Two worms, same brains – but one eats the other

IF TWO animals have identical brain cells, how different can they really be? Extremely. Two worm species have exactly the same set of neurons, but extensive rewiring allows them to lead completely different lives.

Ralf Sommer of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany, and colleagues compared Caenorhabditis elegans, which eats bacteria, with Pristionchus pacificus, which hunts other worms. Both have a cluster of 20 neurons to control their foregut.

Sommer found that the clusters were identical. "These species are separated by 200 to 300 million years, but have the same cells," he says. P. pacificus, however, has denser connections than C. elegans, with neural signals passing through many more cells before reaching the muscles (Cell, This suggests that P. pacificus is performing more complex motor functions, says Detlev Arendt of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany.

Arendt thinks predators were the first animals to evolve complex brains, to find and catch moving prey. He suggests their brains had flexible wiring, enabling them to swap from plant-eating to hunting.

This article appeared in print under the headline "Identical brains, but one eats the other"

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Argentina to launch new inflation data method

BUENOS AIRES: Argentina said Saturday it will start using a new method of measuring inflation after the International Monetary Fund censured Buenos Aires over the quality of its economic data.

Economy Minister Hernan Lorenzino told C5N television that it would be "a new consumer price index to replace the current measure that has supposedly caused so many problems for the IMF."

Lorenzino said that officials expect to begin using the new method starting in the last quarter of 2013.

On Friday, the IMF's executive board took the unprecedented measure of issuing a "declaration of censure" against Argentina, opening the way for one of Latin America's largest economies to lose its voting rights at the multinational lender, or even lose its membership.

But the board put off that decision, giving Buenos Aires until September 29 to resolve the problem.

"It's an ongoing process and the Fund is aware of that," said Lorenzino, who criticized the decision as a "double standard."

In a statement, his ministry suggested that "many countries" have changed their unemployment and CPI measures, as well as they way they compile this data.

Official Argentine statistics are sharply different from those private sector economists issue.

For instance, last month the government said that inflation in 2012 was 10.8 percent, while a group of private economists who collate their data put the rate at 25.6 percent.

Buenos Aires benefits from understating the data because a large part of its sovereign debt is indexed to inflation.

In rejecting the IMF's decision, President Cristina Kirchner's government demanded that the lender's board hold a special meeting to review its policy toward Argentina and "its role in the origin of the global economic and financial crisis."

Brazil, an IMF board member and strategic ally of Argentina, criticized the censure as "counterproductive."

In a tweet, Kirchner herself suggested that her government's debt reduction policy "seems to be the real cause of anger from the IMF."

Argentina defaulted on some $100 billion in debt in 2001, and has since restructured its debt twice, covering around 75 percent of the nominal value of the bonds.

But the country is embroiled in a legal battle in the United States with hedge funds demanding that Buenos Aires repay $1.3 billion in bonds held by investment funds NML and Aurelius because they refused to take part in a 2005 restructuring agreed to by most of the other bondholders.

The IMF and Argentina have a long history of troubled relations, with successive governments blaming the Fund for domestic economic failures and the country's deep troubles in international debt markets.

In January 2006, the government paid off Argentina's debt with the IMF -- some $9.5 billion -- and cut links with the Fund.

Since then Argentina has been the only country in the G20 that does not allow annual economic assessments by official IMF teams. It has also promised not to ask for more financial aid.

But at the end of 2010, the IMF was invited back to assist with collection and formulation of economic data, opening the way to the current impasse.


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Panel seeks solutions to school absenteeism

At a West Side town hall meeting Saturday, a panel of elected officials and community activists decried Chicago’s crisis in elementary grade truancy and absenteeism, and vowed to work on reforms that could save countless children from failure in school and life.

West Side aldermen Emma Mitts, 37th, and Jason Ervin, 28th, pledged to ask the City Council education committee to examine whether the Chicago Public Schools should re-introduce the truancy officers and outreach workers who were disbanded in a cost-cutting measure two decades ago.

The truancy officers were “like a light that can save a child’s life,” Mitts said. “You can’t beat one-on-one conversation. … These kids need somebody to care about them.”

Saturday’s meeting was convened by state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, in response to a recent Tribune investigation that found that nearly 32,000 K-8 grade students in Chicago -- or roughly 1 in 8 -- miss a four weeks or more of class per year, while many simply vanish from school without a trace.

“This issue is germane to Chicago but it bleeds throughout the state of Illinois, said Chapa LaVia, who added that agencies ranging from the Chicago Housing Authority to the state Department of Children and Family Services have said they will participate in a legislative task force she is forming to push for solutions. Chicago Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett is also on board “but we have to hold her feet to the fire,” Chapa LaVia said.
The devastating pattern of elementary grade absenteeism disproportionately affects African-Americans and children with disabilities, and costs the district millions in funding keyed to attendance, the Tribune found. The newspaper documented weaknesses in state law, breakdowns in communication between government agencies and the indifference of city officials who abandoned anti-truancy initiatives even as tens of thousands of children disappeared from the attendance rolls.

“This is as much a civil rights issue as a human rights issue,” West Side NAACP leader Windy Pearson said at the event at Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St. “Without wraparound services that connect them to schools, children fall between the cracks. This is a pipeline to the streets and jails.”

Ervin said he wanted the City Council to research best practices among anti-truancy workers, and also study the cost-benefits and financial impact of deploying staff or even parent volunteers to retrieve absent kids.

“Is the truancy officer of 1990 the same thing we need in 2013? I can’t answer that,” Ervin said. But he noted that school funding increases when more kids attend: “We’re tripping over dollars to pick up nickels,” he added.

West Side community activist Remel Terry called on community residents and businesses to help tackle truancy – and not simply leave the matter to lawmakers and officials. Neighborhood parents should volunteer at schools or donate coats for families who might not be getting their kids to school because they lacked proper clothes, she said.

“We as a community need to stand up and fight for ourselves,” Terry said.
Chicago Teachers Union political activities director Stacy Davis Gates was one of several speakers who warned that the city’s K-8 grade absenteeism problem could be exacerbated by the city’s plan to close scores of underutilized schools.

Students who already have a tenuous connection to their school may need to cross gang boundaries or face other difficulties getting to new, unfamiliar facilities – and the district does not have a robust system in place for tracking and retrieving the youth who go missing, Gates said.

Several of the panelists directly linked elementary school truancy to children being the perpetrators and victims of the violent crime that is raking Chicago’s African-American neighborhoods.

In the 15th Police District on the city’s West Side, there has been a sharp spike this year in the number of youth picked up by police during school hours, said state Rep. Camille Lilly, D-Chicago. “There are increasing numbers of children who are not getting the education they need to build our country. I want to address the issue now and ensure we do it together.”

West Side state Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, said that as a former teacher he knows elementary students are hurt by every day of school they miss “because the pages continue to turn. Every day builds on the previous day and leads to the next.”

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Pictures We Love: Best of January

Photograph by Dieu Nalio Chery, AP

The magnitude 7 earthquake that struck near Port au Prince, Haiti, in January 2010 so devastated the country that recovery efforts are still ongoing.

Professional dancer Georges Exantus, one of the many casualties of that day, was trapped in his flattened apartment for three days, according to news reports. After friends dug him out, doctors amputated his right leg below the knee. With the help of a prosthetic leg, Exantus is able to dance again. (Read about his comeback.)

Why We Love It

"This is an intimate photo, taken in the subject's most personal space as he lies asleep and vulnerable, perhaps unaware of the photographer. The dancer's prosthetic leg lies in the foreground as an unavoidable reminder of the hardships he faced in the 2010 earthquake. This image makes me want to hear more of Georges' story."—Ben Fitch, associate photo editor

"This image uses aesthetics and the beauty of suggestion to tell a story. We are not given all the details in the image, but it is enough to make us question and wonder."—Janna Dotschkal, associate photo editor

Published February 1, 2013

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Body of Missing Mom Reportedly Found in Turkey

The body of an American woman who went missing while on a solo trip to Turkey has been pulled from a bay in Istanbul, and nine people have been held for questioning, according to local media.

Sarai Sierra, 33, was last heard from on Jan. 21, the day she was due to board a flight home to New York City.

The state-run Andolu Agency reported that residents found a woman's body today near the ruins of some ancient city walls in a low-income district, and police identified the body as Sierra.

Rep. Michael Grimm, R-NY, who with his staff had been assisting the Sierra family in the search, said he was "deeply saddened" to hear the news of her death.

"I urge Turkish officials to move quickly to identify whomever is responsible for her tragic death and ensure that any guilty parties are punished to the fullest extent of the law," he said in a statement.

Courtesy Sarai Sierra's family

Footage Shows Missing New York Mom in Turkish Mall Watch Video

NYC Woman Goes Missing While Traveling In Turkey Watch Video

New York Mother Goes Missing on Turkish Vacation Watch Video

The New York City mother, who has two young boys, traveled to Turkey alone on Jan. 7 after a friend had to cancel. Sierra, who is an avid photographer with a popular Instagram stream, planned to document her dream vacation with her camera.

"It was her first time outside of the United States, and every day while she was there she pretty much kept in contact with us, letting us know what she was up to, where she was going, whether it be through texting or whether it be through video chat, she was touching base with us," Steven Sierra told ABC News before he departed for Istanbul last Sunday to aid in the search.

Steven Sierra has been in the country, meeting with U.S. officials and local authorities, as they searched for his wife.

On Friday, Turkish authorities detained a man who had spoken with Sierra online before her disappearance. The identity of the man and the details of his arrest were not disclosed, The Associated Press reported.

The family said it is completely out of character for the happily married mother, who met her husband in church youth group, to disappear.

She took two side trips, to Amsterdam and Munich, before returning to Turkey, but kept in contact with her family the entire time, a family friend told ABC News.

Further investigation revealed she had left her passport, clothes, phone chargers and medical cards in her room at a hostel in Beyoglu, Turkey.

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Astrophile: A scorched world with snow black and smoky

Astrophile is our weekly column on curious cosmic objects, from the solar system to the far reaches of the multiverse

Object: Titanium oxide snow
Location: The hot-Jupiter planet HD 209458b

There is something magical about waking up to discover it has snowed during the night. But there's no powdery white blanket when it snows on exoplanet HD 209458b. Snow there is black, smoky and hot as hell – resembling a forest fire more than a winter wonderland. Put it this way: you won't be needing mittens.

HD 209458b belongs to a family called hot Jupiters, gas-giant planets that are constantly being roasted due to their closeness to their sun. By contrast, the gas giants in our immediate neighbourhood, including Jupiter, are frigid, lying at the solar system's far reaches.

HD 209458b is also noteworthy because it is tidally locked, so one side is permanently facing towards its star while the other is in perpetual night. On the face of it, these conditions wouldn't seem to invite snow: temperatures on the day side come close to 2000° C, while the night side is comparatively chilly at around 500° C.

Snow made of water is, of course, impossible on this scorched world, but the drastic temperature differential sets up atmospheric currents that swirl material from the day side to night and vice versa. That means that any substances with the right combination of properties might be gaseous on the day side and then condense into a solid on the night side, and fall as precipitation. Say hello to titanium oxide snow.

Stuck on the surface

Although oxides of titanium make up only a small component of a hot Jupiter's atmosphere, these compounds have the right properties to fall as snow. But there was a snag that could have put a stop to any blizzards. Older computer models of hot Jupiters suggested that titanium oxides condensing in the air on the night side would snow – and remain on the relatively cool surface forever. "Imagine on Earth if you had no mechanism to evaporate water, it would never rain," says Vivien Parmentier of the Côte d'Azur Observatory in Nice, France.

Now he and colleagues have created a more detailed 3D computer model that shows that the snow can become a gas again as it falls and the temperature and pressure increase. Strong updraughts can then blow the titanium oxides back to the upper atmosphere. "The gas can come back on the top layers and snow again and again," says Parmentier.

Snowfall on HD 209458b would be like none you've ever seen. Though titanium dioxide is white and shiny, for example, the snowflakes would also contain silica oxides from the atmosphere, making them black. Since the atmosphere is also dark, snowstorms on the planet would be a smoky affair, the opposite of the white-outs we get on Earth. "It would be like being in the middle of a forest fire," says Parmentier.

Although the team studied a particular hot Jupiter, their model should apply equally to other planets of this type, suggesting hot snow is a common occurrence. Parmentier says we may have already spotted snow clouds on another hot Jupiter, HD 189733b, as spectral analysis of the planet suggests the presence of microscopic particles in its atmosphereMovie Camera.

David Sing of the University of Exeter, UK, who helped identify such particles on HD 189733b, says the team's new model goes a long way to explaining how titanium oxides behave on hot Jupiters. "We're pretty used to water condensing on Earth; there it is titanium because the temperatures are so much hotter."

Hot, black snow – now that would be something to wake up to.


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Twitter hit by "sophisticated" cyber attack

SAN FRANCISCO: Twitter said Friday it had been hit by a "sophisticated" cyber attack similar to those that recently hit major Western news outlets, and that the passwords of about 250,000 users were stolen.

"This attack was not the work of amateurs, and we do not believe it was an isolated incident," Twitter information security director Bob Lord said in a blog post.

Lord referred to an "uptick in large-scale security attacks aimed at US technology and media companies" as he told of Twitter detecting attempts this week to get unauthorized access to data in the firm's network.

The attack coincided with the revelation of several high-profile security breaches. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal said this week that they had been hacked, and pointed to hackers from China.

Twitter did not confirm the source of the intrusion.

But Lord noted that "the attackers were extremely sophisticated, and we believe other companies and organizations have also been recently similarly attacked."

He said that Twitter shut down a live attack as it was in process.

However, Lord added, cyber attackers may have gotten usernames, email addresses, passwords and other data.

As a precaution, Twitter invalidated passwords of accounts at issue and sent people email messages telling them to create new passwords.


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Killer fired at least 10 times at woman on Lake Shore Drive

A 32-year-old woman was shot and killed inside a Dodge mini-van on Lake Shore Drive overnight. (WGN - Chicago)

A woman was shot to death while driving a van when someone pulled alongside her on the ramp from Lake Shore Drive to the Stevenson Expressway and fired 10 to 14 times Friday morning, police said.

The Chicago woman, 32, was hit at least once and died at the scene. She later was identified as Michelle Smith, of the 5000 block of South Paulina Avenue, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office. A 37-year-old woman in the van escaped unharmed and was being questioned by police, officials said.

“A brown full-sized van approached in the left lane,” Illinois State Police Capt. Luis Gutierrez said at a press conference on the scene. “That vehicle shot at our victim approximately 10 to 14 rounds."

Gutierrez said police were able to talk to the passenger, who was not harmed, and police believe that "this incident stems from drug and gang activity." Police are reviewing video footage from near the scene.

The victim's criminal history includes several drug-related arrests and a four-year sentence given in 2007 for a felony narcotics conviction, records show.

Illinois State Police learned of the shooting about 4:20 a.m. from Chicago police, who got to the scene after the van crashed.

Police closed access to interstates 94 and 55 from southbound Lake Shore Drive. Flares were laid out to keep vehicles off the ramp but they were quickly extinguished by wind. The ramp was reopened about 11:30 a.m., according to the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications.
Twitter: @peternickeas

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Pictures We Love: Best of January

Photograph by Dieu Nalio Chery, AP

The magnitude 7 earthquake that struck near Port au Prince, Haiti, in January 2010 so devastated the country that recovery efforts are still ongoing.

Professional dancer Georges Exantus, one of the many casualties of that day, was trapped in his flattened apartment for three days, according to news reports. After friends dug him out, doctors amputated his right leg below the knee. With the help of a prosthetic leg, Exantus is able to dance again. (Read about his comeback.)

Why We Love It

"This is an intimate photo, taken in the subject's most personal space as he lies asleep and vulnerable, perhaps unaware of the photographer. The dancer's prosthetic leg lies in the foreground as an unavoidable reminder of the hardships he faced in the 2010 earthquake. This image makes me want to hear more of Georges' story."—Ben Fitch, associate photo editor

"This image uses aesthetics and the beauty of suggestion to tell a story. We are not given all the details in the image, but it is enough to make us question and wonder."—Janna Dotschkal, associate photo editor

Published February 1, 2013

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Hillary Clinton Says Goodbye...Until 2016?

Feb 1, 2013 6:48pm

ap hillary clinton mi 130201 wblog Hillary Clinton Says Goodbye ... Until 2016?

Image Credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo

After four years, nearly a million miles traveled and 112 countries visited, Hillary Clinton stepped down as the 67th secretary of state on Friday. But even on this, her final day as America’s top diplomat, she could not escape the questions about what she’ll do four years from now.

Many of the 1,000 employees who gathered to see her off expressed hope that this was not the end of her political career.

“2016! 2016!” the crowd chanted as   Clinton waved and drove away. “We’ll Miss You!”

Right before her departure, Clinton gave the traditional farewell speech to staff on the steps of the State Department’s historic C street lobby. In a roughly 10 minute, often reflective speech she called the 70,000 State Department employees part of “a huge extended family.”

“I cannot fully express how grateful I am to those with whom I have spent many hours here in Washington, around the world and in airplanes,” she said, drawing laughter from the audience.

Clinton’s trademark sense of humor was on display, even as she grew emotional  speaking about how much the State Department had  meant to her over the last four years.

PHOTOS: Hillary Clinton Through the Years

“I am very proud to have been secretary of state. I will miss you. I will probably be dialing ops just to talk,” she joked to a cheering and laughing crowd. “I will wonder what you all are doing, because I know that because of your efforts day after day, we are making a real difference.”

But  Clinton also was somber when discussing the danger diplomats and foreign service officers face all over the world, using Thursday’s suicide bombing attack against the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, in which a Turkish guard was killed, as an example.

“We live in very complex and even dangerous times, as we saw again just today at our embassy in Ankara, where we were attacked and lost one of our foreign service nationals, and others injured,” said Clinton “But I spoke with the ambassador and the team there. I spoke with my Turkish counterpart. And I told them how much we valued their commitment and their sacrifice.”

Clinton was flanked by trusted deputies, Bill Burns and Tom Nides, whom she gave warm hugs to at the end of the speech. With a huge “Thank You” sign behind her she walked a rope line after finishing her speech, greeting the hordes of employees who wanted to shake her hand and say goodbye before she walked out of the State Department as secretary of state for the last time.

“It’s been quite a challenging week saying goodbye to so many people and knowing that I will not have the opportunity to continue being part of this amazing team,” Clinton said. “But I am so grateful that we’ve had a chance to contribute in each of our ways to making our country and our world stronger, safer, fairer and better.”

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Swarm-mongering: Brainless blobs flock together

Birds of a feather flock together and now so do brainless, inanimate blobs. Made of microscopic particles, the artificial swarms could shed light on the mysterious mechanisms behind the natural swarming seen in fish and birds. They might also lead to materials with novel properties like self-healing.

Animals such as birds, fish and even humans that move together in swarms have individual intelligence, but Jérémie Palacci of New York University and colleagues wondered whether inanimate objects could also swarm. "From a physicist's point of view, if many different systems behave in the same way there must be an underlying physical rule," he says.

To explore this idea, the team created microscopic plastic spheres, each one with a cubic patch of haematite, an iron oxide, on its surface. When submerged in hydrogen peroxide, the spheres spread out in a disordered fashion. The team then shone blue light on the particles, causing the haematite cubes to catalyse the breakdown of any nearby hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen. As hydrogen peroxide concentration dropped temporarily in these regions due to the reaction, osmotic forces cause more hydrogen peroxide to flow into them, and that in turn buffets the spheres. The whole process then repeats.

Self-healing swarm

When two spheres come close enough to each other, the balance of chemical forces shifts so that the two spheres are attracted. If there are enough spheres in the same place they will cluster together to form shapes of symmetrically arranged particles, which the team call crystals (see video, above). These crystals continue to be buffeted by the movement caused by the breakdown of hydrogen peroxide – but now they move together as one object, replicating a life-like swarm. Switch off the light, however, and the reaction stops, causing the crystal to lose the forces that hold it together, and the particle distribution becomes disordered once again.

"This system shows that even though the particles have no social interaction or intelligence, you can exhibit collective behaviour with no biology involved," says Palacci. Since the haematite is magnetic, it is even possible to steer the crystals in one direction by applying a magnetic field. Such control might be useful if the artificial swarms are to be harnessed for applications.

As the particles automatically fill any gaps that form in the crystal, again thanks to the chemical dynamics of the system, they could be used to create a self-assembling, self-healing material. The work is published in the journal Science today.

Schooled by fish

Iain Couzin of Princeton University says these kinds of systems are very useful for studying biological collective behaviour because researchers have complete control over their interactions – unlike natural systems.

His team has its own swarming experiment published in the same issue of Science, based on schools of fish that prefer to stay in shade. Their paper shows that shining a light on some of the fish in the school causes them to speed up, to get away from the light. But as a result, non-illuminated fish also speed up, even though, if acting purely as individuals, they would have had no reason to do so. "We show just by using simple interactions that schools can have a sense of responsiveness to the environment that individuals do not have," he says.

Couzin sees no reason why such behaviour should be limited to natural systems. "In future it may be possible to create systems of particles that can make collective decisions – something we often think of as only possible in biological systems," he says.

Journal references: Living crystals: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1230020; Fish: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1225883

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Sony invites press to mystery New York event

SAN FRANCISCO: Sony sent out invitations Thursday to a mystery event in New York City on February 20, sparking rumors that the world would get its first look at a new-generation PlayStation videogame console.

Both Sony and Microsoft are expected this year to show off successors to their competing consoles, which have been evolving into home entertainment hubs for films, television, music, social networking and more.

The PlayStation 3 was released in November 2006 and industry trackers believe a successor is on the near horizon.

In January, the number of PS3 units shipped by Sony hit an estimated 77 million units, according to market research firm International Data Corporation.

IDC gaming research manager Lewis Ward predicted at the time of the report that consoles will retain their strongholds in homes while expanding to include other digital entertainment.

"The console ecosystem is in a state of flux since these platforms need to support an ever-growing array of non-gaming features and services at the same time that game distribution and monetization is moving in a digital direction," Ward said.

"It doesn't appear that alternative platforms -- set-top boxes from cable companies, Web-connected smart TVs and so on -- are positioned to materially disrupt the trajectory of the 'big 3' console OEMs in 2013 or 2014."

Videogame industry sales should be bolstered by the arrival of next-generation videogame consoles from Sony and Microsoft, according to Ward.

"With the advent of eighth-generation consoles, starting with the Wii U, historical norms strongly imply that game disk revenue will stop bleeding in 2013 and rise substantively in 2014," he said in the report.

- AFP/ir

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First food truck gets Chicago license

More than six months after the Chicago City Council legalized cooking onboard food trucks, the city on Thursday issued its first license for it to Dan Salls, owner of The Salsa Truck.

An ecstatic Salls said that he passed his health and fire inspection on Wednesday and finished his paperwork on Thursday afternoon. By Tuesday, he hopes to be searing meat, grilling quesadillas and warming tortillas on board his truck to serve with his salsas to hungry Chicagoans.

Salls, a former financial adviser who quit his job to go into the salsa business, said he will likely serve his first hot meal at the 600 W. Chicago Ave. food-truck stand Tuesday. He has publicly invited Mayor Rahm Emanuel to be his first customer.

“I think it would be a great press opportunity for him to finally get the monkey off of everyone’s back,” Salls said of the long contentious process that has finally led to the first cooking license called an MFP (for mobile food preparer).

For more than two years, food-truck activists had been lobbying the city to allow onboard cooking, as opposed to restricting food offerings to those that had been pre-cooked and packaged. Proposals were stalled for more than a year at the committee level until Emanuel presented his own version of a modified ordinance last summer, which passed in late July.

“This is just the beginning, but we’re excited to see our first MFP hit the streets,” said Rosemary Krimbel, who leads the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. “We want potential food truck owners to know that we are here to help, including newly offered truck consultations with the fire and health departments to ease the licensing process. We want to see more food trucks serving Chicago.”

Although Salls says he is thrilled to be the first licensed onboard cooking operator, he acknowledges that his truck is not the “classic West Coast type food truck.” By that he means, he did not need to outfit his truck to conform to what some feel is the city’s overly strict code on gas lines and exhaust hoods.

He will simply use an electric grill to heat his tacos, quesadillas and carnitas onboard, making rules on gas lines and hoods irrelevant to his inspection.

Next month, Salls hopes to open a bricks and mortar restaurant called The Garage which can also serve as a commissary for servicing other cooking trucks.
Twitter: @monicaeng

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Sinkhole Swallows Buildings in China

Photograph from AFP/Getty Images

The sinkhole that formed in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou (pictured) is, unfortunately, not a new occurrence for the country.

Many areas of the world are susceptible to these sudden formations, including the U.S. Florida is especially prone, but Guatemala, Mexico, and the area surrounding the Dead Sea in the Middle East are also known for their impressive sinkholes. (See pictures of a sinkhole in Beijing that swallowed a truck.)

Published January 31, 2013

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What If Undocumented Immigrants Had Voted?

If every undocumented immigrant had cast a vote for President Obama in 2012, he would have won Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, and he would have beaten Mitt Romney by nearly 11 percentage points nationally, instead of three.

Only citizens can vote, however, and 11.2 million unauthorized residents didn't get the chance.

But with immigration overhaul on the table, legalizing new Democratic voters looms as a threat for conservatives who don't want to hand their political foes a potential windfall of 11.2 million new voters with the creation of a pathway to citizenship -- and to voting rights -- with a comprehensive bill.

"The fear that many people have is that the Democrats aren't interested in border security, that they want this influx," Rush Limbaugh griped during his Tuesday interview with overhaul champion Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. "For example, if 70 percent of the Hispanic vote went Republican, do you think the Democrats would be for any part of this legislation?"

New immigration policies could mean in influx of new voters, but Republicans needn't worry about it in the short term.

See Also: Gang of Eight Accelerates Immigration Reform Pace

"Under almost any scenario, it's pretty far in the distance," Jeff Passell, senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center, said of the prospect that unauthorized immigrants' gaining voting rights would pump up numbers significantly enough to meaningfully change the U.S. electorate.

Whitney Curtis/Getty Images

And yet, the "influx" wouldn't be negligible: "Realistically, we're talking about potentially adding probably 5 million potential voters or so in 10 years," he said.

Hispanic voters broke 71 percent for Obama in November, and Republican strategists recognize that the party has failed to court Hispanic voters effectively. But depending on how slowly the citizenship line moves, the Republican Party will have a decade or so to shake its anti-Hispanic stigma.

See also: A Glossary for Immigration Reform

"It's a long time coming. You're talking about 15 to 20 years before we're talking about a whole slew of new voters coming into the electorate," said Jennifer Korn, executive director of the Hispanic Leadership Network, who served as Hispanic outreach director for George W. Bush's presidential campaign.

"If Republicans can map out and change their positions with things that Hispanics do support -- on less government, lower taxes, less regulations on small businesses -- then they can really compete for the Hispanic vote over the next 20, 30 years."

There are 11.2 unauthorized immigrants living in the United States, according to the Pew Hispanic Center's estimate. While most are of voting age (Pew estimates just 1 million younger than 18), the deluge of new Democratic voters might not be as substantial as Limbaugh implied.

In other words, it's not as if Democrats will gain 11.2 million votes in the next few years. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Not All Hispanics Vote for Democrats. Most do, but not all, and voter preferences vary from state to state. In Florida, 60 percent of Hispanic voters backed Obama, according to 2012 exit polls; in Arizona, 74 percent voted for the president. Even if all 11.2 million had voted in 2012, Obama would only have picked up North Carolina if they simply hewed to Hispanic voter trends. Romney still would have carried Arizona, Georgia and Texas, although he would have won Georgia by less than 1 percentage point. (Note: There were no exit polls in Texas or Georgia, and here the national rate provides rough estimates of how results would have changed.)

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Today on New Scientist: 30 January 2013

Timbuktu's precious scientific texts must be saved

Islamist militants in Mali have burned documents that attest to science in Africa before European colonisation - what remains must be protected

Think that massage feels good? Try adding drugs

Nerve bundles that respond to stroking have been identified and chemically activated in mice

How Obama will deliver his climate promise

The US is set to meet - and maybe exceed - Obama's pledge to cut US emissions by 17 per cent, which could give a boost to international climate talks

Minimum booze price will rein in alcohol abuse

Evidence suggests the UK government's proposal to set a minimum price for alcohol could save thousands of lives, and billions of pounds of public money

First real time-travel movies are loopers

Hollywood has played with time travel for decades, but now physicists have the first movies of what travelling to the past actually looks like

Surfer rides highest wave ever caught

Garret McNamara of Hawaii claims to have ridden the highest wave ever caught by a surfer, a 30-metre monster off the coast of Nazaré, Portugal

Infrared laptop trackpad ignores accidental touches

Longpad is a touchpad that extends the full width of your laptop and uses infrared sensors to ignore any unwanted touches

Close call coming: Averting the asteroid threat

With an errant space rock heading this way, just how good are our asteroid defences - and how do we avert the cataclysm?

The right to fight: women at war

The US military has accepted women into combat. What can science tell us about how women deal with being in the line of fire? And are they any different to men?

Earth and others lose status as Goldilocks worlds

Several planets are taking a hit thanks to a redefinition of the habitable zone - the area around a star in which liquid water can theoretically exist

The 10,000-year bender: Why humans love a tipple

Our taste for alcohol results from an evolutionary tussle between humans and yeast - one in which the microbes have often had the upper hand

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Research links acute malnutrition to gut microbes

WASHINGTON: A dearth of calories may not be the only reason some children face acute malnutrition, according to a new study out this week that says the microbes living in our guts may also be to blame.

Within hunger-stricken communities, not all children fare the same. Some develop acute malnutrition, while others, even their brothers and sisters, may stay healthy.

And some children respond well to treatment -- generally a peanut-based nutrient-rich supplement -- while for others, the benefits cease when the treatment does.

To figure out why this happens, researchers studied more than 300 sets of twins in Malawi, where malnutrition is a common childhood ailment, during their first three years of life.

Among half the twin pairs, one or both twins became malnourished over the course of the study.

Even among identical twins, there were cases where one twin -- but not the other -- developed a form of malnutrition called kwashiorkor, associated with swollen bellies, liver damage, skin ulcerations and loss of appetite, in addition to wasting.

That ruled out human genetics as a factor in the disorder, since identical twins share identical genomes.

But the researchers found something else at play: the microbes in the gut that extract nutrients and calories from the diet synthesise vitamins and nutrients and help shape the immune system.

When any of the twins became malnourished, both received treatment to limit food sharing.

In the healthy twin, the gut microbes thrived with the extra food and continued to mature after the treatment ended. But in the severely malnourished twin, the gut microbes stalled out or even regressed by four weeks after the treatment ended.

The findings were further bolstered when the researchers implanted into mice the gut microbes of the healthy and malnourished twins.

Both groups of mice were fed the same diet -- one similar to the nutrient-deficient diet common in Malawi -- but the ones who were transplanted with the malnourished children's microbes dropped weight, while the others did not.

"The gut microbes of malnourished children and malnourished mice do not appear to mature along a normal, healthy trajectory," said senior author Jeffrey Gordon of Washington University's Centre for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology.

"Our results suggest we need to devise new strategies to repair gut microbial communities so these children can experience healthy growth and reach their full potential."

Gordon said the new findings could be a crucial step towards finding better treatment for severely malnourished children.

"It may be that earlier or longer treatment with existing or next-generation therapeutic foods will enhance our ability to repair or prevent the problems associated with malnutrition," he said.

"We are also exploring whether it is possible to supplement the therapeutic food with beneficial gut bacteria from healthy children, as a treatment to repair the gut microbiome," he added.

"We hope that these studies will provide a new way of understanding how the gut microbiome and food interact to affect the health and recovery of malnourished children."

Their study is to be published Thursday in the US journal "Science".

According to UNICEF, a person dies of starvation every 3.6 seconds, and most of the deaths are among children under five.

"Some 300 million children go to bed hungry every day. Of these only eight percent are victims of famine or other emergency situations. More than 90 per cent are suffering long-term malnourishment and micronutrient deficiency," the UN agency says on its website.


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$11K reward offered in slaying of girl 'destined for great things'

With outrage over his daughter's death spreading from City Hall to the White House, Nathaniel Pendleton made a public plea Wednesday for someone to step forward and bring the 15-year-old's killer to justice.

"They took the light of my life," Pendleton said at a news conference, where a $11,000 reward was announced for information about Tuesday's slaying of Hadiya Pendleton. "This guy, whoever he was, the gunman, man, you took the light of my life. Just look at yourself and just know that you took a bright person, an innocent person, a non-violent person."

Shaking his head and collecting himself, he continued, "This kid didn't like violence at all, didn't even like to fight, avoided a fight, moved away from anything that was not positive. She was a majorette, just came back from the inauguration. She was destined for great things and you stripped that from her."

Hadiya, who last week performed at President Barack Obama's inaugural festivities, was killed when a gunman opened fire on a group of students at Harsh Park, just blocks from King College Prep and about a mile from Obama's home in Kenwood on the South Side.

Presidential spokeman Jay Carney, asked about Hadiya's death Wednesday, said it was a “terrible tragedy” any time a young person is struck down “with so much of their life ahead of them.”

“The president and first lady's thoughts and prayers are with the family of Hadiya Pendleton,” he said. “All of our thoughts and prayers are with her family.”

Carney, asked about a petition urging President Barack Obama to attend Pendleton’s funeral, said he was not aware of the petition and had no scheduling announcements to make.

When asked if Obama had reached out to Pendleton’s family, Carney said he had no communications to share with reporters.

Carney also said that when Obama talks about gun violence in America he is not talking only about Newtown (Conn.) or Aurora (Colo.) or Oak Creek (Wis.) or Virginia Tech, but to shootings in Chicago and other parts of the country.

He added that while "we may not be able to prevent every act of gun violence. . .we need to take action to reduce gun violence” and “make sure that we’re doing everything we can in a responsible way to reduce this violence, to protect our children, including Hadiya Pendleton and others.”

Hadiya's death also came up at a news conference by Mayor Rahm Emanuel as a particularly violent January in Chicago draws to a close.

Emanuel called Hadiya "what is best in our city" and urged anyone with information about the slaying to come forward.

"If anybody has any information, you are not a snitch, you're a citizen," the mayor said. "You're a good citizen in good standing if you help."

The mayor said he talked this morning with Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, "going over what we need to do, what differences we have to do, what other tactics we have to adopt." He did not say what plans he and McCarthy discussed.

Later, McCarthy appeared with Hadiya's father at a news conference at Harsh Park to announce the reward.

"The fact is, at this point, we have very little to go on. The fact is that somebody knows something," he said, surrounded by family members and community leaders.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church on the South Side, said the reward will be "a bounty out on the head of a killer before you kill somebody else.

"Your butt needs to be in jail," he said. "Somebody knows. . .right now, sitting in their home some young person knows, some young friend of theirs knows, some parent knows, some adult knows. Where are you?"

Pfleger compared Hadiya's slaying to the mass murder of school children in Newtown, Conn. "We should be just as outraged," he said.

Hadiya was hanging out with her volleyball team at Harsh Park after taking exams Tuesday afternoon. About a dozen teens had taken shelter under a canopy during a rainstorm when a boy or man jumped a fence in the park, ran toward them and opened fire around 2:20 p.m., police said.

Hadiya was wounded in the back and a 16-year-old boy -- also a student at King -- was shot in the leg, police said. The attacker got into a white Nissan auto and fled, police said. No arrests have been reported.

Today, Hadiya's family was inside their South Side home exchanging stories about her quirks and sense of humor.

Ten-year-old Nathaniel Pendleton Jr. recalled the way his big sister would often greet him with a few gentle slaps on his cheeks whenever she came home from school.

"She said it was with love," he said.

Nathaniel etched "I miss you" and "I love you" on his arm Wednesday. "It's very painful to see your big sister get slaughtered," the soft-spoken Nathaniel said, tearing up as he went through photos of his big sister on his phone.

His father said he would miss Hadiya's bright smile the most. He said the family had been saving up for her upcoming trip to Paris and was excited to see her go abroad.

"I just knew she wanted to go and I knew it was a very good opportunity for her. . .to get cultured," Pendleton Sr. said.

The father said he didn't get a chance to speak to his daughter on the day she died. He was headed to Hadiya's godfather's house when he learned of the shooting.

Pendleton said he did not fear for his daughter's safety around the school.

"She had good energy, very good energy," he said. "And the thing is. . .You don't expect good energy to attract bad energy. Never in a million years I thought I would get this call."

Kimiko Pettis, Hadiya's 32-year-old aunt, laughed when she talked about her niece's goofy personality. "We really miss her," Pettis said. "She was a remarkable young lady and such a great asset to our family."

Hadiya was a busy but lighthearted teen, always trying to get a laugh from her family. Just Tuesday, she put on what she thought was a "fabulous outfit" and make-up before school.

"She popped out of the bathroom saying. 'I'm ready!' " Pettis said, throwing her arms in the air.

Pettis said her niece loved Coldplay and Maroon 5. "You could not find any urban music on her phone," Pettis said with a laugh. "And she had two left feet."

Last year, Hadiya traveled with her school band to perform at Marti Gras in New Orleans, Pettis said. Last week, she had performed at Obama’s inauguration festivities. This year's travel plans included Dublin and Paris with the band, her aunt said, a trip she was very much looking forward to.

Though only a sophomore, Hadiya had aspirations to become a pharmacist or a journalist, Pettis said. Because she couldn't decide, family encouraged her to do both with a possible double major. She had interest in attending Northwestern University, her aunt said.

Hadiya was such a whirlwind of activity, relatives would jokingly tell her to slow down.

"There were a lot of good opportunities that were coming her way. She was just taking them all,” said Lakeisha Stewart, 37, Hadiya’s godmother. "She was the kid who you had to say, ‘Slow down, you can’t do everything.' "

Just last week, at the inauguration, Hadiya sent her godparents a text and a photo of her and her teammates in Washington, D.C., Stewart said.  She had not gotten the chance to talk to Hadiya about the details of the trip since she returned from the East Coast.

Hadiya’s parents made sure she stayed involved in school, said her godfather, Damon Stewart, 36, an attorney and Chicago police officer. He said she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“Her life was dominated by her activities and the things she was into,” he said.

“I’ve known this little girl her entire life," added Lakeisha Stewart. "I can’t think of a moment that this child did anything wrong. She always strived to do the right thing."

At King today, Bria Carter and two friends said the halls of the school were unusually quiet as students mourned Hadiya’s death.

"People are crying at school," said Carter, 17, a friend of Hadiya. "Those who knew her are so hurt.

"She was an amazing person -- always positive," Carter said. "She was one of those people everyone loved. She was the sweetest thing."

Brothers Addison and Zion Morgan said many of their classmates took to social media Tuesday night to express their emotions.

"Based off of the tweets, everyone is surprised and shocked by this," said senior Addison Morgan, 17.

Freshman Zion Morgan, 15, said he was in a U.S. History class with Hadiya.  "She was always smiling," Zion Morgan said. "She would always raise her hand in class."

School Principal Shontae Higginbottom said Hadiya was well-loved at the school, and students and staff are devastated.

"This is a great loss to us, she was a wonderful student. She was well-loved by her friends, well-adored by her teachers. We are going to miss her. Our hearts are so heavy, we have to stop the violence, we have to save our children," said Higginbottom.

At the park, neighbors along the well-maintained North Kenwood block could not remember any trouble there before.

The small park's bright blue and orange playground equipment is often used by toddlers down the street, a neighbor said, but otherwise remains quiet.

A neighbor, who declined to be named, lives next door to the park and said it's a "perfect neighborhood."

Teens and older children are not often visitors of the park, he said. The block is filled with "Harvard attorneys," "business owners" and other executives, the neighbor said. "No one knows about our block," he said. "It's a quiet place."

Hadiya's godmother agreed. “It amazed me when I found out what park it was," she said. "Nothing I have ever heard ever goes on over there.”

The shooting occurred about a mile from Obama's Kenwood home, but Emanuel said the circumstances do not carry symbolic significance.

"It's not the mile from a house. Wherever it happens in the city of Chicago is where I consider it," the mayor said while talking to reporters at a news conference about a West Humboldt Park company building new seats for CTA buses.

"While you may say it's a mile from the president's house, my view is, it's in the city of Chicago, regardless of where it happens," Emanuel added.

Ald. Will Burns, 4th, appearing with McCarthy, noted that the community and King Prep have steadily improved over the last 20 years.

"King High School went from being one of the worst high schools in the city of Chicago to being a selective enrollment high school," he said. "These young people were going to one of the best schools in the city of Chicago and they were spending their time in a park, which is what parks are there for, for young people to enjoy themselves and recreate and do something positive."

"This is not my community, these are not the people I know and love," he said referring to the killer. "No gang controls this ward."

Tribune reporters Carlos Sadovi and Christi Parsons contributed.

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

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New Theory on How Homing Pigeons Find Home

Jane J. Lee

Homing pigeons (Columba livia) have been prized for their navigational abilities for thousands of years. They've served as messengers during war, as a means of long-distance communication, and as prized athletes in international races.

But there are places around the world that seem to confuse these birds—areas where they repeatedly vanish in the wrong direction or scatter on random headings rather than fly straight home, said Jon Hagstrum, a geophysicist who authored a study that may help researchers understand how homing pigeons navigate.

Hagstrum's paper, published online Wednesday in the Journal of Experimental Biology, proposes an intriguing theory for homing pigeon disorientation—that the birds are following ultralow frequency sounds back towards their lofts and that disruptions in their ability to "hear" home is what screws them up.

Called infrasound, these sound waves propagate at frequencies well below the range audible to people, but pigeons can pick them up, said Hagstrum, who works at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California.

"They're using sound to image the terrain [surrounding] their loft," he said. "It's like us visually recognizing our house using our eyes."

Homeward Bound?

For years, scientists have struggled to explain carrier pigeons' directional challenges in certain areas, known as release-site biases.

This "map" issue, or a pigeon's ability to tell where it is in relation to where it wants to go, is different from the bird's compass system, which tells it which direction it's headed in. (Learn about how other animals navigate.)

"We know a lot about pigeon compass systems, but what has been controversial, even to this day, has been their map [system]," said Cordula Mora, an animal behavior researcher at Bowling Green State University in Ohio who was not involved in the study.

Until now, the two main theories say that pigeons rely either on their sense of smell to find their way home or that they follow the Earth's magnetic field lines, she said.

If something screwed up their sense of smell or their ability to follow those fields, the thinking has been, that could explain why pigeons got lost in certain areas.

But neither explanation made sense to Hagstrum, a geologist who grew interested in pigeons after attending an undergraduate lecture by Cornell biologist William Keeton. Keeton, who studied homing pigeons' navigation abilities, described some release-site biases in his pigeons and Hagstrum was hooked.

"I was just stunned and amazed and fascinated," said Hagstrum. "I understand we don't get dark matter or quantum mechanics, but bird [navigation]?"

So Hagstrum decided to look at Keeton's pigeon release data from three sites in upstate New York. At Castor Hill and Jersey Hill, the birds would repeatedly fly in the wrong direction or head off randomly when trying to return to their loft at Cornell University, even though they had no problems at other locations. At a third site near the town of Weedsport, young pigeons would head off in a different direction from older birds.

There were also certain days when the Cornell pigeons could find their way back home from these areas without any problems.

At the same time, homing pigeons from other lofts released at Castor Hill, Jersey Hill, and near Weedsport, would fly home just fine.

Sound Shadows

Hagstrum knew that homing pigeons could hear sounds as low as 0.05 hertz, low enough to pick up infrasounds that were down around 0.1 or 0.2 hertz. So he decided to map out what these low-frequency sound waves would have looked like on an average day, and on the days when the pigeons could home correctly from Jersey Hill.

He found that due to atmospheric conditions and local terrain, Jersey Hill normally sits in a sound shadow in relation to the Cornell loft. Little to none of the infrasounds from the area around the loft reached Jersey Hill except on one day when changing wind patterns and temperature inversions permitted.

That happened to match a day when the Cornell pigeons had no problem returning home.

"I could see how the topography was affecting the sound and how the weather was affecting the sound [transmission]," Hagstrum said. "It started to explain all these mysteries."

The terrain between the loft and Jersey Hill, combined with normal atmospheric conditions, bounced infrasounds up and over these areas.

Some infrasound would still reach Castor Hill, but due to nearby hills and valleys, the sound waves approached from the west and southwest, even though the Cornell loft is situated south-southwest of Castor Hill.

Records show that younger, inexperienced pigeons released at Castor Hill would sometimes fly west while older birds headed southwest, presumably following infrasounds from their loft.

Hagstrum's model found that infrasound normally arrived at the Weedsport site from the south. But one day of abnormal weather conditions, combined with a local river valley, resulted in infrasound that arrived at Weedsport from the Cornell loft from the southeast.

Multiple Maps

"What [Hagstrum] has found for those areas are a possible explanation for the [pigeon] behavior at these sites," said Bowling Green State's Mora. But she cautions against extrapolating these results to all homing pigeons.

Some of Mora's work supports the theory that homing pigeons use magnetic field lines to find their way home.

What homing pigeons are using as their map probably depends on where they're raised, she said. "In some places it may be infrasound, and in other places [a sense of smell] may be the way to go."

Hagstrum's next steps are to figure out how large an area the pigeons are listening to. He's also talking to the Navy and Air Force, who are interested in his work. "Right now we use GPS to navigate," he said. But if those satellites were compromised, "we'd be out of luck." Pigeons navigate from point to point without any problems, he said.

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Obama Confident Immigration Reform Will Pass

President Barack Obama expressed confidence on Wednesday that he would sign comprehensive immigration reform into law by the end of this year.

In an interview with Univision's Maria Elena Salinas, Obama explained that significant details of a bill still must be worked out by lawmakers, including the structure of a pathway to citizenship for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants. But Obama said that the progress made by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Senate has given him hope that a deal can get done.

See Also: What Will Be Obama's Immigration Legacy?

When asked by Salinas if we will have immigration reform by the end of the year, Obama said, "I believe so."

"You can tell our audience, 'Sí, se puede?'" Salinas asked.

"Sí, se puede," Obama responded.

Later in the interview, Obama said that he hopes a bill could be passed as early as this summer.

But cognizant of deep divisions a topic like immigration has sewn in the past, Obama said that's contingent on bipartisan negotiations continuing to proceed well.

"The only way this is going to get done is if the Republicans continue to work with Democrats in Congress, in both chambers, to get a bill to my desk," he said. "And I'm going to keep on pushing as hard as I can. I believe that the mood is right."

Although the president threatened to introduce his own bill if negotiations in Congress stall during his speech in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Tuesday, he said he is content to let lawmakers hash out the details among themselves for the time being.

"If they are on a path as they have already said, where they want to get a bill done by March, then I think that's a reasonable timeline and I think we can get that done. I'm not going to lay down a particular date because I want to give them a little room to debate," he said. "If it slips a week, that's one thing. If it starts slipping three months, that's a problem."

The president's principles and the Senate's principles on immigration broadly align with one another, but there are still thorny issues that could spark a division between Obama and Republicans, such as the pathway to citizenship.

The Senate's path to citizenship would allow many undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status immediately upon passage of the law. But their ability to then seek legal permanent residency would be contingent upon the U.S.-Mexico border being deemed secure. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" on immigration, has been particularly vocal in stating that border security is a precondition for gaining legal permanent residence, and then citizenship.

While the White House has said that it is withholding judgment on that plan until actual legislative language is drafted, Obama said that he wants a bill that makes it clear from the outset that undocumented immigrants eligible to earn their way to citizenship can eventually obtain it.

"What we don't want to do is create some kind of vague prospect in the future that somehow comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship will happen, you know, mañana," Obama said. "We want to make sure we are very clear this legislation provides a real pathway."

The president said that enhancing border security measures and workplace enforcement provisions are a part of his plan, as well as the Senate's, and cited his administration's efforts to bulk up border security during the past four years, saying that illegal crossings have dropped 80 percent since 2000.

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Today on New Scientist: 29 January 2013

Creatures of the air caught in the mist

Photographer Todd Forsgren uses mist nets to briefly ensnare a variety of tropical South American birds before releasing them, unharmed

Drug reduces enlarged prostate with few side effects

Shrinking enlarged prostates by blocking a potent growth factor could avoid problems - such as erectile dysfunction - that accompany current treatments

Climate change blamed for Australia's extreme weather

Floods have hit the east coast of Australia before recent bush fires have been put out, giving people a taste of climate change's possible consequences

Midnight sun: How to get 24-hour solar power

Rust may be the scourge of electronics but it could help solar power run all night

The most beautiful explanations

The 2012 Edge questions asked for great thinkers' favourite explanations. This Explains Everything collects them all into a fascinating read

Netted Costa Rican birds pay small price for art

Only mildly traumatic, mist nets offer an easy and safe way to catch birds for artistic, and ecological, study

Iran launches monkey into space

The Iranian Space Agency claims to have launched a rhesus monkey into space on a sub-orbital flight, and returned it safely to Earth

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Tibetans in India launch drive against China

NEW DELHI: The Tibetan government-in-exile in India on Tuesday announced plans for a four-day campaign to bring global pressure on China in a bid to end a string of self-immolations in their Himalayan homeland.

Penpa Tsering, speaker of the exiled Tibetan parliament based in the northern Indian town of Dharamshala, said the drive would include rallies and meetings and begin in New Delhi on Wednesday.

"The situation is getting more and more grim," Tsering said at a joint news conference with Lobsang Sangay, who in 2011 took over political duties from revered Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and was named prime minister.

The two leaders said 99 Tibetans had set themselves on fire between 2009 and January 22 this year in protest against Chinese rule in Tibet. Of that number, the government-in-exile says 83 have died.

"Instead of trying to address the main causes as to why self-immolations are taking place, as to why Tibetans are protesting in various other forms, the Chinese government has resorted to a blame game," Sangay said.

The Havard-educated scholar said India, home to tens of thousands of Tibetan exiles, "ought to speak out forcefully on Tibet".

The four-day campaign will call for visits to Tibet by UN fact-finding teams and the publication of details of human rights discussions between Beijing and foreign powers, Sangay said.

He said the Tibetan government as well as the parliament, which has been based in Dharamshala since the Dalai Lama fled after a failed uprising against China in 1959, were determined to highlight "repression of Tibetans in Tibet".

Both the Dalai Lama and the prime minister have appealed to Tibetans not to resort to self-immolation.

"We are against drastic action but we must highlight it (the situation in Tibet) to the international community," Sangay said.

Many Tibetans in China accuse the government of religious repression and eroding their culture, as the country's majority Han ethnic group increasingly moves into historically Tibetan areas.

China rejects that, saying Tibetans enjoy religious freedom. Beijing also points to the huge ongoing investment that it says has brought modernisation and a better standard of living to Tibet.


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Teen girl killed, boy wounded in shooting near high school

A 15-year-old girl was fatally shot and 16-year-old boy wounded about three blocks from King College Prep on the South Side this afternoon, authorities said.

The shooting occurred around 2:20 p.m. in the 4500 block of South Oakenwald Avenue, police said. A 16 year-old boy was shot in the leg and a 15-year-old girl was wounded in the back, police said, citing preliminary information.

The Cook County medical examiner's office has been notified that the girl died.

The girl, who was not yet identified by authorities, was a sophomore at King high school, friends said. The boy also is a student at King, they said.

One of the teens was taken in serious to critical condition to Comer Children's Hospital, according to Chicago Fire Department spokesman Will Knight.

The other victim also was taken to Comer and police at first believed both victims' conditions had stabilized by a little after 3 p.m., said Chicago Police News Affairs Officer Veejay Zala.

At Comer this evening, a group of young people sat and stood inside the entrance to the hospital's emergency room, along with the principal of King high school.

Friends of the slain girl said King was dismissed early today because of exams, and students went to the park on Oakenwald--something they don't usually do.

Friends said the girl was a majorette and a volleyball player, a friendly and sweet presence at the school.

Neighbors reported hearing shots about 2:20 p.m. Neighbors said students from King hang out at Harsh Park, 4458-70 S. Oakenwald Ave., and that students were there this afternoon before the shooting took place.

Desiree Sanders said she heard six gunshots and called 911 after a neighbor told her that some teens had been shot.

Chicago Police crime data show no serious crimes happened in the 4400 or 4500 blocks of South Oakenwald Avenue Dec. 19 to Jan. 20.

“It’s a great neighborhood. Nothing like this has happened since I’ve been here,” on the block, said Roxanne Hubbard, who has lived in the neighborhood for 19 years.

As a matter of policy, Chicago Board of Education officials refuse to confirm whether any child is a student at Chicago Public Schools because a policy on student identification passed by the board several years ago has never been implemented.

Tribune reporter Liam Ford contributed

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

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Timbuktu’s vulnerable manuscripts are city’s "gold"

French and Malian troops surrounded Timbuktu on Monday and began combing the labyrinthine city for Islamist fighters. Witnesses, however, said the Islamists, who claim an affiliation to al Qaeda and had imposed a Taliban-style rule in the northern Malian city over the last ten months, slipped into the desert a few days earlier.

But before fleeing, the militants reportedly set fire to several buildings and many rare manuscripts. There are conflicting reports as to how many manuscripts were actually destroyed. (Video: Roots of the Mali Crisis.)

On Monday, Sky News posted an interview with a man identifying himself as an employee of the Ahmed Baba Institute, a government-run repository for rare books and manuscripts, the oldest of which date back to the city's founding in the 12th century. The man said some 3,000 of the institute's 20,000 manuscripts had been destroyed or looted by the Islamists.

Video showed what appeared to be a large pile of charred manuscripts and the special boxes made to preserve them in front of one of the institute's buildings.

However, a member of the University of Cape Town Timbuktu Manuscript Project told eNews Channel Africa on Tuesday that he had spoken with the director of the Ahmed Baba Institute, Mahmoud Zouber, who said that nearly all of its manuscripts had been removed from the buildings and taken to secure locations months earlier. (Read "The Telltale Scribes of Timbuktu" in National Geographic magazine.)

A Written Legacy

The written word is deeply rooted in Timbuktu's rich history. The city emerged as a wealthy center of trade, Islam, and learning during the 13th century, attracting a number of Sufi religious scholars. They in turn took on students, forming schools affiliated with's Timbuktu's three main mosques.

The scholars imported parchment and vellum manuscripts via the caravan system that connected northern Africa with the Mediterranean and Arabia. Wealthy families had the documents copied and illuminated by local scribes, building extensive libraries containing works of religion, art, mathematics, medicine, astronomy, history, geography, and culture.

"The manuscripts are the city's real gold," said Mohammed Aghali, a tour guide from Timbuktu. "The manuscripts, our mosques, and our history—these are our treasures. Without them, what is Timbuktu?"

This isn't the first time that an occupying army has threatened Timbuktu's cultural heritage. The Moroccan army invaded the city in 1591 to take control of the gold trade. In the process of securing the city, they killed or deported most of Timbuktu's scholars, including the city's most famous teacher, Ahmed Baba al Massufi, who was held in exile in Marrakesh for many years and forced to teach in a pasha's court. He finally returned to Timbuktu in 1611, and it is for him that the Ahmed Baba Institute was named.

Hiding the Texts

In addition to the Ahmed Baba Institute, Timbuktu is home to more than 60 private libraries, some with collections containing several thousand manuscripts and others with only a precious handful. (Read about the fall of Timbuktu.)

Sidi Ahmed, a reporter based in Timbuktu who recently fled to the Malian capital Bamako, said Monday that nearly all the libraries, including the world-renowned Mamma Haidara and the Fondo Kati libraries, had secreted their collections before the Islamist forces had taken the city.

"The people here have long memories," he said. "They are used to hiding their manuscripts. They go into the desert and bury them until it is safe."

Though it appears most of the manuscripts are safe, the Islamists' occupation took a heavy toll on Timbuktu.

Women were flogged for not covering their hair or wearing bright colors. Girls were forbidden from attending school, and boys were recruited into the fighters' ranks.

Music was banned. Local imams who dared speak out against the occupiers were barred from speaking in their mosques. In a move reminiscent of the Taliban's destruction of Afghanistan's famous Bamiyan Buddha sculptures, Islamist fighters bulldozed 14 ancient mud-brick mausoleums and cemeteries that held the remains of revered Sufi saints.

A spokesman for the Islamists said it was "un-Islamic" for locals to "worship idols."

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Jodi Arias Borrowed Gas Cans Before Killing Ex

Accused murderer Jodi Arias borrowed two five-gallon gas cans from a former boyfriend the day before she drove to Arizona to kill another ex, Travis Alexander, according to testimony in Arias' murder trial today.

In cross examination, prosecutors also forced Arias' former live-in boyfriend Darryl Brewer to describe his sex life with Arias as "pretty aggressive."

Brewer, 52, dated Arias for four years and shared a home with her in California for two years. He told the court today that Arias called him in May 2008, asking to borrow gas cans, but would not explain why. She called him again at least two more times, and arrived at his house on June 2008, to borrow the cans.

On the day she picked up the gas cans she told Brewer that she was going to visit friends in California and Arizona.

Prosecutors argue that Arias then drove to Mesa, Ariz., where she allegedly had sex with Alexander, took nude photos of him, and then stabbed him 27 times, slashed his throat, and shot him twice in the head. She is charged with murder and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Arias, who claims she killed Alexander in self defense, had approached prosecutors two years ago offering to plea to a second degree murder charge, which could carry a 25 year term, but the state rejected the offer, Nancy Grace reported on Good Morning America today.

Brewer said that Arias never returned the gas cans. The pair had been broken up two years earlier and they had only spoken "sporadically," he said.

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Prosecutors also showed receipts from Arias' trip from her California home to Alexander's home in Mesa, showing that she purchased a 10 gallons of gas at one gas station the night before she drove to Arizona, and then another 10 gallons from a different gas station 10 minutes later. Prosecutors are expected to argue she brought the gas with her to fill up her car secretly on the way to Alexander's home, showing premeditation for the murder.

Arias' attorneys called Brewer as one of their first witnesses as they began mounting their case that Arias killed Alexander in self defense, arguing that Alexander was controlling and abusive toward Arias.

They asked Brewer to explain how he and Arias had been in a stable relationship for four years, from 2002 to 2006, and had bought a home together before Arias met Alexander at a business conference and began to change.

"I saw a lot of changes in Jodi. She became a different person than I had known previously," Brewer said, describing how Arias' behavior changed in May 2006 when she joined a company called Pre-Paid Legal. There, she met Alexander and began seeing him. She continued to live with Brewer.

"She had continued to pay the mortgage, but she was not paying other household bills, she began getting into debt or financial trouble," Brewer said. "For me it seemed she was not as rational or logical."

Arias also converted to Mormonism while living with Brewer, telling him that he could no longer curse and she would no longer have sex with him because she was saving herself for marriage.

The pair had previously had an "enthusiastic" and "aggressive" sex life, Brewer admitted to prosecutors. They had engaged in anal sex, Arias had taken nude photos of Brewer, and Arias had purchased breast implants in 2006, he testified.

Brewer said that after Arias began to change, he made arrangements to move closer to his son from his first marriage, and he and Arias broke up.

They kept in touch with occasional phone calls until Arias asked to borrow the gas cans in June 2008, and then called him a week after borrowing the cans to say that her friend had been killed.

Martinez, reading notes from an interview Brewer gave to authorities during the investigation into Alexander's death, asked if Arias had ever mentioned needing an "alibi." Brewer said he did not recall any conversation about alibis.

"After this date of June 4, 2008," Martinez asked, "you received a call from Jodi Arias, and she was very agitated?"

"She was sad," Brewer said.

"Did she tell you that her friend had been killed and she did not have an alibi?"

"I don't remember that," Brewer said.

Arias was arrested a month after Alexander was found dead, in July 2008.

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