False memories prime immune system for future attacks









































IN A police line-up, a falsely remembered face is a big problem. But for the body's police force – the immune system – false memories could be a crucial weapon.












When a new bacterium or virus invades the body, the immune system mounts an attack by sending in white blood cells called T-cells that are tailored to the molecular structure of that invader. Defeating the infection can take several weeks. However, once victorious, some T-cells stick around, turning into memory cells that remember the invader, reducing the time taken to kill it the next time it turns up.












Conventional thinking has it that memory cells for a particular microbe only form in response to an infection. "The dogma is that you need to be exposed," says Mark Davis of Stanford University in California, but now he and his colleagues have shown that this is not always the case.












The team took 26 samples from the Stanford Blood Center. All 26 people had been screened for diseases and had never been infected with HIV, herpes simplex virus or cytomegalovirus. Despite this, Davis's team found that all the samples contained T-cells tailored to these viruses, and an average of 50 per cent of these cells were memory cells.












The idea that T-cells don't need to be exposed to the pathogen "is paradigm shifting," says Philip Ashton-Rickardt of Imperial College London, who was not involved in the study. "Not only do they have capacity to remember, they seem to have seen a virus when they haven't."












So how are these false memories created? To a T-cell, each virus is "just a collection of peptides", says Davis. And so different microbes could have structures that are similar enough to confuse the T-cells.












To test this idea, the researchers vaccinated two people with an H1N1 strain of influenza and found that this also stimulated the T-cells to react to two bacteria with a similar peptide structure. Exposing the samples from the blood bank to peptide sequences from certain gut and soil bacteria and a species of ocean algae resulted in an immune response to HIV (Immunology, doi.org/kgg).












The finding could explain why vaccinating children against measles seems to improve mortality rates from other diseases. It also raises the possibility of creating a database of cross-reactive microbes to find new vaccination strategies. "We need to start exploring case by case," says Davis.












"You could find innocuous pathogens that are good at vaccinating against nasty ones," says Ashton-Rickardt. The idea of cross-reactivity is as old as immunology, he says. But he is excited about the potential for finding unexpected correlations. "Who could have predicted that HIV was related to an ocean algae?" he says. "No one's going to make that up!"












This article appeared in print under the headline "False memories prime our defences"




















































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Anti-North Korea leaflets launched on Kim's birthday






IMJINGAK, South Korea: North Korean defectors in the South launched 200,000 anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the tense inter-Korean border on Saturday, the birth anniversary of the North's late leader Kim Jong-Il.

The defectors used gas-filled balloons to float the leaflets along with $1 currency notes across the western border town of Imjingak, despite high tensions owing to the North's third nuclear test on Tuesday.

The balloons were inscribed with slogans such as "Stop provocative acts with missiles and nuclear tests", "North Koreans rise up" and "The Kim dynasty will soon collapse".

North Korea celebrates the birthdays of both late leaders -- Kim Jong-Il's on February 16 and his father Kim Il-Sung's on April 15 -- as major national holidays.

Kim Jong-Il, who died of heart attack in December 2011, was succeeded by his son Jong-Un.

Anti-Pyongyang activists momentarily suspended such leaflet launches until after the South's presidential election in December as the government urged them to halt such activities for fear of provoking Pyongyang.

North Korea has in the past threatened "merciless military strike" in response to anti-regime propaganda leaflets, with local residents warned to evacuate such areas.

The North conducted a third nuclear test on Tuesday, whose detonation power was much larger than those of two previous ones in 2006 and 2009.

Pyongyang said the test was a riposte to UN sanctions imposed after its launch of a long-range rocket in December, which it claimed was part of a legitimate space programme.

- AFP/ck



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1 dead, 3 wounded in 90 minutes Friday night








Chicago police were flagged down by a man on the street as they responded to a shots fired call Friday night and found a woman lying on the ground, bleeding from a gunshot wound to her upper body.


She and three others were wounded between about 5:55 p.m. and 7:20 p.m. on the South and West sides, according to Chicago police.

The woman, whose age wasn't available, was shot in the 1100 block of North Pulaski Road, just a bit south of Division Street in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood about 7:05 p.m. She was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital in critical condition and was pronounced dead there.

About 7:20 p.m., two people were shot in the 7800 block of South Merrill Avenue in the South Shore neighborhood. One was shot in the knee and the other suffered a graze wound. Police didn't have any other details about that incident.

About 5:55 p.m., a man sitting in his car near his home was shot in the leg by one of three guys who approached him on foot, police said. The 29-year-old was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center, where his condition had stabilized.

Earlier Friday, a 17-year-old was shot in the hand in the 7800 block of South Morgan Street in the Gresham neighborhood.

Check back for more information.

pnickeas@tribune.com
Twitter: @peternickeas

lford@tribune.com
Twitter: @ltaford






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Why the Dog Show Winner Looks Like a Monkey


Standing less than a foot tall and easily cradled in one of trainer Ernesto Lara's arms, Banana Joe made big news for a small dog when he became the first affenpinscher to win the Westminster Kennel Club dog show on Tuesday.

His short stature and flattened face might not make Banana Joe look like a typical winner: The name "affenpinscher" is German for "monkey terrier," and its mug is definitely simian in appearance. Now this lesser known breed is basking in the spotlight, monkey face and all. (Read "How to Build a Dog" in National Geographic magazine.)

Why the Flat Face?

People like dogs whose faces kind of look like people, with a squished-in nose and forward-facing eyes: Pekinese, bullmastiffs, and affenpinschers, to name a few. "It's mimicking the way humans appear," said Jeffrey Schoenebeck, a research fellow at the National Institutes of Health who has analyzed the development of shortened canine snouts. Several centuries ago, breeders probably sought out parents with a flat face. (Genetics note: Gene BMP3 likely contributes to a flat face in toy breeds.)

And so Banana Joe's mug reflects centuries of genetic manipulation. There's no advantage for the dog, Schoenebeck notes, except that humans would crave it more as a companion. (Related: Gallery of Dog Pictures.)

What About That Tongue?

Banana Joe sticks out his little pink tongue a lot. Maybe more than your run-of-the-mill canine. The reason may be the flat face. "There's probably less room in their mouth" for the tongue, said Schoenebeck. "It's hanging out."

Why so Small?

"The Affenpinscher comes from a terrier background," explained NIH senior staff scientist Heidi Parker, and like all terriers, it was bred to chase. The early affenpinschers' specialty was hunting down rats and other vermin for its owners. Breeding for a small size came later, as ladies started bringing affenpinschers into the home as lap dogs-and to keep away vermin that might otherwise hide in corners or under long skirts. Today's affenpinschers are in the 6-to-13 pound (3-to-6 kilogram) range.

But the dog's size hasn't given it an inferiority complex. "Most of these little guys do not realize they're as small as they are," Parker says. Toy dogs have been known to chase birds and other animals that rival them in size.

What Comes After Westminster?

Dog lovers may crave an affenpinscher. And that could cause problems if breeders try to produce more pups.

"You'll see some breeds go through sudden explosions, where they'll go from small numbers to really large numbers," says Parker. "Usually that means an increase in genetic diseases." There aren't a lot of potential parents for a purebred litter, so the odds of inbreeding, and its related diseases, go up.

And What About Banana Joe?

Now that he's made us aware of his breed, Banana Joe will retire from competition and live with his Dutch owner, free to fulfill his heritage as a lap dog.


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Carnival Cruise Ship Hit With First Lawsuit












The first lawsuit against Carnival Cruise Lines has been filed and it is expected to be the beginning of a wave of lawsuits against the ship's owners.


Cassie Terry, 25, of Brazoria County, Texas, filed a lawsuit today in Miami federal court, calling the disabled Triumph cruise ship "a floating hell."


"Plaintiff was forced to endure unbearable and horrendous odors on the filthy and disabled vessel, and wade through human feces in order to reach food lines where the wait was counted in hours, only to receive rations of spoiled food," according to the lawsuit, obtained by ABCNews.com. "Plaintiff was forced to subsist for days in a floating toilet, a floating Petri dish, a floating hell."


Click Here for Photos of the Stranded Ship at Sea


The filing also said that during the "horrifying and excruciating tow back to the United States," the ship tilted several times "causing human waste to spill out of non-functioning toilets, flood across the vessel's floors and halls, and drip down the vessel's walls."


Terry's attorney Brent Allison told ABCNews.com that Terry knew she wanted to sue before she even got off the boat. When she was able to reach her husband, she told her husband and he contacted the attorneys.


Allison said Terry is thankful to be home with her husband, but is not feeling well and is going to a doctor.








Carnival's Triumph Passengers: 'We Were Homeless' Watch Video









Girl Disembarks Cruise Ship, Kisses the Ground Watch Video









Carnival Cruise Ship Passengers Line Up for Food Watch Video





"She's nauseated and actually has a fever," Allison said.


Terry is suing for breach of maritime contract, negligence, negligent misrepresentation and fraud as a result of the "unseaworthy, unsafe, unsanitary, and generally despicable conditions" on the crippled cruise ship.


"Plaintiff feared for her life and safety, under constant threat of contracting serious illness by the raw sewage filling the vessel, and suffering actual or some bodily injury," the lawsuit says.


Despite having their feet back on solid ground and making their way home, many passengers from the cruise ship are still fuming over their five days of squalor on the stricken ship and the cruise ship company is likely to be hit with a wave of lawsuits.


"I think people are going to file suits and rightly so," maritime trial attorney John Hickey told ABCNews.com. "I think, frankly, that the conduct of Carnival has been outrageous from the get-go."


Hickey, a Miami-based attorney, said his firm has already received "quite a few" inquiries from passengers who just got off the ship early this morning.


"What you have here is a) negligence on the part of Carnival and b) you have them, the passengers, being exposed to the risk of actual physical injury," Hickey said.


The attorney said that whether passengers can recover monetary compensation will depend on maritime law and the 15-pages of legal "gobbledygook," as Hickey described it, that passengers signed before boarding, but "nobody really agrees to."


One of the ticket conditions is that class action lawsuits are not allowed, but Hickey said there is a possibility that could be voided when all the conditions of the situation are taken into account.


One of the passengers already thinking about legal action is Tammy Hilley, a mother of two, who was on a girl's getaway with her two friends when a fire in the ship's engine room disabled the vessel's propulsion system and knocked out most of its power.


"I think that's a direction that our families will talk about, consider and see what's right for us," Hilley told "Good Morning America" when asked if she would be seeking legal action.






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Sand-grain-sized drum extends reach of quantum theory


































The banging of a tiny drum heralds the intrusion of the weird world of quantum mechanics into our everyday experience. Though no bigger than a grain of sand, the drum is the largest object ever to have been caught obeying the uncertainty principle, a central idea in quantum theory.












As well as extending the observed reach of quantum theory, the finding could complicate the hunt for elusive gravitational waves : it suggests that the infinitesimal motion caused by these still-hypothetical ripples in spacetime could be overwhelmed by quantum effects.













The uncertainty principle says that you cannot simultaneously determine both a particle's exact position and momentum. For example, bouncing a photon off an electron will tell you where it is, but it will also change the electron's motion, creating fresh uncertainty in its speed.












This idea limits our ability to measure the properties of very small objects, such as electrons and atoms. The principle should also apply to everyday, macroscopic objects, but this has not been tested – for larger objects, the principle's effects tend to be swamped by other uncertainties in measurement, due to random noise, say.











Quantum drum













To extend the known reach of the uncertainty principle, Tom Purdy and colleagues of the University of Colorado, Boulder, created a drum by tightly stretching a 40-nanometre-thick sheet of silicon nitride over a square frame with sides of half a millimetre – about the width of a grain of sand. They placed the drum inside a vacuum chamber cooled to a few degrees above absolute zero, minimising any interference by random noise.












By continuously firing a stream of photons at the drum they were able to get increasingly precise measurements of the position of the skin at any moment. However, this also caused the skin to vibrate at an unknown speed. When they attempted to determine its momentum, the error in their measurement had increased – just as the uncertainty principle predicts.












"You don't usually have to think about quantum mechanics for objects you can hold in your hand," says Purdy.












That the uncertainty principle holds sway at such a large scale could affect the hunt for gravitational waves, which are predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity but have never been detected.











Mitigation strategy












Gravitational wave detectors look for very slight changes in the distance between two test masses caused by passing spacetime ripples. Purdy says his team's experiment confirms long-held suspicions that quantum uncertainty could overwhelm these very small changes.













Now he and others can use the drum to explore more advanced measurement techniques to mitigate the effects. For example, uncertainty in an object's momentum could lead to future uncertainty in its position and there should be ways to minimise such knock-on effects. "You can't avoid the uncertainty principle, but you can in some clever ways make it [such that] increasing the momentum doesn't add back to the uncertainty in position at a later time," says Purdy.











His experiment is a neat demonstration of the breakdown of the traditional notion that the atomic world is quantum while the macroscopic world is classic, says Gerard Milburn of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, who was not involved in the work. Previous, attempts to blur the quantum-classical divide have involved entangling diamonds and demonstrating quantum superposition in a strip of metal.













Despite these feats, Milburn doesn't rule out the prospect of a breakdown on really large scales. "Of course maybe one day we will see quantum mechanics fail at some scale. Testing it to destruction is a good motivation for going down this path," he says.












Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1231282


















































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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S. Korea leader says only regime fall will change North






SEOUL: North Korea can never be made to abandon its nuclear weapons programme, South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak said Friday, arguing that only regime collapse could remove the threat from Pyongyang.

As the UN Security Council continues to debate how to punish the North for its latest nuclear test, the outgoing president suggested the best way forward was to try to foment unrest among the North Korean people.

"It has become impossible to have North Korea give up its nuclear weapons through dialogue and negotiations", Lee told a meeting of senior dignitaries including former government ministers and religious leaders.

"We cannot hope the North will part with its nuclear programmes until its regime changes or collapses", he said.

"We can help change the North Korean people, if not the North Korean regime itself."

Lee is set to leave office in 10 days at the end of a five-year term marked by an almost complete breakdown in contacts between Seoul and Pyongyang.

Lee had always promised to take a harder line than his predecessors, making continued aid to the impoverished North conditional on progress in talks on its nuclear programme.

His successor, president-elect Park Geun-Hye, campaigned on a policy of greater engagement with Pyongyang, but Tuesday's nuclear test will almost certainly see that policy shelved for months, if not longer.

-AFP/fl



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Exhausted passengers disembark stricken ship








MOBILE, Alabama—





A crippled cruise ship that lost power for more than four days in the Gulf of Mexico was pulled into a port in Mobile, Alabama, late on Thursday as passengers cheered the end of a "hellish" voyage marked by overflowing toilets and stinking cabins.

Tugboats pulled the Carnival Triumph into port in a drama that played out live on U.S. cable news stations, creating another public relations nightmare for cruise giant Carnival Corp. Last year, its Costa Concordia luxury ship grounded off the coast of Italy, killing 32 people.


Exhausted passengers lined the ship's decks, waving towels and flashlights and cheering as it pulled into dock, while hundreds of people watched from the shore.

Carnival officials said it could take up to five hours for the more than 4,200 people on board to disembark the ship, which has only one working elevator.

Once on solid ground, many passengers still had a lengthy journey ahead. More than 100 buses were lined up waiting to carry passengers on a seven-hour bus ride to Galveston, Texas, while others had elected to stay overnight in hotels in Mobile before flying home, Carnival said.

An engine fire on Sunday knocked out power and plumbing across most of the 893-foot vessel and left it adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. The ship, which went into service in 1999, was on a four-day cruise and on its way back from a stop in Cozumel, Mexico.

Over the last four days, passengers described an overpowering stench on parts of the ship and complained to relatives and media by cellphone that toilets and drainpipes overflowed, soaking many cabins and interior passages in sewage and turning the vessel into what some have described as a giant Petri dish.

"The thing I'm looking forward to most is having a working toilet and not having to breathe in the smell of fecal matter," said Jacob Combs, an Austin, Texas-based sales executive with a healthcare and hospice company.

Combs, 30, who said he had been traveling with friends and family on the Triumph, had nothing but praise for its crew members, saying they had gone through "hell" cleaning up after some of the passengers on the sea cruise.

"Just imagine the filth," Combs told Reuters. "People were doing crazy things and going to the bathroom in sinks and showers. It was inhuman. The stewards would go in and clean it all up. They were constantly cleaning," he said.

Officials greeted passengers with warm food and blankets and cell phones. Carnival Cruise Lines Chief Executive Gerry Cahill told reporters he planned to board the ship and personally apologize to passengers for their ordeal.

"I know the conditions on board were very poor," he said. "I know it was difficult. I want to apologize for subjecting our guests to that," he said.

"We pride ourselves with providing our guests with a great vacation experience and clearly we failed in this particular case."

Operated by Carnival Cruise Lines, the flagship brand of Carnival Corp, the ship left Galveston a week ago carrying 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew. It was supposed to return there on Monday.

A Coast Guard cutter escorted the Triumph on its long voyage into port since Monday, and a Coast Guard helicopter ferried about 3,000 lbs of equipment including a generator to the stricken ship late on Wednesday.

Earlier in the week, some passengers reported on the poor conditions on the Triumph. They said people were getting sick and passengers had been told to use plastic "biohazard" bags as makeshift toilets.

Smoke from the engine fire was so thick that passengers on the lower decks in the rear of the ship had to be permanently evacuated and slept the rest of the voyage on the decks under sheets, passengers said.

'VERY CHALLENGING CIRCUMSTANCES'

Cahill has issued several apologies and Carnival, the world's largest cruise company, says passengers will receive a full credit for the cruise plus transportation expenses, a future cruise credit equal to the amount paid for this voyage, plus a payment of $500 a person to help compensate for the "very challenging circumstances" aboard the ship.

Mary Poret, who spoke to her 12-year-old daughter aboard the Triumph on Monday, rejected Cahill's apology in comments to CNN on Thursday, as she waited anxiously in Mobile with a friend for the Triumph's arrival.

"Seeing urine and feces sloshing in the halls, sleeping on the floor, nothing to eat, people fighting over food, $500? What's the emotional cost? You can't put money on that," Poret said.

Some passengers said conditions onboard improved on Thursday after the generator was delivered to the ship, providing power for a grill to cook hot food.

Carnival Corp Chairman and CEO Micky Arison faced criticism in January 2012 for failing to travel to Italy and take personal charge of the Costa Concordia crisis after the luxury cruise ship operated by Carnival's Costa Cruises brand grounded on rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio. The tragedy unleashed numerous lawsuits against his company.

The cruise ship mogul has taken a low-key approach to the Triumph situation as well, even as it grabbed a growing share of the U.S. media spotlight. His only known public appearance since Sunday was courtside on Tuesday at a game played by his Miami Heat championship professional basketball team.

"I think they really are trying to do the right thing, but I don't think they have been able to communicate it effectively," said Marcia Horowitz, an executive who handles crisis management at Rubenstein Associates, a New York-based public relations firm.

"Most of all, you really need a face for Carnival," she added. "You can do all the right things. But unless you communicate it effectively, it will not see the light of day."

Carnival Corp shares closed down 11 cents at $37.35 in trading on Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares closed down 4 percent at $37.46 on Wednesday after the company said voyage disruptions and repair costs related to Carnival Triumph could shave up to 10 cents a share off its second-half earnings.

The Triumph is a Bahamian-flagged vessel and the Bahamas Maritime Authority will be the primary agency investigating the cause of its engine room fire.

Earlier this month, Carnival repaired an electrical issue on one of the Triumph's alternators. The company said there was no evidence of any connection between the repair and the fire.

For all the passengers' grievances, they will likely find it difficult to sue the cruise operator for any damages, legal sources said. Over the years, the cruise industry has put in place a legal structure that shields operators from big-money lawsuits.

(Additional reporting by David Adams and Kevin Gray in Miami, Writing by Tom Brown; Editing by Peter Cooney and Lisa Shumaker)






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Why We Walk … and Run … And Walk Again to Get Where We're Going


You have to get to a bus stop to catch the once-an-hour express ... or to a restaurant to meet a friend ... or to a doctor's office. You've got maybe a half a mile to cover and you're worried you'll be late. You run, then you stop and walk, then run some more.

But wait. Wouldn't it be better to run the whole way?

Not necessarily.

A new study by an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio State University tests the theory that people subconsciously mix walking and running so they get where they need to. The idea is that "people move in a manner that minimizes energy consumption," said the professor, Manoj Srinivasan.

Srinivasan asked 36 subjects to cover 400 feet (122 meters), a bit more than the length of a football field. He gave them a time to arrive at the finish line and a stopwatch. If the deadline was supertight, they ran. If they had two minutes, they walked. And if the deadline was neither too short nor too far off, they toggled between walking and running.

The takeaway: Humans successfully make the walk-run adjustment as they go along, based on their sense of how far they have to go. "It's not like they decide beforehand," Srinivasan said. (Get tips, gear recommendations, and more in our Running Guide.)

The Best Technique for "the Twilight Zone"

"The mixture of walking and running is good when you have an intermediate amount of time," he explained. "I like to call it 'the Twilight Zone,' where you have neither infinite time nor do you have to be there now."

That ability to shift modes served ancient humans well. "It's basically an evolutionary argument," Srinivasan said. A prehistoric human seeking food would want to move in a way that conserves some energy so that if food is hard to find, the hunter won't run out of gas—and will still be able to rev it up to escape predators.

The study, published on January 30 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, doesn't answer that question of how we make such adjustments.

Runners: Take a Break if You Need It

The mix of walking and running is also something that nonelite marathoners are familiar with. Covering 26.2 miles might take less of a toll if the runner stops running from time to time, walks a bit, then resumes a jogging pace. "You use less energy overall and also give yourself a bit of a break," Srinivasan noted. (Watch: An elite marathoner on her passion for running.)

One take-home lesson is: Runners, don't push it all the time. A walk-run mix will minimize the energy you expend.

Lesson two: If you're a parent walking with your kid, and the kid lags behind, then runs to catch up, then lags again, the child isn't necessarily trying to annoy you. Rather, the child is perhaps exhibiting an innate ability to do the walk-run transition.

Potential lesson three: The knowledge that humans naturally move in a manner that minimizes energy consumption might be helpful in designing artificial limbs that feel more natural and will help the user reduce energy consumption.

The big question for Manoj Srinivasan: Now that he has his walk-run theory, does he consciously switch between running and walking when he's trying to get somewhere? "I must admit, no," he said. "When I want to get somewhere, I just let the body do its thing." But if he's in a rush, he'll make a mad dash.

"Talk to you tomorrow," he signed off in an email to National Geographic News. "Running to get to teaching now!"


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Nightmare Ends: Passengers Leave Disabled Ship












After five days without power in the Gulf of Mexico, the Carnival Triumph cruise ship carrying more than 4,000 people arrived in Mobile, Ala., to greet a cheering crowd of friends and family members waiting to embrace their loved ones.


Passengers began to disembark the damaged ship around 10:15 p.m. CT Thursday and continued into the overnight hours. Other waiting passengers lined the decks of the ship, waving, and whistling to those on shore. "Happy V-Day" read a homemade sign made for the Valentine's Day arrival and another, more starkly: "The ship's afloat, so is the sewage."


Some still aboard chanted, "Let me off, let me off!" and "Sweet Home Alabama."


The Carnival Triumph departed Galveston, Texas, last Thursday and lost power Sunday after a fire in the engine room disabled the vessel's propulsion system and knocked out most of its power.


After power went out, passengers texted ABC News that sewage was seeping down the walls from burst plumbing pipes, carpets were wet with urine, and food was in short supply. Reports surfaced of elderly passengers running out of critical heart medicine and others on board squabbling over scarce food.


Click Here for Photos of the Stranded Ship at Sea


Passengers said many of the cabins became intolerable with the smell of raw sewage. They were forced to create makeshift beds out of lounge chairs on the ship's deck.






AP Photo/John David Mercer











Girl Disembarks Cruise Ship, Kisses the Ground Watch Video









Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill: 'I Want to Apologize' Watch Video









Carnival Cruise Ship Passengers Line Up for Food Watch Video





"We kind of camped out by our lifeboat. We would have nightmares about Titanic basically happening," passenger Kendall Jenkins told ABC News Radio after disembarking from the ship.


"I am just so blessed to be back home," she added.


Jenkins was one of many passengers that were photographed kissing the ground when they exited the ship.


WATCH: Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill Apologizes to Passengers


Approximately 100 buses were waiting to take passengers on the next stage of their journey. Passengers have the option to take a bus ride to New Orleans or Galveston, Texas, where the ill-fated ship's voyage began. From there, passengers will take flights home, which Carnival said they would pay for.


Inside the buses, Carnival handed out bags of food that included French fries, chicken nuggets, honey mustard barbecue sauce and apples.


Deborah Knight, 56, decided to stay in Mobile after the arduous journey was over rather than board a bus for a long ride. Her husband Seth drove in from Houston and they checked in at a downtown Mobile hotel.


"I want a hot shower and a daggum Whataburger," said Knight.


She said she was afraid to eat the food on board and had gotten sick while on the ship.


Cruise Ship Newlyweds Won't Be Spending Honeymoon on a Boat


For 24-year-old Brittany Ferguson of Texas, not knowing how long passengers had to endure their time aboard was the worst part.


"I'm feeling awesome just to see land and buildings," Ferguson said, who was in a white robe given to her aboard. "The scariest part was just not knowing when we'd get back," she told The Associated Press.


Carnival president and CEO Gerry Cahill praised the ship's crew and told reporters that he was headed on board to apologize directly to its passengers shortly before the Carnival Triumph arrived in Mobile.


"I know the conditions on board were very poor," Cahill said Thursday night. "I know it was very difficult, and I want to apologize again for subjecting our guests for that. ... Clearly, we failed in this particular case."


Luckily no one was hurt in the fire they triggered the power outage, but many passengers aboard the 900 foot colossus said they smelled smoke and were living in fear.






Read More..

Horsemeat scandal should make us rethink how we eat






















Forget food taboos and veterinary drugs, what really matters here is how we produce meat – and what meat we're prepared to eat
















HOW would you feel if the food on your plate had been adulterated with a cheap ingredient and passed off as something it was not? Probably quite angry, and perhaps a little queasy.











That might sound like an obvious reference to the horsemeat scandal that has engulfed Europe over the past few weeks , but it need not be. We could just as easily be talking about basmati rice, which is routinely bulked out with inferior varieties.













The problem of food fraud has not just galloped out of nowhere. Past cases have generally been associated with high-end products – honey, olive oil, cheese, fish, coffee, even posh potatoes. But the fact that the lucrative trade in adulteration also infests the bottom end of the market should come as no surprise. It has probably been going on for years.


















So why the scandal over this case? There was no such outcry over basmati rice, even though the crime would appear to be roughly equivalent.












One factor is clearly cultural taboos over horsemeat. A more important one, though, is surely disgust and guilt at how the human food chain operates to satisfy our collective appetite for cheap meat. Why else would flesh from a Romanian abattoir find its way – via Cyprus, the Netherlands, France and Luxembourg – into cheap processed dinners in the UK? That is the real scandal here.











Meat is already a guilty pleasure for many, not just because of animal rights issues but also its environmental impact. That is not an argument for universal vegetarianism, which is no panacea (New Scientist, 17 July 2010, p 28). But the scandal is an opportunity to recalibrate our relationship with meat, starting with stricter regulation and monitoring and ending with better consumer choices. Eating less, eating ethically and eating locally would all benefit personal heath, the environment, animal welfare and the economy.













And while we're at it, why not rethink those taboos? Horsemeat is perfectly edible, so why let it go to waste? And what about algae, jellyfish, invasive species or insects? All are surely more palatable than a factory-produced meal of any description – let alone one that is a step away from the knacker's yard.












This article appeared in print under the headline "Who ordered that?"


















































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Ex-CNB chief found not guilty of corruption






SINGAPORE: Former Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) chief Ng Boon Gay is not guilty of corruption in a high-profile sex-for-contracts trial.

The verdict was handed down by District Judge Siva Shanmugam on Thursday afternoon.

The judge said there was no corrupt element involved, and found Cecilia Sue's credibility to be successfully impeached.

He said her explanations on inconsistencies in her statements to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) and evidence in court were inadequate and unconvincing.

The judge also found Ng's evidence to be consistent and credible.

Ng, 46, was charged in June last year with four counts of obtaining sexual favours from Ms Sue, who was a sales manager for two IT vendors.

Ng allegedly breached the Prevention of Corruption Act by engaging in sexual acts with Ms Sue on four occasions, between June and December in 2011.

Ms Sue, 36, was the sales manager of Hitachi Data Systems from June to November 2011.

She joined Oracle Corporation Singapore in December in 2011 as its senior sales manager.

In exchange, Ng was accused of furthering the business interests of the two IT companies in their dealings with CNB.

After a closely-watched 14-day trial, both the prosecution and defence made their closing arguments on 28 January 2013.

- CNA/xq



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Anxiety grows as Chicago Public Schools narrows closing list









After trimming the number of schools that could be closed to 129, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's school administration on Wednesday entered the latest and what is likely to be the most intense phase so far in trying to determine which schools should be shut.


Chicago Public Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett is expected to pare the preliminary list before unveiling a final one at the end of March. She said administrators will determine which schools are saved in the coming weeks amid a final round of community meetings to hear arguments from parents, teachers and community groups about why their schools should stay open.


If a hearing Wednesday night in North Lawndale was any indication, CPS still has a long way to go to gain the public's trust.





"Our schools don't need to close," Dwayne Truss, vice chairman of CPS' Austin Community Action Council, said in front of hundreds of people packed inside a church auditorium in the West Side neighborhood. "CPS is perpetrating a myth that there's a budget crisis."


CPS initially said 330 of its schools are underenrolled, the chief criterion for closing. Members of a commission assembled to gather public input on the issue told CPS officials earlier this year that closing a large number of schools would create too much upheaval. The Tribune, citing sources, said the commission indicated a far smaller number should be closed than initially feared, possibly as few as 15.


CPS then started holding its own hearings and on Wednesday, while following many of the formal recommendations made by the Commission on School Utilization, said 129 schools still fit the criteria for closing.


The new number and the latest round of hearings sets the stage for the administration to counter questions about the district's abilities to close a large number of schools and the need to do so.


For many who have already turned up to school closing meetings, this final round of hearings will be even more critical. School supporters must show how they plan to turn around academic performance and build enrollment, and also make the case for any security problems that would be created by closing their school.


"We are prepared now to move to the next level of conversation with our community and discuss a list of approximately 129 schools that still require further vetting and further conversation," Bryd-Bennett said. "We are going to take these 129 and continue to sift through these schools."


In the past, political clout has played a role in the district's final decisions. Already this year, several aldermen have spoken out on behalf of schools in their wards.


On the Near Northwest Side, for instance, the initial list of 330 underused schools included about six in the 1st Ward. Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno helped organize local school council members, school administrators and parents to fight any closing. He also took that fight to leaders in City Hall and within CPS' bureaucracy. Nearly all of the schools in the ward were excluded from the list of 129.


"It is effort and it's organizing and not just showing up at meetings and yelling. Anybody can do that," Moreno said. "Those schools that proactively work before those meetings and explain what they are doing, what they need and that they are willing to accept new students, that's when politics works.


"My responsibility in this juncture was to focus on these schools," he said. "I had to work on the inside, with CPS and with City Hall, and with my schools on the outside."


Most of the schools on the list of 129 are on the West, South and Southwest sides, many in impoverished neighborhoods that saw significant population loss over the last decade. Largely spared were the North and Northwest sides.


In all, more than 43,000 students attend those 129 schools on the preliminary list, according to CPS records.


The area with the most schools on the list is a CPS network (the district groups its schools in 14 networks) that runs roughly from Madison Street south to 71st Street and from the lake to State Street. The preliminary list includes 24 schools in that area.


The Englewood-Gresham network has the second-largest number, 19, while the Austin-North Lawndale network where Wednesday night's meeting was held still has 16 schools on the list.


CPS critics said the preliminary list is still too large to be meaningful and that the district's promise to trim it before March 31 is only a tactic to make the final number seem reasonable.


"They started out with such a far-fetched, exaggerated list of schools, many of which are nowhere near underutilized," said Wendy Katten, co-founder of the parent group Raise Your Hand. "They might appear to be looking like they're listening, but they're not. They have not done a thorough and substantive assessment of these schools."


Following the commission's recommendations, CPS last month removed high schools and schools performing at a high level academically from consideration. On Wednesday, the district said schools with more than 600 students or utilization rates of at least 70 percent have also been taken out of consideration for closing.





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Are Honeybees Losing Their Way?



A single honeybee visits hundreds, sometimes thousands, of flowers a day in search of nectar and pollen. Then it must find its way back to the hive, navigating distances up to five miles (eight kilometers), and perform a "waggle dance" to tell the other bees where the flowers are.


A new study shows that long-term exposure to a combination of certain pesticides might impair the bee's ability to carry out its pollen mission.


"Any impairment in their ability to do this could have a strong effect on their survival," said Geraldine Wright, a neuroscientist at Newcastle University in England and co-author of a new study posted online February 7, 2013, in the Journal of Experimental Biology.


Wright's study adds to the growing body of research that shows that the honeybee's ability to thrive is being threatened. Scientists are still researching how pesticides may be contributing to colony collapse disorder (CCD), a rapid die-off seen in millions of honeybees throughout the world since 2006.


"Pesticides are very likely to be involved in CCD and also in the loss of other types of pollinators," Wright said. (See the diversity of pollinating creatures in a photo gallery from National Geographic magazine.)


Bees depend on what's called "scent memory" to find flowers teeming with nectar and pollen. Their ability to rapidly learn, remember, and communicate with each other has made them highly efficient foragers, using the waggle dance to educate others about the site of the food source.



Watch as National Geographic explains the waggle dance.


Their pollination of plants is responsible for the existence of nearly a third of the food we eat and has a similar impact on wildlife food supplies.


Previous studies have shown certain types of pesticides affect a bee's learning and memory. Wright's team wanted to investigate if the combination of different pesticides had an even greater effect on the learning and memory of honeybees.


"Honeybees learn to associate floral colors and scents with the quality of food rewards," Wright explained. "The pesticides affect the neurons involved in these behaviors. These [affected] bees are likely to have difficulty communicating with other members of the colony."


The experiment used a classic procedure with a daunting name: olfactory conditioning of the proboscis extension reflex. In layman's terms, the bee sticks out its tongue in response to odor and food rewards.


For the experiment, bees were collected from the colony entrance, placed in glass vials, and then transferred into plastic sandwich boxes. For three days the bees were fed a sucrose solution laced with sublethal doses of pesticides. The team measured short-term and long-term memory at 10-minute and 24-hour intervals respectively. (Watch of a video of a similar type of bee experiment.)


This study is the first to show that when pesticides are combined, the impact on bees is far worse than exposure to just one pesticide. "This is particularly important because one of the pesticides we used, coumaphos, is a 'medicine' used to treat Varroa mites [pests that have been implicated in CCD] in honeybee colonies throughout the world," Wright said.


The pesticide, in addition to killing the mites, might also be making honeybees more vulnerable to poisoning and effects from other pesticides.


Stephen Buchmann of the Pollinator Partnership, who was not part of Wright's study, underscored how critical pollinators are for the world. "The main threat to pollinators is habitat destruction and alteration. We're rapidly losing pollinator habitats, natural areas, and food—producing agricultural lands that are essential for our survival and well being. Along with habitat destruction, insecticides weaken pollinators and other beneficial insects."


Read More..

Dorner Not IDed, But Manhunt Considered Over













Though they have not yet identified burned remains found at the scene of Tuesday's fiery, armed standoff, San Bernardino, Calif., officials consider the manhunt over for Christopher Dorner, the fugitive ex-cop accused of going on a killing spree.


"The events that occurred yesterday in the Big Bear area brought to close an extensive manhunt," San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon told reporters this evening.


"I cannot absolutely, positively confirm it was him," he added.


However, he noted the physical description of the suspect authorities pursued to a cabin at the standoff scene, as well as the suspect's behavior during the chase and standoff, matched Dorner, 33.


The charred remains of the body believed to be Dorner were removed from the cabin high in the San Bernardino Mountains near Big Bear, Calif., the apparent site of Dorner's last stand. Cornered inside the mountain cabin Tuesday, the suspect shot at cops, killing one deputy and wounding another, before the building was consumed by flames.


"We did not intentionally burn down that cabin to get Mr. Dorner out," McMahon said tonight, though he noted pyrotechnic canisters known as "burners" were fired into the cabin during a tear gas assault in an effort to flush out Dorner. The canisters generate high temperatures, he added.


The deputies wounded in the firefight were airlifted to a nearby hospital, where one died, police said.








Christopher Dorner Believed Dead After Shootout with Police Watch Video









Carjacking Victim Says Christopher Dorner Was Dressed for Damage Watch Video









Christopher Dorner Manhunt: Inside the Shootout Watch Video





The deceased deputy was identified tonight as Det. Jeremiah MacKay, 35, a 15-year veteran and the father of two children -- a daughter, 7, and son, 4 months old.


"Our department is grieving from this event," McMahon said. "It is a terrible deal for all of us."


The Associated Press quoted MacKay on the Dorner dragnet Tuesday, noting that he had been on patrol since 5 a.m. Saturday.


"This one you just never know if the guy's going to pop out, or where he's going to pop out," MacKay said. "We're hoping this comes to a close without more casualties. The best thing would be for him to give up."


The wounded deputy, identified as Alex Collins, was undergoing multiple surgeries for his wounds at a hospital, McMahon said, but was expected to make a full recovery.


Before the final standoff, Dorner was apparently holed up in a snow-covered cabin in the California mountains just steps from where police had set up a command post and held press conferences during a five-day manhunt.


The manhunt for Dorner, one of the biggest in recent memory, led police to follow clues across the West and into Mexico, but it ended just miles from where Dorner's trail went cold last week.


Residents of the area were relieved today that after a week of heightened police presence and fear that Dorner was likely dead.


"I'm glad no one else can get hurt and they caught him. I'm happy they caught the bad guy," said Ashley King, a waitress in the nearby town of Angelus Oaks, Calif.


Hundreds of cops scoured the mountains near Big Bear, a resort area in Southern California, since last Thursday using bloodhounds and thermal-imaging technology mounted to helicopters, in the search for Dorner. The former police officer and Navy marksman was suspected to be the person who killed a cop and cop's daughter and issued a "manifesto" declaring he was bent on revenge and pledging to kill dozens of LAPD cops and their family members.


But it now appears that Dorner never left the area, and may have hid out in an unoccupied cabin just steps from where cops had set up a command center.






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Obama keeps faith in science and warns of cyber threats



Peter Aldhous, San Francisco bureau chief
"IT IS our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country - the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead."

In adopting the phrase "unfinished task" as a signature motif for his 2013 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama signalled a return to familiar themes. For those who care about investment in science, that was a reassuring message. 
The fight against global warming and the importance of technology to protect national security also got high billing. On the latter, Obama signaled that hacking skills, rather than kilotons, are increasingly a crucial currency, promising a new focus on combating cyberattacks - paralleled by negotiated cuts to the US nuclear arsenal. 




In a combative speech designed to counter Republican opponents who want to cut the budget deficit by curbing spending on Obama's priorities - including education and research - the President made the case for continued investment in innovation.
"Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy. Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer's; developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs; devising new material to make batteries ten times more powerful. Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race."
The estimate of a 140:1 return on investment in genomics comes from a 2011 study by the Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio. While the precise numbers from that analysis have been questioned, the importance of continued innovation to America's future economic competitiveness has been stressed in multiple reports, notably from the US National Academies. 
"Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy."
Obama called on Congress to pass new legislation to counter threats from hackers backed by hostile governments. That won't be easy: last year, a bill that would have demanded that companies meet minimum standards for cybersecurity, and report if they are attacked, foundered amid complaints that it would impose large costs on US businesses. 



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Cambodia reports sixth bird flu death this year






PHNOM PENH: A three-year-old Cambodian girl has died from bird flu, bringing the country's toll from the deadly virus to six so far this year, the World Health Organisation said on Wednesday.

The girl, from the southern province of Kampot, died in a children's hospital in the capital Phnom Penh, the WHO said in a joint statement with the Cambodian health ministry.

Tests confirmed she had contracted the H5N1 strain of avian influenza and "the girl had a history of coming into contact with poultry (in her village) prior to becoming sick", it added.

Cambodian Health Minister Mam Bunheng said in the statement that "H5N1 remains a serious threat to the health of Cambodians, especially children".

The country has recorded 28 cases of H5N1 since 2003, with all but three of them proving fatal.

Four Cambodians, including a 17-month-old girl, died from the strain last month and a five-year-old girl died last week.

The virus has killed more than 365 people worldwide since a major outbreak in 2003, according to WHO statistics.

It typically spreads from birds to humans through direct contact. But experts fear it could mutate into a form easily transmissible between humans, with the potential to trigger a pandemic.

- AFP/al



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Dorner manhunt: Fate of fugitive ex-cop is unclear










ANGELUS OAKS, California (Reuters) - A gunman thought to be an ex-cop who led California authorities on a six-day manhunt barricaded himself inside a mountain cabin northeast of Los Angeles on Tuesday and traded gunfire with police, killing one before the cabin burned to the ground.

Hours after the cabin went up in flames, uncertainty surrounded the fate of the man who authorities said earlier they presumed to be fugitive former Los Angeles policeman Christopher Dorner, 33, suspected of a revenge-fueled killing spree in the region.






No body had yet been recovered from the smoldering ruins, despite several media reports to the contrary, because the site was still too hot for police to enter and search, authorities said.

San Bernardino County Sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Bachman later told reporters in the nearby mountain town of Angelus Oaks, "We believe he was still inside" after the cabin caught fire.

The death of a sheriff's deputy in the shootout at the cabin, located in the snow-covered, wooded hills of the San Bernardino National Forest, brought to four the number of killings Dorner is suspected of committing. A second sheriff's deputy was wounded in Tuesday's gunfight.

An angry, rambling manifesto posted last week on Dorner's Facebook page claimed he had been wrongly terminated from the Los Angeles Police Department in 2008. He vowed to seek revenge by unleashing "unconventional and asymmetrical warfare" on police officers and their families.

Tuesday's climax to the saga, following several days in which Dorner eluded law enforcement, unfolded after police learned that a gunman they believed was him had broken into a home near the ski resort community of Big Bear Lake, tied up a couple and stole their vehicle, authorities said.

GAME WARDENS ENCOUNTER SUSPECT

State game wardens later spotted the stolen vehicle and gave chase. The suspect crashed the car in the course of his getaway attempt, then quickly commandeered a pickup truck at gunpoint from another motorist and continued to flee, said Lieutenant Patrick Foy of the state Fish and Wildlife Department.

As game wardens pursued him, the suspect fired at them from the window of the truck, and one of the game officers stopped his truck and fired back with a high-powered rifle, Foy said, adding that he did not know whether the suspect was hit.

Several bullets struck the warden's vehicle, but officers got close enough at one point to get a good look at his face and recognized him as Dorner, Foy said.

Bachman said the suspect ultimately abandoned the pickup and fled on foot into the woods to a cabin believed to be vacant, where he holed up inside and exchanged fire with sheriff's deputies who closed in on the building.

Local television news footage of the shootout showed several officers taking cover from a barrage of gunfire audible in the broadcast. Sheriff John McMahon later confirmed that one deputy was killed and another wounded in the ensuing shootout.

After a lull in the gunfire, the cabin suddenly caught fire, with smoke and flames seen engulfing the structure. Loud popping sounds could be heard from inside.

Bachman said a "smoke bomb" had been set off at the cabin before the fire started, but she was uncertain if it had been detonated by the gunman or by law enforcement authorities.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has called the search for Dorner the most extensive manhunt in the region's history.

ACCUSED OF AMBUSHING POLICE

Dorner's last confirmed encounter with authorities came early last Thursday, when police said he ambushed two policemen at a traffic light in Riverside, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles. One officer was killed and the other wounded.

Dorner, a former Navy officer, is also suspected of exchanging gunfire on Thursday with police and wounding one officer in nearby Corona.

Law enforcement later that day converged on the Big Bear area when a pickup truck identified as the one Dorner had been driving was found abandoned and burning in the snow, launching an intense search of the mountain as Dorner seemed to vanish.

He first came to public notice last Wednesday when police identified him as a suspect in the slayings of a campus security officer and his fiancee, the daughter of a retired Los Angeles police captain. In the manifesto posted on his Facebook page, Dorner blamed the captain for his dismissal from the LAPD.

The couple, Keith Lawrence, 27, and Monica Quan, 28, an assistant college basketball coach, were found shot dead on February 3 in their car on the top level of a parking structure in the city of Irvine, south of Los Angeles.

Quan's father, Randy Quan, had represented Dorner in disciplinary proceedings that led to his dismissal after a police inquiry found Dorner had made false statements accusing a superior officer of using excessive force, police said.

Riverside County prosecutors have formally charged Dorner with one count of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder in connection with Thursday's shootings of police officers.

Authorities posted a $1 million reward for information leading to Dorner's capture, an amount they said was the largest ever offered in a Southern California criminal investigation.

(Reporting by Brandon Lowrey; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Dana Feldman; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Beech)

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Obama Pledges U.S. Action on Climate, With or Without Congress


If there were anything in President Barack Obama's State of the Union to give hope to wistful environmentalists, it was the unprecedented promise to confront climate change with or without Congress, and to pursue new energy technology in the process.

Following his strong statements in his inaugural address about the ripeness of the moment to address a changing climate, Obama outlined a series of proposals to do it. Recognizing that the 12 hottest years on record all occurred in the last decade and a half, Obama said his most ambitious goal would be a "bipartisan, market-based solution," similar to the cap-and-trade system that died in Congress during his first term.(See related story: "California Tackles Climate Change, But Will Others Follow?")

But without legislative action, Obama threatened to act himself using executive authority. "I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy," he said. That will translate, White House officials said earlier in the week, to new regulations for existing coal-burning power plants and directives to promote energy efficiency and new technology research. (See related story: "How Bold a Path on Climate Change in Obama's State of the Union?")

The effort isn't one that can be stalled, he noted. Not just because of a warming planet, but also because of international competition from countries like China and parts of Western Europe that have gone "all in" on clean energy.

Energy experts signaled support of Obama's comments on energy security, including a plan for an Energy Security Trust to use revenue from oil and gas production on public lands to fund new energy research. "Clean energy businesses commend the president for reaffirming his commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to address the damaging and costly impacts of climate change," Lisa Jacobson, president of Business Council for Sustainable Energy, said in a statement. The influential League of Conservation Voters perked up to Obama's vow to act on climate change, even if alone.

Noticeably unmentioned in the speech was the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands to the refining centers of Texas. Environmentalists have urged Obama to reject the project's application for federal approval in order to hold the line against carbon-intensive production from the oil sands. (See related blog post: "Obama and Keystone XL: The Moment of Truth?") Energy analysts believe Obama is likely to approve the project in the coming weeks, yet at the same time offer new regulations on domestic oil and natural gas development.

Other environmental analysts took Obama's remarks as simple talk, so far not backed by action. “How many times do we have to have the problem described?” David Yarnold, president of the Audubon Society said after the speech. “Smarter standards for coal-fired power plants are the quickest path to a cleaner future, and the president can make that happen right now.”

Obama's path toward accomplishing those goals will likely be lonely. In the Republican rebuttal to Obama's speech, Florida Senator Marco Rubio sidelined climate change as an issue of concern and highlighted the deep partisan distrust. "When we point out that no matter how many job-killing laws we pass, our government can’t control the weather, he accuses us of wanting dirty water and dirty air," Rubio said. He echoed the long-held Republican concern that remaking an economy may not be the wisest way to confront the problem of extreme weather.

Central to Obama's efforts will be his nominees to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy in his second term. Both roles were at times attacked over his first term, notably when EPA instituted new air and water regulations and DOE was caught making a bad investment in the now-defunct solar manufacturer Solyndra. If the tone of his State of the Union offers a blueprint, he'll choose people unafraid to act.

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


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State of the Union: Obama Pushes Job Creation













Pursuing an aggressive and diverse early second-term agenda, President Obama turned his focus Tuesday night squarely to the economy, using his State of the Union address to unveil new government initiatives aimed at creating jobs.


The defining duty of the new Congress and new administration is to "reignite the true engine of America's economic growth -- a rising, thriving middle class," Obama said Tuesday night from the House chamber.


"That must be the North Star that guides our efforts," he said.


Obama's proposals had a familiar ring, including re-packaged economic ideas but also offering several bold new measures aimed at boosting the middle class.


None of the proposals would add to the deficit "by a single dime," Obama pledged, with costs offset by savings carved out in the budget and from money saved from ending two wars.


"It's not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth," Obama said.


For the first time as president, Obama called for raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00 an hour by 2015. He proposed to ensure future increases by indexing the minimum wage to inflation.


He proposed a national goal of universal pre-school education, an effort to help states provide tens of thousands of low- to middle-income four-year-old children access to quality public education from an earlier age.






Charles Dharapak/Pool/AP Photo











Obama: A Rising Middle Class Should Be 'North Star' Watch Video









Obama Wants Minimum Wage: 'A Wage You Can Live On' Watch Video









Obama Announces Afghanistan Troop Withdrawal Watch Video





And, to heal the nation's crumbling roads and bridges, Obama offered a $50 billion "fix it first" infrastructure program that would prioritize repair of existing structures before building new ones.


"Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation," Obama said. "How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?"


Answers to those questions, the president suggested, include redoubling investments in clean energy technologies -- a step which he said would both benefit the environment and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.


"For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change," he said.


He called for doubling the amount of renewable electricity generation in the U.S. by 2020, and announced an energy version of his "Race to the Top" education program that would give states grants for the best energy efficiency programs.


Related: 7 Things Obama Says at Every State of the Union


In tandem with his economic focus, Obama announced the withdrawal of 34,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by this time next year, cutting in half the current force and marking a quickened pace for the final exit of U.S. combat forces by a 2014 deadline.


There are currently 66,000 U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan. Obama has vowed to bring nearly all of them home by the end of next year, though a small contingent will likely remain to train Afghan forces and assist counterterrorism operations, officials have said.


Obama touched briefly on his recently-unveiled proposals to overhaul the nation's immigration system, expand rights for gay and lesbian Americans and curb an epidemic of gun violence.


With dozens of victims of gun violence looking on from the House gallery, including former Rep. Gabby Giffords, and families of victims from shootings at Newtown, Conn., Oak Creek, Wisc., and Aurora, Colo., Obama made an emotional plea for an up-or-down vote on his gun control plan.


"Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress," he said of proposed restrictions on assault-style weapons and high capacity magazines, and enhanced background checks, among other measures.


"If you want to vote no, that's your choice," he said. "But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun."


Read More: President Obama's Past State of the Union Promises






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Arctic sunshine cranks up threat from greenhouse gases









































IT'S a solar double whammy. Not only does sunlight melt Arctic ice, but it also speeds up the conversion of frozen organic matter into carbon dioxide.











The amount of carbon in dead vegetation preserved in the far northern permafrost is estimated to be twice what the atmosphere holds as CO2. Global warming could allow this plant matter to decompose, releasing either CO2 or methane – both greenhouse gases. The extent of the risk remains uncertain because the release mechanisms are not clear.













Rose Cory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her colleagues analysed water from ponds forming on melting permafrost at 27 sites across the Arctic. They found that the amount of CO2 released was 40 per cent higher when the water was exposed to ultraviolet light than when kept dark. This is because UV light, a component of sunlight, raises the respiration rate of soil bacteria and fungi, amplifying the amount of organic matter they break down and the amount of CO2 released.












The thawing Arctic is emerging as a potentially major source of positive feedback that could accelerate global warming beyond existing projections. "Our task now is to quantify how fast this previously frozen carbon may be converted to CO2, so that models can include the process," Cory says.












Journal reference: PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1214104110.




















































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Obama rebukes North Korea over test






WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama said Tuesday that North Korea's "provocative" nuclear test did not make it more secure and called for "swift" and "credible" international action in response.

Obama also vowed in a written statement that Washington would remain vigilant in the face of the underground detonation by the Stalinist state and steadfast in its defense commitments to its allies in Asia.

"These provocations do not make North Korea more secure," Obama said.

"Far from achieving its stated goal of becoming a strong and prosperous nation, North Korea has instead increasingly isolated and impoverished its people through its ill-advised pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery."

Obama complained that the test was a "highly provocative act" that -- following the North's December 12 ballistic missile launch -- undermined regional stability and violated UN Security Council resolutions.

"The danger posed by North Korea's threatening activities warrants further swift and credible action by the international community," Obama said, ahead of an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council called for later on Tuesday.

"The United States will also continue to take steps necessary to defend ourselves and our allies," Obama said.

- AFP/ck



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Hadiya's dad: 'Thanking God that these two guys are off the streets'









Two reputed gang members were out for revenge from a previous shooting when they opened fire on a group of students in a South Side park last month, killing 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton in a heartbreaking case that has brought national attention to Chicago's rampant gun violence, police said.


Michael Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, 20, were each charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm in the Jan. 29 attack that also left two teens wounded.


Ward confessed to police that he and Williams mistook a Pendleton companion for rivals who had shot and wounded Williams last July, police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said at a news conference Monday night at the Area Central police headquarters.








Ward told police that he and Williams got out of their car, crept up on the group and opened fire in Harsh Park, McCarthy said. Williams then drove them from the scene, he said.


"The offenders had it all wrong. They thought the group they shot into included members of a rival gang. Instead it was a group of upstanding, determined kids who, like Hadiya, were repulsed by the gang lifestyle," said McCarthy, flanked by two dozen detectives and gang investigators who worked the case.


Detectives arrested the two Saturday night as the suspects were on their way to a suburban strip club to celebrate a friend's birthday, McCarthy said. Pendleton had been buried only hours earlier in a funeral attended by first lady Michelle Obama.


"I don't even know what to say about that," McCarthy said. "They were going out to celebrate at a strip club."


Williams did not confess and police have not recovered a weapon, McCarthy said. Both are due in bond court Tuesday.


Hadiya's father, Nathaniel Pendleton, said Monday night that news of the charges marked the first time since his daughter's slaying that he had a "legitimate" smile on his face.


"I'm ecstatic that they found the two guys," he told the Tribune during a brief telephone interview from Washington, D.C., where he and wife Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton will attend the State of the Union address Tuesday as guests of President Barack Obama. "(I'm) thanking God that these two guys are off the streets, so that this doesn't happen to another innocent person."


Danetria Hutson, 15, who held Hadiya in her arms after she was shot, said she and others in the group have had nightmares since the shooting.


In addition to waking up in the middle of the night, Hutson, also a sophomore at King, said she and other in that group also haven't been able to bring themselves to hang out at parks since that day.

"A lot of us were actually paranoid because the guys were still out there," Hutson said in a telephone interview. "They knew where we went to school."


On Monday night, Hutson was a little frustrated because of the "ignorance" portrayed in social media, where some people are suggesting that Ward and Williams weren't involved in Hadiya's slaying. But Hutson felt a sigh of relief today when charges were announced against them.


"I just want to see how her family reacts," she said. "It gave me some closure, but I don't think (Hadiya's) family will get closure."


McCarthy said that two days before the killing, police had stopped Ward in his Nissan Sentra as part of a routine gang investigation. That information wound up being the starting point for detectives when witnesses in the shooting described seeing a similar car driving away from the shooting scene, he said.


Through surveillance and interviews — including several fruitful interviews with parolees in the neighborhood — detectives were able to home in on Ward and Williams, McCarthy said. On Saturday night, the decision was made to stop the two if they were spotted. Police watched as they departed in a caravan of cars headed to the strip club in Harvey. They were stopped near 67th Street and South King Drive and taken in for questioning.


McCarthy said Williams was shot July 11 at 39th Street and South Lake Park Avenue, and an arrest was made. But that gunman was let go after Williams refused to cooperate, McCarthy said.


McCarthy also noted that at the time of Hadiya's slaying, Ward was on probation for a weapons conviction. McCarthy said weak Illinois gun laws allowed Ward to avoid jail time because of the absence of mandatory minimum sentences.


"This incident did not have to occur," McCarthy said. "And if mandatory minimums existed in the state of Illinois, Michael Ward would not have been on the street to commit this heinous act."


In announcing the charges, McCarthy praised the "meticulous" detective work that led to the arrests, but he also expressed frustration that despite a $40,000 reward for information in the shooting, no one who had knowledge of the crime came forward.





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