Baffling Star Birth Mystery Finally Solved

Astronomers have finally solved a longstanding cosmic mystery — why a super-dense gas cloud near our Milky Way galaxy‘s core isn’t churning out many new stars.

The gas cloud, known as G0.253+0.016, is simply swirling too fast, researchers said. And it lacks the requisite pockets of even denser material, which eventually collapse under their own gravity to form stars.

The results suggest that star formation is more complex than astronomers had thought and may help them better understand the process, researchers said.

An oddly barren cloud

G0.253+0.016, which is about 30 light-years long, defies the conventional wisdom that dense gas glouds should produce lots of stars. [8 Baffling Astronomy Mysteries]

The cloud is 25 times more dense than the famous Orion Nebula, which is birthing stars at a furious rate. But only a few stars are being born in G0.253+0.016, and they’re pretty much all runts.

“It’s a very dense cloud and it doesn’t form any massive stars, which is very weird,” study lead author Jens Kauffmann, of Caltech in Pasadena, said in a statement.

Kauffmann and his colleagues determined to find out why. Using the Submillimeter Array, a set of eight radiotelescopes atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii, they found that G0.253+0.016 possesses very few ultra-dense nuggets that could collapse to form stars.

“That was very surprising,” said co-author Thushara Pillai, also of Caltech. “We expected to see a lot more dense gas.”

Spinning out of control

The researchers then probed the cloud with another network of telescopes, the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy in California.

CARMA data showed that gas within G0.253+0.016 is zipping around 10 times faster than gas in similar clouds. G0.253+0.016 is on the verge of flying apart, with its gas churning too violently to coalesce into stars.

Further, the team found that the cloud is full of silicon monoxide, a compound typically produced when fast-moving gas smashes into dust particles. The abnormally large amounts of silicon monoxide suggest that G0.253+0.016 may actually consist of two colliding clouds, whose impact is generating powerful shockwaves.

“To see such shocks on such large scales is very surprising,” Pillai said.

G0.253+0.016 may eventually be able to churn out stars. But its position near the center of the Milky Way could make it tough for the cloud to settle down, as it may smash into other clouds or be ripped apart by the immense gravitational pull near the galaxy’s central black hole, researchers said.

The study has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. The team also presented the results last week at the 221st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, Calif.

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Is China easing up on local media?

A protester calls for greater media freedom outside the headquarters of Nanfang Media Group in Guangzhou on Jan. 9.


  • Young: Handling of Southern Weekly row demonstrated tolerant side of new leadership

  • Traditional, newer media can serve as tools for achieving goals in China's modernization

  • The fight against corruption in China is at the top of the list for incoming leader, Xi Jinping

  • Young: Media has also emerged as an important tool for combating other social problems

Editor's note: Doug Young teaches financial journalism at Fudan University in Shanghai and is the author of The Party Line: How the Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China published by John Wiley & Sons. He also writes daily on his blog, Young's China Business Blog, commenting on the latest developments in China's fast-moving corporate scene.

Shanghai, China (CNN) -- China's traditional iron-handed approach to the media has taken a surprise turn of tolerance with Beijing's soft handling of a recent dispute with local reporters, in what could well become a more open attitude toward the media under the incoming administration of presumed new President Xi Jinping.

The new openness is being driven in large part by pragmatism, as the government realizes that both traditional and newer media can serve as powerful tools for achieving many of its goals in the country's modernization.

The recent conflict between reporters at the progressive Southern Weekly and local propaganda officials over a censorship incident left many guessing how the government would respond to the first clash of its kind in China for more than 20 years. The result was a surprisingly mild approach, including mediation by a high-level government official and a vague promise for less censorship in the future.

Read: Censorship protest a test for China

The unusually tolerant tack could well reflect a new attitude by Xi and other incoming leaders set to take control of China for the next decade, all of whom have come to realize the media can serve many important functions beyond its traditional role as a propaganda machine.

At the top of Xi's list is the fight against corruption, a problem he has mentioned frequently since taking the helm of the Communist Party last year. The party has tried to tackle the problem for years using its own internal investigations, but progress was slow until recently due to protection many officials received through their own sprawling networks of internal relationships, known locally as guanxi.

Read: Corruption as China's top priority

All that began to change in the last two years with the rapid rise of social media, most notably the Twitter-like microblogs known as Weibo that are now a pervasive part of the Chinese Internet landscape and count hundreds of millions of ordinary Chinese among their users. Those social media have become an important weapon for exposing corruption, allowing thousands of ordinary citizens to pool their resources and build cases against officials they suspect of using their influence for personal gain.

This increasingly sophisticated machine was on prominent display last year in a case involving Yang Dacai, a local official in northwestern Shaanxi province who infuriated the online community by smiling at the site of a horrific accident scene. Netizens quickly turned their outrage into an online investigation, and uncovered photos of him wearing several luxury watches he could hardly afford on his government salary. As a result, the government ultimately opened an investigation into the matter and Yang was sacked from his posts.

In addition to its role in battling corruption, the media has also emerged as an important tool for combating and addressing many of the other social problems that China is facing in its rapid modernization. Barely a week goes by without a report on the latest national food safety scandal or case of illegal pollution in both traditional and social media, with such reports often followed by government investigations.

Beijing leaders have also discovered that the media can also be an important vehicle for improving communication between the government and general public -- something that was a low priority in previous eras when officials only cared about pleasing their higher-up party bosses.

Following a Beijing directive in late 2011, most local government agencies and other organizations have all established microblog accounts, which they use to keep the public informed about their latest activities and seek feedback on upcoming plans. Such input has become a valuable way to temper traditional public mistrust toward the government, which historically didn't make much effort to include the public in any of its internal discussions.

Lastly, the government has also discovered that media, especially social media, can be an effective tool in gauging public opinion on everything from broader national topics like inflation down to very local issues like land redevelopment. Such feedback was difficult to get in the past due to interference by local officials, who tried to filter out or downplay anything with negative overtones and play things up to their own advantage. As a result, central government officials often received incomplete pictures of what was happening in their own country.

With all of these valuable roles to play, the media has become an increasingly important part of Beijing's strategy in executing many of its top priorities.

The government also realizes that a certain degree of openness is critical to letting the media perform many of those roles, which may explain its relatively tolerant approach in the recent Southern Weekly conflict. Such tolerance is likely to continue under Xi's administration, helping to shift more power towards a field of increasingly emboldened reporters at both traditional and new media and away from their traditional propaganda masters.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Doug Young.

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Golden Globes: Fey, Poehler shine; 'Les Miz,' 'Argo' win big

Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips on the 2013 Golden Globes. (Posted Jan. 14th, 2013)

Hosting the 70th Golden Globes Sunday in Beverly Hills, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler proved it was possible to skewer their Hollywood colleagues without entirely alienating the crowd, as distinct from previous host Ricky Gervais.

Some 20 years after Fey and Poehler first met as improvisers at the Chicago comedy hub i.O. Theater, the pair were relaxed, funny and fully in control as they took in a room filled with the biggest stars of films “that have only been in theaters for two days,” and “the rat-faced people of television.”

Aside from their opening monologue, however, Fey and Poehler popped up only intermittently throughout the NBC broadcast.

The show — which included a rambling and unwieldy speech by lifetime achievement award winner Jodie Foster and a surpise win for “Argo” as best picture and Ben Affleck as best director — could have used their spikey interjections to give a discombobulated night a stronger throughline.

But the co-hosts' bits right at the top were pure gold. Referring to the controversy surrounding the depiction of torture in “Zero Dark Thirty,” Poehler teed up a joke that probably came closest to Gervais-level comedic bite, noting of director Kathryn Bigelow: “I haven't been following the controversy … but when it comes to torture, I trust the lady who spent three years married to James Cameron,” a line that prompted a shocked laugh from “Zero Dark” star (and best actress winner) Jessica Chastain.

Fey aimed her own zinger toward “Django Unchained” filmmaker Quentin Tarantino (a winner for best screenplay), whom she called “the star of all my sexual nightmares,” and then looked over at “Les Miserables” co-star Anne Hathaway (best actress in a film comedy or musical) and remarked, “I have not seen someone totally alone and abandoned (as Hathaway's ‘Miserables' character, Fantine) since you were onstage with James Franco hosting the Oscars.” Poehler noted a significant absence in the audience Sunday: “Meryl Streep is not here tonight because she has the flu — and I hear she's amazing in it.”

On the red carpet earlier in the night, Fey and Poehler stressed that their own nominations were the least of their concerns, and when their names were announced as nominess, Fey jokingly gritted her teeth with Jennifer Lopez by her side, while Poehler snuggled up to George Clooney. Neither won. The honor went to “Girls” creator and star Lena Dunham, who thanked her fellow nominees “for getting me through middle school.” (“Girls” also won for best comedy television series.) As a follow-up, Fey and Poehler appeared on stage, drinks in hand, disconsolate. “Glad we got you through middle school, Lena,” said Fey, who then directed her attention towards singer Taylor Swift: “You stay away from Michael J. Fox's son,” she instructed. “Or go for it,” added Poehler.

In TV, the big winner was “Homeland,” which was named best drama. The Showtime drama also notched acting wins for stars Damian Lewis and Claire Danes, echoing their Emmy wins. That came as no surprise — unlike Don Cheadle's win (over the likes of Alec Baldwin, Jim Parsons and Louis C.K.) for his role in “House of Lies,” also on Showtime.

In the movie categories, Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”) toppled Streep, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench in winning best actress in a comedy or musical, accepting her award with a sly wink at noted awards-season campaigner and movie mogul Harvey Weinstein: “Harvey, thank you for killing whoever you had to kill to get me up here today.” Best supporting actor honors went to Christoph Waltz as the German bounty hunter in “Django Unchained.”

Former President Bill Clinton made an unexpected appearance to introduce the clips from “Lincoln,” a film that depicts a commander in chief pushing a bill through Congress with the help of some unsavory deal-making. “I wouldn't know anything about that,” joked Clinton. Poehler then followed him onstage and exclaimed, “Oh my God, that's Hillary Clinton's husband!” Daniel Day-Lewis won best actor for his performance in “Lincoln,” as well.

Some lighter moments shone: Hilariously, presenters Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell pretended to have seen each of the movies nominated, when clearly they hadn't, a bit that amused most in the audience — with the exception of a stone-faced Tommy Lee Jones. Upon her win, Hathaway clutched her Golden Globe and said, “Thank you for this lovely, blunt object” that she would forevermore use “as a weapon against self-doubt.” (Previous Golden Globe winner Richard Dreyfuss later Tweeted: “Lovely blunt objects make only OK weapons against self-doubt. #goldenglobes #trustme.”)

Michael Haneke, the Austrian filmmaker whose “Amour” won for Best Foreign Film, was awarded the prize by Arnold Schwarzenegger. “I never thought I would get an award in Hollywood from an Austrian,” he said.

Smith (not in attendance) won for best supporting actress in a TV series as the droll dowager countess on the PBS hit “Downton Abbey.”

The best surprise reaction early on had to be from pop star Adele. Winning best original song for the theme to the James Bond film “Skyfall,” she admitted she'd come to the awards with a fellow new mom, both eager for a night out: “We've been (wetting) ourselves laughing,” she said. Wrapping up the night, Poehler announced: “We're going home with Jodie Foster.”

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Mali Islamists counter attack, promise France long war

BAMAKO/PARIS (Reuters) - Al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels launched a counteroffensive in Mali on Monday after four days of French air strikes on their northern strongholds, seizing the central town of Diabaly and promising to drag France into a brutal Afghanistan-style war.

France, which has poured hundreds of troops into the capital Bamako in recent days, carried out more air strikes on Monday in the vast desert area seized last year by an Islamist alliance grouping al Qaeda's north African wing AQIM alongside Mali's home-grown MUJWA and Ansar Dine militant groups.

"France has opened the gates of hell for all the French," said Oumar Ould Hamaha, a spokesman for MUJWA, which has imposed strict sharia, Islamic law, in its northern fiefdom of Gao. "She has fallen into a trap which is much more dangerous than Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia," he told Europe 1 radio.

Paris is determined to shatter Islamist domination of the north of its former colony, an area many fear could become a launchpad for terrorism attacks on the West and a base for coordination with al Qaeda in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa.

The French defense ministry said it aimed to deploy 2,500 soldiers in the West African state to bolster the Malian army and work with a force of 3,300 West African troops from the immediate region foreseen in a U.N.-backed intervention plan.

The United States, which has operated a counter-terrorism training program in the region, said it was sharing information with French forces and considering providing logistics, surveillance and airlift capability.

"We have a responsibility to go after al Qaeda wherever they are," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters heading with him on a week-long tour of European capitals.

As French aircraft bombarded mobile columns of Islamist fighters, other fighters launched a counter-attack to the southwest of recent clashes, dislodging government forces from the town of Diabaly, just 350 km (220 miles) northeast of Bamako. French and Malian troops attempting to retake the town were battling Islamists shouting 'Allahu akbar', residents said.

The rebels infiltrated the town overnight from the porous border region with Mauritania, home to AQIM camps housing well-equipped and trained foreign fighters. A spokesman for Ansar Dine said its fighters took Diabaly, working with AQIM members.

Dozens of Islamist fighters died on Sunday when French rockets hit a fuel depot and a customs house being used as a headquarters. The U.N. said an estimated 30,000 people had fled the fighting, joining more than 200,000 already displaced.

France, which has repeatedly said it has abandoned its role as the policeman of its former African colonies, convened a U.N. Security Council meeting for Monday to discuss the Mali crisis.

The European Union announced it would hold an extraordinary meeting of its foreign ministers in Brussels this week to discuss speeding up a EU training mission to help the Malian army and other direct support for the Bamako government.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France would do everything to ensure that regional African troops were deployed quickly to follow up on the French military action, which was launched to block a push southwards by the Islamist rebels.


"We knew that there would be a counter-attack in the west because that is where the most determined, the most organized and fanatical elements are," French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France's BFM TV.

France has said its sudden intervention on Friday, responding to an urgent appeal from Mali's president, stopped the Islamists from seizing the dusty capital of Bamako.

President Francois Hollande says Operation Serval - named after an African wildcat - is solely aimed at supporting the 15-nation West African bloc ECOWAS which received U.N. backing in December for a military intervention to dislodge the rebels.

Hollande's robust intervention has won plaudits from Western leaders and has also shot down domestic criticism which portrayed him as spineless and indecisive.

Under pressure from Paris, regional states have said they hope to send in their forces this week. Military chiefs from ECOWAS nations will meet in Bamako on Tuesday but regional powerhouse Nigeria, which is due to lead the mission, has cautioned that training and deploying troops will take time.

Two decades of peaceful elections had earned Mali a reputation as a bastion of democracy in turbulent West Africa but that image unraveled after a military coup in March left a power vacuum for MNLA Tuareg rebels to seize the desert north.

MUJWA, an AQIM splinter group drawing support from Arabs and other ethnic groups, took control of Gao, the main city of the north, from the Tuaregs in June, shocking Mali's liberal Muslim majority with amputation of hands for theft under sharia.

Malian Foreign Minister Tyeman Coulibaly said the situation had become "untenable" in the north. "Every day, we were hearing about feet and hands being cut off, girls being raped, cultural patrimony being looted," he told the French weekly Paris Match.


Last week's drive toward Bamako appeared to have been led by Ansar Dine, founded by renegade Tuareg separatist commander Iyad ag Ghali in his northern fiefdom of Kidal.

The group has said that the famed shrines of ancient desert trading town Timbuktu - a UNESCO world heritage site - were un-Islamic and idolatrous. Much of the area's religious heritage has now been destroyed, sparking international outrage.

France's intervention raises the threat for eight French hostages held by al Qaeda allies in the Sahara and for 30,000 French expatriates living in neighboring, mostly Muslim states.

Concerned about reprisals at home, France has tightened security at public buildings and on public transport.

However, top anti-terrorist judge, Marc Trevidic, played down the imminence of the risk, telling French media: "They're not very organized right now ... It could be a counter attack later on after the defeat on the ground. It's often like that."

Military analysts warn that if French action was not followed up by a robust deployment of ECOWAS forces, with logistical and financial support from NATO, then the whole U.N.-mandated Mali mission was unlikely to succeed.

"The French action was an ad-hoc measure. It's going to be a mess for a while, it depends on how quickly everyone can come on board," said Hussein Solomon, a professor at the University of the Free State, South Africa.

(Additional reporting by Emmanuel Jarry, Brian Love and Catherine Bremer in Paris, Justyna Pawlak and Adrian Croft in Busssels and Louis Charbonneau in New York; writing by Daniel Flynn; editing by Pascal Fletcher)

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Getting comfortable with living on the edge

LONDON (Reuters) - Just as you learn to put up with a nagging toothache, this week is expected to provide fresh evidence that the U.S. economy is getting used to life on the edge of the fiscal cliff.

Of course, putting off that trip to the dentist is not necessarily wise. The longer Washington delays, the more painful it will become to narrow its gaping budget deficit.

But surveys of U.S. consumer confidence in January and of house builder sentiment in December are likely to show resilience, buttressing the argument of equity bulls that Wall Street's firm start to the year is more than a relief rally or a desperate search for higher returns on investment.

Bluford Puttnam, chief economist of CME Group, said the U.S. economy had managed to grow almost 2 percent last year and create about 1.8 million jobs despite stagnation in Europe, a slowdown in China and the deadlocked budget talks.

"So I see a lot of momentum going into 2013," Puttnam said. "If we can get past this fiscal cliff, the economy is poised to have a much more confident year."

Despite fiscal tightening, he said growth could reach 2.5 percent to 3.0 percent.

Puttnam said the next rounds in the budget battle later this quarter would again be bitterly fought and the resolution would again satisfy no one. But, as with the showdown at the end of 2012, the economy would quickly move on.

"There is a one-in-ten chance that the government may even shut down for a week. It's just going to be ugly. And then it will be over. There will be some kind of compromise, and by April it will fade quickly into the background," he said.


U.S. retail sales are likely to have increased only 0.2 percent in December, dampened by the budget worries, according to economists polled by Reuters.

But a pair of regional Federal Reserve surveys and the monthly Reuters/University of Michigan consumer poll are projected to improve, while housing starts, new building permits and builders' confidence should all show that the housing recovery stands on firm foundations.

"That's what's really encouraging consumers to feel that the economy is getting better and that the momentum is broadly positive," said Jerry Webman, chief economist at OppenheimerFunds in New York.

While the phrase fiscal cliff used by U.S. Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke conjured up an image of an immediate plunge at the start of this year, in truth any austerity was always likely to take effect on the economy gradually.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch describes the challenges the United States faces in coming months rather as three fiscal gorges it must leap over.

The government could hit the debt ceiling approved by Congress as early as mid-February; across-the-board spending cuts are due to kick in on March 1; and the ‘continuing resolution' to fund all discretionary government spending expires on March 27.

Ideally, investors would like Democrats and Republicans to resolve all three issues with an overarching agreement to slash the deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade.

Instead, given the dysfunctional state of politics, Webman said the best that could be hoped for was another short-term fix that cuts spending and ends some tax breaks.

"The U.S. doesn't move by grand bargains, by big deals. We move by incremental decisions, and I think we'll make some imperfect but improved decisions over the course of 2013," he said.


Encouraging economic news from China, including stronger-than-expected exports and imports in December, has also supported the start-of-year move by financial market investors out of cash and into riskier assets.

Figures on Friday are expected to show that the world's second-largest economy grew 7.8 percent from a year earlier, rebounding from the 7.4 percent pace of the third quarter and further allaying fears of a hard landing.

"Given some of the bearish commentary on China a few months ago, this should be a relief for markets and it's good for the world economy," said Derry Pickford, macro analyst at investment managers Ashburton in London.

Continuing calm in the euro zone has also helped equities, even though full-year German GDP data on Tuesday will serve as a reminder of the area's economic malaise.

Europe's largest economy contracted last quarter as factories slashed output in response to weak demand from Germany's neighbors, the Economy Ministry said on Friday.

At a news conference a day earlier, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said he expected a recovery in euro zone growth later this year. But he ruled out an early end to the ECB's crisis policy measures and cautioned that risks were still tilted to the downside. Markets shrugged.

In Europe as in the United States, investors seem to have got used to high levels of policy uncertainty, said Ethan Harris, chief U.S. economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

"It appears that the markets will look past brinkmanship moments unless policy makers break new ground," he said.

In Europe, that might mean not just threatening to eject Greece from the euro zone but actually forcing the exit. In the United States, that might mean not just threatening to violate the debt ceiling but actually doing so, Harris said in a report.

As long as such extreme events do not occur, Harris expects periodic swoons in confidence but no acute crisis.

"This renewed resilience is important because we expect many brinkmanship moments in the months ahead. A now-regular pattern has been established where deals are only struck at the last minute and often under market pressure," he wrote.

(Editing by Patrick Graham)

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Ryan's 3 TDs has Falcons ahead 27-7 over Seattle

ATLANTA (AP) — Russell Wilson threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate on Seattle's first possession of the second half, but Matt Ryan threw his third touchdown of the game to give the Atlanta Falcons a 27-7 lead over the Seahawks through three quarters in Sunday's NFC divisional playoff game.

Ryan, who never reached 200 yards passing in losing his first three playoff games, had 206 yards with three touchdowns and one interception through three quarters.

The Falcons led 20-0 at halftime before Wilson produced a scoring drive to open the second half. Wilson, who had a 17-yard run early in the drive, threw to Tate on the left sideline to cap the 80-yard drive.

Ryan had a quick answer. Taking advantage of the Seahawks' man-to-man coverage by the cornerbacks, Ryan passed to Julio Jones for gains of 13 and 21 yards.

On second down from the Seahawks 5, Ryan faked a pitch to Jones before shoving a toss to Jason Snelling for the 5-yard touchdown.

The quarter ended with the Seahawks again moving deep in Atlanta territory.

The Falcons' defense made a fourth-down stop to set up Ryan's second TD pass and then delivered another stop as the first half ended.

Ryan's 47-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White in the second quarter built the lead to 20-0.

The Falcons' defense then stiffened after Wilson moved the Seahawks to a first down at the Atlanta 6. Wilson threw incomplete passes to Sidney Rice and Tate as Seattle used all its timeouts. On third down from the 11, Wilson was sacked by Jonathan Babineaux and time expired before the rookie quarterback could attempt a fourth-down pass.

Ryan, who threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Tony Gonzalez in the first quarter, threw deep over the middle to White for his second scoring pass. Cornerback Richard Sherman fell down while attempting to cover White, and safety Kam Chancellor was too late in providing help.

Falcons fans chanted "Roddy! Roddy!" as officials returned to the field following their review to announce the touchdown call was confirmed.

The long touchdown pass came after a fourth-down stop by the Falcons' defense deep in Atlanta territory.

Wilson completed a 34-yard pass to tight end Zach Miller and added a 16-yard pass to Tate to push the Seahawks deep into Atlanta territory in the second quarter.

Robert Turbin was stopped on third-and-1 from the Falcons 11. On fourth down, Wilson handed to fullback Michael Robinson, who was dropped by Falcons safety Charles Mitchell for a 1-yard loss.

The Falcons overcame an interception by Ryan by taking advantage of a fumble by Seattle's Marshawn Lynch.

Ryan's pass for Gonzalez was intercepted by Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, giving Seattle possession at its 33 midway through the quarter.

On first down from the 50, Lynch fumbled when hit by linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. Babineaux recovered at the Atlanta 39 to set up the touchdown drive. Wagner was penalized for a horse-collar tackle on Turner, moving the Falcons to the Seattle 29.

Ryan completed a 16-yard pass to backup tight end Chase Coffman to the 1, setting up the touchdown pass to Gonzalez.

The Falcons held the ball for 11 plays on their opening drive, which ended with Matt Bryant's 39-yard field goal.

The Seahawks trailed 14-0 before rallying in last week's 24-14 victory over Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins in the opening round of the playoffs.

Jacquizz Rodgers broke through the Seattle line for a 45-yard run, the longest of his career, on the final play of the first quarter. The 11-play drive stalled at the Seahawks 19, setting up a 37-yard field goal by Bryant for a 13-0 lead.


Online: and

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Why the NYTimes “Green Blog” Is Now Essential

A few days ago we woke up to the news that the New York Times is eliminating their environment desk.

Predictably, the immediate reaction of many was “oh, noooo!”.After all, whenever we hear such news, about a science or health or environmental desk being eliminated at a media organization, this means the reporters and editors of that beat have been fired.But New York Times did not fire anyone. Instead, they will disperse the environmental reporters around the building. Instead of all of them sitting together, chatting with each other, they will sit next to other people, chatting with political, economic, science, health, education and other reporters.The concern also arose as this piece of news came as a part of broader news of cost-cutting at the New York Times and actual impending layoffs of high-level editors.And concern is certainly warranted. But there is potential for this to be a good thing. It all depends on the implementation.My first reaction, quoted here, was that this may be a way to modernize environmental reporting at the Times. After all, reporters were not fired, the senior editors may be. All the environmental expertise is still at the Times, but now outside of its own ghetto, able to cross-fertilize with other beats, and to collaborate with reporters with other domains of expertise.My cautiously positive reaction to this news probably comes from my recent thinking (and blogging) about three aspects of modern media. One is about the distinction between beats and obsessions. The other one is about the importance of expertise in today’s journalism. And the other one is the distinction between push and pull models of science (and other) communication.Let me parse these a little bit more….Beats vs. ObsessionsI wrote at length about this before, but let me restate it briefly, the part that is the most relevant to this situation.

….But another way the difference is explained is that an obsession is actually broader, not narrower, by being multidisciplinary. Instead of looking at many stories from one angle, it focuses on a single story from many angles. This may be a way to solve some Wicked Problems….

By dispersing environmental reporters from a dedicated desk to other desks, New York Times eliminated the environmental beat. Now environmental reporters are free to follow their own obsessions – whatever aspect of the environment they most care about at any given time. In essence, The New York Times is starting to quartzify itself (did I just invent a new word? I bet Quartz folks will be pleased). Instead of the environmental vertical, The New York Times will now have an environmental horizontal – environmental angle permeating a lot of other stories, as environmental reporters talk to and influence their new office neighbors.Importance of ExpertiseI have argued many times before, and most recently and forcefully here, that having or building expertise on the topic one covers is an essential aspect of modern journalism. Being a generalist will become harder and harder to do successfully. Specialization rules. And there are many kinds of expertise and ways of being a specialist.It is much easier to turn an expert into a journalist than a journalist into an expert (though that is certainly not impossible), and there have been many calls lately (here is just the latest one) for journalism schools to insist on science, and even more importantly on math and statistics classes as requirements for their students.I will now make an assumption that all NYTimes environmental reporters actually have sufficient expertise to report on the environment. They are now bringing that expertise to other desks. And they are now forced to discuss this with people whose expertise lies elsewhere. They will get into debates and discussions. They will teach each other. They will change each others minds on various things. They will be prompted by those discussions to dig in deep and do some research. That will inspire them to write the next piece and next piece, possibly in collaboration with each other. By forcing cross-fertilization between people with different specialties, NYTimes will force them all to learn from each other, become more sophisticated, to tackle more complex and nuanced stories, and to produce better articles. That’s the theory… We’ll see if that happens in practice. It all depends on implementation.Push vs. PullYou may have seen this excellent post that Danielle re-posted the other day.I know I talk a lot about push vs. pull methods for science communication, but the earliest appearance of the concept on my blog is this brief but cool video clip. Soon after, I described and explained the concept in much more detail here and here. I have since applied it to a bunch of other topics, from the role of new/upcoming journalists to the different reporting strategies for different areas of science to strategies for gaining trust in the broader population to differences between science reporting on blogs vs traditional media to narrative storytelling in science.I have argued many times that, despite the proliferation of many new outlets that may do reporting better, traditional big venues, like The New York Times (and just a few other ‘biggies’, like BBC, Guardian, Washington Post, The Economist, PBS, NPR and not many more), will continue to play an important role in the media ecosystem for quite some time. These are trusted brands for far too many people who grew up in that world. And they generally do a good job, even if nobody can be perfect, and expert bloggers are quick to point out errors as they appear.But, nobody but a few crazy news junkies, all of whom are probably in the business anyway so not the target audience, reads any newspaper, including The New York Times, every day, every page, every article. I’ll tell you a secret – print edition of The New York Times lands on my front porch every night. My wife reads some of it sometimes. It is there mostly in case something I see online is so long that I want to sit back and read it on paper rather than on screen. Or if a friend of mine publishes something so I want to cut it out. Or my name appears in it, and I want to cut it out and save it, to show my Mom.But back in the old times, when I actually read newspapers on paper, how did I do it? I pick up the paper. I open it up. I take out all the sections I am not interested in – Sports, Auto, Business, Real Estate, Classifieds, etc. – and throw them directly into the recycling bin. Then I read the parts I am interested in (front sections, domestic and world news, opinion, Sunday Magazine, Week In Review, Book Review). When I was a kid, I read the comics first, then TV and movie listings, then Kids section, perhaps some nature/science, perhaps some sports.Other people have their own preferences. If there is such a thing as “Environment” section, or “Health” section, or “Science” section, how many people do you think automatically recycle them and go straight to Sports instead?A dedicated Environment section is a pull method. It pulls in readers who are already interested in the topic. Others never see it. And being online doesn’t change a thing – it works the same way as on paper, in its own ghetto, isolated from the stuff people actually read.The ‘push’ method inserts science/health/environment stories everywhere, in all sections of the paper, linked from all the pages of the website. It includes science/health/environment angles into many other stories. People interested in politics, economics, education, art, culture, comic strips, whatever, get a steady diet of relevant information mixed into their breakfast. They can’t avoid it any more. It is pushed onto them without their explicit request.Let’s hope that The New York Times is thinking this way, as that would be the best possible outcome.Central importance of the Green BlogThe managing editor Dean Baquet was reported to say this about the Green Blog: “If it has impact and audience it will survive”.That is disappointing. Green Blog’s destiny is not, and especially now should not, be decided by the vagaries of traffic. It has suddenly become much more essential to the Times than they know, or so it seems. Let me try to explain…Dispersing all the environmental reporting all around New York Times is a potentially great “push” strategy – feeding the unsuspecting readers a steady diet of environmental thinking.But dispersing all the environmental reporting all around New York Times also makes it very difficult for the “pull” audience, the readers who are interested in environment, to find everything. People who are interested in environment, people like me, will be forced to look into automatically recyclable sections, like Business or Real Estate for articles with potentially environmental angles. That takes time and energy we don’t have, so we’ll rather miss those articles.Now, some tech-savvy know-it-all is likely to post a comment “Use Tags”. Sure, you are a programmer, you know what tags are. Can you explain that to your grandma? Can you teach her how to use them?No, the answer is Green Blog.Green Blog should now become not just a cool place for interns to build their reporting chops, but also:- place where all environmental reporters link to, explain, describe and quote from all their articles that appear elsewhere in the Times,- place where someone puts together, every week, a summary and round-up of all environment-related Times articles of the previous week,- place where all environmental reporters come to crowdsource their stories, get feedback and expert information from readers as they are working on their more and more complex stories- place where all environmental reporters come to see each others work, now that they are not sitting next to each other,- a central place where people like me can come and at a single glance see all of the Times environmental reporting in one place, and- a central place where someone like Andy Revkin can check each day to see what else is going on in the Times regarding environment, so he can blog about it on Dot Earth.This is like what ethologists call the “central foraging place”, like a beehive. Honeybees (readers) get information (blog posts) from other foragers where the flowers (NYT articles) are, so they go there (following links) to get nectar. They then return to the hive (Green Blog) to deposit the nectar (their comments), to tell others where else the flowers are good (e.g., on other sites beyond NYT) and to get new information so they can go for another run, again and again.Now that there is no Environment desk and no Environment editor, the Green Blog should assume those two roles.Now, if only higher ups at the Times get to read this post. If you know them, can you share the link to this post with them?Image:

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Quest: U.S. economy to dominate Davos

The United States and the sorry state of its political and budgetary process will be the center of attention at Davos, writes Quest


  • Quest: Davos is a chance to see where the political and economic landmines are in 2013

  • Quest: People will be speculating about how dysfunctional the U.S. political process has become

  • Quest: Davos has been consumed by eurozone sovereign debt crises for three years

Editor's note: Watch Quest Means Business on CNN International, 1900pm GMT weekdays. Quest Means Business is presented by CNN's foremost international business correspondent Richard Quest. Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- It is that time of the year, again. Come January no sooner have the Christmas trees been taken down, as the winter sales are in full vicious flood the world of business start thinking about going to the world economic forum, better known as Davos.

For the past three years Davos has been consumed by the eurozone sovereign debt crises.

As it worsened the speculation became ever more frantic.....Will Greece leave the euro? Will the eurozone even survive? Was this all just a big German trick to run Europe? More extreme, more dramatic, more nonsense.

Can China be the biggest engine of growth for the global economy. Round and round in circles we have gone on these subjects until frankly I did wonder if there was anything else to say short of it's a horrible mess!

This year there is a new bogey man. The US and in particular the sorry state of the country's political and budgetary process will, I have little doubt, be the center of attention.

Read more: More 'cliffs' to come in new Congress

Not just because Congress fluffed its big test on the fiscal cliff, but because in doing so it created many more deadlines, any one of which could be deeply unsettling to global markets... There is the $100 billion budget cutbacks postponed for two months by the recent agreement; postponed to the end of February.

At exactly the same time as the US Treasury's ability to rob Peter to pay Paul on the debt ceiling crises comes to a head.

Read more: Both Obama, GOP set for tough talks ahead

The Treasury's "debt suspension period" is an extraordinary piece of financial chicanery that if we tried it with our credit cards would get us locked up!! Then there is the expiration of the latest continuing resolution, the authority by which congress is spending money.

There is the terrifying prospect that all these budget woes will conflate into one big political fist fight as the US faces cutbacks, default or shutdown!!

I am being alarmist. Most rational people believe that the worst sting will be taken out of this tail....not before we have all been to the edge...and back. And that is what Davos will have on its mind.

People will be speculating about how dysfunctional the US political process has become and is it broken beyond repair (if they are not asking that then they should be...)

They will be pondering which is more serious for risk...the US budget and debt crises or the Eurozone sovereign debt debacle. A classic case of between the devil and the deep blue sea.

The official topic this year is Resilient Dynamism. I have absolutely no idea what this means. None whatsoever. It is another of WEF's ersatz themes dreamt up to stimulate debate in what Martin Sorrell has beautifully terms "davosian language" In short everyone interprets it as they will.

What I will enjoy, as I do every year, is the chance to hear the global players speak and the brightest and best thinkers give us their take on the global problems the atmosphere becomes febrile as the rock-stars of finance and economics give speeches, talk on panels and give insight.

Of course comes of these musings, it never does at Davos. That's not the point. This is a chance to take stock and see where the political and economic landmines are in 2013. I like to think of Davos as the equivalent of Control/Alt/Delete. It allows us to reboot.

We leave at least having an idea of where people stand on the big issues provided you can see through the panegyrics of self congratulatory back slapping that always takes place whenever you get like minded people in one place... And this year, I predict the big issue being discussed in coffee bars, salons and fondue houses will be the United States and its budgetary woes.

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Grounded 787 Dreamliner leaks fuel in tests by Japanese airline

The FAA stepped in Friday to assure the public that Boeing's new 787 "Dreamliner" is safe to fly. The AP spoke with Kevin Hiatt, Flight Safety Foundation CEO & President, who says mechanical issues with new aircrafts are not uncommon. (Jan. 11)


Japan Airlines Co (JAL) said on Sunday that a Boeing Co 787 Dreamliner jet undergoing checks in Tokyo following a fuel leak at Boston airport last week had leaked fuel during tests earlier in the day.

An open valve on the aircraft caused fuel to leak from a nozzle on the left wing used to remove fuel, a company spokeswoman said. The jet is out of service after spilling about 40 gallons of fuel onto the airport taxiway in Boston due to a separate valve-related problem.

In Boston, a different valve on the plane opened, causing fuel to flow from the center tank to the left main tank. When that tank filled up, it overflowed into a surge tank and out through a vent. The spill happened as the plane was taxiing for takeoff on a flight to Tokyo on January 8. It made the flight about four hours later.

The causes of both incidents are unknown, the JAL spokeswoman added. There is no timetable for the plane to return to service.

On Friday, the U.S. government ordered a wide-ranging review of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, citing concern over a battery that caught fire on January 7, also on a JAL plane in Boston, and other problems. The government and Boeing insisted the passenger jet remained safe to fly.

The 787 represents the boldest bet Boeing has made on a new plane in more than a decade, and because the aircraft required billions to develop, much of the company's financial performance is riding on its success. Boeing is trying to double production to 10 jets a month this year to cash in on nearly 800 orders.

The eight airlines that operate the 50 jets delivered so far have expressed support for it, saying the mishaps are teething problems common with most new airplanes, and the 787's fuel savings make it an important addition to their fleets. JAL and local rival All Nippon Airways Co fly 24 Dreamliners.

The review follows a slew of incidents that have focused intense scrutiny on the new plane. While many of the issues that have dogged the 787 are typically considered routine, their occurrence in quick succession on an aircraft that incorporates major new technology and has not seen wide use yet has sparked concerns about safety.

In December, a 787 operated by United Airlines and bound from Houston to Newark, New Jersey, was forced to land in New Orleans after a warning light in the cockpit indicated a generator had failed.

Boeing later said a faulty circuit board produced in Mexico and supplied by UTC Aerospace Systems, a unit of United Technologies , had produced a false reading in the cockpit. A UTC Aerospace spokesman declined to comment.

Also in December, two other 787s suffered problems with electrical panels. The fire on January 7 started when a lithium-ion battery used in an auxiliary power system ignited while the plane was parked at the gate. It burned for about 40 minutes before firefighters put the flames out, and smoke entered the cabin. Passengers and crew had already left the aircraft.

On December 5, U.S. regulators said there was a manufacturing fault in 787 fuel lines and advised operators to make extra inspections to guard against engine failures.

Last week, the plane had seven reported incidents, ranging from the fire to a cracked cockpit window.

(Reporting by James Topham in Tokyo and Alwyn Scott in Seattle; Editing by Jeremy Laurence, Catherine Evans and Dale Hudson)

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France bombs Islamist stronghold in north Mali

BAMAKO/PARIS (Reuters) - French fighter jets pounded an Islamist rebel stronghold deep in northern Mali on Sunday as Paris poured more troops into the capital Bamako, awaiting a West African force to dislodge al Qaeda-linked insurgents from the country's north.

The attack on Gao, the largest city in the desert region controlled by the Islamist alliance, marked a decisive intensification on the third day of French air raids, striking at the heart of the vast territory seized by rebels in April.

France is determined to end Islamist domination of north Mali, which many fear could act as a base for attacks on the West and for links with al Qaeda in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa.

France's Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said French intervention on Friday had prevented the advancing rebels from seizing Bamako. He vowed that air strikes would continue.

"The president is totally determined that we must eradicate these terrorists who threaten the security of Mali, our own country and Europe," he told French television.

In Gao, a dusty town on the banks of the Niger river where Islamists have imposed an extreme form of sharia law, residents said French jets pounded the airport and rebel positions. A huge cloud of black smoke rose from the militants' camp in the city's north, and pick-up trucks ferried dead and wounded to hospital.

"The planes are so fast you can only hear their sound in the sky," resident Soumaila Maiga said by telephone. "We are happy, even though it is frightening. Soon we will be delivered."

Paris said four state-of-the-art Rafale jets flew from France to strike rebel training camps, logistics depots and infrastructure in Gao with the aim of weakening the rebels and preventing them from returning southward.

A spokesman for Ansar Dine, one of the main Islamist factions, said the French had also bombed targets in the towns of Lere and Douentza. Residents said rebel fighters had fled from Douentza aboard pick-up trucks.

France has deployed about 550 soldiers to Mali under "Operation Serval" - named after an African wildcat - split between Bamako and the town of Mopti, 500 km (300 miles) north.

In Bamako, a Reuters cameraman saw more than 100 French troops disembark on Sunday from a military cargo plane at the international airport, on the outskirts of the capital.

The city itself was calm, with the sun streaking through the dust enveloping the city as the seasonal Harmattan wind blew from the Sahara. Some cars drove around with French flags draped from the windows to celebrate Paris's intervention.


More than two decades of peaceful elections had earned Mali a reputation as a bulwark of democracy, but that image unraveled in a matter of weeks after a military coup in March which left a power vacuum for the Islamist rebellion.

French President Francois Hollande's intervention in Mali has won plaudits from leaders in Europe, Africa and the United States but it is not without risks.

It raised the threat level for eight French hostages held by al Qaeda allies in the Sahara and for the 30,000 French expatriates living in neighboring, mostly Muslim states.

Concerned about reprisals, France has tightened security at public buildings and on public transport. It advised its 6,000 citizens to leave Mali as spokesmen for Ansar Dine and al Qaeda's north Africa wing AQIM promised to exact revenge.

In its first casualty of the campaign, Paris said a French pilot was killed on Friday when rebels shot down his helicopter.

Hours earlier, a French intelligence officer held hostage in Somalia by al Shabaab extremists linked to al Qaeda was killed in a failed commando raid to free him.

President Hollande says France's aim is simply to support a mission by West African bloc ECOWAS to retake the north, as mandated by a U.N. Security Council resolution in December.

With Paris pressing West African nations to send their troops quickly, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, who holds the rotating ECOWAS chairmanship, kick-started the operation to deploy 3,300 African soldiers.

Ouattara, installed in power with French military backing in 2011, convened a summit of the 15-nation bloc for Saturday in Ivory Coast to discuss the mission.

"The troops will start arriving in Bamako today and tomorrow," said Ali Coulibaly, Ivory Coast's African Integration Minister. "They will be convoyed to the front."

The United States is considering sending a small number of unarmed surveillance drones to Mali as well as providing logistics support, a U.S. official told Reuters. Britain and Canada have also promised logistical support.

Former French colonies Senegal, Niger and Burkina Faso have all pledged to deploy 500 troops within days. In contrast, regional powerhouse Nigeria, due to lead the ECOWAS force, has suggested it would take time to train and equip the troops.


France, however, appeared to have assumed control of the operation on the ground. Its airstrikes allowed Malian troops to drive the Islamists out of the strategic town of Konna, which they had briefly seized this week in their southward advance.

Analysts expressed doubt, however, that African nations would be able to mount a swift operation to retake north Mali - a harsh, sparsely populated terrain the size of France - as neither the equipment nor ground troops were prepared.

"My first impression is that this is an emergency patch in a very dangerous situation," said Gregory Mann, associate professor of history at Columbia University, who specializes in francophone Africa and Mali in particular.

While France and its allies may be able to drive rebel fighters from large towns, they could struggle to prise them from mountain redoubts in the region of Kidal, 300 km (200 miles) northeast of Gao, where April's uprising began.

Calm returned to Konna on Sunday after three nights of combat as the Malian army mopped up any rebel fighters. A senior Malian army official said more than 100 rebels had been killed.

"Soldiers are patrolling the streets and have encircled the town," one resident, Madame Coulibaly, told Reuters by phone. "They are searching houses for arms or hidden Islamists."

Human Rights Watch said at least 11 civilians, including three children, had been killed in the fighting.

A spokesman for Doctors Without Borders in neighboring Mauritania said about 200 Malian refugees had fled across the border to a camp at Fassala and more were on their way.

In Bamako, civilians tried to contribute to the war effort.

"We are very proud and relieved that the army was able to drive the jihadists out of Konna. We hope it will not end there, that is why I'm helping in my own way," said civil servant Ibrahima Kalossi, 32, one of over 40 people who queued to donate blood for wounded soldiers.

(Additional reporting by Adama Diarra, Tiemoko Diallo and Rainer Schwenzfeier in Bamako, Joe Bavier in Abidjan, Leila Aboud in Paris and Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Will Waterman)

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