Wanted: A Bob Geldof for climate change



































EAST Africa is no stranger to crisis: who can forget the Ethiopian famine of the mid-1980s that killed about half a million people?











But the drought that struck in 2011 was different – it was caused, at least in part, by climate change, the first time a humanitarian disaster has been directly linked to global warming (see "Humanitarian disaster blamed on climate change"). It won't be the last.












If that wasn't bad enough, our climate now seems to have passed one of the abrupt changes known as tipping points. This is another first (see "Arctic thaw may be first in cascade of tipping points").













These stories are a depressing reminder of how we are damaging the planet. But they also remind us that change is possible. The famine of the mid-1980s was a tipping point of sorts too, because it thrust hunger onto the global agenda. We need a new hero. Is there a climate change Bob Geldof out there?












This article appeared in print under the headline "Holding out for a climate hero"


















































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NTU to offer new degree programme in public policy & global affairs






SINGAPORE: Nanyang Technological University (NTU) will offer a first-of-its-kind degree programme in Public Policy & Global Affairs in Singapore.

The Bachelor of Arts (Honours) programme offers a unique interdisciplinary curriculum that combines politics and international relations, public policy and public administration.

The programme, which will enrol its pioneer class of 55 students this August, will focus on two key areas for its teaching and research - global Asia and Asian regionalism and public policy in science and technology, creating new niche areas for NTU.

NTU said the new programme will prepare students for career and leadership roles in government agencies, non-profit organisations and the private sector.

It also fills the gap of one of the disciplinary cores in social sciences to be offered by NTU, namely political science.

Presently, through its School of Humanities and Social Sciences, seven social science majors are offered by NTU: Chinese, English, Economics, History, Linguistics and Multilingual Studies, Psychology and Sociology.

Prof Kam Chan Hin, Associate Provost in charge of Undergraduate Education at NTU, said: "As a university with established strengths in science, engineering and public administration, NTU is well-placed to offer this new programme to meet the growing demand for such policy experts, especially in Asia. The course will offer students real-world learning and practice in public service, particularly on how to deal with such strategic challenges and international and public affairs as a whole.

"The course builds on the strengths of NTU's core disciplines in the social sciences and enhances the intellectual breadth of the university. Besides providing rigorous training on the finer aspects of policy-making and global affairs, it will also imbue students with the critical values of leadership, integrity, life-long learning, exemplary character and professionalism."

Throughout the four-year direct honours programme, students will be exposed to a broad variety of subjects, such as policy analysis, programme evaluation, public financial management, human resource management and non-profit management.

They will also receive professional training in political dynamics, international politics, comparative politics, comparative public administration and global affairs.

Interdisciplinary courses will be taught by professors from different disciplines drawn from across the schools at NTU.

Prof Kam said: "Upon graduation, students will be ready to pursue a broad spectrum of rewarding careers in civil service administration, public management, policy analysis, journalism and research. They can also choose to become teachers, especially in Social Studies, History and China Studies. I am pleased that several potential employers, including a few ministries, the Economic Development Board and IE Singapore, have already expressed support for the programme."

Graduates from the programme will also be qualified to teach Social Studies, History and China Studies from primary school to junior college levels, to meet a growing demand in Singapore's schools.

As the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) will be a major partner in teaching and research, graduates from the programme can also pursue further studies at the RSIS.

The Public Policy and Global Affairs programme will be driven by Prof He Baogang, who has established an international reputation as an authority on Chinese democratisation, non-government organisations and local governance, as well as in international relations and Asian studies.

Prof He had also served as an adviser to public and governmental organisations, including the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Danish International Development Agency.

- CNA/xq



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Rescuers end effort to find body of man presumed dead in sinkhole









SEFFNER, Florida -- Florida rescue workers have ended their efforts to recover the body of a man who disappeared into a sinkhole that swallowed his bedroom while he slept in a suburban Tampa home, and the house will be demolished, a public safety official said on Saturday.


Jeff Bush, 36, who is presumed dead, was asleep when the other five members of the household who were getting ready for bed on Thursday night heard a loud crash and Jeff screaming.


Authorities have not detected any signs of life after lowering listening devices and cameras into the hole.








"Our data has come back, and there is absolutely no way we can do any kind of recovery without endangering lives of workers," said Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokeswoman Jessica Dam.


The sinkhole also has compromised the house next door, officials said Saturday.


Officials planned to let family members, accompanied by firefighters, into the threatened  home for about 20 minutes to gather some  belongings, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokesman Ronnie Rivera told reporters Saturday.


She said demolition of the home would begin early on Sunday.


Bush's body hadn’t been removed by Saturday afternoon and the ground near the home was still "very, very unsafe," Rivera said at a televised press conference Saturday.


"At this time we did some testing and we determined that the house right next to the house that’s actually damaged is also compromised by the sinkhole," Rivera said.


Jeff's brother, 35-year-old Jeremy Bush, jumped into the hole and furiously kept digging to find his brother.


"I really don't think they are going to be able to find him," Jeremy said on Saturday. He "will be there forever."


A small memorial of balloons and flowers for his brother had formed near the house on Saturday morning.


"I thank the Lord for not taking my daughter and the rest of my family," he said.


Jeremy himself had to be rescued from the sinkhole by the first responder to the emergency call, Douglas Duvall of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. When Duvall entered Jeff Bush's bedroom, all he saw was a widening chasm but no sign of Jeff.


"The hole took the entire bedroom," said Duvall. "You could see the bed frame, the dresser, everything was sinking," he said.


Norman Wicker, 48, the father of Jeremy's fiancee who also lived in the house, ran to get a flashlight and shovel.


"It sounded like a car ran into the back of the house," Wicker said.


"There is a very large, very fluid mass underneath this house rendering the entire house and the entire lot dangerous and unsafe," Bill Bracken, the head of an engineering company assisting fire and rescue officials, told the news conference late on Friday.


"We are still trying to determine the extent and nature of what's down there so we can best determine how to approach it and how to extricate," Bracken said.


After suspending the search overnight, it resumed at daylight on Saturday, with engineering consultants trying to determine the extent of the collapse so that a perimeter boundary can be established for setting up heavy equipment for future excavation.


Several nearby homes were evacuated in case the 30-foot wide sinkhole got larger but officials said Friday it only appeared to be getting deeper. Soil samples showed that the sinkhole has compromised the ground underneath a home next door, engineers said Saturday.


The residents of that house were allowed 20 minutes in their home on Saturday to gather belongings. Firefighters and residents formed an assembly line to move items out of the house into SUVs and trucks.


Rescue officials said that in addition to soil samples, they were focusing on engineering analysis, ground penetration radar and other techniques to determine the extent of the ongoing collapse. Listening devices were being used to detect any evidence of life although Bush was presumed dead.


The Bush brothers worked together as landscapers, according to Leland Wicker, 48, one of the other residents of the house.


The risk of sinkholes is common in Florida due to the state's porous geological bedrock, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. As rainwater filters down into the ground, it dissolves the rock, causing erosion that can lead to underground caverns, which cause sinkholes when they collapse.

Reuters





Read More..

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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Bomb kills two, wounds 12 in Thai south






BANGKOK: Two security officials died and 12 people were wounded in a blast in Thailand's restive south on Saturday, an army spokesman said, as unrest continued despite plans for talks with a key rebel group.

The bomb hidden in a motorcycle in Yala provincial town was aimed at paramilitaries who had been manning a nearby checkpoint, said southern army spokesman Colonel Pramote Promin. Six civilians were among the wounded.

It follows twin bombings on Friday in Narathiwat province, near the Malaysian border where a nine-year insurgency has claimed more than 5,500 lives.

The Thai government has agreed to hold talks with Barisan Revolusi Nasional, part of a web of insurgent groups in the south.

A stubborn insurgency seeking greater autonomy has raged across several provinces in the south of Thailand for nine years -- with near-daily shootings and bombings.

Malaysian premier Najib Razak on Thursday said his country would host the talks in Kuala Lumpur in two weeks, following discussions with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was in the country for bilateral meetings.

- AFP/xq



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Redflex execs out as scandal grows in red light camera firm









The president, chief financial officer and top lawyer for Chicago's red light camera company resigned this week amid an escalating corruption scandal that has cost Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. its lucrative, decadelong relationship with the city.


The resignations came as Redflex said it was winding down a company-funded probe into allegations of an improper relationship between the company and the former city transportation manager who oversaw its contract until 2011, a relationship first disclosed by the Tribune in October. A longtime friend of that city manager was hired by Redflex for a high-paid consulting deal.


The company recently acknowledged it improperly paid for thousands of dollars in trips for the former city official, the latest in a series of controversial revelations that have shaken Redflex from its Phoenix headquarters to Australia, the home of parent company Redflex Holdings Ltd.








Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration banned the company from competing for the upcoming speed camera contract and went further last month by announcing that Redflex would lose its red light contract when it expires in June. The Chicago program, with more than 380 cameras, has been the company's largest in North America and is worth about 13 percent of worldwide revenue for Redflex Holdings. Since 2003 it has generated about $100 million for Redflex and more than $300 million in ticket revenue for the city.


In an email addressed to all company employees, Redflex Holdings CEO and President Robert T. DeVincenzi announced the resignations of three top executives in Phoenix: Karen Finley, the company's longtime president and chief executive officer; Andrejs Bunkse, the general counsel; and Sean Nolen, the chief financial officer. Their exits follow those of the chairman of the board of Redflex Holdings, another Australian board member and the company's top sales executive who Redflex has blamed for much of its Chicago problems.


"Today's announcement of executive changes follows the conclusion of our investigation in Chicago and marks the dividing line between the past and where this company is headed," said DeVincenzi, who took over as CEO of the Phoenix company. "This day, and each day going forward, we intend to be a constructive force in our industry, promoting high ethical standards and serving the public interest."


The company also held town hall meetings in Arizona to unveil reforms, including new requirements to put all company employees through anti-bribery and anti-corruption training, hiring a new director of compliance to ensure that employees adhere to company policies and establishing a 24-hour whistle-blower hotline.


The resignations and a second consecutive halt to public trading of the company's stock are the latest in a string of events that followed Tribune reports last year regarding 2-year-old internal allegations of corruption in the Chicago contract that the company previously said were investigated and discounted.


The scandal now enveloping the company centers on its relationship to former Chicago transportation official John Bills, who retired in 2011 after overseeing the company's contract since it began in 2003.


A whistle-blower letter obtained by the Tribune said Bills received lavish vacations directly on the expense report of a company executive and raised questions about improper ties between Bills and a Redflex consultant who received more than $570,000 in company commissions.


Bills and the consultant, a longtime friend, have denied wrongdoing.


The company told the Tribune in October that its investigation into the 2010 letter found only one instance of an inadvertent expenditure for Bills, a two-day hotel stay at the Arizona Biltmore expensed by the executive. Redflex lawyer Bunkse told the newspaper that the company responded by sending the executive to "anti-bribery" training and overhauling company expense procedures.


But after additional Tribune reports, the company hired a former Chicago inspector general, David Hoffman, to conduct another investigation. Hoffman made an interim report of his findings to company board members this month. That report prompted the company officials to acknowledge a much deeper involvement with Bills, including thousands of dollars for trips to the Super Bowl and White Sox spring training over many years.


The chairman of the company's Australian board of directors resigned, trading on company stock was temporarily suspended and the company acknowledged that it is sharing information with law enforcement.


Trading was halted again this week pending more details about the company's latest actions.


dkidwell@tribune.com





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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."


Read More..

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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Space gold rush should not be a free-for-all






















We need a consensus on regulations surrounding space mining if it’s to enrich us all
















EVER since we took our first steps out of Africa, human exploration has been driven by the desire to secure resources. Now our attention is turning to space.












The motivation for deep-space travel is shifting from discovery to economics. The past year has seen a flurry of proposals aimed at bringing celestial riches down to Earth. No doubt this will make a few billionaires even wealthier, but we all stand to gain: the mineral bounty and spin-off technologies could enrich us all.












But before the miners start firing up their rockets, we should pause for thought. At first glance, space mining seems to sidestep most environmental concerns: there is (probably!) no life on asteroids, and thus no habitats to trash. But its consequences – both here on Earth and in space – merit careful consideration.












Part of this is about principles. Some will argue that space's "magnificent desolation" is not ours to despoil, just as they argue that our own planet's poles should remain pristine. Others will suggest that glutting ourselves on space's riches is not an acceptable alternative to developing more sustainable ways of earthly life.












History suggests that those will be hard lines to hold, and it may be difficult to persuade the public that such barren environments are worth preserving. After all, they exist in vast abundance, and even fewer people will experience them than have walked through Antarctica's icy landscapes.











There's also the emerging off-world economy to consider. The resources that are valuable in orbit and beyond may be very different to those we prize on Earth (see "Space miners hope to build first off-Earth economy"). Questions of their stewardship have barely been broached – and the relevant legal and regulatory framework is fragmentary, to put it mildly.













Space miners, like their earthly counterparts, are often reluctant to engage with such questions. One speaker at last week's space-mining forum in Sydney, Australia, concluded with a plea that regulation should be avoided. But miners have much to gain from a broad agreement on the for-profit exploitation of space. Without consensus, claims will be disputed, investments risky, and the gains made insecure. It is in all of our long-term interests to seek one out.


















This article appeared in print under the headline "Taming the final frontier"


















































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