassionate debate" in a brief statement after the woman's death as the nation was consumed by grief.

As politicians of all stripes struggled to measure the mood and find the right language, the Minister for Women Krishna Tirath failed to make herself heard.

Heavy-handed policing and insensitive comments only stirred more anger.

The president's son, Abhjit Mukherjee, called the protesters "painted ladies", while others blamed provocative clothing and suggested withdrawing skirts at school to curb harassment.

Another protester's poster took aim at Rahul Gandhi, the 41-year-old "youth leader" of the ruling Congress party who is expected to be a prime ministerial candidate in 2014 national elections.

The aloof Oxford graduate -- the latest in the Gandhi political dynasty -- has made few public comments on the crime, which brought simmering anger over widespread abuse of women to boiling point.

"I am not Rahul Gandhi. I have guts to save my sisters," read one banner.

Commentary on the victim's ordeal has tended to place the assault at the centre of forces churning up one of the world's most diverse countries.

Economic growth of nearly 10 percent over the last decade has led to hectic urbanisation that has brought changed moral codes and lifestyles, a more global outlook and globalised trends, as well as simmering class and gender tensions.

Many reasons have been posited for the assault, a commonplace crime in India. A recent poll found it to be the worst in the G20 group of nations for women because of infanticide, child marriage and abuse.

Analysis has focused on India's deeply patriarchal society, in which misogyny runs deep and women are at best second-class citizens and at worst mere objects to be owned, enjoyed or abused by men.

But did the country's gender imbalance as a result of female foeticide play a role? And what about frustration among young Indians in an increasingly sexualised society?

"In our attitudes to sex, we are midway between the liberal democracies of the West and fundamentalist Islamic societies," wrote Palash Krishna Mehrotra, author of "The Butterfly Generation", this week.

In the "old versus new" narrative, most analysts agree that the scandal highlighted the growing battle line between young middle-class urban India -- the future of the country -- and a government still run by men of pensionable age.

Madhuresh Kumar of the non-profit National Alliance of People's Movement, says the protesters represent a new kind of movement which is urban and rooted in globalised, aspirational India.

"This class was till now complacent in its material prosperity," Kumar told AFP.

The millions who protested last year, when anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare ignited a national campaign against graft, had a similar profile.

Then as now, a political class seen as unable or unwilling to improve India was widely pilloried as failing to respond to a young population yearning for wealth and security.

- AFP/al



Read More..

Change could be coming after Bears miss playoffs









DETROIT — The Bears could spend between now and wild-card weekend counting the reasons they will be sitting at home with 10 wins.

A defensive meltdown in Week 13 against the Seahawks and a brutal loss at Minnesota the following week are good places to start. Their time will be better spent, however, compiling ways they can improve in 2013 after a second-half collapse could not be saved by road wins over the lowly Cardinals and Lions at the end of a season that began with great promise.

The Bears held on for a 26-24 victory over the Lions on Sunday at Ford Field, but their playoff dreams were dashed a little more than three hours later as the Vikings upset the Packers 37-34 on Blair Walsh's 29-yard field goal as time expired.

The Bears join the 1996 Redskins as the only teams since the playoffs were expanded to 12 teams to miss the playoffs after a 7-1 start. An easy first-half schedule turned challenging, an opportunistic defense stopped scoring touchdowns and the offense again failed to blossom in the fourth season for quarterback Jay Cutler, who will enter the final year of his contract with scarce reasons for the franchise to guarantee him tens of millions of dollars.

Under first-year offensive coordinator Mike Tice, wide receiver Brandon Marshall rewrote the team record books, but far too often there was no semblance of balance, and an offensive line general manager Phil Emery did little to augment played a lot like the one he inherited. Whether the failures were due more to personnel, scheme or play calling, ultimately it's the offense of head coach Lovie Smith, who failed to guide his team to the postseason for the fifth time in six years.

Questions will persist about the future of Smith, who has an 81-63 regular-season record in nine seasons, until Emery announces his plan. It will be interesting to see what role Chairman George McCaskey takes; most believe it was his call to fire GM Jerry Angelo a year ago.

Smith is signed through next season, and Emery has been conspicuously silent this season, although he said on the WBBM radio pregame show Sunday that Smith "has done an outstanding job coaching the Bears."

"It is the full season and the whole body of work," Emery said of how he will judge Smith.

Bringing back Smith as a lame duck could be a disastrous distraction but would not be unprecedented. President Ted Phillips required Emery to keep Smith for this season, and Phillips lauded Smith for his "consistency" in explaining the decision.

Smith generally has avoided long losing streaks, but the Bears lost five of six before the final two wins. They also consistently have missed the playoffs since the 2006 Super Bowl season, and if Emery makes the unusual move of firing a coach coming off a 10-win season, it will condemn the organization's failure to clean house a year ago.

Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, the face of the franchise for 13 seasons, has an expiring contract, and his future could be tied to Smith's. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton might be headed to free agency. The aging defense was solid for most of the season but needs more young firepower at a time when the offense must be upgraded.

The offense showed some life Sunday, even if it couldn't put the Lions away as four trips to the red zone resulted in only one touchdown — a 1-yard run by Matt Forte, who had a season-high 24 carries for 103 yards.

Cutler, who said during the week he didn't know how the offense would get more receivers involved besides Marshall, completed five passes for 109 yards to Earl Bennett, including a 60-yard touchdown that featured nice blocking by Marshall. Alshon Jeffery had four receptions for 76 yards, while Marshall was targeted 14 times but made just five catches for 42 yards.

The Lions clawed back with three 80-yard scoring drives, but the defense got a stop when it needed one as cornerback Tim Jennings deflected a pass for Kris Durham with less than four minutes to play before Forte helped run out the clock.

Asked how he would view a 10-win season with no playoffs, Forte said, "We'll have to look forward to next year."

First, we'll see what change a new year brings.

bmbiggs@tribune.com

Twitter @BradBiggs



Read More..

How to Banish That New Year's Eve Hangover


For those of us who enjoy the occasional cocktail, the holiday season would be incomplete without certain treats of the liquid variety. Some look forward to the creamy charms of rum-laced eggnog; others anticipate cupfuls of high-octane punch or mugs of warm, spiced wine.

No matter what's in your glass, raising one as the year winds down is tradition. What could be more festive? The problem is, one drink leads to two, then the party gets going and a third is generously poured. Soon, the music fades and the morning arrives—and with it, the dreaded hangover. (Explore a human-body interactive.)

Whether it's a pounding headache, a queasy stomach, sweating, or just general misery, the damage has been done. So now it's time to remedy the situation. What's the quickest way to banish the pain? It depends who you ask.

Doctors typically recommend water for hydration and ibuprofen to reduce inflammation. Taking B vitamins is also good, according to anesthesiologist Jason Burke, because they help the body metabolize alcohol and produce energy.

Burke should know a thing or two about veisalgia, the medical term for hangover. At his Las Vegas clinic Hangover Heaven, Burke treats thousands of people suffering from the effects of drinking to excess with hydrating fluids and medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"No two hangovers are the same," he said, adding that the unfavorable condition costs society billions of dollars-mostly from lost productivity and people taking sick days from work.

Hot Peppers for Hangovers?

So what's the advice from the nonmedical community? Suggestions range from greasy breakfasts to vanilla milkshakes to spending time in a steamy sauna. A friend insists hot peppers are the only way to combat a hangover's wrath. Another swears by the palliative effects of a bloody mary. In fact, many people just have another drink, following the old "hair of the dog that bit you" strategy.

Whether such "cures" actually get rid of a hangover is debatable, but one thing's for sure: the sorry state is universal. The only people immune to hangovers are the ones who avoid alcohol altogether.

So for those who do indulge, even if it's just once in awhile, see our interactive featuring cures from around the world (also above). As New Year's Eve looms with its attendant excuse to imbibe, perhaps it would be wise to stock your refrigerator with one of these antidotes. Pickled herring, anyone?


Read More..

Hillary Clinton Hospitalized With Blood Clot


gty hillary clinton jt 121209 wblog Hillary Clinton Hospitalized With Blood Clot

(MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images)


By DANA HUGHES and DEAN SCHABNER


Secretary Hillary Clinton was hospitalized today after a doctors doing a follow-up exam discovered a blood clot had formed, stemming from the concussion she sustained several weeks ago.


She is being treated with anti-coagulants and is at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital so that they can monitor the medication over the next 48 hours, Deputy Assistant Secretary Philippe Reines said.


Her doctors will continue to assess her condition, including other issues associated with her concussion. They will determine if any further action is required, Reines said.


Clinton, 65, originally fell ill from a stomach virus following a whirlwind trip to Europe at the beginning of the month, which caused such severe dehydration that she fainted and fell at home, suffering a concussion. No ambulance was called and she was not hospitalized, according to a state department official.


The stomach virus had caused Clinton to cancel a planned trip to North Africa and the United Arab Emirates, and also her scheduled testimony before Congress at hearings on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.


According to a U.S. official, the secretary had two teams of doctors, including specialists, examine her after the fall.  They also ran tests to rule out more serious ailments beyond the virus and the concussion. During the course of the week after her concussion, Clinton was on an IV drip and being monitored by a nurse, while also recovering from the pain caused by the fall.


Medical experts consulted by ABC News said that it was impossible to know for sure the true nature or severity of Clinton’s condition, given the sparse information provided by the State Department. However, most noted that the information available could indicate that Clinton had a deep venous thrombosis,which is a clot in the large veins in the legs.


“A concussion (traumatic brain injury) in itself increases risk of this clot. Likely the concussion has increased her bed rest,” said Dr. Brian D. Greenwald, Medical Director JFK Jonson Rehabilitation Center for Head Injuries. “Immobility is also a risk for DVT. Long flights are also a risk factor for DVT but the recent concussion is the most likely cause.


“Anticoagulants are the treatment,” he said. “If DVT goes untreated it can lead to pulmonary embolism (PE). PE is a clot traveling from veins in legs to lungs which is life threatening. Many people die each year from this.


“Now that she is being treated with blood thinners her risks of PE are decreased,” he said. “Blood thinners carry risk of bleeding but are common and can be safely used.”


Dr. Allen Sills, associate professor of Neurological Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said it was most likely that the clot was not located in Clinton’s brain, since she is being treated with anticoagulants.


“This is certainly not a common occurrence after a concussion, and is most likely related to either inactivity or some other injury suffered in the fall,” he said.


Dr. Neil Martin, the head of Neurovascular Surgery at the University of California, Los Angeles, Medical Center, said blood thinners are often given for blood clots in the legs, and it is “very unusual” for anticoagulants to be given for blood clots in the head.


But he cautioned about speculating too much about Clinton’s condition before more information is available.


“If we don’t know where it is, there is the possibility of several different indications,” he said. “I don’t know if there is any connection between what she’s got now and the concussion. All I can tell you is, at this point, it’s almost impossible to speculate unless we know what’s going on there.”

Read More..

Today on New Scientist: 28 December 2012







Best videos of 2012: Rare view of Challenger tragedy

Watch a rare amateur video of the Challenger explosion, our most-viewed video of the year



Strong jet stream super-charged US Christmas storms

Record snowfall and dozens of tornadoes snarled holiday travel as a powerful winter storm plowed across much of the US, while rainstorms battered the UK



2012 review: The year in life science

The year's biggest stories in life science, including James Cameron's descent into the Mariana trench and efforts to break into Antarctica's buried lakes



Superstorm lessons for adapting to climate change

As the post-Sandy rebuild gets under way, coastal cities around the world will be watching



Best videos of 2012: First MRI movie of childbirth

Watch a unique view of a baby's birth, at number 2 in our countdown of the year's top science videos



Fleadom or death: Reviving the glorious flea circus

The parasite-based sideshows were almost done for by the domestic vacuum cleaner - but they are bouncing back, finds Graham Lawton



Approval for gene-modified salmon spawns controversy

Apparently months late, US regulators have declared genetically engineered fish safe to farm and eat, but final approval could be some way off



Best videos of 2012: New aircraft flies inside out

Watch a novel flying machine use a unique mechanism to propel itself, at number 3 in our countdown of the top videos of the year



2012 review: The year in technology

The year's biggest stories in technology, including Kinect devices that may spot signs of autism and controlling a robot by the power of thought



Superdoodles: The science of scribbling

Far from being a distraction, doodling has an important purpose - and you can harness it



2013 Smart Guide: Wave goodbye to the mouse

The Leap, a 3D motion control device set to launch next year, will let you control your computer with touch-free hand and finger movements





Read More..

Russia probes Moscow plane crash






MOSCOW: Russian medics began Sunday identifying the bodies of four crew killed when a passenger jet careened off the runway of a Moscow international airport and smashed into a highway.

Rescue workers recovered the flight recorders from the four-year-old Tu-204 of tycoon Alexander Lebedev's Red Wings airlines late Saturday as Russia began mourning its latest post-Soviet crash.

"The plane touched down in the proper landing area but for some reason was unable to stop on the strip," Federal Air Transport Agency chief Alexander Neradko said in televised remarks.

A bigger loss of life was only averted because the 210-seat liner was empty except for eight crew on their return from a charter flight to the Czech Republic.

Cell phone footage of the accident posted on the Internet showed large chunks of debris hurtling over the highway and smashing into cars speeding on the highway whose drivers had to make sudden emergency stops,

The jet split into three pieces and required the temporary shutdown of both the Kiev Highway and Vnukovo -- Moscow's third largest airport and the site of a special terminal for Kremlin officials.

A security source said investigators had brushed aside poor weather conditions or pilot error and were focusing on technical problems with the Tupolev as the most likely cause.

"According to preliminary information, the Vnukovo catastrophe may have been caused by problems with the plane, which became exposed in difficult weather conditions," the unnamed official told the Interfax news agency.

Witnesses said heavy gusts accompanying a light snowfall were swirling over the airport at the time the plane came in for landing on Saturday at 4:45 pm (1245 GMT).

Red Wings owner Lebedev -- a billionaire famous for his critical view of the Kremlin and his ownership of the London Evening Standard and The Independent in Britain -- said the jet had recently passed a meticulous check.

"Plane number 47 had accumulated 8,500 flight hours and underwent its last serious check on November 23," Lebedev tweeted.

He also suggested that traffic controllers' initial refusal to authorise landing -- requiring the plane to complete several circles over Vnukovo -- may have been a contributing factor.

"All machinery has its limits, even when it is new," Lebedev wrote.

- AFP/ck



Read More..

Congressional leaders scramble to find 'fiscal cliff' compromise









WASHINGTON — The momentary optimism that Washington could resolve the stalemate over New Year's Day tax hikes turned quickly Saturday to the backroom number crunching needed to broker what remained a difficult deal.

Top congressional leaders and their aides holed up inside the Capitol, swapping potential scenarios that might yield enough votes to pass legislation to prevent a tax increase on all but the wealthiest Americans.

The work being done off the Senate floor, in the offices of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) involves such tricky math that even if the political will exists to craft a compromise, partisanship may still prevent one. How to deal with income and estate taxes, as well as extended long-term unemployment benefits, remain among the stickiest issues.

"We've been in discussions all day, and they continue. And we'll let you know as soon as we have some news to make," McConnell said Saturday night as he left the Capitol. "We've been trading paper all day and talks continue into the evening."

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) stopped by the negotiations in the morning as a light snow dusted the city, but by midday tourists milling about the Capitol were snapping photos of the empty corridor outside his office. The Democratic leaders, Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), did not come to the Capitol but remained involved in the talks.

President Obama, who received updates at the White House, used his weekly address to put pressure on congressional leaders. "We just can't afford a politically self-inflicted wound to our economy," he said. "The economy is growing, but keeping it that way means that the folks you sent to Washington have to do their jobs."

Congress will convene for a rare Sunday afternoon session, with the Senate opening at 1 p.m. and the House at 2 p.m. Votes could come as soon as Sunday but most likely would be pushed to Monday as talks continue. Both parties will meet behind closed doors Sunday afternoon to consider their options.

If no agreement is reached, Obama reminded Republicans, he'll call for a vote on a proposal that would block the tax hike on income of less than $250,000 and would extend the unemployment insurance that expired Saturday for 2 million out-of-work people.

Obama's threat capitalizes on a key advantage in the tax-and-spend battle: Without a compromise, taxes will go up on everyone Tuesday, when the George W. Bush-era tax cuts expire. Republicans who oppose his bare-bones bill would be in the awkward position of protecting the wealthiest at the expense of the middle class.

"I believe such a proposal could pass both houses with bipartisan majorities — as long as these leaders allow it to come to a vote," Obama said. "If they still want to vote no, and let this tax hike hit the middle class, that's their prerogative — but they should let everyone vote. That's the way this is supposed to work."

Republicans face the prospect of voting for a tax increase for the first time in two decades, a potential milestone that has deeply divided the party. Still, they suggested Saturday that they could stomach raising income tax rates if the income threshold was higher than Obama has proposed — $500,000 might be acceptable, according to a source who asked to remain anonymous to discuss internal negotiations.

The GOP also wants to preserve the current estate tax rate, which is 35% on estates valued at more than $5 million. Most Democrats want the estate taxes set at 45% on those above $3.5 million; if no action is taken, the rate will revert to 55% on estates valued at more than $1 million.

The combination of income and estate tax rates may lead to a deal that could win Republican support, but it could also prove to be a deal killer for Democrats.

With Republicans divided, particularly in the House, Boehner is expected to bring at most barely half of his majority to any deal. Pelosi's support will be vital to pass the measure; she may have to muster about 100 votes.

A White House official stressed that whatever deal the Senate leaders broker will have to win approval from the House Democratic leader, who has shown her ability to deliver — or withhold — Democratic votes.

The deal may also draw support if it contains other must-pass year-end provisions, including a tweak to prevent middle-class households from being hit with the alternative minimum tax and an adjustment to ensure doctors treating Medicare patients do not take a pay cut.

The scene playing out on Saturday was a repeat of the cycle of brinkmanship and crisis that has characterized divided Washington for the last two years.

The optimism expressed by political leaders after Friday's White House meeting of Obama and congressional leaders appeared to be less about a major breakthrough or newfound comity than the hard reality that time was running short.

Congress has proved time and again that it works best — and perhaps only — under deadline pressure. With tax rates set to expire Dec. 31, just hours remained to approve a deal.

Despite the tight timeline, many senators left town, even if just for the day. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) posted a photo on his Twitter account of himself with the Oreo mascot at a college football bowl game in San Francisco.

Others stayed behind. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) tweeted that he was touring the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum with Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). "Back at it tomorrow," he added.

Yet even with political momentum, the deep divisions within parties were still evident, particularly as Republicans confronted a debate over their party's bedrock principles.

Influential anti-tax activist Grover Norquist encouraged Republicans to move on to the next battles, as Congress will be asked within months to raise the nation's debt limit. Republicans see that as the next point of leverage in their fights with Obama to reduce federal spending, including on Social Security and Medicare.

Any deal being crafted this weekend is not expected to resolve those issues or alter the automatic federal spending cuts coming on Jan. 2, all but ensuring that 2013 will see a return of divisive tax and spending arguments.

lisa.mascaro@latimes.com

kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

michael.memoli@latimes.com



Read More..

How to Banish That New Year's Eve Hangover


For those of us who enjoy the occasional cocktail, the holiday season would be incomplete without certain treats of the liquid variety. Some look forward to the creamy charms of rum-laced eggnog; others anticipate cupfuls of high-octane punch or mugs of warm, spiced wine.

No matter what's in your glass, raising one as the year winds down is tradition. What could be more festive? The problem is, one drink leads to two, then the party gets going and a third is generously poured. Soon, the music fades and the morning arrives—and with it, the dreaded hangover. (Explore a human-body interactive.)

Whether it's a pounding headache, a queasy stomach, sweating, or just general misery, the damage has been done. So now it's time to remedy the situation. What's the quickest way to banish the pain? It depends who you ask.

Doctors typically recommend water for hydration and ibuprofen to reduce inflammation. Taking B vitamins is also good, according to anesthesiologist Jason Burke, because they help the body metabolize alcohol and produce energy.

Burke should know a thing or two about veisalgia, the medical term for hangover. At his Las Vegas clinic Hangover Heaven, Burke treats thousands of people suffering from the effects of drinking to excess with hydrating fluids and medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"No two hangovers are the same," he said, adding that the unfavorable condition costs society billions of dollars-mostly from lost productivity and people taking sick days from work.

Hot Peppers for Hangovers?

So what's the advice from the nonmedical community? Suggestions range from greasy breakfasts to vanilla milkshakes to spending time in a steamy sauna. A friend insists hot peppers are the only way to combat a hangover's wrath. Another swears by the palliative effects of a bloody mary. In fact, many people just have another drink, following the old "hair of the dog that bit you" strategy.

Whether such "cures" actually get rid of a hangover is debatable, but one thing's for sure: the sorry state is universal. The only people immune to hangovers are the ones who avoid alcohol altogether.

So for those who do indulge, even if it's just once in awhile, see our interactive featuring cures from around the world (also above). As New Year's Eve looms with its attendant excuse to imbibe, perhaps it would be wise to stock your refrigerator with one of these antidotes. Pickled herring, anyone?


Read More..

Woman Charged With Murder in NYC Subway Push













A woman who allegedly told New York City police she pushed a man onto the subway tracks because she hated Hindus and Muslims has been charged with murder as a hate crime.


Erica Menendez, 31, allegedly told police that she "pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims ever since 2001 when they put down the twin towers I've been beating them up."


Menendez was taken into custody this morning after a two-day search, and when detectives were interviewing her she allegedly made the statements implicating herself in Thursday night's subway-platform death.


"The defendant is accused of committing what is every subway commuter's worst nightmare -- being suddenly and senselessly pushed into the path of an oncoming train," Queen District Attorney Richard A. Brown said. "The victim was allegedly shoved from behind and had no chance to defend himself. Beyond that, the hateful remarks allegedly made by the defendant and which precipitated the defendant's actions can never be tolerated by a civilized society."


Menendez was due to be arraigned this evening. She could face 25 years to life in prison if convicted of the second degree murder charge.


On Thursday night, a woman shoved a man from a subway platform at Queens Boulevard, and the man was crushed beneath an oncoming train. Police had searched the area for her after the incident.










New York City Subway Pusher Charged With Murder Watch Video







The victim was Sunando Sen, identified by several media outlets as a graphic designer and Indian immigrant who opened a print shop, Amsterdam Copy, on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Sen was struck by the No. 7 train after the unidentified woman allegedly pushed him from the northbound platform at 40th Street and Queens Boulevard at 8:04 p.m. on Thursday.


Witnesses told police they had seen the woman mubling to herself, pacing along the platform. She gave Sen little time to react, witnesses said.


"Witnesses said she was walking back and forth on the platform, talking to herself, before taking a seat alone on a wooden bench near the north end of the platform. When the train pulled into the station, the suspect rose from the bench and pushed the man, who was standing with his back to her, onto the tracks into the path of the train," NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne said earlier today. "The victim appeared not to notice her, according to witnesses."


READ: What to Do If You Fall on the Subway Tracks


Police released brief surveillance video of the woman fleeing the subway station, and described the suspect as a woman in her 20s, "heavy set, approximately 5'5" with brown or blond hair."


It was New York's second death of this kind in less than a month. On Dec. 3, 58-year-old Ki-Suck Han of Queens was shoved onto the tracks at New York's Times Square subway station. Two days later, police took 30-year-old Naeem Davis into custody.


On Friday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was asked whether the attack might be related to the increase of mentally ill people on the streets following closures of institutions over the past four decades.


"The courts or the law have changed and said, no, you can't do that unless they're a danger to society. Our laws protect you," Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show.



Read More..

Today on New Scientist: 28 December 2012







Best videos of 2012: Rare view of Challenger tragedy

Watch a rare amateur video of the Challenger explosion, our most-viewed video of the year



Strong jet stream super-charged US Christmas storms

Record snowfall and dozens of tornadoes snarled holiday travel as a powerful winter storm plowed across much of the US, while rainstorms battered the UK



2012 review: The year in life science

The year's biggest stories in life science, including James Cameron's descent into the Mariana trench and efforts to break into Antarctica's buried lakes



Superstorm lessons for adapting to climate change

As the post-Sandy rebuild gets under way, coastal cities around the world will be watching



Best videos of 2012: First MRI movie of childbirth

Watch a unique view of a baby's birth, at number 2 in our countdown of the year's top science videos



Fleadom or death: Reviving the glorious flea circus

The parasite-based sideshows were almost done for by the domestic vacuum cleaner - but they are bouncing back, finds Graham Lawton



Approval for gene-modified salmon spawns controversy

Apparently months late, US regulators have declared genetically engineered fish safe to farm and eat, but final approval could be some way off



Best videos of 2012: New aircraft flies inside out

Watch a novel flying machine use a unique mechanism to propel itself, at number 3 in our countdown of the top videos of the year



2012 review: The year in technology

The year's biggest stories in technology, including Kinect devices that may spot signs of autism and controlling a robot by the power of thought



Superdoodles: The science of scribbling

Far from being a distraction, doodling has an important purpose - and you can harness it



2013 Smart Guide: Wave goodbye to the mouse

The Leap, a 3D motion control device set to launch next year, will let you control your computer with touch-free hand and finger movements





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Philippines seeks unity after birth control law signed






MANILA: President Benigno Aquino's government called for reconciliation on Saturday after a "divisive" birth control act was signed into law despite bitter opposition from the influential Catholic church.

Making sex education and contraceptives more widely available to the poor, the landmark legislation takes effect in mid-January, Aquino's spokeswoman Abigail Valte said.

"The passage into law of the Responsible Parenthood Act closes a highly divisive chapter of our history -- a chapter borne of the convictions of those who argued for, or against this Act," Valte said in a statement.

"At the same time, it opens the possibility of cooperation and reconciliation... engagement and dialogue characterised not by animosity, but by our collective desire to better the welfare of the Filipino people."

Both chambers of parliament passed the final version of the act on December 19 after an acrimonious debate pitting non-government organisations and women's groups against the country's dominant church and its lay organisations.

Aquino, who was once threatened with excommunication by church leaders for pushing the bill, signed the act two days later and said it gives couples the tools and information needed to plan the size of their families.

Proponents say it will help moderate the nation's rapid population growth, reduce poverty and bring down its high maternal mortality rate.

Church leaders in the Catholic-majority nation have vowed that the fight is not over.

Groups allied with the church are expected to challenge the law in the Supreme Court, while the church itself plans to ask its flock to oust the supporters of the birth control law in next year's general election.

The Philippines has one of Asia's highest birth rates, with the United Nations estimating that half of the country's 3.4 million pregnancies each year are unplanned.

The government's Commission on Women said that maternal mortality also remains high, with 162 deaths for every 100,000 live births, while 10 women die every day from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications.

- AFP/ck



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Chicago marks 500 homicides

Chicago police investigate the scene of a fatal shooting in the 1000 block of North Lavergne on Chicago's West Side. (Chris Sweda/ Chicago Tribune)









On the surface, Nathaniel Jackson fit the profile of the vast majority of Chicago's homicide victims in 2012 — he had a lengthy arrest record and alleged gang ties.


But when Jackson was shot and killed Thursday night, just months after getting out of prison, he also earned the unfortunate distinction of being the 500th homicide victim in Chicago this year, a grim milestone the city reached for the first time in four years.


While Chicago had almost twice as many slayings 20 years ago as it did this year, the number 500 is a largely symbolic threshold, a reminder of the year's escalated violence and a numerical bar the city had not reached since 513 were killed in 2008.








By mid-November the city already had tallied the most homicides in four years. As of Friday, Chicago had an estimated 17 percent increase in homicides over 2011, and an 11 percent increase in shootings, according to police.


The city's rising homicide tally has been a thorny issue for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police Superintendent Garry McCarthy for much of the year.


"It was a milestone on those days when we had zero murders and zero shootings. Those are milestones. This is a negative one, something that we never wanted," McCarthy told the Tribune Thursday afternoon, hours before Jackson, 40, was killed. "But in perspective, there's no such thing as an acceptable murder number. Even if we cut it down to 300 next year, it's still … unacceptable."


The department went back and forth Friday over whether Jackson was the 500th homicide victim so far this year, at first confirming it and then denying it, saying a homicide last week had been reclassified as a death investigation, therefore making Jackson the 499th homicide. But by late afternoon, the department once again confirmed there had been 500 homicides.


"The city has seen its 500th homicide for 2012, a tragic number that is reflective of the gang violence and proliferation of illegal guns that have plagued some of our neighborhoods," McCarthy said in a statement. "Every homicide in Chicago is unacceptable to me and the hardworking men and women of the Chicago Police Department, who, this year, achieved a record drop in overall crime throughout our city."


Chicago's homicide rate also remains a major issue for Emanuel heading into the new year. Beyond the very real human cost, there's a perception problem for the city.


The homicide rate in Chicago far exceeds the rates in New York City and Los Angeles. While the homicide rate in LA has remained relatively flat and New York's has gone down — homicides there have fallen by more than 20 percent this year — Emanuel, known for carefully trying to craft the narrative of his tenure as mayor, has seen Chicago's violence attract national attention.


The mayor was on vacation Friday with his family but issued a statement to the Tribune:


"Chicago has reached an unfortunate and tragic milestone, which not only marks a needless loss of life but serves as a reminder of the damage that illegal guns and conflicts between gangs cause in our neighborhoods," Emanuel said, adding that his efforts to lengthen the public school day and provide before- and after-school programs for youths were part of the eventual solution.


Emanuel last week also noted that overall crime in Chicago was down about 8.5 percent for the year.


This previous winter was particularly violent. In the first three months of 2012, when the city experienced unseasonable warmth, homicides ran about 60 percent ahead of the 2011 rate. As the year went on, the increase in killings leveled out but still remained higher than in previous years.


In his statement Friday, McCarthy lauded the overall drop in crime in the city and said department efforts resulted in less violence in the latter part of 2012.


"CPD has put the right people in the right places to accomplish our long-term goal of reducing crime and ensuring that our streets and our neighborhoods belong to the residents of this city," McCarthy said in his statement. "Since the gang violence reduction strategy was adopted, we have seen drastic reductions in shootings and homicides that spiked early in the year."


Some within the department feel the disbanding of two specialized units that swooped into "hot spots" to reduce violent crime had a negative impact on this year's rate. After McCarthy was installed last year as the city's top cop, he eliminated those strike forces to move those officers to beat patrols, in the hope they would have more meaningful and positive interactions with the community. The department now uses cops who work all over the city to fulfill the same function as the strike forces, but these "area teams" comprise fewer officers.


McCarthy has blamed the proliferation of guns on Chicago's streets and the splintering of large street gangs into small factions as reasons for the homicide spike.


In October, the Tribune reported that 1 in 4 homicide victims this year were affiliated with the Gangster Disciples, the city's largest street gang, and one also riddled with internal conflict.


Jackson, who authorities described as being affiliated with the Four Corner Hustlers street gang, falls into a category shared by more than 80 percent of Chicago's 2012 homicide victims: those with criminal histories.





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How to Banish That New Year's Eve Hangover


For those of us who enjoy the occasional cocktail, the holiday season would be incomplete without certain treats of the liquid variety. Some look forward to the creamy charms of rum-laced eggnog; others anticipate cupfuls of high-octane punch or mugs of warm, spiced wine.

No matter what's in your glass, raising one as the year winds down is tradition. What could be more festive? The problem is, one drink leads to two, then the party gets going and a third is generously poured. Soon, the music fades and the morning arrives—and with it, the dreaded hangover. (Explore a human-body interactive.)

Whether it's a pounding headache, a queasy stomach, sweating, or just general misery, the damage has been done. So now it's time to remedy the situation. What's the quickest way to banish the pain? It depends who you ask.

Doctors typically recommend water for hydration and ibuprofen to reduce inflammation. Taking B vitamins is also good, according to anesthesiologist Jason Burke, because they help the body metabolize alcohol and produce energy.

Burke should know a thing or two about veisalgia, the medical term for hangover. At his Las Vegas clinic Hangover Heaven, Burke treats thousands of people suffering from the effects of drinking to excess with hydrating fluids and medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"No two hangovers are the same," he said, adding that the unfavorable condition costs society billions of dollars-mostly from lost productivity and people taking sick days from work.

Hot Peppers for Hangovers?

So what's the advice from the nonmedical community? Suggestions range from greasy breakfasts to vanilla milkshakes to spending time in a steamy sauna. A friend insists hot peppers are the only way to combat a hangover's wrath. Another swears by the palliative effects of a bloody mary. In fact, many people just have another drink, following the old "hair of the dog that bit you" strategy.

Whether such "cures" actually get rid of a hangover is debatable, but one thing's for sure: the sorry state is universal. The only people immune to hangovers are the ones who avoid alcohol altogether.

So for those who do indulge, even if it's just once in awhile, see our interactive featuring cures from around the world (also above). As New Year's Eve looms with its attendant excuse to imbibe, perhaps it would be wise to stock your refrigerator with one of these antidotes. Pickled herring, anyone?


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Epic Journey: Did Moses' Exodus Really Happen?













In the Bible, he is called Moses. In the Koran, he is the prophet Musa.


Religious scholars have long questioned whether of the story of a prophet leading God's chosen people in a great exodus out of Egypt and the freedom it brought them afterwards was real, but the similarities between a pharaoh's ancient hymn and a psalm of David might hold the link to his existence.


Tune in to Part 2 of Christiane Amanpour's ABC News special, "Back to the Beginning," which explores the history of the Bible from Genesis to Jesus, on Friday, Dec. 28 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.


Christian scripture says Moses was content to grow old with his family in the vast deserted wilderness of Midian, and 40 years passed until the Bible says God spoke to him through the Burning Bush and told him to lead his people, the Israelites, out of Egypt. According to tradition, that miraculous bush can still be seen today enclosed within the ancient walls of St. Catherine's Monastery, located not far from Moses' hometown.


But there was another figure in the ancient world who gave up everything to answer the call from what he believed was the one and only true God.


Archaeologists discovered the remains of the ancient city of Amarna in the 1800s. Egyptologist Rawya Ismail, who has been studying the ruins for years, believes, as other archaeologists do, that Pharaoh Akhenaten built the city as a tribute to Aten, the sun.






G.Sioen/De Agostini/Getty Images











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She said it was a bold and unusual step for the pharaoh to leave the luxurious trappings of palace life in Luxor for the inhospitable landscape of Amarna, but it might have been his only choice as the priests from the existing religious establishment gained power.


"The very powerful Amun-Ra priests that he couldn't stand against gained control of the whole country," Ismail said. "The idea was to find a place that had never been used by any other gods -- to be virgin is what he called it -- so he chose this place."


All over the walls inside the city's beautiful tombs are examples of Akhanaten's radical message of monotheism. There is the Hymn to the Aten, which translates, in part, to: "The earth comes into being by your hand, as you made it. When you dawn, they live. When you set, they die. You yourself are lifetime, one lives by you."


PHOTOS: Christiane Amanpour's Journey 'Back to the Beginning'


Some attribute the writing of the hymn to Akhanaten himself, but it bears a striking resemblance to a passage that can be found in the Hebrew Bible: Psalm 104.


"If you compare the hymns from A to Z, you'll find mirror images to it in many of the holy books," Ismail said. "And if you compare certain parts of it, you'll find it almost exactly -- a typical translation for some of the [psalms] of David."


Psalm 104, written a few hundred years later, references a Lord that ruled over Israel and a passage compares him to the sun.


"You hide your face, they are troubled," part of it reads. "You take away your breath, they die, And return to dust. You send forth your breath, they are created, And you renew the face of the earth."


Like the psalm, the Hymn to Aten extols the virtues of the one true God.


"A lot of people think that [the Hymn to Aten] was the source of the [psalms] of David," Ismail said. "Putting Egypt on the trade route, a lot of people traveled from Egypt and came back to Egypt, it wasn't like a country living in isolation."


Ismail believes it is possible that the message from the heretic pharaoh has some connection to the story of Moses and the Exodus, as outlined in the Hebrew Bible.




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2013 Smart Guide: Wave goodbye to the mouse



































Read more: "2013 Smart Guide: 10 ideas that will shape the year"












If the Leap is anything to go by, the days of the mouse are numbered. The 3D-gesture-sensing device lets you control your computer with a wave of your hand - and it could be yours early next year.












Developed by Silicon Valley startup Leap Motion, the Leap is the size of a smartphone and behaves like a smaller, super-accurate version of Microsoft's Kinect motion sensor. It is also significantly cheaper, at only $70. Connected to your PC or Mac's USB port, the Leap creates a 3D interaction space in front of your computer screen, in which the tiniest motions of your fingers, or gestures of your hands, can be sensed.












As a result, you can wave up with your hand to scroll up a web page, or point into a game with an index finger to move characters where you want them to go. Standard Windows or Mac applications can be controlled by making clicking, grabbing, scrolling and pinch-to-zoom gestures, the company says.












Leap Motion won't say how the software achieves its accuracy - they claim it is 200 times that of existing motion-sensing technologies, able to track movements to one-hundredth of a millimetre. We do know that it uses infrared LEDs and cameras, with light from the LEDs reflected from your hands back to the cameras.












Pointing and clicking has been a mainstay of our interactions with personal computers for nearly 30 years, and old habits die hard. But if the Leap is as good as the pre-release hype suggests, the mouse could soon be ousted, with little more than a wave goodbye.




















































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Yachting: Wild Oats XI wins Sydney to Hobart race in record time






HOBART, Australia: Supermaxi Wild Oats XI smashed its own record time by nearly 17 minutes in Australia's Sydney to Hobart ocean yacht race, taking line honours on Friday ahead of Ragamuffin-Loyal.

Thousands of onlookers cheered at Hobart's Constitution Dock as the favourite came home in one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds for its sixth victory over the prestigious 628 nautical mile bluewater classic.

Wild Oats XI also won every year from 2005 to 2008 and in 2010.

"It was close, we only just made it but it's a great result for the whole team," skipper Mark Richards said after crossing the finish line.

"This boat is a great machine and we're very proud of it. Getting the record is a big thing and it's very satisfying."

Ragamuffin-Loyal, which beat Wild Oats by just three minutes last year and is skippered by 85-year-old Syd Fischer, finished four-and-a-half hours later with gear damage hampering a bid for back-to-back wins.

"A lot of things just went wrong," said Fischer. "But it's a good boat, well built, strong and it goes fast. We'll make modifications for next year."

Lahana was running third in a tight battle with Black Jack, ahead of Loki in fifth. Jazz leads the handicap standings, which takes into account the dimensions of each boat in the fleet, ahead of Calm and Secret Men's Business.

The previous record was one day, 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds, set in 2005, and Richards had his 100-foot yacht well ahead of that pace late Thursday as they powered down Tasmania's east coast.

But a northeasterly tailwind gave way to a weaker westerly that dramatically slowed progress.

Wild Oats' crew had all but given up on breaking the record after rounding Tasman Island in the middle of the night and it was touch and go as they sailed up Hobart's Derwent River.

But the unfurling of a bigger headsail ultimately made the difference to tack home surrounded by a flotilla of smaller vessels.

"It was a very tricky night, the breeze died on us. It was very testing and we had to make a lot of sail changes, but it's all part of the Sydney-Hobart," said Richards.

"The crew have been together a long time and when the going gets tough they just get tougher."

Wild Oats XI led the 76-vessel fleet from the starting gun in Sydney Harbour on Wednesday in a famously unforgiving race that takes crews across the notorious Bass Strait.

As well as dealing with the tough conditions, the boat hit an unknown object that damaged a daggerboard beneath the hull.

Catastrophic conditions claimed six lives and sank five yachts in 1998, and vessels are routinely unable to complete the race.

However, there have so far only been two retirements this year - Living Doll and Primitive Cool.

The 2013 event was marred by the controversial expulsion of supermaxi Wild Thing, the 2003 line honours winner, which was among the top three favourites.

Officials banned it just hours before the start, citing incomplete documentation of major modifications that extended the vessel to 100 feet. Skipper Grant Wharington continued to protest Friday.

He claimed the man who banned his yacht, race director Tim Cox, did not know enough about boat-building and had "egg on his face".

Cox rejected the criticism and told Wharington to "lay off the personal insults", according to Sydney's Daily Telegraph.

- AFP/de



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Fatal shooting appears to have pushed city's homicide toll to 500
































































The fatal shooting of a 40-year-old man Thursday night on the West Side appears to have pushed Chicago's 2012 homicide toll to 500, the first time the city has had that many killings in four years.

The slaying came hours after the Chicago Police Department said the city was one homicide away from the 500 mark for the year.

The victim was standing outside a convenience store around 9 p.m. at Augusta Boulevard and Lavergne Avenue in the city's Austin community when he was shot in the head, police said. He was pronounced dead at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County at 12:18 a.m., a spokesman for the Cook County medical examiner's office said.

At the shooting scene, a pool of blood stained the sidewalk outside Noah Foods. Police tapped apartment windows and knocked on doors looking for witnesses. A stray dog trotted through the crime scene before taking off in a sprint up Lavergne.

A few bullet casings, which police initially believed to be from a .45 caliber handgun, were found next to where the man was shot. Before officers left the scene, three people walked out of the store and pounded the metal gate shut.

The last time Chicago had 500 or more homicides was in 2008. As of Thursday night, homicides were up 17 percent over last year, and shootings had increased by 11 percent, according to police statistics.

Largely contributing to the spike was the unusual number of homicides that occurred during the early part of the year, in which the city experienced unseasonable warmth. In the first three months of the year, homicides ran about 60 percent ahead of the 2011 rate.

jgorner@tribune.com
pnickeas@tribune.com


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How to Live to a Ripe Old Age


Cento di questi giorni. May you have a hundred birthdays, the Italians say, and some of them do.

So do other people in various spots around the world—in Blue Zones, so named by National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner for the blue ink that outlines these special areas on maps developed over more than a decade. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

In his second edition of his book The Blue Zones, Buettner writes about a newly identified Blue Zone: the Greek island of Ikaria (map). National Geographic magazine Editor at Large Cathy Newman interviewed him about the art of living long and well. (Watch Buettner talk about how to live to a hundred.)

Q. You've written about Blue Zones in Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; Nicoa, Costa Rica and Okinawa, Japan. How did you find your way to Ikaria?

A. Michel Poulain, a demographer on the project, and I are always on the lookout for new Blue Zones. This one popped up in 2008. We got a lead from a Greek foundation looking for biological markers in aging people. The census data showed clusters of villages there with a striking proportion of people 85 or older. (Also see blog: "Secrets of the Happiest Places on Earth.")

In the course of your quest you've been introduced to remarkable individuals like 100-year-old Marge Jetton of Loma Linda, California, who starts the day with a mile-long [0.6-kilometer] walk, 6 to 8 miles [10 to 13 kilometers] on a stationary bike, and weight lifting. Who is the most memorable Blue Zoner you've met?

Without question it's Stamatis Moraitis, who lives in Ikaria. I believe he's 102. He's famous for partying. He makes 400 liters [100 gallons] of wine from his vineyards each year, which he drinks with his friends. His house is the social hot spot of the island. (See "Longevity Genes Found; Predict Chances of Reaching 100.")

He's also the Ikarian who emigrated to the United States, was diagnosed with lung cancer in his 60s, given less then a year to live, and who returned to Ikaria to die. Instead, he recovered.

Yes, he never went through chemotherapy or treatment. He just moved back to Ikaria.

Did anyone figure out how he survived?

Nope. He told me he returned to the U.S. ten years after he left to see if the American doctors could explain it. I asked him what happened. "My doctors were all dead," he said.

One of the common factors that seem to link all Blue Zone people you've spoken with is a life of hard work—and sometimes hardship. Your thoughts?

I think we live in a culture that relentlessly pursues comfort. Ease is related to disease. We shouldn't always be fleeing hardship. Hardship also brings people together. We should welcome it.

Sounds like another version of the fable of the grasshopper and the ant?

You rarely get satisfaction sitting in an easy chair. If you work in a garden on the other hand, and it yields beautiful tomatoes, that's a good feeling.

Can you talk about diet? Not all of us have access to goat milk, for example, which you say is typically part of an Ikarian breakfast.

There is nothing exotic about their diet, which is a version of a Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes vegetables, beans, fruit, olive oil, and moderate amounts of alcohol. (Read more about Buettner's work in Ikaria in National Geographic Adventure.)

All things in moderation?

Not all things. Socializing is something we should not do in moderation. The happiest Americans socialize six hours a day.

The people you hang out with help you hang on to life?

Yes, you have to pay attention to your friends. Health habits are contagious. Hanging out with unhappy people who drink and smoke is hazardous to your health.

So how has what you've learned influenced your own lifestyle?

One of the big things I've learned is that there's an advantage to regular low-intensity activity. My previous life was setting records on my bike. [Buettner holds three world records in distance cycling.] Now I use my bike to commute. I only eat meat once a week, and I always keep nuts in my office: Those who eat nuts live two to three more years than those who don't.

You also write about having a purpose in life.

Purpose is huge. I know exactly what my values are and what I love to do. That's worth additional years right there. I say no to a lot of stuff that would be easy money but deviates from my meaning of life.

The Japanese you met in Okinawa have a word for that?

Yes. Ikigai: "The reason for which I wake in the morning."

Do you have a non-longevity-enhancing guilty pleasure?

Tequila is my weakness.

And how long would you like to live?

I'd like to live to be 200.


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White House Says It Has No New Fiscal Cliff Plan













The White House said today it has no plans to offer new proposals to avoid the fiscal cliff which looms over the country's economy just five days from now, but will meet Friday with Congressional leaders in a last ditch effort to forge a deal.


Republicans and Democrats made no conciliatory gestures in public today, despite the urgency.


The White House said President Obama would meet Friday with Democratic and Republican leaders. But a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said the Republican "will continue to stress that the House has already passed legislation to avert the entire fiscal cliff and now the Senate must act."


The White House announced the meeting after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the budget situation "a mess" and urged the president to present a fresh proposal.


"I told the president I would be happy to look at whatever he proposes, but the truth is we're coming up against a hard deadline here, and as I said, this is a conversation we should have had months ago," McConnell said of his phone call with Obama Wednesday night.


McConnell added, "Republicans aren't about to write a blank check for anything Senate Democrats put forward just because we find ourselves at the edge of the cliff."


"That having been said, we'll see what the president has to propose," the Republican Senate leader said.


But a senior White House official told ABC News, "There is no White House bill."


That statement, however, may have wiggle room. Earlier today White House spokesman Jay Carney said, "I don't have any meetings to announce," but a short time later, Friday's meeting was made public.


It's unclear if the two sides are playing a game of political chicken or whether the administration is braced for the fiscal cliff.


Earlier today, fiscal cliff, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid lashed out at Republicans in a scathing speech that targeted House Republicans and particularly Boehner.






Charles Dharapak/AP Photo













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Reid, D-Nev., spoke on the floor of the Senate as the president returned to Washington early from an Hawaiian vacation in what appears to be a dwindling hope for a deal.


The House of Representatives will meet for legislative business Sunday evening, leaving the door cracked open ever so slightly to the possibility of a last-minute agreement.


But on a conference call with Republican House members Thursday afternoon, Boehner kept to the Republican hard line that if the Senate wants a deal it should amend bills already passed by the House.


That was the exact opposite of what Reid said in the morning, that Republicans should accept a bill passed by Democratic led Senate.


Related: What the average American should know about capital gains and the fiscal cliff.


"We are here in Washington working while the members of the House of Representatives are out watching movies and watching their kids play soccer and basketball and doing all kinds of things. They should be here," Reid said. "I can't imagine their consciences."


House Republicans have balked at a White House deal to raise taxes on couples earning more than $250,000 and even rejected Boehner's proposal that would limit the tax increases to people earning more than $1 million.


"It's obvious what's going on," Reid said while referring to Boehner. "He's waiting until Jan. 3 to get reelected to speaker because he has so many people over there that won't follow what he wants. John Boehner seems to care more about keeping his speakership than keeping the nation on a firm financial footing."


Related: Starbucks enters fiscal cliff fray.


Reid said the House is "being operated with a dictatorship of the speaker" and suggested today that the Republicans should agree to accept the original Senate bill pass in July. Reid's comments, however, made it clear he did not expect that to happen.


"It looks like" the nation will go over the fiscal cliff in just five days, he declared.


"It's not too late for the speaker to take up the Senate-passed bill, but that time is even winding down," Reid said. "So I say to the speaker, take the escape hatch that we've left you. Put the economic fate of the nation ahead of your own fate as Speaker of the House."


Boehner's spokesman Michael Steel reacted to Reid's tirade in an email, writing, "Senator Reid should talk less and legislate more. The House has already passed legislation to avoid the entire fiscal cliff. Senate Democrats have not."


Boehner has said it is now up to the Senate to come up with a deal.


Obama, who landed in Washington late this morning, made a round of calls over the last 24 hours to Reid, Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.


Related: Obama pushes fiscal cliff resolution.






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Three gods: The hardest logic puzzle ever


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Tokyo's Nikkei 225 hits 21-month high






TOKYO: Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei 225 index on Thursday closed at its highest level since the quake-tsunami disaster in March last year, a day after Japan's new conservative government took power.

The Nikkei added 0.91 percent, or 92.62 points, to 10,322.98 by the close, finishing above 10,254.43, its level on March 11, 2011 when a massive temblor hit Japan, sparking a tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis.

The broader Topix index of all first-section shares was up 0.75 percent, or 6.38 points, at 854.09.

"Some say the market is now overbought, but the trend is your friend, and few are willing to risk going short at the moment," said an equity trading director at a foreign brokerage.

"Japan is now right in the middle of the radar for foreign portfolio managers."

In forex trade, the US dollar rose to its highest level in more than two years against the yen as Shinzo Abe was sworn in as prime minister.

Abe -- whose Liberal Democratic Party won a landslide election victory this month -- has repeatedly said he would pressure the Bank of Japan for more easing measures, comments that have helped bring down the value of the yen.

- AFP/al



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Space Pictures This Week: Green Lantern, Supersonic Star









































































































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