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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Chavez working amid chemotherapy: VP






CARACAS: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is still in charge and mulling political, social and economic policies even as he receives a new round of chemotherapy, his vice president said Saturday.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro said that the socialist leader, who is convalescing in seclusion at a Caracas military hospital, sent "guidance" to his Cabinet as recently as Friday.

"He is staying informed and in charge as chief who was ratified by our people various times," Maduro said during an event broadcast on state-run television. "Comandante Chavez is the supreme leader of the Bolivarian revolution."

The opposition says the government is lying about Chavez's condition and has voiced doubts that the 58-year-old president held a five-hour meeting with his Cabinet on February 22 as the government claims.

But Maduro repeated that the meeting took place and that the president sent more instructions the next day with Science Minister Jorge Arreaza, his son-in-law, before giving more guidance on Friday.

The leftist leader's chosen successor showed a dossier containing "political, social and economic actions" that Chavez has requested "to continue strengthening the economy to face the economic war of the parasitic bourgeoisie."

The "central document" will be sent to Chavez, he said, adding that the government was "respecting his treatment, we are not acting in an invasive way in his treatment."

Chavez, who was first diagnosed with cancer in June 2011, underwent a fourth round of surgery in Cuba in December.

Maduro disclosed for the first time late Friday that Chavez began a new cycle of chemotherapy in January and decided to return to Caracas last month to continue a "more intense" phase of treatment.

- AFP/ir



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LAX ghost town a home to memories and rare butterflies









The remains of what was once one of Los Angeles' most coveted neighborhoods can be seen behind a fence topped with barbed wire.


Weeds sprout through cracks along streets lined with majestic palms. Retaining walls and foundations of custom homes peek through the brush. Rusty utility lines that have wiggled their way above ground bake in the sun like scattered bones.


Two throttled-up passenger jets simultaneously take off from LAX and soar overhead, the thundering cacophony a reminder of why the community of Surfridge was forced to disappear.





Developed in the 1920s and 1930s, Surfridge was an isolated playground of the wealthy, among the last communities built on miles of sand dunes that once dominated the coast. Hollywood elites built homes here that commanded views from Palos Verdes to Malibu.


The small airfield to the east that opened in 1928 was a good place to see an air show. It would take nearly two decades for it to become the city's primary airport.


Today, Surfridge is a Los Angeles curiosity — a modern ghost town inhabited by a rare butterfly.


The El Segundo blue butterfly was near extinction when the last of Surfridge's 800 homes were removed in the early 1970s, the victim of an expanding Los Angeles International Airport.


In the decades since, the federally protected endangered species has made a comeback due to the establishment of a 200-acre butterfly preserve managed by the city. Nonnative plants were removed and native buckwheat — where the butterflies feed and lay their eggs — was reintroduced.


Now, more than 125,000 butterflies take flight each summer, unfazed by the constant thunder of jets overhead.


LAX may have wiped Surfridge off the map, but the airport has turned out to be a perfect neighbor for a growing community of butterflies.


"It's a remarkable recovery," said Richard Arnold, an entomologist who has worked as a consultant at the preserve. "But you've got to realize that insects have a remarkable reproductive capacity if their natural food source is there."


Soon there will be more. The California Coastal Commission recently approved a $3-million plan to restore portions of 48 acres at the northern end of the old subdivision. The project is part of a settlement of a lawsuit between LAX and surrounding cities over the airport's expansion plans.


Some streets, curbs, sidewalks, home foundations and utilities visible to neighboring homeowners will be removed. Six acres will be reseeded with native plants — sagebrush and goldenbush, primrose, poppies and salt grass among them — that will return this sliver of dunes back to where it was a century ago.


"They wanted us to fix what they consider to be an eyesore," airport spokeswoman Nancy Suey Castles said.


The story of Surfridge is a parable for a century's worth of urban growth destruction.


"It was paradise when I was a kid," said Duke Dukesherer, a business executive and amateur historian who has written about the area. "Everybody who sees it now asks the same question: What the hell happened here?"


A development company held a contest in 1925 to name its newest neighborhood, awarding $1,000 to a Los Angeles man who submitted "Surfridge."


"The outstanding name was (chosen) due to its brevity, euphony, ease of pronunciation…" The Times reported. "But above all because it most satisfactorily tells the story of this new wonder city."


Prospective buyers picked up brochures in downtown Los Angeles and drove to the coast, where salesmen worked out of tents. Lots went for $50 down and $20 a month for three years.


Home exteriors were required to be brick, stone or stucco — no frame structures allowed. And no one "not entirely that of the Caucasian race," according to the development's deed restrictions "except such as are in the employ of the resident owners."





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We Didn’t Domesticate Dogs. They Domesticated Us.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Read More..

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.




































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


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








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Chilling documentary accuses Sri Lanka of war crimes






GENEVA: The Sri Lankan military committed numerous war crimes during the final months of the country's 26-year civil war, according to a documentary aired for the first time on Friday, amid vigorous protests from Colombo.

Using graphic video and pictures taken both by retreating Tamil Tiger rebels, civilians and victorious Sri Lankan troops, "No Fire Zone -- The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka" presents a chilling picture of the final 138 days of the conflict that ended in May 2009.

Filmmaker Callum Macrae insisted before the screening that the film at the UN headquarters in Geneva that it should be seen as "evidence" of the "war crimes and crimes against humanity" committed by government troops.

"The real truth is coming out," he said.

Sri Lanka's ambassador in Geneva, Ravinatha Aryasinha, strongly protested the screening of the film on the sidelines of the ongoing UN Human Rights Council.

He described it as "part of a cynical, concerted and orchestrated campaign" to influence the debate in the council about his country.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, which hosted the screening, are calling for the council to order an international probe.

They charge that Sri Lanka's domestic Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) has glossed over the military's role.

The film for instance alleges that a "no fire zone" set up by the government in January, 2009, basically functioned as a trap for the hundreds of thousands of civilians who flooded into it in the hope of finding safety.

The area was heavily shelled, and in the film maimed and bloodied bodies, of men, women and children, lay strewn.

The UN has estimated that some 40,000 people were killed in the final months of the war, most of them due to indiscriminate shelling by the Sri Lankan military.

Peter Mackay, a UN worker who was trapped inside the zone for two weeks, questioned in the film why the government would set up the "no fire zone" within range of all of their artillery.

"Either you don't care if you kill the people in that safe zone or you are actively targeting them," he said, adding that he believed the latter was true.

He and others describe how aid-centres and make-shift hospitals were shelled soon after UN or Red Cross workers informed the government of their coordinates, which is ironically standard practice to ensure that such places are spared in bombing campaigns.

The footage provided by the retreating Tamil Tigers and civilians is devastating, showing parents wailing over their dying and dead children, but the images provided by the government forces are perhaps even more shocking.

Video of a Tamil Tigers commander first being interrogated, and then a picture of his mutilated body in the dirt; naked and bound prisoners coldly executed; dead, naked women, who have clearly been sexually abused filmed amid degrading comments by onlooking soldiers.

And then there is footage of the 12-year-old son of Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, Balachandran, whose body is seen with five bullet holes in his chest.

He was not caught in cross-fire: a separate video shot two hours earlier, shows him sitting in military custody in a bunker eating a biscuit.

The Sri Lankan government has cast doubt on the authenticity of the footage, with Aryasinha insisting on Friday it was of "dubious origin".

Macrae however insisted that all the footage had been carefully checked and analysed to ensure none of it had been tampered with.

"All of it is, I'm afraid, genuine," he said.

- AFP/fa



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Population growth is threat to other species, poll respondents say









Nearly two-thirds of American voters believe that human population growth is driving other animal species to extinction and that if the situation gets worse, society has a "moral responsibility to address the problem," according to new national public opinion poll.


A slightly lower percentage of those polled — 59% — believes that population growth is an important environmental issue and 54% believe that stabilizing the population will help protect the environment.


The survey was conducted on behalf of the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, which unlike other environmental groups has targeted population growth as part of its campaign to save wildlife species from extinction.





Special report: Beyond 7 billion -- bending the population curve


The center has handed out more than half a million condoms at music concerts, farmers markets, churches and college campuses with labels featuring drawings of endangered species and playful, even humorous, messages such as, "Wrap with care, save the polar bear."


The organization hired a polling firm to show other environmental groups that their fears about alienating the public by bringing up population matters are overblown, said Kieran Suckling, the center's executive director. When the center broke the near-silence on population growth with its condom campaign, other environmental leaders "reacted with a mix of worry and horror that we were going to experience a huge backlash and drag them into it," he said.


Instead, Suckling said the campaign has swelled its membership — now about 500,000 — and donations and energized 5,000 volunteers who pass out prophylactics. He said a common response is, "Thank God, someone is talking about this critical issue."


The poll results, he said, show such views are mainstream.


In the survey, the pollsters explained that the world population hit 7 billion last year and is projected to reach 10 billion by the end of the century. Given those facts, 50% of people reached by telephone said they think the world population is growing too fast, while 38% said population growth was on the right pace and 4% thought it was growing too slowly. About 8% were not sure.


Special report: Beyond 7 billion -- bending the population curve


Sixty-one percent of respondents expressed concerned about disappearing wildlife. Depending how the question was phrased, 57% to 64% of respondents said population growth was having an adverse effect. If widespread wildlife extinctions were unavoidable without slowing human population growth, 60% agreed that society has a moral responsibility to address the problem.


Respondents didn't make as clear a connection between population and climate change, reflecting the decades-old debate over population growth versus consumption. Although 57% of respondents agreed that population growth is making climate change worse, only 46% said they think having more people will make it harder to solve, and 34% said the number of people will make no difference.


Asked about natural resources, 48% said they think the average American consumes too much. The view split sharply along party lines, with 62% of Democrats saying the average American consumes too much, compared with 29% of Republicans. Independents fell in the middle at 49%.


The survey of 657 registered voters was conducted Feb. 22-24 by Public Policy Polling, a Raleigh, N.C., firm that takes the pulse of voters for Democratic candidates and Democratic-leaning clients. It has a margin of error of 3.9%.


ken.weiss@latimes.com





Read More..

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..

Mystery ring of radiation briefly encircled Earth









































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












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












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











Mystery acceleration













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












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












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












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












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











Spacecraft malfunctions













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











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













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












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












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


















































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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Needy families on public assistance scheme to get higher payouts






SINGAPORE: From April, Public Assistance (PA) recipients can look forward to a higher level of assistance that is flexible and customised to their needs.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will enhance the PA scheme by providing additional assistance, other than a higher direct cash handout.

The change will mainly benefit those with special or once-off needs.

For example, additional assistance will be given to those who need healthcare and hygiene products such as adult diapers and nutritional milk supplements, or those who need once-off purchase or replacement of equipment such as a commode.

The ministry expects about one-third of existing PA households to benefit from the additional forms of assistance.

There are currently over 3,000 households on public assistance.

The cash assistance for all PA households will also be increased. The increase will range from S$50 per month for a one-person PA household to S$130 per month for a four-person PA household.

PA families with dependent children will continue to receive additional cash assistance of S$150 per child.

The ministry also added that the revision is part of the regular review of basic cash assistance rates to ensure that they are adequate to meet the needs of PA households.

- CNA/ck



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