Thousands celebrate at Australia's gay Mardi Gras






SYDNEY: Drag queens and scantily-dressed dancers joined with politicians and military personnel for Sydney's colourful gay and lesbian Mardi Gras, and to call for acceptance and equality.

Gloomy weather failed to dampen the celebration Saturday night, which exploded in a profusion of lights, dancing and music for its 35th anniversary event along Oxford Street, the hub of Sydney's gay and lesbian nightlife.

More than 9,000 revellers on 108 floats took part in the event which bills itself as the world's biggest night parade, while organisers said 300,000 watched the glitzy spectacle which has its origins in a 1978 protest march.

This year the event was dedicated to those "78ers" who took part in that first march which ended in violence and arrests, and some of the original activists took pride of place at the head of the parade.

"Last night's parade was a cheeky, colourful, irreverent and fun as Sydney expects it to be," said Mardi Gras chief executive Michael Rolik.

Sydney's irreverent Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is a major tourist drawcard for the city, bringing A$30 million into the economy for the city's largest event behind the New Year's Eve fireworks.

For the first time, gay members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) marched in their uniforms for the parade which was hit by cooler temperatures and occasional sprinklings of rain.

"It's absolutely exhilarating. This is about us being proud of the uniform, and it allows us to show how proud we are of the ADF," Squadron Leader Vince Chong from the Royal Australian Air Force said.

Iconic Australian surf lifesavers were also part of the parade which was opened by the Dykes on Bikes motorcyclists who have been participating in the street party for 25 years.

"The message is that the lifesaver is for everybody, gay, straight, bisexual, whoever," said parade participant Grant Beaumont.

"Life saving is very inclusive and you know, we are very proud to be part of the gay community, we love coming to Mardi Gras every year, and being on the show. We just love it."

The parade had a political flavour in election year in Australia, with many calling for gay marriage to be legalised Down Under, while politicians were also represented, among them Greens leader Christine Milne who marched with other parents with gay children.

"Sydney Mardi Gras is well known as a good time, but it's so much more than a street parade," said Mardi Gras co-chair Peter Urmson.

"It's what we do to continue the struggle against discrimination and inequality as it impacts on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex people."

But for thousands of others, the parade is an excuse to enjoy the spectacle and support the gay community, whether they are part of it or not.

"For the (gay) community, it's a really important... to show that we are not hiding... We are proud of who we are," onlooker Gary Aschmoneit said.

Italian tourist Alessandro Macali said he enjoyed the parade which police said this year had ended with significantly fewer arrests and incidents than previous years.

"It's really nice, I love it," Macali said.

- AFP/ir



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Closing of Wells Street Bridge creates uncertainty for CTA riders









The shutdown of the Wells Street Bridge has the impact of a blocked artery, straining the circulation of much of the CTA rail system.


The lower tier of the 91-year-old bridge was closed to vehicles and pedestrians in November for repairs, and now it's CTA riders' turn.


Even though only Brown Line and Purple Line/Evanston Express trains normally travel across the Wells bridge connecting the Loop elevated structure to tracks north of the Chicago River, service on six of the eight CTA rail lines is being affected by bridge and track work continuing through the week, transit officials said.








Weekday rush hours are expected to pose the biggest challenge to the transit agency and its customers. Brown Line trains will operate much less frequently during most of the day — running every 10 to 12 minutes, officials said. And Evanston Express service is canceled until March 11. Purple Line local service will continue to operate between Howard Street in Chicago and Linden Avenue in Wilmette.


On weekends, Green, Pink and Orange Line trains will terminate their runs at certain stations in the downtown area, officials said. A weekend free shuttle bus will operate to link the Chicago/Franklin, Merchandise Mart, Clark/Lake, Washington/Wells and Clinton/Lake stations, officials said.


Riders are being told to plan for longer, slower commutes starting Monday on trains that will be more crowded than usual. The frequency of trains on the Brown Line is being reduced because of the need to operate more trains than usual on the Red Line tracks, including in the State Street subway, officials said.


"Experience has taught me to become a little nervous any time the CTA changes service," Rick Gordon, 41, a Brown Line rider who commutes between the Western station and the Washington/Wells stop in the Loop, said Friday morning after getting off the train downtown.


Gordon, an investment counselor, said he still plans to ride the Brown Line on Monday. But because he won't be able to ride across the Wells bridge to his normal stop, he will instead take advantage of the free CTA shuttle bus that will operate between the Chicago Avenue station and the Loop "L," stopping at the Merchandise Mart, the Clark/Lake and Washington/Wells stations.


During rush hours, two of every three southbound Brown Line trains will travel through the Red Line subway tunnel, making all stops to the Roosevelt station, officials said. They will then head north through the subway and up to Fullerton Avenue, then will continue making all Brown Line stops to the Kimball Avenue terminal, officials said.


One of every three Brown Line trains will remain on the regular Brown Line route south of Fullerton but will make the last stop at the Merchandise Mart station, near the north end of the Wells bridge.


Extra service will be provided on the Red Line, in part to accommodate heavier passenger loading caused by the suspension of all Purple Line service south of Howard through the week, officials said. Commuters who normally ride the Purple Line/Evanston Express service might consider budgeting up to an extra hour travel time if they will ride the all-stop Red Line to downtown.


Also, the transit agency will introduce free shuttle trains that circle the Loop and alternative bus service to provide options for the thousands of riders affected over the roughly nine-day bridge closing, which began Friday night.


CTA officials predicted that the commutes of many rail customers will be only several minutes to 15 minutes longer than normal travel times during the service interruptions. But in light of the unpredictability of CTA service even under normal cases, allowing extra time would help commuters ensure they arrive at their destinations on time.


"We urge customers to think about their options because this will not be a typical commute for most Brown and Purple Line commuters," CTA spokesman Brian Steele said, adding that delays are likely on other lines too because of expected ridership shifts.


With some commuters taking Monday off for the Casimir Pulaski Day holiday, the first full test of the CTA's alternative service plan will likely be on Tuesday.


The service disruptions will last until completion of the Wells bridge replacement project, upgrades to the busy downtown rail junction at Lake and Wells streets, and track replacement around the curves at Hubbard and Kinzie streets. Regular CTA service resumes in time for the morning rush period on March 11, following the first phase of bridge reconstruction, officials said.


A second closing of the Wells bridge will occur April 26 through May 5, when the $41.2 million overhaul project is scheduled to be completed, the Chicago Department of Transportation said.


The Wells bridge's trusses, steel framing, railings, bridge houses, major structural parts and mechanical and electrical parts are being replaced, but the original 1920s-era appearance of the double-deck bridge will be maintained, CDOT officials said.


Full details on the CTA service changes are available at transitchicago.com/wellsbridge.


jhilkevitch@tribune.com Twitter @jhilkevitch





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We Didn’t Domesticate Dogs. They Domesticated Us.


In the story of how the dog came in from the cold and onto our sofas, we tend to give ourselves a little too much credit. The most common assumption is that some hunter-gatherer with a soft spot for cuteness found some wolf puppies and adopted them. Over time, these tamed wolves would have shown their prowess at hunting, so humans kept them around the campfire until they evolved into dogs. (See "How to Build a Dog.")

But when we look back at our relationship with wolves throughout history, this doesn't really make sense. For one thing, the wolf was domesticated at a time when modern humans were not very tolerant of carnivorous competitors. In fact, after modern humans arrived in Europe around 43,000 years ago, they pretty much wiped out every large carnivore that existed, including saber-toothed cats and giant hyenas. The fossil record doesn't reveal whether these large carnivores starved to death because modern humans took most of the meat or whether humans picked them off on purpose. Either way, most of the Ice Age bestiary went extinct.

The hunting hypothesis, that humans used wolves to hunt, doesn't hold up either. Humans were already successful hunters without wolves, more successful than every other large carnivore. Wolves eat a lot of meat, as much as one deer per ten wolves every day-a lot for humans to feed or compete against. And anyone who has seen wolves in a feeding frenzy knows that wolves don't like to share.

Humans have a long history of eradicating wolves, rather than trying to adopt them. Over the last few centuries, almost every culture has hunted wolves to extinction. The first written record of the wolf's persecution was in the sixth century B.C. when Solon of Athens offered a bounty for every wolf killed. The last wolf was killed in England in the 16th century under the order of Henry VII. In Scotland, the forested landscape made wolves more difficult to kill. In response, the Scots burned the forests. North American wolves were not much better off. By 1930, there was not a wolf left in the 48 contiguous states of America.  (See "Wolf Wars.")

If this is a snapshot of our behavior toward wolves over the centuries, it presents one of the most perplexing problems: How was this misunderstood creature tolerated by humans long enough to evolve into the domestic dog?

The short version is that we often think of evolution as being the survival of the fittest, where the strong and the dominant survive and the soft and weak perish. But essentially, far from the survival of the leanest and meanest, the success of dogs comes down to survival of the friendliest.

Most likely, it was wolves that approached us, not the other way around, probably while they were scavenging around garbage dumps on the edge of human settlements. The wolves that were bold but aggressive would have been killed by humans, and so only the ones that were bold and friendly would have been tolerated.

Friendliness caused strange things to happen in the wolves. They started to look different. Domestication gave them splotchy coats, floppy ears, wagging tails. In only several generations, these friendly wolves would have become very distinctive from their more aggressive relatives. But the changes did not just affect their looks. Changes also happened to their psychology. These protodogs evolved the ability to read human gestures.

As dog owners, we take for granted that we can point to a ball or toy and our dog will bound off to get it. But the ability of dogs to read human gestures is remarkable. Even our closest relatives-chimpanzees and bonobos-can't read our gestures as readily as dogs can. Dogs are remarkably similar to human infants in the way they pay attention to us. This ability accounts for the extraordinary communication we have with our dogs. Some dogs are so attuned to their owners that they can read a gesture as subtle as a change in eye direction.

With this new ability, these protodogs were worth knowing. People who had dogs during a hunt would likely have had an advantage over those who didn't. Even today, tribes in Nicaragua depend on dogs to detect prey. Moose hunters in alpine regions bring home 56 percent more prey when they are accompanied by dogs. In the Congo, hunters believe they would starve without their dogs.

Dogs would also have served as a warning system, barking at hostile strangers from neighboring tribes. They could have defended their humans from predators.

And finally, though this is not a pleasant thought, when times were tough, dogs could have served as an emergency food supply. Thousands of years before refrigeration and with no crops to store, hunter-gatherers had no food reserves until the domestication of dogs. In tough times, dogs that were the least efficient hunters might have been sacrificed to save the group or the best hunting dogs. Once humans realized the usefulness of keeping dogs as an emergency food supply, it was not a huge jump to realize plants could be used in a similar way.

So, far from a benign human adopting a wolf puppy, it is more likely that a population of wolves adopted us. As the advantages of dog ownership became clear, we were as strongly affected by our relationship with them as they have been by their relationship with us. Dogs may even have been the catalyst for our civilization.

Dr. Brian Hare is the director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center and Vanessa Woods is a research scientist at Duke University. This essay is adapted from their new book, The Genius of Dogs, published by Dutton. To play science-based games to find the genius in your dog, visit www.dognition.com.


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Man's Body Recovery Effort Ends; Sinkhole 'Unstable'












Authorities have discontinued the rescue effort for a Florida man who was swallowed by a sinkhole when his home's foundation collapsed and said it is unlikely his body will ever be recovered.


"We feel we have done everything we can," Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrell said at a news conference this afternoon. "At this point, it's not possible to recover the body."


Merell said officials would bring in heavy equipment to begin demolishing the home on Sunday.


"We're dealing with a very unusual sinkhole," he said. "It's very deep. It's very wide. It's very unstable."


Jeff Bush was in his bedroom when a sinkhole opened up and trapped him underneath his home at 11 p.m. Thursday.


Two homes next door to Bush's residence were evacuated today after authorities said they had been compromised by the growing sinkhole.


With the assistance of rescuers, the homeowners will be allowed to enter their home for only 30 minutes to gather valuables, authorities said.


Rescuers returned to the site in Seffner, Fla., early this morning to conduct further testing, but decided it was too dangerous for the family initially affected by the sinkhole to enter their home, which was declared condemned.








Florida Sinkhole Opens Up Beneath Man's Home Watch Video









Florida Man Believed Dead After Falling into Sinkhole Watch Video









Florida Sinkhole Swallows House, Man Trapped Inside Watch Video





While the sinkhole was initially estimated to be 15 feet deep on Thursday night, the chasm has continued to grow. Officials now estimate it measures 30 feet across and is up to 100 feet deep.


The Hillsborough County Fire Rescue has set up a relief fund for all families affected by the growing sink hole.


MORE: How Sinkholes Can Develop


Rescue operations were halted Friday night after it became too dangerous to approach the home.


Bill Bracken, an engineer with Hillsborough County Urban Search and Rescue team said the house "should have collapsed by now, so it's amazing that it hasn't."


RELATED: Florida Man Swallowed by Sinkhole: Conditions Too Unstable to Approach


Using ground penetrating radar, rescuers have found a large amount of water beneath the house, making conditions even more dangerous for them to continue the search for Bush.


Hillsborough County lies in what is known as Florida's "Sinkhole Alley." More than 500 sinkholes have been reported in the area since 1954, according to the state's environmental agency.


Meanwhile, Bush's brother, Jeremy Bush, is still reeling from Thursday night.


Jeremy Bush had to be rescued by a first responder after jumping into the hole in an attempt to rescue his brother when the home's concrete floor collapsed, but said he couldn't find him.


"I just started digging and started digging and started digging, and the cops showed up and pulled me out of the hole and told me the floor's still falling in," he said.


"These are everyday working people, they're good people," said Deputy Douglas Duvall of the Hillsborough County sheriff's office. "And this was so unexpected, and they're still, you know, probably facing the reality that this is happening."



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Herbal Viagra actually contains the real thing



































IF IT looks too good to be true, it probably is. Several "herbal remedies" for erectile dysfunction sold online actually contain the active ingredient from Viagra.












Michael Lamb at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania, and colleagues purchased 10 popular "natural" uplifting remedies on the internet and tested them for the presence of sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. They found the compound, or a similar synthetic drug, in seven of the 10 products – cause for concern because it can be dangerous for people with some medical conditions.












Lamb's work was presented last week at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting in Washington DC.












This article appeared in print under the headline "Herbal Viagra gets a synthetic boost"


















































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




































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Anti-whalers say Japanese fleet heading north






SYDNEY: Militant anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd said Japan's entire harpoon fleet had left the Antarctic whale sanctuary on Saturday and was heading north, suggesting that their annual hunt may have come to an end.

Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd's director-turned-observer, said this year would likely see the lowest haul by the Japanese whalers in history, with "no more than 75" of the mammals killed due to the group's campaign of harassment.

That compares with a catch of 267 last year -- 266 minke whales and one fin whale -- and is dramatically below the target of 935 minke whales and up to 50 fin whales set for this season by Japan's Institute for Cetacean Research.

"The entire Japanese whaling fleet is now north of sixty degrees and out of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary," Watson said.

"Is whaling over for the season? We are not positive but we are 80 per cent sure that it may be over."

"This campaign will see the lowest take by the Japanese whaling fleet in the entire history of their Antarctic whale hunts."

Watson said the Korean-owned, Panamanian-flagged supply tanker the Sun Laurel was currently 48 hours from the factory ship Nisshin Maru, with a four-day return trip to the whaling sanctuary looking increasingly unlikely.

"This would leave about a week to kill whales and with the weather quickly deteriorating it would hardly be worth the effort."

Watson said Sea Shepherd had seen the Japanese kill just two Minke whales, and they had only had two days of unobstructed hunting in the whole season, which began in late December.

"My conservative estimate of the number of whales killed this year is no more than 75. It could be much lower but certainly not higher," he said.

Watson described the campaign, in which each side accused the other of ramming attacks, as "enormously successful" and said Sea Shepherd would "continue to follow the whaling fleet north to ensure that they do not return to kill whales."

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has chased the Japanese fleet hunting whales off Antarctica for several years in a bid to stop the animals being slaughtered.

Japan says it conducts vital scientific research using a loophole in an international ban on whaling, but makes no secret of the fact that the mammals ultimately end up as food.

- AFP/ck



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Blackhawks' streak at 21 with overtime win over Blue Jackets









The beat goes on for the Blackhawks — barely.

Against a banged up and usually bumbling Blue Jackets squad, the Hawks kept their record-setting points streak alive at 21 games with a 4-3 victory in overtime Friday night at the United Center.






The Hawks coughed up a third-period lead but came out on top when Brent Seabrook scored off a terrific feed from Jonathan Toews 3 minutes, 23 seconds into overtime to give them their second victory in as many nights.

"In overtime … you have some chances to jump into the play and take some chances," Seabrook said. "I didn't really expect Toews to make that pass. He didn't look at me once and I didn't yell. He's pretty good in those situations so I just let him do his thing.

"I don't think I shot the puck, it was such a hard pass it hit my stick and just bounced in."

Viktor Stalberg, Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell also had goals and Ray Emery earned the victory in goal as the Hawks improved to 18-0-3 on the season. Dating back to last season, the Hawks are at 27 games in a row with at least one point.

Vinny Prospal, Artem Anisimov and Ryan Johansen scored for the Blue Jackets but it wasn't enough as Steve Mason suffered the loss in goal.

The Blue Jackets, who entered the game with the fewest points in the league, were without defensemen James Wisniewski, Jack Johnson and John Moore and forwards Derick Brassard and Brandon Dubinsky but fought gamely.

A night after the Hawks opened their victory over the Blues with a Toews goal just 10 seconds into the game, the Blue Jackets struck quickly when Prospal jumped on a big rebound Emery yielded off a Derek Dorsett shot and fired it into the open net with 31 seconds elapsed.

Patrick Kane nearly tied it when he got free in the slot but fired a puck past Mason that clanged off the left post and slid harmlessly away. Not long after, Emery made a strong save on Cam Atkinson with his left skate to keep it a one-goal deficit.

Stalberg continued his mastery over the Blue Jackets with his 11th goal in his 15th game against them when the winger tapped in a puck in the crease during a scramble at the 16:09 mark. Mason then kept it even when he stoned Marcus Kruger from in front and the opening period ended tied 1-1.

In the second, Daniel Carcillo continued his gritty play with a big hit on the Jackets' Fedor Tyutin. The legal blow drew a response from Nikita Nikitin, who dropped the gloves with Carcillo and was on the receiving end of a flurry of punches from the Hawks winger.

The Blue Jackets kept coming and took the lead when Anisimov's shot from the point deflected off Carcillo and bounded past Emery.

Late in the second, the Hawks' offense kicked into gear. Sharp evened the score 2-2 when his backhander from the left circle somehow made it through Mason's pads and trickled across the goal line.

A splendid individual effort from Bickell put the Hawks ahead with less than a minute later. The winger stripped Anisimov of the puck, skated in two-on-one with Stalberg and rifled a wrist shot from the left dot past Mason to the stick side.

In the third, Emery held the lead when he stoned Prospal on a point-blank shot but later Johansen beat him with a nice move in the slot.

"We're finding ways to really get it done," Stalberg said. "It's pretty amazing to be a part of a run like this. It seems like it hasn't gotten to our heads at all. We're staying with it … and that's all we can do."

ckuc@tribune.com

Twitter @ChrisKuc



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Black Hole Spins at Nearly the Speed of Light


A superfast black hole nearly 60 million light-years away appears to be pushing the ultimate speed limit of the universe, a new study says.

For the first time, astronomers have managed to measure the rate of spin of a supermassive black hole—and it's been clocked at 84 percent of the speed of light, or the maximum allowed by the law of physics.

"The most exciting part of this finding is the ability to test the theory of general relativity in such an extreme regime, where the gravitational field is huge, and the properties of space-time around it are completely different from the standard Newtonian case," said lead author Guido Risaliti, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) and INAF-Arcetri Observatory in Italy. (Related: "Speedy Star Found Near Black Hole May Test Einstein Theory.")

Notorious for ripping apart and swallowing stars, supermassive black holes live at the center of most galaxies, including our own Milky Way. (See black hole pictures.)

They can pack the gravitational punch of many million or even billions of suns—distorting space-time in the region around them, not even letting light to escape their clutches.

Galactic Monster

The predatory monster that lurks at the core of the relatively nearby spiral galaxy NGC 1365 is estimated to weigh in at about two million times the mass of the sun, and stretches some 2 million miles (3.2 million kilometers) across-more than eight times the distance between Earth and the moon, Risaliti said. (Also see "Black Hole Blast Biggest Ever Recorded.")

Risaliti and colleagues' unprecedented discovery was made possible thanks to the combined observations from NASA's high-energy x-ray detectors on its Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) probe and the European Space Agency's low-energy, x-ray-detecting XMM-Newton space observatory.

Astronomers detected x-ray particle remnants of stars circling in a pancake-shaped accretion disk surrounding the black hole, and used this data to help determine its rate of spin.

By getting a fix on this spin speed, astronomers now hope to better understand what happens inside giant black holes as they gravitationally warp space-time around themselves.

Even more intriguing to the research team is that this discovery will shed clues to black hole's past, and the evolution of its surrounding galaxy.

Tracking the Universe's Evolution

Supermassive black holes have a large impact in the evolution of their host galaxy, where a self-regulating process occurs between the two structures.

"When more stars are formed, they throw gas into the black hole, increasing its mass, but the radiation produced by this accretion warms up the gas in the galaxy, preventing more star formation," said Risaliti.

"So the two events—black hole accretion and formation of new stars—interact with each other."

Knowing how fast black holes spin may also help shed light how the entire universe evolved. (Learn more about the origin of the universe.)

"With a knowledge of the average spin of galaxies at different ages of the universe," Risaliti said, "we could track their evolution much more precisely than we can do today."


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Obama Signs Order to Begin Sequester Cuts












President Obama and congressional leaders today failed to reach a breakthrough to avert a sweeping package of automatic spending cuts, setting into motion $85 billion of across-the-board belt-tightening that neither had wanted to see.


President Obama officially initiated the cuts with an order to agencies Friday evening.


He had met for just over an hour at the White House Friday morning with Republican leaders House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic allies, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Vice President Joe Biden.


But the parties emerged from their first face-to-face meeting of the year resigned to see the cuts take hold at midnight.


"This is not a win for anybody," Obama lamented in a statement to reporters after the meeting. "This is a loss for the American people."


READ MORE: 6 Questions (and Answers) About the Sequester


Officials have said the spending reductions immediately take effect Saturday but that the pain from reduced government services and furloughs of tens of thousands of federal employees would be felt gradually in the weeks ahead.








Sequestration Deadline: Obama Meets With Leaders Watch Video











Sequester Countdown: The Reality of Budget Cuts Watch Video





Federal agencies, including Homeland Security, the Pentagon, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Education, have all prepared to notify employees that they will have to take one unpaid day off per week through the end of the year.


The staffing trims could slow many government services, including airport screenings, air traffic control, and law enforcement investigations and prosecutions. Spending on education programs and health services for low-income families will also get clipped.


"It is absolutely true that this is not going to precipitate the crisis" that would have been caused by the so-called fiscal cliff, Obama said. "But people are going to be hurt. The economy will not grow as quickly as it would have. Unemployment will not go down as quickly as it would have. And there are lives behind that. And it's real."


The sticking point in the debate over the automatic cuts -- known as sequester -- has remained the same between the parties for more than a year since the cuts were first proposed: whether to include more new tax revenue in a broad deficit reduction plan.


The White House insists there must be higher tax revenue, through elimination of tax loopholes and deductions that benefit wealthier Americans and corporations. Republicans seek an approach of spending cuts only, with an emphasis on entitlement programs. It's a deep divide that both sides have proven unable to bridge.


"This discussion about revenue, in my view, is over," Boehner told reporters after the meeting. "It's about taking on the spending problem here in Washington."


Boehner: No New Taxes to Avert Sequester


Boehner says any elimination of tax loopholes or deductions should be part of a broader tax code overhaul aimed at lowering rates overall, not to offset spending cuts in the sequester.


Obama countered today that he's willing to "take on the problem where it exists, on entitlements, and do some things that my own party doesn't like."


But he says Republicans must be willing to eliminate some tax loopholes as part of a deal.


"They refuse to budge on closing a single wasteful loophole to help reduce the deficit," Obama said. "We can and must replace these cuts with a more balanced approach that asks something from everybody."


Can anything more be done by either side to reach a middle ground?


The president today claimed he's done all he can. "I am not a dictator, I'm the president," Obama said.






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Mystery ring of radiation briefly encircled Earth









































What were you doing last September? The charged particles that dance around Earth were busy. Unbeknown to most earthlings, a previously unseen ring of radiation encircled our planet for nearly the whole month – before being destroyed by a powerful interplanetary shock wave.












We already knew that two, persistent belts of charged particles, called the Van Allen radiation belts, encircle Earth. The discovery of a third, middle ring by NASA's twin Van Allen probes, launched in August 2012, suggests that these belts, which have puzzled scientists for over 50 years, are even stranger than we thought. Working out what caused the third ring to develop could help protect spacecraft from damaging doses of radiation.












Charged particles get trapped by Earth's magnetic field into two distinct regions, forming the belts. The inner belt, which extends from an altitude of 1600 to 12,900 kilometres, is fairly stable. But the outer belt, spanning altitudes ranging from 19,000 to 40,000 kilometres, can vary wildly. Over the course of minutes or hours, its electrons can be accelerated to close to the speed of light, and it can grow to 100 times its usual size.











Mystery acceleration













No one is sure what causes these "acceleration events", although it seems to have something to do with solar activity interacting with the Earths' magnetic field.












"That's one of the key things the probes are in place to understand," says Dan Baker of the University of Colorado, Boulder. "How does this cosmic accelerator, operating just a few thousand miles above our head, accelerate electrons to such extraordinarily high energies?"












When the Van Allen probes started taking data on 1 September 2012, one of these mysterious events was already under way. "We came in the middle of the movie there," Baker says. But otherwise, he says, "What we expected was what we saw when we first turned on: two distinct belts, separated."












That changed a day later when, to the team's surprise, an extra ring developed between the inner and outer ones. "We watched it develop right before our eyes," Baker says. The new, middle ring was relatively narrow, and its electrons had energies between 4 and 7.5 megaelectronvolts - about the same as in the outer Van Allen belt during an acceleration event.












Although the outer ring displayed its characteristic inconstancy, the new middle ring barely budged for nearly four weeks. Then a shock wave, probably linked to a burst of solar activity, wiped it out in less than an hour on 1 October.











Spacecraft malfunctions













It's not clear where the middle ring came from, Baker says, although it was probably related to the acceleration event. The electrons could have been stripped from the outer Van Allen belt, funnelled back towards the Earth and got trapped in the middle on the way, or they could have been energised from closer to Earth and shot up to higher altitudes.











Figuring out what happened could be important to protecting spacecraft from radiation damage, says Yuri Shprits of the University of California in Los Angeles, who was not involved in the observations but is crafting a theoretical explanation that he hopes to publish soon. "It truly presents us with a very important question, and very important puzzles," he says.













There were no specific spacecraft malfunctions during September that can be directly linked to the new belt, says Shprits. However satellite operators will want to know if such belts are common and if they pose more of a risk.












With no other examples of a transient belt caught so far, it's too soon to answer all those questions, Baker says. "We only have one in captivity," he says. "We're still trying to figure out exactly how it works."












Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1233518


















































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