Friday, August 7, 2009

Telescope could see other Earths, if they are there

WASHINGTON – The orbiting Kepler telescope has spotted a Jupiter-sized planet around another star -- a sighting that demonstrates it can see Earth-like planets if they are out there, scientists reported on Thursday.

The planet, called HAT-P-7b, was already among the 300 or so known so-called extrasolar planets, the team led by the U.S. space agency NASA reported. But measurements of its orbit by Kepler show the telescope will be able to see smaller planets, they reported in the journal Science.

The location of HAT-P-7b is seen among distributions of mass and orbit size for discovered planets. The orbiting Kepler telescope has spotted a Jupiter-sized planet around another star -- a sighting that demonstrates it can see Earth-like planets if they are out there, scientists reported on Thursday.

Kepler was launched in March with the specific goal of finding Earth-sized planets that might support life outside our solar system. It orbits the sun behind the Earth and in theory should be able to spot things that Earthbound telescopes and even the orbiting Hubble telescope cannot.

It uses a standard planet-hunting method -- watching for the slight dimming of a star's light as a planet passes in front of it.

Borucki's team is looking at data from Kepler's observations of more than 50,000 stars.

Don't cry for her, Argentina: Mark Sanford's wife moves out

South Carolina's governor Mark Sanford and his wife Jenny arrive at a White House dinner in February. Jenny Sanford is moving out of the governor's mansion . Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Mark Sanford's wife is moving out and she's taking the kids with her. South Carolina's first lady Jenny Sanford is officially leaving the governor's mansion in Columbia today and is headed for the Sanford family home in Charleston.

"I have decided to move back to our home in Charleston with our sons for the upcoming school year. From there, we will work to continue the process of healing our family," Jenny Sanford said.

The relationship between the governor and the first lady continues to be strained after Mark Sanford publicly admitted to an affair with Argentinian Maria Belen Chapur.

Embarrassment for the governor grew when the biggest newspaper in South Carolina, The State, published a string of emails between him and his lover.

"I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificently gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curves of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of night's light - but hey, that would be going into the sexual details we spoke of at the steakhouse at dinner - and unlike you I would never do that," he wrote in one.

Sanford has tried to repair the damage done to his personal life due to his philandering. He took his family on a European vacation last week. However the move by the first lady seems to indicate there's more work that needs to be done.

Twitter + Georgian blogger + South Ossetia = Hack Attack

If you were miffed at not being able to tweet your innermost thoughts and random musings to your followers yesterday, or post that smartypants comment on a friend’s Facebook status update, blame politics. Turns out the reason why Twitter was knocked down for hours, while Facebook users had trouble logging in and posting to their profiles on Thursday was a Georgian blogger who uses both services.

According to CNET, which cites Facebook’s chief security officer Max Kelly, the blogger also has accounts in LiveJournal and Google’s Blogger and YouTube platforms, and goes by the name of Cyxymu, which is the name of a town in Georgia. Kelly told CNET:

“It was a simultaneous attack across a number of properties targeting him to keep his voice from being heard.”

Now, for those who don’t follow international politics closely, here’s why the pro-Georgian blogger may have been targeted. August 8 marks the first anniversary of the war that broke out between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia. Russia sent troops into the separatist region last year, which Georgia claims forced it to launch a counter-offensive. Some other folks say the war started on August 7, 2008. So it was probably no coincidence that the Web attack on Cyxymu, the blogger who blames the attack on Russia, took place on the eve of the war’s anniversary.

Whatever the date, one thing is clear: the more Twitter becomes a communication tool in zones of conflict, the likelier it is to become a target for hackers with political motives. The micro-blogging service obviously needs to step up security so that hack attacks don’t shut it down. After all, regular folks like MC Hammer still need to get to the airport.

Video: Kanye West - "Run This Town" Live @ G-Shock - Shock The World 2009

Last night Kanye had the hot ticket in NYC as he performed at G-Shock's Shock The World 2009 show. Obviously, no cameras were allowed in the venue (Cipriani?) and the security goons were supposedly snatching you up if you were filming, but as always, the Pirates persevere.

Here he runs (get it?) through his verse of Jay-Z's "Run This Town". You can peep the rest of the vids over at NahRight

Congress to Buy Itself Some New Jets

Congress is clearly feeling the effects of the well-known disorder "Air Force One Envy."

The House voted to spend over half a billion on eight new jets to fly its members around yesterday. (Yes, this is the same Congress that's always excoriating bailed-out executives for "using" taxpayer dollars on jets.) The Pentagon, which manages the fleet of about two dozen aircraft used for congressional travel here and abroad, hadn't requested this many new planes and was surprised by the vote. "We ask for what we need and only what we need," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell scolded on Wednesday. "We've always frowned upon earmarks and additives that are above and beyond what we ask for." According to the Journal, the House Appropriations Committee explained away the new purchases by saying they were much-needed replacements for aging jets, and also a necessary expansion of passenger capacity. Also, they were to make sure "the troops have everything they need." Oh, come on. This is obviously just because everyone's a little ashamed the government had to borrow Steve Bing's jet to fly Bill Clinton to North Korea. It's okay, guys, you can admit it. We were embarrassed, too.

Gators are preseason No. 1 in coaches' poll; FSU No. 19

No surprise here: The Florida Gators are No. 1 in the preseason USA Today coaches' poll.

The defending champion Gators received 53 of 59 first-place votes in the poll, released Friday morning. UF, which returns Heisman-Trophy winning quarterback Tim Tebow along with 21 other starters, has been the heavy favorite to repeat as national champion since last season ended.

Florida State, an early favorite to win the ACC, starts the season ranked No. 19.

“It was kind of expected," UF offensive lineman Carl Johnson said. "We had some key players return, Brandon Spikes, Tim Tebow. The O-line came back, the D-line. We kind of expected it, but we’re not too much thinking about the hype we’re getting. Our goal is to get to Atlanta, stay close as a team, achieve goals together as a team, that’s all we think about.”

Texas is ranked No. 2, receiving four first-place votes. Oklahoma, which lost to the Gators in the BCS national title game last season, is ranked No. 3.

The Longhorns return QB Colt McCoy, who finished second in the Heisman voting last year, while the Sooners return the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford.

USC is No. 4. Both Oklahoma and USC each received one first-place vote. Alabama rounds out the top 5.

The SEC has four teams ranked in the top 10: No. 9 LSU and No. 10 Ole Miss join the Gators and Crimson Tide. Georgia is ranked No. 13, giving the SEC five teams ranked in the top 25, the most of any conference.

The Big 12, ACC and Pac-10 each have four ranked teams. Four non-BCS teams are ranked in the top 25: No. 16 Boise St., No. 17 TCU, No. 18 Utah and No. 24 Brigham Young.

Notre Dame is ranked No. 23. The Big East has no one ranked, the first time in history a team with an automatic BCS berth gets shut out of the Top 25.

The Associated Press will release its poll Aug. 22. The Gators started the season as AP preseason No. 1 in 1994 and 2001. FSU is the only team to go wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the AP poll.

"We know the target's on our back and we're ready," UF linebacker Brandon Spikes said. "My job is to make sure the guys don't get satisfied. We've got to keep striving and push that rock back to the top of the hill."

Here is the complete Top 25 (with first-place votes in parentheses)

1. Florida (53)
2. Texas (4)
3. Oklahoma (1)
4. USC (1)
5. Alabama
6. Ohio State
7. Virginia Tech
8. Penn State
9. LSU
10. Ole Miss
11. Oklahoma State
12. California
13. Georgia
14. Oregon
15. Georgia Tech
16. Boise State
17. TCU
18. Utah
19. Florida State
20. North Carolina
21. Iowa
22. Nebraska
23. Notre Dame
24. Brigham Young
25. Oregon State

Steroids in the NBA? Rashard Lewis Tests Positive for a “testosterone-producing steroid” and is Suspended 10 Games

In what could only be described as shocking, Rashard Lewis of the Orlando Magic has tested positive for a “testosterone-producing steroid” and will be suspended for the first 10 games of next season.

According to league sources, Lewis was taking nutritional supplements at the end of last season that unknowing to him contained a substance commonly known as DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) — a chemical compound made naturally in the body but also found in numerous over-the-counter supplements at nutritional stores. The substance is banned by most sports leagues, including the NBA.

Good thing this happened on a Thursday (and the Yankees-Red Sox series begins tonight). Otherwise, we’d have 4-5 days of fired-up talk radio about steroids in the NBA, and finger-pointing at guys like … well, you know. We don’t even need to mention them. Here’s a photo of Lewis with the Sonics. No discernable difference (not that muscle matters all that much; A-Rod’s been roughly the same size the last 10 years.) We couldn’t even tell you the last guy in the NBA to get busted for steroids. The last All-Star? No clue.

Here are a few other NBA players who have been suspended for steroid use.

Rashard Lewis tests positive for performance enhancing substance, will miss first 10 games

NCAA Sees Delaware Gambling, Raises Playoff Ban

The slapfight between the NCAA and Delaware over legalized gambling has reached a new… high? low? something? Who knows.


After a judge smacked the NCAA’s lawsuit to stop Delaware from allowing sports betting down, the NCAA responded with a clear message: “We think the federal courts are wrong, we just aren’t allowed to oppose them.” So they did the next “best” thing and banned postseason play in Delaware.


Don’t make those plans to attend NCAA Division I-AA or Division III football playoffs at the University of Delaware, Delaware State or Wesley College this fall.

The schools won’t be permitted to host NCAA playoffs because of the advent of sports gambling, the NCAA ruled today.

The NCAA Executive Committee determined that “No predetermined or non-predetermined session of an NCAA championship may be conducted in a state with legal wagering that is based upon single-game betting (high school, college or professional) in a sport in which the NCAA conducts a championship,” the NCAA announced.

First of all, this is terribly crushing news for the Dover Bowl, which is a fictional stadium and bowl game I made in NCAA 2003 on the PlayStation 2 back when I was in college because I was bored and probably high (just kidding, kids! Don’t do drugs!).

But really, aside from schools in Delaware hosting home games in the playoffs, there’s no postseason in the state to begin with. We don’t think there are any arenas in the state suitable for March Madness, and there are certainly no bowl games. That’s where all the action is in betting.

Meanwhile, there’s these two schools in Nevada, including the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV, we’re told it’s called); maybe you’ve heard of that city and the things that happen there.

And more importantly to the NCAA’s case, there’s also the Las Vegas Bowl, and you’ll just never guess when in the football season that comes about.

In other words:

Delaware: opening up gambling, no FBS schools, no postseason ever.
Nevada: massive gambling, two FBS schools, knock yourselves out in the postseason.

Got it, guys. So this isn’t really about gambling. It’s about the NCAA operating under the decision that they’re retaliating against Delaware - common sense, federal rulings, and its constituents be damned.

Nothing surprising here, violence breaks out at Florida Town Hall Meeting with Teabaggers (with Video)

Again, this is not surprising. The way things have been going, someone will eventually get hurt. Republicans, do you even care?

Angry protesters and strong supporters are clashing inside and all around a health care reform town hall meeting in Downtown Tampa. The meeting which was scheduled to begin at 6:00 at the Children's Board of Hillsborough County drew hundreds of people who quickly began to overwhelm staff and event organizers at the front entrance.

As the building filled to capacity, angry protesters stuck outside began to scream, yell, and chant. At one point, those trying to get inside began banging on windows as Tampa Police officers quickly spread out guarding all entrances.

10 Connects photojournalist Kevin Carlson, currently inside the meeting reports at least one fist fight breaking out inside. Some other journalists remain outside.

Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor and State Representative Betty Reed were hosting the event.

UPDATE 7:13pm

Police on bullhorns are trying to break-up the crowd outside the building on 1002 E. Palm Ave.

Many in the crowd are refusing to go.

UPDATE 7:32pm

The forum has ended early.

Is Paula Abdul Exit an American Idol PR Stunt?

Despite Paula Abdul's farewell Tweet and Fox wishing her happy trails, the latest American Idol conspiracy theory suggests she's not going anywhere.

Here are a few bits of evidence (albeit circumstantial) that make us wonder if the reality show and the wacky, but entertaining judge are really parting ways:

Within an hour of Abdul's bombshell, celebrity gossip maven Bonnie Fuller, late of, tweeted that "Abdul has already signed her new deal [with American Idol]. The whole sob story was a pure publicity stunt."
Asked to comment if there was no way Abdul wouldn't be back on American Idol come the winter and the launch of the new season, Fox reps didn't respond.
On his radio show this morning, Ryan Seacrest said Abdul's departure was real, "as far as I know." Randy Jackson, meanwhile, said "It looks to be true."

Asked to comment if it was possible for a star and network to cook up a scheme, entertainment attorney John J. Tormey III said, "Anything's possible."
Unnamed "television industry executives" told the New York Times they believe "Ms. Abdul's combative stance is simply a negotiating tactic." Of course, it could well be a one-sided tactic, if she really wants $20 million a year.
Tormey didn't think it was a reach to suggest Paul Abdul would appear to walk away from a deal in order to sweeten it. "In television," the lawyer said, "it's not uncommon for talent to take a hiatus in the event of negotiations."
So? What do you think? While it sounds obvious, the only way we'll know is with the passage of time ... or the instant American Idol get a new judge (today's rumored replacement is Victoria Beckham), or Paula Abdul gets a new gig.

Until then, we say let the conspiracy theories pile up!

Would you miss Paula on American Idol?

FBI Agents Raid New Orleans Police Homicide Office

The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office should get credit for being this aggressive in investigating the police shootings of civilians in New Orleans.

By Brendan McCarthy
New Orleans Times-Picayune
NEW ORLEANS – Federal agents this week raided the office of the New Orleans Police Department homicide division, seizing the files and computer hard drives of two officers assigned to investigate police conduct in one deadly post-Katrina shooting episode, law enforcement sources told The Times-Picayune.

Representatives of the FBI and NOPD confirmed the seizure late Thursday.

FBI agents served a search warrant Wednesday afternoon for files in the offices of two supervisors, Sgt. Gerard Dugue and Sgt. Arthur Kaufman, the sources said.

The two sergeants were the lead investigators who examined the shooting of civilians by police on the Danziger Bridge days after Hurricane Katrina.

Gunfire from police, who were responding to reports of shots fired at officers, left two men dead and four people wounded.

Kenyen Brown Set to Become Alabama’s First Black U.S. Atty

WASHINGTON — Congressional staffer Kenyen Brown is set to become the first black U.S. Attorney in Alabama history.

President Obama nominated Brown Thursday to the office, which covers 13 counties.

Brown currently serves as director of advice and education for the House Ethics committee.

Sonia Sotomayor confirmed by Senate: First Latina on the U.S. Supreme Court

by James Oliphant and David E. Savage and updated at 5 pm.

Sonia Sotomayor completed an unlikely and historic journey today, one that began with her birth in a Bronx, New York, housing project 55 years ago and culminated in her confirmation as the Supreme Court's 111th justice.

When she is sworn into office, Sotomayor will take her place as the high court's first Hispanic and just its third woman. She was approved by a 68-31 Senate vote this afternoon after three days of debate. Nine Republicans crossed party lines to support her.

Sotomayor was nominated in May by President Obama to replace the retiring Justice David Souter. A judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York for the past 11 years, she had worked her way through two Ivy League schools and worked as a Manhattan prosecutor, corporate lawyer, and federal trial judge.

But joy felt by Hispanic groups over her historic nomination quickly gave way to a firestorm, as critics seized upon a speech that Sotomayor gave to a group of students in 2001. Sotomayor suggested that her life experience as a Latina shaped her judging and her remarks became known, almost notoriously, as the "Wise Latina" speech.

"With this historic vote, the Senate has affirmed that Judge Sotomayor has the intellect, the temperament, the history, the integrity and the independence of mind to ably serve on our nation's highest court,'' Obama said today, citing her confirmation as an affirmation of the principle of finding equal justice under the law.

"It's a promise that, whether you're a mighty corporation or an ordinary American, you will receive a full and fair hearing,'' the president said at the White House. "These core American ideals -- justice, equality, and opportunity -- are the very ideals that have made Judge Sotomayor's own uniquely American journey possible.

"They're ideals she's fought for throughout her career, and the ideals the Senate has upheld today in breaking yet another barrier and moving us yet another step closer to a more perfect union.''

(President Barack Obama announced Judge Sonia Sotomayor as his nominee for the Supreme Court in an East Room ceremony at the White House on May 26. Photo above by Alex Brandon / AP)

Sotomayor's opponents charged that the speech and some of her decisions on the bench showed an inclination to use the law to favor disadvantaged minority groups. And they pointed to one case in particular, in which her court threw out a discrimination suit brought by aggrieved white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., as evidence of their claim.

But the controversy never appeared to seriously threaten her nomination.

One primary reason was that Democrats hold a near hammerlock on the Senate, defusing the possibility of a Republican filibuster almost as soon as Sotomayor was nominated.

Another was that her supporters could point to thousands of opinions in a long federal judicial career. Few, if any, showed the sort of pattern her detractors alleged existed.

Over three long days of testimony earlier this month, Sotomayor pledged "fidelity to the law" and rejected the so-called "empathy standard" that Obama had invoked when the Supreme Court vacancy arose.

The president had said that justices need to sometimes utilize "empathy" to understand the effect the court's decisions have on the lives of ordinary Americans. But Sotomayor broke with Obama over that notion, a moment her conservative critics said was particularly significant.

Still, most Republicans weren't mollified--and during this week's debate, they said they doubted Sotomayor's ability to remain impartial on the bench.

"This is a question of the true role of the judge. It is a question of whether a judge follows the law as it is written or how they wish it should be," Sen. Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said shortly before today's vote.

But Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairnan of the committee that oversaw Sotomayor's nomination, said on the Senate floor that Sotomayor had answered her critics and proved her suitability for the court. And he called on Republicans to support the nominee to honor "our national promise."

"Judge Sotomayor's career and judicial record demonstrates that she has always followed the rule of law," Leahy said."Attempts at distorting that record by suggesting that her ethnicity or heritage will be the driving force in her decisions as a justice of the Supreme Court are demeaning to women and all communities of color."

Britain frees Great Train Robber Biggs

NORWICH, England — Ronnie Biggs, notorious for his role in Britain's 1963 Great Train Robbery and 35 years as a celebrity fugitive, was released from custody Friday to spend his dying days in freedom.

Biggs, now seriously ill in hospital, was handed a copy of his licence conditions and signed his release papers the day before he turns 80 -- Saturday also marking 46 years to the day since the infamous heist.

The Ministry of Justice confirmed that the prison staff watching him in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, where he is being treated for severe pneumonia, have now left his bedside.

"His licence conditions were formally signed off," a ministry spokeswoman for told AFP. "The prison staff who were in attendance before will have left the hospital now."

A series of strokes has also left Biggs bedridden and unable to speak, eat or walk. Though he is now at liberty, he is unlikely to be moved from hospital for a week at the very least because he requires minor surgery.

In a U-turn, Justice Secretary Jack Straw announced Thursday that Biggs, jailed in 2001 after giving himself up, was being released on compassionate grounds because his condition had deteriorated and was unlikely to improve.

His son Michael emerged from the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital clutching his father's release papers.

"My father is now a free man," he told reporters.

"My father signed it himself which is pretty amazing because he's not really capable of writing so to actually see my father trying to scribble his name was a very special moment.

"It's a little scribble but it means a lot.

"Regardless of the fact that my father is very ill, he still has a little bit of a sense of humour so my father shook hands with all the prison guards."

He added: "My father will now -- depending on how long he survives -- he is retiring completely from public life.

"There is absolutely no chance of seeing my father dancing in the West End (London's entertainment district) with a couple of girls around him. He won't be driving fast cars or having a great time."

Straw had last month rejected Biggs's application for parole on the grounds that the robber was "wholly unrepentant" about his crimes but he said the decision on a compassionate release was based on "different considerations."

"The medical evidence clearly shows that Mr Biggs is very ill and that his condition has deteriorated recently, culminating in his re-admission to hospital. His condition is not expected to improve," Straw said.

The infamous Great Train Robbery saw a 15-strong gang hold up a Glasgow to London mail train and make off with 2.6 million pounds, a huge sum at the time, at a railway bridge north of London.

Most of the cash was never found. The train driver, Jack Mills, was hit on the head during the robbery and died seven years later without ever making a full recovery.

Biggs played a minor role in the hold-up but was jailed for 30 years in 1964. He subsequently escaped by scaling a prison wall and jumping onto the roof of a furniture van.

Gang leader Bruce Reynolds told Sky News television: "I'm overjoyed for Ronnie, and certainly overjoyed for Michael, who's worked tirelessly to get his father released from prison.

"It falls in line with the majority of time served by the rest of the team that committed the Great Train Robbery."

On the run for decades, Biggs fled to France, where he had plastic surgery, and Spain before heading to Australia. But he eventually settled in Brazil, where he was often pictured partying in British newspapers.

Biggs beat British extradition requests because he had a Brazilian dependant, his young son Michael, by his Brazilian girlfriend.

He nevertheless handed himself over to British authorities in 2001 amid a blaze of publicity.

Biggs said he wanted to enjoy a pint of beer in an English seaside pub before he died -- but he was sent back to jail to serve out the rest of his sentence.

Obama: Signs worst of recession may be behind us

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- There are signs that the worst of the recession may be over, President Barack Obama said on Friday. Obama spoke after the Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate moderated to 9.4% and the U.S. lost fewer jobs in July than in any month in nearly a year. "We are turning this economy around," Obama said at the White House. He also said there won't be a true recovery as long as Americans are losing their jobs.