Earth may be crashing through dark matter walls



































Earth is constantly crashing through huge walls of dark matter, and we already have the tools to detect them. That's the conclusion of physicists who say the universe may be filled with a patchwork quilt of force fields created shortly after the big bang.












Observations of how mass clumps in space suggest that about 86 per cent of all matter is invisible dark matter, which interacts with ordinary matter mainly through gravity. The most popular theory is that dark matter is made of weakly interacting massive particles.











WIMPs should also interact with ordinary matter via the weak nuclear force, and their presence should have slight but measurable effects. However, years of searches for WIMPs have been coming up empty.













"So far nothing is found, and I feel like it's time to broaden the scope of our search," says Maxim Pospelov of the University of Victoria in Canada. "What we propose is to look for some other signatures."











Bubbly cosmos













Pospelov and colleagues have been examining a theory that at least some of the universe's dark matter is tied up in structures called domain walls, akin to the boundaries between tightly packed bubbles. The idea is that the hot early universe was full of an exotic force field that varied randomly. As the universe expanded and cooled, the field froze, leaving a patchwork of domains, each with its own distinct value for the field.












Having different fields sit next to each other requires energy to be stored within the domain walls. Mass and energy are interchangeable, so on a large scale a network of domain walls can look like concentrations of mass – that is, like dark matter, says Pospelov.












If the grid of domain walls is packed tightly enough – say, if the width of the domains is several hundred times the distance between Earth and the sun – Earth should pass through a domain wall once every few years. "As a human, you wouldn't feel a thing," says Pospelov. "You will go through the wall without noticing." But magnetometers – devices that, as the name suggests, measure magnetic fields – could detect the walls, say Pospelov and colleagues in a new study. Although the field inside a domain would not affect a magnetometer, the device would sense the change when Earth passes through a domain wall.












Dark matter walls have not been detected yet because anyone using a single magnetometer would find the readings swamped by noise, Pospelov says. "You'd never be able to say if it's because the Earth went through a bizarre magnetic field or if a grad student dropped their iPhone or something," he says.











Network needed













Finding the walls will require a network of at least five detectors spread around the world, Pospelov suggests. Colleagues in Poland and California have already built one magnetometer each and have shown that they are sensitive enough for the scheme to work.












Domain walls wouldn't account for all the dark matter in the universe, but they could explain why finding particles of the stuff has been such a challenge, says Pospelov.












If domain walls are found, the news might come as a relief to physicists still waiting for WIMPs to show up. Earlier this month, for instance, a team working with a detector in Russia that has been running for more than 24 years announced that they have yet to see any sign of these dark matter candidates.












Douglas Finkbeiner of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who was not involved in Pospelov's study, isn't yet convinced that dark matter walls exist. But he is glad that physicists are keeping an open mind about alternatives to WIMPs.












"We've looked for WIMP dark matter in so many ways," he says. "At some point you have to ask, are we totally on the wrong track?"












Journal reference: Physical Review Letters, DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.110.021803


















































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10 Japanese unaccounted for in Algeria crisis






TOKYO: A Japanese engineering firm said Sunday that 10 Japanese and seven foreign workers remained unaccounted for at an Algerian gas plant that was seized by Islamist militants.

JGC Corp. said it had confirmed the safety of 61 of 78 workers after Algerian troops stormed the remote gas plant Saturday to end the hostage crisis that killed 23 foreigners and Algerians.

"We have newly confirmed the safety of 41 of our workers but the safety of the remaining 10 Japanese and seven foreign workers is yet to be confirmed," JGC spokesman Takeshi Endo told reporters.

- AFP/ck



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Ricketts: Cubs will fund renovation if city eases Wrigley restrictions

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts discusses Sammy Sosa and the renovation of Wrigley Field.









Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said the team is willing to pay for an ambitious $300 million, five-year renovation plan if the city will ease some of the restrictions surrounding Wrigley Field.

“The fact is that when you look at all of the limitations that we have, whether that’s signage in the outfield, which we are not allowed to do, or what kind of stuff we do in the park or around the park, I think we’d just like a little more flexibility to have some options on that stuff,” Ricketts said after a question-and-answers session with fans at the Cubs Convention.


“We have an opportunity cost there that’s tremendous. Just give us some relief on some of these restrictions, and we’ll take care of (renovating) Wrigley Field.”








Among the proposed improvements are larger concourses, restaurants, more bathroom and concession areas, expanded suites and amenities for the players, including a larger home clubhouse, batting cages and additional training facilities. A new roof would replace the wooden roof, new seats would be installed and the fa├žade would return to its 1930s-era luster.


The project would be done during off-seasons over a five-year period, in what business president Crane Kenney termed “the greatest (stadium) restoration project ever.”


The Cubs hope the city will ease what they believe are unfair restrictions on the team by allowing more signage, an increased schedule of night games-- including Saturday night games-- concerts and the use of Sheffield Avenue for street-fests during games.


Kenney said the improvements would not lead to personal seat licenses for season ticket holders.


Ricketts said the team is looking at “other alternatives” to fund the renovations after a proposal to try and use future revenues from their amusement tax contributions fell flat.


“We’re not talking about (the plan) right now,’ he said.  “We’re looking at other things instead. One of the ways we look at it is ‘treat us like a private institution and let us go about doing our business and then we’ll take care of ourselves.'”


Due to a landmarking ordinance, the Cubs have to ask for city approval for signage, which was granted for the Toyota sign in the left field bleachers.


Asked if he was aware of the landmarking restrictions when he bought the team, Ricketts replied: “When we bought the team we kind of understood some of the restrictions. What I didn’t understand was we were the only team in baseball to have these restrictions.”


Ricketts said the team has been in discussions with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and feels they’re close to an agreement after talks stalled last year. Emanuel reportedly wouldn’t return Ricketts’ calls after a New York Times report that a PAC run by family patriarch Joe Ricketts considered funding an inflammatory ad campaign against President Obama.


“I hope (we’re close),” Tom Ricketts said. “I think everyone has an incentive. We lost a year this year. We want to get the project rolling. It’s a big economic development for the city. It’s a lot of jobs. It’s something everyone should have incentive to want to get done.”


Kenney said the Cubs understand Emanuel “wants to save the taxpayers.”


“This can not have a negative impact on taxpayers, and it has to create substantial jobs,” he said.   


Ricketts told fans the Cubs pay the second-highest taxes among major league teams, suggesting an easing of restrictions would be only fair.


“Just let us run our own business,” he said. “We’re not a museum.”


Ricketts said they’d like to open up Sheffield Avenue to a street-fest before games, as the Red Sox have with Yawkey Way outside Fenway Park.


“We think it’s a good idea,” he said. “We think it can really add to the fan experience. We’ve been to Yawkey Way and we think we can do something comparable. (Sheffield) is already closed. Why can’t we put something on it that’s nice for families or for fans coming to games?”


In another shift, the much-hyped triangle building plan has been shelved for an open area that can be used for things like movies, an ice rink, and a farmer’s market. The plan to add parking was also shelved, since polls told the Cubs they didn’t want more congestion next to the ballpark.


Kenney said the Cubs wouldn’t need to remove the landmark status for the proposed changes, adding “the marquee, the ivy, the scoreboard, we’d be the last ones who would want to touch those. The landmark ordinance really isn’t our problem. It’s just the ability to add some of the marketing elements we need and to host games when we feel like it.”


The Cubs are limited to 30 night games under the city ordinance. They would like to have at least a 40-game night schedule, sources said, including occasional Saturday night games, which are currently prohibited unless it’s a nationally televised game.


While a Jumbotron is not in the works yet, the Cubs are open to the possibility, while maintaining the hand-operated scoreboard. Kenney said polls show Cubs fans will support a Jumbotron, a shift in attitude from what they used to say.


“All of our focus groups have swung the other way, if it’s done right,” Kenney said, adding “the key question for them is where, how big, and whether the programming is right.”


In other words, no Kiss Cam.


The Cubs are taking the LED board off the centerfield scoreboard because fan surveys suggested “it’s not fitting” with the old one, Kenney said.


All the renovation proposals need city approval, which the Cubs believe should be forthcoming due to the economic impact of the project.

“We need the city’s support to get this off the ground,” Kenney said. “Thousands of jobs are waiting. We expect to get a lot of support from the city because certainly we could all use a little more employment in the city.”


psullivan@tribune.com





Read More..

Attack at Algeria Gas Plant Heralds New Risks for Energy Development



The siege by Islamic militants at a remote Sahara desert natural gas plant in Algeria this week signaled heightened dangers in the region for international oil companies, at a time when they have been expanding operations in Africa as one of the world's last energy frontiers. (See related story: "Pictures: Four New Offshore Drilling Frontiers.")


As BP, Norway's Statoil, Italy's Eni, and other companies evacuated personnel from Algeria, it was not immediately clear how widely the peril would spread in the wake of the hostage-taking at the sprawling In Amenas gas complex near the Libyan border.



A map of disputed islands in the East and South China Seas.

Map by National Geographic



Algeria, the fourth-largest crude oil producer on the continent and a major exporter of natural gas and refined fuels, may not have been viewed as the most hospitable climate for foreign energy companies, but that was due to unfavorable financial terms, bureaucracy, and corruption. The energy facilities themselves appeared to be safe, with multiple layers of security provided both by the companies and by government forces, several experts said. (See related photos: "Oil States: Are They Stable? Why It Matters.")


"It is particularly striking not only because it hasn't happened before, but because it happened in Algeria, one of the stronger states in the region," says Hanan Amin-Salem, a senior manager at the industry consulting firm PFC Energy, who specializes in country risk. She noted that in the long civil war that gripped the country throughout the 1990s, there had never been an attack on Algeria's energy complex. But now, hazard has spread from weak surrounding states, as the assault on In Amenas was carried out in an apparent retaliation for a move by French forces against the Islamists who had taken over Timbuktu and other towns in neighboring Mali. (See related story: "Timbuktu Falls.")


"What you're really seeing is an intensification of the fundamental problem of weak states, and empowerment of heavily armed groups that are really well motivated and want to pursue a set of aims," said Amin-Salem. In PFC Energy's view, she says, risk has increased in Mauritania, Chad, and Niger—indeed, throughout Sahel, the belt that bisects North Africa, separating the Sahara in the north from the tropical forests further south.


On Thursday, the London-based corporate consulting firm Exclusive Analysis, which was recently acquired by the global consultancy IHS, sent an alert to clients warning that oil and gas facilities near the Libyan and Mauritanian borders and in Mauritania's Hodh Ech Chargui province were at "high risk" of attack by jihadis.


"A Hot Place to Drill"


The attack at In Amenas comes at a time of unprecedented growth for the oil industry in Africa. (See related gallery: "Pictures: The Year's Most Overlooked Energy Stories.") Forecasters expect that oil output throughout Africa will double by 2025, says Amy Myers Jaffe, executive director of the energy and sustainability program at the University of California, Davis, who has counted 20 rounds of bidding for new exploration at sites in Africa's six largest oil-producing states.


Oil and natural gas are a large part of the Algerian economy, accounting for 60 percent of government budget revenues, more than a third of GDP and more than 97 percent of its export earnings. But the nation's resources are seen as largely undeveloped, and Algeria has tried to attract new investment. Over the past year, the government has sought to reform the law to boost foreign companies' interests in their investments, although those efforts have foundered.


Technology has been one of the factors driving the opening up of Africa to deeper energy exploration. Offshore and deepwater drilling success in the Gulf of Mexico and Brazil led to prospecting now under way offshore in Ghana, Mozambique, and elsewhere. (See related story: "New Oil—And a Huge Challenge—for Ghana.") Jaffe says the Houston-based company Anadarko Petroleum has sought to transfer its success in "subsalt seismic" exploration technology, surveying reserves hidden beneath the hard salt layer at the bottom of the sea, to the equally challenging seismic exploration beneath the sands of the Sahara in Algeria, where it now has three oil and gas operations.


Africa also is seen as one of the few remaining oil-rich regions of the world where foreign oil companies can obtain production-sharing agreements with governments, contracts that allow them a share of the revenue from the barrels they produce, instead of more limited service contracts for work performed.


"You now have the technology to tap the resources more effectively, and the fiscal terms are going to be more attractive than elsewhere—you put these things together and it's been a hot place to drill," says Jaffe, who doesn't see the energy industry's interest in Africa waning, despite the increased terrorism risk. "What I think will happen in some of these countries is that the companies are going to reveal new securities systems and procedures they have to keep workers safe," she says. "I don't think they will abandon these countries."


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


Read More..

Algeria Hostage Crisis Over, One American Dead













After the Algerian military's final assault on terrorists holding hostages at a gas complex, the four-day hostage crisis is over, but apparently with additional loss of life among the foreign hostages.


One American, Fred Buttaccio of Texas, has been confirmed dead by the U.S. State Department. Two more U.S. hostages remain unaccounted for, with growing concern among U.S. officials that they did not survive.


But another American, Mark Cobb of Corpus Christi, Texas is now confirmed as safe. Sources close to his family say Cobb, who is a senior manager of the facility, is safe and reportedly sent a text message " I'm alive."










Inside Algerian Hostage Crisis, One American Dead Watch Video









American Hostages Escape From Algeria Terrorists Watch Video





In a statement, President Obama said, "Today, the thoughts and prayers of the American people are with the families of all those who were killed and injured in the terrorist attack in Algeria. The blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out, and the United States condemns their actions in the strongest possible terms. ... This attack is another reminder of the threat posed by al Qaeda and other violent extremist groups in North Africa."


According to Algerian state media, 32 militants are dead and a total of 23 hostages perished during the four-day siege of the In Amenas facility in the Sahara. The Algerian Interior Ministry also says 107 foreign nationals who worked at the facility for BP and other firms were rescued or escaped from the al Qaeda-linked terrorists who took over the BP joint venture facility on Wednesday.


The Japanese government says it fears "very grave" news, with multiple casualties among the 10 Japanese citizens working at the In Amenas gas plant.


Five British nationals and one U.K. resident are either deceased or unaccounted for in the country, according to British Foreign Minister William Hague. Hague also said that the Algerians have reported that they are still trying to clear boobytraps from the site.




Read More..

NASA planet-hunter is injured and resting



Lisa Grossman, physical sciences reporter

Kepler-deadwheel2.jpg


(Image: NASA/Kepler mission/Wendy Stenzel)


NASA's planet-hunting Kepler telescope has put its search for alien Earths on hold while it rests a stressed reaction wheel.


The injured wheel normally helps to control the telescope's orientation, keeping it pointed continuously at the same patch of sky. Kepler stares at the thousands of stars in its field of view to watch for the telltale blinks that occur when a planet crosses in front of its star. It has found nearly 3000 potential planets outside our solar system since its launch in 2009, transforming the field of exoplanet research and raising hopes of someday finding alien life.


When it launched, Kepler had four reaction wheels: three to control its motion along each axis, and one spare. But last July, one wheel stopped turning. If the spacecraft loses a second wheel, the mission is over.






So when another wheel started showing signs of elevated friction on 7 January, the team decided to play it safe. After rotating the spacecraft failed to fix the problem, NASA announced yesterday that they're placing Kepler in safe mode for 10 days to give the wheel a chance to recover.


The hope is that the lubricating oil that helps the wheel's ball bearings run smoothly around a track will redistribute itself during the rest period.


The telescope can't take any science data while in safe mode. But if the wheel recovers on its own, Kepler's extended mission will run until 2016, leaving it plenty of time to make up for the lost days.


"Kepler is a statistical mission," says Charlie Sobeck, Kepler's deputy project manager at NASA's Ames Research Centre in Mountain View, California. "In the long run, as long as we make the observations, it doesn't matter a lot when we make the observations."


Despite the high stakes, the team doesn't seem too worried.


"Each wheel has its own personality, and this particular wheel has been something of a free spirit," Sobeck says. "It's had elevated torques throughout the mission. This one is typical to what we've seen in the past, and if we had four good wheels we probably wouldn't have taken any action."


"I prefer to picture the spacecraft lounging at the shore of the cosmic ocean sipping a Mai Tai so that she'll be refreshed and rejuvenated for more discoveries," wrote Kepler co-investigator Natalie Batalha in an email.


The team will check up on the wheel on 27 January and return to doing science as soon as possible.


There are two exoplanet missions currently being considered for after Kepler is finished, says Doug Hudgins at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. One, TESS (Terrestrial Exoplanet Survey Satellite), would scan the entire sky for planets transiting the stars nearest to the sun. The other, FINESSE (Fast Infrared Exoplanet Spectroscopy Survey Explorer), would take spectra of planets as they passed in front of their stars as a way to probe their atmospheres.


The missions are being evaluated now, and NASA will probably select one this spring, Hudgins says. The winner will launch in 2017.


If Kepler goes down with its reaction wheel, that won't affect which mission wins, he adds. "That's a straight-up competition based on the merits of the two concept study reports."




Read More..

Japan PM holds Algerian hostage task force meeting






TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended a meeting Saturday of a government task force on the Algeria hostage crisis after cutting short a trip to Southeast Asia, a report said.

After arriving back in Tokyo Abe headed straight to his official residence where the meeting was to be held, Kyodo news agency reported.

"I would like to firmly respond," Abe was quoted as saying. He called for continued efforts to collect accurate information on the situation in Algeria and for close international cooperation during the crisis.

Al-Qaeda-linked gunmen, cited by Mauritania's ANI news agency, said they still held seven foreigners at a remote Algerian gas plant deep in the Sahara desert. An Algerian security official put their number at 10.

The kidnappers said they were still holding three Belgians, two Americans, one Japanese and a Briton, although Belgium said there was no indication any of its nationals were being held.

More workers remain unaccounted for, and the fate of at least 10 Japanese nationals and eight Norwegian hostages is still unknown.

The Islamist captors are demanding a prisoner swap and an end to French military action in Mali.

The meeting in Tokyo took place shortly after a joint news conference in Washington involving US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.

"Japan takes the position that terrorism is definitely intolerable and impermissible," Kishida said.

"The government of Japan has been requesting the government of Algeria to place the utmost priority on ensuring the safety and the lives of the hostages," he added.

International criticism of the haste with which Algeria launched a dramatic military assault to rescue the hostages has been mounting, after an Algerian security official said it had left dead 12 hostages and 18 kidnappers.

Japanese plant builder JGC, which has 78 employees in the country, said it had now accounted for 17 of them -- seven Japanese and 10 others, including two Philippine nationals and a Romanian.

JGC president Koichi Kawana and other senior officials had left for Algeria by early Saturday, Kyodo reported.

- AFP/ck



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Autopsy today for lottery winner poisoned by cyanide

The body of poisoned lottery winner, Urooj Khan, is exhumed at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago on Friday, Jan. 18, 2013. (John J. Kim, Chicago Tribune)









Chief Cook County Medical Examiner Stephen J. Cina said this afternoon that the body of lottery winner Urooj Khan, exhumed as part of a homicide investigation, was in an advanced state of decomposition but pathologists were able to take samples for toxicological analysis during an autopsy.

It could take several weeks before the test results are available, Cina said.

"I can't really predict how the results are going to turn out. Cyanide over the postmortem period actually can essentially evaporate and leave the tissue," Cina told reporters in the lobby of the medical examiner's office on the Near West Side. "It is possible that cyanide that was in the tissues is no longer in the tissues after several months. We'll just have to see how the results play out."

Cina said it took a few hours to complete the autopsy following the exhumation of Khan’s body from Rosehill Cemetery this morning.

The medical examiner’s office initially ruled that Khan’s July 20 death was from natural causes, but after a relative raised questions, comprehensive toxicological tests of blood showed that he died of cyanide poisoning. He had won a million-dollar lottery prize a few weeks before his death but had not collected the winnings – a lump-sum payment of about $425,000 after taxes.


Earlier today, a hearse was opened in front of a green tent set up at the grave site just north of Peterson Avenue and Khan's body was loaded into it. An evidence technician snapped a photo of it before the hearse's rear doors were closed up and the vehicle was driven away across the grass on the cemetery, escorted by a Chicago police evidence technician squad car and several other marked and unmarked police vehicles. They exited west onto Peterson Avenue.


The whole exhumation process lasted about two hours.








Khan's body was not frozen, officials said. A medical examiner's office spokeswoman, Mary Paleologos, said Khan's body will be buried again on Monday.


Dr. Marta Helenowski, the forensic pathologist who originally handled Khan's case, was to take samples of Khan's lungs, liver and spleen for further testing, along with taking a look at the contents of Khan's stomach and intestines and taking bone, nail and hair samples, all for further examination, according Paleologos.


"Depending on the condition of the body and the quality of the samples, (the medical examiner's office) will hopefully be able to determine how the cyanide entered his body," Paleologos said.


It'll be two or three weeks before the medical examiner's office knows how the cyanide got into Khan's system. The office will also have to wait for independent lab test results.


Helenowski and a few medical examiner's office personnel were on hand for the exhumation. An imam also was present to say prayers at the grave site as the exhumation went on.


Several helicopters hovered over Rosehill Cemetery and a backhoe and three or four pickup trucks were stationed at the grave site in the middle of the cemetery's northern section, where a beam of light could be seen shining over Khan's headstone. The backhoe soon began its work digging into the ground at the grave site. In addition to the backhoe, one or two workers were seen helping dig up the body with shovels.


A large tent was set up at the site where some two dozen police officers were gathered. Among the officers are two Chicago police evidence technicians, Paleologos said. One was taking still photos of the exhumation, while the other was shooting video.


An unmarked police car and two blue barricades blocked off the Peterson Avenue gate to Rosehill, the only entrance and exit in the northern section of the cemetery.


Four TV trucks sat parked along the fence about 100 yards west of the grave site along Oakley Avenue, the designated staging area for the media. A group of about a dozen photographers, a videographer and TV reporters stood along the Peterson Avenue fence, next to where traffic moved along the busy thoroughfare like any normal morning rush hour.


A few passersby gazed at the police activity at the grave site from Oakley Avenue. One, curious about large presence inside the cemetery, was surprised to learned from a Tribune reporter that it was Khan's body being dug up. Another thought someone was having a funeral.


The exhumation of Khan's remains came about six months after the West Rogers Park man was buried at Rosehill. In court papers last week, Cina said it was important to exhume the remains "as expeditiously as possible" since Khan's body was not embalmed.

In court papers, Cina said it was necessary to perform a full autopsy to "further confirm the results of the blood analysis as well as to rule out any other natural causes that might have contributed to or caused Mr. Khan's death."


The exhumation comes after the Tribune broke the story on Jan. 7 about Khan's mysterious death, sparking international media interest in the case.


The medical examiner's office initially ruled Khan's July 20 death was from hardening of the arteries when there were no signs of trauma on the body and a preliminary blood test didn't raise any questions. But the investigation was reopened about a week later after a relative suggested to authorities that Khan's death "may have been the result of poisoning," prosecutors said in a court filing seeking the exhumation.


The medical examiner's office contacted Chicago police Sept. 11 after tests showed cyanide in Khan's blood. By late November, more comprehensive toxicological tests showed lethal levels of the toxic chemical and the medical examiner's office declared his death a homicide.


Khan's widow, Shabana Ansari, who has hired a criminal-defense lawyer, told the Tribune last week that she had been questioned for more than four hours by detectives and had fully cooperated.  She said the detectives had asked her about ingredients she used to prepare his last meal of lamb curry, shared by Ansari, her father-in-law Fareedun Ansari and Khan's daughter from a previous marriage, Jasmeen, 17.


While a motive has not been determined, police have not ruled out that Khan was killed because of his lottery win, a law enforcement source has told the Tribune.


According to court records obtained by the Tribune, Khan's brother has squabbled with Shabana Ansari over the lottery winnings in probate court. The brother, ImTiaz Khan, raised concern that since Khan left no will, Jasmeen Khan would not get "her fair share" of her father's estate.


Khan and Ansari did not have children together. Since her father's death, Jasmeen Khan has been living with Khan's siblings.


An attorney for Ansari in the probate case said the money was all accounted for and the estate was in the process of being divided up by the court. Under state law, the estate typically would be split evenly between the spouse and Khan's only child, he said.


In addition, almost two years ago, the Internal Revenue Service placed liens on Khan's residence on West Pratt Boulevard in an effort to collect more than $120,000 in back taxes from his father-in-law,  Fareedun Ansari, who still lives at the home with his daughter.


Fareedun and Shabana Ansari have denied involvement in Khan's death.


jgorner@tribune.com

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking





Read More..

Attack at Algeria Gas Plant Heralds New Risks for Energy Development



The siege by Islamic militants at a remote Sahara desert natural gas plant in Algeria this week signaled heightened dangers in the region for international oil companies, at a time when they have been expanding operations in Africa as one of the world's last energy frontiers. (See related story: "Pictures: Four New Offshore Drilling Frontiers.")


As BP, Norway's Statoil, Italy's Eni, and other companies evacuated personnel from Algeria, it was not immediately clear how widely the peril would spread in the wake of the hostage-taking at the sprawling In Amenas gas complex near the Libyan border.



A map of disputed islands in the East and South China Seas.

Map by National Geographic



Algeria, the fourth-largest crude oil producer on the continent and a major exporter of natural gas and refined fuels, may not have been viewed as the most hospitable climate for foreign energy companies, but that was due to unfavorable financial terms, bureaucracy, and corruption. The energy facilities themselves appeared to be safe, with multiple layers of security provided both by the companies and by government forces, several experts said. (See related photos: "Oil States: Are They Stable? Why It Matters.")


"It is particularly striking not only because it hasn't happened before, but because it happened in Algeria, one of the stronger states in the region," says Hanan Amin-Salem, a senior manager at the industry consulting firm PFC Energy, who specializes in country risk. She noted that in the long civil war that gripped the country throughout the 1990s, there had never been an attack on Algeria's energy complex. But now, hazard has spread from weak surrounding states, as the assault on In Amenas was carried out in an apparent retaliation for a move by French forces against the Islamists who had taken over Timbuktu and other towns in neighboring Mali. (See related story: "Timbuktu Falls.")


"What you're really seeing is an intensification of the fundamental problem of weak states, and empowerment of heavily armed groups that are really well motivated and want to pursue a set of aims," said Amin-Salem. In PFC Energy's view, she says, risk has increased in Mauritania, Chad, and Niger—indeed, throughout Sahel, the belt that bisects North Africa, separating the Sahara in the north from the tropical forests further south.


On Thursday, the London-based corporate consulting firm Exclusive Analysis, which was recently acquired by the global consultancy IHS, sent an alert to clients warning that oil and gas facilities near the Libyan and Mauritanian borders and in Mauritania's Hodh Ech Chargui province were at "high risk" of attack by jihadis.


"A Hot Place to Drill"


The attack at In Amenas comes at a time of unprecedented growth for the oil industry in Africa. (See related gallery: "Pictures: The Year's Most Overlooked Energy Stories.") Forecasters expect that oil output throughout Africa will double by 2025, says Amy Myers Jaffe, executive director of the energy and sustainability program at the University of California, Davis, who has counted 20 rounds of bidding for new exploration at sites in Africa's six largest oil-producing states.


Oil and natural gas are a large part of the Algerian economy, accounting for 60 percent of government budget revenues, more than a third of GDP and more than 97 percent of its export earnings. But the nation's resources are seen as largely undeveloped, and Algeria has tried to attract new investment. Over the past year, the government has sought to reform the law to boost foreign companies' interests in their investments, although those efforts have foundered.


Technology has been one of the factors driving the opening up of Africa to deeper energy exploration. Offshore and deepwater drilling success in the Gulf of Mexico and Brazil led to prospecting now under way offshore in Ghana, Mozambique, and elsewhere. (See related story: "New Oil—And a Huge Challenge—for Ghana.") Jaffe says the Houston-based company Anadarko Petroleum has sought to transfer its success in "subsalt seismic" exploration technology, surveying reserves hidden beneath the hard salt layer at the bottom of the sea, to the equally challenging seismic exploration beneath the sands of the Sahara in Algeria, where it now has three oil and gas operations.


Africa also is seen as one of the few remaining oil-rich regions of the world where foreign oil companies can obtain production-sharing agreements with governments, contracts that allow them a share of the revenue from the barrels they produce, instead of more limited service contracts for work performed.


"You now have the technology to tap the resources more effectively, and the fiscal terms are going to be more attractive than elsewhere—you put these things together and it's been a hot place to drill," says Jaffe, who doesn't see the energy industry's interest in Africa waning, despite the increased terrorism risk. "What I think will happen in some of these countries is that the companies are going to reveal new securities systems and procedures they have to keep workers safe," she says. "I don't think they will abandon these countries."


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


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Armstrong May Have Lied to Oprah: Investigators













Lance Armstrong may have lied to Oprah Winfrey during his so-called confession Thursday night about his doping during the Tour de France bicycle race, investigators told ABC News today.


Armstrong, 41, admitted for the first time that his decade-long dominance of cycling and seven wins in the Tour de France were owed, in part, to performance-enhancing drugs and oxygen-boosting blood transfusions. He told Winfrey that he was taking the opportunity to confess to everything he had done wrong, including angrily denying reports for years claiming that he had doped.


Investigators familiar with Armstrong's case, however, said today that Armstrong didn't completely come clean. They say he blatantly lied about when he stopped doping, saying the last time he used the drugs and transfusions was the 2005 race.


"That's the only thing in this whole report that upset me," Armstrong said during the interview. "The accusation and alleged proof that they said I doped [in 2009] is not true. The last time I crossed the line, that line was 2005."


"You did not do a blood transfusion in 2009?" Winfrey asked.


"No, 2009 and 2010 absolutely not," Armstrong said.


Investigators familiar with the case disagree. They said today that Armstrong's blood values at the 2009 race showed clear blood manipulation consistent with two transfusions. Armstrong's red blood cell count suddenly went up at these points, even though the number of baby red blood cells did not.


Investigators said this was proof that he received a transfusion of mature red blood cells.


If Armstrong lied about the 2009 race, it could be to protect himself criminally, investigators said.


READ MORE: 10 Scandalous Public Confessions


PHOTOS: Olympic Doping Scandals: Past and Present


PHOTOS: Tour de France 2012


Federal authorities looking to prosecute criminal cases will look back at the "last overt act" in which the crime was committed, they explained. If Armstrong doped in 2005 but not 2009, the statute of limitations may have expired on potential criminal activity.








Lance Armstrong-Winfrey Interview: How Honest Was He? Watch Video









The sources noted that there is no evidence right now that a criminal investigation will be reopened. Armstrong is facing at least three civil suits.


The second half of Armstrong's interview is set to air tonight.


Shock and disenchantment were among the reactions from people most familiar with the famed cyclist's history after his on-air confession Thursday night.


"I could not believe that Lance apologized," Betsy Andreu, the wife of Armstrong's former teammate and close friend Frankie Andreu, said today on ABC's "Good Morning America".


"Lance doesn't say, 'I'm sorry.' Lance isn't used to telling the truth and so I think in the days to come, in the months to come, I'm hoping that we'll see the contrition. Actions speak louder than words so if the words aren't empty ...," Andreu said.


ABC News consultant and USA Today columnist Christine Brennan called Armstrong's admitting that he used performance-enhancing drugs "a major miscalculation."


"This is like Bernie Madoff coming back after three months or Richard Nixon coming back after three months. No one wants to hear from those people so soon," Brennan told George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America."


"It was a lose-lose going in. I think he did more harm than good to his reputation, and he just looked cold-blooded, and cutthroat, and ruthless," Brennan said.


Minutes after Armstrong's confession aired on Oprah Winfrey's OWN network, the Livestrong Foundation -- the Austin-Texas-based cancer charity that he founded -- released a statement expressing disappointment in their former leader.


"We at the LIVESTRONG Foundation are disappointed by the news that Lance Armstrong misled people during and after his cycling career, including us," the statement read. "Earlier this week, Lance apologized to our staff and we accepted his apology in order to move on and chart a strong, independent course.


"Our success has never been based on one person -- it's based on the patients and survivors we serve every day, who approach a cancer diagnosis with hope, courage and perseverance."


READ MORE: Did Doping Cause Armstrong's Cancer?


Travis Tygart, head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said in a statement, "Tonight, Lance Armstrong finally acknowledged that his cycling career was built on a powerful combination of doping and deceit. His admission that he doped throughout his career is a small step in the right direction. But if he is sincere in his desire to correct his past mistakes, he will testify under oath about the full extent of his doping activities."


The agency issued an October report in which 11 former Armstrong teammates described the system under which they and Armstrong received drugs with, they say, the knowledge of their coaches and help of team physicians. As a result of the organization's findings, Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles. Soon, longtime sponsors including Nike began to abandon him, too.


John Fahey, president of the World Anti-Doping Agency said, "He was wrong, he cheated and there was no excuse for what he did. If he was looking for redemption, he didn't succeed in getting that."


Such a reaction\ to the highly anticipated interview was only the tip of the iceberg as pundits, those close to Armstrong and even everyday people took to Twitter and other social media outlets to share their thoughts on what Armstrong said was "one big lie that I repeated a lot of times."


Cyclist and former Armstrong teammate Jonathan Vaughters tweeted, "A good first step. I need to sleep."






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Matching names to genes: the end of genetic privacy?

















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Are we being too free with our genetic information? What if you started receiving targeted ads for Prozac for the depression risk revealed by your publicly accessible genome? As increasing amounts of genetic information is placed online, many researchers believe that guaranteeing donors' privacy has become an impossible task.












The first major genetic data collection began in 2002 with the International HapMap Project – a collaborative effort to sequence genomes from families around the world. Its aim was to develop a public resource that will help researchers find genes associated with human disease and drug response.












While its consent form assured participants that their data would remain confidential, it had the foresight to mention that with future scientific advances, a deliberate attempt to match a genome with its donor might succeed. "The risk was felt to be very remote," says Laura Lyman Rodriguez of the US government's National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.












Their fears proved to be founded: in a paper published in Science this week, a team led by Yaniv Erlich of the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, used publicly available genetic information and an algorithm they developed to identify some of the people who donated their DNA to HapMap's successor, the 1000 Genomes Project.











Anonymity not guaranteed












Erlich says the research was inspired by a New Scientist article in which a 15-year-old boy successfully used unique genetic markers called short tandem repeats (STRs) on his Y chromosome to track down his father, who was an anonymous sperm donor. Erlich and his team used a similar approach.













First they turned to open-access genealogy databases, which attempt to link male relatives using matching surnames and similar STRs. The team chose a few surnames from these sources, such as "Venter",and then searched for the associated STRs in the 1000 Genomes Project's collection of whole genomes. This allowed them to identify which complete genomes were likely to be from people named Venter.












Although the 1000 Genome Project's database, which at last count had 1092 genomes, does not contain surname data, it does contain demographic data such as the ages and locations of its donors. By searching online phonebooks for people named Venter and narrowing those down to the geographic regions and ages represented in the whole genomes, the researchers were able to find the specific person who had donated his data.












In total, the researchers identified 50 individuals who had donated whole genomes. Some of these were female, whose identity was given away because of having the same location and age as a known donor's wife.











Matter of time













Before publishing their findings, the team warned the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other institutions involved in the project about the vulnerability in their data. Rodriguez says that they had been anticipating that someone would identify donors, "although we didn't know how or when".












To prevent Erlich's method from being used successfully again, age data has been removed from the project's website. Erlich says that this makes it difficult, although not impossible, to narrow the surnames down to an individual.












"The genie's out of the bottle," says Jeffrey Kahn of Florida State University in Tallahassee. "It's a harbinger of a changing paradigm of privacy." A cultural zeitgeist led by companies such as Facebook has led to more information sharing than anyone would have thought possible back in 2002 when HapMap first began, he says.











Recurring problem













This is not the first time genome confidentiality has been compromised. When James Watson made his genome public in 2007, he blanked out a gene related to Alzheimer's. But a group of researchers successfully inferred whether he carried the risky version of this gene by examining the DNA sequences on either side of the redacted gene.












While someone is bound to find another way to identify genetic donors, says Rodriguez, the NIH believes it would be wrong to remove all of their genome data from the public domain. She says that full accessibility is "very beneficial to science", but acknowledges that the project needs to strike a careful balance between confidentiality and open access.












It is especially pertinent, says Kahn, because genetic data does not just carry information from the person from whom it was taken. It can also reveal the genetic details of family members, some of whom might not want that information to be public. A relative's genome might reveal your own disease risk, for example, which you might not want to know or have an employer learn of. While laws prohibit health insurers and employers from discriminating against people based on their genetic data, it would not be difficult to give another reason for denying you a job.












An individual's relatives could not prevent that individual from learning about themselves, says Rodriguez, but researchers should encourage would-be genome donors to discuss the risks and benefits with their families.

























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Campaigning in Punggol East intensifies as candidates make early start






SINGAPORE: Campaigning in the Punggol East by-election intensifies, with candidates making an early start to catch voters from all walks of life.

On Friday morning, Dr Koh Poh Koon of the People's Action Party (PAP) and Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam of the Reform Party (RP) were at Rumbia LRT Station, near Rivervale Mall, to catch the morning crowd.

They were distributing flyers.

Dr Koh told reporters that his secret during the gruelling campaign is to sleep enough and drink lots of water.

The PAP will hold its first rally in the constituency on Friday night.

-CNA/ac



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2 in custody after shooting death of teen

The mother and aunt of 17-year-old Tyrone Lawson, who was killed after watching a prep basketball game at Chicago State University on Jan. 16, 2013, talk about the incident.









Pamela Wright had dropped off her son at Chicago State University for a high school basketball game and was waiting for him to get back in touch when she got the awful news.

Her son Tyrone Lawson had been shot, apparently as he ran from a fight that had spilled out of the gymnasium Wednesday night.

"Instead of looking forward to prom, I'm looking for an insurance policy to bury him," Wright said this afternoon.


"It hurt so bad," said Lawson's grandmother, Barbara VanHughs, 70, clutching a photo of Lawson and crying. "My baby."

Police say an argument broke out while players were in a handshake line after the game between Simeon Career Academy and Morgan Park High School. The dispute spilled into the parking lot near 95th Street and King Drive and someone pulled out a gun and shot Lawson around 9:30 p.m., officials said.

Lawson died from multiple gunshot wounds in a homicide, the Cook County medical examiner’s office determined this afternoon. Lawson was shot twice in the back while running away, said Kurtistein Bailey, his 41-year-old aunt. Amid the chaos, someone knelt down and told Lawson to get up but he couldn't move, his aunt said.

"This was at the school where his mom thought he was safe," Bailey said. "His mother thought he was safe there. That's why she let him go."

Lawson had sent a text message to this mother earlier in the day, asking if he could go to the game. "Mom, can I go to the basketball game? It's only $10," Lawson had asked, according to VanHughs.


"I texted him back 'K,' and he said 'light' because he always said 'light' instead of 'right,'" said Wright, 52.

Before she dropped him off at the game, Wright gave him $17 -- $10 for the game and $7 to spend -- and told him to "be careful."








His mother waited for him to call back or text her, she said.

A fight broke out at the end of the game, and video shows security getting players off the court. It was unclear what the fight was about. Nothing outside ordinary bumps and physical contact appeared to have happened during the game between the two schools, which are located on Vincennes Avenue about 30 blocks apart.


Around 8:30 p.m., Wright wanted to check on her son, but her 53-year-old fiance, Gregory Young, assured her Lawson was "all right." About an hour later, Wright learned from a relative that Lawson had been "hit twice in the back" and died, she said.


University police issued a message to its officers, asking them to watch for a Jeep. It was pulled over east of the school and two people were taken into custody, officials said. Police said they found a gun inside the Jeep.

The Jeep's owner told the Tribune this afternoon that she was not aware of any gun in the car. "I was not there," the owner said. "I don't know what happened."


Wright said she and Young were planning on telling Lawson today that they were getting married next week. Now, the two are tying the knot Feb. 26, Lawson's birthday.

CPS spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus said the district worked with the university and Chicago police to provide security at the game.

Sainvilus said there was a significant security presence both inside and outside the gym, and there had been screening to prevent anyone from carrying guns into the game. All fans were also searched.

The university released a statement Thursday morning saying it was "deeply saddened by the tragic shooting death."

“(Chicago Public Schools) periodically uses the university’s athletic facility to provide a neutral setting for student sporting events. This is the first such incident to occur on the campus of Chicago State University where CPS students have played many times over the last three years," the statement said.

"Additional security is provided by the university and all external partners during high school sporting events. Arrests have been made and university officials are awaiting the outcome of a full investigation to learn details about the shooting incident.”


Relatives said Lawson was an honor student at Morgan Park and hoped to land a ComEd apprenticeship after graduation. They remembered him as "high-spirited" and "loved by all," a popular student with friends on the basketball team.

Bailey said Lawson loved animals, and took care of snakes, an iguana and turtles over the years. His grandmother said he loved animals so much he gave up his bedroom for his 2-year-old dog, Midnight, and slept on a futon in another room.

VanHughs said she helped raise Lawson while his mother traveled for her job. Family members described the two as having a strong relationship.

"He was definitely a momma's boy," Bailey said. "They were very close and he was her only child."


CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett ordered extra security personnel for the two high schools today. Crisis teams, including counselors, also have been deployed at Morgan Park.


CPS would not release any information about Lawson's education history or attendance at Chicago Public Schools.


Contributor Mike Helfgot and Tribune reporters Peter Nickeas, Rosemary Regina Sobol, Jeremy Gorner and Liam Ford contributed to this story.

chicagobreaking@tribune.com
Twitter: @chicagobreaking





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Opinion: Lance One of Many Tour de France Cheaters


Editor's note: England-based writer and photographer Roff Smith rides around 10,000 miles a year through the lanes of Sussex and Kent and writes a cycling blog at: www.my-bicycle-and-I.co.uk

And so, the television correspondent said to the former Tour de France champion, a man who had been lionised for years, feted as the greatest cyclist of his day, did you ever use drugs in the course of your career?

"Yes," came the reply. "Whenever it was necessary."

"And how often was that?" came the follow-up question.

"Almost all the time!"

This is not a leak of a transcript from Oprah Winfrey's much anticipated tell-all with disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, but instead was lifted from a decades-old interview with Fausto Coppi, the great Italian road cycling champion of the 1940s and 1950s.

To this day, though, Coppi is lauded as one of the gods of cycling, an icon of a distant and mythical golden age in the sport.

So is five-time Tour winner Jacques Anquetil (1957, 1961-64) who famously remarked that it was impossible "to ride the Tour on mineral water."

"You would have to be an imbecile or a crook to imagine that a professional cyclist who races for 235 days a year can hold the pace without stimulants," Anquetil said.

And then there's British cycling champion Tommy Simpson, who died of heart failure while trying to race up Mont Ventoux during the 1967 Tour de France, a victim of heat, stress, and a heady cocktail of amphetamines.

All are heroes today. If their performance-enhancing peccadillos are not forgotten, they have at least been glossed over in the popular imagination.

As the latest chapter of the sorry Lance Armstrong saga unfolds, it is worth looking at the history of cheating in the Tour de France to get a sense of perspective. This is not an attempt at rationalisation or justification for what Lance did. Far from it.

But the simple, unpalatable fact is that cheating, drugs, and dirty tricks have been part and parcel of the Tour de France nearly from its inception in 1903.

Cheating was so rife in the 1904 event that Henri Desgrange, the founder and organiser of the Tour, declared he would never run the race again. Not only was the overall winner, Maurice Garin, disqualified for taking the train over significant stretches of the course, but so were next three cyclists who placed, along with the winner of every single stage of the course.

Of the 27 cyclists who actually finished the 1904 race, 12 were disqualified and given bans ranging from one year to life. The race's eventual official winner, 19-year-old Henri Cornet, was not determined until four months after the event.

And so it went. Desgrange relented on his threat to scrub the Tour de France and the great race survived and prospered-as did the antics. Trains were hopped, taxis taken, nails scattered along the roads, partisan supporters enlisted to beat up rivals on late-night lonely stretches of the course, signposts tampered with, bicycles sabotaged, itching powder sprinkled in competitors' jerseys and shorts, food doctored, and inkwells smashed so riders yet to arrive couldn't sign the control documents to prove they'd taken the correct route.

And then of course there were the stimulants-brandy, strychnine, ether, whatever-anything to get a rider through the nightmarishly tough days and nights of racing along stages that were often over 200 miles long. In a way the race was tailor-made to encourage this sort of thing. Desgrange once famously said that his idea of a perfect Tour de France would be one that was so tough that only one rider finished.

Add to this the big prizes at a time when money was hard to come by, a Tour largely comprising young riders from impoverished backgrounds for whom bicycle racing was their one big chance to get ahead, and the passionate following cycling enjoyed, and you had the perfect recipe for a desperate, high stakes, win-at-all-costs mentality, especially given the generally tolerant views on alcohol and drugs in those days.

After World War II came the amphetamines. Devised to keep soldiers awake and aggressive through long hours of battle they were equally handy for bicycle racers competing in the world's longest and toughest race.

So what makes the Lance Armstrong story any different, his road to redemption any rougher? For one thing, none of the aforementioned riders were ever the point man for what the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has described in a thousand-page report as the most sophisticated, cynical, and far-reaching doping program the world of sport has ever seen-one whose secrecy and efficiency was maintained by ruthlessness, bullying, fear, and intimidation.

Somewhere along the line, the casualness of cheating in the past evolved into an almost Frankenstein sort of science in which cyclists, aided by creepy doctors and trainers, were receiving blood transfusions in hotel rooms and tinkering around with their bodies at the molecular level many months before they ever lined up for a race.

To be sure, Armstrong didn't invent all of this, any more than he invented original sin-nor was he acting alone. But with his success, money, intelligence, influence, and cohort of thousand-dollar-an-hour lawyers-and the way he used all this to prop up the Lance brand and the Lance machine at any cost-he became the poster boy and lightning rod for all that went wrong with cycling, his high profile eclipsing even the heads of the Union Cycliste Internationale, the global cycling union, who richly deserve their share of the blame.

It is not his PED popping that is the hard-to-forgive part of the Lance story. Armstrong cheated better than his peers, that's all.

What I find troubling is the bullying and calculated destruction of anyone who got in his way, raised a question, or cast a doubt. By all accounts Armstrong was absolutely vicious, vindictive as hell. Former U.S. Postal team masseuse Emma O'Reilly found herself being described publicly as a "prostitute" and an "alcoholic," and had her life put through a legal grinder when she spoke out about Armstrong's use of PEDs.

Journalists were sued, intimidated, and blacklisted from events, press conferences, and interviews if they so much as questioned the Lance miracle or well-greased machine that kept winning Le Tour.

Armstrong left a lot of wreckage behind him.

If he is genuinely sorry, if he truly repents for his past "indiscretions," one would think his first act would be to try to find some way of not only seeking forgiveness from those whom he brutally put down, but to do something meaningful to repair the damage he did to their lives and livelihoods.


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Biden Confirms Support for Second Amendment


Jan 17, 2013 6:41pm







gty joe biden mayors nt 130117 wblog Biden Confirms Support for Second Amendment, Says He Owns Two Shotguns

Alex Wong/Getty Images


One day after President Obama unveiled the administration’s plan to curb gun violence, Vice President Joe Biden today defended their intentions, answering critics who have spoken out against the plan for potentially infringing on the Second Amendment rights of Americans.


“The president and I support the Second Amendment,”  Biden said definitively.


Biden, who’s led the task force on gun violence since the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, noted that he owns guns.


“I have two shotguns, a 20-gauge and a 12-gauge shotgun,” he said. Later in the speech he said his son Beau was a better shot than he is but that is because Beau is in the Army.


Biden spoke today before the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors’ meeting in Washington, D.C. Not everyone in the audience, Biden noted today, agrees with recommendations the White House put forward yesterday. But he defended the administration’s move to push this issue, at one point addressing the roomful of mayors as if he were speaking to them individually, saying that “murder rates in both of our towns are …  well beyond … what’s remotely tolerable for a civilized circumstance.”


“We’re going to take this fight to the halls of Congress,” he said. “We’re going to take it beyond that. We’re going to take it to the American people. We’re going to go around the country making our case, and we’re going to let the voices, the voice, of the American people be heard. ”


Biden again noted that there will not be consensus across the nation, given cultural differences among the states. In many states, he added, hunting is  “big deal.”


But, he quipped, addressing the use of high-capacity magazines in hunting, “As one hunter told me, if you got 12 rounds — you got 12 rounds, it means you’ve already missed the deer 11 times. You should pack the sucker in at that point. You don’t deserve to have a gun, period, if you’re that bad.”


High-capacity ammunition magazines “leave victims with no chance,” Biden said.


He summed up saying, “Recognizing those differences doesn’t in any way negate the rational prospect of being able to come up with common-sense approaches how to deal with the myriad of problems that relate to gun ownership.”


Biden said the “time is now” to make these changes and scoffed at some alternative strategies, like the proposal from the NRA for an armed guard to be placed in every school.


“We don’t want rent-a-cops in schools armed,” he said. “We don’t want people in schools who aren’t trained like police officers.”









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NASA buys blow-up habitat for space station astronauts









































NASA wants to blow up part of the International Space Station – and a Las Vegas firm is eager to help.












The US space agency has signed a $17.8-million contract with Bigelow Aerospace of Nevada to build an inflatable crew habitat for the ISS.












According to details released today at a press briefing , the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, will launch in 2015. Astronauts on the ISS will test the module for safety and comfort.












BEAM will fly uninflated inside the trunk of a SpaceX Dragon capsule. Once docked and fully expanded, the module will be 4 metres long and 3 metres wide. For two years astronauts will monitor conditions inside, such as temperature and radiation levels.











Bigelow hopes the tests done in orbit will prove that inflatable capsules are safe and reliable for space tourists and commercial research, an idea almost as old as NASA itself. The space agency began investigating the concept of expandable spacecraft in 1958. Space stations like this would be easier to launch and assemble than those with metal components, so would be cheaper. But research ended after a budget crunch in 2000, and Bigelow licensed the technology from NASA.












Stronger skin













The company has made progress, developing shielding that resists punctures from space debris and micrometeorites. BEAM's skin, for instance, is made from layers of material like Kevlar to protect occupants from high-speed impacts. The craft's skin has been tested in the lab alongside shielding used right now on the rest of the ISS, says Bigelow director Mike Gold.












"Our envelope will not only equal but be superior to what is flying on the ISS today. We have a strong and absolute focus on safety," he says.












And we have to be sure that inflatable craft are safe, says William Schonberg, an engineer specialising in orbital debris protection at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. "The overall risk to the ISS is the sum of the risks of its individual components," he says.












It may seem counter-intuitive, but a flexible, inflatable design is just as likely to survive punishment from space debris as metal shielding, says Schonberg. "Certain composite cloth materials have been shown to be highly effective as shields against [high-speed space] impacts. So depending on what material is used, and in what combination it is used with other materials – such as thermal insulation blankets – the final design could be just as effective and perhaps better than the more traditional all-metal shields used elsewhere on the station."












Gold hopes BEAM will also demonstrate that fabric shielding can limit radiation risks. This is a major worry on missions to the moon or an asteroid say, where astronauts have to spend weeks or months outside Earth's protective magnetic field.












High-energy particles called cosmic rays constantly fly through the solar system, and when they strike metal shielding, they can emit secondary radiation in the form of X-rays. This doesn't happen with Kevlar-based fabric shields and so expandable habitats could be more desirable for travellers heading deeper into space, says Gold.


















































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Sex, Internet, music on tap at Sundance film fest






LOS ANGELES: Sex, the Internet and good old fashioned rock-and-roll will dominate the 29th Sundance Film Festival, the top showcase of independent US cinema that opens Thursday in the snowy mountains of Utah.

Founded by Robert Redford, the annual festival in Park City aims to nurture independent filmmakers who might otherwise be eclipsed by output from the major studios -- while Hollywood uses it to scout new up-and-coming talent.

The January 17-27 event will present 119 feature films from 32 countries, including 51 first-timers and more than 100 world premieres.

Sex and desire, for teenagers and adults, are key themes that will be explored at Sundance in both fictional movies and documentaries, festival director John Cooper told AFP.

"It is undeniable that there are a lot of examinations of sexual relationships in this year's line-up," Cooper said.

"Filmmakers are dealing with sex as power, sex as basic human need and desire, sex from both the male and female point of view," he explained.

"I chalk this up to the fact that independent filmmakers have always been at the forefront as far as tackling fresh ideas and issues -- even taboo subjects."

Among the films sure to create buzz are "Lovelace", starring "Les Miserables" alum Amanda Seyfried in the title role as 1970s porn star Linda Lovelace of "Deep Throat" fame.

Also on the program are "The Lifeguard", about the dangerous relationship between a pool lifeguard and a teenager, and "Interior. Leather Bar", -- an X-rated art film directed by and starring James Franco.

Franco and co-director Travis Mathews have reimagined sexually explicit footage cut from William Friedkin's 1980 thrilled "Cruising", in which Al Pacino played a New York cop who goes undercover in the city's gay S&M scene.

Sundance will also feature several films looking at the world of high-tech and the Internet including "Google and the World Brain", a documentary about the web giant's plans to scan every book in the world.

Ashton Kutcher stars in "jOBS", a biopic about late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, and director Alex Gibney will unveil "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks", about Julian Assange's whistleblowing website.

On the documentary front, one of the festival's strong points, about 40 films will be screened including "Manhunt", a look at the CIA's hunt for Osama bin Laden and a counterpoint to Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty".

Another hotly anticipated documentary is "After Tiller", which tells the story of the last four doctors in the United States who still perform third-trimester abortions, after the 2009 assassination of George Tiller.

Documentary filmmakers "approach problems facing our society from a very deep level that is unusual in mainstream media," Cooper said.

"They both expose problems and provide solutions."

The music world will have its moment in the Park City sun, with screenings of documentaries about The Eagles and Russia's Pussy Riot, as well as a film from Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl about the iconic Sound City recording studio in Los Angeles.

The festival's parallel out-of-competition Next section is dedicated to low-budget films, while Park City At Midnight will show a selection of horror and B-movie productions.

-AFP/fl



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FAA grounds all Dreamliners

Federal officials say they are temporarily grounding Boeing's 787 Dreamliners until the risk of possible battery fires is addressed. (Jan. 16)








The Federal Aviation Administration said on Wednesday it would temporarily ground Boeing Co's 787s after a second incident involving battery failures caused one of the Dreamliner passenger jets to make an emergency landing in Japan.

The FAA said airlines would have to demonstrate that the lithium ion batteries involved were safe before they could resume flying Boeing's newest commercial airliner, but gave no details on when that could occur.

Boeing did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Its shares fell 2 percent in after-hours trading to $72.75 after the FAA announcement. The shares of GS Yuasa Corp, a Japanese company that makes batteries for the Dreamliner, fell sharply in early trading there.

"Ultimately, you can view it as a positive thing if they can resolve what the issues are and give people confidence in the safety of the aircraft. In the near-term, though, it's a negative. It's going to force the company to make significant investments," said Ken Herbert, an analyst at Imperial Capital in San Francisco.

The 787, which has a list price of $207 million, represents a leap in the way planes are designed and built, but the project has been plagued by cost overruns and years of delays. Some have suggested Boeing's rush to get planes built after those delays resulted in the recent problems, a charge the company denies.

According to flight tracking website FlightAware, some seven Dreamliners were in the air Wednesday night as the FAA order came down, including a United Airlines flight that left Los Angeles for Houston just a few minutes before the order. United could not be immediately reached for comment.

The use of new battery technology is among the cost-saving features of the 787, which Boeing says burns 20 percent less fuel than rival jetliners using older technology.

Lithium-ion batteries can catch fire if they are overcharged and, once alight, they are difficult to put out as the chemicals produce oxygen, Boeing's chief engineer for the 787, Mike Sinnett, told reporters last week. He said lithium-ion was not the only battery choice, but "it was the right choice".

In Asia, only the Japanese and Air India have the Dreamliner in service, but other airlines are among those globally to have ordered around 850 of the new aircraft.

Boeing has said it will at least break even on the cost of building the 1,100 new 787s it expects to deliver over the next decade. Some analysts, however, say Boeing may never make money from the aircraft, given its enormous development cost.

Any additional cost from fixing problems discovered by the string of recent incidents would affect those forecasts and could hit Boeing's bottom line more quickly if it has to stop delivering planes, analysts said.

BATTERY PROBLEMS

In the latest incident, All Nippon Airways Co Ltd said instruments aboard a domestic flight indicated a battery error, triggering emergency warnings. The incident was described by a transport ministry official as "highly serious" - language used in international safety circles as indicating there could have been an accident.

That led ANA and Japan Airlines Co Ltd to ground their 24 Dreamliners pending checks. Japanese transportation officials said they could not immediately comment on the FAA decision, as did a spokesman for JAL. An ANA spokeswoman said the FAA's order meant the airline could not use its 787s on its U.S. routes.

But barring a prolonged grounding or a severe and uncontained crisis, aircraft industry sources say there is no immediate threat of cancellations for the plane, even after the FAA's decision to halt 787 flights.

Among other reasons, they cite the heavy costs of retraining and investing in new infrastructure, as well as a shortage of alternatives in an industry dominated by just two large jet suppliers.

The Dreamliner's problems could sharpen competition between Boeing and its European rival Airbus, which itself experienced a dip in sales for its A380 superjumbo following problems with wing cracks a year ago. The A380 crisis has since eased and most airlines report the aircraft are flying full.






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6 Ways Climate Change Will Affect You

Photograph by AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

The planet keeps getting hotter, new data showed this week. Especially in America, where 2012 was the warmest year ever recorded, by far. Every few years, the U.S. federal government engages hundreds of experts to assess the impacts of climate change, now and in the future.

From agriculture (pictured) to infrastructure to how humans consume energy, the National Climate Assessment Development Advisory Committee spotlights how a warming world may bring widespread disruption.

Farmers will see declines in some crops, while others will reap increased yields.

Won't more atmospheric carbon mean longer growing seasons? Not quite. Over the next several decades, the yield of virtually every crop in California's fertile Central Valley, from corn to wheat to rice and cotton, will drop by up to 30 percent, researchers expect. (Read about "The Carbon Bathtub" in National Geographic magazine.)

Lackluster pollination, driven by declines in bees due partly to the changing climate, is one reason. Government scientists also expect the warmer climate to shorten the length of the frosting season necessary for many crops to grow in the spring.

Aside from yields, climate change will also affect food processing, storage, and transportation—industries that require an increasing amount of expensive water and energy as global demand rises—leading to higher food prices.

Daniel Stone

Published January 16, 2013

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FAA Grounds Boeing 787 Dreamliners













The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered the grounding of Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets until their U.S. operator proves that batteries on the planes are safe.


United is the only U.S. carrier flying the Boeing 787s, which have been touted as the planes of the future. However, several operated by overseas airlines have run into recent trouble, the latest because of a feared battery fire on a 787 today in Japan.


The FAA's so-called emergency airworthiness directive is a blow to Boeing, from the same government agency that only days ago at a news conference touted the Dreamliner as "safe." Even Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood went so far as to say he would have no issue flying on the plane.


Now, United will need to prove to the FAA that there is no battery fire risk on its six Dreamliners. An emergency airworthiness directive is one that requires an operator to fix or address any problem before flying again.


"Before further flight, operators of U.S.-registered Boeing 787 aircraft must demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the batteries are safe and in compliance," the FAA said in a statement today. "The FAA will work with the manufacturer and carriers to develop a corrective action plan to allow the U.S. 787 fleet to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible."








787 Dreamliner Grounded, Passengers Forced to Evacuate Watch Video









Boeing 787 Dreamliner Deemed Safe Despite Mishaps Watch Video







United Airlines responded tonight with a statement: "United will immediately comply with the airworthiness directive and will work closely with the FAA and Boeing on the technical review as we work toward restoring 787 service. We will begin reaccommodating customers on alternate aircraft."


There are some 50 Dreamliners flying in the world, mostly for Japanese airlines, but also for Polish and Chilean carriers.


Overseas operators are not directly affected by the FAA's emergency airworthiness directive -- but Japanese authorities grounded all of their 787s overnight after All Nippon Airways (ANA) said a battery warning light and a burning smell were detected in the cockpit and the cabin, forcing a Dreamliner, on a domestic flight, to land at Takamatsu Airport in Japan.


The plane landed safely about 45 minutes after it took off and all 128 passengers and eight crew members had to evacuate using the emergency chutes. Two people sustained minor injuries on their way down the chute, Osamu Shinobe, ANA senior executive vice president, told a news conference in Tokyo.


ANA and its rival, Japan Airlines (JAL), subsequently grounded their Dreamliner fleets. ANA operates 17 Dreamliner planes, while JAL has seven in service.


Both airlines said the Dreamliner fleet would remain grounded at least through Thursday.


ANA said the battery in question during today's incident was the same lithium-ion type battery that caught fire on board a JAL Dreamliner in Boston last week. Inspectors found liquid leaking from the battery today, and said it was "discolored."


Japan's transport ministry categorized the problem as a "serious incident" that could have led to an accident.


Even more shaken up than the passengers on the Japanese flight may be the reputation of America's largest plane manufacturer, Boeing.


Since the 787 -- with a body mostly made of carbon fiber -- was introduced, it's had one small problem after another. But the nagging battery issue, which caused an onboard fire at Boston's Logan Airport last week, was serious enough for the FAA to ground the plane.


"It's a rough couple weeks for Boeing and ANA," said John Hansman, an MIT professor of aeronautics and astronautics. "I think clearly in the short term this type of bad press has been tough for Boeing. I think in the long haul, this is a good airplane. It's in a good market."






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