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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

This Is Why Pythons Have Eaten All of the Animals in the Everglades

Largest Pythons
Anatomy of Python
Above is a picture of a female Burmese python caught in 2009 by a ranger in the Everglades National Park. All those sacs are embryonic pythons—59 potential hungry baby pythons in all.

Looking at that, it's not surprising that a new report found the python infestation in the Everglades, caused by lazy pet owners releasing their snakes there, has decimated nearly all of the most common animals: A recent count found 99 percent of raccoons and 88 percent of bobcats had vanished, along with practically all the rabbits and foxes. You try feeding 59 babies on a python's salary.
News by Gawker




Sofia Vergara Named AskMen’s Most Desirable Woman of 2012

Sofia Vergara - top women celebrities 2012
Sofia Vergara
It's often said that Hollywood is a young woman's game, but AskMen.com readers officially bucked that trend in 2012, as Sofia Vergara was named #1 on the men's online magazine's annual list of the Top 99 Most Desirable Women, which was announced on Tuesday. But while the 39-year-old "Modern Family" star snagged the top spot on the site's Top 99, former A-list mainstays like Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie gave way to recent additions and fresh favorites, a clear signal that, as far as AskMen.com readers are concerned, there's a new guard in town.

Top 99 Most Desirable Women of 2012

But when it comes to "desirability," Sofia Vergara proves that age is just a number -- in this case, #1. After enjoying a breakout year thanks to ABC's "Modern Family," Vergara placed third on the website's list in 2011. And AskMen.com readers obviously haven't cooled on the fiery Colombian bombshell in the past 12 months, bumping her up to first in 2012. In doing so, the actress beat out a number of younger leading ladies and newcomers to lead the Top 10, such as Victoria's Secret favorites Miranda Kerr (#4) and Candice Swanepoel (#10), rapper Nicki Minaj (#5), and actresses Emma Stone (#6) and Scarlett Johansson (#7).

Meanwhile, perennial favorites like Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie were left off the list entirely in 2012. The tabloid mainstays were also fixtures on the site's Top 99 for years -- especially Jolie, who made the list 10 years in a row from 2001 to 2011 -- but it seems guys are growing tired of the former paragons of desirability. And as the old guard falls, new favorites like Vergara, Kim Kardashian (#8), Rihanna (#9), and Zooey Deschanel (#12) have risen up to take their place.

Now in its 11th year, AskMen's Top 99 Most Desirable Women is annually the site's largest feature, and helps signal shifts in the qualities men are looking for in their dream girls and celebrity crushes; over 1 million readers voted on the Top 99 in 2012. And Vergara's meteoric ascent to #1, combined with the notable omissions of Aniston and Jolie, indicates that guys are increasingly looking for fresh faces.

Nowhere is that trend more apparent than in 2012's Top 5, where it only took a year for Kate Upton to catch the attention of nearly every man in America; after not being ranked in 2011, the "Sports Illustrated" Rookie of the Year skyrocketed to #2. And right behind her is Rooney Mara at #3: thanks to "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and her resulting Oscar nomination, the actress has gone from virtually-unknown to impossible to miss. Other big movers-and-shakers included "Glee" actress Lea Michele (#19), who jumped 72 spots from 2011 to 2012, the previously-unranked Selena Gomez (#14), and Kristen Wiig, who at #36, proves there's a new comedy queen in town, crushing former title-holder and "SNL" alumni Tina Fey (#97). Meanwhile, a trio of newcomers from the music world in Lana Del Ray (#95), Adele (#92), and Kreayshawn (#74) debuted on the list in 2012.

Time will tell if Sofia Vergara can keep charming AskMen.com readers into 2013, but as new names continue to move up in the site's Top 99, displacing old standbys, the curvy 39-year-old actress is leading the charge, and proving that she has the staying power to become a new favorite for men everywhere.

AskMen.com's Top 99 Most Desirable Women is an annual list based on votes from both AskMen.com readers and staff, ranking the famous females deemed to be the year's most alluring. See the complete list here: Top 99 Most Desirable Women of 2012.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Fold-up car of the future unveiled for Europe

tiny car
Fold-up Car
A tiny revolutionary fold-up car designed in Spain's Basque country as the answer to urban stress and pollution was unveiled Tuesday before hitting European cities in 2013.

The "Hiriko," the Basque word for "urban," is an electric two-seater with no doors whose motor is located in the wheels and which folds up like a child's collapsible buggy, or stroller, for easy parking.

Dreamt up by Boston's MIT-Media lab, the concept was developed by a consortium of seven small Basque firms under the name Hiriko Driving Mobility, with a prototype unveiled by European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

Demonstrating for journalists, Barroso clambered in through the fold-up front windscreen of the 1.5-metre-long car.

"European ideas usually are developed in the United States. This time an American idea is being made in Europe," consortium spokesman Gorka Espiau told AFP.

Its makers are in talks with a number of European cities to assemble the tiny cars that can run 120 kilometers (75 miles) without a recharge and whose speed is electronically set to respect city limits.

They envision it as a city-owned vehicle, up for hire like the fleets of bicycles available in many European cities, or put up for sale privately at around 12,500 euros.

Several cities have shows interest, including Berlin, Barcelona, San Francisco and Hong Kong. Talks are under way with Paris, London, Boston, Dubai and Brussels.

The vehicle's four wheels turn at right angles to facilitate sideways parking in tight spaces.

The backers describe the "Hiriko" project as a "European social innovation initiative offering a systematic solution to major societal challenges: urban transportation, pollution and job creation."

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Fears over Taj Mahal's leaning tower

Taj Mahal's leaning tower
Taj Mahal, Wonder of the World
An urgent investigation was ordered today after reports that one of the four minarets of the 17th century Taj Mahal - India's fabled monument to love - has tilted slightly.

Mohammed Azam Khan, urban development minister of the northern Uttar Pradesh state, said a panel of government experts has been asked to report within a week on whether a tower had leaned outward by 8.5 inches.

'This is a grave matter so I impressed upon the Cabinet not to delay action in the matter,' Khan said in Lucknow, the state capital.

India is celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Taj this year. Khan said Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, the state's top elected official, had ordered the inquiry, which will be conducted by officials from the federal Archaeological Survey of India and officials from the state government's public works, water, culture and construction departments.

It was not immediately clear whether the investigation would affect the government's decision to open the monument next month for night viewing after a 20-year ban.

Night viewing was prohibited in 1984 because of fears of an attack on the monument by militant Sikhs, who were then fighting the government for the independence of neighbouring Punjab state.

The Taj Mahal was built from 1632 to about 1654 by Mugal Emperor Shah Jehan as a monument to his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Iranian company wants to send toy drone to Obama

Iranian company wants to send toy drone to Obama
Toy-Drone made by Iran
Tehran, Iran (CNN) -- An Iranian non-profit company says it will honor U.S. President Barack Obama's request that Iran return a drone that crashed there last year.

But instead of the actual drone, the company says it will send miniature toy versions. A lot of them.

"We plan to send a full squadron of 12 to the White House for President Obama as a present," said Reza Kioumarsi, a spokesman for the Aaye Art Group, a Tehran-based non-profit, non-governmental company that makes novelty items.

The company is trying to determine what Obama's favorite color is before sending the drones, which are 1/80th the size of the real drone, Kioumarsi said.

In December, Obama said the U.S. has asked Iran to return the highly classified RQ-170 Sentinel drone.

"We've asked for it back. We'll see how the Iranians respond," Obama said at the time.

This is probably not the response Obama was seeking.

Iran has said the country's armed forces had downed the drone near Kashmar, some 225 kilometers (140 miles) from the border with Afghanistan on December.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a speech in December that seemed to suggest that Iran wouldn't return it.

"The North Americans at best have decided to give us this spy plane," Ahmadinejad said.

The RQ-170 Sentinel is one of the United States' most sophisticated drones and flies at up to 50,000 feet. It is designed to evade sophisticated air defenses.

One former intelligence official said it's "impossible to see" and discounted Iranian claims that it had been brought down by some form of electronic counter-measures. "It simply fell into their laps," he said -- after satellite communication was lost.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Girl, 17, who has eaten nothing else since age TWO rushed to hospital after collapsing

McDonald
Stacey Irvine, 17, eats little else apart from chicken nuggets
Ever since she was a toddler, Stacey Irvine has eaten little else but chicken nuggets and the occasional portion of chips.

Now, at the age of 17, she has been warned by doctors to change her appalling diet or die.

The factory worker – who says she has never tasted fresh fruit or vegetables – had to be taken to hospital earlier this week when she collapsed after struggling to breathe.

Doctors found that her 15-year ‘chronic chicken nugget addiction’ has left her with anaemia and inflamed veins on her tongue.

So deficient was her body in vitamins and nutrients that she had to be injected with them.


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US couple married for 73 years die together

US couple married for 73 years die together
US Couple Presley and Ethel Bradshaw
Kentucky couple Presley and Ethel Bradshaw were married for 73 years when they died just hours apart from one another.

Ethel, 99, had been in a nursing home for the past four years because of poor health and dementia, the Huffington Post reports.

But 101-year-old Presley used to visit her several times a week, until he moved into the home two years ago so he could spend every day with his wife.

Employees at the Meadowview Health and Rehab Centre said the Bradshaws were still madly in love up until their deaths on Monday.

"[He would] hold her hand, kiss her all over, tell her how much he loved and missed her," Shannon Bass, the director of the Louisville nursing home, said.

"He was there to hold her hand, he would tuck her in bed at night and give her a kiss every night."

As Ethel’s health deteriorated, Presley could often be heard complimenting his wife.

"They were a true epitome of the word love," nurse Chasity Stoudemire said.

Presley died first and Ethel followed him four hours later.

They had been married since October 21, 1938. 

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pentagon budget cuts will reshape U.S. military

US Army
The Pentagon
(Reuters) - The Pentagon unveiled a 2013 budget plan that would cut $487 billion in spending over the next decade by eliminating nearly 100,000 ground troops, mothballing ships and trimming air squadrons in a bid to create a smaller, agile force with a new strategic focus.

The funding request, which includes painful cuts that will be felt across the country, comes at a historic turning point for the military as it winds down 10 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq and shifts its strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East.

The budget plan, sharply criticized by some lawmakers, sets the stage for a new struggle between President Barack Obama's administration and Congress over how much the Pentagon should spend on national security as the country tries to curb its trillion-dollar budget deficits.

"Make no mistake, the savings that we are proposing will impact all 50 states and many districts, congressional districts across America," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told a news conference at the Pentagon on Thursday.

"This will be a test of whether reducing the deficit is about talk or action."

Panetta, previewing a budget to be made public February 13, said he would ask for a $525 billion base budget for the 2013 fiscal year, the first time since before the September 11, 2001, attacks that the Pentagon has asked for less than the previous year. That compares with $531 billion approved this year.

Panetta said he would seek $88.4 billion to support overseas combat operations, primarily in Afghanistan, down from $115 billion in 2012 largely due to the end of the war in Iraq and the withdrawal of U.S. forces there at the end of last year.

Congress ultimately controls the Pentagon's purse strings and regularly intervenes to change the size and detail of military spending as it sees fit. The Defense Department's budget accounts for about 20 percent of total federal spending.

Republican lawmakers who oversee military affairs on Capitol Hill sharply criticized the plan.

Senator John McCain said it "ignored the lessons of history" by imposing massive cuts on the military, and Representative Buck McKeon said it reflected "Obama's vision of an America that is weakened, not strengthened, by our men and women in uniform."

MORE CUTS TO COME?

The 2013 budget is Panetta's first as defense secretary and is the first to take into account the Budget Control Act passed by Congress in August that requires the Pentagon to cut $487 billion in projected spending over the next decade.

The budget plan does not take into account an additional $600 billion in defense cuts that could be required after Congress failed to pass a compromise agreement to cut government spending by $1.2 trillion. The Pentagon could face cuts of another $50 billion a year, starting in 2013, unless Congress changes the law.

Panetta said he hoped once lawmakers understood the sacrifice involved in reducing the defense budget by almost a half a trillion dollars, they would make sure to avoid another $500 billion in additional cuts that would "inflict severe damage to our national defense for generations."

The budget begins to flesh out a new military strategy announced by the Pentagon earlier this month that calls for a shift in focus from the ground wars of the past decade towards efforts to preserve stability in the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East.

"To ensure an agile and ready force, we made a conscious choice not to maintain more force structure than we could afford to properly train and equip," Panetta said.

The budget plan would provide new challenges for the Pentagon's top suppliers, such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon. The Arca index of defense stocks closed Thursday down 0.7 percent.

The plan retains but slows the purchase of weapons like Lockheed's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon's largest procurement program, as well as submarines, amphibious assault ships and other vessels. It would retain a fleet of 11 aircraft carriers.

The Pentagon would boost its emphasis on special operations forces like those who carried out the raid in Pakistan that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden last year and rescued two aid workers this week from kidnappers in Somalia.

It would also increase its emphasis on cyber operations, expand its work on drone aircraft, go ahead with a long-range bomber and proceed with other weapons that would allow it to project power from a greater distance.

Those capabilities are needed as countries like Iran and China develop arms that could threaten U.S. aircraft carriers in international waters near their shores.

General Martin Dempsey, the top U.S. military officer as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned against "parsing through each cut, each change, to look for a winner or loser," saying the plan should be judged for how it adapts the military to a changing security environment.

While the cuts announced on Thursday would affect all major defense contractors, consultant Loren Thompson said shipbuilders would be hit particularly hard because of the plan to cut 16 vessels from the total planned for the next five years.

The plans could affect work flow at Huntington Ingalls' shipyards in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and Newport News, Virginia.

The size of the active-duty Army would be trimmed to 490,000 over five years from its wartime peak of 570,000 in 2010 and the size of the Marine Corps would fall to 182,000 from its high of about 202,000.

Military pay increases would begin to slow after two more years of growth, and fees would be increased on healthcare benefits for military retirees, those who served more than 20 years, both above and below the age of 65.

In addition, the Pentagon would:

- Delay development of a new ballistic missile submarine by two years.

- Eliminate six of the Air Force's tactical-air fighter squadrons and retire or divest 130 aircraft used for moving troops and equipment.

- Retire seven Navy cruisers and two smaller amphibious ships early, postpone the purchase of a big-deck amphibious ship by one year and postpone the planned purchase of a number of other vessels for several years.

- Eliminate two Army heavy brigades stationed in Europe and compensate by rotating U.S. based units into the region for training and exercises.

- Study the possibility of further reducing the size of U.S. nuclear arsenal.

- Begin a new round of talks on closing bases made unnecessary by the smaller force.



Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sex now deemed safe for most heart patients

sex to relief heart
Sex to relief heart
A new report from doctors in Houston is bringing good news to the majority of heart patients – if walking up two flights of stairs doesn’t make you breathless or cause chest pain, then it’s safe to have sex.

The American Heart Association agrees that sexual intercourse causes only a slight risk of bringing on a heart attack with the same odds for people both with and without heart problems. Plus, there isn’t any proof that just because someone has already had one heart attack that sex is more likely to cause a second one to occur.

Dr. Glenn Levine, the author of the report, says that the majority of people with a heart condition walk up and down stairs all the time without thinking about it, but they may worry that having sex will lead to having a heart attack or even dying. But, as his report has brought out, this is not the case at all for most heart patients.

The report does add that patients and their doctors should bring up the subject of having sex, but that some are embarrassed to talk about it or don’t have data to share. This report gives them the guidance needed to provide that data. Levine added that a person’s overall risk of getting a heart attack while having sex is low and only represents about one percent of the cause of all heart attacks.

The report goes on to say that for people who have had one heart attack, the average risk for another is about 10 in a million every hour under all circumstances, and that participating in sexual activities raises that to about 20 in a million per hour. This amount is actually the same risks that people who have never had a heart attack face during sex, making it no more risky for heart patients to have sex than anyone else.

Patients under a doctor’s care for heart conditions may be asked to participate in a cardiac rehab program, which will monitor them for any symptoms of heart problems. This program will help the patients to gain strength in their hearts and improve their physical condition. This will help to ensure that they are good to go if they want to participate in sexual activities.

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Bill Gates: I don't pay enough tax

Bill Gates, Microsoft
Bill Gates
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates says he does not think he pays enough tax, and says wealthy Americans should contribute more in order to solve the deficit problem.

Speaking on BBC World, Mr Gates said taxing the rich, was "just justice".

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Solar Storm Now Hitting Earth, Called Strongest Since 2005, Could Affect Astronauts

Solar Storm, Nasa
A View of Solar Storm on the surface of blazing Sun
WASHINGTON -- The sun is bombarding Earth with radiation from the biggest solar storm in more than six years with more to come from the fast-moving eruption.

The solar flare occurred at about 11 p.m. EST Sunday and will hit Earth with three different effects at three different times. The biggest issue is radiation, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center in Colorado.

The radiation is mostly a concern for satellite disruptions and astronauts in space. It can cause communication problems for polar-traveling airplanes, said space weather center physicist Doug Biesecker.

Radiation from Sunday's flare arrived at Earth an hour later and will likely continue through Wednesday. Levels are considered strong but other storms have been more severe. There are two higher levels of radiation on NOAA's storm scale – severe and extreme – Biesecker said. Still, this storm is the strongest for radiation since May 2005.

The radiation – in the form of protons – came flying out of the sun at 93 million miles per hour.

"The whole volume of space between here and Jupiter is just filled with protons and you just don't get rid of them like that," Biesecker said. That's why the effects will stick around for a couple days.

NASA's flight surgeons and solar experts examined the solar flare's expected effects and decided that the six astronauts on the International Space Station do not have to do anything to protect themselves from the radiation, spokesman Rob Navias said.

A solar eruption is followed by a one-two-three punch, said Antti Pulkkinen, a physicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and Catholic University.

First comes electromagnetic radiation, followed by radiation in the form of protons.

Then, finally the coronal mass ejection – that's the plasma from the sun itself – hits. Usually that travels at about 1 or 2 million miles per hour, but this storm is particularly speedy and is shooting out at 4 million miles per hour, Biesecker said.

It's the plasma that causes much of the noticeable problems on Earth, such as electrical grid outages. In 1989, a solar storm caused a massive blackout in Quebec. It can also pull the northern lights further south.

But this coronal mass ejection seems likely to be only moderate, with a chance for becoming strong, Biesecker said. The worst of the storm is likely to go north of Earth.

And unlike last October, when a freak solar storm caused auroras to be seen as far south as Alabama, the northern lights aren't likely to dip too far south this time, Biesecker said. Parts of New England, upstate New York, northern Michigan, Montana and the Pacific Northwest could see an aurora but not until Tuesday evening, he said.

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President Obama: Everybody Must Play By The Same Rules

Barack Obama, US President
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama used Tuesday's State of the Union address to lay out a vision of America in which everybody gets a fair shot at economic success and everybody -- including "the wealthy" -- plays by the same rules as the average citizen.

Obama's address, which comes in the midst of a rapidly escalating presidential campaign season, delivered a strong message about the need for social and economic equality and put forward a handful of new policy ideas targeting tax reform, college affordability and clean energy. But by and large, Obama's third State of the Union was focused on proposals for boosting the economy and ensuring protections for the middle class.

"Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a government and a financial system that do the same," Obama said. "It's time to apply the same rules from top to bottom. No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts. An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody."

Obama laid out some notable new policy proposals, including the creation of a new international minimum tax on U.S. companies making profits overseas; the launching of a new trade enforcement unit that would target unfair trade practices in countries around the world, including China; and a plan to shift federal aid away from colleges that don't keep down tuition costs. He also announced that the Defense Department will make history's largest renewable energy purchase -- totaling 1 gigawatt. The president can use his executive power to make the last item happen.

Ahead of the address, senior administration officials who spoke only on background and wouldn't be quoted, said the underlying message of the speech is that Obama's economic policies have been working and should be continued. The country had already lost 4 million jobs to the recession before Obama came into office and lost another 4 million before his policies took effect, they said. By contrast, Obama's policies have created more than 3 million private sector jobs in the past two years.

The officials also highlighted a new initiative to place 2 million people in jobs through new partnerships with businesses and community colleges. Steve Jobs, the recently deceased CEO of Apple, had pressed Obama for proposals like this in a past meeting, said the officials.

During his remarks, Obama reiterated his support for instituting the "Buffett rule," a concept that he and congressional Democrats have been pushing for months as a way to pay for their legislative priorities. Named after billionaire Warren Buffett, the rule would require people making more than $1 million to pay a minimum effective rate of at least 30 percent.

Warren Buffett's secretary Debbie Bosanek was a guest of the First Lady at the State of the Union. Buffett has made the case that millionaires and billionaires should be taxed at higher rates by pointing out that Bosanek pays a lower effective rate than he does.

"We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by," Obama said. "Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. What's at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them."

Other notable attendees at the event included Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who made the trip to Washington, D.C.,two days before she plans to step down to focus on her recovery after being shot in the head in Tucson in Jan. 2011. Giffords' husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, also attended as a guest of the First Lady.

The president isn't wasting any time when it comes to selling his economic vision to the country. On Wednesday, he'll kick off a three-day tour of five states, Iowa, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Michigan, which are key battlegrounds in the upcoming presidential race. The move is a convenient way for Obama to connect his governing activities to his campaigning, which has already gotten off the ground but is not yet operating at full force.

Obama is also slated to sit down with ABC's Diane Sawyer on Thursday for his first post-State of the Union interview. Sawyer is soliciting questions from the public to ask the president.

In the meantime, White House officials will spend the week managing a social media blitz. On Tuesday night, administration officials planned to take questions from the public about the address submitted via Twitter, Facebook and Google+ in front of a live audience -- and to respond to questions in real time via Twitter, using the hashtag #WHChat and #SOTU.

From Wednesday through Friday, senior administration officials will host a marathon of online question and answer sessions via Twitter. Wednesday's panel will focus on general questions about the address. Community-focused discussions with policy advisers will take place Thursday and Friday's Q&A will be directed toward specific policy issues, including health, education and jobs. People who want to participate can ask questions on Twitter with the hashtag #WHChat, and administration officials will respond in real time.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Antarctic blast sweeps up South Island

South Island, Newzealand
South Island
A surprise snowfall has turned summer to winter in the south, with falls reportedly setting on Porter's Pass this afternoon.

An Antarctic blast is sweeping up the country, dropping temperatures to single digits and bringing chilly wind, hail and rain.

Weather Watch's Andy Thompson reported snow falling in Porter's Pass between Christchurch and the West Coast as he travelled through this afternoon, and a temperature of three degrees Celsius.

"It's absolutely freezing. It was coming through fairly thick. There was no way I was getting out of the car I was only wearing shorts," Thompson said.

"It's insane. You don't expect to be driving through falling snow in the middle of January."

Thompson said as he drove through Springfield, the temperature rose to 6 degrees, then to 18 degrees as he hit Hokitika.

Weather Watch reported similar temperatures in Gore, where it dropped to 8 degrees, Invercargill (9) and Dunedin (11).

Met Service said the front would clear the North Island this evening.

Hawke's Bay, Wairarapa and Wellington could expect cold southerlies and showers spreading north this afternoon, with possible thunderstorms and hail in Wairarapa.

Nelson, Buller and Westland would have heavy showers, while the remainder of the South Island had cold southwesterlies, showers, and thunder.

The remainder of the South Island would see cold southwesterlies and showers, some heavy and possibly thundery with hail, especially in North Canterbury and Marlborough this afternoon.

Showers easing tonight, then clearing tomorrow leaving cloudy areas.

Most of the country was expected to be clear tomorrow.

News by Stuff


Birmingham, Alabama Storm 2012: Searchers Work To Rescue Trapped People

storm in Birmingham, Alabama
Storm in Birmingham, Alabama
CLAY, Ala. (AP) — Two people were killed in the Birmingham, Ala., area as storms pounded the South and Midwest, prompting tornado warnings in a handful of states early Monday.

At least one of the areas affected by the storms, which were part of a system that stretched from the Great Lakes down to the Gulf of Mexico, was also hit by a line of killer storms that slammed the Southeast last April.

Jefferson County sheriff's spokesman Randy Christian said a 16-year-old boy was killed in Clay and an 82-year-old man died in the community of Oak Grove.

Storm in Birmingham, Alabama


The storm produced a possible tornado that moved across northern Jefferson County around 3:30 a.m., causing damage in Oak Grove, Graysville, Fultondale, Center Point, Clay and Trussville, Christian said. He said several homes were destroyed and numerous injuries were reported.

"Some roads are impassable, there are a number of county roads where you have either debris down, trees down, damage from homes," said Yasamie Richardson, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency. Jefferson County experienced "significant damage," she said.

Oak Grove was also hit during last April's tornadoes, but none of homes hit in April were hit again this time, said Allen Kniphfer of Jefferson County's Emergency Management Agency.

As day broke, rescue crews used chainsaws to clear fallen trees off roads in Clay, northeast of Birmingham. Searchers went door-to-door calling out to residents, many of whom were trapped by trees that crisscrossed their driveways.

Stevie Sanders woke up around 3:30 a.m. and realized bad weather was on the way. She, her parents and sister hid in the laundry room of their brick home as the wind howled and trees started cracking outside.

"You could feel the walls shaking and you could hear a loud crash. After that it got quiet, and the tree had fallen through my sister's roof," said Sanders, 26.

The family was OK, and her father, Greg Sanders, spent the next hours raking his roof and pulling away pieces of broken lumber.

"It could have been so much worse," he said. "It's like they say, we were just blessed."

In Clanton, about 50 miles south of Birmingham, rescuers were responding to reports of a trailer turned over with people trapped, City Clerk Debbie Orange said.

Also south of Birmingham, Maplesville town clerk Sheila Haigler said high winds damaged many buildings and knocked down several trees. One tree fell on a storm shelter, but no one was injured, Haigler said. One person was trapped in a heavily damaged home, but was rescued safely. Haigler said police had not been able to search some areas because trees and power lines were blocking roads.

In Arkansas, there were possible tornadoes in Arkansas, Dallas, Lonoke, Prairie and Cleveland counties Sunday night. The storms also brought hail and strong winds as they moved through parts of Arkansas, Tennessee, Illinois and Mississippi.

Tornado warnings were issued for parts of Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama.

The storm also caused officials to reschedule a planned Monday meeting in Montgomery to receive a study on Alabama's response to a system of storms that raked the state last April. That storm killed more than 240 people in the state. Among the hardest hit areas then was Tuscaloosa, where 50 were killed.

Rescue workers help a family out of their neighborhood after a severe storm ripped through the Trussville, Ala. area early Monday, Jan. 23, 2012. Tornado warnings were issued in parts of central and northern Alabama in the early morning hours Monday as powerful storms rolled across the state. There were several reports of severe damage to homes.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

48 hours in Dallas/Fort Worth

Dallas-Fort Worth
Dallas-Fort Worth
(Reuters) - Got 48 hours to spend in Dallas-Fort Worth? There is plenty to see and do in this metropolitan area featuring two cities with distinctly different vibes.

Rich in Texas heritage, the DFW area is the place to sample the full gamut of distinctively Texas cuisine, from chicken-fried steak, barbecue and Tex-Mex to high-end fusions like lobster or sea bass tacos.

When it comes to entertainment, there is plenty to appeal to either urban sophisticates or wannabe cowboys. The possibilities range from pro sports to cultural arts to world-class shopping to the world's largest honky tonk.

Reuter correspondent with local knowledge help visitor make the most out of short visit.

FRIDAY

4 p.m. - Rent a car at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and make the trip to downtown Dallas.

5:30 p.m. - Have a cocktail and early dinner at Nosh, celebrated chef Avner Samuel's restaurant and bar, noted for European and Mediterranean food such as crispy duck confit or pan-roasted Alaskan halibut served with Spanish chorizo, spicy peppers and black olives.

7:30 p.m. - Love sports? Dallas has you covered. Head to the American Airlines Center (www.americanairlinescenter.com) to watch the world-champion Dallas Mavericks on the basketball court. If the Mavs are away, watch the Dallas Stars hockey team on the ice.

If sports aren't your thing, the nearby arts district has many cultural offerings. The AT&T Performing Arts Center (www.attpac.org) has multiple venues, including the sleek new Winspear Opera House, so there is almost always a concert, play or dance performance to see. Or, cross the street to the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center to see the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in concert.

11 p.m. - Take the elevator to the 33rd floor of the W Hotel in Victory Park, across the street from the American Airlines Center, for a night cap and the best view of Dallas.

SATURDAY

9 a.m. - Dream Café in the trendy Uptown area north of downtown is a Dallas institution known for its eclectic mix of down-home and Tex-Mex breakfast selections. There are also lots of meatless options, including vegetarian sausage.

10 a.m. - The Sixth Floor Museum and Dealey Plaza(www.jfk.org) pay tribute to Dallas' most tragic event: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Examine the life and legacy of JFK at the museum and spot where the presidential motorcade passed when the shooting occurred at Dealey Plaza.

Noon - Head back to the arts district and tour the Nasher Sculpture Center (www.nashersculpturecenter.org), an architectural gem in the downtown arts district. The center houses the extensive collection of Dallas developer Raymond Nasher and his wife, Patsy. Works by artists such as Matisse, Calder and Rodin are displayed in indoor galleries and the outdoor garden.

1 p.m. - Drive a few miles north to Rafa's, an authentic Tex-Mex eatery with lots of lunch specials featuring tacos, enchiladas and fajitas. This popular local spot draws the occasional celebrity, including former President George W. Bush, a Dallas resident.

3 p.m. - Dallas is known for shopping and there is no shortage of places to explore across the city, from funky vintage shops to high-end boutiques. Highland Park Village (www.hpvillage.com) boasts stores of premiere designers such as Stella McCartney, Hermes and Dallas native Lela Rose. Be sure to stop by the flagship Neiman-Marcus store downtown at least to grab a signature chocolate-chip cookie.

8 p.m. - Get dressed up and splurge on dinner at the Mansion Restaurant in the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek ( www.rosewoodhotels.com) in Oak Lawn, north of downtown. Chef Bruno Davaillon's creations such as seared snapper and rack of lamb, have kept this Dallas institution at the top of fine dining lists for more than 30 years.

11 p.m. - On the east end of downtown is Deep Ellum, Dallas' hippest nightlife area, with dozens of clubs for listening to music and dancing. Local favorites include the Lizard Lounge and House of Blues. Or, check out PM Nightlife in the downtown Joule hotel. This artistic, underground club is the place for celebrity sightings.

SUNDAY

10 a.m. - Check out of the hotel, load the car and head over to the Dallas Farmers Market (www.dallasfarmersmarket.org) for a light breakfast of fresh-picked fruit or a homemade pastry from one of the many stalls.

11 a.m. - Head west on Interstate 30 for a 30-minute ride to downtown Fort Worth. About halfway there, you can catch of glimpse of the new Cowboys Stadium and nearby Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Noon - Lunch at Reata Restaurant in downtown Fort Worth's Sundance Square (www.sundancesquare.com). This is a true Cowtown experience, featuring tenderloin tamales, chicken-fried steak and pan-seared, pepper-crusted tenderloin.

2 p.m. - If you visit in late January or early February, hit the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo (www.fwssr.com) and catch a rodeo matinee in the Will Rogers Memorial Center. Check out the exhibit halls to pick up a cowboy hat, a pair of boots or a western belt buckle.

If you can't make the stock show, head to the Fort Worth Stockyards for a taste of the Old West. Catch a rodeo at the Cowtown Coliseum or learn about Fort Worth's storied history at the Stockyards Museum. Try on a pair of handmade boots at M.L. Leddy's or head to Billy Bob's, the world's largest honky-tonk, for a longneck, a little two-stepping and some live professional bull-riding action.

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How Pakistan helps the U.S. drone campaign

US Drone
US Drone
(Reuters) - The death of a senior al Qaeda leader in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan's tribal badlands, the first strike in almost two months, signaled that the U.S.-Pakistan intelligence partnership is still in operation despite political tensions.

The Jan 10 strike -- and its follow-up two days later -- were joint operations, a Pakistani security source based in the tribal areas told Reuters.

They made use of Pakistani "spotters" on the ground and demonstrated a level of coordination that both sides have sought to downplay since tensions erupted in January 2011 with the killing of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor in Lahore.

"Our working relationship is a bit different from our political relationship," the source told Reuters, requesting anonymity. "It's more productive."

U.S. and Pakistani sources told Reuters that the target of the Jan 10 attack was Aslam Awan, a Pakistani national from Abbottabad, the town where Osama bin Laden was killed last May by a U.S. commando team.

They said he was targeted in a strike by a U.S.-operated drone directed at what news reports said was a compound near the town of Miranshah in the border province of North Waziristan.

That strike broke an undeclared eight-week hiatus in attacks by the armed, unmanned drones that patrol the tribal areas and are a key weapon in U.S. President Barack Obama's counter-terrorism strategy.

The sources described Awan, also known by the nom-de-guerre Abdullah Khorasani, as a significant figure in the remaining core leadership of al Qaeda, which U.S. officials say has been sharply reduced by the drone campaign. Most of the drone attacks are conducted as part of a clandestine CIA operation.

The Pakistani source, who helped target Awan, could not confirm that he was killed, but the U.S. official said he was. European officials said Awan had spent time in London and had ties to British extremists before returning to Pakistan.

The source, who says he runs a network of spotters primarily in North and South Waziristan, described for the first time how U.S.-Pakistani cooperation on strikes works, with his Pakistani agents keeping close tabs on suspected militants and building a pattern of their movements and associations.

"We run a network of human intelligence sources," he said. "Separately, we monitor their cell and satellite phones.

"Thirdly, we run joint monitoring operations with our U.S. and UK friends," he added, noting that cooperation with British intelligence was also extensive.

Pakistani and U.S. intelligence officers, using their own sources, hash out a joint "priority of targets lists" in regular face-to-face meetings, he said.

"Al Qaeda is our top priority," he said.

He declined to say where the meetings take place.

Once a target is identified and "marked," his network coordinates with drone operators on the U.S. side. He said the United States bases drones outside Kabul, likely at Bagram airfield about 25 miles north of the capital.

From spotting to firing a missile "hardly takes about two to three hours," he said.

DRONE STRIKES A SORE POINT WITH PAKISTAN

It was impossible to verify the source's claims and American experts, who decline to discuss the drone program, say the Pakistanis' cooperation has been less helpful in the past.

U.S. officials have complained that when information on drone strikes was shared with the Pakistanis beforehand, the targets were often tipped off, allowing them to escape.

Drone strikes have been a sore point with the public and Pakistani politicians, who describe them as violations of sovereignty that produce unacceptable civilian casualties.

The last strike before January had been on Nov 16, 10 days before 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in what NATO says was an inadvertent cross-border attack on a Pakistani border post.

That incident sent U.S.-Pakistan relations into the deepest crisis since Islamabad joined the U.S.-led war on militancy following the Sept 11, 2001 attacks. On Thursday, Pakistani foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar said ties were "on hold" while Pakistan completes a review of the alliance.

The United States sees Pakistan as critical to its efforts to wind down the war in Afghanistan, where U.S.-led NATO forces are battling a Taliban insurgency.

Some U.S. and Pakistani officials say that both sides are trying to improve ties. As part of this process, a U.S. official said, it is possible that some permanent changes could be made in the drone program which could slow the pace of attacks.

The security source said very few innocent people had been killed in the strikes. When a militant takes shelter in a house or compound which is then bombed, "the ones who are harboring him, they are equally responsible," he said.

"When they stay at a host house, they (the hosts) obviously have sympathies for these guys."

He denied that Pakistan helped target civilians.

"If ... others say innocents have been targeted, it's not true," he said. "We never target civilians or innocents."

The New America Foundation policy institute says that of 283 reported strikes from 2004 to Nov 16, 2011, between 1,717 and 2,680 people were killed. Between 293 and 471 were thought to be civilians -- approximately 17 percent of those killed.

The Brookings Institution, however, says civilian deaths are high, reporting in 2009 that "for every militant killed, 10 or more civilians also died." Pakistan's interior minister, Rehman Malik, also said in April 2011 that "the majority of victims are innocent civilians."

Still, despite its public stance, Pakistan has quietly supported the drone program since Obama ramped up air strikes when he took office in 2009 and even asked for more flights.

According to a U.S. State Department cable published by anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks, Pakistan's chief of army staff General Ashfaq Kayani in February 2008 asked Admiral William J. Fallon, then-commander of U.S. Central Command, for increased surveillance and round-the-clock drone coverage over North and South Waziristan.

The security source said Pakistan's powerful spy agency, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, also was supportive of the strikes, albeit privately.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The giraffe hunters who pay £10,000 to shoot the gentle giants with guns and bows for sport

Giraffe
Dead Giraffe
Tourist trophy hunters are paying thousands of pounds to go and shoot giraffes with high-powered guns and bows.

The gentle giants are loved around the world for their comical appearance and gentle nature.

Just like character 'Melman' played by Friend's-star David Schwimmer in Disney's Madagascar, they are a hit with kids who love their long necks and eyelashes.

But shocking images show how scores of big-spending men and women - and even families - travel from across the globe, some even from Britain, to kill them for sport.

Hunters pay up to a whopping £10,000 for the the chance to slay them - preferring bulls because they are the biggest.

Safari clubs and game reserves ask for a £1,500 trophy fee, and then add on rates for guides and trackers costing around £1,000 per day.

The hunts typically last three-to-five days and see tourists using .458 Winchester Magnum rifles to kill the animals.

With most hunters flying to Africa from their homes in Europe or America, the costs stretch into five figures.

The hunting continues even though numbers of the animals are plummeting.

But the world's leading giraffe expert said populations in the countries where it is legal - South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe - can cope with the killings.

The latest statistic show the number of giraffes in the world have nearly halved since 1988 from over 140,000 to less than 80,000.

Dr. Julian Fennessy produced the report for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

Another recent IUCN report suggests the giraffe may already need to be listed as a threatened species - because some populations are being decimated in places like West Africa and DR Congo.

They are already thought to be extinct in Angola, Mali and Nigeria.

Dr. Fennessy also founded Giraffe Conservation Foundation - the only dedicated giraffe conservation group in the world.

He said: 'I'm not interested in hunting giraffe, but hunters obviously get a kick out of it like others enjoy a game of squash or cooking. It's a complicated argument. There are lots of factors.

'The loss of habitat and breaking up of populations by man-made constructions are the main factors threatening their numbers.

'In the countries where you can hunt legally, the populations are increasing but across Africa the overall numbers are dropping alarmingly.

'It shows that if properly managed with proper policy and controls, the hunting can be sustainable.'

In some African countries legal hunting can actually help local communities by bringing in money and making meat available to them.

'Many hunting staff like guides, trackers and skinners who assist the tourists are paid in meat from the kills,' added Dr. Fennessy.

'If the tourist has paid the fee for the trophy, the carcass is theirs. Some just like to have photo taken next to the dead giraffe, but others pay taxidermists to mount the head a neck so they can take them home as a souvenir.

'Or they might want to take the skin home.'

He added: 'Some hunters come from Britain but the big majority are from North America, Germany, Russia and Scandinavia.

'The worst part of trophy hunting is the fact that the hunters can miss their target and fail to kill the giraffe quickly.

'If they don't hit the right spot then it can lead to suffering for the animal.

'They might have a 'second gun' in the party whose job it is to take the animal down quickly if the tourist misses.

'But hunting guides need to asses the ability of the hunter and stop the hunt if they do not have the skills to do it humanely.'

Another factors decimating the giraffe population is poaching.

'Poaching is illegal and is not licensed,' said Dr. Fennessy.

'They set wire snares at giraffe-height in the trees to snare their necks, or to trap their feet and kill them when they return.

'It leads to huge suffering for the animals, sometimes for days.'

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Gingrich victory in South Carolina jolts Republican race

Gingrich
Newt Gingrich
(Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich trounced frontrunner Mitt Romney in South Carolina on Saturday in a jarring victory that indicates the party's battle to pick a challenger to President Barack Obama may last months, not weeks.

Gingrich's come-from-behind triumph in the primary in the conservative southern state injects unexpected volatility into a Republican nominating race that until this week appeared to be a coronation for Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and private-equity chief.

Instead, voters in South Carolina rejected Romney's pitch that he is the best bet to fix a broken U.S. economy and defeat Obama, a Democrat, in the November 6 election.

Three different candidates - Gingrich, Romney and former U.S. senator Rick Santorum - now have won the first three contests in the state-by-state battle for the Republican presidential nomination to face Obama.

Gingrich's triumph may lead to a protracted battle of attrition as Republican candidates spend millions of dollars to tear each other down rather than uniting behind a standard-bearer to take back the White House.

With nearly all the votes counted, Gingrich had pulled in 40 percent of the vote, followed by Romney with 28 percent, networks reported. Santorum was in third with 17 percent and U.S. congressman Ron Paul in fourth with 13 percent.

The next contest is the Florida primary on January 31.

Riding a series of feisty debate performances, the former speaker of the House of Representatives captured the lingering unease of conservative voters in South Carolina who view Romney's moderate past and shifting policy stances with suspicion. Gingrich argued that he would be able to better articulate the party's conservative ideals.

South Carolina was a stunning turnaround for Gingrich, whose campaign barely survived after top staff quit last June and stumbled to a disappointing finish just three weeks ago in Iowa, the first Republican nominating contest. He finished fourth in both Iowa and New Hampshire a week later as conservatives split their votes among several candidates.

Gingrich contrasted his sometimes-chaotic management style with Romney's buttoned-down approach, arguing that his campaign was powered by ideas rather than logistics. Romney is one of the wealthiest candidates ever to run for president and his campaign is well financed.

"We don't have the kind of money that at least one of the candidates have. But we do have ideas and we do have people," Gingrich told supporters in a 22-minute tirade against Obama, the news media, judges and other "elites."

Romney acknowledged that there will be a long primary season. He said he would continue to run on his business record and paint Gingrich as a creature of Washington in the weeks ahead.

"I don't shrink from competition, I embrace it," Romney told supporters. "I believe competition makes us all better. I know it's making our campaign stronger."

Obama, who does not face a primary challenger, will have his turn in the spotlight on Tuesday with his State of the Union address. In a message to supporters on Saturday, he said the speech would focus on "building an economy that works for everybody, not just a wealthy few."

ON TO FLORIDA

Heading into Florida, Romney starts off with a wide lead in the polls and a distinct edge in logistics and fund-raising, which will be crucial in a state with 10 separate media markets.

Campaigns must spend at least $1 million each week to reach voters in the sprawling southern state, according to local political officials. Romney's allies have already spent $5 million, mostly on ads attacking Gingrich. No other candidate has a significant presence in the state.

Animosity between Gingrich and Romney has been festering since December, when a group supporting Romney launched a blitz of negative TV ads in Iowa that ruined Gingrich's campaign there. In South Carolina, a state with a reputation for rough and tumble politics, the gloves came off.

Gingrich attacked Romney's business record at private equity firm Bain Capital and his reluctance to release personal tax information, while Romney pointed to Gingrich's past ethics lapses and alluded to his messy personal life.

South Carolina Republican voters said they were focused on fixing the sluggish economy and finding the strongest candidate to defeat Obama. Some 78 percent said they were "very worried" about the economy and 45 percent said that the most important trait in a candidate was the ability to beat Obama, according to exit polls released by CNN.

Those issues are the twin pillars of Romney's candidacy.

But Gingrich's wide-ranging stump speeches and red-meat attacks against Obama convinced many voters that he had the fire in the belly to take on the incumbent.

"A vote for Newt was a vote against Obama," said Charleston photographer Kim Woods, who voted for Gingrich.

Romney saw his aura of inevitability erode in South Carolina after leading opinion polls by 10 percentage points a week ago. He suffered a setback on Thursday when Iowa officials declared in a recount that he had actually come in second place in that state, instead of winning narrowly as initially announced.

Romney took a swipe at Gingrich for criticizing his conduct at Bain Capital, calling it an "assault on free enterprise."

"Those who pick up the weapons of the left today will find them turned against us tomorrow," Romney told supporters.

Voters said they viewed Romney's business background as an asset. But he waffled this week when asked whether he would release his tax records, and acknowledged that he pays a much lower tax rate than many Americans, around 15 percent.

In his speech, Gingrich took aim at Obama, painting him as a weak president, "truly a danger to the country" with his energy policies and "out of touch with reality." He also lashed the news media and condemned what he called "the growing anti-religious bigotry of the elites" in America.

'PUNCH IN THE MOUTH'

"This is the punch in the mouth/wake up call Romney needed if he wanted to be a strong general election candidate," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said in a Twitter message, referring to the South Carolina results.

Romney has attacked Gingrich's ties to mortgage giant Freddie Mac and criticized his time in the nation's capital. His campaign also highlighted Gingrich's $300,000 fine due to ethics lapses while serving as House speaker 15 years ago.

The thrice-married Gingrich has fended off publicity about his turbulent marital history. On Thursday, he rejected his second wife's accusation that he had asked her for an "open marriage" while he was having an affair with another woman in the 1990s.

South Carolina has been a tough state for Romney's presidential ambitions. In his previous run for the White House in 2008, Romney finished a poor fourth, with just 15 percent of the vote, behind winner and eventual Republican nominee John McCain. McCain endorsed Romney in the current campaign.

The winner of South Carolina's Republican presidential primary has gone on to win the party's nomination in every presidential election since 1980.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Iran calls for Israel to be "punished"

Iran-Israel

(Reuters) - Major powers signaled on Friday their willingness to reopen talks about curbing Iran's suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons but said Tehran must show it is serious about any negotiations.

The focus on diplomacy follows weeks of rising tensions between the West, which is seeking to cut Iran's oil sales, and Tehran, which has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz through which almost one-fifth of oil traded worldwide flows.

Alarmed Arab neighbors made a plea to avoid escalating the dispute over Iran's nuclear program while an ally of Iran's supreme leader called for Israel to be "punished" for allegedly killing an Iranian nuclear scientist.

The West suspects Iran is using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop atomic weapons and has pursued a two-track approach of sanctions and diplomacy to try to rein it in. Iran says its nuclear program is solely to produce electricity.

While major powers stressed their openness to renewed talks,

diplomats said they remain divided on their approach, notably on whether to let Iran keep enriching uranium at some level.

The group, known as the P5+1 and as the EU3+3, includes Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the group, issued a statement making clear that a diplomatic path remains open to Iran despite tougher sanctions and fresh speculation of a military strike on its nuclear facilities.

"The EU3+3 has always been clear about the validity of the dual track approach," Ashton's spokesperson said in a statement that included her October 21 letter to the Iranians laying out the possibility of talks. "We are waiting for the Iranian reaction."

The release of the statement and letter appeared to reflect frustration at Iran's statements hinting at a willingness to resume talks but Tehran's failure to formally respond to the letter and commit to discussing the nuclear program in earnest.

CONCILIATORY TONE FROM CLINTON

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton struck a decidedly conciliatory tone at a news conference with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in Washington.

"We do not seek conflict. We strongly believe the people of Iran deserve a better future," she said. "They can have that future, the country can be reintegrated into the global community ... when their government definitively turns away from pursuing nuclear weapons.

"We have to see a seriousness and sincerity of purpose coming from them."

Westerwelle said, "One thing is clear: the door for serious dialogue remains open but the option of nuclear weapons in Iran is not acceptable."

Diplomats said major powers are divided over what incentives to offer Iran if talks were to resume.

A central issue is whether the group might ask Iran to cease enriching uranium to the higher level of 20 percent but allow it, at least for a time, to continue enriching at lower levels -

a stance partly at odds with the group's past positions.

Uranium enrichment is a process that at low levels can yield fuel for nuclear power plants or, if carried out to much higher levels of purity, can generate fissile material for bombs.

To let Iran enrich at lower levels would be something of a concession by the P5+1, although it has previously offered a temporary "freeze-for-freeze" in which Iran would not expand its nuclear program and the powers would not pursue more sanctions.


IRANIAN CALLS FOR PUNISHING ISRAEL

After Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei paid his respects to the families of two scientists assassinated on what Tehran believes were Israel's orders, one of them just last week, a close ally demanded retribution.

"Terrorism has a long history in some countries like the Zionist regime," Ali Larijani, speaker of Iran's parliament and a former nuclear negotiator, said Israel, which views an atomic bomb in Iran's hands as a threat to its survival.

"The Zionist regime should be punished in a way that it can not play such games with our country again."

Such threats have been made before in Tehran and it is unclear how or when they might be carried out. Israel, widely assumed to have the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, is on guard against attacks on its borders and within, notably by Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, which is supported by Iran.

Obama's top military official, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, briefly visited Israel and was quoted by its Defense Ministry as telling officials there that Washington was keen to coordinate on strategy.

"We have many interests in common in the region in this very dynamic time and the more we can continue to engage each other, the better off we'll all be," Dempsey was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the Israeli Defense Ministry.

The comments may reflect U.S. concerns about the possibility that Israel, which has previously bombed nuclear facilities in Iraq and in Syria, might launch an attack on Iran.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Friday that time was running out to avoid a military intervention and appealed to China and Russia, veto-wielding U.N. powers who have been reluctant to tighten sanctions, to support new sanctions.

"Time is running out. France will do everything to avoid a military intervention," Sarkozy told ambassadors gathered in Paris. "A military intervention will not solve the problem, but it will unleash war and chaos in the Middle East."

"We need stronger, more decisive sanctions that stop the purchase of Iranian oil and freezes the assets of the central bank, and those who don't want that will be responsible for the risks of a military conflict," Sarkozy warned.

"We really need you," he said in an appeal to Moscow and Beijing.

With tensions, including mutual threats of disrupting the oil trade, creating worries across the region, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, the wealthy, U.S.-allied state sitting across the Gulf from Iran, offered a warm welcome to a call for calm on Thursday by his Iranian counterpart.

"It's important to get far away from any escalation and we stress the stability of the region," Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan was quoted as saying by state news agency WAM.



Fears of mutant virus escape halt bird flu study

Bird flu in US 2012
Bird Flu
(Reuters) - Researchers studying a potentially more lethal, airborne version of the bird flu virus have suspended their studies because of concerns the mutant virus they have created could be used as a devastating form of bioterrorism or accidentally escape the lab.

In a letter published in the journals Nature and Science on Friday, 39 scientists defended the research as crucial to public health efforts, including surveillance programs to detect when the H5N1 influenza virus might mutate and spark a pandemic.

But they are bowing to fear that has become widespread since media reports discussed the studies in December that the engineered viruses "may escape from the laboratories" -- not unlike the frightful scenario in the 1971 science fiction movie "The Andromeda Strain" -- or possibly be used to create a bioterror weapon.

Among the scientists who signed the letter were leaders of the two teams that have spearheaded the research, at Erasmus Medical College in the Netherlands and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, as well as influenza experts at institutions ranging from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the University of Hong Kong.

The decision to suspend the research for 60 days "was totally voluntarily," virologist Ron Fouchier of Erasmus told Reuters. The pause is meant to allow global health agencies and governments to weigh the benefits of the research and agree on ways to minimize its risk.

"It is the right thing to do, given the controversies in the U.S.," Fouchier said.

The U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity in December had asked Science and Nature to censor details of the research from the Erasmus and Wisconsin teams that was submitted for publication.

Biosecurity experts fear that a form of the virus that is transmissible through airborne droplets--which the Erasmus and Wisconsin teams independently created--could spark a pandemic worse than the 1918-19 outbreak of Spanish flu that killed up to 40 million people.

"There is obviously a controversy here over the right balance between risk and benefit," says virologist Daniel Perez of the University of Maryland, who signed the letter supporting the moratorium. "I strongly believe that this research needs to continue, but that doesn't mean you can't call a time out."

The researchers' decision shifts the focus of debate from whether the studies should be made public to whether they should have been done at all, given the theoretical possibility that a highly infectious virus could be stolen or escape from a lab. Some of the studies were funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, told Reuters that the decision to fund the research was justified.

"The proposal the investigators put forth to do this research was appropriate," said Fauci, who was "actively involved" in the decision to call a moratorium on the research. "The value of the research is clear, as even the biosecurity board unanimously agreed."

CONTAGIOUS AMONG HUMANS

In its current form, people can contract H5N1 only through close contact with ducks, chickens, or other birds that carry it, and not from infected individuals.

But when H5N1 acquires mutations that allow it to live in the upper respiratory tract rather than the lower, it can travel via airborne droplets between infected ferrets, which are considered good models of how flu viruses behave in people.

The teams at Wisconsin, led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka, and Erasmus induced as few as three mutations that allow the virus to be transmitted through the air between ferrets. It is not known whether the mutant H5N1 can be spread between people in a similar way, by coughing or sneezing, since such experiments would be unethical.

But the fear is that the mutations that allow H5N1 to spread via the air between ferrets would allow it to do in people, making it exponentially more contagious.

To give the scientific community and governments time to determine whether the research can be conducted safely, the scientists write, "We have agreed on a voluntary pause of 60 days on any research involving highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 viruses" that produce easily contagious forms of the virus.

In particular, they wrote, no experiments with live, mutant viruses "already shown to be transmissible in ferrets will be conducted during this time."

Fouchier noted in an essay published Thursday in Nature that other laboratories around the world may also be close to an airborne bird flu virus, and may not even be aware of it.

HOW SAFE ARE THOSE LABS?

Critics have more recently raised concerns over the safety of the physical environment in which the experiments were being conducted, in addition to the question over whether details of the research should be made public. For now, Science and Nature are withholding publication of the studies.

Nature reported last month that both experiments on mutant viruses were carried out in labs rated "biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) enhanced," which "require scientists to shower and change clothes when leaving the lab, and include other safety features such as negative air pressure and passing exhaust air through high-efficiency particulate air filters."

That is widely believed to protect against an accidental release of the virus. But some virologists argue that the more stringent BSL-4 precautions are needed. BSL-4, which is required for research on, among other microbes, the Ebola virus, includes full-body positive air-pressure suits like astronauts use. In the past, the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus has escaped from BSL-3, and possibly BSL-4, labs.

"It's a responsible decision to suspend work on these viruses while agreement is being reached," said Peter Openshaw, Director of the Centre for Respiratory Infection at Imperial College London. "I hope that these issues can be resolved and that this vital work will continue under appropriate conditions and not be driven underground."

Scientists and government officials are expected to meet in Geneva in February at the World Health Organization, to decide how research on mutant H5N1 should proceed.




Thursday, January 19, 2012

Child killed as AL factions exchange fire in Bangladesh

Child killed as AL factions exchange fire in Bangladesh
Relatives of the Victim
A clash between two factions of the ruling Awami League over control of a market left an eight-year-old child dead in Keraniganj yesterday.

Mohammad Sohel, a student of class-I at Ambagicha Govt Primary School, died after a stray bullet fired by one of the factions hit him in the head.

Sohel, son of rickshaw puller Hafiz Uddin, was playing in front of his home along with friends when he was hit.

Witnesses said locals brought out a protest procession with Sohel's body after the incident. Police later took the body from the protestors and sent it to Sir Salimullah Medical College morgue for an autopsy.

The clash erupted when a group of people led by local AL leader Mujibur Rahman and Suvadda union parishad Chairman Mohammad Iqbal attacked Momtaz Market at Purba Aganagar around 11:00am with a view to taking control of it.

Owners and employees of the market led by Sayeed Hossain, Keraniganj upazila unit president of Bangladesh Chhatra League, and AL leader Mozzammel Hossain, resisted the attack which soon led to the clash, according to locals.

Around 20 people were injured, mostly by brick chips. Several stores were also vandalised.

Officer-in-Charge of South Keraniganj Police Station Sakhawat Hossain told The Daily Star the market has around 250 readymade garment stores. He said both sides used weapons, such as sticks and hockey sticks, and also pelted brickbats at each other.

Several bullets were fired at the beginning of the clash. Around 10 minutes after Sohel's death, people led by Mujibur and Iqbal fled the scene.

Traders of the market told police that Mujibur's group had launched the attack and opened fire on them.

Locals said around eight months ago Mujibur claimed that he had bought the market and he had since been trying to evict the traders so that he could build a multi-storied building on the piece of land.

However, a group of traders of the market had been claiming that they had bought the land and were in the possession of some shops.

A faction of the AL sided with the traders while the other backed Mujibur.

The AL leaders allegedly involved could not be reached by The Daily Star.

News by The Daily Star

Megaupload file-sharing site shut down

megaupload
Megaupload charged users a fee to upload large files anonymously
Megaupload, one of the internet's largest file-sharing sites, has been shut down by officials in the US.

The site's founders have been charged with violating piracy laws.

Federal prosecutors have accused it of costing copyright holders more than $500m (£320m) in lost revenue. The firm says it was diligent in responding to complaints about pirated material.

The news came a day after anti-piracy law protests, but investigators said they were ordered two weeks ago.

The US Justice Department said that Megaupload's two co-founders Kim Dotcom, formerly known as Kim Schmitz, and Mathias Ortmann were arrested in Auckland, New Zealand along with two other employees of the business at the request of US officials. It added that three other defendants were still at large.

"This action is among the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought by the United States and directly targets the misuse of a public content storage and distribution site to commit and facilitate intellectual property crime," said a statement posted on its website.

In response, hackers targeted the US Department of Justice and FBI websites.

The FBI website is intermittently unavailable due to what officials said was being "treated as a malicious act".

The hackers' group Anonymous said it was carrying out the attacks.
Third-party sites

The charges included copyright infringement, conspiracies to commit racketeering, copyright infringement and money laundering.

A federal court in Virginia ordered that 18 domain names associated with the Hong Kong-based firm be seized.

The Justice Department said that more than 20 search warrants had been executed in nine countries, and that approximately $50m in assets had been seized.

It claimed that the accused had pursued a business model designed to promote the uploading of copyrighted works.

"The conspirators allegedly paid users whom they specifically knew uploaded infringing content and publicised their links to users throughout the world," a statement said.

"By actively supporting the use of third-party linking sites to publicise infringing content, the conspirators did not need to publicise such content on the Megaupload site.

"Instead, the indictment alleges that the conspirators manipulated the perception of content available on their servers by not providing a public search function on the Megaupload site and by not including popular infringing content on the publicly available lists of top content downloaded by its users."

Before it was shut down the site posted a statement saying the allegations against it were "grotesquely overblown".

"The fact is that the vast majority of Mega's internet traffic is legitimate, and we are here to stay," it added.

"If the content industry would like to take advantage of our popularity, we are happy to enter into a dialogue. We have some good ideas. Please get in touch."
Blackouts

The announcement came a day after thousands of websites took part in a "blackout" to protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (Pipa).

The US Chamber of Commerce has defended the proposed laws saying that enforcement agencies "lack the tools" to effectively apply existing intellectual property laws to the digital world.

Industry watchers suggest this latest move may feed into the wider debate.

"Neither of the bills are close to being passed - they need further revision. But it appears that officials are able to use existing tools to go after a business alleged to be inducing piracy," said Gartner's media distribution expert Mike McGuire.

"It begs the question that if you can find and arrest people who are suspected to be involved in piracy using existing laws, then why introduce further regulations which are US-only and potentially damaging."

News by BBC


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