CERN becomes first pure physics voice in UN chorus

Lisa Grossman, physical sciences reporter


(Image: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)

If CERN observes the proceedings of the United Nations, will it change the outcome?

The international particle physics laboratory, based near Geneva, Switzerland, has been granted observer status in the General Assembly of the United Nations, CERN officials announced today. 

The lab joins environmental groups and public health agencies as the first physical sciences research organization in the ranks of UN observers. Observer status grants the right to speak at meetings, participate in procedural votes, and sign and sponsor resolutions, but not to vote on resolutions.

In some ways, CERN's addition seems a natural move - and a long time coming.

The facility was founded in 1954 under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Its initial mission was to provide collaborative projects for researchers from Allied countries and former Axis countries after the second World War.

Arguably the lab's most high-profile project, the Large Hadron Collider, made headlines worldwide this year when it revealed detection of a new particle that appears to be the elusive Higgs boson.

"Through its projects, which bring together scientists from all over the world, CERN also promotes dialogue between nations and has become a model for international cooperation," CERN states in a press release. The lab says it may use its new status with the UN to help shore up scientific education and technological capabilities in developing countries, particularly in Africa.

But just as observing a quantum particle can change its state, can CERN's involvement truly collapse the UN's wavefunction and trigger better global science and technology policies? Only time will tell.

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Philippine police shoot dead Malaysian carrying bomb

MANILA: A man with alleged ties to Islamic militants was shot dead in the Philippines after he threatened to set off a backpack bomb in a stand-off with local police, an official said Saturday.

A suspect identified by police as Mohammad Noor Fikrie of Malaysia was killed in the southern city of Davao after he threatened to blow up an explosive device in a rucksack, city police chief Ronald de la Rosa said.

"'If you arrest or shoot me I have a bomb. I will explode it,'" de la Rosa quoted the suspect as telling police at the lobby of a hotel during a three-and-a-half-hour stand-off.

The authorities had raided the hotel after a tip-off that one of its guests was planning a "terror" attack in the city of 1.4 million people, de la Rosa said, without elaborating on the source of the information.

He said the Malaysian was a suspected member of Jemaah Islamiyah, an Islamic militant group blamed for attacks in Southeast Asia including the Bali bombing in Indonesia in 2002 that claimed 202 lives.

"Take-down orders were given to SWAT snipers but (it) could not be implemented since the area was overcrowded," de la Rosa told reporters by telephone.

While in the hotel lobby the suspect brandished a mobile phone, which, he said was the trigger for the explosives contained in the backpack that was being carried by his Filipina wife, de la Rosa said.

The man later took the rucksack from the woman and ran out of the hotel and into a nearby park, where he was shot and killed by police snipers, the police official added.

De la Rosa said police arrested the woman, Anabelle Nieva Lee, and disarmed an "improvised explosive device" that included a mortar shell retrieved from the backpack.

The authorities are investigating the woman's possible involvement with Jemaah Islamiyah, de la Rosa said, adding police believe she had converted to Islam when she married the Malaysian.

Philippine authorities said a small number of Jemaah Islamiyah militants have taken refuge with Filipino Muslim militants operating on the southern island of Mindanao.

- AFP/ck

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Obama: 'We've been through this too many times'

A man killed his mother at their home and then opened fire Friday inside an elementary school, massacring 26 people, including 20 children, as youngsters cowered in fear to the sound of gunshots reverberating through the building and screams echoing over the intercom.

The 20-year-old killer, carrying at least two handguns, committed suicide at the school, bringing the death toll to 28, authorities said.

The rampage, coming less than two weeks before Christmas, was the nation's second-deadliest school shooting, exceeded only by the Virginia Tech massacre that claimed 33 lives in 2007.

"Our hearts are broken today," a tearful President Barack Obama, struggling to maintain his composure, said at the White House. He called for "meaningful action" to prevent such shootings, saying, "As a country, we have been through this too many times."

Police shed no light on the motive for the attack. The gunman, Adam Lanza, was believed to suffer from a personality disorder and lived with his mother, said a law enforcement official who was briefed on the investigation but was not authorized to discuss it.

Panicked parents looking for their children raced to Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, a prosperous New England community of about 27,000 people 60 miles northeast of New York City. Police told youngsters at the kindergarten-through-fourth-grade school to close their eyes as they were led from the building so that they wouldn't see the blood and broken glass.

Schoolchildren -- some crying, others looking frightened -- were escorted through a parking lot in a line, hands on each other's shoulders.

Law enforcement officials speaking on condition of anonymity said Lanza shot his mother, Nancy Lanza, then drove to the school in her car with at least three guns, including a high-powered rifle that he apparently left in the back of the vehicle, and shot up two classrooms around 9:30 a.m.

A custodian ran through the halls, warning of a gunman on the loose, and someone switched on the intercom, alerting people in the building to the attack -- and perhaps saving many lives -- by letting them hear the hysteria going on in the school office, a teacher said. Teachers locked their doors and ordered children to huddle in a corner or hide in closets as shots echoed through the building.

Authorities gave no details on exactly how the attack unfolded, but police radio traffic indicated the shooting lasted only a few minutes. State police Lt. Paul Vance said officers arrived instantaneously, immediately entered the school, searched it completely and found Lanza dead.

In addition to the 20 children, six adults were killed at the school; the principal was believed to be among the dead. A woman who worked at Sandy Hook Elementary was wounded.

A law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity said investigators believe Lanza attended the school several years ago but appeared to have no recent connection to the place.

At least one parent said Lanza's mother was a substitute teacher there. But her name did not appear on a staff list. And the law enforcement official said investigators were unable to establish any connection so far between her and the school.

Lanza's older brother, 24-year-old Ryan, of Hoboken, N.J., was being questioned, but a law enforcement official said he was not believed to have had a role in the rampage. Investigators were searching his computers and phone records, but he told law enforcement he had not been in touch with his brother since about 2010.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the unfolding investigation.

At one point, a law enforcement official mistakenly identified the gunman as Ryan Lanza. Brett Wilshe, a friend of Ryan Lanza's, said Lanza told him the gunman may have had his identification. Ryan Lanza apparently posted Facebook page updates Friday afternoon that read, "It wasn't me" and "I was at work."

Robert Licata said his 6-year-old son was in class when the gunman burst in and shot the teacher. "That's when my son grabbed a bunch of his friends and ran out the door," he said. "He was very brave. He waited for his friends."

He said the shooter didn't utter a word.

Stephen Delgiadice said his 8-year-old daughter heard two big bangs. Teachers told her to get in a corner, he said. "It's alarming, especially in Newtown, Connecticut, which we always thought was the safest place in America," he said. His daughter was uninjured.

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Space Pictures This Week: Frosty Mars, Mini Nile, More

Photograph by Mike Theiss, National Geographic

The aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, illuminates the Arctic sky in a recent picture by National Geographic photographer Mike Theiss.

A storm chaser by trade, Theiss is in the Arctic Circle on an expedition to photograph auroras, which result from collisions between charged particles released from the sun's atmosphere and gaseous particles in Earth's atmosphere.

After one particularly amazing show, he wrote on YouTube, "The lights were dancing, rolling, and twisting, and at times looked like they were close enough to touch!" (Watch his time-lapse video of the northern lights.)

Published December 14, 2012

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Conn. Shooter Adam Lanza: 'Obviously Not Well'

Adam Lanza of Newtown, Connecticut was a child of the suburbs and a child of divorce who at age 20 still lived with his mother.

This morning he appears to have started his day by shooting his mother Nancy in the face, and then drove her car to nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School, armed with two handguns and a semi-automatic rifle.

There, before turning his gun on himself, he shot and killed 20 children, who President Obama later described as "beautiful little kids" between five and 10 years of age. Six adults were also killed at the school. Nancy Lanza was found dead in her home.

A relative told ABC News that Adam was "obviously not well."

Family friends in Newtown also described the young man as troubled and described Nancy as rigid. "[Adam] was not connected with the other kids," said Barbara Frey, who also said he was "a little bit different ... Kind of repressed."

State and federal authorities believe his mother may have once worked at the elementary school where Adam went on his deadly rampage, although she was not a teacher, according to relatives, perhaps a volunteer.

Nancy and her husband Peter, Adam's father, divorced in 2009. When they first filed for divorce in 2008, a judge ordered that they participate in a "parenting education program."

Peter Lanza, who drove to northern New Jersey to talk to police and the FBI, is a vice president at GE Capital and had been a partner at global accounting giant Ernst & Young.

Adam's older brother Ryan Lanza, 24, has worked at Ernst & Young for four years, apparently following in his father's footsteps and carving out a solid niche in the tax practice. He too was interviewed by the FBI. Neither he nor his father is under any suspicion.

Tragedy at the Elementary School: What Happened in Newtown, Conn. Watch Video

Newtown, Connecticut Shooting: 27 Killed, Gunman Dead Watch Video

"[Ryan] is a tax guy and he is clean as a whistle," a source familiar with his work said.

Police had initially identified Ryan as the killer. Ryan sent out a series of Facebook posts saying it wasn't him and that he was at work all day. Video records as well as card swipes at Ernst & Young verified his statement that he had been at the office.

Two federal sources told ABC News that identification belonging to Ryan Lanza was found at the scene of the mass shooting. They say that identification may have led to the confusion by authorities during the first hours after the shooting. Neither Adam nor Ryan has any known criminal history.

A Sig Sauer handgun and a Glock handgun were used in the slaying and .223 shell casings – a round used in a semi-automatic military-style rifle -- were also found at the scene. Nancy Lanza had numerous weapons registered to her, including a Glock and a Sig Sauer. She also owned a Bushmaster rifle -- a semi-automatic carbine chambered for a .223 caliber round. However, federal authorities cannot confirm that the handguns or the rifle were the weapons recovered at the school.

Numerous relatives of the Lanzas in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, as well as multiple friends, are being interviewed by the FBI in an effort to put together a better picture of the gunman and any explanation for today's tragedy.

"I think the most important thing to point out with this kind of individual is that he did not snap this morning and decide to act out violently," said former FBI profiler Mary Ellen O'Toole. "These acts involve planning and thoughtfulness and strategizing in order to put the plan together so what may appear to be snap behavior is not that at all."

With reporting by Pierre Thomas, Jim Avila, Santina Leuci, Aaron Katersky, Matthew Mosk, Jason Ryan and Jay Shaylor

MORE: 27 Dead, Mostly Children, at Connecticut Elementary School Shooting

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Today on New Scientist: 13 December 2012

Violent beauty at the end of an Alaskan glacier

You can almost hear the crash of ice on water in this stunning image of an ice sheet calving off the Chenega glacier in Alaska

Overeating now bigger global problem than lack of food

The most comprehensive disease report ever produced confirms that, for the first time, there is a larger health problem from people eating too much than too little

In search of the world's oldest cave etching

Strange markings on the walls of a cave in Australia's vast Nullarbor Plain could have been a tactile code for ancient Aboriginal flint miners

Higgs boson having an identity crisis

Six months on from its announcement, the mass and decay rates of the particle thought to be the Higgs boson are proving hard to pin down

Go forth and print: 3D objects you can print yourself

We pick our favourite objects to 3D-print, including a mathematical cookie cutter, a wormhole and a New Scientist holiday tree ornament inspired by fractals

Laser drills could relight geothermal energy dreams

High-powered lasers that can drill through igneous rocks may make reaching oil and geothermal sources much easier

Robots should be cleaning your home

Tech investor Dmitri Grishin explains why the time is right for sleek, versatile robots that will be our everyday helpers rather than factory equipment

Welcome to the personal drone revolution

Sophisticated, affordable drones could soon be so commonplace that they will become our personal servants, says Michael Brooks

Finding dangerous asteroids, before they find us

Near-Earth Objects: Finding them before they find us by Donald Yeomans is a fascinating tour guide of the asteroids we should worry about

World's loneliest bug turns up in Death Valley

A microbe that survives deep below Earth's surface without the sun's energy has reappeared, in California

Search for aliens poses game theory dilemma

The complex question of whether to risk contact with ET may be navigable with a new spin on the "prisoner's dilemma"

'Robot ecosystem' in sight as apps get a cash boost

The first company dedicated to investing in consumer robotics stakes $250,000 on robot apps

First results from James Cameron's trip to the abyss

It's not Pandora, but the Mariana trench holds life just as strange as that in James Cameron's film Avatar

UK government urged to consider relaxing drug rules

A parliamentary report calls for a fresh programme of research to monitor the effects of European drug legalisation

Read More..

Retail sales dip 1% on-year in Oct

SINGAPORE: Retail sales in Singapore dipped one per cent on-year in October as a result of lower sales of motor vehicles, according to the Department of Statistics (DOS).

Excluding motor vehicles, DOS said retail sales rose 1.3 per cent on-year.

Compared to the previous year, retail sales of motor vehicles decreased 8.5 per cent in October 2012.

Sales of optical goods and books, watches and jewellery, recreational goods and furniture and household equipment all declined in October at between 0.7 per cent and 2.9 per cent.

In contrast, sales of telecommunications products and computers recorded an 8.0 per cent increase on-year in October.

Meanwhile, retail sales of medical goods and toiletries, supermarkets, petrol service stations, wearing apparel and footwear and provision and sundry shops also increased by between 1.2 per cent and 6.6 per cent in October over the same period last year.

In the food and beverage services segment, retail sales rose 3.1 per cent in October 2012 compared to October 2011.

On a month-on-month basis, DOS said retail sales increased 0.6 per cent in October 2012.

- CNA/xq

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Alvarez fires back at '60 Minutes'

After days of scathing reviews of her "60 Minutes" interview on false confessions, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez fired off a letter to the venerable news program calling its Sunday report "one-sided and extremely misleading" and vowing to set the record straight.

The segment titled "Chicago: The False Confession Capital" featured two infamous Chicago-area cases in which teenage boys allegedly confessed to brutal murders but were later exonerated when DNA excluded them as the killers.

In her letter, addressed to CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager, Alvarez called the story "an offensive display" and accused reporter Byron Pitts of using only snippets of a 6-month-old interview to distort her record and make it appear she was still trying to prosecute the cases.

"Had I known that this story would completely distort my position and intentionally omit critical facts, I would never have agreed to your interview," Alvarez wrote.

One particularly damaging portion of the interview involved the Dixmoor Five case in which five men were convicted as teens of the 1991 rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl whose body was found on a path. DNA linked a serial rapist to the crime and undermined confessions from the teens. They were cleared in 2011 after spending years in prison.

Alvarez explained in the interview that one possible explanation for the DNA was necrophilia — that the rapist had sex with the girl after she'd already been killed.

That answer — which was roundly mocked in blogs and news critiques — was misconstrued, Alvarez said in the letter. She wrote that the necrophilia theory was used at trial years before she had any involvement in the case.

"I have never advanced that theory or argument, but simply responded, when asked by Mr. Pitts, that we can't say with certainty what had occurred," Alvarez wrote. "This story was not designed to inform, it was designed to undermine me and mislead the public."

Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for Alvarez, said the reaction to the piece has been vitriolic. "She's gotten hate mail, things you couldn't even publish," Daly said.

CBS News representatives did not return phone calls seeking comment.

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Global Checkup: Most People Living Longer, But Sicker

If the world's entire population went in for a collective checkup, would the doctor's prognosis be good or bad? Both, according to new studies published in The Lancet medical journal.

The vast collaborative effort, called the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2010, includes papers by nearly 500 authors in 50 countries. Spanning four decades of data, it represents the most comprehensive analysis ever undertaken of health problems around the world.

It reveals that, globally, we're living longer but coping with more illness as adults. In 1990, "childhood underweight"—a condition associated with malnutrition, measles, malaria, and other infectious diseases—was the world's biggest health problem. Now the top causes of global disease are adult ailments: high blood pressure (associated with 9.4 million deaths in 2010), tobacco smoking (6.2 million), and alcohol use (4.9 million).

First, the good news:

We're living longer. Average life expectancy has risen globally since 1970 and has increased in all but eight of the world's countries within the past decade.

Both men and women are gaining years. From 1970 to 2010, the average lifespan rose from 56.4 years to 67.5 years for men, and from 61.2 years to 73.3 years for women.

Efforts to combat childhood diseases and malnutrition have been very successful. Deaths in children under five years old declined almost 60 percent in the past four decades.

Developing countries have made huge strides in public health. In the Maldives, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Iran, and Peru, life expectancy has increased by more than 20 years since 1970. Within the past two decades, gains of 12 to 15 years have occurred in Angola, Ethiopia, Niger, and Rwanda, an indication of successful strategies for curbing HIV, malaria, and nutritional deficiencies.

We're beating many communicable diseases. Thanks to improvements in sanitation and vaccination, the death rate for diarrheal diseases, lower respiratory infections, meningitis, and other common infectious diseases has dropped by 42 percent since 1990.

And the bad:

Non-infectious diseases are on the rise, accounting for two of every three deaths globally in 2010. Heart disease and stroke are the primary culprits.

Young adults aren't doing as well as others. Deaths in the 15 to 49 age bracket have increased globally in the past 20 years. The reasons vary by region, but diabetes, smoking, alcohol, HIV/AIDS, and malaria all play a role.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic is taking a toll in sub-Saharan Africa. Life expectancy has declined overall by one to seven years in Zimbabwe and Lesotho, and young adult deaths have surged by more than 500 percent since 1970 in South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

We drink too much. Alcohol overconsumption is a growing problem in the developed world, especially in Eastern Europe, where it accounts for almost a quarter of the total disease burden. Worldwide, it has become the top risk factor for people ages 15 to 49.

We eat too much, and not the right things. Deaths attributable to obesity are on the rise, with 3.4 million in 2010 compared to 2 million in 1990. Similarly, deaths attributable to dietary risk factors and physical inactivity have increased by 50 percent (4 million) in the past 20 years. Overall, we're consuming too much sodium, trans fat, processed meat, and sugar-sweetened beverages, and not enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fiber, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Smoking is a lingering problem. Tobacco smoking, including second-hand smoke, is still the top risk factor for disease in North America and Western Europe, just as it was in 1990. Globally, it's risen in rank from the third to second leading cause of disease.

To find out more and see related charts and graphics, see the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which led the collaboration.

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Health-Exchange Deadline Looms

All of the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," doesn't go into effect until 2014, but states are required to set up their own health care exchanges or leave it to the federal government to step in by next year. The deadline for the governors' decisions is Friday.

The health insurance exchanges are one of the key stipulations of the new health care law. They will offer consumers an Internet-based marketplace for purchasing private health insurance plans.

But the president's signature health care plan has become so fraught with politics that whether governors agreed to set up the exchanges has fallen mostly along party lines.

Such partisanship is largely symbolic because if a state opts not to set up the exchange, the Department of Health and Human Services will do it for them as part of the federal program. That would not likely be well-received by Republican governors, either, but the law forces each state's chief executive to make a decision one way or the other.

Here's what it looks like in all 50 states and the District of Columbia:

20 states that have opted out -- N.J., S.C., La., Wis., Ohio, Maine, Ala., Alaska, Ariz., Ga., Pa., Kan., Neb., N.H., N.D., Okla., S.D., Tenn., Texas and Wyo.

Charles Dharapak/AP Photo

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Several Republican governors have said they will not set up the exchanges, including Chris Christie (N.J.), Nikki Haley (S.C.), Bobby Jindal (La.), Scott Walker (Wis.), John Kasich (Ohio), Paul LePage (Maine), Robert Bentley (Ala.), Sean Parnell (Ark.), Jan Brewer (Ariz.), Nathan Deal (Ga.), Tom Corbett (Pa.), Sam Brownback (Kan.), Dave Heineman (Neb.), John Lynch (N.H.), Jack Dalrymple (N.D.), Mary Fallin (Okla.), Dennis Daugaard (S.D.), Bill Haslam (Tenn.), Rick Perry (Texas), and Matt Mead (Wyo.).

3 States Out, but a Little More Complicated -- Mont., Ind. and Mo.

The Montana outgoing and incoming governors are both Democrats, but the Republican state legislature rejected the Democratic state auditor's request to start setting up a state exchange. So a federal exchange will be set up in Montana as well.

The Indiana outgoing and incoming governors are both Republicans and outgoing Gov. Mitch Daniels deferred the decision to governor-elect and U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, who said his preference is not to set up a state health care exchange, paving the way for the feds to come in too.

In Missouri, Gov. Jay Nixon is a Democrat, but Prop E passed on Nov. 6, which barred his administration from creating a state-based exchange without a public vote or the approval of the state legislature. After the election, he sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services saying he would be unable to set up a state-based exchange, meaning the federal government would have to set up its own.

1 State Waiting for the White House -- Utah

Utah already has a state exchange set up, a Web-based tool where small-business employees can shop and compare health insurance with contributions from their employee. In a letter Republican Gov. Gary Herbert sent to the White House Tuesday, he asked for its exchange, called Avenue H, to be approved as a state-based exchange under the Affordable Care Act as long as state officials can open it to individuals and larger businesses.

Norm Thurston, the state's health reform implementation coordinator, says authorities there "haven't received an official response" from the White House, but "we anticipate getting one soon."

There are some sticking points that don't comply with the exchanges envisioned by the Affordable Care Act and Utah would like to keep it that way.

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First results from James Cameron's trip to the abyss

IT'S not Pandora, but the Mariana trench holds life just as strange as that in James Cameron's film Avatar. And most is unknown to us, despite the film-maker's 11-kilometre descent into Earth's deepest point in a titanium sphere.

Cameron and scientists on the team presented early findings at the American Geophysical Union's meeting in San Francisco last week. They told of microbial mats growing at the edge of hydrothermal vents on rocks that appeared to be undergoing serpentinisation - where seawater reacts with the mineral olivine to release hydrogen and methane: food for the microbes. The first life on Earth may have appeared at a similar vent, as serpentinisation provides all the raw materials necessary for metabolism.

Cameron urged further trips into unexplored ocean trenches: "Saying I made any dent would be like dropping out of an airplane at night onto a wheat field in Nebraska, walking for 2 kilometres, and saying I explored America."

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S. Korea seeks to recover N. Korea rocket debris

SEOUL: South Korea's navy has launched a salvage operation in the Yellow Sea to retrieve debris from North Korea's long-range rocket launch, military officials said Thursday.

The first stage of the North's Unha-3 rocket launched on Wednesday fell in the sea off the Korean peninsula, while the second splashed down east of the Philippines.

"Our navy discovered what appeared to be a part from the first stage of North Korea's rocket in the Yellow Sea Wednesday afternoon," a defence ministry spokesman told AFP.

"A salvage operation is now under way to retrieve it," he said, declining to give details.

The chunk of the debris was found on the sea bed, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) west of the southwestern port of Gunsan, Yonhap news agency said, at a depth of around 80 meters (260 feet).

Before its last rocket launch attempt in April -- which ended in failure -- North Korea had warned both Japan and South Korea that any effort to salvage debris from the rocket would be considered an "act of war".

The warning was not repeated before Wednesday's launch.

Pyongyang said its latest launch was a purely scientific mission aimed at placing a polar-orbiting earth observation satellite in space.

Most of the world saw it as a disguised ballistic missile test that violates UN resolutions imposed after the North's nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

The UN Security Council has condemned the launch and warned of possible measures over what the US called a "highly provocative" act.

- AFP/ck

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Quinn, Emanuel assail court's concealed carry decision

Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday indicated he would like to see assault weapons banned in Illinois as lawmakers this spring revise state law to allow some form of concealed carry to comply with a court ruling that tossed aside a long-standing ban on allowing people to carry weapons.

Meanwhile, at City Hall, Mayor Rahm Emanuel blasted Tuesday's federal appellate court decision as "wrongheaded" as he offered legal help to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan as she weighs an appeal.

Judges gave the General Assembly six months to make changes, and the Democratic governor suggested the new rules will have to restrict who can get a permit to carry a gun.

"We have to have reasonable limitations so people who have clear situations where they should not be carrying a gun, for example, those with mental health challenges, those who have records of domestic violence, we cannot have those sorts of people eligible to carry weapons, loaded weapons, on their person in public places" Quinn said.

National Rifle Association lobbyist Todd Vandermyde said the governor is "being very pragmatic in his approach" on concealed carry. Though Vandermyde expected gun rights groups to hold firm on a variety of points, he said his group wanted to "work for a reasonable solution and policy on right to carry."

Quinn also pressed for an assault weapons ban, saying Illinois residents "overwhelmingly support that."

"I want to say today, and I'll say every day, we need to ban assault weapons in our state of Illinois. We aren't going to have people marching along Michigan Avenue, or any other avenue in the state of Illinois, with military-style assault weapons, weapons that are designed to kill people."

An assault weapons ban has been elusive in Springfield because of geographical differences of opinion. Opponents point to the fact that Chicago had a gun ban for decades, even as criminals obtained guns and shot people.

For his part, Emanuel noted his efforts while working for former President Bill Clinton to require background checks for gun buyers and ban semi-automatic assault weapons.

"We fought against the National Rifle Association. They had not been beaten in 30 years in the United States Congress, and we beat 'em," Emanuel said.

"I think this opinion by the 7th Circuit Court is also wrongheaded," he added.

Emanuel said he has offered to make city Law and Police department resources available to the Illinois attorney general. Meanwhile, the city is reviewing its gun registration ordinance to see if it needs modification in light of the court ruling.

Tribune reporter Ray Long contributed.

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Hubble Discovers Oldest Known Galaxy

The Hubble space telescope has discovered seven primitive galaxies formed in the earliest days of the cosmos, including one believed to be the oldest ever detected.

The discovery, announced Wednesday, is part of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field campaign to determine how and when galaxies first assembled following the Big Bang.

"This 'cosmic dawn' was not a single, dramatic event," said astrophysicist Richard Ellis with the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Rather, galaxies appear to have been formed over hundreds of millions of years.

Ellis led a team that used Hubble to look at one small section of the sky for a hundred hours. The grainy images of faint galaxies include one researchers determined to be from a period 380 million years after the onset of the universe—the closest in time to the Big Bang ever observed.

The cosmos is about 13.7 billion years old, so the newly discovered galaxy was present when the universe was 4 percent of its current age. The other six galaxies were sending out light from between 380 million and 600 million years after the Big Bang. (See pictures of "Hubble's Top Ten Discoveries.")

Baby Pictures

The images are "like the first ultrasounds of [an] infant," said Abraham Loeb, a specialist in the early cosmos at Harvard University. "These are the building blocks of the galaxies we now have."

These early galaxies were a thousand times denser than galaxies are now and were much closer together as well, Ellis said. But they were also less luminous than later galaxies.

The team used a set of four filters to analyze the near infrared wavelengths captured by Hubble Wide Field Camera 3, and estimated the galaxies' distances from Earth by studying their colors. At a NASA teleconference, team members said they had pushed Hubble's detection capabilities about as far as they could go and would most likely not be able to identify galaxies from further back in time until the James Webb Space Telescope launches toward the end of the decade. (Learn about the Hubble telescope.)

"Although we may have reached back as far as Hubble will see, Hubble has set the stage for Webb," said team member Anton Koekemoer of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. "Our work indicates there is a rich field of even earlier galaxies that Webb will be able to study."

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N. Korean Missile Hits Target of Alarming the World

North Korea's successful launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile hit its target: it bolstered the standing of its young tyrant Kim Jong Un and raised the specter of being able to eventually strike the U.S. with a nuclear weapon.

The pride in the success of the launch -- after several failures -- is a huge boost for Kim Jong Un, 29, who took power one year ago. He has been trying to cement his authority and win the hearts of the people with soft social and economic reforms, like allowing women to wear pants or more small businesses to operate based on profit.

But the rocket launch was on a different scale. A North Korean female announcer in a pink and dark grey national costume excitedly read an announcement of the missile's success and national TV aired interviews with people jumping and cheering on the news.

There had been reservations within and outside of North Korea when Kim Jong Un took power after his father's death on Dec. 17 last year as to whether the young Kim could lead a nuclear state. Looking determined at his first official appearance earlier this year, he had pledged to fulfill the legacy of his father Kim Jong Il to become a "self-sufficient strong nation" with space rocket technology.

The missile is believed to have a range of 6,212 miles, enough distance to reach the west coast of the United States. Its existence, along with a small North Korean nuclear arsenal, is an alarming possibility for many.

PHOTOS: An Inside Look At North Korea

North Korea, however, says it was simply putting a satellite in orbit.

"Picking on our launch (and not others) accusing that ours is a long-range missile and a provocative act causing instability comes from seeing us from a hostile point of view," said North Korea's foreign ministry in an official statement. "We do not want this to be overblown into something that none of us intended to be and hope all related nations act with reason and calmness."

But North Korean denials carry little credibility.

This evidence that North Korea has mastered the long-range missile technology does not mean there will be an imminent nuclear threat.

"They haven't figured out how to weaponize a nuclear (bomb) that will fit in a missile, nor do they have accurate guidance at long ranges," said Stephen Ganyard, ABC News consultant and former deputy assistant secretary of state.

Another crucial technology North Korea is yet to achieve is a proper heat shielding required to protect the warhead while re-entering the earth's atmosphere.

"This is a big leap for Pyongyang. They have been a threat with potential capability. But now a new era begins as a threat with possible capability," said Hwee-Rhak Park, professor of political leadership at Kookmin University in Seoul.

There was obvious alarm, however, as the international community condemned the launch, as North Korea is banned from developing nuclear and missile-related technology under U.N. resolutions.

South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak convened an emergency national security meeting. Japan's envoy to the United Nations called for consultations on the launch within the U.N. Security Council. Russian Foreign Ministry said it "has caused us deep regret," and even China "expressed regret," a significant notch up in condemnation from previous statements on North Korea, its traditional ally.

That international attention, analysts in Seoul say, is exactly what North Korea wanted.

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Today on New Scientist: 11 December 2012

Out-of-season's greetings from the Arctic frost flowers

Season's regards from an icy meadow in the Arctic, but it's no winter wonderland and please don't dash out into it

How hacking a mosquito's heart could eradicate malaria

Watch how a double-pronged trick helps mosquitoes remain healthy while carrying disease, a process that could be exploited to eliminate malaria

New drug lifts hard-to-treat depression in hours

A new class of drugs that changes the way neurons interact in the brain can rapidly lift people out of depression

E. O. Wilson and poet laureate on altruism and mystery

Leading evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson and former US poet laureate Robert Hass discuss free will, wilderness and the mysterious origin of the arts

Souped-up immune cells force leukaemia into remission

Genetically engineered white blood cells have been shown to have a strong impact on leukaemia after just three months

War of words: The language paradox explained

If language evolved for communication, how come most people can't understand what most other people are saying?

AC/DC's Highway to Hell sent via a drone's laser beam

A dose of rock music proves that a drone's reconnaisance data can be sent via reflected laser beam instead of radio

'Biology is a manufacturing capability'

Soon we'll be able to engineer living things with mechanical precision, says Tom Knight, father of synthetic biology

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New Yorkers live longer than other Americans: mayor

NEW YORK: New Yorkers are living longer than Americans overall, and the margin is increasing, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday as he praised his administration's health policies.

A New Yorker born in 2010 has a life expectancy of 80.9 years, 2.2 years longer than the national life expectancy of 78.7 years at the time.

Since 2001, New Yorkers' life expectancy has increased by three years, against 1.8 years at the national level, according to data released by Bloomberg and the city's health department.

Women in New York are now expected to live 83.3 years and men are expected to live 78.1 years.

Bloomberg has aggressively pushed for sweeping public health policies. In 2003, he banned smoking in bars, restaurants and places of work, a measure widely reproduced elsewhere.

He again stirred controversy this year by announcing a limited ban on super-sized soda drinks he blamed for a national obesity crisis.

"Not only are New Yorkers living longer, but our improvements continue to outpace the gains in the rest of the nation," Bloomberg said.

"Our willingness to invest in health care and bold interventions is paying off in improved health outcomes, decreased infant mortality and increased life expectancy."

- AFP/ck

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Cardinal George: Doctors 'couldn't find any evidence of cancer'

Medical tests have shown that Chicago's Cardinal Francis George appears to be free of cancer, he said in a wide-ranging interview, though doctors have advised the Roman Catholic archbishop to skip two Christmas Day traditions dear to him.

Because months of treatment have taken a toll on his immune system, George will miss celebrating Mass with inmates at the Cook County Jail and visiting Lurie Children's Hospital to comfort young patients who can't be home on Christmas Day. Instead he will celebrate midnight Mass at Holy Name Cathedral downtown, followed by a quiet day at home with family.

“The first tests they did halfway through were quite successful,” George, 75, said during an interview this week at his residence. He has been undergoing chemotherapy since September, shortly after doctors discovered cancerous cells on his liver and a kidney. He expects to be finished with chemotherapy in early January.

“They were quite surprised. It looked good,” he said. “But then they always say there are always things we can't see. But otherwise, they were very encouraged that they couldn't find any evidence of cancer where they found it before.”

With rosy cheeks and a broad smile, George, who battled bladder cancer six years ago, praised the steroids that doctors had prescribed to reduce inflammation during his treatment, joking that he now understands why athletes succumb to the temptation. But he also expressed disappointment that fatigue has kept him from composing a pastoral letter about the customs he believes bind Catholics together despite polarization in the pews about issues such as gay marriage.

“The important thing is to keep us together as much as we possibly can so that people aren't hurt and that we have a just society,” he said. “And not just a just society but a society that's loving in some fashion. … It's not as if we're falling apart, but the challenges keep shifting.”

`It's poison'

Though he has encountered extreme exhaustion and relied on steroids to help boost his strength, George said he has managed to escape many of the side effects commonly associated with chemotherapy.

“I have some bad days, but most days are pretty good,” he said. “It's poison. They tell you that `we're poisoning you.’ But it's controlled. A lot of people have gone through this. I hear from them.”

By eating a balanced diet of meat, cooked or peeled vegetables, antioxidants and peanut butter (his favorite comfort food), he has followed doctors' orders to put on weight. He also drinks asparagus juice three times a day, served by the Polish nuns who prepare his meals and insist on the gloppy green potion's healing powers.

“It can't harm me,” George said.

He's not sure he can say the same about one letter writer's recommendation to eat live Brazilian bugs -- a suggestion he appreciated but didn't try. He also expressed gratitude for the prayers and letters from the community and cancer patients who have shared stories and encouragement.

“I am truly grateful for people who have prayed for me. I'm really humbled by that,” George said. “People have written to me to share their own stories of chemotherapy. It's a big club. It makes it easier to know that a lot of people are facing difficulties certainly far worse than mine. … When you're in difficulty, people's kindness comes through.”

Though he prays the rosary daily, he said he has prayed it with greater fervor since his diagnosis in August. Every declaration of “Hail Mary,” which ends with “Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death,” has taken on new weight, he said. Since recovering from polio as a young boy, George has believed in the intercession of the Virgin Mary in his life.

“I say it with new meaning now, more slowly, with more emotion,” he said. “I have a potentially lethal disease, so that prayer takes on new meaning when I say it. There's a greater depth of feeling along with the prayer, proximity to God and therefore trust -- like a child trusting in his mother.”

“There's a moment in everybody's life that we're going to die,” George said. “That's part of God's providence, too. I'd at least like to prepare for that, so I can finish a few things.”

Life of church `more fragile'

George said he had hoped a lighter public schedule during his treatment would allow him to finish at least one personal project -- a pastoral letter about Catholic customs such as celebrating Mass on Sundays, fasting from meat on Fridays and performing other public devotions. The letter would be based on an ongoing conversation with the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council about struggles parishioners encounter when trying to embody their faith.

“The sense of our way of life as a set of customs is something we should think about because when we disagree about ideas or about rules, the customs keep you together,” he said. “If the customs aren't there any longer, then it becomes a very contentious place, which it often is now.”

The need for the letter has become more urgent in recent years, George said, as debates about gay marriage and contraception have become more heated and society has become more secularized, leading the faithful to make their religious practice a more private affair.

“What does it mean when you're no longer considered the glue that holds society together but rather a source of discord in society?” he said. “We have to rethink a lot of things. It's a different situation for us. But one response is saying this is how Christians live. This is our customary way of life. … I don't know that life is any more problematic or contentious than it has been for the last 50 years … but it certainly does seem the life of the church is more fragile.”

Twitter @TribSeeker

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Best Space Pictures of 2012: Editor's Picks

Photograph courtesy Tunç Tezel, APOY/Royal Observatory

This image of the Milky Way's vast star fields hanging over a valley of human-made light was recognized in the 2012 Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition run by the U.K.’s Royal Observatory Greenwich.

To get the shot, photographer Tunç Tezel trekked to Uludag National Park near his hometown of Bursa, Turkey. He intended to watch the moon and evening planets, then take in the Perseids meteor shower.

"We live in a spiral arm of the Milky Way, so when we gaze through the thickness of our galaxy, we see it as a band of dense star fields encircling the sky," said Marek Kukula, the Royal Observatory's public astronomer and a contest judge.

Full story>>

Why We Love It

"I like the way this view of the Milky Way also shows us a compelling foreground landscape. It also hints at the astronomy problems caused by light pollution."—Chris Combs, news photo editor

Published December 11, 2012

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Gunman 'Tentatively' Identified in Oregon Shooting

A masked gunman who opened fire in the crowded Clackamas Town Center mall in suburban Portland, Ore., killing two individuals before killing himself, has been "tentatively" identified by police, though they have not yet released his name.

The shooter, wearing a white hockey mask, black clothing, and a bullet proof vest, tore through the mall around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, entering through a Macy's store and proceeding to the food court and public areas spraying bullets, according to witness reports.

Police have not released the names of the deceased. Clackamas County Sheriff's Department Lt. James Rhodes said authorities are in the process of notifying victims' families.

The injured victim has been transported to a local hospital, where she is "fighting for her life," according to Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts.

PHOTOS: Oregon Mall Shooting

Nadia Telguz, who said she was a friend of the injured victim, told ABC News affiliate KATU-TV in Portland that the woman was expected to recover.

"My friend's sister got shot," Teleguz told KATU. "She's on her way to (Oregon Health and Science University hospital). They're saying she got shot in her side and so it's not life-threatening, so she'll be OK."

Christopher Onstott/Pamplen Media Group/Portland Tribune

911 Calls From New Jersey Supermarket Shooting Watch Video

Witnesses from the shooting rampage said that a young man who appeared to be a teenager ran through the upper level of Macy's to the mall food court, firing multiple shots, one right after the other, with what is believed to be a black, semi-automatic rifle.

More than 10,000 shoppers were at the mall during the day, police said. Roberts said that officers responded to the scene of the shooting within minutes, and four SWAT teams swept the 1.4 million-square-foot building searching for the shooter. He was eventually found dead, an apparent suicide.

"I can confirm the shooter is dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound," Rhodes said. "By all accounts there were no rounds fired by law enforcement today in the mall."

Roberts said more than 100 law enforcement officers responded to the shooting, and at least four local agencies were working on the investigation, including the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which is working to trace the shooter's weapon.

READ: Guns in America: A Statistical Look

Roberts also said that shoppers, including two emergency room nurses and one physician who happened to be at the mall, provided medical assistance to victims who had been shot. Other shoppers helped escort individuals out of the mall and out of harm's way, he said.

"There were a huge amount of people running in different directions, and it was chaos for a lot of citizens, but true heroes were stepping up in this time of high stress," Roberts said. "E.R. nurses on the scene were providing medical care to those injured, a physician on the scene was helping provide care to the wounded."

Mall shopper Daniel Martinez told KATU that he had just sat down at a Jamba Juice inside the mall when he heard rapid gunfire. He turned and saw the masked gunman, dressed in all black, about 10 feet away from him.

"I just saw him (the gunman) and thought, 'I need to go somewhere,'" Martinez said. "It was so fast, and at that time, everyone was moving around."

Martinez said he ran to the nearest clothing store. As he ran, he motioned for another woman to follow; several others ran to the store as well, hiding in a fitting room. They stayed there for an hour and a half until SWAT teams told them it was safe to leave the mall.

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Doha summit launches climate damage aid

The latest summit to stop climate change, held in Doha, Qatar, over the past two weeks has been roundly slammed. Little was agreed to curb greenhouse gas emissions and the latest modelling, carried out by the Climate Action Tracker consortium shows global averages temperatures are still set to rise by at least 3 °C above pre-industrial levels.

There was one breakthrough: developing countries won a promise from developed ones that they would compensate them for losses and damage caused by climate change. The deal offers the promise of large amounts of climate aid. But first, science will have to catch up with politics.

All countries will suffer from climate change. There will be consequences even if humanity slashed its emissions and stopped temperatures rising more than 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, the stated goal of the UN negotiations. In actual fact, with emissions rising faster than ever, a 3 or 4 °C rise is likely this century.

The consequences will be manifold. Deserts will spread and lethal heatwaves become more frequent. Changes in rainfall will bring droughts, floods and storms, while rising seas will swamp low-lying areas, obliterating valuable territory. Food production will fall.

Before Doha kicked off, the charities ActionAid, CARE International and WWF released a report arguing that rich countries should compensate poor countries for such damages. Tackling the Limits to Adaptation points out that climate change will cost countries dearly, both economically and in less tangible ways such as the loss of indigenous cultures.

Two-pronged approach

So far, climate negotiations have taken a two-pronged approach to the problem. On the one hand, they have sought to create incentives or imperatives to cut emissions. On the other, they have established a pot of money for poor countries to pay for measures that will help them fend off the unavoidable consequences of climate change – such as sea walls and irrigation systems.

That, according to some, leaves a third element missing. Helping those who suffer the consequences of climate change is a moral obligation and must be part of any treaty on climate change, says Niklas Höhne of renewable energy consultancy Ecofys. The idea of climate compensation has been around since the early 1990s, when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was negotiated.

In Doha, a coalition including China, the Alliance of Small Island States and the G77 group of developing countries pushed for it to revived.

They proposed a scheme that would decide when countries had suffered climate harms, and compensate them. It would be a form of insurance, and the greatest international aid scheme ever. The idea gained momentum after Typhoon Bopha struck the Philippines last week, and that country's negotiator Naderev "Yeb" Saño broke down in tears during a speech. And, although developed nations had little incentive to agree, the conference concluded with a promise to set something up next year.

Compensation poses a fundamental challenge to climate science, which still struggles to work out if trends and events are caused by greenhouse gases or would have happened anyway. "We can't say that an individual event was caused by climate change," says Nigel Arnell of the University of Reading, UK. "What we can do is say that the chance of it happening was greater."

Systematic tests

Some climatologists are now running systematic tests to decide whether extreme weather events are caused by climate change. They run climate models with and without humanity's emissions. If the odds of a particular event are different, it suggests it was at least partially driven by emissions. By this measure, the 2003 European heatwave and 2011 Texas drought were both made more likely by human emissions.

But this science is in its infancy. We can confidently attribute large-scale trends and temperature changes, says Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. But changes in rainfall, and short-term events like hurricanes, are harder because we do not really understand them. Trenberth speculates that superstorm Sandy would not have flooded the New York subwaysMovie Camera without climate change, but says it's not possible to prove.

Arnell says that might prove unworkable. Gradual changes – such as rising sea levels, melting glaciers and ocean acidification – are easy to attribute to climate change but their consequences difficult to cost; sudden events are easy to cost but difficult to attribute.

There may be another possibility. Rather than examining individual events, climate models could predict the extra climate-related costs each country would experience, allowing regular payouts. "That would be a way round it," says Arnell. Delegates at next year's conference will have to consider these questions.

Positive step

Harjeet Singh of ActionAid in New Delhi, India, calls the Doha deal "a positive step forward". But it is only an agreement in principle: no money was committed, and even a promise to do so in the future was left out of the final text. Edward Davey, the UK's secretary of state for energy and climate change, said it was "far too early" to talk about committing money. "We aren't saying there should be compensation," he said.

Singh says the developed world would save money by cutting emissions now, rather than letting temperatures rise and then paying compensation. Small island states were keen to get an agreement on loss and damage because emissions cuts are going so slowly, making dangerous climate change almost certain. The Doha agreement is a first step towards dealing with the consequences of that failure.

On 'other business'

Aside from agreeing to make compensation available for loss and damage, the Doha summit achieved little. Nearly two decades ago, the world's governments set out to agree a binding deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Doha included some baby steps towards a deal in 2015, but that is not guaranteed and in any case will come too late to stop dangerous climate change. Only Lebanon and the Dominican Republic made new emissions pledges.

The talks were bogged down in rows over financing. In a deal that was separate to the adaptation fund, developed countries had promised in 2009 to deliver $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor nations prepare for climate change. Between 2009 and 2012 they allocated $10 billion a year. In Doha they refused to say how they would scale that up, simply promising to "continue" – leaving developing countries unsure if or when they would get more.

The Kyoto protocol was renewed until 2020, but its global effect is likely to be limited. Its value is partly symbolic, to show that binding agreements can be reached, and as one of many small and medium-scale projects to cut emissions.

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Number of fallen casement windows hits new high

SINGAPORE: The number of fallen windows has risen since 2010, with an average increase of eight to nine cases per year.

There were 50 cases in 2010, 58 cases in 2011 and 67 cases up till November this year.

A joint statement by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) and Housing and Development Board (HDB) said the increase is largely due to the number of fallen casement windows.

Thirty-seven of them fell from January to November this year, the highest number of incidents compared to the past six years. Most fell as a result of corroded aluminium rivets.

BCA and HDB said these owners would have contravened the Retrofitting Order under the Building Control Act for failing to replace all aluminium rivets with stainless steel rivets.

They can face a penalty of up to S$5,000 and or a jail term of up to six months.

In addition, if a window falls due to lack of maintenance, they could face up to a maximum fine of S$10,000 and or a jail term of up to one year under the Building Maintenance and Strata Management Act.

To date, 113 people have been fined and 35 people prosecuted for fallen casement windows and failing to comply with the Retrofitting Order.

Another 70 have been fined and two prosecuted for fallen sliding windows as a result of failing to maintain the windows.

BCA is also conducting blitz window inspections at HDB blocks and private estates that had previous cases of fallen casement windows.

Out of 100 units that BCA had inspected in Jurong and Jalan Rajah recently, 12 units had not retrofitted their casement windows with stainless steel rivets.

The owners of these units were subsequently issued composition fines.

BCA would like to remind homeowners to take windows safety seriously to prevent them from falling from height.

- CNA/ck

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Fare hikes, elimination of bus routes focus of CTA budget hearing

The second CTA fare hike in five years and a controversial plan that eliminates at least a dozen bus routes to free up money to add service on more crowded buses and trains were the focus of a public hearing Monday night on the CTA’s proposed 2013 budget.

The overwhelming majority of the 191 people who attended, amid tighter than usual security at CTA headquarters, wore yellow T-shirts calling on the CTA board to reverse its earlier decision to shorten the No. 11 Lincoln/Sedgwick bus route.

Pleas and demands to save the No. 11 bus route dominated the testimony. The  No. 11 route is being cut between Western and Fullerton avenues as part of a $16 million crowding-reduction plan that is slated to take effect Sunday.

Allan Mellis, a community activist in Lincoln Square, asked the CTA board to amend next year’s budget to find funds to restore the No. 11, which provides 5,800 rides on an average weekday, according to the CTA.

Ald. Ameya Pawar, whose 47th ward would lose a chunk of the No. 11 route, asked for time to work out a solution, including the possibility of using excess TIF funds from his ward. The CTA should not “fix a fiscal issue only to create a social problem” in terms of the toll the loss of No. 11 service would have on senior citizens and people living on fixed incomes, Pawar said.

The $1.39 billion CTA budget for next year erases a projected deficit by raising fares a total of $56 million and introducing $60 million in savings from labor unions and more than $50 million in management cuts and reforms, officials said.

But the price of one-day, three-day, seven-day and 30-day passes will increase effective Jan. 14 under the plan, while the full base fare will be frozen at $2.25 on the rail system and $2 on buses if transit cards are used to pay fares, or $2.25 for cash bus fares.

Reduced fares and passes for senior citizens and disabled people will also increase, and reduced fares for students will decline by 10 cents.

In addition, it will cost $5 instead of $2.25 to ride the Blue Line from O'Hare International Airport if a pass is not used.

No major service cuts or CTA employee layoffs will be needed to balance the budget, officials said.

CTA President Forrest Claypool said the changes in next year’s budget deliver fiscal stability to the agency’s operating budget and prevent the need for more fare increases over perhaps a decade.

The CTA, however, faces an estimated $15.9 billion backlog in major capital improvements to bring stations, tracks, viaducts and other infrastructure as well as buses and trains to a state of good repair over the next 10 years, according to a study commissioned by the Regional Transportation Authority.

A crowding-reduction initiative that is scheduled to begin Sunday  will cancel 12 bus routes and shorten two others. In addition, nine privately contracted CTA routes would be eliminated if subsidies provided by businesses aren't increased, officials said.

More service will be added to 48 bus routes and six of the eight rail lines with the goal of speeding travel times and making the ride more comfortable by reducing crowding by 10 percent to 15 percent during rush periods, according to the transit agency.

At Monday’s meeting, William Scott, a retired teacher who lives in Drexel Square, said other bus routes besides No. 11 suffer from serious problems too. He said it's difficult to find a seat on the No. 4 Cottage Grove bus.

Claypool responded that service will be added on the No. 4 under the de-crowding plan.
Neither Claypool nor CTA board Chairman Terry Peterson spoke about the possibility of altering the budget or the de-crowding plan.

Other people who testified complained about the CTA plan to more than double the fare, to $5, for trips beginning at O'Hare on the Blue Line.

Marge Demora, who works for United Airlines at the airport, said “it’s discrimination to single out O'Hare fares.” She said workers at restaurants and other jobs that pay minimum wages at the airport will be the hardest hit.

On buses that typically carry 70 passengers, the new target will be 45 to 55 passengers per bus, CTA officials said. Rail cars packed with 90 or more riders at maximum capacity are expected to have 70 to 75 passengers, officials said.

CTA officials said service will be increased on bus and rail routes used by 76 percent of the CTA’s total ridership.

But the bus service cuts, which the CTA board has already approved, have sparked vocal protests from some riders, particularly those who are rallying to save the No. 145 Wilson/Michigan Express and the No. 11 Lincoln/Sedgwick bus route, which is slated to stop operating between Western and Fullerton. CTA officials said the No. 11 service is redundant with the Brown Line between Fullerton and Western. A new route, the No. 37 Sedgwick, will be created.

Twitter @jhilkevitch

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U.K. Dash for Shale Gas a Test for Global Fracking

Thomas K. Grose in London

The starting gun has sounded for the United Kingdom's "dash for gas," as the media here have dubbed it.

As early as this week, a moratorium on shale gas production is expected to be lifted. And plans to streamline and speed the regulatory process through a new Office for Unconventional Gas and Oil were unveiled last week in the annual autumn budget statement by the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne.

In the U.K., where all underground mineral rights concerning fossil fuels belong to the crown, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, could unlock a new stream of government revenue as well as fuel. But it also means that there is no natural constituency of fracking supporters as there is in the United States, birthplace of the technology. In the U.S., concerns over land and water impact have held back fracking in some places, like New York, but production has advanced rapidly in shale basins from Texas to Pennsylvania, with support of private landowners who earn royalties from leasing to gas companies. (Related: "Natural Gas Stirs Hope and Fear in Pennsylvania")

A taste of the fight ahead in the U.K. came ahead of Osborne's speech last weekend, when several hundred protesters gathered outside of Parliament with a mock 23-foot (7-meter) drilling rig. In a letter they delivered to Prime Minister David Cameron, they called fracking "an unpredictable, unregulatable process" that was potentially toxic to the environment.

Giving shale gas a green light "would be a costly mistake," said Andy Atkins, executive director of the U.K.'s Friends of the Earth, in a statement. "People up and down the U.K. will be rightly alarmed about being guinea pigs in Osborne's fracking experiment. It's unnecessary, unwanted and unsafe."

The government has countered that natural gas-fired power plants would produce half the carbon dioxide emissions of the coal plants that still provide about 30 percent of the U.K.'s electricity. London Mayor Boris Johnson, viewed as a potential future prime minister, weighed in Monday with a blistering cry for Britain to "get fracking" to boost cleaner, cheaper energy and jobs. "In their mad denunciations of fracking, the Greens and the eco-warriors betray the mindset of people who cannot bear a piece of unadulterated good news," he wrote in the Daily Telegraph. (Related Quiz: "What You Don't Know About Natural Gas")

Energy Secretary Edward Davey, who is expected this week to lift the U.K.'s year-and-a-half-old moratorium on shale gas exploration, said gas "will ensure we can keep the lights on as increasing amounts of wind and nuclear come online through the 2020s."

A Big Role for Gas

If the fracking plan advances, it will not be the first "dash for gas" in the U.K. In the 1980s, while Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher battled with mining unions, she undercut their clout by moving the nation toward generating a greater share of its electricity from natural gas and less from coal. So natural gas already is the largest electricity fuel in Britain, providing 40 percent of electricity. (Related Interactive: "World Electricity Mix")

The United Kingdom gets about 10 percent of its electricity from renewable energy, and has plans to expand its role. But Davey has stressed the usefulness of gas-fired plants long-term as a flexible backup source to the intermittent electricity generated from wind and solar power. Johnson, on the other hand, offered an acerbic critique of renewables, including the "satanic white mills" he said were popping up on Britain's landscape. "Wave power, solar power, biomass—their collective oomph wouldn't pull the skin off a rice pudding," he wrote.

As recently as 2000, Great Britain was self-sufficient in natural gas because of conventional gas production in the North Sea. But that source is quickly drying up. North Sea production peaked in 2000 at 1,260 terawatt-hours (TWH); last year it totaled just 526 TWh.

Because of the North Sea, the U.K. is still one of the world's top 20 producers of gas, accounting for 1.5 percent of total global production. But Britain has been a net importer of gas since 2004. Last year, gas imports—mainly from Norway, Belgium, and the Netherlands—accounted for more than 40 percent of domestic demand.

The government hopes to revive domestic natural gas production with the technology that has transformed the energy picture in the United States—horizontal drilling into deep underground shale, and high-pressure injection of water, sand, and chemicals to create fissures in the rock to release the gas. (Related Interactive: "Breaking Fuel From the Rock")

A Tougher Road

But for a number of reasons, the political landscape is far different in the United Kingdom. Britain made a foray into shale gas early last year, with a will drilled near Blackpool in northwest England. The operator, Cuadrilla, said that that area alone could contain 200 trillion cubic feet of gas, which is more than the known reserves of Iraq. But the project was halted after drilling, by the company's own admission, caused two small earthquakes. (Related: "Tracing Links Between Fracking and Earthquakes" and "Report Links Energy Activities To Higher Quake Risk") The April 2011 incident triggered the moratorium that government now appears to be ready to lift. Cuadrilla has argued that modifications to its procedures would mitigate the seismic risk, including lower injection rates and lesser fluid and sand volumes. The company said it will abandon the U.K. unless the moratorium is soon lifted.

A few days ahead of Osborne's speech, the Independent newspaper reported that maps created for Britain's Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) showed that 32,000 square miles, or 64 percent of the U.K. countryside, could hold shale gas reserves and thus be open for exploration. But a DECC spokeswoman said "things are not quite what it [the Independent story] suggests." Theoretically, she said, those gas deposits do exist, but "it is too soon to predict the scale of exploration here." She said many other issues, ranging from local planning permission to environmental impact, would mean that some tracts would be off limits, no matter how much reserve they held. DECC has commissioned the British Geological Survey to map the extent of Britain's reserves.

Professor Paul Stevens, a fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, said the U.K. is clearly interested in trying to replicate America's shale gas revolution. "That's an important part of the story," he said, but trying to use the American playbook won't be easy. "It's a totally different ballgame." In addition to the fact that mineral rights belong to the crown, large expanses of private land that are commonplace in America don't exist in England. Just as important, there is no oil- and gas-service industry in place in Britain to quickly begin shale gas operations here. "We don't have the infrastructure set up," said Richard Davies, director of the Durham Energy Institute at Durham University, adding that it would take years to build it.

Shale gas production would also likely ignite bigger and louder protests in the U.K. and Europe. "It's much more of a big deal in Europe," Stevens said. "There are more green [nongovernmental organizations] opposed to it, and a lot more local opposition."

In any case, the U.K. government plans to move ahead. Osborne said he'll soon begin consultations on possible tax breaks for the shale gas industry. He also announced that Britain would build up to 30 new natural gas-fired power plants with 26 gigawatts (GW) of capacity. The new gas plants would largely replace decommissioned coal and nuclear power plants, though they would ultimately add 5GW of additional power to the U.K. grid. The coalition government's plan, however, leaves open the possibility of increasing the amount of gas-generated electricity to 37GW, or around half of total U.K. demand.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that Europe may have as much as 600 trillion cubic feet of shale gas that could be recovered. But Stevens said no European country is ready to emulate the United States in producing massive amounts of unconventional gas. They all lack the necessary service industry, he said, and geological differences will require different technologies. And governments aren't funding the research and development needed to develop them.

Globally, the track record for efforts to produce shale gas is mixed:

  • In France, the EIA's estimate is that shale gas reserves total 5 trillion cubic meters, or enough to fuel the country for 90 years. But in September, President Francois Hollande pledged to continue a ban on fracking imposed last year by his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.
  • Poland was also thought to have rich shale gas resources, but initial explorations have determined that original estimates of the country's reserves were overstated by 80 percent to 90 percent. After drilling two exploratory wells there, Exxon Mobil stopped operations. But because of its dependence on Russian gas, Poland is still keen to begin shale gas production.
  • South Africa removed a ban on fracking earlier this year. Developers are eyeing large shale gas reserves believed to underlie the semidesert Karoo between Johannesburg and Cape Town.
  • Canada's Quebec Province has had a moratorium on shale gas exploration and production, but a U.S. drilling company last month filed a notice of intent to sue to overturn the ban as a violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
  • Germany's Environment Ministry has backed a call to ban fracking near drinking water reservoirs.
  • China drilled its initial shale gas wells this year; by 2020, the nation's goal is for shale gas to provide 6 percent of its massive energy needs. The U.S. government's preliminary assessment is that China has the world's largest "technically recoverable" shale resources, about 50 percent larger than stores in the United States. (Related: "China Drills Into Shale Gas, Targeting Huge Reserves")

This story is part of a special series that explores energy issues. For more, visit The Great Energy Challenge.

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Woman Gets Life for Lottery Winner's Murder

DeeDee Moore, the Tampa woman accused of swindling and then killing lottery winner Abraham Shakespeare, was found guilty today of first degree murder and other charges, after she declined to take the stand and the defense rested without calling a single witness.

In addition to the murder charge, Moore was also found guilty of possessing and discharging a firearm resulting in death. Prosecutors did not pursue the death penalty in the case, and Moore was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

"After trial and listening to all of this over two weeks, words that were said cool, calculated, manipulated. Abraham Shakespeare was your prey and victim. Money was the route of evil you brought to Abraham. You are sentenced to life in prison you shall not be elegible for parole," Judge Emmet Battles said.

Jurors deliberated for more than three hours Monday before delivering their verdict.

Prosecutors argued that Moore, 40, befriended Shakespeare before he vanished in April 2009 after he'd won $30 million in the Florida lottery. After Shakespeare had given away most of his money to people who simply asked for it, Moore agreed to manage the little he had left, but instead, prosecutors said, stole his winnings and killed him.

During a dramatic trial Moore has broken down in tears several times, and at one point said that she went into anaphylactic shock while in custody after taking the drug Bactrim when she was having problems with cuts on her ankles from being cuffed every day.

Early today the defense announced it would rest its case without calling any witnesses. Moore did not testify during her trial.

Jay Conner/The Tampa Tribune/AP Photo

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"There is no witness that can say she ever admitted to doing the killing or participating as a principle in helping anyone else do the killing," Moore's defense attorney Byron Hileman said today.

In the courtroom this morning, Moore's friend, former inmate Rose Condora was accused of threatening witnesses by Tampa Judge Emmett Battles, and was thrown out of the courtroom.

Authorities say Shakespeare, 47, was shot twice in the chest by a .38-caliber pistol sometime in April 2009. He wasn't reported missing until November 2009. His body was found under a slab of cement in a backyard in January 2010.

Polk County authorities claim Moore offered someone a $200,000 house in exchange for reporting a false sighting of Shakespeare. She also allegedly sent the victim's son $5,000 in cash for his birthday, and used the victim's cellphone to send text messages purportedly from him.

Shakespeare's mother, Elizabeth Walker, also testified that Moore tried to hide that her son was missing, and said that he had AIDS.

Sentorria Butler, Shakespeare's ex-girlfriend and the mother of his child, also testified. Butler told the court last week that Moore is a divisive and manipulative woman who told her Shakespeare "ran off with the lady from the bank."

During the trial, jurors also watched a Walmart surveillance video that the prosecution said links Moore to Shakespeare's killing. The footage shows Moore making a $104 cash purchase of gloves, duct tape, plastic sheeting and other items detectives later found close to where Shakespeare's body was buried.

Jurors hearing the case also heard a rambling two-page letter that witness Greg Smith, a police informant who was a former friend of Shakespeare and supposed friend of Moore, says Moore allegedly forged while at a Comfort Inn & Suites in Lakeland, Fla.

The letter was meant to appear to be from Shakespeare, prosecutors said. They say the letter was a ruse to convince Shakespeare's mother that he was still alive. Moore attempted to cover her tracks while it was written, according to prosecutors.

During the trial, jurors had to be accompanied by a security escort into the courtroom after they told the judge Smith and Shakespeare's family and friends were making them feel uncomfortable outside the courthouse. None of the jurors had to be excused by the judge.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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