Today on New Scientist: 28 December 2012







Best videos of 2012: Rare view of Challenger tragedy

Watch a rare amateur video of the Challenger explosion, our most-viewed video of the year



Strong jet stream super-charged US Christmas storms

Record snowfall and dozens of tornadoes snarled holiday travel as a powerful winter storm plowed across much of the US, while rainstorms battered the UK



2012 review: The year in life science

The year's biggest stories in life science, including James Cameron's descent into the Mariana trench and efforts to break into Antarctica's buried lakes



Superstorm lessons for adapting to climate change

As the post-Sandy rebuild gets under way, coastal cities around the world will be watching



Best videos of 2012: First MRI movie of childbirth

Watch a unique view of a baby's birth, at number 2 in our countdown of the year's top science videos



Fleadom or death: Reviving the glorious flea circus

The parasite-based sideshows were almost done for by the domestic vacuum cleaner - but they are bouncing back, finds Graham Lawton



Approval for gene-modified salmon spawns controversy

Apparently months late, US regulators have declared genetically engineered fish safe to farm and eat, but final approval could be some way off



Best videos of 2012: New aircraft flies inside out

Watch a novel flying machine use a unique mechanism to propel itself, at number 3 in our countdown of the top videos of the year



2012 review: The year in technology

The year's biggest stories in technology, including Kinect devices that may spot signs of autism and controlling a robot by the power of thought



Superdoodles: The science of scribbling

Far from being a distraction, doodling has an important purpose - and you can harness it



2013 Smart Guide: Wave goodbye to the mouse

The Leap, a 3D motion control device set to launch next year, will let you control your computer with touch-free hand and finger movements





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Yen rebounds slightly against dollar






NEW YORK: The yen edged higher against the dollar Friday after days of declines on expectations Japan would implement more monetary easing under its new prime minister.

The dollar stood at 85.98 yen around 2200 GMT, down from 86.09 late Thursday.

In Asian trade earlier in the day, the yen sat at more than two-year lows against the greenback.

Investors have been selling the yen on expectations newly-elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will carry out his promises of more aggressive monetary easing and big government spending to lift inflation and kickstart the economy.

While noting that Abe and members of his government have "made it abundantly clear" that they won't back away from their promises, BK Asset Management noted that "dollar/yen appears to be nearing exhaustion and a move down to 85 is likely."

"After climbing to a fresh 2-year high overnight, dollar/yen staged a sharp intraday reversal that left the pair near the day's lows," they said.

The euro also slipped slightly against the yen around 2200 GMT, reaching 113.62 yen around 2200 GMT, compared to 113.97 yen a day earlier.

The common European currency lost a little ground to the dollar, standing at $1.3217 after hitting $1.3235 late Thursday.

In other currencies, the dollar inched up to 0.9134 Swiss francs, while the pound rose to $1.6167.

-AFP/ac



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Last ditch effort to avoid fiscal cliff under way


WASHINGTON (AP) — The end game at hand, the White House and Senate leaders took a final stab at compromise Friday night to prevent middle-class tax increases from taking effect at the turn of the new year and possibly prevent sweeping spending cuts as well.


"I'm optimistic we may still be able to reach an agreement that can pass both houses in time," President Barack Obama said at the White House after meeting for more than an hour with congressional leaders.


Surprisingly, after weeks of postelection gridlock, Senate leaders sounded even more bullish.


The Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said he was "hopeful and optimistic" of a deal, adding he hoped a compromise could be presented to rank-and-file lawmakers as early as Sunday, a little more than 24 hours before the year-end deadline.


Said Majority Leader Harry Reid: "I'm going to do everything I can" to prevent the tax increases and spending cuts that threaten to send the economy into recession. He cautioned, "Whatever we come up with is going to be imperfect."


Officials said there was a general understanding that any agreement would block scheduled income tax increases for middle class earners while letting rates rise at upper income levels.


Democrats said Obama was sticking to his campaign call for increases above $250,000 in annual income, even though in recent negotiations he said he could accept $400,000.


The two sides also confronted a divide over estate taxes.


Obama favors a higher tax than is currently in effect, but one senior Republican, Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, said he's "totally dead set" against it. Speaking of fellow GOP lawmakers, he said they harbor more opposition to an increase in the estate tax than to letting taxes on income and investments rise at upper levels.


Also likely to be included in the negotiations are taxes on dividends and capital gains, both of which are scheduled to rise with the new year. Also the alternative minimum tax, which, if left unchanged, could hit millions of middle- and upper-income taxpayers for the first time.


In addition, Obama and Democrats want to prevent the expiration of unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, and there is widespread sentiment in both parties to shelter doctors from a cut in Medicare fees.


The White House has shown increased concern about a possible spike in milk prices if a farm bill is not passed in the next few days, although it is not clear whether that issue, too, might be included in the talks.


One Republican who was briefed on the White House meeting said Boehner made it clear he would leave in place spending cuts scheduled to take effect unless alternative savings were found to offset them. If he prevails, that would defer politically difficult decisions on government benefit programs like Medicare until 2013.


Success was far from guaranteed in an atmosphere of political mistrust — even on a slimmed-down deal that postponed hard decisions about spending cuts into 2013 — in a Capitol where lawmakers grumbled about the likelihood of spending the new year holiday working.


In a brief appearance in the White House briefing room, Obama referred to "dysfunction in Washington," and said the American public is "not going to have any patience for a politically self-inflicted wound to our economy. Not right now."


If there is no compromise, he said he expects Reid to put legislation on the floor to prevent tax increases on the middle class and extend unemployment benefits — an implicit challenge to Republicans to dare to vote against what polls show is popular.


The guest list for the White House meeting included Reid, McConnell, Boehner and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.


The same group last met more than a month ago and emerged expressing optimism they could strike a deal that avoided the fiscal cliff. At that point, Boehner had already said he was willing to let tax revenues rise as part of an agreement, and the president and his Democratic allies said they were ready to accept spending cuts.


Since then, though, talks between Obama and Boehner faltered, the speaker struggled to control his rebellious rank and file, and Reid and McConnell sparred almost daily in speeches on the Senate floor. Through it all, Wall Street has paid close attention, and in the moments before the meeting, stocks were trading lower for the fifth day in a row.


The core issue is the same as it has been for more than a year, Obama's demand for tax rates to rise on upper incomes while remaining at current levels for most Americans. He made the proposal central to his successful campaign for re-election, when he said incomes above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples should rise to 39.6 percent from the current 35 percent.


Boehner refused for weeks to accept any rate increases, and simultaneously accused Obama of skimping on the spending cuts he would support as part of a balanced deal to reduce deficits, remove the threat of spending cuts and prevent the across-the-board tax cuts.


Last week, the Ohio Republican pivoted and presented a Plan B measure that would have let rates rise on million-dollar earners. That was well above Obama's latest offer, which called for a $400,000 threshold, but more than the speaker's rank and file were willing to accept.


Facing defeat, Boehner scrapped plans for a vote, leaving the economy on track for the cliff that political leaders in both parties had said they could avoid. In the aftermath, Democrats said they doubted any compromise was possible until Boehner has been elected to a second term as speaker when the new Congress convenes on Jan. 3.


Further compounding the year-end maneuvering, there are warnings that the price of milk could virtually double beginning next year.


Congressional officials said that under current law, the federal government is obligated to maintain prices so that fluid milk sells for about $20 per hundredweight. If the law lapses, the Department of Agriculture would be required to maintain a price closer to $36 of $38 per hundredweight, they said. It is unclear when price increases might be felt by consumers.


______


Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.


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How to Banish That New Year's Eve Hangover


For those of us who enjoy the occasional cocktail, the holiday season would be incomplete without certain treats of the liquid variety. Some look forward to the creamy charms of rum-laced eggnog; others anticipate cupfuls of high-octane punch or mugs of warm, spiced wine.

No matter what's in your glass, raising one as the year winds down is tradition. What could be more festive? The problem is, one drink leads to two, then the party gets going and a third is generously poured. Soon, the music fades and the morning arrives—and with it, the dreaded hangover. (Explore a human-body interactive.)

Whether it's a pounding headache, a queasy stomach, sweating, or just general misery, the damage has been done. So now it's time to remedy the situation. What's the quickest way to banish the pain? It depends who you ask.

Doctors typically recommend water for hydration and ibuprofen to reduce inflammation. Taking B vitamins is also good, according to anesthesiologist Jason Burke, because they help the body metabolize alcohol and produce energy.

Burke should know a thing or two about veisalgia, the medical term for hangover. At his Las Vegas clinic Hangover Heaven, Burke treats thousands of people suffering from the effects of drinking to excess with hydrating fluids and medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"No two hangovers are the same," he said, adding that the unfavorable condition costs society billions of dollars-mostly from lost productivity and people taking sick days from work.

Hot Peppers for Hangovers?

So what's the advice from the nonmedical community? Suggestions range from greasy breakfasts to vanilla milkshakes to spending time in a steamy sauna. A friend insists hot peppers are the only way to combat a hangover's wrath. Another swears by the palliative effects of a bloody mary. In fact, many people just have another drink, following the old "hair of the dog that bit you" strategy.

Whether such "cures" actually get rid of a hangover is debatable, but one thing's for sure: the sorry state is universal. The only people immune to hangovers are the ones who avoid alcohol altogether.

So for those who do indulge, even if it's just once in awhile, see our interactive featuring cures from around the world (also above). As New Year's Eve looms with its attendant excuse to imbibe, perhaps it would be wise to stock your refrigerator with one of these antidotes. Pickled herring, anyone?


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'Cliff' Summit Brings Hope for a Deal













Washington brinkmanship appears to have created a last minute chance for the White House and Congress to agree on a plan to avoid sending the country over the fiscal cliff.


President Obama emerged from a White House summit this evening to say "we had a constructive meeting today" and that he was "optimistic" that they could devise a proposal ahead of a Jan. 1 deadline that would otherwise automatically trigger a wide range of higher taxes and steep budget cuts. Economists fear that such a combination could throw the country into a recession.


The president lamented that a deal is coming down to the final hours.


"The American people are watching what we do... (their) patience is already thin," the president said. "It's deja vu all over again."


He added later that for Americans the repeated last second efforts to dodge economic crises "is mind boggling to them. It has to stop."


After leaving the summit, the Senate Democratic and Republican leaders announced on the Senate floor that they're aiming to have a proposal on the fiscal cliff drawn up by Sunday, with the potential to put it on the Senate floor that afternoon.






Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images











Sen. Harry Reid Says 'US Headed Over Fiscal Cliff' Watch Video









Fiscal Cliff: Congressional Leaders Squabble at the Last Minute Watch Video







"We had a good meeting down at the White House," Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. "We are engaged in discussions, the majority leader, myself and the White House in the hopes that we can come forward as early as Sunday and have a recommendation that I can make to my conference and the majority leader can make to his conference."


McConnell said that he is "hopeful and optimistic" and they'll be "working hard" over the next 24 hours "to see if we can get there."


Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., echoed those sentiments.


"We certainly hope something will come from that," Reid said of today's White House meeting. "The Republican leader and I and our staffs are working to see what we can come up with. We shouldn't take a long time to do that."


The Senate will come in at 1 p.m. on Sunday. There will be a caucus meeting in the afternoon. Reid says he hopes by that time on Sunday there will be a determination if a proposal can be brought to the floor.


"There was not a lot of hilarity in the meeting. Everyone knows how important it is, it was a very serious meeting," Reid said on today's White House meeting.


Reid warned that whatever they come up with it will be "imperfect."


"Some people aren't going to like it," Reid said. "Some people will like it less but that's where we are. And I feel confident that we have an obligation to do the best we can, and that was made very clear at the White House."



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Today on New Scientist: 27 December 2012









Best videos of 2012: Spiderman skin stops a bullet

Watch reinforced skin stop a speeding bullet, at number 4 in our countdown of the top videos of the year



Gastrophysics: Some said 'more', others said 'meh'

Network theorists model everything from internet traffic to disease spread. But can they tease out titillating new taste combos? New Scientist gets cooking



Best videos of 2012: Sea lice reduce pig to bones

Watch a microscopic mob devour a pig carcass underwater, as we reach number 5 in our best videos of the year.



2012 review: The year in space

A Mars rover's daredevil landing, a private space-flight boom, and a man leaping from the stratosphere were among the top space news events this year



Photo puzzle: Can you make the connection?

Correctly match up 16 pairs of science-inspired images and enter a draw to win a state-of-the-art Olympus E-PL5 digital camera



Shiver me timbers: The coolest warship ever made

Unsinkable and bulletproof, battleships made from icebergs were the great hope of the second world war, says Stephen Battersby



2013 Smart Guide: Next-generation video games

The upcoming round of consoles promises to deliver a far more immersive video-gaming experience, with super-high-definition and multi-screen action



Dangerous liaisons: Animals' tangled love lives

The surprising mate choices of certain animals are forcing us to reconsider our views of evolutionary theory



Three gods: The hardest logic puzzle ever

Tackle this logisticians' parlour game and you may be a bit closer to understanding the nature of truth itself, says Richard Webb



2012 review: The year in environment

From the devastation wrought by superstorm Sandy to vanishing Arctic sea ice, we round up the biggest environment stories of the year



Feast for the senses: Cook up a master dish

Trick your dinner guests into thinking you're a master chef by manipulating all their senses



2013 Smart Guide: Hot computing for a cool billion

Six mega-projects, from a supercomputer brain simulation to a real-life SimCity on a global scale, are vying for two prizes, each worth $1 billion



New Scientist 2012 holiday quiz

Anatomical incongruities, why men are like fruit flies, a boson by any other name, and much more in our end-of-year quiz



2013 Smart Guide: Supercomet to outshine the moon

A gas cloud crashing into the black hole at the centre of the galaxy and a naked-eye comet promise celestial fireworks in 2013



Dangerous liaisons: Fatal animal attractions

Humans aren't the only animals that can run into trouble when choosing a mate, discovers David Robson



2012 review: Zoologger's 12 beasts of Christmas

Zoologger is our weekly column highlighting extraordinary animals - and occasionally other organisms - from around the world. Here are this year's 12 best



Prehistoric cinema: A silver screen on the cave wall

With cartoon frescoes, shadow theatre and a rudimentary form of animation, our ancestors knew how to bring their stories to life, says Catherine Brahic



Review of 2012: The year's biggest news at a glance

Halt to bird flu experiments, Greece's economic crisis, the Stuxnet computer worm, Curiosity arrives on Mars, and more



How does a traffic cop ticket a driverless car?

Rapid progress means self-driving cars are in the fast lane to consumer reality. Is the law up to speed too, asks legal expert Bryant Walker Smith




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Egypt's Mubarak back in hospital as health worsens






CAIRO: Egypt's state prosecutor on Thursday ordered imprisoned former dictator Hosni Mubarak transferred to a military hospital after his health deteriorated, a source at the prosecutor's office said.

Mubarak, serving a life sentence over the killings of protesters, was briefly taken to hospital on December 19 for scans after he fell in his prison bathroom and hurt his head.

Mubarak, 84, will be returned to prison after he is treated, the source said.

A court sentenced the veteran strongman to life in June for failing to prevent the killings of protesters during the 18-day revolt that ended his three-decade rule in February 2011. Some 850 people died in the uprising.

Since his fall from power, Mubarak's health has appeared to deteriorate significantly, and he has suffered repeated health scares.

He spent nearly a month in hospital after he fell unconscious on June 19, with state media declaring him clinically dead on arrival. Medical sources however said he appeared to have fallen into a temporary coma.

During his time in power, the subject of his health was very much off-limits.

In 2004, he underwent surgery in Germany for a slipped disc, and he returned to Germany in March 2010 for the removal of his gall bladder and a growth on the small intestine.

During his time in power, he survived 10 attempts on his life.

-AFP/ac



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McConnell: Obama to meet Hill leaders on Friday


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate's top Republican says President Barack Obama has asked congressional leaders to convene at the White House for last-minute talks on a deal that avoids automatic tax increases and broad spending cuts.


Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says the leaders are expected to meet with the president Friday, just four days before the government goes over the so-called "fiscal cliff" if Congress and Obama don't act.


The meeting would be the first time Obama has huddled with all four leaders since Nov. 16 and would represent that last hope for a deal before the new year. Obama spoke to each leader individually Wednesday before returning from vacation in Hawaii.


Obama and congressional Democrats want a deal that would let tax rates rise for the wealthiest taxpayers.


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How to Live to a Ripe Old Age


Cento di questi giorni. May you have a hundred birthdays, the Italians say, and some of them do.

So do other people in various spots around the world—in Blue Zones, so named by National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner for the blue ink that outlines these special areas on maps developed over more than a decade. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

In his second edition of his book The Blue Zones, Buettner writes about a newly identified Blue Zone: the Greek island of Ikaria (map). National Geographic magazine Editor at Large Cathy Newman interviewed him about the art of living long and well. (Watch Buettner talk about how to live to a hundred.)

Q. You've written about Blue Zones in Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; Nicoa, Costa Rica and Okinawa, Japan. How did you find your way to Ikaria?

A. Michel Poulain, a demographer on the project, and I are always on the lookout for new Blue Zones. This one popped up in 2008. We got a lead from a Greek foundation looking for biological markers in aging people. The census data showed clusters of villages there with a striking proportion of people 85 or older. (Also see blog: "Secrets of the Happiest Places on Earth.")

In the course of your quest you've been introduced to remarkable individuals like 100-year-old Marge Jetton of Loma Linda, California, who starts the day with a mile-long [0.6-kilometer] walk, 6 to 8 miles [10 to 13 kilometers] on a stationary bike, and weight lifting. Who is the most memorable Blue Zoner you've met?

Without question it's Stamatis Moraitis, who lives in Ikaria. I believe he's 102. He's famous for partying. He makes 400 liters [100 gallons] of wine from his vineyards each year, which he drinks with his friends. His house is the social hot spot of the island. (See "Longevity Genes Found; Predict Chances of Reaching 100.")

He's also the Ikarian who emigrated to the United States, was diagnosed with lung cancer in his 60s, given less then a year to live, and who returned to Ikaria to die. Instead, he recovered.

Yes, he never went through chemotherapy or treatment. He just moved back to Ikaria.

Did anyone figure out how he survived?

Nope. He told me he returned to the U.S. ten years after he left to see if the American doctors could explain it. I asked him what happened. "My doctors were all dead," he said.

One of the common factors that seem to link all Blue Zone people you've spoken with is a life of hard work—and sometimes hardship. Your thoughts?

I think we live in a culture that relentlessly pursues comfort. Ease is related to disease. We shouldn't always be fleeing hardship. Hardship also brings people together. We should welcome it.

Sounds like another version of the fable of the grasshopper and the ant?

You rarely get satisfaction sitting in an easy chair. If you work in a garden on the other hand, and it yields beautiful tomatoes, that's a good feeling.

Can you talk about diet? Not all of us have access to goat milk, for example, which you say is typically part of an Ikarian breakfast.

There is nothing exotic about their diet, which is a version of a Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes vegetables, beans, fruit, olive oil, and moderate amounts of alcohol. (Read more about Buettner's work in Ikaria in National Geographic Adventure.)

All things in moderation?

Not all things. Socializing is something we should not do in moderation. The happiest Americans socialize six hours a day.

The people you hang out with help you hang on to life?

Yes, you have to pay attention to your friends. Health habits are contagious. Hanging out with unhappy people who drink and smoke is hazardous to your health.

So how has what you've learned influenced your own lifestyle?

One of the big things I've learned is that there's an advantage to regular low-intensity activity. My previous life was setting records on my bike. [Buettner holds three world records in distance cycling.] Now I use my bike to commute. I only eat meat once a week, and I always keep nuts in my office: Those who eat nuts live two to three more years than those who don't.

You also write about having a purpose in life.

Purpose is huge. I know exactly what my values are and what I love to do. That's worth additional years right there. I say no to a lot of stuff that would be easy money but deviates from my meaning of life.

The Japanese you met in Okinawa have a word for that?

Yes. Ikigai: "The reason for which I wake in the morning."

Do you have a non-longevity-enhancing guilty pleasure?

Tequila is my weakness.

And how long would you like to live?

I'd like to live to be 200.


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Utah Teachers Flock to Gun Training













The perception of schools as sanctuaries from violence has been "blown up" by recent events and some believe it's time for educators to literally take the situation into their own hands and carry guns.


"We've had this unwritten code, even among criminals, that schools are off limits. Those are our kids. You don't mess with that," Utah Shooting Sports Council (USSC) Chairman Clark Aposhian told ABCNews.com today.


"That perception has been blown away now," he said. "It's been shattered and if there's one thing that parents across the country are united on, it's that they are committed to and serious about protecting their kids."


Aposhian spoke shortly before opening a weapons training class for teachers and school employees that drew more than 200 Utah educators organized by the USSC, a leading gun lobby group that believes that teachers should be able to fight back when faced with an armed intruder.


"One firearm in the hands of one teacher could have made the difference at Sandy Hook or Columbine, but they weren't allowed to carry in those schools," Aposhian said.


The USSC is waiving its normal $50 training fee today for teachers who wish to attend. Aposhian said the 200 person course was filled to capacity and said he plans on holding another session for people he may have to turn away today.


INFOGRAPHIC: Gun in America: By The Numbers


"We trust these teachers to be with our kids for 8 to 10 hours a day every day," Aposhian said. "I don't think it's a far reach to think that we could think that they would act responsibly and with decorum in protecting their own lives and the lives of the kids under their care."












Gun Owners Give Back: LA Residents Return Guns After Newtown Tragedy Watch Video





The idea of armed teachers has been part of a fiery debate on gun control following the rampage at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 children and six adults dead on Dec. 14.


Utah is one of only a handful of states, including Oregon, Hawaii and New Hampshire, that allow people to carry licensed concealed weapons into public schools. It is not known how many Utah teachers carry guns in public schools because the records are not public.


But Aposhian said that he tells detractors that Utah has not had any school shootings or accidental shootings in the approximately 12 years the law has been in effect.


In Ohio, the Buckeye Firearms Association is launching a pilot armed teacher training program in which 24 teachers will be selected to attend a three-day training class.


Arizona's Attorney General Tom Horne has proposed a state law amendment that would allow one educator in each school to carry a gun.


During today's six-hour training session, the educators will be taught about gun safety, loading and unloading, manipulating the firearm, how to clear malfunctions, use of force laws and state and federal firearm laws.


The training sessions normally draw about 15 to 20 people, Aposhian said, but many of the teachers who have signed up for today have expressed strong feelings about attending the class.


"I think it runs the gamut from passive desire to get a permit because they thought about it here and there to a fervor given the recent events," Aposhian said. "Perhaps they've had an epiphany of sorts and realized that that sanctuary they work in, or at least the perceived sanctuary, isn't all that safe."


The Utah State Board of Education Chair Debra Roberts released the following statement today on the matter:


"The Utah State Board of Education expresses sympathy to all involved in the recent school shooting in Connecticut. In the face of this terrible tragedy, as schools move forward in taking measures to ensure the safety of students and school personnel, we urge caution and thoughtful consideration."


The statement noted that its schools have emergency plans to handle such situations.


Carol Lear, the board's director of school law and legislation, was more blunt about Aposhian's gun training, telling the Associated Press, "It's a terrible idea...It's a horrible, no-good, rotten idea."






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Three gods: The hardest logic puzzle ever


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Toyota reaches US$1.1b deal with US owners over recalls






CHICAGO: Toyota has agreed to pay about $1.1 billion to settle a class action lawsuit launched by US vehicle owners affected by a series of mass recalls, the Japanese automaker said Wednesday.

Toyota did not accept any blame but agreed to compensate owners who argued that the value of about 16.3 million vehicles took a hit from dozens of deadly accidents allegedly caused by Toyota vehicles speeding out of control in 2009.

The deal will cover the cost of installing a free brake override system in about 2.7 million vehicles.

It will also provide cash payments to those who sold their vehicles in the wake of the recalls or who own vehicles ineligible for the override system.

Once lauded for its safety standards, Toyota was forced into damage control mode in recent years after recalling millions of vehicles over a series of serious defects.

Earlier this year it added two models to the controversial 2009-2010 recalls launched after it was discovered that floor mats were trapping the accelerator pedals.

Toyota's mishandling of the initial problem and other reports of sudden, unintended acceleration led to a US congressional probe, more than $50 million in fines from US regulators and public apologies by its chief.

Just two weeks ago, the company agreed to pay a record $17.35 million fine for failing to promptly notify US authorities that the floor mats could also be trapped under the accelerators of 2010 Lexus models.

Toyota has worked hard to regain its reputation for safety, while at the same time fighting off the impact of the economic crisis, a strong yen and the devastating 2011 quake-tsunami disaster.

The settlement helps Toyota avoid a lengthy and risky court battle with angry owners who also argued that Toyota's technology -- not the trapped floormats -- were behind the deadly instances of sudden, unintended acceleration.

"This was a difficult decision -- especially since reliable scientific evidence and multiple independent evaluations have confirmed the safety of Toyota's electronic throttle control systems," Christopher Reynolds, Toyota Motor North America's chief legal officer, said in a statement.

"However, we concluded that turning the page on this legacy legal issue through the positive steps we are taking is in the best interests of the company, our employees, our dealers and, most of all, our customers."

Earlier Wednesday Toyota forecast a 22 percent jump in worldwide sales this year to 9.7 million units, driven by surging demand that may help it regain the top spot in the global auto market.

Those figures could put Toyota ahead of General Motors and Volkswagen as the world's biggest automaker, a title it held between 2008 and 2010 but lost last year after a slump in sales and production.

Japan's biggest automaker also said it expects to sell about 9.91 million vehicles in 2013, up two percent on-year.

The settlement, which was filed in a California federal court Wednesday, must still be approved by a judge.

It includes $250 million for owners who've sold their vehicles, $250 million for owners whose vehicles are ineligible for the brake override system and $30 million for safety research.

Toyota will also provide free repairs for certain components linked to the recall.

Toyota said it would take a $1.1 billion charge to cover the estimated costs of the settlement and two other cases.

A lead attorney for the plaintiffs told the Wall Street Journal that Wednesday's deal could end up costing Toyota as much as $1.4 billion.

-AFP/ac



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Cliff looms: Kicking the Can, Washington-style


WASHINGTON (AP) — When it comes to the nation's budget challenges, congressional leaders are fond of saying dismissively they don't want to kick the can down the road.


But now, a deadline hard ahead, even derided half-measures are uncertain as President Barack Obama and lawmakers struggle to avert across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts that comprise an economy-threatening fiscal cliff.


Congressional officials said Wednesday they knew of no significant strides toward a compromise over a long Christmas weekend, and no negotiations have been set.


After conferring on a conference call, House Republican leaders said they remain ready for talks, urged the Senate to consider a House-passed bill that extends all existing tax cuts, but gave no hint they intend to call lawmakers back into session unless the Senate first passes legislation.


"The lines of communication remain open, and we will continue to work with our colleagues to avert the largest tax hike in American history, and to address the underlying problem, which is spending," the leadership said in a statement.


A short while later Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. countered that the House leadership should allow action on a Senate-passed bill that lets income tax rates rise only on incomes above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples. The measure could "pass tomorrow" if put to a vote, he said.


The Senate is due in session Thursday, although the immediate agenda includes legislation setting the rules for government surveillance of suspected spies and terrorists abroad, including Americans, as well as a measure providing $60 billion for victims of Superstorm Sandy.


Obama decided to cut short his Hawaii vacation for an overnight flight expected to get him back to the White House on Thursday.


Apart from the cliff, other financial challenges loom for divided government, where political brinkmanship has become the norm. The Treasury disclosed during the day it would take accounting measures to avoid reaching the government's borrowing limit of $16.4 trillion by year's end. The changes will provide about two months of additional leeway.


Separately, spending authority for much of the government will expire on March 27, 2013.


After weeks of negotiations, the president urged lawmakers late last week to scale back their ambitions for avoiding the fiscal cliff and send him legislation preventing tax cuts on all but the highest-earning Americans and extending unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless. Longer, term, he said he still supports deficit cuts that were key to the earlier talks.


"Everybody's got to give a little bit in a sensible way," he said at the White House.


The House has no plans to convene, following last week's rebellion in which conservatives torpedoed Speaker John Boehner's legislation to prevent scheduled tax increases on most, while letting them take effect on million-dollar wage earners.


"How we get there, God only knows," the Ohio Republican said of efforts to protect the economy — and taxpayers — from the tax increases and spending cuts.


"Now is the time to show leadership, not kick the can down the road," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said a little over a week ago after Boehner announced he would shift his own focus from bipartisan talks to the approach that eventually was torpedoed by his own rank and file.


It's a phrase that political leaders use when they want to suggest others want to avoid tackling major problems, and one that Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and even Obama as well as Reid have used.


"We have a spending problem. We have to address it, And we're not going to address it by kicking the can down the road," the speaker said at a news conference late last week when he was asked about setting a vote on a plan that Democrats find acceptable.


Cantor recently used the same approach in challenging Obama to agree to savings from Medicare and other benefit programs. "This has to be a part of this agreement or else we just continue to dig the hole deeper, asking folks to allow us to kick the can down the road further and that we don't want to do," he said on Nov. 28.


In fact, it's a phrase that has been in use for over a year as Obama and Republicans jockey for position on pocketbook issues.


In July 2011, when he was struggling with Republicans over the threat of a first-ever government default, Obama said he had "heard reports that there may be some in Congress who want to do just enough to make sure that America avoids defaulting on our debt in the short term. But then wants to kick the can down the road when it comes to solving the larger problem, our deficit."


A few months later, an extension of a payroll tax cut was the issue, and Boehner was insisting on a year-long renewal rather than the temporary plan that passed the Senate with votes from lawmakers in both parties.


"How can you do tax policy for two months?" he asked on Dec. 18, 2011. "I believe that two months is just kicking the can down the road.


"The American people are tired of that."


At issue now is series of tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to kick in with the new year that economists caution could send the economy into a recession.


___


AP Economics Writer Christopher S. Rugaber contributed to this report.


Read More..

Space Pictures This Week: Green Lantern, Supersonic Star









































































































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WH Lashes Out at 'Congressional Stupidity'


With only days to come up with a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff, the White House said “congressional stupidity” was damaging the economy but that an agreement could be reached if Republican leaders don’t get in the way.


President Obama cut his Hawaiian vacation short and headed back to Washington today while the Senate is scheduled to reconvene on Thursday. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said previously that he would give House members a 48-hour notice of any upcoming vote, which means that the soonest the House could consider a bill would be Saturday — just two days before a deadline to make a deal or trigger a rise in taxes and steep budget cuts.


Boehner and other GOP leaders issued a statement today following a conference call saying: “The House has acted on two bills which collectively would avert the entire fiscal cliff if enacted. Those bills await action by the Senate.  If the Senate will not approve and send them to the president to be signed into law in their current form, they must be amended and returned to the House.”


While Boehner put the onus on the president and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a White House official used testy language to  put the responsibility back on Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.


“What we need is for the Senate Minority Leader not to block a vote and for Boehner to allow a vote,” a White House official told ABC News. “The hits to our economy aren’t coming from outside factors, they’re coming from congressional stupidity.”


Reid’s plan would serve as a Democratic counterpart to Boehner’s plan B, which failed to gain enough support for a vote last week. Boehner left the ball in the Senate’s court after withdrawing  his plan Thursday.


Any plan from Reid is expected to include extending the Bush tax cuts for Americans making $250,000 or less.


Related: What if Bush tax cuts expire?


This has been a sticking point for the left and the right throughout discussions. Democrats believe that lower- and middle-class families should keep the  tax cut, while letting it expire for households making more than $250,000. Republicans counter that no Americans should be forced to pay higher taxes come Jan. 1, though Boehner’s plan would have required those making more than $1 million to lose the cut.


Reid could also propose cuts to tax deductions to generate more federal revenue.


Related: Can the mortgage deduction survive the fiscal cliff?


Michael Ettlinger, vice president for economic policy at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, said that would make his plan very similar to Obama’s.


“I think this is likely to go smaller more than bigger as they try to gather votes in the Senate,” Ettlinger told ABC News Wednesday. “The Democratic vision of things is fairly clear. Where the Senate Republicans are willing to go is less so. That’s going to be the issue.”


Dan Holler of conservative policy advocacy group Heritage Action for America expects the plan to include an extension of unemployment benefits, something he says would be “extremely counterproductive for the economy.”


Democrats “see it as one of the most stimulative things you can do,” Holler told ABC News Wednesday. “Heritage has great research to go ahead and say this doesn’t really help.”


Related: Fiscal Cliff negotiators search for cuts without sacrifice.


In addition to an immediate measure to stop taxes from going up, Holler suggested there would be a mechanism to compel leaders to do more further down the road, a method he said has not historically been effective at reducing the deficit.


“I think Republicans are going to look at the entire package skeptically,” Holler said of Reid’s expected plan.


Boehner press secretary Michael Steel told ABC News the speaker’s office “will take a look” at Reid’s proposal once he brings it up for a vote or shares his ideas with the House.


Garnering consensus among both parties will be difficult for any plan now. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is trying to bring D.C. politicians together with every coffee cup sold in the District.


Critics have called into question  Boehner’s ability to bring his own party together.


“It seems that, in the House now, Boehner has no control over his extreme right-wing faction,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said on MSNBC Wednesday. “You have, over in the House, a situation where the Republicans are saying, ‘Hey, we don’t think billionaires should pay a nickel more in taxes, but we do think there should be devastating cuts in programs that are impacting working families who are already hurting as a result of the recession.’ So that’s the problem that we have.”


Read More..

New Scientist 2012 holiday quiz

















Continue reading page

|1

|2





































THIS was the year we held our breath in almost unbearable anticipation while we waited to see whether physicists at the Large Hadron Collider would finally get a clear view of the Higgs boson, so tantalisingly hinted at last December. Going a bit blue, we held on through March when one of the LHC's detectors seemed to lose sight of the thing, before exhaling in a puff of almost-resolution in July, when researchers announced that the data added up to a fairly confident pretty-much-actual-discovery of the particle.












Early indications were that it might be a weird and wonderful variety of the Higgs, prompting a collective gasp of excitement. That was followed by a synchronised sigh of mild disappointment when later data implied that it was probably the most boring possible version after all, and not a strange entity pointing the way to new dimensions and the true nature of dark matter. Prepare yourself for another puff or two as the big story moves on next year.













This respirational rollercoaster might be running a bit too slowly to supply enough oxygen to the brain of a New Scientist reader, so we have taken care to provide more frequent oohs and aahs using less momentous revelations. See how many of the following unfundamental discoveries you can distinguish from the truth-free mimics that crowd parasitically around them.












1. Which of these anatomical incongruities of the animal kingdom did we describe on 14 July?












  • a) A fish, found in a canal in Vietnam, that wears its genitals under its mouth
  • b) A frog, found in a puddle in Peru, that has no spleen
  • c) A lizard, found in a cave in Indonesia, that has four left feet
  • d) A cat, found in a tree in northern England, that has eight extra teeth

2. "A sprout by any other name would taste as foul." So wrote William Shakespeare in his diary on 25 December 1598, setting off the centuries of slightly unjust ridicule experienced by this routinely over-cooked vegetable. But which forbiddingly named veg did we report on 7 July as having more health-giving power than the sprout, its active ingredient being trialled as a treatment for prostate cancer?












  • a) Poison celery
  • b) Murder beans
  • c) Inconvenience potatoes
  • d) Death carrots

3. Scientists often like to say they are opening a new window on things. Usually that is a metaphor, but on 10 November we reported on a more literal innovation in the fenestral realm. It was:












  • a) A perspex peephole set in the nest of the fearsome Japanese giant hornet, to reveal its domestic habits
  • b) A glass porthole implanted in the abdomen of a mouse, to reveal the process of tumour metastasis
  • c) A crystal portal in the inner vessel of an experimental thorium reactor, to reveal its nuclear fires to the naked eye
  • d) A small window high on the wall of a basement office in the Princeton physics department, to reveal a small patch of sky to postgraduate students who have not been outside for seven years

4. On 10 March we described a new material for violin strings, said to produce a brilliant and complex sound richer than that of catgut. What makes up these super strings?












  • a) Mousegut
  • b) Spider silk
  • c) Braided carbon nanotubes
  • d) An alloy of yttrium and ytterbium

5. While the peril of climate change looms inexorably larger, in this festive-for-some season we might take a minute to look on the bright side. On 17 March we reported on one benefit of global warming, which might make life better for some people for a while. It was:












  • a) Receding Arctic sea ice will make it easier to lay undersea cables to boost internet speeds
  • b) Increasing temperatures mean that Greenlanders can soon start making their own wine
  • c) Rising sea levels could allow a string of new beach resorts to open in the impoverished country of Chad
  • d) More acidic seawater will add a pleasant tang to the salt water taffy sweets made in Atlantic City

6. In Alaska's Glacier Bay national park, the brown bear in the photo (above, right) is doing something never before witnessed among bearkind, as we revealed on 10 March. Is it:












  • a) Making a phonecall?
  • b) Gnawing at a piece of whalebone to dislodge a rotten tooth?
  • c) Scratching itself with a barnacle-covered stone tool?
  • d) Cracking oysters on its jaw?

7. Men have much in common with fruit flies, as we revealed on 24 March. When the sexual advances of a male fruit fly are rejected, he may respond by:












  • a) Whining
  • b) Hitting the booze
  • c) Jumping off a tall building
  • d) Hovering around the choosy female long after all hope is lost

8. While great Higgsian things were happening at the LHC, scientists puzzled over a newly urgent question: what should we call the boson? Peter Higgs wasn't the only physicist to predict its existence, and some have suggested that the particle's name should also include those other theorists or perhaps reflect some other aspect of the particle. Which of the following is a real suggestion that we reported on 24 March?

























Continue reading page

|1

|2



























If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.




































All comments should respect the New Scientist House Rules. If you think a particular comment breaks these rules then please use the "Report" link in that comment to report it to us.


If you are having a technical problem posting a comment, please contact technical support.








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NGOs roped in to combat litter menace






SINGAPORE: Senior members of non-government organisations such as the Waterways Watch Society (WWS) and the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) have been roped in to undergo training to combat the litter menace.

Last month, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan wrote on his blog that, under the National Environment Agency's (NEA) new empowerment scheme, it will start conducting a "special training course" in January for senior members of environmental NGOs. For a start, more than 20 members from the WWS and SEC could be involved, TODAY understands.

The NEA's new scheme comes as the WWS - which is currently active at Kallang Riverside Park - hopes to set up another office at the Punggol housing estate, to help keep the precinct's award-winning waterway project free from litter.

After completing training, these volunteers will be issued authority cards which will enable them to "identify and take enforcement action against recalcitrant persons who insist on littering", as Dr Balakrishnan had put it.

In response to TODAY's queries, the NEA said the volunteers' training will be similar to that of its officers.

"The training will cover the respective legislation, the rules of engagement and enforcement procedures. The training will include both theory and practical sessions to equip the volunteers with the skills and knowledge to undertake their duties," an NEA spokesperson said.

She added that the NEA is "finalising the details of the recruitment" for the volunteers. The empowerment scheme will be rolled out in tandem with enhanced fines for littering. From March, the fines for first-time offenders will increase from S$300 to S$500.

WWS founder Eugene Heng, 63, said his NGO will recommend "less than 10 per cent" of its 260 members for the scheme. Mr Heng said that he understands that the prospective volunteers will first be interviewed by the NEA, before they undergo training.

He said: "We should not make the training so complex, as these are all volunteers here. Apart from equipping them with an understanding of the rules, more importantly we have to teach them how to approach people. We have to make them understand how not to abuse this enforcement privilege. We don't want to create a whole new force of vigilantes."

Mr Heng, who also sits on the Public Hygiene Council, said the council may also get involved with the NEA's new scheme in some form.

"We are targeting council members to help monitor and enforce. Whenever possible, we will get the members to share and speak out against littering. Aggressive enforcement is a last resort," he said.

"Ultimately, we should have a network of different representatives from all strata of society to combat this, instead of just relying on NGOs, and I have also shared this with the NEA."

SEC Executive Director Jose Raymond said the NEA had approached his organisation to assist in the empowerment scheme. For now, three of the SEC's staff members will be trained under the scheme.

"But this can increase depending on our workload for the year and our other projects," he said.

Mr Raymond reiterated that it is essential that the volunteers are trained "on how to approach members of the public when they spot the offender and ... how to manage difficult members of the public who may turn nasty or abusive".

He added: "Public cleanliness remains an issue which needs to be dealt with, and through various possible options ... We hope that with more hands on deck, and from ground up, we will be able to help bring about a cleaner Singapore."

Meanwhile, Mr Heng said his NGO plans to set up its second office at Punggol estate in "two to three months".

Currently, the WWS has an office under Merdeka Bridge and helps to watch over the Kallang Riverside Park. Thirty of its members were issued volunteer cards by the National Parks Board (NParks) and national water agency PUB, to enable them to approach members of the public to advise them not to litter, among other things.

Said NParks' Parks Director Chia Seng Jiang: "The WWS encourages park users to dispose of rubbish into bins and report instances of illegal entry into parks by motorised vehicles and damage to park property. The WWS also organises park clean-up activities at Kallang Riverside Park, and we have since noticed less litter there."

Mr Heng said that as more people move into Punggol, there is a risk that its waterway could be polluted.

"Punggol leads to two major reservoirs, Punggol Reservoir and Serangoon Reservoir ... So if we don't do well (to keep the waters clean), it's a lose-lose situation," he said.

- TODAY



Read More..

DC hotels less busy for Obama's 2nd inauguration


WASHINGTON (AP) — Visitors coming to the nation's capital for President Barack Obama's second inauguration can't stay in the one place President Ronald Reagan's family once called an eight-star hotel. That spot is the White House, and it's booked for the next four years. Still, inauguration-goers have a range of lodging options — from crashing on a friend's couch to rooms that cost thousands of dollars a night.


With second inaugurations tending to draw fewer spectators, finding a place to stay in Washington won't be nearly as difficult as in 2009.


City officials are expecting 600,000 to 800,000 visitors for the Jan. 21 inauguration, far less than the 1.8 million people who flooded the National Mall four years ago to witness the inauguration of America's first black president. Back then, some hotels sold out months in advance and city residents rented out their homes for hundreds of dollars a night. This time, hotels say they're filling up more slowly, with rooms still available and prices at or slightly below where they were four years ago.


"Very few hotels are actually sold out at this point, so there's a lot of availability," said Elliott Ferguson, CEO of the tourism bureau Destination DC, who added that he expected demand to pick up after Christmas.


In 2009, hotel occupancy in the city for the night before the inauguration was 98 percent, and visitors paid an average daily rate of more than $600 that night, according to STR, a company that tracks hotel data. This time, some hotels still have half their rooms available. As a result, some establishments have relaxed minimum stays from four nights to three and could drop prices closer to the inauguration if demand does not increase.


Despite the muted enthusiasm, many of the city's posh hotels are still offering pricy packages. Visitors with an unlimited budget can check in to accommodations almost as grand and historic as the White House.


At The Willard hotel, about a block from the White House, rooms were still available starting at more than $1,100 a night with a four-night minimum. That means every guest will pay more than President Abraham Lincoln did when he checked out after his 1861 inauguration and paid $773.75 for a stay of more than a week.


At the Park Hyatt hotel in northwest Washington, where rooms start at $849 a night with a four-night minimum stay, the presidential suite is still available. For the 57th presidential inauguration next month, the hotel is charging $57,000 for a four-night package in the suite that includes butler service. And no one has yet booked $100,000 packages at the Fairmont hotel or the Ritz-Carlton.


A number of the city's luxury hotels plan special treats for guests, some of whom will be paying two to five times as much to stay during the inauguration compared with staying in the same room a week before. At the Ritz-Carlton, for example, where rooms start at about $1,100 per day, guests will get to bring home commemorative pillowcases embroidered with the official inauguration seal and their initials.


There are options for visitors looking to spend less, too, though some wallet-friendly choices have filled quickly.


Rooms at HI-DC, a hostel in downtown Washington, were sold out the day after the Nov. 6 election, with a bed in a dorm room going for $50 a night and private rooms for $150. With all the rooms sold, the hostel is finalizing plans for an election trivia night for guests.


Aunt Bea's Little White House, a six-room bed and breakfast in northeast Washington, still had two rooms available the week before Christmas, with rates starting at $225 a night. Innkeeper Gerald Duval said that included a bottle of champagne and a commemorative coin. There'll also be red-and-white bunting on the home's porch along with cutouts of the president and first lady.


Farther from downtown, the Best Western Plus hotel in Rockville, Md., was about 80 percent full with rooms at about $180 a night, down from a $209 starting rate. Director of Sales Ron Wallach said the hotel targeted some groups before the election, including students, journalists and the Secret Service, in order to fill its rooms.


Other travelers looking for budget-friendly prices may have success with websites like Craigslist or Airbnb, where homeowners offer their places for a price. More than 200 Craigslist housing posts in the area included the word "inauguration." Airbnb said it expected approximately 2,000 people to stay in Washington during the inauguration using its site.


Other travelers have told friends and family living in the area to plan on having guests. Lauren Hines and her husband had three people stay at their small Capitol Hill apartment during the 2009 inauguration, so many that one slept in a hallway. She and her husband now live in nearby Alexandria, Va., and planned to host her father-in-law, and maybe mother-in-law, from Ohio. Hines said they didn't even consider a hotel.


"They know that they've always got a place with us," she said.


___


Follow Jessica Gresko at http://twitter.com/jessicagresko


Read More..

Photos: Humboldt Squid Have a Bad Day at the Beach

Photograph by Chris Elmenhurst, Surf the Spot Photography

“Strandings have been taking place with increased frequency along the west coast over the past ten years,” noted NOAA’s Field, “as this population of squid seems to be expanding its range—likely a consequence of climate change—and can be very abundant at times.” (Learn about other jumbo squid strandings.)

Humboldt squid are typically found in warmer waters farther south in theGulf of California (map) and off the coast ofPeru. “[But] we find them up north here during warmer water time periods,” said ocean sciences researcherKenneth Bruland with the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC).

Coastal upwelling—when winds blowing south drive ocean circulation to bring cold, nutrient-rich waters up from the deep—ceases during the fall and winter and warmer water is found closer to shore. Bruland noted that climate change, and the resulting areas of low oxygen, “could be a major factor” in drawing jumbo squid north.

Published December 24, 2012

Read More..

Gunman Killed Firemen With Bushmaster, Left Note












A convicted killer, who shot dead two firefighters with a Bushmaster assault rifle after leading them into an ambush when they responded to a house fire he set in Western New York, left behind a typewritten note saying he wanted to "do what I like doing best, killing people," police said.


William Spengler, 62, set his home and a car on fire early Monday morning with the intention of setting a trap to kill firefighters and to see "how much of the neighborhood I can burn down," according to the note he wrote and which police found at the scene. The note did not give a reason for his actions.


Spengler, who served 18 years in prison for beating his 92-year-old grandmother to death with a hammer in 1981, hid Monday morning in a small ditch beside a tree overlooking the sleepy lakeside street in Webster, N.Y., where he lived with his sister, police said today in a news conference.


Police said they found remains in the house, believed to be that of the sister, Cheryl Spengler, 67.


As firefighters arrived on the scene after a 5:30 a.m. 911 call on the morning of Christmas Eve, Spengler opened fire on them with the Bushmaster, the same semi-automatic, military-style weapon used in the Dec. 14 rampage killing of 20 children in Newtown, Conn.




"This was a clear ambush on first responders… Spengler had armed himself heavily and taken area of cover," said Gerald Pickering, the chief of the Webster Police Department.


Armed with a Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolver, a Mossman 12-gauge shotgun, and the Bushmaster, Spengler killed two firefighters, and injured two more as well as an off-duty police officer at the scene.


As a convicted felon, Spengler could not legally own a firearm and police are investigating how he obtained the weapons.


One firefighter tried to take cover in his fire engine and was killed with a gunshot through the windshield, Pickering said.


Responding police engaged in a gunfight with Spengler, who ultimately died, likely by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.


As police engaged the gunman, more houses along Lake Ontario were engulfed, ultimately razing seven of them. Some 33 people in adjoining homes were displaced by the fire.


SWAT teams were forced to evacuate residents using armored vehicles.


Police identified the two slain firefighter as Lt. Michael Chiapperini, a 20-year veteran of the Webster Police Department and "lifetime firefighter," according to Pickering, and Tomasz Kaczowka, who also worked as a 911 dispatcher.


Two other firefighters were wounded and remain the intensive care unit at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, N.Y.


Joseph Hofsetter was shot once. He sustained an injury to his pelvis and has "a long road to recovery," said Dr. Nicole A. Stassen, a trauma physician.


The second firefighter, Theodore Scardino, was shot twice and received injuries to his left shoulder and left lung, as well as a knee.



Read More..

New Scientist 2012 holiday quiz

















Continue reading page

|1

|2





































THIS was the year we held our breath in almost unbearable anticipation while we waited to see whether physicists at the Large Hadron Collider would finally get a clear view of the Higgs boson, so tantalisingly hinted at last December. Going a bit blue, we held on through March when one of the LHC's detectors seemed to lose sight of the thing, before exhaling in a puff of almost-resolution in July, when researchers announced that the data added up to a fairly confident pretty-much-actual-discovery of the particle.












Early indications were that it might be a weird and wonderful variety of the Higgs, prompting a collective gasp of excitement. That was followed by a synchronised sigh of mild disappointment when later data implied that it was probably the most boring possible version after all, and not a strange entity pointing the way to new dimensions and the true nature of dark matter. Prepare yourself for another puff or two as the big story moves on next year.













This respirational rollercoaster might be running a bit too slowly to supply enough oxygen to the brain of a New Scientist reader, so we have taken care to provide more frequent oohs and aahs using less momentous revelations. See how many of the following unfundamental discoveries you can distinguish from the truth-free mimics that crowd parasitically around them.












1. Which of these anatomical incongruities of the animal kingdom did we describe on 14 July?












  • a) A fish, found in a canal in Vietnam, that wears its genitals under its mouth
  • b) A frog, found in a puddle in Peru, that has no spleen
  • c) A lizard, found in a cave in Indonesia, that has four left feet
  • d) A cat, found in a tree in northern England, that has eight extra teeth

2. "A sprout by any other name would taste as foul." So wrote William Shakespeare in his diary on 25 December 1598, setting off the centuries of slightly unjust ridicule experienced by this routinely over-cooked vegetable. But which forbiddingly named veg did we report on 7 July as having more health-giving power than the sprout, its active ingredient being trialled as a treatment for prostate cancer?












  • a) Poison celery
  • b) Murder beans
  • c) Inconvenience potatoes
  • d) Death carrots

3. Scientists often like to say they are opening a new window on things. Usually that is a metaphor, but on 10 November we reported on a more literal innovation in the fenestral realm. It was:












  • a) A perspex peephole set in the nest of the fearsome Japanese giant hornet, to reveal its domestic habits
  • b) A glass porthole implanted in the abdomen of a mouse, to reveal the process of tumour metastasis
  • c) A crystal portal in the inner vessel of an experimental thorium reactor, to reveal its nuclear fires to the naked eye
  • d) A small window high on the wall of a basement office in the Princeton physics department, to reveal a small patch of sky to postgraduate students who have not been outside for seven years

4. On 10 March we described a new material for violin strings, said to produce a brilliant and complex sound richer than that of catgut. What makes up these super strings?












  • a) Mousegut
  • b) Spider silk
  • c) Braided carbon nanotubes
  • d) An alloy of yttrium and ytterbium

5. While the peril of climate change looms inexorably larger, in this festive-for-some season we might take a minute to look on the bright side. On 17 March we reported on one benefit of global warming, which might make life better for some people for a while. It was:












  • a) Receding Arctic sea ice will make it easier to lay undersea cables to boost internet speeds
  • b) Increasing temperatures mean that Greenlanders can soon start making their own wine
  • c) Rising sea levels could allow a string of new beach resorts to open in the impoverished country of Chad
  • d) More acidic seawater will add a pleasant tang to the salt water taffy sweets made in Atlantic City

6. In Alaska's Glacier Bay national park, the brown bear in the photo (above, right) is doing something never before witnessed among bearkind, as we revealed on 10 March. Is it:












  • a) Making a phonecall?
  • b) Gnawing at a piece of whalebone to dislodge a rotten tooth?
  • c) Scratching itself with a barnacle-covered stone tool?
  • d) Cracking oysters on its jaw?

7. Men have much in common with fruit flies, as we revealed on 24 March. When the sexual advances of a male fruit fly are rejected, he may respond by:












  • a) Whining
  • b) Hitting the booze
  • c) Jumping off a tall building
  • d) Hovering around the choosy female long after all hope is lost

8. While great Higgsian things were happening at the LHC, scientists puzzled over a newly urgent question: what should we call the boson? Peter Higgs wasn't the only physicist to predict its existence, and some have suggested that the particle's name should also include those other theorists or perhaps reflect some other aspect of the particle. Which of the following is a real suggestion that we reported on 24 March?

























Continue reading page

|1

|2



























If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.




































All comments should respect the New Scientist House Rules. If you think a particular comment breaks these rules then please use the "Report" link in that comment to report it to us.


If you are having a technical problem posting a comment, please contact technical support.








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Son of late icon Kennedy rules out US Senate run






WASHINGTON: A son of late political icon Edward Kennedy said Monday he will not run for the US Senate in Massachusetts -- the same state his father represented for nearly five decades -- US media reported.

Edward Kennedy Jr's brother, former US representative Patrick Kennedy, had said over the weekend that the health care lawyer was seriously considering running for the US Senate seat that John Kerry will vacate if he is confirmed as secretary of state.

But Kennedy Jr, who lives in neighboring Connecticut, denied in a statement that he was seeking public office in Massachusetts.

"Although I have a strong desire to serve in public office, I consider Connecticut to be my home, and I hope to have the honor to serve at another point in my future," the 51-year-old said in the text cited by CNN.

Kennedy, who also owns a house at his family's compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, said he was "extremely grateful for all the offers of support" of a potential run, and left the door open to running "at another point in my future."

A source familiar with his decision said Kennedy had ruled out a run because he did not want to uproot his family, did not feel right about moving from Connecticut to Massachusetts to run for the seat and Connecticut officials have urged him to stay for a later political campaign there, according to the Globe.

"He really wants to run," an unnamed family friend told CNN. "He just thinks this isn't the way to do it. Uprooting his family right now doesn't make sense."

If Kennedy had run, he likely would have had to face outgoing Republican Senator Scott Brown, who was defeated last month in his bid to be re-elected to the seat left vacant when the late Edward Kennedy died in 2009.

Just six weeks after Democratic consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren defeated Brown in the November election, President Barack Obama nominated Kerry on Friday to be his secretary of state.

If Kerry is confirmed in the post, Brown is expected to vie for his Senate seat. Among Democrats, US Representatives Michael Capuano and Ed Markey have hinted at a possible run.

-AFP/ac



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