Some Ancient Star Clusters Look Surprisingly Young

Just like people, huge star clusters age at variable rates depending on their lifestyles, a new study reports.

While such star clusters are many billions of years old, some of them manage to stay young at heart while others speed along toward decrepitude, astronomers found.

“By studying the distribution of a type of blue star that exists in the clusters, we found that some clusters had indeed evolved much faster over their lifetimes, and we developed a way to measure the rate of aging,” lead author Francesco Ferraro, of the University of Bologna in Italy, said in a statement.

Ferraro and his colleagues used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and several ground-based instruments to study 21 globular clusters scattered throughout the Milky Way galaxy.

Globular clusters are spherical collections of hundreds of thousands of stars held together by gravity. The 21 clusters examined in the new study all formed more than 10.5 billion years ago — not too long after the Big Bang, which created our universe 13.7 billion years ago.

The team focused on so-called “blue stragglers” within the clusters — stars that are much bigger and brighter than their ages should allow (since large, luminous stars tend to burn out quickly). Astronomers think blue stragglers get reinvigorated by sucking matter from, or colliding with, neighboring stars.

Because blue stragglers are so massive, they tend to sink toward the center of clusters over time, just as heavier sediments settle at the bottom of a river or lake. But the new study suggests that this process occurs at different rates from cluster to cluster.

A few clusters had blue stragglers distributed throughout, making them appear young. Some seemed old, with the stragglers already clumped in the center. And others were somewhere in between.

“Since these clusters all formed at roughly the same time, this reveals big differences in the speed of evolution from cluster to cluster,” said co-author Barbara Lanzoni, also of the University of Bologna. “In the case of fast-aging clusters, we think that the sedimentation process can be complete within a few hundred million years, while for the slowest it would take several times the current age of the universe.”

The study was published online today (Dec. 19) in the journal Nature.

Follow senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall or @Spacedotcom. We’re also on Facebook and Google+

Copyright 2012, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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On gun control, look to Biden

Rebecca Puckwalter-Poza says Vice President Joe Biden was a leader on gun control in the Senate.


  • Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza: Obama has apparently tapped Biden as gun control point man

  • She says he was leader in Senate on issue, shepherding 1994 gun control legislation

  • It banned manufacture of many semi-automatic guns,criminalized high-capacity magazines

  • Writer: Biden worked across aisle; he's adroit, determined statesman, right man for job

Editor's note: Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza served as deputy national press secretary of the Democratic National Committee during the 2008 election.

(CNN) -- President Obama's poignant speech at Sunday's interfaith vigil in Newtown, Connecticut, set the tone for our mourning. Now, America's path forward will be decided out of the spotlight. The question of whether the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School will linger only in memory or be memorialized by an enduring shift in gun policy can only be answered by the legislature.

Incoming Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Diane Feinstein has announced she will introduce an enhanced assault weapons ban on the first day of the new Congress, but the fate of that legislation is in the hands of Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden will reportedly lead the administration's political response.

Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza

Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza

No politician could be better suited to the challenge of passing federal gun control legislation than Biden. Over the past four decades, Biden has been one of the most consistent and effective advocates of gun control and violence prevention legislation. In 1994, Biden shepherded the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act through the Senate, a near miracle six years in the making.

After Biden wrote the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1988, Republicans quickly filibustered, blocking the bill for four years. He steered "the Biden crime bill" through the lengthy filibuster by negotiating with Republicans and making revisions. "Every single line in that bill was written with every single major Republican a part of it," Biden said in a September 12, 1994, interview on the Charlie Rose show.

The Clinton administration and then-Sen. Biden repeatedly refused to make concessions that would have jeopardized the substance of the act, even after debate over the amendment we know as the federal assault weapons ban imperiled the entire bill. Instead of backing down, Biden took on Republican Sens. Phil Gramm and Orrin Hatch and faced opponents attacking the bill as taxpayer-funded "dance lessons and midnight basketball for robbers and rapists."

France: Where fear and taboo control guns more than laws

Biden did not budge: "Make no mistake, this is about guns, guns, guns." The crime bill passed the Senate in November 1993.

When the bill foundered in the House, Biden persevered. It reached President Clinton's desk thanks to an unexpected, eleventh-hour push from a "Lost Battalion of Republicans" led by Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware. He'd been swayed during a series of meetings with the House Speaker and other House Republicans, at which Biden was the only Senator in attendance.

The resulting legislation banned the manufacture of 19 types of semi-automatic firearms and criminalized the possession of high-capacity magazines. The process taught a critical lesson: When otherwise "pro-gun'" lawmakers have to choose between a crime bill including a gun ban and inaction, it is more than possible for them to vote to protect Americans. Unfortunately, the assault weapons ban expired in 2004. Since then, numerous lawmakers, including Joe Biden, have tried and failed to get the ban renewed.

Congress now has a rare opportunity to take new action on gun control. After Newtown, proponents of stricter gun legislation are backed by public opinion and bolstered by a surge of political support. The "pro-gun" wing of the GOP and the National Rifle Association remain silent even as their supporters are defecting publicly.

Democratic Sens. Harry Reid and Joe Manchin, whose voting record earned them the NRA's "top rating," have backed off their "pro-gun" positions and declared that "everything must be on the table" for legislative debate. The 31 pro-gun senators have not spoken since Friday's tragedy, signaling the possibility that some of them might be changing their minds on guns, too.

Lawmakers are essentially being asked to consider an updated version of the 1994 assault weapons ban. On Sunday, Feinstein promised the legislation "will ban the sale, the transfer, the importation and the possession" of assault weapons and ban high-capacity magazines as well as "clips of more than ten bullets."

Biden will likely support a new ban on assault weapons and push for improvements. His 2007 Crime Control and Prevention Act would not only have renewed the ban but required background checks for all gun purchases, closing the "gun show loophole.'" Biden has also called on Congress to address the relationship of mental illness to violence in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings.

Was your gun banned?

The president cautioned Americans Sunday, saying "no single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. But that can't be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this."

In his first term, however, Obama practiced a policy of appeasement, failing to block the expansion of gun rights or promote gun control. To ensure Congress passes tough, comprehensive gun control laws rather than settling for a watered-down version, as with health care, Obama must let Biden lead.

Why? Biden has distinguished himself as an adroit and effective statesman in both the legislative and the executive branches. The former six-term senator has a deft touch with moderate and conservative counterparts: in 2008, he eulogized Strom Thurmond. As vice president, he has spearheaded the implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Moreover, Biden has a particular passion for protecting students and educators. His wife, Jill Biden, has been teaching for more than 30 years.

The deaths of 20 first-graders and six adults compel all Americans as sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, to consult their moral compasses. Legislators face a greater responsibility: a moral imperative to pass any legislation that could possibly prevent a future Newtown, Aurora, Oak Creek or Blacksburg.

Opinion: Gun violence is a national security issue

As Obama ministers to the American people and offers words of comfort, Biden must move lawmakers to action. In 1994, Biden warned his colleagues, "we simply can't let the gun lobby deny to the American people the vital benefits in this bill." Biden must once more appeal to Congress to enact gun control. If anyone can succeed in those chambers, it's Joe Biden.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza

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Theater review: Hilarious, hometown 'Book of Mormon'

Most of the audience flocking to “The Book of Mormon,” which officially descended on Chicago Wednesday night like satirical manna from some warped “South Park” heaven, are looking for amusement and escape. They'll surely find salvation from the rough old world in this new production of the deliciously over-eager 2011 Broadway hit, newly crafted for Chicago with a clutch of utterly committed, fresh-faced, faux-Mormon lads.

The true revelation in this brand new Chicago production — directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker and that stands up well to the original Broadway edition — is one Ben Platt, a hilariously funny young actor who finds an entirely different way into Elder Cunningham, the loser-geek Mormon, first played in New York by Josh Gad. He is the partner on this mission to Uganda for the alpha Elder Price (Nic Rouleau, who comes direct from Broadway and is also sharp and generally terrific, although very much in the original mold of the role). Platt, whose comic instincts are exquisite, really leans into this part, throwing himself out there with the abandonment of youth and shrewdly pushing the sincerity and charm of the character while downplaying the obvious manifestation of his quirks. Physical resemblance notwithstanding, Platt kicks the dangerous Jonah Hill-like cliches half way to Christendom, and makes the sidekick role about four times as funny and ten times as believable. He's no “American Idol” vocalist, but you won't care.

Laughs flow like Mormon wagon trains rolling West. But “The Book of Mormon,” like the enigmatic volume it lampoons so mercilessly, is actually a many-layered beast and therein, verily, lies its brilliance.

I'll try and not spoil narrative surprises. Somehow, the writing and composing team of Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone managed to poke wicked fun at the all-American religion without frying on the third rail of religious faith — and all the while convincing their audience that they actually are enjoying a rather sweet show.

“The Book of Mormon” is exquisitely toned. It brilliantly exploits the protection afforded by edges and extremes and mitigates its use of gags about such comedic untouchables as Jesus Christ, AIDS, Africa and genital mutilation (and those are the printable topics) with an earnestness impossible for even a nervous prude to resist. On Wednesday, those prudes were sputtering into their shirt collars with mirth.

In terms of risky content, “The Book of Mormon” makes the Monty Python boys look like they were writing the Acts of the Apostles. Yet it has a sweetness that few other satirical dramatic works have achieved. These Mormons are so lovable you feel half-inclined to take a couple of ‘em home with you. (It’s not like anyone ever wanted to give Mel Brooks a hug.)

Thanks mostly to Lopez, the show not only has a strikingly traditional and whip-tight musical structure; fans of the genre will recognize little stylistic spoofs of “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked,” “Tomorrow” from “Annie” and, of course, the hilarious Act 2 centerpiece wherein earnest Ugandans mangle Mormon doctrine in a skewering of “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” from “The King and I.” Jesus also looks remarkably like Prince Herbert from “Spamalot.”

But for those who hate musicals — and plenty of “South Park” fans are in that category — the caustic, relentless Parker-Stone worldview is very much is in evidence—especially in the truly inspired “spooky Mormon Hell” nightmare sequence centered on Adolf Hitler, Johnnie Cochran (“if it don't fit ..”) and dancing cups of illicit, mock Starbucks. These, they declare, are what keeps the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints awake at night. They may well be right. This show steers closer to the truth than you might think.

On a further viewing, I was blown away again by the disciplined narrative logic these writers applied to their outrageous storytelling. That's what comes of creating a TV show from whole imaginative cloth, almost every week for 16 years. One learns how to ensure the outlandish makes perfect sense.

Look behind the gags and you can find much pondering of the central problem faced by all people of faith: the apparent inability of religion to end the suffering of the innocent. You can find discussion of how faith is an all-or-nothing proposition; who could believe about 50 percent of Mormonism? The show lampoons the ability of persons of faith to compartmentalize and, most brilliantly of all, the pervasive nature of racial condescension. Indeed, it's in the racial arena (speaking of third rails) that this show is at its most risky and most admirable, as when white Mormon missionaries sing “We Are Africa” (a dead-on take-down of the smugness of “We Are the World”) even as actual Africans (well, African characters) stare at them in quiet amazement. Chicago actor James Vincent Meredith, who plays Mafala likes he's doing Athol Fugard, is a huge asset to the show.

The one performer who needs work is Syesha Mercado, who plays the lead ingenue role of Nabulungi (her name is constantly bungled as “Neutrogena” and the like by Elder Cunningham). Mercado sings well, albeit at a certain remove, but she has yet to grab hold of the necessary vulnerability of her character and hit the lyrical gags. She was a late replacement and surely will improve with time. Pierce Cassedy, as Elder McKinley (a Mormon who insists on turning off his gay identity) is hilarious and, more importantly, very poignant.

With tickets this scarce and prices this high, you might well wonder if “The Book of Mormon” is worth your time and elevated expectations. Be not afraid, suburban pilgrim. The Chicago production pulses with the just the right combination of Broadway production values, proven material, sufficient buy-in by the original creative team (who all took a bow on opening night) and new young men on a mission, not quite from God.


THE BOOK ON ‘THE BOOK': Check out the Tribune's site dedicated to all things “Book of Mormon,” at

When: Through June 2

Where: Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St.

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Tickets: $42-$107 at 800-775-2000,

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State Department security chief leaves post over Benghazi

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday its security chief had resigned from his post and three other officials had been relieved of their duties following a scathing official inquiry into the September 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.

Eric Boswell has resigned effective immediately as assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a terse statement. A second official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Boswell had not left the department entirely and remained a career official.

Nuland said that Boswell, and the three other officials, had all been put on administrative leave "pending further action."

An official panel that investigated the incident concluded that the Benghazi mission was completely unprepared to deal with the attack, which killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

The unclassified version of the report, which was released on Tuesday, cited "leadership and management" deficiencies, poor coordination among officials and "real confusion" in Washington and in the field over who had the authority to make decisions on policy and security concerns.

"The ARB identified the performance of four officials, three in the Bureau of the Diplomatic Security and one in the Bureau of (Near Eastern) Affairs," Nuland said in her statement, referring to the panel known as an Accountability Review Board.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accepted Boswell's decision to resign effective immediately, the spokeswoman said.

Earlier, a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Boswell, one of his deputies, Charlene Lamb, and a third unnamed official has been asked to resign. The Associated Press first reported that three officials had resigned.


The Benghazi incident appeared likely to tarnish Clinton's four-year tenure as secretary of state but the report did not fault her specifically and the officials who led the review stopped short of blaming her.

"We did conclude that certain State Department bureau-level senior officials in critical positions of authority and responsibility in Washington demonstrated a lack of leadership and management ability appropriate for senior ranks," retired Admiral Michael Mullen, one of the leaders of the inquiry, told reporters on Wednesday.

The panel's chair, retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering, said it had determined that responsibility for security shortcomings in Benghazi belonged at levels lower than Clinton's office.

"We fixed (responsibility) at the assistant secretary level, which is, in our view, the appropriate place to look for where the decision-making in fact takes place, where - if you like - the rubber hits the road," Pickering said after closed-door meetings with congressional committees.

The panel's report and the comments by its two lead authors suggested that Clinton, who accepted responsibility for the incident in a television interview about a month after the Benghazi attack, would not be held personally culpable.

Pickering and Mullen spoke to the media after briefing members of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee behind closed doors on classified elements of their report.

Clinton had been expected to appear at an open hearing on Benghazi on Thursday, but is recuperating after suffering a concussion, dehydration and a stomach bug last week. She will instead be represented by her two top deputies.

Clinton, who intends to step down in January, said in a letter accompanying the review that she would adopt all of its recommendations, which include stepping up security staffing and requesting more money to fortify U.S. facilities.

The National Defense Authorization Act for 2013, which is expected to go to Congress for final approval this week, includes a measure directing the Pentagon to increase the Marine Corps presence at diplomatic facilities by up to 1,000 Marines.

Some Capitol Hill Republicans who had criticized the Obama administration's handling of the Benghazi attacks said they were impressed by the report.

"It was very thorough," said Senator Johnny Isakson. Senator John Barrasso said: "It was very, very critical of major failures at the State Department at very high levels." Both spoke after the closed-door briefing.

Others, however, took a harsher line and called for Clinton to testify as soon as she is able.

"The report makes clear the massive failure of the State Department at all levels, including senior leadership, to take action to protect our government employees abroad," Representative Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.

Senator Bob Corker, who will be the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when the new Congress is seated early next year, said Clinton should testify about Benghazi before her replacement is confirmed by the Senate.

Republicans have focused much of their firepower on U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who appeared on TV talk shows after the attack and suggested it was the result of a spontaneous protest rather than a premeditated attack.

The report concluded that there was no such protest.

Rice, widely seen as President Barack Obama's top pick to succeed Clinton, withdrew her name from consideration last week.

(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Christopher Wilson)

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U.S. budget optimism send shares, euro up

LONDON (Reuters) - World shares hit 17-month highs and the euro surged on Wednesday on hopes that U.S. politicians will reach a budget deal and that further monetary stimulus will come from Japan.

European shares extended their recent rally in early trading with the FTSEurofirst 300 index <.fteu3> near an 18-month high ahead of the German Ifo survey, which is likely to point to a gradual improvement in business conditions for December.

"What is important, and what is driving the market higher, is that the two parties (in the U.S.) are now in constructive discussions over specific tax levels and spending programs, and working towards a common middle ground," said Cameron Peacock, a strategist at IG Markets.

MSCI's world equity index <.miwd00000pus>, which is in its fifth week of gains, was up 0.3 percent at 342.29 points - a level which surpasses its peaks for this year and has not been seen since July 2011.

In Europe London's FTSE 100 <.ftse>, Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> and France's CAC-40 <.fhci> indexes all rose around 0.3 percent in early trading. <.l><.eu/>

Behind the rally is a view that, once the U.S. fiscal crisis is resolved, the massive monetary stimulus by the world's top central banks will lead to an expansion in economic growth for 2013, supporting equities at the expense of safe-haven bonds.

The Bank of Japan is widely expected to join in the growing activism of central banks to support growth by expanding its asset-buying program aggressively an the end of a two-day policy meeting on Thursday.

The prospect of extra stimulus sent Tokyo's Nikkei share average <.n225> up 2.4 percent on Wednesday and back through the 10,000 points for the first time since April.

The easier policy outlook also sent the yen to a 16-month low against the euro, while the dollar gained 0.2 percent on the Japanese currency to edge back towards its strongest level in 20-months of 84.48 yen hit on Monday.

The growing demand for riskier assets on the hopes for a U.S. budget deal also benefited the euro against the dollar and it touched a 7-1/2-month high of $1.3256.

"Unless U.S. fiscal cliff talks take an unexpected turn for the worse, we believe that EUR/USD will meet our 1.33 year-end target," analysts at BNP Paribas wrote in a note.

Commodities were in consolidation mode, however, as investors waited for a U.S. fiscal deal.

Oil held steady, with Brent crude rising about 10 cents to be just short of $109 a barrel at $108.80, and U.S. crude was little changed below $88 a barrel.

Copper was also flat at $8,017 a tonne. Copper has rallied almost 8 percent from mid-November and hit a two-month high a week ago, but has since lost some ground.

Gold rose 0.3 percent to around $1,675 an ounce, after falling to $1,661.01 on Tuesday, its lowest since August.

(Editing by Anna Willard)

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Jets bench Sanchez, will start McElroy vs Chargers

NEW YORK (AP) — Mark Sanchez is no longer the New York Jets' franchise quarterback.

He might not even be the backup.

Rex Ryan decided to bench Sanchez on Tuesday in favor of Greg McElroy after the fourth-year quarterback had another miserable performance in a 14-10 loss at Tennessee on Monday night that eliminated New York from playoff contention.

"I think it's best for our team, and for this game," Ryan said during a conference call.

So, it'll be McElroy under center for his first NFL start when the Jets (6-8) play the San Diego Chargers at home Sunday. Ryan hasn't decided whether Sanchez or Tim Tebow — listed as the No. 2 quarterback — will be the backup.

While Sanchez blew the second chance Ryan gave him a few weeks ago, Tebow was leapfrogged by a third-stringer, fueling speculation that the team has little confidence in him as a quarterback.

"I have to look at what I think is the best for the team and not necessarily the individual," Ryan said. "I'll say this about Tim and I've always said it: I know he wants to help this team be successful in the worst way and there's no doubt about that."

Sanchez threw four interceptions Monday night and wasn't able to handle a low snap with the game on the line, ending the Jets' hopes to get back into the postseason.

Things got worse after the game for Sanchez, who received a series of death threats from one disgruntled fan on Twitter. League spokesman Greg Aiello said the NFL's security staff was aware of the man's threats and was working with the Jets to assist on the matter. The team declined comment through a spokesman.

Ryan said after the loss that he wasn't ready to decide who would start against the Chargers, but told Sanchez he would be making a change at quarterback by going with either McElroy or Tebow.

"He respected my decision," Ryan said. "That's not easy, that's for sure."

After talking to his staff and members of the organization Tuesday, Ryan chose McElroy.

"This is my opinion, and I do believe that it's best for our team that Greg is our quarterback," Ryan insisted. "I'm the guy that's making this decision. Every decision I make is based on what I believe is the best decision for the team."

But Ryan was vague in his answers to why he selected McElroy above Tebow, choosing after being asked several times to not go into detail about what specifically factored into the decision.

"I can answer this question a million ways, frontward, backward, sideways, anything else," Ryan said. "It's my decision and I based it on a gut feeling or whatever."

McElroy, a seventh-round pick last year out of Alabama, helped lead the Jets to a 7-6 win over Arizona on Dec. 2 when Ryan pulled Sanchez from that game late in the third quarter. McElroy had modest numbers — 5 of 7 for 29 yards — but threw for the only touchdown of the game, and nearly led another scoring drive as the Jets ran out the clock.

Ryan decided to stick with Sanchez after that game, saying that the one-time face of the franchise gave the Jets their best chance at winning as they remained in the playoff hunt.

But Sanchez struggled in a 17-10 win over Jacksonville and again even more in the loss to Tennessee. McElroy, who gave the Jets a huge spark in his first NFL action, was inactive for both games. That hurt New York on Monday night when Ryan was unable to turn to McElroy since he was not in uniform for the game. Instead, Ryan went to Tebow for one series — which had been part of the game plan — but it was unproductive and Sanchez came back in for the next offensive possession.

Sanchez leads the league with 24 turnovers, including 17 interceptions, and has turned the ball over 50 times since the start of last season. His future with the team is uncertain because he signed a contract extension with New York in March that included $8.25 million in guaranteed money for next season.

Ryan would not commit to Sanchez beyond this season, and wouldn't discuss what the depth chart will look like.

"We have two games left and that's where my focus is going to be," he said. "What's past that will be determined later."

Sanchez was regularly booed during home games this season, falling out of favor with the fans who were excited when the Jets traded up to take him with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft.

"Has he had better days than (Monday night)? Absolutely," Ryan said.

There certainly were some good moments for the former Southern California star, particularly in helping lead New York to the AFC championship game in each of his first two seasons, but he failed to take the next step in his development.

While his frequent mistakes in reading defenses and miscalculating throws are a huge reason for his struggles, Sanchez also wasn't helped by a constantly changing cast around him. Several of the team's top offensive players — Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, Jerricho Cotchery, Brad Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson, Plaxico Burress, Alan Faneca and Damien Woody — have all been released, traded or allowed to become free agents since Sanchez's rookie season. He is also working with his second offensive coordinator in Tony Sparano after an up-and-down three seasons with Brian Schottenheimer.

Tebow, acquired from Denver in March, has had a minor role in the offense after being expected to play a major part. He is recovering from two broken ribs that sidelined him for three games, but returned Monday night and had little impact. It would seem unlikely that Tebow, who helped lead the Broncos to the playoffs last season, will be back next season.

When Tebow arrived in New York, he often said he was "excited to be a Jet," but there's little doubt that he no longer feels that way. He has done his best to hide his frustration throughout the season, especially when the wildcat-style offense was talked up by Ryan and Sparano as a highlight of the offense.

Tebow has instead just been a spare part on an offense that ranks 30th in the NFL. He is 6 of 8 passing for 39 yards, and has run 32 times for 102 yards — playing a more significant role as the personal punt protector on special teams.

"People can speculate anything they want," Ryan said. Obviously, as a football team, we're 6-8 and nobody's happy about that and ultimately, I'm the one accountable."


Online: and

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Astronaut Research Holds Promise for Aging Treatments on the Ground

Soft bones. A risk of fainting. Hardened arteries.

These conditions are risks for any space traveler, but they’re also problems facing many seniors living on Earth.

To accelerate scientists’  understanding of how the body ages, Canada’s leading space and health agencies are pooling money and researchers, and plan to showcase the results of the research internationally.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) will work with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to examine the medical issues associated with spaceflight and connect them to issues facing regular people on the ground. While researchers have investigated these topics for years, this new effort represents the first inter-agency formal step for Canada. The goal is to develop treatment for Earth-bound seniors.

First spearheaded by the CSA’s Nicole Buckley, chief scientist for life sciences, the partnership produced a national workshop in June. In the next couple of years, the Canadians plan to host an international working group to bring in research from NASA, the Japanese Space Agency and other government space stakeholders.

Despite the initiative’s youth, Buckley said the CIHR is excited about gaining more access to the station’s orbital laboratory, where health research is performed by space residents.

“There’s increasing interest in the whole process of aging — pretty soon, we’re all going to be there — and we have this great resource in space that can complement terrestrial research. Why have it in two separate [research] areas?” said Buckley.

New center in the works

Thanks to five decades of human spaceflight, there is already a wealth of information available on how humans react to the microgravity environment. Weightlessness produces negative changes in bones, blood vessels and other parts of body that no longer have to work against gravity.

Several CIHR-funded scientists already receive money from the Canadian Space Agency, with Richard Hughson of the University of Waterloo among the most experienced in that group.

Since the space station’s Expedition 15 mission in 2007, astronauts and cosmonauts on station willingly donned sensors and blood cuffs to perform the researcher’s experiments. Hughson’s latest investigation will take place on Expedition 34, which launches to space Wednesday (Dec. 19). [Expedition 34 in Photos]

“Richard is an example of a crossover scientist — a life scientist that does fabulous space research,” Buckley said of Hughson.

Hughson’s speciality is aging, and his university is pushing hard to gain world-class speciality expertise in that area. Next spring, the University of Waterloo will break ground on a long-term care facility that will host 192 seniors in its first phase.

The facility — the first of its type worldwide — will open its doors around 2014. Construction will cost $ 130 million Canadian (U.S. $ 132 million) over several phases. The first stage includes a privately funded $ 3 million (U.S. $ 3.05 million) research center next door.  

“It will allow us to test and monitor individuals more in their normal, natural daily setting,” Hughson said. While seniors come into his lab regularly for blood pressure and stand tests, by the time they arrive, they’ve already been up for several hours and their body has adjusted to walking.

“It’s not the same as trying to catch someone in their home environment,” he said.

Experiments in space

Expedition 34 astronauts Chris Hadfield(also a Canadian) and Tom Marshburnwill perform an experiment called Blood Pressure Regulation (BPReg), which is supposed to monitor the risk of fainting. The experiment will take place near the end of their five-month flight, when they are the most adapted to space.

The astronauts will put large blood pressure cuffs on the top parts of their legs, puff the cuffs up for three minutes, and then rapidly release the pressure. This will produce a large rush of blood to the legs, similar to what occurs when one stands up.

Hughson will compare the high-flying results to control experiments that Marshburn and Hadfield do before and after their flight. His aim is to make predictions about what will happen to their blood pressures and heart rates.

Additionally, Hughson just published several papers showing how long stays in space affect astronauts’ hearts, and the crucial vessels that send blood to the brain.

His work, called Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Control on Return from ISS, shows that strenuous exercisein space likely combats changes in the heart rate.

Stiff arteries

However, Hughson has intriguing findings about arteries in space, showing that they do harden in similar ways to what occurs with the elderly on Earth. The experiment is called Cardiovascular Health Consequences of Long-Duration Space Flight, or Vascular for short.

As the blood goes through the stiff vessels, it pushes through and creates large pulses of pressure that radiate into the brain artery. A similar process occurs on Earth when collagen builds up in aging people.

“We think — we’re still in the thinking stage — what’s happening is you damage the brain blood vessels to the extent that you have a reduction in total brain blood flow,” Hughson said.  

He’s now analyzing data from 100 seniors on Earth, collected in the past 2.5 years.

“Our CIHR part of the funding has been looking at a fairly large group of elderly [people] to examine arterial stiffness and blood flow, and now to examine cognitive and motor function to see whether there is a relationship,” Hughson said.  

To monitor for blood changes in astronauts on the station, the spaceflyers will take samples while still in orbit, then ship them back to Earth. The SpaceX unmanned Dragon flight in October included refrigerated blood for Hughson on its return trip to Earth, he said.

Hughson emphasized that his research is in the early stages, but added the potential for improving senior health is worth the time the astronauts spend on it in space.

“If we can learn something from the astronauts that we can apply back to the population on Earth … that’s really great,” he said.

Follow Elizabeth Howell @howellspace, or @Spacedotcom. We’re also on Facebook and Google+.

Copyright 2012, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Virginia Tech mom: Ignore gun lobby

Newtown funerals: A community says goodbye

Newtown funerals: A community says goodbye

Newtown funerals: A community says goodbye

Newtown funerals: A community says goodbye

Newtown funerals: A community says goodbye

Newtown funerals: A community says goodbye

Newtown funerals: A community says goodbye

Newtown funerals: A community says goodbye

Newtown funerals: A community says goodbye

Newtown funerals: A community says goodbye

Newtown funerals: A community says goodbye

Newtown funerals: A community says goodbye

Newtown funerals: A community says goodbye

Newtown funerals: A community says goodbye

Newtown funerals: A community says goodbye

Newtown funerals: A community says goodbye

Newtown funerals: A community says goodbye

Newtown funerals: A community says goodbye

Newtown funerals: A community says goodbye

























  • Lori Haas: The magnitude of the Newtown shooting shocked me

  • Haas: It reminds me of when my daughter was injured in the Virginia Tech shooting

  • She says our elected leaders have abandoned all sense of right and wrong

  • Haas: How many victims would be alive today if leaders took their responsibilities to heart?

Editor's note: Lori Haas lives in Richmond, Virginia. After her daughter Emily was shot and injured at the Virginia Tech massacre, she became involved in gun violence prevention efforts, working for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

(CNN) -- Sitting in front of the TV on Friday, I watched in horror as the death toll climbed with each news report coming in on the mass shooting in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. The magnitude of the shooting shocked me.

It also took me back to five years ago, when I received a phone call on a blustery April morning that changed my life forever. I was out shopping, and my cell phone had rung several times, but I had chosen to ignore the calls. Luckily, I answered the third call, which came in at 10:38 a.m. My daughter Emily, then a sophomore at Virginia Tech, was on the phone. She said, "Mommy, I've been shot."

Clutching the phone, my knees buckling, I tried to make sense of what I was hearing. Emily quickly handed the phone to the EMT who had triaged her and was waiting with her for an ambulance. The EMT assured me that Emily was going to be fine, that there were very seriously wounded students that needed to be transported immediately and she was waiting with Emily for the next ambulance. She also shared that the situation on campus was "very bad."

Lori Haas

Lori Haas

The world soon knew how bad it was. The incident at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, remains the worst mass shooting in U.S. history in terms of casualties. Thirty-two students and school staff were killed that morning by a dangerously mentally ill student with guns, including high-capacity magazines. The killer should have been prevented from purchasing firearms, but when he purchased his weapons, his mental health records were not in the FBI database against which background checks are run. He used 30-round magazines, which had been outlawed up until 2004, when Congress let the Assault Weapons Ban expire.

We were one of the lucky families -- our daughter survived, when so many others did not. Eleven of the 17 students in her classroom were killed, along with her professor. A classmate dialed 911 when they first heard the shooter, but dropped his cell phone when almost immediately, the killer burst into the classroom and began spraying bullets at everyone. Emily reached over and picked up the phone and kept the dispatcher on the phone during the entire ordeal by hiding the phone. Law enforcement repeatedly told me how brave Emily was to keep them on the line.

Law enforcement has also told me that the single most effective thing we can do to prevent gun violence would be to require all purchasers for all gun sales to undergo a background check. Then-Gov. Tim Kaine appointed a panel of experts to investigate all aspects of the massacre and report back their recommendations. Recommendation VI-2 stated, "Virginia should require background checks for all firearms sales." Sadly, that hasn't happened, and gun deaths now outpace motor vehicle deaths in my state.

America has witnessed mass shooting tragedies grow in frequency in the last five years to the point that, according to one report, there have been 16 mass shootings between February 22, 2012, and December 14, 2012, leaving over 80 dead and many injured. I can't help but ache with sorrow, anguish and concern for all those families suffering the sheer agony that I saw the families of the 32 killed at Virginia Tech suffer.

And I can't help but be angered at the cowardly behavior from our elected leaders. They have abandoned all sense of right and wrong, despite epidemic deaths from guns, and ignored their duty not only to keep our communities safe from gun violence, but to keep our children safe as well.

When I think of those killed -- over 60,000 Americans have been murdered with guns since the shooting at Virginia Tech -- I have to wonder how many might be alive today if our elected leaders had taken to heart their responsibilities.

Why is it that our elected leaders have not only ignored the pleas of survivors and family members of victims of gun violence, but those of our public safety officials -- police and law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line day in and day out -- only to listen to the gun lobby when determining public safety policy? What sense can that make when the gun lobby's sole purpose is to sell as many firearms as possible to make as much money as possible?

We have come to a time when many say the unimaginable has happened again -- the mass shooting in the Newtown school where 26 people were killed, including 20 children. It is sheer senselessness. My heart goes out with the utmost compassion to the families suffering so terribly from Friday's massacre.

For those whose loved ones have been killed, there is no real closure; there are permanent holes in their hearts. Time may lend a helping hand to healing, but their lives have been changed irrevocably. As my friend Lynnette, whose son was murdered in the Virginia Tech shooting, laments, "There is no ending to the heartache." I am brought to tears thinking of all we have seen, all we have not done and all we have let die.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Lori Haas.

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Document shows CPS had detailed school closing plans

An internal Chicago Public Schools document obtained by the Tribune shows for the first time that the Emanuel administration has weighed how many elementary and high schools to close in which neighborhoods and how to manage the public fallout.

Labeled a "working draft," the Sept. 10 document lays out the costs and benefits of specific scenarios — revealing that the administration has gone further down the path of determining what schools to target than it has disclosed.

While schools are not listed by name, one section of the document contains a breakdown for closing or consolidating 95 schools, most on the West and South sides, as well as targeting other schools to be phased out gradually or to share their facilities with privately run charter schools.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his top school leaders have said they are in the early stages of making difficult decisions and that the city cannot afford to keep operating deteriorating schools with dwindling student populations in the face of a billion-dollar budget deficit. The document goes well beyond what the administration has outlined to the public.

Amid a September teachers strike, the Tribune reported that the Emanuel administration was considering plans to close 80 to 120 schools, most in poor minority neighborhoods. Administration officials have repeatedly denied they have such a figure.

"Unless my staff has a hidden drawer somewhere where they've got numbers in there, we don't have a number," schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in November.

But the internal document, prepared at a time when school leaders faced a December deadline to make their decisions public, lays out multiple scenarios for closing neighborhood schools and adding privately run charters — a key component of Emanuel's plans for improving public education. Chicago Teachers Union members, aldermen and other charter school critics have accused the administration of favoring the charters while depriving schools in poor neighborhoods of needed improvements.

The document discusses how to deal with public reaction to school closing decisions, with ideas ranging from establishing "a meaningful engagement process with community members" to building a "monitoring mechanism to ensure nimble response to opposition to proposed school actions."

It is unclear how closely the administration is following the ideas in the 3-month-old document; sources told the Tribune the school closing plans are being constantly updated and subsequent proposals have been kept under close wraps.

The detailed document obtained by the Tribune comes from a time when a Chicago teachers strike interrupted the beginning of the school year and Jean-Claude Brizard was still Emanuel's schools chief; the embattled Brizard quit soon after. Byrd-Bennett was a top education official at CPS under Brizard and was named by Emanuel to succeed him.

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said Tuesday that "this plan was proposed by past leadership at CPS and is not supported by CEO Byrd-Bennett."

"In terms of whatever document you have, I don't care when it's dated, as of today there's no list and there's no plan," Carroll said. "Maybe there were multiple, different scenarios passed around at some point, I don't know, but there's no list of schools.

"When CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett took this position, she made it very clear that we were going to do this differently than how it's been done in the past," which is why she appointed a commission to take public input on school closings, Carroll said.

But under Byrd-Bennett's tenure, at least one of the proposals outlined in the secret document has come to pass — the idea of a five-year moratorium on further school closings after this school year.

First mention: The September document raises the idea of a moratorium that would extend beyond Emanuel's first term in office as part of the rollout of school closings. But the mayor's first public mention of a moratorium came in November, when he offered it as a sweetener that helped persuade state lawmakers to extend the December deadline for announcing school closings to March.

Critics called the delay a ploy to give opponents less time to organize against the closings. But Emanuel said school officials needed the time to gather community input on the "tough choices" about school closings.

Byrd-Bennett said her decisions on what schools to close won't come until after she receives recommendations from the commission she created. The Tribune reported last week that the commission chairman doesn't plan on issuing recommendations until days before the March 31 deadline for announcing school closings — and even then, there are no plans for the commission to identify individual schools.

While CPS has not released a list of schools to close, it has made publicly available a breakdown of how much a building is used, performance levels per school and how expensive the facility is to keep open. School officials have said underenrollment is a key factor in school closing decisions this year. The school system recently released a list of about 300 "underutilized" schools — nearly half the district — that have dwindling student populations.

But the document obtained by the Tribune contains clues as to how the administration could make those decisions.

Closing breakdown: The most stark page in the document is a graphic that breaks down the 95 schools that could be closed in each of CPS' 19 elementary and high school networks.

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Insight: Once a symbol of new Afghanistan, can policewomen survive?

KABUL (Reuters) - Shortly after Friba joined the Afghan National Police, she gave herself the nickname "dragon" and vowed to bring law and order to her tormented homeland.

Five years later, she is tired of rebuffing the sexual advances of male colleagues, worries the budget for the female force will shrink and fears the government will abandon them.

Women in the police force were held up as a showcase for Afghan-Western efforts to promote rights in the new Afghanistan, born from the optimism that swept the country after the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.

Images of gun-wielding Afghan policewomen have been broadcast across the globe, even inspiring a television program popular with young Afghan women.

But going from the burqa to the olive green uniform has not been easy.

In Reuters interviews with 12 policewomen in districts across the Afghan capital, complaints of sexual harassment, discrimination and bitter frustration were prevalent.

President Hamid Karzai's goal is for 5,000 women to join the Afghan National Police (ANP) by the end of 2014, when most foreign troops will leave the country.

But government neglect, poor recruitment and a lack of interest on the part of authorities and the male-dominated society mean there are only 1,850 female police officers on the beat, or about 1.25 percent of the entire force.

And it looks to get worse.

Friba, who asked that her second name not be used, says it all when she runs a manicured finger across her throat: "Once foreigners leave we won't even be able to go to the market. We'll be back in burqas. The Taliban are coming back and we all know it."

Conditions for women in Afghanistan have improved significantly since the Taliban were ousted. Women have won back basic rights in voting, education and work since Taliban rule, when they were not allowed out of their homes without a male escort and could be publicly stoned to death for adultery.

But problems persist in the deeply conservative Muslim society scarred by decades of conflict. The United Nations said this month that despite progress, there was a dramatic under reporting of cases of violence against women.

Some female lawmakers and rights groups blame Karzai's government for a waning interest in women's rights as it seeks peace talks with the Taliban, accusations his administration deny.

"We have largely failed in our campaign to create a female police force," said a senior Afghan security official who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject.

"Mullahs are against it, and the women are seen as not up to the job," he added, referring to Muslim preachers.

Almost a third of the members of the female force work in Kabul, performing duties such as conducting security checks on women at the airport and checking biometric data.


Friba sat in a city police station room decorated with posters of policemen clutching weapons to talk to Reuters.

"I am the dragon and I can defend myself, but most of the girls are constantly harassed," she said.

"Just yesterday my colleague put his hands on one of the girl's breasts. She was embarrassed and giggled while he squeezed them. Then she turned to us and burst into tears."

On the other side of Kabul, detective Lailoma, who also asked that her family name not be used, said several policewomen under her command had been raped by their male colleagues.

Dyed russet hair poking out from her black hijab, part of the female ANP uniform, Lailoma wrung her hands as she complained about male colleagues: "They want it to be like the time of the Taliban. They tell us every day we are bad women and should not be allowed to work here."

Male colleagues also taunt the women, she added, often preventing them from entering the kitchen, meaning they miss out on lunch.

On several occasions, male colleagues interrupted Reuters interviews in what the policewomen said were attempts to intimidate them into silence.

One male officer entered the room without knocking three times to retrieve pencils; another spent 20 minutes dusting off his hat, only to put it back on a shelf. The women switched subjects when the men came in.

Rana, a 31-year-old, heavy-set policewoman with curly hair, said policewomen were expected to perform sexual favors: "We're expected to do them to just stay in the force."

The raping of policewomen by their male counterparts "definitely takes place", said Colonel Sayed Omar Saboor, deputy director for gender and human rights at the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police.

"These men are largely illiterate and see the women as immoral."

Insecurity, opposition to women working out of the home and sexism deter many women from signing up, said Saboor.

But impoverished widows sometimes have no choice. A starting salary is about 10,500 afghanis a month ($210).


The Interior Ministry and foreign organizations responsible for training the women police - NATO, the European Union and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) - say recruitment poses the main challenge to the force.

"It is just difficult. There is no real history of women in the police force, there is no precedent, even having an open space for women in employment is a challenge," UNDP Associate Administrator Rebeca Grynspan told Reuters.

A recruitment campaign of television adverts and posters has not produced the desired effect in a country where there are huge social and religious divides between the rural and urban populations. Even fewer join the national army, where some 350 women serve amongst 190,000.

"Much of the male leadership don't want to have anything to do with women in the ANP. Commanders want them out of their units," Saboor said, adding that having 2,500 female police officers could be realistic by end-2014.

Of those who join, few have prospects for promotion. They often find themselves in police stations without proper facilities for women, such as toilets or changing rooms which are vital for the many who hide the fact that they work from their families.

The sprawling Interior Ministry has only recently started work on installing toilets for women. "Ten years of this war have passed, and we're only now building them a toilet," Saboor said with a wry laugh.

For First Lieutenant Naderah Keshmiri, whose humble yet stern approach helps her pursue cases of violence against women, life as a policewoman means being undervalued.

"My male subordinates quickly became generals. But not me. Where's my promotion?" she asked in a UNDP-backed Family Response Unit, which she heads.

The UNDP has set up 33 of the units countrywide, which help increase female visibility in the ANP, with plans to more than double them by 2015.

A Western female police trainer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said policewomen are almost always passed over for promotion by their male commanders.

U.S. lawmakers are hoping to amend a defense bill by year-end to protect the rights of Afghan women during the security transition. They want to reduce physical and cultural barriers to women joining the security forces.

Ethnicity also plays a role: 55 percent of women in the ANP are ethnic Tajik, Afghanistan's second-largest ethnic group. Recruiting from the largest and most conservative ethnic group, the Pashtuns, is difficult.

The Taliban draw most of their support from the Pashtuns, who dominate the south of the country. Pashtun women make up only 15 percent of the force.

Hazaras, a largely Shi'ite minority who suffered enormous losses at the hands of the Taliban, are overrepresented amongst the women, making up 24 percent, according to figures from NATO's training mission in Afghanistan.

But many of the policewomen are wondering whether their force can survive.

Lowering her voice, Friba whispered: "As soon as the foreigners leave, they'll reduce our salaries. This will not happen to the men. Or perhaps they'll kick us out entirely."

(Editing by Michael Georgy and Robert Birsel)

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