Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Escalating gang violence is being blamed for the shooting of a five-year-old girl who was struck in the chest by a bullet when teenagers on bicycles sprayed a south London shop with gunfire as they tried to kill their rivals.

The child and a 35-year-old man who was shot in the face were both in a critical condition.

Community sources say the area, Stockwell in the borough of Lambeth, has been plagued by youth gang violence that has spiked in recent months. police introduced hardline section 60 stop-and-search powers covering a large swath of the borough, meaning they can search somebody without suspecting an offence has been committed.

The girl, believed to be the youngest shooting victim in recent years, was visiting the shop with her family when the shots were fired just after 9pm on Tuesday. Both victims have Sri Lankan heritage. Police say the 35-year-old man lived above the shop but did not work there.

The child's family were believed to have been visiting relatives who work at the shop.

Police say two youths ran into the Stockwell Food and Wine shop seeking shelter from three youths pursuing them on bicycles. One opened fire, shooting into the shop with handguns, it is believed, and then fled.

 Contrasting media reports abound regarding the dangers occurring at the Fukushima nuclear facility in Japan. The reports have triggered uncertainty, concern and even panic among members of the general public in Japan and around the world.

Workers in Japan have been bravely battling to save the facility from a disastrous meltdown, exposing their bodies to potentially dangerous and lethal doses of radiation. In this text, we attempt to explain what impact radiation may have on the human body.

Radiation takes place when the atomic nucleus of an unstable atom decays and starts releasing ionizing particles, known as ionizing radiation. When these particles come into contact with organic material, such as human tissue, they will damage them if levels are high enough, causing burns and cancer. Ionizing radiation can be fatal for humans.

REM (roentgen equivalent in man) - this is a unit we use to measure radiation dosage. We use this measurement to determine what levels of radiation are safe or dangerous for human tissue. It is the product of the absorbed dose in rads and a weighting factor (WR), which accounts for how effective the radiation is in causing biological damage.

A sudden, short dose of up to 50 rem will probably cause no problems, except for some blood changes. From 50 to 200 rem there may be illness, but fatalities are highly unlikely. A dose of between 200 and 1,000 will most likely cause serious illness - the nearer the 1,000 it is, the poorer the outlook for the human will be. Any dose over 1,000 will typically cause death.

When an atomic bomb explodes, as in Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII, people receive two doses of radiation: one during the explosion, and another from fallout. Fallout refers to the radioactive particles that float in the air after an explosion; they rise and then gradually descend to the ground. A dose of 100 rems will have probably cause some initial signs of radiation sickness, such as loss of white blood cells, nausea, vomiting, and headache. With a 300 rem dose you may lose hair temporarily - your nerve cells and those that line the digestive tract will be damaged. As the dose rises and more white blood cells are lost, the human's immune system becomes seriously weakened - their ability to fight off infections is considerably reduced.

Exposure to radiation makes our bodies produce fewer blood clotting agents, called blood platelets, increasing our risk of internal bleeding. Any cut on the skin will take much longer to stop bleeding.

Experts say that approximately 50% of humans exposed to 450 rems will die, and 800 rems will kill virtually anyone. Death is inevitable and will occur from between two days to a couple of weeks.

Today's National Audit Office (NAO) report on NHS trusts planning, procurement and use of expensive medical equipment - such as Computed Tomography or Cat-Scan (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanners - has been welcomed by NHS Supply Chain.

The report, Managing High Value Capital Equipment in the NHS in England, states that value for money is not being achieved across all trusts because of their failure to collaborate but that savings can be achieved by grouping together requirements for new machines.

"The NAO report acknowledged that 75% of the NHS Trusts are utilising NHS Supply Chain framework's and are enjoying lower acquisition costs and equipment cost savings. Naturally trusts get the benefit of NHS Supply Chain's national pricing and we are already providing services to support a number of the recommendations in the Report," explained Andy Brown, NHS Supply Chain's Managing Director Diagnostics.

Last November NHS Supply Chain was awarded a prestigious healthcare procurement award by the Health Service Journal (HSJ) for innovative methods that save NHS trusts time and money when acquiring medical equipment, including bulk purchasing which releases significant savings and has the potential to make a major contribution to QIPP targets over the next three years.

Facing fierce criticism over his handling of a wave of north Africans landing on the Italian island of Lampedusa, Silvio Berlusconi has put on a vintage display of showmanship, claiming he would empty the island of immigrants within 60 hours, nominate locals for a Nobel peace prize and buy a holiday home there.

So far this year 22,000 north African migrants have sailed to the island, which has only 5,000 native inhabitants.

During a lightning visit to Lampedusa, which is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, Berlusconi told cheering locals that six chartered ferries were arriving to pick up the remaining 6,000 migrants, mainly young Tunisian men, who have made the sea crossing since the collapse of the Tunisian government in January and the suspension of coastal patrols.

The migrants will join other north Africans who have already been transferred to centres and camps on the mainland after paying out thousands of euros to make the often perilous crossing.

"In 48 to 60 hours, Lampedusa will be inhabited only by Lampedusans," said Berlusconi.

Locals have protested against the nightly arrivals by using fishing boats to block the harbour entrance as the island's immigrant centre was overwhelmed, food supplies ran short and migrants bivouacked on a rubbish-strewn hill overlooking the port.

Rebel forces in Ivory Coast have taken control of the official capital, as power seems to be slipping away from the president, Laurent Gbagbo.

Residents and military sources said troops loyal to Gbagbo's rival, Alassane Ouattara, had entered Yamoussoukro, meeting little resistance as security forces fled. The port city of San Pedro also fell.

Yamoussoukro residents told how they braced themselves for conflict before sporadic gunfire erupted. Serge Kipre, who runs a small clothing store in the city, said: "The night before, we were all calling each other to make sure nobody went outside. In the morning, I saw loads of police with balaclavas and Kalashnikovs racing across town. The market closed, shops shuttered. Everybody seemed on edge."

But the approach of the rebels was eagerly awaited by many young pro-Ouattara supporters. Kipre added: "They set a police station ablaze because they felt they would be liberated soon. We are so tired of this situation – we just want them to get it over with."

The pro-Ouattara Republican Forces (FRCI) captured the city within hours as government opposition melted away. Eyewitnesses saw soldiers taking off their uniforms and throwing guns and ammunition into ditches as they fled from the rebel army. Others say some soldiers simply switched sides and joined the FRCI.

The capture of Yamassoukro, which is in a pro-Ouattara area, is symbolic but not decisive. Gbagbo's seat of power is in the commercial capital, Abidjan, where fighting has raged for months. But the fall of Yamoussoukro opens up the main road to Abidjan, just 143 miles away.

Earlier this month a leader of rebel forces, which have controlled northern Ivory Coast since the 2002-03 civil war, told the Guardian they would "surprise all the analysts" by removing Gbagbo quickly and cleanly.

Such confidence appears to have been borne out so far as the rebels make rapid advances on three fronts and encounter little resistance.

Gbagbo has called for a ceasefire, though this has been widely dismissed as a ploy. Young men are being enrolled into the army, reportedly to replace soldiers who are not turning up for work or who have changed sides.

Ally Coulibaly, Ouattara's ambassador to Paris, claimed rebel forces now controlled three-quarters of the country. "President Alassane Ouattara was patient and gave Mr Laurent Gbagbo every possibility to leave power peacefully," he told the French radio station France Inter. "He refused every offer made to him."

The threat of a government shutdown seemed to recede on Wednesday as budget talks between Republicans and Democrats resumed in Congress and aides from both parties said they were more optimistic that a compromise can be found.

Though lawmakers continued to trade jabs in public, aides said privately that they had a greater sense of optimism they could reach a deal before temporary government funding expires on April 8.

"We're all focused on getting something enacted into law," a Republican aide said.

Both parties acknowledge the need to trim budget deficits that have hovered around 10 percent of GDP in recent years, but differ on how to do this.

Republicans hope to keep a campaign promise to scale back the government, while Democrats say that sharp spending cuts would hurt the economic recovery.

"We know the answer lies in the middle. Neither party can pass a budget without the other party," Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said.

The two sides were initially $50 billion apart in the debate over spending levels for the current fiscal year that ends September 30. Democrats say that gap has now been reduced to only $6 billion as they struggle to finalize more than $1 trillion in annual spending.

That would amount to a reduction of between $30 billion and $40 billion from current levels, making it the largest domestic spending cut ever.

Speaking to the for the first time since he admitted to a major NCAA violation, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel apologized for his conduct Wednesday and admitted it has been "a difficult past couple of months."

Tressel said earlier this month he would accept a five-game suspension after failing to forward information about possible rules violations by two of his players and lying to the NCAA.

At the time, Tressel said he kept the allegations secret because of a federal investigation. A report later surfaced in The Columbus Dispatch that he did send the email to the mentor of quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who was one of the two players mentioned having received illegal benefits.

"The largest regrets I've had in my life have been when I've disappointed people, when I've let people down," Tressel said Wednesday. "The mistakes I've made are very disappointing. I'm sorry for that, as I've mentioned many times."

Tressel and an Ohio State spokesperson said the coach would take no questions regarding the NCAA investigation could be addressed.

It was announced at the press conference linebackers coach Luke Fickell would serve as Tressel's replacement during his suspension. The length of the penalty remains uncertain because the NCAA has not ruled in the case.

"It'll be difficult," Fickell said. "We have to know whose team it is. It's our team. It's the seniors' team."

President Obama called on Wednesday for a one-third reduction in oil imports over the next decade, and said the effort had to begin immediately. In a speech at Georgetown University , the president said that the United States cannot go on consuming one- quarter of the world’s oil production while posessing only two percent of global reserves. He said that the country had to begin a long-term plan to reduce its reliance on imported oil, and that the decades-long political bickering that has stalled progress toward that goal had to end.

With oil supplies from the Middle East now pinched by political upheaval with calls growing in Congress for expanded domestic oil and gas production, the president referred in his speech a similar runup in energy prices in 2008.

“Now here’s the thing — we’ve been down this road before,” Mr. Obama said. “Remember, it was just three years ago that gas prices topped $4 a gallon. I remember because I was in the middle of a presidential campaign.”

He continued: “Because it was also the height of political season, so you had a lot of slogans and gimmicks and outraged politicians, they were waving their three-point-plans for two-dollar-a-gallon gas. You remember that: ‘Drill, baby, drill’ and all of that. And none of it would really do anything to solve the problem.”

Saying there were no quick fixes to the nation’s oil addiction, Mr. Obama went on to propose a mix of measures, none of them new, to wean the nation off the barrel.

He called for a fuel-saving strategy of producing more electric cars, converting trucks to run on natural gas, building new refineries to brew billions of gallons of biofuels and setting new fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles. Congress has been debating similar measures for years.

“The only way for America’s energy supply to be truly secure is by permanently reducing our dependence on oil,” Mr. Obama said. “We’re going to have to find ways to boost our efficiency so that we use less oil. We’ve got to discover and produce cleaner, renewable sources of energy that also produce less carbon pollution that is threatening our climate. And we have to do it quickly.”

He pointed out that the nationn has had a tendency, ever since the first Arab oil embargo in 1973, to panic when gasoline prices rise and then fall back into old fuel-guzzling habits when prices recede.

“We cannot keep going from shock when gas prices go up to trance when gas prices go back down,” he said. “We can’t rush to propose action when prices are high then push the snooze button when they go down again. We can’t keep doing that. The United States of America cannot afford to bet our long-term prosperity and security on a resource that will eventually run out.”

More than half of the oil burned in the United States today comes from overseas or from Mexico or Canada.

Google has reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over Buzz, a social blogging service that the company introduced through Gmail last year.

As part of the deal, Google will be subjected to regular, independent privacy audits for the next 20 years. By then, soon-to-be CEO Larry Page will be 58 years old.

Buzz drew heavy criticism at launch in February 2010 for a glaring privacy flaw. When users turned it on, it suggested people to follow based on their Gmail contacts list and their most frequent email partners.

The problem: anybody following a user could automatically see all of his other Buzz contacts. So, for instance, your wife could see that you're still exchanging lots of emails with your ex-girlfriend.

As the FTC put it, "Although Google led Gmail users to believe that they could choose whether or not they wanted to join the network, the options for declining or leaving the social network were ineffective." Yikes.

The FTC also notes that users who opted out of Buzz were still enrolled in some features of the service.

Along with the 20 year oversight, the settlement also says that:

"Mad Men" fans are on the edge of their seats as the show's eagerly anticipated fifth season remains on hold. "While we are getting a later start than in years past due to ongoing, key non-cast negotiations, 'Mad Men' will be back for a fifth season in early 2012," AMC said in a statement. The show's creator, Matthew Weiner (pictured left), addressed speculation on the show's blog, writing, "There's been a lot of speculation and misinformation in the press about what is going on. I want the fans to know directly from me that I had nothing to do with this delay and it is not about money. I am fighting for the cast and for the show. And I appreciate the kindness and concern of the fans." As of now, the season may not premiere until early 2012.

Radioactivity fears deliver a double whammy to Japanese fisheries which have
already been badly hit by the tsunami. Photograph: Everett Kennedy Brown/EPA
High levels of radiation in the sea off the coast of Fukushima have raised concerns over harm to local marine life and the risk of contaminated fish, shellfish and seaweed entering the food chain.

Tests on seawater near the nuclear power plant showed that levels of radioactive iodine reached 3,355 times the legal limit on Monday, one of several peaks in recent days that have fallen rapidly as radioactive substances decayed and were steadily diluted and dispersed by ocean currents.

Officials are watching levels of iodine-131 in seawater because although it has a half-life of eight days, meaning it is half as radioactive after that time, the substance builds up in seaweed, a common food in the Japanese diet. If consumed, radioactive iodine collects in the thyroid and can cause cancer.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said iodine-131 in seawater would "soon be of no concern" presuming there are no further discharges of contaminated water from the power station into the sea.

The IAEA added that Japanese authorities have released the first analyses of fish, caught at the port of Choshi, in Chiba prefecture south of Fukushima, which found one of five to be contaminated with a detectable level of caesium-137, a far more persistent radioactive substance, though at a concentration that was far below safety limits for consumption.

Many countries, including Britain, have begun radiation testing of fish, shellfish and other fresh produce from Japan or have imposed wider bans on imports from the region. Fisheries are not entering waters within the 20km (12-mile) exclusion zone around Fukushima, said Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

The fate of many local seafood and shellfish farms, including scallops, oysters, sea urchins and sea snails, was sealed more than two weeks ago when the tsunami wiped out beds and destroyed fishing vessels and ports around Fukushima. In Iwate prefecture, authorities say the disaster may have wiped out businesses that account for 80% of the revenue of the region's fisheries.

He’s really hot, really cold and maybe even a bit icy.

He is the planet Mercury, and this month he is ready for his extended close-up. On Wednesday NASA showed off some of the first pictures taken by its Mercury Messenger spacecraft, which entered the planet’s orbit on March 17. The Messenger is to spend at least a year photographing, measuring and studying Mercury.

The visit to Mercury is last frontier of planetary exploration that NASA will reach for a quite some time. The space agency has sent orbiters to five planets — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn — but no plans are in place yet for trips to Neptune or Uranus (though a study on future planetary missions did express hope that an orbiter could be sent to Uranus in the coming years). NASA does have a spacecraft, New Horizons, that will zoom past Pluto in 2015, but Pluto is no longer considered a planet.

Mercury has been seen close up, but briefly, in half a dozen flybys by NASA probes: three by the Mariner 10 in the 1970s and three by the Messenger in the past three years. But now that the Messenger has pulled into an elliptical orbit around Mercury, planetary scientists will be able to get their first long look at the smallest of the eight planets. The day side of Mercury can broil at up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit. The night side drops to minus 150 degrees.

Libya's opposition says its fighters are executing a "tactical withdrawal" from a swath of territory they once controlled, a move that comes as Moammar Gadhafi's forces relentlessly pound the rebel forces.

Col. Ahmed Bani, speaking at a news conference in the opposition capital of Benghazi on Wednesday, said his forces are being outgunned by superior military power.

They have been pushed eastward over the last two days after CNN reported on Sunday that rebels took al-Brega, Ras Lanuf, Bin Jawad and reached a town just east of Sirte.

Opposition forces have lost Bin Jawad, the key oil town of Ras Lanuf and are now backed up to the al-Brega area, said Bani. Ajdabiya, which is east of al-Brega, will be prepared as a "defense point" if the withdrawal continues further east, he said.

This development comes as NATO took over command of the coalition enforcing a U.N. resolution to protect Libyan civilians and world powers are now mulling the option of arming the rebels.

Bani called on the international community to supply opposition fighters with better and more powerful weapons to thwart the Gadhafi forces. And, he said, the opposition was open to foreign troops training rebel fighters. Bani asked for tanks, heavy artillery, communications and logistics equipment.

The rebels have been demanding an end to Gadhafi's almost 42-year rule in Libya, but they have been facing "sustained attacks in the face of the coalition bombing" in Misrata, Ras Lanuf, and Bin Jawad.

In an address to the House of Commons in London on Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that "regime forces have intensified their attacks, driving back opposition forces from ground they had taken in recent days." He cited the violence in the western town of Misrata.

U.S. stocks rose on Wednesday as investors positioned themselves for the quarter's end and the S&P 500 attempted to hold above a key technical level.

Stocks advanced as money managers re-allocated positions for the end of the quarter, with the S&P 500 up 5.9 percent.

The S&P broke through 1,330, which was noted as a resistance point for stocks. The benchmark was unable to hold gains above that mark in its three previous attempts.

"They are selling commodities, they are moving back into industrials. You've got a mini-market rotation coming into your final couple of days of the quarter, and that is the way the window dressing takes place," said Paul Mendelsohn, chief investment strategist at Windham Financial Services in Charlotte, Vermont.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI gained 100.06 points, or 0.81 percent, to 12,379.07. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX gained 11.85 points, or 0.90 percent, to 1,331.29. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC gained 21.46 points, or 0.78 percent, to 2,778.35.

The U.S. labor market showed further recovery in March as private-sector employers added jobs while planned layoffs fell, according to separate reports on Wednesday.

The ADP report on private-sector jobs, which may not be a dependable indicator of the government's broader jobs report due on Friday, showed 201,000 jobs being created. That kept expectations intact for the Labor Department's report.

Troops loyal to the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, have retaken Brega, forcing rebel fighters into a chaotic retreat under a barrage of tank and artillery fire to the town of Ajdabiya.

With Gaddafi's forces advancing on Ajdabiya, rebels are fleeing back to the position they held before Nato air strikes began, on Saturday.

Nato planes continued to bombard the regime troops, but their outgunned opponents were forced back from positions taken earlier in the week, when they advanced to within 60 miles of Sirte, Gaddafi's home city.

Meanwhile, as debate within the anti-Gaddafi international coalition over the legality of arming the rebellion continued, the foreign secretary, William Hague, said it would be possible to supply weapons under certain circumstances.

Earlier, David Cameron told the Commons no decision had been made but he "would not necessarily rule out the protection of civilians in certain circumstances".

The rebels' rapid withdrawal came just days after they raced westwards following the destruction of government tanks and artillery in five days of aerial bombardment in Ajdabiya.

Ragtag opposition fighters have repeatedly been forced to retreat after fierce bombardments by the more disciplined government troops.

"Gaddafi hit us with huge rockets. He has entered Ras Lanuf," one rebel fighter, Faraj Muftah, told Reuters after pulling out of the oil port.

"We were at the western gate in Ras Lanuf and we were bombarded," said a second fighter, Hisham.

Scores of rebel four-wheel pickups raced east, away from Ras Lanuf. Later, pro-government forces moved through Ras Lanuf into Brega, sending rebels fleeing once more.

Speaking to the Commons, Hague revealed that five Libyan diplomats had been expelled from the regime's London embassy because they represented a potential security risk.

Hague said that while the current arms embargo prevented weapons being provided to the whole of Libya, UN resolution 1973 allowed "for all necessary measures to protect civilians" to be taken.

The British government's view, which was not necessarily shared internationally, was that this meant rebels protecting civilians could be armed, although ministers had "not yet taken a decision", he said.

"I am fighting for the cast and crew," he says.

Matthew Weiner gave an interview to Mad Men blog Basket of Kisses to offer more insight into why the show is delayed until 2012.

"I want the fans to know directly from me that I had nothing to do with this delay and it is not about money,” he said while on vacation. “I am fighting for the cast and for the show. And I appreciate the kindness and concern of the fans."

Weiner says that negotiations have only recently begun, as The Hollywood Reporter wrote Tuesday: "We didn't have an actual conversation until three weeks ago."

He also confirms that AMC requested he cut two characters per season.

“Even though people have left the show, none of that has ever been about money…I’ve brought the show in on budget. I’ve been a good producer," he said.

He denies that he's asking for $30 million over a three-year contract which multiple sources tell THR and other outlets.

"First of all, the number that’s been published is not true," he says. "Second of all, I offered to have less money, to save the cast, and to leave the show in the running time that it’s supposed to be. The harder that I’ve fought for the show, the more money that they’ve offered me.”

How can fans fight for the show?

“Everyone can hold on, and we’ll see if it’s necessary, but of course I would want them to express their feelings," he said. "I can’t even tell you what it’s meant to me to have intelligent people who care about the show, who reflect about it, who obsess about it, it’s been a total surprise to me. It’s surpassed everything I would ever have expected.”

President Barack Obama outlined a plan Wednesday to cut America's imports of foreign oil by a third by 2025 -- a response to growing global energy demands and instability overseas.

The president's proposal relies primarily on increased domestic production, conservation, and a shift to biofuels and natural gas.

Among other things, Obama said he will push for an increased use of natural gas in trucks and buses, as well as the construction of commercial-scale biofuel refineries over the next two years.

The president also announced that he is directing the federal government to ensure that all of its vehicle purchases are alternative fuel, hybrid, or electric cars by 2015.

Higher fuel efficiency standards for cars will be announced this fall, he said. This summer, a new fuel efficiency standard will be proposed for heavy-duty trucks, he added.

The White House previously announced a decision to raise fuel efficiency standards for automobiles at a faster pace than required under the 2007 energy act -- boosting them to 36 miles per gallon by 2016.

"The United States of America cannot afford to bet our long-term prosperity and security on a resource that will eventually run out," Obama told an audience at Georgetown University. "We can't afford it when the cost to our economy, our country, and our planet is so high."

"There are no quick fixes," he warned. America "will keep on being a victim to shifts in the oil market until we get serious about a long-term policy for secure, affordable energy."

Obama said the country has to break the "political gridlock and inertia that's held us back for decades."

Despite the ongoing crisis at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility, Obama reaffirmed his support for a clean energy standard requiring utilities to buy 80% of their power from "cleaner" sources like wind and solar, as well as nuclear, natural gas and clean coal, by 2035.

"We can't simply take (nuclear power) off the table," he insisted.

In a swipe at Republican leaders, Obama said the 2008 GOP rallying cry of "drill baby drill" -- a reference to the push for more domestic oil drilling -- would do little to provide short-term price relief.

Bashar al-Assad's defiance, broadcast in his first television appearance since anti-government unrest began a fortnight ago, stunned his critics, who had been widely led to expect that the president was going to announce major reforms, including the abolition of Syria's much hated emergency laws.

Instead, they found their leader at his most obdurate as he delivered a speech all but shorn of conciliatory gestures and carrying within it a strong hint of threat.

Within hours, there were reports of gunfire in the capital, Damascus, and fresh protests in the southern city of Deraa, where scores of demonstrators were killed last week.

There were also renewed calls on social networking websites for people to take to the streets, setting the stage for a potentially bloody showdown between protesters and the security forces after mosque services on Friday.

For a speech billed as the most important, and certainly the most anticipated, of his 11-year presidency, Mr Assad's address to parliament was surprisingly short.

Dismissing demonstrations in Deraa, the port city of Latakia and other parts of the country as the work of a small group of "conspirators", he hinted that Israel was behind the unrest in an attempt to plunge the country into sectarian chaos.